The Black Robe
Father Benwell Hits
ART has its trials as well as its triumphs. It is powerless to assert itself against
the sordid interests of everyday life. The greatest book ever written, the finest
picture ever painted, appeals in vain to minds preoccupied by selfish and
secret cares. On entering Lord Loring's gallery, Father Benwell found but one
person who was not looking at the pictures under false pretenses.
Innocent of all suspicion of the conflicting interests whose struggle now
centered in himself, Romayne was carefully studying the picture which had
been made the pretext for inviting him to the house. He had bowed to Stella,
with a tranquil admiration of her beauty; he had shaken hands with Penrose,
and had said some kind words to his future secretary--and then he had
turned to the picture, as if Stella and Penrose had ceased from that moment
to occupy his mind.
"In your place," he said quietly to Lord Loring, "I should not buy this work."
"It seems to me to have the serious defect of the modern English school of
painting. A total want of thought in the rendering of the subject, disguised
under dexterous technical tricks of the brush. When you have seen one of
that man's pictures, you have seen all. He manufactures--he doesn't paint."
Father Benwell came in while Romayne was speaking. He went through the
ceremonies of introduction to the master of Vange Abbey with perfect
politeness, but a little absently. His mind was bent on putting his suspicion of
Stella to the test of confirmation. Not waiting to be presented, he turned to
her with the air of fatherly interest and chastened admiration which he well
knew how to assume in his intercourse with women.
"May I ask if you agree with Mr. Romayne's estimate of the picture?" he said,
in his gentlest tones.
She had heard of him, and of his position in the house. It was quite needless
for Lady Loring to whisper to her, "Father Benwell, my dear!" Her antipathy
identified him as readily as her sympathy might have identified a man who
had produced a favorable impression on her. "I have no pretension to be a
critic," she answered, with frigid politeness. "I only know what I personally
like or dislike."
The reply exactly answered Father Benwell's purpose. It diverted Romayne's
attention from the picture to Stella. The priest had secured his opportunity of
reading their faces while they were looking at each other.