THE BITTERNESS OF DEATH

We call Death cruel, but death ends all strife,
Dishonour turns to gall the sweetest life.

To say that those who had assembled in the drawing-room of the Grange
to hear the will read were astonished at the extraordinary disclosures
they had heard, would give but a faint idea of the amazement they
felt. That the squire should have left his large fortune to a son of
whom no one had ever heard was most remarkable, but that the son in
question should turn out to be Reginald Blake was almost beyond
belief.

Still, after examining all the evidences of the fact, Mr. Bolby came
to the conclusion that there could be no doubt as to the identity of
the young man.

According to the story told by Patience Allerby, who was well known to
be the nurse of the boy, he had been born at Chelsea, London, six
months after Fanny Blake’s arrival there, and had been called by his
mother’s name. On bringing him down to the village, Randal Garsworth,
no doubt dreading the scandal, refused to recognise his son, but
agreed to pay for his keep. Patience, therefore, had done the best she
could under the circumstances, and had placed the boy with Dr.
Larcher, telling him that his parents were dead, thus giving him at
least the fiction of an honourable birth. It had been a lie, no doubt,
still it was a lie the nobility of which there was no denying, and one
which would hardly be set down by the Recording Angel.

As to the strange discovery that had been made, everyone saw at once
that the squire had tried to make tardy reparation for his sin by
leaving his property to his unfortunate son; and the evidence of the
will itself, the evidence of the letter found in the squire’s desk,
and the evidence of the seal ring, all showed plainly that the young
man was really and truly the mysterious son alluded to in the will.
Besides, according to Dr. Larcher, the squire had mentioned Reginald’s
name on his death-bed, and pointed towards the desk, intimating, no
doubt, that the document which would give the young man his just right
was hidden there, as indeed it was. Altogether, on reviewing the whole
case through, Mr. Bolby declared it to be the most extraordinary one
that had ever come under his notice. There could be no doubt but that
justice had been done, and Reginald was formally recognised by
everyone as the master of Garsworth Grange.

Of course, the absence of registration and baptismal certificates
would doubtless have proved a stumbling-block in a court of law, but,
as Beaumont had foreseen, there was no hesitation upon Una’s part to
surrender the property to one whom she believed to be the rightful
heir, and moreover, when Mr. Bolby discovered that the two claimants
were engaged to be married, he declared that it was a very neat
solution of the difficulty, although, as a matter of fact, owing to
the clearness of the case on the one side and the refusal to test its
truth by legal process on the other, no such difficulty had ever
arisen.

Beaumont was now extremely satisfied with the way in which his
conspiracy had succeeded, as he had placed his son in possession of a
fine estate, worth ten thousand a year. Now his next object was to
gain control of this large income through the young man himself.
Thanks to his ingratiating manner, he completely succeeded in
fascinating Reginald, who admired him greatly, and Beaumont only
wanted to have the young man in his company for a few months to become
indispensable to him. He proposed to become Reginald’s right-hand man,
at a fixed salary, and with authority to look after the estate, out of
which he foresaw he could make some nice pickings. To do this,
however, he would have to get Reginald away from the village, as
Patience jealously watched her son, and if she thought for one moment
that Beaumont was trying to take advantage of his lack of worldly
experience, was quite capable of exposing the whole swindle.

Fate, however, once more played into his hands, for Mr. Bolby, having
recognised Reginald as the heir, insisted upon his coming up to London
to see his partner, and be put in formal possession of the estate.
Beaumont therefore determined also to go to London first, so as not to
arouse the suspicious nature of Patience Allerby, and then call on
Reginald when he arrived later on. Once he had an interview with him
in London he was quite satisfied that he could do what he liked with
the plastic nature of the young man.

