“But you saw Colonel De Craye pass you?”
“My work was done; I should have been an intruder. Besides I was acting wet jacket with Mrs. Mountstuart to get her to drive off fast, or she might have jumped out in search of her Professor herself.”
“She says you were lean as a fork, with the wind whistling through the prongs.”
“You see how easy it is to deceive one who is an artist in phrases. Avoid them, Miss Dale; they dazzle the penetration of the composer. That is why people of ability like Mrs Mountstuart see so little; they are so bent on describing brilliantly. However, she is kind and charitable at heart. I have been considering to-night that, to cut this knot as it is now, Miss Middleton might do worse than speak straight out to Mrs. Mountstuart. No one else would have such influence with Willoughby. The simple fact of Mrs. Mountstuart’s knowing of it would be almost enough. But courage would be required for that. Good-night, Miss Dale.”
“Good-night, Mr. Whitford. You pardon me for disturbing you?”
Vernon pressed her hand reassuringly. He had but to look at her and review her history to think his cousin Willoughby punished by just retribution. Indeed, for any maltreatment of the dear boy Love by man or by woman, coming under your cognizance, you, if you be of common soundness, shall behold the retributive blow struck in your time.
Miss Dale retired thinking how like she and Vernon were to one another in the toneless condition they had achieved through sorrow. He succeeded in masking himself from her, owing to her awe of the circumstances. She reproached herself for not having the same devotion to the cold idea of duty as he had; and though it provoked inquiry, she would not stop to ask why he had left Miss Middleton a prey to the sparkling colonel. It seemed a proof of the philosophy he preached.
As she was passing by young Crossjay’s bedroom door a face appeared. Sir Willoughby slowly emerged and presented himself in his full length, beseeching her to banish alarm.
He said it in a hushed voice, with a face qualified to create sentiment.
“Are you tired? sleepy?” said he.
She protested that she was not: she intended to read for an hour.
He begged to have the hour dedicated to him. “I shall be relieved by conversing with a friend.”
No subterfuge crossed her mind; she thought his midnight visit to the boy’s bedside a pretty feature in him; she was full of pity, too; she yielded to the strange request, feeling that it did not become “an old woman” to attach importance even to the public discovery of midnight interviews involving herself as one, and feeling also that she was being treated as an old friend in the form of a very old woman. Her mind was bent on arresting any recurrence to the project she had so frequently outlined in the tongue of innuendo, of which, because of her repeated tremblings under it, she thought him a master.