When Domini was twenty-one he died, and her safest guide, the one who understood her best, went from her. The years passed. She lived with her embittered father; and drifted into the unthinking worldliness of the life of her order. Her home was far from ideal. Yet she would not marry. The wreck of her parents’ domestic life had rendered her mistrustful of human relations. She had seen something of the terror of love, and could not, like other women, regard it as safety and as sweetness. So she put it from her, and strove to fill her life with all those lesser things which men and women grasp, as the Chinese grasp the opium pipe, those things which lull our comprehension of realities to sleep.
When Lord Rens died, still blaspheming, and without any of the consolations of religion, Domini felt the imperious need of change. She did not grieve actively for the dead man. In his last years they had been very far apart, and his death relieved her from the perpetual contemplation of a tragedy. Lord Rens had grown to regard his daughter almost with enmity in his enmity against her mother’s religion, which was hers. She had come to think of him rather with pity than with love. Yet his death was a shock to her. When he could speak no more, but only lie still, she remembered suddenly just what he had been before her mother’s flight. The succeeding period, long though it had been and ugly, was blotted out. She wept for the poor, broken life now ended, and was afraid for his future in the other world. His departure into the unknown roused her abruptly to a clear conception of how his action and her mother’s had affected her own character. As she stood by his bed she wondered what she might have been if her mother had been true, her father happy, to the end. Then she felt afraid of herself, recognising partially, and for the first time, how all these years had seen her long indifference. She felt self-conscious too, ignorant of the real meaning of life, and as if she had always been, and still remained, rather a complicated piece of mechanism than a woman. A desolate enervation of spirit descended upon her, a sort of bitter, and yet dull, perplexity. She began to wonder what she was, capable of what, of how much good or evil, and to feel sure that she did not know, had never known or tried to find out. Once, in this state of mind, she went to confession. She came away feeling that she had just joined with the priest in a farce. How can a woman who knows nothing about herself make anything but a worthless confession? she thought. To say what you have done is not always to say what you are. And only what you are matters eternally.