Part 3 out of 6
But he would be serving Stephen! His pain might be to her good;
ought to be, to a certain extent, to her mental ease. Her wounded
pride would find some solace . . . As he came closer the feeling that
he had to play a part, veritably to act one, came stronger and
stronger upon him, and filled him with bitter doubt as to his power.
Still he went on boldly. It had been a part of his plan to seem to
come eagerly, as a lover should come; and so he came. When he got
close to Stephen, all the witchery of her presence came upon him as
of old. After all, he loved her with his whole soul; and the chance
had come to tell her so. Even under the distressing conditions of
his suit, the effort had its charm.
Stephen schooled herself to her usual attitude with him; and that,
too, since the effort was based on truth came with a certain ease to
her. At the present time, in her present frame of mind, nothing in
the wide world could give her pleasure; the ease which came, if it
did not change her purpose, increased her power. Their usual
salutation, begun when she was a little baby, was 'Good morning,
Stephen!' 'Good morning, Harold!' It had become so much a custom
that now it came mechanically on her part. The tender reference to
childhood's days, though it touched her companion to the quick, did
not appeal to her since she had no special thought of it. Had such a
thought come to her it might have softened her even to tears, for
Harold had been always deep in her heart. As might have been
expected from her character and condition of mind, she was the first
'I suppose you want to see me about something special, Harold, you
have come so early.'
'Yes, Stephen. Very special!'
'Were you at the house?' she asked in a voice whose quietness might
have conveyed a warning. She was so suspicious now that she
suspected even Harold of--of what she did not know. He answered in
'No. I came straight here.'
'How did you know I should be here?' Her voice was now not only
quiet but sweet. Without thinking, Harold blundered on. His
intention was so single-minded, and his ignorance of woman so
complete, that he did not recognise even elementary truths:
'I knew you always came here long ago when you were a child when you
were in--' Here it suddenly flashed upon him that if he seemed to
expect that she was in trouble as he had purposed saying, he would
give away his knowledge of what had happened and so destroy the work
to which he had set himself. So he finished the sentence in a lame
and impotent manner, which, however, saved complete annihilation as
it was verbally accurate: 'in short frocks.' Stephen needed to know
little more. Her quick intelligence grasped the fact that there was
some purpose afoot which she did not know or understand. She
surmised, of course, that it was some way in connection with her mad
act, and she grew cooler in her brain as well as colder in her heart
as she prepared to learn more. Stephen had changed from girl to
woman in the last twenty-four hours; and all the woman in her was now
awake. After a moment's pause she said with a winning smile:
'Why, Harold, I've been in long frocks for years. Why should I come
here on this special day on that account?' Even as she was speaking
she felt that it would be well to abandon this ground of inquiry. It
had clearly told her all it could. She would learn more by some
other means. So she went on in a playful way, as a cat--not a
kitten--does when it has got a mouse:
'That reason won't work, Harold. It's quite rusty in the joints.
But never mind it! Tell me why you have come so early?' This seemed
to Harold to be a heaven-sent opening; he rushed in at once:
'Because, Stephen, I wanted to ask you to be my wife! Oh! Stephen,
don't you know that I love you? Ever since you were a little girl!
When you were a little girl and I a big boy I loved you. I have
loved you ever since with all my heart, and soul, and strength.
Without you the world is a blank to me! For you and your happiness I
would do anything--anything!'
This was no acting. When once the barrier of beginning had been
broken, his soul seemed to pour itself out. The man was vibrant
through all his nature; and the woman's very soul realised its truth.
For an instant a flame of gladness swept through her; and for the
time it lasted put all other thought aside.
But suspicion is a hard metal which does not easily yield to fire.
It can come to white heat easily enough, but its melting-point is
high indeed. When the flame had leaped it had spent its force; the
reaction came quick. Stephen's heart seemed to turn to ice, all the
heat and life rushing to her brain. Her thoughts flashed with
convincing quickness; there was no time for doubting amid their rush.
Her life was for good or ill at the crossing of the ways. She had
trusted Harold thoroughly. The habit of her whole life from her
babyhood up had been to so look to him as comrade and protector and
sympathetic friend. She was so absolutely sure of his earnest
devotion that this new experience of a riper feeling would have been
a joy to her, if it should be that his act was all spontaneous and
done in ignorance of her shame. 'Shame' was the generic word which
now summarised to herself her thought of her conduct in proposing to
Leonard. But of this she must be certain. She could not, dare not,
go farther till this was settled. With the same craving for
certainty with which she convinced herself that Leonard understood
her overtures, and with the same dogged courage with which she
pressed the matter on him, she now went on to satisfy her mind.
'What did you do yesterday?'
'I was at Norcester all day. I went early. By the way, here is the
ribbon you wanted; I think it's exactly the same as the pattern.' As
he spoke he took a tissue-piper parcel from his pocket and handed it
'Thanks!' she said. 'Did you meet any friends there?'
'Not many.' He answered guardedly; he had a secret to keep.
'Where did you dine?'
'At the club!' He began to be uneasy at this questioning; but he did
not see any way to avoid answering without creating some suspicion.
'Did you see any one you knew at the club?' Her voice as she spoke
was a little harder, a little more strained. Harold noticed the
change, rather by instinct than reason. He felt that there was
danger in it, and paused. The pause seemed to suddenly create a new
fury in the breast of Stephen. She felt that Harold was playing with
her. Harold! If she could not trust him, where then was she to look
for trust in the world? If he was not frank with her, what then
meant his early coming; his seeking her in the grove; his proposal of
marriage, which seemed so sudden and so inopportune? He must have
seen Leonard, and by some means have become acquainted with her
secret of shame . . . His motive?
Here her mind halted. She knew as well as if it had been trumpeted
from the skies that Harold knew all. But she must be certain . . .
She was standing erect, her hands held down by her sides and clenched
together till the knuckles were white; all her body strung high--like
an over-pitched violin. Now she raised her right hand and flung it
downward with a passionate jerk.
'Answer me!' she cried imperiously. 'Answer me! Why are you playing
with me? Did you see Leonard Everard last night? Answer me, I say.
Harold An Wolf, you do not lie! Answer me!'
As she spoke Harold grew cold. From the question he now knew that
Stephen had guessed his secret. The fat was in the fire with a
vengeance. He did not know what to do, and still remained silent.
She did not give him time to think, but spoke again, this time more
coldly. The white terror had replaced the red:
'Are you not going to answer me a simple question, Harold? To be
silent now is to wrong me! I have a right to know!'
In his trouble, for he felt that say what he would he could only give
her new pain, he said humbly:
'Don't ask me, Stephen! Won't you understand that I want to do what
is best for you? Won't you trust me?' Her answer came harshly. A
more experienced man than Harold, one who knew women better, would
have seen how overwrought she was, and would have made pity the pivot
of his future bearing and acts and words while the interview lasted;
pity, and pity only. But to Harold the high ideal was ever the same.
The Stephen whom he loved was no subject for pity, but for devotion
only. He knew the nobility of her nature and must trust it to the
end. When her silence and her blazing eyes denied his request, he
answered her query in a low voice:
'I did!' Even whilst he spoke he was thankful for one thing, he had
not been pledged in any way to confidence. Leonard had forced the
knowledge on him; and though he would have preferred a million times
over to be silent, he was still free to speak. Stephen's next
question came more coldly still:
'Did he tell you of his meeting with me?'
'Did he tell you all?' It was torture to him to answer; but he was
at the stake and must bear it.
'I think so! If it was true.'
'What did he tell you? Stay! I shall ask you the facts myself; the
broad facts. We need not go into details . . . '
'Oh, Stephen!' She silenced his pleading with an imperious hand.
'If I can go into this matter, surely you can. If I can bear the
shame of telling, you can at least bear that of listening. Remember
that knowing--knowing what you know, or at least what you have heard-
-you could come here and propose marriage to me!' This she said with
a cold, cutting sarcasm which sounded like the rasping of a roughly-
sharpened knife through raw flesh. Harold groaned in spirit; he felt
a weakness which began at his heart to steal through him. It took
all his manhood to bear himself erect. He dreaded what was coming,
as of old the once-tortured victim dreaded the coming torment of the
CHAPTER XV--THE END OF THE MEETING
Stephen went on in her calm, cold voice:
'Did he tell you that I had asked him to marry me?' Despite herself,
as she spoke the words a red tide dyed her face. It was not a flush;
it was not a blush; it was a sort of flood which swept through her,
leaving her in a few seconds whiter than before. Harold saw and
understood. He could not speak; he lowered his head silently. Her
eyes glittered more coldly. The madness that every human being may
have once was upon her. Such a madness is destructive, and here was
something more vulnerable than herself.
'Did he tell you how I pressed him?' There was no red tide this
time, nor ever again whilst the interview lasted. To bow in
affirmation was insufficient; with an effort he answered:
'I understood so.' She answered with an icy sarcasm:
'You understood so! Oh, I don't doubt he embellished the record with
some of his own pleasantries. But you understood it; and that is
sufficient.' After a pause she went on:
'Did he tell you that he had refused me?'
'Yes!' Harold knew now that he was under the torture, and that there
was no refusing. She went on, with a light laugh, which wrung his
heart even more than her pain had done . . . Stephen to laugh like
'And I have no doubt that he embellished that too, with some of his
fine masculine witticisms. I understood myself that he was offended
at my asking him. I understood it quite well; he told me so!' Then
with feminine intuition she went on:
'I dare say that before he was done he said something kindly of the
poor little thing that loved him; that loved him so much, and that
she had to break down all the bounds of modesty and decorum that had
made the women of her house honoured for a thousand years! And you
listened to him whilst he spoke! Oh-h-h!' she quivered with her
white-hot anger, as the fierce heat in the heart of a furnace
quivers. But her voice was cold again as she went on:
'But who could help loving him? Girls always did. It was such a
beastly nuisance! You "understood" all that, I dare say; though
perhaps he did not put it in such plain words!' Then the scorn,
which up to now had been imprisoned, turned on him; and he felt as
though some hose of deathly chill was being played upon him.
