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THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE.
As Stella answered Lady Loring, she was smartly tapped on the shoulder
by an eager guest with a fan.
The guest was a very little woman, with twinkling eyes and a perpetual
smile. Nature, corrected by powder and paint, was liber ally displayed
in her arms, her bosom, and the upper part of her back. Such clothes
as she wore, defective perhaps in quantity, were in quality absolutely
perfect. More adorable color, shape, and workmanship never appeared,
even in a milliner's picture-book. Her light hair was dressed with a
fringe and ringlets, on the pattern which the portraits of the time of
Charles the Second have made familiar to us. There was nothing exactly
young or exactly old about her except her voice, which betrayed a faint
hoarseness, attributable possibly to exhaustion produced by untold years
of incessant talking. It might be added that she was as active as a
squirrel and as playful as a kitten. But the lady must be treated with
a certain forbearance of tone, for this good reason--she was Stella's
Stella turned quickly at the tap of the fan. "Mamma!" she exclaimed,
"how you startle me!"
"My dear child," said Mrs. Eyrecourt, "you are constitutionally
indolent, and you want startling. Go into the next room directly. Mr.
Romayne is looking for you."
Stella drew back a step, and eyed her mother in blank surprise. "Is it
possible that you know him?" she asked.
"Mr. Romayne doesn't go into Society, or we should have met long since,"
Mrs. Eyrecourt replied. "He is a striking person--and I noticed him
when he shook hands with you. That was quite enough for me. I have just
introduced myself to him as your mother. He was a little stately and
stiff, but most charming when he knew who I was. I volunteered to find
you. He was quite astonished. I think he took me for your elder sister.
Not the least like each other--are we, Lady Loring? She takes after her
poor dear father. _He_ was constitutionally indolent. My sweet child,
rouse yourself. You have drawn a prize in the great lottery at last. If
ever a man was in love, Mr. Romayne is that man. I am a physiognomist,
Lady Loring, and I see the passions in the face. Oh, Stella, what a
property! Vange Abbey. I once drove that way when I was visiting in the
neighborhood. Superb! And another fortune (twelve thousand a year and a
villa at Highgate) since the death of his aunt. And my daughter may
be mistress of this if she only plays her cards properly. What
a compensation after all that we suffered through that monster,
"Mamma! Pray don't--!"
"Stella, I will _not_ be interrupted, when I am speaking to you for your
own good. I don't know a more provoking person, Lady Loring, than my
daughter--on certain occasions. And yet I love her. I would go through
fire and water for my beautiful child. Only last week I was at a
wedding, and I thought of Stella. The church was crammed to the doors!
A hundred at the wedding breakfast! The bride's lace--there; no language
can describe it. Ten bridesmaids, in blue and silver. Reminded me of
the ten virgins. Only the proportion of foolish ones, this time, was
certainly more than five. However, they looked well. The Archbishop
proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom; so sweetly pathetic.
Some of us cried. I thought of my daughter. Oh, if I could live to see
Stella the central attraction, so to speak, of such a wedding as that.
Only I would have twelve bridesmaids at least, and beat the blue and
silver with green and gold. Trying to the complexion, you will say. But
there are artificial improvements. At least, I am told so. What a house
this would be--a broad hint, isn't it, dear Lady Loring?--what a house
for a wedding, with the drawing-room to assemble in and the picture
gallery for the breakfast. I know the Archbishop. My darling, he
shall marry you. Why _don't_ you go into the next room? Ah, that
constitutional indolence. If you only had my energy, as I used to say to
your poor father. _Will_ you go? Yes, dear Lady Loring, I should like a
glass of champagne, and another of those delicious chicken sandwiches.
If you don't go, Stella, I shall forget every consideration of
propriety, and, big as you are, I shall push you out."
Stella yielded to necessity. "Keep her quiet, if you can," she whispered
to Lady Loring, in the moment of silence that followed. Even Mrs.
Eyrecourt was not able to talk while she was drinking champagne.
In the next room Stella found Romayne. He looked careworn and irritable,
but brightened directly when she approached him.
"My mother has been speaking to you," she said. "I am afraid--"
He stopped her there. "She _is_ your mother," he interposed, kindly.
