A MORNING WALK

A snake you were in other days
Ere you attained the human state;
Still in your veins the snake blood plays
Which leads you now to gloze and hate,
The magic of the serpent gaze
Lurks in your eyes to fascinate.

As it was a holiday the pupils were left to their own devices, and on
going outside, Blake found Dick Pemberton amusing himself with Muffins
and a fishing rod. Ferdinand having been worsted by the volatile Dick,
had long since departed to work at a tragedy he was composing, and Mr.
Pemberton was evidently getting ready for a fishing excursion in
company with Muffins.

“Now what do you think you are doing?” asked Reggy pausing at the
door.

“None so blind as those who won’t see,” retorted Dick coolly. “I’m
goin’ fishin’.”

“Fishing?” repeated Reggy with emphasis.

“With the accent on the ‘G’,” replied Richard gaily. “Don’t be a
pedant, old chap–fishin’ means the same thing as fishing, and not so
much trouble to say. I suppose I ought to call Muffins ‘Muffings.'”

“Oh, bosh!” retorted Reggy politely, walking down to the gate.

“Quite right–it is bosh, oh King. Where are you off to?”

“Grange?”

Dick arched his eyebrows, shook his head, and whistled, at which
Reginald flushed a little.

“What do you mean?” he asked, turning round.

“Nothin’, nothin’,” said Dick demurely; “you’re ‘goin’ a-courtin’,
sir, she said,’ I suppose.”

“What nonsense, Dick,” said Blake angrily, “as if Una—-”

“Oh! ho!” replied Pemberton; “sits the wind in that quarter? I never
mentioned the lady’s name. You ought to get our one and only poet to
write you some verses–

‘Oh, I could spoon a
Girl like dear Una
Aileen Aroona,’

–bad poetry, but beautiful sentiment.”

“I wish you’d be serious, Dick,” said Reginald in a vexed tone; “I am
only going over to the Grange to ask after the Squire’s health.”

“All right,” replied Dick good-naturedly; “give old Cassy my love, and
tell her I’m going to propose to her–odd, isn’t it?–so very odd.”
And with a capital imitation of Miss Cassandra’s fidgety manner, he
walked away followed by Muffins, while Reginald went out of the gate
on to the village street.

The interview with Dr. Larcher had touched him more nearly than he
liked to confess even to himself, and his frivolous conversation with
Dick had been somewhat of a relief to him, but now, being alone, he
relapsed into sombre thoughts. He was dissatisfied with his position,
and longed to know more about himself–who were his parents?–were
they dead or alive?–why was he thrust into the world as an outcast?
The only person who could explain the mystery of his life was Patience
Allerby; he determined therefore to apply to her for the explanation.

Filled with these dismal thoughts, he sauntered slowly up the street
as far as the bridge. Here he paused, and leaning over the parapet,
began to think again. It was a curious thing that this young man,
brought up in a quiet, Christian household, should let his thoughts
run on such a morbid idea as the possibility of his being a natural
son. He had no experience of vice, and should therefore have accepted
the marriage of his unknown parents as a fact, especially when his
nurse asserted that they had been married. But the strangeness of his
position led him to believe that there must be some motive for
concealment, and this motive, he determined in his own mind, was the
want of a marriage certificate.

The real cause, however, which led to this morbid analysis of the
possible relations between his parents, lay in a discovery which he
had lately made–a discovery which changed the simple manly life he
was leading into a raging hell of doubts and self-torturings.

He was in love–and Una Challoner was the woman he loved. It was not
that sickly evanescent affection common to adolescence, known by the
name of calf love–no; but that strong overwhelming passion of the
soul which has no limits and which dominates and sways the whole
nature. Drawn in the first place towards Una by simple admiration of
her beauty, he learned later on to discard this passion without soul,
and found in the kindred sympathy of her spirit with his own that
ideal union which so rarely exists. She, on her part, had been
attracted to him by the same qualities which he found in her, and this
perfect agreement developed in each a pure and spiritual adoration.

His love thus being pure, he would not dare to offer her anything but
purity, and anxiously began to examine his life in order to discover
all flaws which marred its whiteness. He was not an ideal young man,
still he discovered nothing in his life which could embarrass him to
explain, so felt quite easy in himself, but now this shadow of
possible illegitimacy seemed to threaten disaster. He would not dare
to offer to the woman he loved and respected a name which was not
legally his own.

