The Egoist, by George Meredith

Chapter 43

In which Sir Willoughby is Led to Think that the Elements have Conspired Against Him

Clara had not taken many steps in the garden before she learned how great was her debt of gratitude to Colonel De Craye. Willoughby and her father were awaiting her. De Craye, with his ready comprehension of circumstances, turned aside unseen among the shrubs. She advanced slowly.

“The vapours, we may trust, have dispersed?” her father hailed her.

“One word, and these discussions are over, we dislike them equally,” said Willoughby.

“No scenes,” Dr. Middleton added. “Speak your decision, my girl, pro forma, seeing that he who has the right demands it, and pray release me.”

Clara looked at Willoughby.

“I have decided to go to Miss Dale for her advice.”

There was no appearance in him of a man that has been shot.

“To Miss Dale? — for advice?”

Dr Middleton invoked the Furies. “What is the signification of this new freak?”

“Miss Dale must be consulted, papa.”

“Consulted with reference to the disposal of your hand in marriage?”

“She must be.”

“Miss Dale, do you say?”

“I do, Papa.”

Dr Middleton regained his natural elevation from the bend of body habitual with men of an established sanity, paedagogues and others, who are called on at odd intervals to inspect the magnitude of the infinitesimally absurd in human nature: small, that is, under the light of reason, immense in the realms of madness.

His daughter profoundly confused him. He swelled out his chest, remarking to Willoughby: “I do not wonder at your scared expression of countenance, my friend. To discover yourself engaged to a girl mad as Cassandra, without a boast of the distinction of her being sun-struck, can be no specially comfortable enlightenment. I am opposed to delays, and I will not have a breach of faith committed by daughter of mine.”

“Do not repeat those words,” Clara said to Willoughby. He started. She had evidently come armed. But how, within so short a space? What could have instructed her? And in his bewilderment he gazed hurriedly above, gulped air, and cried: “Scared, sir? I am not aware that my countenance can show a scare. I am not accustomed to sue for long: I am unable to sustain the part of humble supplicant. She puts me out of harmony with creation — We are plighted, Clara. It is pure waste of time to speak of soliciting advice on the subject.”

“Would it be a breach of faith for me to break my engagement?” she said.

“You ask?”

“It is a breach of sanity to propound the interrogation,” said her father.

She looked at Willoughby. “Now?”

He shrugged haughtily.

“Since last night?” she said.

“Last night?”

“Am I not released?”

“Not by me.”

“By your act.”

“My dear Clara!”

“Have you not virtually disengaged me?”

“I who claim you as mine?”

“Can you?”

“I do and must.”

“After last night?”

“Tricks! shufflings! jabber of a barbarian woman upon the evolutions of a serpent!” exclaimed Dr. Middleton. “You were to capitulate, or to furnish reasons for your refusal. You have none. Give him your hand, girl, according to the compact. I praised you to him for returning within the allotted term, and now forbear to disgrace yourself and me.”

“Is he perfectly free to offer his? Ask him, papa.”

“Perform your duty. Do let us have peace!”

“Perfectly free! as on the day when I offered it first.” Willoughby frankly waved his honourable hand.

His face was blanched: enemies in the air seemed to have whispered things to her: he doubted the fidelity of the Powers above.

“Since last night?” said she.

“Oh! if you insist, I reply, since last night.”

“You know what I mean, Sir Willoughby.”

“Oh! certainly.”

“You speak the truth?”

“‘Sir Willoughby!’” her father ejaculated in wrath. “But will you explain what you mean, epitome that you are of all the contradictions and mutabilities ascribed to women from the beginning! ‘Certainly’, he says, and knows no more than I. She begs grace for an hour, and returns with a fresh store of evasions, to insult the man she has injured. It is my humiliation to confess that our share in this contract is rescued from public ignominy by his generosity. Nor can I congratulate him on his fortune, should he condescend to bear with you to the utmost; for instead of the young woman I supposed myself to be bestowing on him, I see a fantastical planguncula enlivened by the wanton tempers of a nursery chit. If one may conceive a meaning in her, in miserable apology for such behaviour, some spirit of jealousy informs the girl.”

“I can only remark that there is no foundation for it,” said Willoughby. “I am willing to satisfy you, Clara. Name the person who discomposes you. I can scarcely imagine one to exist: but who can tell?”

