The Black Robe
Part 3 out of 7
Her ladyship called at the hotel yesterday evening, and had a
private interview with Romayne. Her object, no doubt, was to
shake his resolution, and to make him submit himself again to
Miss Eyrecourt's fascinations. What means of persuasion she used
to effect this purpose is of course unknown to us. Penrose saw
Romayne after her ladyship's departure, and describes him as
violently agitated. I can quite understand it. His resolution to
take refuge in secret flight (it is really nothing less) speaks
for itself as to the impression produced on him, and the danger
from which, for the time at least, we have escaped.
Yes! I say "for the time at least." Don't let our reverend
fathers suppose that the money expended on my private inquiries
has been money thrown away. Where these miserable love affairs
are concerned, women are daunted by no adverse circumstances and
warned by no defeat. Romayne has left London, in dread of his own
weakness--we must not forget that. The day may yet come when
nothing will interpose between us and failure but my knowledge of
events in Miss Eyrecourt's life.
For the present, there is no more to be said.
STELLA ASSERTS HERSELF.
Two days after Father Benwell had posted his letter to Rome, Lady
Loring entered her husband's study, and asked eagerly if he had
heard any news of Romayne.
Lord Loring shook his head. "As I told you yesterday," he said,
"the proprietor of the hotel can give me no information. I went
myself this morning to the bankers, and saw the head partner. He
offered to forward letters, but he could do no more. Until
further notice, he was positively enjoined not to disclose
Romayne's address to anybody. How does Stella bear it?"
"In the worst possible way," Lady Loring answered. "In silence."
"Not a word even to you?"
"Not a word."
At that reply, the servant interrupted them by announcing the
arrival of a visitor, and presenting his card. Lord Loring
started, and handed it to his wife. The card bore the name of
"Major Hynd," and this line was added in pencil: "On business
connected with Mr. Romayne. "
"Show him in directly!" cried Lady Loring.
Lord Loring remonstrated. "My dear! perhaps I had better see this
"Certainly not--unless you wish to drive me into committing an
act of the most revolting meanness! If you send me away I shall
listen at the door."
Major Hynd was shown in, and was duly presented to Lady Loring.
After making the customary apologies, he said: "I returned to
London last night, expressly to see Romayne on a matter of
importance. Failing to discover his present address at the hotel,
I had the hope that your lordship might be able to direct me to
I am sorry to say I know no more than you do," Lord Loring
replied. "Romayne's present address is a secret confided to his
bankers, and to no one else. I will give you their names, if you
wish to write to him.
Major Hynd hesitated. "I am not quite sure that it would be
discreet to write to him, under the circumstances."
Lady Loring could no longer keep silence. "Is it possible, Major
Hynd, to tell us what the circumstances are?" she asked. "I am
almost as old a friend of Romayne as my husband--and I am very
anxious about him."
The Major looked embarrassed. "I can hardly answer your
ladyship," he said, "without reviving painful recollections--"
Lady Loring's impatience interrupted the Major's apologies. "Do
you mean the duel?" she inquired.
Lord Loring interposed. "I should tell you, Major Hynd, that Lady
Loring is as well informed as I am of what happened at Boulogne,
and of the deplorable result, so far as Romayne is concerned. If
you still wish to speak to me privately, I will ask you to
accompany me into the next room."
Major Hynd's embarrassment vanished. "After what you tell me," he
said, "I hope to be favored with Lady Loring's advice. You both
know that Romayne fought the fatal duel with a son of the French
General who had challenged him. When we returned to England, we
heard that the General and his family had been driven away from
Boulogne by pecuniary difficulties. Romayne, against my advice,
wrote to the surgeon who had been present at the duel, desiring
that the General's place of retreat might be discovered, and
expressing his wish to assist the family anonymously, as their
Unknown Friend. The motive, of course, was, in his own words, 'to
make some little atonement to the poor people whom he had
wronged.' I thought it a rash proceeding at the time; and I am
confirmed in my opinion by a letter from the surgeon, received
yesterday. Will you kindly read it to Lady Loring?"
He handed the letter to Lord Loring. Translated from the French,
it ran as follows:
"SIR--I am at last able to answer Mr. Romayne's letter
definitely, with the courteous assistance of the French Consul in
London, to whom I applied when other means of investigation had
produced no result.
"A week since the General died, circumstances connected with the
burial expenses informed the Consul that he had taken refuge from
his creditors, not in Paris as we supposed, but in London. The
address is, Number 10, Camp's Hill, Islington. I should also add
that the General, for obvious reasons, lived in London under the
assumed name of Marillac. It will be necessary, therefore, to
inquire for his widow by the name of Madame Marillac.
"You will perhaps be surprised to find that I address these lines
to you, instead of to Mr. Romayne. The reason is soon told.
"I was acquainted with the late General--as you know--at a time
when I was not aware of the company that he kept, or of the
deplorable errors into which his love of gambling had betrayed
him. Of his widow and his children I know absolutely nothing.
Whether they have resisted the contaminating influence of the
head of the household--or whether poverty and bad example
combined have hopelessly degraded them--I cannot say. There is at
least a doubt whether they are worthy of Mr. Romayne's benevolent
intentions toward them. As an honest man, I cannot feel this
doubt, and reconcile it to my conscience to be the means, however
indirectly, of introducing them to Mr. Romayne. To your
discretion I leave it to act for the best, after this warning."
Lord Loring returned the letter to Major Hynd. "I agree with
you," he said. "It is more than doubtful whether you ought to
communicate this information to Romayne."
Lady Loring was not quite of her husband's opinion. "While there
is a doubt about these people," she said, "it seems only just to
find out what sort of character they bear in the neighborhood. In
your place, Major Hynd, I should apply to the person in whose
house they live, or to the tradespeople whom they have employed."
"I am obliged to leave London again to-day," the Major replied;
"but on my return I will certainly follow your ladyship's
"And you will let us know the result?"
"With the greatest pleasure."
Major Hynd took his leave. "I think you will be responsible for
wasting the Major's time," said Lord Loring, when the visitor had
"I think not," said Lady Loring.
She rose to leave the room. "Are you going out?" her husband
"No. I am going upstairs to Stella."
Lady Loring found Miss Eyrecourt in her own room. The little
portrait of Romayne which she had drawn from recollection lay on
the table before her. She was examining it with the closest
"Well, Stella, and what does the portrait tell you?"
"What I knew before, Adelaide. There is nothing false and nothing
cruel in that face."
"And does the discovery satisfy you? For my part, I despise
Romayne for hiding himself from us. Can you excuse him?"
Stella locked up the portrait in her writing-case. "I can wait,"
she said quietly
Thi s assertion of patience seemed to irritate Lady Loring "What
is the matter with you this morning?" she asked. "You are more
reserved than ever."
"No; I am only out of spirits, Adelaide. I can't help thinking of
that meeting with Winterfield. I feel as if some misfortune was
hanging over my head."
"Don't speak of that hateful man!" her ladyship exclaimed. "I
have something to tell you about Romayne. Are you completely
absorbed in your presentiments of evil? or do you think you can
listen to me?"
Stella's face answered for her. Lady Loring described the
interview with Major Hynd in the minutest detail--including, by
way of illustration, the Major's manners and personal appearance.
"He and Lord Loring," she added, "both think that Romayne will
never hear the last of it if he allows these foreigners to look
to him for money. Until something more is known about them, the
letter is not to be forwarded."
"I wish I had the letter," cried Stella.
"Would you forward it to Romayne?"
"Instantly! Does it matter whether these poor French people are
worthy of his generosity? If it restores his tranquillity to help
them, who cares whether they deserve the help? They are not even
to know who it is that assists them--Romayne is to be their
unknown friend. It is he, not they, whom we have to think of--his
peace of mind is everything; their merit is nothing. I say it's
cruel to _him_ to keep him in ignorance of what has happened. Why
didn't you take the letter away from Major Hynd?"
"Gently, Stella! The Major is going to make inquiries about the
widow and children when he returns to London."
"When he returns!" Stella repeated indignantly. "Who knows what
the poor wretches may be suffering in the interval, and what
Romayne may feel if he ever hears of it? Tell me the address
again--it was somewhere in Islington, you said."
"Why do you want to know it?" Lady Loring asked. "You are not
going to write to Romayne yourself?"
"I am going to think, before I do anything. If you can't trust my
discretion, Adelaide, you have only to say so!"
It was spoken sharply. Lady Loring's reply betrayed a certain
loss of temper on her side. "Manage your own affairs, Stella--I
have done meddling with them." Her unlucky visit to Romayne at
the hotel had been a subject of dispute between the two
friends--and this referred to it. "You shall have the address,"
my lady added in her grandest manner. She wrote it on a piece of
paper, and left the room.
Easily irritated, Lady Loring had the merit of being easily
appeased. That meanest of all vices, the vice of sulkiness, had
no existence in her nature. In five minutes she regretted her
little outburst of irritability. For five minutes more she
waited, on the chance that Stella might be the first to seek a
reconciliation. The interval passed, and nothing happened. "Have
I really offended her?" Lady Loring asked herself. The next
moment she was on her way back to Stella. The room was empty. She
rang the bell for the maid.
"Where is Miss Eyrecourt?"
"Gone out, my lady."
"Did she leave no message?"
"No, my lady. She went away in a great hurry."
Lady Loring at once drew the conclusion that Stella had rashly
taken the affair of the General's family into her own hands. Was
it possible to say how this most imprudent proceeding might end?
