George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 30

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CHAPTER XXX

TREATING OF THE DINNER-PARTY AT MRS. MOUNTSTUART JENKINSON'S

Vernon and young Crossjay had tolerably steady work together for a couple of hours, varied by the arrival of a plate of meat on a tray for the master, and some interrogations put to him from time to time by the boy in reference to Miss Middleton. Crossjay made the discovery that if he abstained from alluding to Miss Middleton's beauty he might water his dusty path with her name nearly as much as he liked. Mention of her beauty incurred a reprimand. On the first occasion his master was wistful. "Isn't she glorious!" Crossjay fancied he had started a sovereign receipt for blessed deviations. He tried it again, but paedagogue-thunder broke over his head.

"Yes, only I can't understand what she means, Mr. Whitford," he excused himself "First I was not to tell; I know I wasn't, because she said so; she quite as good as said so. Her last words were: 'Mind, Crossjay, you know nothing about me', when I stuck to that beast of a tramp, who's a 'walking moral,' and gets money out of people by snuffling it."

"Attend to your lesson, or you'll be one," said Vernon.

"Yes, but, Mr. Whitford, now I am to tell. I'm to answer straight out to every question."

"Miss Middleton is anxious that you should be truthful."

"Yes; but in the morning she told me not to tell."

"She was in a hurry. She has it on her conscience that you may have misunderstood her, and she wishes you never to be guilty of an untruth, least of all on her account."

Crossjay committed an unspoken resolution to the air in a violent sigh:
"Ah!" and said: "If I were sure!"

"Do as she bids you, my boy."

"But I don't know what it is she wants."

"Hold to her last words to you."

"So I do. If she told me to run till I dropped, on I'd go."

"She told you to study your lessons; do that."

Crossjay buckled to his book, invigorated by an imagination of his liege lady on the page.

After a studious interval, until the impression of his lady had subsided, he resumed: "She's so funny. She's just like a girl, and then she's a lady, too. She's my idea of a princess. And Colonel De Craye! Wasn't he taught dancing! When he says something funny he ducks and seems to be setting to his partner. I should like to be as clever as her father. That is a clever man. I dare say Colonel De Craye will dance with her tonight. I wish I was there."

"It's a dinner-party, not a dance," Vernon forced himself to say, to dispel that ugly vision.

"Isn't it, sir? I thought they danced after dinner-parties, Mr.
Whitford, have you ever seen her run?"

Vernon pointed him to his task.

They were silent for a lengthened period.

"But does Miss Middleton mean me to speak out if Sir Willoughby asks me?" said Crossjay.

"Certainly. You needn't make much of it. All's plain and simple."