She could name no person. The detestable imputation of jealousy would be confirmed if she mentioned a name: and indeed Laetitia was not to be named.

He pursued his advantage: “Jealousy is one of the fits I am a stranger to — I fancy, sir, that gentlemen have dismissed it. I speak for myself. — But I can make allowances. In some cases, it is considered a compliment; and often a word will soothe it. The whole affair is so senseless! However, I will enter the witness-box, or stand at the prisoner’s bar! Anything to quiet a distempered mind.”

“Of you, sir,” said Dr. Middleton, “might a parent be justly proud.”

“It is not jealousy; I could not be jealous!” Clara cried, stung by the very passion; and she ran through her brain for a suggestion to win a sign of meltingness if not esteem from her father. She was not an iron maiden, but one among the nervous natures which live largely in the moment, though she was then sacrificing it to her nature’s deep dislike. “You may be proud of me again, papa.”

She could hardly have uttered anything more impolitic.

“Optume; but deliver yourself ad rem,” he rejoined, alarmingly pacified. “Firmavit fidem. Do you likewise, and double on us no more like puss in the field.”

“I wish to see Miss Dale,” she said.

Up flew the Rev. Doctor’s arms in wrathful despair resembling an imprecation.

“She is at the cottage. You could have seen her,” said Willoughby.

Evidently she had not.

“Is it untrue that last night, between twelve o’clock and one, in the drawing-room, you proposed marriage to Miss Dale?” He became convinced that she must have stolen down-stairs during his colloquy with Laetitia, and listened at the door.

“On behalf of old Vernon?” he said, lightly laughing. “The idea is not novel, as you know. They are suited, if they could see it. — Laetitia Dale and my cousin Vernon Whitford, sir.”

“Fairly schemed, my friend, and I will say for you, you have the patience, Willoughby, of a husband!”

Willoughby bowed to the encomium, and allowed some fatigue to be visible. He half yawned: “I claim no happier title, sir,” and made light of the weariful discussion.

Clara was shaken: she feared that Crossjay had heard incorrectly, or that Colonel De Craye had guessed erroneously. It was too likely that Willoughby should have proposed Vernon to Laetitia.

There was nothing to reassure her save the vision of the panic amazement of his face at her persistency in speaking of Miss Dale. She could have declared on oath that she was right, while admitting all the suppositions to be against her. And unhappily all the Delicacies (a doughty battalion for the defence of ladies until they enter into difficulties and are shorn of them at a blow, bare as dairymaids), all the body-guard of a young gentlewoman, the drawing-room sylphides, which bear her train, which wreathe her hair, which modulate her voice and tone her complexion, which are arrows and shield to awe the creature man, forbade her utterance of what she felt, on pain of instant fulfilment of their oft-repeated threat of late to leave her to the last remnant of a protecting sprite. She could not, as in a dear melodrama, from the aim of a pointed finger denounce him, on the testimony of her instincts, false of speech, false in deed. She could not even declare that she doubted his truthfulness. The refuge of a sullen fit, the refuge of tears, the pretext of a mood, were denied her now by the rigour of those laws of decency which are a garment to ladies of pure breeding.

“One more respite, papa,” she implored him, bitterly conscious of the closer tangle her petition involved, and, if it must be betrayed of her, perceiving in an illumination how the knot might become so woefully Gordian that haply in a cloud of wild events the intervention of a gallant gentleman out of heaven, albeit in the likeness of one of earth, would have to cut it: her cry within, as she succumbed to weakness, being fervider, “Anything but marry this one!” She was faint with strife and dejected, a condition in the young when their imaginative energies hold revel uncontrolled and are projectively desperate.

“No respite!” said Willoughby, genially.

“And I say, no respite!” observed her father. “You have assumed a position that has not been granted you, Clara Middleton.”

“I cannot bear to offend you, father.”

“Him! Your duty is not to offend him. Address your excuses to him. I refuse to be dragged over the same ground, to reiterate the same command perpetually.”

“If authority is deputed to me, I claim you,” said Willoughby.

“You have not broken faith with me?”

“Assuredly not, or would it be possible for me to press my claim?”

“And join the right hand to the right,” said Dr. Middleton; “no, it would not be possible. What insane root she has been nibbling, I know not, but she must consign herself to the guidance of those whom the gods have not abandoned, until her intellect is liberated. She was once. . . there: I look not back — if she it was, and no simulacrum of a reasonable daughter. I welcome the appearance of my friend Mr. Whitford. He is my sea-bath and supper on the beach of Troy, after the day’s battle and dust.”

