13. The Pleasures Of A Conscience
It was half-way down the glen that the full ignominy of his position came on Lewis with
the shock of a thunder-clap. A hateful bitterness against her preserver and the tricks of
fate had been his solitary feeling, till suddenly he realized the part he had played, and
saw himself for a naked coward. Coward he called himself-without reflection; for in such
a moment the mind thinks in crude colours and bold lines of division. He set his teeth in
his lip, and with a heart sinking at the shameful thought stalked into the farm stables
where the Glenavelin servants were.
He could not return to the Pool. Alice was little hurt, so anxiety was needless; better let
him leave Mr. Stocks to enjoy his heroics in peace. He would find an excuse;
meanwhile, give him quiet and solitude to digest his bitterness. He cursed himself for
the unworthiness of his thoughts. What a pass had he come to when he grudged a little
_kudos_ to a rival, grudged it churlishly, childishly. He flung from him the self-reproach.
Other people would wonder at his ungenerousness, and his sulky ill-nature. They would
explain by the first easy discreditable reason. What eared he for their opinion when he
knew the far greater shame in his heart?
For as he strode up the woodland path to Etterick the wrappings of surface passion fell
off from his view of the past hour, and he saw the bald and naked ribs of his own
incapacity. It was a trivial incident to the world, but to himself a momentous self-
revelation. He was a dreamer, a weakling, a fool. He had hesitated in a crisis, and
another had taken his place. A thousand incidents of ready courage in past sport and
travel were forgotten, and on this single slip the terrible indictment was founded. And
the reason is at hand; this weakness had at last drawn near to his life's great passion.
He found a deserted house, but its solitude was too noisy for his unrest. Bidding the
butler tell his friends that he had gone up the hill, he crossed the sloping lawns and
plunged into the thicket of rhododendrons. Soon he was out on the heather, with the
great slopes, scorched with the heat, lying still and fragrant before him. He felt sick and
tired, and flung himself down amid the soft brackens.
It was the man's first taste of bitter mental anguish. Hitherto his life had been equable
and pleasant; his friends had adored him; the world had flattered him; he had been at
peace with his own soul. He had known his failings, but laughed at them cavalierly; he
stood on a different platform from the struggling, conscience-stricken herd. Now he had
in very truth been flung neck and crop from the pedestal of his self-esteem; and he lay
groaning in the dust of abasement.