He left the table a little after eleven o’clock. A short dialogue ensued upon the subject of the ladies. They must have gone to bed? Why, yes; of course they must. It is good that they should go to bed early to preserve their complexions for us. Ladies are creation’s glory, but they are anti-climax, following a wine of a century old. They are anti-climax, recoil, cross-current; morally, they are repentance, penance; imagerially, the frozen North on the young brown buds bursting to green. What know they of a critic in the palate, and a frame all revelry! And mark you, revelry in sobriety, containment in exultation; classic revelry. Can they, dear though they be to us, light up candelabras in the brain, to illuminate all history and solve the secret of the destiny of man? They cannot; they cannot sympathize with them that can. So therefore this division is between us; yet are we not turbaned Orientals, nor are they inmates of the harem. We are not Moslem. Be assured of it in the contemplation of the table’s decanter.
Dr Middleton said: “Then I go straight to bed.”
“I will conduct you to your door, sir,” said his host.
The piano was heard. Dr. Middleton laid his hand on the banisters, and remarked: “The ladies must have gone to bed?”
Vernon came out of the library and was hailed, “Fellow-student!”
He waved a good-night to the Doctor, and said to Willoughby: “The ladies are in the drawing-room.”
“I am on my way upstairs,” was the reply.
“Solitude and sleep, after such a wine as that; and forefend us human society!” the Doctor shouted. “But, Willoughby!”
“You dispose of the cellar, sir.”
“I am fitter to drive the horses of the sun. I would rigidly counsel, one, and no more. We have made a breach in the fiftieth dozen. Daily one will preserve us from having to name the fortieth quite so unseasonably. The couple of bottles per diem prognosticates disintegration, with its accompanying recklessness. Constitutionally, let me add, I bear three. I speak for posterity.”
During Dr. Middleton’s allocution the ladies issued from the drawing-room, Clara foremost, for she had heard her father’s voice, and desired to ask him this in reference to their departure: “Papa, will you tell me the hour to-morrow?”
She ran up the stairs to kiss him, saying again: “When will you be ready to-morrow morning?”
Dr Middleton announced a stoutly deliberative mind in the bugle-notes of a repeated ahem. He bethought him of replying in his doctorial tongue. Clara’s eager face admonished him to brevity: it began to look starved. Intruding on his vision of the houris couched in the inner cellar to be the reward of valiant men, it annoyed him. His brows joined. He said: “I shall not be ready to-morrow morning.”
“In the afternoon?”
“Nor in the afternoon.”