I see everything you speak of, when you stand aside, and do not interpose yourself between the view and me. I am very sorry for you. If I had not had the pleasure to meet you here, I think I should have written to tell you so. But you don't bear it as well as I had expected-- excuse me--no, you don't indeed.'
He pulled out his snuff-box, and addressing him with the superior air of a man who, by reason of his higher nature, has a right to read a moral lesson to another, continued:
'For you are a philosopher, you know--one of that stern and rigid school who are far above the weaknesses of mankind in general. You are removed, a long way, from the frailties of the crowd. You contemplate them from a height, and rail at them with a most impressive bitterness. I have heard you.'
--'And shall again,' said Mr Haredale.
'Thank you,' returned the other. 'Shall we walk as we talk? The damp falls rather heavily. Well,--as you please. But I grieve to say that I can spare you only a very few moments.'
'I would,' said Mr Haredale, 'you had spared me none. I would, with all my soul, you had been in Paradise (if such a monstrous lie could be enacted), rather than here to-night.'
'Nay,' returned the other--'really--you do yourself injustice. You are a rough companion, but I would not go so far to avoid you.'
'Listen to me,' said Mr Haredale. 'Listen to me.'
'While you rail?' inquired Sir John.
'While I deliver your infamy. You urged and stimulated to do your work a fit agent, but one who in his nature--in the very essence of his being--is a traitor, and who has been false to you (despite the sympathy you two should have together) as he has been to all others. With hints, and looks, and crafty words, which told again are nothing, you set on Gashford to this work--this work before us now. With these same hints, and looks, and crafty words, which told again are nothing, you urged him on to gratify the deadly hate he owes me--I have earned it, I thank Heaven--by the abduction and dishonour of my niece. You did. I see denial in your looks,' he cried, abruptly pointing in his face, and stepping back, 'and denial is a lie!'
He had his hand upon his sword; but the knight, with a contemptuous smile, replied to him as coldly as before.
'You will take notice, sir--if you can discriminate sufficiently-- that I have taken the trouble to deny nothing. Your discernment is hardly fine enough for the perusal of faces, not of a kind as coarse as your speech; nor has it ever been, that I remember; or, in one face that I could name, you would have read indifference, not to say disgust, somewhat sooner than you did. I speak of a long time ago,--but you understand me.'
'Disguise it as you will, you mean denial. Denial explicit or reserved, expressed or left to be inferred, is still a lie. You say you don't deny. Do you admit?'
'You yourself,' returned Sir John, suffering the current of his speech to flow as smoothly as if it had been stemmed by no one word of interruption, 'publicly proclaimed the character of the gentleman in question (I think it was in Westminster Hall) in terms which relieve me from the necessity of making any further allusion to him. You may have been warranted; you may not have been; I can't say. Assuming the gentleman to be what you described, and to have made to you or any other person any statements that may have happened to suggest themselves to him, for the sake of his own security, or for the sake of money, or for his own amusement, or for any other consideration,--I have nothing to say of him, except that his extremely degrading situation appears to me to be shared with his employers. You are so very plain yourself, that you will excuse a little freedom in me, I am sure.'
'Attend to me again, Sir John but once,' cried Mr Haredale; 'in your every look, and word, and gesture, you tell me this was not your act. I tell you that it was, and that you tampered with the man I speak of, and with your wretched son (whom God forgive!) to do this deed.