George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 22

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CHAPTER XXII

THE RIDE

Crossjay darted up to her a nose ahead of the colonel.

"I say, Miss Middleton, we're to have the whole day to ourselves, after morning lessons. Will you come and fish with me and see me bird's-nest?"

"Not for the satisfaction of beholding another cracked crown, my son," the colonel interposed: and bowing to Clara: "Miss Middleton is handed over to my exclusive charge for the day, with her consent?"

"I scarcely know," said she, consulting a sensation of languor that seemed to contain some reminiscence. "If I am here. My father's plans are uncertain. I will speak to him. If I am here, perhaps Crossjay would like a ride in the afternoon."

"Oh, yes," cried the boy; "out over Bournden, through Mewsey up to Closharn Beacon, and down on Aspenwell, where there's a common for racing. And ford the stream!"

"An inducement for you," De Craye said to her.

She smiled and squeezed the boy's hand.

"We won't go without you, Crossjay."

"You don't carry a comb, my man, when you bathe?"

At this remark of the colonel's young Crossjay conceived the appearance of his matted locks in the eyes of his adorable lady. He gave her one dear look through his redness, and fled.

"I like that boy," said De Craye.

"I love him," said Clara.

Crossjay's troubled eyelids in his honest young face became a picture for her.

"After all, Miss Middleton, Willoughby's notions about him are not so bad, if we consider that you will be in the place of a mother to him."

"I think them bad."

"You are disinclined to calculate the good fortune of the boy in having more of you on land than he would have in crown and anchor buttons!"

"You have talked of him with Willoughby."

"We had a talk last night."

Of how much? thought she.

"Willoughby returns?" she said.

"He dines here, I know; for he holds the key of the inner cellar, and Doctor Middleton does him the honour to applaud his wine. Willoughby was good enough to tell me that he thought I might contribute to amuse you."

She was brooding in stupefaction on her father and the wine as she requested Colonel De Craye to persuade Willoughby to take the general view of Crossjay's future and act on it.

"He seems fond of the boy, too," said De Craye, musingly.