George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 38

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CHAPTER XXXVIII

IN WHICH WE TAKE A STEP TO THE CENTRE OF EGOISM

They met; Vernon soon left them.

"You have not seen Crossjay?" Willoughby inquired.

"No," said Clara. "Once more I beg you to pardon him. He spoke falsely, owing to his poor boy's idea of chivalry."

"The chivalry to the sex which commences in lies ends by creating the woman's hero, whom we see about the world and in certain courts of law."

His ability to silence her was great: she could not reply to speech like that.

"You have," said he, "made a confidante of Mrs. Mountstuart."

"Yes."

"This is your purse."

"I thank you."

"Professor Crooklyn has managed to make your father acquainted with your project. That, I suppose, is the railway ticket in the fold of the purse. He was assured at the station that you had taken a ticket to London, and would not want the fly."

"It is true. I was foolish."

"You have had a pleasant walk with Vernon—turning me in and out?"

"We did not speak of you. You allude to what he would never consent to."

"He's an honest fellow, in his old-fashioned way. He's a secret old fellow. Does he ever talk about his wife to you?"

Clara dropped her purse, and stooped and picked it up.

"I know nothing of Mr. Whitford's affairs," she said, and she opened the purse and tore to pieces the railway ticket.

"The story's a proof that romantic spirits do not furnish the most romantic history. You have the word 'chivalry' frequently on your lips. He chivalrously married the daughter of the lodging-house where he resided before I took him. We obtained information of the auspicious union in a newspaper report of Mrs. Whitford's drunkenness and rioting at a London railway terminus—probably the one whither your ticket would have taken you yesterday, for I heard the lady was on her way to us for supplies, the connubial larder being empty."

"I am sorry; I am ignorant; I have heard nothing; I know nothing," said
Clara.

"You are disgusted. But half the students and authors you hear of marry in that way. And very few have Vernon's luck."

"She had good qualities?" asked Clara.

Her under lip hung.

It looked like disgust; he begged her not indulge the feeling.

"Literary men, it is notorious, even with the entry to society, have no taste in women. The housewife is their object. Ladies frighten and would, no doubt, be an annoyance and hindrance to them at home."

"You said he was fortunate."

"You have a kindness for him."

"I respect him."

"He is a friendly old fellow in his awkward fashion; honourable, and so forth. But a disreputable alliance of that sort sticks to a man. The world will talk. Yes, he was fortunate so far; he fell into the mire and got out of it. Were he to marry again . . ."

"She . . ."