Vernon walked straight up to them: an act unusual with him, for he was shy of committing an intrusion.

Clara guessed by that, and more by the dancing frown of speculative humour he turned on Willoughby, that he had come charged in support of her. His forehead was curiously lively, as of one who has got a surprise well under, to feed on its amusing contents.

“Have you seen Crossjay, Mr. Whitford?” she said.

“I’ve pounced on Crossjay; his bones are sound.”

“Where did he sleep?”

“On a sofa, it seems.”

She smiled, with good hope — Vernon had the story.

Willoughby thought it just to himself that he should defend his measure of severity.

“The boy lied; he played a double game.”

“For which he should have been reasoned with at the Grecian portico of a boy,” said the Rev. Doctor.

“My system is different, sir. I could not inflict what I would not endure myself”

“So is Greek excluded from the later generations; and you leave a field, the most fertile in the moralities in youth, unplowed and unsown. Ah! well. This growing too fine is our way of relapsing upon barbarism. Beware of over-sensitiveness, where nature has plainly indicated her alternative gateway of knowledge. And now, I presume, I am at liberty.”

“Vernon will excuse us for a minute or two.”

“I hold by Mr. Whitford now I have him.”

“I’ll join you in the laboratory, Vernon,” Willoughby nodded bluntly.

“We will leave them, Mr. Whitford. They are at the time-honoured dissension upon a particular day, that, for the sake of dignity, blushes to be named.”

“What day?” said Vernon, like a rustic.

“THE day, these people call it.”

Vernon sent one of his vivid eyeshots from one to the other. His eyes fixed on Willoughby’s with a quivering glow, beyond amazement, as if his humour stood at furnace-heat, and absorbed all that came.

Willoughby motioned to him to go.

“Have you seen Miss Dale, Mr. Whitford?” said Clara.

He answered, “No. Something has shocked her.”

“Is it her feeling for Crossjay?”

“Ah!” Vernon said to Willoughby, “your pocketing of the key of Crossjay’s bedroom door was a master-stroke!”

The celestial irony suffused her, and she bathed and swam in it, on hearing its dupe reply: “My methods of discipline are short. I was not aware that she had been to his door.”

“But I may hope that Miss Dale will see me,” said Clara. “We are in sympathy about the boy.”

“Mr. Dale might be seen. He seems to be of a divided mind with his daughter,” Vernon rejoined. “She has locked herself up in her room.”

“He is not the only father in that unwholesome predicament,” said Dr Middleton.

“He talks of coming to you, Willoughby.”

“Why to me?” Willoughby chastened his irritation: “He will be welcome, of course. It would be better that the boy should come.”

“If there is a chance of your forgiving him,” said Clara. “Let the Dales know I am prepared to listen to the boy, Vernon. There can be no necessity for Mr. Dale to drag himself here.”

“How are Mr. Dale and his daughter of a divided mind, Mr. Whitford?” said Clara.

Vernon simulated an uneasiness. With a vacant gaze that enlarged around Willoughby and was more discomforting than intentness, he replied: “Perhaps she is unwilling to give him her entire confidence, Miss Middleton.”

“In which respect, then, our situations present their solitary point of unlikeness in resemblance, for I have it in excess,” observed Dr. Middleton.

Clara dropped her eyelids for the wave to pass over. “It struck me that Miss Dale was a person of the extremest candour.”

“Why should we be prying into the domestic affairs of the Dales?” Willoughby interjected, and drew out his watch, merely for a diversion; he was on tiptoe to learn whether Vernon was as well instructed as Clara, and hung to the view that he could not be, while drenching in the sensation that he was:— and if so, what were the Powers above but a body of conspirators? He paid Laetitia that compliment. He could not conceive the human betrayal of the secret. Clara’s discovery of it had set his common sense adrift.

“The domestic affairs of the Dales do not concern me,” said Vernon.

“And yet, my friend,” Dr. Middleton balanced himself, and with an air of benevolent slyness the import of which did not awaken Willoughby, until too late, remarked: “They might concern you. I will even add, that there is a probability of your being not less than the fount and origin of this division of father and daughter, though Willoughby in the drawingroom last night stands accusably the agent.”

“Favour me, sir, with an explanation,” said Vernon, seeking to gather it from Clara.

