BEAUMONT PLAYS HIS LAST CARD

Though he seems to thee an angel
Let him not thy heart beguile,
He’s a devil from a strange hell,
Evil lurks beneath his smile.

Round the old Grange the winds were howling dismally, and now that the
thaw had set in the sadness of the place was increased by the
incessant dripping of the melted snow. The dead leaves in the park
were sodden and heavy, so heavy, indeed, that they could not be moved
by the keen wind, which, in revenge, shook the bare boughs of the
trees, or whistled dismally through the cracks and crannies of the old
building.

Una sat at the window of the parlour looking out at the heavy, grey
sky, to which the bleak trees lifted up their gaunt arms, and
listening to the monotonous dripping on the terrace. But, in spite of
the dreariness and solitude of the place, surely her heart should have
been lighter and her face gayer than it was, seeing that in a few days
she was going to be united to the man she loved. But the shadow on the
dismal landscape also rested upon her face, and even the lively
chatter of Miss Cassy about the wedding could not bring a smile into
her mournful eyes.

“I’m sure, Una dear, I’m glad you’re going to be married,” said Miss
Cassy, who had put the tea cosy on her head preparatory to leaving the
room, “but really I don’t know what’s coming over things; you look
so sad–quite like a mourner, you know–the Mourning Bride of
what’s-his-name–and then for Patience to stay away all night! Why
does she do it?–why!–why!–she never did it before, and then those
letters you got this morning, what are they about?–it’s all so odd,
I really don’t know what things are coming to.”

“Things are going very well, aunt,” said Una with a faint smile.
“Patience stayed all night in the village because of the storm last
night, and as to those letters, I’ll tell you all about them later
on.”

“Yes, do, let me share your confidence, at least. I brought you up
from pinafores, you know, quite like my own child. Oh, I wish I
had one. Why haven’t I a child? Now, I know what you’re going to
say–marriage, of course–but I’ve never had the chance, nobody wanted
to marry me–so odd–I would have made a loving wife–quite like an
ivy–really a clinging ivy. Oh, if I could only find my oak.”

The little lady fluttered tearfully out of the room, leaving Una
sitting alone with the letters on her lap, looking out at the dreary
scene. She sighed sadly, and gathering the letters together arose from
her chair, when just at that moment a ring came to the front-door
bell. Una started apprehensively and her pale face grew yet paler, but
she said nothing, only stood like a statue by the window with an
expectant look upon her face. Hardly had the harsh jingle of the bell
ceased to echo through the house when Jellicks entered, and wriggling
up to Una, announced in a hissing whisper that Mr. Beaumont desired to
see her.

“Mr. Beaumont,” murmured Una, starting suddenly, “what does he want, I
wonder? I’d better see him, it may do some good–some good. Yes!” she
said aloud, “I will see him; Jellicks, show Mr. Beaumont into this
room.”

She resumed her seat by the window as Jellicks vanished, and shortly
afterwards the door opened and Basil Beaumont, looking haggard and
fierce, stood before her. He bowed, but did not attempt any warmer
greeting, and she, on her part, simply pointed to a chair near her,
upon which he took his seat.

“I suppose you are astonished to see me, Miss Challoner?” he said,
after a pause.

“I confess I am a little,” she replied calmly, “I thought you were up
in London.”

“So I was, but I came down to Garsworth yesterday.”

“Indeed? Our quiet little village must have great attractions to draw
you away from London.”

“I did not come down without an object, Miss Challoner,” he said
gravely, “I have a duty to fulfil.”

“Towards whom?”

“Yourself. Yes, I came down from London especially to see you.”

“It’s very kind of you to take so much trouble upon my account,” she
said coldly, looking keenly at him. “May I ask what this duty is to
which you allude?”

“It is the duty of an honest man towards a wronged woman,” said
Beaumont quietly.

“Meaning me?”

“Meaning yourself,” he asserted solemnly.

“You speak in riddles, Mr. Beaumont,” said Una, folding her hands. “I
will be very glad if you will explain them.”

“Certainly. Two months ago your cousin died and left all his property
to a supposed son, who turned out to be Reginald Blake; I have now to
inform you that Reginald Blake is no connection whatever of Squire
Garsworth, consequently his assumption of the property is a fraud.”

