“Miss Dale will do wisely, I think, sir, by confining herself to your present edition of the classics.”
“That,” replied Dr. Middleton, “is the observation of a student of the dictionary of classical mythology in the English tongue.”
“The Theatre is a matter of climate, sir. You will grant me that.”
“If quick wits come of climate, it is as you say, sir.”
“With us it seems a matter of painful fostering, or the need of it,” said Miss Dale, with a question to Dr. Middleton, excluding Sir Willoughby, as though he had been a temporary disturbance of the flow of their dialogue.
The ladies Eleanor and Isabel, previously excellent listeners to the learned talk, saw the necessity of coming to his rescue; but you cannot converse with your aunts, inmates of your house, on general subjects at table; the attempt increased his discomposure; he considered that he had ill-chosen his father-in-law; that scholars are an impolite race; that young or youngish women are devotees of power in any form, and will be absorbed by a scholar for a variation of a man; concluding that he must have a round of dinner-parties to friends, especially ladies, appreciating him, during the Doctor’s visit. Clara’s headache above, and Dr. Middleton’s unmannerliness below, affected his instincts in a way to make him apprehend that a stroke of misfortune was impending; thunder was in the air. Still he learned something, by which he was to profit subsequently. The topic of wine withdrew the doctor from his classics; it was magical on him. A strong fraternity of taste was discovered in the sentiments of host and guest upon particular wines and vintages; they kindled one another by naming great years of the grape, and if Sir Willoughby had to sacrifice the ladies to the topic, he much regretted a condition of things that compelled him to sin against his habit, for the sake of being in the conversation and probing an elderly gentleman’s foible.
Late at night he heard the house-bell, and meeting Vernon in the hall, invited him to enter the laboratory and tell him Dr. Corney’s last. Vernon was brief, Corney had not let fly a single anecdote, he said, and lighted his candle.
“By the way, Vernon, you had a talk with Miss Middleton?”
“She will speak to you to-morrow at twelve.”
“To-morrow at twelve?”
“It gives her four-and-twenty hours.”
Sir Willoughby determined that his perplexity should be seen; but Vernon said good-night to him, and was shooting up the stairs before the dramatic exhibition of surprise had yielded to speech.