He heard his own name: that was quite certain. He knew that he heard it with his ears, as he pursued the fleetest dreams ever accorded to mortal. It did not mix: it was outside him, and like the danger-pole in the ice, which the skater shooting hither and yonder comes on again, it recurred; and now it marked a point in his career, how it caused him to relax his pace; he began to circle, and whirled closer round it, until, as at a blow, his heart knocked, he tightened himself, thought of bolting, and lay dead-still to throb and hearken.
“Oh! Sir Willoughby,” a voice had said.
The accents were sharp with alarm.
“My friend! my dearest!” was the answer.
“I came to speak of Crossjay.”
“Will you sit here on the ottoman?”
“No, I cannot wait. I hoped I had heard Crossjay return. I would rather not sit down. May I entreat you to pardon him when he comes home?”
“You, and you only, may do so. I permit none else. Of Crossjay to-morrow.”
“He may be lying in the fields. We are anxious.”
“The rascal can take pretty good care of himself.”
“Crossjay is perpetually meeting accidents.”
“He shall be indemnified if he has had excess of punishment.”
“I think I will say good-night, Sir Willoughby.”
“When freely and unreservedly you have given me your hand.”
There was hesitation.
“To say good-night?”
“I ask you for your hand.”
“Good-night, Sir Willoughby.”
“You do not give it. You are in doubt? Still? What language must I use to convince you? And yet you know me. Who knows me but you? You have always known me. You are my home and my temple. Have you forgotten your verses of the day of my majority?
’The dawn-star has arisen
In plenitude of light . . .’”
“Do not repeat them, pray!” cried Laetitia, with a gasp.
“I have repeated them to myself a thousand times: in India, America, Japan: they were like our English skylark, carolling to me.
’My heart, now burst thy
With proud aerial flight!’”
“Oh, I beg you will not force me to listen to nonsense that I wrote when I was a child. No more of those most foolish lines! If you knew what it is to write and despise one’s writing, you would not distress me. And since you will not speak of Crossjay to-night, allow me to retire.”