The Black Robe
Part 6 out of 7
thought, to have aroused in my friend a new sense of vocation. He
asked me if I myself aspired to belong to the holy priesthood. I
answered that this was indeed my aspiration, if I might hope to
be found worthy. He appeared to be deeply affected. I ventured to
ask if he too had the same prospect before him. He grieved me
indescribably. He sighed and said, 'I have no such hope; I am
married.' Tell me Father, I entreat you, have I done wrong?"
Father Benwell considered for a moment. "Did Mr. Romayne say
anything more?" he asked.
"Did you attempt to return to the subject?"
"I thought it best to be silent."
Father Benwell held out his hand. "My young friend, you have not
only done no wrong--you have shown the most commendable
discretion. I will detain you no longer from your duties. Go to
Mr. Romayne, and say that I wish to speak with him."
Mr. Mortleman dropped on one knee, and begged for a blessing.
Father Benwell lifted the traditional two fingers, and gave the
blessing. The conditions of human happiness are easily fulfilled
if we rightly understand them. Mr. Mortleman retired perfectly
Left by himself again, Father Benwell paced the room rapidly from
end to end. The disturbing influence visible in his face had now
changed from anxiety to excitement. "I'll try it to-day!" he said
to himself--and stopped, and looked round him doubtfully. "No,
not here," he decided; "it may get talked about too soon. It will
be safer in every way at my lodgings." He recovered his
composure, and returned to his chair.
Romayne opened the door.
The double influence of the conversion, and of the life in The
Retreat, had already changed him. His customary keenness and
excitability of look had subsided, and had left nothing in their
place but an expression of suave and meditative repose. All his
troubles were now in the hands of his priest. There was a passive
regularity in his bodily movements and a beatific serenity in his
"My dear friend," said Father Benwell, cordially shaking hands,
"you were good enough to be guided by my advice in entering this
house. Be guided by me again, when I say that you have been here
long enough. You can return, after an interval, if you wish it.
But I have something to say to you first--and I beg to offer the
hospitality of my lodgings."
The time had been when Romayne would have asked for some
explanation of this abrupt notice of removal. Now, he passively
accepted the advice of his spiritual director. Father Benwell
made the necessary communication to the authorities, and Romayne
took leave of his friends in The Retreat. The great Jesuit and
the great landowner left the place, with becoming humility, in a
"I hope I have not disappointed you?" said Father Benwell.
"I am only anxious," Romayne answered, "to hear what you have to
THE HARVEST IS REAPED.
ON their way through the streets, Father Benwell talked as
persistently of the news of the day as if he had nothing else in
his thoughts. To keep his companion's mind in a state of suspense
was, in certain emergencies, to exert a useful preparatory
influence over a man of Romayne's character. Even when they
reached his lodgings, the priest still hesitated to approach the
object that he had in view. He made considerate inquiries, in the
character of a hospitable man.
"They breakfast early at The Retreat," he said. "What may I offer
"I want nothing, thank you," Romayne answered, with an effort to
control his habitual impatience of needless delay.
"Pardon me--we have a long interview before us, I fear. Our
bodily necessities, Romayne (excuse me if I take the friendly
liberty of suppressing the formal 'Mr.')--our bodily necessities
are not to be trifled with. A bottle of my famous claret, and a
few biscuits, will not hurt either of us." He rang the bell, and
gave the necessary directions "Another damp day!" he went on
cheerfully. "I hope you don't pay the rheumatic penalties of a
winter residence in England? Ah, this glorious country would be
too perfect if it possessed the delicious climate of Rome!"
The wine and biscuits were brought in. Father Benwell filled the
glasses and bowed cordially to his guest.
"Nothing of this sort at The Retreat!" he said gayly. "Excellent
water, I am told--which is a luxury in its way, especially in
London. Well, my dear Romayne, I must begin by making my
apologies. You no doubt thought me a little abrupt in running
away with you from your retirement at a moment's notice?"
"I believed that you had good reasons, Father--and that was
enough for me."
"Thank you--you do me justice--it was in your best interests that
I acted. There are men of phlegmatic temperament, over whom the
wise monotony of discipline at The Retreat exercises a wholesome
influence--I mean an influence which may be prolonged with
advantage. You are not one of those persons. Protracted seclusion
and monotony of life are morally and mentally unprofitable to a
man of your ardent disposition. I abstained from mentioning these
reasons, at the time, out of a feeling of regard for our
excellent resident director, who believes unreservedly in the
institution over which he presides. Very good! The Retreat has
done all that it could usefully do in your case. We must think
next of how to employ that mental activity which, rightly
developed, is one of the most valuable qualities that you
possess. Let me ask, first, if you have in some degree recovered
"I feel like a different man, Father Benwell."
"That's right! And your nervous sufferings--I don't ask what they
are; I only want to know if you experience a sense of relief?"
"A most welcome sense of relief," Romayne answered, with a
revival of the enthusiasm of other days. "The complete change in
all my thoughts and convictions which I owe to you--"
"And to dear Penrose," Father Benwell interposed, with the prompt
sense of justice which no man could more becomingly assume. "We
must not forget Arthur."
"Forget him?" Romayne repeated. "Not a day passes without my
thinking of him. It is one of the happy results of the change in
me that my mind does not dwell bitterly on the loss of him now. I
think of Penrose with admiration, as of one whose glorious life,
with all its dangers, I should like to share!"
He spoke with a rising color and brightening eyes. Already, the
absorbent capacity of the Roman Church had drawn to itself that
sympathetic side of his character which was also one of its
strongest sides. Already, his love for Penrose--hitherto inspired
by the virtues of the man--had narrowed its range to sympathy
with the trials and privileges of the priest. Truly and deeply,
indeed, had the physician consulted, in bygone days, reasoned on
Romayne's case! That "occurrence of some new and absorbing
influence in his life," of which the doctor had spoken--that
"working of some complete change in his habits of thought"--had
found its way to him at last, after the wife's simple devotion
had failed, through the subtler ministrations of the priest.
Some men, having Father Benwell's object in view, would have
taken instant advantage of the opening offered to them by
Romayne's unguarded enthusiasm. The illustrious Jesuit held fast
by the wise maxim which forbade him to do anything in a hurry.
"No," he said, "your life must not be the life of our dear
friend. The service on which the Church employs Penrose is not
the fit service for you. You have other claims on us."
Romayne looked at his spiritual adviser with a momentary change
of expression--a relapse into the ironical bitterness of the past
"Have you forgotten that I am, and can be, only a layman?" he
asked. "What claims can I have, except the common claim of all
faithful members of the Church on the good offices of the
priesthood?" He paused for a moment, and continued with the
abruptness of a man struck by a new idea. "Yes! I have perhaps
one small aim of my own--the claim of being allowed to do my
"In what respect, dear Romayne?"
"Surely you can guess? I am a rich man; I have money lying idle,
which it is my duty (and my privilege) to devote to the charities
and necessities of the Church. And, while I am speaking of this,
I must own that I am a little surprised at your having said
nothing to me on the subject. You have never yet pointed out to
me the manner in which I might devote my money to the best and
noblest uses. Was it forgetfulness on your part?"
Father Benwell shook his head. "No," he replied; "I can't
honestly say that."
"Then you had a reason for your silence?"
"May I not know it?"
Father Benwell got up and walked to the fireplace. Now there are
various methods of getting up and walking to a fireplace, and
they find their way to outward expression through the customary
means of look and manner. We may feel cold, and may only want to
warm ourselves. Or we may feel restless, and may need an excuse
for changing our position. Or we may feel modestly confused, and
may be anxious to hide it. Father Benwell, from head to foot,
expressed modest confusion, and polite anxiety to hide it.
"My good friend," he said, "I am afraid of hurting your
Romayne was a sincere convert, but there were instincts still
left in him which resented this expression of regard, even when
it proceeded from a man whom he respected and admired. "You will
hurt my feelings," he answered, a little sharply, "if you are not
plain with me."
"Then I _will_ be plain with you," Father Benwell rejoined. "The
Church--speaking through me, as her unworthy interpreter--feels a
certain delicacy in approaching You on the subject of money."
Father Benwell left the fireplace without immediately answering.
He opened a drawer and took out of it a flat mahogany box. His
gracious familiarity became transformed, by some mysterious
process of congelation, into a dignified formality of manner. The
priest took the place of the man.
"The Church, Mr. Romayne, hesitates to receive, as benevolent
contributions, money derived from property of its own,
arbitrarily taken from it, and placed in a layman's hands. No!"
he cried, interrupting Romayne, who instantly understood the
allusion to Vange Abbey--"no! I must beg you to hear me out. I
state the case plainly, at your own request. At the same time, I
am bound to admit that the lapse of centuries has, in the eye of
the law, sanctioned the deliberate act of robbery perpetrated by
Henry the Eighth. You have lawfully inherited Vange Abbey from
your ancestors. The Church is not unreasonable enough to assert a
merely moral right against the law of the country. It may feel
the act of spoliation--but it submits." He unlocked the flat
mahogany box, and gently dropped his dignity: the man took the
place of the priest. "As the master of Vange," he said, you may
be interested in looking at a little historical curiosity which
we have preserved. The title-deeds, dear Romayne, by which the
monks held your present property, in _their_ time. Take another
glass of wine."
Romayne looked at the title-deeds, and laid them aside unread.
