THE GHOST OF A DEAD LOVE

Is this the face I loved of yore,
Ere years had run;
Alas! I care for it no more
Old love is done;
We soon forget what we adore
At twenty-one.

It was now about four o’clock in the afternoon and the short autumnal
day was rapidly closing in, the grey veil of the sky was rent here and
there showing a patch of pale cold blue, while the setting sun was
tinting the ragged clouds in the west with iridescent hues.

Beaumont stood in the long, rank grass of the graveyard, thinking
deeply, his eyes fixed dreamily on the ancient tombstones around
with their half-obliterated inscriptions and weed-grown mounds of
earth. Behind him was the old church, its grey walls covered with
close-clinging ivy from out which peered the grotesque faces of the
gargoyles, leering demoniacally at the silent figure. The great square
tower, built of rough stone, stood out massively against the dull grey
sky, and round it every now and then flashed the pigeons who lived
therein, gleaming white in the faint light of the sun. He could hear
the hoarse murmur of the river flowing past, the shrill voices of the
children in the street, and at intervals the rising and falling of the
organ music within. All this touched his artistic sensibilities and he
fell into a strain of half-melancholy, half regretful reflection
which, for the moment, gave him a better nature than the bitter
cynicism of his usual thoughts.

This man was not altogether bad; he had originally started in life
with the best intentions, but his nature had been warped and twisted
by misfortunes and temptations into its present state. It was true
that he was to all appearances thoroughly bad, and that many had cause
to regret his friendship, yet occasionally he would do a kind action
or help a poor struggler, which showed that some of his early belief
in humanity yet remained in his world-worn heart.

He was thinking now,–thinking of a woman–a woman he had loved and
left many years before, and the thoughts evoked were anything but
pleasant. With an involuntary sigh he walked down to the Gar and,
seating himself on a flat tombstone which set forth the virtues of
Susan Peller, deceased, he let his chin sink on his hand, and gave
himself up to dead memories–the memories of youth, of love, and of
disappointment.

A sudden flash of the dying sunlight gleamed over the river, turning
its sullen, grey waters to a sheet of gold, and the sight brought back
to his mind an hour when he was young, and he leaned over the parapet
of a balcony, with a woman by his side, both looking at the shimmering
Thames, golden in the sunset. He could recall it vividly, even after
the lapse of these many years–the shining river, the confused mass of
houses huddled under the dusky cloud of London smoke, and far away the
swelling dome of St. Paul’s looking aerial and fairy-like against the
twilight sky, while above the great mass gleamed the golden cross
shining in the firmament like the visionary symbol of Constantine.
They were poor, not very well housed or fed, but the glamour of
youth and hope was about them, and they saw in the shining river
sweeping under the golden cross an omen of a happy future. Then the
dream-picture grew faint and blurred, clouds swept across the golden
heavens, and from amid the sombre gloom there looked forth a tearful
woman’s face with pitiful, appealing eyes.

With an impatient sigh Beaumont roused himself from his day dream to
find himself seated on a cold stone under a sky from whence the glory
of the sunset had departed; and beside him silently stood a veiled
woman. He jumped to his feet in surprise, feeling somewhat cramped,
and was about to speak when the woman threw back her heavy veil,
showing him the pitiful face of his dream.

“Patience Allerby!” he gasped, recoiling a step.

“Patience Allerby,” she replied, sternly, folding her hands in front
of her black dress, “the very woman, Basil Beaumont, whom you loved,
ruined and deserted in London more than twenty years ago.”

Beaumont, with an effort, threw off the glamour of past thoughts which
had haunted him all the afternoon, and, with a sneering laugh,
relapsed once more into the bitter-tongued, cynical man of the world.
He rapidly rolled a cigarette and, having lighted it, began to smoke,
gazing critically meanwhile at the stern white face looking at him
from out the shadowy twilight.

“More than twenty years ago!” he repeated, thoughtfully. “Humph! it’s
a long time–and now we meet again! You’ve altered, Patience–yes,
altered a great deal–for the worse.”

She laughed bitterly.

“I hardly think the life I have led since you left me was the kind to
enable me to retain my good looks.”

“No?” he said, interrogatively, “and why not? you are housekeeper to
Squire Garsworth, I understand–not a very wearying position! Trouble
tells more on woman’s beauty than years; so, as you have had no
trouble—-”

“Had no trouble!” echoed Patience, in a low, harsh voice. “Man, man!
do you think one needs to live in the world to know what trouble is?
You are wrong. Down in this secluded village I have passed many a
bitter hour thinking of you.”

“And why?” he asked, cynically.

“I think you can guess the reason. When I left Garsworth to go to
service in London you said you loved me, and I thought the son of a
gentleman was to be my husband.”

“You always did expect too much.”

“You came to London shortly afterwards and met me there by
appointment. I left my situation and lived with you.”

“As my mistress, yes; not my wife.”

“No! You were too cowardly to do justice to the woman you ruined. A
child was born–a boy whom I idolized. But, instead of that being a
bond to draw us closer together, you left me–left me to starve with
my child in the streets of London.”

“I left you because I saw a chance of making money,” he said,
complacently. “You were a drag on me, and I could not endure poverty,
even with you, my dear. As to starving, I left you what money I could
spare.”

“Five pounds!” she said, coldly. “The price of a woman’s heart,
according to your calculation; it enabled me to pay the landlady and
bring myself and the child to Garsworth.”

“Why did you not stay in London?”

