HIS EVIL GENIUS

“Much sorrow didst thou bring to me of old,
Tainted my life by poisonous words and deeds,
Turned holy thoughts to evil–made me dread
To face the fearless looks of honest men,
Lest they should spy my quick learnt devilries,
And cry, ‘Off, off; this fellow is a knave.'”

Garsworth was one of those queer, old-fashioned villages which, owing
to their isolated positions, yet retain the primitive simplicity of
earlier ages. The nearest railway station, Duxby Junction, to which
steam and electricity continually carried the news of the world, was
fully twenty miles distant, so that in this out of-the-way village the
rustics heard but little of the doings of the nations, being content
to remain in a state of Arcadian ignorance as their forefathers had
done before them.

There was not even a stage-coach to Duxby, and the only means of
communication was by the carriers’ carts, which went weekly along the
dusty high road, drawn lazily by their sleek horses. The nearest
market town was Shunton, almost as quiet and primitive as Garsworth,
and the sturdy farmers going there on market days sold their cattle
and wheat, picked up such small items of news as had drifted thither
from Duxby, then returned to their homes perfectly satisfied with life
and with themselves. Well-to-do folks were these yeomen, for many rich
farms lay hidden in the wide fen lands–farms which had descended from
father to son through many generations, and as neither agrarian
agitation nor vexed questions of rents had penetrated to this remote
spot, they tilled their lands, looked up to their landlords, and
pursued their monotonous lives in peace.

The village, built on a primitive plan, consisted of one long, wide
street, with a similar one running crosswise to it, so that the little
town was divided into four almost equal sections. Where the four roads
met appeared a large open space doing duty as the village green, in
the centre of which stood an antique stone cross with elaborate
carvings thereon, much worn by time, said to have been erected by one
Geoffrey Garsworth on his return from the third crusade. As a proof of
this, there could be seen amid the carvings, representations of palm
branches and scallop shells, both symbolical of eastern vegetation and
pilgrim wanderings; but Dr. Larcher, the vicar of Garsworth–an ardent
archaeologist–maintained that the cross had been placed there by the
Cistercian monks, who once occupied a monastery near the village. The
worthy vicar, being of a somewhat polemical nature, was wont to wax
warm on the subject, and held strong opinions as to the cross and the
church, which opinions he was willing enough to impart to any curious
stranger who might chance to have antiquarian leanings.

And a beautiful old church it was, of irregular architecture, with
heavy stone pillars supporting both round and pointed arches of the
Norman Romanesque style, remarkably fine stained glass windows, and a
high, elaborately carved roof of dark oak. Standing at the end of the
village, near the bridge, the graveyard in which it was placed sloped
down to the river’s edge, and at times the mighty shadow of the square
tower fell across the stream.

A little further down was the vicarage, built of grey stone in the
quaint Tudor fashion, enclosing a green square on three sides, while
the fourth was open to the Gar. From its grounds could be seen the
graceful span of the bridge, a somewhat modern structure, which led on
to a wide common overgrown with golden gorse, and far away in the
distance amid a thick forest of beech and elm and oak, arose the
towers of Garsworth Grange, wherein lived the Lord of the Manor.

The village possessed only one inn, quaintly entitled “The House of
Good Living,” an ancient building as fantastic as its name. Standing
somewhat back from the street it was built of grey stone, with heavy
beams set into the walls in the old-fashioned style, and the upper
storey projected over the lower one in a cumbersome manner, apparently
threatening every moment to overbalance itself. There were wide,
diamond-paned casements, with rows of flower-pots containing bright,
scarlet geraniums standing on the broad ledges, and on the left a tall
gable jutted out some distance from the main building, while in the
corner, thus formed, was the huge porch, with its cumbersome benches
for the convenience of village cronies. The space in front was of
cobbled stones down to the street, and there stood the tall pole with
the swinging sign, whereon was bravely painted a baron of beef and a
tankard of beer as an earnest of the good cheer within. The roof was
of thatch, grey and weatherworn, neatly trimmed round the windows and
eaves, while above towered the great stacks of twisted, red-tinged
chimneys. Altogether, a typical English inn of the stage coach period,
severely respectable and intensely conservative.

It was quite dark when Dr. Nestley reached this haven of rest, but the
generous light within gushed from the windows in ruddy streams with a
most inviting air of comfort. The door stood wide open, letting out a
flood of mellow light into the chilly darkness, and the new comer
could hear the murmur of men’s voices, with every now and then a
coarse laugh, while the smell of stale tobacco permeated the
atmosphere. Evidently the village gossips were holding high festival,
and as Nestley passed into the porch he saw dimly through the
smoke-clouded air a number of them seated in the taproom, puffing
steadily at their pipes and draining their tankards with great
contentment.