Dr Middleton threw the explanation upon Willoughby.

Clara, communicated as much as she was able in one of those looks of still depth which say, Think! and without causing a thought to stir, takes us into the pellucid mind.

Vernon was enlightened before Willoughby had spoken. His mouth shut rigidly, and there was a springing increase of the luminous wavering of his eyes. Some star that Clara had watched at night was like them in the vivid wink and overflow of its light. Yet, as he was perfectly sedate, none could have suspected his blood to be chasing wild with laughter, and his frame strung to the utmost to keep it from volleying. So happy was she in his aspect, that her chief anxiety was to recover the name of the star whose shining beckons and speaks, and is in the quick of spirit-fire. It is the sole star which on a night of frost and strong moonlight preserves an indomitable fervency: that she remembered, and the picture of a hoar earth and a lean Orion in flooded heavens, and the star beneath Eastward of him: but the name! the name! — She heard Willoughby indistinctly.

“Oh, the old story; another effort; you know my wish; a failure, of course, and no thanks on either side, I suppose I must ask your excuse. — They neither of them see what’s good for them, sir.”

“Manifestly, however,” said Dr. Middleton, “if one may opine from the division we have heard of, the father is disposed to back your nominee.”

“I can’t say; as far as I am concerned, I made a mess of it.” Vernon withstood the incitement to acquiesce, but he sparkled with his recognition of the fact.

“You meant well, Willoughby.”

“I hope so, Vernon.”

“Only you have driven her away.”

“We must resign ourselves.”

“It won’t affect me, for I’m off tomorrow.”

“You see, sir, the thanks I get.”

“Mr. Whitford,” said Dr. Middleton, “You have a tower of strength in the lady’s father.”

“Would you have me bring it to bear upon the lady, sir?”

“Wherefore not?”

“To make her marriage a matter of obedience to her father?”

“Ay, my friend, a lusty lover would have her gladly on those terms, well knowing it to be for the lady’s good. What do you say, Willoughby?”

“Sir! Say? What can I say? Miss Dale has not plighted her faith. Had she done so, she is a lady who would never dishonour it.”

“She is an ideal of constancy, who would keep to it though it had been broken on the other side,” said Vernon, and Clara thrilled.

“I take that, sir, to be a statue of constancy, modelled upon which a lady of our flesh may be proclaimed as graduating for the condition of idiocy,” said Dr. Middleton.

“But faith is faith, sir.”

“But the broken is the broken, sir, whether in porcelain or in human engagements; and all that one of the two continuing faithful, I should rather say, regretful, can do, is to devote the remainder of life to the picking up of the fragments; an occupation properly to be pursued, for the comfort of mankind, within the enclosure of an appointed asylum.”

“You destroy the poetry of sentiment, Dr. Middleton.”

“To invigorate the poetry of nature, Mr. Whitford.”

“Then you maintain, sir, that when faith is broken by one, the engagement ceases, and the other is absolutely free?”

“I do; I am the champion of that platitude, and sound that knell to the sentimental world; and since you have chosen to defend it, I will appeal to Willoughby, and ask him if he would not side with the world of good sense in applauding the nuptials of man or maid married within a month of a jilting?” Clara slipped her arm under her father’s.

“Poetry, sir,” said Willoughby, “I never have been hypocrite enough to pretend to understand or care for.”

Dr. Middleton laughed. Vernon too seemed to admire his cousin for a reply that rung in Clara’s ears as the dullest ever spoken. Her arm grew cold on her father’s. She began to fear Willoughby again.

He depended entirely on his agility to elude the thrusts that assailed him. Had he been able to believe in the treachery of the Powers above, he would at once have seen design in these deadly strokes, for his feelings had rarely been more acute than at the present crisis; and he would then have led away Clara, to wrangle it out with her, relying on Vernon’s friendliness not to betray him to her father: but a wrangle with Clara promised no immediate fruits, nothing agreeable; and the lifelong trust he had reposed in his protecting genii obscured his intelligence to evidence he would otherwise have accepted on the spot, on the faith of his delicate susceptibility to the mildest impressions which wounded him. Clara might have stooped to listen at the door: she might have heard sufficient to create a suspicion. But Vernon was not in the house last night; she could not have communicated it to him, and he had not seen Laetitia, who was, besides trustworthy, an admirable if a foolish and ill-fated woman.

