A WORD IN SEASON

I weary of dances, of songs of the south
Of sounds of the viol and lute,
Ah, bitter to find that all things in my mouth
Taste only of bitter sea fruit.

It was now two months since Reginald had come to London, and he was
beginning to get very wearied of the exhausting life he was leading.
He half determined to leave Town and return home again, but was still
undecided, when he received a letter from Una which confirmed his
resolution.

Outside the fog was thick and yellow, enveloping the shivering houses
in a solid dingy mist, which made everything look ineffably dreary.
Along the streets and in the houses gas was burning with an unwilling
look, as if it knew it had no right to be lighted during the day.
Day!–good heavens, was this semi-twilight the day, with the heavy fog
lowering down on the streets, through which the cabs and busses crept
along in a cautious and stealthy manner? Was that dull red ball, which
appeared to give neither light nor heat, the glorious sun? And the
atmosphere; a chilling clammy air, which insinuated itself everywhere,
making the flesh creep as though at the touch of a repulsive serpent.
Assuredly this siren London, who was so enticing at night, under the
glare of countless lamps, was not a pleasant spectacle in the morning,
and the smiling rose-wreathed Circe of the evening was changed to a
haggard unkempt hag with worn face and dreary eyes.

Reginald was seated at the breakfast table, but the food before him
was untouched, as he now felt no appetite, but sat listlessly back in
his chair, reading Una’s letter, which had just arrived. She was
anxious for him to return to Garsworth, and it was this portion of the
letter which touched Blake with a certain amount of remorse.

“_You can have no idea how I miss you, Reginald, and every day you are
absent seems to part us further from one another. The business which
took you up to London must surely be completed by this time, so if you
love me, as I know you do, come back at once to Garsworth, and we will
be married as soon as is compatible with decorum after the death of
your father. Then we can travel on the Continent for a time, and I
being by your side will no longer feel this terrible anxiety for your
welfare which now constantly haunts me. Although I know your own
instincts will always lead you to do what is right and just, both
towards yourself and your friends, yet I dread the influence of that
dangerous London, against whose temptations even the strongest nature
cannot prevail. This is the first request I have ever made to you,
dear Reginald, and I feel sure you will grant it. So come back at once
to me, and remember I shall count every moment of time until I see you
once more by my side_.”

When he came to this part of the letter, Reginald laid it aside and
began to think over the words Una had written.

Yes!–she was quite right–it was better for him in every way to go
back to Garsworth, and leave this feverish, unreal existence which he
was now leading. He would return once more to the old familiar life,
with its gentle simplicity and pleasant delights–the rising in the
early grey of the morning, the matutinal run with the dogs across the
breezy common–then, later on in the day, he would meet Una, and
stroll with her through the quiet village streets, where everyone knew
and loved them both, from the ancient grandmother basking in the
sunshine to the prattling child tottering after them for notice with
unsteady gait. No fog–no dreary rattle of cabs–no hoarse cries of
news-boy and fish-vendor–but the bright beautiful, blue sky, with the
golden sun shining, and a moist keen wind blowing from the distant
fen-lands, filled with strange cold odours stolen from hidden herbs.
And in the evening he would sing to her–sing those charming old
ballads of Phyllis and Daphne, and Lady Bell–which he had not sung
for so many days–or perhaps they would listen to the ponderous
conversation of Dr. Larcher, with its classical flavouring of Horace.

The time would pass by in such innocent pleasures upon rapid wings,
until their wedding-day came, with the budding leaves in tree and
hedge, and the timid out-peeping of delicate spring flowers. Then the
genial old vicar would make them man and wife, in the sacred gloom of
the familiar church, while the wedding march pealed forth from the
organ, and the joy-bells clashed in the ancient Norman tower.
Afterwards they would go abroad for some months, and wander through
old-world cities, among the treasures of dead ages–returning when
they were weary, to lead quiet and useful lives under their own
roof-tree, and among the friends of their early days. Yes!–he would
go back to Garsworth, and try to realize these delightful dreams,
but–Beaumont—-

At this moment–as if in answer to his thoughts–a knock came to the
door, and Beaumont entered–scattering at once the cloud-built castles
in which Reginald’s dreamy fancy had been indulging. His quick eye at
once saw that the young man had eaten no breakfast–and he laughed
gaily as he removed his hat and sat down near the fire.

“Don’t feel well this morning?” he said lightly. “What a humbug you
are, Blake–a little dissipation should be nothing for a healthy young
country fellow like you.”

“That’s just it,” replied Reginald, with some animation, slipping
Una’s letter into his pocket. “I am a country fellow, accustomed to
lead a quiet simple life–and not an artificial existence.”

“Oh, you’ll soon get used to it.”

“No doubt, but I’m not going to make the attempt.”

“Oh, indeed!” observed Beaumont, concealing his annoyance. “So you
intend to return to that dead-and-alive hole of a Garsworth?”

“Hole, as you think it,” replied the young man, with some warmth, “it
has been my home for many a long year, and I have grown to love it;
besides, you forget–I go back to be married.”

“But surely not yet?” objected Beaumont, earnestly. “Your father has
not been dead very long? Besides, you must have a fling as a bachelor
before you become Benedict, the married man.”

