Clare could bear this no longer. His eyes were full of tears, which seemed like drops of molten lead. He bade a quick good night to these sincere and simple souls whom he loved so well; who knew neither the world, the flesh, nor the devil in their own hearts, only as something vague and external to themselves. He went to his own chamber.
His mother followed him, and tapped at his door. Clare opened it to discover her standing without, with anxious eyes.
“Angel,” she asked, “is there something wrong that you go away so soon? I am quite sure you are not yourself.”
“I am not, quite, mother,” said he.
“About her? Now, my son, I know it is that—I know it is about her! Have you quarrelled in these three weeks?”
“We have not exactly quarrelled,” he said. “But we have had a difference—”
“Angel—is she a young woman whose history will bear investigation?”
With a mother’s instinct Mrs Clare had put her finger on the kind of trouble that would cause such a disquiet as seemed to agitate her son.
“She is spotless!” he replied; and felt that if it had sent him to eternal hell there and then he would have told that lie.
“Then never mind the rest. After all, there are few purer things in nature then an unsullied country maid. Any crudeness of manner which may offend your more educated sense at first, will, I am sure, disappear under the influence or your companionship and tuition.”
Such terrible sarcasm of blind magnanimity brought home to Clare the secondary perception that he had utterly wrecked his career by this marriage, which had not been among his early thoughts after the disclosure. True, on his own account he cared very little about his career; but he had wished to make it at least a respectable one on account of his parents and brothers. And now as he looked into the candle its flame dumbly expressed to him that it was made to shine on sensible people, and that it abhorred lighting the face of a dupe and a failure.
When his agitation had cooled he would be at moments incensed with his poor wife for causing a situation in which he was obliged to practise deception on his parents. He almost talked to her in his anger, as if she had been in the room. And then her cooing voice, plaintive in expostulation, disturbed the darkness, the velvet touch of her lips passed over his brow, and he could distinguish in the air the warmth of her breath.
This night the woman of his belittling deprecations was thinking how great and good her husband was. But over them both there hung a deeper shade than the shade which Angel Clare perceived, namely, the shade of his own limitations. With all his attempted independence of judgement this advanced and well-meaning young man, a sample product of the last five-and-twenty years, was yet the slave to custom and conventionality when surprised back into his early teachings.