The Black Robe
Part 1 out of 7
[Italics are indicatedby underscores
James Rusk, email@example.com.]
THE BLACK ROBE
by Wilkie Collins
BEFORE THE STORY.
THE doctors could do no more for the Dowager Lady Berrick.
When the medical advisers of a lady who has reached seventy years
of age recommend the mild climate of the South of France, they
mean in plain language that they have arrived at the end of their
resources. Her ladyship gave the mild climate a fair trial, and
then decided (as she herself expressed it) to "die at home."
Traveling slowly, she had reached Paris at the date when I last
heard of her. It was then the beginning of November. A week
later, I met with her nephew, Lewis Romayne, at the club.
"What brings you to London at this time of year?" I asked.
"The fatality that pursues me," he answered grimly. "I am one of
the unluckiest men living."
He was thirty years old; he was not married; he was the enviable
possessor of the fine old country seat, called Vange Abbey; he
had no poor relations; and he was one of the handsomest men in
England. When I add that I am, myself, a retired army officer,
with a wretched income, a disagreeable wife, four ugly children,
and a burden of fifty years on my back, no one will be surprised
to hear that I answered Romayne, with bitter sincerity, in these
"I wish to heaven I could change places with you!"
"I wish to heaven you could!" he burst out, with equal sincerity
on his side. "Read that."
He handed me a letter addressed to him by the traveling medical
attendant of Lady Berrick. After resting in Paris, the patient
had continued her homeward journey as far as Boulogne. In her
suffering condition, she was liable to sudden fits of caprice. An
insurmountable horror of the Channel passage had got possession
of her; she positively refused to be taken on board the
steamboat. In this difficulty, the lady who held the post of her
"companion" had ventured on a suggestion. Would Lady Berrick
consent to make the Channel passage if her nephew came to
Boulogne expressly to accompany her on the voyage? The reply had
been so immediately favorable, that the doctor lost no time in
communicating with Mr. Lewis Romayne. This was the substance of
It was needless to ask any more questions--Romayne was plainly on
his way to Boulogne. I gave him some useful information. "Try the
oysters," I said, "at the restaurant on the pier."
He never even thanked me. He was thinking entirely of himself.
"Just look at my position," he said. "I detest Boulogne; I
cordially share my aunt's horror of the Channel passage; I had
looked forward to some months of happy retirement in the country
among my books--and what happens to me? I am brought to London in
this season of fogs, to travel by the tidal train at seven
to-morrow morning--and all for a woman with whom I have no
sympathies in common. If I am not an unlucky man--who is?"
He spoke in a tone of vehement irritation which seemed to me,
under the circumstances, to be simply absurd. But _my_ nervous
system is not the irritable system--sorely tried by night study
and strong tea--of my friend Romayne. "It's only a matter of two
days," I remarked, by way of reconciling him to his situation.
"How do I know that?" he retorted. "In two days the weather may
be stormy. In two days she may be too ill to be moved.
Unfortunately, I am her heir; and I am told I must submit to any
whim that seizes her. I'm rich enough already; I don't want her
money. Besides, I dislike all traveling--and especially traveling
alone. You are an idle man. If you were a good friend, you would
offer to go with me." He added, with the delicacy which was one
of the redeeming points in his wayward character. "Of course as
I had known him long enough not to take offense at his reminding
me, in this considerate way, that I was a poor man. The proposed
change of scene tempted me. What did I care for the Channel
passage? Besides, there was the irresistible attraction of
getting away from home. The end of it was that I accepted
SHORTLY after noon, on the next day, we were established at
Boulogne--near Lady Berrick, but not at her hotel. "If we live in
the same house," Romayne reminded me, "we shall be bored by the
companion and the doctor. Meetings on the stairs, you know, and
exchanging bows and small talk." He hated those trivial
conventionalities of society, in which, other people delight.
When somebody once asked him in what company he felt most at
ease? he made a shocking answer--he said, "In the company of
I waited for him on the pier while he went to see her ladyship.
He joined me again with his bitterest smile. "What did I tell
you? She is not well enough to see me to-day. The doctor looks
grave, and the companion puts her handkerchief to her eyes. We
may be kept in this place for weeks to come."
The afternoon proved to be rainy. Our early dinner was a bad one.
This last circumstance tried his temper sorely. He was no
gourmand; the question of cookery was (with him) purely a matter
of digestion. Those late hours of study, and that abuse of tea to
which I have already alluded, had sadly injured his stomach. The
doctors warned him of serious consequences to his nervous system,
unless he altered his habits. He had little faith in medical
science, and he greatly overrated the restorative capacity of his
constitution. So far as I know, he had always neglected the
The weather cleared toward evening, and we went out for a walk.
We passed a church--a Roman Catholic church, of course--the doors
of which were still open. Some poor women were kneeling at their
prayers in the dim light. "Wait a minute," said Romayne. "I am in
a vile temper. Let me try to put myself into a better frame of
I followed him into the church. He knelt down in a dark corner by
himself. I confess I was surprised. He had been baptized in the
Church of England; but, so far as outward practice was concerned,
he belonged to no religious community. I had often heard him
speak with sincere reverence and admiration of the spirit of
Christianity--but he never, to my knowledge, attended any place
of public worship. When we met again outside the church, I asked
if he had been converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
"No," he said. "I hate the inveterate striving of that priesthood
after social influence and political power as cordially as the
fiercest Protestant living. But let us not forget that the Church
of Rome has great merits to set against great faults. Its system
is administered with an admirable knowledge of the higher needs
of human nature. Take as one example what you have just seen. The
solemn tranquillity of that church, the poor people praying near
me, the few words of prayer by which I silently united myself to
my fellow-creatures, have calmed me and done me good. In _our_
country I should have found the church closed, out of service
hours." He took my arm and abruptly changed the subject. "How
will you occupy yourself," he asked, "if my aunt receives me
I assured him that I should easily find ways and means of getting
through the time. The next morning a message came from Lady
Berrick, to say that she would see her nephew after breakfast.
Left by myself, I walked toward the pier, and met with a man who
asked me to hire his boat. He had lines and bait, at my service.
Most unfortunately, as the event proved, I decided on occupying
an hour or two by sea fishing.
The wind shifted while we were out, and before we could get back
to the harbor, the tide had turned against us. It was six o'clock
when I arrived at the hotel. A little open carriage was waiting
at the door. I found Romayne impatiently expecting me, and no
signs of dinner on the table. He informed me that he had accepted
an invitation, in which I was included, and promised to explain
everything in the carriage.
Our driver took the road that led toward the High Town. I
subordinated my curiosity to my sense of politeness, and asked
for news of his aunt's health.
"She is seriously ill, poor soul," he said. "I am sorry I spoke
so petulantly and s o unfairly when we met at the club. The near
prospect of death has developed qualities in her nature which I
ought to have seen before this. No matter how it may be delayed,
I will patiently wait her time for the crossing to England."
So long as he believed himself to be in the right, he was, as to
his actions and opinions, one of the most obstinate men I ever
met with. But once let him be convinced that he was wrong, and he
rushed into the other extreme--became needlessly distrustful of
himself, and needlessly eager in seizing his opportunity of
making atonement. In this latter mood he was capable (with the
best intentions) of committing acts of the most childish
imprudence. With some misgivings, I asked how he had amused
himself in my absence.
"I waited for you," he said, "till I lost all patience, and went
out for a walk. First, I thought of going to the beach, but the
smell of the harbor drove me back into the town; and there, oddly
enough, I met with a man, a certain Captain Peterkin, who had
been a friend of mine at college."
"A visitor to Boulogne?" I inquired.
"Yes. The fact is, I lost sight of Peterkin when I left
Oxford--and since that time he seems to have drifted into
difficulties. We had a long talk. He is living here, he tells me,
until his affairs are settled."
I needed no further enlightenment--Captain Peterkin stood as
plainly revealed to me as if I had known him for years. "Isn't it
a little imprudent," I said, "to renew your acquaintance with a
man of that sort? Couldn't you have passed him, with a bow?"
Bolnayne smiled uneasily. "I daresay you're right," he answered.
"But, remember, I had left my aunt, feeling ashamed of the unjust
way in which I had thought and spoken of her. How did I know that
I mightn't be wronging an old friend next, if I kept Peterkin at
a distance? His present position may be as much his misfortune,
poor fellow, as his fault. I was half inclined to pass him, as
you say--but I distrusted my own judgment. He held out his hand,
and he was so glad to see me. It can't be helped now. I shall be
anxious to hear your opinion of him."
"Are we going to dine with Captain Peterkin?"
"Yes. I happened to mention that wretched dinner yesterday at our
hotel. He said, 'Come to my boarding-house. Out of Paris, there
isn't such a table d'hote in France.' I tried to get off it--not
caring, as you know, to go among strangers--I said I had a friend
with me. He invited you most cordially to accompany me. More
excuses on my part only led to a painful result. I hurt
Peterkin's feelings. 'I'm down in the world,' he said, 'and I'm
not fit company for you and your friends. I beg your pardon for
taking the liberty of inviting you!' He turned away with the
tears in his eyes. What could I do?"
I thought to myself, "You could have lent him five pounds, and
got rid of his invitation without the slightest difficulty." If I
had returned in reasonable time to go out with Romayne, we might
not have met the captain--or, if we had met him, my presence
would have prevented the confidential talk and the invitation
that followed. I felt I was to blame--and yet, how could I help
it? It was useless to remonstrate: the mischief was done.
