George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 13

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Her busy brain missed the subterfuge to cover her slip of the tongue.

Sir Willoughby struck in: "And when I say that the entire concatenation is based on an erroneous observation of facts, and an erroneous deduction from that erroneous observation!—? No, no. Have confidence in me. I propose it to you in this instance, purely to save you from deception. You are cold, my love? you shivered."

"I am not cold," said Clara. "Some one, I suppose, was walking over my grave."

The gulf of a caress hove in view like an enormous billow hollowing under the curled ridge.

She stooped to a buttercup; the monster swept by.

"Your grave!" he exclaimed over her head; "my own girl!"

"Is not the orchid naturally a stranger in ground so far away from the chalk, Willoughby?"

"I am incompetent to pronounce an opinion on such important matters. My mother had a passion for every description of flower. I fancy I have some recollection of her scattering the flower you mention over the park."

"If she were living now!"

"We should be happy in the blessing of the most estimable of women, my
Clara."

"She would have listened to me. She would have realized what I mean."

"Indeed, Clara—poor soul!" he murmured to himself, aloud; "indeed you are absolutely in error. If I have seemed—but I repeat, you are deceived. The idea of 'fitness' is a total hallucination. Supposing you—I do it even in play painfully—entirely out of the way, unthought of. . ."

"Extinct," Clara said low.

"Non-existent for me," he selected a preferable term. "Suppose it; I should still, in spite of an admiration I have never thought it incumbent on me to conceal, still be—I speak emphatically—utterly incapable of the offer of my hand to Miss Dale. It may be that she is embedded in my mind as a friend, and nothing but a friend. I received the stamp in early youth. People have noticed it—we do, it seems, bring one another out, reflecting, counter-reflecting."

She glanced up at him with a shrewd satisfaction to see that her wicked shaft had stuck.

"You do; it is a common remark," she said. "The instantaneous difference when she comes near, any one might notice."

"My love," he opened the iron gate into the garden, "you encourage the naughty little suspicion."

"But it is a beautiful sight, Willoughby. I like to see you together. I like it as I like to see colours match."

"Very well. There is no harm then. We shall often be together. I like my fair friend. But the instant!—you have only to express a sentiment of disapprobation."

"And you dismiss her."

"I dismiss her. That is, as to the word, I constitute myself your echo, to clear any vestige of suspicion. She goes."