"I have always believed that your one sure way to happiness lay through your conversion. Now, when I know, from what I have seen and heard in this room, that you are not reconciled, as you should be, to your new life, I am doubly confined in my belief. As God is my witness, I speak sincerely. Hesitate no longer! Be converted, and be happy."
"Have you not forgotten something, Penrose?"
"What have I forgotten?"
"A serious consideration, perhaps. I have a Protestant wife."
"I have borne that in mind, Romayne, throughout our conversation."
"And you still say--what you have just said?"
"With my whole heart, I say it! Be converted, and be happy. Be happy, and you will be a good husband. I speak in your wife 's interest as well as in yours. People who are happy in each other's society, will yield a little on either side, even on questions of religious belief. And perhaps there may follow a more profitable result still. So far as I have observed, a good husband's example is gladly followed by his wife. Don't think that I am trying to persuade you against your will! I am only telling you, in my own justification, from what motives of love for yourself, and of true interest in your welfare, I speak. You implied just now that you had still some objections left. If I can remove them--well and good. If I fail--if you cannot act on purely conscientious conviction--I not only advise, I entreat you, to remain as you are. I shall be the first to acknowledge that you have done right."
(This moderation of tone would appeal irresistibly, as Stella well knew, to her husband's ready appreciation of those good qualities in others which he did not himself possess. Once more her suspicion wronged Penrose. Had he his own interested motives for pleading her cause? At the bare thought of it, she left her chair and, standing under the window, boldly interrupted the conversation by calling to Romayne.)
"Lewis!" she cried, "why do you stay indoors on this beautiful day? I am sure Mr. Penrose would like a walk in the grounds."
Penrose appeared alone at the window. "You are quite right, Mrs. Romayne," he said; "we will join you directly."
In a few minutes he turned the corner of the house, and met Stella on the lawn. Romayne was not with him. "Is my husband not coming with us?" she asked. "He will follow us," Penrose answered. "I believe he has some letters to write."
Stella looked at him, suspecting some underhand exercise of influence on her husband.
If she had been able to estimate the noble qualities in the nature of Penrose, she might have done him the justice to arrive at a truer conclusion. It was he who had asked leave (when Stella had interrupted them) to take the opportunity of speaking alone with Mrs. Romayne. He had said to his friend, "If I am wrong in my anticipation of the effect of your change of religion on your wife, let me find it out from herself. My one object is to act justly toward you and toward her. I should never forgive myself if I made mischief between you, no matter how innocent of any evil intention I might be." Romayne had understood him. It was Stella's misfortune ignorantly to misinterpret everything that Penrose said or did, for the all-sufficient reason that he was a Catholic priest. She had drawn the conclusion that her husband had deliberately left her alone with Penrose, to be persuaded or deluded into giving her sanction to aid the influence of the priest. "They shall find they are mistaken," she thought to herself.
"Have I interrupted an interesting conversation?" she inquired abruptly. "When I asked you to come out, were you talking to my husband about his historical work?"
"No, Mrs. Romayne; we were not speaking at that time of the book."
"May I ask an odd question, Mr. Penrose?"
"Are you a very zealous Catholic?"
"Pardon me. I am a priest. Surely my profession speaks for me?"
"I hope you are not trying to convert my husband?"
Penrose stopped and looked at her attentively.
"Are you strongly opposed to your husband's conversion?" he asked.
"As strongly," she answered, "as a woman can be."
"By religious conviction, Mrs. Romayne?"
"No. By experience."
Penrose started. "Is it indiscreet," he said gently, "to inquire what your experience may have been?"
"I will tell you what my experience has been," Stella replied. "I am ignorant of theological subtleties, and questions of doctrine are quite beyond me. But this I do know. A well-meaning and zealous Catholic shortened my father's life, and separated me from an only sister whom I dearly loved. I see I shock you--and I daresay you think I am exaggerating?"
"I hear what you say, Mrs. Romayne, with very great pain--I don't presume to form any opinion thus far."
"My sad story can be told in a few words," Stella proceeded. "When my elder sister was still a young girl, an aunt of ours (my mother's sister) came to stay with us. She had married abroad, and she was, as I have said, a zealous Catholic. Unknown to the rest of us, she held conversations on religion with my sister--worked on the enthusiasm which was part of the girl's nature--and accomplished her conversion. Other influences, of which I know nothing, were afterward brought to bear on my sister. She declared her intention of entering a convent. As she was under age, my father had only to interpose his authority to prevent this. She was his favorite child. He had no heart to restrain her by force--he could only try all that the kindest and best of fathers could do to persuade her to remain at home. Even after the years that have passed, I cannot trust myself to speak of it composedly. She persisted; she was as hard as stone. My aunt, when she was entreated to interfere, called her heartless obstinacy 'a vocation.' My poor father's loving resistance was worn out; he slowly drew nearer and nearer to death, from the day when she left us. Let me do her justice, if I can. She has not only never regretted entering the convent--she is so happily absorbed in her religious duties that she has not the slightest wish to see her mother or me. My mother's patience was soon worn out. The last time I went to the convent, I went by myself. I shall never go there again. She could not conceal her sense of relief when I took my leave of her. I need say no more. Arguments are thrown away on me, Mr. Penrose, after what I have seen and felt. I have no right to expect that the consideration of my happiness will influence you--but I may perhaps ask you, as a gentleman, to tell me the truth. Do you come here with the purpose of converting my husband?"
Penrose owned the truth, without an instant's hesitation.
"I cannot take your view of your sister's pious devotion of herself to a religious life," he said. "But I can, and will, answer you truly. From the time when I first knew him, my dearest object has been to convert your husband to the Catholic Faith."
Stella drew back from him, as if he had stung her, and clasped her hands in silent despair.
"But I am bound as a Christian," he went on, "to do to others as I would they should do to me."
She turned on him suddenly, her beautiful face radiant with hope, her hand trembling as it caught him by the arm.