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   Chapter 15 A COUNTER-MARCH

By What Authority? By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 33952

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Isabel was sitting out alone in the Italian garden at the Hall, one afternoon in the summer following the visit to Deptford. Hubert was down at Plymouth, assisting in the preparations for the expedition that Drake hoped to conduct against Spain. The two countries were technically at peace, but the object with which he was going out, with the moral and financial support of the Queen, was a corporate demonstration against Spain, of French, Portuguese, and English ships under the main command of Don Antonio, the Portuguese pretender; it was proposed to occupy Terceira in the Azores; and Drake and Hawkins entertained the highest hopes of laying their hands on further plunder.

She was leaning back in her seat, with her hands behind her head, thinking over her relations with Hubert. When he had been at home at the end of the previous year, he had apparently taken it for granted that the marriage would be celebrated; he had given her the gold nugget, that she had showed Anthony, telling her he had brought it home for the wedding-ring; and she understood that he was to come for his final answer as soon as his work at Plymouth was over. But not a word of explanation had passed between them on the religious difficulty. He had silenced her emphatically and kindly once when she had approached it; and she gathered from his manner that he suspected the direction in which her mind was turning and was generously unwilling for her to commit herself an inch further than she saw. Else whence came his assurance? And, for herself, things were indeed becoming plain: she wondered why she had hesitated so long, why she was still hesitating; the cup was brimming above the edge; it needed but a faint touch of stimulus to precipitate all.

And so Isabel lay back and pondered, with a touch of happy impatience at the workings of her own soul; for she dared not act without the final touch of conviction. Mistress Margaret had taught her that the swiftest flight of the soul was when there was least movement, when the soul knew how to throw itself with that supreme effort of cessation into the Hands of God, that He might bear it along: when, after informing the intellect and seeking by prayer for God's bounty, the humble client of Heaven waited with uplifted eyes and ready heart until God should answer. And so she waited, knowing that the gift was at hand, yet not daring to snatch it. But, in the meanwhile, her imagination at least might act without restraint; so she sent it out, like a bird from the Ark, to bring her the earnest of peace. There, in the cloister-wing, somewhere, lay the chapel, where she and Hubert would kneel together;-somewhere beneath that grey roof. That was the terrace where she would walk one day as one who has a right there. Which of these windows would be hers? Not Lady Maxwell's, of course; she must keep that.... Ah! how good God was!

The tall door on to the terrace opened, and Mistress Margaret peered out with a letter in her hand. Isabel called to her; and the old nun came down the steps into the garden. Why did she walk so falteringly, the girl wondered, as if she could not see? What was it? What was it?

Isabel rose to her feet, startled, as the nun with bent head came up the path. "What is it, Mistress Margaret?"

The other tried to smile at her, but her lips were trembling too much; and the girl saw that her eyes were brimming with tears. She put the letter into her hand.

Isabel lifted it in an agony of suspense; and saw her name, in Hubert's handwriting.

"What is it?" she said again, white to the lips.

The old lady as she turned away glanced at her; and Isabel saw that her face was all twitching with the effort to keep back her tears. The girl had never seen her like that before, even at Sir Nicholas' death. Was there anything, she wondered as she looked, worse than death? But she was too dazed by the sight to speak, and Mistress Margaret went slowly back to the house unquestioned.

Isabel turned the letter over once or twice; and then sat down and opened it. It was all in Hubert's sprawling handwriting, and was dated from Plymouth.

It gave her news first about the squadron; saying how Don Antonio had left London for Plymouth, and was expected daily; and then followed this paragraph:

"And now, dearest Isabel, I have such good news to give you. I have turned Protestant; and there is no reason why we should not be married as soon as I return. I know this will make you happy to think that our religions are no longer different. I have thought of this so long; but would not tell you before for fear of disappointing you. Sir Francis Drake's religion seems to me the best; it is the religion of all the 'sea-dogs' as they name us; and of the Queen's Grace, and it will be soon of all England; and more than all it is the religion of my dearest mistress and love. I do not, of course, know very much of it as yet; but good Mr. Collins here has shown me the superstitions of Popery; and I hope now to be justified by faith without works as the gospel teaches. I fear that my mother and aunt will be much distressed by this news; I have written, too, to tell them of it. You must comfort them, dear love; and perhaps some day they, too, will see as we do." Then followed a few messages, and loving phrases, and the letter ended.

