George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 29

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On the whole, he could reasonably hope to subdue her to admiration. He drank a glass of champagne at his dressing; an unaccustomed act, but, as he remarked casually to his man Pollington, for whom the rest of the bottle was left, he had taken no horse-exercise that day.

Having to speak to Vernon on business, he went to the schoolroom, where he discovered Clara, beautiful in full evening attire, with her arm on young Crossjay's shoulder, and heard that the hard task-master had abjured Mrs. Mountstuart's party, and had already excused himself, intending to keep Crossjay to the grindstone. Willoughby was for the boy, as usual, and more sparklingly than usual. Clara looked at him in some surprise. He rallied Vernon with great zest, quite silencing him when he said: "I bear witness that the fellow was here at his regular hour for lessons, and were you?" He laid his hand on Crossjay, touching Clara's.

"You will remember what I told you, Crossjay," said she, rising from the seat gracefully to escape the touch. "It is my command."

Crossjay frowned and puffed.

"But only if I'm questioned," he said.

"Certainly," she replied.

"Then I question the rascal," said Willoughby, causing a start. "What, sir, is your opinion of Miss Middleton in her robe of state this evening?"

"Now, the truth, Crossjay!" Clara held up a finger; and the boy could see she was playing at archness, but for Willoughby it was earnest. "The truth is not likely to offend you or me either," he murmured to her.

"I wish him never, never, on any excuse, to speak anything else."

"I always did think her a Beauty," Crossjay growled. He hated the having to say it.

"There!" exclaimed Sir Willoughby, and bent, extending an arm to her.
"You have not suffered from the truth, my Clara!"

Her answer was: "I was thinking how he might suffer if he were taught to tell the reverse."

"Oh! for a fair lady!"

"That is the worst of teaching, Willoughby."

"We'll leave it to the fellow's instinct; he has our blood in him. I could convince you, though, if I might cite circumstances. Yes! But yes! And yes again! The entire truth cannot invariably be told. I venture to say it should not."

"You would pardon it for the 'fair lady'?"

"Applaud, my love."

He squeezed the hand within his arm, contemplating her.

She was arrayed in a voluminous robe of pale blue silk vapourous with trimmings of light gauze of the same hue, gaze de Chambery, matching her fair hair and dear skin for the complete overthrow of less inflammable men than Willoughby.

"Clara!" sighed be.

"If so, it would really be generous," she said, "though the teaching h bad."

"I fancy I can be generous."

"Do we ever know?"