“If he is always intent on himself, signs are likely to be unheeded by him,” said Miss Middleton.
He did not answer, and she said, quickly:
“It must always be a cruelty. The world will think so. It is an act of inconstancy.”
“If they knew one another well before they were engaged.”
“Are you not singularly tolerant?” said she.
To which Vernon replied with airy cordiality:—
“In some cases it is right to judge by results; we’ll leave severity to the historian, who is bound to be a professional moralist and put pleas of human nature out of the scales. The lady in question may have been to blame, but no hearts were broken, and here we have four happy instead of two miserable.”
His persecuting geniality of countenance appealed to her to confirm this judgement by results, and she nodded and said: “Four,” as the awe-stricken speak.
From that moment until young Crossjay fell into the green-rutted lane from a tree, and was got on his legs half stunned, with a hanging lip and a face like the inside of a flayed eel-skin, she might have been walking in the desert, and alone, for the pleasure she had in society.
They led the fated lad home between them, singularly drawn together by their joint ministrations to him, in which her delicacy had to stand fire, and sweet good-nature made naught of any trial. They were hand in hand with the little fellow as physician and professional nurse.
THE FIRST EFFORT AFTER FREEDOM
Crossjay’s accident was only another proof, as Vernon told Miss Dale, that the boy was but half monkey.
“Something fresh?” she exclaimed on seeing him brought into the Hall, where she had just arrived.
“Simply a continuation,” said Vernon. “He is not so prehensile as he should be. He probably in extremity relies on the tail that has been docked. Are you a man, Crossjay?”
“I should think I was!” Crossjay replied, with an old man’s voice, and a ghastly twitch for a smile overwhelmed the compassionate ladies.
Miss Dale took possession of him. “You err in the other direction,” she remarked to Vernon.
“But a little bracing roughness is better than spoiling him.” said Miss Middleton.
She did not receive an answer, and she thought: “Whatever Willoughby does is right, to this lady!”
Clara’s impression was renewed when Sir Willoughby sat beside Miss Dale in the evening; and certainly she had never seen him shine so picturesquely as in his bearing with Miss Dale. The sprightly sallies of the two, their rallyings, their laughter, and her fine eyes, and his handsome gestures, won attention like a fencing match of a couple keen with the foils to display the mutual skill. And it was his design that she should admire the display; he was anything but obtuse; enjoying the match as he did and necessarily did to act so excellent a part in it, he meant the observer to see the man he was with a lady not of raw understanding. So it went on from day to day for three days.