Starting from the Hall a few minutes before Dr. Middleton and Sir Willoughby had entered the drawing-room overnight, Vernon parted company with Colonel De Craye at the park-gates, and betook himself to the cottage of the Dales, where nothing had been heard of his wanderer; and he received the same disappointing reply from Dr. Corney, out of the bedroom window of the genial physician, whose astonishment at his covering so long a stretch of road at night for news of a boy like Crossjay—gifted with the lives of a cat—became violent and rapped Punch-like blows on the window-sill at Vernon’s refusal to take shelter and rest. Vernon’s excuse was that he had “no one but that fellow to care for”, and he strode off, naming a farm five miles distant. Dr. Corney howled an invitation to early breakfast to him, in the event of his passing on his way back, and retired to bed to think of him. The result of a variety of conjectures caused him to set Vernon down as Miss Middleton’s knight, and he felt a strong compassion for his poor friend. “Though,” thought he, “a hopeless attachment is as pretty an accompaniment to the tune of life as a gentleman might wish to have, for it’s one of those big doses of discord which make all the minor ones fit in like an agreeable harmony, and so he shuffles along as pleasantly as the fortune-favoured, when they come to compute!”
Sir Willoughby was the fortune-favoured in the little doctor’s mind; that high-stepping gentleman having wealth, and public consideration, and the most ravishing young lady in the world for a bride. Still, though he reckoned all these advantages enjoyed by Sir Willoughby at their full value, he could imagine the ultimate balance of good fortune to be in favour of Vernon. But to do so, he had to reduce the whole calculation to the extreme abstract, and feed his lean friend, as it were, on dew and roots; and the happy effect for Vernon lay in a distant future, on the borders of old age, where he was to be blessed with his lady’s regretful preference, and rejoice in the fruits of good constitutional habits. The reviewing mind was Irish. Sir Willoughby was a character of man profoundly opposed to Dr. Corney’s nature; the latter’s instincts bristled with antagonism—not to his race, for Vernon was of the same race, partly of the same blood, and Corney loved him: the type of person was the annoyance. And the circumstance of its prevailing successfulness in the country where he was placed, while it held him silent as if under a law, heaped stores of insurgency in the Celtic bosom. Corney contemplating Sir Willoughby, and a trotting kern governed by Strongbow, have a point of likeness between them; with the point of difference, that Corney was enlightened to know of a friend better adapted for eminent station, and especially better adapted to please a lovely lady—could these high-bred Englishwomen but be taught to conceive another idea of manliness than the formal carved-inwood idol of their national worship!
Dr Corney breakfasted very early, without seeing Vernon. He was off to a patient while the first lark of the morning carolled above, and the business of the day, not yet fallen upon men in the shape of cloud, was happily intermixed with nature’s hues and pipings. Turning off the high-road tip a green lane, an hour later, he beheld a youngster prying into a hedge head and arms, by the peculiar strenuous twist of whose hinder parts, indicative of a frame plunged on the pursuit in hand, he clearly distinguished young Crossjay. Out came eggs. The doctor pulled up.
“What bird?” he bellowed.
“Yellowhammer,” Crossjay yelled back.
“Now, sir, you’ll drop a couple of those eggs in the nest.”
“Don’t order me,” Crossjay was retorting. “Oh, it’s you, Doctor Corney. Good morning. I said that, because I always do drop a couple back. I promised Mr. Whitford I would, and Miss Middleton too.”
“I should be if I thought about it.”
“I think I’d rather not, Doctor Corney.”
“And you’ll just do what Doctor Corney tells you; and set your mind on rashers of curly fat bacon and sweetly smoking coffee, toast, hot cakes, marmalade, and damson-jam. Wide go the fellow’s nostrils, and there’s water at the dimples of his mouth! Up, my man.”
Crossjay jumped up beside the doctor, who remarked, as he touched his horse: “I don’t want a man this morning, though I’ll enlist you in my service if I do. You’re fond of Miss Middleton?”
Instead of answering, Crossjay heaved the sigh of love that bears a burden.
“And so am I,” pursued the doctor: “You’ll have to put up with a rival. It’s worse than fond: I’m in love with her. How do you like that?”
“I don’t mind how many love her,” said Crossjay.
