“You will find it so in all religions, my dear Laetitia: the Hindoo, the Persian, ours. It is universal; an experience of our humanity. Deceit and sincerity cannot live together. Truth must kill the lie, or the lie will kill truth. I do not forgive. All I say to the person is, go!”
“But that is right! that is generous!” exclaimed Laetitia, glad to approve him for the sake of escaping her critical soul, and relieved by the idea of Clara’s difficulty solved.
“Capable of generosity, perhaps,” he mused, aloud.
She wounded him by not supplying the expected enthusiastic asseveration of her belief in his general tendency to magnanimity.
He said, after a pause: “But the world is not likely to be impressed by anything not immediately gratifying it. People change, I find: as we increase in years we cease to be the heroes we were. I myself am insensible to change: I do not admit the charge. Except in this we will say: personal ambition. I have it no more. And what is it when we have it? Decidedly a confession of inferiority! That is, the desire to be distinguished is an acknowledgement of insufficiency. But I have still the craving for my dearest friends to think well of me. A weakness? Call it so. Not a dishonourable weakness!”
Laetitia racked her brain for the connection of his present speech with the preceding dialogue. She was baffled, from not knowing “the heat of the centre in him”, as Vernon opaquely phrased it in charity to the object of her worship.
“Well,” said he, unappeased, “and besides the passion to excel, I have changed somewhat in the heartiness of my thirst for the amusements incident to my station. I do not care to keep a stud—I was once tempted: nor hounds. And I can remember the day when I determined to have the best kennels and the best breed of horses in the kingdom. Puerile! What is distinction of that sort, or of any acquisition and accomplishment? We ask! one’s self is not the greater. To seek it, owns to our smallness, in real fact; and when it is attained, what then? My horses are good, they are admired, I challenge the county to surpass them: well? These are but my horses; the praise is of the animals, not of me. I decline to share in it. Yet I know men content to swallow the praise of their beasts and be semi-equine. The littleness of one’s fellows in the mob of life is a very strange experience! One may regret to have lost the simplicity of one’s forefathers, which could accept those and other distinctions with a cordial pleasure, not to say pride. As, for instance, I am, as it is called, a dead shot. ’Give your acclamations, gentlemen, to my ancestors, from whom I inherited a steady hand and quick sight.’ They do not touch me. Where I do not find myself—that I am essentially I—no applause can move me. To speak to you as I would speak to none, admiration—you know that in my early youth I swam in flattery—I had to swim to avoid