After hesitating and reflecting, and hesitating again, Lady
Loring's anxiety got beyond her control. She not only decided on
following Stella, but, in the excess of her nervous apprehension,
she took one of the men-servants with her, in case of emergency!
THE GENERAL'S FAMILY.
NOT always remarkable for arriving at just conclusions, Lady
Loring had drawn the right inference this time. Stella had
stopped the first cab that passed her, and had directed the
driver to Camp's Hill, Islington.
The aspect of the miserable little street, closed at one end, and
swarming with dirty children quarreling over their play, daunted
her for the moment. Even the cabman, drawing up at the entrance
to the street, expressed his opinion that it was a queer sort of
place for a young lady to venture into alone. Stella thought of
Romayne. Her firm persuasion that she was helping him to perform
an act of mercy, which was (to his mind) an act of atonement as
well, roused her courage. She boldly approached the open door of
No. 10, and knocked on it with her parasol.
The tangled gray hair and grimy face of a hideous old woman
showed themselves slowly at the end of the passage, rising from
the strong-smelling obscurity of the kitchen regions. "What do
you want?" said the half-seen witch of the London slums. "Does
Madame Marillac live here?" Stella asked. "Do you mean the
foreigner?" "Yes." "Second door." With those instructions the
upper half of the witch sank and vanished. Stella gathered her
skirts together, and ascended a filthy flight of stairs for the
first time in her life.
Coarse voices, shameless language, gross laughter behind the
closed doors of the first floor hurried her on her way to the
rooms on the higher flight. Here there was a change for the
better--here, at least, there was silence. She knocked at the
door on the landing of the second floor. A gentle voice answered,
in French; "Entrez!"--then quickly substituted the English
equivalent, "Come in!" Stella opened the door.
The wretchedly furnished room was scrupulously clean. Above the
truckle-bed, a cheap little image of the Virgin was fastened to
the wall, with some faded artificial flowers arranged above it in
the form of a wreath. Two women, in dresses of coarse black
stuff, sat at a small round table, working at the same piece of
embroidery. The elder of the two rose when the visitor entered
the room. Her worn and weary face still showed the remains of
beauty in its finely proportioned parts--her dim eyes rested on
Stella with an expression of piteous entreaty. "Have you come for
the work, madam?" she asked, in English, spoken with a strong
foreign accent. "Pray forgive me; I have not finished it yet."
The second of the two workwomen suddenly looked up.
She, too, was wan and frail; but her eyes were bright; her
movements still preserved the elasticity of youth. Her likeness
to the elder woman proclaimed their relationship, even before she
spoke. "Ah! it's my fault!" she burst out passionately in French.
"I was hungry and tired, and I slept hours longer than I ought.
My mother was too kind to wake me and set me to work. I am a
selfish wretch--and my mother is an angel!" She dashed away the
tears gathering in her eyes, and proudly, fiercely, resumed her
Stella hastened to reassure them, the moment she could make
herself heard. "Indeed, I have nothing to do with the work," she
said, speaking in French, so that they might the more readily
understand her. "I came here, Madame Marillac--if you will not be
offended with me, for plainly owning it--to offer you some little
"Charity?" asked the daughter, looking up again sternly from her
"Sympathy," Stella answered gently.
The girl resumed her work. "I beg your pardon," she said; "I
shall learn to submit to my lot in time."
The quiet long-suffering mother placed a chair for Stella. "You
have a kind beautiful face, miss," she said; "and I am sure you
will make allowances for my poor girl. I remember the time when I
was as quick to feel as she is. May I ask how you came to hear of
"I hope you will excuse me," Stella replied. "I am not at liberty
to answer that question."
The mother said nothing. The daughter asked sharply, "Why not?"
Stella addressed her answer to the mother. "I come from a person
who desires to be of service to you as an unknown friend," she
The wan face of the widow suddenly brightened. "Oh!" she
exclaimed, "has my brother heard of the General's death? and has
he forgiven me my marriage at last?"
"No, no!" Stella interposed; "I must not mislead you. The person
whom I represent is no relation of yours."
Even in spite of this positive assertion, the poor woman held
desperately to the hope that had been roused in her. "The name by
which you know me may mislead you," she suggested anxiously. "My
late husband assumed the name in his exile
here. Perhaps, if I told you--"
The daughter stopped her there. "My dear mother, leave this to
me." The widow sighed resignedly, and resumed her work. "Madame
Marillac will do very well as a name," the girl continued,
turning to Stella, "until we know something more of each other. I
suppose you are well acquainted with the person whom you
"Certainly, or I should not be here."
"You know the person's family connections, in that case? and you
can say for certain whether they are French connections or not?"
"I can say for certain," Stella answered, "that they are English
connections. I represent a friend who feels kindly toward Madame
Marillac; nothing more."
"You see, mother, you were mistaken. Bear it as bravely, dear, as
you have borne other trials." Saying this very tenderly, she
addressed herself once more to Stella, without attempting to
conceal the accompanying change in her manner to coldness and
distrust. "One of us must speak plainly," she said. "Our few
friends are nearly as poor as we are, and they are all French. I
tell you positively that we have no English friends. How has this
anonymous benefactor been informed of our poverty? You are a
stranger to us--_you_ cannot have given the information?"
Stella's eyes were now open to the awkward position in which she
had placed herself. She met the difficulty boldly, still upheld
by the conviction that she was serving a purpose cherished by
Romayne. "You had good reasons, no doubt, mademoiselle, when you
advised your mother to conceal her true name," she rejoined. "Be
just enough to believe that your 'anonymous benefactor' has good
reasons for concealment too."
It was well said, and it encouraged Madame Marillac to take
Stella's part. "My dear Blanche, you speak rather harshly to this
good young lady," she said to her daughter. "You have only to
look at her, and to see that she means well."
Blanche took up her needle again, with dogged submission. "If we
_are_ to accept charity, mother, I should like to know the hand
that gives it," she answered. "I will say no more."
"When you are as old as I am, my dear," rejoined Madame Marillac,
"you will not think quite so positively as you think now. I have
learned some hard lessons," she proceeded, turning to Stella,
"and I hope I am the better for them. My life has not been a
"Your life has been a martyrdom!" said the girl, breaking out
again in spite of herself. "Oh, my father! my father!" She pushed
aside the work and hid her face in her hands.
The gentle mother spoke severely for the first time. "Respect
your father's memory!" she said. Blanche trembled and kept
silence. "I have no false pride," Madame Marillac continued. "I
own that we are miserably poor; and I thank you, my dear young
lady, for your kind intentions toward us, without embarrassing
you by any inquiries. We manage to live. While my eyes last, our
work helps to support us. My good eldest daughter has some
employment as a teacher of music, and contributes her little
share to assist our poor household. I don't distrust you--I only
say, let us try a little longer if we cannot help ourselves."
She had barely pronounced the last words, when a startling
interruption led to consequences which the persons present had
not foreseen. A shrill, wailing voice suddenly pierced through
the flimsy partition which divided the front room and the back
room. "Bread!" cried the voice in French; "I'm hungry. Bread!
The daughter started to her feet. "Think of his betraying us at
this moment!" she exclaimed indignantly. The mother rose in
silence, and opened a cupboard. Its position was opposite to the
place in which Stella was sitting. She saw two or three knives
and forks, some cups and saucers and plates, and a folded
table-cloth. Nothing else appeared on the shelves; not even the
stray crust of bread for which the poor woman had been looking.
"Go, my dear, and quiet your brother," she said--and closed the
cupboard door again as patiently as ever.
Stella opened her pocketbook when Blanche had left the room. "For
God's sake, take something!" she cried. " I offer it with the
sincerest respect--I offer it as a loan."
Madame Marillac gently signed to Stella to close the pocketbook
again. "That kind heart of yours must not be distressed about
trifles," she said. "The baker will trust us until we get the
money for our work--and my daughter knows it. If you can tell me
nothing else, my dear, will you tell me your Christian name? It
is painful to me to speak to you quite as a stranger."
Stella at once complied with the request. Madame Marillac smiled
as she repeated the name.
"There is almost another tie between us," she said. "We have your
name in France--it speaks with a familiar sound to me in this
strange place. Dear Miss Stella, when my poor boy startled you by
that cry for food, he recalled to me the saddest of all my
anxieties. When I think of him, I should be tempted if my better
sense did not restrain me-- No! no! put back the pocketbook. I am
incapable of the shameless audacity of borrowing a sum of money
which I could never repay. Let me tell you what my trouble is,
and you will understand that I am in earnest. I had two sons,
Miss Stella. The elder--the most lovable, the most affectionate
of my children--was killed in a duel."
The sudden disclosure drew a cry of sympathy from Stella, which
she was not mistress enough of herself to repress. Now for the
first time she understood the remorse that tortured Romayne, as
she had not understood it when Lady Loring had told her the
terrible story of the duel. Attributing the effect produced on
her to the sensitive nature of a young woman, Madame Marillac
innocently added to Stella's distress by making excuses.
"I am sorry to have frightened you, my dear," she said. "In your
happy country such a dreadful death as my son's is unknown. I am
obliged to mention it, or you might not understand what I have
still to say. Perhaps I had better not go on?"