“You’re worthy of a gratuitous breakfast in the front parlour of the best hotel of the place they call Arcadia. And how about your bed last night?”
“Hard, was it, where the bones haven’t cushion?”
“I don’t care for bed. A couple of hours, and that’s enough for me.”
“But you’re fond of Miss Middleton anyhow, and that’s a virtue.”
To his great surprise, Dr. Corney beheld two big round tears force their way out of this tough youngster’s eyes, and all the while the boy’s face was proud.
Crossjay said, when he could trust himself to disjoin his lips:
“I want to see Mr. Whitford.”
“Have you got news for him?”
“I’ve something to ask him. It’s about what I ought to do.”
“Then, my boy, you have the right name addressed in the wrong direction: for I found you turning your shoulders on Mr. Whitford. And he has been out of his bed hunting you all the unholy night you’ve made it for him. That’s melancholy. What do you say to asking my advice?”
Crossjay sighed. “I can’t speak to anybody but Mr. Whitford.”
“And you’re hot to speak to him?”
“I want to.”
“And I found you running away from him. You’re a curiosity, Mr. Crossjay Patterne.”
“Ah! so’d anybody be who knew as much as I do,” said Crossjay, with a sober sadness that caused the doctor to treat him seriously.
“The fact is,” he said, “Mr. Whitford is beating the country for you. My best plan will be to drive you to the Hall.”
“I’d rather not go to the Hall,” Crossjay spoke resolutely.
“You won’t see Miss Middleton anywhere but at the Hall.”
“I don’t want to see Miss Middleton, if I can’t be a bit of use to her.”
“No danger threatening the lady, is there?”
Crossjay treated the question as if it had not been put.
“Now, tell me,” said Dr. Corney, “would there be a chance for me, supposing Miss Middleton were disengaged?”
The answer was easy. “I’m sure she wouldn’t.”
“And why, sir, are you so cock sure?”
There was no saying; but the doctor pressed for it, and at last Crossjay gave his opinion that she would take Mr. Whitford.
The doctor asked why; and Crossjay said it was because Mr. Whitford was the best man in the world. To which, with a lusty “Amen to that,” Dr. Corney remarked: “I should have fancied Colonel De Craye would have had the first chance: he’s more of a lady’s man.”
Crossjay surprised him again by petulantly saying: “Don’t.”
The boy added: “I don’t want to talk, except about birds and things. What a jolly morning it is! I saw the sun rise. No rain today. You’re right about hungry, Doctor Corney!”
The kindly little man swung his whip. Crossjay informed him of his disgrace at the Hall, and of every incident connected with it, from the tramp to the baronet, save Miss Middleton’s adventure and the night scene in the drawing-room. A strong smell of something left out struck Dr. Corney, and he said: “You’ll not let Miss Middleton know of my affection. After all, it’s only a little bit of love. But, as Patrick said to Kathleen, when she owned to such a little bit, ‘that’s the best bit of all!’ and he was as right as I am about hungry.”
Crossjay scorned to talk of loving, he declared. “I never tell Miss Middleton what I feel. Why, there’s Miss Dale’s cottage!”
“It’s nearer to your empty inside than my mansion,” said the doctor, “and we’ll stop just to inquire whether a bed’s to be had for you there to-night, and if not, I’ll have you with me, and bottle you, and exhibit you, for you’re a rare specimen. Breakfast you may count on from Mr. Dale. I spy a gentleman.”
“It’s Colonel De Craye.”
“Come after news of you.”
“Miss Middleton sends him; of course she does.”
Crossjay turned his full face to the doctor. “I haven’t seen her for such a long time! But he saw me last night, and he might have told her that, if she’s anxious.—Good-morning, colonel. I’ve had a good walk, and a capital drive, and I’m as hungry as the boat’s crew of Captain Bligh.”
He jumped down.
The colonel and the doctor saluted, smiling.
“I’ve rung the bell,” said De Craye.
A maid came to the gate, and upon her steps appeared Miss Dale, who flung herself at Crossjay, mingling kisses and reproaches. She scarcely raised her face to the colonel more than to reply to his greeting, and excuse the hungry boy for hurrying indoors to breakfast.
“I’ll wait,” said De Craye. He had seen that she was paler than usual. So had Dr. Corney; and the doctor called to her concerning her father’s health. She reported that he had not yet risen, and took Crossjay to herself.