Preferring to consider Vernon a pragmatical moralist played upon by a sententious drone, he thought it politic to detach them, and vanquish Clara while she was in the beaten mood, as she had appeared before Vernon’s vexatious arrival.

“I’m afraid, my dear fellow, you are rather too dainty and fussy for a very successful wooer,” he said. “It’s beautiful on paper, and absurd in life. We have a bit of private business to discuss. We will go inside, sir, I think. I will soon release you.” Clara pressed her father’s arm.

“More?” said he.

“Five minutes. There’s a slight delusion to clear, sir. My dear Clara, you will see with different eyes.”

“Papa wishes to work with Mr. Whitford.”

Her heart sunk to hear her father say: “No, ’tis a lost morning. I must consent to pay tax of it for giving another young woman to the world. I have a daughter! You will, I hope, compensate me, Mr. Whitford, in the afternoon. Be not downcast. I have observed you meditative of late. You will have no clear brain so long as that stuff is on the mind. I could venture to propose to do some pleading for you, should it be needed for the prompter expedition of the affair.”

Vernon briefly thanked him, and said:

“Willoughby has exerted all his eloquence, and you see the result: you have lost Miss Dale and I have not won her. He did everything that one man can do for another in so delicate a case: even to the repeating of her famous birthday verses to him, to flatter the poetess. His best efforts were foiled by the lady’s indisposition for me.”

“Behold,” said Dr. Middleton, as Willoughby, electrified by the mention of the verses, took a sharp stride or two, “you have in him an advocate who will not be rebuffed by one refusal, and I can affirm that he is tenacious, pertinacious as are few. Justly so. Not to believe in a lady’s No is the approved method of carrying that fortress built to yield. Although unquestionably to have a young man pleading in our interests with a lady, counts its objections. Yet Willoughby being notoriously engaged, may be held to enjoy the privileges of his elders.”

“As an engaged man, sir, he was on a level with his elders in pleading on my behalf with Miss Dale,” said Vernon. Willoughby strode and muttered. Providence had grown mythical in his thoughts, if not malicious: and it is the peril of this worship that the object will wear such an alternative aspect when it appears no longer subservient.

“Are we coming, sir?” he said, and was unheeded. The Rev. Doctor would not be defrauded of rolling his billow.

“As an honourable gentleman faithful to his own engagement and desirous of establishing his relatives, he deserves, in my judgement, the lady’s esteem as well as your cordial thanks; nor should a temporary failure dishearten either of you, notwithstanding the precipitate retreat of the lady from Patterne, and her seclusion in her sanctum on the occasion of your recent visit.”

“Supposing he had succeeded,” said Vernon, driving Willoughby to frenzy, “should I have been bound to marry?” Matter for cogitation was offered to Dr. Middleton.

“The proposal was without your sanction?”

“Entirely.”

“You admire the lady?”

“Respectfully.”

“You do not incline to the state?”

“An inch of an angle would exaggerate my inclination.”

“How long are we to stand and hear this insufferable nonsense you talk?” cried Willoughby.

“But if Mr. Whitford was not consulted. . . ” Dr. Middleton said, and was overborne by Willoughby’s hurried, “Oblige me, sir. — Oblige me, my good fellow!” He swept his arm to Vernon, and gestured a conducting hand to Clara.

“Here is Mrs. Mountstuart!” she exclaimed.

Willoughby stared. Was it an irruption of a friend or a foe? He doubted, and stood petrified between the double question. Clara had seen Mrs. Mountstuart and Colonel De Craye separating: and now the great lady sailed along the sward like a royal barge in festival trim.

She looked friendly, but friendly to everybody, which was always a frost on Willoughby, and terribly friendly to Clara.

Coming up to her she whispered: “News, indeed! Wonderful! I could not credit his hint of it yesterday. Are you satisfied?”

“Pray, Mrs. Mountstuart, take an opportunity to speak to papa,” Clara whispered in return.

Mrs. Mountstuart bowed to Dr. Middleton, nodded to Vernon, and swam upon Willoughby, with, “Is it? But is it? Am I really to believe? You have? My dear Sir Willoughby? Really?” The confounded gentleman heaved on a bare plank of wreck in mid sea.

He could oppose only a paralyzed smile to the assault.

His intuitive discretion taught him to fall back a step while she said, “So!” the plummet word of our mysterious deep fathoms; and he fell back further saying, “Madam?” in a tone advising her to speak low.