"Don't think that I am ungrateful enough to forget that."
She took his arm, and looked at him with all her heart in her eyes.
"Come into a quieter room," she whispered.
Romayne led her away. Neither of them noticed Penrose as they left the
He had not moved since Stella had spoken to him. There he remained in
his corner, absorbed in thought--and not in happy thought, as his face
would have plainly betrayed to any one who had cared to look at him.
His eyes sadly followed the retiring figures of Stella and Romayne. The
color rose on his haggard cheeks. Like most men who are accustomed to
live alone, he had the habit, when he was strongly excited, of speaking
to himself. "No," he said, as the unacknowledged lovers disappeared
through the door, "it is an insult to ask me to do it!" He turned the
other way, escaped Lady Loring's notice in the reception-room, and left
Romayne and Stella passed through the card-room and the chess-room,
turned into a corridor, and entered the conservatory.
For the first time the place was a solitude. The air of a newly-invented
dance, faintly audible through the open windows of the ballroom above,
had proved an irresistible temptation. Those who knew the dance were
eager to exhibit themselves. Those who had only heard of it were
equally anxious to look on and learn. Even toward the latter end of the
nineteenth century the youths and maidens of Society can still be in
earnest--when the object in view is a new dance.
What would Major Hynd have said if he had seen Romayne turn into one of
the recesses of the conservatory, in which there was a seat which just
held two? But the Major had forgotten his years and his family, and he
too was one of the spectators in the ballroom.
"I wonder," said Stella, "whether you know how I feel those kind words
of yours when you spoke of my mother. Shall I tell you?"
She put her arm round his neck and kissed him. He was a man new to love,
in the nobler sense of the word. The exquisite softness in the touch of
her lips, the delicious fragrance of her breath, intoxicated him.
Again and again he returned the kiss. She drew back; she recovered her
self-possession with a suddenness and a certainty incomprehensible to
a man. From the depths of tenderness she passed to the shallows of
frivolity. In her own defense she was almost as superficial as her
mother, in less than a moment.
"What would Mr. Penrose say if he saw you?" she whispered.
"Why do you speak of Penrose? Have you seen him to-night?"
"Yes--looking sadly out of his element, poor man. I did my best to set
him at his ease--because I know _you_ like him."
"No, not again! I am speaking seriously now. Mr. Penrose looked at me
with a strange kind of interest--I can't describe it. Have you taken him
into our confidence?"
"He is so devoted--he has such a true interest in me," said Romayne--"I
really felt ashamed to treat him like a stranger. On our journey to
London I did own that it was your charming letter which had decided
me on returning. I did say, 'I must tell her myself how well she has
understood me, and how deeply I feel her kindness.' Penrose took my
hand, in his gentle, considerate way. 'I understand you, too,' he
said--and that was all that passed between us."
"Nothing more, since that time?"
"Not a word of what we said to each other when we were alone last week
in the picture gallery?"
"Not a word. I am self-tormentor enough to distrust myself, even now.
God knows I have concealed nothing from you; and yet--Am I not selfishly
thinking of my own happiness, Stella, when I ought to be thinking only
of you? You know, my angel, with what a life you must associate yourself
if you marry me. Are you really sure that you have love enough and
courage enough to be my wife?"
She rested her head caressingly on his shoulder, and looked up at him
with her charming smile.
"How many times must I say it," she asked, "before you will believe me?
Once more--I have love enough and courage enough to be your wife; and I
knew it, Lewis, the first time I saw you! Will _that_ confession satisfy
your scruples? And will you promise never again to doubt yourself or
Romayne promised, and sealed the promise--unresisted this time--with a
kiss. "When are we to be married?" he whispered.
She lifted her head from his shoulder with a sigh. "If I am to answer
you honestly," she replied, "I must speak of my mother, before I speak
Romayne submitted to the duties of his new position, as well as he
understood them. "Do you mean that you have told your mother of our
engagement?" he said. "In that case, is it my duty or yours--I am very
ignorant in these matters--to consult her wishes? My own idea is, that
I ought to ask her if she approves of me as her son-in-law, and that you
might then speak to her of the marriage."
