The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Chapter 13

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XIII.

IN WHICH ANOTHER LADY SPEAKS HER MIND.

Jane was now able to observe the young man more critically than had yet been possible, and the more she observed him, the greater effort it required to maintain her just indignation at his conduct. For, of course, he must have behaved most brutally. Had not his too fond grandmother implied as much? And if she had said so, what could a less partial witness think?

"I suppose," said the girl, in a severe voice, "you will at least remain in London until she is well enough to see you again? You cannot part like this."

"It is a most painful misunderstanding," said Warbeck.

"It is not for me to dictate," said Jane, in a tone of command, "but if it is a misunderstanding you will surely lose no time in making it clear. She is too old for these violent scenes. And she has had a great deal of sorrow and anxiety lately: perhaps she is not so patient as those who are young, and have nothing to worry them but their own want of thought!"

This authoritative and elderly tone in one so young and gentle astonished the Earl, no doubt, but he was so far from feeling any resentment, that he experienced some difficulty in hiding his admiration.

"I have been trying to make it all clear," he said, quietly, "ever since I arrived this noon. The only trouble is, that she refuses to listen. I have tried to be patient, and I hope I have not spoken harshly.

But I must do my duty whether she understands it or not. The quarrel has arisen — I fear we must call it a quarrel—about a question of duty—of honour."

Jane's cheeks began to burn: she feared he might think she was inquisitive. And inquisitiveness was not one of her faults.

"Please," she stammered, "please do not———"

But he, too, was sensitive, and had very delicate feelings.

"I quite understand you," he said; "I am only afraid you will not understand me. My dear grandmother has a genius for misrepresentation : she can describe what she sees with perfect truthfulness, but she does not see things as they are. In this particular instance it is most unfortunate. For honour has only one aspect: it is not a matter of opinion, but an in-controvertible fact."

"But she is so honourable herself," said Jane, eagerly; "if you are in the right she must agree with you—she must. Are you quite—quite sure that you are right? It is almost as easy to do wrong for a good motive, as to do right for a bad one. There are always so many reasons why we should follow our own wishes."

"On the whole," said the young man, slowly, "I may say there is no danger of any such confusion arising in this case: it is not a matter where my duty is —is perfectly my inclination. If it were not a question of principle—of moral obligation, I—I might surrender."

"May I tell her that you will reconsider it?" said Jane. "There could be no harm in saying that, because the more you consider what is right, the righter it seems."

"I cannot re-consider it," he answered, looking away— "I cannot, indeed; I only want to forget it all as soon as possible."

"Don't be angry with me," said Jane, "but for you—that sounds rather—rather cowardly. Oh, I ought not to have said that. I do not know the circumstances. I am always saying something thoughtless. Indeed, I did not mean it."

"You are quite right," he said,"and I am cowardly. But it is one advantage that I know my own weakness: I do not attempt feats beyond my strength." Yet he did not look weak, this man with a square chin and a firm mouth: anything rather than weak. Jane was bewildered.

"My grandmother knows my address," he went on; "but I will find means to hear how she is, even if she does not care to write to me. And— and tell her just this: if it were possible to accept her view, I would be more glad than I could say. But we are nowhere taught that duty is invariably delightful. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said Jane.

When she looked again, he was gone. And she was sorry; for he had a winning countenance. If she had never seen De Boys she would have thought him ideally handsome. But De Boys was a king to him— although he was poor and not a person one might wear in a locket!