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They realized they must put up with the restaurant for meals, but
at least the women folk should not pander to the customs of the
place and wear evening dress. Their subdued black gowns were
fastened to the throat. Stella Rawson felt absolutely excited--she
was twenty-one years old, but this was the first time she had ever
dined in a fashionable restaurant, and it almost seemed like
something deliciously wrong.
Life in the Cathedral Close where they lived in England was not
highly exhilarating, and when its duties were over it contained
only mild gossip and endless tea-parties and garden-parties by way
Canon and the Honorable Mrs. Ebley were fairly rich people. The
Uncle Erasmus' call to the church had been answered from
inclination--not necessity. His heart was in his work. He was a
good man and did his duty according to the width of the lights in
which he had been brought up.
Mrs. Ebley did more than her duty--and had often too much
momentum, which now and then upset other people's apple carts.
She had, in fact, been the moving spirit in the bringing about of
her niece Stella's engagement to the Bishop's junior chaplain, a
young gentleman of aesthetic aspirations and eight hundred a year
of his own.
Stella herself had never been enthusiastic about the affair. As a
man, Eustace Medlicott said absolutely nothing at all to her--
though to be sure she was quite unaware that he was inadequate in
this respect. No man had meant anything different up to this
period of her life. She had seen so few of them she was no judge.
Eustace Medlicott had higher collars than the other curates, and
intoned in a wonderfully melodious voice in the cathedral. And
quite a number of the young ladies of Exminster, including the
Bishop's second daughter, had been setting their caps at him from
the moment of his arrival, so that when, by the maneuvers of Aunt
Caroline Ebley, Stella found him proposing to her, she somehow
allowed herself to murmur some sort of consent.
Then it seemed quite stimulating to have a ring and to be
congratulated upon being engaged. And the few weeks that followed
while the thing was fresh and new had passed quite pleasantly. It
was only when about a month had gone by that a gradual and growing
weariness seemed to be falling upon her.
To be the wife of an aesthetic high church curate, who fasted
severely during Lent and had rigid views upon most subjects, began
to grow into a picture which held out less and less charm for her.
But Aunt Caroline was firm--and the habit of twenty-one years of
Perhaps Fate was looking on in sympathy with her unrest. In any
case, it appeared like the jade's hand and not chance which made
Uncle Erasmus decide to take his holiday early in the year and to
decide to spend it abroad--not in Scotland or Wales as was his
Stella, he said, should see the eternal city and Florence before
settling down in the autumn to her new existence.
Miss Rawson actually jumped with joy--and the knowledge that
Eustace Medlicott would be unable to accompany them, but might
join them later on, did not damp her enthusiasm.
Every bit of the journey was a pleasure, from the moment they
landed on French soil. They had come straight through to Rome from
Paris, where they had spent a week at a small hotel; because of
the lateness of the year they must get to their southern point
first of all and return northward in a more leisurely manner.
And now anyone who is reading this story can picture this
respectable English family and understand their status and
antecedents, so we can very well get back to them seated in the
agreeable restaurant of the Grand Hotel at Rome--beginning to
partake of a modest dinner.
Mrs. Ebley (I had almost written the Reverend Mrs. Ebley!) was
secretly enjoying herself--she had that feeling that she was in a
place where she ought not to be--through no fault of her own--and
so was free to make the most of it, and certainly these well-
dressed people were very interesting to glance at between
mouthfuls of a particularly well-cooked fish.
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