Stella thought of Romayne's tastes, all in favor of modest retirement,
and of her mother's tastes, all in favor of ostentation and display.
She frankly owned the result produced in her own mind. "I am afraid to
consult my mother about our marriage," she said.
Romayne looked astonished. "Do you think Mrs. Eyrecourt will disapprove
of it?" he asked.
Stella was equally astonished on her side. "Disapprove of it?" she
repeated. "I know for certain that my mother will be delighted."
"Then where is the difficulty?"
There was but one way of definitely answering that question. Stella
boldly described her mother's idea of a wedding--including the
Archbishop, the twelve bridesmaids in green and gold, and the hundred
guests at breakfast in Lord Loring's picture gallery. Romayne's
consternation literally deprived him, for the moment, of the power of
speech. To say that he looked at Stella, as a prisoner in "the condemned
cell" might have looked at the sheriff, announcing the morning of his
execution, would be to do injustice to the prisoner. He receives _his_
shock without flinching; and, in proof of his composure, celebrates
his wedding with the gallows by a breakfast which he will not live to
"If you think as your mother does," Romayne began, as soon as he had
recovered his self-possession, "no opinion of mine shall stand in the
way--" He could get no further. His vivid imagination saw the Archbishop
and the bridesmaids, heard the hundred guests and their dreadful
speeches: his voice faltered, in spite of himself.
Stella eagerly relieved him. "My darling, I don't think as my mother
does," she interposed, tenderly. "I am sorry to say we have very few
sympathies in common. Marriages, as I think, ought to be celebrated as
privately as possible--the near and dear relations present, and no
one else. If there must be rejoicings and banquets, and hundreds of
invitations, let them come when the wedded pair are at home after the
honeymoon, beginning life in earnest. These are odd ideas for a woman to
have--but they _are_ my ideas, for all that."
Romayne's face brightened. "How few women possess your fine sense and
your delicacy of feeling!" he exclaimed "Surely your mother must give
way, when she hears we are both of one mind about our marriage."
Stella knew her mother too well to share the opinion thus expressed.
Mrs. Eyrecourt's capacity for holding to her own little ideas, and for
persisting (where her social interests were concerned) in trying to
insinuate those ideas into the minds of other persons, was a capacity
which no resistance, short of absolute brutality, could overcome. She
was perfectly capable of worrying Romayne (as well as her daughter) to
the utmost limits of human endurance, in the firm conviction that she
was bound to convert all heretics, of their way of thinking, to the
orthodox faith in the matter of weddings. Putting this view of the case
with all possible delicacy, in speaking of her mother, Stella expressed
herself plainly enough, nevertheless, to enlighten Romayne.
He made another suggestion. "Can we marry privately," he said, "and tell
Mrs. Eyrecourt of it afterward?"
This essentially masculine solution of the difficulty was at once
rejected. Stella was too good a daughter to suffer her mother to be
treated with even the appearance of disrespect. "Oh," she said, "think
how mortified and distressed my mother would be! She _must_ be present
at my marriage."
An idea of a compromise occurred to Romayne. "What do you say," he
proposed, "to arranging for the marriage privately--and then telling
Mrs. Eyrecourt only a day or two beforehand, when it would be too late
to send out invitations? If your mother would be disappointed--"
"She would be angry," Stella interposed.
"Very well--lay all the blame on me. Besides, there might be two other
persons present, whom I am sure Mrs. Eyrecourt is always glad to meet.
You don't object to Lord and Lady Loring?"
"Object? They are my dearest friends, as well as yours!"
"Any one else, Stella?"
"Any one, Lewis, whom _you_ like.
"Then I say--no one else. My own love, when may it be? My lawyers can
get the settlements ready in a fortnight, or less. Will you say in a
His arm was round her waist; his lips were touching her lovely neck. She
was not a woman to take refuge in the commonplace coquetries of the sex.
"Yes," she said, softly, "if you wish it." She rose and withdrew herself
from him. "For my sake, we must not be here together any longer, Lewis."
As she spoke, the music in the ballroom ceased. Stella ran out of the
The first person she encountered, on returning to the reception-room,
was Father Benwell.
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