The Black Robe
Part 2 out of 7
which is good for me. For example, Lady Loring (as I can plainly
see) dislikes and distrusts me. Then, again, a young lady has
recently arrived here on a visit. She is a Protestant, with all
the prejudices incident to that way of thinking--avoids me so
carefully, poor soul, that I have never seen her yet. These
rebuffs are wholesome reminders of his fallible human nature, to
a man who has occupied a place of high trust and command.
Besides, there have been obstacles in my way which have had an
excellent effect in rousing my energies. How do you feel, Arthur,
when you encounter obstacles?"
"I do my best to remove them, Father. But I am sometimes
conscious of a sense of discouragement."
"Curious," said Father Benwell. "I am only conscious, myself, of
a sense of impatience. What right has an obstacle to get in _my_
way?--that is how I look at it. For example, the first thing I
heard, when I came here, was that Romayne had left England. My
introduction to him was indefinitely delayed; I had to look to
Lord Loring for all the information I wanted relating to the man
and his habits. There was another obstacle! Not living in the
house, I was obliged to find an excuse for being constantly on
the spot, ready to take advantage of his lordship's leisure
moments for conversation. I sat down in this room, and I said to
myself, 'Before I get up again, I mean to brush these impertinent
obstacles out of my way!' The state of the books suggested the
idea of which I was in search. Before I left the house, I was
charged with the rearrangement of the library. From that moment I
came and went as often as I liked. Whenever Lord Loring was
disposed for a little talk, there I was, to lead the talk in the
right direction. And what is the result? On the first occasion
when Romayne presents himself I can place you in a position to
become his daily companion. All due, Arthur, in the first
instance, to my impatience of obstacles. Amusing, isn't it?"
Penrose was perhaps deficient in the sense of humor. Instead of
being amused, he appeared to be anxious for more information.
"In what capacity am I to be Mr. Romayne's companion?" he asked.
Father Benwell poured himself out another cup of coffee.
"Suppose I tell you first," he suggested, "how circumstances
present Romayne to us as a promising subject for conversion. He
is young; still a single man; not compromised by any illicit
connection; romantic, sensitive, highly cultivated. No near
relations are alive to influence him; and, to my certain
knowledge, his estate is not entailed. He has devoted himself for
years past to books, and is collecting materials for a work of
immense research, on the Origin of Religions. Some great sorrow
or remorse--Lord Loring did not mention what it was--has told
seriously on his nervous system, already injured by night study.
Add to this, that he is now within our reach. He has lately
returned to London, and is living quite alone at a private hotel.
For some reason which I am not acquainted with, he keeps away
from Vange Abbey--the very place, as I should have thought, for a
Penrose began to be interested. "Have you been to the Abbey?" he
"I made a little excursion to that part of Yorkshire, Arthur, not
long since. A very pleasant trip--apart from the painful
associations connected with the ruin and profanation of a sacred
place. There is no doubt about the revenues. I know the value of
that productive part of the estate which stretches southward,
away from the barren region round the house. Let us return for a
moment to Romayne, and to your position as his future companion.
He has had his books sent to him from Vange, and has persuaded
himself that continued study is the one remedy for his troubles,
whatever they may be. At Lord Loring's suggestion, a consultation
of physicians was held on his case the other day."
"Is he so ill as that?" Penrose exclaimed.
"So it appears," Father Benwell replied. "Lord Loring is
mysteriously silent about the illness. One result of the
consultation I extracted from him, in which you are interested.
The doctors protested against his employing himself on his
proposed work. He was too obstinate to listen to them. There was
but one concession that they could gain from him--he consented to
spare himself, in some small degree, by employing an amanuensis.
It was left to Lord Loring to find the man. I was consulted by
his lordship; I was even invited to undertake the duty myself.
Each one in his proper sphere, my son! The person who converts
Romayne must be young enough and pliable enough to be his friend
and companion. Your part is there, Arthur--you are the future
amanuensis. How does the prospect strike you now?"
"I beg your pardon, Father! I fear I am unworthy of the
confidence which is placed in me."
"In what way?"
Penrose answered with unfeigned humility.
"I am afraid I may fail to justify your belief in me," he said,
"unless I can really feel that I am converting Mr. Romayne for
his own soul's sake. However righteous the cause may be, I cannot
find, in the restitution of the Church property, a sufficient
motive for persuading him to change his religious faith. There is
something so serious in the responsibility which you lay on me,
that I shall sink under the burden unless my whole heart is in
the work. If I feel attracted toward Mr. Romayne when I first see
him; if he wins upon me, little by little, until I love him like
a brother--then, indeed, I can promise that his conversion shall
be the dearest object of my life. But if there is not this
intimate sympathy between us--forgive me if I say it plainly--I
implore you to pass me over, and to commit the task to the hands
of another man."
His voice trembled; his eyes moistened. Father Benwell handled
his young friend's rising emotion with the dexterity of a skilled
angler humoring the struggles of a lively fish.
"Good Arthur!" he said. "I see much--too much, dear boy--of
self-seeking people. It is as refreshing to me to hear you, as a
draught of water to a thirsty man. At the same time, let me
suggest that you are innocently raising difficulties, where no
difficulties exist. I have already mentioned as one of the
necessities of the case that you and Romayne should be friends.
How can that be, un less there is precisely that sympathy between
you which you have so well described? I am a sanguine man, and I
believe you will like each other. Wait till you see him."
As the words passed his lips, the door that led to the picture
gallery was opened. Lord Loring entered the library.
He looked quickly round him--apparently in search of some person
who might, perhaps, be found in the room. A shade of annoyance
showed itself in his face, and disappeared again, as he bowed to
the two Jesuits.
"Don't let me disturb you," he said, looking at Penrose. "Is this
the gentleman who is to assist Mr. Romayne?"
Father Benwell presented his young friend. "Arthur Penrose, my
lord. I ventured to suggest that he should call here to-day, in
case you wished to put any questions to him."
"Quite needless, after your recommendation," Lord Loring
answered, graciously. "Mr. Penrose could not have come here at a
more appropriate time. As it happens, Mr. Romayne has paid us a
visit today--he is now in the picture gallery."
The priests looked at each other. Lord Loring left them as he
spoke. He walked to the opposite door of the library--opened
it--glanced round the hall, and at the stairs--and returned
again, with the passing expression of annoyance visible once
more. "Come with me to the gallery, gentlemen," he said; "I shall
be happy to introduce you to Mr. Romayne."
Penrose accepted the proposal. Father Benwell pointed with a
smile to the books scattered about him. "With permission, I will
follow your lordship," he said.
"Who was my lord looking for?" That was the question in Father
Benwell's mind, while he put some of the books away on the
shelves, and collected the scattered papers on the table,
relating to his correspondence with Rome. It had become a habit
of his life to be suspicious of any circumstances occurring
within his range of observation, for which he was unable to
account. He might have felt some stronger emotion on this
occasion, if he had known that the conspiracy in the library to
convert Romayne was matched by the conspiracy in the picture
gallery to marry him.
Lady Loring's narrative of the conversation which had taken place
between Stella and herself had encouraged her husband to try his
proposed experiment without delay. "I shall send a letter at once
to Romayne's hotel," he said.
"Inviting him to come here to-day?" her ladyship inquired.
"Yes. I shall say I particularly wish to consult him about a
picture. Are we to prepare Stella to see him? or would it be
better to let the meeting take her by surprise?"
"Certainly not!" said Lady Loring. "With her sensitive
disposition, I am afraid of taking Stella by surprise. Let me
only tell her that Romayne is the original of her portrait, and
that he is likely to call on you to see the picture to-day--and
leave the rest to me."
Lady Loring's suggestion was immediately carried out. In the
first fervor of her agitation, Stella had declared that her
courage was not equal to a meeting with Romayne on that day.
Becoming more composed, she yielded to Lady Loring's persuasion
so far as to promise that she would at least make the attempt to
follow her friend to the gallery. "If I go down with you," she
said, "it will look as if we had arranged the thing between us. I
can't bear even to think of that. Let me look in by myself, as if
it was by accident." Consenting to this arrangement, Lady Loring
had proceeded alone to the gallery, when Romayne's visit was
announced. The minutes passed, and Stella did not appear. It was
quite possible that she might shrink from openly presenting
herself at the main entrance to the gallery, and might
prefer--especially if she was not aware of the priest's presence
in the room--to slip in quietly by the library door. Failing to
find her, on putting this idea to the test, Lord Loring had
discovered Penrose, and had so hastened the introduction of the
younger of the two Jesuits to Romayne.
Having gathered his papers together, Father Benwell crossed the
library to the deep bow-window which lighted the room, and opened
his dispatch-box, standing on a small table in the recess. Placed
in this position, he was invisible to any person entering the
room by the hall door. He had secured his papers in the
dispatch-box, and had just closed and locked it, when he heard
the door cautiously opened.
The instant afterward the rustling of a woman's dress over the
carpet caught his ear. Other men might have walked out of the
recess and shown themselves. Father Benwell stayed where he was,
and waited until the lady crossed his range of view.
