David resumed his walk for a moment, and then pausing again before his friend, said, “Mantel, a few years ago my soul was so sensitive to truth and duty that I was accustomed to regard its intuitions as the will of God revealed to me in some sort of supernatural way. I acted on the impulses of my heart without the slightest question or hesitation, and during that entire period of my life I cannot remember that I was ever for a single time seriously mistaken or misled. While I obeyed those intuitions and followed that mysterious light, I was happy. When I turned my back on that light it ceased to shine. It has been more than two years since I have thought I heard the voice of God or felt any assurance that I was in the path of duty. But now the departed vision has returned! I have had as clear a perception of my duty as was ever vouchsafed me in the old sweet days, and I shall obey it if it costs me my life.”
So deep was his earnestness that Mantel seemed to catch his enthusiasm and be convinced. But in another instant the old mocking smile had returned.
“Would you be so tractable and obedient if the old beggar were in better health?” he said, opening and shutting the leaves of a book which was lying on the table, and looking out from under half-lifted eyelids.
At this insinuation David winced, and for a moment seemed about to resent it. But he restrained himself and replied gently, “The same distrust of my motives has arisen in my own mind. I more than half suspect that if, as you say, the old beggar were young and strong, my heart would fail me. But the knowledge that I could not do my duty if the doctor were going to live cannot be any reason for my not doing it when I believe that he is likely to die! I am not called upon to do wrong simply because I see that I am not wholly unselfish in doing right. I am not asked to face a supposition, but a fact. I shall not pride myself on any righteousness that I do not possess; but I must not be kept from doing my duty because I am not a perfect man.”
“You are right,” said Mantel, but his assent seemed more like a concession than a conviction. He had grown to regard the passing panorama of life as a great spectacular exhibition. The actors seemed swayed by powers external to themselves, their movements exhibiting such gross inconsistencies as to make it impossible to predict, and almost impossible to guess them. He looked on with more curiosity than interest, as at the different combinations in a kaleidoscope. He could not conceive that David, or any one, could so come under the dominant influence of a conviction as to act coherently and consistently upon it through any or all emergencies. But he was kind and sympathetic, and his heart responded to the passionate earnestness of his friend with a new interest and pleasure.
AS A TALE THAT IS TOLD