“That’s well,” said the doctor, “if the invalid sleeps long. The lady is not looking so well, though. But ladies vary; they show the mind on the countenance, for want of the punching we meet with to conceal it; they’re like military flags for a funeral or a gala; one day furled, and next day streaming. Men are ships’ figure-heads, about the same for a storm or a calm, and not too handsome, thanks to the ocean. It’s an age since we encountered last, colonel: on board the Dublin boat, I recollect, and a night it was.”
“I recollect that you set me on my legs, doctor.”
“Ah! and you’ll please to notify that Corney’s no quack at sea, by favour of the monks of the Chartreuse, whose elixir has power to still the waves. And we hear that miracles are done with!”
“Roll a physician and a monk together, doctor!”
“True: it’ll be a miracle if they combine. Though the cure of the soul is often the entire and total cure of the body: and it’s maliciously said that the body given over to our treatment is a signal to set the soul flying. By the way, colonel, that boy has a trifle on his mind.”
“I suppose he has been worrying a farmer or a gamekeeper.”
“Try him. You’ll find him tight. He’s got Miss Middleton on the brain. There’s a bit of a secret; and he’s not so cheerful about it.”
“We’ll see,” said the colonel.
Dr Corney nodded. “I have to visit my patient here presently. I’m too early for him: so I’ll make a call or two on the lame birds that are up,” he remarked, and drove away.
De Craye strolled through the garden. He was a gentleman of those actively perceptive wits which, if ever they reflect, do so by hops and jumps: upon some dancing mirror within, we may fancy. He penetrated a plot in a flash; and in a flash he formed one; but in both cases, it was after long hovering and not over-eager deliberation, by the patient exercise of his quick perceptives. The fact that Crossjay was considered to have Miss Middleton on the brain, threw a series of images of everything relating to Crossjay for the last forty hours into relief before him: and as he did not in the slightest degree speculate on any one of them, but merely shifted and surveyed them, the falcon that he was in spirit as well as in his handsome face leisurely allowed his instinct to direct him where to strike. A reflective disposition has this danger in action, that it commonly precipitates conjecture for the purpose of working upon probabilities with the methods and in the tracks to which it is accustomed: and to conjecture rashly is to play into the puzzles of the maze. He who can watch circling above it awhile, quietly viewing, and collecting in his eye, gathers matter that makes the secret thing discourse to the brain by weight and balance; he will get either the right clue or none; more frequently none; but he will escape the entanglement of his own cleverness, he will always be nearer to the enigma than the guesser or the calculator, and he will retain a breadth of vision forfeited by them. He must, however, to have his chance of success, be acutely besides calmly perceptive, a reader of features, audacious at the proper moment.
De Craye wished to look at Miss Dale. She had returned home very suddenly, not, as it appeared, owing to her father’s illness; and he remembered a redness of her eyelids when he passed her on the corridor one night. She sent Crossjay out to him as soon as the boy was well filled. He sent Crossjay back with a request. She did not yield to it immediately. She stepped to the front door reluctantly, and seemed disconcerted. De Craye begged for a message to Miss Middleton. There was none to give. He persisted. But there was really none at present, she said.
“You won’t entrust me with the smallest word?” said he, and set her visibly thinking whether she could dispatch a word. She could not; she had no heart for messages.
“I shall see her in a day or two, Colonel De Craye.”
“She will miss you severely.”
“We shall soon meet.”
“And poor Willoughby!”
Laetitia coloured and stood silent.
A butterfly of some rarity allured Crossjay.
“I fear he has been doing mischief,” she said. “I cannot get him to look at me.”
“His appetite is good?”
“Very good indeed.”
De Craye nodded. A boy with a noble appetite is never a hopeless lock.
The colonel and Crossjay lounged over the garden.
“And now,” said the colonel, “we’ll see if we can’t arrange a meeting between you and Miss Middleton. You’re a lucky fellow, for she’s always thinking of you.”
“I know I’m always thinking of her,” said Crossjay.
“If ever you’re in a scrape, she’s the person you must go to.”
“Yes, if I know where she is!”
“Why, generally she’ll be at the Hall.”
