“No, Sir Willoughby!” Laetitia said, warmly, for his donations in charity were famous.
Her eyes gave him the food he enjoyed, and basking in them, he continued:
“Vernon’s income would at once have been regulated commensurately with a new position requiring an increase. This money, money, money! But the world will have it so. Happily I have inherited habits of business and personal economy. Vernon is a man who would do fifty times more with a companion appreciating his abilities and making light of his little deficiencies. They are palpable, small enough. He has always been aware of my wishes:—when perhaps the fulfilment might have sent me off on another tour of the world, homebird though I am. When was it that our friendship commenced? In my boyhood, I know. Very many years back.”
“I am in my thirtieth year,” said Laetitia.
Surprised and pained by a baldness resembling the deeds of ladies (they have been known, either through absence of mind, or mania, to displace a wig) in the deadly intimacy which slaughters poetic admiration, Sir Willoughby punished her by deliberately reckoning that she did not look less.
“Genius,” he observed, “is unacquainted with wrinkles”; hardly one of his prettiest speeches; but he had been wounded, and he never could recover immediately. Coming on him in a mood of sentiment, the wound was sharp. He could very well have calculated the lady’s age. It was the jarring clash of her brazen declaration of it upon his low rich flute-notes that shocked him.
He glanced at the gold cathedral-clock on the mantel-piece, and proposed a stroll on the lawn before dinner. Laetitia gathered up her embroidery work.
“As a rule,” he said, “authoresses are not needle-women.”
“I shall resign the needle or the pen if it stamps me an exception,” she replied.
He attempted a compliment on her truly exceptional character. As when the player’s finger rests in distraction on the organ, it was without measure and disgusted his own hearing. Nevertheless, she had been so good as to diminish his apprehension that the marriage of a lady in her thirtieth year with his cousin Vernon would be so much of a loss to him; hence, while parading the lawn, now and then casting an eye at the window of the room where his Clara and Vernon were in council, the schemes he indulged for his prospective comfort and his feelings of the moment were in such striving harmony as that to which we hear orchestral musicians bringing their instruments under the process called tuning. It is not perfect, but it promises to be so soon. We are not angels, which have their dulcimers ever on the choral pitch. We are mortals attaining the celestial accord with effort, through a stage of pain. Some degree of pain was necessary to Sir Willoughby, otherwise he would not have seen his generosity confronting him. He grew, therefore, tenderly inclined to Laetitia once more, so far as to say within himself. “For conversation she would be a valuable wife”. And this valuable wife he was presenting to his cousin.