George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 35

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CHAPTER XXXV

MISS MIDDLETON AND MRS. MOUNTSTUART

"Sit beside me, fair Middleton," said the great lady.

"Gladly," said Clara, bowing to her title.

"I want to sound you, my dear."

Clara presented an open countenance with a dim interrogation on the forehead. "Yes?" she said, submissively.

"You were one of my bright faces last night. I was in love with you. Delicate vessels ring sweetly to a finger-nail, and if the wit is true, you answer to it; that I can see, and that is what I like. Most of the people one has at a table are drums. A ruba-dub-dub on them is the only way to get a sound. When they can be persuaded to do it upon one another, they call it conversation."

"Colonel De Craye was very funny."

"Funny, and witty too."

"But never spiteful."

"These Irish or half Irishmen are my taste. If they're not politicians, mind; I mean Irish gentlemen. I will never have another dinner-party without one. Our men's tempers are uncertain. You can't get them to forget themselves. And when the wine is in them the nature comes out, and they must be buffetting, and up start politics, and good-bye to harmony! My husband, I am sorry to say, was one of those who have a long account of ruined dinners against them. I have seen him and his friends red as the roast and white as the boiled with wrath on a popular topic they had excited themselves over, intrinsically not worth a snap of the fingers. In London!" exclaimed Mrs. Mountstuart, to aggravate the charge against her lord in the Shades. "But town or country, the table should be sacred. I have heard women say it is a plot on the side of the men to teach us our littleness. I don't believe they have a plot. It would be to compliment them on a talent. I believe they fall upon one another blindly, simply because they are full; which is, we are told, the preparation for the fighting Englishman. They cannot eat and keep a truce. Did you notice that dreadful Mr. Capes?"

"The gentleman who frequently contradicted papa? But Colonel De Craye was good enough to relieve us."

"How, my dear?"

"You did not hear him? He took advantage of an interval when Mr. Capes was breathing after a paean to his friend, the Governor—I think—of one of the presidencies, to say to the lady beside him: 'He was a wonderful administrator and great logician; he married an Anglo-Indian widow, and soon after published a pamphlet in favour of Suttee.'"

"And what did the lady say?"

"She said: 'Oh.'"

"Hark at her! And was it heard?"

"Mr. Capes granted the widow, but declared he had never seen the pamphlet in favour of Suttee, and disbelieved in it. He insisted that it was to be named Sati. He was vehement."