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20. Confidences
Miss Rowly had received a bulky letter by the morning's post. She had not opened it, but
had allowed it to rest beside her plate all breakfast-time. Then she had taken it away with
her to her own sitting-room. Stephen did not appear to take any notice of it. She knew
quite well that it was from some one in London whom her aunt had asked to pay
Leonard's bills. She also knew that the old lady had some purpose in her reticence, so she
waited. She was learning to be patient in these days. Miss Rowly did say anything about
it that day, or the next, or the next. The third-morning, she received another letter which
she had read in an enlightening manner. She began its perusal with set brow frowning,
then she nodded her head and smiled. She put the letter back in its envelope and placed it
in the little bag always carried. But she said nothing. Stephen wondered, but waited.
That night, when Stephen's maid had left her, there came a gentle tap at her door, and an
instant after the door opened. The tap had been a warning, not a request; it had in a
measure prepared Stephen, who was not surprised to see her Aunt in dressing-gown,
though it was many a long day since she had visited her niece's room at night. She closed
the door behind her, saying:
'There is something I want to talk to you about, dearest, and I thought it would be better
to do so when there could not be any possible interruption. And besides,' here there was a
little break in her voice, 'I could hardly summon up my courage in the daylight.' She
stopped, and the stopping told its own story. In an instant Stephen's arm's were round her,
all the protective instinct in her awake, at the distress of the woman she loved. The old
lady took comfort from the warmth of the embrace, and held her tight whilst she went on:
'It is about these bills, my dear. Come and sit down and put a candle near me. I want you
to read something.'
'Go on, Auntie dear,' she said gravely. The old lady, after a pause, spoke with a certain
'They are all paid; at least all that can be. Perhaps I had better read you the letter I have
had from my solicitors:
'"Dear Madam,--In accordance with your instructions we have paid all the accounts
mentioned in Schedule A (enclosed). We have placed for your convenience three
columns: (1) the original amount of each account, (2) the amount of discount we were
able to arrange, and (3) the amount paid. We regret that we have been unable to carry out
your wishes with regard to the items enumerated in Schedule B (enclosed). We have, we
assure you, done all in our power to find the gentlemen whose names and addresses are
therein given. These were marked 'Debt of honour' in the list you handed to us. Not
having been able to obtain any reply to our letters, we sent one of our clerks first to the
addresses in London, and afterwards to Oxford. That clerk, who is well used to such
inquiries, could not find trace of any of the gentlemen, or indeed of their existence. We