A WOMAN’S HEART

When Dame Fortune frowns severest,
Then I love thee best of all,
I will cling to thee, my dearest,
Though the world in ruins fall.

Dr. Larcher was in his study talking to Reginald Blake, who sat near
the writing table, leaning his head upon his hand with his arm resting
on the desk. The face of the good Vicar was somewhat clouded, as he
felt deeply for the unhappy young man, and he was trying to speak
words of comfort to him, although he felt how difficult it was to
converse cheerfully under present circumstances. Reginald, however,
had taken this second discovery more easily than he had done the
first, perhaps because he had suffered so much already that he could
not suffer more. At all events, his face, though pale, was perfectly
composed, and there was a look of determination about his lips and a
serene light in his eyes which gave great satisfaction to Dr. Larcher.

“I must say, my dear boy,” he said kindly, “that you have great cause
for sorrow, but you must bear adversity like a man, and I feel sure
the result will be beneficial to your future life–sooner or later we
all feel what Goethe calls ‘world sorrow,’ and it is that which
changes us from careless youth to thoughtful manhood–your trial has
come earlier and has been a more bitter one than that of most men, but
believe me, out of this apparent evil good will come; remember the
saying of the old Roman lyrist, _Perrupit Acheronta Herculeus
labor_–time will bring you relief, and, if you resist manfully, you
also will be able to break through this Acheron of sorrow and pain.”

Reginald listened attentively to this long discourse, and, at its
conclusion, lifted his head proudly.

“I agree with all you say, sir,” he replied steadily, “and hope to
profit by your advice, but you must not think me a mere weakling who
gives in without a struggle when trials come. No, I think your
training has taught me more than that. I feel bitterly the
circumstances of my birth, and in having parents I can neither honour
nor respect, but the cruellest blow of all is that I must renounce all
hope of the woman I love–it is very hard, indeed, to almost gain the
prize and then lose it through no fault of my own.”

“I think you misjudge Una,” said the vicar quietly, “she is not the
woman to act in such a way–in fact, now that you have met with
misfortune, I think she will love you more than before.”

“I hope so, yet I doubt it,” replied the young man gloomily; “but now
that all my past is ended in ruin I must look to the future and try
and win a respected name–which I have not got now. But first, what am
I to do about my parents?”

“Regarding your father,” said the vicar thoughtfully, “I don’t think
you will see any more of him, as he will probably leave the village
to-day–now that he can gain nothing from you he will probably leave
you alone–but as to your mother, your place is certainly by her
side.”

“But look how she has deceived me.”

“If she has erred it is through love of you,” replied Dr. Larcher
gravely, “and after all she is bound to you by the ties of nature.
Yes, you must look after her; but what about yourself?”

“I will go to London and make a fortune by my voice.”

“Your last sojourn in London was not productive of any good result,”
said the vicar in gentle rebuke.

“Perhaps not, but if I erred it was with my head not my heart. I was
miserable, and tried to drown my sorrows in dissipation, but now I go
to town under widely different circumstances–a pauper where I once
was wealthy–so my only dissipation now will be hard work.”

“That is right,” said the vicar, approvingly. “I am glad to see you
accept the inevitable in such spirit–_levius fit patientia Quidquid
corrigere est nefas_.”

“It’s the only spirit in which I can accept the future,” answered
Reginald sadly, “seeing that I am to pass the rest of my life without
Una.”

“As I said before, you wrong her; she is too noble a woman to leave
you now you are in trouble.”

“I wish I was as certain as you are,” said Blake, rising to his feet
and walking to and fro, “but after what has passed I am afraid to
hope.”

At this moment a knock came to the door, and immediately afterwards
Una Challoner entered. She looked pale in her dark mourning garments,
but there was a soft light in her eyes as they rested on Reginald
which comforted the vicar greatly.

“Welcome, my dear,” he said heartily, rising and taking her hand, “you
could not have come at a happier time. Reginald has great need of you,
so I will leave you both together, and I hope you will prove the David
to his Saul, in order to chase away the evil shadow that is on him.”

When the vicar had departed and closed the door after him Una stood in
silence, looking at Reginald, who had sat down again. So sad, so
despondent was his attitude, that all the love of her heart went out
towards him, and walking gently up to her lover she touched his
shoulder.

“Reginald.”

“Yes,” he said, lifting his heavy eyes to her face. “What is it? Have
you come to reproach me?”

“Reproach you with what, my poor boy?” she asked, tenderly, kneeling
beside him. “What have you done that I should come to you with harsh
words?”

“You are a good woman, Una,” said Blake sadly, putting his hand
caressingly upon her head, “but I think there is a limit even to your
forbearance.”

“What nonsense you talk,” she said lightly. “I understand
everything–you are not responsible for the sins of your parents.”

“I cannot marry you now,” he replied in a low voice. “I can offer you
nothing except poverty and a dishonoured name.”

“You can offer me yourself,” said Una with a smile, “and that is all I
want. As to your dishonoured name, you forget you have given that
up–your name now is Reginald Garsworth.”

“It was, but I surrender it with the property.”

“I hardly see that, seeing there is no question of surrender. Yes,”
she went on, seeing the astonishment depicted on his face, “things are
going to remain exactly as they are. You will still be titular lord of
the manor, and we will look upon this conspiracy of your unhappy
parents as if it had never existed.”

“Impossible,” he muttered. “I cannot rob you of your property.”

“Don’t I tell you there is no robbery?” she replied rapidly. “As man
and wife we will share the property in common, so there is no
necessity for you to surrender what will soon come back to you by
marriage.”

“I had given up all hope of the marriage!”

“Ah! you don’t know how determined I am when I take a thing into my
head,” she said playfully. “We will be married next week, and you will
retain the property just as if nothing had occurred. No one knows the
truth of the affair except your parents, and they will not speak.”

“My father will, I know his vindictive nature.”

“Your father!” she repeated contemptuously. “Don’t speak of Basil
Beaumont by that name. He has been no father to you, and as for
speaking you can set your mind at rest. He called upon me this
morning, and I soon settled everything.”

“He called on you?”

“Yes, with a lot of lies in his mouth, but I threatened to prosecute
him if he did not leave the village, so by this time I think he is out
of the neighbourhood. Don’t trouble, my dear, Beaumont will hold his
tongue for his own sake.”

“And my mother?”

“I called at Kossiter’s as I passed,” she answered, “and found your
mother had gone up to London this morning. We must find her out and
give her some money to live on, for after all, whatever part she has
taken in this conspiracy it was for love of you.”

“Just what Dr. Larcher said.”

“So you see everything is settled,” she said joyously, rising from her
knees, “we will be married next week and you will be master of
Garsworth Grange.”

Reginald was deeply affected by her noble conduct, and rising to his
feet embraced her fondly.

“You are a noble woman,” he said, with tears in his eyes, “but can I
accept this sacrifice?”

“Why will you use such a word?–there is no sacrifice in what I do for
the man I love.”

“Remember I bring you nothing.”

“You bring me yourself, that is all I want. Let the past be forgotten.
When we are married you will forget all the troubles you have had.”

He kissed her, smiling.

“You are my good angel,” he said simply.