However, it was no use indulging in self-torture when it could be
ended by getting a proper explanation of the circumstances of his
birth from Patience Allerby. Hitherto he had shrunk from doing this
with the vague hesitation of a man who dreads to hear the truth, but
now it was imperative he should learn all, be it good or evil, and
shape his course accordingly. At this moment of his life he stood at
the junction of two roads, and the explanation of Patience Allerby
would decide which one he was to take. Having come to this logical
conclusion, he resolutely banished all dismal thoughts from his heart,
and walked rapidly across the common in the direction of Garsworth
Grange. It was the quest, not for El Dorado or the Holy Grail, but for
the secret which would make or mar his whole life.

Dull and heavy was the day, with a cold grey sky overhead, a humid
wind blowing chill with the moisture of the fens, and a sense of decay
in the atmosphere. The gaunt, bare trees with their slender branches
and twigs outlined with delicate distinctness against the sad grey
sky–the withered leaves with their vivid reds and yellows which
carpeted the ground–the absence of song of bird or cheerful lowing of
kine–all weighed down and depressed his spirits. The uniform tints of
the landscape with their absence of colour and life seemed like a type
of his own existence at present; but lo, when he raised his eyes a
golden shaft of sunlight was above the distant towers of the Grange,
where he hoped to find the talisman which would change the grey
monotony of an uneventful past to the glory and joy of a happy future.
It was an omen of success, and his eyes brightened, his step grew
springy and he clutched his stick with determination as he strode
towards the glory of the sun, leaving the grey mists and desolate
landscape behind him.

As he walked on he saw a short distance ahead the tall figure of a
man, and on coming abreast of him, he recognised Basil Beaumont, who
was listlessly strolling along, thinking deeply. Remembering the
vicar’s dislike to the character of Beaumont, he was about to pass on
with a conventional nod, when the artist spoke, and he could not with
courtesy refuse to answer.

“Good morning, Blake,” he said in a friendly tone. “Taking a
constitutional?”

“Not exactly,” replied Reginald, falling into the leisurely walk of
the artist; “the vicar wants to know how Squire Garsworth is?”

“Had I met you earlier I could have saved you the walk,” said Beaumont
indolently; “he is much better–they sent to Nestley this morning to
tell him about it.”

“Where is Dr. Nestley now?” asked Blake.

Beaumont pointed to the Grange with his stick.

“Over there,” he answered, “seeing his patient. I expect he’ll have to
remain down here for some time–the Squire has taken a great fancy to
him–rich men’s likings are poor men’s fortunes.”

“Good. I wish someone would take a liking to me,” said Blake with a
sigh. “I need a fortune.”

“You’ve got one.”

“Indeed! Where?”

“In your throat!”

Reginald laughed and shook his head.

“I hardly think that,” he answered gaily.

“Don’t be so mock modest, my dear boy,” said Beaumont with a shrug. “I
assure you I’m not one to praise unnecessarily. You need training,
severe training, to bring your voice to perfection; but you’ve got a
wonderful organ to work on–not that voice is everything, mind you;
I’ve known people with good voices to whom such a gift is absolutely
worthless.”

“Why?”

“Because they’ve got no talent. To make a singer needs more than
voice–it needs great perseverance, powerful dramatic instinct, an
educated mind, and a strong individuality.”

“I don’t think I’ve got all that,” said Reggy rather disconsolately.

“Let me see,” observed Beaumont deliberately, “you’ve a good voice and
dramatic instinct, as I know from the way you sang that song last
night–you are educated, of course, and I can see for myself you have
an individuality of your own–there only remains perseverance. Have
you perseverance?”

“I think so.”

“Ah! doubtful. I’ll put the question in another way. Are you
ambitious? If you are, you must have perseverance–one is the natural
outcome of the other.”

“How so?”

“Logically in this way–an ambitious man wants to succeed–he can’t
succeed without perseverance–ergo, he perseveres to succeed in his
ambition. Now then, are you persevering or ambitious?”

“I’m not sure.”

“No!” Beaumont did not seem disappointed at this reply, but went on
talking. “Then you have no incentive; you are in the chrysalis stage;
get an incentive, and you will change to a butterfly.”

“What incentive can I obtain.”