The priest observed with cold attention her darkly-beautiful eyes
and hair, her quickly-changing color, her modest grace of
movement. Slowly, and in evident agitation, she advanced to the
door of the picture gallery--and paused, as if she was afraid to
open it. Father Benwell heard her sigh to herself softly, "Oh,
how shall I meet him?" She turned aside to the looking-glass over
the fire-place. The reflection of her charming face seemed to
rouse her courage. She retraced her steps, and timidly opened the
door. Lord Loring must have been close by at the moment. His
voice immediately made itself heard in the library.
"Come in, Stella--come in! Here is a new picture for you to see;
and a friend whom I want to present to you, who must be your
friend too--Mr. Lewis Romayne."
The door was closed again. Father Benwell stood still as a statue
in the recess, with his head down, deep in thought. After a while
he roused himself, and rapidly returned to the writing table.
With a roughness strangely unlike his customary deliberation of
movement, he snatched a sheet of paper out of the case, and
frowning heavily, wrote these lines on it:-- "Since my letter was
sealed, I have made a discovery which must be communicated
without the loss of a post. I greatly fear there may be a woman
in our way. Trust me to combat this obstacle as I have combated
other obstacles. In the meantime, the work goes on. Penrose has
received his first instructions, and has to-day been presented to
He addressed this letter to Rome, as he had addressed the letter
preceding it. "Now for the woman!" he said to himself--and opened
the door of the picture gallery.
FATHER BENWELL HITS.
ART has its trials as well as its triumphs. It is powerless to
assert itself against the sordid interests of everyday life. The
greatest book ever written, the finest picture ever painted,
appeals in vain to minds preoccupied by selfish and secret cares.
On entering Lord Loring's gallery, Father Benwell found but one
person who was not looking at the pictures under false pretenses.
Innocent of all suspicion of the conflicting interests whose
struggle now centered in himself, Romayne was carefully studying
the picture which had been made the pretext for inviting him to
the house. He had bowed to Stella, with a tranquil admiration of
her beauty; he had shaken hands with Penrose, and had said some
kind words to his future secretary--and then he had turned to the
picture, as if Stella and Penrose had ceased from that moment to
occupy his mind.
"In your place," he said quietly to Lord Loring, "I should not
buy this work."
"It seems to me to have the serious defect of the modern English
school of painting. A total want of thought in the rendering of
the subject, disguised under dexterous technical tricks of the
brush. When you have seen one of that man's pictures, you have
seen all. He manufactures--he doesn't paint."
Father Benwell came in while Romayne was speaking. He went
through the ceremonies of introduction to the master of Vange
Abbey with perfect politeness, but a little absently. His mind
was bent on putting his suspicion of Stella to the test of
confirmation. Not waiting to be presented, he turned to her with
the air of fatherly interest and chastened admiration which he
well knew how to assume in his intercourse with women.
"May I ask if you agree with Mr. Romayne's estimate of the
picture?" he said, in his gentlest tones.
She had heard of him, and of his position in the house. It was
quite needless for Lady Loring to whisper to her, "Father
dear!" Her antipathy identified him as readily as her sympathy
might have identified a man who had produced a favorable
impression on her. "I have no pretension to be a critic," she
answered, with frigid politeness. "I only know what I personally
like or dislike."
The reply exactly answered Father Benwell's purpose. It diverted
Romayne's attention from the picture to Stella. The priest had
secured his opportunity of reading their faces while they were
looking at each other.
"I think you have just stated the true motive for all criticism,"
Romayne said to Stella. "Whether we only express our opinions of
pictures or books in the course of conversation or whether we
assert them at full length, with all the authority of print, we
are really speaking, in either case, of what personally pleases
or repels us. My poor opinion of that picture means that it says
nothing to Me. Does it say anything to You?"
He smiled gently as he put the question to her, but there was no
betrayal of emotion in his eyes or in his voice. Relieved of
anxiety, so far as Romayne was concerned, Father Benwell looked
Steadily as she controlled herself, the confession of her heart's
secret found its way into her face. The coldly composed
expression which had confronted the priest when she spoke to him,
melted away softly under the influence of Romayne's voice and
Romayne's look. Without any positive change of color, her
delicate skin glowed faintly, as if it felt some animating inner
warmth. Her eyes and lips brightened with a new vitality; her
frail elegant figure seemed insensibly to strengthen and expand,
like the leaf of a flower under a favoring sunny air. When she
answered Romayne (agreeing with him, it is needless to say),
there was a tender persuasiveness in her tones, shyly inviting
him still to speak to her and still to look at her, which would
in itself have told Father Benwell the truth, even if he had not
been in a position to see her face. Confirmed in his doubts of
her, he looked, with concealed suspicion, at Lady Loring next.
Sympathy with Stella was undisguisedly expressed to him in the
honest blue eyes of Stella's faithful friend.
The discussion on the subject of the unfortunate picture was
resumed by Lord Loring, who thought the opinions of Romayne and
Stella needlessly severe. Lady Loring, as usual, agreed with her
husband. While the general attention was occupied in this way,
Father Benwell said a word to Penrose--thus far, a silent
listener to the discourse on Art.
"Have you seen the famous portrait of the first Lady Loring, by
Gainsborough?" he asked. Without waiting for a reply, he took
Penrose by the arm, and led him away to the picture--which had
the additional merit, under present circumstances, of hanging at
the other end of the gallery.
"How do you like Romayne?" Father Benwell put the question in low
peremptory tones, evidently impatient for a reply.
"He interests me already," said Penrose. "He looks so ill and so
sad, and he spoke to me so kindly--"
"In short," Father Benwell interposed, "Romayne has produced a
favorable impression on you. Let us get on to the next thing. You
must produce a favorable impression on Romayne."
Penrose sighed. "With the best will to make myself agreeable to
people whom I like," he said, "I don't always succeed. They used
to tell me at Oxford that I was shy--and I am afraid that is
against me. I wish I possessed some of your social advantages,
"Leave it to me, son! Are they still talking about the picture?"
"I have something more to say to you. Have you noticed the young
"I thought her beautiful--but she looks a little cold."
Father Benwell smiled. "When you are as old as I am," he said,
"you will not believe in appearances where women are concerned.
Do you know what I think of her? Beautiful, if you like--and
dangerous as well."
"Dangerous! In what way?"
"This is for your private ear, Arthur. She is in love with
Romayne. Wait a minute! And Lady Loring--unless I am entirely
mistaken in what I observed--knows it and favors it. The
beautiful Stella may be the destruction of all our hopes, unless
we keep Romayne out of her way."
These words were whispered with an earnestness and agitation
which surprised Penrose. His superior's equanimity was not easily
overthrown. "Are you sure, Father, of what you say?" he asked.
"I am quite sure--or I should not have spoken."
"Do you think Mr. Romayne returns the feeling?"
"Not yet, luckily. You must use your first friendly influence
over him--what is her name? Her surname, I mean."
"Eyrecourt. Miss Stella Eyrecourt."
"Very well. You must use your influence (when you are quite sure
that it _is_ an influence) to keep Mr. Romayne away from Miss
Penrose looked embarrassed. "I am afraid I should hardly know how
to do that," he said "But I should naturally, as his assistant,
encourage him to keep to his studies."
Whatever Arthur's superior might privately think of Arthur's
reply, he received it with outward indulgence. "That will come to
the same thing," he said. "Besides, when I get the information I
want--this is strictly between ourselves--I may be of some use in
placing obstacles in the lady's way."
Penrose started. "Information!" he repeated. "What information?"
"Tell me something before I answer you," said Father Benwell.
"How old do you take Miss Eyrecourt to be?"
"I am not a good judge in such matters. Between twenty and
"We will take her age at that estimate, Arthur. In former years,
I have had opportunities of studying women's characters in the
confessional. Can you guess what my experience tells me of Miss
"A lady is not in love for the first time when she is between
twenty and twenty-five years old--that is my experience," said
Father Benwell. "If I can find a person capable of informing me,
I may make some valuable discoveries in the earlier history of
Miss Eyrecourt's life. No more, now. We had better return to our
FATHER BENWELL MISSES.
THE group before the picture which had been the subject of
dispute was broken up. In one part of the gallery, Lady Loring
and Stella were whispering together on a sofa. In another part,
Lord Loring was speaking privately to Romayne.
"Do you think you will like Mr. Penrose?" his lordship asked.
"Yes--so far as I can tell at present. He seems to be modest and
"You are looking ill, my dear Romayne. Have you again heard the
voice that haunts you?"
Romayne answered with evident reluctance. "I don't know why," he
said--"but the dread of hearing it again has oppressed me all
this morning. To tell you the truth, I came here in the hope that
the change might relieve me."
"Has it done so?"
"Doesn't that suggest, my friend, that a greater change might be
of use to you?"
"Don't ask me about it, Loring! I can go through my ordeal--but I
hate speaking of it."
"Let us speak of something else then," said Lord Loring. "What do
you think of Miss Eyrecourt?"
"A very striking face; full of expression and character. Leonardo
would have painted a noble portrait of her. But there is
something in her manner--" He stopped, unwilling or unable to
finish the sentence.
"Something you don't like?" Lord Loring suggested.
"No; something I don't quite understand. One doesn't expect to
find any embarrassment in the manner of a well-bred woman. And
yet she seemed to be embarrassed when she spoke to me. Perhaps I
produced an unfortunate impression on her."
Lord Loring laughed. "In any man but you, Romayne, I should call
"Why?" Romayne asked, sharply.