Job Kossiter, the landlord of this house of entertainment, soon made
his appearance in answer to Nestley’s imperative summons, and stood
waiting orders in stolid silence. A large, fat man was Mr. Kossiter,
with a large, fat face ruddy with health, a brain of bovine slowness,
and a habit of repeating all questions asked in a meditative manner,
in order to give himself time to consider his answer.

“I want a bed for to-night, landlord,” said Nestley, leaning against
the wall and surveying the rotund proportions of mine host, “and at
present, something to eat.”

Mr. Kossiter fixed his ox-like eyes on the stranger and repeated the
words slowly like a child learning its lesson.

“He wants,” observed Job stolidly, “a bed for to-night and summat to
eat; sir, you can have ’em both.”

“Right you are,” replied the doctor cheerfully. “Get something ready
at once and show me to a bedroom. I want to wash my hands.”

“He wants,” repeated Kossiter mechanically, “to wash his hands.
Margery!”

In answer to this call, a bright, brisk-looking young woman, in a neat
print gown, stepped forward and confronted Nestley.

“He wants,” said Job looking from Margery to Nestley, “a bed, summat
to eat, a room and a wash;” then, having given all the requisite
information he rolled slowly away to attend to the wants of the
rustics in the taproom, while, Margery in a voice as sharp as her
appearance, invited Nestley to follow her to his room.

“Lor, sir,” she said shrilly, tripping lightly up the stairs, “if I’d
only knowed as you was comin’, I’d have got things a bit straight, but
father never does tell, father don’t.”

“He didn’t know I was coming,” replied Nestley as he entered the
bedroom and took off his knapsack. “I’m a bird of passage–bring me
some hot water.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Margery, pausing with her hand on the handle of
the door, “and anything to eat, sir?”

“Of course–cold beef, pickles–whatever there is. I’m too hungry to
be dainty.”

“You won’t have supper with the other gentleman, sir, will you?” asked
Margery, “Mr. Beaumont, sir.”

“No, no,” replied Nestley harshly, a dark shadow crossing his face. “I
want to be alone.”

“Very good, sir,” said Margery, rather alarmed at his tone of voice.
“I’ll bring the hot water, sir–yes, sir.”

She closed the door after her, and Nestley, sitting down on the bed,
gnawed his moustache savagely.

“Under the same roof,” he growled viciously. “I don’t know if I’m
wise–pshaw, it doesn’t matter, he won’t do me any more harm, I’ve
got no money, and Beaumont doesn’t care about doing anything for
nothing–my poverty is my best shield against him.”

At this moment Margaret knocked at the door and handed in his hot
water, so he postponed his ideas on the subject of Mr. Beaumont while
he made himself respectable. Having washed the dust of the road from
his face and hands, he brushed his clothes, arranged his hair, and
then descended to the parlour of the inn, where he found a
plentifully-spread supper-table awaiting him and Margery lighting the
lamp.

The parlour was a quaint, low-ceilinged room, all angles, with queer
cupboards and unnecessary alcoves in unexpected places, heavy, black
oak furniture, baskets of wax fruits and paper flowers, a small
harmonium in one corner and a general air of intense cleanliness and
comfort. Dismissing Margery, Dr. Nestley made an excellent supper from
a round of corned beef, but pushing away the tankard of ale which
stood near him, he filled a glass with water and drank it off. His
meal being ended he lighted his pipe, and drawing his chair up to the
fire, with a sigh of gratitude, gave himself up to his reflections.
The lamp shone with a dim, yellow light, but the ruddy glare of the
fire lighted up the room and gleamed on the polished furniture and
plaster ceiling. Truly a pleasant place to dream in, but judging by
the frown upon Nestley’s face his thoughts were anything but
agreeable, for as a matter of fact he was thinking about Basil
Beaumont. Whether a sympathetic feeling or a vein of animal magnetism
drew the subject of his reflections towards him it is hard to say, but
in a very short time the door was pushed silently open and Mr.
Beaumont, cool and complacent, sauntered into the room.

This unwelcomed intruder walked across to the fireplace and, leaning
against the mantelpiece, looked down at the indignant Nestley with a
bland smile.

“Enjoyed your supper?” he asked coolly, removing his cigarette.

“None the better for seeing you,” growled the doctor, drawing hard at
his pipe.

“Our excellent Duncan,” observed Mr. Beaumont, airily, “is rather
cross.”

At which impertinent observation Nestley began to show anger.

“What right have you to come into this room?” he asked savagely.

“The best right in the world,” retorted Basil, smoothly. “It is a
public room; I am one of the public–ergo, I use it.”

