county; a pompous gentleman, the picture of a father-in-law
for Willoughby. The father of Miss Dale was a
battered army surgeon from India, tenant of one of
Sir Willoughby’s cottages bordering Patterne
Park. His girl was portionless and a poetess.
Her writing of the song in celebration of the young
baronet’s birthday was thought a clever venture,
bold as only your timid creatures can be bold.
She let the cat out of her bag of verse before the
multitude; she almost proposed to her hero in her
rhymes. She was pretty; her eyelashes were long
and dark, her eyes dark-blue, and her soul was ready
to shoot like a rocket out of them at a look from Willoughby.
And he looked, he certainly looked, though he did
not dance with her once that night, and danced repeatedly
with Miss Durham. He gave Laetitia to Vernon
Whitford for the final dance of the night, and he may
have looked at her so much in pity of an elegant girl
allied to such a partner. The “Phoebus
Apollo turned fasting friar” had entirely forgotten
his musical gifts in motion. He crossed himself
and crossed his bewildered lady, and crossed everybody
in the figure, extorting shouts of cordial laughter
from his cousin Willoughby. Be it said that the
hour was four in the morning, when dancers must laugh
at somebody, if only to refresh their feet, and the
wit of the hour administers to the wildest laughter.
Vernon was likened to Theseus in the maze, entirely
dependent upon his Ariadne; to a fly released from
a jam-pot; to a “salvage”, or green, man
caught in a web of nymphs and made to go the paces.
Willoughby was inexhaustible in the happy similes he
poured out to Miss Durham across the lines of Sir
Roger de Coverley, and they were not forgotten, they
procured him a reputation as a convivial sparkler.
Rumour went the round that he intended to give Laetitia
to Vernon for good, when he could decide to take Miss
Durham to himself; his generosity was famous; but
that decision, though the rope was in the form of
a knot, seemed reluctant for the conclusive close haul;
it preferred the state of slackness; and if he courted
Laetitia on behalf of his cousin, his cousinly love
must have been greater than his passion, one had to
suppose. He was generous enough for it, or for
marrying the portionless girl himself.
There was a story of a brilliant young widow of our
aristocracy who had very nearly snared him. Why
should he object to marry into our aristocracy?
Mrs. Mountstuart asked him, and he replied that the
girls of that class have no money, and he doubted
the quality of their blood. He had his eyes awake.
His duty to his House was a foremost thought with
him, and for such a reason he may have been more anxious
to give the slim and not robust Laetitia to Vernon
than accede to his personal inclination. The
mention of the widow singularly offended him, notwithstanding
the high rank of the lady named. “A widow?”
he said. “I!” He spoke to a widow;
an oldish one truly; but his wrath at the suggestion