“I’ve had enough ‘fling,’ as you call it,” said Reginald, coldly, “and
I don’t like it–this incessant high-pressure style of life is not to
my taste, so I am going away from it.”

“I’m afraid I cannot leave Town, just now,” said the artist, with a
frown, feeling his prey was slipping through his fingers.

Blake looked at him in surprise.

“I do not want you to leave Town,” he observed, in a dignified manner.
“There is no necessity for you to accompany me by any manner of
means–you have your own life and your own friends, I have mine, so
there is nothing in common between us in any way. You have certainly
been very kind, in offering to assist me as a singer, but, as I do not
require your assistance now, of course I will not trouble you. No
doubt I have taken up a considerable portion of your time since I have
been in London, but I am willing to repay any loss you may have
sustained, in whatever way you suggest.”

He looked straight at Beaumont as he spoke; and that gentleman,
feeling rather nonplussed by the calm dignity of the young man, had
the grace to blush a little, while he rapidly calculated on his next
move. His financial affairs were not by any means in a flourishing
condition at present, and he would have liked to ask Blake to give him
some money; but, not judging the time ripe enough to prefer such a
request, he temporised in a crafty manner.

“You misunderstand me,” he said smoothly. “What I have done, is out of
pure kindness, and I want no return for it. If you feel inclined to
return to Garsworth, of course you are your own master, and can do so.
Some day, I may run down to see you, and if I can be of any assistance
to you, in connection with the management of your estates, of course I
will only be too happy to do what I can.”

“Thank you, I will not forget your offer,” replied Reginald, still
rather coldly, for he did not like the masterful tone adopted by the
artist. “And now, if you will excuse me, I’ll go and pack up my
portmanteau.”

“Oh, I’ll come and see you off, at Paddington,” said Beaumont,
cheerily; “what train are you going by?”

“The mid-day train,” answered Blake, glancing at his watch.

“Then I’ll see you on the platform,” observed Beaumont, rising to his
feet and taking up his hat. “By-the-way, what about your engagements
for this week?”

“I’ll have to break them–none are very important, and most rather
expensive.”

Beaumont, biting his lips at this home-thrust, made no reply beyond a
careless laugh; and, putting on his hat, left the room with a jaunty
air. Once outside, however, his face changed to an expression of deep
anger; for his success with Blake, hitherto, had not led him to expect
such a calm resistance to his wishes.

“You’ll defy me, will you?” he muttered between his teeth, as he
walked rapidly along the street. “I’ll see about that, my boy–as I
put you in possession of the property, I can also take it off you
again; and I’ll do it, unless you’re guided by me. I’ll wait till you
go back to Garsworth, and follow shortly afterwards. Once you know the
truth, and I don’t think you’ll be so anxious to get rid of your best
friend. I can leave you rich–or make you a pauper; so the whole of
your future life is in my hands, and I’ll mould it as I please.”

Though he was annoyed at the unexpected display of firmness made by
Blake, he was not alarmed, knowing he held the strongest hand in the
game, and that Reginald would be forced to yield everything up to him,
if he wanted to remain rich. Still, it was most irritating, for no one
likes the worm to turn, as it is plainly the duty of the worm to be
trodden upon; and for such a miserable thing as the worm to resent its
fate, is going in direct opposition to the laws of Nature. However,
there is an exception to every rule; and in this case Mr. Beaumont’s
worm was a more daring animal than he had any idea of; and, in spite
of being the strongest party, he might well doubt with whom the
victory would ultimately rest.

However, Beaumont’s habitual self-command came to his aid, and
prevented him showing any irritation, when he stood on the Paddington
platform at the window of a smoking carriage, wishing Reginald
good-bye.

“I hope you have enjoyed your stay in London,” he said heartily.

“So-so,” answered Reginald wearily. “I cannot enjoy anything very
much, knowing the circumstances of my birth.”

“Nonsense! You’ll soon forget all about that.”

“I don’t think so, unfortunately for myself I have not your happy
facility for forgetting.”

“Pshaw! You are rich, and gold hides everything.”

“From the eyes of the world, yes; but not from a man’s own
sight–nobody knows but the wearer where the shoe pinches.”

“If that is the case, let the wearer smile blandly and the world will
never guess his shoe doesn’t fit him–it’s your fools, who wear their
hearts on their sleeves, that get the worst word of everyone.”

“And the wise man who conceals a vicious life gets the praise,” said
Blake bitterly. “What a delightful world.”

“It’s the best of all possible worlds,” retorted Beaumont cynically.
“I agree with M. Voltaire–besides, the world always takes you at your
own valuation; smile, and it smiles; frown, and it looks grim; each
man is a mirror to another, and gives back the reflection he
receives.”

“What cold-blooded philosophy.”

“No doubt, but a very necessary philosophy,” retorted Beaumont in a
good-humoured tone; “it’s ridiculous to bring the simplicity of Arcady
to Rome. France tried it under the Fourteenth Louis, and the
experiment ended in the guillotine and the Carmagnole.”

The train was now moving off, so he shook hands with the young man
through the open window of the carriage.

“Good-bye,” said Reginald heartily, “when you come to Garsworth, I’ll
be glad to see you, my friend.”

“Friend,” echoed Beaumont with an evil smile, as the long train
steamed away, “next time you see me it will be as your master.”