Father Benwell had roused his pride, his sense of justice, his
wild and lavish instincts of generosity. He, who had always
despised money--except when it assumed its only estimable
character, as a means for the attainment of merciful and noble
ends--_he_ was in possession of property to which he had no moral
right: without even the poor excuse of associations which
attached him to the place.
"I hope I have not offended you?" said Father Benwell.
"You have made me ashamed of myself," Romayne answered, warmly.
"On the day when I became a Catholic, I ought to have remembered
Vange. Better late than never. I refuse to take shelter under the
law--I respect the moral right of the Church. I will at once
restore the property which I have usurped."
Father Benwell took both Romayne's hands in his, and pressed them
"I am proud of you!" he said. We shall all be proud of you, when
I write word to Rome of what has passed between us. But--no,
Romayne!--this must not be. I admire you, feel with you; and I
refuse. On behalf of the Church, I say it--I refuse the gift."
"Wait a little, Father Benwell! You don't know the state of my
affairs. I don't deserve the admiration which you feel for me.
The loss of the Vange property will be no pecuniary loss, in my
case. I have inherited a fortune from my aunt. My income from
that source is far larger than my income from the Yorkshire
"Romayne, it must not be!"
"Pardon me, it must be. I have more money than I can
spend--without Vange. And I have painful associations with the
house which disincline me ever to enter it again."
Even this confession failed to move Father Benwell. He
obstinately crossed his arms, obstinately tapped his foot on the
floor. "No!" he said. "Plead as generously as you may, my answer
Romayne only became more resolute on his side. "The property is
absolutely my own," he persisted. "I am without a near relation
in the world. I have no children. My wife is already provided for
at my death, out of the fortune left me by my aunt. It is
downright obstinacy--forgive me for saying so--to persist in your
"It is downright duty, Romayne. If I gave way to you, I should be
the means of exposing the priesthood to the vilest
misinterpretation. I should be deservedly reprimanded, and your
proposal of restitution--if you expressed it in writing--would,
without a moment's hesitation, be torn up. If you have any regard
for me, drop the subject."
Romayne refused to yield, even to this unanswerable appeal.
"Very well," he said, "there is one document you can't tear up.
You can't interfere with my making another will. I shall leave
the Vange property to the Church, and I shall appoint you one of
the trustees. You can't object to that."
Father Benwell smiled sadly.
"The law spares me the ungracious necessity of objecting, in this
case," he answered. "My friend, you forget the Statutes of
Mortmain. They positively forbid you to carry out the intention
which you have just expressed."
Romayne dismissed this appeal to the law irritably, by waving his
hand. "The Statutes of Mortmain," he rejoined, "can't prevent my
bequeathing my property to an individual. I shall leave Vange
Abbey to You. Now, Father Benwell! have I got the better of you
With Christian humility the Jesuit accepted the defeat, for which
he had paved the way from the outset of the interview. A t the
same time, he shuffled all personal responsibility off his own
shoulders. He had gained the victory for the Church--without (to
do him justice) thinking of himself.
"Your generosity has conquered me," he said. "But I must be
allowed to clear myself of even the suspicion of an interested
motive. On the day when your will is executed, I shall write to
the General of our Order at Rome, leaving my inheritance to him.
This proceeding will be followed by a deed, in due form,
conveying the property to the Church. You have no objection to my
taking that course? No? My dear Romayne, words are useless at
such a time as this. My acts shall speak for me. I am too
agitated to say more. Let us talk of something else--let us have
He filled the glasses; he offered more biscuits.--he was really,
and even perceptibly, agitated by the victory that he had won.
But one last necessity now confronted him--the necessity of
placing a serious obstacle in the way of any future change of
purpose on the part of Romayne. As to the choice of that
obstacle, Father Benwell's mind had been made up for some time
"What _was_ it I had to say to you?" he resumed "Surely, I was
speaking on the subject of your future life?"
"You are very kind, Father Benwell. The subject has little
interest for me. My future life is shaped out--domestic
retirement, ennobled by religious duties."
Still pacing the room, Father Benwell stopped at that reply, and
put his hand kindly on Romayne's shoulder.
"We don't allow a good Catholic to drift into domestic
retirement, who is worthy of better things," he said. "The
Church, Romayne wishes to make use of you. I never flattered any
one in my life, but I may say before your face what I have said
behind your back. A man of your strict sense of honor--of your
intellect--of your high aspirations--of your personal charm and
influence--is not a man whom we can allow to run to waste. Open
your mind, my friend, fairly to me, and I will open my mind
fairly to you. Let me set the example. I say it with authority;
an enviable future is before you."
Romayne's pale cheeks flushed with excitement. "What future?" he
asked, eagerly. "Am I free to choose? Must I remind you that a
man with a wife cannot think only of himself?"
"Suppose you were _not_ a man with a wife."
"What do you mean?"
"Romayne, I am trying to break my way through that inveterate
reserve which is one of the failings in your character. Unless
you can prevail on yourself to tell me those secret thoughts,
those unexpressed regrets, which you can confide to no other man,
this conversation must come to an end. Is there no yearning, in
your inmost soul, for anything beyond the position which you now
There was. a pause. The flush on Romayne' s face faded away. He
"You are not in the confessional," Father Benwell reminded him,
with melancholy submission to circumstances. "You are under no
obligation to answer me."
Romayne roused himself. He spoke in low, reluctant tones. "I am
afraid to answer you," he said.
That apparently discouraging reply armed Father Benwell with the
absolute confidence of success which he had thus far failed to
feel. He wound his way deeper and deeper into Romayne's mind,
with the delicate ingenuity of penetration, of which the practice
of years had made him master.
"Perhaps I have failed to make myself clearly understood," he
said. "I will try to put it more plainly. You are no half-hearted
man, Romayne. What you believe, you believe fervently.
Impressions are not dimly and slowly produced on _your_ mind. As
the necessary result, your conversion being once accomplished,
your whole soul is given to the Faith that is in you. Do I read
your character rightly?"
"So far as I know it--yes."
Father Benwell went on.
"Bear in mind what I have just said," he resumed; "and you will
understand why I feel it my duty to press the question which you
have not answered yet. You have found in the Catholic Faith the
peace of mind which you have failed to obtain by other means. If
I had been dealing with an ordinary man, I should have expected
from the change no happier result than this. But I ask You, has
that blessed influence taken no deeper and nobler hold on your
heart? Can you truly say to me, 'I am content with what I have
gained; I wish for no more'?"
"I cannot truly say it," Romayne answered.
The time had now come for speaking plainly. Father Benwell no
longer advanced to his end under cover of a cloud of words.
"A little while since," he said, "you spoke of Penrose as of a
man whose lot in life you longed to share. The career which has
associated him with an Indian mission is, as I told you, only
adapted to a man of his special character and special gifts. But
the career which has carried him into the sacred ranks of the
priesthood is open to every man who feels the sense of divine
vocation, which has made Penrose one of Us."
"No, Father Benwell! Not open to every man."
"I say, Yes!"
"It is not open to Me!"
"I say it is open to You. And more--I enjoin, I command, you to
dismiss from your mind all merely human obstacles and
discouragements. They are beneath the notice of a man who feels
himself called to the priesthood. Give me your hand, Romayne!
Does your conscience tell you that you are that man?"
Romayne started to his feet, shaken to the soul by the solemnity
of the appeal.
"I can't dismiss the obstacles that surround me!" he cried,
passionately. "To a man in my position, your advice is absolutely
useless. The ties that bind me are beyond the limit of a priest's
"Nothing is beyond the limit of a priest's sympathies."
"Father Benwell, I am married!"
Father Benwell folded his arms over his breast--looked with
immovable resolution straight in Romayne's face--and struck the
blow which he had been meditating for months past.
"Rouse your courage," he said sternly. "You are no more married
than I am."
ON THE ROAD TO ROME.
THERE was not a sound in the room. Romayne stood, looking at the
"Did you hear what I said?" Father Benwell asked.
"Do you understand that I really mean what I said?"
He made no reply--he waited, like a man expecting to hear more.
Father Benwell was alive to the vast importance, at such a
moment, of not shrinking from the responsibility which he had
assumed. "I see how I distress you," he said; "but, for your
sake, I am bound to speak out. Romayne! the woman whom you have
married is the wife of another man. Don't ask me how I know it--I
do know it. You shall have positive proof, as soon as you have
recovered. Come! rest a little in the easy-chair."
He took Romayne's arm, and led him to the chair, and made him
drink some wine. They waited a while. Romayne lifted his head,
with a heavy sigh.
"The woman whom I have married is the wife of another man." He
slowly repeated the words to himself--and then looked at Father
"Who is the man?" he asked.
"I introduced you to him, when I was as ignorant of the
circumstances as you are," the priest answered. "The man is Mr.
Romayne half raised himself from the chair. A momentary anger
glittered in his eyes, and faded out again, extinguished by the
nobler emotions of grief and shame. He remembered Winterfield's
introduction to Stella.
"Her husband!" he said, speaking again to himself. "And she let
me introduce him to her. And she received him like a stranger."
He paused, and thought of it. "The proofs, if you please, sir,"
he resumed, with sudden humility. "I don't want to hear any
particulars. It will be enough for me if I know beyond all doubt
that I have been deceived and disgraced."
Father Benwell unlocked his desk and placed two papers before
Romayne. He did his duty with a grave indifference to all minor
considerations. The time had not yet come for expressions of
sympathy and regret.
