Conscience said nothing; there are some things to which Conscience has no reply in words to offer; yet Conscience pointed to the portrait of the girl, and bade the most unworthy of all lovers look upon even his own poor and meager representation of her eyes and face, and ask whether such blasphemies could ever be forgiven.
After a self abasement, which for shame’s sake we must pass over, the young man felt happier.
Henry the Second felt much the same satisfaction the morning after his scourging at the hands of the monks, who were as muscular as they were vindictive.
That man who spends his days in painting a girl’s portrait, in talking to her, and in gazing upon the unfinished portrait when she is not with him, and occupies his thoughts during the watches of the night in thinking about her, is perilously near to taking the last and fatal step. Flight for such a man is the only thing left, and he so seldom thinks of flight until it is too late.
Arnold was at this point.
“I am possessed by this girl,” he might have said had he put his thoughts into words. “I am haunted by her eyes; her voice lingers on my ears; I dream of her face, the touch of her fingers is like the touch of an electric battery.” What symptoms are these, so common that one is almost ashamed to write them down, but the infallible symptoms of love? And yet he hesitated, not because he doubted himself any longer, but because he was not independent, and such an engagement might deprive him at one stroke of all that he possessed. Might? It certainly would. Yes, the new and beautiful studio, all the things in it, all his prospects for the future, would have to be given up. “She is worth more than that,” said Arnold, “and I should find work somehow. But yet, to plunge her into poverty—and to make Clara the most unhappy of women!”
The reason why Clara would be made the most unhappy of women, was that Clara was his cousin and his benefactor, to whom he owed everything. She was the kindest of patrons, and she liked nothing so much as the lavishing upon her ward everything that he could desire. But she also, unfortunately, illustrated the truth of Chaucer’s teaching, in that she loved power more than anything else, and had already mapped out Arnold’s life for him.