'And yet you, knowing that only yesterday, he had refused me--refused
my pressing request that he should marry me, come to me hot-foot in
the early morning and ask me to be your wife. I thought such things
did not take place; that men were more honourable, or more
considerate, or more merciful! Or at least I used to think so; till
yesterday. No! till to-day. Yesterday's doings were my own doings,
and I had to bear the penalty of them myself. I had come here to
fight out by myself the battle of my shame . . . '
Here Harold interrupted her. He could not bear to hear Stephen use
such a word in connection with herself.
'No! You must not say "shame." There is no shame to you, Stephen.
There can be none, and no one must say it in my presence!' In her
secret heart of hearts she admired him for his words; she felt them
at the moment sink into her memory, and knew that she would never
forget the mastery of his face and bearing. But the blindness of
rage was upon her, and it is of the essence of this white-hot anger
that it preys not on what is basest in us, but on what is best. That
Harold felt deeply was her opportunity to wound him more deeply than
'Even here in the solitude which I had chosen as the battleground of
my shame you had need to come unasked, unthought of, when even a
lesser mind than yours, for you are no fool, would have thought to
leave me alone. My shame was my own, I tell you; and I was learning
to take my punishment. My punishment! Poor creatures that we are,
we think our punishment will be what we would like best: to suffer
in silence, and not to have spread abroad our shame!' How she harped
on that word, though she knew that every time she uttered it, it cut
to the heart of the man who loved her. 'And yet you come right on
top of my torture to torture me still more and illimitably. You
come, you who alone had the power to intrude yourself on my grief and
sorrow; power given you by my father's kindness. You come to me
without warning, considerately telling me that you knew I would be
here because I had always come here when I had been in trouble. No--
I do you an injustice. "In trouble" was not what you said, but that
I had come when I had been in short frocks. Short frocks! And you
came to tell me that you loved me. You thought, I suppose, that as I
had refused one man, I would jump at the next that came along. I
wanted a man. God! God! what have I done that such an affront should
come upon me? And come, too, from a hand that should have protected
me if only in gratitude for my father's kindness!' She was eyeing
him keenly, with eyes that in her unflinching anger took in
everything with the accuracy of sun-painting. She wanted to wound;
and she succeeded.
But Harold had nerves and muscles of steel; and when the call came to
them they answered. Though the pain of death was upon him he did not
flinch. He stood before her like a rock, in all his great manhood;
but a rock on whose summit the waves had cast the wealth of their
foam, for his face was as white as snow. She saw and understood; but
in the madness upon her she went on trying new places and new ways to
'You thought, I suppose, that this poor, neglected, despised,
rejected woman, who wanted so much to marry that she couldn't wait
for a man to ask her, would hand herself over to the first chance
comer who threw his handkerchief to her; would hand over herself--and
'Oh, Stephen! How can you say such things, think such things?' The
protest broke from him with a groan. His pain seemed to inflame her
still further; to gratify her hate, and to stimulate her mad passion:
'Why did I ever see you at all? Why did my father treat you as a
son; that when you had grown and got strong on his kindness you could
thus insult his daughter in the darkest hour of her pain and her
shame!' She almost choked with passion. There was now nothing in
the whole world that she could trust. In the pause he spoke:
'Stephen, I never meant you harm. Oh, don't speak such wild words.
They will come back to you with sorrow afterwards! I only meant to
do you good. I wanted . . . ' Her anger broke out afresh:
'There; you speak it yourself! You only wanted to do me good. I was
so bad that any kind of a husband . . . Oh, get out of my sight! I
wish to God I had never seen you! I hope to God I may never see you
again! Go! Go! Go!'
This was the end! To Harold's honest mind such words would have been
impossible had not thoughts of truth lain behind them. That Stephen-
-his Stephen, whose image in his mind shut out every other woman in
the world, past, present, and future--should say such things to any
one, that she should think such things, was to him a deadly blow.
But that she should say them to him! . . . Utterance, even the
utterance which speaks in the inmost soul, failed him. He had in
some way that he knew not hurt--wounded--killed Stephen; for the
finer part was gone from the Stephen that he had known and worshipped
so long. She wished him gone; she wished she had never seen him; she
hoped to God never to see him again. Life for him was over and done!
There could be no more happiness in the world; no more wish to work,
to live! . . .
He bowed gravely; and without a word turned and walked away.
Stephen saw him go, his tall form moving amongst the tree trunks till
finally it was lost in their massing. She was so filled with the
tumult of her passion that she looked, unmoved. Even the sense of
his going did not change her mood. She raged to and fro amongst the
trees, her movements getting quicker and quicker as her excitement
began to change from mental to physical; till the fury began to
exhaust itself. All at once she stopped, as though arrested by a
physical barrier; and with a moan sank down in a helpless heap on the
Harold went from the grove as one seems to move in a dream. Little
things and big were mixed up in his mind. He took note, as he went
towards the town by the byroads, of everything around him in his
usual way, for he had always been one of those who notice
unconsciously, or rather unintentionally. Long afterwards he could
shut his eyes and recall every step of the way from the spot where he
had turned from Stephen to the railway station outside Norcester.
And on many and many such a time when he opened them again the
eyelids were wet. He wanted to get away quickly, silently,
unobserved. With the instinct of habitual thought his mind turned
London-ward. He met but few persons, and those only cottiers. He
saluted them in his usual cheery way, but did not stop to speak with
any. He was about to take a single ticket to London when it struck
him that this might look odd, so he asked for a return. Then, his
mind being once more directed towards concealment of purpose, he sent
a telegram to his housekeeper telling her that he was called away to
London on business. It was only when he was far on his journey that
he gave thought to ways and means, and took stock of his possessions.
Before he took out his purse and pocket-book he made up his mind that
he would be content with what it was, no matter how little. He had
left Normanstand and all belonging to it for ever, and was off to
hide himself in whatever part of the world would afford him the best
opportunity. Life was over! There was nothing to look forward to;
nothing to look back at! The present was a living pain whose
lightest element was despair. As, however, he got further and
further away, his practical mind began to work; he thought over
matters so as to arrange in his mind how best he could dispose of his
affairs, so to cause as little comment as might be, and to save the
possibility of worry or distress of any kind to Stephen.
Even then, in his agony of mind, his heart was with her; it was not
the least among his troubles that he would have to be away from her
when perhaps she would need him most. And yet whenever he would come
to this point in his endless chain of thought, he would have to stop
for a while, overcome with such pain that his power of thinking was
paralysed. He would never, could never, be of service to her again.
He had gone out of her life, as she had gone out of his life; though
she never had, nor never could out of his thoughts. It was all over!
All the years of sweetness, of hope, and trust, and satisfied and
justified faith in each other, had been wiped out by that last
terrible, cruel meeting. Oh! how could she have said such things to
him! How could she have thought them! And there she was now in all
the agony of her unrestrained passion. Well he knew, from his long
experience of her nature, how she must have suffered to be in such a
state of mind, to have so forgotten all the restraint of her teaching
and her life! Poor, poor Stephen! Fatherless now as well as
motherless; and friendless as well as fatherless! No one to calm her
in the height of her wild abnormal passion! No one to comfort her
when the fit had passed! No one to sympathise with her for all that
she had suffered! No one to help her to build new and better hopes
out of the wreck of her mad ideas! He would cheerfully have given
his life for her. Only last night he was prepared to kill, which was
worse than to die, for her sake. And now to be far away, unable to
help, unable even to know how she fared. And behind her eternally
the shadow of that worthless man who had spurned her love and flouted
her to a chance comer in his drunken delirium. It was too bitter to
bear. How could God lightly lay such a burden on his shoulders who
had all his life tried to walk in sobriety and chastity and in all
worthy and manly ways! It was unfair! It was unfair! If he could
do anything for her? Anything! Anything! . . . And so the unending
whirl of thoughts went on!
The smoke of London was dim on the horizon when he began to get back
to practical matters. When the train drew up at Euston he stepped
from it as one to whom death would be a joyous relief!
He went to a quiet hotel, and from there transacted by letter such
business matters as were necessary to save pain and trouble to
others. As for himself, he made up his mind that he would go to
Alaska, which he took to be one of the best places in the as yet
uncivilised world for a man to lose his identity. As a security at
the start he changed his name; and as John Robinson, which was not a
name to attract public attention, he shipped as a passenger on the
Scoriac from London to New York.
The Scoriac was one of the great cargo boats which take a certain
number of passengers. The few necessaries which he took with him
were chosen with an eye to utility in that frozen land which he
sought. For the rest, he knew nothing, nor did he care how or
whither he went. His vague purpose was to cross the American
Continent to San Francisco, and there to take passage for the high
latitudes north of the Yukon River.
When Stephen began to regain consciousness her first sensation was
one of numbness. She was cold in the back, and her feet did not seem
to exist; but her head was hot and pulsating as though her brain were
a living thing. Then her half-open eyes began to take in her
surroundings. For another long spell she began to wonder why all
around her was green. Then came the inevitable process of reason.
Trees! It is a wood! How did I come here? why am I lying on the
All at once wakened memory opened on her its flood-gates, and
overwhelmed her with pain. With her hands pressed to her throbbing
temples and her burning face close to the ground, she began to recall
what she could of the immediate past. It all seemed like a terrible
dream. By degrees her intelligence came back to its normal strength,
and all at once, as does one suddenly wakened from sleep to the
knowledge of danger, she sat up.
Somehow the sense of time elapsed made Stephen look at her watch. It
was half-past twelve. As she had come into the grove immediately
after breakfast, and as Harold had almost immediately joined her, and
as the interview between them had been but short, she must have lain
on the ground for more than three hours. She rose at once, trembling
in every limb. A new fear began to assail her; that she had been
missed at home, and that some one might have come to look for her.
Up to now she had not been able to feel the full measure of pain
regarding what had passed, but which would, she knew, come to her in
the end. It was too vague as yet; she could not realise that it had
really been. But the fear of discovery was immediate, and must be
guarded against without delay. As well as she could, she tidied
herself and began to walk slowly back to the house, hoping to gain
her own room unnoticed. That her general intelligence was awake was
shown by the fact that before she left the grove she remembered that
she had forgotten her sunshade. She went back and searched till she
had found it.
Gaining her room without meeting any one, she at once change her
dress, fearing that some soil or wrinkle might betray her.