Isabel laid it down beside her on the low stone wall; and looked round her with eyes that saw nothing. There was the grey old house before her, and the terrace, and the cloister-wing to the left, and the hot sunshine lay on it all, and drew out scents and colours from the flower-beds, and joy from the insects that danced in the trembling air; and it all meant nothing to her; like a picture when the page is turned over it. Five minutes ago she was regarding her life and seeing how the Grace of God was slowly sorting out its elements from chaos to order-the road was unwinding itself before her eyes as she trod on it day by day-now a hand had swept all back into disorder, and the path was hidden by the ruins.

Then gradually one thought detached itself, and burned before her, vivid and startling; and in all its terrible reality slipped between her and the visible world on which she was staring. It was this: to embrace the Catholic Faith meant the renouncing of Hubert. As a Protestant she might conceivably have married a Catholic; as a Catholic it was inconceivable that she should marry an apostate.

Then she read the letter through again carefully and slowly; and was astonished at the unreality of Hubert's words about Romish superstition and gospel simplicity. She tried hard to silence her thoughts; but two reasons for Hubert's change of religion rose up and insisted on making themselves felt; it was that he might be more in unity with the buccaneers whom he admired; second, that there might be no obstacle to their marriage. And what then, she asked, was the quality of the heart he had given her?

Then, in a flash of intuition, she perceived that a struggle lay before her, compared with which all her previous spiritual conflicts were as child's play; and that there was no avoiding it. The vision passed, and she rose and went indoors to find the desolate mother whose boy had lost the Faith.

A month or two of misery went by. For Lady Maxwell they passed with recurring gusts of heart-broken sorrow and of agonies of prayer for her apostate son. Mistress Margaret was at the Hall all day, soothing, encouraging, even distracting her sister by all the means in her power. The mother wrote one passionate wail to her son, appealing to all that she thought he held dear, even yet to return to the Faith for which his father had suffered and in which he had died; but a short answer only returned, saying it was impossible to make his defence in a letter, and expressing pious hopes that she, too, one day would be as he was; the same courier brought a letter to Isabel, in which he expressed his wonder that she had not answered his former one.

And as for Isabel, she had to pass through this valley of darkness alone. Anthony was in London; and even if he had been with her could not have helped her under these circumstances; her father was dead-she thanked God for that now-and Mistress Margaret seemed absorbed in her sister's grief. And so the girl fought with devils alone. The arguments for Catholicism burned pitilessly clear now; every line and feature in them stood out distinct and hard. Catholicism, it appeared to her, alone had the marks of the Bride, visible unity, visible Catholicity, visible Apostolicity, visible Sanctity;-there they were, the seals of the most High God. She flung herself back furiously into the Protestantism from which she had been emerging; there burned in the dark before her the marks of the Beast, visible disunion, visible nationalism, visible Erastianism, visible gulfs where holiness should be: that system in which now she could never find rest again glared at her in all its unconvincing incoherence, its lack of spirituality, its adulterous union with the civil power instead of the pure wedlock of the Spouse of Christ. She wondered once more how she dared to have hesitated so long; or dared to hesitate still.

On the theological side intellectual arguments of this kind started out, strong and irrefutable; her emotional drawings towards Catholicism for the present retired. Feelings might have been disregarded or discredited by a strong effort of the will; these apparently cold phenomena that presented themselves to her intellect, could not be thus dealt with. Yet, strangely enough, even now she would not throw herself resolutely into Catholicism: the fierce stimulus instead of precipitating the crisis, petrified it. More than once she started up from her knees in her own dark room, resolved to awaken the nun and tell her she would wait no longer, but would turn Catholic at once and have finished with the misery of suspense: and even as she moved to the door her will found itself against an impenetrable wall.

