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The Black Robe

The General's Family
NOT always remarkable for arriving at just conclusions, Lady Loring had
drawn the right inference this time. Stella had stopped the first cab that
passed her, and had directed the driver to Camp's Hill, Islington.
The aspect of the miserable little street, closed at one end, and swarming
with dirty children quarreling over their play, daunted her for the moment.
Even the cabman, drawing up at the entrance to the street, expressed his
opinion that it was a queer sort of place for a young lady to venture into
alone. Stella thought of Romayne. Her firm persuasion that she was helping
him to perform an act of mercy, which was (to his mind) an act of atonement
as well, roused her courage. She boldly approached the open door of No. 10,
and knocked on it with her parasol.
The tangled gray hair and grimy face of a hideous old woman showed
themselves slowly at the end of the passage, rising from the strong-smelling
obscurity of the kitchen regions. "What do you want?" said the half-seen
witch of the London slums. "Does Madame Marillac live here?" Stella asked.
"Do you mean the foreigner?" "Yes." "Second door." With those instructions
the upper half of the witch sank and vanished. Stella gathered her skirts
together, and ascended a filthy flight of stairs for the first time in her life.
Coarse voices, shameless language, gross laughter behind the closed doors of
the first floor hurried her on her way to the rooms on the higher flight. Here
there was a change for the better--here, at least, there was silence. She
knocked at the door on the landing of the second floor. A gentle voice
answered, in French; "Entrez!"--then quickly substituted the English
equivalent, "Come in!" Stella opened the door.
The wretchedly furnished room was scrupulously clean. Above the truckle-
bed, a cheap little image of the Virgin was fastened to the wall, with some
faded artificial flowers arranged above it in the form of a wreath. Two
women, in dresses of coarse black stuff, sat at a small round table, working at
the same piece of embroidery. The elder of the two rose when the visitor
entered the room. Her worn and weary face still showed the remains of
beauty in its finely proportioned parts--her dim eyes rested on Stella with an
expression of piteous entreaty. "Have you come for the work, madam?" she
asked, in English, spoken with a strong foreign accent. "Pray forgive me; I
have not finished it yet."
The second of the two workwomen suddenly looked up.
She, too, was wan and frail; but her eyes were bright; her movements still
preserved the elasticity of youth. Her likeness to the elder woman proclaimed
their relationship, even before she spoke. "Ah! it's my fault!" she burst out
 
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