“We might propose it,” said he.
“As a compliment?”
“If he would condescend to accept it as a compliment. These great scholars! . . . And if Vernon goes, our inducement for Dr. Middleton to stay . . . But it is too absurd for discussion . . . Oh, Vernon, about Master Crossjay; I will see to it.”
He was about to give Vernon his shoulder and step into the garden, when Clara said, “You will have Crossjay trained for the navy, Willoughby? There is not a day to lose.”
“Yes, yes; I will see to it. Depend on me for holding the young rascal in view.”
He presented his hand to her to lead her over the step to the gravel, surprised to behold how flushed she was.
She responded to the invitation by putting her hand forth from a bent elbow, with hesitating fingers. “It should not be postponed, Willoughby.”
Her attitude suggested a stipulation before she touched him.
“It’s an affair of money, as you know, Willoughby,” said Vernon. “If I’m in London, I can’t well provide for the boy for some time to come, or it’s not certain that I can.”
“Why on earth should you go?”
“That’s another matter. I want you to take my place with him.”
“In which case the circumstances are changed. I am responsible for him, and I have a right to bring him up according to my own prescription.”
“We are likely to have one idle lout the more.”
“I guarantee to make a gentleman of him.”
“We have too many of your gentlemen already.”
“You can’t have enough, my good Vernon.”
“They’re the national apology for indolence. Training a penniless boy to be one of them is nearly as bad as an education in a thieves’ den; he will be just as much at war with society, if not game for the police.”
“Vernon, have you seen Crossjay’s father, the now Captain of Marines? I think you have.”
“He’s a good man and a very gallant officer.”
“And in spite of his qualities he’s a cub, and an old cub. He is a captain now, but he takes that rank very late, you will own. There you have what you call a good man, undoubtedly a gallant officer, neutralized by the fact that he is not a gentleman. Holding intercourse with him is out of the question. No wonder Government declines to advance him rapidly. Young Crossjay does not bear your name. He bears mine, and on that point alone I should have a voice in the settlement of his career. And I say emphatically that a drawing-room approval of a young man is the best certificate for his general chances in life. I know of a City of London merchant of some sort, and I know a firm of lawyers, who will have none but University men at their office; at least, they have the preference.”
“Crossjay has a bullet head, fit neither for the University nor the drawing-room,” said Vernon; “equal to fighting and dying for you, and that’s all.”