Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/372

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356
A Study in Temptations.
 

himself less for keeping his promise to Sophia than for making it. The weakness, the moral cowardice of the matter lay, in his judgment, in the submitting to such a condition. It brought him no ease of mind to remember that the lunatic, the lover, and the poet were admitted by a charitable world to be more or less irresponsible for their follies. With all his faults he was not a man to lie pleasantly to his own conscience. He had acted wrongly and he knew it; what was more, he had been perfectly aware that he was acting wrongly when he gave the miserable promise. He had made up his mind to marry Sophia, and he had not been willing to run any risk of losing her. There was no condition so unwise, so ill-considered, or so desperate but he would have accepted it, rather than forfeit even one of her smiles. Such was the truth. (If a man cannot be a hero to his hired valet, we must not wonder if he looks small in the presence of his free conscience.) Fear, for the enormities he might have committed, was the other side of his remorse for the wrong, he had actually done. It was an awkward subject viewed from any point of consideration. But awkward as it was, it was even grateful in comparison with another matter, which haunted him constantly, and which seemed past forgiveness or hope. This matter was his conversation with Lady Hyde-Bassett on that never-to-be-forgotten Monday morning. It was contemptible enough, God knew, to have suspected his saintly wife of having eloped with Mauden; but to have expressed the despicable thought in words, to have allowed the curbed jealousy of a lifetime to break away from all bounds just when control was most necessary—what