Sir Willoughby apologized for her absence. “If I could be jealous, it would be of that boy Crossjay.”
“You are an excellent man, and the best of cousins,” was Lady Busshe’s enigmatical answer.
The exceedingly lively conversation at his table was lauded by Lady Culmer.
“Though,” said she, “what it all meant, and what was the drift of it, I couldn’t tell to save my life. Is it every day the same with you here?”
“How you must enjoy a spell of dulness!”
“If you said simplicity and not talking for effect! I generally cast anchor by Laetitia Dale.”
“Ah!” Lady Busshe coughed. “But the fact is, Mrs. Mountstuart is made for cleverness!”
“I think, my lady, Laetitia Dale is to the full as clever as any of the stars Mrs. Mountstuart assembles, or I.”
“Talkative cleverness, I mean.”
“In conversation as well. Perhaps you have not yet given her a chance.”
“Yes, yes, she is clever, of course, poor dear. She is looking better too.”
“Handsome, I thought,” said Lady Culmer.
“She varies,” observed Sir Willoughby.
The ladies took seat in their carriage and fell at once into a close-bonnet colloquy. Not a single allusion had they made to the wedding-presents after leaving the luncheon-table. The cause of their visit was obvious.
CONTAINS CLEVER FENCING AND INTIMATIONS OF THE NEED FOR IT
That woman, Lady Busshe, had predicted, after the event, Constantia Durham’s defection. She had also, subsequent to Willoughby’s departure on his travels, uttered sceptical things concerning his rooted attachment to Laetitia Dale. In her bitter vulgarity, that beaten rival of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson for the leadership of the county had taken his nose for a melancholy prognostic of his fortunes; she had recently played on his name: she had spoken the hideous English of his fate. Little as she knew, she was alive to the worst interpretation of appearances. No other eulogy occurred to her now than to call him the best of cousins, because Vernon Whitford was housed and clothed and fed by him. She had nothing else to say for a man she thought luckless! She was a woman barren of wit, stripped of style, but she was wealthy and a gossip—a forge of showering sparks—and she carried Lady Culmer with her. The two had driven from his house to spread the malignant rumour abroad; already they blew the biting world on his raw wound. Neither of them was like Mrs. Mountstuart, a witty woman, who could be hoodwinked; they were dull women, who steadily kept on their own scent of the fact, and the only way to confound such inveterate forces was to be ahead of them, and seize and transform the expected fact, and astonish them, when they came up to him, with a totally unanticipated fact.
“You see, you were in error, ladies.”