Draper, with the last question, squared himself in front of Millner, as if suspecting that the latter meant to evade it by flight. But Millner had never felt more disposed to stand his ground than at that moment.
“No—by Jove, no! It’s not that.” His relief almost escaped him in a cry, as he lifted his head to give back Draper’s look.
“On your honour?” the other passionately pressed him.
“Oh, on anybody’s you like—on yours!” Millner could hardly restrain a laugh of relief. It was vertiginous to find himself spared, after all, the need of an altruistic lie: he perceived that they were the kind he least liked.
Draper took a deep breath. “You don’t—Millner, a lot depends on this—you don’t really think my father has any ulterior motive?”
“I think he has none but his horror of seeing you go straight to perdition!”
They looked at each other again, and Draper’s tension was suddenly relieved by a free boyish laugh. “It’s his convictions—it’s just his funny old convictions?”
“It’s that, and nothing else on earth!”
Draper turned back to the arm-chair he had left, and let his narrow figure sink down into it as into a bath. Then he looked over at Millner with a smile. “I can see that I’ve been worrying him horribly. So he really thinks I’m on the road to perdition? Of course you can fancy what a sick minute I had when I thought it might be this other reason—the damnable insinuation in this letter.” Draper crumpled the paper in his hand, and leaned forward to toss it into the coals of the grate. “I ought to have known better, of course. I ought to have remembered that, as you say, my father can’t conceive how conduct may be independent of creed. That’s where I was stupid—and rather base. But that letter made me dizzy—I couldn’t think. Even now I can’t very clearly. I’m not sure what my convictions require of me: they seem to me so much less to be considered than his! When I’ve done half the good to people that he has, it will be time enough to begin attacking their beliefs. Meanwhile—meanwhile I can’t touch his. ...” Draper leaned forward, stretching his lank arms along his knees. His face was as clear as a spring sky. “I won’t touch them, Millner—Go and tell him so. ...”
In the study a half hour later Mr. Spence, watch in hand, was doling out his minutes again. The peril conjured, he had recovered his dominion over time. He turned his commanding eye-glasses on Millner.
“It’s all settled, then? Tell Draper I’m sorry not to see him again to-night—but I’m to speak at the dinner of the Legal Relief Association, and I’m due there in five minutes. You and he dine alone here, I suppose? Tell him I appreciate what he’s done. Some day he’ll see that to leave the world better than we find it is the best we can hope to do. (You’ve finished the notes for the Investigator? Be sure you don’t forget that phrase.) Well, good evening: that’s all, I think.”