And then on the other side all her human nature cried out for Hubert-Hubert-Hubert. There he stood by her in fancy, day and night, that chivalrous, courteous lad, who had been loyal to her so long; had waited so patiently; had run to her with such dear impatience; who was so wholesome, so strong, so humble to her; so quick to understand her wants, so eager to fulfil them; so bound to her by associations; so fit a mate for the very differences between them. And now these two claims were no longer compatible; in his very love for her he had ended that possibility. All those old dreams; the little scenes she had rehearsed, of their first mass, their first communion together; their walks in the twilight; their rides over the hills; the new ties that were to draw the old ladies at the Hall and herself so close together-all this was changed; some of those dreams were now for ever impossible, others only possible on terms that she trembled even to think of. Perhaps it was worst of all to reflect that she was in some measure responsible for his change of religion; she fancied that it was through her slowness to respond to light, her delaying to confide in him, that he had been driven through impatience to take this step. And so week after week went by and she dared not answer his letter.

The old ladies, too, were sorely puzzled at her. It was impossible for them to know how far her religion was changing. She had kept up the same reserve towards them lately as towards Hubert, chiefly because she feared to disappoint them; and so after an attempt to tell each other a little of their mutual sympathy, the three women were silent on the subject of the lad who was so much to them all.

She began to show her state a little in her movements and appearance. She was languid, soon tired and dispirited; she would go for short, lonely walks, and fall asleep in her chair worn out when she came in. Her grey eyes looked longer and darker; her eyelids and the corners of her mouth began to droop a little.

Then in October he came home.

Isabel had been out a long afternoon walk by herself through the reddening woods. They had never, since the first awakening of the consciousness of beauty in her, meant so little to her as now. It appeared as if that keen unity of a life common to her and all living things had been broken or obscured; and that she walked in an isolation all the more terrible in that she was surrounded by the dumb presence of what she loved. Last year the quick chattering cry of the blackbird, the evening mists over the meadows, the stir of the fading life of the woods, the rustling scamper of the rabbit over the dead leaves, the solemn call of the homing rooks-all this, only last year, went to make up the sweet natural atmosphere in which her spirit moved and breathed at ease. Now she was excommunicate from that pleasant friendship, banned by nature and forgotten by the God who made it and was immanent within it. Her relations to the Saviour, who only such a short time ago had been the Person round whom all the joys of life had centred, from whom they radiated, and to whom she referred them all-these relations had begun to be obscured by her love for Hubert, and now had vanished altogether. She had regarded her earthly and her heavenly lover as two persons, each of whom had certain claims upon her heart, and each of whom she had hoped to satisfy in different ways; instead of identifying the two, and serving each not apart from, but in the other. And it now seemed to her that she was making experience of a Divine jealousy that would suffer her to be satisfied neither with God nor man. Her soul was exhausted by internal conflict, by the swift alternations of attraction and repulsion between the poles of her supernatural and natural life; so that when it turned wearily from self to what lay outside, it was not even capable, as before, of making that supreme effort of cessation of effort which was necessary to its peace. It seemed to her that she was self-poised in emptiness, and could neither touch heaven or earth-crucified so high that she could not rest on earth, so low that she could not reach to heaven.

She came in weary and dispirited as the candles were being lighted in her sitting-room upstairs; but she saw the gleam of them from the garden with no sense of a welcoming brightness. She passed from the garden into the door of the hall which was still dark, as the fire had nearly burned itself out. As she entered the door opposite opened, and once more she saw the silhouette of a man's figure against the lighted passage beyond; and again she stopped frightened, and whispered "Anthony."

There was a momentary pause as the door closed and all was dark again; and then she heard Hubert's voice say her name; and felt herself wrapped once more in his arms. For a moment she clung to him with furious longing. Ah! this is a tangible thing, she felt, this clasp; the faint cleanly smell of his rough frieze dress refreshed her like wine, and she kissed his sleeve passionately. And the wide gulf between them yawned again; and her spirit sickened at the sight of it.