Lord Loring looked unfeignedly surprised. "My dear fellow, do you
really think you are the sort of man who impresses a woman
unfavorably at first sight? For once in your life, indulge in the
amiable weakness of doing yourself justice--and find a better
reason for Miss Eyrecourt's embarrassment."
For the first time since he and his friend had been talking
together, Romayne turned toward Stella. He innocently caught her
in the act of looking at him. A younger woman, or a woman of
weaker character, would have looked
away again. Stella's noble head drooped; her eyes sank slowly,
until they rested on her long white hands crossed upon her lap.
For a moment more Romayne looked at her with steady attention.
He roused himself, and spoke to Lord Loring in lowered tones.
"Have you known Miss Eyrecourt for a long time?"
"She is my wife's oldest and dearest friend. I think, Romayne,
you would feel interested in Stella, if you saw more of her."
Romayne bowed in silent submission to Lord Loring's prophetic
remark. "Let us look at the pictures," he said, quietly.
As he moved down the gallery, the two priests met him. Father
Benwell saw his opportunity of helping Penrose to produce a
"Forgive the curiosity of an old student, Mr. Romayne," he said
in his pleasant, cheerful way. "Lord Loring tells me you have
sent to the country for your books. Do you find a London hotel
favorable to study?"
"It is a very quiet hotel," Romayne answered, "and the people
know my ways." He turned to Arthur. "I have my own set of rooms,
Mr. Penrose," he continued--"with a room at your disposal. I used
to enjoy the solitude of my house in the country. My tastes have
lately changed--there are times now when I want to see the life
in the streets, as a relief. Though we are in a hotel, I can
promise that you will not be troubled by interruptions, when you
kindly lend me the use of your pen."
Father Benwell answered before Penrose could speak. "You may
perhaps find my young friend's memory of some use to you, Mr.
Romayne, as well as his pen. Penrose has studied in the Vatican
Library. If your reading leads you that way, he knows more than
most men of the rare old manuscripts which treat of the early
history of Christianity."
This delicately managed reference to the projected work on "The
Origin of Religions" produced its effect.
"I should like very much, Mr. Penrose, to speak to you about
those manuscripts," Romayne said. "Copies of some of them may
perhaps be in the British Museum. Is it asking too much to
inquire if you are disengaged this morning?"
"I am entirely at your service, Mr. Romayne."
"If you will kindly call at my hotel in an hour's time, I shall
have looked over my notes, and shall be ready for you with a list
of titles and dates. There is the address."
With those words, he advanced to take his leave of Lady Loring
Father Benwell was a man possessed of extraordinary power of
foresight--but he was not infallible. Seeing that Romayne was on
the point of leaving the house, and feeling that he had paved the
way successfully for Romayne's amanuensis, he too readily assumed
that there was nothing further to be gained by remaining in the
gallery. Moreover, the interval before Penrose called at the
hotel might be usefully filled up by some wise words of advice,
relating to the religious uses to which he might turn his
intercourse with his employer. Making one of his ready and
plausible excuses, he accordingly returned with Penrose to the
library--and so committed (as he himself discovered at a later
time) one of the few mistakes in the long record of his life.
In the meanwhile, Romayne was not permitted to bring his visit to
a conclusion without hospitable remonstrance on the part of Lady
Loring. She felt for Stella, with a woman's enthusiastic devotion
to the interests of true love; and she had firmly resolved that a
matter so trifling as the cultivation of Romayne's mind should
not be allowed to stand in the way of the far more important
enterprise of opening his heart to the influence of the sex.
"Stay and lunch with us," she said, when he held out his hand to
bid her good-by.
"Thank you, Lady Loring, I never take lunch."
"Well, then, come and dine with us--no party; only ourselves.
Tomorrow, and next day, we are disengaged. Which day shall it
Romayne still resisted. "You are very kind. In my state of
health, I am unwilling to make engagements which I may not be
able to keep."
Lady Loring was just as resolute on her side. She appealed to
Stella. "Mr. Romayne persists, my dear, in putting me off with
excuses. Try if you can persuade him."
"_I_ am not likely to have any influence, Adelaide."
The tone in which she replied struck Romayne. He looked at her.
Her eyes, gravely meeting his eyes, held him with a strange
fascination. She was not herself conscious how openly all that
was noble and true in her nature, all that was most deeply and
sensitively felt in her aspirations, spoke at that moment in her
look. Romayne's face changed: he turned pale under the new
emotion that she had roused in him. Lady Loring observed him
"Perhaps you underrate your influence, Stella?" she suggested.
Stella remained impenetrable to persuasion. "I have only been
introduced to Mr. Romayne half an hour since," she said. "I am
not vain enough to suppose that I can produce a favorable
impression on any one in so short a time."
She had expressed, in other words, Romayne's own idea of himself,
in speaking of her to Lord Loring. He was struck by the
"Perhaps we have begun, Miss Eyrecourt, by misinterpreting one
another," he said. "We may arrive at a better understanding when
I have the honor of meeting you again."
He hesitated and looked at Lady Loring. She was not the woman to
let a fair opportunity escape her. "We will say to-morrow
evening," she resumed, "at seven o'clock."
"To-morrow," said Romayne. He shook hands with Stella, and left
the picture gallery.
Thus far, the conspiracy to marry him promised even more
hopefully than the conspiracy to convert him. And Father Benwell,
carefully instructing Penrose in the next room, was not aware of
But the hours, in their progress, mark the march of events as
surely as they mark the march of time. The day passed, the
evening came--and, with its coming, the prospects of the
conversion brightened in their turn.
Let Father Benwell himself relate how it happened--in an extract
from his report to Rome, written the same evening.
". . . I had arranged with Penrose that he should call at my
lodgings, and tell me how he had prospered at the first
performance of his duties as secretary to Romayne.
"The moment he entered the room the signs of disturbance in his
face told me that something serious had happened. I asked
directly if there had been any disagreement between Romayne and
"He repeated the word with every appearance of surprise.
'Disagreement?' he said. 'No words can tell how sincerely I feel
for Mr. Romayne. I cannot express to you, Father, how eager I am
to be of service to him!'
"Relieved, so far, I naturally asked what had happened. Penrose
betrayed a marked embarrassment in answering my question.
" 'I have innocently surprised a secret,' he said, 'on which I
had no right to intrude. All that I can honorably tell you, shall
be told. Add one more to your many kindnesses--don't command me
to speak, when it is my duty toward a sorely-tried man to be
silent, even to you.'
"It is needless to say that I abstained from directly answering
this strange appeal. 'Let me hear what you can tell,' I replied,
'and then we shall see.'
"Upon this, he spoke. I need hardly recall to your memory how
careful we were, in first planning the attempt to recover the
Vange property, to assure ourselves of the promise of success
which the peculiar character of the present owner held out to us.
In reporting what Penrose said, I communicate a discovery, which
I venture to think will be as welcome to you, as it was to me.
"He began by reminding me of what I had myself told him in
speaking of Romayne. 'You mentioned having heard from Lord Loring
of a great sorrow or remorse from which he was suffering,'
Penrose said. 'I know what he suffers and why he suffers, and
with what noble resignation he submits to his affliction. We were
sitting together at the table, looking over his notes and
memoranda, when he suddenly dropped the manuscript from which he
was reading to me. A ghastly paleness overspread his face. He
started up, and put both his hands to his ears as if he heard
something dreadful, and was trying to deafen himself to it. I ran
to the door to call for help. He stopped me;
he spoke in faint, gasping tones, forbidding me to call any one
in to witness what he suffered. It was not the first time, he
said; it would soon be over. If I had not courage to remain with
him I could go, and return when he was himself again. I so pitied
him that I found the courage to remain. When it was over he took
me by the hand, and thanked me. I had stayed by him like a
friend, he said, and like a friend he would treat me. Sooner or
later (those were his exact words) I must be taken into his
confidence--and it should be now. He told me his melancholy
story. I implore you, Father, don't ask me to repeat it! Be
content if I tell you the effect of it on myself. The one hope,
the one consolation for him, is in our holy religion. With all my
heart I devote myself to his conversion--and, in my inmost soul,
I feel the conviction that I shall succeed!'
"To this effect, and in this tone, Penrose spoke. I abstained
from pressing him to reveal Romayne's confession. The confession
is of no consequence to us. You know how the moral force of
Arthur's earnestness and enthusiasm fortifies his otherwise weak
character. I, too, believe he will succeed.
"To turn for a moment to another subject. You are already
informed that there is a woman in our way. I have my own idea of
the right method of dealing with this obstacle when it shows
itself more plainly. For the present, I need only assure you that
neither this woman nor any woman shall succeed in her designs on
Romayne, if I can prevent it."
Having completed his report in these terms, Father Benwell
reverted to the consideration of his proposed inquiries into the
past history of Stella's life.
Reflection convinced him that it would be unwise to attempt, no
matter how guardedly, to obtain the necessary information from
Lord Loring or his wife. If he assumed, at his age, to take a
strong interest in a Protestant young lady, who had notoriously
avoided him, they would certainly feel surprise--and surprise
might, in due course of development, turn to suspicion.
There was but one other person under Lord Loring's roof to whom
he could address himself--and that person was the housekeeper. As
an old servant, possessing Lady Loring's confidence, she might
prove a source of information on the subject of Lady Loring's
fair friend; and, as a good Catholic, she would feel flattered by
the notice of the spiritual director of the household.
