The Black Robe
Part 5 out of 7
on with my book, how I miss the help and sympathy of Penrose. The
very sound of his voice used to encourage me. Come, Stella, give
me a kiss--and let us, as the children say, make it up!"
He rose from his writing-table. She met him more than half way,
and pressed all her love--and perhaps a little of her fear--on
his lips. He returned the kiss as warmly as it was given; and
then, unhappily for both of them, he went back to the subject.
"My own love," he said, "try to like my friend for my sake; and
be tolerant of other forms of Christianity besides the form which
happens to be yours."
Her smiling lips closed; she turned from him. With the sensitive
selfishness of a woman's love, she looked on Penrose as a robber
who had stolen the sympathies which should have been wholly hers.
As she moved away, her quick observation noticed the open book on
the desk, with notes and lines in pencil on the margin of the
page. What had Romayne been reading which interested him in
_that_ way? If he had remained silent, she would have addressed
the inquiry to him openly. But he was hurt on his side by the
sudden manner of her withdrawal from him. He spoke--and his tone
was colder than ever.
"I won't attempt to combat your prejudices," he said. "But one
thing I must seriously ask of you. When my friend Penrose comes
here to-morrow, don't treat him as you treated Mr. Winterfield."
There was a momentary paleness in her face which looked like
fear, but it passed away again. She confronted him firmly with
"Why do you refer again to that?" she asked. "Is--" (she
hesitated and recovered herself)--"Is Mr. Winterfield another
devoted friend of yours?"
He walked to the door, as if he could hardly trust his temper if
he answered her--stopped--and, thinking better of it, turned
toward her again.
"We won't quarrel, Stella," he rejoined; "I will only say I am
sorry you don't appreciate my forbearance. Your reception of Mr.
Winterfield has lost me the friendship of a man whom I sincerely
liked, and who might have assisted my literary labors. You were
ill at the time, and anxious about Mrs. Eyrecourt. I respected
your devotion to your mother. I remembered your telling me, when
you first went away to nurse her, that your conscience accused
you of having sometimes thoughtlessly neglected your mother in
her days of health and good spirits, and I admired the motive of
atonement which took you to her bedside. For those reasons I
shrank from saying a word that might wound you. But, because I
was silent, it is not the less true that you surprised and
disappointed me. Don't do it again! Whatever you may privately
think of Catholic priests, I once more seriously request you not
to let Penrose see it."
He left the room.
She stood, looking after him as he closed the door, like a woman
thunderstruck. Never yet had he looked at her as he looked when
he spoke his last warning words. With a heavy sigh she roused
herself. The vague dread with which his tone rather than his
words had inspired her, strangely associated itself with the
momentary curiosity which she had felt on noticing the annotated
book that lay on his desk.
She snatched up the volume and looked at the open page. It
contained the closing paragraphs of an eloquent attack on
Protestantism, from the Roman Catholic point of view. With
trembling hands she turned back to the title-page. It presented
this written inscription: "To Lewis Romayne from his attached
friend and servant, Arthur Penrose."
"God help me!" she said to herself; "the priest has got between
A CHRISTIAN JESUIT.
ON the next day Penrose arrived on his visit to Romayne.
The affectionate meeting between the two men tested Stella's
self-control as it had never been tried yet. She submitted to the
ordeal with the courage of a woman whose happiness depended on
her outward graciousness of manner toward her husband's friend.
Her reception of Penrose, viewed as an act of refined courtesy,
was beyond reproach. When she found her opportunity of leaving
the room, Romayne gratefully opened the door for her. "Thank
you!" he whispered, with a look which was intended to reward her.
She only bowed to him, and took refuge in her own room.
Even in trifles, a woman's nature is degraded by the falsities of
language and manner which the artificial condition of modern
society exacts from her. When she yields herself to more serious
deceptions, intended to protect her dearest domestic interests,
the mischief is increased in proportion. Deceit, which is the
natural weapon of defense used by the weak creature against the
strong, then ceases to be confined within the limits assigned by
the sense of self-respect and by the restraints of education. A
woman in this position will descend, self- blinded, to acts of
meanness which would be revolting to her if they were related of
Stella had already begun the process of self-degradation by
writing secretly to Winterfield. It was only to warn him of the
danger of trusting Father Benwell--but it was a letter, claiming
him as her accomplice in an act of deception. That morning she
had received Penrose with the outward cordialities of welcome
which are offered to an old and dear friend. And now, in the safe
solitude of her room, she had fallen to a lower depth still. She
was deliberately considering the safest means of acquainting
herself with the confidential conversation which Romayne and
Penrose would certainly hold when she left them together. "He
will try to set my husband against me; and I have a right to know
what means he uses, in my own defense." With that thought she
reconciled herself to an action which she would have despised if
she had heard of it as the action of another woman.
It was a beauti ful autumn day, brightened by clear sunshine,
enlivened by crisp air. Stella put on her hat and went out for a
stroll in the grounds.
While she was within view from the windows of the servants'
offices she walked away from the house. Turning the corner of a
shrubbery, she entered a winding path, on the other side, which
led back to the lawn under Romayne's study window. Garden chairs
were placed here and there. She took one of them, and seated
herself--after a last moment of honorable hesitation--where she
could hear the men's voices through the open window above her.
Penrose was speaking at the time.
"Yes. Father Benwell has granted me a holiday," he said; "but I
don't come here to be an idle man. You must allow me to employ my
term of leave in the pleasantest of all ways. I mean to be your
Romayne sighed. "Ah, if you knew how I have missed you!"
(Stella waited, in breathless expectation, for what Penrose would
say to this. Would he speak of _her?_ No. There was a natural
tact and delicacy in him which waited for the husband to
introduce the subject.)
Penrose only said, "How is the great work getting on?"
The answer was sternly spoken in one word--"Badly!"
"I am surprised to hear that, Romayne."
"Why? Were you as innocently hopeful as I was? Did you expect my
experience of married life to help me in writing my book?"
Penrose replied after a pause, speaking a little sadly. "I
expected your married life to encourage you in all your highest
aspirations," he said.
(Stella turned pale with suppressed anger. He had spoken with
perfect sincerity. The unhappy woman believed that he lied, for
the express purpose of rousing irritation against her, in her
husband's irritable mind. She listened anxiously for Romayne's
He made no answer. Penrose changed the subject. "You are not
looking very well," he gently resumed. "I am afraid your health
has interfered with your work. Have you had any return--?"
It was still one of the characteristics of Romayne's nervous
irritability that he disliked to hear the terrible delusion of
the Voice referred to in words. "Yes," he interposed bitterly, "I
have heard it again and again. My right hand is as red as ever,
Penrose, with the blood of a fellow-creature. Another destruction
of my illusions when I married!"
"Romayne! I don't like to hear you speak of your marriage in that
"Oh, very well. Let us go back to my book. Perhaps I shall get on
better with it now you are here to help me. My ambition to make a
name in the world has never taken so strong a hold on me (I don't
know why, unless other disappointments have had something to do
with it) as at this time, when I find I can't give my mind to my
work. We will make a last effort together, my friend! If it
fails, we will put my manuscripts into the fire, and I will try
some other career. Politics are open to me. Through politics, I
might make my mark in diplomacy. There is something in directing
the destinies of nations wonderfully attractive to me in my
present state of feeling. I hate the idea of being indebted for
my position in the world, like the veriest fool living, to the
accidents of birth and fortune. Are _you_ content with the
obscure life that you lead? Did you not envy that priest (he is
no older than I am) who was sent the other day as the Pope's
ambassador to Portugal?"
Penrose spoke out at last without hesitation. "You are in a
thoroughly unwholesome state of mind," he said.
Romayne laughed recklessly. "When was I ever in a healthy state
of mind?" he asked.
Penrose passed the interruption over without notice. "If I am to
do you any good," he resumed, "I must know what is really the
matter with you. The very last question that I ought to put, and
that I wish to put, is the question which you force me to ask."
"What is it?"
"When you speak of your married life," said Penrose, "your tone
is the tone of a disappointed man. Have you any serious reason to
complain of Mrs. Romayne?"
(Stella rose to her feet, in her eagerness to hear what her
husband's answer would be.)
"Serious reason?" Romayne repeated. "How can such an idea have
entered your head? I only complain of irritating trifles now and
then. Even the best of women is not perfect. It's hard to expect
it from any of them."
(The interpretation of this reply depended entirely on the tone
in which it was spoken. What was the animating spirit in this
case? Irony or Indulgence? Stella was ignorant of the indirect
methods of irritation, by means of which Father Benwell had
encouraged Romayne's doubts of his wife's motive for the
reception of Winterfield. Her husband's tone, expressing this
state of mind, was new to her. She sat down again, divided
between hope and fear, waiting to hear more. The next words,
spoken by Penrose, astounded her. The priest, the Jesuit, the
wily spiritual intruder between man and wife, actually took the
"Romayne," he proceeded quietly, "I want you to be happy."
"How am I to be happy?"
"I will try and tell you. I believe your wife to be a good woman.
I believe she loves you. There is something in her face that
speaks for her--even to an inexperienced person like myself.
