“My dear, I am ready for bed at this moment, and know of no other readiness. Ladies,” he bowed to the group in the hall below him, “may fair dreams pay court to you this night!”
Sir Willoughby had hastily descended and shaken the hands of the ladies, directed Horace De Craye to the laboratory for a smoking-room, and returned to Dr. Middleton. Vexed by the scene, uncertain of his temper if he stayed with Clara, for whom he had arranged that her disappointment should take place on the morrow, in his absence, he said: “Good-night, good-night,” to her, with due fervour, bending over her flaccid finger-tips; then offered his arm to the Rev. Doctor.
“Ay, son Willoughby, in friendliness, if you will, though I am a man to bear my load,” the father of the stupefied girl addressed him. “Candles, I believe, are on the first landing. Good-night, my love. Clara!”
“Oh!” she lifted her breast with the interjection, standing in shame of the curtained conspiracy and herself, “good night”.
Her father wound up the stairs. She stepped down.
“There was an understanding that papa and I should go to London to-morrow early,” she said, unconcernedly, to the ladies, and her voice was clear, but her face too legible. De Craye was heartily unhappy at the sight.
Two were sleepless that night: Miss Middleton and Colonel De Craye.
She was in a fever, lying like stone, with her brain burning. Quick natures run out to calamity in any little shadow of it flung before. Terrors of apprehension drive them. They stop not short of the uttermost when they are on the wings of dread. A frown means tempest, a wind wreck; to see fire is to be seized by it. When it is the approach of their loathing that they fear, they are in the tragedy of the embrace at a breath; and then is the wrestle between themselves and horror, between themselves and evil, which promises aid; themselves and weakness, which calls on evil; themselves and the better part of them, which whispers no beguilement.
The false course she had taken through sophistical cowardice appalled the girl; she was lost. The advantage taken of it by Willoughby put on the form of strength, and made her feel abject, reptilious; she was lost, carried away on the flood of the cataract. He had won her father for an ally. Strangely, she knew not how, he had succeeded in swaying her father, who had previously not more than tolerated him. “Son Willoughby” on her father’s lips meant something that scenes and scenes would have to struggle with, to the out-wearying of her father and herself. She revolved the “Son Willoughby” through moods of stupefaction, contempt, revolt, subjection. It meant that she was vanquished. It meant that her father’s esteem for her was forfeited. She saw him a gigantic image of discomposure.