“In your letters to men you may be.”
The remark threw a pause across his thoughts. He was of a sensitiveness terribly tender. A single stroke on it reverberated swellingly within the man, and most, and infuriately searching, at the spots where he had been wounded, especially where he feared the world might have guessed the wound. Did she imply that he had no hand for love-letters? Was it her meaning that women would not have much taste for his epistolary correspondence? She had spoken in the plural, with an accent on “men”. Had she heard of Constantia? Had she formed her own judgement about the creature? The supernatural sensitiveness of Sir Willoughby shrieked a peal of affirmatives. He had often meditated on the moral obligation of his unfolding to Clara the whole truth of his conduct to Constantia; for whom, as for other suicides, there were excuses. He at least was bound to supply them. She had behaved badly; but had he not given her some cause? If so, manliness was bound to confess it.
Supposing Clara heard the world’s version first! Men whose pride is their backbone suffer convulsions where other men are barely aware of a shock, and Sir Willoughby was taken with galvanic jumpings of the spirit within him, at the idea of the world whispering to Clara that he had been jilted.
“My letters to men, you say, my love?”
“Your letters of business.”
“Completely myself in my letters of business?” He stared indeed.
She relaxed the tension of his figure by remarking: “You are able to express yourself to men as your meaning dictates. In writing to . . . to us it is, I suppose, more difficult.”
“True, my love. I will not exactly say difficult. I can acknowledge no difficulty. Language, I should say, is not fitted to express emotion. Passion rejects it.”
“For dumb-show and pantomime?”
“No; but the writing of it coldly.”
“My letters disappoint you?”
“I have not implied that they do.”
“My feelings, dearest, are too strong for transcription. I feel, pen in hand, like the mythological Titan at war with Jove, strong enough to hurl mountains, and finding nothing but pebbles. The simile is a good one. You must not judge of me by my letters.”
“I do not; I like them,” said Clara.
She blushed, eyed him hurriedly, and seeing him complacent, resumed, “I prefer the pebble to the mountain; but if you read poetry you would not think human speech incapable of. . .”
“My love, I detest artifice. Poetry is a profession.”
“Our poets would prove to you . . .”
“As I have often observed, Clara, I am no poet.”
“I have not accused you, Willoughby.”
“No poet, and with no wish to be a poet. Were I one, my life would supply material, I can assure you, my love. My conscience is not entirely at rest. Perhaps the heaviest matter troubling it is that in which I was least wilfully guilty. You have heard of a Miss Durham?”