"Oh! Hubert, Hubert!" she said.

She felt herself half carried to a high chair beside the fire-place and set down there; then he re-arranged the logs on the hearth, so that the flames began to leap again, showing his strong hands and keen clear-cut face; then he turned on his knees, seized her two hands in his own, and lifted them to his lips; then laid them down again on her knee, still holding them; and so remained.

"Oh! Isabel," he said, "why did you not write?"

She was silent as one who stares fascinated down a precipice.

"It is all over," he went on in a moment, "with the expedition. The Queen's Grace has finally refused us leave to go-and I have come back to you, Isabel."

How strong and pleasant he looked in this leaping fire-light! how real! and she was hesitating between this warm human reality and the chilly possibilities of an invisible truth. Her hands tightened instinctively within his, and then relaxed.

"I have been so wretched," she said piteously.

"Ah! my dear," and he threw an arm round her neck and drew her face down to his, "but that is over now." She sat back again; and then an access of purpose poured into her and braced her will to an effort.

"No, no," she began, "I must tell you. I was afraid to write. Hubert, I must wait a little longer. I-I do not know what I believe."

He looked at her, puzzled.

"What do you mean, dearest?'

"I have been so much puzzled lately-thinking so much-and-and-I am sorry you have become a Protestant. It makes all so hard."

"My dear, this is-I do not understand."

"I have been thinking," went on Isabel bravely, "whether perhaps the Catholic Church is not right after all."

Hubert loosed her hands and stood up. She crouched into the shadow of the inte

rior of the high chair, and looked up at him, terrified. His cheek twitched a little.

"Isabel, this is foolishness. I know what the Catholic faith is. It is not true; I have been through it all."

He was speaking nervously and abruptly. She said nothing. Then he suddenly dropped on his knees himself.

"My dearest, I understand. You were doing this for me. I quite understand. It is what I too--" and then he stopped.

"I know, I know," she cried piteously. "It is just what I have feared so terribly-that-that our love has been blinding us both. And yet, what are we to do, what are we to do? Oh! God-Hubert, help me."

Then he began to speak in a low emphatic voice, holding her hands, delicately stroking one of them now and again, and playing with her fingers. She watched his curly head in the firelight as he talked, and his keen face as he looked up.

"It is all plain to me," he said, caressingly. "You have been living here with my aunt, a dear old saint; and she has been talking and telling you all about the Catholic religion, and making it seem all true and good. And you, my dear child, have been thinking of me sometimes, and loving me a little, is it not so? and longing that religion should not separate us; and so you began to wish it was true; and then to hope it was; and at last you have begun to think it is. But it is not your true sweet self that believes it. Ah! you know in your heart of hearts, as I have known so long, that it is not true; that it is made up by priests and nuns; and it is very beautiful, I know, my dearest, but it is only a lovely tale; and you must not spoil all for the sake of a tale. And I have been gradually led to the light; it was your-" and his voice faltered-"your prayers that helped me to it. I have longed to understand what it was that made you so sweet and so happy; and now I know; it is your own simple pure religion; and-and-it is so much more sensible, so much more likely to be true than the Catholic religion. It is all in the Bible you see; so plain, as Mr. Collins has showed me. And so, my dear love, I have come to believe it too; and you must put all these fancies out of your head, these dreams; though I love you, I love you," and he kissed her hand again, "for wishing to believe them for my sake-and-and we will be married before Christmas; and we will have our own fairy-tale, but it shall be a true one."

This was terrible to Isabel. It seemed as if her own haunting thought that she was sacrificing a dream to reality had become incarnate in her lover and was speaking through his lips. And yet in its very incarnation, it seemed to reveal its weakness rather than its strength. As a dark suggestion the thought was mighty; embodied in actual language it seemed to shrink a little. But then, on the other hand-and so the interior conflict began to rage again.

She made a movement as if to stand up; but he pressed her back into the chair.

