MATER DOLOROSA

“Madonna, who hath ever stood
As type of holy motherhood,
I pray thee, for thy Son’s dear sake,
This sorrow from my bosom take.
For there are those, with anger wild,
Who wound the mother thro’ the child.
I know that thou wilt pity me,
For thy Son hung upon the tree.
And as He died to save and bless,
Oh, help me, thou, in my distress.”

After he had finished a very nice little dinner, with a small bottle
of champagne to add zest to it, Mr. Beaumont lighted a cigarette, and
sat down comfortably before the fire, in order to wait for Reginald
Blake. He had written to the young man, announcing his arrival and
asking him to call, so he had no doubt but that he would be favoured
with a visit. Having, therefore, arranged his plan of action, he lay
back indolently in his chair, making plans for the future, and
building air-castles amid the blue spirals of smoke which curled
upward from his lips.

About seven o’clock he heard a knock at the door, and in answer to his
invitation to enter, a woman made her appearance. Beaumont, who had
merely turned his head to greet Reginald, was rather astonished at
this unexpected guest, and arose to his feet in order to see who it
was. His visitor closed the door carefully after her and stepped
forward so that she came within the circle of light cast by the lamp
on the table, then, throwing back her veil, looked steadily at the
artist.

“Patience!”

“Yes, Patience,” she replied, sitting down on a chair near the table.
“You did not expect to see me?”

“Well, no,” answered Beaumont, indolently leaning against the
mantelpiece. “I must confess I did not–but if you want to speak with
me, I can spare you very little time, as I am waiting—-”

“For Reginald?” she interrupted quickly. “Yes, I know that.”

“The deuce you do! What a wonderful woman you are! How did you find
out I was here?”

“I left instructions that I was to be informed of your arrival, as I
wished to speak with you before you saw our son.”

“Indeed! And what do you want to speak to me about?”

“Your letter.”

“I think my letter was too clear to require further explanation,” he
said impatiently. “I told you my intentions.”

“You did–and I have come to tell you they will not be carried out.”

“Is that so?” said Beaumont, with a sneer. “Well, we’ll see. Who will
prevent me doing what I like?”

“I will.”

“Really–I’m afraid you over-rate your powers, my dear Patience. You
are a clever woman, no doubt–a very clever woman–but there are
limits.”

“As you observe, very truly, there are limits,” she retorted fiercely,
“and those limits you have overstepped. Do you think I am going to
stand by and see you wring money out of my son?”

“Our son,” he corrected gently. “You forget I am his father. As to
wringing money out of him, that’s a very unpleasant way of putting it.
I simply propose to appeal to his common sense.”

“Sit down,” said Patience, suddenly. “I wish to speak to you.”

Beaumont shrugged his shoulders, then, pushing the arm-chair to one
side, sat down in it so that he faced her fairly, keeping, however,
with habitual caution, his face well in the shade.

“By all means,” he said amiably. “I always humour a woman when there
is nothing to be gained by doing otherwise. Go on, my dear friend, I’m
all attention.”

The housekeeper was leaning forward, resting her elbows on the table,
and he could see her finely-cut, bloodless face–looking as if carved
out of marble, in the yellow rays of the lamp-light–with her nostrils
dilated, her lips firmly closed, and her black eyes sparkling with
suppressed anger.

“I see it’s going to be a duel to the death,” he said, in a mocking
tone, leaning his head against the cushion of the chair. “Well, I do
not mind–I’m fond of duels.”

“You are a fiend!” she burst out angrily.

“Really! Did you come all this way to impart that information? If so,
you have wasted your time. I’ve heard the same remark so often.”

His brutally cool manner had a wonderfully calming effect upon her,
for after this one outburst of anger, she appeared to crush down her
wrath by a strong effort of will, smiled disdainfully, and went on to
speak in a cold, clear voice.

“Listen to me, Basil Beaumont: years ago you did me the worst harm a
man can do a woman–you destroyed my life, but thanks to my own
cleverness I managed to preserve at least the outward semblance of a
pure woman without sacrificing our son in any way, but do you think
that has cost me nothing–do you think I did not feel bitter pangs at
having to deny my own son, and to veil my maternal longings under the
guise of a servant? I did so, not so much to preserve my own good name
as to benefit the boy. I wanted him to think he had no heritage of
shame, so that he could feel at least pride and self-respect. When I
obtained the reward of my sacrifice–when I saw that my son was
satisfied with his lot and had talents to make his way in the world
you came down for the second time to ruin not my life, but his–the
life of an innocent being, who had never done you any harm. I entered
into your vile conspiracy because I thought it would benefit my son,
and now I repent bitterly that I ever did so. Owing to the foul lie
you compelled me to tell, he has gained a fortune, but lost his
self-respect. You do not understand the feeling, because your heart
these many years has been steeped in wickedness, but think what it has
done to our unhappy child–cast a blight upon his life which no money,
no position can ever remove–his youth died from the moment I told him
that lie, and whose work is it–mine or yours, Basil Beaumont? Mine or
yours?”

