FROM DR. NESTLEY’S POINT OF VIEW

So low–so low–yes I am low indeed
But he thy lover tho’ of high estate
Will fall to this–I tell thee dainty dame
The devil even now is at his ear
Breathing temptations in most subtle guise
Which soon will lose him all he holds most dear.

The autumn was now nearly over, and it was that bleak, chill season
just before winter when the trees, denuded of foliage, seemed to wait
for the snow to cover the bare branches which shivered complainingly
in the chill wind. Under foot the ground was dark and sodden, overhead
the sky dull and lowering, while piercingly cold blasts blew across
the lonely marshes and whistled shrilly over the waste moorland.

Dreary and desolate as it had looked in summer time, Garsworth Grange
appeared even more dreary and desolate under the sombre-coloured sky.
The damp had discoloured the white marble of the statues, which seemed
lost amid the surrounding desert of bare trees and dead leaves. It was
everlastingly raining, and Una, looking out of the antique windows at
the gloomy landscape seen through the driving mists of rain, felt dull
and depressed. All day long the winds whistled through the dismal
rooms, and the rain ceaselessly dripped from the eaves, so it was
hardly to be wondered that both Una and Miss Cassy felt anything but
cheerful.

It was now about two months since Reginald had gone up to town, and
Una had received frequent letters from him about the way in which
everything was being arranged by the lawyers. Of late these letters
had become feverish in tone, as if the writer were trying to invest
his correspondence with a kind of fictitious gaiety he was far from
feeling, and this sudden change of style gave her serious uneasiness.
She knew how sensitive Reginald was, and how deeply he had felt the
discovery of his real birth, so dreaded lest to banish the spectres
which haunted him he should plunge into dissipation. In one of his
letters also he had mentioned that he had met Beaumont in town, and as
Una learned from the vicar that Dick Pemberton had gone to Folkestone
to see his uncle, she felt doubtful as to the wisdom of an
inexperienced youth like Reginald being left alone in London with a
reckless, man of the world like Beaumont.

She had mistrusted Beaumont when she first met him, but by his
fascinating manner he had succeeded in overcoming her repugnance, but
now that he was away the influence of his strong personality died out,
and she began to dread his power over her lover’s honourable,
guileless nature.

“I wish Reginald would come back at once,” she said to Miss Cassy,
“and then we could be married, and he would have some one to look
after him.”

“I’m sure I’ll be glad when you are married,” whimpered Miss Cassy,
whose spirits the lonely life she was leading sadly depressed. “I’ll
go melancholy mad if I stay here–I know I shall. I’m sure that isn’t
odd, is it? I feel like what’s-her-name in the Moated Grange, you
know–the weary, weary dead thing I mean, and the gloomy flats–not
half so nice as the flat we had in town. If we could only go to it
again–I feel so shivery.”

And so Miss Cassy rambled on in a disconnected fashion, one thought
suggesting another, while Una sat staring out of the window, with
Reginald’s last letter in her hand, wondering what was best to be
done.

“I don’t trust Mr. Beaumont,” she said at length. “He is not a good
companion for Reginald.”

“Oh, my dear,” said Miss Cassy, picking up the tea-cosy, which she
kept by her to put on her head when she felt cold, “such a charming
man–quite a Lord what’s-his-name in his manners.”

“His manners are all right, I’ve no doubt,” returned Una drily, “but
what about his morals?”

Miss Cassy gave a little girlish scream and extinguished herself with
the tea-cosy.

“What dreadful things you do say, Una,” she observed in a shocked
tone. “So very odd–quite like Zola, so very French.”

“My dear aunty, I know you are one of those people who think that
unmarried girls should be absolutely ignorant of such things. I don’t
agree with you. There’s no need of them to parade their knowledge of
evil, but they cannot help hearing about it, however carefully brought
up. I know London is not a good place for a young man with plenty of
money, especially when he is so inexperienced as Reginald–besides,
Mr. Beaumont is a man of the world, whom I really believe lives by his
wits–and if it be a case of his wits against Reginald’s, my dear
aunt, I’m afraid poor Reginald will come off worst.”

“What’s to be done then?” said Miss Cassy blankly. “Do you think if I
sent dear Reginald some tracts—-”

“I don’t think that would be much use,” interrupted Una laughing. “No,
I’ll go over to Garsworth to see the vicar–he will know what is best
to be done. I will show him Reginald’s letter, and I’m sure he will
agree with me that it will be wise to withdraw him from Mr. Beaumont’s
influence.”