We left the Old Town on our right hand, and drove on, past a
little colony of suburban villas, to a house standing by itself,
surrounded by a stone wall. As we crossed the front garden on our
way to the door, I noticed against the side of the house two
kennels, inhabited by two large watch-dogs. Was the proprietor
afraid of thieves?
THE moment we were introduced to the drawing-room, my suspicions
of the company we were likely to meet with were fully confirmed.
"Cards, billiards, and betting"--there was the inscription
legibly written on the manner and appearance of Captain Peterkin.
The bright-eyed yellow old lady who kept the boarding-house would
have been worth five thousand pounds in jewelry alone, if the
ornaments which profusely covered her had been genuine precious
stones. The younger ladies present had their cheeks as highly
rouged and their eyelids as elaborately penciled in black as if
they were going on the stage, instead of going to dinner. We
found these fair creatures drinking Madeira as a whet to their
appetites. Among the men, there were two who struck me as the
most finished and complete blackguards whom I had ever met with
in all my experience, at home and abroad. One, with a brown face
and a broken nose, was presented to us by the title of
"Commander," and was described as a person of great wealth and
distinction in Peru, traveling for amusement. The other wore a
military uniform and decorations, and was spoken of as "the
General." A bold bullying manner, a fat sodden face, little
leering eyes, and greasy-looking hands, made this man so
repellent to me that I privately longed to kick him. Romayne had
evidently been announced, before our arrival, as a landed
gentleman with a large income. Men and women vied in servile
attentions to him. When we went into the dining-room, the
fascinating creature who sat next to him held her fan before her
face, and so made a private interview of it between the rich
Englishman and herself. With regard to the dinner, I shall only
report that it justified Captain Peterkin's boast, in some degree
at least. The wine was good, and the conversation became gay to
the verge of indelicacy. Usually the most temperate of men,
Romayne was tempted by his neighbors into drinking freely. I was
unfortunately seated at the opposite extremity of the table, and
I had no opportunity of warning him.
The dinner reached its conclusion, and we all returned together,
on the foreign plan, to coffee and cigars in the drawing-room.
The women smoked, and drank liqueurs as well as coffee, with the
men. One of them went to the piano, and a little impromptu ball
followed, the ladies dancing with their cigarettes in their
mouths. Keeping my eyes and ears on the alert, I saw an
innocent-looking table, with a surface of rosewood, suddenly
develop a substance of green cloth. At the same time, a neat
little roulette-table made its appearance from a hiding-place in
a sofa. Passing near the venerable landlady, I heard her ask the
servant, in a whisper, "if the dogs were loose?" After what I had
observed, I could only conclude that the dogs were used as a
patrol, to give the alarm in case of a descent of the police. It
was plainly high time to thank Captain Peterkin for his
hospitality, and to take our leave.
"We have had enough of this," I whispered to Romayne in English.
"Let us go."
In these days it is a delusion to suppose that you can speak
confidentially in the English language, when French people are
within hearing. One of the ladies asked Romayne, tenderly, if he
was tired of her already. Another reminded him that it was
raining heavily (as we could all hear), and suggested waiting
until it cleared up. The hideous General waved his greasy hand in
the direction of the card table, and said, "The game is waiting
Romayne was excited, but not stupefied, by the wine he had drunk.
He answered, discreetly enough, "I must beg you to excuse me; I
am a poor card player."
The General suddenly looked grave. "You are speaking, sir, under
a strange misapprehension," he said. "Our game is
lansquenet--essentially a game of chance. With luck, the poorest
player is a match for the whole table."
Romayne persisted in his refusal. As a matter of course, I
supported him, with all needful care to avoid giving offense. The
General took offense, nevertheless. He crossed his arms on his
breast, and looked at us fiercely.
"Does this mean, gentlemen, that you distrust the company?" he
The broken-nosed Commander, hearing the question, immediately
joined us, in the interests of peace--bearing with him the
elements of persuasion, under the form of a lady on his arm.
The lady stepped briskly forward, and tapped the General on the
shoulder with her fan. "I am one of the company," she said, "and
I am sure Mr. Romayne doesn't distrust _me_." She turned to
Romayne with her most irresistible smile. "A gentleman always
plays cards," she resumed, "when he has a lady for a partner. Let
us join our interests at the table--and, dear Mr. Romayne, don't
risk too much!" She put her pretty little purse into his hand,
and looked as if she had been in love with him for half her
The fatal influence of the sex, assisted by wine, produced the
inevitable result. Romayne allowed himself to be led to the card
table. For a moment the General delayed the beginning of the
game. After what had happened, it was necessary that he should
assert the strict sense of justice that was in him. "We are all
honorable men," he began.
"And brave men," the Commander added, admiring the General.
"And brave men," the General admitted, admiring the Commander.
"Gentlemen, if I have been led into expressing myself with
unnecessary warmth of feeling, I apologize, and regret it.
"Nobly spoken!" the Commander pronounced. The General put his
hand on his heart and bowed. The game began.
As the poorest man of the two I had escaped the attentions
lavished by the ladies on Romayne. At the same time I was obliged
to pay for my dinner, by taking some part in the proceedings of
the evening. Small stakes were allowed, I found, at roulette;
and, besides, the heavy chances in favor of the table made it
hardly worth while to run the risk of cheating in this case. I
placed myself next to the least rascally-looking man in the
company, and played roulette.
For a wonder, I was successful at the first attempt. My neighbor
handed me my winnings. "I have lost every farthing I possess," he
whispered to me, piteously, "and I have a wife and children at
home." I lent the poor wretch five francs. He smiled faintly as
he looked at the money. "It reminds me," he said, "of my last
transaction, when I borrowed of that gentleman there, who is
betting on the General's luck at the card table. Beware of
employing him as I did. What do you think I got for my note of
hand of four thousand francs? A hundred bottles of champagne,
fifty bottles of ink, fifty bottles of blacking, three dozen
handkerchiefs, two pictures by unknown masters, two shawls, one
hundred maps, _and_--five francs."
We went on playing. My luck deserted me; I lost, and lost, and
lost again. From time to time I looked round at the card table.
The "deal" had fallen early to the General, and it seemed to be
indefinitely prolonged. A heap of notes and gold (won mainly from
Romayne, as I afterward discovered) lay before him. As for my
neighbor, the unhappy possessor of the bottles of blacking, the
pictures by unknown masters, and the rest of it, he won, and then
rashly presumed on his good fortune. Deprived of his last
farthing, he retired into a corner of the room, and consoled
himself with a cigar. I had just arisen, to follow his example,
when a furious uproar burst out at the card table.
I saw Romayne spring up, and snatch the cards out of the
General's hand. "You scoundrel!" he shouted, "you are cheating!"
The General started to his feet in a fury. "You lie!" he cried. I
attempted to interfere, but Romayne had already seen the
necessity of controlling himself. "A gentleman doesn't accept an
insult from a swindler," he said, coolly. "Accept this, then!"
the General answered--and spat on him. In an instant Romayne
knocked him down.
The blow was dealt straight between his eyes: he was a gross
big-boned man, and he fell heavily. For the time he was stunned.
The women ran, screaming, out of the room. The peaceable
Commander trembled from head to foot. Two of the men present,
who, to give them their due, were no cowards, locked the doors.
"You don't go," they said, "till we see whether he recovers or
not." Cold water, assisted by the landlady's smelling salts,
brought the General to his senses after a while. He whispered
something to one of his friends, who immediately turned to me.
"The General challenges Mr. Romayne," he said. "As one of his
seconds, I demand an appointment for to-morrow morning." I
refused to make any appointment unless the doors were first
unlocked, and we were left free to depart. "Our carriage is
waiting outside," I added. "If it returns to the hotel without
us, there will be an inquiry." This latter consideration had its
effect. On their side, the doors were opened. On our side, the
appointment was made. We left the house.
IN consenting to receive the General's representative, it is
needless to say that I merely desired to avoid provoking another
quarrel. If those persons were really impudent enough to call at
the hotel, I had arranged to threaten them with the interference
of the police, and so to put an end to the matter. Romayne
expressed no opinion on the subject, one way or the other. His
conduct inspired me with a feeling of uneasiness. The filthy
insult of which he had been made the object seemed to be rankling
in his mind. He went away thoughtfully to his own room. "Have you
nothing to say to me?" I asked. He only answered: "Wait till
The next day the seconds appeared.
I had expected to see two of the men with whom we had dined. To
my astonishment, the visitors proved to be officers of the
General's regiment. They brought proposals for a hostile meeting
the next morning; the choice of weapons being left to Romayne as
the challenged man.
It was now quite plain to me that the General's peculiar method
of card-playing had, thus far, not been discovered and exposed.
He might keep doubtful company, and might (as I afterward heard)
be suspected in certain quarters. But that he still had,
formally-speaking, a reputation to preserve, was proved by the
appearance of the two gentlemen present as his representatives.
They declared, with evident sincerity, that Romayne had made a
fatal mistake; had provoked the insult offered to him; and had
resented it by a brutal and cowardly outrage. As a man and a
soldier, the General was doubly bound to insist on a duel. No
apology would be accepted, even if an apology were offered.
In this emergency, as I understood it, there was but one course
to follow. I refused to receive the challenge.
Being asked for my reasons, I found it necessary to speak within
certain limits. Though we knew the General to be a cheat, it was
a delicate matter to dispute his right to claim satisfaction,
when he had found two officers to carry his message. I produced
the seized cards (which Romayne had brought away with him in his
pocket), and offered them as a formal proof that my friend had
not been mistaken.