Don't be impatient with her! Put away from you that besetting
temptation to speak in irony--it is so easy to take that tone,
and sometimes so cruel. I am only a looker-on, I know. Domestic
happiness can never be the happiness of _my_ life. But I have
observed my fellow-creatures of all degrees--and this, I tell
you, is the result. The largest number of happy men are the
husbands and fathers. Yes; I admit that they have terrible
anxieties--but they are fortified by unfailing compensations and
encouragements. Only the other day I met with a man who had
suffered the loss of fortune and, worse still, the loss of
health. He endured those afflictions so calmly that he surprised
me. 'What is the secret of your philosophy?' I asked. He
answered, 'I can bear anything while I have my wife and my
children.' Think of that, and judge for yourself how much
happiness you may have left yet ungathered in your married life."
(Those words touched Stella's higher nature, as the dew touches
the thirsty ground. Surely they were nobly spoken! How would her
husband receive them?)
"I must think with your mind, Penrose, before I can do what you
ask of me. Is there any method of transformation by which I can
change natures with you?" That was all he said--and he said it
Penrose understood, and felt for him.
"If there is anything in my nature, worthy to be set as an
example to you," he replied, "you know to what blessed influence
I owe self-discipline and serenity of mind. Remember what I said
when I left you in London, to go back to my friendless life. I
told you that I found, in the Faith I held, the one sufficient
consolation which helped me to bear my lot. And--if there came a
time of sorrow in the future--I entreated you to remember what I
had said. Have you remembered it?"
"Look at the book here on my desk--look at the other books,
within easy reach, on that table--are you satisfied?"
"More than satisfied. Tell me--do you feel nearer to an
understanding of the Faith to which I have tried to convert you?"
There was a pause. "Say that I do feel nearer," Romayne
resumed--"say that some of my objections are removed--are you
really as eager as ever to make a Catholic of me, now that I am a
"I am even more eager," Penrose answered. "I have always believed
that your one sure way to happiness lay through your conversion.
Now, when I know, from what I have seen and heard in this room,
that you are not reconciled, as you should be, to your new life,
I am doubly confined in my belief. As God is my witness, I speak
sincerely. Hesitate no longer! Be converted, and be happy."
"Have you not forgotten something, Penrose?"
"What have I forgotten?"
"A serious consideration, perhaps. I have a Protestant wife."
"I have borne that in mind, Romayne, throughout our
"And you still say--what you have just said?"
"With my whole heart, I say it! Be converted, and be happy. Be
happy, and you will be a good husband. I speak in your wife 's
interest as well as in yours. People who are happy in each
other's society, will yield a little on either side, even on
questions of religious belief. And perhaps there may follow a
more profitable result still. So far as I have observed, a good
husband's example is gladly followed by his wife. Don't think
that I am trying to persuade you against your will! I am only
telling you, in my own justification, from what motives of love
for yourself, and of true interest in your welfare, I speak. You
implied just now that you had still some objections left. If I
can remove them--well and good. If I fail--if you cannot act on
purely conscientious conviction--I not only advise, I entreat
you, to remain as you are. I shall be the first to acknowledge
that you have done right."
(This moderation of tone would appeal irresistibly, as Stella
well knew, to her husband's ready appreciation of those good
qualities in others which he did not himself possess. Once more
her suspicion wronged Penrose. Had he his own interested motives
for pleading her cause? At the bare thought of it, she left her
chair and, standing under the window, boldly interrupted the
conversation by calling to Romayne.)
"Lewis!" she cried, "why do you stay indoors on this beautiful
day? I am sure Mr. Penrose would like a walk in the grounds."
Penrose appeared alone at the window. "You are quite right, Mrs.
Romayne," he said; "we will join you directly."
In a few minutes he turned the corner of the house, and met
Stella on the lawn. Romayne was not with him. "Is my husband not
coming with us?" she asked. "He will follow us," Penrose
answered. "I believe he has some letters to write."
Stella looked at him, suspecting some underhand exercise of
influence on her husband.
If she had been able to estimate the noble qualities in the
nature of Penrose, she might have done him the justice to arrive
at a truer conclusion. It was he who had asked leave (when Stella
had interrupted them) to take the opportunity of speaking alone
with Mrs. Romayne. He had said to his friend, "If I am wrong in
my anticipation of the effect of your change of religion on your
wife, let me find it out from herself. My one object is to act
justly toward you and toward her. I should never forgive myself
if I made mischief between you, no matter how innocent of any
evil intention I might be." Romayne had understood him. It was
Stella's misfortune ignorantly to misinterpret everything that
Penrose said or did, for the all-sufficient reason that he was a
Catholic priest. She had drawn the conclusion that her husband
had deliberately left her alone with Penrose, to be persuaded or
deluded into giving her sanction to aid the influence of the
priest. "They shall find they are mistaken," she thought to
"Have I interrupted an interesting conversation?" she inquired
abruptly. "When I asked you to come out, were you talking to my
husband about his historical work?"
"No, Mrs. Romayne; we were not speaking at that time of the
"May I ask an odd question, Mr. Penrose?"
"Are you a very zealous Catholic?"
"Pardon me. I am a priest. Surely my profession speaks for me?"
"I hope you are not trying to convert my husband?"
Penrose stopped and looked at her attentively.
"Are you strongly opposed to your husband's conversion?" he
"As strongly," she answered, "as a woman can be."
"By religious conviction, Mrs. Romayne?"
"No. By experience."
Penrose started. "Is it indiscreet," he said gently, "to inquire
what your experience may have been?"
"I will tell you what my experience has been," Stella replied. "I
am ignorant of theological subtleties, and questions of doctrine
are quite beyond me. But this I do know. A well-meaning and
zealous Catholic shortened my father's life, and separated me
from an only sister whom I dearly loved. I see I shock you--and I
daresay you think I am exaggerating?"
"I hear what you say, Mrs. Romayne, with very great pain--I don't
presume to form any opinion thus far."
"My sad story can be told in a few words," Stella proceeded.
"When my elder sister was still a young girl, an aunt of ours (my
mother's sister) came to stay with us. She had married abroad,
and she was, as I have said, a zealous Catholic. Unknown to the
rest of us, she held conversations on religion with my
sister--worked on the enthusiasm which was part of the girl's
nature--and accomplished her conversion. Other influences, of
which I know nothing, were afterward brought to bear on my
sister. She declared her intention of entering a convent. As she
was under age, my father had only to interpose his authority to
prevent this. She was his favorite child. He had no heart to
restrain her by force--he could only try all that the kindest and
best of fathers could do to persuade her to remain at home. Even
after the years that have passed, I cannot trust myself to speak
of it composedly. She persisted; she was as hard as stone. My
aunt, when she was entreated to interfere, called her heartless
obstinacy 'a vocation.' My poor father's loving resistance was
worn out; he slowly drew nearer and nearer to death, from the day
when she left us. Let me do her justice, if I can. She has not
only never regretted entering the convent--she is so happily
absorbed in her religious duties that she has not the slightest
wish to see her mother or me. My mother's patience was soon worn
out. The last time I went to the convent, I went by myself. I
shall never go there again. She could not conceal her sense of
relief when I took my leave of her. I need say no more. Arguments
are thrown away on me, Mr. Penrose, after what I have seen and
felt. I have no right to expect that the consideration of my
happiness will influence you--but I may perhaps ask you, as a
gentleman, to tell me the truth. Do you come here with the
purpose of converting my husband?"
Penrose owned the truth, without an instant's hesitation.
"I cannot take your view of your sister's pious devotion of
herself to a religious life," he said. "But I can, and will,
answer you truly. From the time when I first knew him, my dearest
object has been to convert your husband to the Catholic Faith."
Stella drew back from him, as if he had stung her, and clasped
her hands in silent despair.
"But I am bound as a Christian," he went on, "to do to others as
I would they should do to me."
She turned on him suddenly, her beautiful face radiant with hope,
her hand trembling as it caught him by the arm.
"Speak plainly!" she cried.
He obeyed her to the letter.
"The happiness of my friend's wife, Mrs. Romayne, is sacred to me
for his sake. Be the good angel of your husband's life. I abandon
the purpose of converting him."
He lifted her hand from his arm and raised it respectfully to his
lips. Then, when he had bound himself by a promise that was
sacred to him, the terrible influence of the priesthood shook
even that brave and lofty soul. He said to himself, as he left
her, "God forgive me if I have done wrong!"
TWICE Father Benwell called at Derwent's Hotel, and twice he was
informed that no news had been received there of Mr. Winterfield.
At the third attempt, his constancy was rewarded. Mr. Winterfield
had written, and was expected to arrive at the hotel by five
It was then half-past four. Father Benwell decided to await the
return of his friend.
He was as anxious to deliver the papers which the proprietor of
the asylum had confided to him, as if he had never broken a seal
or used a counterfeit to hide the betrayal of a trust. The
re-sealed packet was safe in the pocket of his long black
frockcoat. His own future proceedings depended, in some degree,
on the course which Winterfield might take, when he had read the
confession of the unhappy woman who had once been his wife.
Would he show the letter to Stella, at a private interview, as an
unanswerable proof that she had cruelly wronged him? And would it
in this case be desirable--if the thing could be done--so to
handle circumstances as that Romayne might be present, unseen,
and might discover the truth for himself? In the other
event--that is to say, if Winterfield abstained from
communicating the confession to Stella--the responsibility of
making the necessary disclosure must remain with the priest.
Father Benwell walked softly up and down the room, looking about
him with quietly-observant eye. A side table in a corner was
covered with letters, waiting Winterfield's return. Always ready
for information of any sort, he even looked at the addresses on
The handwritings presented the customary variety of character.
All but three of the envelopes showed the London district
postmarks. Two of the other letters (addressed to Winterfield at
his club) bore foreign postmarks; and one, as the altered
direction showed, had been forward from Beaupark House to the
This last letter especially attracted the priest's attention.