“Why doesn’t Mr. Bolby look after him?” said Miss Cassy indignantly.

“I daresay Mr. Bolby has got his own business to look after,” replied
Una with a faint sigh; “besides, he only regards Reginald from a
monetary point of view, nothing more–will you come to the vicarage
with me, aunt?”

“Oh yes, dear,” cried Miss Cassy with great alacrity, “the walk will
do me good, and I’m so dull–I’ll talk to dear Mrs. Larcher, you know,
she’s so odd, but still she’s better than one’s own company, isn’t
she, dear?–let us get ready at once–the rain has gone off I see.”

“Then let us follow the example of the rain,” said Una with a laugh,
and the two ladies went away to prepare themselves for their walk.

When they sallied forth with heavy cloaks and thick boots, they found
that for once the sun had shown his face and was looking through the
watery clouds in a somewhat feeble fashion. The ground under foot was
wet and spongy, still it was better than being immured in the dreary
Grange, and as they walked rapidly along their spirits rose in spite
of the depressing influence of the weather.

When they arrived at the bridge after a sharp walk they saw a man
leaning over the parapet looking at the cold grey water swirling
below.

“Dear me, Una, how very odd,” exclaimed Miss Cassy, “there is Dr.
Nestley.”

“Dr. Nestley,” echoed Una rather startled. “I thought he had gone away
last week?”

“He was going, but for some reason did not,” answered Miss Cassy, who
by some mysterious means heard all the gossip of the village. “I hear
he is still staying at Kossiter’s–drinking, my dear–oh dreadful–so
very odd.”

By this time they were directly in the centre of the bridge, and
hearing footsteps Nestley turned round, showing a wan haggard face
with dull bleared eyes filled with mute misery. So ill and desolate
did the young man look that Una’s heart smote her as she thought the
change was brought about through her refusal to marry him, and though
she despised him for his weakness of character in thus being
influenced, yet she still felt pity for the helplessness of the poor
fellow. Nestley flushed as he recognized the two ladies, then raised
his hat and without saying a word turned once more to look at the
river. Una felt uneasy as he did so, for a sudden doubt arose in her
heart as to whether he did not intend to put an end to his life, so
taking a sudden resolution she whispered to Miss Cassy to walk on by
herself to the vicarage.

“I will join you soon,” she said in a low voice, “but first I want to
speak to Dr. Nestley.”

“But it’s so odd,” objected Miss Cassy, “really so very–very odd.”

Nevertheless she made no further objection and trotted away through
the village street, leaving Una alone on the bridge with Dr. Nestley.
Though the unhappy young man knew that she was still behind him he did
not turn round but kept staring dully at the foam-streaked waters of
the Gar.

“Dr. Nestley,” she said, softly touching him on the shoulder, “I want
to speak to you.”

He turned sullenly round, though the touch of her gloved hand sent a
thrill through his frame, and Una recoiled with an exclamation of pity
as she saw what a wreck he was. His face, formerly so fresh-coloured,
was now grey and thin, his eyes bleared with dark circles under them,
while his nervous lips and shaking hands showed how deeply he had been
drinking. Even in his clothes she saw a change, for they were
carelessly put on, his linen was dirty and his tie arranged in a
slovenly manner–altogether he looked like a man who had entirely lost
his self-respect and cared neither for his health nor appearance.

Nestley saw the expression on her face and laughed, a hollow mirthless
laugh, which seemed quite in keeping with his wretched appearance.

“You are looking at your work, Miss Challoner,” he said bitterly,
“well, I hope you are satisfied.”

Una’s pride was up in arms at once.

“You have no right to speak to me in such a manner, sir,” she said
haughtily, looking at him with a proud cold face. “Do not ascribe your
own folly to any fault of mine–that is both weak and unmanly.”

The wretched creature before her drooped his head before the severe
gaze of her eyes.

“You would not marry me,” he said weakly, “you would not save me from
myself.”

“Am I to go through the world saving men from their own passions?” she
returned scornfully. “Shame upon you, Dr. Nestley, to take refuge
behind such a weak defence. Surely because a woman refuses to marry a
man he ought not to lower himself as you have done, and then lay the
blame on her instead of himself–you ought to make an end of this
folly.”