The seconds--evidently prepared for this circumstance by their
principal--declined to examine the cards. In the first place,
they said, not even the discovery of foul play (supposing the
discovery to have been really made) could justify Romayne's
conduct. In the second place, the General's high character made
it impossible, under any circumstances, that he could be
responsible. Like ourselves, he had rashly associated with bad
company; and he had been the innocent victim of an error or a
fraud, committed by some other person present at the table.
Driven to my last resource, I could now only base my refusal to
receive the challenge on the ground that we were Englishmen, and
that the practice of dueling had been abolished in England. Both
the seconds at once declined to accept this statement in
justification of my conduct.
"You are now in France," said the elder of the two, "where a duel
is the established remedy for an insult, among gentlemen. You are
bound to respect the social laws of the country in which you are
for the time residing. If you refuse to do so, you lay yourselves
open to a public imputation on your courage, of a nature too
degrading to be more particularly alluded to. Let us adjourn this
interview for three hours on the ground of informality. We ought
to confer with _two_ gentlemen, acting on Mr. Romayne's behalf.
Be prepared with another second to meet us, and reconsider your
decision before we call again."
The Frenchmen had barely taken their departure by one door, when
Romayne entered by another.
"I have heard it all," he said, quietly. "Accept the challenge."
I declare solemnly that I left no means untried of opposing my
friend's resolution. No man could have felt more strongly
than I did, that nothing could justify the course he was taking.
My remonstrances were completely thrown away. He was deaf to
sense and reason, from the moment when he had heard an imputation
on his courage suggested as a possible result of any affair in
which he was concerned.
"With your views," he said, "I won't ask you to accompany me to
the ground. I can easily find French seconds. And mind this, if
you attempt to prevent the meeting, the duel will take place
elsewhere--and our friendship is at an end from that moment."
After this, I suppose it is needless to add that I accompanied
him to the ground the next morning as one of his seconds.
WE were punctual to the appointed hour--eight o'clock.
The second who acted with me was a French gentleman, a relative
of one of the officers who had brought the challenge. At his
suggestion, we had chosen the pistol as our weapon. Romayne, like
most Englishmen at the present time, knew nothing of the use of
the sword. He was almost equally inexperienced with the pistol.
Our opponents were late. They kept us waiting for more than ten
minutes. It was not pleasant weather to wait in. The day had
dawned damp and drizzling. A thick white fog was slowly rolling
in on us from the sea.
When they did appear, the General was not among them. A tall,
well-dressed young man saluted Romayne with stern courtesy, and
said to a stranger who accompanied him: "Explain the
The stranger proved to be a surgeon. He entered at once on the
necessary explanation. The General was too ill to appear. He had
been attacked that morning by a fit--the consequence of the blow
that he had received. Under these circumstances, his eldest son
(Maurice) was now on the ground to fight the duel on his father's
behalf; attended by the General's seconds, and with the General's
We instantly refused to allow the duel to take place, Romayne
loudly declaring that he had no quarrel with the General's son.
Upon this, Maurice broke away from his seconds; drew off one of
his gloves; and stepping close up to Romayne, struck him on the
face with the glove. "Have you no quarrel with me now?" the young
Frenchman asked. "Must I spit on you, as my father did?" His
seconds dragged him away, and apologized to us for the outbreak.
But the mischief was done. Romayne's fiery temper flashed in his
eyes. "Load the pistols," he said. After the insult publicly
offered to him, and the outrage publicly threatened, there was no
other course to take.
It had been left to us to produce the pistols. We therefore
requested the seconds of our opponent to examine and to load
them. While this was being done, the advancing sea-fog so
completely enveloped us that the duelists were unable to see each
other. We were obliged to wait for the chance of a partial
clearing in the atmosphere. Romayne's temper had become calm
again. The generosity of his nature spoke in the words which he
now addressed to his seconds. "After all," he said, "the young
man is a good son--he is bent on redressing what he believes to
be his father's wrong. Does his flipping his glove in my face
matter to me? I think I shall fire in the air."
"I shall refuse to act as your second if you do," answered the
French gentleman who was assisting us. "The General's son is
famous for his skill with the pistol. If you didn't see it in his
face just now, I did--he means to kill you. Defend your life,
sir!" I spoke quite as strongly, to the same purpose, when my
turn came. Romayne yielded--he placed himself unreservedly in our
In a quarter of an hour the fog lifted a little. We measured the
distance, having previously arranged (at my suggestion) that the
two men should both fire at the same moment, at a given signal.
Romayne's composure, as they faced each other, was, in a man of
his irritable nervous temperament, really wonderful. I placed him
sidewise, in a position which in some degree lessened his danger,
by lessening the surface exposed to the bullet. My French
colleague put the pistol into his hand, and gave him the last
word of advice. "Let your arm hang loosely down, with the barrel
of the pistol pointing straight to the ground. When you hear the
signal, only lift your arm as far as the elbow; keep the elbow
pressed against your side--and fire." We could do no more for
him. As we drew aside--I own it--my tongue was like a cinder in
my mouth, and a horrid inner cold crept through me to the marrow
of my bones.
The signal was given, and the two shots were fired at the same
My first look was at Romayne. He took off his hat, and handed it
to me with a smile. His adversary's bullet had cut a piece out of
the brim of his hat, on the right side. He had literally escaped
by a hair-breadth.
While I was congratulating him, the fog gathered again more
thickly than ever. Looking anxiously toward the ground occupied
by our adversaries, we could only see vague, shadowy forms
hurriedly crossing and recrossing each other in the mist.
Something had happened! My French colleague took my arm and
pressed it significantly. "Leave _me_ to inquire," he said.
Romayne tried to follow; I held him back--we neither of us
exchanged a word.
The fog thickened and thickened, until nothing was to be seen.
Once we heard the surgeon's voice, calling impatiently for a
light to help him. No light appeared that _we_ could see. Dreary
as the fog itself, the silence gathered round us again. On a
sudden it was broken, horribly broken, by another voice, strange
to both of us, shrieking hysterically through the impenetrable
mist. "Where is he?" the voice cried, in the French language.
"Assassin! Assassin! where are you?" Was it a woman? or was it a
boy? We heard nothing more. The effect upon Romayne was terrible
to see. He who had calmly confronted the weapon lifted to kill
him, shuddered dumbly like a terror-stricken animal. I put my arm
round him, and hurried him away from the place.
We waited at the hotel until our French friend joined us. After a
brief interval he appeared, announcing that the surgeon would
The duel had ended fatally. The chance course of the bullet,
urged by Romayne's unpracticed hand, had struck the General's son
just above the right nostril--had penetrated to the back of his
neck--and had communicated a fatal shock to the spinal marrow. He
was a dead man before they could take him back to his father's
So far, our fears were confirmed. But there was something else to
tell, for which our worst presentiments had not prepared us.
A younger brother of the fallen man (a boy of thirteen years old)
had secretly followed the dueling party, on their way from his
father's house--had hidden himself--and had seen the dreadful
end. The seconds only knew of it when he burst out of his place
of concealment, and fell on his knees by his dying brother's
side. His were the frightful cries which we had heard from
invisible lips. The slayer of his brother was the "assassin" whom
he had vainly tried to discover through the fathomless obscurity
of the mist.
We both looked at Romayne. He silently looked back at us, like a
man turned to stone. I tried to reason with him.
"Your life was at your opponent's mercy," I said. "It was _he_
who was skilled in the use of the pistol; your risk was
infinitely greater than his. Are you responsible for an accident?
Rouse yourself, Romayne! Think of the time to come, when all this
will be forgotten."
"Never," he said, "to the end of my life."
He made that reply in dull, monotonous tones. His eyes looked
wearily and vacantly straight before him. I spoke to him again.
He remained impenetrably silent; he appeared not to hear, or not
to understand me. The surgeon came in, while I was still at a
loss what to say or do next. Without waiting to be asked for his
opinion, he observed Romayne attentively, and then drew me away
into the next room.
"Your friend is suffering from a severe nervous shock," he said.
"Can you tell me anything of his habits of life?"
I mentioned the prolonged night studies and the excessive use of
tea. The surgeon shook his head.
"If you want my advice," he proceeded, "take him home at once.
Don't subject hi m to further excitement, when the result of the
duel is known in the town. If it ends in our appearing in a court
of law, it will be a mere formality in this case, and you can
surrender when the time comes. Leave me your address in London."
I felt that the wisest thing I could do was to follow his advice.
The boat crossed to Folkestone at an early hour that day--we had
no time to lose. Romayne offered no objection to our return to
England; he seemed perfectly careless what became of him. "Leave
me quiet," he said; "and do as you like." I wrote a few lines to
Lady Berrick's medical attendant, informing him of the
circumstances. A quarter of an hour afterward we were on board
There were very few passengers. After we had left the harbor, my
attention was attracted by a young English lady--traveling,
apparently, with her mother. As we passed her on the deck she
looked at Romayne with compassionate interest so vividly
expressed in her beautiful face that I imagined they might be
acquainted. With some difficulty, I prevailed sufficiently over
the torpor that possessed him to induce him to look at our fellow
"Do you know that charming person?" I asked.
"No," he replied, with the weariest indifference. "I never saw
her before. I'm tired--tired--tired! Don't speak to me; leave me
I left him. His rare personal attractions--of which, let me add,
he never appeared to be conscious--had evidently made their
natural appeal to the interest and admiration of the young lady
who had met him by chance. The expression of resigned sadness and
suffering, now visible in his face, added greatly no doubt to the
influence that he had unconsciously exercised over the sympathies
of a delicate and sensitive woman. It was no uncommon
circumstance in his past experience of the sex--as I myself well
knew--to be the object, not of admiration only, but of true and
ardent love. He had never reciprocated the passion--had never
even appeared to take it seriously. Marriage might, as the phrase
is, be the salvation of him. Would he ever marry?
