George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 43

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CHAPTER XLIII

IN WHICH SIR WILLOUGHBY IS LED TO THINK THAT THE ELEMENTS HAVE CONSPIRED AGAINST HIM

Clara had not taken many steps in the garden before she learned how great was her debt of gratitude to Colonel De Craye. Willoughby and her father were awaiting her. De Craye, with his ready comprehension of circumstances, turned aside unseen among the shrubs. She advanced slowly.

"The vapours, we may trust, have dispersed?" her father hailed her.

"One word, and these discussions are over, we dislike them equally," said Willoughby.

"No scenes," Dr. Middleton added. "Speak your decision, my girl, pro forma, seeing that he who has the right demands it, and pray release me."

Clara looked at Willoughby.

"I have decided to go to Miss Dale for her advice."

There was no appearance in him of a man that has been shot.

"To Miss Dale?—for advice?"

Dr Middleton invoked the Furies. "What is the signification of this new freak?"

"Miss Dale must be consulted, papa."

"Consulted with reference to the disposal of your hand in marriage?"

"She must be."

"Miss Dale, do you say?"

"I do, Papa."

Dr Middleton regained his natural elevation from the bend of body habitual with men of an established sanity, paedagogues and others, who are called on at odd intervals to inspect the magnitude of the infinitesimally absurd in human nature: small, that is, under the light of reason, immense in the realms of madness.

His daughter profoundly confused him. He swelled out his chest, remarking to Willoughby: "I do not wonder at your scared expression of countenance, my friend. To discover yourself engaged to a girl mad as Cassandra, without a boast of the distinction of her being sun-struck, can be no specially comfortable enlightenment. I am opposed to delays, and I will not have a breach of faith committed by daughter of mine."

"Do not repeat those words," Clara said to Willoughby. He started. She had evidently come armed. But how, within so short a space? What could have instructed her? And in his bewilderment he gazed hurriedly above, gulped air, and cried: "Scared, sir? I am not aware that my countenance can show a scare. I am not accustomed to sue for long: I am unable to sustain the part of humble supplicant. She puts me out of harmony with creation—We are plighted, Clara. It is pure waste of time to speak of soliciting advice on the subject."

"Would it be a breach of faith for me to break my engagement?" she said.

"You ask?"

"It is a breach of sanity to propound the interrogation," said her father.

She looked at Willoughby. "Now?"

He shrugged haughtily.

"Since last night?" she said.