"The first paper," he said, "is a certified copy of the register
of the marriage of Miss Eyrecourt to Mr. Winterfield, celebrated
(as you will see) by the English chaplain at Brussels, and
witnessed by three persons. Look at the names."
The bride's mother was the first witness. The two names t hat
followed were the names of Lord and Lady Loring. "_They_, too, in
the conspiracy to deceive me!" Romayne said, as he laid the paper
back on the table.
"I obtained that piece of written evidence," Father Benwell
proceeded, "by the help of a reverend colleague of mine, residing
at Brussels. I will give you his name and address, if you wish to
make further inquiries."
"Quite needless. What is this other paper?"
"This other paper is an extract from the short-hand writer's
notes (suppressed in the reports of the public journals) of
proceedings in an English court of law, obtained at my request by
my lawyer in London."
"What have I to do with it?"
He put the question in a tone of passive endurance--resigned to
the severest moral martyrdom that could be inflicted on him.
"I will answer you in two words," said Father Benwell. "In
justice to Miss Eyrecourt, I am bound to produce her excuse for
Romayne looked at him in stern amazement.
"Excuse!" he repeated.
"Yes--excuse. The proceedings to which I have alluded declare
Miss Eyrecourt's marriage to Mr. Winterfield to be null and
void--by the English law--in consequence of his having been
married at the time to another woman. Try to follow me. I will
put it as briefly as possible. In justice to yourself, and to
your future career, you must understand this revolting case
thoroughly, from beginning to end."
With those prefatory words, he told the story of Winterfield's
first marriage; altering nothing; concealing nothing; doing the
fullest justice to Winterfield's innocence of all evil motive,
from first to last. When the plain truth served his purpose, as
it most assuredly did in this case, the man has never yet been
found who could match Father Benwell at stripping himself of
every vestige of reserve, and exhibiting his naked heart to the
moral admiration of mankind.
"You were mortified, and I was surprised," he went on, "when Mr.
Winterfield dropped his acquaintance with you. We now know that
he acted like an honorable man."
He waited to see what effect he had produced. Romayne was in no
state of mind to do justice to Winterfield or to any one. His
pride was mortally wounded; his high sense of honor and delicacy
writhed under the outrage inflicted on it.
"And mind this," Father Benwell persisted, "poor human nature has
its right to all that can be justly conceded in the way of excuse
and allowance. Miss Eyrecourt would naturally be advised by her
friends, would naturally be eager, on her own part, to keep
hidden from you what happened at Brussels. A sensitive woman,
placed in a position so horribly false and degrading, must not be
too severely judged, even when she does wrong. I am bound to say
this--and more. Speaking from my own knowledge of all the
parties, I have no doubt that Miss Eyrecourt and Mr. Winterfield
did really part at the church door."
Romayne answered by a look--so disdainfully expressive of the
most immovable unbelief that it absolutely justified the fatal
advice by which Stella's worldly-wise friends had encouraged her
to conceal the truth. Father Benwell prudently closed his lips.
He had put the case with perfect fairness--his bitterest enemy
could not have denied that.
Romayne took up the second paper, looked at it, and threw it back
again on the table with an expression of disgust.
"You told me just now," he said, "that I was married to the wife
of another man. And there is the judge's decision, releasing Miss
Eyrecourt from her marriage to Mr. Winterfield. May I ask you to
"Certainly. Let me first remind you that you owe religious
allegiance to the principles which the Church has asserted, for
centuries past, with all the authority of its divine institution.
You admit that?"
"I admit it."
"Now, listen! In _our_ church, Romayne, marriage is even more
than a religious institution--it is a sacrament. We acknowledge
no human laws which profane that sacrament. Take two examples of
what I say. When the great Napoleon was at the height of his
power, Pius the Seventh refused to acknowledge the validity of
the Emperor's second marriage to Maria Louisa--while Josephine
was living, divorced by the French Senate. Again, in the face of
the Royal Marriage Act, the Church sanctioned the marriage of
Mrs. Fitzherbert to George the Fourth, and still declares, in
justice to her memory, that she was the king's lawful wife. In
one word, marriage, to _be_ marriage at all, must be the object
of a purely religious celebration--and, this condition complied
with, marriage is only to be dissolved by death. You remember
what I told you of Mr. Winterfield?"
"Yes. His first marriage took place before the registrar."
"In plain English, Romayne, Mr. Winterfield and the woman-rider
in the circus pronounced a formula of words before a layman in an
office. That is not only no marriage, it is a blasphemous
profanation of a holy rite. Acts of Parliament which sanction
such proceedings are acts of infidelity. The Church declares it,
in defense of religion."
"I understand you," said Romayne. "Mr. Winterfield's marriage at
"Which the English law," Father Benwell interposed, "declares to
be annulled by the marriage before the registrar, stands good,
nevertheless, by the higher law of the Church. Mr. Winterfield is
Miss Eyrecourt's husband, as long as they both live. An ordained
priest performed the ceremony in a consecrated building--and
Protestant marriages, so celebrated, are marriages acknowledged
by the Catholic Church. Under those circumstances, the ceremony
which afterward united you to Miss Eyrecourt--though neither you
nor the clergyman were to blame--was a mere mockery. Need I to
say any more? Shall I leave you for a while by yourself?"
"No! I don't know what I may think, I don't know what I may do,
if you leave me by myself."
Father Benwell took a chair by Romayne's side. "It has been my
hard duty to grieve and humiliate you," he said. "Do you bear me
no ill will?" He held out his hand.
Romayne took it--as an act of justice, if not as an act of
"Can I be of any use in advising you?" Father Benwell asked.
"Who can advise a man in my position?" Romayne bitterly rejoined.
"I can at least suggest that you should take time to think over
"Time? take time? You talk as if my situation was endurable."
"Everything is endurable, Romayne!"
"It may be so to you, Father Benwell. Did you part with your
humanity when you put on the black robe of the priest?"
"I parted, my son, with those weaknesses of _our_ humanity on
which women practice. You talk of your position. I will put it
before you at its worst."
"For what purpose?"
"To show you exactly what you have now to decide. Judged by the
law of England, Mrs. Romayne is your wife. Judged by the
principles held sacred among the religious community to which you
belong, she is not Mrs. Romayne--she is Mrs. Winterfield, living
with you in adultery. If you regret your conversion--"
"I don't regret it, Father Benwell."
"If you renounce the holy aspirations which you have yourself
acknowledged to me, return to your domestic life. But don't ask
us, while you are living with that lady, to respect you as a
member of our communion."
Romayne was silent. The more violent emotions aroused in him had,
with time, subsided into calm. Tenderness, mercy, past affection,
found their opportunity, and pleaded with him. The priest's bold
language had missed the object at which it aimed. It had revived
in Romayne's memory the image of Stella in the days when he had
first seen her. How gently her influence had wrought on him for
good! how tenderly, how truly, she had loved him. "Give me some
more wine!" he cried. "I feel faint and giddy. Don't despise me,
Father Benwell--I was once so fond of her!"
The priest poured out the wine. "I feel for you," he said.
"Indeed, indeed, I feel for you."
It was not all a lie--there were grains of truth in that outburst
of sympathy. Father Benwell was not wholly merciless. His
far-seeing intellect, his daring duplicity, carried him straight
on to his end in view. But, that end once gained--and, let it be
remembered, not gained, in this case, whol ly for himself--there
were compassionate impulses left in him which sometimes forced
their way to the surface. A man of high intelligence--however he
may misuse it, however unworthy he may be of it--has a gift from
Heaven. When you want to see unredeemed wickedness, look for it
in a fool.
"Let me mention one circumstance," Father Benwell proceeded,
"which may help to relieve you for the moment. In your present
state of mind, you cannot return to The Retreat."
"I have had a room prepared for you in this house. Here, free
from any disturbing influence, you can shape the future course of
your life. If you wish to communicate with your residence at
"Don't speak of it!"
Father Benwell sighed. "Ah, I understand!" he said, sadly. "The
house associated with Mr. Winterfield's visit--"
Romayne again interrupted him--this time by gesture only. The
hand that had made the sign clinched itself when it rested
afterward on the table. His eyes looked downward, under frowning
brows. At the name of Winterfield, remembrances that poisoned
every better influence in him rose venomously in his mind. Once
more he loathed the deceit that had been practiced on him. Once
more the detestable doubt of that asserted parting at the church
door renewed its stealthy torment, and reasoned with him as if in
words: She has deceived you in one thing; why not in another?
"Can I see my lawyer here?" he asked, suddenly.
"My dear Romayne, you can see any one whom you like to invite."
"I shall not trouble you by staying very long, Father Benwell."
"Do nothing in a hurry, my son. Pray do nothing in a hurry!"
Romayne paid no attention to this entreaty. Shrinking from the
momentous decision that awaited him, his mind instinctively took
refuge in the prospect of change of scene. "I shall leave
England," he said, impatiently.
"Not alone!" Father Benwell remonstrated.
"Who will be my companion?"
"I will," the priest answered.
Romayne's weary eyes brightened faintly. In his desolate
position, Father Benwell was the one friend on whom he could
rely. Penrose was far away; the Lorings had helped to keep him
deceived; Major Hynd had openly pitied and despised him as a
victim to priestcraft.
"Can you go with me at any time?" he asked. "Have you no duties
that keep you in England?"
"My duties, Romayne, are already confided to other hands."
"Then you have foreseen this?"
