“But what strange things have been happening during my daughter’s absence from the cottage!” cried Mr. Dale, betraying an elixir in his veins. “I feel that I could laugh if I did not dread to be thought insane. She refused his hand, and he was at liberty to offer it? My girl! We are all on our heads. The fairy-tales were right and the lesson-books were wrong. But it is really, it is really very demoralizing. An invalid—and I am one, and no momentary exhilaration will be taken for the contrary—clings to the idea of stability, order. The slightest disturbance of the wonted course of things unsettles him. Why, for years I have been prophesying it! and for years I have had everything against me, and now when it is confirmed, I am wondering that I must not call myself a fool!”
“And for years, dear Mr. Dale, this union, in spite of counter-currents and human arrangements, has been our Willoughby’s constant preoccupation,” said Miss Eleanor.
“His most cherished aim,” said Miss Isabel.
“The name was not spoken by me,” said Dr. Middleton.
“But it is out, and perhaps better out, if we would avoid the chance of mystifications. I do not suppose we are seriously committing a breach of confidence, though he might have wished to mention it to you first himself. I have it from Willoughby that last night he appealed to your daughter, Mr. Dale—not for the first time, if I apprehend him correctly; and unsuccessfully. He despairs. I do not: supposing, that is, your assistance vouchsafed to us. And I do not despair, because the gentleman is a gentleman of worth, of acknowledged worth. You know him well enough to grant me that. I will bring you my daughter to help me in sounding his praises.”
Dr Middleton stepped through the window to the lawn on an elastic foot, beaming with the happiness he felt charged to confer on his friend Mr. Whitford.
“Ladies! it passes all wonders,” Mr. Dale gasped.
“Willoughby’s generosity does pass all wonders,” they said in chorus.
The door opened; Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer were announced.
The Patterne ladies: Mr.
Dale: Lady Busshe and lady
Culmer: With Mrs.
Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer entered spying to right and left. At the sight of Mr. Dale in the room Lady Busshe murmured to her friend: “Confirmation!”
Lady Culmer murmured: “Corney is quite reliable.”
“The man is his own best tonic.”
“He is invaluable for the country.”
Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel greeted them.
The amiability of the Patterne ladies combined with their total eclipse behind their illustrious nephew invited enterprising women of the world to take liberties, and they were not backward.