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SHORTLY after noon, on the next day, we were established at
Boulogne--near Lady Berrick, but not at her hotel. "If we live in the
same house," Romayne reminded me, "we shall be bored by the companion
and the doctor. Meetings on the stairs, you know, and exchanging bows
and small talk." He hated those trivial conventionalities of society,
in which, other people delight. When somebody once asked him in what
company he felt most at ease? he made a shocking answer--he said, "In
the company of dogs."
I waited for him on the pier while he went to see her ladyship. He
joined me again with his bitterest smile. "What did I tell you? She
is not well enough to see me to-day. The doctor looks grave, and the
companion puts her handkerchief to her eyes. We may be kept in this
place for weeks to come."
The afternoon proved to be rainy. Our early dinner was a bad one. This
last circumstance tried his temper sorely. He was no gourmand; the
question of cookery was (with him) purely a matter of digestion. Those
late hours of study, and that abuse of tea to which I have already
alluded, had sadly injured his stomach. The doctors warned him of
serious consequences to his nervous system, unless he altered his
habits. He had little faith in medical science, and he greatly overrated
the restorative capacity of his constitution. So far as I know, he had
always neglected the doctors' advice.
The weather cleared toward evening, and we went out for a walk. We
passed a church--a Roman Catholic church, of course--the doors of which
were still open. Some poor women were kneeling at their prayers in the
dim light. "Wait a minute," said Romayne. "I am in a vile temper. Let me
try to put myself into a better frame of mind."
I followed him into the church. He knelt down in a dark corner by
himself. I confess I was surprised. He had been baptized in the Church
of England; but, so far as outward practice was concerned, he belonged
to no religious community. I had often heard him speak with sincere
reverence and admiration of the spirit of Christianity--but he never,
to my knowledge, attended any place of public worship. When we met
again outside the church, I asked if he had been converted to the Roman
"No," he said. "I hate the inveterate striving of that priesthood
after social influence and political power as cordially as the fiercest
Protestant living. But let us not forget that the Church of Rome has
great merits to set against great faults. Its system is administered
with an admirable knowledge of the higher needs of human nature. Take
as one example what you have just seen. The solemn tranquillity of that
church, the poor people praying near me, the few words of prayer by
which I silently united myself to my fellow-creatures, have calmed
me and done me good. In _our_ country I should have found the church
closed, out of service hours." He took my arm and abruptly changed the
subject. "How will you occupy yourself," he asked, "if my aunt receives
I assured him that I should easily find ways and means of getting
through the time. The next morning a message came from Lady Berrick,
to say that she would see her nephew after breakfast. Left by myself,
I walked toward the pier, and met with a man who asked me to hire his
boat. He had lines and bait, at my service. Most unfortunately, as the
event proved, I decided on occupying an hour or two by sea fishing.
The wind shifted while we were out, and before we could get back to
the harbor, the tide had turned against us. It was six o'clock when I
arrived at the hotel. A little open carriage was waiting at the door.
I found Romayne impatiently expecting me, and no signs of dinner on the
table. He informed me that he had accepted an invitation, in which I was
included, and promised to explain everything in the carriage.
Our driver took the road that led toward the High Town. I subordinated
my curiosity to my sense of politeness, and asked for news of his aunt's
"She is seriously ill, poor soul," he said. "I am sorry I spoke so
petulantly and so unfairly when we met at the club. The near prospect
of death has developed qualities in her nature which I ought to have
seen before this. No matter how it may be delayed, I will patiently wait
her time for the crossing to England."
So long as he believed himself to be in the right, he was, as to his
actions and opinions, one of the most obstinate men I ever met with.
But once let him be convinced that he was wrong, and he rushed into the
other extreme--became needlessly distrustful of himself, and needlessly
eager in seizing his opportunity of making atonement. In this latter
mood he was capable (with the best intentions) of committing acts of
the most childish imprudence. With some misgivings, I asked how he had
amused himself in my absence.
"I waited for you," he said, "till I lost all patience, and went out
for a walk. First, I thought of going to the beach, but the smell of the
harbor drove me back into the town; and there, oddly enough, I met with
a man, a certain Captain Peterkin, who had been a friend of mine at
"A visitor to Boulogne?" I inquired.
"Yes. The fact is, I lost sight of Peterkin when I left Oxford--and
since that time he seems to have drifted into difficulties. We had
a long talk. He is living here, he tells me, until his affairs are
I needed no further enlightenment--Captain Peterkin stood as plainly
revealed to me as if I had known him for years. "Isn't it a little
imprudent," I said, "to renew your acquaintance with a man of that sort?
Couldn't you have passed him, with a bow?"
Bolnayne smiled uneasily. "I daresay you're right," he answered. "But,
remember, I had left my aunt, feeling ashamed of the unjust way in
which I had thought and spoken of her. How did I know that I mightn't
be wronging an old friend next, if I kept Peterkin at a distance? His
present position may be as much his misfortune, poor fellow, as his
fault. I was half inclined to pass him, as you say--but I distrusted
my own judgment. He held out his hand, and he was so glad to see me. It
can't be helped now. I shall be anxious to hear your opinion of him."
"Are we going to dine with Captain Peterkin?"
"Yes. I happened to mention that wretched dinner yesterday at our hotel.
He said, 'Come to my boarding-house. Out of Paris, there isn't such a
table d'hote in France.' I tried to get off it--not caring, as you know,
to go among strangers--I said I had a friend with me. He invited you
most cordially to accompany me. More excuses on my part only led to a
painful result. I hurt Peterkin's feelings. 'I'm down in the world,'
he said, 'and I'm not fit company for you and your friends. I beg your
pardon for taking the liberty of inviting you!' He turned away with the
tears in his eyes. What could I do?"
I thought to myself, "You could have lent him five pounds, and got rid
of his invitation without the slightest difficulty." If I had returned
in reasonable time to go out with Romayne, we might not have met the
captain--or, if we had met him, my presence would have prevented the
confidential talk and the invitation that followed. I felt I was to
blame--and yet, how could I help it? It was useless to remonstrate: the
mischief was done.
We left the Old Town on our right hand, and drove on, past a little
colony of suburban villas, to a house standing by itself, surrounded by
a stone wall. As we crossed the front garden on our way to the door,
I noticed against the side of the house two kennels, inhabited by two
large watch-dogs. Was the proprietor afraid of thieves?
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