"It may not be amiss," thought Father Benwell, "if I try the
THE ORDER OF THE DISHES.
WHEN Miss Notman assumed the post of housekeeper in Lady Loring's
service, she was accurately described as "a competent and
respectable person"; and was praised, with perfect truth, for her
incorruptible devotion to the interests of her employers. On its
weaker side, her character was represented by the wearing of a
youthful wig, and the erroneous conviction that she still
possessed a fine figure. The ruling idea in her narrow little
mind was the idea of her own dignity. Any offense offered in this
direction oppressed her memory for days together, and found its
way outward in speech to any human being whose attention she
At five o'clock, on the day which followed his introduction to
Romayne, Father Benwell sat drinking his coffee in the
housekeeper's room--to all appearance as much at his ease as if
he had known Miss Notman from the remote days of her childhood. A
new contribution to the housekeeper's little library of
devotional works lay on the table; and bore silent witness to the
means by which he had made those first advances which had won him
his present position. Miss Notman's sense of dignity was doubly
flattered. She had a priest for her guest, and a new book with
the reverend gentleman's autograph inscribed on the title-page.
"Is your coffee to your liking, Father?"
"A little more sugar, if you please."
Miss Notman was proud of her hand, viewed as one of the
meritorious details of her figure. She took up the sugar-tongs
with suavity and grace; she dropped the sugar into the cup with a
youthful pleasure in ministering to the minor desires of her
illustrious guest. "It is so good of you, Father, to honor me in
this way," she said--with the appearance of sixteen super-induced
upon the reality of sixty.
Father Benwell was an adept at moral disguises of all kinds. On
this occasion he wore the disguise of pastoral simplicity. "I am
an idle old man at this hour of the afternoon," he said. "I hope
I am not keeping you from any household duties?"
"I generally enjoy my duties," Miss Notman answered. "To-day,
they have not been so agreeable as usual; it is a relief to me to
have done with them. Even my humble position has its trials."
Persons acquainted with Miss Notman's character, hearing these
last words, would have at once changed the subject. When she
spoke of "her humble position," she invariably referred to some
offense offered to her dignity, and she was invariably ready to
state the grievance at full length. Ignorant of this peculiarity,
Father Benwell committed a fatal error. He inquired, with
courteous interest, what the housekeeper's "trials" might be.
"Oh, sir, they are beneath your notice!" said Miss Notman
modestly. "At the same time, I should feel it an honor to have
the benefit of your opinion--I should so like to know that you do
not altogether disapprove of my conduct, under some provocation.
You see, Father, the whole responsibility of ordering the dinners
falls on me. And, when there is company, as there is this
evening, the responsibility is particularly trying to a timid
person like myself."
"A large dinner party, Miss Notman?"
"Oh, dear, no! Quite the reverse. Only one gentleman--Mr.
Father Benwell set down his cup of coffee, half way to his lips.
He at once drew the correct conclusion that the invitation to
Romayne must have been given and accepted after he had left the
picture gallery. That the object was to bring Romayne and Stella
together, under circumstances which would rapidly improve their
acquaintance, was as plain to him as if he had heard it confessed
in so many words. If he had only remained in the gallery, he
might have become acquainted with the form of persuasion used to
induce a man so unsocial as Romayne to accept an invitation. "I
have myself to blame," he thought bitterly, "for being left in
"Anything wrong with the coffee?" Miss Notman asked anxiously.
He rushed on his fate. He said, "Nothing whatever. Pray go on."
Miss Notman went on.
"You see, Father, Lady Loring was unusually particular about the
dinner on this occasion. She said, 'Lord Loring reminds me that
Mr. Romayne is a very little eater, and yet very difficult to
please in what he does eat.' Of course I consulted my experience,
and suggested exactly the sort of dinner that was wanted under
the circumstances. I wish to do her ladyship the utmost justice.
She made no objection to the dinner in itself. On the contrary,
she complimented me on what she was pleased to call my ready
invention. But when we came next to the order in which the dishes
were to be served--" Miss Notman paused in the middle of the
sentence, and shuddered over the private and poignant
recollections which the order of the dishes called up.
By this time Father Benwell had discovered his mistake. He took a
mean advantage of Miss Notman's susceptibilities to slip his own
private inquiries into the interval of silence.
"Pardon my ignorance," he said; "my own poor dinner is a matter
of ten minutes and one dish. I don't understand a difference of
opinion on a dinner for three people only; Lord and Lady Loring,
two; Mr. Romayne, three--oh! perhaps I am mistaken? Perhaps Miss
Eyrecourt makes a fourth?"
"A very charming person, Miss Notman. I only speak as a stranger.
You, no doubt, are much better acquainted with Miss Eyrecourt?"
"Much better, indeed--if I may presume to say so," Miss Notman
replied. "She is my lady's intimate friend; we have often talked
of Miss Eyrecourt during the many years of my residence in this
house. On such subjects, her ladyship treats me quite on the
footing of a humble friend. A complete co ntrast to the tone she
took, Father, when we came to the order of the dishes. We agreed,
of course, about the soup and the fish; but we had a little, a
very little, divergence of opinion, as I may call it, on the
subject of the dishes to follow. Her ladyship said, 'First the
sweetbreads, and then the cutlets.' I ventured to suggest that
the sweetbreads, as white meat, had better not immediately follow
the turbot, as white fish. 'The brown meat, my lady,' I said, 'as
an agreeable variety presented to the eye, and then the white
meat, recalling pleasant remembrances of the white fish.' You see
the point, Father?"
"I see, Miss Notman, that you are a consummate mistress of an art
which is quite beyond poor me. Was Miss Eyrecourt present at the
"Oh, no! Indeed, I should have objected to her presence; I should
have said she was a young lady out of her proper place."
"Yes; I understand. Is Miss Eyrecourt an only child?"
"She had two sisters, Father Benwell. One of them is in a
"And the other is dead."
"Sad for the father and mother, Miss Notman!"
"Pardon me, sad for the mother, no doubt. The father died long
"Aye? aye? A sweet woman, the mother? At least, I think I have
Miss Notman shook her head. "I should wish to guard myself
against speaking unjustly of any one," she said; "but when you
talk of 'a sweet woman,' you imply (as it seems to me) the
domestic virtues. Mrs. Eyrecourt is essentially a frivolous
A frivolous person is, in the vast majority of cases, a person
easily persuaded to talk, and not disposed to be reticent in
keeping secrets. Father Benwell began to see his way already to
the necessary information. "Is Mrs. Eyrecourt living in London?"
"Oh, dear, no! At this time of year she lives entirely in other
people's houses--goes from one country seat to another, and only
thinks of amusing herself. No domestic qualities, Father. _She_
would know nothing of the order of the dishes! Lady Loring, I
should have told you, gave way in the matter of the sweetbread.
It was only at quite the latter part of my 'Menoo' (as the French
call it) that she showed a spirit of opposition--well! well! I
won't dwell on that. I will only ask _you,_ Father, at what part
of a dinner an oyster-omelet ought to be served?"
Father Benwell seized his opportunity of discovering Mrs.
Eyrecourt's present address. "My dear lady," he said, "I know no
more when the omelet ought to be served than Mrs. Eyrecourt
herself! It must be very pleasant, to a lady of her way of
thinking, to enjoy the beauties of Nature inexpensively--as seen
in other people's houses, from the point of view of a welcome
guest. I wonder whether she is staying at any country seat which
I happen to have seen?"
"She may be in England, Scotland, or Ireland, for all I know,"
Miss Notman answered, with an unaffected ignorance which placed
her good faith beyond doubt. "Consult your own taste, Father.
After eating jelly, cream, and ice-pudding, could you even _look_
at an oyster-omelet without shuddering? Would you believe it? Her
ladyship proposed to serve the omelet with the cheese. Oysters,
after sweets! I am not (as yet) a married woman--"
Father Benwell made a last desperate effort to pave the way for
one more question before he submitted to defeat. "That must be
_your_ fault, my dear lady!" he interposed, with his persuasive
Miss Notman simpered. "You confuse me, Father!" she said softly.
"I speak from inward conviction, Miss Notman. To a looker-on,
like myself, it is sad to see how many sweet women who might be
angels in the households of worthy men prefer to lead a single
life. The Church, I know, exalts the single life to the highest
place. But even the Church allows exceptions to its rule. Under
this roof, for example, I think I see two exceptions. One of them
my unfeigned respect" (he bowed to Miss Notman) "forbids me to
indicate more particularly. The other seems, to my humble view,
to be the young lady of whom we have been speaking. Is it not
strange that Miss Eyrecourt has never been married?"
The trap had been elaborately set; Father Benwell had every
reason to anticipate that Miss Notman would walk into it. The
disconcerting housekeeper walked up to it--and then proved unable
to advance a step further.
"I once made the same remark myself to Lady Loring," she said.
Father Benwell's pulse began to quicken its beat. "Yes?" he
murmured, in tones of the gentlest encouragement.
