“I spoke and felt,” I replied, “as any man trained in the hereditary thought of my race and rank would have spoken of any woman committed to his care. All that I said and did for Eveena, I should have said and done, I hope, for the least attractive or least amiable maiden in this planet who had been similarly entrusted to my charge. How could any but the vilest coward return and say to a father, ’You trusted your daughter to me, and she has perished by my fault or neglect’?”
“Not so,” he answered, “Eveena alone was to blame—and much to blame. She says herself that you had told her to remain where you left her till your return; and if she had not disobeyed, neither her life nor yours would have been imperilled.”
“One hardly expects a young lady to comply exactly with such requests,” I said. “At any rate, Terrestrial feelings of honour and even of manhood would have made it easier to leap the precipice than to face you and the world if, no matter by whose fault, my charge had died in such a manner under my eyes and within my reach.”
Esmo’s eyes brightened and his cheek flushed a little as I spoke, with more of earnestness or passion than any incident, however exciting, is wont to provoke among his impassive race.
“Of one thing,” he said, “you have assured me—that the proposal I was about to make rather invites honour than confers it. I have been obliged, in speaking of the manners and ideas of my countrymen, to let you perceive not only that I differ from them, but that there are others who think and act as I do. We have for ages formed a society bound together by our peculiar tenets. That we individually differ in conduct, and, therefore, probably in ideas, from our countrymen, they necessarily know; that we form a body apart with laws and tenets of our own, is at least suspected. But our organisation, its powers, its methods, its rules of membership, and its doctrines are, and have always been, a secret, and no man’s connection with it is avowed or provable. Our chief distinctive and essential doctrines you hold as strongly as we do—the All-perfect Existence, the immortal human soul. From these necessarily follow conceptions of life and principles of conduct alien to those that have as necessarily grown up among a race which repudiates, ignores, and hates our two fundamental premises. After what has happened, I can promise you immediate and eager acceptance among those invested with the fullest privileges of our order. They will all admire your action and applaud your motives, though, frankly speaking, I doubt whether any of us would carry your views so far as you have done. The best among us would have flinched, unless under the influence of the very strongest personal affection, from the double peril of which you seemed to think so lightly. They might indeed have defied the Regent but it would have been in reliance on the protection of, a power superior to his of which you knew nothing.”