On his part Blake, or, as he was now called, Garsworth, was anxious to
leave the village for a time till the nine days’ wonder was over, for
in spite of the consolatory feeling of having ten thousand a year, he
felt his position bitterly. Having been brought up in an English
gentleman’s household, he had imbibed rigorous principles all his
life, therefore it seemed to him a terrible disgrace to have such a
stigma on his name. He was a nobody–a nameless outcast, unrecognized
by the law of England–and much as he wanted to marry Una, he shrank
from giving her a name to which he had no legal claim. He dreaded lest
there should be children of such a marriage, in which case they would
have to bear the stigma attached to their father’s birth, and he spoke
seriously to Dr. Larcher about releasing Una from her engagement and
restoring to her the property to which he felt she was justly
entitled. Thus were the fruits of Beaumont’s crime placed in jeopardy
by the honour and upright feeling of the young man whom such crime had
benefited, but luckily for Mr. Beaumont, Una came to the rescue.

She plainly told Reginald that she did not care for the circumstances
of his birth, which he could not help in any way, and as to her being
rightfully entitled to the property, if she married him the property
would be just as much hers as if it had been duly left to her by the
squire. So after a great deal of persuasion from Una and Dr. Larcher,
Reginald came to accept his somewhat improved position with
equanimity.

“I cannot stay here, however,” he said bitterly. “Everyone stares at
me as if I were a wild beast. I will go up to town with Mr. Bolby, and
return in a few months, when I get more used to the position.”

Una fully approved of this, and agreed to stay on at the Grange with
Miss Cassy until he returned, then they would be married, and go
abroad for a year, during which time the old house would be
redecorated, and they would then return to live in it, when all the
circumstances of his succession to the property had to some extent
been forgotten.

Beaumont, having heard this decision, determined to go up to Town in
advance and there await Reginald’s arrival. So, after taking an
effusive farewell of everyone, he departed, carrying with him the good
wishes of all with whom he had come in contact. Only Patience did not
wish him God speed, but surveyed him grimly when he came to say
good-bye to her.

“I’m glad to see you go,” she said coldly. “Our son is now provided
for, and you have at least done something towards repairing your
villainy. I hope I’ll never set eyes upon you again, but if ever I
hear of you meddling with Reginald in any way it will be the worse for
you.”

“Say the worse for both of us,” retorted Beaumont airily. “We’re in
the same box over this affair, and punishment to me means the same for
you.”

So he took his departure, leaving an excellent impression behind him,
and everyone hoped he would come back again some day, which he
laughingly promised to do if his engagements would permit him.

“I’ll see you in London, Reginald,” he said to the young man, “and
anything I can do for you there, of course, you may command me.”

Reginald thanked him for his kindness, little thinking how treacherous
that kindness was, and then addressed himself to the work of preparing
for his own departure.

He had a long interview with Patience, in which she informed him that
the story told by her to Dr. Larcher had been told with the best
intentions to spare him the truth, and on consideration he saw for
himself that she had acted for the best, so he forgave her for the
falsehood. Patience stayed on at the Grange, living her old life, and
felt quite satisfied now that the future of the human being she loved
best on earth was secured.

Reginald asked Dr. Larcher to let him take Dick to Town, which request
the worthy vicar granted, only admonishing Mr. Bolby to look carefully
after the pair.

“I love them as my own sons,” said the good man gravely, “and I dread
lest they should be led into evil ways in the great city–they are
young and untried–let them not drink, for what says Horace? ‘_Non ego
sanius, Bacchabor Edonis_.'”

“They won’t get any bad example from me,” said Mr. Bolby, “from me
there’s no bad example to be got. I’ll take them to the theatres and
several amusements, but that’s all.”

So the vicar, full of anxiety for his dear boys, allowed them to go,
and the last to bid Reginald farewell was Una.

“Don’t forget me among all the beauties of London,” she whispered
archly; “or I’ll come to Town to look for you.”

“Don’t be afraid,” he replied with an affectation of lightness he was
far from feeling. “I will come back to you heart-whole, and then if
you’ll have me we’ll be married.”

So the poor lad departed, having learned already thus early in life
that wealth alone does not bring happiness.