Clara let her eyes rest on his and, without turning or dropping, shut them.
The effect was discomforting to him. He was very sensitive to the intentions of eyes and tones; which was one secret of his rigid grasp of the dwellers in his household. They were taught that they had to render agreement under sharp scrutiny. Studious eyes, devoid of warmth, devoid of the shyness of sex, that suddenly closed on their look, signified a want of comprehension of some kind, it might be hostility of understanding. Was it possible he did not possess her utterly? He frowned up.
Clara saw the lift of his brows, and thought, “My mind is my own, married or not.”
It was the point in dispute.
CLARA AND LAETITIA MEET: THEY ARE COMPARED
An hour before the time for lessons next morning young Crossjay was on the lawn with a big bunch of wild flowers. He left them at the hall door for Miss Middleton, and vanished into bushes.
These vulgar weeds were about to be dismissed to the dustheap by the great officials of the household; but as it happened that Miss Middleton had seen them from the window in Crossjay’s hands, the discovery was made that they were indeed his presentation-bouquet, and a footman received orders to place them before her. She was very pleased. The arrangement of the flowers bore witness to fairer fingers than the boy’s own in the disposition of the rings of colour, red campion and anemone, cowslip and speedwell, primroses and wood-hyacinths; and rising out of the blue was a branch bearing thick white blossom, so thick, and of so pure a whiteness, that Miss Middleton, while praising Crossjay for soliciting the aid of Miss Dale, was at a loss to name the tree.
“It is a gardener’s improvement on the Vestal of the forest, the wild cherry,” said Dr. Middleton, “and in this case we may admit the gardener’s claim to be valid, though I believe that, with his gift of double blossom, he has improved away the fruit. Call this the Vestal of civilization, then; he has at least done something to vindicate the beauty of the office as well as the justness of the title.”
“It is Vernon’s Holy Tree the young rascal has been despoiling,” said Sir Willoughby merrily.
Miss Middleton was informed that this double-blossom wild cherry-tree was worshipped by Mr. Whitford.
Sir Willoughby promised he would conduct her to it.
“You,” he said to her, “can bear the trial; few complexions can; it is to most ladies a crueller test than snow. Miss Dale, for example, becomes old lace within a dozen yards of it. I should like to place her under the tree beside you.”
“Dear me, though; but that is investing the hamadryad with novel and terrible functions,” exclaimed Dr. Middleton.
Clara said: “Miss Dale could drag me into a superior Court to show me fading beside her in gifts more valuable than a complexion.”