George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 34

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CHAPTER XXXIV

MRS. MOUNTSTUART AND SIR WILLOUGHBY

"Good morning, my dear Mrs. Mountstuart," Sir Willoughby wakened himself to address the great lady. "Why has she fled?"

"Has any one fled?"

"Laetitia Dale."

"Letty Dale? Oh, if you call that flying. Possibly to renew a close conversation with Vernon Whitford, that I cut short. You frightened me with your 'Shepherds-tell-me' air and tone. Lead me to one of your garden-seats: out of hearing to Dr. Middleton, I beg. He mesmerizes me, he makes me talk Latin. I was curiously susceptible last night. I know I shall everlastingly associate him with an abortive entertainment and solos on big instruments. We were flat."

"Horace was in good vein."

"You were not."

"And Laetitia—Miss Dale talked well, I thought."

"She talked with you, and no doubt she talked well. We did not mix. The yeast was bad. You shot darts at Colonel De Craye: you tried to sting. You brought Dr. Middleton down on you. Dear me, that man is a reverberation in my head. Where is your lady and love?"

"Who?"

"Am I to name her?"

"Clara? I have not seen her for the last hour. Wandering, I suppose."

"A very pretty summer bower," said Mrs. Mountstuart, seating herself "Well, my dear Sir Willoughby, preferences, preferences are not to be accounted for, and one never knows whether to pity or congratulate, whatever may occur. I want to see Miss Middleton."

"Your 'dainty rogue in porcelain' will be at your beck—you lunch with us?—before you leave."

"So now you have taken to quoting me, have you?"

"But 'a romantic tale on her eyelashes' is hardly descriptive any longer."

"Descriptive of whom? Now you are upon Laetitia Dale!"

"I quote you generally. She has now a graver look."

"And well may have!"

"Not that the romance has entirely disappeared."

"No; it looks as if it were in print."

"You have hit it perfectly, as usual, ma'am."

Sir Willoughby mused.

Like one resuming his instrument to take up the melody in a concerted piece, he said: "I thought Laetitia Dale had a singularly animated air last night."

"Why!—" Mrs. Mountstuart mildly gaped.

"I want a new description of her. You know, I collect your mottoes and sentences."