Chapter XXI: The Duty of Courtesy
Leonard was getting tired of waiting when he received his summons to
Normanstand. But despite his impatience he was ill pleased with the
summons, which came in the shape of a polite note from Miss Rowly
asking him to come that afternoon at tea-time. He had expected to
hear from Stephen.
'Damn that old woman! You'd think she was working the whole show!'
However, he turned up at a little before five o'clock, spruce and
dapper and well dressed and groomed as usual. He was shown, as
before, into the blue drawing-room. Miss Rowly, who sat there, rose
as he entered, and coming across the room, greeted him, as he
thought, effusively. He actually winced when she called him 'my dear
boy' before the butler.
She ordered tea to be served at once, and when it had been brought
she said to the butler:
'Tell Mannerly to bring me a large thick envelope which is on the
table in my room. It is marked L.E. on the outside.' Presently an
elderly maid handed her the envelope and withdrew. When tea was over
she opened the envelope, and taking from it a number of folios,
looked over them carefully; holding them in her lap, she said
'You will find writing materials on the table. I am all ready now to
hand you over the receipts.' His eyes glistened. This was good news
at all events; the debts were paid. In a rapid flash of thought he
came to the conclusion that if the debts were actually paid he need
not be civil to the old lady. He felt that he could have been rude
to her if he had actual possession of the receipts. As it was,
however, he could not yet afford to have any unpleasantness. There
was still to come that lowering interview with his father; and he
could not look towards it satisfactorily until he had the assurance
of the actual documents that he was safe. Miss Rowly was, in her own
way, reading his mind in his face. Her lorgnon seemed to follow his
every expression like a searchlight. He remembered his former
interview with her, and how he had been bested in it; so he made up
his mind to acquiesce in time. He went over to the table and sat
down. Taking a pen he turned to Miss Rowly and said:
'What shall I write?' She answered calmly:
'Date it, and then say, "Received from Miss Laetitia Rowly the
receipts for the following amounts from the various firms hereunder
enumerated."' She then proceeded to read them, he writing and
repeating as he wrote. Then she added:
'"The same being the total amount of my debts which she has kindly
paid for me."' He paused here; she asked.
'Why don't you go on?'
'I thought it was Stephen--Miss Norman,' he corrected, catching sight
of her lorgnon, 'who was paying them.'
'Good Lord, man,' she answered, 'what does it matter who has paid
them, so long as they are paid?'
'But I didn't ask you to pay them,' he went on obstinately. There
was a pause, and then the old lady, with a distinctly sarcastic
'It seems to me, young man, that you are rather particular as to how
things are done for you. If you had begun to be just a little bit as
particular in making the debts as you are in the way of having them
paid, there would be a little less trouble and expense all round.
However, the debts have been paid, and we can't unpay them. But of
course you can repay me the money if you like. It amounts in all to
four thousand three hundred and seventeen pounds, twelve shillings
and sixpence, and I have paid every penny of it out of my own pocket.
If you can't pay it yourself, perhaps your father would like to do
The last shot told; he went on writing: '"Kindly paid for me,"' she
continued in the same even voice:
'"In remembrance of my mother, of whom she was an acquaintance." Now
sign it!' He did so and handed it to her. She read it over
carefully, folded it, and put it in her pocket. She then stood. He
rose also; and as he moved to the door--he had not offered to shake
hands with her--he said:
'I should like to see, Miss Norman.'
'I am afraid you will have to wait.'
'She is over at Heply Regis. She went there for Lady Heply's ball,
and will remain for a few days. Good afternoon!' The tone in which
the last two words were spoken seemed in his ears like the crow of
the victor after a cock-fight.
As he was going out of the room a thought struck her. She felt he
deserved some punishment for his personal rudeness to her. After
all, she had paid half her fortune for him, though not on his
account; and not only had he given no thanks, but had not even
offered the usual courtesy of saying good-bye. She had intended to
have been silent on the subject, and to have allowed him to discover
it later. Now she said, as if it was an after-thought:
'By the way, I did not pay those items you put down as "debts of
honour"; you remember you gave the actual names and addresses.'
