A VOICE FROM THE PAST

Only a woman’s heart–indeed;
A sacred thing to you, you say,
To me, a toy, with which to play.
Ah, well, let each hold fast his creed.

What matter should it chance to bleed,
Is it a man’s cut finger?–nay,
Only a woman’s heart.

On ancient tales your fancies feed,
When woman ruled in saintly way,
But we have changed such things to-day.
For, after all, what use to heed?
Only a woman’s heart.

Seeing that Reginald had thus escaped him for a time, Mr. Beaumont’s
temper was none of the sweetest when he arrived back at his chambers.
Like most clever men the artist was very proud of his tact and
delicacy in dealing with ingenuous youth, and he felt annoyed with
himself lest by failing to skilfully angle for this trout, he should
have lost his prize by failing in his diplomacy, and thereby shown too
plainly the real reasons he had for his apparently disinterested
friendship. So, on arrival at his chambers, Mr. Beaumont lighted a
cigarette, threw himself moodily into a big arm-chair, and proceeded
to
mentally review all his conduct towards Reginald since the lad’s
arrival in town.

Hard as he tried to find some flaw in his own conduct which might have
put Blake on his guard, Beaumont was quite unsuccessful in doing so,
for his demeanour towards his proposed victim had been all that the
most delicate tactician could have desired.

“I can’t have frightened him away,” he said aloud to himself, “for I
acted the disinterested friend to perfection. Hang it! I wonder what
took him back to Garsworth. I saw a letter in his hand, so I expect
Una Challoner’s been writing to him: but that would not do me any
harm, for she likes me, and I should think would be rather glad if I
looked after the boy in Town. I wonder it that confounded Patience has
been talking? I made things all straight before I left Garsworth, but
one never knows what may happen, and if Patience got an inkling of my
design, she’d move heaven and earth to get the boy back again to her
side–humph! I hardly know what to think–that’s the worst of dealing
with women; they’re so crooked, you never know what they’re going to
do next.”

He arose from his seat and walked impatiently up and down the room,
seeking some solution of the problem thus presented to him. While
doing so, he happened to glance at the mantelpiece, and saw thereon a
letter.

“I wish that man of mine wouldn’t put the letters there,” he grumbled,
taking the letter, “I can never find them–but let me see who this is
from; Garsworth postmark–don’t know the writing–wonder if Una
Challoner is–by Jove!” he ejaculated, as he took out the letter and
glanced at the signature, “it’s from Patience Allerby. I knew she had
been up to some mischief. Well! I’ll read the letter, and see if I
can’t foil you, my lady.”

Resuming his seat in the arm-chair, he smoothed out the letter
carefully as he prepared to read it. The contents, which were as
follows, considerably astonished him, and his lips curled with a
cynical smile as he glanced down the closely-written page.

“Basil Beaumont,–

“_Is it true what Dr. Nestley has told me–that you are in love with
Una Challoner? If it is, I will make an end of everything between us,
and denounce you, even at the cost of my own liberty. You have ruined
my life, but you are not going to ruin that of my son by taking from
him the woman he loves_.

“_Reginald Blake is now in London, and I hear you are constantly by
his
side. Act honourably by him, or I swear I will punish you for any harm
you do to him. By our mutual sin he is now in possession of the
Garsworth Estate, and is going to marry the lawful mistress of it. As
this is the case, and his marriage to Miss Challoner is the one
atonement both of us can make for depriving her of her inheritance,
you must let things take their course. You have a desperate woman to
deal with in me, and if you harm either Reginald or his promised wife
in any way, I swear by all that I hold most sacred that you will stand
in the prisoner’s dock for conspiracy, even though I have to stand by
your side as an accomplice_.

“Patience Allerby.”

Beaumont laughed sardonically as he finished this letter, and twirling
it in his fingers, looked thoughtfully at the carpet.

“I wonder,” he said at length, in a low voice, “I wonder if this
letter means love of her son, or jealousy of Una; both I expect, for
though she hates me like poison, and everything sentimental between us
is dead and buried years ago she gets mad as soon as she thinks I
admire another woman–strange thing a female heart–whatever ashes of
dead loves may remain in it, there is always some live ember hidden
beneath–humph! queer thing that the love of twenty years ago should
suddenly spring up again to life.”

He arose from his seat, and commenced once more to walk up and down
the room, soliloquising in a low voice, while outside the fog was
growing quite black and a sombre twilight spread through the
apartment.

“So it’s Nestley I’ve got to thank for rousing her suspicions. He’s
been giving Patience his view of my character, which no doubt will
coincide with her own–amiable creatures both! She has told Una that
there is danger to Reginald in my companionship, so either herself or
Una have written to town and frightened my shy bird into taking
flight. Bother these women, how dreadfully they do upset one’s
plans; however, I do not mind, my hold upon Reginald Blake is
just as firm at Garsworth as it is in London. As to Patience
denouncing me–pish!–melodramatic rubbish–it’s too late now to talk
such nonsense–if she tells the truth her son loses the property, and
she’s too fond of him to risk that. As to Blake himself, when he knows
I’m his father he’ll be glad enough to make terms or lose the property
and Una Challoner.”

He paused a moment, lighted a cigarette, and going to the window gazed
absently out into the black mist which clung around the roofs and
chimney-pots of the houses, and hid the brilliantly lighted street
below from his gaze.

“Una Challoner,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Patience thinks I am in
love with her. Curious that I am not: she has everything a woman can
have to attract and allure a man, and yet I don’t care a bit about
her. Had I been in love with her I would not have troubled my head
about Reginald but let Una inherit the property, and then it would
have been a tug of war between father and son as to who married the
heiress! That I have secured the property for our son ought to easily
convince Patience that I love money more than Una Challoner, but of
course she doesn’t see because she is blinded by jealousy–rather
complimentary to me I must say, seeing how hard I tried to break her
heart in the past.”

Turning away from the window with a sigh he lighted the gas, then
going over to the mirror placed over the fireplace he looked at
himself long and critically.

“You’re growing old, my friend,” he murmured, “the wine of life is
running to the lees with you, and I’m afraid you’ll never fall in love
again–still it’s wonderful how I keep my good looks–my face is my
fortune–ah, bah! and what fortune has it brought me? two dismal
rooms, a precarious existence, and not a friend in the world.”

He laughed drearily at the dismal prospect he had conjured up and
pursued his meditation.

“I’ll make one more bid for fortune, and I think I hold strong cards.
If I win–as I can’t help doing–I’ll turn over a new leaf and become
respectable. But if I lose, and there are always the possibilities of
losing, I’ll throw up the sponge in England and try my luck in
America. If I don’t succeed there, perhaps a friendly cowboy will put
an end to my wasted life; at present, _carpe diem_, as our friend the
vicar would say, so I’ll dine at the club and scribble a letter to
Patience Allerby.”

He dressed himself slowly, still in a dismal mood, and as he was
rattling along in a hansom he gave himself an impatient shake.

“Bah,” he muttered with a shiver, “I’ve got a fit of the blue devils
with this weather. Never mind, a good dinner and a bottle of wine will
soon put me right.”

He had both, and felt so much better that he began to view things in a
more rosy light, and wrote a letter to Patience Allerby which entirely
satisfied him.

“There,” he said gaily, as he dropped it into the box, “I think that
will show my lady pretty plainly how I intend to proceed, so now as
there’s nothing better to do I’ll go to the theatre.”

And to the theatre he went, trying by every means in his power to
shake off by means of this fictitious gaiety the gloomy thoughts which
always beset him when he found himself alone.