Leaning over the bulwark, idly pursuing this train of thought, I
was recalled to present things by a low sweet voice--the voice of
the lady of whom I had been thinking.
"Excuse me for disturbing you," she said; "I think your friend
She spoke with the modesty and self-possession of a highly-bred
woman. A little heightening of her color made her, to my eyes,
more beautiful than ever. I thanked her, and hastened back to
He was standing by the barred skylight which guarded the
machinery. I instantly noticed a change in him. His eyes
wandering here and there, in search of me, had more than
recovered their animation--there was a wild look of terror in
them. He seized me roughly by the arm and pointed down to the
"What do you hear there?" he asked.
"I hear the thump of the engines."
"Nothing. What do _you_ hear?"
He suddenly turned away.
"I'll tell you," he said, "when we get on shore."
VANGE ABBEY.--THE FOREWARNINGS
As we approached the harbor at Folkestone, Romayne's agitation
appeared to subside. His head drooped; his eyes half closed--he
looked like a weary man quietly falling asleep.
On leaving the steamboat, I ventured to ask our charming
fellow-passenger if I could be of any service in reserving places
in the London train for her mother and herself. She thanked me,
and said they were going to visit some friends at Folkestone. In
making this reply, she looked at Romayne. "I am afraid he is very
ill," she said, in gently lowered tones. Before I could answer,
her mother turned to her with an expression of surprise, and
directed her attention to the friends whom she had mentioned,
waiting to greet her. Her last look, as they took her away,
rested tenderly and sorrowfully on Romayne. He never returned
it--he was not even aware of it. As I led him to the train he
leaned more and more heavily on my arm. Seated in the carriage,
he sank at once into profound sleep.
We drove to the hotel at which my friend was accustomed to reside
when he was in London. His long sleep on the journey seemed, in
some degree, to have relieved him. We dined together in his
private room. When the servants had withdrawn, I found that the
unhappy result of the duel was still preying on his mind.
"The horror of having killed that man," he said, "is more than I
can bear alone. For God's sake, don't leave me!"
I had received letters at Boulogne, which informed me that my
wife and family had accepted an invitation to stay with some
friends at the sea-side. Under these circumstances I was entirely
at his service. Having quieted his anxiety on this point, I
reminded him of what had passed between us on board the
steamboat. He tried to change the subject. My curiosity was too
strongly aroused to permit this; I persisted in helping his
"We were looking into the engine-room," I said; "and you asked me
what I heard there. You promised to tell me what _you_ heard, as
soon as we got on shore--"
He stopped me, before I could say more.
"I begin to think it was a delusion," he answered. "You ought not
to interpret too literally what a person in my dreadful situation
may say. The stain of another man's blood is on me--"
I interrupted him in my turn. "I refuse to hear you speak of
yourself in that way," I said. "You are no more responsible for
the Frenchman's death than if you had been driving, and had
accidentally run over him in the street. I am not the right
companion for a man who talks as you do. The proper person to be
with you is a doctor." I really felt irritated with him--and I
saw no reason for concealing it.
Another man, in his place, might have been offended with me.
There was a native sweetness in Romayne's disposition, which
asserted itself even in his worst moments of nervous
irritability. He took my hand.
"Don't be hard on me," he pleaded. "I will try to think of it as
you do. Make some little concession on your side. I want to see
how I get through the night. We will return to what I said to you
on board the steamboat to-morrow morning. Is it agreed?"
It was agreed, of course. There was a door of communication
between our bedrooms. At his suggestion it was left open. "If I
find I can't sleep, " he explained, "I want to feel assured that
you can hear me if I call to you."
Three times in the night I woke, and, seeing the light burning in
his room, looked in at him. He always carried some of his books
with him when he traveled. On each occasion when I entered the
room, he was reading quietly. "I suppose I forestalled my night's
sleep on the railway," he said. "It doesn't matter; I am content.
Something that I was afraid of has not happened. I am used to
wakeful nights. Go back to bed, and don't be uneasy about me."
The next morning the deferred explanation was put off again.
"Do you mind waiting a little longer?" he asked.
"Not if you particularly wish it."
"Will you do me another favor? You know that I don't like London.
The noise in the streets is distracting. Besides, I may tell you
I have a sort of distrust of noise, since--" He stopped, with an
appearance of confusion.
"Since I found you looking into the engine-room?" I asked.
"Yes. I don't feel inclined to trust the chances of another night
in London. I want to try the effect of perfect quiet. Do you mind
going back with me to Vange? Dull as the place is, you can amuse
yourself. There is good shooting, as you know."
In an hour more we had left London.
VANGE ABBEY is, I suppose, the most solitary country house in
England. If Romayne wanted quiet, it was exactly the place for
On the rising ground of one of the wildest moors in the North
Riding of Yorkshire, the ruins of the old monastery are visible
from all points of the compass. There are traditions of thriving
villages clustering about the Abbey, in the days of the monks,
and of hostleries devoted to the reception of pilgrims from every
part of the Christian world. Not a vestige of these buildings is
left. They were deserted by the pious inhabitants, it is said, at
the time when Henry the Eighth suppress ed the monasteries, and
gave the Abbey and the broad lands of Vange to his faithful
friend and courtier, Sir Miles Romayne. In the next generation,
the son and heir of Sir Miles built the dwelling-house, helping
himself liberally from the solid stone walls of the monastery.
With some unimportant alterations and repairs, the house stands,
defying time and weather, to the present day.
At the last station on the railway the horses were waiting for
us. It was a lovely moonlight night, and we shortened the
distance considerably by taking the bridle path over the moor.
Between nine and ten o'clock we reached the Abbey.
Years had passed since I had last been Romayne's guest. Nothing,
out of the house or in the house, seemed to have undergone any
change in the interval. Neither the good North-country butler,
nor his buxom Scotch wife, skilled in cookery, looked any older:
they received me as if I had left them a day or two since, and
had come back again to live in Yorkshire. My well-remembered
bedroom was waiting for me; and the matchless old Madeira
welcomed us when my host and I met in the inner-hall, which was
the ordinary dining-room of the Abbey.
As we faced each other at the well-spread table, I began to hope
that the familiar influences of his country home were beginning
already to breathe their blessed quiet over the disturbed mind of
Romayne. In the presence of his faithful old servants, he seemed
to be capable of controlling the morbid remorse that oppressed
him. He spoke to them composedly and kindly; he was
affectionately glad to see his old friend once more in the old
When we were near the end of our meal, something happened that
startled me. I had just handed the wine to Romayne, and he had
filled his glass--when he suddenly turned pale, and lifted his
head like a man whose attention is unexpectedly roused. No person
but ourselves was in the room; I was not speaking to him at the
time. He looked round suspiciously at the door behind him,
leading into the library, and rang the old-fashioned handbell
which stood by him on the table. The servant was directed to
close the door.
"Are you cold?" I asked.
"No." He reconsidered that brief answer, and contradicted
himself. "Yes--the library fire has burned low, I suppose."
In my position at the table, I had seen the fire: the grate was
heaped with blazing coals and wood. I said nothing. The pale
change in his face, and his contradictory reply, roused doubts in
me which I had hoped never to feel again.
He pushed away his glass of wine, and still kept his eyes fixed
on the closed door. His attitude and expression were plainly
suggestive of the act of listening. Listening to what?
After an interval, he abruptly addressed me. "Do you call it a
quiet night?" he said.
"As quiet as quiet can be," I replied. "The wind has dropped--and
even the fire doesn't crackle. Perfect stillness indoors and
"Out?" he repeated. For a moment he looked at me intently, as if
I had started some new idea in his mind. I asked as lightly as I
could if I had said anything to surprise him. Instead of
answering me, he sprang to his feet with a cry of terror, and
left the room.
I hardly knew what to do. It was impossible, unless he returned
immediately to let this extraordinary proceeding pass without
notice. After waiting for a few minutes I rang the bell.
The old butler came in. He looked in blank amazement at the empty
chair. "Where's the master?" he asked.
I could only answer that he had left the table suddenly, without
a word of explanation. "He may perhaps be ill," I added. "As his
old servant, you can do no harm if you go and look for him. Say
that I am waiting here, if he wants me."
The minutes passed slowly and more slowly. I was left alone for
so long a time that I began to feel seriously uneasy. My hand was
on the bell again, when there was a knock at the door. I had
expected to see the butler. It was the groom who entered the
"Garthwaite can't come down to you, sir," said the man. "He asks,
if you will please go up to the master on the Belvidere."
The house--extending round three sides of a square--was only two
stories high. The flat roof, accessible through a species of
hatchway, and still surrounded by its sturdy stone parapet, was
called "The Belvidere," in reference as usual to the fine view
which it commanded. Fearing I knew not what, I mounted the ladder
which led to the roof. Romayne received me with a harsh outburst
of laughter--that saddest false laughter which is true trouble in
"Here's something to amuse you!" he cried. "I believe old
Garthwaite thinks I am drunk--he won't leave me up here by
Letting this strange assertion remain unanswered, the butler
withdrew. As he passed me on his way to the ladder, he whispered:
"Be careful of the master! I tell you, sir, he has a bee in his
bonnet this night."
