“Une grande passion malheureaux est un grand moyen de sagesse.”
Rachel had left London precipitately after she had been the unwilling confidante of Lady Newhaven’s secret, and had taken refuge with that friend of all perplexed souls, the Bishop of Southminster. She felt unable to meet Hugh again without an interval of breathing-time. She knew that if she saw much more of him he would confide in her, and she shrank from receiving a confidence the ugliest fact of which she already knew. Perhaps she involuntarily shrank also from fear lest he should lower himself in her eyes by only telling her half the truth. Sad confessions were often poured into Rachel’s ears which she had known for years. She never alluded to that knowledge, never corrected the half-lie which accompanies so many whispered self—accusations. Confidences and confessions are too often a means of evasion of justice—a laying of the case for the plaintiff before a judge without allowing the defendant to be present or to call a witness. Rachel, by dint of long experience, which did slowly for her the work of imagination, had ceased to wonder at the faithfully chronicled harsh words and deeds of generous souls. She knew or guessed at the unchronicled treachery or deceit which had brought about that seemingly harsh word or deed.
She had not the exalted ideas about her fellow-creatures which Hester had, but she possessed the rare gift of reticence. She exemplified the text—“Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men’s lives.” And in Rachel’s quiet soul a vast love and pity dwelt for these same fellow-creatures. She had lived and worked for years among those whose bodies were half starved, half clothed, degraded. When she found money at her command she had spent sums (as her lawyer told her) out of all proportion on that poor human body, stumbling between vice and starvation. But now, during the last year, when her great wealth had thrown her violently into society, she had met, until her strong heart flinched before it, the other side of life—the starved soul in the delicately nurtured, richly clad body, the atrophied spiritual life in hideous contrast with the physical ease and luxury which were choking it. The second experience was harder to bear than the first. And just as in the old days she had shared her bread and cheese with those hungrier than herself, and had taken but little thought for those who had bread and to spare, so now she felt but transient interest in those among her new associates who were successfully struggling against the blackmail of luxury, the leprosy of worldliness, the selfishness that at last coffins the soul it clothes. Her heart yearned instead towards the spiritually starving, the tempted, the fallen in that great little world, whose names are written in the book, not of life, but of Burke—the little world which is called “Society.”