George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 8

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CHAPTER VIII

A RUN WITH THE TRUANT; A WALK WITH THE MASTER

The sight of Miss Middleton running inflamed young Crossjay with the passion of the game of hare and hounds. He shouted a view-halloo, and flung up his legs. She was fleet; she ran as though a hundred little feet were bearing her onward smooth as water over the lawn and the sweeps of grass of the park, so swiftly did the hidden pair multiply one another to speed her. So sweet was she in her flowing pace, that the boy, as became his age, translated admiration into a dogged frenzy of pursuit, and continued pounding along, when far outstripped, determined to run her down or die. Suddenly her flight wound to an end in a dozen twittering steps, and she sank. Young Crossjay attained her, with just breath enough to say: "You are a runner!"

"I forgot you had been having your tea, my poor boy," said she.

"And you don't pant a bit!" was his encomium.

"Dear me, no; not more than a bird. You might as well try to catch a bird."

Young Crossjay gave a knowing nod. "Wait till I get my second wind."

"Now you must confess that girls run faster than boys."

"They may at the start."

"They do everything better."

"They're flash-in-the-pans."

"They learn their lessons."

"You can't make soldiers or sailors of them, though."

"And that is untrue. Have you never read of Mary Ambree? and Mistress
Hannah Snell of Pondicherry? And there was the bride of the celebrated
William Taylor. And what do you say to Joan of Arc? What do you say to
Boadicea? I suppose you have never heard of the Amazons."

"They weren't English."

"Then it is your own countrywomen you decry, sir!"

Young Crossjay betrayed anxiety about his false position, and begged for the stories of Mary Ambree and the others who were English.

"See, you will not read for yourself, you hide and play truant with Mr. Whitford, and the consequence is you are ignorant of your country's history."

Miss Middleton rebuked him, enjoying his wriggle between a perception of her fun and an acknowledgment of his peccancy. She commanded him to tell her which was the glorious Valentine's day of our naval annals; the name of the hero of the day, and the name of his ship. To these questions his answers were as ready as the guns of the good ship Captain, for the Spanish four-decker.

"And that you owe to Mr. Whitford," said Miss Middleton.

"He bought me the books," young Crossjay growled, and plucked at grass blades and bit them, foreseeing dimly but certainly the termination of all this.

Miss Middleton lay back on the grass and said: "Are you going to be fond of me, Crossjay?"

The boy sat blinking. His desire was to prove to her that lie was immoderately fond of her already; and he might have flown at her neck had she been sitting up, but her recumbency and eyelids half closed excited wonder in him and awe. His young heart beat fast.