Stella roused herself. "Yes! yes!" she answered, eagerly. "Pray
"My son in the next room," the widow resumed, "is only fourteen
years old. It has pleased God sorely to afflict a harmless
creature. He has not been in his right mind since--since the
miserable day when he followed the duelists, and saw his
brother's death. Oh! you are turning pale! How thoughtless, how
cruel of me! I ought to have remembered that such horrors as
these have never overshadowed your happy life!"
Struggling to recover her self-control, Stella tried to reassure
Madame Marillac by a gesture. The voice which she had heard in
the next room was--as she now knew--the voice that haunted
Romayne. Not the words that had pleaded hunger and called for
bread--but those other words, "Assassin! assassin! where are
you?"--rang in her ears. She entreated Madame Marillac to break
the unendurable interval of silence. The widow's calm voice had a
soothing influence which she was eager to feel. "Go on!" she
repeated. "Pray go on!"
"I ought not to lay all the blame of my boy's affliction on the
duel," said Madame Marillac. "In childhood, his mind never grew
with his bodily growth. His brother's death may have only hurried
the result which was sooner or later but too sure to come. You
need feel no fear of him. He is never violent--and he is the most
beautiful of my children. Would you like to see him?"
"No! I would rather hear you speak of him. Is he not conscious of
his own misfortune?"
"For weeks together, Stella--I am sure I may call you Stella?--he
is quite calm; you would see no difference outwardly between him
and other boys. Unhappily, it is just at those times that a
spirit of impatience seems to possess him. He watches his
opportunity, and, however careful we may be, he is cunning enough
to escape our vigilance."
"Do you mean that he leaves you and his sisters?"
"Yes, that is what I mean. For nearly two months past he has been
away from us. Yesterday only, his return relieved us from a state
of suspense which I cannot attempt to describe. We don't know
where he has been, or in the company of what persons he has
passed the time of his absense. No persuasion will induce him to
spe ak to us on the subject. This morning we listened while he
was talking to himself."
"Was it part of the boy's madness to repeat the words which still
tormented Romayne?" Stella asked if he ever spoke of the duel.
"Never! He seems to have lost all memory of it. We only heard,
this morning, one or two unconnected words--something about a
woman, and then more that appeared to allude to some person's
death. Last night I was with him when he went to bed, and I found
that he had something to conceal from me. He let me fold all his
clothes, as usual, except his waistcoat--and that he snatched
away from me, and put it under his pillow. We have no hope of
being able to examine the waistcoat without his knowledge. His
sleep is like the sleep of a dog; if you only approach him, he
wakes instantly. Forgive me for troubling you with these trifling
details, only interesting to ourselves. You will at least
understand the constant anxiety that we suffer."
"In your unhappy position," said Stella, "I should try to resign
myself to parting with him--I mean to placing him under medical
The mother's face saddened. "I have inquired about it," she
answered. "He must pass a night in the workhouse before he can be
received as a pauper lunatic in a public asylum. Oh, my dear, I
am afraid there is some pride still left in me! He is my only son
now; his father was a General in the French army; I was brought
up among people of good blood and breeding--I can't take my own
boy to the workhouse!"
Stella understood her. "I feel for you with all my heart," she
said. "Place him privately, dear Madame Marillac, under skillful
and kind control--and let me, do let me, open the pocketbook
The widow steadily refused even to look at the pocketbook.
"Perhaps," Stella persisted, "you don't know of a private asylum
that would satisfy you?"
"My dear, I do know of such a place! The good doctor who attended
my husband in his last illness told me of it. A friend of his
receives a certain number of poor people into his house, and
charges no more than the cost of maintaining them. An
unattainable sum to _me!_ There is the temptation that I spoke
of. The help of a few pounds I might accept, if I fell ill,
because I might afterward pay it back. But a larger sum--never!"
She rose, as if to end the interview. Stella tried every means of
persuasion that she could think of, and tried in vain. The
friendly dispute between them might have been prolonged, if they
had not both been silenced by another interruption from the next
This time, it was not only endurable, it was even welcome. The
poor boy was playing the air of a French vaudeville on a pipe or
flageolet. "Now he is happy!" said the mother. "He is a born
musician; do come and see him!" An idea struck Stella. She
overcame the inveterate reluctance in her to see the boy so
fatally associated with the misery of Romayne's life. As Madame
Marillac led the way to the door of communication between the
rooms, she quickly took from her pocketbook the bank-notes with
which she had provided herself, and folded them so that they
could be easily concealed in her hand.
She followed the widow into the little room.
The boy was sitting on his bed. He laid down his flageolet and
bowed to Stella. His long silky hair flowed to his shoulders. But
one betrayal of a deranged mind presented itself in his delicate
face--his large soft eyes had the glassy, vacant look which it is
impossible to mistake. "Do you like music, mademoiselle?" he
asked, gently. Stella asked him to play his little vaudeville air
again. He proudly complied with the request. His sister seemed to
resent the presence of a stranger. "The work is at a standstill,"
she said--and passed into the front room. Her mother followed her
as far as the door, to give her some necessary directions. Stella
seized her opportunity. She put the bank-notes into the pocket of
the boy's jacket, and whispered to him: "Give them to your mother
when I have gone away." Under those circumstances, she felt sure
that Madame Marillac would yield to the temptation. She could
resist much--but she could not resist her son.
The boy nodded, to show that he understood her. The moment after.
he laid down his flageolet with an expression of surprise.
"You are trembling!" he said. "Are you frightened?"
She _was_ frightened. The mere sense of touching him had made her
shudder. Did she feel a vague presentiment of some evil to come
from that momentary association with him?
Madame Marillac, turning away again from her daughter, noticed
Stella's agitation. "Surely, my poor boy doesn't alarm you?" she
said. Before Stella could answer, some one outside knocked at the
door. Lady Loring's servant appeared, charged with a
carefully-worded message. "If you please, miss, a friend is
waiting for you below." Any excuse for departure was welcome to
Stella at that moment. She promised to call at the house again in
a few days. Madame Marillac kissed her on the forehead as she
took leave. Her nerves were still shaken by that momentary
contact with the boy. Descending the stairs, she trembled so that
she was obliged to hold by the servant's arm. She was not
naturally timid. What did it mean?
Lady Loring's carriage was waiting at the entrance of the street,
with all the children in the neighborhood assembled to admire it.
She impulsively forestalled the servant in opening the carriage
door. "Come in!" she cried. "Oh, Stella, you don't know how you
have frightened me! Good heavens, you look frightened yourself!
From what wretches have I rescued you? Take my smelling bottle,
and tell me all about it."
The fresh air, and the reassuring presence of her old friend,
revived Stella. She was able to describe her interview with the
General's family, and to answer the inevitable inquiries which
the narrative called forth. Lady Loring's last question was the
most important of the series: "What are you going to do about
"I am going to write to him the moment we get home."
The answer seemed to alarm Lady Loring. "You won't betray me?"
"What do you mean?"
"You won't let Romayne discover that I have told you about the
"Certainly not. You shall see my letter before I send it to be
Tranquilized so far, Lady Loring bethought herself next of Major
Hynd. "Can we tell him what you have done?" her ladyship asked.
"Of course we can tell him," Stella replied. "I shall conceal
nothing from Lord Loring, and I shall beg your good husband to
write to the Major. He need only say that I have made the
necessary inquiries, after being informed of the circumstances by
you, and that I have communicated the favorable result to Mr.
"It's easy enough to write the letter, my dear. But it's not so
easy to say what Major Hynd may think of you."
"Does it matter to me what Major Hynd thinks?"
Lady Loring looked at Stella with a malicious smile. "Are you
equally indifferent," she said, "to what Romayne's opinion of
your conduct may be?"
Stella's color rose. "Try to be serious, Adelaide, when you speak
to me of Romayne," she answered, gravely. "His good opinion of me
is the breath of my life."
An hour later, the important letter to Romayne was written.
Stella scrupulously informed him of all that had happened--with
two necessary omissions. In the first place, nothing was said of
the widow's reference to her son's death, and of the effect
produced by it on his younger brother. The boy was simply
described as being of weak intellect, and as requiring to be kept
under competent control. In the second place, Romayne was left to
infer that ordinary motives of benevolence were the only motives,
on his part, known to Miss Eyrecourt.
The letter ended in these lines:
"If I have taken an undue liberty in venturing, unasked, to
appear as your representative, I can only plead that I meant
well. It seemed to me to be hard on these poor people, and not
just to you in your absence, to interpose any needless delays in
carrying out those kind intentions of yours, which had no doubt
been properly considered beforehand. In forming your opinion of
my conduct, pray remember that I have been careful not to com
promise you in any way. You are only known to Madame Marillac as
a compassionate person who offers to help her, and who wishes to
give that help anonymously. If, notwithstanding this, you
disapprove of what I have done, I must not conceal that it will
grieve and humiliate me--I have been so eager to be of use to
you, when others appeared to hesitate. I must find my consolation
in remembering that I have become acquainted with one of the
sweetest and noblest of women, and that I have helped to preserve
her afflicted son from dangers in the future which I cannot
presume to estimate. You will complete what I have only begun. Be
forbearing and kind to me if I have innocently offended in this
matter--and I shall gratefully remember the day when I took it on
myself to be Mr. Romayne's almoner."
Lady Loring read these concluding sentences twice over.
"I think the end of your letter will have its effect on him," she
"If it brings me a kind letter in reply," Stella answered, "it
will have all the effect I hope for."
"If it does anything," Lady Loring rejoined, "it will do more
"What more can it do?"