The address was apparently in a woman's handwriting. And it was
worthy of remark that she appeared to be the only person among
Winterfield's correspondents who was not acquainted with the
address of his hotel or of his club. Who could the person be? The
subtly inquiring intellect of Father Benwell amused itself by
speculating even on such a trifling problem as this. He little
thought that he had a personal interest in the letter. The
envelope contained Stella's warning to Winterfield to distrust no
less a person than Father Benwell himself!
It was nearly half-past five before quick footsteps were audible
outside. Winterfield entered the room.
"This is friendly indeed!" he said. "I expected to return to the
worst of all solitudes--solitude in a hotel. You will stay and
dine with me? That's right. You must have thought I was going to
settle in Paris. Do you know what has kept me so long? The most
delightful theater in the world--the Opera Comique. I am so fond
of the bygone school of music, Father Benwell--the flowing
graceful delicious melodies of the composers who followed Mozart.
One can only enjoy that music in Paris. Would you believe that I
waited a week to hear Nicolo's delightful Joconde for the second
time. I was almost the only young man in the stalls. All round me
were the old men who remembered the first performances of the
opera, beating time with their wrinkled hands to the tunes which
were associated with the happiest days of their lives. What's
that I hear? My dog! I was obliged to leave him here, and he
knows I have come back!"
He flew to the door and called down the stairs to have the dog
set free. The spaniel rushed into the room and leaped into his
master's outstretched arms. Winterfield returned his caresses,
and kisses him as tenderly as a woman might have kissed her pet.
"Dear old fellow! it's a shame to have left you--I won't do it
again. Father Benwell, have you many friends who would be as glad
to see you as _this_ friend? I haven't one. And there are fools
who talk of a dog as an inferior being to ourselves! _This_
creature's faithful love is mine, do what I may. I might be
disgraced in the estimation of every human creature I know, and
he would be as true to me as ever. And look at his physical
qualities. What an ugly thing, for instance--I won't say your
ear--I will say, my ear is; crumpled and wrinkled and naked. Look
at the beautiful silky covering of _his_ ear! What are our senses
of smelling and hearing compared to his? We are proud of our
reason. Could we find our way back, if they shut us up in a
basket, and took us to a strange place away from home? If we both
want to run downstairs in a hurry, which of us is securest
against breaking his neck--I on my poor two legs, or he on his
four? Who is the happy mortal who goes to bed without
unbuttoning, and gets up again without buttoning? Here he is, on
my lap, knowing I am talking about him, and too fond of me to say
to himself, 'What a fool my master is!' "
Father Benwell listened to this rhapsody--so characteristic of
the childish simplicity of the man--with an inward sense of
impatience, which never once showed itself on the smiling surface
of his face.
He had decided not to mention the papers in his pocket until some
circumstance occurred which might appear to remind him naturally
that he had such things about him. If he showed any anxiety to
produce the envelope, he might expose himself to the suspicion of
having some knowledge of the contents. When would Winterfield
notice the side table, and open his letters?
The tick-tick of the clock on the mantel-piece steadily
registered the progress of time, and Winterfield's fantastic
attentions were still lavished on his dog.
Even Father Benwell's patience was sorely tried when the good
country gentleman proceeded to mention not only the spaniel's
name, but the occasion which had suggested it. "We call him
Traveler, and I will tell you why. When he was only a puppy he
strayed into the garden at Beaupark, so weary and footsore that
we concluded he had come to us from a great distance. We
advertised him, but he was never claimed--and here he is! If you
don't object, we will give Traveler a treat to-day. He shall have
dinner with us."
Perfectly understanding those last words, the dog jumped off his
master's lap, and actually forwarded the views of Father Benwell
in less than a minute more. Scampering round and round the room,
as an appropriate expression of happiness, he came into collision
with the side table and directed Winterfield's attention to the
letters by scattering them on the floor.
Father Benwell rose politely, to assist in picking up the
prostrate correspondence. But Traveler was beforehand with him.
Warning the priest, with a low growl, not to interfere with
another person's business, the dog picked up the letters in his
mouth, and carried them by installments to his master's feet.
Even then, the exasperating Winterfield went no further than
patting Traveler. Father Benwell's endurance reached its limits.
"Pray don't stand on ceremony with me," he said. "I will look at
the newspaper while you read your letters."
Winterfield carelessly gathered the letters together, tossed them
on the dining table at his side, and took the uppermost one of
the little heap.
Fate was certainly against the priest on that evening. The first
letter that Winterfield opened led him off to another subject of
conversation before he had read it to the end. Father Benwell's
hand, already in his coat pocket, appeared again--empty.
"Here's a proposal to me to go into Parliament," said the Squire.
"What do you think of representative institutions, Father
Benwell? To my mind, representative institutions are on their
last legs. Honorable Members vote away more of our money every
year. They have no alternative between suspending liberty of
speech, or sitting helpless while half a dozen impudent idiots
stop the progress of legislation from motives of the meanest
kind. And they are not even sensitive enough to the national
honor to pass a social law among themselves which makes it as
disgraceful in a gentleman to buy a seat by bribery as to cheat
at cards. I declare I think the card-sharper the least degraded
person of the two. _He_ doesn't encourage his inferiors to be
false to a public trust. In short, my dear sir, everything wears
out in this world--and why should the House of Commons be an
exception to the rule?"
He picked up the next letter from the heap. As he looked at the
address, his face changed. The smile left his lips, the gayety
died out of his eyes. Traveler, entreating for more notice with
impatient forepaws applied to his master's knees, saw the
alteration, and dropped into a respectfully recumbent position.
Father Benwell glanced sidelong off the columns of the newspaper,
and waited for events with all the discretion, and none of the
good faith, of the dog.
"Forwarded from Beaupark," Winterfield said to himself. He opened
the letter--read it carefully to the end--thought over it--and
read it again.
"Father Benwell!" he said suddenly.
The priest put down the newspaper. For a few moments more nothing
was audible but the steady tick-tick of the clock.
"We have not been very long acquainted," Winterfield resumed.
"But our association has been a pleasant one, and I think I owe
to you the duty of a friend. I don't belong to your Church; bu t
I hope you will believe me when I say that ignorant prejudice
against the Catholic priesthood is not one of _my_ prejudices."
Father Benwell bowed, in silence.
"You are mentioned," Winterfield proceeded, "in the letter which
I have just read."
"Are you at liberty to tell me the name of your correspondent?"
Father Benwell asked.
"I am not at liberty to do that. But I think it due to you, and
to myself, to tell you what the substance of the letter is. The
writer warns me to be careful in my intercourse with you. Your
object (I am told) is to make yourself acquainted with events in
my past life, and you have some motive which my correspondent has
thus far failed to discover. I speak plainly, but I beg you to
understand that I also speak impartially. I condemn no man
unheard--least of all, a man whom I have had the honor of
receiving under my own roof."
He spoke with a certain simple dignity. With equal dignity,
Father Benwell answered. It is needless to say that he now knew
Winterfield's correspondent to be Romayne's wife.
"Let me sincerely thank you, Mr. Winterfield, for a candor which
does honor to us both," he said. "You will hardly expect me--if I
may use such an expression--to condescend to justify myself
against an accusation which is an anonymous accusation so far as
I am concerned. I prefer to meet that letter by a plain proof;
and I leave you to judge whether I am still worthy of the
friendship to which you have so kindly alluded."
With this preface he briefly related the circumstances under
which he had become possessed of the packet, and then handed it
to Winterfield--with the seal uppermost.
"Decide for yourself," he concluded, "whether a man bent on
prying into your private affairs, with that letter entirely at
his mercy, would have been true to the trust reposed in him."
He rose and took his hat, ready to leave the room, if his honor
was profaned by the slightest expression of distrust.
Winterfield's genial and unsuspicious nature instantly accepted
the offered proof as conclusive. "Before I break the seal," he
said, "let me do you justice. Sit down again, Father Benwell, and
forgive me if my sense of duty has hurried me into hurting your
feelings. No man ought to know better than I do how often people
misjudge and wrong each other."
They shook hands cordially. No moral relief is more eagerly
sought than relief from the pressure of a serious explanation. By
common consent, they now spoke as lightly as if nothing had
happened. Father Benwell set the example.
"You actually believe in a priest!" he said gayly. "We shall make
a good Catholic of you yet."
"Don't be too sure of that," Winterfield replied, with a touch of
his quaint humor. "I respect the men who have given to humanity
the inestimable blessing of quinine--to say nothing of preserving
learning and civilization--but I respect still more my own
liberty as a free Christian."
"Perhaps a free thinker, Mr. Winterfield?"
"Anything you like to call it, Father Benwell, so long as it _is_
They both laughed. Father Benwell went back to his newspaper.
Winterfield broke the seal of the envelope and took out the
The confession was the first of the papers at which he happened
to look. At the opening lines he turned pale. He read more, and
his eyes filled with tears. In low broken tones he said to the
priest, "You have innocently brought me most distressing news. I
entreat your pardon if I ask to be left alone."
Father Benwell said a few well-chosen words of sympathy, and
immediately withdrew. The dog licked his master's hand, hanging
listlessly over the arm of the chair.
Later in the evening, a note from Winterfield was left by
messenger at the priest's lodgings. The writer announced, with
renewed expressions of regret, that he would be again absent from
London on the next day, but that he hoped to return to the hotel
and receive his guest on the evening of the day after.