"No, my dearest, you shall be a prisoner until you give your parole."

Twice Isabel made an effort to speak; but no sound came. It seemed as if the raging strife of thoughts deafened and paralysed her.

"Now, Isabel," said Hubert.

"I cannot, I cannot," she cried desperately, "you must give me time. It is too sudden, your returning like this. You must give me time. I do not know what I believe. Oh, dear God, help me."

"Isabel, promise! promise! Before Christmas! I thought it was all to be so happy, when I came in through the garden just now. My mother will hardly speak to me; and I came to you, Isabel, as I always did; I felt so sure you would be good to me; and tell me that you would always love me, now that I had given up my religion for love of you. And now--" and Hubert's voice ended in a sob.

Her heart seemed rent across, and she drew a sobbing sigh. Hubert heard it, and caught at her hands again as he knelt.

"Isabel, promise, promise."

Then there came that gust of purpose into her heart again; she made a determined effort and stood up; and Hubert rose and stood opposite her.

"You must not ask me," she said, bravely. "It would be wicked to decide yet. I cannot see anything clearly. I do not know what I believe, nor where I stand. You must give me time."

There was a dead silence. His face was so much in shadow that she could not tell what he was thinking. He was standing perfectly still.

"Then that is all the answer you will give me?" he said, in a perfectly even voice.

Isabel bowed her head.

"Then-then I wish you good-night, Mistress Norris," and he bowed to her, caught up his cap and went out.

She could not believe it for a moment, and caught her breath to cry out after him as the door closed; but she heard his step on the stone pavement outside, the crunch of the gravel, and he was gone. Then she went and leaned her head against the curved mantelshelf and stared into the logs that his hands had piled together.

This, then, she thought, was the work of religion; the end of all her aspirations and efforts, that God should mock them by bringing love into their life, and then when they caught at it and thanked him for it, it was whisked away again, and left their hands empty. Was this the Father of Love in whom she had been taught to believe, who treated His children like this? And so the bitter thoughts went on; and yet she knew in her heart that she was powerless; that she could not go to the door and call Hubert and promise what he asked. A great Force had laid hold of her, it might be benevolent or not-at this moment she thought not-but it was irresistible; and she must bow her head and obey.

And even as she thought that, the door opened again, and there was Hubert. He came in two quick steps across the room to her, and then stopped suddenly.

"Mistress Isabel," he asked, "can you forgive me? I was a brute just now. I do not ask for your promise. I leave it all in your hands. Do with me what you will. But-but, if you could tell me how long you think it will be before you know--"

He had touched the right note. Isabel's heart gave a leap of sorrow and sympathy. "Oh, Hubert," she said brokenly, "I am so sorry; but I promise I will tell you-by Easter?" and her tone was interrogative.

"Yes, yes," said Hubert. He looked at her in silence, and she saw strange lines quivering at the corners of his mouth, and his eyes large and brilliant in the firelight. Then the two drew together, and he took her in his arms strongly and passionately.

* * *

There was a scene that night between the mother and son. Mistress Margaret had gone back to the Dower House for supper; and Lady Maxwell and Hubert were supping in Sir Nicholas' old study that would soon be arranged for Hubert now that he had returned for good. They had been very silent during the meal, while the servants were in the room, talking only of little village affairs and of the estate, and of the cancelling of the proposed expedition. Hubert had explained to his mother that it was generally believed that Elizabeth had never seriously intended the English ships to sail, but that she only wished to draw Spain's attention off herself by setting up complications between that country and France; and when she had succeeded in this by managing to get the French squadron safe at Terceira, she then withdrew her permission to Drake and Hawkins, and thus escaped from the quarrel altogether. But it was a poor makeshift for conversation.

When the servants had withdrawn, a silence fell. Presently Hubert looked across the table between the silver branched candlesticks.

"Mother," he said, "of course I know what you are thinking. But I cannot consent to go through all the arguments; I am weary of them. Neither will I see Mr. Barnes to-morrow at Cuckfield or here. I am satisfied with my position."