"My dear, it can bring Romayne back to you. "
Those hopeful words seemed rather to startle Stella than to
"Bring him back to me?" she repeated "Oh, Adelaide, I wish I
could think as you do!"
"Send the letter to the post," said Lady Loring, "and we shall
FATHER BENWELL'S CORRESPONDENCE.
_Arthur Penrose to Father Benwell._
REVEREND AND DEAR FATHER--When I last had the honor of seeing
you, I received your instructions to report, by letter, the
result of my conversations on religion with Mr. Romayne.
As events have turned out, it is needless to occupy your time by
dwelling at any length on this subject, in writing. Mr. Romayne
has been strongly impressed by the excellent books which I have
introduced to his notice. He raises certain objections, which I
have done my best to meet; and he promises to consider my
arguments with his closest attention, in the time to come. I am
happier in the hope of restoring his mental tranquillity--in
other and worthier words, of effecting his conversion--than I can
tell you in any words of mine. I respect and admire, I may almost
say I love, Mr. Romayne.
The details which are wanting in this brief report of progress I
shall have the privilege of personally relating to you. Mr.
Romayne no longer desires to conceal himself from his friends. He
received a letter this morning which has changed all his plans,
and has decided him on immediately returning to London. I am not
acquainted with the contents of the letter, or with the name of
the writer; but I am pleased, for Mr. Romayne's sake, to see that
the reading of it has made him happy.
By to-morrow evening I hope to present my respects to you.
_Mr. Bitrake to Father Benwell._
SIR--The inquiries which I have instituted at your request have
proved successful in one respect.
I am in a position to tell you that events in Mr. Winterfield's
life have unquestionably connected him with the young lady named
Miss Stella Eyrecourt.
The attendant circumstances, however, are not so easy to
discover. Judging by the careful report of the person whom I
employ, there must have been serious reasons, in this case, for
keeping facts secret and witnesses out of the way. I mention
this, not to discourage you, but to prepare you for delays that
may occur on our way to discovery.
Be pleased to preserve your confidence in me, and to give me
time--and I answer for the result.
BOOK THE SECOND.
THE SANDWICH DANCE.
A FINE spring, after a winter of unusual severity, promised well
for the prospects of the London season.
Among the social entertainments of the time, general curiosity
was excited, in the little sphere which absurdly describes itself
under the big name of Society, by the announcement of a party to
be given by Lady Loring, bearing the quaint title of a Sandwich
Dance. The invitations were issued at an unusually early hour;
and it was understood that nothing so solid and so commonplace as
the customary supper was to be offered to the guests. In a word,
Lady Loring's ball was designed as a bold protest against late
hours and heavy midnight meals. The younger people were all in
favor of the proposed reform. Their elders declined to give an
In the small inner circle of Lady Loring's most intimate friends,
it was whispered that an innovation in the matter of refreshments
was contemplated, which would put the tolerant principles of the
guests to a severe test. Miss Notman, the housekeeper, politely
threatening retirement on a small annuity, since the memorable
affair of the oyster-omelet, decided on carrying out her design
when she heard that there was to be no supper. "My attachment to
the family can bear a great deal," she said. "But when Lady
Loring deliberately gives a ball, without a supper, I must hide
my head somewhere--and it had better be out of the house!" Taking
Miss Notman as representative of a class, the reception of the
coming experiment looked, to say the least of it, doubtful.
On the appointed evening, the guests made one agreeable discovery
when they entered the reception rooms. They were left perfectly
free to amuse themselves as they liked.
The drawing-rooms were given up to dancing; the picture gallery
was devoted to chamber music. Chess-players and card-players
found remote and quiet rooms especially prepared for them. People
who cared for nothing but talking were accommodated to perfection
in a sphere of their own. And lovers (in earnest or not in
earnest) discovered, in a dimly-lighted conservatory with many
recesses, that ideal of discreet retirement which combines
solitude and society under one roof.
But the ordering of the refreshments failed, as had been
foreseen, to share in the approval conferred on the arrangement
of the rooms. The first impression was unfavorable. Lady Loring,
however, knew enough of human nature to leave results to two
potent allies--experience and time.
Excepting the conservatory, the astonished guests could go
nowhere without discovering tables prettily decorated with
flowers, and bearing hundreds of little pure white china plates,
loaded with nothing but sandwiches. All varieties of opinion were
consulted. People of ordinary tastes, who liked to know what they
were eating, could choose conventional beef or ham, encased in
thin slices of bread of a delicate flavor quite new to them.
Other persons, less easily pleased, were tempted by sandwiches of
_pate de fois gras_ and by exquisite combinations of chicken and
truffles, reduced to a creamy pulp which clung to the bread like
butter. Foreigners, making experiments, and not averse to garlic,
discovered the finest sausages of Germany and Italy transformed
into English sandwiches. Anchovies and sardines appealed, in the
same unexpected way, to men who desired to create an artificial
thirst--after having first ascertained that the champagne was
something to be fondly remembered and regretted, at other
parties, to the end of the season. The hospitable profusion of
the refreshments was all-pervading and inexhaustible. Wherever
the guests might be, or however they were amusing themselves,
there were the pretty little white plates perpetually tempting
them. People eat as they had never eat before, and even the
inveterate English prejudice against anything new was conquered
at last. Universal opinion declared the Sandwich Dance to be an
admirable idea, perfectly carried out.
Many of the guests paid their hostess the compliment of arriving
at the early hour mentioned in the invitations. One of them was
Major Hynd. Lady Loring took her first opportunity of speaking to
"I hear you were a little angry," she said, "when you were told
that Miss Eyrecourt had taken your inquiries out of your hands."
"I thought it rather a bold proceeding, Lady Loring," the Major
replied. "But as the General's widow turned out to be a lady, in
the best sense of the word, Miss Eyrecourt's romantic adventure
has justified itself. I wouldn't recommend her to run the same
risk a second time."
"I suppos e you know what Romayne thinks of it?"
"Not yet. I have been too busy to call on him since I have been
in town. Pardon me, Lady Loring, who is that beautiful creature
in the pale yellow dress? Surely I have seen her somewhere
"That beautiful creature, Major, is the bold young lady of whose
conduct you don't approve."
"I retract everything I said!" cried the Major, quite
shamelessly. "Such a woman as that may do anything. She is
looking this way. Pray introduce me."
The Major was introduced, and Lady Loring returned to her guests.
"I think we have met before, Major Hynd," said Stella.
Her voice supplied the missing link in the Major's memory of
events. Remembering how she had looked at Romayne on the deck of
the steamboat, he began dimly to understand Miss Eyrecourt's
otherwise incomprehensible anxiety to be of use to the General's
family. "I remember perfectly," he answered. "It was on the
passage from Boulogne to Folkestone--and my friend was with me.
You and he have no doubt met since that time?" He put the
question as a mere formality. The unexpressed thought in him was,
"Another of them in love with Romayne! and nothing, as usual,
likely to come of it."
"I hope you have forgiven me for going to Camp's Hill in your
place," said Stella.
"I ought to be grateful to you," the Major rejoined. "No time has
been lost in relieving these poor people--and your powers of
persuasion have succeeded, where mine might have failed. Has
Romayne been to see them himself since his return to London?"
"No. He desires to remain unknown; and he is kindly content, for
the present, to be represented by me."
"For the present." Major Hynd repeated.
A faint flush passed over her delicate complexion. "I have
succeeded," she resumed, "in inducing Madame Marillac to accept
the help offered through me to her son. The poor creature is
safe, under kind superintendence, in a private asylum. So far, I
can do no more."
"Will the mother accept nothing?"
"Nothing, either for herself or her daughter, so long as they can
work. I cannot tell you how patiently and beautifully she speaks
of her hard lot. But her health may give way--and it is possible,
before long, that I may leave London." She paused; the flush
deepened on her face. "The failure of the mother's health may
happen in my absence," she continued; "and Mr. Romayne will ask
you to look after the family, from time to time, while I am
"I will do it with pleasure, Miss Eyrecourt. Is Romayne likely to
be here to-night?"
She smiled brightly, and looked away. The Major's curiosity was
excited--he looked in the same direction. There was Romayne,
entering the room, to answer for himself.
What was the attraction which drew the unsocial student to an
evening party? Major Hynd's eyes were on the watch. When Romayne
and Stella shook hands, the attraction stood self-revealed to
him, in Miss Eyrecourt. Recalling the momentary confusion which
she had betrayed, when she spoke of possibly leaving London, and
of Romayne's plans for supplying her place as his almoner, the
Major, with military impatience of delays, jumped to a
conclusion. "I was wrong," he thought; "my impenetrable friend is
touched in the right place at last. When the splendid creature in
yellow leaves London, the name on her luggage will be Mrs.
"You are looking quite another man, Romayne!" he said
mischievously, "since we met last."
Stella gently moved away, leaving them to talk freely. Romayne
took no advantage of the circumstance to admit his old friend to
his confidence. Whatever relations might really exist between
Miss Eyrecourt and himself were evidently kept secret thus far.
"My health has been a little better lately," was the only reply
The Major dropped his voice to a whisper.
"Have you not had any return--?" he began.
Romayne stopped him there. "I don't want my infirmities made
public," he whispered back irritably. "Look at the people all
round us! When I tell you I have been better lately, _you_ ought
to know what it means."
"Any discoverable reason for the improvement?" persisted the
Major, still bent on getting evidence in support of his own
"None!" Romayne answered sharply.
