MR. BEAUMONT WINS HIS CASE

In truth he had a silver tongue
Whose mild persuasive accents rung
Like music in her ear;
Despite her dread, despite her hate.
She ever let him rule her fate
And change her heart from joy elate
To one that ached with fear.

The shadows of solitude and dreariness had ever hung like ill-omened
clouds over Garsworth Grange, but now the shadows were deepened by the
presence of death. To the eerie atmosphere of the old house had been
added a new element of fear, and every lonely room, every shadowy
corner and every echoing corridor seemed to be filled with a weird
feeling of the supernatural. Jellicks and Munks were not by any means
imaginative folk, but even they felt the influence of the spell of
horror which seemed to brood over the lonely mansion, and conversed
together in low whispers with furtive looks around as if expecting a
whole host of goblins and spirits to start forth from the brooding
shadows. Miss Cassy and Una both kept to their rooms, mutually trying
to cheer one another, and the only person who seemed to move about at
all was Patience Allerby, who glided through the bare rooms and dusky
passages like an unquiet ghost. And not unlike a ghost did she look
with her haggard face, burning eyes, and slim figure, carrying with
her the paper she had stolen from the sanctity of the dead man’s
chamber, the paper which hidden in her bosom seemed to her excited
fancy to feel bitterly cold as if its dead owner had grasped it with
his chill hand to drag it forth from its hiding-place. True, the paper
would benefit her son, and it was legally his, still the memory of
that stealthy theft in the dark night, while yet the corpse lay
stiffly on the bed, seemed to haunt her conscious-stricken soul like a
crime.

And amid all this horror and dreariness which clung round the place,
the dead man lay in his coffin in the dismal room he had occupied
during life. No flowers were placed on the bed or on the coffin, no
relatives wept over the white set face to melt its frozen apathy with
hot tears, no voice of lamentation was heard bewailing a good man’s
fate; lonely in death as he had been in life, Randal Garsworth, who
had sacrificed the pleasures of this earth to a delusion, lay unloved
and uncared for in the silent room as if he had lain for generations
in the vault of his ancestors.

Sometimes when Munks or Jellicks had taken their turns in watching the
body, Patience would come for a time and, kneeling down, pray for the
dead man’s soul; but the sneering look on the still countenance seemed
to mock her prayers and she fled away in horror at the thoughts that
gibing smile provoked.

On the second day after the death of the squire, a visitor came to see
Patience, one whom she half expected, and the housekeeper was not at
all astonished at beholding Beaumont standing at the door of her room,
about four o’clock in the afternoon.

“Why do you come here?” she asked half in anger, half in dread.

“Because I want to speak to you,” replied Beaumont, leisurely closing
the door and taking a seat. “I know it is not quite the thing to pay
visits so soon after a death, but Miss Challoner and her aunt are, I
believe shut up in their rooms, Munks and that serpent you call
Jellicks are safe in the kitchen, so I came in at the back of the
house quite unperceived to see you.”

“What about?” she asked stolidly.

“I think you can pretty well guess,” he replied coolly, “about the
conversation I had with you the other day–I want your answer.”

“The answer is–no.”

“Is it, indeed–ah! we’d better chat over it for a time. I may
persuade you to change your mind.”

“You’ll never do that,” she said with a kind of gloomy triumph,
“never.”

“Indeed–we’ll see,” he retorted calmly; “by-the-way I hope you don’t
mind me smoking, but it is so deucedly shivery in this tomb of a house
that it gives me the creeps.”

“You can smoke,” she said curtly.

“Thanks–you know I love my creature comforts.”

He rolled himself a cigarette, lighted it, and then blowing a thin
cloud of blue smoke, crossed his legs and looked complacently at her.

“So you say no?” he observed with a smile. “Of course you know the
consequences?”

“I do.”

“And you are prepared to abide by them?”

“I am.”

“Noble mother! May I ask your reasons?”

“Yes–and I will tell you my reasons,” she said deliberately. “I half
intended to agree to your scheme the other day, as I thought it would
benefit my son–but now I have found a way to benefit him without
participation in your villainy.”

“The deuce you have,” said Beaumont curiously. “How clever you
are–come tell me all about it.”

She smiled coldly at his evident uneasiness and went on speaking
calmly with a certain malignant satisfaction which was not by any
means acceptable to Mr. Beaumont.

“I asked the squire before he died to help Reginald Blake, telling him
I was the boy’s nurse and anxious to see him settled in life, he
refused at first but by working on his delusion about re-incarnation I
got him to give Reginald a cheque for one hundred pounds.”

“Oh, and you think Reginald would prefer one hundred pounds down to
ten thousand a year?” he said with an ugly look.

“Reginald doesn’t know anything about it; the squire signed the cheque
and wrote a letter, enclosed them both in an envelope and sealed it
with his arms, then I, by his directions, locked it up in his desk.”

“Where it is still?”

“No, I have got it. I have it here,” she said, producing the letter
from her bosom and holding it up to him.

“How did you get it?” he asked craftily.

“I watched by the body the first night after death, and remembering
where he had put the letter, I took his keys from under his pillow and
obtained it, then I locked up the desk and replaced the keys.”

“Ah, perhaps you don’t know that you have been guilty of a felony?”

“I don’t care,” she retorted defiantly. “You won’t tell?”

“Won’t I? that depends; at all events I’d like to look at that
letter,” he said, stretching out his hand.

She put the letter quickly behind her back.

“No, you won’t see it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t trust you.”

“Very well,” he said deliberately, “if you don’t let me see the
contents of the letter, I’ll go straight to the lawyers when they
arrive and tell them you stole it.”