Father Benwell rightly conjectured that Winterfield's destination
was the town in which his wife had died.
His object in taking the journey was not, as the priest supposed,
to address inquiries to the rector and the landlady, who had been
present at the fatal illness and the death--but to justify his
wife's last expression of belief in the mercy and compassion of
the man whom she had injured. On that "nameless grave," so sadly
and so humbly referred to in the confession, he had resolved to
place a simple stone cross, giving to her memory the name which
she had shrunk from profaning in her lifetime. When he had
written the brief inscription which recorded the death of "Emma,
wife of Bernard Winterfield," and when he had knelt for a while
by the low turf mound, his errand had come to its end. He thanked
the good rector; he left gifts with the landlady and her
children, by which he was gratefully remembered for many a year
afterward; and then, with a heart relieved, he went back to
Other men might have made their sad little pilgrimage alone.
Winterfield took his dog with him. "I must have something to
love," he said to the rector, "at such a time as this."
FATHER BENWELL'S CORRESPONDENCE.
_To the Secretary, S. J., Rome._
WHEN I wrote last, I hardly thought I should trouble you again so
soon. The necessity has, however, arisen. I must ask for
instructions, from our Most Reverend General, on the subject of
I believe that I informed you that I decided to defer my next
visit to Ten Acres Lodge for two or three days, in order that
Winterfield (if he intended to do so) might have time to
communicate with Mrs. Romayne, after his return from the country.
Naturally enough, perhaps, considering the delicacy of the
subject, he has not taken me into his confidence. I can only
guess that he has maintained the same reserve with Mrs. Romayne.
My visit to the Lodge was duly paid this afternoon.
I asked first, of course, for the lady of the house, and hearing
she was in the grounds, joined her there. She looked ill and
anxious, and she received me with rigid politeness. Fortunately,
Mrs. Eyrecourt (now convalescent) was staying at Ten Acres, and
was then taking the air in her chair on wheels. The good lady's
nimble and discursive tongue offered me an opportunity of
referring, in the most innocent manner possible, to Winterfield's
favorable opinion of Romayne's pictures. I need hardly say that I
looked at Romayne's wife when I mentioned the name. She turned
pale--probably fearing that I had some knowledge of her letter
warning Winterfield not to trust me. If she had already been
informed that he was not to be blamed, but to be pitied, in the
matter of the marriage at Brussels, she would have turned red.
Such, at least, is my experience, drawn from recollections of
other days. *
The ladies having served my purpose, I ventured into the house,
to pay my respects to Romayne.
He was in the study, and his excellent friend and secretary was
with him. After the first greetings Penrose left us. His manner
told me plainly that there was something wrong. I asked no
questions--waiting on the chance that Romayne might enlighten me.
"I hope you are in better spirits, now that you have your old
companion with you," I said.
"I am very glad to have Penrose with me," he answered. And then
he frowned and looked out of the window at the two ladies in the
It occurred to me that Mrs. Eyrecourt might be occupying the
customary false position of a mother-in-law. I was mistaken. He
was not thinking of his wife's mother--he was thinking of his
"I suppose you know that Penrose had an idea of converting me?"
he said, suddenly.
I was perfectly candid with him--I said I knew it, and approved
of it. "May I hope that Arthur has succeeded in convincing you?"
I ventured to add.
"He might have succeeded, Father Benwell, if he had chosen to go
This reply, as you may easily imagine, took me by surprise.
"Are you really so obdurate that Arthur despairs of your
conversion?" I asked.
"Nothing of the sort! I have thought and thought of it--and I can
tell you I was more than ready to meet him half way."
"Then where is the obstacle?" I exclaimed.
He pointed thro ugh the window to his wife. "There is the
obstacle," he said, in a tone of ironical resignation.
Knowing Arthur's character as I knew it, I at last understood
what had happened. For a moment I felt really angry. Under these
circumstances, the wise course was to say nothing, until I could
be sure of speaking with exemplary moderation. It doesn't do for
a man in my position to show anger.
Romayne went on.
"We talked of my wife, Father Benwell, the last time you were
here. You only knew, then, that her reception of Mr. Winterfield
had determined him never to enter my house again. By way of
adding to your information on the subject of 'petticoat
government,' I may now tell you that Mrs. Romayne has forbidden
Penrose to proceed with the attempt to convert me. By common
consent, the subject is never mentioned between us." The bitter
irony of his tone, thus far, suddenly disappeared. He spoke
eagerly and anxiously. "I hope you are not angry with Arthur?" he
By this time my little fit of ill-temper was at an end. I
answered--and it was really in a certain sense true--"I know
Arthur too well to be angry with him."
Romayne seemed to be relieved. "I only troubled you with this
last domestic incident," he resumed, "to bespeak your indulgence
for Penrose. I am getting learned in the hierarchy of the Church,
Father Benwell! You are the superior of my dear little friend,
and you exercise authority over him. Oh, he is the kindest and
best of men! It is not his fault. He submits to Mrs.
Romayne--against his own better conviction--in the honest belief
that he consults the interests of our married life."
I don't think I misinterpret the state of Romayne's mind, and
mislead you, when I express my belief that this second indiscreet
interference of his wife between his friend and himself will
produce the very result which she dreads. Mark my words, written
after the closest observation of him--this new irritation of
Romayne's sensitive self-respect will hasten his conversion.
You will understand that the one alternative before me, after
what has happened, is to fill the place from which Penrose has
withdrawn. I abstained from breathing a word of this to Romayne.
It is he, if I can manage it, who must invite me to complete the
work of conversion--and, besides, nothing can be done until the
visit of Penrose has come to an end. Romayne's secret sense of
irritation may be safely left to develop itself, with time to
I changed the conversation to the subject of his literary labors.
The present state of his mind is not favorable to work of that
exacting kind. Even with the help of Penrose to encourage him, he
does not get on to his satisfaction--and yet, as I could plainly
perceive, the ambition to make a name in the world exercises a
stronger influence over him than ever. All in our favor, my
reverend friend--all in our favor!
I took the liberty of asking to see Penrose alone for a moment;
and, this request granted, Romayne and I parted cordially. I can
make most people like me, when I choose to try. The master of
Vange Abbey is no exception to the rule. Did I tell you,
by-the-by, that the property has a little declined of late in
value? It is now not worth more than six thousand a year. _We_
will improve it when it returns to the Church.
My interview with Penrose was over in two minutes. Dispensing
with formality, I took his arm, and led him into the front
"I have heard all about it," I said; "and I must not deny that
you have disappointed me. But I know your disposition, and I make
allowances. You have qualities, dear Arthur, which perhaps put
you a little out of place among us. I shall be obliged to report
what you have done--but you may trust me to put it favorably.
Shake hands, my son, and, while we are still together, let us be
as good friends as ever."
You may think that I spoke in this way with a view to my
indulgent language being repeated to Romayne, and so improving
the position which I have already gained in his estimation. Do
you know, I really believe I meant it at the time! The poor
fellow gratefully kissed my hand when I offered it to him--he was
not able to speak. I wonder whether I am weak about Arthur? Say a
kind word for him, when his conduct comes under notice--but pray
don't mention this little frailty of mine; and don't suppose I
have any sympathy with his weak-minded submission to Mrs.
Romayne's prejudices. If I ever felt the smallest consideration
for _her_ (and I cannot call to mind any amiable emotion of that
sort), her letter to Winterfield would have effectually
extinguished it. There is something quite revolting to me in a
In closing this letter, I may quiet the minds of our reverend
brethren, if I assure them that my former objection to
associating myself directly with the conversion of Romayne no
Yes! even at my age, and with my habits, I am now resigned to
hearing, and confuting, the trivial arguments of a man who is
young enough to be my son. I shall write a carefully-guarded
letter to Romayne, on the departure of Penrose; and I shall send
him a book to read, from the influence of which I expect
gratifying results. It is not a controversial work (Arthur has
been beforehand with me there)--it is Wiseman's "Recollections of
the Popes." I look to that essentially readable book to excite
Romayne's imagination, by vivid descriptions of the splendors of
the Church, and the vast influence and power of the higher
priesthood. Does this sudden enthusiasm of mine surprise you? And
are you altogether at a loss to know what it means?
It means, my friend, that I see our position toward Romayne in a
new light. Forgive me, if I say no more for the present. I prefer
to be silent, until my audacity is justified by events.
--- * Father Benwell's experience had, in this case, not misled
him. If Stella had remained unmarried, Winterfield might have
justified himself. But he was honorably unwilling to disturb her
relations with her husband, by satisfying her that he had never
been unworthy of the affection which had once united them.
BERNARD WINTERFIELD'S CORRESPONDENCE.
_From Mrs. Romayne to Mr. Winterfield._
HAS my letter failed to reach you? I directed it (as I direct
this) to Beaupark, not knowing your London address.
Yesterday, Father Benwell called at Ten Acres Lodge. He first saw
my mother and myself and he contrived to mention your name. It
was done with his usual adroitness, and I might perhaps have
passed it over if he had not looked at me. I hope and pray it may
be only my fancy--but I thought I saw, in his eyes, that he was
conscious of having me in his power, and that he might betray me
to my husband at any moment.
I have no sort of claim on you. And, Heaven knows, I have little
reason to trust you. But I thought you meant fairly by me when we
spoke together at this house. In that belief, I entreat you to
tell me if Father Benwell has intruded himself into your
confidence--or even if you have hinted anything to him which
gives him a hold over me.
_From Mr. Winterfield to Mrs. Romayne._
Both your letters have reached me.
