Garden chairs were placed here and there. She took one of them, and seated herself--after a last moment of honorable hesitation--where she could hear the men's voices through the open window above her.
Penrose was speaking at the time.
"Yes. Father Benwell has granted me a holiday," he said; "but I don't come here to be an idle man. You must allow me to employ my term of leave in the pleasantest of all ways. I mean to be your secretary again."
Romayne sighed. "Ah, if you knew how I have missed you!"
(Stella waited, in breathless expectation, for what Penrose would say to this. Would he speak of her? No. There was a natural tact and delicacy in him which waited for the husband to introduce the subject.)
Penrose only said, "How is the great work getting on?"
The answer was sternly spoken in one word--"Badly!"
"I am surprised to hear that, Romayne."
"Why? Were you as innocently hopeful as I was? Did you expect my experience of married life to help me in writing my book?"
Penrose replied after a pause, speaking a little sadly. "I expected your married life to encourage you in all your highest aspirations," he said.
(Stella turned pale with suppressed anger. He had spoken with perfect sincerity. The unhappy woman believed that he lied, for the express purpose of rousing irritation against her, in her husband's irritable mind. She listened anxiously for Romayne's answer.)
He made no answer. Penrose changed the subject. "You are not looking very well," he gently resumed. "I am afraid your health has interfered with your work. Have you had any return--?"
It was still one of the characteristics of Romayne's nervous irritability that he disliked to hear the terrible delusion of the Voice referred to in words. "Yes," he interposed bitterly, "I have heard it again and again. My right hand is as red as ever, Penrose, with the blood of a fellow-creature. Another destruction of my illusions when I married!"
"Romayne! I don't like to hear you speak of your marriage in that way."
"Oh, very well. Let us go back to my book. Perhaps I shall get on better with it now you are here to help me. My ambition to make a name in the world has never taken so strong a hold on me (I don't know why, unless other disappointments have had something to do with it) as at this time, when I find I can't give my mind to my work. We will make a last effort together, my friend! If it fails, we will put my manuscripts into the fire, and I will try some other career. Politics are open to me. Through politics, I might make my mark in diplomacy. There is something in directing the destinies of nations wonderfully attractive to me in my present state of feeling. I hate the idea of being indebted for my position in the world, like the veriest fool living, to the accidents of birth and fortune. Are you content with the obscure life that you lead? Did you not envy that priest (he is no older than I am) who was sent the other day as the Pope's ambassador to Portugal?"
Penrose spoke out at last without hesitation. "You are in a thoroughly unwholesome state of mind," he said.
Romayne laughed recklessly. "When was I ever in a healthy state of mind?" he asked.
Penrose passed the interruption over without notice. "If I am to do you any good," he resumed, "I must know what is really the matter with you. The very last question that I ought to put, and that I wish to put, is the question which you force me to ask."
"What is it?"
"When you speak of your married life," said Penrose, "your tone is the tone of a disappointed man. Have you any serious reason to complain of Mrs. Romayne?"
(Stella rose to her feet, in her eagerness to hear what her husband's answer would be.)
"Serious reason?" Romayne repeated. "How can such an idea have entered your head? I only complain of irritating trifles now and then. Even the best of women is not perfect. It's hard to expect it from any of them."
(The interpretation of this reply depended entirely on the tone in which it was spoken. What was the animating spirit in this case? Irony or Indulgence? Stella was ignorant of the indirect methods of irritation, by means of which Father Benwell had encouraged Romayne's doubts of his wife's motive for the reception of Winterfield. Her husband's tone, expressing this state of mind, was new to her. She sat down again, divided between hope and fear, waiting to hear more. The next words, spoken by Penrose, astounded her. The priest, the Jesuit, the wily spiritual intruder between man and wife, actually took the wife's side!)
"Romayne," he proceeded quietly, "I want you to be happy."
"How am I to be happy?"
"I will try and tell you. I believe your wife to be a good woman. I believe she loves you. There is something in her face that speaks for her--even to an inexperienced person like myself. Don't be impatient with her! Put away from you that besetting temptation to speak in irony--it is so easy to take that tone, and sometimes so cruel. I am only a looker-on, I know. Domestic happiness can never be the happiness of my life. But I have observed my fellow-creatures of all degrees--and this, I tell you, is the result. The largest number of happy men are the husbands and fathers. Yes; I admit that they have terrible anxieties--but they are fortified by unfailing compensations and encouragements. Only the other day I met with a man who had suffered the loss of fortune and, worse still, the loss of health. He endured those afflictions so calmly that he surprised me. 'What is the secret of your philosophy?' I asked. He answered, 'I can bear anything while I have my wife and my children.' Think of that, and judge for yourself how much happiness you may have left yet ungathered in your married life."
(Those words touched Stella's higher nature, as the dew touches the thirsty ground. Surely they were nobly spoken! How would her husband receive them?)
"I must think with your mind, Penrose, before I can do what you ask of me. Is there any method of transformation by which I can change natures with you?" That was all he said--and he said it despondingly.
Penrose understood, and felt for him.
"If there is anything in my nature, worthy to be set as an example to you," he replied, "you know to what blessed influence I owe self-discipline and serenity of mind. Remember what I said when I left you in London, to go back to my friendless life. I told you that I found, in the Faith I held, the one sufficient consolation which helped me to bear my lot. And--if there came a time of sorrow in the future--I entreated you to remember what I had said. Have you remembered it?"
"Look at the book here on my desk--look at the other books, within easy reach, on that table--are you satisfied?"
"More than satisfied. Tell me--do you feel nearer to an understanding of the Faith to which I have tried to convert you?"
There was a pause. "Say that I do feel nearer," Romayne resumed--"say that some of my objections are removed--are you really as eager as ever to make a Catholic of me, now that I am a married man?"
"I am even more eager," Penrose answered.