George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 14

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"I trust I am as good a patriot as any man living," said he; "but I am used to the follies of my countrymen, and we are on board a stout ship. At the worst it's no worse than a rise in rates and taxes; soup at the Hall gates, perhaps; license to fell timber in one of the outer copses, or some dozen loads of coal. You hit my feudalism."

"The knight in armour has gone," said Laetitia, "and the castle with the draw-bridge. Immunity for our island has gone too since we took to commerce."

"We bartered independence for commerce. You hit our old controversy. Ay, but we do not want this overgrown population! However, we will put politics and sociology and the pack of their modern barbarous words aside. You read me intuitively. I have been, I will not say annoyed, but ruffled. I have much to do, and going into Parliament would make me almost helpless if I lose Vernon. You know of some absurd notion he has?—literary fame, and bachelor's chambers, and a chop-house, and the rest of it."

She knew, and thinking differently in the matter of literary fame, she flushed, and, ashamed of the flush, frowned.

He bent over to her with the perusing earnestness of a gentleman about to trifle.

"You cannot intend that frown?"

"Did I frown?"

"You do."




"Will you smile to reassure me?"

"Willingly, as well as I can."

A gloom overcame him. With no woman on earth did he shine so as to recall to himself seigneur and dame of the old French Court as he did with Laetitia Dale. He did not wish the period revived, but reserved it as a garden to stray into when he was in the mood for displaying elegance and brightness in the society of a lady; and in speech Laetitia helped him to the nice delusion. She was not devoid of grace of bearing either.

Would she preserve her beautiful responsiveness to his ascendency? Hitherto she had, and for years, and quite fresh. But how of her as a married woman? Our souls are hideously subject to the conditions of our animal nature! A wife, possibly mother, it was within sober calculation that there would be great changes in her. And the hint of any change appeared a total change to one of the lofty order who, when they are called on to relinquish possession instead of aspiring to it, say, All or nothing!

Well, but if there was danger of the marriage-tie effecting the slightest alteration of her character or habit of mind, wherefore press it upon a tolerably hardened spinster!

Besides, though he did once put her hand in Vernon's for the dance, he remembered acutely that the injury then done by his generosity to his tender sensitiveness had sickened and tarnished the effulgence of two or three successive anniversaries of his coming of age. Nor had he altogether yet got over the passion of greed for the whole group of the well-favoured of the fair sex, which in his early youth had made it bitter for him to submit to the fickleness, not to say the modest fickleness, of any handsome one of them in yielding her hand to a man and suffering herself to be led away. Ladies whom he had only heard of as ladies of some beauty incurred his wrath for having lovers or taking husbands. He was of a vast embrace; and do not exclaim, in covetousness;—for well he knew that even under Moslem law he could not have them all—but as the enamoured custodian of the sex's purity, that blushes at such big spots as lovers and husbands; and it was unbearable to see it sacrificed for others. Without their purity what are they!—what are fruiterer's plums?—unsaleable. O for the bloom on them!