Crisparkle, 'not even a beloved and beautiful sister's tears under dastardly ill-usage;' he became less severe, in spite of himself, as his indignation rose; 'could justify those horrible expressions that you used.'
'I am sorry I used them, and especially to you, sir. I beg to recall them. But permit me to set you right on one point. You spoke of my sister's tears. My sister would have let him tear her to pieces, before she would have let him believe that he could make her shed a tear.'
Mr. Crisparkle reviewed those mental notes of his, and was neither at all surprised to hear it, nor at all disposed to question it.
'Perhaps you will think it strange, sir,'--this was said in a hesitating voice--'that I should so soon ask you to allow me to confide in you, and to have the kindness to hear a word or two from me in my defence?'
'Defence?' Mr. Crisparkle repeated. 'You are not on your defence, Mr. Neville.'
'I think I am, sir. At least I know I should be, if you were better acquainted with my character.'
'Well, Mr. Neville,' was the rejoinder. 'What if you leave me to find it out?'
'Since it is your pleasure, sir,' answered the young man, with a quick change in his manner to sullen disappointment: 'since it is your pleasure to check me in my impulse, I must submit.'
There was that in the tone of this short speech which made the conscientious man to whom it was addressed uneasy. It hinted to him that he might, without meaning it, turn aside a trustfulness beneficial to a mis-shapen young mind and perhaps to his own power of directing and improving it. They were within sight of the lights in his windows, and he stopped.
'Let us turn back and take a turn or two up and down, Mr. Neville, or you may not have time to finish what you wish to say to me. You are hasty in thinking that I mean to check you. Quite the contrary. I invite your confidence.'
'You have invited it, sir, without knowing it, ever since I came here. I say "ever since," as if I had been here a week. The truth is, we came here (my sister and I) to quarrel with you, and affront you, and break away again.'
'Really?' said Mr. Crisparkle, at a dead loss for anything else to say.
'You see, we could not know what you were beforehand, sir; could we?'
'Clearly not,' said Mr. Crisparkle.
'And having liked no one else with whom we have ever been brought into contact, we had made up our minds not to like you.'
'Really?' said Mr. Crisparkle again.
'But we do like you, sir, and we see an unmistakable difference between your house and your reception of us, and anything else we have ever known. This--and my happening to be alone with you--and everything around us seeming so quiet and peaceful after Mr. Honeythunder's departure--and Cloisterham being so old and grave and beautiful, with the moon shining on it--these things inclined me to open my heart.'
'I quite understand, Mr. Neville. And it is salutary to listen to such influences.'
'In describing my own imperfections, sir, I must ask you not to suppose that I am describing my sister's. She has come out of the disadvantages of our miserable life, as much better than I am, as that Cathedral tower is higher than those chimneys.'
Mr. Crisparkle in his own breast was not so sure of this.
'I have had, sir, from my earliest remembrance, to suppress a deadly and bitter hatred. This has made me secret and revengeful. I have been always tyrannically held down by the strong hand. This has driven me, in my weakness, to the resource of being false and mean. I have been stinted of education, liberty, money, dress, the very necessaries of life, the commonest pleasures of childhood, the commonest possessions of youth. This has caused me to be utterly wanting in I don't know what emotions, or remembrances, or good instincts--I have not even a name for the thing, you see!--that you have had to work upon in other young men to whom you have been accustomed.'
'This is evidently true. But this is not encouraging,' thought Mr. Crisparkle as they turned again.