Dr. Nestley frowned again, and his rather weak mouth quivered
nervously as he looked at the placid countenance of the man leaning
against the mantelpiece. On his part, Beaumont slipped his hands
into his pockets, crossed his long legs and, after glancing
curiously at the figure cowering in the arm-chair began to talk in a
delicately-modulated voice, which was one of his greatest charms.

“We were friends five years ago, Nestley, yet now we meet as enemies.
I am not, as a rule, curious; but I confess I would like to know the
reason.”

“You know well enough,” said Nestley, sulkily.

“Ah! Let me see. I think in the road to-night you accused me of
ruining your life. Pray tell me how–I don’t think,” observed Mr.
Beaumont, reflectively, “I really don’t think I borrowed money from
you.”

Dr. Nestley removed his pipe, and put his hand up to hide the nervous
quivering of his mouth. The artist went on smoking placidly, waiting
for the other to speak, so seeing this, Nestley, with a great effort,
sat up in his chair and looked steadily at him.

“Listen to me, Basil Beaumont,” he said, slowly. “Five years ago, when
I met you, I was only a boy—-”

“Yes, an awful cub,” replied Beaumont, insolently. “I taught you all
you know.”

“You did,” retorted Nestley, bitterly, rising to his feet. “You taught
me things of which I had better have remained ignorant. I had a little
money—-”

“Fairly won by me at cards,” murmured Beaumont, coolly.

“I didn’t mind that,” said Nestley, who was walking up and down the
room in a state of uncontrollable agitation, “you had that, and
welcome–one must pay for one’s experience, I suppose. No; it was not
the money, but I did blame you for teaching me to drink wine to
excess.”

“I!” said Basil, in surprise, “why, I never drink wine to excess, so
how could I teach you?”

“Ah!” replied the other, significantly, stopping in his walk, “your
head is too strong–mine is not. I was a clever boy, and likely to do
well in my profession. You met me when I came up to London–liked me
for some inexplicable reason, and undertook to show me what you called
life. With my weak constitution and highly-strung organization drink
was like poison to me–it turned me into a maniac. I did not care for
it–I had no hereditary love for alcohol, but you were always at my
elbow, tempting me to have another glass. My weaker will was overcome
by your stronger one. I took drink, and it made me mad, causing me to
commit a thousand follies for which I was no more responsible than a
child. I got into the habit of taking drinks all day. You encouraged
me–God knows why, except for your own selfish ends. Had I remained
with you, I would have been in a lunatic asylum or in the gutter but,
thank God, my better angel prevailed, and I broke the spell you held
over me. Leaving you and the mad life I was then leading, I became a
total abstainer, at what cost I need not tell you–no one can ever
understand the struggles and agonies I underwent, but I conquered in
the end. For five years I have not touched a drop of liquor, and
now–now that I have subdued the devil that once possessed me I meet
you once more–you who so nearly ruined me, body and soul.”

Beaumont did not move during this long speech, delivered with intense
emotion by Nestley, but at its conclusion shrugged his shoulders and
addressed himself to the task of making another cigarette.

“A very excellent lecture,” he said, scoffingly, “very excellent,
indeed, but quite wrong. I did meet you in London, and out of kindness
introduced you into decent society, but I certainly did not teach you
to make a beast of yourself, as you did!”

“You were always urging me to drink.”

“Hospitality only. I asked you to drink when I did, yet I did not make
a fool of myself.”

“True! You only made a fool of me. What you could take and I could
take were two very different things. What was drunkenness in me was
sobriety in you.”

Beaumont laughed and lighted the cigarette he had just made.

“You were an idiot,” he said, politely. “When you found drink did you
harm you should have left it off.”

“Ah! you think that an easy task?”

“It would be–to me.”

“To you!” cried Nestley, vehemently, “yes, a practised man of the
world like you has his nerves and passions well under control. I was
young, inexperienced, enthusiastic, you were cool, calculating and
cynical. You drank three times as much as I ever did, but the effect
on our natures was different You were looked upon as a sober man,
I–God help me!–as a drunkard!”

The artist smiled sarcastically.

“Well,” he said, coolly, “all this was five years ago–why are you so
disagreeable now?”

“I cannot forget how you tried to ruin me.”

“Humph!” observed Beaumont, walking to the door, “there’s nothing like
putting our sins on other people’s shoulders; it saves such a lot of
unnecessary trouble. However, I don’t wish to argue any longer. You
reject my friendship, so I’ve nothing more to say. I daresay you’ll be
gone by the time I rise in the morning, so, as we’re not likely to
meet one another again in this life, I’ll say good-bye.”

He opened the door just as Nestley was about to answer him, when
suddenly there was a noise–the voices of men laughing uproariously,
then the sharp bark of a dog, and in another moment a large black cat,
with her fur all on end, darted into the room, followed by an eager
fox-terrier in a state of great excitement.