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!'