George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 11

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At last it had been seen that she was conscious of suffering in her association with this Egoist! Vernon stood for the world taken into her confidence. The world, then, would not think so ill of her, she thought hopefully, at the same time that she thought most evilly of herself. But self-accusations were for the day of reckoning; she would and must have the world with her, or the belief that it was coming to her, in the terrible struggle she foresaw within her horizon of self, now her utter boundary. She needed it for the inevitable conflict. Little sacrifices of her honesty might be made. Considering how weak she was, how solitary, how dismally entangled, daily disgraced beyond the power of any veiling to conceal from her fiery sensations, a little hypocrisy was a poor girl's natural weapon. She crushed her conscientious mind with the assurance that it was magnifying trifles: not entirely unaware that she was thereby preparing it for a convenient blindness in the presence of dread alternatives; but the pride of laying such stress on small sins gave her purity a blush of pleasure and overcame the inner warning. In truth she dared not think evilly of herself for long, sailing into battle as she was. Nuns and anchorites may; they have leisure. She regretted the forfeits she had to pay for self-assistance, and, if it might be won, the world's; regretted, felt the peril of the loss, and took them up and flung them.

"You see, old Vernon has no argument," Willoughby said to her.

He drew her hand more securely on his arm to make her sensible that she leaned on a pillar of strength.

"Whenever the little brain is in doubt, perplexed, undecided which course to adopt, she will come to me, will she not? I shall always listen," he resumed, soothingly. "My own! and I to you when the world vexes me. So we round our completeness. You will know me; you will know me in good time. I am not a mystery to those to whom I unfold myself. I do not pretend to mystery: yet, I will confess, your home—your heart's—Willoughby is not exactly identical with the Willoughby before the world. One must be armed against that rough beast."

Certain is the vengeance of the young upon monotony; nothing more certain. They do not scheme it, but sameness is a poison to their systems; and vengeance is their heartier breathing, their stretch of the limbs, run in the fields; nature avenges them.

"When does Colonel De Craye arrive?" said Clara.

"Horace? In two or three days. You wish him to be on the spot to learn his part, my love?"

She had not flown forward to the thought of Colonel De Craye's arrival; she knew not why she had mentioned him; but now she flew back, shocked, first into shadowy subterfuge, and then into the criminal's dock.

"I do not wish him to be here. I do not know that he has a part to learn. I have no wish. Willoughby, did you not say I should come to you and you would listen?—will you listen? I am so commonplace that I shall not be understood by you unless you take my words for the very meaning of the words. I am unworthy. I am volatile. I love my liberty. I want to be free . . ."

"Flitch!" he called.

It sounded necromantic.

"Pardon me, my love," he said. "The man you see yonder violates my express injunction that he is not to come on my grounds, and here I find him on the borders of my garden!"

Sir Willoughby waved his hand to the abject figure of a man standing to intercept him.