She paused a moment, moistened her dry lips with her tongue, and then
went on speaking rapidly with vehemence.

“And now when the worst is over–when he is firmly settled in
possession of that wealth it has cost him his youthful happiness to
gain–when he is going to marry the woman he loves, who will be able
to comfort him in some measure–you once more return to work ruin for
the third time–you demand money to hush up a disgraceful secret–you
would not only tell him that he is still a nameless outcast, but you
would take all his money from him, yes, and take also the girl who is
to be his wife–you would leave him a pauper–an outcast–a miserable
being with neither self-respect, nor riches, nor consolation. I
implore you for my sake–for his sake–for your own sake, not to do
this–our crime has shadowed his young life too much already–tell him
no more–go away from this place, and let him have at least one chance
of happiness.”

She arose to her feet at the last words, and stretched out her arms
appealingly towards Beaumont with humid eyes and an imploring
expression on her face. The artist sat silent, smiling cynically, with
a savage glitter in his eyes, and when she had finished, broke into a
hard laugh as he also arose to his feet, flinging his cigarette
viciously into the fire.

“A very pretty thing to ask me to do,” he said mockingly, “and a very
useless request to make. Do you think I care for his feelings or
yours?–not the snap of a finger. I put Reginald in possession of the
Garsworth estate not for his own sake, but for mine. Had he been wise
and allowed me to guide him, he would have known no more than he does
now. If he gives me the money I ask, it is even now not too late, but
I am not going to spare him, either for his own sake or yours. He will
be here soon, and I will tell him everything, so if he does not give
me what I ask, I’ll ruin him body and soul.”

Patience flung herself at his feet, and burst into tears.

“For God’s sake, Basil, spare him.”

“No.”

“He is your child.”

“The more reason for him to help me.”

“Have you no mercy?”

“None–if it means getting no money.”

“For my sake, spare him.”

“For your sake least of all.”

“You intend to tell him?”

“I do. You can save yourself the trouble of making this melodramatic
exhibition. I’m not going to move one hair’s breath from the position
I have taken up. I want money, and I mean to have it.”

Patience sprang to her feet in an access of mad fury and stood before
him with clenched hands and blazing eyes.

“Are you not afraid I’ll kill you?”

“Not a bit.”

“You defy me.”

“I do.”

She drew a long breath, and snatched up her gloves from the table, her
passion subsiding under his cool brutality as a stormy sea subsides
when oil is cast upon the waters.

“Very well,” she said coolly. “I’ll tell everything to Doctor Larcher,
and get him to prosecute both of us for conspiracy. I will stand in
the dock and you beside me.”

Beaumont laughed sneeringly.

“I’ve no doubt you will stand in the dock,” he said with emphasis,
“but not me. I have done nothing in the matter, you everything. Who is
to prove I hypnotised the old man, and forged the papers making
Reginald the heir?–no one. Who is to prove that you falsely passed
off your son as the heir?–everyone. You are the sole representative
of the conspiracy, and I shall simply deny the whole affair. It will
be my word against yours, and with such strong evidence as can be
brought against you I fancy you’ll get the worst of it.”

An expression of terror passed over the face of the unhappy woman as
she saw what a gulf was open at her feet. It was true what he
said–she was the only one who had spoken–to all outward appearances
he had in nowise been implicated in the conspiracy. With a cry of
despair, she reeled back against the wall, covering her face with her
hands. At that moment Reginald’s voice was heard outside, and with a
rapid movement, Beaumont sprang forward and caught one of her wrists
in his grip.

“Here is Reginald,” he said in a harsh whisper, “hold your tongue or
it will be the worse for you. I don’t want him to see you–hide in
here and keep silent. What I intend to do will depend upon the result
of this interview.”

Patience said nothing, as all power of will seemed to have deserted
her, but allowed herself to be dragged towards a door in the wall
which communicated with a staircase leading to the upper part of the
house. Pushing her in here, Beaumont closed the door, then rapidly
returned to the fireplace and flung himself into his chair.

“Act I. has been rather stormy,” he said to himself with a sneer. “I
wonder what Act II. will be like.”