“Do you remember what we said to each other this morning about telling our faults?” he asked abruptly, finding that she still remained immovable. “We spoke lightly perhaps, and you may well have done so. But for me it was no light promise. I want to make a confession to you, Love.”
This, from him, so unexpectedly apposite, had the effect upon her of a Providential interposition.
“You have to confess something?” she said quickly, and even with gladness and relief.
“You did not expect it? Ah—you thought too highly of me. Now listen. Put your head there, because I want you to forgive me, and not to be indignant with me for not telling you before, as perhaps I ought to have done.”
How strange it was! He seemed to be her double. She did not speak, and Clare went on—
“I did not mention it because I was afraid of endangering my chance of you, darling, the great prize of my life—my Fellowship I call you. My brother’s Fellowship was won at his college, mine at Talbothays Dairy. Well, I would not risk it. I was going to tell you a month ago—at the time you agreed to be mine, but I could not; I thought it might frighten you away from me. I put it off; then I thought I would tell you yesterday, to give you a chance at least of escaping me. But I did not. And I did not this morning, when you proposed our confessing our faults on the landing—the sinner that I was! But I must, now I see you sitting there so solemnly. I wonder if you will forgive me?”
“O yes! I am sure that—”
“Well, I hope so. But wait a minute. You don’t know. To begin at the beginning. Though I imagine my poor father fears that I am one of the eternally lost for my doctrines, I am of course, a believer in good morals, Tess, as much as you. I used to wish to be a teacher of men, and it was a great disappointment to me when I found I could not enter the Church. I admired spotlessness, even though I could lay no claim to it, and hated impurity, as I hope I do now. Whatever one may think of plenary inspiration, one must heartily subscribe to these words of Paul: ’Be thou an example—in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.’ It is the only safeguard for us poor human beings. ‘Integer vitae,’ says a Roman poet, who is strange company for St Paul—
“The man of upright life, from frailties
Stands not in need of Moorish spear or bow.
“Well, a certain place is paved with good intentions, and having felt all that so strongly, you will see what a terrible remorse it bred in me when, in the midst of my fine aims for other people, I myself fell.”
He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties in London, like a cork on the waves, he plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger.
“Happily I awoke almost immediately to a sense of my folly,” he continued. “I would have no more to say to her, and I came home. I have never repeated the offence. But I felt I should like to treat you with perfect frankness and honour, and I could not do so without telling this. Do you forgive me?”