Where shall I begin?
Begin with what you have done, my friend. And stop wishing you had not done it.
I did not do it. I was led to do it.
What led you to do it?
I was deceived.
What intent lay behind the deception?
I do not know.
But you must judge.
If she had truly loved me she could not have let me go.
If she had truly loved you, could she have continued to deceive?
She gave me no choice. She said herself that marriage between us was impossible.
What reason did she give?
Our difference in social position.
A noble cause.
Then Ernestina. I have given her my solemn promise.
It is already broken.
I will mend it.
With love? Or with guilt?
It does not matter which. A vow is sacred.
If it does not matter which, a vow cannot be sacred.
My duty is clear.
Charles, Charles, I have read that thought in the cruelest eyes. Duty is but a pot. It holds whatever is put in
it, from the greatest evil to the greatest good.
She wished me to go. I could see it in her eyes—a contempt.
Shall I tell you what Contempt is doing at this moment? She is weeping her heart out.
I cannot go back.
Do you think water can wash that blood from your loins?
I cannot go back.
Did you have to meet her again in the Undercliff? Did you have to stop this night in Exeter? Did you have
to go to her room? Let her hand rest on yours? Did you—
I admit these things! I have sinned. But I was fallen into her snare.
Then why are you now free of her?
My poor Charles, search your heart—you thought when you came to this city, did you not, to prove to yourself you were not yet in the prison of your future. But escape is not one act, my friend. It is no more achieved by that than you could reach Jerusalem from here by one small step. Each day, Charles, each hour, it has to be taken again. Each minute the nail waits to be hammered in. You know your choice. You stay in prison, what your time calls duty, honor, self-respect, and you are comfortably safe. Or you are free and crucified. Your only companions the stones, the thorns, the turning backs; the silence of cities,
and their hate.
I am weak.
But ashamed of your weakness.
- John Fowles (The French Lieutenant's Woman)