“Just what I was thinking,” he muttered, glancing at the river. She
instinctively guessed what the glance meant, and looked at him,
saying:

“Would you add suicide to the rest of your follies?–that is a
coward’s refuge and one not worthy of a clever man like you. Come,
Doctor Nestley,” she continued, laying a kind hand on his shoulder,
“be advised by me. Give up this mad love of drink which is lowering
you to the level of the brutes, and go back to your home–then amid
your old companions you will soon forget that I ever existed.”

“Never! Never!” he said in a broken voice.

“Oh yes you will,” she replied cheerfully. “Time is a wonderful
consoler–besides, Doctor Nestley, I could never have married you, for
though you did not know then you know now–I am going to marry Mr.
Blake.”

“And what difference will that make to you?” he asked mockingly,
lifting his dull eyes to her earnest face.

“I do not understand you,” she said coldly, drawing back.

“Then I can easily explain,” replied the young man quickly, “the only
difference will be this–you love him, you do not love me–for the
rest both Reginald Blake–or shall I call him Garsworth?–and myself
will be equal in all else.”

“You are talking wildly,” said Una in an icy tone, “so I shall leave
you–permit me to pass if you please?”

“Not till I have had my say,” he retorted, his eyes growing bright. “I
can wring your proud heart now as you wrung mine then. I saw your look
of horror when you looked at me and saw how low I had fallen through
drink–in the same way you will look upon your lover when he returns
from the guardianship of Basil Beaumont.”

Una gave a cry of alarm and reeled against the stone parapet of the
bridge for support, while a cold hand seemed to clutch at her heart.

“You have heard of those devils of old who tempted mankind,” went on
Nestley rapidly. “Yes, you have heard such stories and thought them
pious fictions of Catholicism–but it is true, quite true. There are
devils of like sort in our midst even now, and Basil Beaumont is one.
I knew him in London five years ago when I was a young man just
starting in life. I had no vices, I had great talents, I was devoted
to my profession and all seemed to promise a fair life. But Beaumont
came, devil that he is, in the guise of an angel of light, and ruined
me. He beguiled me with his wheedling tongue and specious manners into
believing in him. Having gained my confidence he led me to gamble and
drink until I sank so low that even he forsook me–yes, forsook the
man he had ruined. It was when his fatal influence was withdrawn that
I began to recover. I took the pledge, left London and its
fascinations and plunged into hard work. For five years I never
touched alcohol and things seemed going well with me once more–but I
came down here and met him again. I resisted his persuasions for a
long time, but on the night you rejected me I was worn out with
watching by the bedside of the Squire, and sick with disappointment;
he persuaded me to take a glass of wine–it was followed by
another–and then–I need not go on, but next morning I found I had
lost my self-respect. I gave way to despair, there seemed no hope for
me, and now see what I am, and all through Basil Beaumont–I have lost
my good name–my money–my position–everything–everything in the
world.”

Sick with horror Una tried to speak, but could only look at him with
white lips and a terrified face. Seeing her alarm he resumed his
discourse but in a somewhat milder fashion.

“Your lover has gone to London, and Beaumont is with him. He is the
possessor of money. Beaumont will want to handle that money; to do so
he will reduce Reginald Blake to a mere cypher. Do you know how he
will do it? I will tell you. By fast living–he will reduce your lover
to the abject condition I was in, and through him squander the
Garsworth money. It does not matter how high Reginald Blake’s
principles may be, how pure he desires to live, how temperate he may
have been, he is in the power of Basil Beaumont, and, little by
little, will be dragged down to the lowest depths of degradation and
despair.”

“No, no!” she cried, wildly, “it cannot be!”

“It will be, I tell you–I know Beaumont, you do not–if you would
save your lover, get him out of the clutches of that devil, or he will
become an object of horror to you as I am.”

He turned away with a look of despair, and crossing the bridge on to
the common, slouched along the muddy road without casting a glance
back, while Una, with pale face and tightly-clenched hands, gazed
after him with mute agony in her eyes.

“Oh, great Heaven!” she moaned, lifting up her wan face to the grey
sky, “if this should be true–it must be true–I can see he is
speaking the truth! Reginald to sink to that–no, no! I’ll go and see
the vicar. I will tell him all–all! We must save him before it is too
late!”

With feverish impatience she began to walk down the street on her way
to the vicarage, intent only on finding some means of saving the man
she loved.

And the man who had no woman to save him slouched wearily along the
road–a lonely, desolate figure, with only the grey sky above and the
grey earth below, with no hope, no peace, no love awaiting him, but
only the blank, black shadow of approaching sorrow brooding over his
life with sombre wings.