Sir Willoughby had to visit the metropolis and an estate in another county, whence he wrote to his betrothed daily. He returned to Patterne in time to arrange for the welcome of his guests; too late, however, to ride over to them; and, meanwhile, during his absence, Miss Middleton had bethought herself that she ought to have given her last days of freedom to her friends. After the weeks to be passed at Patterne, very few weeks were left to her, and she had a wish to run to Switzerland or Tyrol and see the Alps; a quaint idea, her father thought. She repeated it seriously, and Dr. Middleton perceived a feminine shuttle of indecision at work in her head, frightful to him, considering that they signified hesitation between the excellent library and capital wine-cellar of Patterne Hall, together with the society of that promising young scholar, Mr. Vernon Whitford, on the one side, and a career of hotels—equivalent to being rammed into monster artillery with a crowd every night, and shot off on a day’s journey through space every morning—on the other.
“You will have your travelling and your Alps after the ceremony,” he said.
“I think I would rather stay at home,” said she.
Dr Middleton rejoined: “I would.”
“But I am not married yet papa.”
“As good, my dear.”
“A little change of scene, I thought . . .”
“We have accepted Willoughby’s invitation. And he helps me to a house near you.”
“You wish to be near me, papa?”
“Proximate—at a remove: communicable.”
“Why should we separate?”
“For the reason, my dear, that you exchange a father for a husband.”
“If I do not want to exchange?”
“To purchase, you must pay, my child. Husbands are not given for nothing.”
“No. But I should have you, papa!”
“They have not yet parted us, dear papa.”
“What does that mean?” he asked, fussily. He was in a gentle stew already, apprehensive of a disturbance of the serenity precious to scholars by postponements of the ceremony and a prolongation of a father’s worries.
“Oh, the common meaning, papa,” she said, seeing how it was with him.
“Ah!” said he, nodding and blinking gradually back to a state of composure, glad to be appeased on any terms; for mutability is but another name for the sex, and it is the enemy of the scholar.
She suggested that two weeks of Patterne would offer plenty of time to inspect the empty houses of the district, and should be sufficient, considering the claims of friends, and the necessity of going the round of London shops.
“Two or three weeks,” he agreed, hurriedly, by way of compromise with that fearful prospect.