Resolutely she put back from her mind all consideration of the past;
there would be time for that later on. Her nerves were already much
quieter than they had been. That long faint, or lapse into
insensibility, had for the time taken the place of sleep. There
would be a price to be paid for it later; but for the present it had
served its purpose. Now and again she was disturbed by one thought;
she could not quite remember what had occurred after Harold had left,
and just before she became unconscious. She dared not dwell upon it,
however. It would doubtless all come back to her when she had
leisure to think the whole matter over as a connected narrative.
When the gong sounded for lunch she went down, with a calm exterior,
to face the dreaded ordeal of another meal.
Luncheon passed off without a hitch. She and her aunt talked as
usual over all the small affairs of the house and the neighbourhood,
and the calm restraint was in itself soothing. Even then she could
not help feeling how much convention is to a woman's life. Had it
not been for these recurring trials of set hours and duties she could
never have passed the last day and night without discovery of her
condition of mind. That one terrible, hysterical outburst was
perhaps the safety valve. Had it been spread over the time occupied
in conventional duties its force even then might have betrayed her;
but without the necessity of nerving herself to conventional needs,
she would have infallibly betrayed herself by her negative condition.
After lunch she went to her own boudoir where, when she had shut the
inner door, no one was allowed to disturb her without some special
need in the house or on the arrival of visitors. This 'sporting oak'
was the sign of 'not at home' which she had learned in her glimpse of
college life. Here in the solitude of safety, she began to go over
the past, resolutely and systematically.
She had already been so often over the memory of the previous
humiliating and unhappy day that she need not revert to it at
present. Since then had she not quarrelled with Harold, whom she had
all her life so trusted that her quarrel with him seemed to shake the
very foundations of her existence? As yet she had not remembered
perfectly all that had gone on under the shadow of the beech grove.
She dared not face it all at once, even as yet. Time must elapse
before she should dare to cry; to think of her loss of Harold was to
risk breaking down altogether. Already she felt weak. The strain of
the last forty-eight hours was too much for her physical strength.
She began to feel, as she lay back in her cushioned chair, that a
swoon is no worthy substitute for sleep. Indeed it had seemed to
make the need for sleep even more imperative.
It was all too humiliating! She wanted to think over what had been;
to recall it as far as possible so as to fix it in her mind, whilst
it was still fresh. Later on, some action might have to be based on
her recollection. And yet . . . How could she think when she was so
tired . . . tired . . .
Nature came to the poor girl's relief at last, and she fell into a
heavy sleep . . .
It was like coming out of the grave to be dragged back to waking life
out of such a sleep, and so soon after it had begun. But the voice
seemed to reach to her inner consciousness in some compelling way.
For a second she could not understand; but as she rose from the
cushions the maid's message repeated, brought her wide awake and
alert in an instant:
'Mr. Everard, young Mr. Everard, to see you, miss!'
CHAPTER XVI--A PRIVATE CONVERSATION
The name braced Stephen at once. Here was danger, an enemy to be
encountered; all the fighting blood of generations leaped to the
occasion. The short spell of sleep had helped to restore her. There
remained still quite enough of mental and nervous excitement to make
her think quickly; the words were hardly out of the maid's mouth
before her resolution was taken. It would never do to let Leonard
Everard see she was diffident about meeting him; she would go down at
once. But she would take the precaution of having her aunt present;
at any rate, till she should have seen how the land lay. Her being
just waked from sleep would be an excuse for asking her aunt to see
the visitor till she came down. So she said to the maid:
'I have been asleep. I must have got tired walking in the wood in
the heat. Ask Auntie to kindly see Mr. Everard in the blue drawing-
room till I come down. I must tidy my hair; but I will be down in a
'Shall I send Marjorie to you, miss?'
'No! Don't mind; I can do what I want myself. Hurry down to Miss
How she regarded Leonard Everard now was shown in her instinctive
classing him amongst her enemies.
When she entered the room she seemed all aglow. She wanted not only
to overcome but to punish; and all the woman in her had risen to the
effort. Never in her life had Stephen Norman looked more radiantly
beautiful, more adorable, more desirable. Even Leonard Everard felt
his pulses quicken as he saw that glowing mass of beauty standing out
against the cold background of old French tapestry. All the physical
side of him leaped in answer to the call of her beauty; and even his
cold heart and his self-engrossed brain followed with slower gait.
He had been sitting opposite Miss Rowly in one of the windows,
twirling his hat in nervous suspense. He jumped up, and, as she came
towards him, went forward rapidly to greet her. No one could mistake
the admiration in his eyes. Ever since he had made up his mind to
marry her she had assumed a new aspect in his thoughts. But now her
presence swept away all false imaginings; from the moment that her
loveliness dawned upon him something like love began to grow within
his breast. Stephen saw the look and it strengthened her. He had so
grievously wounded her pride the previous day that her victory on
this was a compensation which set her more at her old poise.
Her greeting was all sweetness: she was charmed to see him. How was
his father, and what was the news? Miss Rowly looked on with smiling
visage. She too had seen the look of admiration in his eyes, and it
pleased her. Old ladies, especially when they are maiden ladies,
always like to see admiration in the eyes of young men when they are
turned in the direction of any girl dear to them.
They talked for some time, keeping all the while, by Stephen's clever
generalship, to the small-talk of the neighbourhood and the minor
events of social importance. As the time wore on she could see that
Leonard was growing impatient, and evidently wanted to see her alone.
She ignored, however, all his little private signalling, and
presently ordered tea to be brought. This took some little time;
when it had been brought and served and drunk, Leonard was in a
smothered fume of impatience. She was glad to see that as yet her
aunt had noticed nothing, and she still hoped that she would be able
to so prolong matters, that she would escape without a private
interview. She did not know the cause of Leonard's impatience: that
he must see her before the day passed. She too was an egoist, in her
own way; in the flush of belief of his subjugation she did not think
of attributing to him any other motive than his desire for herself.
As she had made up her mind on the final issue she did not want to be
troubled by a new 'scene.'
But, after all, Leonard was a man; and man's ways are more direct
than woman's. Seeing that he could not achieve his object in any
other way, he said out suddenly, thinking, and rightly, that she
would not wish to force an issue in the presence of her aunt:
'By the way, Miss Norman,' he had always called her 'Miss Norman' in
her aunt's presence: 'I want to have two minutes with you before I
go. On a matter of business,' he added, noticing Miss Rowly's
surprised look. The old lady was old-fashioned even for her age; in
her time no young man would have asked to see a young lady alone on
business. Except on one kind of business; and with regard to that
kind of business gentlemen had to obtain first the confidence and
permission of guardians. Leonard saw the difficulty and said
'It is on the matter you wrote to me about!'
Stephen was prepared for a nasty shock, but hardly for so nasty a one
as this. There was an indelicacy about it which went far beyond the
bounds of thoughtless conventionality. That such an appeal should be
made to her, and in such a way, savoured of danger. Her woman's
intuition gave her the guard, and at once she spoke, smilingly and
gently as one recalling a matter in which the concern is not her own:
'Of course! It was selfish of me not to have thought of it, and to
have kept you so long waiting. The fact is, Auntie, that Leonard--I
like to call him Leonard, since we were children together, and he is
so young; though perhaps it would be more decorous nowadays to say
"Mr. Everard"--has consulted me about his debts. You know, Auntie
dear, that young men will be young men in such matters; or perhaps
you do not, since the only person who ever worried you has been
myself. But I stayed at Oxford and I know something of young men's
ways; and as I am necessarily more or less of a man of business, he
values my help. Don't you, Leonard?' The challenge was so direct,
and the position he was in so daringly put, that he had to acquiesce.
Miss Rowly, who had looked on with a frown of displeasure, said
'I know you are your own mistress, my dear. But surely it would be
better if Mr. Everard would consult with his solicitor or his
father's agent, or some of his gentlemen friends, rather than with a
young lady whose relations with him, after all, are only those of a
neighbour on visiting terms. For my own part, I should have thought
that Mr. Everard's best course would have been to consult his own
father! But the things that gentlemen, as well as ladies do, have
been sadly changed since my time!' Then, rising in formal dignity,
she bowed gravely to the visitor before leaving the room.
But the position of being left alone in the room with Leonard did not
at all suit Stephen's plans. Rising quickly she said to her aunt:
'Don't stir, Auntie. I dare say you are right in what you say; but I
promised Mr. Everard to go into the matter. And as I have brought
the awkwardness on myself, I suppose I must bear it. If Mr. Everard
wants to see me alone, and I suppose he is diffident in speaking on
such a matter before you--he didn't play with you, you know!--we can
go out on the lawn. We shan't be long!' Before Leonard could
recover his wits she had headed him out on the lawn.
Her strategy was again thoroughly good. The spot she chose, though
beyond earshot, was quite in the open and commanded by all the
windows in that side of the house. A person speaking there might say
what he liked, but his actions must be discreet.
On the lawn Stephen tripped ahead; Leonard followed inwardly raging.
By her clever use of the opening she had put him in a difficulty from
which there was no immediate means of extrication. He could not
quarrel overtly with Stephen; if he did so, how could he enter on the
pressing matter of his debts? He dared not openly proclaim his
object in wishing to marry her, for had he done so her aunt might
have interfered, with what success he could not be sure. In any case
it would cause delay, and delay was what he could not afford. He
felt that in mentioning his debts at just such a movement he had
given Stephen the chance she had so aptly taken. He had to be on his
good behaviour, however; and with an apprehension that was new to him
he followed her.
An old Roman marble seat was placed at an angle from the house so
that the one of the two occupants within its curve must almost face
the house, whilst the other gave to it at least a quarter-face.
Stephen seated herself on the near side, leaving to Leonard the
exposed position. As soon as he was seated, she began:
'Now, Leonard, tell me all about the debts?' She spoke in tones of
gay friendliness, but behind the mask of her cheerfulness was the
real face of fear. Down deep in her mind was a conviction that her
letter was a pivotal point of future sorrow. It was in the meantime
quite apparent to her that Leonard kept it as his last resource; so
her instinct was to keep it to the front and thus minimise its power.
Leonard, though inwardly weakened by qualms of growing doubt, had the
animal instinct that, as he was in opposition, his safety was in
attacking where his opponent most feared. He felt that there was
some subtle change in his companion; this was never the same Stephen
Norman whom only yesterday he had met upon the hill! He plunged at
once into his purpose.
