A RUINED LIFE

“Is this the end of all the years
That thou hast lived, my friend?
Of merry smiles and bitter tears,
Is this the end?
Tho’ sad and dark the past appears,
God to thy soul will courage send,
And Christ will whisper in thine ears
The word which hearts desponding cheers;
So rise and to thy work attend.
Nor let the wicked ask with jeers
Is this the end?”

A few days after a decision had been arrived at concerning the
marriage Basil Beaumont made his reappearance in Garsworth, and took
up his old quarters at “The House of Good Living,” in order to come to
a final understanding with Reginald Blake.

The artist was in an excellent humour, for, according to his own
judgment, he was master of the situation. He had only to threaten
Reginald with the loss of his newly acquired wealth, and, judging the
young man’s nature by his own, he felt satisfied that, sooner than
surrender Garsworth Grange, the false heir would pay him a handsome
income to hold his tongue. With such income he would retire to the
Continent and amuse himself for the rest of his life, while, as for
Patience, seeing that he had no further use for her, she could make
what arrangement she liked with Reginald, and please herself in her
manner of living. With all this astute calculation, however, Beaumont
made no allowance for the different nature of his son, and did not for
a moment think that the young man’s nobility of soul would induce him
rather to resign everything, at whatever cost, than keep possession of
what he knew was not rightfully his own.

He learnt from Kossiter that Reginald and Una were going to be married
the next week, and smiled cynically to himself as he thought how
easily he could stop the ceremony.

“If Una Challoner only knew the truth,” he thought, “I think even her
love would recoil from such a trial. Reginald Blake, the wealthy
bastard, is one thing; but Reginald Blake, the pauper bastard, is
another. Yes, I think I hold the best hand in this game; as to
Patience! bah! my cards are somewhat too strong for her to beat.”

Mr. Beaumont had only arrived a short time, and was seated before the
fire smoking in the dull light of the winter afternoon, preparatory to
writing a letter to Reginald. Margery, bright and alert, was clearing
away the luncheon, so Mr. Beaumont, wishing to be quite sure of his
ground, began to question her concerning the events which had taken
place during his absence.

“I hear Miss Challoner is going to be married to Mr. Blake,” he said
genially; “it’s a good match for her.”

“And for him, too, sir,” retorted Margery indignantly. “Miss Una is as
sweet a young lady as you will find anywhere.”

“No doubt,” answered Beaumont blandly. “They are a charming couple,
and certainly deserve the good opinion of everybody; but tell me,
Margery, what about Dr. Nestley? I suppose he has gone long ago?”

“No,” said Margery, shaking her head, “he is still here.”

“In this place?”

“Yes sir, very–very ill.”

“Humph!” thought Beaumont, “got the jumps, I expect. What is the
matter with him?” he asked aloud.

“He lost his way in the snow storm last week,” explained Margery
deliberately, “and nearly died, but Farmer Sanders found him on the
bridge and brought him here.”

“Oh! and is he here still?”

“He is, sir. He was quite delirious, sir–raved awful. Dr. Blank’s
been attending him, and Miss Mosser.”

“The blind organist–why has she turned nurse?”

Margery smiled in a mysterious manner.

“Well, folks say one thing and some folks say another,” she replied,
folding the table-cloth, “but I think she’s in love with him; anyhow,
as soon as she heard he was ill she came here like a mad woman, with
Miss Busky, and both of ’em have been nursing him ever since.”

“How good of them,” said Beaumont ironically, “and is he better?”

“He’s sensible,” answered Margery cautiously, “but very weak. I don’t
know as he’ll live.”

“I’d like to see him. You know I’m a friend of his–do you think I
could go up to his room?”

“I don’t know, sir,” returned Margery stolidly. “I’ll ask Miss
Mosser.”

“Do, that’s a good girl, he replied, and Margery departed.

“Poor Nestley,” muttered Beaumont to himself, lighting another
cigarette, “it was rather a shame of me to have led him on like I did,
but if I hadn’t he would have interfered with my plans concerning old
Garsworth, so I had to–self-preservation is the first law of nature.
Come in,” he called out, as a knock came to the door. “Come in,
Margery.”

It was not Margery, however, but Cecilia Mosser, who entered, with a
pale sad face and a painfully-strained look in her sightless eyes.

“Mr. Beaumont,” she said, in her low sweet voice.

“I am here, Miss Mosser,” he replied, rising from his seat. “What can
I do for you?”

“Nothing,” she replied, groping her way to the table and standing
beside it. “Are you alone?”

“Quite alone,” returned Beaumont politely.

“You wish to see Dr. Nestley?”

“If I may be permitted.”

“You will not be permitted,” answered Cecilia slowly; “he is still
very weak, and the sight of you would make him ill again.”

“And why?” asked Beaumont, rather annoyed at the firmness of her tone;
“surely a friend—-”

“A friend,” she interrupted, in a low vibrating tone. “Yes, a friend
who is one in name only.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Basil politely. “What do you know of
the friendship existing between myself and Dr. Nestley?”

“I know everything–yes everything–in his delirium he revealed more
than he would have done—-”

“Delirium–pshaw!”