Although not of the north country myself, I knew the meaning of
the phrase. Garthwaite suspected that the master was nothing less
Romayne took my arm when we were alone--we walked slowly from end
to end of the Belvidere. The moon was, by this time, low in the
heavens; but her mild mysterious light still streamed over the
roof of the house and the high heathy ground round it. I looked
attentively at Romayne. He was deadly pale; his hand shook as it
rested on my arm--and that was all. Neither in look nor manner
did he betray the faintest sign of mental derangement. He had
perhaps needlessly alarmed the faithful old servant by something
that he had said or done. I determined to clear up that doubt
"You left the table very suddenly," I said. "Did you feel ill?"
"Not ill," he replied. "I was frightened. Look at me--I'm
"What do you mean?"
Instead of answering, he repeated the strange question which he
had put to me downstairs.
"Do you call it a quiet night?"
Considering the time of year, and the exposed situation of the
house, the night was almost preternaturally quiet. Throughout the
vast open country all round us, not even a breath of air could be
heard. The night-birds were away, or were silent at the time. But
one sound was audible, when we stood still and listened--the cool
quiet bubble of a little stream, lost to view in the
valley-ground to the south.
"I have told you already," I said. "So still a night I never
remember on this Yorkshire moor."
He laid one hand heavily on my shoulder. "What did the poor boy
say of me, whose brother I killed?" he asked. "What words did we
hear through the dripping darkness of the mist?"
"I won't encourage you to think of them. I refuse to repeat the
He pointed over the northward parapet.
"It doesn't matter whether you accept or refuse," he said, "I
hear the boy at this moment--there!"
He repeated the horrid words--marking the pauses in the utterance
of them with his finger, as if they were sounds that he heard:
"Assassin! Assassin! where are you?"
"Good God!" I cried. "You don't mean that you really _hear_ the
"Do you hear what I say? I hear the boy as plainly as you hear
me. The voice screams at me through the clear moonlight, as it
screamed at me through the sea-fog. Again and again. It's all
round the house. _That_ way now, where the light just touches on
the tops of the heather. Tell the servants to have the horses
ready the first thing in the morning. We leave Vange Abbey
These were wild words. If he had spoken them wildly, I might have
shared the butler's conclusion that his mind was deranged. There
was no undue vehemence in his voice or his manner. He spoke with
a melancholy resignation--he seemed like a prisoner submitting to
a sentence that he had deserved. Remembering the cases of men
suffering from nervous disease who had been haunted by
apparitions, I asked if he saw any imaginary figure under the
form of a boy.
"I see nothing," he said; "I only hear. Look yourself. It is in
the last degree improbable--but let us make sure that nobody has
followed me from Boulogne, and is playing me a trick."
We made the circuit of the Belvidere. On its eastward side the
house wall was built against one of the towers of the old Ab bey.
On the westward side, the ground sloped steeply down to a deep
pool or tarn. Northward and southward, there was nothing to be
seen but the open moor. Look where I might, with the moonlight to
make the view plain to me, the solitude was as void of any living
creature as if we had been surrounded by the awful dead world of
"Was it the boy's voice that you heard on the voyage across the
Channel?" I asked.
"Yes, I heard it for the first time--down in the engine-room;
rising and falling, rising and falling, like the sound of the
"And when did you hear it again?"
"I feared to hear it in London. It left me, I should have told
you, when we stepped ashore out of the steamboat. I was afraid
that the noise of the traffic in the streets might bring it back
to me. As you know, I passed a quiet night. I had the hope that
my imagination had deceived me--that I was the victim of a
delusion, as people say. It is no delusion. In the perfect
tranquillity of this place the voice has come back to me. While
we were at table I heard it again--behind me, in the library. I
heard it still, when the door was shut. I ran up here to try if
it would follow me into the open air. It _has_ followed me. We
may as well go down again into the hall. I know now that there is
no escaping from it. My dear old home has become horrible to me.
Do you mind returning to London tomorrow?"
What I felt and feared in this miserable state of things matters
little. The one chance I could see for Romayne was to obtain the
best medical advice. I sincerely encouraged his idea of going
back to London the next day.
We had sat together by the hall fire for about ten minutes, when
he took out his handkerchief, and wiped away the perspiration
from his forehead, drawing a deep breath of relief. "It has
gone!" he said faintly.
"When you hear the boy's voice," I asked, "do you hear it
"No, at intervals; sometimes longer, sometimes shorter."
"And thus far, it comes to you suddenly, and leaves you
"Do my questions annoy you?"
"I make no complaint," he said sadly. "You can see for
yourself--I patiently suffer the punishment that I have
I contradicted him at once. "It is nothing of the sort! It's a
nervous malady, which medical science can control and cure. Wait
till we get to London."
This expression of opinion produced no effect on him.
"I have taken the life of a fellow-creature," he said. "I have
closed the career of a young man who, but for me, might have
lived long and happily and honorably. Say what you may, I am of
the race of Cain. _ He_ had the mark set on his brow. I have _my_
ordeal. Delude yourself, if you like, with false hopes. I can
endure--and hope for nothing. Good-night."
EARLY the next morning, the good old butler came to me, in great
perturbation, for a word of advice.
"Do come, sir, and look at the master! I can't find it in my
heart to wake him."
It was time to wake him, if we were to go to London that day. I
went into the bedroom. Although I was no doctor, the restorative
importance of that profound and quiet sleep impressed itself on
me so strongly, that I took the responsibility of leaving him
undisturbed. The event proved that I had acted wisely. He slept
until noon. There was no return of "the torment of the voice"--as
he called it, poor fellow. We passed a quiet day, excepting one
little interruption, which I am warned not to pass over without a
word of record in this narrative.
We had returned from a ride. Romayne had gone into the library to
read; and I was just leaving the stables, after a look at some
recent improvements, when a pony-chaise with a gentleman in it
drove up to the door. He asked politely if he might be allowed to
see the house. There were some fine pictures at Vange, as well as
many interesting relics of antiquity; and the rooms were shown,
in Romayne's absence, to the very few travelers who were
adventurous enough to cross the heathy desert that surrounded the
Abbey. On this occasion, the stranger was informed that Mr.
Romayne was at home. He at once apologized--with an appearance of
disappointment, however, which induced me to step forward and
speak to him.
"Mr. Romayne is not very well," I said; "and I cannot venture to
ask you into the house. But you will be welcome, I am sure, to
walk round the grounds, and to look at the ruins of the Abbey."
He thanked me, and accepted the invitation. I find no great
difficulty in describing him, generally. He was elderly, fat. and
cheerful; buttoned up in a long black frockcoat, and presenting
that closely shaven face and that inveterate expression of
watchful humility about the eyes, which we all associate with the
reverend personality of a priest.
To my surprise, he seemed, in some degree at least, to know his
way about the place. He made straight for the dreary little lake
which I have already mentioned, and stood looking at it with an
interest which was so incomprehensible to me, that I own I
He ascended the slope of the moorland, and entered the gate which
led to the grounds. All that the gardeners had done to make the
place attractive failed to claim his attention. He walked past
lawns, shrubs, and flower-beds, and only stopped at an old stone
fountain, which tradition declared to have been one of the
ornaments of the garden in the time of the monks. Having
carefully examined this relic of antiquity, he took a sheet of
paper from his pocket, and consulted it attentively. It might
have been a plan of the house and grounds, or it might not--I can
only report that he took the path which led him, by the shortest
way, to the ruined Abbey church.
As he entered the roofless inclosure, he reverently removed his
hat. It was impossible for me to follow him any further, without
exposing myself to the risk of discovery. I sat down on one of
the fallen stones, waiting to see him again. It must have been at
least half an hour before he appeared. He thanked me for my
kindness, as composedly as if he had quite expected to find me in
the place that I occupied.
"I have been deeply interested in all that I have seen," he said.
"May I venture to ask, what is perhaps an indiscreet question on
the part of a stranger?"
I ventured, on my side, to inquire what the question might be.
"Mr. Romayne is indeed fortunate," he resumed, "in the possession
of this beautiful place. He is a young man, I think?"
"Is he married?"
"Excuse my curiosity. The owner of Vange Abbey is an interesting
person to all good antiquaries like myself. Many thanks again.
His pony-chaise took him away. His last look rested--not on
me--but on the old Abbey.
MY record of events approaches its conclusion.
On the next day we returned to the hotel in London. At Romayne's
suggestion, I sent the same evening to my own house for any
letters which might be waiting for me. His mind still dwelt on
the duel; he was morbidly eager to know if any communication had
been received from the French surgeon.
When the messenger returned with my letters, the Boulogne
postmark was on one of the envelopes. At Romayne's entreaty, this
was the letter that I opened first. The surgeon's signature was
at the end.
One motive for anxiety--on my part--was set at rest in the first
lines. After an official inquiry into the circumstances, the
French authorities had decided that it was not expedient to put
the survivor of the duelists on his trial before a court of law.
No jury, hearing the evidence, would find him guilty of the only
charge that could be formally brought against him--the charge of
"homicide by premeditation." Homicide by misadventure, occurring
in a duel, was not a punishable offense by the French law. My
correspondent cited many cases in proof of it, strengthened by
the publicly-expressed opinion of the illustrious Berryer
himself. In a word, we had nothing to fear.
The next page of the letter informed us that the police had
surprised the card playing community with whom we had spent the
evening at Boulogne, and that the much-bejeweled old landlady had
been sent to prison for the offense of keeping a gambling-house.