'But it wasn't about my debts you asked me to meet you, Stephen.'
'You surprise me, Leonard! I thought I simply asked you to come to
meet me. I know the first subject I mentioned when we began to talk,
after your grumbling about coming in the heat, was your money
matters.' Leonard winced, but went on:
'It was very good of you, Stephen; but really that is not what I came
to speak of to-day. At first, at all events!' he added with a
sublime naivette, as the subject of his debts and his imperative want
of money rose before him. Stephen's eyes flashed; she saw more
clearly than ever through his purpose. Such as admission at the very
outset of the proffer of marriage, which she felt was coming, was
little short of monstrous. Her companion did not see the look of
mastery on her face; he was looking down at the moment. A true lover
would have been looking up.
'I wanted to tell you, Stephen, that I have been thinking over what
you said to me in your letter, and what you said in words; and I want
to accept!' As he was speaking he was looking her straight in the
Stephen answered slowly with a puzzled smile which wrinkled up her
'Accept what I said in my letter! why, Leonard, what do you mean?
That letter must have had a lot more in it than I thought. I seem to
remember that it was simply a line asking you to meet me. Just let
me look at it; I should like to be sure of what actually is!' As she
spoke she held out her hand. Leonard was nonplussed; he did not know
what to say. Stephen made up her mind to have the letter back.
Leonard was chafing under the position forced upon him, and tried to
divert his companion from her purpose. He knew well why she had
chosen that exposed position for their interview. Now, as her
outstretched hand embarrassed him, he made reprisal; he tried to take
it in his in a tender manner.
She instantly drew back her hand and put it behind her in a decided
manner. She was determined that whatever might happen she would not
let any watcher at the windows, by chance or otherwise, see any sign
of tenderness on her part. Leonard, thinking that his purpose had
been effected, went on, breathing more freely:
'Your letter wasn't much. Except of course that it gave me the
opportunity of listening to what you said; to all your sweet words.
To your more than sweet proposal!'
'Yes! It must have been sweet to have any one, who was in a position
to do so, offer to help you when you knew that you were overwhelmed
with debts!' The words were brutal. Stephen felt so; but she had no
alternative. Leonard had some of the hard side of human nature; but
he had also some of the weak side. He went on blindly:
'I have been thinking ever since of what you said, and I want to tell
you that I would like to do as you wish!' As he spoke, his words
seemed even to him to be out of place. He felt it would be necessary
to throw more fervour into the proceedings. The sudden outburst
which followed actually amused Stephen, even in her state of fear:
'Oh, Stephen, don't you know that I love you! You are so beautiful!
I love you! I love you! Won't you be my wife?'
This was getting too much to close quarters. Stephen said in a calm,
'My dear Leonard, one thing at a time! I came out here, you know, to
speak of your debts; and until that is done, I really won't go into
any other matter. Of course if you'd rather not . . . ' Leonard
really could not afford this; matters were too pressing with him. So
he tried to affect a cheery manner; but in his heart was a black
resolve that she should yet pay for this.
'All right! Stephen. Whatever you wish I will do; you are the queen
of my heart, you know!'
'How much is the total amount?' said Stephen.
This was a change to the prosaic which made sentiment impossible. He
gave over, for the time.
'Go on!' said Stephen, following up her advantage. 'Don't you even
know how much you owe?'
'The fact is, I don't. Not exactly. I shall make up the amount as
well as I can and let you know. But that's not what I came about to-
day.' Stephen was going to make an angry gesture of dissent. She
was not going to have that matter opened up. She waited, however,
for Leonard was going on after his momentary pause. She breathed
more freely after his first sentence. He was unable evidently to
carry on a double train of thought.
'It was about that infernal money-lenders' letter that the Governor
got!' Stephen got still less anxious. This open acknowledgment of
his true purpose seemed to clear the air.
'What is the amount?' Leonard looked quickly at her; the relief of
her mind made her tone seem joyful.
'A monkey! Five hundred pounds, you know. But then there's three
hundred for interest that has to be paid also. It's an awful lot of
money, isn't it?' The last phrase was added on seeing Stephen's
'Yes!' she answered quietly. 'A great deal of money--to waste!'
They were both silent for a while. Then she said:
'What does your father say to it?'
'He was in an awful wax. One of these beastly duns had written to
him about another account and he was in a regular fury. When I told
him I would pay it within a week, he said very little, which was
suspicious; and then, just when I was going out, he sprung this on
me. Mean of him! wasn't it? I need expect no help from him.' As he
was speaking he took a mass of letters from his pocket and began to
look among them for the money-lenders' letter.
'Why, what a correspondence you have there. Do you keep all your
letters in your pockets?' said Stephen quietly.
'All I don't tear up or burn. It wouldn't do to let the Governor
into my secrets. He might know too much!'
'And are all those letters from duns?'
'Mostly, but I only keep those letters I have to attend to and those
I care for.'
'Show me the bundle!' she said. Then seeing him hesitate, added:
'You know if I am to help you to get clear you must take me into your
confidence. I dare say I shall have to see a lot more letters than
these before you are quite clear!' Her tone was too quiet. Knowing
already the silent antagonism between them he began to suspect her;
knowing also that her own letter was not amongst them, he used his
wits and handed them over without a word. She, too, suspected him.
After his tacit refusal to give her the letter, she almost took it
for granted that it was not amongst them. She gave no evidence of
her feeling, however, but opened and read the letters in due
sequence; all save two, which, being in a female hand, she gave back
without a word. There was a calmness and an utter absence of
concern, much less of jealousy, about this which disconcerted him.
Throughout her reading Stephen's face showed surprise now and again;
but when she came to the last, which was that of the usurers, it
showed alarm. Being a woman, a legal threat had certain fears of its
'There must be no delay about this!' she said.
'What am I to do?' he answered, a weight off his mind that the fiscal
matter had been practically entered on.
'I shall see that you get the money!' she said quietly. 'It will be
really a gift, but I prefer it to be as a loan for many reasons.'
Leonard made no comment. He found so many reasons in his own mind
that he thought it wise to forbear from asking any of hers. Then she
took the practical matter in hand:
'You must wire to these people at once to say that you will pay the
amount on the day after to-morrow. If you will come here to-morrow
at four o'clock the money will be ready for you. You can go up to
town by the evening train and pay off the debt first thing in the
morning. When you bring the receipt I shall speak to you about the
other debts; but you must make out a full list of them. We can't
have any half-measure. I will not go into the matter till I have all
the details before me!' Then she stood up to go.
As they walked across the lawn, she said:
'By the way, don't forget to bring that letter with you. I want to
see what I really did say in it!' Her tone was quiet enough, and the
wording was a request; but Leonard knew as well as if it had been
spoken outright as a threat that if he did not have the letter with
him when he came things were likely to be unpleasant.
The farther he got from Normanstand on his way home the more
discontented Leonard grew. Whilst he had been in Stephen's presence
she had so dominated him, not only by her personality but by her use
of her knowledge of his own circumstances, that he had not dared to
make protest or opposition; but now he began to feel how much less he
was to receive than he had expected. He had come prepared to allow
Stephen to fall into his arms, fortune and all. But now, although he
had practical assurance that the weight of his debts would be taken
from him, he was going away with his tail between his legs. He had
not even been accepted as a suitor, he who had himself been wooed
only a day before. His proposal of marriage had not been accepted,
had not even been considered by the woman who had so lately broken
ironclad convention to propose marriage to him. He had been treated
merely as a scapegrace debtor who had come to ask favours from an old
friend. He had even been treated like a bad boy; had been told that
he had wasted money; had been ordered, in no doubtful way, to bring
the full schedule of his debts. And all the time he dared not say
anything lest the thing shouldn't come off at all. Stephen had such
an infernally masterly way with her! It didn't matter whether she
was proposing to him, or he was proposing to her, he was made to feel
small all the same. He would have to put up with it till he had got
rid of the debts!
And then as to the letter. Why was she so persistent about seeing
it? Did she want to get it into her hands and then keep it, as
Harold An Wolf had done? Was it possible that she suspected he would
use it to coerce her; she would call it 'blackmail,' he supposed.
This being the very thing he had intended to do, and had done, he
grew very indignant at the very thought of being accused of it. It
was, he felt, a very awkward thing that he had lost possession of the
letter. He might need it if Stephen got nasty. Then Harold might
give it to her, as he had threatened to do. He thought he would call
round that evening by Harold's house, and see if he couldn't get back
the letter. It belonged to him; Harold had no right to keep it. He
would see him before he and Stephen got putting their heads together.
So, on his way home, he turned his steps at once to Harold's house.
He did not find him in. The maid who opened the door could give him
no information; all she could say was that Mrs. Dingle the
housekeeper had got a telegram from Master saying that he had been
called suddenly away on business.
This was a new source of concern to Leonard. He suspected a motive
of some sort; though what that motive could be he could not hazard
the wildest guess. On his way home he called at the post-office and
sent a telegram to Cavendish and Cecil, the name of the usurers'
firm, in accordance with Stephen's direction. He signed it: 'Jasper
CHAPTER XVII--A BUSINESS TRANSACTION
When Stephen had sent off her letter to the bank she went out for a
stroll; she knew it would be no use trying to get rest before dinner.
That ordeal, too, had to be gone through. She found herself
unconsciously going in the direction of the grove; but when she
became aware of it a great revulsion overcame her, and she shuddered.
Slowly she took her way across the hard stretch of finely-kept grass
which lay on the side of the house away from the wood. The green
sward lay like a sea, dotted with huge trees, singly, or in clumps as
islands. In its far-stretching stateliness there was something
soothing. She came back to the sound of the dressing-gong with a
better strength to resist the trial before her. Well she knew her
aunt would have something to say on the subject of her interference
in Leonard Everard's affairs.
Her fears were justified, for when they had come into the drawing-
room after dinner Miss Rowly began:
'Stephen dear, is it not unwise of you to interfere in Mr. Everard's
'Why unwise, Auntie?'
