Just on the instant of her addressing him, saying: “Father,” a note of seriousness in his ear, it struck her that the occasion for saying all had not yet arrived, and she quickly interposed: “Papa”; and helped him to look lighter. The petition to be taken away was uttered.
“To London?” said Dr. Middleton. “I don’t know who’ll take us in.”
“To France, papa?”
“That means hotel-life.”
“Only for two or three weeks.”
“Weeks! I am under an engagement to dine with Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson five days hence: that is, on Thursday.”
“Could we not find an excuse?”
“Break an engagement? No, my dear, not even to escape drinking a widow’s wine.”
“Does a word bind us?”
“Why, what else should?”
“I think I am not very well.”
“We’ll call in that man we met at dinner here: Corney: a capital doctor; an old-fashioned anecdotal doctor. How is it you are not well, my love? You look well. I cannot conceive your not being well.”
“It is only that I want change of air, papa.”
“There we are—a change! semper eadem! Women will be wanting a change of air in Paradise; a change of angels too, I might surmise. A change from quarters like these to a French hotel would be a descent!—’this the seat, this mournful gloom for that celestial light.’ I am perfectly at home in the library here. That excellent fellow Whitford and I have real days: and I like him for showing fight to his elder and better.”
“He is going to leave.”
“I know nothing of it, and I shall append no credit to the tale until I do know. He is headstrong, but he answers to a rap.”
Clara’s bosom heaved. The speechless insurrection threatened her eyes.
A South-west shower lashed the window-panes and suggested to Dr. Middleton shuddering visions of the Channel passage on board a steamer.
“Corney shall see you: he is a sparkling draught in person; probably illiterate, if I may judge from one interruption of my discourse when he sat opposite me, but lettered enough to respect Learning and write out his prescription: I do not ask more of men or of physicians.” Dr. Middleton said this rising, glancing at the clock and at the back of his hands. “’Quod autem secundum litteras difficillimum esse artificium?’ But what after letters is the more difficult practice? ‘Ego puto medicum.’ The medicus next to the scholar: though I have not to my recollection required him next me, nor ever expected child of mine to be crying for that milk. Daughter she is—of the unexplained sex: we will send a messenger for Corney. Change, my dear, you will speedily have, to satisfy the most craving of women, if Willoughby, as I suppose, is in the neoteric fashion of spending a honeymoon on a railway: apt image, exposition and perpetuation of the state of mania conducting to the institution! In my time we lay by to brood on happiness; we had no thought of chasing it over a continent, mistaking hurly-burly clothed in dust for the divinity we sought. A smaller generation sacrifices to excitement. Dust and hurly-burly must perforce be the issue. And that is your modern world. Now, my dear, let us go and wash our hands. Midday-bells expect immediate attention. They know of no anteroom of assembly.”