"And her ladyship," Miss Notman proceeded, "did not encourage me
to go on. 'There are reasons for not pursuing that subject,' she
said; 'reasons into which, I am sure, you will not expect me to
enter.' She spoke with a flattering confidence in my prudence,
which I felt gratefully. Such a contrast to her tone when the
omelet presented itself in the order of the dishes! As I said
just now I am not a married woman. But if I proposed to my
husband to give him an oyster-omelet after his puddings and his
pies, I should not be surprised if he said to me, 'My dear, have
you taken leave of your senses?' I reminded Lady Loring (most
respectfully) that a _cheese_-omelette might be in its proper
place if it followed the sweets. 'An _oyster_-omelet,' I
suggested, 'surely comes after the birds?' I should be sorry to
say that her ladyship lost her temper--I will only mention that I
kept mine. Let me repeat what she said, and leave you, Father, to
draw your own conclusions. She said, 'Which of us is mistress in
this house, Miss Notman? I order the oyster-omelet to come in
with the cheese.' There was not only irritability, there was
contempt--oh, yes! contempt in her tone. Out of respect for
myself, I made no reply. As a Christian, I can forgive; as a
wounded gentlewoman, I may not find it so easy to forget."
Miss Notman laid herself back in her easy chair--she looked as if
she had suffered martyrdom, and only regretted having been
obliged to mention it. Father Benwell surprised the wounded
gentlewoman by rising to his feet.
"You are not going away already, Father?"
"Time flies fast in your society, dear Miss Notman. I have an
engagement--and I am late for it already."
The housekeeper smiled sadly. "At least let me hear that you
don't disapprove of my conduct under trying circumstances," she
Father Benwell took her hand. "A true Christian only feels
offenses to pardon them," he remarked, in his priestly and
paternal character. "You have shown me, Miss Notman, that _you_
are a true Christian. My evening has indeed been well spent. God
He pressed her hand; he shed on her the light of his fatherly
smile; he sighed, and took his leave. Miss Notman's eyes followed
him out with devotional admiration.
Father Benwell still preserved his serenity of temper when he was
out of the housekeeper's sight. One important discovery he had
made, in spite of the difficulties placed in his way. A
compromising circumstance had unquestionably occurred in Stella's
past life; and, in all probability, a man was in some way
connected with it. "My evening has not been entirely thrown
away," he thought, as he ascended the stairs which led from the
housekeeper's room to the hall.
THE INFLUENCE OF STELLA.
ENTERING the hall, Father Benwell heard a knock at the house
door. The servants appeared to recognize the knock--the porter
admitted Lord Loring.
Father Benwell advanced and made his bow. It was a perfect
obeisance of its kind--respect for Lord Loring, unobtrusively
accompanied by respect for himself. "Has your lordship been
walking in the park?" he inquired.
"I have been out on business," Lord Loring answered; "and I
should like to tell you about it. If you can spare me a few
minutes, come into the library. Some time since," he resumed,
when the door was closed, "I think I mentioned that my friends
had been speaking to me on a subject of some importance--the
subject of opening my picture gallery occasionally to the
"I remember," said Father Benwell. "Has your lordship decided
what to do?"
"Yes. I have decided (as the phrase is) to 'go with the times,'
and follow the example of other owners of picture g alleries.
Don't suppose I ever doubted that it is my duty to extend, to the
best of my ability, the civilizing influences of Art. My only
hesitation in the matter arose from a dread of some accident
happening, or some injury being done, to the pictures. Even now,
I can only persuade myself to try the experiment under certain
"A wise decision, undoubtedly," said Father Benwell. "In such a
city as this, you could hardly open your gallery to anybody who
happens to pass the house-door."
"I am glad you agree with me, Father. The gallery will be open
for the first time on Monday. Any respectably-dressed person,
presenting a visiting card at the offices of the librarians in
Bond Street and Regent Street, will receive a free ticket of
admission; the number of tickets, it is needless to say, being
limited, and the gallery being only open to the public two days
in the week. You will be here, I suppose, on Monday?"
"Certainly. My work in the library, as your lordship can see, has
"I am very anxious about the success of this experiment," said
Lord Loring. "Do look in at the gallery once or twice in the
course of the day, and tell me what your own impression is."
Having expressed his readiness to assist "the experiment" in
every possible way, Father Benwell still lingered in the library.
He was secretly conscious of a hope that he might, at the
eleventh hour, be invited to join Romayne at the dinner-table.
Lord Loring only looked at the clock on the mantel-piece: it was
nearly time to dress for dinner. The priest had no alternative
but to take the hint, and leave the house.
Five minutes after he had withdrawn, a messenger delivered a
letter for Lord Loring, in which Father Benwell's interests were
directly involved. The letter was from Romayne; it contained his
excuses for breaking his engagement, literally at an hour's
"Only yesterday," he wrote, "I had a return of what you, my dear
friend, call 'the delusion of the voice.' The nearer the hour of
your dinner approaches, the more keenly I fear that the same
thing may happen in your house. Pity me, and forgive me."
Even good-natured Lord Loring felt some difficulty in pitying and
forgiving, when he read these lines. "This sort of caprice might
be excusable in a woman," he thought. "A man ought really to be
capable of exercising some self-control. Poor Stella! And what
will my wife say?"
He walked up and down the library, with Stella's disappointment
and Lady Loring's indignation prophetically present in his mind.
There was, however, no help for it--he must accept his
responsibility, and be the bearer of the bad news.
He was on the point of leaving the library, when a visitor
appeared. The visitor was no less a person than Romayne himself.
"Have I arrived before my letter?" he asked eagerly.
Lord Loring showed him the letter.
"Throw it into the fire," he said, "and let me try to excuse
myself for having written it. You remember the happier days when
you used to call me the creature of impulse? An impulse produced
that letter. Another impulse brings me here to disown it. I can
only explain my strange conduct by asking you to help me at the
outset. Will you carry your memory back to the day of the medical
consultation on my case? I want you to correct me, if I
inadvertently misrepresent my advisers. Two of them were
physicians. The third, and last, was a surgeon, a personal friend
of yours; and _he_, as well as I recollect, told you how the
"Quite right, Romayne--so far."
"The first of the two physicians," Romayne proceeded, "declared
my case to be entirely attributable to nervous derangement, and
to be curable by purely medical means. I speak ignorantly; but,
in plain English, that, I believe, was the substance of what he
"The substance of what he said," Lord Loring replied, "and the
substance of his prescriptions--which, I think, you afterward
"If you have no faith in a prescription," said Romayne, "that is,
in my opinion, the best use to which you can put it. When it came
to the turn of the second physician, he differed with the first,
as absolutely as one man can differ with another. The third
medical authority, your friend the surgeon, took a middle course,
and brought the consultation to an end by combining the first
physician's view and the second physician's view, and mingling
the two opposite forms of treatment in one harmonious result?"
Lord Loring remarked that this was not a very respectful way of
describing the conclusion of the medical proceedings. That it was
the conclusion, however, he could not honestly deny.
"As long as I am right," said Romayne, "nothing else appears to
be of much importance. As I told you at the time, the second
physician appeared to me to be the only one of the three
authorities who really understood my case. Do you mind giving me,
in few words, your own impression of what he said?"
"Are you sure that I shall not distress you?"
"On the contrary, you may help me to hope."
"As I remember it," said Lord Loring, "the doctor did not deny
the influence of the body over the mind. He was quite willing to
admit that the state of your nervous system might be one, among
other predisposing causes, which led you--I really hardly like to
"Which led me," Romayne continued, finishing the sentence for his
friend, "to feel that I never shall forgive myself--accident or
no accident--for having taken that man's life. Now go on."
"The delusion that you still hear the voice," Lord Loring
proceeded, "is, in the doctor's opinion, the moral result of the
morbid state of your mind at the time when you really heard the
voice on the scene of the duel. The influence acts physically, of
course, by means of certain nerves. But it is essentially a moral
influence; and its power over you is greatly maintained by the
self-accusing view of the circumstances which you persist in
taking. That, in substance, is my recollection of what the doctor
"And when he was asked what remedies he proposed to try," Romayne
inquired, "do you remember his answer? 'The mischief which moral
influences have caused, moral influences alone can remedy.' "
"I remember," said Lord Loring. "And he mentioned, as examples of
what he meant, the occurrence of some new and absorbing interest
in your life, or the working of some complete change in your
habits of thought--or perhaps some influence exercised over you
by a person previously unknown, appearing under unforeseen
circumstances, or in scenes quite new to you."
Romayne's eyes sparkled.
"Now you are coming to it!" he cried. "Now I feel sure that I
recall correctly the last words the doctor said: 'If my view is
the right one, I should not be surprised to hear that the
recovery which we all wish to see had found its beginning in such
apparently trifling circumstances as the tone of some other
person's voice or the influence of some other person's look.'
That plain expression of his opinion only occurred to my memory
after I had written my foolish letter of excuse. I spare you the
course of other recollections that followed, to come at once to
the result. For the first time I have the hope, the faint hope,
that the voice which haunts me has been once already controlled
by one of the influences of which the doctor spoke--the influence
of a look."
If he had said this to Lady Loring, instead of to her husband,
she would have understood him at once. Lord Loring asked for a
word more of explanation.
"I told you yesterday," Romayne answered, "that a dread of the
return of the voice had been present to me all the morning, and
that I had come to see the picture with an idea of trying if
change would relieve me. While I was in the gallery I was free
from the dread, and free from the voice. When I returned to the
hotel it tortured me--and Mr. Penrose, I grieve to say, saw what
I suffered. You and I attributed the remission to the change of
scene. I now believe we were both wrong. Where was the change? In
seeing you and Lady Loring, I saw the two oldest friends I have.