'Well, my dear, the world is censorious. And when a young lady, of
your position and your wealth, takes a part in a young man's affairs
tongues are apt to wag. And also, dear, debts, young men's debts,
are hardly the subjects for a girl's investigation. Remember, that
we ladies live very different lives from men; from some men, I should
say, for your dear father was the best of men, and I should think
that in all his life there was nothing which he would have wished
concealed. But, my dear, young men are less restrained in their ways
than we are, than we have to be for our own safety and protection.'
The poor lady was greatly perturbed at having to speak in such a way.
Stephen saw her distress; coming over to her, she sat down and took
her hand. Stephen had a very tender side to her nature, and she
loved very truly the dear old lady who had taken her mother's place
and had shown her all a mother's love. Now, in her loneliness and
woe and fear, she clung to her in spirit. She would have liked to
have clung to her physically; to have laid her head on her bosom, and
have cried her heart out. The time for tears had not come. Hourly
she felt more and more the weight that a shameful secret is to carry.
She knew, however, that she could set her aunt's mind at rest on the
present subject; so she said:
'I think you are right, Auntie dear. It would have been better if I
had asked you first; but I saw that Leonard was in distress, and
wormed the cause of it from him. When I heard that it was only debt
I offered to help him. He is an old friend, you know, Auntie. We
were children together; and as I have much more money than I can ever
want or spend, I thought I might help him. I am afraid I have let
myself in for a bigger thing than I intended; but as I have promised
I must go on with it. I dare say, Auntie, that you are afraid that I
may end by getting in love with him, and marrying him. Don't you,
dear?' This was said with a hug and a kiss which gave the old lady
delight. Her instinct told her what was coming. She nodded her head
in acquiescence. Stephen went on gravely:
'Put any such fear out of your mind. I shall never marry him. I can
never love him.' She was going to say 'could never love him,' when
'Are you sure, my dear? The heart is not always under one's own
'Quite sure, Auntie. I know Leonard Everard; and though I have
always liked him, I do not respect him. Why, the very fact of his
coming to me for money would make me reconsider any view I had
formed, had nothing else ever done so. You may take it, Auntie dear,
that in the way you mean Leonard is nothing to me; can never be
anything to me!' Here a sudden inspiration took her. In its light a
serious difficulty passed, and the doing of a thing which had a fear
of its own became easy. With a conviction in her tone, which in
itself aided her immediate purpose, she said:
'I shall prove it to you. That is, if you will not mind doing
something which will save me an embarrassment.'
'You know I will do anything, my dearest, which an old woman can do
for a young one!' Stephen squeezed the mittened hand which she held
as she went on:
'As I said, I have promised to lend him some money. The first
instalment is to be given him to-morrow; he is to call for it in the
afternoon. Will you give it to him for me?'
'Gladly, my dear,' said the old lady, much relieved. Stephen
'One other thing, Auntie, I want you to do for me: not to think of
the amount, or to say a word to me about it. It is a large sum, and
I dare say it will frighten you a little. But I have made up my mind
to it. I am learning a great deal out of this, Auntie dear; and I am
quite willing to pay for my knowledge. After all, money is the
easiest and cheapest way of paying for knowledge! Don't you agree
Miss Rowly gulped down her disappointment. She felt that she ought
not to say too much, now that Stephen had set aside her graver fears.
She consoled herself with the thought that even a large amount of
money would cause no inconvenience to so wealthy a woman as Stephen.
Beyond this, as she would have the handing over of the money to
Leonard, she would know the amount. If advisable, she could
remonstrate. She could if necessary consult, in confidence, with
Harold. Her relief from her greater fear, and her gladness at this
new proof of her niece's confidence, were manifested in the extra
affection with which she bade her good-night.
Stephen did not dare to breathe freely till she was quite alone; and
as she lay quiet in her bed in the dark she thought before sleep
Her first feeling was one of thankfulness that immediate danger was
swerving from her. Things were so shaping themselves that she need
not have any fear concerning Leonard. For his own sake he would have
to keep silent. If he intended to blackmail her she would have the
protection of her aunt's knowledge of the loan, and of her
participation in it. The only weapon that remained to him was her
letter; and that she would get from him before furnishing the money
for the payment of his other debts.
These things out of the way, her thoughts turned to the matter of the
greater dread; that of which all along she had feared to think for a
Harold! and her treatment of him!
The first reception of the idea was positive anguish. From the
moment he had left her till now there had been no time when a
consideration of the matter was possible. Time pressed, or
circumstances had interfered, or her own personal condition had
forbidden. Now, when she was alone, the whole awful truth burst on
her like an avalanche. Stephen felt the issue of her thinking before
the thinking itself was accomplished; and it was with a smothered
groan that she, in the darkness, held up her arms with fingers linked
in desperate concentration of appeal.
Oh, if she could only take back one hour of her life, well she knew
what that hour would be! Even that shameful time with Leonard on the
hill-top seemed innocuous beside the degrading remembrance of her
conduct to the noble friend of her whole life.
Sadly she turned over in her bed, and with shut eyes put her burning
face on the pillow, to hide, as it were, from herself her abject
depth of shame.
Leonard lounged through the next morning with what patience he could.
At four o'clock he was at the door of Normanstand in his dogcart.
This time he had a groom with him and a suitcase packed for a night's
use, as he was to go on to London after his interview with Stephen.
He had lost sight altogether of the matter of Stephen's letter, or
else he would have been more nervous.
He was taken into the blue drawing-room, where shortly Miss Rowly
joined him. He had not expected this. His mental uneasiness
manifested itself in his manner, and his fidgeting was not unobserved
by the astute old lady. He was disconcerted; 'overwhelmed' would
better have described his feelings when she said:
'Miss Norman is sorry she can't see you to-day as she is making a
visit; but she has given me a message for you, or rather a commission
to discharge. Perhaps you had better sit down at the table; there
are writing materials there, and I shall want a receipt of some
'Stephen did not say anything about a receipt!' The other smiled
sweetly as she said in a calm way:
'But unfortunately Miss Norman is not here; and so I have to do the
best I can. I really must have some proof that I have fulfilled my
trust. You see, Mr. Everard, though it is what lawyers call a
"friendly" transaction, it is more or less a business act; and I must
Leonard saw that he must comply, for time pressed. He sat down at
the table. Taking up a pen and drawing a sheet of paper towards him,
he said with what command of his voice he could:
'What am I to write?' The old lady took from her basket a folded
sheet of notepaper, and, putting on her reading-glasses, said as she
smoothed it out:
'I think it would be well to say something like this--"I, Leonard
Everard, of Brindehow, in the Parish of Normanstand, in the County of
Norcester, hereby acknowledge the receipt from Miss Laetitia Rowly of
nine hundred pounds sterling lent to me in accordance with my
request, the same being to clear me of a pressing debt due by me.'
When he had finished writing the receipt Miss Rowly looked it over,
and handing it back to him, said:
'Now sign; and date!' He did so with suppressed anger.
She folded the document carefully and put it in her pocket. Then
taking from the little pouch which she wore at her belt a roll of
notes, she counted out on the table nine notes of one hundred pounds
each. As she put down the last she said:
'Miss Norman asked me to say that a hundred pounds is added to the
sum you specified to her, as doubtless the usurers would, since you
are actually behind the time promised for repayment, require
something extra as a solatium or to avoid legal proceedings already
undertaken. In fact that they would "put more salt on your tail."
The expression, I regret to say, is not mine.'
Leonard folded up the notes, put them into his pocket-book, and
walked away. He did not feel like adding verbal thanks to the
document already signed. As he got near the door the thought struck
him; turning back he said:
'May I ask if Stephen said anything about getting the document?'
'I beg your pardon,' she said icily, 'did you speak of any one?'
'Miss Norman, I meant!' Miss Rowly's answer to this came so smartly
that it left an added sting. Her arrow was fledged with two feathers
so that it must shoot true: her distrust of him and his own
'Oh no! Miss Norman knows nothing of this. She simply asked me to
give you the money. This is my own doing entirely. You see, I must
exercise my judgment on my dear niece's behalf. Of course it may not
be necessary to show her the receipt; but if it should ever be
advisable it is always there.'
He looked at her with anger, not unmixed with admiration, as, bowing
rather lower than necessary, he went out of the door, saying sotto
voce, between his teeth:
'When my turn comes out you go! Neck and crop! Quick! Normanstand
isn't big enough to hold us both!'
CHAPTER XVIII--MORE BUSINESS
When Leonard tendered the eight hundred pounds in payment of his debt
of five hundred, Mr. Cavendish at first refused to take it. But when
Leonard calmly but firmly refused to pay a single penny beyond the
obligations already incurred, including interest on the full sum for
one day, he acquiesced. He knew the type of man fully; and knew also
that in all probability it would not be long before he would come to
the Firm again on a borrowing errand. When such time should come, he
would put an extra clause into his Memorandum of Agreement which
would allow the Firm full power to make whatever extra charge they
might choose in case of the slightest default in making payment.
Leonard's visits to town had not of late been many, and such as he
had had were not accompanied with a plethora of cash. He now felt
that he had earned a holiday; and it was not till the third morning
that he returned to Brindehow. His father made no comment on his
absence; his only allusion to the subject was:
'Back all right! Any news in town?' There was, however, an unwonted
suavity in his manner which made Leonard a little anxious. He busied
himself for the balance of the morning in getting together all his
unpaid accounts and making a schedule of them. The total at first
amazed almost as much as it frightened him. He feared what Stephen
would say. She had already commented unfavourably on the one amount
she had seen. When she was face to face with this she might refuse
to pay altogether. It would therefore be wise to propitiate her.
What could he do in this direction? His thoughts naturally turned to
the missing letter. If he could get possession of it, it would
either serve as a sop or a threat. In the one case she would be so
glad to have it back that she would not stick at a few pounds; in the
other it would 'bring her to her senses' as he put in his own mind
his intention of blackmail.
He was getting so tightened up in situation that as yet he could only
do as he was told, and keep his temper as well as he could.
Altogether it was in a chastened mood that he made his appearance at
Normanstand later in the afternoon. He was evidently expected, for
he was shown into the study without a word. Here Miss Rowly and
Stephen joined him. Both were very kind in manner. After the usual
greetings and commonplaces Stephen said in a brisk, businesslike way:
'Have you the papers with you?' He took the bundle of accounts from
his pocket and handed them to her. After his previous experience he
would have suggested, had he dared, that he should see Stephen alone;
but he feared the old lady. He therefore merely said:
'I am afraid you will find the amount very large. But I have put
So he had; and more than everything. At the last an idea struck him
that as he was getting so much he might as well have a little more.
