THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

After great troubles our lives rearrange themselves in new forms,
which last only until some later evil arises therefrom to alter them
once more, and these latter in their turn are subject to further
changes, so that from cradle to tomb our fortunes alter in divers ways
every moment of our existence.

So the prodigal son had returned after his perilous wanderings in far
lands, and his home circle killed the fatted calf and made merry in
token of rejoicing. When Una saw how haggard the young man was in
appearance and how depressed in mind, she felt deeply grateful to
Providence that the chance words of Nestley had led her to write the
letter which had induced her lover to return. Now that he was once
more by her side she determined that nothing should every part them
again, and longed eagerly for the marriage to take place which should
give her the right to go through life by his side. Doubtless many
people would consider such longing hardly compatible with maiden
modesty, but Una was too pure and sensible a woman to look at things
in such a false light. She ardently loved Reginald and he returned
that love, why then should she, for the sake of conventional
appearance, risk her life’s happiness by delay, seeing that everything
was now at stake? No! she was determined to get married to Reginald as
soon as possible, so that he would not be lured to destruction by evil
counsel and wicked companions. It was not that she mistrusted her
lover, for she well knew his straightforward, honourable nature, but
it was better to leave nothing to chance, as even the strongest of men
is not proof against temptation.

A week after Reginald arrived they were seated in Dr. Larcher’s study
talking over the question of the marriage, and the vicar was inclined
to agree with their desire that it should be soon, although he was
unwilling they should be blamed for undue haste.

“The world, my dear Una, is censorious,” he said, wisely, “and as the
Squire has only been dead two months it will be as well to wait a
little longer.”

“I suppose so,” replied Una with a sigh, “although I do not see it
would mean any disrespect to his memory if we got married at once.”

“No doubt, no doubt–still, _medio tutissimus ibis_, and I think it
will be wiser for you both to put off the marriage for at least three
months.”

“Three months,” said Reginald, with a groan, “that’s as bad as three
years, but I suppose we must–I will stay at Garsworth in the
meantime.”

“Of course, my dear boy, of course,” answered the vicar, crossing his
legs and placing his thumbs and forefingers together, “you can take up
your old life again.”

“Ah, never! never again,” said the young man, shaking his head sadly,
“the old life is dead and done with. I have eaten of the tree of
knowledge, and the fruit is bitter.”

“My dear Reginald,” said Una, crossing over to him and putting her
kind arms round his neck, “you must not be so despondent–it is not
your fault.”

“The sins of the father are visited on the children,” he replied
gloomily, “if it had been anything else I would not have minded–but
to be what I am–a nobody–entitled to bear no name–it is bitter,
very bitter indeed. I’ve no doubt I should be above such petty pride,
still I am but mortal, and disgrace is hard to bear.”

“If it is disgrace I will bear it with you,” whispered Una, smoothing
his hair, “we will be married and go away for a time; you will soon
forget the past when we go abroad.”

“With your help I hope to,” he said, looking affectionately into her
clear eyes shining down on him with ineffable love in their azure
depths.

“I think,” remarked the vicar, touched by the deep sorrow of the young
man, “that taking all things into consideration it would be wiser to
do as you wish.”

“And marry?” cried Reginald eagerly.

“And marry,” assented the vicar, nodding good-naturedly; “what says
Horace? ‘_carpe diem quam minimum credula postero_.’ So taking that
advice it will be best for you both to be married quietly next week
and go abroad for a time:–when you return Reginald will doubtless
find his position easier.”

“I hope so,” said Blake mournfully, as they arose to go, “but I’m
afraid it’s hopeless–this discovery has killed all the pleasures of
life–my youth is dead.”

“The soul is immortal,” said Dr. Larcher solemnly, “and on the ruins
of your joyous youth, which you regard as dead, you can raise the
structure of a nobler and wiser life–it will be hard, but with Una to
help you, not impossible–_nil mortalibus arduum est_.”

And they went away from the presence of the old man–he with
resignation in his breast, and she with whispering words of comfort on
her lips, infinite pity in her eyes, and enduring affection in her
heart.

Patience Allerby was delighted when she heard how soon the marriage
was to take place, as she dreaded lest through the machinations of
Beaumont it should be broken off. Once Reginald was married to Una he
would be safe both as regards fortune and position, for nothing
Beaumont could reveal concerning the conspiracy would alter the state
of affairs and her one aim in life to secure happiness for her son,
would thus be accomplished.

At present, however, she dreaded every day either to see Beaumont or
hear from him, especially after the warning letter she had written,
nor was she disappointed, for a week after Reginald’s return she
received a letter from her quondam lover informing her that he was
coming down in order to have a proper understanding with his son.

“_The young rascal has more firmness of purpose than I gave him credit
for_,” he wrote in a cynical vein, “_and took less eagerly to the
dissipations of London than I should have expected. I am afraid he
inherits your cold blood and not the hot temperament of his father,
otherwise he would hardly have left the only city fit to live in for a
dull hole like Garsworth. However, I see plainly he is a clod and
lacks the divine zest necessary to enjoy life, so I suppose he has
returned in perfect contentment to marry Una Challoner and live the
bovine life of a country squire. So be it! I certainly do not mind,
but first he must settle with me. I have placed him in a good position
and given him a large income, so for these services I must be
recompensed, and am coming down to have an interview with him on the
subject. If he is wise he will seek to know no more than he does, but
if he inherits your obstinate nature and wants to know all, I am
afraid he will have to learn the truth. Even then it will not be too
late, for I to will hold my tongue as to his real birth, and leave him
in full possession of his wealth provided I am well paid for such
silence. Now that you understand the situation you had better prepare
him to receive me as one who desires to be friendly–if he treats me
as an enemy he will find me a bitter one, so he had better be sensible
and come to terms. As to my love for Una Challoner, you ought to know
by this time I love no one but_

“_Yours truly_,

“Basil Beaumont.”

This brutal letter fell like a lump of ice on the heart of the unhappy
Patience as she saw the net gradually closing round her. She knew only
too well that Beaumont would do what he said unless some arrangement
could be made–and then, as Nestley said he loved Una, he would
doubtless want to marry her as well as gain an income, and their son
would be left miserable. No, she would not have it, this devil would
not be permitted to sin any more and ruin lives with impunity as he
had hitherto done. She made up her mind to see him before his
interview with Reginald, and make one last appeal to his feelings as a
father; if he refused to grant her prayers and keep the boy ignorant
of his real birth she would reveal all herself and bear the shame
sooner than he should tempt Reginald to a sin. When all was told she
would implore Una to still marry her son, and then depart to bury
herself in solitude, and expiate her sins by years of repentance.

Events were still in the future, and she knew not how they would turn
out, but of one thing she was determined, that Beaumont should not
blight and ruin her son’s life as he had blighted and ruined her own.