It was suspected in the town that the General was more or less
directly connected with certain disreputable circumstances
discovered by the authorities. In any case, he had retired from
He and his wife and family had left Boulogne, and had gone away
in debt. No investigation had thus far succeeded in discovering
the place of their retreat.
Reading this letter aloud to Romayne, I was interrupted by him at
the last sentence.
"The inquiries must have been carelessly made," he said. "I will
see to it myself."
"What interest can you have in the inquiries?" I exclaimed.
"The strongest possible interest," he answered. "It has been my
one hope to make some little atonement to the poor people whom I
have so cruelly wronged. If the wife and children are in
distressed circumstances (which seems to be only too likely) I
may place them beyond the reach of anxiety--anonymously, of
course. Give me the surgeon's address. I shall write instructions
for tracing them at my expense--merely announcing that an Unknown
Friend desires to be of service to the General's family."
This appeared to me to be a most imprudent thing to do. I said so
plainly--and quite in vain. With his customary impetuosity, he
wrote the letter at once, and sent it to the post that night.
ON the question of submitting himself to medical advice (which I
now earnestly pressed upon him), Romayne was disposed to be
equally unreasonable. But in this case, events declared
themselves in my favor.
Lady Berrick's last reserves of strength had given way. She had
been brought to London in a dying state while we were at Vange
Abbey. Romayne was summoned to his aunt's bedside on the third
day of our residence at the hotel, and was present at her death.
The impression produced on his mind roused the better part of his
nature. He was more distrustful of himself, more accessible to
persuasion than usual. In this gentler frame of mind he received
a welcome visit from an old friend, to whom he was sincerely
attached. The visit--of no great importance in itself--led, as I
have since been informed, to very serious events in Romayne's
later life. For this reason, I briefly relate what took place
within my own healing.
Lord Loring--well known in society as the head of an old English
Catholic family, and the possessor of a magnificent gallery of
pictures--was distressed by the change for the worse which he
perceived in Romayne when he called at the hotel. I was present
when they met, and rose to leave the room, feeling that the two
friends might perhaps be embarrassed by the presence of a third
person. Romayne called me back. "Lord Loring ought to know what
has happened to me," he said. "I have no heart to speak of it
myself. Tell him everything, and if he agrees with you, I will
submit to see the doctors." With those words he left us together.
It is almost needless to say that Lord Loring did agree with me.
He was himself disposed to think that the moral remedy, in
Romayne's case, might prove to be the best remedy.
"With submission to what the doctors may decide," his lordship
said, "the right thing to do, in my opinion, is to divert our
friend's mind from himself. I see a plain necessity for making a
complete change in the solitary life that he has been leading for
years past. Why shouldn't he marry? A woman's influence, by
merely giving a new turn to his thoughts, might charm away that
horrible voice which haunts him. Perhaps you think this a merely
sentimental view of the case? Look at it practically, if you
like, and you come to the same conclusion. With that fine
estate--and with the fortune which he has now inherited from his
aunt--it is his duty to marry. Don't you agree with me?"
"I agree most cordially. But I see serious difficulties in your
lordship's way. Romayne dislikes society; and, as to marrying,
his coldness toward women seems (so far as I can judge) to be one
of the incurable defects of his character."
Lord Loring smiled. "My dear sir, nothing of that sort is
incurable, if we can only find the right woman."
The tone in which he spoke suggested to me that he had got "the
right woman"--and I took the liberty of saying so. He at once
acknowledged that I had guessed right.
"Romayne is, as you say, a difficult subject to deal with," he
resumed. "If I commit the slightest imprudence, I shall excite
his suspicion--and there will be an end of my hope of being of
service to him. I shall proceed carefully, I can tell you.
Luckily, poor dear fellow, he is fond of pictures! It's quite
natural that I should ask him to see some recent additions to my
gallery--isn't it? There is the trap that I set! I have a sweet
girl to tempt him, staying at my house, who is a little out of
health and spirits herself. At the right moment, I shall send
word upstairs. She may well happen to look in at the gallery (by
the merest accident) just at the time when Romayne is looking at
my new pictures. The rest depends, of course, on, the effect she
produces. If you knew her, I believe you would agree with me that
the experiment is worth trying."
Not knowing the lady, I had little faith in the success of the
experiment. No one, however, could doubt Lord Loring's admirable
devotion to his friend--and with that I was fain to be content.
When Romayne returned to us, it was decided to submit his case to
a consultation of physicians at the earliest possible moment.
When Lord Loring took his departure, I accompanied him to the
door of the hotel, perceiving that he wished to say a word more
to me in private. He had, it seemed, decided on waiting for the
result of the medical consultation before he tried the effect of
the young lady's attractions; and he wished to caution me against
speaking prematurely of visiting the picture gallery to our
Not feeling particularly interested in these details of the
worthy nobleman's little plot, I looked at his carriage, and
privately admired the two splendid horses that drew it. The
footman opened the door for his master, and I became aware, for
the first time, that a gentleman had accompanied Lord Loring to
the hotel, and had waited for him in the carriage. The gentleman
bent forward, and looked up from a book that he was reading. To
my astonishment, I recognized the elderly, fat and cheerful
priest who had shown such a knowledge of localities, and such an
extraordinary interest in Vange Abbey!
It struck me as an odd coincidence that I should see the man
again in London, so soon after I had met with him in Yorkshire.
This was all I thought about it, at the time. If I had known
then, what I know now, I might have dreamed, let us say, of
throwing that priest into the lake at Vange, and might have
reckoned the circumstance among the wisely-improved opportunities
of my life.
To return to the serious interests of the present narrative, I
may now announce that my evidence as an eye-witness of events has
come to an end. The day after Lord Loring's visit, domestic
troubles separated me, to my most sincere regret, from Romayne. I
have only to add, that the foregoing narrative of personal
experience has been written with a due sense of responsibility,
and that it may be depended on throughout as an exact statement
of the truth.
JOHN PHILIP HYND,
(late Major, 110th
BOOK THE FIRST.
IN an upper room of one of the palatial houses which are situated
on the north side of Hyde Park, two ladies sat at breakfast, and
gossiped over their tea.
The elder of the two was Lady Loring--still in the prime of life;
possessed of the golden hair and the clear blue eyes, the
delicately-florid complexion, and the freely developed figure,
which are among the favorite attractions popularly associated
with the beauty of Englishwomen. Her younger companion was the
unknown lady admired by Major Hynd on the sea passage from France
to England. With hair and eyes of the darkest brown; with a pure
pallor of complexion, only changing to a faint rose tint in
moments of agitation; with a tall graceful figure, incompletely
developed in substance and
strength--she presented an almost complete contrast to Lady
Loring. Two more opposite types of beauty it would have been
hardly possible to place at the same table.
The servant brought in the letters of the morning. Lady Loring
ran through her correspondence rapidly, pushed away the letters
in a heap, and poured herself out a second cup of tea.
"Nothing interesting this morning for me," she said. "Any news of
your mother, Stella?"
The young lady handed an open letter to her hostess, with a faint
smile. "See for yourself, Adelaide," she answered, with the
tender sweetness of tone which made her voice irresistibly
charming--"and tell me if there were ever two women so utterly
unlike each other as my mother and myself."
Lady Loring ran through the letter, as she had run through her
own correspondence. "Never, dearest Stella, have I enjoyed myself
as I do in this delightful country house--twenty-seven at dinner
every day, without including the neighbors--a little carpet dance
every evening--we play billiards, and go into the smoking
room--the hounds meet three times a week--all sorts of
celebrities among the company, famous beauties included--such
dresses! such conversation!--and serious duties, my dear, not
neglected--high church and choral service in the town on
Sundays--recitations in the evening from Paradise Lost, by an
amateur elocutionist--oh, you foolish, headstrong child! why did
you make excuses and stay in London, when you might have
accompanied me to this earthly Paradise?--are you really ill?--my
love to Lady Loring--and of course, if you _are_ ill, you must
have medical advice--they ask after you so kindly here--the first
dinner bell is ringing, before I have half done my letter--what
_am_ I to wear?--why is my daughter not here to advise me," etc.,
"There is time to change your mind and advise your mother," Lady
Loring remarked with grave irony as she returned the letter.
"Don't even speak of it!" said Stella. "I really know no life
that I should not prefer to the life that my mother is enjoying
at this moment. What should I have done, Adelaide, if you had not
offered me a happy refuge in your house? _My_ 'earthly Paradise'
is here, where I am allowed to dream away my time over my
drawings and my books, and to resign myself to poor health and
low spirits, without being dragged into society, and (worse
still) threatened with that 'medical advice' in which, when she
isn't threatened with it herself, my poor dear mother believes so
implicitly. I wish you would hire me as your 'companion,' and let
me stay here for the rest of my life."
Lady Loring's bright face became grave while Stella was speaking.
"My dear," she said kindly, "I know well how you love retirement,
and how differently you think and feel from other young women of
your age. And I am far from forgetting what sad circumstances
have encouraged the natural bent of your disposition. But, since
you have been staying with me this time, I see something in you
which my intimate knowledge of your character fails to explain.
We have been friends since we were together at school--and, in
those old days, we never had any secrets from each other. You are
feeling some anxiety, or brooding over some sorrow, of which I
know nothing. I don't ask for your confidence; I only tell you
what I have noticed--and I say with all my heart, Stella, I am
sorry for you."
She rose, and, with intuitive delicacy, changed the subject. "I
am going out earlier than usual this morning," she resumed. "Is
there anything I can do for you?" She laid her hand tenderly on
Stella's shoulder, waiting for the reply. Stella lifted the hand
and kissed it with passionate fondness.