He therefore added several good-sized amounts which he called 'debts
of honour.' This would, he thought, appeal to the feminine mind.
Stephen did not look at the papers at once. She stood up, holding
them, and said to Miss Rowly:
'Now, if you will talk to Mr. Everard I will go over these documents
quietly by myself. When I have been through them and understand them
all I shall come back; and we will see what can be done.' She moved
gracefully out of the room, closing the door behind her. As is usual
with women, she had more than one motive for her action in going
away. In the first place, she wished to be alone whilst she went
over the schedule of the debts. She feared she might get angry; and
in the present state of her mind towards Leonard the expression of
any feeling, even contempt, would not be wise. Her best protection
from him would be a manifest kindly negation of any special interest.
In the second place, she believed that he would have her letter with
the other papers, and she did not wish her aunt to see it, lest she
should recognise the writing. In her boudoir, with a beating heart,
she untied the string and looked through the papers.
Her letter was not among them.
For a few seconds she stood stock still, thinking. Then, with a
sigh, she sat down and began to read the list of debts, turning to
the originals now and again for details. As she went on, her wonder
and disgust grew; and even a sense of fear came into her thoughts. A
man who could be so wildly reckless and so selfishly unscrupulous was
to be feared. She knew his father was a comparatively poor man, who
could not possibly meet such a burden. If he were thus to his
father, what might he be to her if he got a chance.
The thought of what he might have been to her, had he taken the
chance she had given him, never occurred to her. This possibility
had already reached the historical stage in her mind.
She made a few pencil notes on the list; and went back to the study.
Her mind was made up.
She was quite businesslike and calm, did not manifest the slightest
disapproval, but seemed to simply accept everything as facts. She
asked Leonard a few questions on subjects regarding which she had
made notes, such as discounts. Then she held the paper out to him
and without any preliminary remark said:
'Will you please put the names to these?'
'How do you mean?' he asked, flushing.
'The names of the persons to whom these sums marked "debt of honour"
are due.' His reply came quickly, and was a little aggressive; he
thought this might be a good time to make a bluff:
'I do not see that that is necessary. I can settle them when I have
the money.' Slowly and without either pause or flurry Stephen
replied, looking him straight in the eyes as she handed him the
'Of course it is not necessary! Few things in the world really are!
I only wanted to help you out of your troubles; but if you do not
wish me to . . . !' Leonard interrupted in alarm:
'No! no! I only spoke of these items. You see, being "debts of
honour" I ought not to give the names.' Looking with a keen glance
at her set face he saw she was obdurate; and, recognising his defeat,
said as calmly as he could, for he felt raging:
'All right! Give me the paper!' Bending over the table he wrote.
When she took the paper, a look half surprised, half indignant,
passed over her face. Her watchful aunt saw it, and bending over
looked also at the paper. Then she too smiled bitterly.
Leonard had printed in the names! The feminine keenness of both
women had made his intention manifest. He did not wish for the
possibility of his handwriting being recognised. His punishment came
quickly. With a dazzling smile Stephen said to him:
'But, Leonard, you have forgotten to put the addresses!'
'Is that necessary?'
'Of course it is! Why, you silly, how is the money to be paid if
there are no addresses?'
Leonard felt like a rat in a trap; but he had no alternative. So
irritated was he, and so anxious to hide his irritation that,
forgetting his own caution, he wrote, not in printing characters but
in his own handwriting, addresses evolved from his own imagination.
Stephen's eyes twinkled as he handed her the paper: he had given
himself away all round.
Leonard having done all that as yet had been required of him, felt
that he might now ask a further favour, so he said:
'There is one of those bills which I have promised to pay by Monday.'
'Promised?' said Stephen with wide-opened eyes. She had no idea of
sparing him, she remembered the printed names. 'Why, Leonard, I
thought you said you were unable to pay any of those debts?'
Again he had put himself in a false position. He could not say that
it was to his father he had made the promise; for he had already told
Stephen that he had been afraid to tell him of his debts. In his
desperation, for Miss Rowly's remorseless glasses were full on him,
'I thought I was justified in making the promise after what you said
about the pleasure it would be to help me. You remember, that day on
If he had wished to disconcert her he was mistaken; she had already
thought over and over again of every form of embarrassment her
unhappy action might bring on her at his hands. She now said sweetly
and calmly, so sweetly and so calmly that he, with knowledge of her
secret, was alarmed:
'But that was not a promise to pay. If you will remember it was only
an offer, which is a very different thing. You did not accept it
then!' She was herself somewhat desperate, or she would not have
sailed so close to the wind.
'Ah, but I accepted later!' he said quickly, feeling in his
satisfaction in an epigrammatic answer a certain measure of victory.
He felt his mistake when she went on calmly:
'Offers like that are not repeated. They are but phantoms, after
all. They come at their own choice, when they do come; and they stay
but the measure of a breath or two. You cannot summon them!'
Leonard fell into the current of the metaphor and answered:
'I don't know that even that is impossible. There are spells which
call, and recall, even phantoms!'
'Indeed!' Stephen was anxious to find his purpose.
Leonard felt that he was getting on, that he was again acquiring the
upper hand; so he pushed on the metaphor, more and more satisfied
'And it is wonderful how simple some spells, and these the most
powerful, can be. A remembered phrase, the recollection of a
pleasant meeting, the smell of a forgotten flower, or the sight of a
forgotten letter; any or all of these can, through memory, bring back
the past. And it is often in the past that the secret of the future
Miss Rowly felt that something was going on before her which she
could not understand. Anything of this man's saying which she could
not fathom must be at least dangerous; so she determined to spoil his
purpose, whatever it might be.
'Dear me! That is charmingly poetic! Past and future; memory and
the smell of flowers; meetings and letters! It is quite philosophy.
Do explain it all, Mr. Everard!' Leonard was not prepared to go on
under the circumstances. His own mention of 'letter,' although he
had deliberately used it with the intention of frightening Stephen,
had frightened himself. It reminded him that he had not brought, had
not got, the letter; and that as yet he was not certain of getting
the money. Stephen also had noted the word, and determined not to
pass the matter by. She said gaily:
'If a letter is a spell, I think you have a spell of mine, which is a
spell of my own weaving. You were to show me the letter in which I
asked you to come to see me. It was in that, I think you said, that
I mentioned your debts; but I don't remember doing so. Show it to
'I have not got it with me!' This was said with mulish sullenness.
'That is a pity! It is always a pity to forget things in a business
transaction; as this is. I think, Auntie, we must wait till we have
all the documents, before we can complete this transaction!'
Leonard was seriously alarmed. If the matter of the loan were not
gone on with at once the jeweller's bill could not be paid by Monday,
and the result would be another scene with his father. He turned to
Stephen and said as charmingly as he could, and he was all in earnest
'I'm awfully sorry! But these debts have been so worrying me that
they put lots of things out of my head. That bill to be paid on
Monday, when I haven't a feather to fly with, is enough to drive a
fellow off his chump. The moment I lay my hands on the letter I
shall keep it with me so that I can't forget it again. Won't you
forgive me for this time?'
'Forgive!' she answered, with a laugh. 'Why it's not worth
forgiveness! It is not worth a second thought! All right! Leonard,
make your mind easy; the bill will be paid on Monday!' Miss Rowly
'I have to be in London on Monday afternoon; I can pay it for you.'
This was a shock to Leonard; he said impulsively:
'Oh, I say! Can't I . . . ' His words faded away as the old lady
again raised her lorgnon and gazed at him calmly. She went on:
'You know, my dear, it won't be even out of my way, as I have to call
at Mr. Malpas's office, and I can go there from the hotel in Regent
Street.' This was all news to Stephen. She did not know that her
aunt had intended going to London; and indeed she did not know of any
business with Mr. Malpas, whose firm had been London solicitor to the
Rowlys for several generations. She had no doubt, however, as to the
old lady's intention. It was plain to her that she wanted to help.
So she thanked her sweetly. Leonard could say nothing. He seemed to
he left completely out of it. When Stephen rose, as a hint to him
that it was time for him to go, he said humbly, as he left:
'Would it be possible that I should have the receipt before Monday
evening? I want to show it to my father.'
'Certainly!' said the old lady, answering him. 'I shall be back by
the two o'clock train; and if you happen to be at the railway station
at Norcester when I arrive I can give it to you!'
He went away relieved, but vindictive; determined in his own mind
that when he had received the money for the rest of the debts he
would see Stephen, when the old lady was not present, and have it out
CHAPTER XIX--A LETTER
On Monday evening after dinner Mr. Everard and his son sat for a
while in silence. They had not met since morning; and in the
presence of the servants conversation had been scrupulously polite.
Now, though they were both waiting to talk, neither liked to begin.
The older man was outwardly placid, when Leonard, a little flushed
and a little nervous of voice, began:
'Have you had any more bills?' He had expected none, and thus hoped
to begin by scoring against his father. It was something of a set-
down when the latter, taking some papers from his breast-pocket,
handed them to him, saying:
'Only these!' Leonard took them in silence and looked at them. All
were requests for payment of debts due by his son.
In each case the full bill was enclosed. He was silent a while; but
his father spoke:
'It would almost seem as if all these people had made up their minds
that you were of no further use to them.' Then without pausing he
said, but in a sharper voice:
'Have you paid the jewellers? This is Monday!' Without speaking
Leonard took leisurely from his pocket folded paper. This he opened,
and, after deliberately smoothing out the folds, handed it to his
father. Doubtless something in his manner had already convinced the
latter that the debt was paid. He took the paper in as leisurely a
way as it had been given, adjusted his spectacles, and read it.
Seeing that his son had scored this time, he covered his chagrin with
an appearance of paternal satisfaction.
