Consequently a man in love with one woman, and in all but absolute consciousness, behind the thinnest of veils, preparing his mind to love another, will be barely credible. The particular hunger of the forceful but adaptable heart is the key of him. Behold the mountain rillet, become a brook, become a torrent, how it inarms a handsome boulder: yet if the stone will not go with it, on it hurries, pursuing self in extension, down to where perchance a dam has been raised of a sufficient depth to enfold and keep it from inordinate restlessness. Laetitia represented this peaceful restraining space in prospect.
But she was a faded young woman. He was aware of it; and systematically looking at himself with her upturned orbs, he accepted her benevolently as a God grateful for worship, and used the divinity she imparted to paint and renovate her. His heart required her so. The heart works the springs of imagination; imagination received its commission from the heart, and was a cunning artist.
Cunning to such a degree of seductive genius that the masterpiece it offered to his contemplation enabled him simultaneously to gaze on Clara and think of Laetitia. Clara came through the park-gates with Vernon, a brilliant girl indeed, and a shallow one: a healthy creature, and an animal; attractive, but capricious, impatient, treacherous, foul; a woman to drag men through the mud. She approached.
IN WHICH WE TAKE A STEP TO THE CENTRE OF EGOISM
They met; Vernon soon left them.
“You have not seen Crossjay?” Willoughby inquired.
“No,” said Clara. “Once more I beg you to pardon him. He spoke falsely, owing to his poor boy’s idea of chivalry.”
“The chivalry to the sex which commences in lies ends by creating the woman’s hero, whom we see about the world and in certain courts of law.”
His ability to silence her was great: she could not reply to speech like that.
“You have,” said he, “made a confidante of Mrs. Mountstuart.”
“This is your purse.”
“I thank you.”
“Professor Crooklyn has managed to make your father acquainted with your project. That, I suppose, is the railway ticket in the fold of the purse. He was assured at the station that you had taken a ticket to London, and would not want the fly.”
“It is true. I was foolish.”
“You have had a pleasant walk with Vernon—turning me in and out?”
“We did not speak of you. You allude to what he would never consent to.”
“He’s an honest fellow, in his old-fashioned way. He’s a secret old fellow. Does he ever talk about his wife to you?”
Clara dropped her purse, and stooped and picked it up.
“I know nothing of Mr. Whitford’s affairs,” she said, and she opened the purse and tore to pieces the railway ticket.