It is my last chance of confession. I little thought I should ever have another. Late as it is, shall I avail myself of it? Nay! if not before, why now? Why now?—when there are so much stronger reasons for silence—when to speak would be to knock to atoms the newly-built edifice of Barbara’s happiness—to rake up the old and nearly dead ashes of Frank’s frustrated, and for aught I know, sincerely repented sin? So I answer, faintly indeed, yet quite audibly and distinctly:
“NOTHING?” (in an accent and with eyes of the keenest, wistfulest interrogation, as if he would wring from me, against my will, the confession I so resolutely withhold).
But I turn away from that heart-breaking, heart-broken scrutiny, and answer:
“She dwells with beauty—beauty
that must die,
And joy whose hand is ever at his lips
Thus I accomplished my second lie: I that, at home, used to be a proverb for blunt truth-telling. They say that “facilis descensus Averni.” I do not agree with them. I have not found it easy. To me it has seemed a very steep and precipitous road, set with sharp flints that cut the feet, and make the blood flow.
I think the second falsehood was almost harder to utter than the first: but, indeed, they were both very disagreeable. I cannot think why any one should have thought it necessary to invent the doctrine of a future retribution for sin.
It appears to me that, in this very life of the present, each little delinquency is so heavily paid for—so exorbitantly overpaid, indeed. Look, for instance, at my own case. I told a lie—a lie more of the letter than the spirit—and since then I have spent six months of my flourishing youth absolutely devoid of pleasure, and largely penetrated with pain.
I have stood just outside my paradise, peeping under and over the flaming sword of the angel that guards it. I have been near enough to smell the flowers—to see the downy, perfumed fruits—to hear the song of the angels as they go up and down within its paths; but I have been outside.
Now I have told another lie, and I suppose—nay, what better can I hope?—that I shall live in the same state of weary, disproportioned retribution to the end of the chapter.
These are the thoughts, interspersed and diversified with loud sighs, that are employing my mind one ripe and misty morning a few days later than the incidents last detailed.
Barbara is to arrive to-day. She is coming to pay us a visit—coming, like the lady mentioned by Tennyson, in “In Memoriam”—not, indeed, “to bring her babe,” but to “make her boast.” And how, pray, am I to listen with complacent congratulation to this boast? For the first time in my life I dread the coming of Barbara. How am I, whose acting, on the few occasions when I have attempted it, has been of the most improbably wooden description—how am I, I say, to counterfeit the extravagant joy, the lively sympathy, that Barbara will expect—and naturally expect— from me?