"I have thought it possible. Your journey may be long, or it may
be short--you shall not go away alone."
"I can think of nothing yet; my mind is a blank," Romayne
confessed sadly. "I don't know where I shall go."
"I know where you ought to go--and where you _will_ go," said
Father Benwell, emphatically.
Romayne understood the true meaning of that brief reply. A vague
sense of dismay began to rise in his mind. While he was still
tortured by doubt, it seemed as if Father Benwell had, by some
inscrutable process of prevision, planned out his future
beforehand. Had the priest foreseen events?
No--he had only foreseen possibilities, on the day when it first
occurred to him that Romayne's marriage was assailable, before
the court of Romayne's conscience, from the Roman Catholic point
of view. By this means, the misfortune of Romayne's marriage
having preceded his conversion might be averted; and the one
certain obstacle in the way of any change of purpose on his
part--the obstacle of the priesthood--might still be set up, by
the voluntary separation of the husband from the wife. Thus far
the Jesuit had modestly described himself to his reverend
colleagues, as regarding his position toward Romayne in a new
light. His next letter might boldly explain to them what he had
really meant. The triumph was won. Not a word more passed between
his guest and himself that morning.
Before post-time, on the same day, Father Benwell wrote his last
report to the Secretary of the Society of Jesus, in these lines:
"Romayne is free from the domestic ties that bound him. He leaves
it to me to restore Vange Abbey to the Church; and he
acknowledges a vocation for the priesthood. Expect us at Rome in
a fortnight's time."
AFTER THE STORY.
EXTRACTS FROM BERNARD WINTERFIELD'S DIARY.
WINTERFIELD DEFENDS HIMSELF.
Beaupark House, June 17th, 18--.
You and I, Cousin Beeminster, seldom meet. But I occasionally
hear of you, from friends acquainted with both of us.
I have heard of you last at Sir Philip's rent-day dinner a week
since. My name happened to be mentioned by one of the gentlemen
present, a guest like yourself. You took up the subject of your
own free will, and spoke of me in these terms:
"I am sorry to say it of the existing head of the family--but
Bernard is really unfit for the position which he holds. He has,
to say the least of it, compromised himself and his relatives on
more than one occasion. He began as a young man by marrying a
circus-rider. He got into some other scrape, after that, which he
has contrived to keep a secret from us. We only know how
disgraceful it must have been by the results--he was a voluntary
exile from England for more than a year. And now, to complete the
list, he has mixed himself up in that miserable and revolting
business of Lewis Romayne and his wife."
If any other person had spoken of me in this manner, I should
have set him down as a mischievous idiot--to be kicked perhaps,
but not to be noticed in any other way.
With you, the case is different. If I die without male offspring,
the Beaupark estate goes to you, as next heir.
I don't choose to let a man in this position slander me, and
those dear to me, without promptly contradicting him. The name I
bear is precious to me, in memory of my father. Your unanswered
allusion to my relations with "Lewis Romayne and his wife,"
coming from a member of the family, will be received as truth.
Rather than let this be, I reveal to you, without reserve, some
of the saddest passages of my life. I have nothing to be ashamed
of--and, if I have hitherto kept certain events in the dark, it
has been for the sake of others, not for my own sake. I know
better now. A woman's reputation--if she is a good woman--is not
easily compromised by telling the truth. The person of whom I am
thinking, when I write this, knows what I am going to do--and
approves of it.
You will receive, with these lines, the most perfectly candid
statement that I can furnish, being extracts cut out of my own
private Diary. They are accompanied (where plain necessity seems
to call for it) by the written evidence of other persons.
There has never been much sympathy between us. But you have been
brought up like a gentleman--and, when you have read my
narrative, I expect that you will do justice to me, and to
others--even though you think we acted indiscreetly under trying
and critical circumstances.
WINTERFIELD MAKES EXTRACTS.
April 11th, 1869.--Mrs. Eyrecourt and her daughter have left
Beaupark to-day for London. Have I really made any impression on
the heart of the beautiful Stella? In my miserable
position--ignorant whether I am free or not--I have shrunk from
formally acknowledging that I love her.
12th.--I am becoming superstitious! In the Obituary of to-day's
_Times_ the death is recorded of that unhappy woman whom I was
mad enough to marry. After hearing nothing of her for seven
years--I am free! Surely this is a good omen? Shall I follow the
Eyrecourts to London, and declare myself? I have not confidence
enough in my own power of attraction to run the risk. Better to
write first, in strictest confidence, to Mrs. Eyrecourt.
14th.--An enchanting answer from my angel's mother, written in
great haste. They are on the point of leaving for Paris. Stella
is restless and dissatisfied; she wants change of scene; and Mrs.
Eyrecourt adds, in so many words--"It is you who have upset her;
why did you not speak while we were at Beaupark?" I am to hear
again from Paris. Good old Father Newbliss said all along that
she was fond of me, and wondered, like Mrs. Eyrecourt, why I
failed to declare myself. How could I tell them of the hideous
fetters which bound me in tho se days?
18th, Paris.--She has accepted me! Words are useless to express
19th.--A letter from my lawyer, full of professional subtleties
and delays. I have no patience to enumerate them. We move to
Belgium to-morrow. Not on our way back to England--Stella is so
little desirous of leaving the Continent that we are likely to be
married abroad. But she is weary of the perpetual gayety and
glitter of Paris, and wants to see the old Belgian cities. Her
mother leaves Paris with regret. The liveliest woman of her age
that I ever met with.
Brussels, May 7.--My blessing on the old Belgian cities. Mrs.
Eyrecourt is so eager to get away from them that she backs me in
hurrying the marriage, and even consents, sorely against the
grain, to let the wedding be celebrated at Brussels in a private
and unpretending way. She has only stipulated that Lord and Lady
Loring (old friends) shall be present. They are to arrive
tomorrow, and two days afterward we are to be married.
. . . . . . .
(An inclosure is inserted in this place. It consists of the
death-bed confession of Mr. Winterfield's wife, and of the
explanatory letter written by the rector of Belhaven. The
circumstances related in these documents, already known to the
reader, are left to speak for themselves, and the Extracts from
the Diary are then continued.)
. . . . . . .
Bingen, on the Rhine, May 19.--Letters from Devonshire at last,
which relieve my wretchedness in some small degree. The frightful
misfortune at Brussels will at least be kept secret, so far as I
am concerned. Beaupark House is shut up, and the servants are
dismissed, "in consequence of my residence abroad." To Father
Newbliss I have privately written. Not daring to tell him the
truth, I leave him to infer that my marriage engagement has been
broken off, he writes back a kind and comforting letter. Time
will, I suppose, help me to bear my sad lot. Perhaps a day may
come when Stella and her friends will know how cruelly they have
London, November 18,1860.--The old wound has been opened again. I
met her accidentally in a picture gallery. She turned deadly
pale, and left the place. Oh, Stella! Stella!
London, August 12, 1861.--Another meeting with her. And another
shock to endure, which I might not have suffered if I had been a
reader of the marriage announcements in the newspapers. Like
other men, I am in the habit of leaving the marriage
announcements to the women.
I went to visit an agreeable new acquaintance, Mr. Romayne. His
wife drove up to the house while I was looking out of window. I
recognized Stella! After two years, she has made use of the
freedom which the law has given to her. I must not complain of
that, or of her treating me like a stranger, when her husband
innocently introduced us. But when are were afterward left
together for a few minutes--no! I cannot write down the merciless
words she said to me. Why am I fool enough to be as fond of her
Beaupark, November 16.--Stella's married life is not likely to be
a happy one. To-day's newspaper announces the conversion of her
husband to the Roman Catholic Faith. I can honestly say I am
sorry for her, knowing how she has suffered, among her own
relatives, by these conversions. But I so hate him, that this
proof of his weakness is a downright consolation to me.
Beaupark, January 27, 1862.--A letter from Stella, so startling
and deplorable that I cannot remain away from her after reading
it. Her husband has deliberately deserted her. He has gone to
Rome, to serve his term of probation for the priesthood. I travel
to London by to-day's train.
London, January 27.--Short as it is, I looked at Stella's letter
again and again on the journey. The tone of the closing sentences
is still studiously cold. After informing me that she is staying
with her mother in London, she concludes her letter in these
"Be under no fear that the burden of my troubles will be laid on
your shoulders. Since the fatal day when we met at Ten Acres, you
have shown forbearance and compassion toward me. I don't stop to
inquire if you are sincere--it rests with you to prove that. But
I have some questions to ask, which no person but you can answer.
For the rest, my friendless position will perhaps plead with you
not to misunderstand me. May I write again?"
Inveterate distrust in every sentence! If any other woman had
treated me in this way, I should have put her letter into the
fire, and should not have stirred from my comfortable house.
January 29.--A day missed out of my Diary. The events of
yesterday unnerved me for the time.
Arriving at Derwent's Hotel on the evening of the 27th, I sent a
line to Stella by messenger, to ask when she could receive me.
It is strange how the merest trifles seem to touch women! Her
note in reply contains the first expression of friendly feeling
toward me which has escaped her since we parted at Brussels. And
this expression proceeds from her ungovernable surprise and
gratitude at my taking the trouble to travel from Devonshire to
London on her account!
