For that position he saw to be very serious. In the flush of full realization, there was for him no question of renunciation. She was his, he hers; that was determined. But what, then, was he to do? There was no chance of her getting free. In her husband’s view, it seemed, under no circumstances was marriage dissoluble. Nor, indeed, to Miltoun would divorce have made things easier, believing as he did that he and she were guilty, and that for the guilty there could be no marriage. She, it was true, asked nothing but just to be his in secret; and that was the course he knew most men would take, without further thought. There was no material reason in the world why he should not so act, and maintain unchanged every other current of his life. It would be easy, usual. And, with her faculty for self-effacement, he knew she would not be unhappy. But conscience, in Miltoun, was a terrible and fierce thing. In the delirium of his illness it had become that Great Face which had marched over him. And, though during the weeks of his recuperation, struggle of all kind had ceased, now that he had yielded to his passion, conscience, in a new and dismal shape, had crept up again to sit above his heart: He must and would let this man, her husband, know; but even if that caused no open scandal, could he go on deceiving those who, if they knew of an illicit love, would no longer allow him to be their representative? If it were known that she was his mistress, he could no longer maintain his position in public life—was he not therefore in honour bound; of his own accord, to resign it? Night and day he was haunted by the thought: How can I, living in defiance of authority, pretend to authority over my fellows? How can I remain in public life? But if he did not remain in public life, what was he to do? That way of life was in his blood; he had been bred and born into it; had thought of nothing else since he was a boy. There was no other occupation or interest that could hold him for a moment—he saw very plainly that he would be cast away on the waters of existence.
So the battle raged in his proud and twisted spirit, which took everything so hard—his nature imperatively commanding him to keep his work and his power for usefulness; his conscience telling him as urgently that if he sought to wield authority, he must obey it.
He entered the beech-grove at the height of this misery, flaming with rebellion against the dilemma which Fate had placed before him; visited by gusts of resentment against a passion, which forced him to pay the price, either of his career, or of his self-respect; gusts, followed by remorse that he could so for one moment regret his love for that tender creature. The face of Lucifer was not more dark, more tortured, than Miltoun’s face in the twilight of the grove, above those kingdoms of the world, for which his ambition and his conscience fought. He threw himself down among the trees; and stretching out his arms,