There was no reply: Crossjay’s dreadful secret jumped to his throat. He certainly was a weaker lock for being full of breakfast.
“I want to see Mr. Whitford so much,” he said.
“Something to tell him?”
“I don’t know what to do: I don’t understand it!” The secret wriggled to his mouth. He swallowed it down. “Yes, I want to talk to Mr. Whitford.”
“He’s another of Miss Middleton’s friends.”
“I know he is. He’s true steel.”
“We’re all her friends, Crossjay. I flatter myself I’m a Toledo when I’m wanted. How long had you been in the house last night before you ran into me?”
“I don’t know, sir; I fell asleep for some time, and then I woke! . . . ”
“Where did you find yourself?”
“I was in the drawing-room.”
“Come, Crossjay, you’re not a fellow to be scared by ghosts? You looked it when you made a dash at my midriff.”
“I don’t believe there are such things. Do you, colonel? You can’t!”
“There’s no saying. We’ll hope not; for it wouldn’t be fair fighting. A man with a ghost to back him’d beat any ten. We couldn’t box him or play cards, or stand a chance with him as a rival in love. Did you, now, catch a sight of a ghost?”
“They weren’t ghosts!” Crossjay said what he was sure of, and his voice pronounced his conviction.
“I doubt whether Miss Middleton is particularly happy,” remarked the colonel. “Why? Why, you upset her, you know, now and then.”
The boy swelled. “I’d do. . . I’d go. . . I wouldn’t have her unhappy. . . It’s that! that’s it! And I don’t know what I ought to do. I wish I could see Mr. Whitford.”
“You get into such headlong scrapes, my lad.”
“I wasn’t in any scrape yesterday.”
“So you made yourself up a comfortable bed in the drawing-room? Luckily Sir Willoughby didn’t see you.”
“He didn’t, though!”
“A close shave, was it?”
“I was under a covering of something silk.”
“He woke you?”
“I suppose he did. I heard him.”
“He was talking.”
“What! talking to himself?”
The secret threatened Crossjay to be out or suffocate him. De Craye gave him a respite.
“You like Sir Willoughby, don’t you?”
Crossjay produced a still-born affirmative.
“He’s kind to you,” said the colonel; “he’ll set you up and look after your interests.”
“Yes, I like him,” said Crossjay, with his customary rapidity in touching the subject; “I like him; he’s kind and all that, and tips and plays with you, and all that; but I never can make out why he wouldn’t see my father when my father came here to see him ten miles, and had to walk back ten miles in the rain, to go by rail a long way, down home, as far as Devonport, because Sir Willoughby wouldn’t see him, though he was at home, my father saw. We all thought it so odd: and my father wouldn’t let us talk much about it. My father’s a very brave man.”
“Captain Patterne is as brave a man as ever lived,” said De Craye.
“I’m positive you’d like him, colonel.”
“I know of his deeds, and I admire him, and that’s a good step to liking.”
He warmed the boy’s thoughts of his father.
“Because, what they say at home is, a little bread and cheese, and a glass of ale, and a rest, to a poor man—lots of great houses will give you that, and we wouldn’t have asked for more than that. My sisters say they think Sir Willoughby must be selfish. He’s awfully proud; and perhaps it was because my father wasn’t dressed well enough. But what can we do? We’re very poor at home, and lots of us, and all hungry. My father says he isn’t paid very well for his services to the Government. He’s only a marine.”
“He’s a hero!” said De Craye.
“He came home very tired, with a cold, and had a doctor. But Sir Willoughby did send him money, and mother wished to send it back, and my father said she was not like a woman—with our big family. He said he thought Sir Willoughby an extraordinary man.”
“Not at all; very common; indigenous,” said De Craye. “The art of cutting is one of the branches of a polite education in this country, and you’ll have to learn it, if you expect to be looked on as a gentleman and a Patterne, my boy. I begin to see how it is Miss Middleton takes to you so. Follow her directions. But I hope you did not listen to a private conversation. Miss Middleton would not approve of that.”
“Colonel De Craye, how could I help myself? I heard a lot before I knew what it was. There was poetry!”
“Still, Crossjay, if it was important—was it?”
The boy swelled again, and the colonel asked him, “Does Miss Dale know of your having played listener?”
“She!” said Crossjay. “Oh, I couldn’t tell her.”