But Major Hynd was not to be discouraged by sharp replies. "Miss
Eyrecourt and I have been recalling our first meeting on board
the steamboat," he went on. "Do you remember how indifferent you
were to that beautiful person when I asked you if you knew her?
I'm glad to see that you show better taste to-night. I wish I
knew her well enough to shake hands as you did."
"Hynd! When a young man talks nonsense, his youth is his excuse.
At your time of life, you have passed the excusable age--even in
the estimation of your friends."
With those words Romayne turned away. The incorrigible Major
instantly met the reproof inflicted on him with a smart answer.
"Remember," he said, "that I was the first of your friends to
wish you happiness!" He, too, turned away--in the direction of
the champagne and the sandwiches.
Meanwhile, Stella had discovered Penrose, lost in the brilliant
assemblage of guests, standing alone in a corner. It was enough
for her that Romayne's secretary was also Romayne's friend.
Passing by titled and celebrated personages, all anxious to speak
to her, she joined the shy, nervous, sad-looking little man, and
did all she could to set him at his ease.
"I am afraid, Mr. Penrose, this is not a very attractive scene to
you." Having said those kind words, she paused. Penrose was
looking at her confusedly, but with an expression of interest
which was new to her experience of him. "Has Romayne told him?"
she wondered inwardly.
"It is a very beautiful scene, Miss Eyrecourt," he said, in his
low quiet tones.
"Did you come here with Mr. Romayne?" she asked.
"Yes. It was by his advice that I accepted the invitation with
which Lady Loring has honored me. I am sadly out of place in such
an assembly as this--but I would make far greater sacrifices to
please Mr. Romayne."
She smiled kindly. Attachment so artlessly devoted to the man she
loved, pleased and touched her. In her anxiety to discover a
subject which might interest him, she overcame her antipathy to
the spiritual director of the household. "Is Father Benwell
coming to us to-night?" she inquired.
"He will certainly be here, Miss Eyrecourt, if he can get back to
London in time."
"Has he been long away?"
"Nearly a week."
Not knowing what else to say, she still paid Penrose the
compliment of feigning an interest in Father Benwell.
"Has he a long journey to make in returning to London?" she
"Yes--all the way from Devonshire."
"From South Devonshire?"
"No. North Devonshire--Clovelly."
The smile suddenly left her face. She put another
question--without quite concealing the effort that it cost her,
or the anxiety with which she waited for the reply.
"I know something of the neighborhood of Clovelly," she said. "I
wonder whether Father Benwell is visiting any friends of mine
"I am not able to say, Miss Eyrecourt. The reverend Father's
letters are forwarded to the hotel--I know no more than that."
With a gentle inclination of her head, she turned toward other
guests--looked back--and with a last little courteous attention
offered to him, said, "If you like music, Mr. Penrose, I advise
you to go to the picture gallery. They are going to play a
Quartet by Mozart."
Penrose thanked her, noticing that her voice and manner had
become strangely subdued. She made her way back to the room in
which the hostess received her guests. Lady Loring was, for the
moment, alone, resting on a sofa. Stella stooped over her, and
spoke in cautiously lowered tones.
"If Father Benwell comes here to-night," she said, "try to find
out what he has been doing at Clovelly."
"Clovelly?" Lady Loring repeated. "Is that the village near
THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE.
As Stella answered Lady Loring, she was smartly tapped on the
shoulder by an eager guest with a fan.
The guest was a very little woman, with twinkling eyes and a
perpetual smile. Nature, corrected by powder and paint, was liber
ally displayed in her arms, her bosom, and the upper part of her
back. Such clothes as she wore, defective perhaps in quantity,
were in quality absolutely perfect. More adorable color, shape,
and workmanship never appeared, even in a milliner's
picture-book. Her light hair was dressed with a fringe and
ringlets, on the pattern which the portraits of the time of
Charles the Second have made familiar to us. There was nothing
exactly young or exactly old about her except her voice, which
betrayed a faint hoarseness, attributable possibly to exhaustion
produced by untold years of incessant talking. It might be added
that she was as active as a squirrel and as playful as a kitten.
But the lady must be treated with a certain forbearance of tone,
for this good reason--she was Stella's mother.
Stella turned quickly at the tap of the fan. "Mamma!" she
exclaimed, "how you startle me!"
"My dear child," said Mrs. Eyrecourt, "you are constitutionally
indolent, and you want startling. Go into the next room directly.
Mr. Romayne is looking for you."
Stella drew back a step, and eyed her mother in blank surprise.
"Is it possible that you know him?" she asked.
"Mr. Romayne doesn't go into Society, or we should have met long
since," Mrs. Eyrecourt replied. "He is a striking person--and I
noticed him when he shook hands with you. That was quite enough
for me. I have just introduced myself to him as your mother. He
was a little stately and stiff, but most charming when he knew
who I was. I volunteered to find you. He was quite astonished. I
think he took me for your elder sister. Not the least like each
other--are we, Lady Loring? She takes after her poor dear father.
_He_ was constitutionally indolent. My sweet child, rouse
yourself. You have drawn a prize in the great lottery at last. If
ever a man was in love, Mr. Romayne is that man. I am a
physiognomist, Lady Loring, and I see the passions in the face.
Oh, Stella, what a property! Vange Abbey. I once drove that way
when I was visiting in the neighborhood. Superb! And another
fortune (twelve thousand a year and a villa at Highgate) since
the death of his aunt. And my daughter may be mistress of this if
she only plays her cards properly. What a compensation after all
that we suffered through that monster, Winterfield!"
"Mamma! Pray don't-- !"
"Stella, I will _not_ be interrupted, when I am speaking to you
for your own good. I don't know a more provoking person, Lady
Loring, than my daughter--on certain occasions. And yet I love
her. I would go through fire and water for my beautiful child.
Only last week I was at a wedding, and I thought of Stella. The
church was crammed to the doors! A hundred at the wedding
breakfast! The bride's lace--there; no language can describe it.
Ten bridesmaids, in blue and silver. Reminded me of the ten
virgins. Only the proportion of foolish ones, this time, was
certainly more than five. However, they looked well. The
Archbishop proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom; so
sweetly pathetic. Some of us cried. I thought of my daughter. Oh,
if I could live to see Stella the central attraction, so to
speak, of such a wedding as that. Only I would have twelve
bridesmaids at least, and beat the blue and silver with green and
gold. Trying to the complexion, you will say. But there are
artificial improvements. At least, I am told so. What a house
this would be--a broad hint, isn't it, dear Lady Loring?--what a
house for a wedding, with the drawing-room to assemble in and the
picture gallery for the breakfast. I know the Archbishop. My
darling, he shall marry you. Why _don't_ you go into the next
room? Ah, that constitutional indolence. If you only had my
energy, as I used to say to your poor father. _Will_ you go? Yes,
dear Lady Loring, I should like a glass of champagne, and another
of those delicious chicken sandwiches. If you don't go, Stella, I
shall forget every consideration of propriety, and, big as you
are, I shall push you out."
Stella yielded to necessity. "Keep her quiet, if you can," she
whispered to Lady Loring, in the moment of silence that followed.
Even Mrs. Eyrecourt was not able to talk while she was drinking
In the next room Stella found Romayne. He looked careworn and
irritable, but brightened directly when she approached him.
"My mother has been speaking to you," she said. "I am afraid--"
He stopped her there. "She _is_ your mother," he interposed,
kindly. "Don't think that I am ungrateful enough to forget that."
She took his arm, and looked at him with all her heart in her
eyes. "Come into a quieter room," she whispered.
Romayne led her away. Neither of them noticed Penrose as they
left the room.
He had not moved since Stella had spoken to him. There he
remained in his corner, absorbed in thought--and not in happy
thought, as his face would have plainly betrayed to any one who
had cared to look at him. His eyes sadly followed the retiring
figures of Stella and Romayne. The color rose on his haggard
cheeks. Like most men who are accustomed to live alone, he had
the habit, when he was strongly excited, of speaking to himself.
"No," he said, as the unacknowledged lovers disappeared through
the door, "it is an insult to ask me to do it!" He turned the
other way, escaped Lady Loring's notice in the reception-room,
and left the house.
Romayne and Stella passed through the card-room and the
chess-room, turned into a corridor, and entered the conservatory.
For the first time the place was a solitude. The air of a
newly-invented dance, faintly audible through the open windows of
the ballroom above, had proved an irresistible temptation. Those
who knew the dance were eager to exhibit themselves. Those who
had only heard of it were equally anxious to look on and learn.
Even toward the latter end of the nineteenth century the youths
and maidens of Society can still be in earnest--when the object
in view is a new dance.
What would Major Hynd have said if he had seen Romayne turn into
one of the recesses of the conservatory, in which there was a
seat which just held two? But the Major had forgotten his years
and his family, and he too was one of the spectators in the
"I wonder," said Stella, "whether you know how I feel those kind
words of yours when you spoke of my mother. Shall I tell you?"
She put her arm round his neck and kissed him. He was a man new
to love, in the nobler sense of the word. The exquisite softness
in the touch of her lips, the delicious fragrance of her breath,
intoxicated him. Again and again he returned the kiss. She drew
back; she recovered her self-possession with a suddenness and a
certainty incomprehensible to a man. From the depths of
tenderness she passed to the shallows of frivolity. In her own
defense she was almost as superficial as her mother, in less than
"What would Mr. Penrose say if he saw you?" she whispered.
"Why do you speak of Penrose? Have you seen him to-night?"
