FATHER AND SON

Father!–art thou my father?–pause, good sir,
Ere thou profanest thus that holy name.
A father should protect and guide his child
Through the harsh tumult of this noisy life,
But thou hast stood apart these many years
And left me to the mercy of the world,
With all its snares and madd’ning influence,
Yet now thou say’st “I am thy father”–nay,
No name is that for such a one as thou.

Looking at that quiet room illuminated by the mellow light of the
lamp, no one could have imagined the scene of terror and despair which
had lately taken place, yet when Reginald entered, his face wore a
somewhat puzzled expression.

“How do you do, Beaumont?” he said as the artist arose with a frank
smile and took his hand. “I thought I heard a scream.”

“Did you?” replied Beaumont, assisting his visitor to remove his great
coat. “Then I’m afraid I must have been asleep, as I heard nothing,
not even your knock; the opening of the door aroused me.”

“I didn’t knock at all,” said Reginald, sitting down by the fire and
drawing his chair closer to the burning coals. “I should have done so,
but I forgot and walked straight in–you don’t mind, do you?”

“Not at all, my boy, you are perfectly welcome,” answered the artist
heartily. “Will you smoke?”

“Thank you, I’ve got my pipe.”

He lighted his pipe and lay back in the chair watching the fire, while
Beaumont, bending forward with his face in the shadow puffed at his
cigarette, watching Reginald, and crouching on the dark staircase with
her eye to the keyhole, a silent woman watched both. It was a curious
situation and not without a touch of grim comedy, though, as a matter
of fact, the play which the trio were about to act had more in it of
the tragic than the comic element.

Reginald, looking sad and weary, watched the fire for some moments,
till Beaumont, feeling the silence oppressive, broke it with a laugh.

“How fearfully dull you are, Blake,” he said gaily, “is anything
wrong?”

Blake withdrew his sad eyes from the fire and looked at the speaker
with a singular smile.

“Not what many people would call wrong,” he said at length. “I have a
large income, I am young, and I marry the girl I love next week.”

“Well, as you can’t call any of those blessings wrong, my friend, you
ought to be perfectly happy.”

“No doubt–but perfect happiness is given to no mortal.”

“You are very young to moralize,” said Beaumont with a faint sneer.

“Yes, it appears absurd, doesn’t it, but I can’t help it; ever since I
discovered the real story of my birth a shadow seems to have fallen on
my life.”

“And why–who cares for the bar sinister now-a-days?”

“Not many people I suppose, but I do–I daresay I have been brought up
in an old-fashioned manner, but I feel the loss of my good name
keenly–wealth can gild shame, not hide it.”

“Rubbish! you are morbidly sensitive on the subject.”

“No doubt I am–as I said before it’s the fault of my bringing up–but
come,” he continued in a livelier tone, “I did not call to inflict my
dismal mood upon you, let us talk of other things.”

“Such as your marriage?”

“Certainly–marriage is a pleasant subject,” said the young man with a
quiet smile. “As I told you, I marry Miss Challoner next week and then
we go abroad for a year or two.”

“And what about your property in the meantime?” asked Beaumont.

“Oh, I’ll leave it to my solicitors to attend to.”

“Why not appoint me your agent?”

Blake coloured a little at this direct request and smiled in an
embarrassed manner.

“Well, I hardly see how I can do that,” he said frankly, “I’ve only
known you about three months, and besides, I have perfect confidence
in my solicitors to manage the property, so, with all due respect to
you, Beaumont, I must decline to appoint you my agent.”

He spoke with some haughtiness, as he was irritated at the cool way in
which Beaumont spoke, but that gentleman seemed in nowise offended and
smiled blandly as he answered:

“If then, you will not help me in that way, will you give me some
money–say five hundred pounds?”

“Certainly not!” retorted Blake hotly, pushing back his chair, “why
should I do such a thing? As I said before, I have only known you
three months–you were kind enough to introduce me to some friends of
yours in Town, beyond this our friendship does not extend–I have yet
to learn that gentlemen go about requesting sums of money from
comparative strangers.”

