‘Purely temporary fits of unworthiness, my lady.’
‘In English, gout?’
‘Not gout in the conscience, I trust,’ said my father.
‘Oh! that’s curable,’ laughed the captain.
‘You men of repartee would be nothing without your wickedness,’ the lady observed.
‘Man was supposed to be incomplete—’ Captain DeWitt affected a murmur.
She nodded ‘Yes, yes,’ and lifted eyes on my father. ’So you have not given up going to church?’
He bent and spoke low.
She humphed her lips. ’Very well, I will see. It must be a night in the early part of the week after next, then: I really don’t know why I should serve you; but I like your courage.’
’I cannot consent to accept your ladyship’s favour on account of one single virtue,’ said he, drooping.
She waved him to move forward.
During this frothy dialogue, I could see that the ear of the assembly had been caught by the sound of it.
‘That,’ my father informed me, ’is the great Lady Wilts. Now you will notice a curious thing. Lady Wilts is not so old but that, as our Jorian here says of her, she is marriageable. Hence, Richie, she is a queen to make the masculine knee knock the ground. I fear the same is not to be said of her rival, Lady Denewdney, whom our good Jorian compares to an antiquated fledgeling emerging with effort from a nest of ill construction and worse cement. She is rich, she is sharp, she uses her quill; she is emphatically not marriageable. Bath might still accept her as a rival queen, only she is always behindhand in seizing an occasion. Now you will catch sight of her fan working in a minute. She is envious and imitative. It would be undoubtedly better policy on her part to continue to cut me: she cannot, she is beginning to rustle like December’s oaks. If Lady Wilts has me, why, she must. We refrain from noticing her until we have turned twice. Ay, Richie, there is this use in adversity; it teaches one to play sword and target with etiquette and retenue better than any crowned king in Europe. For me now to cross to her summons immediately would be a gross breach of homage to Lady Wilts, who was inspired to be the first to break through the fence of scandal environing me. But I must still show that I am independent. These people must not suppose that I have to cling to a party. Let them take sides; I am on fair terms with both the rivals. I show just such a nuance of a distinction in my treatment of them just such—enough, I mean, to make the flattered one warm to me, and t’ other be jealous of her. Ay, Richie, these things are trivial things beyond the grave; but here are we, my boy; and, by the way, I suspect the great campaign of my life is opening.’
Captain DeWitt said that if so it would be the tenth, to his certain knowledge.
‘Not great campaign!’ my father insisted: ‘mere skirmishes before this.’