George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 12

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"The manner. . ."

"That was bad—as far as we know. The world has not much right to judge. A false start must now and then be made. It's better not to take notice of it, I think."

"What is it we are at the mercy of?"

"Currents of feeling, our natures. I am the last man to preach on the subject: young ladies are enigmas to me; I fancy they must have a natural perception of the husband suitable to them, and the reverse; and if they have a certain degree of courage, it follows that they please themselves."

"They are not to reflect on the harm they do?" said Miss Middleton.

"By all means let them reflect; they hurt nobody by doing that."

"But a breach of faith!"

"If the faith can be kept through life, all's well."

"And then there is the cruelty, the injury!"

"I really think that if a young lady came to me to inform me she must break our engagement—I have never been put to the proof, but to suppose it:—I should not think her cruel."

"Then she would not be much of a loss."

"And I should not think so for this reason, that it is impossible for a girl to come to such a resolution without previously showing signs of it to her . . . the man she is engaged to. I think it unfair to engage a girl for longer than a week or two, just time enough for her preparations and publications."

"If he is always intent on himself, signs are likely to be unheeded by him," said Miss Middleton.

He did not answer, and she said, quickly:

"It must always be a cruelty. The world will think so. It is an act of inconstancy."

"If they knew one another well before they were engaged."

"Are you not singularly tolerant?" said she.

To which Vernon replied with airy cordiality:—

"In some cases it is right to judge by results; we'll leave severity to the historian, who is bound to be a professional moralist and put pleas of human nature out of the scales. The lady in question may have been to blame, but no hearts were broken, and here we have four happy instead of two miserable."

His persecuting geniality of countenance appealed to her to confirm this judgement by results, and she nodded and said: "Four," as the awe-stricken speak.

From that moment until young Crossjay fell into the green-rutted lane from a tree, and was got on his legs half stunned, with a hanging lip and a face like the inside of a flayed eel-skin, she might have been walking in the desert, and alone, for the pleasure she had in society.

They led the fated lad home between them, singularly drawn together by their joint ministrations to him, in which her delicacy had to stand fire, and sweet good-nature made naught of any trial. They were hand in hand with the little fellow as physician and professional nurse.