Measurelessly to loathe was not sufficient to save him from pain: he tried it: nor to despise; he went to a depth there also. The fact that she was a healthy young woman returned to the surface of his thoughts like the murdered body pitched into the river, which will not drown, and calls upon the elements of dissolution to float it. His grand hereditary desire to transmit his estates, wealth and name to a solid posterity, while it prompted him in his loathing and contempt of a nature mean and ephemeral compared with his, attached him desperately to her splendid healthiness. The council of elders, whose descendant he was, pointed to this young woman for his mate. He had wooed her with the idea that they consented. O she was healthy! And he likewise: but, as if it had been a duel between two clearly designated by quality of blood to bid a House endure, she was the first who taught him what it was to have sensations of his mortality.
He could not forgive her. It seemed to him consequently politic to continue frigid and let her have a further taste of his shadow, when it was his burning wish to strain her in his arms to a flatness provoking his compassion.
“You have had your ride?” he addressed her politely in the general assembly on the lawn.
“I have had my ride, yes,” Clara replied.
“Agreeable, I trust?”
So it appeared. Oh, blushless!
The next instant he was in conversation with Laetitia, questioning her upon a dejected droop of her eyelashes.
“I am, I think,” said she, “constitutionally melancholy.”
He murmured to her: “I believe in the existence of specifics, and not far to seek, for all our ailments except those we bear at the hands of others.”
She did not dissent.
De Craye, whose humour for being convinced that Willoughby cared about as little for Miss Middleton as she for him was nourished by his immediate observation of them, dilated on the beauty of the ride and his fair companion’s equestrian skill.
“You should start a travelling circus,” Willoughby rejoined. “But the idea’s a worthy one!—There’s another alternative to the expedition I proposed, Miss Middleton,” said De Craye. “And I be clown? I haven’t a scruple of objection. I must read up books of jokes.”
“Don’t,” said Willoughby.
“I’d spoil my part! But a natural clown won’t keep up an artificial performance for an entire month, you see; which is the length of time we propose. He’ll exhaust his nature in a day and be bowled over by the dullest regular donkey-engine with paint on his cheeks and a nodding topknot.”
“What is this expedition ‘we’ propose?”
De Craye was advised in his heart to spare Miss Middleton any allusion to honeymoons.
“Merely a game to cure dulness.”
“Ah!” Willoughby acquiesced. “A month, you said?”
“One’d like it to last for years.”