He breathed thick; then came a threat of tears. “She wouldn’t do anything to hurt Miss Middleton. I’m sure of that. It wasn’t her fault. She—There goes Mr. Whitford!” Crossjay bounded away.
The colonel had no inclination to wait for his return. He walked fast up the road, not perspicuously conscious that his motive was to be well in advance of Vernon Whitford: to whom, after all, the knowledge imparted by Crossjay would be of small advantage. That fellow would probably trot of to Willoughby to row him for breaking his word to Miss Middleton! There are men, thought De Craye, who see nothing, feel nothing.
He crossed a stile into the wood above the lake, where, as he was in the humour to think himself signally lucky, espying her, he took it as a matter of course that the lady who taught his heart to leap should be posted by the Fates. And he wondered little at her power, for rarely had the world seen such union of princess and sylph as in that lady’s figure. She stood holding by a beech-branch, gazing down on the water.
She had not heard him. When she looked she flushed at the spectacle of one of her thousand thoughts, but she was not startled; the colour overflowed a grave face.
“And ’tis not quite the first time that Willoughby has played this trick!” De Craye said to her, keenly smiling with a parted mouth.
Clara moved her lips to recall remarks introductory to so abrupt and strange a plunge.
He smiled in that peculiar manner of an illuminated comic perception: for the moment he was all falcon; and he surprised himself more than Clara, who was not in the mood to take surprises. It was the sight of her which had animated him to strike his game; he was down on it.
Another instinct at work (they spring up in twenties oftener than in twos when the heart is the hunter) prompted him to directness and quickness, to carry her on the flood of the discovery.
She regained something of her mental self-possession as soon as she was on a level with a meaning she had not yet inspected; but she had to submit to his lead, distinctly perceiving where its drift divided to the forked currents of what might be in his mind and what was in hers.
“Miss Middleton, I bear a bit of a likeness to the messenger to the glorious despot—my head is off if I speak not true! Everything I have is on the die. Did I guess wrong your wish?—I read it in the dark, by the heart. But here’s a certainty: Willoughby sets you free.”
“You have come from him?” she could imagine nothing else, and she was unable to preserve a disguise; she trembled.
“From Miss Dale.”
“Ah!” Clara drooped. “She told me that once.”
“’Tis the fact that tells it now.”
“You have not seen him since you left the house?”
“Darkly: clear enough: not unlike the hand of destiny—through a veil. He offered himself to Miss Dale last night, about between the witching hours of twelve and one.”
“Miss Dale. . . ”
“Would she other? Could she? The poor lady has languished beyond a decade. She’s love in the feminine person.”
“Are you speaking seriously, Colonel De Craye?”
“Would I dare to trifle with you, Miss Middleton?”
“I have reason to know it cannot be.”
“If I have a head, it is a fresh and blooming truth. And more—I stake my vanity on it!”
“Let me go to her.” She stepped.
“Consider,” said he.
“Miss Dale and I are excellent friends. It would not seem indelicate to her. She has a kind of regard for me, through Crossjay.—Oh, can it be? There must be some delusion. You have seen—you wish to be of service to me; you may too easily be deceived. Last night?—he last night. . .? And this morning!”
“’Tis not the first time our friend has played the trick, Miss Middleton.”
“But this is incredible, that last night. . . and this morning, in my father’s presence, he presses! . . . You have seen Miss Dale? Everything is possible of him: they were together, I know. Colonel De Craye, I have not the slightest chance of concealment with you. I think I felt that when I first saw you. Will you let me hear why you are so certain?”
“Miss Middleton, when I first had the honour of looking on you, it was in a posture that necessitated my looking up, and morally so it has been since. I conceived that Willoughby had won the greatest prize of earth. And next I was led to the conclusion that he had won it to lose it. Whether he much cares, is the mystery I haven’t leisure to fathom. Himself is the principal consideration with himself, and ever was.”
“You discovered it!” said Clara.
“He uncovered it,” said De Craye. “The miracle was, that the world wouldn’t see. But the world is a piggy-wiggy world for the wealthy fellow who fills a trough for it, and that he has always very sagaciously done. Only women besides myself have detected him. I have never exposed him; I have been an observer pure and simple; and because I apprehended another catastrophe—making something like the fourth, to my knowledge, one being public. . . ”
“You knew Miss Durham?”