In visiting your gallery, I only revived the familiar
associations of hundreds of other visits. To what in fluence was
I really indebted for my respite? Don't try to dismiss the
question by laughing at my morbid fancies. Morbid fancies are
realities to a man like me. Remember the doctor's words, Loring.
Think of a new face, seen in your house! Think of a look that
searched my heart for the first time!"
Lord Loring glanced once more at the clock on the mantel-piece.
The hands pointed to the dinner hour.
"Miss Eyrecourt?" he whispered.
"Yes; Miss Eyrecourt."
The library door was thrown open by a servant. Stella herself
entered the room.
THE PRIEST OR THE WOMAN?
LORD LORING hurried away to his dressing room. "I won't be more
than ten minutes," he said--and left Romayne and Stella together.
She was attired with her customary love of simplicity. White lace
was the only ornament on her dress of delicate silvery gray. Her
magnificent hair was left to plead its own merits, without
adornment of any sort. Even the brooch which fastened her lace
pelerine was of plain gold only. Conscious that she was showing
her beauty to the greatest advantage in the eyes of a man of
taste, she betrayed a little of the embarrassment which Romayne
had already noticed at the moment when she gave him her hand.
They were alone, and it was the first time she had seen him in
It may be that women have no positive appreciation of what is
beautiful in form and color--or it may be that they have no
opinions of their own when the laws of fashion have spoken. This
at least is certain, that not one of them in a thousand sees
anything objectionable in the gloomy and hideous evening costume
of a gentleman in the nineteenth century. A handsome man is, to
their eyes, more seductive than ever in the contemptible black
coat and the stiff white cravat which he wears in common with the
servant who waits on him at table. After a stolen glance at
Romayne, Stella lost all confidence in herself--she began turning
over the photographs on the table.
The momentary silence which followed their first greeting became
intolerable to her. Rather than let it continue, she impulsively
confessed the uppermost idea in her mind when she entered the
"I thought I heard my name when I came in," she said. "Were you
and Lord Loring speaking of me?"
Romayne owned without hesitation that they had been speaking of
She smiled and turned over another photograph. But when did
sun-pictures ever act as a restraint on a woman's curiosity? The
words passed her lips in spite of her. "I suppose I mustn't ask
what you were saying?"
It was impossible to answer this plainly without entering into
explanations from which Romayne shrank. He hesitated.
She turned over another photograph. "I understand," she said.
"You were talking of my faults." She paused, and stole another
look at him. "I will try to correct my faults, if you will tell
me what they are."
Romayne felt that he had no alternative but to tell the
truth--under certain reserves. "Indeed you are wrong," he said.
"We were talking of the influence of a tone or a look on a
"The influence on Me?" she asked.
"No. The influence which You might exercise on another person."
She knew perfectly well that he was speaking of himself. But she
was determined to feel the pleasure of making him own it.
"If I have any such influence as you describe," she began, "I
hope it is for good?"
"Certainly for good."
"You speak positively, Mr. Romayne. Almost as positively--only
that can hardly be--as if you were speaking from experience."
He might still have evaded a direct reply, if she had been
content with merely saying this. But she looked at him while she
spoke. He answered the look.
"Shall I own that you are right?" he said. "I was thinking of my
own experience yesterday."
She returned to the photographs. "It sounds impossible," she
rejoined, softly. There was a pause. "Was it anything I said?"
"No. It was only when you looked at me. But for that look, I
don't think I should have been here to-day."
She shut up the photographs on a sudden, and drew her chair a
little away from him.
"I hope," she said, "you have not so poor an opinion of me as to
think I like to be flattered?"
Romayne answered with an earnestness that instantly satisfied
"I should think it an act of insolence to flatter you," he said.
"If you knew the true reason why I hesitated to accept Lady
Loring's invitation--if I could own to you the new hope for
myself that has brought me here--you would feel, as I feel, that
I have been only speaking the truth. I daren't say yet that I owe
you a debt of gratitude for such a little thing as a look. I must
wait till time puts certain strange fancies of mine to the
"Fancies about me, Mr. Romayne?"
Before he could answer, the dinner bell rang. Lord and Lady
Loring entered the library together.
The dinner having pursued its appointed course (always excepting
the case of the omelet), the head servant who had waited at table
was graciously invited to rest, after his labors, in the
housekeeper's room. Having additionally conciliated him by means
of a glass of rare liqueur, Miss Notman, still feeling her
grievance as acutely as ever, ventured to inquire, in the first
place, if the gentlefolks upstairs had enjoyed their dinner. So
far the report was, on the whole, favorable. But the conversation
was described as occasionally flagging. The burden of the talk
had been mainly borne by my lord and my lady, Mr. Romayne and
Miss Eyrecourt contributing but little to the social enjoyment of
the evening. Receiving this information without much appearance
of interest, the housekeeper put another question, to which,
judging by her manner, she attached a certain importance. She
wished to know if the oyster-omelet (accompanying the cheese) had
been received as a welcome dish, and treated with a just
recognition of its merits. The answer to this was decidedly in
the negative. Mr. Romayne and Miss Eyrecourt had declined to
taste it. My lord had tried it, and had left it on his plate. My
lady alone had really eaten her share of the misplaced dish.
Having stated this apparently trivial circumstance, the head
servant was surprised by the effect which it produced on the
housekeeper. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes,
with an appearance of unutterable enjoyment. That night there was
one supremely happy woman in London. And her name was Miss
Ascending from the housekeeper's room to the drawing-room, it is
to be further reported that music was tried, as a means of
getting through the time, in the absence of general conversation.
Lady Loring sat down at the piano, and played as admirably as
usual. At the other end of the room Romayne and Stella were
together, listening to the music. Lord Loring, walking backward
and forward, with a restlessness which was far from being
characteristic of him in his after-dinner hours, was stopped when
he reached the neighborhood of the piano by a private signal from
"What are you walking about for?" Lady Loring asked in a whisper,
without interrupting her musical performance.
"I'm not quite easy, my dear."
"Turn over the music. Indigestion?"
"Good heavens, Adelaide, what a question!"
"Well, what is it, then?"
Lord Loring looked toward Stella and her companion. "They don't
seem to get on together as well as I had hoped," he said.
"I should think not--when you are walking about and disturbing
them! Sit down there behind me."
"What am I to do?"
"Am I not playing? Listen to me."
"My dear, I don't understand modern German music."
"Then read the evening paper."
The evening paper had its attractions. Lord Loring took his
Left entirely by themselves, at the other end of the room,
Romayne and Stella justified Lady Loring's belief in the result
of reducing her husband to a state of repose. Stella ventured to
speak first, in a discreet undertone.
"Do you pass most of your evenings alone, Mr. Romayne?"
"Not quite alone. I have the company of my books."
"Are your books the companions that you like best?"
"I have been true to those companions, Miss Eyrecourt, for many
years. If the doctors are to be believed, my b ooks have not
treated me very well in return. They have broken down my health,
and have made me, I am afraid, a very unsocial man." He seemed
about to say more, and suddenly checked the impulse. "Why am I
talking of myself?" he resumed with a smile. "I never do it at
other times. Is this another result of your influence over me?"
He put the question with an assumed gayety. Stella made no
effort, on her side, to answer him in the same tone.
"I almost wish I really had some influence over you," she said,
gravely and sadly.
"I should try to induce you to shut up your books, and choose
some living companion who might restore you to your happier
"It is already done," said Romayne; "I have a new companion in
"Penrose?" she repeated. "He is the friend--is he not--of the
priest here, whom they call Father Benwell?"
"I don't like Father Benwell."
"Is that a reason for disliking Mr. Penrose?"
"Yes," she said, boldly, "because he is Father Benwell's friend."
"Indeed, you are mistaken, Miss Eyrecourt. Mr. Penrose only
entered yesterday on his duties as my secretary, and I have
already had reason to think highly of him. Many men, after _that_
experience of me," he added, speaking more to himself than to
her, "might have asked me to find another secretary."
Stella heard those last words, and looked at him in astonishment.
"Were you angry with Mr. Penrose?" she asked innocently. "Is it
possible that _you_ could speak harshly to any person in your
Romayne smiled. "It was not what I said," he answered. "I am
subject to attacks--to sudden attacks of illness. I am sorry I
alarmed Mr. Penrose by letting him see me under those
She looked at him; hesitated; and looked away again. "Would you
be angry with me if I confessed something?" she said timidly.
"It is impossible I can be angry with you!"
"Mr. Romayne, I think I have seen what your secretary saw. I know
how you suffer, and how patiently you bear it."
"You!" he exclaimed.
"I saw you with your friend, when you came on board the steamboat
at Boulogne. Oh, no, you never noticed me! You never knew how I
pitied you. And afterward, when you moved away by yourself, and
stood by the place in which the engines work--you are sure you
won't think the worse of me, if I tell it?"
"Your face frightened me--I can't describe it--I went to your
friend and took it on myself to say that you wanted him. It was
an impulse--I meant well."
