Vernon stood irresolute. It was decidedly not a moment for disturbing Dr. Middleton’s composure. He meditated upon a conversation, as friendly as possible, with Willoughby. Round on the front-lawn, he beheld Willoughby and Dr. Middleton together, the latter having halted to lend attentive ear to his excellent host. Unnoticed by them or disregarded, Vernon turned back to Laetitia, and sauntered, talking with her of things current for as long as he could endure to listen to praise of his pure self-abnegation; proof of how well he had disguised himself, but it smacked unpleasantly to him. His humourous intimacy with men’s minds likened the source of this distaste to the gallant all-or-nothing of the gambler, who hates the little when he cannot have the much, and would rather stalk from the tables clean-picked than suffer ruin to be tickled by driblets of the glorious fortune he has played for and lost. If we are not to be beloved, spare us the small coin of compliments on character; especially when they compliment only our acting. It is partly endurable to win eulogy for our stately fortitude in losing, but Laetitia was unaware that he flung away a stake; so she could not praise him for his merits.
“Willoughby makes the pardoning of Crossjay conditional,” he said, “and the person pleading for him has to grant the terms. How could you imagine Willoughby would give her up! How could he! Who! . . . He should, is easily said. I was no witness of the scene between them just now, but I could have foretold the end of it; I could almost recount the passages. The consequence is, that everything depends upon the amount of courage she possesses. Dr. Middleton won’t leave Patterne yet. And it is of no use to speak to him to-day. And she is by nature impatient, and is rendered desperate.”
“Why is it of no use to speak to Dr. Middleton today?” cried Laetitia.
“He drank wine yesterday that did not agree with him; he can’t work. To-day he is looking forward to Patterne Port. He is not likely to listen to any proposals to leave to-day.”
“I know the depth of that cry!”
“You are excluded, Mr. Whitford.”
“Not a bit of it; I am in with the rest. Say that men are to be exclaimed at. Men have a right to expect you to know your own minds when you close on a bargain. You don’t know the world or yourselves very well, it’s true; still the original error is on your side, and upon that you should fix your attention. She brought her father here, and no sooner was he very comfortably established than she wished to dislocate him.”
“I cannot explain it; I cannot comprehend it,” said Laetitia.
“You are Constancy.”
“No.” She coloured. “I am ‘in with rest’. I do not say I should have done the same. But I have the knowledge that I must not sit in judgement on her. I can waver.”