'Why not?' the question came from him involuntarily. The persecuting
lorgnon rose again:
'Because they were all bogus! Addresses, names, debts, honour! Good
He went out flaming; free from debt, money debts; all but one. And
some other debts--not financial--whose magnitude was exemplified in
the grinding of his teeth.
After breakfast next morning he said to his father:
'By the way, you said you wished to speak to me, sir.' There was
something in the tone of his voice which called up antagonism.
'Then you have paid your debts?'
'Good! Now there is something which it is necessary I should call
your attention to. Do you remember the day on which I handed you
that pleasing epistle from Messrs. Cavendish and Cecil?'
'Didn't you send a telegram to them?'
'You wrote it yourself?'
'I had a courteous letter from the money-lenders, thanking me for my
exertions in securing the settlement of their claim, and saying that
in accordance with the request in my telegram they had held over
proceedings until the day named. I did not quite remember having
sent any telegram to them, or any letter either. So, being at a
loss, I went to our excellent postmaster and requested that he would
verify the sending of a telegram to London from me. He courteously
looked up the file; which was ready for transference to the G.P.O.,
and showed me the form. It was in your handwriting.' He paused so
long that Leonard presently said:
'It was signed Jasper Everard. Jasper Everard! my name; and yet it
was sent by my son, who was christened, if I remember rightly,
Leonard!' Then he went on, only in a cold acrid manner which made
his son feel as though a February wind was blowing on his back:
'I think there need not have been much trouble in learning to avoid
confusing our names. They are really dissimilar. Have you any
explanation to offer of the--the error, let us call it?' A bright
thought struck Leonard.
'Why, sir,' he said, 'I put it in your name as they had written to
you. I thought it only courteous.' The elder man winced; he had not
expected the excuse. We went on speaking in the same calm way, but
his tone was more acrid than before:
'Good! of course! It was only courteous of you! Quite so! But I
think it will be well in the future to let me look after my own
courtesy; as regards my signature at any rate. You see, my dear boy,
a signature is queer sort of thing, and judges and juries are apt to
take a poor view of courtesy as over against the conventions
regarding a man, writing his own name. What I want to tell you is
this, that on seeing that signature I made a new will. You see, my
estate is not entailed, and therefore I think it only right to see
that in such a final matter justice is done all round. I therefore
made a certain provision of which I am sure you will approve.
Indeed, since I am assured of the payment of your debts, I feel
justified in my action. I may say, inter alia, that I congratulate
you on either the extent of your resources or the excellence of your
friendships, or both. I confess that the amounts brought to my
notice were rather large; more especially in proportion to the value
of the estate which you are some day to inherit. For you are of
course to inherit some day, my dear boy. You are my only son, and it
would be hardly--hardly courteous of me not to leave it to you. But
I have put a clause in my will to the effect that the trustee's are
to pay all debts of your accruing which can be proved against you,
before handing over to you either the estate itself or the remainder
after its sale and the settlement of all claims. That's all. Now
run away, my boy; I have some important work to do.'
The day after her return from Heply Regis, Stephen was walking in the
wood when she thought she heard a slight rustling of leaves some way
behind her. She looked round, expecting to see some one; but the
leafy path was quite clear. Her suspicion was confirmed; some one
was secretly following her. A short process of exclusions pointed to
the personality of the some one. Tramps and poachers were unknown in
Normanstand, and there was no one else whom she could think of who
had any motive in following her in such a way; it must be Leonard
Everard. She turned and walked rapidly in the opposite direction.
As this would bring her to the house Leonard had to declare his
presence at once or else lose the opportunity of a private interview
which he sought. When she saw him she said at once and without any
'What are you doing there; why are you following me?'
