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CHAPTER IX

MONICA RECEIVES A COMPLIMENT

PROR
ROBABLY, amongst the many varieties of un-

happiness to which we are all exposed, the very worst is that of being bored. On the other hand, what is generally described as dulness is not of necessity synonymous with boredom, and many men and women lead an absolutely uneventful life in complete satisfaction with themselves and their surroundings. Monica Ferrand, whose quiet, methodical little existence had hitherto been quite happy and—save for that brief London experience—singularly free from episodes, was not for one moment bored in her Yorkshire home. There was not, to be sure, very much for her to do; but housekeeping, active charity and religious observances occupied a certain number of hours every day, while gardening and riding or driving with her father provided her with all that she asked for in the way of amusement. So, at least, she asserted when describing the above modest programme in a letter to her friend Ethel Dallison, to whom it did not occur to her to mention Nigel Scarth's frequent visits as an additional source of pleasure.

As a fact, however, those visits were becoming very frequent indeed, and Nigel (who, for his part, was often horribly bored) found a pleasure in them which Monica

or less consciously shared. It became

more

an

understood thing that he was to lunch at Lannowe every Sunday, after hearing Mass in the chapel, and pretexts were not wanting in virtue of which he made his appearance on most days of the week, into the bargain. Monica and he grew more and more intimate, found themselves more and more in sympathy with one another and arrived finally at a species of mutual affection which, if it fell somewhat short of actual love, was perhaps no bad substitute for a passion destined, in the great majority of cases, to be shortlived. The girl, in her demure way, accepted what she perceived to be a leisurely, gentle, decorous courtship and had no wish to discourage it. Her sister had said a word or two to her before she left St. James's Square ; her father, so far as she could judge, was well disposed towards Mr. Scarth; for herself, she was ready, as a matter of course, to do whatever might be deemed right by her family ; and, although she was in no haste to marry, she considered that she would be extremely fortunate if a man whom she liked so much as she did Nigel Scarth were to be selected as her husband. There were, it is true, moments when she was half afraid of him, without very well knowing why, an occasional fire in his eyes, and even in his speech, which vaguely suggested volcanic possibilities; but as a rule he was subdued, kindly, a little wistful, and this latter characteristic may have helped to attract her to him ; for she belonged to that class of women-a class not quite so numerous, perhaps, as it once was—whose mission in life and whose joy it is to take trouble off their husbands' shoulders. That Nigel had his share of troubles and worries she knew from his own lips, and she gathered that a good many of them might have been avoided, had his household been blessed with a mistress,

Thus she was scarcely unprepared for what came to pass on a certain hot Sunday afternoon when he followed her out of the little chapel after Benediction, in the wake of a microscopic congregation. Lord Lannowe had ridden off to hold parley with a neighbouring magnate upon some question of local importance, there was nobody staying in the house, and it was pleasant -if, according to Monica's notions, a trifle inconvenable

to stroll across the lawn and sit down under the shade of a spreading cedar in the company of a young man whose conversation related at first only to religious matters. He had a great deal of fervour, while she had some ; both were strongly imbued with the conviction that those who have turned their backs upon the world to seek peace in prayer and contemplation are the happiest of mortals. They talked, as they had often talked before, about that subject and regretted, as one of them almost always and the other occasionally did, that Providence did not appear to have destined them for the tranquil security of the cloister,

“Still there is no reason, after all, why one should not lead a good life anywhere," the girl said at length, in mild protest against the remarks of her companion, which had seemed to imply the contrary.

Ah, upon conditions !” he returned. “For some people, perhaps for most people, the conditions are indispensable. Oh, not for you ! You will always be good, because it is your nature to be so, and I doubt whether you could be anything else if you tried."

“And is your nature bad?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes, I think it is,” he answered, with a long sigh. “I wanted to become a Benedictine because I was bad. Do you think that an odd reason? Very likely the Father Abbot thought so. I don't know what they thought; but they were not satisfied with me, although it seemed to me that I did nothing to cause them dissatisfaction. Then came this sudden invitation to go back to the world and take up an inheritance of which I had never dreamed. The Father Abbot would not raise a finger to restrain me. His opinion evidently was that at the bottom of my heart I wanted to go, and I cannot be sure that he was wrong. At any rate, I must confess that I have often enjoyed myself very much since I have been free. There have been worries and difficulties and misgivings, of course; but there have also been some really good days."

"But is there any harm in that?" asked Monica.

“Oh, there is no harm in enjoying a ride, or a game of billiards with Monsignor Nolan, or an afternoon in the garden here with you; but my pleasures, you see, used not to be so innocent as those, and sometimes I am afraid-well, in short, I have the best reasons for distrusting myself. The truth, which I want you to know, is that I was a horrid blackguard once."

“I don't believe that,” said Monica placidly.

“Ah, but I was! And what a man has been once he may be again."

Surely not if he has repented and sees the danger so clearly."

"I should rather say, not if the conditions of which I was speaking just now are present. I believe that a wife whom one loves and respects is the very best of all protections; I believe that if that won't keep a man straight, nothing will. And indeed I don't think that I should be a bad husband ; though it was only right and honest to tell you that I made a poor fight against temptation in the past.” He paused for a moment, and then, with a sudden smile which, to tell the truth, made him look extremely handsome and winning, “Monica,” he asked, “ will you take pity upon a poor sinner who looks to you for salvation ? "

It was a somewhat original method of proposing marriage, and no doubt many girls would have considered it the reverse of flattering ; but, being addressed to Monica Ferrand, it was perhaps about as effective a one as could have been chosen. To be selected as somebody's guardian angel is, after all, a compliment, and if Nigel had omitted those amatory vows which are usual on such occasions in this country, the chances are that she would have been a little bit shocked, had he indulged in them. She smiled back at him in a way which gave him the answer that he desired, but asked dubiously, with her slight French accent :

"Is it not to my father that you should go ?”

She was so visibly frightened by his mode of rejoinder, which was rather more human than monastic, that he hastened to crave her pardon and assure her that he would formally approach Lord Lannowe on the morrow. Also he acquiesced in the sentence of dismissal which she felt it incumbent upon her to pronounce.

“We cannot be engaged, you know," she reminded him, "until we have permission."

“I suppose not,” he agreed ; "but-you do love me, Monica?"

She was not at all sure that it was permitted to say so; however, she gave herself and him the benefit of the doubt that was in her mind.

"Oh, yes,” she shyly replied ; "only I would rather you went away now, please."

So presently he departed, and Monica, left to herself, hoped that her indulgent father would raise no difficulties. He was very unlikely to do so, she thought, considering how hospitable he had been to Mr. Scarth and that he

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