The Hall-dock over the stables was then striking twelve. It was the hour for her flight to be made known, and Clara sat in a turmoil of dim apprehension that prepared her nervous frame for a painful blush on her being asked by Colonel De Craye whether she had set her watch correctly. He must, she understood, have seen through her at the breakfast table: and was she not cruelly indebted to him for her evasion of Willoughby? Such perspicacity of vision distressed and frightened her; at the same time she was obliged to acknowledge that he had not presumed on it. Her dignity was in no way the worse for him. But it had been at a man’s mercy, and there was the affliction.
She jumped from the fly as if she were leaving danger behind. She could at the moment have greeted Willoughby with a conventionally friendly smile. The doors were thrown open and young Crossjay flew out to her. He hung and danced on her hand, pressed the hand to his mouth, hardly believing that he saw and touched her, and in a lingo of dashes and asterisks related how Sir Willoughby had found him under the boathouse eaves and pumped him, and had been sent off to Hoppner’s farm, where there was a sick child, and on along the road to a labourer’s cottage: “For I said you’re so kind to poor people, Miss Middleton; that’s true, now that is true. And I said you wouldn’t have me with you for fear of contagion!” This was what she had feared.
“Every crack and bang in a boys vocabulary,” remarked the colonel, listening to him after he had paid Flitch.
The latter touched his hat till he had drawn attention to himself, when he exclaimed, with rosy melancholy: “Ah! my lady, ah! colonel, if ever I lives to drink some of the old port wine in the old Hall at Christmastide!” Their healths would on that occasion be drunk, it was implied. He threw up his eyes at the windows, humped his body and drove away.
“Then Mr. Whitford has not come back?” said Clara to Crossjay.
“No, Miss Middleton. Sir Willoughby has, and he’s upstairs in his room dressing.”
“Have you seen Barclay?”
“She has just gone into the laboratory. I told her Sir Willoughby wasn’t there.”
“Tell me, Crossjay, had she a letter?”
“She had something.”
“Run: say I am here; I want the letter, it is mine.”
Crossjay sprang away and plunged into the arms of Sir Willoughby.
“One has to catch the fellow like a football,” exclaimed the injured gentleman, doubled across the boy and holding him fast, that he might have an object to trifle with, to give himself countenance: he needed it. “Clara, you have not been exposed to the weather?”
“Hardly at all.”
“I rejoice. You found shelter?”
“In one of the cottages?”
“Not in a cottage; but I was perfectly sheltered. Colonel De Craye passed a fly before he met me . . .”