`The Court will overlook it--for this once!' Then her manner suddenly changed from playfulness to an anxious gravity.
`You are not looking your best!' she said with an anxious glance. `In fact, I think you look more of an invalid than when you left us. I very much doubt if London agrees with you?'
`It may be the London air,' I said, `or it may be the hard work--or my rather lonely life: anyhow, I've not been feeling very well, lately. But Elveston will soon set me up again. Arthur's prescription--he's my doctor, you know, and I heard from him this morning--is "plenty of ozone, and new milk, and pleasant society"!'
`Pleasant society?' said Lady Muriel, with a pretty make-believe of considering the question. `Well, really I don't know where we can find that for you! We have so few neighbours. But new milk we can manage. Do get it of my old friend Mrs. Hunter, up there, on the hill-side. You may rely upon the quality. And her little Bessie comes to school every day, and passes your lodgings. So it would be very easy to send it.'
`I'll follow your advice with pleasure,' I said; `and I'll go and arrange about it to-morrow. I know Arthur will want a walk.'
`You'll find it quite an easy walk--under three miles, I think.'
`Well, now that we've settled that point, let me retort your own remark upon yourself. I don't think you're looking quite your best!'
`I daresay not,' she replied in a low voice; and a sudden shadow seemed to overspread her face. `I've had some troubles lately. It's a matter about which I've been long wishing to consult you, but I couldn't easily write about it. I'm so glad to have this opportunity!'
`Do you think,' she began again, after a minute's silence, and with a visible embarrassment of manner most unusual in her, `that a promise, deliberately and solemnly given, is always binding--except, of course, where its fulfilment would involve some actual sin?'
`I ca'n't think of any other exception at this moment,' I said. `That branch of casuistry is usually, I believe, treated as a question of truth and untruth--'
`Surely that is the principle?' she eagerly interrupted. `I always thought the Bible-teaching about it consisted of such texts "lie not one to another"?'
`I have thought about that point,' I replied; `and it seems to me that the essence of lying is the intention of deceiving. If you give a promise, fully intending to fulfil it, you are certainly acting truthfully then; and, if you afterwards break it, that does not involve any deception. I cannot call it untruthful.'
Another pause of silence ensued. Lady Muriel's face was hard to read: she looked pleased, I thought, but also puzzled; and I felt curious to know whether her question had, as I began to suspect, some bearing on the breaking off of her engagement with Captain (now Major) Lindon.
`You have relieved me from a great fear,' she said; `but the thing is of course wrong, somehow. What texts would you quote, to prove it wrong?'
`Any that enforce the payment of debts. If A promises something to B, B has a claim upon A. And A's sin, if he breaks his promise, seems to me more analogous to stealing than to lying.'
`It's a new way of looking at it--to me,' she said; `but it seems a true way, also. However, I wo'n't deal in generalities, with an old friend like you! For we are old friends, somehow. Do you know, I think we
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