For the rest, she proposed to call on me at the hotel the next
morning. She and her mother, it appeared, differed in opinion on
the subject of Mr. Romayne's behavior to her; and she wished to
see me, in the first instance, unrestrained by Mrs. Eyrecourt's
There was little sleep for me that night. I passed most of the
time in smoking and walking up and down the room. My one relief
was afforded by Traveler--he begged so hard to go to London with
me, I could not resist him. The dog always sleeps in my room. His
surprise at my extraordinary restlessness (ending in downright
anxiety and alarm) was expressed in his eyes, and in his little
whinings and cries, quite as intelligibly as if he had put his
meaning into words. Who first called a dog a dumb creature? It
must have been a man, I think--and a thoroughly unlovable man,
too, from a dog's point of view.
Soon after ten, on the morning of the 28th, she entered my
In her personal appearance, I saw a change for the worse:
produced, I suppose, by the troubles that have tried her sorely,
poor thing. There was a sad loss of delicacy in her features, and
of purity in her complexion. Even her dress--I should certainly
not have noticed it in any other woman--seemed to be loose and
slovenly. In the agitation of the moment, I forgot the long
estrangement between us; I half lifted my hand to take hers, and
checked myself. Was I mistaken in supposing that she yielded to
the same impulse, and resisted it as I did? She concealed her
embarrassment, if she felt any, by patting the dog.
"I am ashamed that you should have taken the journey to London in
this wintry weather--" she began.
It was impossible, in her situation, to let her assume this
commonplace tone with me. "I sincerely feel for you," I said,
"and sincerely wish to help you, if I can."
She looked at me for the first time. Did she believe me? or did
she still doubt? Before I could decide, she took a letter from
her pocket, opened it, and handed it to me.
"Women often exaggerate their troubles," she said. "It is perhaps
an unfair trial of your patience--but I should like you to
satisfy yourself that I have not made the worst of my situation.
That letter will place it before you in Mr. Romayne's own words.
Read it, except where the page is turned down."
It was her husband's letter of farewell.
The language was scrupulously delicate and considerate. But to my
mind it entirely failed to disguise the fanatical cruelty of the
man's resolution, addressed to his wife. In substance, it came to
"He had discovered the marriage at Brussels, which she had
deliberately concealed from him when he took her for his wife.
She had afterward persisted in that concealment, under
circumstances which made it impossible that he could ever trust
her again." (This no doubt referred to her ill-advised reception
of me, as a total stranger, at Ten Acres Lodge.) "In the
miserable break-up of his domestic life, the Church to which he
now belonged offered him no t only her divine consolation, but
the honor, above all earthly distinctions, of serving the cause
of religion in the sacred ranks of the priesthood. Before his
departure for Rome he bade her a last farewell in this world, and
forgave her the injuries that she had inflicted on him. For her
sake he asked leave to say some few words more. In the first
place, he desired to do her every justice, in a worldly sense.
Ten Acres Lodge was offered to her as a free gift for her
lifetime, with a sufficient income for all her wants. In the
second place, he was anxious that she should not misinterpret his
motives. Whatever his opinion of her conduct might be, he did not
rely on it as affording his only justification for leaving her.
Setting personal feeling aside, he felt religious scruples
(connected with his marriage) which left him no other alternative
than the separation on which he had resolved. He would briefly
explain those scruples, and mention his authority for
entertaining them, before he closed his letter."
There the page was turned down, and the explanation was concealed
A faint color stole over her face as I handed the letter back to
"It is needless for you to read the end," she said. "You know,
under his own hand, that he has left me; and (if such a thing
pleads with you in his favor) you also know that he is liberal in
providing for his deserted wife."
I attempted to speak. She saw in my face how I despised him, and
"Whatever you may think of his conduct," she continued, "I beg
that you will not speak of it to me. May I ask your opinion (now
you have read his letter) on another matter, in which my own
conduct is concerned? In former days--"
She paused, poor soul, in evident confusion and distress.
"Why speak of those days?" I ventured to say.
"I must speak of them. In former days, I think you were told that
my father's will provided for my mother and for me. You know that
we have enough to live on?"
I had heard of it, at the time of our betrothal--when the
marriage settlement was in preparation. The mother and daughter
had each a little income of a few hundreds a year. The exact
amount had escaped my memory.
After answering her to this effect, I waited to hear more.
She suddenly became silent; the most painful embarrassment showed
itself in her face and manner. "Never mind the rest," she said,
mastering her confusion after an interval. "I have had some hard
trials to bear; I forget things--" she made an effort to finish
the sentence, and gave it up, and called to the dog to come to
her. The tears were in her eyes, and that was the way she took to
hide them from me.
In general, I am not quick at reading the minds of others--but I
thought I understood Stella. Now that we were face to face, the
impulse to trust me had, for the moment, got the better of her
caution and her pride; she was half ashamed of it, half inclined
to follow it. I hesitated no longer. The time for which I had
waited--the time to prove, without any indelicacy on my side,
that I had never been unworthy of her--had surely come at last.
"Do you remember my reply to your letter about Father Benwell?" I
"Yes--every word of it."
"I promised, if you ever had need of me, to prove that I had
never been unworthy of your confidence. In your present
situation, I can honorably keep my promise. Shall I wait till you
are calmer? or shall I go on at once?"
"When your mother and your friends took you from me," I resumed,
"if you had shown any hesitation--"
She shuddered. The image of my unhappy wife, vindictively
confronting us on the church steps, seemed to be recalled to her
memory. "Don't go back to it!" she cried. "Spare me, I entreat
I opened the writing-case in which I keep the papers sent to me
by the Rector of Belhaven, and placed them on the table by which
she was sitting.. The more plainly and briefly I spoke now, the
better I thought it might be for both of us.
"Since we parted at Brussels," I said, "my wife has died. Here is
a copy of the medical certificate of her death."
Stella refused to look at it. "I don't understand such things,"
she answered faintly. "What is this?"
She took up my wife's death-bed confession.
"Read it," I said.
She looked frightened. "What will it tell me?" she asked.
"It will tell you, Stella, that false appearances once led you
into wronging an innocent man."
Having said this, I walked away to a window behind her, at the
further end of the room, so that she might not see me while she
After a time--how much longer it seemed to be than it really
was!--I heard her move. As I turned from the window, she ran to
me, and fell on her knees at my feet. I tried to raise her; I
entreated her to believe that she was forgiven. She seized my
hands, and held them over her face--they were wet with her tears.
"I am ashamed to look at you," she said. "Oh, Bernard, what a
wretch I have been!"
I never was so distressed in my life. I don't know what I should
have said, what I should have done, if my dear old dog had not
helped me out of it. He, too, ran up to me, with the loving
jealousy of his race, and tried to lick my hands, still fast in
Stella's hold. His paws were on her shoulder; he attempted to
push himself between us. I think I successfully assumed a
tranquillity which I was far from really feeling. "Come, come!" I
said, "you mustn't make Traveler jealous." She let me raise her.
Ah, if she could have kissed _me_--but that was not to be done;
she kissed the dog's head, and then she spoke to me. I shall not
set down what she said in these pages. While I live, there is no
fear of my forgetting those words.
I led her back to her chair. The letter addressed to me by the
Rector of Belhaven still lay on the table, unread. It was of some
importance to Stella's complete enlightenment, as containing
evidence that the confession was genuine. But I hesitated, for
her sake, to speak of it just yet.
"Now you know that you have a friend to help and advise you--" I
"No," she interposed; "more than a friend; say a brother."
I said it. "You had something to ask of me," I resumed, "and you
never put the question."
She understood me.
"I meant to tell you," she said, "that I had written a letter of
refusal to Mr. Romayne's lawyers. I have left Ten Acres, never to
return; and I refuse to accept a farthing of Mr. Romayne's money.
My mother--though she knows that we have enough to live on--tells
me I have acted with inexcusable pride and folly. I wanted to ask
if you blame me, Bernard, as she does?"
I daresay I was inexcusably proud and foolish too. It was the
second time she had called me by my Christian name since the
happy bygone time, never to come again. Under whatever influence
I acted, I respected and admired her for that refusal, and I
owned it in so many words. This little encouragement seemed to
relieve her. She was so much calmer that I ventured to speak of
the Rector's letter.
She wouldn't hear of it. "Oh, Bernard, have I not learned to
trust you yet? Put away those papers. There is only one thing I
want to know. Who gave them to you? The Rector?"
"How did they reach you, then?"
"Through Father Benwell."
She started at that name like a woman electrified.
"I knew it!" she cried. "It _is_ the priest who has wrecked my
married life--and he got his information from those letters,
before he put them into your hands." She waited a while, and
recovered herself. "That was the first of the questions I wanted
to put to you," she said. "I am answered. I ask no more."
She was surely wrong about Father Benwell? I tried to show her
I told her that my reverend friend had put the letters into my
hand, with the seal which protected them unbroken. She laughed
disdainfully. Did I know him so little as to doubt for a moment
that he could break a seal and replace it again? This view was
entirely new to me; I was startled, but not convinced. I never
desert my friends--even when they are friends of no very long
standing--and I still tried to defend Father Benwell. The only
result was to make her alter her intention of asking me no more
questions. I innocently roused in her a ne w curiosity. She was
eager to know how I had first become acquainted with the priest,
and how he had contrived to possess himself of papers which were
intended for my reading only.
There was but one way of answering her.
It was far from easy to a man like myself, unaccustomed to state
circumstances in their proper order--but I had no other choice
than to reply, by telling the long story of the theft and
discovery of the Rector's papers. So far as Father Benwell was
concerned, the narrative only confirmed her suspicions. For the
rest, the circumstances which most interested her were the
circumstances associated with the French boy.