She recovered her volubility, followed his partial retreat, and dropped her voice —

“Impossible to have imagined it as an actual fact! You were always full of surprises, but this! this! Nothing manlier, nothing more gentlemanly has ever been done: nothing: nothing that so completely changes an untenable situation into a comfortable and proper footing for everybody. It is what I like: it is what I love:— sound sense! Men are so selfish: one cannot persuade them to be reasonable in such positions. But you, Sir Willoughby, have shown wisdom and sentiment: the rarest of all combinations in men.”

“Where have you? . . . ” Willoughby contrived to say.

“Heard? The hedges, the housetops, everywhere. All the neighbourhood will have it before nightfall. Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer will soon be rushing here, and declaring they never expected anything else, I do not doubt. I am not so pretentious. I beg your excuse for that ‘twice’ of mine yesterday. Even if it hurt my vanity, I should be happy to confess my error: I was utterly out. But then I did not reckon on a fatal attachment, I thought men were incapable of it. I thought we women were the only poor creatures persecuted by a fatality. It is a fatality! You tried hard to escape, indeed you did. And she will do honour to your final surrender, my dear friend. She is gentle, and very clever, very: she is devoted to you: she will entertain excellently. I see her like a flower in sunshine. She will expand to a perfect hostess. Patterne will shine under her reign; you have my warrant for that. And so will you. Yes, you flourish best when adored. It must be adoration. You have been under a cloud of late. Years ago I said it was a match, when no one supposed you could stoop. Lady Busshe would have it was a screen, and she was deemed high wisdom. The world will be with you. All the women will be: excepting, of course, Lady Busshe, whose pride is in prophecy; and she will soon be too glad to swell the host. There, my friend, your sincerest and oldest admirer congratulates you. I could not contain myself; I was compelled to pour forth. And now I must go and be talked to by Dr. Middleton. How does he take it? They leave?”

“He is perfectly well,” said Willoughby, aloud, quite distraught.

She acknowledged his just correction of her for running on to an extreme in low-toned converse, though they stood sufficiently isolated from the others. These had by this time been joined by Colonel De Craye, and were all chatting in a group — of himself, Willoughby horribly suspected.

Clara was gone from him! Gone! but he remembered his oath and vowed it again: not to Horace de Craye! She was gone, lost, sunk into the world of waters of rival men, and he determined that his whole force should be used to keep her from that man, the false friend who had supplanted him in her shallow heart, and might, if he succeeded, boast of having done it by simply appearing on the scene.

Willoughby intercepted Mrs. Mountstuart as she was passing over to Dr Middleton. “My dear lady! spare me a minute.”

De Craye sauntered up, with a face of the friendliest humour:

“Never was man like you, Willoughby, for shaking new patterns in a kaleidoscope.”

“Have you turned punster, Horace?” Willoughby replied, smarting to find yet another in the demon secret, and he draw Dr. Middleton two or three steps aside, and hurriedly begged him to abstain from prosecuting the subject with Clara.

“We must try to make her happy as we best can, sir. She may have her reasons — a young lady’s reasons!” He laughed, and left the Rev. Doctor considering within himself under the arch of his lofty frown of stupefaction.

De Craye smiled slyly and winningly as he shadowed a deep droop on the bend of his head before Clara, signifying his absolute devotion to her service, and this present good fruit for witness of his merits.

She smiled sweetly though vaguely. There was no concealment of their intimacy.

“The battle is over,” Vernon said quietly, when Willoughby had walked some paces beside Mrs. Mountstuart, adding: “You may expect to see Mr. Dale here. He knows.”

Vernon and Clara exchanged one look, hard on his part, in contrast with her softness, and he proceeded to the house. De Craye waited for a word or a promising look. He was patient, being self-assured, and passed on.

Clara linked her arm with her father’s once more, and said, on a sudden brightness: “Sirius, papa!” He repeated it in the profoundest manner: “Sirius! And is there,” he asked, “a feminine scintilla of sense in that?”

“It is the name of the star I was thinking of, dear papa.”

“It was the star observed by King Agamemnon before the sacrifice in Aulis. You were thinking of that? But, my love, my Iphigenia, you have not a father who will insist on sacrificing you.”

“Did I hear him tell you to humour me, papa?”

Dr Middleton humphed.

“Verily the dog-star rages in many heads,” he responded.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11