"I am sure you meant well." As he spoke, his face darkened a
little, betraying a momentary feeling of distrust. Had she put
indiscreet questions to his traveling companion; and had the
Major, under the persuasive influence of her beauty, been weak
enough to answer them? "Did you speak to my friend?" he asked.
"Only when I told him that he had better go to you. And I think I
said afterward I was afraid you were very ill. We were in the
confusion of arriving at Folkestone--and, even if I had thought
it right to say more, there was no opportunity."
Romayne felt ashamed of the suspicion by which he had wronged
her. "You have a generous nature," he said earnestly. "Among the
few people whom I know, how many would feel the interest in me
that you felt?"
"Don't say that, Mr. Romayne! You could have had no kinder friend
than the gentleman who took care of you on your journey. Is he
with you now in London?"
"I am sorry to hear it. You ought to have some devoted friend
always near you."
She spoke very earnestly. Romayne shrank, with a strange shyness,
from letting her see how her sympathy affected him. He answered
lightly. "You go almost as far as my good friend there reading
the newspaper," he said. "Lord Loring doesn't scruple to tell me
that I ought to marry. I know he speaks with a sincere interest
in my welfare. He little thinks how he distresses me."
"Why should he distress you?"
"He reminds me--live as long as I may--that I must live alone.
Can I ask a woman to share such a dreary life as mine? It would
be selfish, it would be cruel; I should deservedly pay the
penalty of allowing my wife to sacrifice herself. The time would
come when she would repent having married me."
Stella rose. Her eyes rested on him with a look of gentle
remonstrance. "I think you hardly do women justice," she said
softly. "Perhaps some day a woman may induce you to change your
opinion." She crossed the room to the piano. "You must be tired
of playing, Adelaide," she said, putting her hand caressingly on
Lady Loring's shoulder.
"Will you sing, Stella?"
She sighed, and turned away. "Not to-night," she answered.
Romayne took his leave rather hurriedly. He seemed to be out of
spirits and eager to get away. Lord Loring accompanied his guest
to the door. "You look sad and careworn," he said. "Do you regret
having left your books to pass an evening with us?"
Romayne looked up absently, and answered, "I don't know yet."
Returning to report this extraordinary reply to his wife and
Stella, Lord Loring found the drawing-room empty. Eager for a
little private conversation, the two ladies had gone upstairs.
"Well?" said Lady Loring, as they sat together over the fire.
"What did he say?"
Stella only repeated what he had said before she rose and left
him. "What is there in Mr. Romayne's life," she asked, "which
made him say that he would be selfish and cruel if he expected a
woman to marry him? It must be something more than mere illness.
If he had committed a crime he could not have spoken more
strongly. Do you know what it is?"
Lady Loring looked uneasy. "I promised my husband to keep it a
secret from everybody," she said.
"It is nothing degrading, Adelaide--I am sure of that."
"And you are right, my dear. I can understand that he has
surprised and disappointed you; but, if you knew his motives--"
she stopped and looked earnestly at Stella. "They say," she went
on, "the love that lasts longest is the love of slowest growth.
This feeling of yours for Romayne is of sudden growth. Are you
very sure that your whole heart is given to a man of whom you
"I know that I love him," said Stella simply.
"Even though he doesn't seem as yet to love you?" Lady Loring
"All the more _because_ he doesn't. I should be ashamed to make
the confession to any one but you. It is useless to say any more.
Lady Loring allowed her to get as far as the door, and then
suddenly called her back. Stella returned unwillingly and
wearily. "My head aches and my heart aches," she said. "Let me go
away to my bed."
"I don't like you to go away, wronging Romayne perhaps in your
thoughts," said Lady Loring. "And, more than that, for the sake
of your own happiness, you ought to judge for yourself if this
devoted love of yours may ever hope to win its reward. It is
time, and more than time, that you should decide whether it is
good for you to see Romayne again. Have you courage enough to do
"Yes--if I am convinced that it ought to be done."
"Nothing would make me so happy," Lady Loring resumed, "as to
know that you were one day, my dear, to be his wife. But I am not
a prudent person--I can never look, as you can, to consequences.
You won't betray me, Stella? If I am doing wrong in telling a
secret which has been trusted to me, it is my fondness for you
that misleads me. Sit down again. You shall know what the misery
of Romayne's life really is."
With those words, she told the terrible story of the duel, and of
all that had followed it.
"It is for you to say," she concluded, "whether Romayne is right.
Can any woman hope to release him from the torment that he
suffers, with nothing to help her but love? Determine for
Stella answered instantly.
"I determine to be his wife!"
With the same pure enthusiasm, Penrose had declared that he too
devoted himself to the deliverance of Romayne. The loving woman
was not more resolved to give her whole life to him, than the
fanatical man was resolved to convert him. On the same common
battle-ground the two were now to meet in unconscious antagonism.
Would the priest or the woman win the day?
THE PUBLIC AND THE PICTURES.
ON the memorable Monday , when the picture gallery was opened to
the public for the first time, Lord Loring and Father Benwell met
in the library.
"Judging by the number of carriages already at the door," said
Father Benwell, "your lordship's kindness is largely appreciated
by the lovers of Art."
"All the tickets were disposed of in three hours," Lord Loring
answered. "Everybody (the librarians tell me) is eager to see the
pictures. Have you looked in yet?"
"Not yet. I thought I would get on first with my work among the
"I have just come from the gallery," Lord Loring continued. "And
here I am, driven out of it again by the remarks of some of the
visitors. You know my beautiful copies of Raphael's Cupid and
Psyche designs? The general impression, especially among the
ladies, is that they are disgusting and indecent. That was enough
for me. If you happen to meet Lady Loring and Stella, kindly tell
them that I have gone to the club."
"Do the ladies propose paying a visit to the gallery?"
"Of course--to see the people! I have recommended them to wait
until they are ready to go out for their drive. In their indoor
costume they might become the objects of general observation as
the ladies of the house. I shall be anxious to hear, Father, if
you can discover the civilizing influences of Art among my guests
in the gallery. Good-morning."
Father Benwell rang the bell when Lord Loring had left him.
"Do the ladies drive out to-day at their usual hour?" he
inquired, when the servant appeared. The man answered in the
affirmative. The carriage was ordered at three o'clock.
At half-past two Father Benwell slipped quietly into the gallery.
He posted himself midway between the library door and the grand
entrance; on the watch, not for the civilizing influences of Art,
but for the appearance of Lady Loring and Stella. He was still of
opinion that Stella's "frivolous" mother might be turned into a
source of valuable information on the subject of her daughter's
earlier life. The first step toward attaining this object was to
discover Mrs. Eyrecourt's present address. Stella would certainly
know it--and Father Benwell felt a just confidence in his
capacity to make the young lady serviceable, in this respect, to
the pecuniary interests of the Church.
After an interval of a quarter of an hour, Lady Loring and Stella
entered the gallery by the library door. Father Benwell at once
advanced to pay his respects.
For some little time he discreetly refrained from making any
attempt to lead the conversation to the topic that he had in
view. He was too well acquainted with the insatiable interest of
women in looking at other women to force himself into notice. The
ladies made their remarks on the pretensions to beauty and to
taste in dress among the throng of visitors--and Father Benwell
waited by them, and listened with the resignation of a modest
young man. Patience, being a virtue, is sometimes its own reward.
Two gentlemen, evidently interested in the pictures, approached
the priest. He drew back, with his ready politeness, to let them
see the picture before which he happened to be standing.
The movement disturbed Stella. She turned sharply--noticed one of
the gentlemen, the taller of the two--became deadly pale--and
instantly quitted the gallery. Lady Loring, looking where Stella
had looked, frowned angrily and followed Miss Eyrecourt into the
library. Wise Father Benwell let them go, and concentrated his
attention on the person who had been the object of this startling
Unquestionably a gentleman--with light hair and complexion--with
a bright benevolent face and keen intelligent blue
eyes--apparently still in the prime of life. Such was Father
Benwell's first impression of the stranger. He had evidently seen
Miss Eyrecourt at the moment when she first noticed him; and he
too showed signs of serious agitation. His face flushed deeply,
and his eyes expressed, not merely surprise, but distress. He
turned to his friend. "This place is hot," he said; "let us get
out of it!"
"My dear Winterfield!" the friend remonstrated, "we haven't seen
half the pictures yet."
"Excuse me if I leave you," the other replied. "I am used to the
free air of the country. Let us meet again this evening. Come and
dine with me. The same address as usual--Derwent's Hotel."
With those words he hurried out, making his way, without
ceremony, through the crowd in the picture gallery.
Father Benwell returned to the library. It was quite needless to
trouble himself further about Mrs. Eyrecourt or her address.
"Thanks to Lord Loring's picture gallery," he thought, "I have
found the man!"
He took up his pen and made a little memorandum--"Winterfield.
FATHER BENWELL'S CORRESPONDENCE.
_To Mr. Bitrake. Private and Confidential._
SIR--I understand that your connection with the law does not
exclude your occasional superintendence of confidential
inquiries, which are not of a nature to injure your professional
position. The inclosed letter of introduction will satisfy you
that I am incapable of employing your experience in a manner
unbecoming to you, or to myself.
The inquiry that I propose to you relates to a gentleman named
Winterfield. He is now staying in London, at Derwent's Hotel, and
is expected to remain there for a week from the present date. His
place of residence is on the North Devonshire coast, and is well
known in that locality by the name of Beaupark House.
