George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 13

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"That is a case of a person doomed to extinction without offending."

"Not without: for whoever offends my bride, my wife, my sovereign lady, offends me: very deeply offends me."

"Then the caprices of your wife . . ." Clara stamped her foot imperceptibly on the lawn-sward, which was irresponsively soft to her fretfulness. She broke from the inconsequent meaningless mild tone of irony, and said: "Willoughby, women have their honour to swear by equally with men:—girls have: they have to swear an oath at the altar; may I to you now? Take it for uttered when I tell you that nothing would make me happier than your union with Miss Dale. I have spoken as much as I can. Tell me you release me."

With the well-known screw-smile of duty upholding weariness worn to inanition, he rejoined: "Allow me once more to reiterate, that it is repulsive, inconceivable, that I should ever, under any mortal conditions, bring myself to the point of taking Miss Dale for my wife. You reduce me to this perfectly childish protestation—pitiably childish! But, my love, have I to remind you that you and I are plighted, and that I am an honourable man?"

"I know it, I feel it—release me!" cried Clara.

Sir Willoughby severely reprehended his short-sightedness for seeing but the one proximate object in the particular attention he had bestowed on Miss Dale. He could not disavow that they had been marked, and with an object, and he was distressed by the unwonted want of wisdom through which he had been drawn to overshoot his object. His design to excite a touch of the insane emotion in Clara's bosom was too successful, and, "I was not thinking of her," he said to himself in his candour, contrite.

She cried again: "Will you not, Willoughby—release me?"

He begged her to take his arm.

To consent to touch him while petitioning for a detachment, appeared discordant to Clara, but, if she expected him to accede, it was right that she should do as much as she could, and she surrendered her hand at arm's length, disdaining the imprisoned fingers. He pressed them and said: "Dr Middleton is in the library. I see Vernon is at work with Crossjay in the West-room—the boy has had sufficient for the day. Now, is it not like old Vernon to drive his books at a cracked head before it's half mended?"

He signalled to young Crossjay, who was up and out through the folding windows in a twinkling.

"And you will go in, and talk to Vernon of the lady in question," Sir Willoughby whispered to Clara. "Use your best persuasions in our joint names. You have my warrant for saying that money is no consideration; house and income are assured. You can hardly have taken me seriously when I requested you to undertake Vernon before. I was quite in earnest then as now. I prepare Miss Dale. I will not have a wedding on our wedding-day; but either before or after it, I gladly speed their alliance. I think now I give you the best proof possible, and though I know that with women a delusion may be seen to be groundless and still be cherished, I rely on your good sense."

Vernon was at the window and stood aside for her to enter. Sir Willoughby used a gentle insistence with her. She bent her head as if she were stepping into a cave. So frigid was she, that a ridiculous dread of calling Mr. Whitford Mr. Oxford was her only present anxiety when Sir Willoughby had closed the window on them.