"Yes--looking sadly out of his element, poor man. I did my best
to set him at his ease--because I know _you_ like him."
"No, not again! I am speaking seriously now. Mr. Penrose looked
at me with a strange kind of interest--I can't describe it. Have
you taken him into our confidence?"
"He is so devoted--he has such a true interest in me," said
Romayne--"I really felt ashamed to treat him like a stranger. On
our journey to London I did own that it was your charming letter
which had decided me on returning. I did say, 'I must tell her
myself how well she has understood me, and how deeply I feel her
kindness.' Penrose took my hand, in his gentle, considerate way.
'I understand you, too,' he said--and that was all that passed
"Nothing more, since that time?"
"Not a word of what we said to each other when we were alone last
week in the picture gallery?"
"Not a word. I am self-tormentor enough to distrust myself, even
now. God knows I have concealed nothing from you; and yet-- Am I
not selfishly thinking of my own happiness, Stella, when I ought
to be thinking only of you? You know, my angel, with what a life
you must associate yourself if you marry me. Are you really sure
tha t you have love enough and courage enough to be my wife?"
She rested her head caressingly on his shoulder, and looked up at
him with her charming smile.
"How many times must I say it," she asked, "before you will
believe me? Once more--I have love enough and courage enough to
be your wife; and I knew it, Lewis, the first time I saw you!
Will _that_ confession satisfy your scruples? And will you
promise never again to doubt yourself or me?"
Romayne promised, and sealed the promise--unresisted this
time--with a kiss. "When are we to be married?" he whispered.
She lifted her head from his shoulder with a sigh. "If I am to
answer you honestly," she replied, "I must speak of my mother,
before I speak of myself."
Romayne submitted to the duties of his new position, as well as
he understood them. "Do you mean that you have told your mother
of our engagement?" he said. "In that case, is it my duty or
yours--I am very ignorant in these matters--to consult her
wishes? My own idea is, that I ought to ask her if she approves
of me as her son-in-law, and that you might then speak to her of
Stella thought of Romayne's tastes, all in favor of modest
retirement, and of her mother's tastes, all in favor of
ostentation and display. She frankly owned the result produced in
her own mind. "I am afraid to consult my mother about our
marriage, " she said.
Romayne looked astonished. "Do you think Mrs. Eyrecourt will
disapprove of it?" he asked.
Stella was equally astonished on her side. "Disapprove of it?"
she repeated. "I know for certain that my mother will be
"Then where is the difficulty?"
There was but one way of definitely answering that question.
Stella boldly described her mother's idea of a wedding--including
the Archbishop, the twelve bridesmaids in green and gold, and the
hundred guests at breakfast in Lord Loring's picture gallery.
Romayne's consternation literally deprived him, for the moment,
of the power of speech. To say that he looked at Stella, as a
prisoner in "the condemned cell" might have looked at the
sheriff, announcing the morning of his execution, would be to do
injustice to the prisoner. He receives _his_ shock without
flinching; and, in proof of his composure, celebrates his wedding
with the gallows by a breakfast which he will not live to digest.
"If you think as your mother does," Romayne began, as soon as he
had recovered his self-possession, "no opinion of mine shall
stand in the way--" He could get no further. His vivid
imagination saw the Archbishop and the bridesmaids, heard the
hundred guests and their dreadful speeches: his voice faltered,
in spite of himself.
Stella eagerly relieved him. "My darling, I don't think as my
mother does," she interposed, tenderly. "I am sorry to say we
have very few sympathies in common. Marriages, as I think, ought
to be celebrated as privately as possible--the near and dear
relations present, and no one else. If there must be rejoicings
and banquets, and hundreds of invitations, let them come when the
wedded pair are at home after the honeymoon, beginning life in
earnest. These are odd ideas for a woman to have--but they _are_
my ideas, for all that."
Romayne's face brightened. "How few women possess your fine sense
and your delicacy of feeling!" he exclaimed "Surely your mother
must give way, when she hears we are both of one mind about our
Stella knew her mother too well to share the opinion thus
expressed. Mrs. Eyrecourt's capacity for holding to her own
little ideas, and for persisting (where her social interests were
concerned) in trying to insinuate those ideas into the minds of
other persons, was a capacity which no resistance, short of
absolute brutality, could overcome. She was perfectly capable of
worrying Romayne (as well as her daughter) to the utmost limits
of human endurance, in the firm conviction that she was bound to
convert all heretics, of their way of thinking, to the orthodox
faith in the matter of weddings. Putting this view of the case
with all possible delicacy, in speaking of her mother, Stella
expressed herself plainly enough, nevertheless, to enlighten
He made another suggestion. "Can we marry privately," he said,
"and tell Mrs. Eyrecourt of it afterward?"
This essentially masculine solution of the difficulty was at once
rejected. Stella was too good a daughter to suffer her mother to
be treated with even the appearance of disrespect. "Oh," she
said, "think how mortified and distressed my mother would be! She
_must_ be present at my marriage."
An idea of a compromise occurred to Romayne. "What do you say,"
he proposed, "to arranging for the marriage privately--and then
telling Mrs. Eyrecourt only a day or two beforehand, when it
would be too late to send out invitations? If your mother would
"She would be angry," Stella interposed.
"Very well--lay all the blame on me. Besides, there might be two
other persons present, whom I am sure Mrs. Eyrecourt is always
glad to meet. You don't object to Lord and Lady Loring?"
"Object? They are my dearest friends, as well as yours!"
"Any one else, Stella?"
"Any one, Lewis, whom _you_ like.
"Then I say--no one else. My own love, when may it be? My lawyers
can get the settlements ready in a fortnight, or less. Will you
say in a fortnight?"
His arm was round her waist; his lips were touching her lovely
neck. She was not a woman to take refuge in the commonplace
coquetries of the sex. "Yes," she said, softly, "if you wish it."
She rose and withdrew herself from him. "For my sake, we must not
be here together any longer, Lewis." As she spoke, the music in
the ballroom ceased. Stella ran out of the conservatory.
The first person she encountered, on returning to the
reception-room, was Father Benwell.
THE END OF THE BALL.
THE priest's long journey did not appear to have fatigued him. He
was as cheerful and as polite as ever--and so paternally
attentive to Stella that it was quite impossible for her to pass
him with a formal bow.
"I have come all the way from Devonshire," he said. "The train
has been behind time as usual, and I am one of the late arrivals
in consequence. I miss some familiar faces at this delightful
party. Mr. Romayne, for instance. Perhaps he is not one of the
"Has he gone away?"
"Not that I know of."
The tone of her replies warned Father Benwell to let Romayne be.
He tried another name.
"And Arthur Penrose?" he inquired next.
"I think Mr. Penrose has left us."
As she answered she looked toward Lady Loring. The hostess was
the center of a circle of ladles and gentlemen. Before she was at
liberty, Father Benwell might take his departure. Stella resolved
to make the attempt for herself which she had asked Lady Loring
to make for her. It was better to try, and to be defeated, than
not to try at all.
"I asked Mr. Penrose what part of Devonshire you were visiting,"
she resumed, assuming her more gracious manner. "I know something
myself of the north coast, especially the neighborhood of
Not the faintest change passed over the priest's face; his
fatherly smile had never been in a better state of preservation.
"Isn't it a charming place?" he said with enthusiasm. "Clovelly
is the most remarkable and most beautiful village in England. I
have so enjoyed my little holiday--excursions by sea and
excursions by land- you know I feel quite young again?"
He lifted his eyebrows playfully, and rubbed his plump hands one
over the other with such an intolerably innocent air of enjoyment
that Stella positively hated him. She felt her capacity for
self-restraint failing her. Under the influence of strong emotion
her thoughts lost their customary discipline. In attempting to
fathom Father Benwell, she was conscious of having undertaken a
task which required more pliable moral qualities than she
possessed. To her own unutterable annoyance, she was at a loss
what to say next.
At that critical moment her mother appeared--eager for news of
the conquest of Romayne.
"My dear child, how pale you look!" said Mrs. Eyrecourt. "Come
with me directly--you must have a glass of wine."
This dexterous devic e for entrapping Stella into a private
conversation failed. "Not now, mamma, thank you," she said.
Father Benwell, on the point of discreetly withdrawing, stopped,
and looked at Mrs. Eyrecourt with an appearance of respectful
interest. As things were, it might not have been worth his while
to take the trouble of discovering her. But when she actually
placed herself in his way, the chance of turning Mrs. Eyrecourt
to useful account was not a chance to be neglected. "Your
mother?" he said to Stella. "I should feel honored if you will
Having (not very willingly) performed the ceremony of
presentation, Stella drew back a little. She had no desire to
take any part in the conversation that might follow--but she had
her own reasons for waiting near enough to hear it.
In the meanwhile, Mrs. Eyrecourt turned on her inexhaustible flow
of small-talk with her customary facility. No distinction of
persons troubled her; no convictions of any sort stood in her
way. She was equally ready (provided she met him in good society)
to make herself agreeable to a Puritan or a Papist.
"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Father Benwell. Surely I
met you at that delightful evening at the Duke's? I mean when we
welcomed the Cardinal back from Rome. Dear old man--if one may
speak so familiarly of a Prince of the Church. How charmingly he
bears his new honors. Such patriarchal simplicity, as every one
remarked. Have you seen him lately?"
