The Black Robe
The Saddest Of All Words
ON the tenth morning, dating from the dispatch of Father Benwell's last letter
to Rome, Penrose was writing in the study at Ten Acres Lodge, while
Romayne sat at the other end of the room, looking listlessly at a blank sheet
of paper, with the pen lying idle beside it. On a sudden he rose, and,
snatching up paper and pen, threw them irritably into the fire.
"Don't trouble yourself to write any longer," he said to Penrose. "My dream is
over. Throw my manuscripts into the waste paper basket, and never speak to
me of literary work again."
"Every man devoted to literature has these fits of despondency," Penrose
answered. "Don't think of your work. Send for your horse, and trust to fresh
air and exercise to relieve your mind."
Romayne barely listened. He turned round at the fireplace and studied the
reflection of his face in the glass.
"I look worse and worse," he said thoughtfully to himself.
It was true. His flesh had fallen away; his face had withered and whitened; he
stooped like an old man. The change for the worse had been steadily
proceeding from the time when he left Vange Abbey.
"It's useless to conceal it from me!" he burst out, turning toward Penrose. "I
believe I am in some way answerable--though you all deny it--for the French
boy's death. Why not? His voice is still in my ears, and the stain of his
brother's blood is on me. I am under a spell! Do you believe in the witches--
the merciless old women who made wax images of the people who injured
them, and stuck pins in their mock likenesses, to register the slow wasting
away of their victims day after day? People disbelieve it in these times, but it
has never been disproved." He stopped, looked at Penrose, and suddenly
changed his tone. "Arthur! what is the matter with you? Have you had a bad
night? Has anything happened?"
For the first time in Romayne's experience of him, Penrose answered
"Is there nothing to make me anxious," he said, "when I hear you talk as you
are talking now? The poor French boy died of a fever. Must I remind you
again that he owed the happiest days of his life to you and your good wife?"
Romayne still looked at him without attending to what he said.
"Surely you don't think I am deceiving you?" Penrose remonstrated.