Clara smiled affectionately. “I am not aware of any. Whose cottage is this?”
“My father’s. Will you not come in? into the garden?”
Clara took note of ivied windows and roses in the porch. She thanked Laetitia and said: “I will call for you in an hour.”
“Are you walking on the road alone?” said Laetitia, incredulously, with an eye to Sir Willoughby’s dismay.
“I put my trust in the high-road,” Clara replied, and turned away, but turned back to Laetitia and offered her face to be kissed.
The “dreadful power” of this young lady had fervently impressed Laetitia, and in kissing her she marvelled at her gentleness and girlishness.
Clara walked on, unconscious of her possession of power of any kind.
THE PORCELAIN VASE
During the term of Clara’s walk with Laetitia, Sir Willoughby’s shrunken self-esteem, like a garment hung to the fire after exposure to tempestuous weather, recovered some of the sleekness of its velvet pile in the society of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, who represented to him the world he feared and tried to keep sunny for himself by all the arts he could exercise. She expected him to be the gay Sir Willoughby, and her look being as good as an incantation summons, he produced the accustomed sprite, giving her sally for sally. Queens govern the polite. Popularity with men, serviceable as it is for winning favouritism with women, is of poor value to a sensitive gentleman, anxious even to prognostic apprehension on behalf of his pride, his comfort and his prevalence. And men are grossly purchasable; good wines have them, good cigars, a goodfellow air: they are never quite worth their salt even then; you can make head against their ill looks. But the looks of women will at one blow work on you the downright difference which is between the cock of lordly plume and the moulting. Happily they may be gained: a clever tongue will gain them, a leg. They are with you to a certainty if Nature is with you; if you are elegant and discreet: if the sun is on you, and they see you shining in it; or if they have seen you well-stationed and handsome in the sun. And once gained they are your mirrors for life, and far more constant than the glass. That tale of their caprice is absurd. Hit their imaginations once, they are your slaves, only demanding common courtier service of you. They will deny that you are ageing, they will cover you from scandal, they will refuse to see you ridiculous. Sir Willoughby’s instinct, or skin, or outfloating feelers, told him of these mysteries of the influence of the sex; he had as little need to study them as a lady breathed on.