He conducted her along the corridor to the private sitting-room of the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.
“Deceit!” he said, while lighting the candles on the mantelpiece.
She was earnestly compassionate, and a word that could not relate to her personal destinies refreshed her by displacing her apprehensive antagonism and giving pity free play.
SIR WILLOUGHBY ATTEMPTS AND ACHIEVES PATHOS
Both were seated. Apparently he would have preferred to watch her dark downcast eyelashes in silence under sanction of his air of abstract meditation and the melancholy superinducing it. Blood-colour was in her cheeks; the party had inspirited her features. Might it be that lively company, an absence of economical solicitudes, and a flourishing home were all she required to make her bloom again? The supposition was not hazardous in presence of her heightened complexion.
She raised her eyes. He could not meet her look without speaking.
“Can you forgive deceit?”
“It would be to boast of more charity than I know myself to possess, were I to say that I can, Sir Willoughby. I hope I am able to forgive. I cannot tell. I should like to say yes.”
“Could you live with the deceiver?”
“No. I could have given that answer for you. No semblance of union should be maintained between the deceiver and ourselves. Laetitia!”
“Have I no right to your name?”
“If it pleases you to . . .”
“I speak as my thoughts run, and they did not know a Miss Dale so well as a dear Laetitia: my truest friend! You have talked with Clara Middleton?”
“We had a conversation.”
Her brevity affrighted him. He flew off in a cloud.
“Reverting to that question of deceivers: is it not your opinion that to pardon, to condone, is to corrupt society by passing off as pure what is false? Do we not,” he wore the smile of haggard playfulness of a convalescent child the first day back to its toys, “Laetitia, do we not impose a counterfeit on the currency?”
“Supposing it to be really deception.”
“Apart from my loathing of deception, of falseness in any shape, upon any grounds, I hold it an imperious duty to expose, punish, off with it. I take it to be one of the forms of noxiousness which a good citizen is bound to extirpate. I am not myself good citizen enough, I confess, for much more than passive abhorrence. I do not forgive: I am at heart serious and I cannot forgive:—there is no possible reconciliation, there can be only an ostensible truce, between the two hostile powers dividing this world.”
She glanced at him quickly.
“Good and evil!” he said.
Her face expressed a surprise relapsing on the heart.
He spelt the puckers of her forehead to mean that she feared he might be speaking unchristianly.