Willoughby’s comportment while the showers of adulation drenched him might be likened to the composure of Indian Gods undergoing worship, but unlike them he reposed upon no seat of amplitude to preserve him from a betrayal of intoxication; he had to continue tripping, dancing, exactly balancing himself, head to right, head to left, addressing his idolaters in phrases of perfect choiceness. This is only to say that it is easier to be a wooden idol than one in the flesh; yet Willoughby was equal to his task. The little prince’s education teaches him that he is other than you, and by virtue of the instruction he receives, and also something, we know not what, within, he is enabled to maintain his posture where you would be tottering.
Urchins upon whose curly pates grave seniors lay their hands with conventional encomium and speculation, look older than they are immediately, and Willoughby looked older than his years, not for want of freshness, but because he felt that he had to stand eminently and correctly poised.
Hearing of Mrs. Mountstuart’s word on him, he smiled and said, “It is at her service.”
The speech was communicated to her, and she proposed to attach a dedicatory strip of silk. And then they came together, and there was wit and repartee suitable to the electrical atmosphere of the dancing-room, on the march to a magical hall of supper. Willoughby conducted Mrs. Mountstuart to the supper-table.
“Were I,” said she, “twenty years younger, I think I would marry you, to cure my infatuation.”
“Then let me tell you in advance, madam,” said he, “that I will do everything to obtain a new lease of it, except divorce you.”
They were infinitely wittier, but so much was heard and may be reported.
“It makes the business of choosing a wife for him superhumanly difficult!” Mrs. Mountstuart observed, after listening to the praises she had set going again when the ladies were weeded of us, in Lady Patterne’s Indian room, and could converse unhampered upon their own ethereal themes.
“Willoughby will choose a wife for himself,” said his mother.
The great question for the county was debated in many households, daughter-thronged and daughterless, long subsequent to the memorable day of Willoughby’s coming of age. Lady Busshe was for Constantia Durham. She laughed at Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson’s notion of Laetitia Dale. She was a little older than Mrs. Mountstuart, and had known Willoughby’s father, whose marriage into the wealthiest branch of the Whitford family had been strictly sagacious. “Patternes marry money; they are not romantic people,” she said. Miss Durham had money, and she had health and beauty: three mighty qualifications for a Patterne bride. Her father, Sir John Durham, was a large landowner in the western division of the