“And Harry Oxford too. And they’re a pair as happy as blackbirds in a cherry-tree, in a summer sunrise, with the owner of the garden asleep. Because of that apprehension of mine, I refused the office of best man till Willoughby had sent me a third letter. He insisted on my coming. I came, saw, and was conquered. I trust with all my soul I did not betray myself, I owed that duty to my position of concealing it. As for entirely hiding that I had used my eyes, I can’t say: they must answer for it.”
The colonel was using his eyes with an increasing suavity that threatened more than sweetness.
“I believe you have been sincerely kind,” said Clara. “We will descend to the path round the lake.”
She did not refuse her hand on the descent, and he let it escape the moment the service was done. As he was performing the admirable character of the man of honour, he had to attend to the observance of details; and sure of her though he was beginning to feel, there was a touch of the unknown in Clara Middleton which made him fear to stamp assurance; despite a barely resistible impulse, coming of his emotions and approved by his maxims. He looked at the hand, now a free lady’s hand. Willoughby settled, his chance was great. Who else was in the way? No one. He counselled himself to wait for her; she might have ideas of delicacy. Her face was troubled, speculative; the brows clouded, the lips compressed.
“You have not heard this from Miss Dale?” she said.
“Last night they were together: this morning she fled. I saw her this morning distressed. She is unwilling to send you a message: she talks vaguely of meeting you some days hence. And it is not the first time he has gone to her for his consolation.”
“That is not a proposal,” Clara reflected. “He is too prudent. He did not propose to her at the time you mention. Have you not been hasty, Colonel De Craye?”
Shadows crossed her forehead. She glanced in the direction of the house and stopped her walk.
“Last night, Miss Middleton, there was a listener.”
“Crossjay was under that pretty silk coverlet worked by the Miss Patternes. He came home late, found his door locked, and dashed downstairs into the drawing-room, where he snuggled up and dropped asleep. The two speakers woke him; they frightened the poor dear lad in his love for you, and after they had gone, he wanted to run out of the house, and I met him just after I had come back from my search, bursting, and took him to my room, and laid him on the sofa, and abused him for not lying quiet. He was restless as a fish on a bank. When I woke in the morning he was off. Doctor Corney came across him somewhere on the road and drove him to the cottage. I was ringing the bell. Corney told me the boy had you on his brain, and was miserable, so Crossjay and I had a talk.”
“Crossjay did not repeat to you the conversation he had heard?” said Clara.
She smiled rejoicingly, proud of the boy, as she walked on.
“But you’ll pardon me, Miss Middleton—and I’m for him as much as you are—if I was guilty of a little angling.”
“My sympathies are with the fish.”
“The poor fellow had a secret that hurt him. It rose to the surface crying to be hooked, and I spared him twice or thrice, because he had a sort of holy sentiment I respected, that none but Mr. Whitford ought to be his father confessor.”
“Crossjay!” she cried, hugging her love of the boy.
“The secret was one not to be communicated to Miss Dale of all people.”
“He said that?”
“As good as the very words. She informed me, too, that she couldn’t induce him to face her straight.”
“Oh, that looks like it. And Crossjay was unhappy? Very unhappy?”
“He was just where tears are on the brim, and would have been over, if he were not such a manly youngster.”
“It looks. . . ” She reverted in thought to Willoughby, and doubted, and blindly stretched hands to her recollection of the strange old monster she had discovered in him. Such a man could do anything.
That conclusion fortified her to pursue her walk to the house and give battle for freedom. Willoughby appeared to her scarce human, unreadable, save by the key that she could supply. She determined to put faith in Colonel De Craye’s marvellous divination of circumstances in the dark. Marvels are solid weapons when we are attacked by real prodigies of nature. Her countenance cleared. She conversed with De Craye of the polite and the political world, throwing off her personal burden completely, and charming him.
At the edge of the garden, on the bridge that crossed the haha from the park, he had a second impulse, almost a warning within, to seize his heavenly opportunity to ask for thanks and move her tender lowered eyelids to hint at his reward. He repressed it, doubtful of the wisdom.
Something like “heaven forgive me” was in Clara’s mind, though she would have declared herself innocent before the scrutator.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57