The idea of the Order to which he belonged feeling any special
interest in a Cardinal (except when they made him of some use to
them) privately amused Father Benwell. "How wise the Church was,"
he thought, "in inventing a spiritual aristocracy. Even this fool
of a woman is impressed by it." His spoken reply was true to his
assumed character as one of the inferior clergy. "Poor priests
like me, madam, see but little of Princes of the Church in the
houses of Dukes." Saying this with the most becoming humility, he
turned the talk in a more productive direction, before Mrs.
Eyrecourt could proceed with her recollections of "the evening at
"Your charming daughter and I have been talking about Clovelly,"
he continued. "I have just been spending a little holiday in that
delightful place. It was a surprise to me, Mrs. Eyrecourt, to see
so many really beautiful country seats in the neighborhood. I was
particularly struck--you know it, of course?--by Beaupark House."
Mrs. Eyrecourt's little twinging eyes suddenly became still and
steady. It was only for a moment. But that trifling change boded
ill for the purpose which the priest had in view. Even the wits
of a fool can be quickened by contact with the world. For many
years Mrs. Eyrecourt had held her place in society, acting under
an intensely selfish sense of her own interests, fortified by
those cunning instincts which grow best in a barren intellect.
Perfectly unworthy of being trusted with secrets which only
concerned other people, this frivolous creature could be the
unassailable guardian of secrets which concerned herself. The
instant the priest referred indirectly to Winterfield, by
speaking of Beaupark: House, her instincts warned her, as if in
words:--Be careful for Stella's sake!
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Eyrecourt. "I know Beaupark House; but--may
I make a confession?" she added, with her sweetest smile.
Father Benwell caught her tone, with his customary tact. "A
confession at a ball is a novelty, even in my experience," he
answered with _his_ sweetest smile.
"How good of you to encourage me!" proceeded Mrs. Eyrecourt. "No,
thank you, I don't want to sit down. My confession won't take
long--and I really must give that poor pale daughter of mine a
glass of wine. A student of human nature like you--they say all
priests are students of human nature; accustomed of course to be
consulted in difficulties, and to hear _real_ confessions--must
know that we poor women are sadly subject to whims and caprices.
We can't resist them as men do; and the dear good men generally
make allowances for us. Well, do you know that place of Mr.
Winterfield's is one of my caprices? Oh, dear, I speak
carelessly; I ought to have said the place represents one of my
caprices. In short. Father Benwell, Beaupark House is perfectly
odious to me, and I think Clovelly the most overrated place in
the world. I haven't the least reason to give, but so it is.
Excessively foolish of me. It's like hysterics, I can't help it;
I'm sure you will forgive me. There isn't a place on the
habitable globe that I am not ready to feel interested in, except
detestable Devonshire. I am so sorry you went there. The next
time you have a holiday, take my advice. Try the Continent."
"I should like it of all things," said Father Benwell. "Only I
don't speak French. Allow me to get Miss Eyrecourt a glass of
He spoke with the most perfect temper and tranquillity. Having
paid his little attention to Stella, and having relieved her of
the empty glass, he took his leave, with a parting request
thoroughly characteristic of the man.
"Are you staying in town, Mrs. Eyrecourt?" he asked.
"Oh, of course, at the height of the season!"
"May I have the honor of calling on you--and talking a little
more about the Continent?"
If he had said it in so many words he could hardly have informed
Mrs. Eyrecourt more plainly that he thoroughly understood her,
and that he meant to try again. Strong in the worldly training of
half a lifetime, she at once informed him of her address, with
the complimentary phrases proper to the occasion. "Five o'clock
tea on Wednesdays, Father Benwell. Don't forget!"
The moment he was gone, she drew her daughter into a quiet
corner. "Don't be frightened, Stella. That sly old person has
some interest in trying to find out about Winterfield. Do you
"Indeed I don't, mamma. I hate him!"
"Oh, hush ! hush! Hate him as much as you like; but always be
civil to him. Tell me--have you been in the conservatory with
"All going on well?"
"My sweet child! Dear, dear me, the wine has done you no good;
you're as pale as ever. Is it that priest? Oh, pooh, pooh, leave
Father Benwell to me."
IN THE SMALL HOURS.
WHEN Stella left the conservatory, the attraction of the ball for
Romayne was at an end. He went back to his rooms at the hotel.
Penrose was waiting to speak to him. Romayne noticed signs of
suppressed agitation in his secretary's face. "Has anything
happened?" he inquired.
"Nothing of any importance," Penrose answered, in sad subdued
tones. "I only wanted to ask you for leave of absence."
"Certainly. Is it for a long time?"
Penrose hesitated. "You have a new life opening before you," he
said. "If your experience of that life is--as I hope and pray it
may be--a happy one, you will need me no longer; we may not meet
again." His voice began to tremble; he could say no more.
"Not meet again?" Romayne repeated. "My dear Penrose, if _you_
forget how many happy days I owe to your companionship, _my_
memory is to be trusted. Do you really know what my new life is
to be? Shall I tell you what I have said to Stella to-night?"
Penrose lifted his hand with a gesture of entreaty.
"Not a word!" he said, eagerly. "Do me one more kindness--leave
me to be prepared (as I am prepared) for the change that is to
come, without any confidence on your part to enlighten me
further. Don't think me ungrateful. I have reasons for saying
what I have just said--I cannot mention what they are--I can only
tell you they are serious reasons. You have spoken of my devotion
to you. If you wish to reward me a hundred-fold more than I
deserve, bear in mind our conversations on religion, and keep the
books I asked you to read as gifts from a friend who loves you
with his whole heart. No new duties that you can undertake are
incompatible with the higher interests of your soul. Think of me
sometimes. When I leave you I go back to a lonely life. My poor
heart is full of your brotherly kindness at this last moment when
I may be saying good-by forever. And what is my one consolation?
What helps me to bear my hard lot? The Faith that I hold!
Remember that, Romayne. If there comes a time of sorrow in the
future, remember that."
Romayne was more than surprised, he was shocked. "Why must you
leave me?" he asked.
"It is best for you and for _her,_" said Penrose, "that I should
withdraw myself from your new life."
He held out his hand. Romayne refused to let him go. "Penrose!"
he said, "I can't match your resignation. Give me something to
look forward to. I must and will see you again."
Penrose smiled sadly. "You know that my career in life depends
wholly on my superiors," he answered. "But if I am still in
England--and if you have sorrows in the future that I can share
and alleviate--only let me know it. There is nothing within the
compass of my power which I will not do for your sake. God bless
and prosper you! Good-by!"
In spite of his fortitude, the tears rose in his eyes. He hurried
out of the room.
Romayne sat down at his writing-table, and hid his face in his
hands. He had entered the room with the bright image of Stella in
his mind. The image had faded from it now--the grief that was in
him not even the beloved woman could share. His thoughts were
wholly with the brave and patient Christian who had left him--the
true man, whose spotless integrity no evil influence could
corrupt. By what inscrutable fatality do some men find their way
into spheres that are unworthy of them? Oh, Penrose, if the
priests of your Order were all like you, how easily I should be
converted! These were Romayne's thoughts, in the stillness of the
first hours of the morning. The books of which his lost friend
had spoken were close by him on the table. He opened one of them,
and turned to a page marked by pencil lines. His sensitive nature
was troubled to its inmost depths. The confession of that Faith
which had upheld Penrose was before him in words. The impulse was
strong in him to read those words, and think over them again.
He trimmed his lamp, and bent his mind on his book. While he was
still reading, the ball at Lord Loring's house came to its end.
Stella and Lady Loring were alone together, talking of him,
before they retired to their rooms.
"Forgive me for owning it plainly," said Lady Loring--"I think
you and your mother are a little too ready to suspect Father
Benwell without any discoverable cause. Thousands of people go to
Clovelly, and Beaupark House is one of the show-places in the
neighborhood. Is there a little Protestant prejudice in this new
idea of yours?"
Stella made no reply; she seemed to be lost in her own thoughts.
Lady Loring went on.
"I am open to conviction, my dear. If you will only tell me what
interest Father Benwell can have in knowing about you and
Stella suddenly looked up. "Let us speak of another person," she
said; "I own I don't like Father Benwell. As you know, Romayne
has concealed nothing from me. Ought I to have any concealments
from _him?_ Ought I not to tell him about Winterfield?"
Lady Loring started. "You astonish me," she said. "What right has
Romayne to know it?"
"What right have I to keep it a secret from him?"
"My dear Stella! if you had been in any way to blame in that
miserable matter, I should be the last person in the world to
advise you to keep it a secret. But you are innocent of all
blame. No man--not even the man who is soon to be your
husband--has a right to know what you have so unjustly suffered.
Think of the humiliation of even speaking of it to Romayne!"
"I daren't think of it," cried Stella passionately. "But if it is
"It is your duty to consider the consequences," Lady Loring
interposed. "You don't know how such things sometimes rankle in a
man's mind. He may be perfectly willing to do you justice--and
yet, there may be moments when he would doubt if you had told him
the whole truth. I speak with the experience of a married woman.
Don't place yourself in _that_ position toward your husband, if
you wish for a happy married life."
Stella was not quite convinced yet. "Suppose Romayne finds it
out?" she said.
"He can't possibly find it out. I detest Winterfield, but let us
do him justice. He is no fool. He has his position in the world
to keep up--and that is enough of itself to close his lips. And
as for others, there are only three people now in England who
_could_ betray you. I suppose you can trust your mother, and Lord
Loring, and me?"