“You have yet to learn a good many things,” said Beaumont coolly,
irritated by the independent tone of the young man, “and one is that
you must give me the money I ask.”

Blake jumped to his feet in amazement at the peremptory tone of the
artist and looked at him indignantly.

“Must!” he repeated angrily, “I don’t understand the word–what right
have you to speak to me in such a manner?–if you think you’ve got a
fool to deal with you are very much mistaken–I decline to lend or
give you a sixpence, and furthermore I also decline your acquaintance
from this moment.”

He snatched up his overcoat and put it on, but Beaumont, still cool
and unruffled, sat smiling in his chair.

“Wait a moment,” he said slowly, “you had better understand the
situation before you leave this room.”

Reginald Blake, who had turned his back on the artist, swung round
with a dangerous expression in his dark eyes.

“I understand the situation perfectly, sir; you thought I was a young
fool, who, having come into money, was simple enough to play the part
of pigeon to your hawk.”

Beaumont arose slowly from his chair at this insulting speech, and
frowned ominously, while the woman hidden behind the door watched the
pair in a cat-like manner, ready to intervene if she saw cause.

“You had better take care, my boy,” said Beaumont deliberately. “I am
your friend now, beware lest you make me your enemy.”

“Do you think I care two straws for either your friendship or enmity?”
replied Blake with supreme contempt, looking the artist up and down.
“If so, you are mistaken–what can you do to harm me I should like to
know?”

“Then you shall know–I can dispossess you of your wealth and leave
you a pauper.”

“Hardly–seeing I now know your true character and touch neither
dice-box nor cards.”

“It will require neither dice-box nor cards,” replied Beaumont,
wincing at this home thrust, “I can dispense with those aids–and I
can reduce you to your former position of a pauper and stop your
marriage.”

“Indeed! Then do so.”

Beaumont was stung to sudden fury by the young man’s coolness, and
lost his temper.

“You defy me!” he hissed, advancing towards Blake. “You dare to defy
me, you pauper–you outcast–you bastard!”

“Liar!”

In another moment Reginald had his hand upon Beaumont’s throat, his
face convulsed with rage, when suddenly Patience sprang forth from her
hiding-place.

“Stop! He is your father.”

Blake’s grip relaxed, and his arm fell by his side while Beaumont,
staggering back, fell into the arm-chair and began mechanically to
arrange his disordered necktie.

“My father!”

It was Reginald who spoke in a dull, slow voice, with his face ghastly
pale and his eyes fixed upon the cowering form of the woman before
him.

“My father! Is this true?”

Patience tried to speak, but her tongue could not form the words, so
Beaumont, with a devilish light in his eyes, answered for her.

“Quite true. Your mother has told you.”

“My mother! You?”

The young man looked from one to the other in a dazed manner, then,
with a gasping cry, staggered forward and seized Patience by the arm.

“Do you hear what this man says?” he said in a strained, unnatural
voice. “That he is my father–that you are my mother! Is it true–tell
me–is it true?”

“It is true.”

A look of horror overspread his face, and flinging her away from him,
with a cry of anguish he fell against the wall with white face and
outstretched arms.

“My God! it is true.”

His mother looked apprehensively at him for a moment, then fell on her
knees weeping bitterly.

“Spurn me–curse me–despise me!” she cried in a broken voice. “You
have every right to do so. I am your unhappy mother and he is your
father. I lied when I said Fanny Blake and the Squire were your
parents. I lied at your father’s instigation in order to gain you a
fortune. He designed the conspiracy–I carried it out.”

“And I have been the dupe of both,” interrupted Reginald fiercely,
stepping forward with uplifted hand as if to strike her. “I don’t
believe this–it is a lie! You are my nurse.”

“I am your mother.”

The calm manner in which she made this assertion left no room for
doubt, and Reginald Blake recoiled from that kneeling figure as if it
had been a snake.

“My mother!” he muttered convulsively. “Great Heavens! my mother!”

Patience saw how he shrank from her, and a great wave of despair swept
over her soul as she struggled forward on her knees, flinging out her
arms towards him with a bitter cry.