I have good reason for believing that you are entirely mistaken
in your estimate of Father Benwell's character. But I know, by
sad experience, how you hold to your opinions when they are once
formed; and I am eager to relieve you of all anxiety, so far as I
am concerned. I have not said one word--I have not even let slip
the slightest hint--which could inform Father Benwell of that
past event in our lives to which your letter alludes. Your secret
is a sacred secret to me; and it has been, and shall be, sacredly
There is a sentence in your letter which has given me great pain.
You reiterate the cruel language of the bygone time. You say,
"Heaven knows I have little reason to trust you."
I have reasons, on my side, for not justifying myself--except
under certain conditions. I mean under conditions which might
place me in a position to serve and advise you as a friend or
brother. In that case, I undertake to prove, even to you, that it
was a cruel injustice ever to have doubted me, and that there is
no man living whom y ou can more implicitly trust than myself.
My address, when I am in London, is at the head of this page.
_From Dr. Wybrow to Mr. Winterfield._
Dear Sir--I have received your letter, mentioning that you wish
to accompany me, at my next visit to the asylum, to see the
French boy, so strangely associated with the papers delivered to
you by Father Benwell.
Your proposal reaches me too late. The poor creature's troubled
life has come to an end. He never rallied from the exhausting
effect of the fever. To the last he was attended by his mother.
I write with true sympathy for that excellent lady--but I cannot
conceal from you or from myself that this death is not to be
regretted. In a case of the same extraordinary kind, recorded in
print, the patient recovered from the fever, and his insanity
returned with his returning health.
THE SADDEST OF ALL WORDS.
ON the tenth morning, dating from the dispatch of Father
Benwell's last letter to Rome, Penrose was writing in the study
at Ten Acres Lodge, while Romayne sat at the other end of the
room, looking listlessly at a blank sheet of paper, with the pen
lying idle beside it. On a sudden he rose, and, snatching up
paper and pen, threw them irritably into the fire.
"Don't trouble yourself to write any longer," he said to Penrose.
"My dream is over. Throw my manuscripts into the waste paper
basket, and never speak to me of literary work again."
"Every man devoted to literature has these fits of despondency,"
Penrose answered. "Don't think of your work. Send for your horse,
and trust to fresh air and exercise to relieve your mind."
Romayne barely listened. He turned round at the fireplace and
studied the reflection of his face in the glass.
"I look worse and worse," he said thoughtfully to himself.
It was true. His flesh had fallen away; his face had withered and
whitened; he stooped like an old man. The change for the worse
had been steadily proceeding from the time when he left Vange
"It's useless to conceal it from me!" he burst out, turning
toward Penrose. "I believe I am in some way answerable--though
you all deny it--for the French boy's death. Why not? His voice
is still in my ears, and the stain of his brother's blood is on
me. I am under a spell! Do you believe in the witches--the
merciless old women who made wax images of the people who injured
them, and stuck pins in their mock likenesses, to register the
slow wasting away of their victims day after day? People
disbelieve it in these times, but it has never been disproved."
He stopped, looked at Penrose, and suddenly changed his tone.
"Arthur! what is the matter with you? Have you had a bad night?
Has anything happened?"
For the first time in Romayne's experience of him, Penrose
"Is there nothing to make me anxious," he said, "when I hear you
talk as you are talking now? The poor French boy died of a fever.
Must I remind you again that he owed the happiest days of his
life to you and your good wife?"
Romayne still looked at him without attending to what he said.
"Surely you don't think I am deceiving you?" Penrose
"No; I was thinking of something else. I was wondering whether I
really know you as well as I thought I did. Am I mistaken in
supposing that you are not an ambitious man?"
"My only ambition is to lead a worthy life, and to be as useful
to my fellow-creatures as I can. Does that satisfy you?"
Romayne hesitated. "It seems strange--" he began.
"What seems strange?"
"I don't say it seems strange that you should be a priest,"
Romayne explained. "I am only surprised that a man of your simple
way of thinking should have attached himself to the Order of the
"I can quite understand that," said Penrose. "But you should
remember that circumstances often influence a man in his choice
of a vocation. It has been so with me. I am a member of a Roman
Catholic family. A Jesuit College was near our place of abode,
and a near relative of mine--since dead--was one of the resident
priests." He paused, and added in a lower tone: "When I was
little more than a lad I suffered a disappointment, which altered
my character for life. I took refuge in the College, and I have
found patience and peace of mind since that time. Oh, my friend,
you might have been a more contented man--" He stopped again. His
interest in the husband had all but deceived him into forgetting
his promise to the wife.
Romayne held out his hand. "I hope I have not thoughtlessly hurt
you?" he said.
Penrose took the offered hand, and pressed it fervently. He tried
to speak--and suddenly shuddered, like a man in pain. "I am not
very well this morning," he stammered; "a turn in the garden will
do me good."
Romayne's doubts were confirmed by the manner in which Penrose
left him. Something had unquestionably happened, which his friend
shrank from communicating to him. He sat down again at his desk
and tried to read. The time passed--and he was still left alone.
When the door was at last opened it was only Stella who entered
"Have you seen Penrose?" he asked.
The estrangement between them had been steadily widening of late.
Romayne had expressed his resentment at his wife's interference
between Penrose and himself by that air of contemptuous endurance
which is the hardest penalty that a man can inflict on the woman
who loves him. Stella had submitted with a proud and silent
resignation--the most unfortunate form of protest that she could
have adopted toward a man of Romayne's temper. When she now
appeared, however, in her husband's study, there was a change in
her expression which he instantly noticed. She looked at him with
eyes softened by sorrow. Before she could answer his first
question, he hurriedly added another. "Is Penrose really ill?"
"No, Lewis. He is distressed."
"About you, and about himself."
"Is he going to leave us?"
"But he will come back again?"
Stella took a chair by her husband's side. "I am truly sorry for
you, Lewis," she said. "It is even a sad parting for Me. If you
will let me say it, I have a sincere regard for dear Mr.
Under other circumstances, this confession of feeling for the man
who had sacrificed his dearest aspiration to the one
consideration of her happiness, might have provoked a sharp
reply. But by this time Romayne had really become alarmed. "You
speak as if Arthur was going to leave England," he said.
"He leaves England this afternoon," she answered, "for Rome."
"Why does he tell this to you, and not to me?" Romayne asked.
"He cannot trust himself to speak of it to you. He begged me to
Her courage failed her. She paused. Romayne beat his hand
impatiently on the desk before him. "Speak out!" he cried. "If
Rome is not the end of the journey--what is?"
Stella hesitated no longer.
"He goes to Rome," she said "to receive his instructions, and to
become personally acquainted with the missionaries who are
associated with him. They will leave Leghorn in the next vessel
which sets sail for a port in Central America. And the dangerous
duty intrusted to them is to re-establish one of the Jesuit
Missions destroyed by the savages years since. They will find
their church a ruin, and not a vestige left of the house once
inhabited by the murdered priests. It is not concealed from them
that they may be martyred, too. They are soldiers of the Cross;
and they go--willingly go--to save the souls of the Indians, at
the peril of their lives."
Romayne rose, and advanced to the door. There, he turned, and
spoke to Stella. "Where is Arthur?" he said.
Stella gently detained him.
"There was one word more he entreated me to say--pray wait and
hear it," she pleaded. "His one grief is at leaving You. Apart
from that, he devotes himself gladly to the dreadful service
which claims him. He has long looked forward to it, and has long
prepared himself for it. Those, Lewis, are his own words."
There was a knock at the door. The servant appeared, to announce
that the carriage was waiting.
Penrose entered the room as the man left it.
"Have you spok en for me?" he said to Stella. She could only
answer him by a gesture. He turned to Romayne with a faint smile.
"The saddest of all words must be spoken," he said. "Farewell!"
Pale and trembling, Romayne took his hand. "Is this Father
Benwell's doing?" he asked.
"No!" Penrose answered firmly. "In Father Benwell's position it
might have been his doing, but for his goodness to me. For the
first time since I have known him he has shrunk from a
responsibility. For my sake he has left it to Rome. And Rome has
spoken. Oh, my more than friend--my brother in love--!"
His voice failed him. With a resolution which was nothing less
than heroic in a man of his affectionate nature, he recovered his
"Let us make it as little miserable as it _can_ be," he said. "At
every opportunity we will write to each other. And, who knows--I
may yet come back to you? God has preserved his servants in
dangers as great as any that I shall encounter. May that merciful
God bless and protect you! Oh, Romayne, what happy days we have
had together!" His last powers of resistance were worn out. Tears
of noble sorrow dimmed the friendly eyes which had never once
looked unkindly on the brother of his love. He kissed Romayne.
"Help me out!" he said, turning blindly toward the hall, in which
the servant was waiting. That last act of mercy was not left to a
servant. With sisterly tenderness, Stella took his hand and led
him away. "I shall remember you gratefully as long as I live,"
she said to him when the carriage door was closed. He waved his
hand at the window, and she saw him no more.
She returned to the study.
The relief of tears had not come to Romayne. He had dropped into
a chair when Penrose left him. In stony silence he sat there, his
head down, his eyes dry and staring. The miserable days of their
estrangement were forgotten by his wife in the moment when she
looked at him. She knelt by his side and lifted his head a little
and laid it on her bosom. Her heart was full--she let the caress
plead for her silently. He felt it; his cold fingers pressed her
hand thankfully; but he said nothing. After a long interval, the
first outward expression of sorrow that fell from his lips showed
that he was still thinking of Penrose.
