This little scene with Sorell, described in the last chapter, was of great importance to Connie’s after history. It had placed her suddenly on a footing of intimacy with a man of poetic and lofty character, and had transformed her old childish relation to him—which had alone made the scene possible—into something entirely different. It produced a singular effect upon her that such a man should care enough what befell her to dare to say what he had said to her. It had been—she admitted it—a lesson in scrupulousness, in high delicacy of feeling, in magnanimity. “You are trifling with what may be the life of another—just to amuse yourself—or to pay off a moment’s offence. Only the stupid or cruel souls do such things—or think lightly of them. But not you—your mother’s daughter!”
That had been the meaning of his sudden incursion. The more Connie thought of it, the more it thrilled her. It was both her charm and her weakness, at this moment, that she was so plastic, so responsive both for good and evil. She said to herself that she was fortunate to have such a friend; and she was conscious of a new and eager wish to win his praise, or to avoid his blame.
At the same time it did not occur to her to tell him anything of her escapade with Douglas Falloden. But the more closely she kept this to herself, the more eager she was to appease her conscience and satisfy Sorell, in the matter of Alice and Herbert Pryce. Her instinct showed her what to do, and Sorell watched her struggling with the results of her evening’s flirtation with much secret amusement and applause. Herbert Pryce having been whistled on, had to be whistled off, and Alice had to be gently and gradually reassured; yet without any obvious penitence on Connie’s part, which would only have inflicted additional wounds on Alice’s sore spirit.
And Connie did it, broadly speaking, during the week of Falloden’s schools. Sorell himself was busy every day and all day as one of the Greats examiners. He scarcely saw her for more than two half-hours during a hideously strenuous week, through which he sat immersed in the logic and philosophy papers of the disappearing generation of Honour men. Among the papers of the twenty or thirty men who were the certain Firsts of the year, he could not help paying a special attention to Douglas Falloden’s. What a hard and glittering mind the fellow had!—extraordinarily competent and well-trained; extraordinarily lacking, as it seemed to Sorell, in width or pliancy, or humanity. One of the ablest essays sent in, however, was a paper by Falloden on the “Sentimentalisms of Democracy”—in which a reasoned and fierce contempt for the popular voice, and a brilliant glorification of war and of a military aristocracy, made very lively reading.
On the later occasion, when Sorell and Constance met during the week, he found Radowitz in the Hoopers’ drawing-room. Sorell had gone in after dinner to consult with Ewen Hooper, one of his fellow examiners, over some doubtful papers, and their business done, the two men allowed themselves an interval of talk and music with the ladies before beginning work again till the small hours.