The range of my proposed inquiry dates back over the last four or
five years--certainly not more. My object is to ascertain, as
positively as may be, whether, within this limit of time, events
in Mr. Winterfield's life have connected him with a young lady
named Miss Stella Eyrecourt. If this proves to be the case it is
essential that I should be made acquainted with the whole of the
I have now informed you of all that I want to know. Whatever the
information may be, it is most important that it shall be
information which I can implicitly trust. Please address to me,
when you write, under cover to the friend whose letter I inclose.
I beg your acceptance--as time is of importance--of a check for
preliminary expenses, and remain, sir, your faithful servant,
_To the Secretary, Society of Jesus, Rome._
I inclose a receipt for the remittance which your last letter
confides to my care. Some of the money has been already used in
prosecuting inquiries, the result of which will, as I hope and
believe, enable me to effectually protect Romayne from the
advances of the woman who is bent on marrying him.
You tell me that our Reverend Fathers, lately sitting in council
on the Vange Abbey affair, are anxious to hear if any positive
steps have yet been taken toward the conversion of Romayne. I am
happily able to gratify their wishes, as you shall now see.
Yesterday, I called at Romayne's hotel to pay one of those
occasional visits which help to keep up our acquaintance. He was
out, and Penrose (for whom I asked next) was with him. Most
fortunately, as the event proved, I had not seen Penrose, or
heard from him, for some little time; and I thought it desirable
to judge for myself of the progress that he was making in the
confidence of his employer. I said I would wait. The hotel
servant knows me by sight. I was shown into Romayne's
This room is so small as to be a mere cupboard. It is lighted by
a glass fanlight over the door which opens from the passage, and
is supplied with air (in the absence of a fireplace) by a
ventilator in a second door, which communicates with Romayne's
study. Looking about me, so far, I crossed to the other end of
the study, and discovered a dining-room and two bedrooms
beyond--the set of apartments being secluded, by means of a door
at the end of the passage, from the other parts of the hotel. I
trouble you with these details in order that you may understand
the events that followed.
I returned to the waiting-room, not forgetting of course to close
the door of communication.
Nearly an hour must have passed before I heard footsteps in the
passage. The study door was opened,
and the voices of persons entering the room reached me through
the ventilator. I recognized Romayne, Penrose--and Lord Loring.
The first words exchanged among them informed me that Romayne and
his secretary had overtaken Lord Loring in the street, as he was
approaching the hotel door. The three had entered the house
together--at a time, probably, when the servant who had admitted
me was out of the way. However it may have happened, there I was,
forgotten in the waiting-room!
Could I intrude myself (on a private conversation perhaps) as an
unannounced and unwelcome visitor? And could I help it, if the
talk found its way to me through the ventilator, along with the
air that I breathed? If our Reverend Fathers think I was to
blame, I bow to any reproof which their strict sense of propriety
may inflict on me. In the meantime, I beg to repeat the
interesting passages in the conversation, as nearly word for word
as I can remember them.
His lordship, as the principal personage in social rank, shall be
reported first. He said: "More than a week has passed, Romayne,
and we have neither seen you nor heard from you. Why have you
Here, judging by certain sounds that followed, Penrose got up
discreetly, and left the room. Lord Loring went on.
He said to Romayne: "Now we are alone, I may speak to you more
freely. You and Stella seemed to get on together admirably that
evening when you dined with us. Have you forgotten what you told
me of her influence over you? Or have you altered your
opinion--and is that the reason why you keep away from us?"
Romayne answered: "My opinion remains unchanged. All that I said
to you of Miss Eyrecourt, I believe as firmly as ever."
His lordship remonstrated, naturally enough. "Then why remain
away from the good influence? Why--if it really _can_ be
controlled--risk another return of that dreadful nervous
"I have had another return."
"Which, as you yourself believe, might have been prevented!
Romayne, you astonish me."
There was a time of silence, before Romayne answered this. He was
a little mysterious when he did reply. "You know the old saying,
my good friend--of two evils, choose the least. I bear my
sufferings as one of two evils, and the least of the two."
Lord Loring appeared to feel the necessity of touching a delicate
subject with a light hand. He said, in his pleasant way: "Stella
isn't the other evil, I suppose?"
"Most assuredly not."
"Then what is it?"
Romayne answered, almost passionately: "My own weakness and
selfishness! Faults which I must resist, or become a mean and
heartless man. For me, the worst of the two evils is there. I
respect and admire Miss Eyrecourt--I believe her to be a woman in
a thousand--don't ask me to see her again! Where is Penrose? Let
us talk of something else."
Whether this wild way of speaking offended Lord Loring, or only
discouraged him, I cannot say. I heard him take his leave in
these words: "You have disappointed me, Romayne. We will talk of
something else the next time we meet." The study door was opened
and closed. Romayne was left by himself.
Solitude was apparently not to his taste just then. I heard him
call to Penrose. I heard Penrose ask: "Do you want me?"
Romayne answered: "God knows I want a friend--and I have no
friend near me but you! Major Hynd is away, and Lord Loring is
offended with me."
Penrose asked why.
Romayne, thereupon, entered on the necessary explanation. As a
priest writing to priests, I pass over details utterly
uninteresting to us. The substance of what he said amounted to
this: Miss Eyrecourt had produced an impression on him which was
new to him in his experience of women. If he saw more of her, it
might end--I ask your pardon for repeating the ridiculous
expression--in his "falling in love with her." In this condition
of mind or body, whichever it may be, he would probably be
incapable of the self-control which he had hitherto practiced. If
she consented to devote her life to him, he might accept the
cruel sacrifice. Rather than do this, he would keep away from
her, for her dear sake--no matter what he might suffer, or whom
he might offend.
Imagine any human being, out of a lunatic asylum, talking in this
way. Shall I own to you, my reverend colleague, how this curious
self-exposure struck me? As I listened to Romayne, I felt
grateful to the famous Council which definitely forbade the
priests of the Catholic Church to marry. _We_ might otherwise
have been morally enervated by the weakness which degrades
Romayne--and priests might have become instruments in the hands
But you will be anxious to hear what Penrose did under the
circumstances. For the moment, I can tell you this, he startled
Instead of seizing the opportunity, and directing Romayne's mind
to the consolations of religion, Penrose actually encouraged him
to reconsider his decision. All the weakness of my poor little
Arthur's character showed itself in his next words.
He said to Romayne: "It may be wrong in me to speak to you as
freely as I wish to speak. But you have so generously admitted me
to your confidence--you have been so considerate and so kind
toward me--that I feel an interest in your happiness, which
perhaps makes me over bold. Are you very sure that some such
entire change in your life as your marriage might not end in
delivering you from your burden? If such a thing could be, is it
wrong to suppose that your wife's good influence over you might
be the means of making your marriage a happy one? I must not
presume to offer an opinion on such a subject. It is only my
gratitude, my true attachment to you that ventures to put the
question. Are you conscious of having given this matter--so
serious a matter for you--sufficient thought?"
Make your mind easy, reverend sir! Romayne's answer set
He said: "I have thought of it till I could think no longer. I
still believe that sweet woman might control the torment of the
voice. But could she deliver me from the remorse perpetually
gnawing at my heart? I feel as murderers feel. In taking another
man's life--a man who had not even injured me!--I have committed
the one unatonable and unpardonable sin. Can any human creature's
influence make me forget that? No more of it--no more. Come! Let
us take refuge in our books."
Those words touched Penrose in the right place. Now, as I
understand his scruples, he felt that he might honorably speak
out. His zeal more than balanced his weakness, as you will
He was loud, he was positive, when I heard him next. "No!" he
burst out, "your refuge is not in books, and not in the barren
religious forms which call themselves Protestant. Dear master,
the peace of mind, which you believe you have lost forever, you
will find again in the divine wisdom and compassion of the holy
Catholic Church. There is the remedy for all that you suffer!
There is the new life that will yet make you a happy man!"
I repeat what he said, so far, merely to satisfy you that we can
trust his enthusiasm, when it is once roused. Nothing will
discourage, nothing will defeat him now. He spoke with all the
eloquence of conviction--using the necessary arguments with a
force and feeling which I have rarely heard equaled. Romayne's
silence vouched for the effect on him. He is not the man to
listen patiently to reasoning which he thinks he can overthrow.
Having heard enough to satisfy me that Penrose had really begun
the good work, I quietly slipped out of the waiting-room and left
To-day being Sunday, I shall not lose a post if I keep my letter
open until to-morrow. I have already sent a note to Penrose,
asking him to call on me at his earliest convenience. There may
be more news for you before post time.
Monday, 10 A.M..
There _is_ more news. Penrose has just left me.
His first proceeding, of course, was to tell me what I had
already discovered for myself. He is modest, as usual, about the
prospect of success which awaits him. But he has induced Romayne
to suspend his historical studies for a few days, and to devote
his attention to the books which we are accustomed to recommend
for perusal in such cases as his. This is un questionably a great
gain at starting.
But my news is not at an end yet. Romayne is actually playing our
game--he has resolved definitely to withdraw himself from the
influence of Miss Eyrecourt! In another hour he and Penrose will
have left London. Their destination is kept a profound secret.
All letters addressed to Romayne are to be sent to his bankers.
The motive for this sudden resolution is directly traceable to
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