'Good!' For many reasons he was glad the debt was paid He was
himself too poor a man to allow the constant drain his son's debts,
and too careful of his position to be willing have such exposure as
would come with a County Court action against his son. All the same,
his exasperation continued. Neither was his quiver yet empty. He
shot his next arrow:
'I am glad you paid off those usurers!' Leonard did not like the
definite way he spoke. Still in silence, he took from his pocket a
second paper, which he handed over unfolded. Mr. Everard read it,
and returned it politely, with again one word:
'Good!' For a few minutes there was silence. The father spoke
'Those other debts, have you paid them?' With a calm deliberation so
full of tacit rudeness that it made his father flush Leonard
'Not yet, sir! But I shall think of them presently. I don't care to
be bustled by them; and I don't mean to!' It was apparent that
though he spoke verbally of his creditors, his meaning was with
regard to others also.
'When will they be paid?' As his son hesitated, he went on:
'I am alluding to those who have written to me. I take it that as my
estate is not entailed, and as you have no income except from me, the
credit which has been extended to you has been rather on my account
than your own. Therefore, as the matter touches my own name, I am
entitled to know something of what is going on.' His manner as well
as his words was so threatening that Leonard was a little afraid. He
might imperil his inheritance. He answered quickly:
'Of course, sir, you shall know everything. After all, you know, my
affairs are your affairs!'
'I know nothing of the sort. I may of course be annoyed by your
affairs, even dishonoured, in a way, by them. But I accept no
responsibility whatever. As you have made your bed, so must you lie
'It's all right, sir, I assure you. All my debts, both those you
know of and some you don't, I shall settle very shortly.'
'How soon?' The question was sternly put.
'In a few days. I dare say a week at furthest will see everything
The elder man stood, saying gravely as he went to the door:
'You will do well to tell me when the last of them is paid. There is
something which I shall then want to tell you!' Without waiting for
reply he went to his study.
Leonard went to his room and made a systematic, though unavailing,
search for Stephen's letter; thinking that by some chance he might
have recovered it from Harold and had overlooked it.
The next few days he passed in considerable suspense. He did not
dare go near Normanstand until he was summoned, as he knew he would
be when he was required.
When Miss Rowly returned from her visit to London she told Stephen
that she had paid the bill at the jeweller's, and had taken the
precaution of getting a receipt, together with a duplicate for Mr.
Everard. The original was by her own request made out as received
from Miss Laetitia Rowly in settlement of the account of Leonard
Everard, Esq.; the duplicate merely was 'recd. in settlement of the
account of--,' etc. Stephen's brows bent hit thought as she said:
'Why did you have it done that way, Auntie dear?' The other answered
'I had a reason, my dear; good reason! Perhaps I shall tell you all
about it some day; in the meantime I want you not to ask me anything
about it. I have a reason for that too. Stephen, won't you trust me
in this, blindfold?' There was something so sweet and loving in the
way she made the request that Stephen was filled with emotion. She
put her arms round her aunt's neck and hugged her tight. Then laying
her head on her bosom she said with a sigh:
'Oh, my dear, you can't know how I trust you; or how much your trust
is to me. You never can know!'
The next day the two women held a long consultation over the schedule
of Leonard's debts. Neither said a word of disfavour, or even
commented on the magnitude. The only remark touching on the subject
was made by Miss Rowly:
'We must ask for proper discounts. Oh, the villainy of those
tradesmen! I do believe they charge double in the hope of getting
half. As to jewellers . . . !' Then she announced her intention of
going up to town again on Thursday, at which visit she would arrange
for the payment of the various debts. Stephen tried to remonstrate,
but she was obdurate. She held Stephen's hand in hers and stroked it
lovingly as she kept on repeating:
'Leave it all to me, dear! Leave it all to me! Everything shall be
paid as you wish; but leave it to me!'
Stephen acquiesced. This gentle yielding was new in her; it touched
the elder lady to the quick, even whilst it pained her. Well she
knew that some trouble must have gone to the smoothing of that
Stephen's inner life in these last few days was so bitterly sad that
she kept it apart from all the routine of social existence. Into it
never came now, except as the exciting cause of all the evil, a
thought of Leonard. The saddening memory was of Harold. And of him
the sadness was increased and multiplied by a haunting fear. Since
he had walked out of the grove she had not seen him nor heard from
him. This was in itself strange; for in all her life, when she was
at home and he too, never a day passed without her seeing him. She
had heard her aunt say that word had come of his having made a sudden
journey to London, from which he had not yet returned. She was
afraid to make inquiries. Partly lest she might hear bad news--this
was her secret fear; partly lest she might bring some attention to
herself in connection with his going. Of some things in connection
with her conduct to him she was afraid to think at all. Thought, she
felt, would come in time, and with it new pains and new shames, of
which as yet she dared not think.
One morning came an envelope directed in Harold's hand. The sight
made her almost faint. She rejoiced that she had been first down,
and had opened the postbag with her own key. She took the letter to
her room and shut herself in before opening it. Within were a few
lines of writing and her own letter to Leonard in its envelope. Her
head beat so hard that she could scarcely see; but gradually the
writing seemed to grow out of the mist:
'The enclosed should be in your hands. It is possible that it may
comfort you to know that it is safe. Whatever may come, God love and
For a moment joy, hot and strong, blazed through her. The last words
were ringing through her brain. Then came the cold shock, and the
gloom of fear. Harold would never have written thus unless he was
going away! It was a farewell!
For a long time she stood, motionless, holding the letter in her
hand. Then she said, half aloud:
'Comfort! Comfort! There is no more comfort in the world for me!
Never, never again! Oh, Harold! Harold!'
She sank on her knees beside her bed, and buried her face in her cold
hands, sobbing in all that saddest and bitterest phase of sorrow
which can be to a woman's heart: the sorrow that is dry-eyed and
Presently the habit of caution which had governed her last days woke
her to action. She bathed her eyes, smoothed her hair, locked the
letter and its enclosure in the little jewel-safe let into the wall,
and came down to breakfast.
The sense of loss was so strong on her that she forgot herself.
Habit carried her on without will or voluntary effort, and, so
faithfully worked to her good that even the loving eyes of her aunt--
and the eyes of love are keen--had no suspicion that any new event
had come into her life.
Not till she was alone in her room that night did Stephen dare to let
her thoughts run freely. In the darkness her mind began to work
truly, so truly that she began at the first step of logical process:
to study facts. And to study them she must question till she found
Why had Harold sent her the letter? His own words said that it
should be in her hands. Then, again, he said it might comfort her to
know the letter was safe. How could it comfort her? How did he get
possession of the letter?
There she began to understand; her quick intuition and her old
knowledge of Harold's character and her new knowledge of Leonard's,
helped her to reconstruct causes. In his interview with her he had
admitted that Leonard had told him much, all. He would no doubt have
refused to believe him, and Leonard would have shown him, as proof,
her letter asking him to meet her. He would have seen then, as she
did now, how much the possession of that letter might mean to any
Good God! to 'any one.' Could it have been so to Harold himself . .
. that he thought to use it as an engine, to force her to meet his
wishes--as Leonard had already tried to do! The mistrust, founded on
her fear, was not dead yet . . . No! no! no! Her whole being
resented such a monstrous proposition! Besides, there was proof.
Thank God! there was proof. A blackmailer would have stayed close to
her, and would have kept the letter; Harold did neither. Her
recognition of the truth was shown in her act, when, stretching out
her arms in the darkness, she whispered pleadingly:
'Forgive me, Harold!'
And Harold, far away where the setting sun was lying red on the rim
of the western sea, could not hear her. But perhaps God did.
As, then, Harold's motive was not of the basest, it must have been of
the noblest. What would be a man's noblest motive under such
circumstances? Surely self-sacrifice!
And yet there could be no doubt as to Harold's earnestness when he
had told her that he loved her . . .
Here Stephen covered her face in one moment of rapture. But the
gloom that followed was darker than the night. She did not pursue
the thought. That would come later when she should understand.
And yet, so little do we poor mortals know the verities of things, so
blind are we to things thrust before our eyes, that she understood
more in that moment of ecstasy than in all the reasoning that
preceded and followed it. But the reasoning went on:
If he really loved, and told her so, wherein was the self-sacrifice?
She had reproached him with coming to her with his suit hotfoot upon
his knowledge of her shameful proffer of herself to another man; of
her refusal by him. Could he have been so blind as not to have seen,
as she did, the shameful aspect of his impulsive act? Surely, if he
had thought, he must have seen! . . . And he must have thought; there
had been time for it. It was at dinner that he had seen Leonard; it
was after breakfast when he had seen her . . . And if he had seen
then . . .
In an instant it all burst upon her; the whole splendid truth. He
had held back the expression of his long love for her, waiting for
the time when her maturity might enable her to understand truly and
judge wisely; waiting till her grief for the loss of her father had
become a story of the past; waiting for God knows what a man's mind
sees of obstacles when he loves. But he had spoken it out when it
was to her benefit. What, then, had been his idea of her benefit?
Was it that he wished to meet the desire that she had manifested to
have some man to--to love? . . . The way she covered her face with
her hands whilst she groaned aloud made her answer to her own query a
Was it, then, to save her from the evil of marrying Leonard in case
he should repent of his harshness, and later on yield himself to her
wooing? The fierce movement of her whole body, which almost threw
the clothes from her bed, as the shameful recollection rolled over
her, marked the measure of her self-disdain.
One other alternative there was; but it seemed so remote, so far-
fetched, so noble, so unlike what a woman would do, that she could
only regard it in a shamefaced way. She put the matter to herself
questioningly, and with a meekness which had its roots deeper than
she knew. And here out of the depths of her humility came a noble
thought. A noble thought, which was a noble truth. Through the
darkness of the night, through the inky gloom of her own soul came
with that thought a ray of truth which, whilst it showed her her own
shrivelled unworthiness, made the man whom she had dishonoured with
insults worse than death stand out in noble relief. In that instant
she guessed at, and realised, Harold's unselfish nobility of purpose,
the supreme effort of his constant love. Knowing the humiliation she
must have suffered at Leonard's hands, he had so placed himself that
even her rejection of him might be some solace to her wounded spirit,
Here at last was truth! She knew it in the very marrow of her bones.
This time she did not move. She thought and thought of that noble
gentleman who had used for her sake even that pent-up passion which,
for her sake also, he had suppressed so long.
In that light, which restored in her eyes and justified so fully the
man whom she had always trusted, her own shame and wrongdoing, and
the perils which surrounded her, were for the time forgotten.
And its glory seemed to rest upon her whilst she slept.