“Because I did not want to sink deeper than I had done. I was brought
up by pious parents, Basil Beaumont, and the sin I committed with you
seemed to cut me off for ever from all hope of mercy. I resolved to
sin no more–to expiate, if I could, by prayer and charity the evil
life I had led in London. When I came down here, my parents were dead,
and I was alone in the world.”

“You had the child.”

“Yes, I had the child–your child and mine–but no one ever knew I was
his mother; no, I did not wish our sin to be visited on his head. I
did not want him to be pointed at as a nameless outcast.”

“Very creditable of you, I’m sure,” said Beaumont, with a sneer, “and
what did you do?”

“I invented a story that I had been in the service of the child’s
parents, who had afterwards gone to France and died there. I said I
was the child’s nurse, and placed him in the care of Doctor Larcher to
be brought up. What little money I could spare out of my salary as
housekeeper was given to the vicar as money left to the child by his
father, and to this day the vicar does not suspect the truth.”

“Quite a romance,” said Beaumont, lightly. “I had no idea you had such
inventive powers. But there is one thing I would like to know–the
child’s name.”

“In order to claim him?” she asked, bitterly.

“My faith! no; I’ve got enough to do in looking after myself, without
troubling about a hulking boy. You need never be afraid of that,
Patience. Come, tell me the boy’s name.”

“Reginald Blake.”

The cigarette dropped out of Beaumont’s nerveless fingers, and his
white face grew a shade whiter.

“Reginald Blake,” he whispered under his breath; “the young fellow who
sings?”

“The same.”

Beaumont remained silent for a few moments, thinking deeply.

“I have certainly no reason to be ashamed of my son,” he said, coolly,
looking at Patience. “You deserve credit for the way you have brought
him up.”

“I have done so as some expiation for my sin.”

“Bah! Don’t be melodramatic!” he said, coarsely. “You brought him up
because he was your son–not because of any expiation rubbish!–he
doesn’t know who he is?”

“No. I have spared him that knowledge of shame; let us bear our sin
alone.”

“Humbug! our sin, as you call it, doesn’t trouble me in the slightest.
In fact, I’m rather pleased than otherwise.”

“What do you mean?” she asked in alarm.

“Mean–that he’s got an uncommonly fine tenor voice, and I don’t see
why money shouldn’t be made out of it.”

Patience sprang towards him like an enraged tigress, her eyes flashing
fire.

“Not by you,” she hissed, with her mouth so close to his face that he
could feel her hot breath upon his cheek. “Not by you–I’ve brought
him up all these years by myself without troubling you for money–he
thinks his birth is honourable and has every chance of making a career
for himself, so you are not going to mar it for your own vile ends.”

“Don’t lose your temper,” he said coolly, “I’ll do what I please.”

“I have your promise not to claim him,” she panted with a look of
despair in her eyes, “your sacred promise.”

The artist laughed in a gibing manner.

“Bah! That for my promise,” he said, snapping his fingers in the air.
“I’m not going to lose the chance of making money out of him for any
sentimental rubbish.”

“You will tell him you are his father?”

“I will.”

“And that you deserted us both in London?”

Beaumont winced at the sting of her words.

“I’ll tell him what I think fit,” he said angrily, “and make him do
what I please. I am his father.”

“Will you, indeed?” she observed jeeringly, though her face worked in
convulsive rage. “You are the father who deserted him when a child and
now want to make money out him; you would disgrace him in his own eyes
by telling him the real story of his birth. I tell you no, Basil
Beaumont, you’ll do no such thing.”

“Who will stop me?”

“I will.”

“A very laudable intention, but how do you propose to carry it out?”

“I will tell him the whole story of my sin,” she said deliberately.
“How I loved you and was betrayed, how you left both him and me to
starve in the streets of London and only claim him as a son to make
money out of his one gift. I’ll tell him all this, and then we’ll see
if he respects and obeys you.”

“He is my son.”

“Over whom you have no authority; he is of age and you cannot make him
your slave. As to the rest, I’ll take care that everyone in the
village knows the story and you’ll be drummed out of the place as the
scoundrel you are.”

Clever as he was, Beaumont saw Patience held the trump card, so
suddenly forsook his dictatorial manner and spoke blandly.

“Very well, I’ll say nothing to him at all just now.”

“You’ll never say anything to him,” she said sternly. “Stay in this
village if you like, but do not dare to reveal my secret to Reginald
Blake–if you do it will be the worse for you; I’m not going to have
him ruined for life by your treachery.”

“But, Patience–my own son.”

“Bah!” she snarled, turning on him viciously, “don’t talk like that to
me–a scoundrel you were and a scoundrel you are–don’t touch me,
don’t come near me, but breathe one word of my secret and as sure as
there’s a God above us I’ll do what I say.”

Beaumont made a step forward as if to seize her, but with a gesture of
loathing she drew her dress around her and fled away into the darkness
leaving him standing alone by the river. He remained silent for a few
moments then his brow cleared and he resumed his nonchalant manner,
though his face still remained pale and haggard.

“My son Reginald,” he said, lightly rolling a cigarette, “I had no
idea of such luck. Ah, you she cat, I’ll cut your claws yet; I’ll make
money out of the voice yet, in spite of your threats my fine madame.”

Suddenly a thought struck him as he lighted his cigarette and he
laughed softly.

“Good heavens!” he said with a shrug. “I admire Miss Challoner, so
does he–it appears,” continued Mr. Beaumont sauntering away; “then
I’m the rival of my own son.”