George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 45

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CHAPTER XLV

THE PATTERNE LADIES: MR. DALE: LADY BUSSHE AND LADY CULMER: WITH MRS. MOUNTSTUART JENKINSON

Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer entered spying to right and left. At the sight of Mr. Dale in the room Lady Busshe murmured to her friend: "Confirmation!"

Lady Culmer murmured: "Corney is quite reliable."

"The man is his own best tonic."

"He is invaluable for the country."

Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel greeted them.

The amiability of the Patterne ladies combined with their total eclipse behind their illustrious nephew invited enterprising women of the world to take liberties, and they were not backward.

Lady Busshe said: "Well? the news! we have the outlines. Don't be astonished: we know the points: we have heard the gun. I could have told you as much yesterday. I saw it. And I guessed it the day before. Oh, I do believe in fatalities now. Lady Culmer and I agree to take that view: it is the simplest. Well, and are you satisfied, my dears?"

The ladies grimaced interrogatively: "With what?"

"With it? with all! with her! with him!"

"Our Willoughby?"

"Can it be possible that they require a dose of Corney?" Lady Busshe remarked to Lady Culmer.

"They play discretion to perfection," said Lady Culmer. "But, my dears, we are in the secret."

"How did she behave?" whispered Lady Busshe. "No high flights and flutters, I do hope. She was well-connected, they say; though I don't comprehend what they mean by a line of scholars—one thinks of a row of pinafores: and she was pretty."

"That is well enough at the start. It never will stand against brains. He had the two in the house to contrast them, and . . . the result! A young woman with brains—in a house—beats all your beauties. Lady Culmer and I have determined on that view. He thought her a delightful partner for a dance, and found her rather tiresome at the end of the gallopade. I saw it yesterday, clear as daylight. She did not understand him, and he did understand her. That will be our report."

"She is young: she will learn," said the ladies uneasily, but in total ignorance of her meaning.

"And you are charitable, and always were. I remember you had a good word for that girl Durham."

Lady Busshe crossed the room to Mr. Dale, who was turning over leaves of a grand book of the heraldic devices of our great Families.

"Study it," she said, "study it, my dear Mr. Dale; you are in it, by right of possessing a clever and accomplished daughter. At page 300 you will find the Patterne crest. And mark me, she will drag you into the peerage before she has done—relatively, you know. Sir Willoughby and wife will not be contented to sit down and manage the estates. Has not Laetitia immense ambition? And very creditable, I say."

Mr. Dale tried to protest something. He shut the book, examining the binding, flapped the cover with a finger, hoped her ladyship was in good health, alluded to his own and the strangeness of the bird out of the cage.

"You will probably take up your residence here, in a larger and handsomer cage. Mr. Dale."

He shook his head. "Do I apprehend . . ." he said.

"I know," said she.

"Dear me, can it be?"