It was needless to answer such a question as that. Before Stella
could speak again, Lord Loring's voice was audible outside the
door. "What! talking still," he exclaimed. "Not in bed yet?"
"Come in!" cried his wife. "Let us hear what my husband thinks,"
she said to Stella.
Lord Loring listened with the closest attention while the subject
under discussion was communicated to him. When the time came to
give his opinion, he sided unhesitatingly with his wife.
"If the fault was yours, even in the slightest degree," he said
to Stella, "Romayne would have a right to be taken into your
confidence. But, my dear child, we, who know the truth, know you
to be a pure and innocent woman. You go to Romayne in every way
worthy of him, and you know that he loves you. If you did tell
him that miserable story, he could only pity you. Do you want to
Those last unanswerable words brought the debate to an end. From
that moment the subject was dropped.
There was still one other person among the guests at the ball who
was waking in the small hours of the morning. Father Benwell,
wrapped comfortably in his dressing gown, was too hard at work on
his correspondence to think of his bed. With one exception, all
the letters that he had written thus far were closed, directed
and stamped for the post. The letter that he kept open he was now
engaged in reconsidering and correcting. It was addressed as
usual to the Secretary of the Order at Rome; and, when it had
undergone the final revision, it contained these lines:
My last letter informed you of Romayne's return to London and to
Miss Eyrecourt. Let me entreat our reverend brethren to preserve
perfect tranquillity of mind, in spite of this circumstance. The
owner of Vange Abbey is not married yet. If patience and
perseverance on my part win their fair reward, Miss Eyrecourt
shall never be his wife.
But let me not conceal the truth. In the uncertain future that
lies before us, I have no one to depend on but myself. Penrose is
no longer to be trusted; and the exertions of the agent to whom I
committed my inquiries are exertions that have failed.
I will dispose of the case of Penrose first.
The zeal with which this young man has undertaken the work of
conversion intrusted to him has, I regret to say, not been fired
by devotion to the interests of the Church, but by a dog-like
affection for Romayne. Without waiting for my permission, Penrose
has revealed himself in his true character as a priest. And, more
than this, he has not only refused to observe the proceedings of
Romayne and Miss Eyrecourt--he has deliberately closed his ears
to the confidence which Romayne wished to repose in him, on the
ground that I might have ordered him to repeat that confidence to
To what use can we put this poor fellow's ungovernable sense of
honor and gratitude? Under present circumstances, he is clearly
of little use to us. I have therefore given him time to think.
That is to say, I have not opposed his leaving London, to assist
in the spiritual care of a country district. It will be a
question for the future, whether we may not turn his enthusiasm
to good account in a foreign mission. However, as it is always
possible that his influence may still be of use to us, I venture
to suggest keeping him within our reach until Romayne's
conversion has actually taken place. Don't suppose that the
present separation between them is final; I will answer for their
I may now proceed to the failure of my agent, and to the course
of action that I have adopted in consequence.
The investigations appear to have definitely broken down at the
seaside village of Clovelly, in the neighborhood of Mr.
Winterfield's country seat. Knowing that I could depend upon the
information which associated this gentleman with Miss Eyrecourt,
under compromising circumstances of some sort, I decided on
seeing Mr. Winterfield, and judging for myself.
The agent's report informed me that the person who had finally
baffled his inquiries was an aged Catholic priest, long resident
at Clovelly. His name is Newbliss, and he is much respected among
the Catholic gentry in that part of Devonshire. After due
consideration, I obtained a letter of introduction to my reverend
colleague, and traveled to Clovelly--telling my friends here that
I was taking a little holiday, in the interests of my health.
I found Father Newbliss a venerable and reticent son of the
Church--with one weak point, however, to work on, which was
entirely beyond the reach of the otherwise astute person charged
with my inquiries. My reverend friend is a scholar, and is
inordinately proud of his learning. I am a scholar too. In that
capacity I first found my way to his sympathies, and then gently
encouraged his pride. The result will appear in certain
discoveries, which I number as follows:
1. The events which connect Mr. Winterfield with Miss Eyrecourt
happened about two years since, and had their beginning at
2. At this period, Miss Eyrecourt and her mother were staying at
Beaupark House. The general impression in the neighborhood was
that Mr. Winterfield and Miss Eyrecourt were engaged to be
3. Not long afterward, Miss Eyrecourt and her mother surprised
the neighborhood by suddenly leaving Beaupark House. Their
destination was supposed to be London.
4. Mr. Winterfield himself next left his country seat for the
Continent. His exact destination was not mentioned to any one.
The steward, soon afterward, dismissed all the servants, and the
house was left empty for more than a year.
5. At the end of that time Mr. Winterfield returned alone to
Beaupark House, and told nobody how, or where, he had passed the
long interval of his absence.
6. Mr. Winterfield remains, to the present day, an unmarried man.
Having arrived at these preliminary discoveries, it was time to
try what I could make of Mr. Winterfield next.
Among the other good things which this gentleman has inherited is
a magnificent library collected by his father. That one learned
man should take another learned man to see the books was a
perfectly natural proceeding. My introduction to the master of
the house followed my introduction to the library almost as a
matter of course.
I am about to surprise you, as I was myself surprised. In all my
long experience, Mr. Winterfield is, I think, the most
fascinating person I ever met with. Genial, unassuming manners, a
prepossessing personal appearance, a sweet temper, a quaint humor
delightfully accompanied by natural refinement--such are the
characteristic qualities of the man from whom I myself saw Miss
Eyrecourt (accidentally meeting him in public) recoil with dismay
and disgust! It is absolutely impossible to look at him, and to
believe him to be capable of a cruel or dishonorable action. I
never was so puzzled in my life.
You may be inclined to think that I am misled by a false
impression, derived from the gratifying welcome that I received
as a friend of Father Newbliss. I will not appeal to my knowledge
of human nature--I will refer to the unanswerable evidence of Mr.
Winterfield's poorer neighbors. Wherever I went, in the village
or out of it, if I mentioned his name, I produced a universal
outburst of admiration and gratitude. "There never was such a
friend to poor people, and there never can be such another to the
end of the world." Such was a fisherman's description of him; and
the one cry of all the men and women near us answered, "That's
And yet there is something wrong--for this plain reason, that
there is something to be concealed in the past lives of Mr.
Winterfield and Miss Eyrecourt.
Under these perplexing circumstances, what use have I made of my
opportunities? I am going to surprise you again--I have mentioned
Romayne's name to Mr. Winterfield; and I have ascertained that
they are, so far, perfect strangers to one another--and that is
The little incident of mentioning Romayne arose out of my
examination of the library. I discovered certain old volumes,
which may one day be of use to him, if he continues his
contemplated work on the Origin of Religions. Hearing me express
myself to this effect, Mr. Winterfield replied with the readiest
"I can't compare myself to my excellent father," he said; "but I
have at least inherited his respect for the writers of books. My
library is a treasure which I hold in trust for the interests of
literature. Pray say so, from me, to your friend Mr. Romayne."
And what does this amount to?-- you will ask. My reverend friend,
it offers me an opportunity, in the future, of bringing Romayne
and Winterfield together. Do you see the complications which may
ensue? If I can put no other difficulty in Miss Eyrecourt's way,
I think there is fruitful promise of a scandal of some kind
arising out of the introduction to each other of those two men.
You will agree with me that a scandal may prove a valuable
obstacle in the way of a marriage.
Mr. Winterfield has kindly invited me to call on him when he is
next in London. I may then have opportunities of putting
questions which I could not venture to ask on a short
In the meantime, I have obtained another introduction since my
return to town. I have been presented to Miss Eyrecourt's mother,
and I am invited to drink tea with her on Wednesday. My next
letter may tell you--what Penrose ought to have
discovered--whether Romayne has been already entrapped into a
marriage engagement or not.
Farewell for the present. Remind the Reverend Fathers, with my
respects, that I possess one of the valuable qualities of an
Englishman--I never know when I am beaten.
BOOK THE THIRD.
MORE than six weeks had passed. The wedded lovers were still
enjoying their honeymoon at Vange Abbey.
Some offense had been given, not only to Mrs. Eyrecourt, but to
friends of her way of thinking, by the strictly private manner in
which the marriage had been celebrated. The event took everybody
by surprise when the customary advertisement appeared in the
newspapers. Foreseeing the unfavorable impression that might be
produced in some quarters, Stella had pleaded for a timely
retreat to the seclusion of Romayne's country house. The will of
the bride being, as usual, the bridegroom's law, to Vange they
On one lovely moonlight night, early in July, Mrs. Romayne left
her husband on the Belvidere, described in Major Hynd's
narrative, to give the housekeeper certain instructions relating
to the affairs of the household. Half an hour later, as she was
about to ascend again to the top of the house, one of the
servants informed her that "the master had just left the
Belvidere, and had gone into his study."
Crossing the inner hall, on her way to the study, Stella noticed
an unopened letter, addressed to Romayne, lying on a table in a
corner. He had probably laid it aside and forgotten it. She
entered his room with the letter in her hand.
The only light was a reading lamp, with the shade so lowered that
the corners of the study were left in obscurity. In one of these
corners Romayne was dimly visible, sitting with his head sunk on
his breast. He never moved when Stella opened the door. At first
she thought he might be asleep.
"Do I disturb you, Lewis?" she asked softly.
"No, my dear."
There was a change in the tone of his voice, which his wife's
quick ear detected. "I am afraid you are not well," she said
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