“Oh, forgive me–forgive me!” she wailed. “I did it for the best; I
did, indeed. I denied you were my child in order to save your good
name, and I only swore the lie about Fanny Blake in order to make you
rich. Do not shrink from me, my son, I implore you. Think how I have
suffered all these years–how I have sacrificed my life for your sake.
Have pity, Reginald, as you hope for mercy. Have mercy!”

Reginald Blake stood quiet for a moment, then, controlling himself by
a powerful effort, raised her to her feet. As he did so she looked
timidly at his face, but saw therein no pity, no tenderness; only the
look of a man suffering agony. He placed her in a chair and, without
looking at her, advanced towards the table.

“Before I can believe this story,” he said in a hard voice, “I require
some proof of it. By the Squire’s will the property was left to the
person who produced a certain paper, written by him, and a ring. They
were both found in his desk, directed to me. If I am not the Squire’s
son how did this happen?”

“I can explain that very easily,” replied Beaumont, taking some papers
out of his breast coat pocket. “When I came down here a few months
ago, I heard of the Squire’s madness regarding his re-incarnation, and
by means of a hypnotic sleep I found out from his own lips that he
intended to leave all his property to a fictitious son, who was to be
himself in a new body. Being under my control in the hypnotic state,
he showed me where the paper and ring were hidden. I took them from
their hiding place and filled up the paper with your name and that of
Fanny Blake. I then enclosed the ring and paper in an envelope which
the Squire had directed to you, resealed it, and, getting the keys of
his desk, placed them therein, where they were found. You understand?”

“I understand; but why did the Squire direct an envelope to me?”

“Because he wanted to help you, and wrote this letter and this cheque,
which he enclosed in an envelope to be given to you by your mother. I
used the envelope as I explained, and kept the letter and cheque by
me. Here they are as a proof of the truth.”

Reginald took up the papers the artist placed upon the table and
glanced over them, then placed them in his pocket, and turning away
took up his hat.

“Where are you going?” asked Beaumont, alarmed at his action.

“I am going to see Dr. Larcher and tell him all,” answered his son
sternly. “What other course is there for me to take?”

“To hold your tongue,” said the artist eagerly. “Surely you’re not
such a fool as to give up possession of an estate like this for a mere
feeling of honour. Pay me a stated income and I will hold my tongue.
Your mother will be silent for her own sake, so no one will know the
truth.”

Reginald looked at him with unutterable contempt.

“After bringing me so low as you have done do you think I am going to
sink lower of my own free will?” he said in a scornful tone. “No! a
thousand times no. I would not keep this property another day if it
were ten million a year. I see what your plan has been–to threaten me
with exposure if I did not bribe you to silence. You have mistaken me.
I am not so base as that. This property shall go back to its rightful
owner, and you will not receive one penny either from her or from me.”

“I am your father.”

“You are my father–yes, God help me! If I am to believe this story
you are my father–a father I despise and loathe. One question more I
only ask–are you my mother’s husband?”

“No,” said Beaumont sullenly, “I am not.”

Reginald turned a shade paler and laughed bitterly.

“What have I done to be punished like this?” he said, raising his face
in agony. “You have taken away the wealth I wrongfully possessed, you
have deprived me of my good name, of my self-respect, but, as God is
above us, you shall not make me vile in my own sight by doing your
wicked will.”‘

Another moment and the door closed, so that Patience and Beaumont were
alone. Rising from her seat she took off her bonnet.

“What are you going to do?” asked Beaumont savagely, all his innate
brutality showing itself now that the mask was dropped.

“I am going to stay here, to-night,” she said, unsteadily walking to
the door, “and to-morrow I will go to London, never to return.”

“What about the Grange?”

“I shall never go back to the Grange,” answered the woman slowly,
“there is no home for me there; you have done your worst, Basil
Beaumont–done your worst–and failed.”

Again the door closed and Beaumont was left alone–alone with his
ruined hopes and his despair.

“Failed,” he muttered savagely, looking into the fire. “Yes, I have
failed to get the money, but I shall not fail to ruin Reginald Blake
for all that; he thinks he will still marry the heiress of the Grange;
he can set his mind at rest–he will never marry Una Challoner.”