"My son," said Lady Maxwell with dignity, "I do not think I have spoken that priest's name; or indeed any."

"Well," said Hubert, impatiently, "at any rate I will not see him. But I wish to say a few words about this house. We must have our positions clear. My father left to your use, did he not, the whole of the cloister-wing? I am delighted, dear mother, that he did so. You will be happy there I know; and of course I need not say that I hope you will keep your old room overhead as well; and, indeed, use the whole house as you have always done. I shall be grateful if you will superintend it all, as before-at least, until a new mistress comes."

"Thank you, my son."

"I will speak of that in a moment," he went on, looking steadily at the table-cloth; "but there was a word I wished to say first. I am now a loyal subject of her Grace in all things; in religion as in all else. And-and I fear I cannot continue to entertain seminary priests as my father used to do. My-my conscience will not allow that. But of course, mother, I need not say that you are at perfect liberty to do what you will in the cloister-wing; I shall ask no questions; and I shall set no traps or spies. But I must ask that the priests do not come into this part of the house, nor walk in the garden. Fortunately you have a lawn in the cloister; so that they need not lack fresh air or exercise."

"You need not fear, Hubert," said his mother, "I will not embarrass you. You shall be in no danger."

"I think you need not have said that, mother; I am not usually thought a coward."

Lady Maxwell flushed a little, and began to finger her silver knife.

"However," Hubert went on, "I thought it best to say that. The chapel, you see, is in that wing; and you have that lawn; and-and I do not think I am treating you hardly."

"And is your brother James not to come?" asked his mother.

"I have thought much over that," said Hubert; "and although it is hard to say it, I think he had better not come to my part of the house-at least not when I am here; I must know nothing of it. You must do what you think well when I am away, about him and others too. It is very difficult for me, mother; please do not add to the difficulty."

"You need not fear," said Lady Maxwell steadily; "you shall not be troubled with any Catholics besides ourselves."

"Then that is arranged," said the lad. "And now there is a word more. What have you been doing to Isabel?" And he looked sharply across the table. His mother's eyes met his fearlessly.

"I do not understand you," she said.

"Mother, you must know what I mean. You have seen her continually."

"I have told you, my son, that I do not know."

"Why," burst out Hubert, "she is half a Catholic."

"Thank God," said his mother.

"Ah! yes; you thank God, I know; but whom am I to thank for it?"

"I would that you could thank Him too."

Hubert made a sharp sound of disgust.

"Ah! yes," he said scornfully, "I knew it; Non nobis Domine, and the rest."

"Hubert," said Lady Maxwell, "I do not think you mean to insult me in this house; but either that is an insult, or else I misunderstood you wholly, and must ask your pardon for it."

"Well," he said, in a harsh voice, "I will make myself plain. I believe that it is through the influence of you and Aunt Margaret that this has been brought about."

At the moment he spoke the door opened.

"Come in, Margaret," said her sister, "this concerns you."

The old nun came across to Hubert with her anxious sweet face; and put her old hand tenderly on his black satin sleeve as he sat and wrenched at a nut between his fingers.

"Hubert, dear boy," she said, "what is all this? Will you tell me?"

Hubert rose, a little ashamed of himself, and went to the door and closed it; and then drew out a chair for his aunt, and put a wine-glass for her.

"Sit down, aunt," he said, and pushed the decanter towards her.

"I have just left Isabel," she said, "she is very unhappy about something. You saw her this evening, dear lad?"

"Yes," said Hubert, heavily, looking down at the table and taking up another nut, "and it is of that that I have been speaking. Who has made her unhappy?"

"I had hoped you would tell us that," said Mistress Margaret; "I came up to ask you."

"My son has done us-me-the honour--" began Lady Maxwell; but Hubert broke in:

"I left Isabel here last Christmas happy and a Protestant. I have come back here now to find her unhappy and half a Catholic, if not more-and--"

"Oh! are you sure?" asked Mistress Margaret, her eyes shining. "Thank God, if it be so!"

