Coming up to her she whispered: “News, indeed! Wonderful! I could not credit his hint of it yesterday. Are you satisfied?”
“Pray, Mrs. Mountstuart, take an opportunity to speak to papa,” Clara whispered in return.
Mrs. Mountstuart bowed to Dr. Middleton, nodded to Vernon, and swam upon Willoughby, with, “Is it? But is it? Am I really to believe? You have? My dear Sir Willoughby? Really?” The confounded gentleman heaved on a bare plank of wreck in mid sea.
He could oppose only a paralyzed smile to the assault.
His intuitive discretion taught him to fall back a step while she said, “So!” the plummet word of our mysterious deep fathoms; and he fell back further saying, “Madam?” in a tone advising her to speak low.
She recovered her volubility, followed his partial retreat, and dropped her voice,—
“Impossible to have imagined it as an actual fact! You were always full of surprises, but this! this! Nothing manlier, nothing more gentlemanly has ever been done: nothing: nothing that so completely changes an untenable situation into a comfortable and proper footing for everybody. It is what I like: it is what I love:—sound sense! Men are so selfish: one cannot persuade them to be reasonable in such positions. But you, Sir Willoughby, have shown wisdom and sentiment: the rarest of all combinations in men.”
“Where have you? . . .” Willoughby contrived to say.
“Heard? The hedges, the housetops, everywhere. All the neighbourhood will have it before nightfall. Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer will soon be rushing here, and declaring they never expected anything else, I do not doubt. I am not so pretentious. I beg your excuse for that ‘twice’ of mine yesterday. Even if it hurt my vanity, I should be happy to confess my error: I was utterly out. But then I did not reckon on a fatal attachment, I thought men were incapable of it. I thought we women were the only poor creatures persecuted by a fatality. It is a fatality! You tried hard to escape, indeed you did. And she will do honour to your final surrender, my dear friend. She is gentle, and very clever, very: she is devoted to you: she will entertain excellently. I see her like a flower in sunshine. She will expand to a perfect hostess. Patterne will shine under her reign; you have my warrant for that. And so will you. Yes, you flourish best when adored. It must be adoration. You have been under a cloud of late. Years ago I said it was a match, when no one supposed you could stoop. Lady Busshe would have it was a screen, and she was deemed high wisdom. The world will be with you. All the women will be: excepting, of course, Lady Busshe, whose pride is in prophecy; and she will soon be too glad to swell the host. There, my friend, your sincerest and oldest admirer congratulates you. I could not contain myself; I was compelled to pour forth. And now I must go and be talked to by Dr. Middleton. How does he take it? They leave?”