Willoughby, among his many preoccupations, had the satisfaction of seeing the effect of drunkenness on Horace De Craye when the latter was in Clara’s presence. He could have laughed. Cut in keen epigram were the marginal notes added by him to that chapter of The Book which treats of friends and a woman; and had he not been profoundly preoccupied, troubled by recent intelligence communicated by the ladies, his aunts, he would have played the two together for the royal amusement afforded him by his friend Horace.
The hour was close upon eleven at night. Laetitia sat in the room adjoining her father’s bedchamber. Her elbow was on the table beside her chair, and two fingers pressed her temples. The state between thinking and feeling, when both are molten and flow by us, is one of our natures coming after thought has quieted the fiery nerves, and can do no more. She seemed to be meditating. She was conscious only of a struggle past.
She answered a tap at the door, and raised her eyes on Clara. Clara stepped softly. “Mr. Dale is asleep?”
“I hope so.”
“Ah! dear friend.”
Laetitia let her hand be pressed.
“Have you had a pleasant evening?”
“Mr. Whitford and papa have gone to the library.”
“Colonel De Craye has been singing?”
“Yes—with a voice! I thought of you upstairs, but could not ask him to sing piano.”
“He is probably exhilarated.”
“One would suppose it: he sang well.”
“You are not aware of any reason?”
“It cannot concern me.”
Clara was in rosy colour, but could meet a steady gaze.
“And Crossjay has gone to bed?”
“Long since. He was at dessert. He would not touch anything.”
“He is a strange boy.”
“Not very strange, Laetitia.”
“He did not come to me to wish me good-night.”
“That is not strange.”
“It is his habit at the cottage and here; and he professes to like me.”
“Oh, he does. I may have wakened his enthusiasm, but you he loves.”
“Why do you say it is not strange, Clara?”
“He fears you a little.”
“And why should Crossjay fear me?”
“Dear, I will tell you. Last night—You will forgive him, for it was by accident: his own bed-room door was locked and he ran down to the drawing-room and curled himself up on the ottoman, and fell asleep, under that padded silken coverlet of the ladies—boots and all, I am afraid!”
Laetitia profited by this absurd allusion, thanking Clara in her heart for the refuge.
“He should have taken off his boots,” she said.
“He slept there, and woke up. Dear, he meant no harm. Next day he repeated what he had heard. You will blame him. He meant well in his poor boy’s head. And now it is over the county. Ah! do not frown.”