The fly jolted and threatened to lurch.
“Flitch, my dear man!” the colonel gave a murmuring remonstrance; “for,” said he to Clara, whom his apostrophe to Flitch had set smiling, “we’re not safe with him, however we make believe, and he’ll be jerking the heart out of me before he has done.—But if two of us have not the misfortune to be united when they come to the discovery, there’s hope. That is, if one has courage and the other has wisdom. Otherwise they may go to the yoke in spite of themselves. The great enemy is Pride, who has them both in a coach and drives them to the fatal door, and the only thing to do is to knock him off his box while there’s a minute to spare. And as there’s no pride like the pride of possession, the deadliest wound to him is to make that doubtful. Pride won’t be taught wisdom in any other fashion. But one must have the courage to do it!”
De Craye trifled with the window-sash, to give his words time to sink in solution.
Who but Willoughby stood for Pride? And who, swayed by languor, had dreamed of a method that would be surest and swiftest to teach him the wisdom of surrendering her?
“You know, Miss Middleton, I study character,” said the colonel.
“I see that you do,” she answered.
“You intend to return?”
“The day is unfavourable for travelling, I must say.”
“You may count on my discretion in the fullest degree. I throw myself on your generosity when I assure you that it was not my design to surprise a secret. I guessed the station, and went there, to put myself at your disposal.”
“Did you,” said Clara, reddening slightly, “chance to see Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson’s carriage pass you when you drove up to the station?”
De Craye had passed a carriage. “I did not see the lady. She was in it?”
“Yes. And therefore it is better to put discretion on one side: we may be certain she saw you.”
“But not you, Miss Middleton.”
“I prefer to think that I am seen. I have a description of courage, Colonel De Craye, when it is forced on me.”
“I have not suspected the reverse. Courage wants training, as well as other fine capacities. Mine is often rusty and rheumatic.”
“I cannot hear of concealment or plotting.”
“Except, pray, to advance the cause of poor Flitch!”
“He shall be excepted.”
The colonel screwed his head round for a glance at his coachman’s back.
“Perfectly guaranteed to-day!” he said of Flitch’s look of solidity. “The convulsion of the elements appears to sober our friend; he is only dangerous in calms. Five minutes will bring us to the park-gates.”
Clara leaned forward to gaze at the hedgeways in the neighbourhood of the Hall strangely renewing their familiarity with her. Both in thought and sensation she was like a flower beaten to earth, and she thanked her feminine mask for not showing how nerveless and languid she was. She could have accused Vernon of a treacherous cunning for imposing it on her free will to decide her fate.