"Every blessing falls away from me," he said. "I have lost my
Years afterward Stella remembered those words, and the tone in
which he had spoken them.
THE IMPULSIVE SEX.
AFTER a lapse of a few days, Father Benwell was again a visitor
at Ten Acres Lodge--by Romayne's invitation. The priest occupied
the very chair, by the study fireside, in which Penrose had been
accustomed to sit.
"It is really kind of you to come to me," said Romayne, "so soon
after receiving my acknowledgment of your letter. I can't tell
you how I was touched by the manner in which you wrote of
Penrose. To my shame I confess it, I had no idea that you were so
warmly attached to him."
"I hardly knew it myself, Mr. Romayne, until our dear Arthur was
taken away from us."
If you used your influence, Father Benwell, is there no hope that
you might yet persuade him--?"
"To withdraw from the Mission? Oh, Mr. Romayne, don't you know
Arthur's character better than that? Even his gentle temper has
its resolute side. The zeal of the first martyrs to Christianity
is the zeal that burns in that noble nature. The Mission has been
the dream of his life--it is endeared to him by the very dangers
which we dread. Persuade Arthur to desert the dear and devoted
colleagues who have opened their arms to him? I might as soon
persuade that statue in the garden to desert its pedestal, and
join us in this room. Shall we change the sad subject? Have you
received the book which I sent you with my letter?"
Romayne took up the book from his desk. Before he could speak of
it some one called out briskly, on the other side of the door:
"May I come in?"--and came in, without waiting to be asked. Mrs.
Eyrecourt, painted and robed for the morning--wafting perfumes as
she moved--appeared in the study. She looked at the priest, and
lifted her many-ringed hands with a gesture of coquettish terror.
"Oh, dear me! I had no idea you were here, Father Benwell. I ask
ten thousand pardons. Dear and admirable Romayne, you don't look
as if you were pleased to see me. Good gracious! I am not
interrupting a confession, am I?"
Father Benwell (with his paternal smile in perfect order)
resigned his chair to Mrs. Eyrecourt. The traces of her illness
still showed themselves in an intermittent trembling of her head
and her hands. She had entered the room, strongly suspecting that
the process of conversion might be proceeding in the absence of
Penrose, and determined to interrupt it. Guided by his subtle
intelligence, Father Benwell penetrated her motive as soon as she
opened the door. Mrs. Eyrecourt bowed graciously, and took the
offered chair. Father Benwell sweetened his paternal smile and
offered to get a footstool.
"How glad I am," he said, "to see you in your customary good
spirits! But wasn't it just a little malicious to talk of
interrupting a confession? As if Mr. Romayne was one of Us! Queen
Elizabeth herself could hardly have said a sharper thing to a
poor Catholic priest."
"You clever creature!" said Mrs. Eyrecourt. "How easily you see
through a simple woman like me! There--I give you my hand to kiss
and I will never try to deceive you again. Do you know, Father
Benwell, a most extraordinary wish has suddenly come to me.
Please don't be offended. I wish you were a Jew."
"May I ask why?" Father Benwell inquired, with an apostolic
suavity worthy of the best days of Rome.
Mrs. Eyrecourt explained herself with the modest self-distrust of
a maiden of fifteen. "I am really so ignorant, I hardly know how
to put it. But learned persons have told me that it is the
peculiarity of the Jews--may I say, the amiable
peculiarity?--never to make converts. It would be so nice if you
would take a leaf out of their book, when we have the happiness
of receiving you here. My lively imagination pictures you in a
double character. Father Benwell everywhere else; and--say, the
patriarch Abraham at Ten Acres Lodge."
Father Benwell lifted his persuasive hands in courteous protest.
"My dear lady! pray make your mind easy. Not one word on the
subject of religion has passed between Mr. Romayne and myself--"
"I beg your pardon," Mrs. Eyrecourt interposed, "I am afraid I
fail to follow you. My silent son-in-law looks as if he longed to
smother me, and my attention is naturally distracted. You were
about to say--?"
"I was about to say, dear Mrs. Eyrecourt, that you are alarming
yourself without any reason. Not one word, on any controversial
subject, has passed--"
Mrs. Eyrecourt cocked her head, with the artless vivacity of a
bird. "Ah, but it might, though!" she suggested, slyly.
Father Benwell once more remonstrated in dumb show, and Romayne
lost his temper.
"Mrs. Eyrecourt!" he cried, sternly.
Mrs. Eyrecourt screamed, and lifted her hands to her ears. "I am
not deaf, dear Romayne, and I am not to be put down by any
ill-timed exhibition of, what I may call, domestic ferocity.
Father Benwell sets you an example of Christian moderation. Do,
please, follow it."
Romayne refused to follow it.
"Talk on any other topic that you like, Mrs. Eyrecourt. I request
you--don't oblige me to use a harder word--I request you to spare
Father Benwell and myself any further expression of your opinion
on controversial subjects."
A son-in-law may make a request, and a mother-in-law may decline
to comply. Mrs. Eyrecourt declined to comply.
"No, Romayne, it won't do. I may lament your unhappy temper, for
my daughter's sake--but I know what I am about, and you can't
provoke me. Our reverend friend and I understand each other. He
will make allowances for a sensitive woman, who has had sad
experience of conversions in her own household. My eldest
daughter, Father Benwell--a poor foolish creature--was converted
into a nunnery. The last time I saw her (she used to be sweetly
pretty; my dear husband quite adored her)--the last time I saw
her she had a red nose, and, what is even more revolting at her
age, a double chi n. She received me with her lips pursed up, and
her eyes on the ground, and she was insolent enough to say that
she would pray for me. I am not a furious old man with a long
white beard, and I don't curse my daughter and rush out into a
thunderstorm afterward--but _I_ know what King Lear felt, and _I_
have struggled with hysterics just as he did. With your wonderful
insight into human nature, I am sure you will sympathize with and
forgive me. Mr. Penrose, as my daughter tells me, behaved in the
most gentleman-like manner. I make the same appeal to your kind
forbearance. The bare prospect of our dear friend here becoming a
Romayne's temper gave way once more.
"If anything can make me a Catholic," he said, "your interference
will do it. "
"Out of sheer perversity, dear Romayne?"
"Not at all, Mrs. Eyrecourt. If I became a Catholic, I might
escape from the society of ladies, in the refuge of a monastery."
Mrs. Eyrecourt hit him back again with the readiest dexterity.
"Remain a Protestant, my dear, and go to your club. There is a
refuge for you from the ladies--a monastery, with nice little
dinners, and all the newspapers and periodicals." Having launched
this shaft, she got up, and recovered her easy courtesy of look
and manner. "I am so much obliged to you, Father Benwell. I have
not offended you, I hope and trust?"
"You have done me a service, dear Mrs. Eyrecourt. But for your
salutory caution, I _might_ have drifted into controversial
subjects. I shall be on my guard now."
"How very good of you! We shall meet again, I hope, under more
agreeable circumstances. After that polite allusion to a
monastery, I understand that my visit to my son-in-law may as
well come to an end. Please don't forget five o'clock tea at my
As she approached the door, it was opened from the outer side.
Her daughter met her half-way. "Why are you here, mamma?" Stella
"Why, indeed, my love! You had better leave the room with me. Our
amiable Romayne's present idea is to relieve himself of our
society by retiring to a monastery. Don't you see Father
Stella coldly returned the priest's bow--and looked at Romayne.
She felt a vague forewarning of what had happened. Mrs. Eyrecourt
proceeded to enlighten her, as an appropriate expression of
gratitude. "We are indeed indebted to Father Benwell, my dear. He
has been most considerate and kind--"
Romayne interrupted her without ceremony. "Favor me," he said,
addressing his wife, "by inducing Mrs. Eyrecourt to continue her
narrative in some other room."
Stella was hardly conscious of what her mother or her husband had
said. She felt that the priest's eyes were on her. Under any
other circumstances, Father Benwell's good breeding and knowledge
of the world would have impelled him to take his departure. As
things were, he knew perfectly well that the more seriously
Romayne was annoyed, in his presence, the better his own private
interests would be served. Accordingly, he stood apart, silently
observant of Stella. In spite of Winterfield's reassuring reply
to her letter, Stella instinctively suspected and dreaded the
Jesuit. Under the spell of those watchful eyes she trembled
inwardly; her customary tact deserted her; she made an indirect
apology to the man whom she hated and feared.
"Whatever my mother may have said to you, Father Benwell, has
been without my knowledge."
Romayne attempted to speak, but Father Benwell was too quick for
"Dear Mrs. Romayne, nothing has been said which needs any
disclaimer on your part."
"I should think not!" Mrs. Eyrecourt added. "Really, Stella, I
don't understand you. Why may I not say to Father Benwell what
you said to Mr. Penrose? You trusted Mr. Penrose as your friend.
I can tell you this--I am quite sure you may trust Father
Once more Romayne attempted to speak. And, once more, Father
Benwell was beforehand with him.
"May I hope," said the priest, with a finely ironical smile,
"that Mrs. Romayne agrees with her excellent mother?"
With all her fear of him, the exasperating influence of his tone
and his look was more than Stella could endure. Before she could
restrain them, the rash words flew out of her lips.
"I am not sufficiently well acquainted with you, Father Benwell,
to express an opinion."
With that answer, she took her mother's arm and left the room.
