With all these nice calculations at work, Willoughby stood above himself, contemplating his active machinery, which he could partly criticize but could not stop, in a singular wonderment at the aims and schemes and tremours of one who was handsome, manly, acceptable in the world’s eyes: and had he not loved himself most heartily he would have been divided to the extent of repudiating that urgent and excited half of his being, whose motions appeared as those of a body of insects perpetually erecting and repairing a structure of extraordinary pettiness. He loved himself too seriously to dwell on the division for more than a minute or so. But having seen it, and for the first time, as he believed, his passion for the woman causing it became surcharged with bitterness, atrabiliar.
A glance behind him, as he walked away with Dr. Middleton, showed Clara, cunning creature that she was, airily executing her malicious graces in the preliminary courtesies with Mrs. Mountstuart.
MISS MIDDLETON AND MRS. MOUNTSTUART
“Sit beside me, fair Middleton,” said the great lady.
“Gladly,” said Clara, bowing to her title.
“I want to sound you, my dear.”
Clara presented an open countenance with a dim interrogation on the forehead. “Yes?” she said, submissively.
“You were one of my bright faces last night. I was in love with you. Delicate vessels ring sweetly to a finger-nail, and if the wit is true, you answer to it; that I can see, and that is what I like. Most of the people one has at a table are drums. A ruba-dub-dub on them is the only way to get a sound. When they can be persuaded to do it upon one another, they call it conversation.”
“Colonel De Craye was very funny.”
“Funny, and witty too.”
“But never spiteful.”
“These Irish or half Irishmen are my taste. If they’re not politicians, mind; I mean Irish gentlemen. I will never have another dinner-party without one. Our men’s tempers are uncertain. You can’t get them to forget themselves. And when the wine is in them the nature comes out, and they must be buffetting, and up start politics, and good-bye to harmony! My husband, I am sorry to say, was one of those who have a long account of ruined dinners against them. I have seen him and his friends red as the roast and white as the boiled with wrath on a popular topic they had excited themselves over, intrinsically not worth a snap of the fingers. In London!” exclaimed Mrs. Mountstuart, to aggravate the charge against her lord in the Shades. “But town or country, the table should be sacred. I have heard women say it is a plot on the side of the men to teach us our littleness. I don’t believe they have a plot. It would be to compliment them on a talent. I believe they fall upon one another blindly, simply because they are full; which is, we are told, the preparation for the fighting Englishman. They cannot eat and keep a truce. Did you notice that dreadful Mr. Capes?”