"Anything connected with that poor creature, " she said, "has a
dreadful interest for me now."
"Did you know him?" I asked, with some surprise.
"I knew him and his mother--you shall hear how, at another time.
I suppose I felt a presentiment that the boy would have some evil
influence over me. At any rate, when I accidentally touched him,
I trembled as if I had touched a serpent. You will think me
superstitious--but, after what you have said, it is certainly
true that he has been the indirect cause of the misfortune that
has fallen on me. How came he to steal the papers? Did you ask
the Rector, when you went to Belhaven?"
"I asked the Rector nothing. But he thought it his duty to tell
me all that he knew of the theft."
She drew her chair nearer to me. "Let me hear every word of it!"
she pleaded eagerly.
I felt some reluctance to comply with the request.
"Is it not fit for me to hear?" she asked.
This forced me to be plain with her. "If I repeat what the Rector
told me," I said, "I must speak of my wife."
She took my hand. "You have pitied and forgiven her," she
answered. "Speak of her, Bernard--and don't, for God's sake,
think that my heart is harder than yours."
I kissed the hand that she had given to me--even her "brother"
might do that!
"It began," I said, "in the grateful attachment which the boy
felt for my wife. He refused to leave her bedside on the day when
she dictated her confession to the Rector. As he was entirely
ignorant of the English language, there seemed to be no objection
to letting him have his own way. He became inquisitive as the
writing went on. His questions annoyed the Rector--and as the
easiest way of satisfying his curiosity, my wife told him that
she was making her will. He knew just enough, from what he had
heard at various times, to associate making a will with gifts of
money--and the pretended explanation silenced and satisfied him."
"Did the Rector understand it?" Stella asked.
"Yes. Like many other Englishmen in his position, although he was
not ready at speaking French, he could read the language, and
could fairly well understand it, when it was spoken. After my
wife's death, he kindly placed the boy, for a few days, under the
care of his housekeeper. Her early life had been passed in the
island of Martinique, and she was able to communicate with the
friendless foreigner in his own language. When he disappeared,
she was the only person who could throw any light on his motive
for stealing the papers. On the day when he entered the house,
she caught him peeping through the keyhole of the study door. He
must have seen where the confession was placed, and the color of
the old-fashioned blue paper, on which it was written, would help
him to identify it. The next morning, during the Rector's
absence, he brought the manuscript to the housekeeper, and asked
her to translate it into French, so that he might know how much
money was left to him in "the will." She severely reproved him,
made him replace the paper in the desk from which he had taken
it, and threatened to tell the Rector if his misconduct was
repeated. He promised amendment, and the good-natured woman
believed him. On that evening the papers were sealed, and locked
up. In the morning the lock was found broken, and the papers and
the boy were both missing together."
"Do you think he showed the confession to any other person?"
Stella asked. "I happen to know that he concealed it from his
"After the housekeeper's reproof," I replied, "he would be
cunning enough, in my opinion, not to run the risk of showing it
to strangers. It is far more likely that he thought he might
learn English enough to read it himself."
There the subject dropped. We were silent for a while. She was
thinking, and I was looking at her. On a sudden, she raised her
head. Her eyes rested on me gravely.
"It is very strange!" she said
"What is strange?"
"I have been thinking of the Lorings. They encouraged me to doubt
you. They advised me to be silent about what happened at
Brussels. And they too are concerned in my husband's desertion of
me. He first met Father Benwell at their house." Her head drooped
again; her next words were murmured to herself. "I am still a
young woman," she said. "Oh, God, what is my future to be?"
This morbid way of thinking distressed me. I reminded her that
she had dear and devoted friends.
"Not one," she answered, "but you."
"Have you not seen Lady Loring?" I asked.
"She and her husband have written most kindly, inviting me to
make their house my home. I have no right to blame them--they
meant well. But after what has happened, I can't go back to
"I am sorry to hear it," I said.
"Are you thinking of the Lorings?" she asked.
"I don't even know the Lorings. I can think of nobody but you."
I was still looking at her--and I am afraid my eyes said more
than my words. If she had doubted it before, she must have now
known that I was as fond of her as ever. She looked distressed
rather than confused. I made an awkward attempt to set myself
"Surely your brother may speak plainly," I pleaded.
She agreed to this. But nevertheless she rose to go--with a
friendly word, intended (as I hoped) to show me that I had got my
pardon for that time. "Will you come and see us to-morrow?" she
said. "Can you forgive my mother as generously as you have
forgiven me? I will take care, Bernard, that she does you justice
She held out her hand to take leave. How could I reply? If I had
been a resolute man, I might have remembered that it would be
best for me not to see too much of her. But I am a poor weak
creature--I accepted her invitation for the next day.
January 30.--I have just returned from my visit.
My thoughts are in a state of indescribable conflict and
confusion--and her mother is the cause of it. I wish I had not
gone to the house. Am I a bad man, I wonder? and have I only
found it out now?
Mrs. Eyrecourt was alone in the drawing-room when I went in.
Judging by the easy manner in which she got up to receive me, the
misfortune that has befallen her daughter seemed to have produced
no sobering change in this frivolous woman.
"My dear Winterfield," she began, "I have behaved infamously. I
won't say that appearances were against you at Brussels--I will
only say I ought not to have trusted to appearances. You are the
injured person; please forgive me. Shall we go on with the
subject? or shall we shake hands, and say no more about it?"
I shook hands, of course. Mrs. Eyrecourt perceived that I was
looking for Stella.
"Sit down," she said; "and be good enough to put up with no more
attractive society than mine. Unless I set things straight, my
good friend, you and my daughter--oh, with the best
intentions!--will drift into a false position. You won't see
Stella to-day. Quite impossible--and I will tell you why. I am
the worldly old mother; I don't mind what I say. My innocent
daughter would die before she would confess what I am going to
tell you. Can I offer you anything? Have you had lunch?"
I begged her to continue. She perplexed--I am not sure that she
did not even alarm me.
"Very well," she proceeded. "You may be surprised to hear it--but
I don't mean to allow things to go on in this way. My
contemptible son-in-law shall return to his wife."
This startled me, and I suppose I showed it.
"Wait a little," said Mrs. Eyrecourt. "There is nothing to be
alarmed about. Romayne is a weak fool; and Father Benwell's
greedy hands are (of course) in both his pockets. But he has,
unless I am e ntirely mistaken, some small sense of shame, and
some little human feeling still left. After the manner in which
he has behaved, these are the merest possibilities, you will say.
Very likely. I have boldly appealed to those possibilities
nevertheless. He has already gone away to Rome; and I need hardly
add--Father Benwell would take good care of that--he has left us
no address. It doesn't in the least matter. One of the advantages
of being so much in society as I am is that I have nice
acquaintances everywhere, always ready to oblige me, provided I
don't borrow money of them. I have written to Romayne, under
cover to one of my friends living in Rome. Wherever he may be,
there my letter will find him."
So far, I listened quietly enough, naturally supposing that Mrs.
Eyrecourt trusted to her own arguments and persuasions. I confess
it even to myself, with shame. It was a relief to me to feel that
the chances (with such a fanatic as Romayne) were a hundred to
one against her.
This unworthy way of thinking was instantly checked by Mrs.
Eyrecourt's next words.
"Don't suppose that I am foolish enough to attempt to reason with
him," she went on. "My letter begins and ends on the first page.
His wife has a claim on him, which no newly-married man can
resist. Let me do him justice. He knew nothing of it before he
went away. My letter--my daughter has no suspicion that I have
written it--tells him plainly what the claim is."
She paused. Her eyes softened, her voice sank low--she became
quite unlike the Mrs. Eyrecourt whom I knew.
"In a few months more, Winterfield," she said, "my poor Stella
will be a mother. My letter calls Romayne back to his wife--_and
Mrs. Eyrecourt paused, evidently expecting me to offer an opinion
of some sort. For the moment I was really unable to speak.
Stella's mother never had a very high opinion of my abilities.
She now appeared to consider me the stupidest person in the
circle of her acquaintance.
"Are you a little deaf, Winterfield?" she asked.
"Not that I know of."
"Do you understand me?"
"Then why can't you say something? I want a man's opinion of our
prospects. Good gracious, how you fidget! Put yourself in
Romayne's place, and tell me this. If _you_ had left Stella--"
"I should never have left her, Mrs. Eyrecourt."
"Be quiet. You don't know what you would have done. I insist on
your supposing yourself to be a weak, superstitious, conceited,
fanatical fool. You understand? Now, tell me, then. Could you
keep away from your wife, when you were called back to her in the
name of your firstborn child? Could you resist that?"
"Most assuredly not!"
I contrived to reply with an appearance of tranquillity. It was
not very easy to speak with composure. Envious, selfish,
contemptible--no language is too strong to describe the turn my
thoughts now took. I never hated any human being as I hated
Romayne at that moment.
"Damn him, he will come back!" There was my inmost feeling
expressed in words.
In the meantime, Mrs. Eyrecourt was satisfied.
She dashed at the next subject as fluent and as confident as
"Now, Winterfield, it is surely plain to your mind that you must
not see Stella again--except when I am present to tie the tongue
of scandal. My daughter's conduct must not allow her husband--if
you only knew how I detest that man!--must not, I say, allow her
husband the slightest excuse for keeping away from her. If we
give that odious old Jesuit the chance, he will make a priest of
Romayne before we know where we are. The audacity of these
Papists is really beyond belief. You remember how they made
Bishops and Archbishops here, in flat defiance of our laws?