“That depends upon your temperament–the desire to leave the dull
village–the desire to have money, and above all, the desire to be
loved by some woman.”

“Ah,” said Blake, whom this last remark stung sharply, “at least I
have that incentive.”

Beaumont laughed.

“Then the result must follow, you will persevere and succeed.”

Blake was much impressed with Beaumont’s remarks, for a vision rose
before him of a bright future and a famous name with Una for his wife.
Then the recollection of the dark secret of his birth came back to
him; if what he surmised were true, he would have nothing to work for
as there would be an insuperable bar between him and the girl he
loved. The roseate scenes he had conjured up vanished, and in their
place he only saw the sorrow of a lonely life. He sighed
involuntarily, and shook his head.

“It all depends on one thing,” he said sadly.

“And that one thing?” asked Beaumont keenly.

“It is at present a secret,” replied Blake curtly, whereupon Beaumont
laughed lightly in no wise offended, and they walked on for a short
distance in silence.

They were now nearing the Grange, and Beaumont was going to turn back
when he saw Nestley coming down the road.

“Here is Nestley,” he said carelessly, “so you can learn all about the
Squire from him, and need not go to the Grange.”

“I must go to the Grange,” replied Blake.

Beaumont smiled and whistled the air of “Love’s Young Dream,” for he
had heard rumours in the village which led him to believe that Blake
was in love with the Squire’s beautiful cousin.

Reginald understood him, and was about to make some angry remark, when
Nestley came up to them and put an end to the conversation.

“Well, doctor,” said Beaumont lightly, “and how is your patient?”

Nestley’s face wore a frown as he recognised Beaumont, but he
evidently determined not to give his enemy the pleasure of seeing his
annoyance, so, smoothing his features to a bland smile, he replied in
the same conversational manner:

“Better–much better–he’ll be all right soon–less excitable–but the
body is worn out.”

“And the brain?” asked the artist.

“Oh, that’s all right–he’s got a wonderful brain.”

“Slightly cracked,” interposed Blake, nodding to Nestley.

“Just slightly,” replied Nestley, coolly. “But his madness has a good
deal of method in it. He’s got queer ideas about the re-incarnation of
the soul–but we’ve all queer ideas more or less.”

“Particularly more,” observed Beaumont, indolently. “Are you coming
back, Nestley? I’ll be glad of a companion.”

Nestley hesitated. He did not like Beaumont, and mistrusted him.
Still, there was a wonderful fascination about the man which few could
resist, and in spite of his dislike Nestley rapidly found himself
falling once more under the old spell of that suave, cynical manner.

“I don’t mind,” he said, carelessly, “particularly as I want to give
you a message from the Squire.”

“To me?” said Beaumont in surprise. “What about?”

“A picture. The squire wants his portrait taken, and—-”

“You thought of me,” said Beaumont, with a cold smile; “how charming
you are, my dear Nestley. I’ll be delighted to paint the Squire, he’s
a Rembrandtian study, full of light and shade and wrinkles.”

“Where are you going to, Mr. Blake?” asked Nestley, abruptly turning
to the young man and eyeing him keenly.

“To the Grange,” replied Blake carelessly, “to see the Squire. Good
morning, gentlemen,” and with a cool nod, the young man strolled away
in the direction of Garsworth Grange.

Nestley stood looking after him oddly.

“To see the Squire,” he repeated. “Yes and Una Challoner.”

“Ah,” said Beaumont cynically. “You’ve seen that, my dear fellow.”

“Yes. Do you know Una Challoner loves him?”

“Not exactly. I know he loves Una Challoner.”

“She returns it,” said Nestley gloomily. “I found that out from her
manner this morning.”

Beaumont smiled and looked strangely at the downcast face of the
doctor.

“I understand,” he said, lighting a fresh cigarette.

“Understand what?” asked Nestley angrily.

“That you also love Una Challoner.”

“Absurd, I’ve only seen her twice.”

“Nevertheless—-”

“What?”

“Oh nothing, nothing,” replied Beaumont airily. “I’ll tell you all
about it in a week.”

Nestley did not reply, but stood silently looking at the ground, on
seeing which, Beaumont drew his arm within his own, with a gay laugh.

“Come along,” he said cheerfully, “we’ll walk back to Garsworth, and
you can tell me all about the Squire and his picture.”