George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 11

[+] | [-] | reset

This running off on a by-road is no deviation from Sir Willoughby Patterne and Miss Clara Middleton. He, a fairly intelligent man, and very sensitive, was blinded to what was going on within her visibly enough, by her production of the article he demanded of her sex. He had to leave the fair young lady to ride to his county-town, and his design was to conduct her through the covert of a group of laurels, there to revel in her soft confusion. She resisted; nay, resolutely returned to the lawn-sward. He contrasted her with Constantia in the amorous time, and rejoiced in his disappointment. He saw the goddess Modesty guarding Purity; and one would be bold to say that he did not hear the Precepts, Purity's aged grannams maternal and paternal, cawing approval of her over their munching gums. And if you ask whether a man, sensitive and a lover, can be so blinded, you are condemned to re-peruse the foregoing paragraph.

Miss Middleton was not sufficiently instructed in the position of her sex to know that she had plunged herself in the thick of the strife of one of their great battles. Her personal position, however, was instilling knowledge rapidly, as a disease in the frame teaches us what we are and have to contend with. Could she marry this man? He was evidently manageable. Could she condescend to the use of arts in managing him to obtain a placable life?—a horror of swampy flatness! So vividly did the sight of that dead heaven over an unvarying level earth swim on her fancy, that she shut her eyes in angry exclusion of it as if it were outside, assailing her; and she nearly stumbled upon young Crossjay.

"Oh, have I hurt you?" he cried.

"No," said she, "it was my fault. Lead me somewhere away from everybody."

The boy took her hand, and she resumed her thoughts; and, pressing his fingers and feeling warm to him both for his presence and silence, so does the blood in youth lead the mind, even cool and innocent blood, even with a touch, that she said to herself, "And if I marry, and then . . . Where will honour be then? I marry him to be true to my word of honour, and if then . . . !" An intolerable languor caused her to sigh profoundly. It is written as she thought it; she thought in blanks, as girls do, and some women. A shadow of the male Egoist is in the chamber of their brains overawing them.

"Were I to marry, and to run!" There is the thought; she is offered up to your mercy. We are dealing with a girl feeling herself desperately situated, and not a fool.

"I'm sure you're dead tired, though," said Crossjay.

"No, I am not; what makes you think so?" said Clara.

"I do think so."

"But why do you think so?"

"You're so hot."

"What makes you think that?"

"You're so red."

"So are you, Crossjay."

"I'm only red in the middle of the cheeks, except when I've been running. And then you talk to yourself, just as boys do when they are blown."

"Do they?"

"They say: 'I know I could have kept up longer', or, 'my buckle broke', all to themselves, when they break down running."