The moment they were alone, Romayne turned to the priest,
trembling with anger. Father Benwell, smiling indulgently at the
lady's little outbreak, took him by the hand, with peace-making
intentions, "Now don't--pray don't excite yourself!"
Romayne was not to be pacified in that way. His anger was trebly
intensified by the long-continued strain on his nerves of the
effort to control himself.
"I must, and will, speak out at last!" he said. "Father Benwell,
the ladies of my household have inexcusably presumed on the
consideration which is due to women. No words can say how ashamed
I am of what has happened. I can only appeal to your admirable
moderation and patience to accept my apologies, and the most
sincere expression of my regret."
"No more, Mr. Romayne! As a favor to Me, I beg and entreat you
will say no more. Sit down and compose yourself."
But Romayne was impenetrable to the influence of friendly and
forgiving demonstrations. "I can never expect you to enter my
house again!" he exclaimed.
"My dear sir, I will come and see you again, with the greatest
pleasure, on any day that you may appoint--the earlier day the
better. Come! come! let us laugh. I don't say it disrespectfully,
but poor dear Mrs. Eyrecourt has been more amusing than ever. I
expect to see our excellent Archbishop to-morrow, and I must
really tell him how the good lady felt insulted when her Catholic
daughter offered to pray for her. There is hardly anything more
humorous, even in Moliere. And the double chin, and the red
nose--all the fault of those dreadful Papists. Oh, dear me, you
still take it seriously. How I wish you had my sense of humor!
When shall I come again, and tell you how the Archbishop likes
the story of the nun's mother?"
He held out his hand with irresistible cordiality. Romayne took
it gratefully--still bent, however, on making atonement.
"Let me first do myself the honor of calling on You," he said. "I
am in no state to open my mind--as I might have wished to open it
to you--after what has happened. In a day or two more--"
"Say the day after to-morrow," Father Benwell hospitably
suggested. "Do me a great favor. Come and eat your bit of mutton
at my lodgings. Six o'clock, if you like--and some remarkably
good claret, a present from one of the Faithful. You will? That's
hearty! And do promise me to think no more of our little domestic
comedy. Relieve your mind. Look at Wiseman's 'Recollections of
the Popes.' Good-by--God bless you!"
The servant who opened the house door for Father Benwell was
agreeably surprised by the Papist's cheerfulness. "He isn't half
a bad fellow," the man announced among his colleagues. "Give me
half-a-crown, and went out humming a tune."
FATHER BENWELL'S CORRESPONDENCE
_To the Secretary, S. J., Rome._
I BEG to acknowledge the receipt of your letter. You mention that
our Reverend Fathers are discouraged at not having heard from me
for more than six weeks, since I reported the little dinner given
to Romayne at my lodgings.
I am sorry for this, and more than sorry to hear that my
venerated brethren are beginning to despair of Romayne's
conversion. Grant me a delay of another week--and, if the
prospects of the conversion have not sensibly improved in that
time, I will confess myself defeated. Meanwhile, I bow to
superior wisdom, without venturing to add a word in my own
The week's grace granted to me has elapsed. I write with
humility. At the same time I have something to say for myself.
Yesterday, Mr. Lewis Romayne, of Vange Abbey, was received into
the community of the Holy Catholic Church. I inclose an accurate
newspaper report of the ceremonies which attended the conversion.
Be pleased to inform me, by telegraph, whether our Reverend
Fathers wish me to go on, or not.
BOOK THE FIFTH.
MRS. EYRECO URT'S DISCOVERY.
THE leaves had fallen in the grounds at Ten Acres Lodge, and
stormy winds told drearily that winter had come.
An unchanging dullness pervaded the house. Romayne was constantly
absent in London, attending to his new religious duties under the
guidance of Father Benwell. The litter of books and manuscripts
in the study was seen no more. Hideously rigid order reigned in
the unused room. Some of Romayne's papers had been burned; others
were imprisoned in drawers and cupboards--the history of the
Origin of Religions had taken its melancholy place among the
suspended literary enterprises of the time. Mrs. Eyrecourt (after
a superficially cordial reconciliation with her son-in-law)
visited her daughter every now and then, as an act of maternal
sacrifice. She yawned perpetually; she read innumerable novels;
she corresponded with her friends. In the long dull evenings, the
once-lively lady sometimes openly regretted that she had not been
born a man--with the three masculine resources of smoking,
drinking, and swearing placed at her disposal. It was a dreary
existence, and happier influences seemed but little likely to
change it. Grateful as she was to her mother, no persuasion would
induce Stella to leave Ten Acres and amuse herself in London.
Mrs. Eyrecourt said, with melancholy and metaphorical truth,
"There is no elasticity left in my child."
On a dim gray morning, mother and daughter sat by the fireside,
with another long day before them.
"Where is that contemptible husband of yours?" Mrs. Eyrecourt
asked, looking up from her book.
"Lewis is staying in town," Stella answered listlessly.
"In company with Judas Iscariot?"
Stella was too dull to immediately understand the allusion. "Do
you mean Father Benwell?" she inquired.
"Don't mention his name, my dear. I have re-christened him on
purpose to avoid it. Even his name humiliates me. How completely
the fawning old wretch took me in--with all my knowledge of the
world, too! He was so nice and sympathetic--such a comforting
contrast, on that occasion, to you and your husband--I declare I
forgot every reason I had for not trusting him. Ah, we women are
poor creatures--we may own it among ourselves. If a man only has
nice manners and a pleasant voice, how many of us can resist him?
Even Romayne imposed upon me--assisted by his property, which in
some degree excuses my folly. There is nothing to be done now,
Stella, but to humor him. Do as that detestable priest does, and
trust to your beauty (there isn't as much of it left as I could
wish) to turn the scale in your favor. Have you any idea when the
new convert will come back? I heard him ordering a fish dinner
for himself, yesterday--because it was Friday. Did you join him
at dessert-time, profanely supported by meat? What did he say?"
"What he has said more than once already, mama. His peace of mind
is returning, thanks to Father Benwell. He was perfectly gentle
and indulgent--but he looked as if he lived in a different world
from mine. He told me he proposed to pass a week in, what he
called, Retreat. I didn't ask him what it meant. Whatever it is,
I suppose he is there now."
"My dear, don't you remember your sister began in the same way?
_She_ retreated. We shall have Romayne with a red nose and a
double chin, offering to pray for us next! Do you recollect that
French maid of mine--the woman I sent away, because she would
spit, when she was out of temper, like a cat? I begin to think I
treated the poor creature harshly. When I hear of Romayne and his
Retreat, I almost feel inclined to spit, myself. There! let us go
on with your reading. Take the first volume--I have done with
"What is it, mama?"
"A very remarkable work, Stella, in the present state of light
literature in England--a novel that actually tells a story. It's
quite incredible, I know. Try the book. It has another
extraordinary merit--it isn't written by a woman."
Stella obediently received the first volume, turned over the
leaves, and wearily dropped the wonderful novel on her lap. "I
can't attend to it," she said. "My mind is too full of my own
"About Romayne?" said her mother.
"No. When I think of my husband now, I almost wish I had his
confidence in Priests and Retreats. The conviction grows on me,
mama, that my worst troubles are still to come. When I was
younger, I don't remember being tormented by presentiments of any
kind. Did I ever talk of presentiments to you, in the bygone
"If you had done anything of the sort, my love (excuse me, if I
speak plainly), I should have said, 'Stella, your liver is out of
order'; and I should have opened the family medicine-chest. I
will only say now send for the carriage; let us go to a morning
concert, dine at a restaurant, and finish the evening at the
This characteristic proposal was entirely thrown away on Stella.
She was absorbed in pursuing her own train of thought. "I almost
wish I had told Lewis," she said to herself absently.
"Told him of what, my dear?"
"Of what happened to me with Winterfield."
Mrs. Eyrecourt's faded eyes opened wide in astonishment.
"Do you really mean it?" she asked.
"I do, indeed."
"Are you actually simple enough, Stella, to think that a man of
Romayne's temper would have made you his wife if you had told him
of the Brussels marriage?"
"Why not! Would Romayne--would any man--believe that you really
did part from Winterfield at the church door? Considering that
you are a married woman, your innocence, my sweet child, is a
perfect phenomenon! It's well there were wiser people than you to
keep your secret."
"Don't speak too positively, mama. Lewis may find it out yet."
"Is that one of your presentiments?"
"How is he to find it out, if you please?"
"I am afraid, through Father Benwell. Yes! yes! I know you only
think him a fawning old hypocrite--you don't fear him as I do.
Nothing will persuade me that zeal for his religion is the motive
under which that man acts in devoting himself to Romayne. He has
some abominable object in view, and his eyes tell me that I am
concerned in it."
Mrs. Eyrecourt burst out laughing.
"What is there to laugh at?" Stella asked.
"I declare, my dear, there is something absolutely provoking in
your utter want of knowledge of the world! When you are puzzled
to account for anything remarkable in a clergyman's conduct (I
don't care, my poor child, to what denomination he belongs) you
can't be wrong in attributing his motive to--Money. If Romayne
had turned Baptist or Methodist, the reverend gentleman in charge
of his spiritual welfare would not have forgotten--as you have
forgotten, you little goose--that his convert was a rich man. His
mind would have dwelt on the chapel, or the mission, or the
infant school, in want of funds; and--with no more abominable
object in view than I have, at this moment, in poking the
fire--he would have ended in producing his modest subscription
list and would have betrayed himself (just as our odious Benwell
will betray himself) by the two amiable little words, Please
contribute. Is there any other presentiment, my dear, on which
you would like to have your mother's candid opinion?"
