But I cannot comply with his request. I am gasping. His eyes are upon me, and, at every second’s delay, they gather additional sternness. Oh, how awful they are in their just wrath! When was father, in his worst and most thunderous storms, half so dreadful? half so awe-inspiring?
“What sort of an interview could it have been to which there was such a close?” he says, as if making the reflection more to himself than to me; “speak! is it true?”
I can no longer defer my answer. One thing or another I must say: both eyes and lips imperatively demand it. Twice, nay thrice I struggle— struggle mightily to speak, and speak well and truly, and twice, nay, three times, that base fear strangles my words. Then, at length—O friends! do not be any harder upon me than you can help, for indeed, indeed I have paid sorely for it, and it is the first lie that ever I told; then, at length, with a face as wan as the ashes of a dead fire— with trembling lips, and a faint, scarcely audible voice, I say, “No, it is not true!”
“Not true?” he echoes, catching up my words quickly; but in his voice is none of the relief, the restored amenity that I had looked for, and for the hope of which I have perjured myself; equally in voice and face, there is only a deep and astonished anger.
“Not true!—you mean to say that it is false!”
“Yes, false!” I repeat in a sickly whisper. Oh, why, if I must lie, do not I do it with a bold and voluble assurance? whom would my starved pinched falsehood deceive?
“You mean to say,” speaking with irrepressible excitement, while the wrathful light gathers and grows intenser in the gray depths of his eyes, “that this—this interview never took place? that it is all a delusion; a mistake?”
I repeat it mechanically now. Having gone thus far, I must go on, but I feel giddy and sick, and my hands grasp the arms of my chair. I feel as if I should fall out of it if they did not.
“You are sure?” speaking with a heavy emphasis, and looking persistently at me, while the anger of his eyes is dashed and crossed by a miserable entreaty. Ah! if they had had that look at first, I could have told him. “Are you sure?” he repeats, and I, driven by the fates to my destruction, while God hides his face from me, and the devil pushes me on, answer hazily, “Yes, quite sure!”
Then he asks me no more questions; he turns and slowly leaves the room, and I know that I have lied in vain!
And thus I, ingenious architect of my own ruin, build up the barrier of a lie between myself and Roger. It is a barrier that hourly grows higher, more impassable. As the days go by, I say to myself in heart-sickness, that I shall never now cross it—never see it leveled with the earth. Even when we too are dead it will still rise between us in the other world; if—as all the nations have agreed to say—there be another. For my part, I think at this time that, if there is any chance of its bearing aught of resemblance to this present world, I had far fainer there were none.