George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 50

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CHAPTER L

UPON WHICH THE CURTAIN FALLS

"Plain sense upon the marriage question is my demand upon man and woman, for the stopping of many a tragedy."

These were Dr. Middleton's words in reply to Willoughby's brief explanation.

He did not say that he had shown it parentally while the tragedy was threatening, or at least there was danger of a precipitate descent from the levels of comedy. The parents of hymeneal men and women he was indisposed to consider as dramatis personae. Nor did he mention certain sympathetic regrets he entertained in contemplation of the health of Mr. Dale, for whom, poor gentleman, the proffer of a bottle of the Patterne Port would be an egregious mockery. He paced about, anxious for his departure, and seeming better pleased with the society of Colonel De Craye than with that of any of the others. Colonel De Craye assiduously courted him, was anecdotal, deferential, charmingly vivacious, the very man the Rev. Doctor liked for company when plunged in the bustle of the preliminaries to a journey.

"You would be a cheerful travelling comrade, sir," he remarked, and spoke of his doom to lead his daughter over the Alps and Alpine lakes for the Summer months.

Strange to tell, the Alps, for the Summer months, was a settled project of the colonel's.

And thence Dr. Middleton was to be hauled along to the habitable quarters of North Italy in high Summer-tide.

That also had been traced for a route on the map of Colonel De Craye.

"We are started in June, I am informed," said Dr. Middleton.

June, by miracle, was the month the colonel had fixed upon.

"I trust we shall meet, sir," said he.

"I would gladly reckon it in my catalogue of pleasures," the Rev. Doctor responded; "for in good sooth it is conjecturable that I shall be left very much alone."

"Paris, Strasburg, Basle?" the colonel inquired.

"The Lake of Constance, I am told," said Dr. Middleton. Colonel De Craye spied eagerly for an opportunity of exchanging a pair of syllables with the third and fairest party of this glorious expedition to come.

Willoughby met him, and rewarded the colonel's frankness in stating that he was on the look-out for Miss Middleton to take his leave of her, by furnishing him the occasion. He conducted his friend Horace to the Blue Room, where Clara and Laetitia were seated circling a half embrace with a brook of chatter, and contrived an excuse for leading Laetitia forth. Some minutes later Mrs. Mountstuart called aloud for the colonel, to drive him away. Willoughby, whose good offices were unabated by the services he performed to each in rotation, ushered her into the Blue Room, hearing her say, as she stood at the entrance: "Is the man coming to spend a day with me with a face like that?"

She was met and detained by Clara.

De Craye came out.

"What are you thinking of?" said Willoughby.

"I was thinking," said the colonel, "of developing a heart, like you, and taking to think of others."

"At last!"

"Ay, you're a true friend, Willoughby, a true friend. And a cousin to boot!"

"What! has Clara been communicative?"

"The itinerary of a voyage Miss Middleton is going to make."

"Do you join them?"

"Why, it would be delightful, Willoughby, but it happens I've got a lot of powder I want to let off, and so I've an idea of shouldering my gun along the sea-coast and shooting gulls: which'll be a harmless form of committing patricide and matricide and fratricide—for there's my family, and I come of it!—the gull! And I've to talk lively to Mrs. Mountstuart for something like a matter of twelve hours, calculating that she goes to bed at midnight: and I wouldn't bet on it; such is the energy of ladies of that age!"