Father Benwell follows that example, and sets our other laws at
defiance--I mean our marriage laws. I am so indignant I can't
express myself as clearly as usual. Did Stella tell you that he
actually shook Romayne's belief in his own marriage? Ah, I
understand--she kept that to herself, poor dear, and with good
reason, too. "
I thought of the turned-down page in the letter. Mrs. Eyrecourt
readily revealed what her daughter's delicacy had forbidden me to
read--including the monstrous assumption which connected my
marriage before the registrar with her son-in-law's scruples.
"Yes," she proceeded, "these Catholics are all alike. My
daughter--I don't mean my sweet Stella; I mean the unnatural
creature in the nunnery--sets herself above her own mother. Did I
ever tell you she was impudent enough to say she would pray for
me? Father Benwell and the Papal Aggression over again! Now tell
me, Winterfield, don't you think, taking the circumstances into
consideration--that you will act like a thoroughly sensible man
if you go back to Devonshire while we are in our present
situation? What with foot-warmers in the carriage, and newspapers
and magazines to amuse you, it isn't such a very long journey.
And then Beaupark--dear Beaupark--is such a remarkably
comfortable house in the winter; and you, you enviable creature,
are such a popular man in the neighborhood. Oh, go back! go
I got up and took my hat. She patted me on the shoulder. I could
have throttled her at that moment. And yet she was right.
"You will make my excuses to Stella?" I said.
"You dear, good fellow, I will do more than make your excuses; I
will sing your praises--as the poet says." In her ungovernable
exultation at having got rid of me, she burst into extravagant
language. "I feel like a mother to you," she went on, as we shook
hands at parting. "I declare I could almost let you kiss me."
There was not a single kissable place about Mrs. Eyrecourt,
unpainted, undyed, or unpowdered. I resisted temptation and
opened the door. There was still one last request that I could
not help making.
"Will you let me know," I said, "when you hear from Rome?"
"With the greatest pleasure," Mrs. Eyrecourt answered, briskly.
"Good-by, you best of friends--good-by."
I write these lines while the servant is packing my portmanteau.
Traveler knows what that means. My dog is glad, at any rate, to
get away from London. I think I shall hire a yacht, and try what
a voyage round the world will do for me. I wish to God I had
never seen Stella!
Beaupark, February 10.--News at last from Mrs. Eyrecourt.
Romayne has not even read the letter that she addressed to
him--it has actually been returned to her by Father Benwell. Mrs.
Eyrecourt writes, naturally enough, in a state of fury. Her one
consolation, under this insulting treatment, is that her daughter
knows nothing of the circumstances. She warns me (quite
needlessly) to keep the secret--and sends me a copy of Father
"Dear Madam--Mr. Romayne can read nothing that diverts his
attention from his preparation for the priesthood, or that
recalls past associations with errors which he has renounced
forever. When a letter reaches him, it is his wise custom to look
at the signature first. He has handed your letter to me,
_unread_--with a request that I will return it to you. In his
presence, I instantly sealed it up. Neither he nor I know, or
wish to know, on what subject you have addressed him. We
respectfully advise you not to write again."
This is really too bad; but it has one advantage, so far as I am
concerned. It sets my own unworthy doubts and jealousies before
me in a baser light than ever. How honestly I defended Father
Benwell! and how completely he has deceived me! I wonder whether
I shall live long enough to see the Jesuit caught in one of his
11th.--I was disappointed at not hearing from Stella, yesterday.
This morning has made amends; it has brought me a letter from
She is not well; and her mother's conduct sadly perplexes her. At
one time, Mrs. Eyrecourt's sense of injury urges her to indulge
in violent measures--she is eager to place her deserted daughter
under the protection of the law; to insist on a restitution of
conjugal rights or on a judicial separation. At another time she
sinks into a state of abject depression; declares that it is
impossible for her, in Stella's deplorable situation, to face
society; and recommends immediate retirement to some place on the
Contin ent in which they can live cheaply. This latter suggestion
Stella is not only ready, but eager, to adopt. She proves it by
asking for my advice, in a postscript; no doubt remembering the
happy days when I courted her in Paris, and the many foreign
friends of mine who called at our hotel.
The postscript gave me the excuse that I wanted. I knew perfectly
well that it would be better for me not to see her--and I went to
London, for the sole purpose of seeing her, by the first train.
London, February 12.--I found mother and daughter together in the
drawing-room. It was one of Mrs. Eyrecourt's days of depression.
Her little twinkling eyes tried to cast on me a look of tragic
reproach; she shook her dyed head and said, "Oh. Winterfield, I
didn't think you would have done this!--Stella, fetch me my
But Stella refused to take the hint. She almost brought the tears
into my eyes, she received me so kindly. If her mother had not
been in the room--but her mother _was_ in the room; I had no
other choice than to enter on my business, as if I had been the
Mrs. Eyrecourt began by reproving Stella for asking my advice,
and then assured me that she had no intention of leaving London.
"How am I to get rid of my house?" she asked, irritably enough. I
knew that "her house" (as she called it) was the furnished upper
part of a house belonging to another person, and that she could
leave it at a short notice. But I said nothing. I addressed
myself to Stella.
"I have been thinking of two or three places which you might
like," I went on. "The nearest place belongs to an old French
gentleman and his wife. They have no children, and they don't let
lodgings; but I believe they would be glad to receive friends of
mine, if their spare rooms are not already occupied. They live at
St. Germain--close to Paris."
I looked at Mrs. Eyrecourt as I said those last words--I was as
sly as Father Benwell himself. Paris justified my confidence: the
temptation was too much for her. She not only gave way, but
actually mentioned the amount of rent which she could afford to
pay. Stella whispered her thanks to me as I went out. "My name is
not mentioned, but my misfortune is alluded to in the
newspapers," she said. "Well-meaning friends are calling and
condoling with me already. I shall die, if you don't help me to
get away among strangers!"
I start for Paris by the mail train, to-night.
Paris, February 13.--It is evening. I have just returned from St.
Germain. Everything is settled--with more slyness on my part. I
begin to think I am a born Jesuit; there must have been some
detestable sympathy between Father Benwell and me.
My good friends, Monsieur and Madame Villeray, will be only too
glad to receive English ladies, known to me for many years. The
spacious and handsome first floor of their house (inherited from
once wealthy ancestors by Madame Villeray) can be got ready to
receive Mrs. Eyrecourt and her daughter in a week's time. Our one
difficulty related to the question of money. Monsieur Villeray,
living on a Government pension, was modestly unwilling to ask
terms; and I was too absolutely ignorant of the subject to be of
the slightest assistance to him. It ended in our appealing to a
house-agent at St. Germain. His estimate appeared to me to be
quite reasonable. But it exceeded the pecuniary limit mentioned
by Mrs. Eyrecourt. I had known the Villerays long enough to be in
no danger of offending them by proposing a secret arrangement
which permitted me to pay the difference. So that difficulty was
got over in due course of time.
We went into the large garden at the back of the house, and there
I committed another act of duplicity.
In a nice sheltered corner I discovered one of those essentially
French buildings called a "pavilion," a delightful little toy
house of three rooms. Another private arrangement made me the
tenant of this place. Madame Villeray smiled. "I bet you," she
said to me in her very best English, "one of these ladies is in
her fascinating first youth." The good lady little knows what a
hopeless love affair mine is. I must see Stella sometimes--I ask,
and hope for, no more. Never have I felt how lonely my life is,
as I feel it now.
London, March 1.--Stella and her mother have set forth on their
journey to St. Germain this morning, without allowing me, as I
had hoped and planned, to be their escort.
Mrs. Eyrecourt set up the old objection of the claims of
propriety. If that were the only obstacle in my way, I should
have set it aside by following them to France. Where is the
impropriety of my seeing Stella, as her friend and
brother--especially when I don't live in the same house with her,
and when she has her mother, on one side, and Madame Villeray, on
the other, to take care of her?
No! the influence that keeps me away from St. Germain is the
influence of Stella herself.
"I will write to you often," she said; "but I beg you, for my
sake, not to accompany us to France." Her look and tone reduced
me to obedience. Stupid as I am I think (after what passed
between me and her mother) I can guess what she meant.
"Am I never to see you again?" I asked.
"Do you think I am hard and ungrateful?" she answered. "Do you
doubt that I shall be glad, more than glad, to see you, when--?"
She turned away from me and said no more.
It was time to take leave. We were under her mother's
superintendence; we shook hands and that was all.
Matilda (Mrs. Eyrecourt's maid) followed me downstairs to open
the door. I suppose I looked, as I felt, wretchedly enough. The
good creature tried to cheer me. "Don't be anxious about them,"
she said; "I am used to traveling, sir--and I'll take care of
them." She is a woman to be thoroughly depended on, a faithful
and attached servant. I made her a little present at parting, and
I asked her if she would write to me from time to time.
Some people might consider this to be rather an undignified
proceeding on my part. I can only say it came naturally to me. I
am not a dignified man; and, when a person means kindly toward
me, I don't ask myself whether that person is higher or lower,
richer or poorer, than I am. We are, to my mind, on the same
level when the same sympathy unites us. Matilda was sufficiently
acquainted with all that had passed to foresee, as I did, that
there would be certain reservations in Stella's letters to me.
