17. A Business Transaction
When Stephen had sent off her letter to the bank she went out for a stroll; she knew it
would be no use trying to get rest before dinner. That ordeal, too, had to be gone through.
She found herself unconsciously going in the direction of the grove; but when she
became aware of it a great revulsion overcame her, and she shuddered.
Slowly she took her way across the hard stretch of finely-kept grass which lay on the side
of the house away from the wood. The green sward lay like a sea, dotted with huge trees,
singly, or in clumps as islands. In its far-stretching stateliness there was something
soothing. She came back to the sound of the dressing-gong with a better strength to resist
the trial before her. Well she knew her aunt would have something to say on the subject
of her interference in Leonard Everard's affairs.
Her fears were justified, for when they had come into the drawing- room after dinner
Miss Rowly began:
'Stephen dear, is it not unwise of you to interfere in Mr. Everard's affairs?'
'Why unwise, Auntie?'
'Well, my dear, the world is censorious. And when a young lady, of your position and
your wealth, takes a part in a young man's affairs tongues are apt to wag. And also, dear,
debts, young men's debts, are hardly the subjects for a girl's investigation. Remember,
that we ladies live very different lives from men; from some men, I should say, for your
dear father was the best of men, and I should think that in all his life there was nothing
which he would have wished concealed. But, my dear, young men are less restrained in
their ways than we are, than we have to be for our own safety and protection.' The poor
lady was greatly perturbed at having to speak in such a way. Stephen saw her distress;
coming over to her, she sat down and took her hand. Stephen had a very tender side to her
nature, and she loved very truly the dear old lady who had taken her mother's place and
had shown her all a mother's love. Now, in her loneliness and woe and fear, she clung to
her in spirit. She would have liked to have clung to her physically; to have laid her head
on her bosom, and have cried her heart out. The time for tears had not come. Hourly she
felt more and more the weight that a shameful secret is to carry. She knew, however, that
she could set her aunt's mind at rest on the present subject; so she said:
'I think you are right, Auntie dear. It would have been better if I had asked you first; but I
saw that Leonard was in distress, and wormed the cause of it from him. When I heard that
it was only debt I offered to help him. He is an old friend, you know, Auntie. We were
children together; and as I have much more money than I can ever want or spend, I
thought I might help him. I am afraid I have let myself in for a bigger thing than I
intended; but as I have promised I must go on with it. I dare say, Auntie, that you are
afraid that I may end by getting in love with him, and marrying him. Don't you, dear?'