"Don't think me ungrateful," she said; "I am only ashamed." Her
head sank on her bosom; she burst into tears.
Lady Loring waited by her in silence. She well knew the girl's
self-contained nature, always shrinking, except in moments of
violent emotion, from the outward betrayal of its trials and its
sufferings to others. The true depth of feeling which is marked
by this inbred modesty is most frequently found in men. The few
women who possess it are without the communicative consolations
of the feminine heart. They are the noblest---and but too often
the unhappiest of their sex.
"Will you wait a little before you go out?" Stella asked softly.
Lady Loring returned to the chair that she had left--hesitated
for a moment--and then drew it nearer to Stella. "Shall I sit by
you?" she said.
"Close by me. You spoke of our school days just now Adelaide.
There was some difference between us. Of all the girls I was the
youngest--and you were the eldest, or nearly the eldest, I
"Quite the eldest, my dear. There is a difference of ten years
between us. But why do you go back to that?"
"It's only a recollection. My father was alive then. I was at
first home-sick and frightened in the strange place, among the
big girls. You used to let me hide my face on your shoulder, and
tell me stories. May I hide in the old way and tell _my_ story?"
She was now the calmest of the two. The elder woman turned a
little pale, and looked down in silent anxiety at the darkly
beautiful head that rested on her shoulder.
"After such an experience as mine has been," said Stella, "would
you think it possible that I could ever again feel my heart
troubled by a man--and that man a stranger?"
"My dear! I think it quite possible. You are only now in your
twenty-third year. You were innocent of all blame at that
wretched by-gone time which you ought never to speak of again.
Love and be happy, Stella--if you can only find the man who is
worthy of you. But you frighten me when you speak of a stranger.
Where did you meet with him?"
"On our way back from Paris."
"Traveling in the same carriage with you?"
"No--it was in crossing the Channel. There were few travelers in
the steamboat, or I might never have noticed him."
"Did he speak to you?"
"I don't think he even looked at me."
"That doesn't say much for his taste, Stella."
"You don't understand. I mean, I have not explained myself
properly. He was leaning on the arm of a friend; weak and worn
and wasted, as I supposed, by some long and dreadful illness.
There was an angelic sweetness in his face--such patience! such
resignation! For heaven's sake keep my secret. One hears of men
falling in love with women at first sight. But a woman who looks
at a man, and feels--oh, it's shameful! I could hardly take my
eyes off him. If he had looked at me in return, I don't know what
I should have done--I burn when I think of it. He was absorbed in
his suffering and his sorrow. My last look at his beautiful face
was on the pier, before they took me away. The perfect image of
him has been in my heart ever since. In my dreams I see him as
plainly as I see you now. Don't despise me, Adelaide!"
"My dear, you interest me indescribably. Do you suppose he was in
our rank of life? I mean, of course, did he look like a
"There could be no doubt of it."
"Do try to describe him, Stella. Was he tall and well dressed?"
"Neither tall nor short--rather thin--quiet and graceful in all
his movements--dressed plainly, in perfect taste. How can I
describe him? When his friend brought him on board, he stood at
the side of the vessel, looking out thoughtfully toward the sea.
Such eyes I never saw before, Adelaide, in any human face--so
divinely tender and sad--and the color of them that dark violet
blue, so uncommon and so beautiful--too beautiful for a man. I
may say the same of his hair. I saw it completely. For a minute
or two he removed his hat--his head was fevered, I think--and he
let the sea breeze blow over it. The pure light brown of his hair
was just warmed by a lovely reddish tinge. His beard was of the
same color; short and curling, like the beards of the Roman
heroes one sees in pictures. I shall never see him again--and it
is best for me that I shall not. What can I hope from a man who
never once noticed me? But I _should_ like to hear that he had
recovered his health and his tranquillity, and that his life was
a happy one. It has been a comfort to me, Adelaide, to open my
heart to you. I am get ting bold enough to confess everything.
Would you laugh at me, I wonder, if I--?"
She stopped. Her pale complexion softly glowed into color; her
grand dark eyes brightened--she looked her loveliest at that
"I am far more inclined, Stella, to cry over you than to laugh at
you," said Lady Loring. "There is something, to my mind, very sad
about this adventure of yours. I wish I could find out who the
man is. Even the best description of a person falls so short of
"I thought of showing you something," Stella continued, "which
might help you to see him as I saw him. It's only making one more
acknowledgment of my own folly."
"You don't mean a portrait of him!" Lady Loring exclaimed.
"The best that I could do from recollection," Stella answered
"Bring it here directly!"
Stella left the room and returned with a little drawing in
pencil. The instant Lady Loring looked at it, she recognized
Romayne and started excitedly to her feet.
"You know him!" cried Stella.
Lady Loring had placed herself in an awkward position. Her
husband had described to her his interview with Major Hynd, and
had mentioned his project for bringing Romayne and Stella
together, after first exacting a promise of the strictest secrecy
from his wife. She felt herself bound--doubly bound, after what
she had now discovered--to respect the confidence placed in her;
and this at the time when she had betrayed herself to Stella!
With a woman's feline fineness of perception, in all cases of
subterfuge and concealment, she picked a part of the truth out of
the whole, and answered harmlessly without a moment's hesitation.
"I have certainly seen him," she said--"probably at some party.
But I see so many people, and I go to so many places, that I must
ask for time to consult my memory. My husband might help me, if
you don't object to my asking him," she added slyly.
Stella snatched the drawing away from her, in terror. "You don't
mean that you will tell Lord Loring?" she said.
"My dear child! how can you be so foolish? Can't I show him the
drawing without mentioning who it was done by? His memory is a
much better one than mine. If I say to him, 'Where did we meet
that man?'--he may tell me at once--he may even remember the
name. Of course, if you like to be kept in suspense, you have
only to say so. It rests with you to decide."
Poor Stella gave way directly. She returned the drawing, and
affectionately kissed her artful friend. Having now secured the
means of consulting her husband without exciting suspicion, Lady
Loring left the room.
At that time in the morning, Lord Loring was generally to be
found either in the library or the picture gallery. His wife
tried the library first. On entering the room, she found but one
person in it--not the person of whom she was in search. There,
buttoned up in his long frock coat, and surrounded by books of
all sorts and sizes, sat the plump elderly priest who had been
the especial object of Major Hynd's aversion.
"I beg your pardon, Father Benwell," said Lady Loring; "I hope I
don't interrupt your studies?"
Father Benwell rose and bowed with a pleasant paternal smile. "I
am only trying to organize an improved arrangement of the
library," he said, simply. "Books are companionable
creatures--members, as it were, of his family, to a lonely old
priest like myself. Can I be of any service to your ladyship?"
"Thank you, Father. If you can kindly tell me where Lord Loring
"To be sure! His lordship was here five minutes since--he is now
in the picture gallery. Pray permit me!"
With a remarkably light and easy step for a man of his age and
size, he advanced to the further end of the library, and opened a
door which led into the gallery.
"Lord Loring is among the pictures," he announced. "And alone."
He laid a certain emphasis on the last word, which might or might
not (in the case of a spiritual director of the household) invite
a word of explanation.
Lady Loring merely said, "Just what I wanted; thank you once
more, Father Benwell"--and passed into the picture gallery.
Left by himself again in the library, the priest walked slowly to
and fro, thinking. His latent power and resolution began to show
themselves darkly in his face. A skilled observer would now have
seen plainly revealed in him the habit of command, and the
capacity for insisting on his right to be obeyed. From head to
foot, Father Benwell was one of those valuable soldiers of the
Church who acknowledge no defeat, and who improve every victory.
After a while, he returned to the table at which he had been
writing when Lady Loring entered the room. An unfinished letter
lay open on the desk. He took up his pen and completed it in
these words: "I have therefore decided on trusting this serious
matter in the hands of Arthur Penrose. I know he is young--but we
have to set against the drawback of his youth, the counter-merits
of his incorruptible honesty and his true religious zeal. No
better man is just now within my reach--and there is no time to
lose. Romayne has recently inherited a large increase of fortune.
He will be the object of the basest conspiracies--conspiracies of
men to win his money, and (worse still) of women to marry him.
Even these contemptible efforts may be obstacles in the way of
our righteous purpose, unless we are first in the field. Penrose
left Oxford last week. I expect him here this morning, by my
invitation. When I have given him the necessary instructions, and
have found the means of favorably introducing him to Romayne, I
shall have the honor of forwarding a statement of our prospects
Having signed these lines, he addressed the letter to "The
Reverend the Secretary, Society of Jesus, Rome." As he closed and
sealed the envelope, a servant opened the door communicating with
the hall, and announced:
"Mr. Arthur Penrose."
FATHER BENWELL rose, and welcomed the visitor with his paternal
smile. "I am heartily glad to see you," he said--and held out his
hand with a becoming mixture of dignity and cordiality. Penrose
lifted the offered hand respectfully to his lips. As one of the
"Provincials" of the Order, Father Benwell occupied a high place
among the English Jesuits. He was accustomed to acts of homage
offered by his younger brethren to their spiritual chief. "I fear
you are not well," he proceeded gently. "Your hand is feverish,
"Thank you, Father--I am as well as usual."
"Depression of spirits, perhaps?" Father Benwell persisted.
Penrose admitted it with a passing smile. "My spirits are never
very lively," he said.