"You shall have the whole truth from Me, sir, don't doubt it,"
she whispered. I believed her. When my heart is sore, give me a
woman for my friend. Whether she is lady or lady's-maid, she is
equally precious to me.
Cowes, March 2.--I am in treaty with an agent for the hire of a
I must do something, and go somewhere. Returning to Beaupark is
out of the question. People with tranquil minds can find pleasure
in the society of their country neighbors. I am a miserable
creature, with a mind in a state of incessant disturbance.
Excellent fathers of families talking politics to me; exemplary
mothers of families offering me matrimonial opportunities with
their daughters--that is what society means, if I go back to
Devonshire. No. I will go for a cruise in the Mediterranean; and
I will take one friend with me whose company I never weary of--my
The vessel is discovered--a fine schooner of three hundred tons,
just returned from a cruise to Madeira. The sailing-master and
crew only ask for a few days on shore. In that time the surveyor
will have examined the vessel, and the stores will be on board.
March 3.--I have written to Stella, with a list of addresses at
which letters will reach me; and I have sent another list to my
faithful ally the maid. When we leave Gibraltar, our course will
be to Naples--thence to Civita Vecchia, Leghorn, Genoa,
Marseilles. From any of those places, I am within easy traveling
distance of St. Germain.
March 7. At Sea.--It is half-past six in the evening. We have
just passed the Eddystone Lighthouse, with the wind abeam. The
log registers ten knots an hour.
_Naples, May_ 10.--The fair promise at the beginning of my voyage
has not been fulfilled. Owing to contrary winds, storms, and
delays at Cadiz in repairing damages, we have only arrived at
Naples this evening. Under trying circumstances of all sorts, the
yacht has behaved admirably. A stouter and finer sea-boat never
We are too late to find the post-office open. I shall send ashore
for letters the first thing tomorrow morning. My next movements
will depend entirely on the news I get from St. Germain. If I
remain for any length of time in these regions, I shall give my
crew the holiday they have well earned at Civita Vecchia. I am
never weary of Rome--but I always did, and always shall, dislike
May 11--. My plans are completely changed. I am annoyed and
angry; the further I get away from France, the better I shall be
I have heard from Stella, and heard from the maid. Both letters
inform me that the child is born, and that it is a boy. Do they
expect me to feel any interest in the boy? He is my worst enemy
before he is out of his long-clothes.
Stella writes kindly enough. Not a line in her letter, however,
invites me, or holds out the prospect of inviting me, to St.
Germain. She refers to her mother very briefly, merely informing
me that Mrs. Eyrecourt is well, and is already enjoying the
gayeties of Paris. Three-fourths of the letter are occupied with
the baby. When I wrote to her I signed myself "yours
affectionately." Stella signs "yours sincerely." It is a trifle,
I daresay--but I feel it, for all that.
Matilda is faithful to her engagement; Matilda's letter tells me
"Since the birth of the baby," she writes, "Mrs. Romayne has
never once mentioned your name; she can talk of nothing, and
think of nothing, but her child. I make every allowance, I hope,
for a lady in her melancholy situation. But I do think it is not
very grateful to have quite forgotten Mr. Winterfield, who has
done so much for her, and who only asks to pass a few hours of
his day innocently in her society. Perhaps, being a single woman,
I write ignorantly about mothers and babies. But I have my
feelings; and (though I never liked Mr. Romayne) I feel for
_you,_ sir--if you will forgive the familiarity. In my opinion
this new craze about the baby will wear out. He is already a
cause of difference of opinion. My good mistress, who possesses
knowledge of the world, and a kind heart as well, advises that
Mr. Romayne should be informed of the birth of a son and heir.
Mrs. Eyrecourt says, most truly, that the hateful old priest will
get possession of Mr. Romayne's property, to the prejudice of the
child, unless steps are taken to shame him into doing justice to
his own son. But Mrs. Romayne is as proud as Lucifer; she will
not hear of making the first advances, as she calls it. 'The man
who has deserted me,' she says, 'has no heart to be touched
either by wife or child.' My mistress does not agree with her.
There have been hard words already, and the nice old French
gentleman and his wife try to make peace. You will smile when I
tell you that they offer sugar-plums as a sort of composing gift.
My mistress accepts the gift, and has been to the theater at
Paris, with Monsieur and Madame Villeray more than once already.
To conclude, sir, if I might venture to advise you, I should
recommend trying the effect on Mrs. R. of absence and silence."
A most sensibly written letter. I shall certainly take Matilda's
advice. My name is never mentioned by Stella--and not a day has
passed without my thinking of her!
Well, I suppose a man can harden his heart if he likes. Let me
harden _my_ heart, and forget her.
The crew shall have three days ashore at Naples, and then we sail
for Alexandria. In that port the yacht will wait my return. I
have not yet visited the cataracts of the Nile; I have not yet
seen the magnificent mouse-colored women of Nubia. A tent in the
desert, and a dusky daughter of Nature to keep house for
me--there is a new life for a man who is weary of the vapid
civilization of Europe! I shall begin by letting my beard grow.
Civita Vecchia, February 28, 1863.--Back again on the coast of
Italy--after an absence, at sea and ashore, of nine months!
What have my travels done for me? They have made me browner and
thinner; they have given me a more patient mind, and a taste for
mild tobacco. Have they helped me to forget Stella? Not the least
in the world--I am more eager than ever to see her again. When I
look back at my diary I am really ashamed of my own fretfulness
and impatience. What miserable vanity on my part to expect her to
think of me, when she was absorbed in the first cares and joys of
maternity; especially sacred to her, poor soul, as the one
consolation of her melancholy life! I withdraw all that I wrote
about her--and from the bottom of my heart I forgive the baby.
Rome, March 1.--I have found my letters waiting for me at the
office of my banker.
The latest news from St. Germain is all that I could wish. In
acknowledging the receipt of my last letter from Cairo (I broke
my rash vow of silence when we got into port, after leaving
Naples) Stella sends me the long desired invitation. "Pray take
care to return to us, dear Bernard, before the first anniversary
of my boy's birthday, on the twenty-seventh of March." After
those words she need feel no apprehension of my being late at my
appointment. Traveler--the dog has well merited his name by this
time--will have to bid good-by to the yacht (which he loves), and
journey homeward by the railway (which he hates). No more risk of
storms and delays for me. Good-by to the sea for one while.
I have sent the news of my safe return from the East, by
telegraph. But I must not be in too great a hurry to leave Rome,
or I shall commit a serious error--I shall disappoint Stella's
Mrs. Eyrecourt writes to me earnestly, requesting, if I return by
way of Italy, that I will get her some information about Romayne.
She is eager to know whether they have made him a priest yet. I
am also to discover, if I can, what are his prospects--whether he
is as miserable as he deserves to be--whether he has been
disappointed in his expectations, and is likely to be brought
back to his senses in that way--and, above all, whether Father
Benwell is still at Rome with him. My idea is that Mrs. Eyrecourt
has not given up her design of making Romayne acquainted with the
birth of his son.
The right person to apply to for information is evidently my
banker. He has been a resident in Rome for twenty years--but he
is too busy a man to be approached, by an idler like myself, in
business hours. I have asked him to dine with me to-morrow.
March 2.--My guest has just left me. I am afraid Mrs. Eyrecourt
will be sadly disappointed when she hears what I have to tell her
The moment I mentioned Romayne's name, the banker looked at me
with an expression of surprise. "'The man most talked about in
Rome," he said; "I wonder you have not heard of him already."
"Is he a priest?"
"Certainly! And, what is more, the ordinary preparations for the
priesthood were expressly shortened by high authority on his
account. The Pope takes the greatest interest in him; and as for
the people, the Italians have already nicknamed him 'the young
cardinal.' Don't suppose, as some of our countrymen do, that he
is indebted to his wealth for the high position which he has
already attained. His wealth is only one of the minor influences
in his favor. The truth is, he unites in himself two opposite
qualities, both of the greatest value to the Church, which are
very rarely found combined in the same man. He has already made a
popular reputation here, as a most eloquent and convincing
"A preacher!" I exclaimed. "And a popular reputation! How do the
Italians understand him?"
The banker looked puzzled.
"Why shouldn't they understand a man who addresses them in their
own language?" he said. "Romayne could speak Italian when he came
here--and since that time he has learned by constant practice to
think in Italian. While our Roman season lasts, he preaches
alternately in Italian and in English. But I was speaking of the
two opposite accomplishments which this remarkable man possesses.
Out of the pulpit, he is capable of applying his mind
successfully to the polit ical necessities of the Church. As I am
told, his intellect has had severe practical training, by means
of historical studies, in the past years of his life. Anyhow, in
one of the diplomatic difficulties here between the Church and
the State, he wrote a memorial on the subject, which the
Cardinal-Secretary declared to be a model of ability in applying
the experience of the past to the need of the present time. If he
doesn't wear himself out, his Italian nickname may prove
prophetically true. We may live to see the new convert, Cardinal
"Are you acquainted with him yourself?" I asked.
"No Englishman is acquainted with him," the banker answered.
"There is a report of some romantic event in his life which has
led to his leaving England, and which makes him recoil from
intercourse with his own nation. Whether this is true or false,
it is certain that the English in Rome find him unapproachable. I
have even heard that he refuses to receive letters from England.
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