"Sure?" said Hubert, "why she will not marry me; at least not yet."

"Oh, poor lad," she said tenderly, "to have lost both God and Isabel."

Hubert turned on her savagely. But the old nun's eyes were steady and serene.

"Poor lad!" she said again.

Hubert looked down again; his lip wrinkled up in a little sneer.

"As far as I am concerned," he said, "I can understand your not caring, but I am astonished at this response of yours to her father's confidence!"

Lady Maxwell grew white to the lips.

"I have told you," she began-"but you do not seem to believe it-that I have had nothing to do, so far as I know, with her conversion, which"-and she raised her voice bravely-"I pray God to accomplish. She has, of course, asked me questions now and then; and I have answered them-that is all."

"And I," said Mistress Margaret, "plead guilty to the same charge, and to no other. You are not yourself, dear boy, at present; and indeed I do not wonder at it; and I pray God to help you; but you are not yourself, or you would not speak like this to your mother."

Hubert rose to his feet; his face was white under the tan, and the ruffle round his wrist trembled as he leaned heavily with his fingers on the table.

"I am only a plain Protestant now," he said bitterly, "and I have been with Protestants so long that I have forgotten Catholic ways; but--"

"Stay, Hubert," said his mother, "do not finish that. You will be sorry for it presently, if you do. Come, Margaret." And she moved towards the door; her son went quickly past and opened it.

"Nay, nay," said the nun. "Do you be going, Mary. Let me stay with the lad, and we will come to you presently." Lady Maxwell bowed her head and passed out, and Hubert closed the door.

Mistress Margaret looked down on the table.

"You have given me a glass, dear boy; but no wine in it."

Hubert took a couple of quick steps back, and faced her.

"It is no use, it is no use," he burst out, and his voice was broken with emotion, "you cannot turn me like that. Oh, what have you done with my Isabel?" He put out his hand and seized her arm. "Give her back to me, Aunt Margaret; give her back to me."

He dropped into his seat and hid his face on his arm; and there was a sob or two.

"Sit up and be a man, Hubert," broke in Mistress Margaret's voice, clear and cool.

He looked up in amazement with wet indignant eyes. She was looking at him, smiling tenderly.

"And now, for the second time, give me half a glass of wine, dear boy."

He poured it out, bewildered at her self-control.

"For a man that has been round the world," she said, "you are but a foolish child."

"What do you mean?"

"Have you never thought of a way of yet winning Isabel," she asked.

"What do you mean?" he repeated.

"Why, come back to the Church, dear lad; and make your mother and me happy again, and marry Isabel, and save your own soul."

"Aunt Margaret," he cried, "it is impossible. I have truly lost my faith in the Catholic religion; and-and-you would not have me a hypocrite."

"Ah! ah!" said the nun, "you cannot tell yet. Please God it may come back. Oh! dear boy, in your heart you know it is true."

"Before God, in my heart I know that it is not true."

"No, no, no," she said; but the light died out of her eyes, and she stretched a tremulous hand.

"Yes, Aunt Margaret, it is so. For years and years I have been doubting; but I kept on just because it seemed to me the best religion; and-and I would not be driven out of it by her Grace's laws against my will, like a dog stoned from his kennel."

"But you are only a lad still," she said piteously. He laughed a little.

"But I have had the gift of reason and discretion nearly twenty years, a priest would tell me. Besides, Aunt Margaret, I could not be such a-a cur-as to come back without believing. I could never look Isabel in the eyes again."

"Well, well," said the old lady, "let us wait and see. Do you intend to be here now for a while?"

"Not while Isabel is like this," he said. "I could not. I must go away for a while, and then come back and ask her again."

"When will she decide?"

"She told me by next Easter," said Hubert. "Oh, Aunt Margaret, pray for us both."

The light began to glimmer again in her eyes.

"There, dear boy," she said, "you see you believe in prayer still."

"But, aunt," said Hubert, "why should I not? Protestants pray."

"Well, well," said the old nun again. "Now you must come to your mother; and-and be good to her."

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