Father Benwell shook his head in gentle disapproval of a
depressed state of spirits in a young man. "This must be
corrected," he remarked. "Cultivate cheerfulness, Arthur. I am
myself, thank God, a naturally cheerful man. My mind reflects, in
some degree (and reflects gratefully), the brightness and beauty
which are part of the great scheme of creation. A similar
disposition is to be cultivated--I know instances of it in my own
experience. Add one more instance, and you will really gratify
me. In its seasons of rejoicing, our Church is eminently
cheerful. Shall I add another encouragement? A great trust is
about to be placed in you. Be socially agreeable, or you will
fail to justify the trust. This is Father Benwell's little
sermon. I think it has a merit, Arthur--it is a sermon soon
Penrose looked up at his superior, eager to hear more.
He was a very young man. His large, thoughtful, well-opened gray
eyes, and his habitual refinement and modesty of manner, gave a
certain attraction to his personal appearance, of which it stood
in some need. In stature he was little and lean; his hair had
become prematurely thin over his broad forehead; there were
hollows already in his cheeks, and marks on either side of his
thin, delicate lips. He looked like a person who had passed many
miserable hours in needlessly despairing of himself and his
prospects. With all this, there was something in him so
irresistibly truthful and sincere--so suggestive, even where he
might be wrong, of a purely conscientious belief in his own
errors--that he attached people to him wit hout an effort, and
often without being aware of it himself. What would his friends
have said if they had been told that the religious enthusiasm of
this gentle, self-distrustful, melancholy man, might, in its very
innocence of suspicion and self-seeking, be perverted to
dangerous uses in unscrupulous hands? His friends would, one and
all, have received the scandalous assertion with contempt; and
Penrose himself, if he had heard of it, might have failed to
control his temper for the first time in his life.
"May I ask a question, without giving offense?" he said, timidly.
Father Benwell took his hand. "My dear Arthur, let us open our
minds to each other without reserve. What is your question?"
"You have spoken, Father, of a great trust that is about to be
placed in me."
"Yes. You are anxious, no doubt, to hear what it is?"
"I am anxious to know, in the first place, if it requires me to
go back to Oxford."
Father Benwell dropped his young friend's hand. "Do you dislike
Oxford?" he asked, observing Penrose attentively.
"Bear with me, Father, if I speak too confidently. I dislike the
deception which has obliged me to conceal that I am a Catholic
and a priest."
Father Benwell set this little difficulty right, with the air of
a man who could make benevolent allowance for unreasonable
scruples. "I think, Arthur, you forget two important
considerations," he said. "In the first place, you have a
dispensation from your superiors, which absolves you of all
responsibility in respect of the concealment that you have
practiced. In the second place, we could only obtain information
of the progress which our Church is silently making at the
University by employing you in the capacity of--let me say, an
independent observer. However, if it will contribute to your ease
of mind, I see no objection to informing you that you will _not_
be instructed to return to Oxford. Do I relieve you?"
There could be no question of it. Penrose breathed more freely,
in every sense of the word.
"At the same time," Father Benwell continued, "let us not
misunderstand each other. In the new sphere of action which we
design for you, you will not only be at liberty to acknowledge
that you are a Catholic, it will be absolutely necessary that you
should do so. But you will continue to wear the ordinary dress of
an English gentleman, and to preserve the strictest secrecy on
the subject of your admission to the priesthood, until you are
further advised by myself. Now, dear Arthur, read that paper. It
is the necessary preface to all that I have yet to say to you."
The "paper" contained a few pages of manuscript relating the
early history of Vange Abbey, in the days of the monks, and the
circumstances under which the property was confiscated to lay
uses in the time of Henry the Eighth. Penrose handed back the
little narrative, vehemently expressing his sympathy with the
monks, and his detestation of the King.
"Compose yourself, Arthur," said Father Benwell, smiling
pleasantly. "We don't mean to allow Henry the Eighth to have it
all his own way forever."
Penrose looked at his superior in blank bewilderment. His
superior withheld any further information for the present.
"Everything in its turn," the discreet Father resumed; "the turn
of explanation has not come yet. I have something else to show
you first. One of the most interesting relics in England. Look
He unlocked a flat mahogany box, and displayed to view some
writings on vellum, evidently of great age.
"You have had a little sermon already," he said. "You shall have
a little story now. No doubt you have heard of Newstead
Abbey--famous among the readers of poetry as the residence of
Byron? King Henry treated Newstead exactly as he treated Vange
Abbey! Many years since, the lake at Newstead was dragged, and
the brass eagle which had served as the lectern in the old church
was rescued from the waters in which it had lain for centuries. A
secret receptacle was discovered in the body of the eagle, and
the ancient title-deeds of the Abbey were found in it. The monks
had taken that method of concealing the legal proof of their
rights and privileges, in the hope--a vain hope, I need hardly
say--that a time might come when Justice would restore to them
the property of which they had been robbed. Only last summer, one
of our bishops, administering a northern diocese, spoke of these
circumstances to a devout Catholic friend, and said he thought it
possible that the precaution taken by the monks at Newstead might
also have been taken by the monks at Vange. The friend, I should
tell you, was an enthusiast. Saying nothing to the bishop (whose
position and responsibilities he was bound to respect), he took
into his confidence persons whom he could trust. One night--in
the absence of the present proprietor, or, I should rather say,
the present usurper, of the estate--the lake at Vange was
privately dragged, with a result that proved the bishop's
conjecture to be right. Read those valuable documents. Knowing
your strict sense of honor, my son, and your admirable tenderness
of conscience, I wish you to be satisfied of the title of the
Church to the lands of Vange, by evidence which is beyond
With this little preface, he waited while Penrose read the
title-deeds. "Any doubt on your mind?" he asked, when the reading
had come to an end.
"Not the shadow of a doubt."
"Is the Church's right to the property clear?"
"As clear, Father, as words can make it."
"Very good. We will lock up the documents. Arbitrary
confiscation, Arthur, even on the part of a king, cannot override
the law. What the Church once lawfully possessed, the Church has
a right to recover. Any doubt about that in your mind?"
"Only the doubt of _how_ the Church can recover. Is there
anything in this particular case to be hoped from the law?"
"And yet, Father, you speak as if you saw some prospect of the
restitution of the property. By what means can the restitution be
"By peaceful and worthy means," Father Benwell answered. "By
honorable restoration of the confiscated property to the Church,
on the part of the person who is now in possession of it."
Penrose was surprised and interested. "Is the person a Catholic?"
he asked, eagerly.
"Not yet." Father Benwell laid a strong emphasis on those two
little words. His fat fingers drummed restlessly on the table;
his vigilant eyes rested expectantly on Penrose. "Surely you
understand me, Arthur?" he added, after an interval.
The color rose slowly in the worn face of Penrose. "I am afraid
to understand you," he said.
"I am not sure that it is my better sense which understands. I am
afraid, Father, it may be my vanity and presumption."
Father Benwell leaned back luxuriously in his chair. "I like that
modesty," he said, with a relishing smack of his lips as if
modesty was as good as a meal to him. "There is power of the
right sort, Arthur, hidden under the diffidence that does you
honor. I am more than ever satisfied that I have been right in
reporting you as worthy of this most serious trust. I believe the
conversion of the owner of Vange Abbey is--in your hands--no more
than a matter of time."
"May I ask what his name is?"
"Certainly. His name is Lewis Romayne."
"When do you introduce me to him?"
"Impossible to say. I have not yet been introduced myself."
"You don't know Mr. Romayne?"
"I have never even seen him."
These discouraging replies were made with the perfect composure
of a man who saw his way clearly before him. Sinking from one
depth of perplexity to another, Penrose ventured on putting one
last question. "How am I to approach Mr. Romayne?" he asked.
"I can only answer that, Arthur, by admitting you still further
into my confidence. It is disagreeable to me," said the reverend
gentleman, with the most becoming humility, "to speak of myself.
But it must be done. Shall we have a little coffee to help us
through the coming extract from Father Benwell's autobiography?
Don't look so serious, my son! When the occasion justifies it,
let us take life lightly." He rang the bell and ordered the
coffee, as if he was the master of the house. The servant treate
d him with the most scrupulous respect. He hummed a little tune,
and talked at intervals of the weather, while they were waiting.
"Plenty of sugar, Arthur?" he inquired, when the coffee was
brought in. "No! Even in trifles, I should have been glad to feel
that there was perfect sympathy between us. I like plenty of
Having sweetened his coffee with the closest attention to the
process, he was at liberty to enlighten his young friend. He did
it so easily and so cheerfully that a far less patient man than
Penrose would have listened to him with interest.
THE INTRODUCTION TO ROMAYNE.
"EXCEPTING my employment here in the library," Father Benwell
began, "and some interesting conversation with Lord Loring, to
which I shall presently allude, I am almost as great a stranger
in this house, Arthur, as yourself. When the object which we now
have in view was first taken seriously into consideration, I had
the honor of being personally acquainted with Lord Loring. I was
also aware that he was an intimate and trusted friend of Romayne.
Under these circumstances, his lordship presented himself to our
point of view as a means of approaching the owner of Vange Abbey
without exciting distrust. I was charged accordingly with the
duty of establishing myself on terms of intimacy in this house.
By way of making room for me, the spiritual director of Lord and
Lady Loring was removed to a cure of souls in Ireland. And here I
am in his place! By-the-way, don't treat me (when we are in the
presence of visitors) with any special marks of respect. I am not
Provincial of our Order in Lord Loring's house--I am one of the
Penrose looked at him with admiration. "It is a great sacrifice
to make, Father, in your position and at your age."
"Not at all, Arthur. A position of authority involves certain
temptations to pride. I feel this change as a lesson in humility
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