George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 12

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"You won't tire me," said she, in answer to his look.

"You remind me of the little Piedmontese Bersaglieri on the march."

"I have seen them trotting into Como from Milan."

"They cover a quantity of ground in a day, if the ground's flat. You want another sort of step for the mountains."

"I should not attempt to dance up."

"They soon tame romantic notions of them."

"The mountains tame luxurious dreams, you mean. I see how they are conquered. I can plod. Anything to be high up!"

"Well, there you have the secret of good work: to plod on and still keep the passion fresh."

"Yes, when we have an aim in view."

"We always have one."

"Captives have?"

"More than the rest of us."

Ignorant man! What of wives miserably wedded? What aim in view have these most woeful captives? Horror shrouds it, and shame reddens through the folds to tell of innermost horror.

"Take me back to the mountains, if you please, Mr. Whitford," Miss Middleton said, fallen out of sympathy with him. "Captives have death in view, but that is not an aim."

"Why may not captives expect a release?"

"Hardly from a tyrant."

"If you are thinking of tyrants, it may be so. Say the tyrant dies?"

"The prison-gates are unlocked and out comes a skeleton. But why will you talk of skeletons! The very name of mountain seems life in comparison with any other subject."

"I assure you," said Vernon, with the fervour of a man lighting on an actual truth in his conversation with a young lady, "it's not the first time I have thought you would be at home in the Alps. You would walk and climb as well as you dance."

She liked to hear Clara Middleton talked of, and of her having been thought of, and giving him friendly eyes, barely noticing that he was in a glow, she said: "If you speak so encouragingly I shall fancy we are near an ascent."

"I wish we were," said he.

"We can realize it by dwelling on it, don't you think?"

"We can begin climbing."

"Oh!" she squeezed herself shadowily.

"Which mountain shall it be?" said Vernon, in the right real earnest tone.

Miss Middleton suggested a lady's mountain first, for a trial. "And then, if you think well enough of me—if I have not stumbled more than twice, or asked more than ten times how far it is from the top, I should like to be promoted to scale a giant."