Stella resignedly took up the book again.
"I daresay you are right," she said. "Let us read our novel."
Before she had reached the end of the first page, her mind was
far away again from the unfortunate story. She was thinking of
that "other presentiment," which had formed the subject of her
mother's last satirical inquiry. The vague fear that had shaken
her when she had accidentally touched the French boy, on her
visit to Camp's Hill, still from time to time troubled her
memory. Even the event of his death had failed to dissipate the
delusion, which associated him with some undefined evil influence
that might yet assert itself. A superstitious forewarning of this
sort was a weakness new to her in her experience of herself. She
was heartily ashamed of it--and yet it kept its hold. Once more
the book dropped on her lap. She laid it aside, and walked
wearily to the window to look at the weather.
Almost at the same moment Mrs. Eyrecourt's maid disturbed her
mistress over the second volu me of the novel by entering the
room with a letter
"For me?" Stella asked, looking round from the window.
"No, ma'am--for Mrs. Eyrecourt."
The letter had been brought to the house by one of Lady Loring's
servants. In delivering it he had apparently given private
instructions to the maid. She laid her finger significantly on
her lips when she gave the letter to her mistress.
In these terms Lady Loring wrote:
"If Stella happens to be with you, when you receive my note,
don't say anything which will let her know that I am your
correspondent. She has always, poor dear, had an inveterate
distrust of Father Benwell; and, between ourselves, I am not sure
that she is quite so foolish as I once thought. The Father has
unexpectedly left us--with a well-framed excuse which satisfied
Lord Loring. It fails to satisfy Me. Not from any wonderful
exercise of penetration on my part, but in consequence of
something I have just heard in course of conversation with a
Catholic friend. Father Benwell, my dear, turns out to be a
Jesuit; and, what is more, a person of such high authority in the
Order, that his concealment of his rank, while he was with us,
must have been a matter of necessity. He must have had some very
serious motive for occupying a position so entirely beneath him
as his position in our house. I have not the shadow of a reason
for associating this startling discovery with dear Stella's
painful misgivings--and yet there is something in my mind which
makes me want to hear what Stella's mother thinks. Come and have
a talk about it as soon as you possibly can."
Mrs. Eyrecourt put the letter in her pocket smiling quietly to
Applying to Lady Loring's letter the infallible system of
solution which she had revealed to her daughter, Mrs. Eyrecourt
solved the mystery of the priest's conduct without a moment's
hesitation. Lord Loring's check, in Father Benwell's pocket,
representing such a liberal subscription that my lord was
reluctant to mention it to my lady--there was the reading of the
riddle. as plain as the sun at noonday! Would it be desirable to
enlighten Lady Loring as she had already enlightened Stella? Mrs.
Eyrecourt decided in the negative. As Roman Catholics, and as old
friends of Romayne, the Lorings naturally rejoiced in his
conversion. But as old friends also of Romayne's wife, they were
bound not to express their sentiments too openly. Feeling that
any discussion of the priest's motives would probably lead to the
delicate subject of the conversion, Mrs. Eyrecourt prudently
determined to let the matter drop. As a consequence of this
decision, Stella was left without the slightest warning of the
catastrophe which was now close at hand.
Mrs. Eyrecourt joined her daughter at the window.
"Well, my dear, is it clearing up? Shall we take a drive before
"If you like, mama."
She turned to her mother as she answered.
The light of the clearing sky, at once soft and penetrating, fell
full on her. Mrs. Eyrecourt, looking at her as usual, suddenly
became serious: she studied her daughter's face with an eager and
"Do you see any extraordinary change in me?" Stella asked, with a
Instead of answering, Mrs. Eyrecourt put her arm round Stella
with a loving gentleness, entirely at variance with any ordinary
expression of her character. The worldly mother's eyes rested
with a lingering tenderness on the daughter's face. "Stella!" she
said softly--and stopped, at a loss for words for the first time
in her life.
After a while, she began again. "Yes; I see a change in you," she
whispered--"an interesting change which tells me something. Can
you guess what it is?"
Stella's color rose brightly, and faded again.
She laid her head in silence on her mother's bosom. Worldly,
frivolous, self-interested, Mrs. Eyrecourt's nature was the
nature of a woman--and the one great trial and triumph of a
woman's life, appealing to her as a trial and a triumph soon to
come to her own child, touched fibers under the hardened surface
of her heart which were still unprofaned. "My poor darling," she
said, "have you told the good news to your husband?"
"He doesn't care, now, for anything that I can tell him."
"Nonsense, Stella! You may win him back to you by a word--and do
you hesitate to say the word? _I_ shall tell him!"
Stella suddenly drew herself away from her mother's caressing
arm. "If you do," she cried, "no words can say how inconsiderate
and how cruel I shall think you. Promise--on your word of
honor--promise you will leave it to me!"
"Will you tell him, yourself--if I leave it to you?"
"Yes--at my own time. Promise!"
"Hush, hush! don't excite yourself, my love; I promise. Give me a
kiss. I declare I am agitated myself!" she exclaimed, falling
back into her customary manner. "Such a shock to my vanity,
Stella--the prospect of becoming a grandmother! I really must
ring for Matilda, and take a few drops of red lavender. Be
advised by me, my poor dear, and we will turn the priest out of
the house yet. When Romayne comes back from his ridiculous
Retreat--after his fasting and flagellation, and Heaven knows
what besides--_then_ bring him to his senses; then is the time to
tell him. Will you think of it?"
"Yes; I will think of it."
"And one word more, before Matilda comes in. Remember the vast
importance of having a male heir to Vange Abbey. On these
occasions you may practice with perfect impunity on the ignorance
of the men. Tell him you're sure it's going to be a boy!"
THE SEED IS SOWN.
SITUATED in a distant quarter of the vast western suburb of
London, the house called The Retreat stood in the midst of a
well-kept garden, protected on all sides by a high brick wall.
Excepting the grand gilt cross on the roof of the chapel, nothing
revealed externally the devotional purpose to which the Roman
Catholic priesthood (assisted by the liberality of "the
Faithful") had dedicated the building.
But the convert privileged to pass the gates left Protestant
England outside, and found himself, as it were, in a new country.
Inside The Retreat, the paternal care of the Church took
possession of him; surrounded him with monastic simplicity in his
neat little bedroom; and dazzled him with devotional splendor
when his religious duties called him into the chapel. The perfect
taste--so seldom found in the modern arrangement and decoration
of convents and churches in southern countries--showed itself
here, pressed into the service of religion, in every part of the
house. The severest discipline had no sordid and hideous side to
it in The Retreat. The inmates fasted on spotless tablecloths,
and handled knives and forks (the humble servants of half-filled
stomachs) without a speck on their decent brightness. Penitents
who kissed the steps of the altar (to use the expressive Oriental
phrase), "eat no dirt." Friends, liberal friends, permitted to
visit the inmates on stated days, saw copies of famous Holy
Families in the reception-room which were really works of Art;
and trod on a carpet of studiously modest pretensions, exhibiting
pious emblems beyond reproach in color and design. The Retreat
had its own artesian well; not a person in the house drank
impurity in his water. A faint perfume of incense was perceptible
in the corridors. The soothing and mysterious silence of the
place was intensified rather than disturbed by soft footsteps,
and gentle opening and closing of doors. Animal life was not even
represented by a cat in the kitchen. And yet, pervaded by some
inscrutable influence, the house was not dull. Heretics, with
lively imaginations, might have not inappropriately likened it to
an enchanted castle. In one word, the Catholic system here showed
to perfection its masterly knowledge of the weakness of human
nature, and its inexhaustible dexterity in adapting the means to
On the morning when Mrs. Eyrecourt and her daughter held their
memorable interview by the fireside at Ten Acres, Father Benwell
entered one of the private rooms at The Retreat, devoted to the
use of the priesthood. The demure attendant, waiting humbly for
instructions, was sent to request the presence of
one of the inmates of the house, named Mortleman.
Father Benwell's customary serenity was a little ruffled, on this
occasion, by an appearance of anxiety. More than once he looked
impatiently toward the door, and he never even noticed the last
new devotional publications laid invitingly on the table.
Mr. Mortleman made his appearance--a young man and a promising
convert. The wild brightness of his eyes revealed that incipient
form of brain disease which begins in fanaticism, and ends not
infrequently in religious madness. His manner of greeting the
priest was absolutely servile. He cringed before the illustrious
Father Benwell took no notice of these demonstrations of
humility. "Be seated, my son," he said. Mr. Mortleman looked as
if he would have preferred going down on his knees, but he
yielded, and took a chair.
"I think you have been Mr. Romayne's companion for a few days, in
the hours of recreation?" the priest began.
"Does he appear to be at all weary of his residence in this
"Oh, far from it! He feels the benign influence of The Retreat;
we have had some delightful hours together."
"Have you anything to report?"
Mr. Mortleman crossed his hands on his breast and bowed
profoundly. "I have to report of myself, Father, that I have
committed the sin of presumption. I presumed that Mr. Romayne
was, like myself, not married."
"Have I spoken to you on that subject?"
"Then you have committed no sin. You have only made an excusable
mistake. How were you led into error?"
"In this way, Father. Mr. Romayne had been speaking to me of a
book which you had been so good as to send to him. He had been
especially interested by the memoir therein contained of the
illustrious Englishman, Cardinal Acton. The degrees by which his
Eminence rose to the rank of a Prince of the Church seemed, as I
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