Mrs. Mountstuart wheeled Professor Crooklyn round to accompany Vernon.
“We,” she said, “are for modern English scholarship, opposed to the champion of German.”
“The contrary,” observed Professor Crooklyn.
“Oh! We,” she corrected the error serenely, “are for German scholarship opposed to English.”
“We defend certain editions.”
“Defend is a term of imperfect application to my position, ma’am.”
“My dear Professor, you have in Dr. Middleton a match for you in conscientious pugnacity, and you will not waste it upon me. There, there they are; there he is. Mr. Whitford will conduct you. I stand away from the first shock.”
Mrs. Mountstuart fell back to Laetitia, saying: “He pores over a little inexactitude in phrases, and pecks at it like a domestic fowl.”
Professor Crooklyn’s attitude and air were so well described that Laetitia could have laughed.
“These mighty scholars have their flavour,” the great lady hastened to add, lest her younger companion should be misled to suppose that they were not valuable to a governing hostess: “their shadow-fights are ridiculous, but they have their flavour at a table. Last night, no: I discard all mention of last night. We failed: as none else in this neighbourhood could fail, but we failed. If we have among us a cormorant devouring young lady who drinks up all the—ha!—brandy and water—of our inns and occupies all our flys, why, our condition is abnormal, and we must expect to fail: we are deprived of accommodation for accidental circumstances. How Mr. Whitford could have missed seeing Professor Crooklyn! And what was he doing at the station, Miss Dale?”
“Your portrait of Professor Crooklyn was too striking, Mrs Mountstuart, and deceived him by its excellence. He appears to have seen only the blank side of the slate.”
“Ah! He is a faithful friend of his cousin, do you not think?”
“He is the truest of friends.”
“As for Dr. Middleton,” Mrs. Mountstuart diverged from her inquiry, “he will swell the letters of my vocabulary to gigantic proportions if I see much of him: he is contagious.”
“I believe it is a form of his humour.”
“I caught it of him yesterday at my dinner-table in my distress, and must pass it off as a form of mine, while it lasts. I talked Dr. Middleton half the dreary night through to my pillow. Your candid opinion, my dear, come! As for me, I don’t hesitate. We seemed to have sat down to a solitary performance on the bass-viol. We were positively an assembly of insects during thunder. My very soul thanked Colonel De Craye for his diversions, but I heard nothing but Dr. Middleton. It struck me that my table was petrified, and every one sat listening to bowls played overhead.”
“I was amused.”