“What he said then was confirmed by his own lips afterwards when he
was sensible,” she answered in a perfectly cool manner, “and I know
how much your friendship has cost him–how you tried to drag him down
to the lowest depths of iniquity. God knows for what end—-”

Beaumont laughed in a sneering way, and leaned his shoulders
comfortably against the mantelpiece.

“You seem to be in the confidence of our mutual friend,” he said, in
an easy tone. “May I ask why?”

“Because I am going to be his wife,” replied Cecilia, while a flood of
crimson rushed over the pure white of her face.

“His wife–a blind girl?”

“Blind as I am he loves me,” she said indignantly, “and I can protect
him against you, Mr. Beaumont.”

“Me? I do not wish to harm him.”

“No. You could not even if you did wish; he is going to marry me, and
I hope to undo all the harm you have done him.”

“I wish you joy of your task,” he replied with a sneer. “But
Dr. Nestley seems to be able to transfer his affections very
easily–perhaps you do not know he was in love with Miss Challoner.”

“Yes I do,” she answered in a low tone, “he told me everything; and we
understand one another perfectly. You have done your worst, Mr.
Beaumont, and can do no more–he is going to become my husband, and,
blind as I am, I hope to be his guardian angel from such men as you.”

“These domestic details don’t interest me in the slightest,” he
answered contemptuously, waving his hand. “Will you be kind enough to
go, Miss Mosser? I have some letters to write.”

“I am going,” answered the blind girl, quietly feeling her way
to the door. “I only came to tell you that you will never see him
again–never!”

“Neither will you,” he returned brutally.

The poor girl burst into tears at the unmanly taunt, but hastily dried
them, and answered him back proudly.

“I can see him in my own mind, sir,” she said indignantly, “and that
is all I wish for–his faults have been of your making, and not of his
own. I say good-bye to you, sir, and only wish you a better heart,
that you may not make a jest of the misfortunes of others.”

As she closed the door after her, Beaumont felt rather ashamed of
himself, but soon recovered from the feeling, and sat down at the
table to write a note to Reginald.

“Bah!” he said, as his pen travelled swiftly over the paper. “What do
I care? if he likes to encumber himself with that woman he can do so.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever see him again in this life, nor do I wish
to–my business now is with my dear son. I’ll get what I want out of
him, and then the whole lot of them can go to the devil.”

Meanwhile, Cecilia had returned to the sick room, where Miss Busky,
still faithful to her blind friend, sat watching by the bedside
of the invalid. A pale, sickly light filtered in through the
white-curtained windows, mixing with the red glow of the fire, and in
this curiously blended twilight could be seen the glimmer of the
medicine bottles on the round table by the bed, the deep arm-chair
close at hand wherein Miss Busky sat the milky whiteness of the
disordered bed-clothes and the subdued shine upon the surface of the
furniture. Throughout the room was a complete stillness, unbroken even
by the tick of a clock, and nothing was heard but the heavy breathing
of the sick man.

As Cecilia entered, Miss Busky arose lightly to her feet and crossed
over to her friend, speaking in a subdued whisper.

“Did you see him?” she asked.

“Yes–he will not come up, thank Heaven!–Dr. Nestley suspects
nothing?”

“Nothing!–he is asleep–let me place you in the chair–I’m going out
for a few minutes.”

She led Cecilia forward, and the blind girl-sank into the arm-chair;
then, hastily putting on her hat, Miss Busky glided rapidly out of the
room, leaving Cecilia seated by the bed, listening to the breathing of
the invalid.

So still, so quiet–it might almost have been the silence of the tomb.
Then there came the light patter of rain-drops on the windows. The
fire had sunk to a dull red glow, and a piece of burning coal dropped,
with a singularly distinct noise, on to the fender. Nestley sighed in
his sleep–moved uneasily, and then awoke–a fact which the blind girl
was aware of immediately, by her acute sense of hearing.

“Cecilia,” said the sick man, in a weak voice.

“I am here, dear,” she replied softly. “Do you want anything?”

He put out his hand and clasped one of hers in his feeble grasp.

“Only you–only you–I thought you had left me.”

“Hush!–you must not speak much,” she said, arranging the bed-clothes.

“I have had a dream,” whispered the invalid fearfully, “a strange
dream–that I was in the coils of a serpent, being crushed to death.
But a woman suddenly appeared, and at her touch the serpent vanished
and I was free. The woman had your face, Cecilia.”

“Hush!–do not speak more–you are too weak–you are in safety now,
and no serpent shall touch you while I am by your side.”

“You will be my wife?”

“I will be your wife,” she replied softly. “I have loved you from the
first day I met you, but never thought you would be burdened with such
a useless thing as I.”

“Not useless, dear. How could I have been so foolish as not to have
understood your love before? Thank God for this illness, that has
opened my eyes. You have saved my life–my soul.”

He stopped, through exhaustion, and lay silently upon his pillow,
watching the red flare of the fire glimmer on the pale face of the
blind girl. A great feeling of joy and thankfulness came over him, as
he felt that all the stormy, tempestuous life of the past was over at
last–and beside him sat the one woman who could save his weak nature
from yielding to the temptations of the world.