“I have heard—yes—of her.”
“She may be happy. I trust she is. If she is not, I cannot escape some blame. An instance of the difference between myself and the world, now. The world charges it upon her. I have interceded to exonerate her.”
“That was generous, Willoughby.”
“Stay. I fear I was the primary offender. But I, Clara, I, under a sense of honour, acting under a sense of honour, would have carried my engagement through.”
“What had you done?”
“The story is long, dating from an early day, in the ’downy antiquity of my youth’, as Vernon says.”
“Mr. Whitford says that?”
“One of old Vernon’s odd sayings. It’s a story of an early fascination.”
“Papa tells me Mr. Whitford speaks at times with wise humour.”
“Family considerations—the lady’s health among other things; her position in the calculations of relatives—intervened. Still there was the fascination. I have to own it. Grounds for feminine jealousy.”
“Is it at an end?”
“Now? with you? my darling Clara! indeed at an end, or could I have opened my inmost heart to you! Could I have spoken of myself so unreservedly that in part you know me as I know myself! Oh, but would it have been possible to enclose you with myself in that intimate union? so secret, unassailable!”
“You did not speak to her as you speak to me?”
“In no degree.”
“What could have! . . .” Clara checked the murmured exclamation.
Sir Willoughby’s expoundings on his latest of texts would have poured forth, had not a footman stepped across the lawn to inform him that his builder was in the laboratory and requested permission to consult with him.
Clara’s plea of a horror of the talk of bricks and joists excused her from accompanying him. He had hardly been satisfied by her manner, he knew not why. He left her, convinced that he must do and say more to reach down to her female intelligence.
She saw young Crossjay, springing with pots of jam in him, join his patron at a bound, and taking a lift of arms, fly aloft, clapping heels. Her reflections were confused. Sir Willoughby was admirable with the lad. “Is he two men?” she thought; and the thought ensued, “Am I unjust?” She headed a run with young Crossjay to divert her mind.
A RUN WITH THE TRUANT; A WALK WITH THE MASTER
The sight of Miss Middleton running inflamed young Crossjay with the passion of the game of hare and hounds. He shouted a view-halloo, and flung up his legs. She was fleet; she ran as though a hundred little feet were bearing her onward smooth as water over the lawn and the sweeps of grass of the park, so swiftly did the hidden pair multiply one another to speed her. So sweet was she in her flowing pace, that the boy, as became his age, translated admiration into a dogged frenzy of pursuit, and continued pounding along, when far outstripped, determined to run her down or die. Suddenly her flight wound to an end in a dozen twittering steps, and she sank. Young Crossjay attained her, with just breath enough to say: “You are a runner!”