Miss Rowly had received a bulky letter by the morning's post. She
had not opened it, but had allowed it to rest beside her plate all
breakfast-time. Then she had taken it away with her to her own
sitting-room. Stephen did not appear to take any notice of it. She
knew quite well that it was from some one in London whom her aunt had
asked to pay Leonard's bills. She also knew that the old lady had
some purpose in her reticence, so she waited. She was learning to be
patient in these days. Miss Rowly did say anything about it that
day, or the next, or the next. The third-morning, she received
another letter which she had read in an enlightening manner. She
began its perusal with set brow frowning, then she nodded her head
and smiled. She put the letter back in its envelope and placed it in
the little bag always carried. But she said nothing. Stephen
wondered, but waited.
That night, when Stephen's maid had left her, there came a gentle tap
at her door, and an instant after the door opened. The tap had been
a warning, not a request; it had in a measure prepared Stephen, who
was not surprised to see her Aunt in dressing-gown, though it was
many a long day since she had visited her niece's room at night. She
closed the door behind her, saying:
'There is something I want to talk to you about, dearest, and I
thought it would be better to do so when there could not be any
possible interruption. And besides,' here there was a little break
in her voice, 'I could hardly summon up my courage in the daylight.'
She stopped, and the stopping told its own story. In an instant
Stephen's arm's were round her, all the protective instinct in her
awake, at the distress of the woman she loved. The old lady took
comfort from the warmth of the embrace, and held her tight whilst she
'It is about these bills, my dear. Come and sit down and put a
candle near me. I want you to read something.'
'Go on, Auntie dear,' she said gravely. The old lady, after a pause,
spoke with a certain timidity:
'They are all paid; at least all that can be. Perhaps I had better
read you the letter I have had from my solicitors:
'"Dear Madam,--In accordance with your instructions we have paid all
the accounts mentioned in Schedule A (enclosed). We have placed for
your convenience three columns: (1) the original amount of each
account, (2) the amount of discount we were able to arrange, and (3)
the amount paid. We regret that we have been unable to carry out
your wishes with regard to the items enumerated in Schedule B
(enclosed). We have, we assure you, done all in our power to find
the gentlemen whose names and addresses are therein given. These
were marked 'Debt of honour' in the list you handed to us. Not
having been able to obtain any reply to our letters, we sent one of
our clerks first to the addresses in London, and afterwards to
Oxford. That clerk, who is well used to such inquiries, could not
find trace of any of the gentlemen, or indeed of their existence. We
have, therefore, come to the conclusion that, either there must be
some error with regard to (a) names, (b) addresses, or (c) both; or
that no such persons exist. As it would be very unlikely that such
errors could occur in all the cases, we can only conclude that there
have not been any such persons. If we may hazard an opinion: it is
possible that, these debts being what young men call 'debts of
honour,' the debtor, or possibly the creditors, may not have wished
the names mentioned. In such case fictitious names and addresses may
have been substituted for the real ones. If you should like any
further inquiry instituted we would suggest that you ascertain the
exact names and addresses from the debtor. Or should you prefer it
we would see the gentleman on your behalf, on learning from you his
name and address. We can keep, in the person of either one of the
Firm or a Confidential Clerk as you might prefer, any appointment in
such behalf you may care to make.
'"We have already sent to you the receipted account from each of the
creditors as you directed, viz. 'Received from Miss Laetitia Rowly in
full settlement to date of the account due by Mr. Leonard Everard the
sum of,' etc. etc. And also, as you further directed, a duplicate
receipt of the sum-total due in each case made out as 'Received in
full settlement to date of account due by,' etc. etc. The duplicate
receipt was pinned at the back of each account so as to be easily
"With regard to finance we have carried out your orders, etc."' She
hurried on the reading. "These sums, together with the amounts of
nine hundred pounds sterling, and seven hundred pounds sterling
lodged to the account of Miss Stephen Norman in the Norcester branch
of the Bank as repayment of moneys advanced to you as by your written
instructions, have exhausted the sum, etc."' She folded up the
letter with the schedules, laying the bundle of accounts on the
table. Stephen paused; she felt it necessary to collect herself
'Auntie dear, will you let me see that letter? Oh, my dear, dear
Auntie, don't think I mistrust you that I ask it. I do because I
love you, and because I want to love you more if it is possible to do
so.' Miss Rowly handed her the letter. She rose from the arm of the
chair and stood beside the table as though to get better light from
the candle than she could get from where she had sat.
She read slowly and carefully to the end; then folded up the letter
and handed it to her aunt. She came back to her seat on the edge of
the chair, and putting her arms round her companion's neck looked her
straight in the eyes. The elder woman grew embarrassed under the
scrutiny; she coloured up and smiled in a deprecatory way as she
'Don't look at me like that, darling; and don't shake your head so.
It is all right! I told you I had my reasons, and you said you would
trust me. I have only done what I thought best!'
'But, Auntie, you have paid away more than half your little fortune.
I know all the figures. Father and uncle told me everything. Why
did you do it? Why did you do it?' The old woman held out her arms
as she said:
'Come here, dear one, and sit on my knee as you used to when you were
a child, and I will whisper you.' Stephen sprang from her seat and
almost threw herself into the loving arms. For a few seconds the
two, clasped tight to each other's heart, rocked gently to and fro.
The elder kissed the younger and was kissed impulsively in return.
Then she stroked the beautiful bright hair with her wrinkled hand,
and said admiringly:
'What lovely hair you have, my dear one!' Stephen held her closer
'Well, my dear, I did it because I love you!'
'I know that, Auntie; you have never done anything else my life!'
'That is true, dear one. But it is right that I should do this. Now
you must listen to me, and not speak till I have done. Keep your
thoughts on my words, so that you may follow my thoughts. You can do
your own thinking about them afterwards. And your own talking too; I
shall listen as long as you like!'
'Go on, I'll be good!'
'My dear, it is not right that you should appear to have paid the
debts of a young man who is no relation to you and who will, I know
well, never be any closer to you than he is now.' She hurried on, as
though fearing an interruption, but Stephen felt that her clasp
tightened. 'We never can tell what will happen as life goes on.
And, as the world is full of scandal, one cannot be too careful not
to give the scandalmongers anything to exercise their wicked spite
upon. I don't trust that young man! he is a bad one all round, or I
am very much mistaken. And, my dear, come close to me! I cannot but
see that you and he have some secret which he is using to distress
you!' She paused, and her clasp grew closer still as Stephen's head
sank on her breast. 'I know you have done something or said
something foolish of which he has a knowledge. And I know my dear
one, that whatever it was, and no matter how foolish it may have
been, it was not a wrong thing. God knows, we are all apt to do
wrong things as well as foolish ones; the best of us. But such is
not for you! Your race, your father and mother, your upbringing,
yourself and the truth and purity which are yours would save you from
anything which was in itself wrong. That I know, my dear, as well as
I know myself! Ah! better, far better! for the gods did not think it
well to dower me as they have dowered you. The God of all the gods
has given you the ten talents to guard; and He knows, as I do, that
you will be faithful to your trust.'
There was a solemn ring in her voce as the words were spoken which
went through the young girl's heart. Love and confidence demanded in
return that she should have at least the relief of certain
acquiescence; there is a possible note of pain in the tensity of
every string! Stephen lifted her head proudly and honestly, though
her cheeks were scarlet, saying with a consciousness of integrity
which spoke directly soul to soul:
'You are right, dear! I have done something very foolish; very, very
foolish! But it was nothing which any one could call wrong. Do not
ask me what it was. I need only tell you this: that it was an
outrage on convention. It was so foolish, and based on such foolish
misconception; it sprang from such over-weening, arrogant self-
opinion that it deserves the bitter punishment which will come; which
is coming; which is with me now! It was the cause of something whose
blackness I can't yet realise; but of which I will tell you when I
can speak of it. But it was not wrong in itself, or in the eyes of
God or man!' The old woman said not a word. No word was needed, for
had she not already expressed her belief? But Stephen felt her
relief in the glad pressure of her finger-tips. In a voice less
strained and tense Miss Rowly went on:
'What need have I for money, dear? Here I have all that any woman,
especially at my age, can need. There is no room even for charity;
you are so good to all your people that my help is hardly required.
And, my dear one, I know--I know,' she emphasised the word as she
stroked the beautiful hair, 'that when I am gone my own poor, the few
that I have looked after all my life, will, not suffer when my
darling thinks of me!' Stephen fairly climbed upon her as she said,
looking in the brave old eyes:
'So help me God, my darling, they shall never want!'
Silence for a time; and then Miss Rowly's voice again:
'Though it would not do for the world to know that a young maiden
lady had paid the debts of a vicious young man, it makes no matter if
they be paid by an old woman, be the same maid, wife, or widow! And
really, my dear, I do not see how any money I might have could be
better spent than in keeping harm away from you.'
'There need not be any harm at all, Auntie.'
'Perhaps not, dear! I hope not with all my heart. But I fear that
young man. Just fancy him threatening you, and in your own house; in
my very presence! Oh! yes, my dear. He meant to threaten, anyhow!
Though I could not exactly understand what he was driving at, I could
see that he was driving at something. And after all that you were
doing for him, and had done for him! I mean, of course, after all
that I had done for him, and was doing for him. It is mean enough,
surely, for a man to beg, and from a woman; but to threaten
afterwards. Ach! But I think, my dear, it is checkmate to him this
time. All along the line the only proof that is of there being any
friendliness towards him from this house points to me. And moreover,
my dear, I have a little plan in my head that will tend to show him
up even better, in case he may ever try to annoy us. Look at me when
next he is here. I mean to do a little play-acting which will
astonish him, I can tell you, if it doesn't frighten him out of the
house altogether. But we won't talk of that yet. You will
understand when you see it!' Her eyes twinkled and her mouth shut
with a loud snap as she spoke.
After a few minutes of repose, which was like a glimpse of heaven to
Stephen's aching heart, she spoke again:
'There was something else that troubled you more than even this. You
said you would tell me when you were able to speak of it . . . Why
not speak now? Oh! my dear, our hearts are close together to-night;
and in all your life, you will never have any one who will listen
with greater sympathy than I will, or deal more tenderly with your
fault, whatever it may have been. Tell me, dear! Dear!' she