“Child,” I answered, sadly enough, for my conscience was as ill at ease as hers, with deeper cause, “I don’t tell you that your jealousy was not foolish and your petulance culpable; but I do say that neither Eveena nor I have the heart—perhaps I have not even the right—to blame you. It is true that I love Eveena as I can love no other in this world or my own. How well she deserves that love none but I can know. So loving her, I would not willingly have brought any other woman into a relation which could make her dependent upon or desirous of such love as I cannot give. You know how this relation to you and the others was forced upon me. When I accepted it, I thought I could give you as much affection as you would find elsewhere. How far and why I wronged Eveena is between her and myself. I did not think that I could be wronging you.”
Very little of this was intelligible to Eunane. She felt a tenderness she had never before received; but she could not understand my doubt, and she replied only to my last words.
“Wrong us! How could you? Did we ask whether you had another wife, or who would be your favourite? Did you promise to like us, or even to be kind to us? You might have neglected us altogether, made one girl your sole companion, kept all indulgences, all favours, for her; and how would you have wronged us? If you had turned on us when she vexed you, humbled us to gratify her caprice, ill-used us to vent your temper, other men would have done the same. Who else would have treated us as you have done? Who would have been careful to give each of us her share in every pleasure, her turn in every holiday, her employment at home, her place in your company abroad? Who would have inquired into the truth of our complaints and the merits of our quarrels; would have made so many excuses for our faults, given us so many patient warnings?... Wronged us! There may be some of us who don’t like you; there is not one who could bear to be sent away, not one who would exchange this house for the palace of the campta though you pronounce him kingly in nature as in power.”
She spoke as she believed, if she spoke in error. “If so, my child, why have you all been so bitter against Eveena? Why have you yourself been jealous of one who, as you admit, has been a favourite only in a love you did not expect?”
“But we saw it, and we envied her so much love, so much respect,” she replied frankly. “And for myself,”—she coloured, faltered, and was silent. “For yourself, my child?”
“I was a vain fool,” she broke out impetuously. “They told me that I was beautiful, and clever, and companionable. I fancied I should be your favourite, and hold the first place; and when I saw her, I would not see her grace and gentleness, or observe her soft sweet voice, and the charms that put my figure and complexion to shame, and the quiet sense and truth that were worth twelvefold my quickness, my memory, and my handiness. I was disappointed and mortified that she should be preferred. Oh, how you must hate me, Clasfempta; for I hate myself while I tell you what I have been!”