“No; it looks as if it were in print.”
“You have hit it perfectly, as usual, ma’am.”
Sir Willoughby mused.
Like one resuming his instrument to take up the melody in a concerted piece, he said: “I thought Laetitia Dale had a singularly animated air last night.”
“Why!—” Mrs. Mountstuart mildly gaped.
“I want a new description of her. You know, I collect your mottoes and sentences.”
“It seems to me she is coming three parts out of her shell, and wearing it as a hood for convenience.”
“Ready to issue forth at an invitation? Admirable! exact!”
“Ay, my good Sir Willoughby, but are we so very admirable and exact? Are we never to know our own minds?”
He produced a polysyllabic sigh, like those many-jointed compounds of poets in happy languages, which are copious in a single expression: “Mine is known to me. It always has been. Cleverness in women is not uncommon. Intellect is the pearl. A woman of intellect is as good as a Greek statue; she is divinely wrought, and she is divinely rare.”
“Proceed,” said the lady, confiding a cough to the air.
“The rarity of it: and it is not mere intellect, it is a sympathetic intellect; or else it is an intellect in perfect accord with an intensely sympathetic disposition;—the rarity of it makes it too precious to be parted with when once we have met it. I prize it the more the older I grow.”
“Are we on the feminine or the neuter?”
“I beg pardon?”
“The universal or the individual?”
He shrugged. “For the rest, psychological affinities may exist coincident with and entirely independent of material or moral prepossessions, relations, engagements, ties.”
“Well, that is not the raving of passion, certainly,” said Mrs Mountstuart, “and it sounds as if it were a comfortable doctrine for men. On that plea, you might all of you be having Aspasia and a wife. We saw your fair Middleton and Colonel de Craye at a distance as we entered the park. Professor Crooklyn is under some hallucination.”
“What more likely?”
The readiness and the double-bearing of the reply struck her comic sense with awe.
“The Professor must hear that. He insists on the fly, and the inn, and the wet boots, and the warming mixture, and the testimony of the landlady and the railway porter.”
“I say, what more likely?”
“Than that he should insist?”
“If he is under the hallucination!”
“He may convince others.”
“I have only to repeat. . .”
“‘What more likely?’ It’s extremely philosophical. Coincident with a pursuit of the psychological affinities.”
“Professor Crooklyn will hardly descend, I suppose, from his classical altitudes to lay his hallucinations before Dr. Middleton?”
“Sir Willoughby, you are the pink of chivalry!”