George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 30

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"But I'm positive, Mr. Whitford, he wasn't to hear of her going to the post-office with me before breakfast. And how did Colonel De Craye find her and bring her back, with that old Flitch? He's a man and can go where he pleases, and I'd have found her, too, give me the chance. You know. I'm fond of Miss Dale, but she—I'm very fond of her—but you can't think she's a girl as well. And about Miss Dale, when she says a thing, there it is, clear. But Miss Middleton has a lot of meanings. Never mind; I go by what's inside, and I'm pretty sure to please her."

"Take your chin off your hand and your elbow off the book, and fix yourself," said Vernon, wrestling with the seduction of Crossjay's idolatry, for Miss Middleton's appearance had been preternaturally sweet on her departure, and the next pleasure to seeing her was hearing of her from the lips of this passionate young poet.

"Remember that you please her by speaking truth," Vernon added, and laid himself open to questions upon the truth, by which he learnt, with a perplexed sense of envy and sympathy, that the boy's idea of truth strongly approximated to his conception of what should be agreeable to Miss Middleton.

He was lonely, bereft of the bard, when he had tucked Crossjay up in his bed and left him. Books he could not read; thoughts were disturbing. A seat in the library and a stupid stare helped to pass the hours, and but for the spot of sadness moving meditation in spite of his effort to stun himself, he would have borne a happy resemblance to an idiot in the sun. He had verily no command of his reason. She was too beautiful! Whatever she did was best. That was the refrain of the fountain-song in him; the burden being her whims, variations, inconsistencies, wiles; her tremblings between good and naughty, that might be stamped to noble or to terrible; her sincereness, her duplicity, her courage, cowardice, possibilities for heroism and for treachery. By dint of dwelling on the theme, he magnified the young lady to extraordinary stature. And he had sense enough to own that her character was yet liquid in the mould, and that she was a creature of only naturally youthful wildness provoked to freakishness by the ordeal of a situation shrewd as any that can happen to her sex in civilized life. But he was compelled to think of her extravagantly, and he leaned a little to the discrediting of her, because her actual image ummanned him and was unbearable; and to say at the end of it: "She is too beautiful! whatever she does is best," smoothed away the wrong he did her. Had it been in his power he would have thought of her in the abstract—the stage contiguous to that which he adopted: but the attempt was luckless; the Stagyrite would have faded in it. What philosopher could have set down that face of sun and breeze and nymph in shadow as a point in a problem?

The library door was opened at midnight by Miss Dale. She dosed it quietly. "You are not working, Mr. Whitford? I fancied you would wish to hear of the evening. Professor Crooklyn arrived after all! Mrs. Mountstuart is bewildered: she says she expected you, and that you did not excuse yourself to her, and she cannot comprehend, et caetera. That is to say, she chooses bewilderment to indulge in the exclamatory. She must be very much annoyed. The professor did come by the train she drove to meet!"

"I thought it probable," said Vernon.

"He had to remain a couple of hours at the Railway Inn; no conveyance was to be found for him. He thinks he has caught a cold, and cannot stifle his fretfulness about it. He may be as learned as Doctor Middleton; he has not the same happy constitution. Nothing more unfortunate could have occurred; he spoilt the party. Mrs. Mountstuart tried petting him, which drew attention to him, and put us all in his key for several awkward minutes, more than once. She lost her head; she was unlike herself I may be presumptuous in criticizing her, but should not the president of a dinner-table treat it like a battlefield, and let the guest that sinks descend, and not allow the voice of a discordant, however illustrious, to rule it? Of course, it is when I see failures that I fancy I could manage so well: comparison is prudently reserved in the other cases. I am a daring critic, no doubt, because I know I shall never be tried by experiment. I have no ambition to be tried."

She did not notice a smile of Vernon's, and continued: "Mrs Mountstuart gave him the lead upon any subject he chose. I thought the professor never would have ceased talking of a young lady who had been at the inn before him drinking hot brandy and water with a gentleman!"