“You would not be such a villain?” she cried in despair.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t–you always thought me bad, so why should
I give the lie to your estimate of my character by proving myself
good?–come, choose–the letter, or the exposure!”

Patience looked at him in despair, as she knew by her fatal admission
she was in his power–so, with a sudden gesture of anger, she held the
letter out to him.

“Take it.”

Beaumont laughed softly, and took the letter daintily between his
thumb and forefinger.

“I thought you’d have known,” he said sneeringly. “Now get me a
light.”

“To do what?”

“Melt the wax–I want to see what’s inside this envelope.”

“But you mustn’t do that–it’s sealed with the Garsworth Arms–the
lawyers won’t pay the cheque if they find the seal has been tampered
with.”

“I can re-seal it with the Garsworth Arms,” he replied coolly, “don’t
be alarmed. I know what I’m about.”

She looked at him irresolutely, then apparently recognizing the
futility of resistance, she lighted a candle and brought it to him.

With a dexterity only acquired by long practice Mr. Beaumont deftly
melted the wax of the seal and speedily opened the letter. First he
took out the short note, written by the Squire, which he read aloud to
Patience, the contents being as follows:

“_I give you this money to help you in your life. When I am born again
in another body, and come to you for help or friendship, you must help
me, if I ask, on my reminding you of this money I now give you–for no
one but ourselves will know of this transaction, so you can be certain
that he who speaks to you of it will be myself in a new body_.

“Randal Garsworth.”

“As mad as ever, I see,” said Beaumont, with a sneer, putting down the
note. “Now for the cheque.”

He glanced at it quickly–saw that it was for one hundred pounds,
payable to Reginald Blake, and dated the thirtieth of the
month–whereupon he gave a low whistle.

“What’s the matter?” asked Patience, quickly.

“To-day, I believe, is the fourteenth?”

“Yes–I know what you’re going to say–the cheque is dated the
thirtieth–I understand that.”

“Yes, and you, doubtless, understand that the Squire died on the
twelfth, and that this cheque is waste paper?”

“Waste paper?”

“Exactly–it’s dated after the Squire’s death, so to all intents and
purposes, the Squire was not legally in existence when he signed it.”

“What nonsense!” she said impatiently. “I saw him sign it myself.”

“Of course you did,” he replied smoothly. “You don’t seem to
understand me–a cheque is generally supposed to be signed on the day
it is dated; and as this is dated the thirtieth, and the Squire died
on the twelfth–well–it’s so much waste paper.”

“The lawyers will pay it when I explain the circumstances.”

“The lawyers have nothing to do with it–the executors might,
certainly, recognize it as a claim against the estate, but it is
entirely optional with them; if you brought an action, you would, no
doubt, recover on the cheque, but I’m afraid the costs would swallow
up the amount claimed.”

It was in order to get her to consent to join in his scheme that
Beaumont thus argued in such a subtle manner, and he certainly
succeeded in his plan; for, by taking away her last chance, he reduced
her to despair.

“Then I can do nothing to help my son?” she cried, with a terrible
expression of anguish on her face.

“Yes, you can–help me to get Reginald the property.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” he asked, with supreme contempt, “the law?”

“No!–I’m not afraid of the law–but I am afraid of the curse this
money will be to Reginald, if it’s unlawfully obtained.”

“Oh, if that is all your objection, I think you can set your mind at
rest,” replied the artist, with a sneer. “I’ll help him to spend the
money, and take my share of the curse. Don’t talk rubbish–by putting
Reginald in possession of ten thousand a year you will be harming no
one–the money which should rightfully become Una Challoner’s will
still become hers by marriage, and two people will be made happy–if
you will not help me, I’ll tell Reginald all about his birth, and he
will remain a pauper–if you help me, he will retain all–if you
decline, he will lose everything.”

“I do not see what chance I have against you,” she cried in despair.

“No more do I!”

“You villain!” she said, furiously. “Why do you come and tempt me to
sin like this?”

“I’m not tempting you to sin–don’t I tell you, it will harm no one.
Come, give me your answer–yes or no?”

“Yes,” she said, faintly, “I agree.”

“You will say that Reginald is the son of Fanny Blake and the Squire?”

“I will–for his sake.”

“I don’t care for whose sake you do it,” he retorted, brutally,
rising to his feet. “You’ve agreed to help me, so that’s all I care
about–now I’m going to get the papers.”

“Where are they?”

“That’s my business,” said Beaumont, coolly sauntering to the door.
“I’ll fix up the necessary proofs, all you’ve got to do is, to tell a
consistent story–I’ll instruct you. By the way, you are quite sure
Una Challoner, and that fool of an aunt, are out of the way?”

“Quite sure–they are in the oak parlour.”

“No chance of their coming out?”

“None.”

“Very good–then I can get what I want, without suspicion. Have you
got the keys of the Squire’s desk?”

“No, Dr. Nestley took them yesterday from the room, to give them to
Miss Una.”

“Confound it–has he done so?”

“I do not know.”

“That’s a nuisance,” said Beaumont, reflectively; “I want to put the
papers in the squire’s desk and lock them up so that they may be found
there in a natural manner. I must get those keys. Humph! never
mind–I’ll hit on some plan; when do the lawyers arrive?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Well, I’ll arrange the papers to-night, and bring them to you
to-morrow morning; they must be put in the desk secretly. Now,
good-bye at present, and mind, I have your promise.”

Patience nodded silently, and turned away with a calm but determined
face, while Beaumont went away to carry out the details of his
nefarious scheme.

“I have done all I could to resist temptation,” she said to herself,
bitterly, “I can do no more. If I do sin it is for my son’s sake, not
my own.”