“What do you mean, sir?” said Una quickly. “I understood Mr. Blake’s
identity was fully established—-”

“Yes, by Patience Allerby,” interrupted Beaumont quickly. “She said he
was the son of Fanny Blake and the Squire, knowing such a statement to
be false.”

“Then who are Mr. Blake’s parents?”

“Patience Allerby and myself.”

Una arose from her seat with an angry colour in her cheeks.

“You–you Reginald’s father–impossible!”

“It’s perfectly true,” he replied calmly. “Patience Allerby came up to
London many years ago with me, and when Reginald was born she left me
and came down here, bringing up our son under another name. I, as you
know, came to Garsworth some time ago, and saw her again, but she
asked me to say nothing, so I obeyed her, but now that I find she has
committed a fraud, of which you are the victim, I naturally hasten to
put it right.”

“Did Mr. Blake know he was not the heir?”

“He did from the first,” asserted Beaumont audaciously. “I have no
doubt his mother told him his true birth, and knowing the Squire’s
mania about re-incarnation they made this conspiracy up together in
order to defraud you of the property.”

“So Mr. Blake has deceived me?” said Una, in an unnaturally quiet
tone.

“Yes, he has deceived you all along. I have no doubt he prepared all
the forged documents which proved his identity with the supposed son,
and counted on your love for him not to prosecute should anything be
discovered. I’m glad I have been able to warn you in time. You will
never marry him now.”

“But the property; do you think he will keep the property?”

“He will try to I’ve no doubt,” said Beaumont gravely, “but if you
intrust your case to experienced hands, I have no doubt he will be
made to disgorge his plunder.”

“But to whom can I turn?” said Una helplessly. “I have no friend.”

Beaumont arose to his feet, and came close to her.

“Yes, you have one–myself.”

“You?” she cried, recoiling with a shudder.

“Yes. I love you passionately, Una, and if you will be my wife, I will
recover your property for you.”

“But–your own son?”

“I despise a son who could act as Reginald has done. I came down here
expecting to find an honourable man, but instead I discover a
scoundrel, a forger, and a thief.”

“Is it all true what you have said?” murmured Una, looking straight at
him.

“All true,” he answered solemnly, “I swear it.”

“You liar!”

He started back in amazement, for she was facing him like an enraged
tigress, with crimson cheeks and blazing eyes.

“What do you mean?” he said in a hoarse whisper.

“Mean?” she repeated scornfully. “That I know all, Basil Beaumont. Do
you see this letter? I received it from your unhappy son this morning,
giving me back the property and revealing the whole of your nefarious
scheme. I know who forged the documents–you! I know who hoped to
enjoy the money through Reginald–you! I know who comes with lies on
his lips to part me from the only man I love–you! Yes–you! you!
you!”

The baffled schemer stood nervously fingering his hat, with a white
sullen face, all his courage having left him. So mean, so cowardly, so
despicable he looked, shrinking back against the wall before this
young girl, who towered over him like an inspired Pythoness.

“You tell me Reginald Blake knew of this base conspiracy,” she said
with contempt. “Does this letter look like it? You say he will refuse
to give up the property–this letter says he surrenders it of his own
free will–and you have the insolence to speak of love to me. You–who
so shamefully tricked and betrayed Patience Allerby–you contemptible
hound!”

He tried to smile defiantly, and made an effort to form a word with
his white quivering lips, but both attempts were a failure, and
without glancing at her he slunk towards the door, looking like a
beaten hound.

“Yes, slink away like the craven you are,” she cried disdainfully,
“and leave Garsworth at once, or I will prosecute you for your
scoundrelly conduct. Yes, though you were twenty times Reginald’s
father.”

“I’ve spoilt his chance anyhow,” he hissed venomously.

“You have spoilt nothing of the sort,” she retorted superbly. “Do you
think I believe the words of a vile thing like you against this
letter? I am going to Reginald Blake, to day, and will place myself
and my fortune in his hands–in spite of your falsehoods I will marry
him, and he will still be master of Garsworth Grange–but, as for you,
leave the village at once, or I will have you hounded out of it, as
you deserve to be–you cur!”

He was white with anger and shame, tried to speak, but with an
imperious gesture she stopped him with one word:

“Go!”

He slunk out of the door at once, a ruined and disgraced man.