'I wanted to see you alone. I could not get near you on account of
that infernal old woman.' Stephen's face grew hard.
'On account of whom?' she asked with dangerous politeness.
'Miss Rowly; your aunt.'
'Don't you think, Mr. Everard,' she said icily, 'that it is at least
an unpardonable rudeness to speak that way, and to me, of the woman I
love best in all the world?'
'Sorry!' he said in the offhand way of younger days, 'I apologise.
Fact is, I was angry that she wouldn't let me see you.'
'Not let you see me!' she said as if amazed. 'What do mean?'
'Why, I haven't been able to see you alone ever since I went to meet
you on Caester Hill.'
'But why should you see me alone?' she asked as if still in
amazement. 'Surely you can say anything you have to say before my
aunt.' With an unwisdom for which an instant later he blamed himself
he blurted out:
'Why, old girl, you yourself did not think her presence necessary
when you asked me to meet you on the hill.'
'When was that?' She saw that he was angry and wanted to test him;
to try how far he would venture. He was getting dangerous; she must
know the measure of what she had to fear.
He fell into the trap at once. His debts being paid, fear was
removed, and all the hectoring side of the man was aroused. His
antagonist was a woman; and he had already had in his life so many
unpleasant scenes with women that this was no new experience. This
woman had, by her own indiscretion, put a whip into his hand; and, if
necessary to secure his own way, by God! he meant to use it! These
last days had made her a more desirable possession in his eyes. The
vastness of her estate had taken hold on him, and his father's
remorseless intention with regard to his will would either keep him
with very limited funds, or leave him eventually a pauper if he
forestalled his inheritance. The desire of her wealth had grown
daily, and it was now the main force in bringing him here to-day.
And to this was now added the personal desire which her presence
evoked. Stephen, at all times beautiful, had never looked more
lovely. In the days since she had met him on the hilltop, a time
that to her seemed so long ago, she had grown to be a woman, and
there is some subtle inconceivable charm in completed womanhood. The
reaction from her terrible fear and depression had come, and her
strong brilliant youth was manifesting itself. Her step was springy
and her eyes were bright; and the glow of fine health, accentuated by
the militant humour of the present moment, seemed to light up her
beautiful skin. In herself she was desirable, very desirable;
Leonard felt his pulses quicken and his blood leap as he looked at
her. Even his prejudice against her red hair had changed to
something like hungry admiration. Leonard felt for the first moment
since he had known her that she was a woman; and that, with relation
to her, he was a man.
And at the moment all the man in him asserted itself. It was with
half love, as he saw it, and half self-assertion that he answered her
'The day you asked me to marry you! Oh! what a fool I was not to
leap at such a chance! I should have taken you in my arms then and
kissed you till I showed you how much I loved you. But that will all
come yet; the kissing is still to come! Oh! Stephen, don't you see
that I love you? Won't you tell me that you love me still?
Darling!' He almost sprang at her, his arms extended to clasp her.
'Stop!' Her voice rang like a trumpet. She did not mean to submit
to physical violence, and in the present state of her feeling, an
embrace from him would be a desecration. He was now odious to her;
she positively loathed him.
Before her uplifted hand and those flashing eyes, he stopped as one
stricken into stone. In that instant she knew she was safe; and with
a woman's quickness of apprehension and resolve, made up her mind
what course to pursue. In a calm voice she said quietly:
'Mr. Everard, you have followed me in secret, and without my
permission. I cannot talk here with you, alone. I absolutely refuse
to do so; now or at any other time. If you have anything especial to
say to me you will find me at home at noon to-morrow. Remember, I do
not ask you to come. I simply yield to the pressure of your
importunity. And remember also that I do not authorise you in any
way to resume this conversation. In fact, I forbid it. If you come
to my house you must control yourself to my wish!'
Then with a stately bow, whose imperious distance inflamed him more
than ever, and without once looking back she took her way home, all
agitated inwardly and with fast beating heart.