THE GOOD SAMARITAN

Man is but a whimsical animal at best, for there is no life but what
may some day act in discord with its theory.

Patience Allerby occupied a very peculiar position, and knew that she
did so, much to her perplexity. Ever since her lapse from virtue she
had lived a self-denying existence as an expiation for her sin, and
she had cause to be satisfied with the past twenty years of her life,
seeing that she had done nothing wrong all the time. True, living in
almost monastic existence, she had no temptations to fight against,
and the absence of temptation rendered it comparatively easy to lead a
virtuous life. Not being tempted she lived an ascetic life, being
absolutely certain that she was strong enough to withstand any
temptation, however powerful. Vain hope, for now the devil in the
person of her old betrayer assaulted her on her weakest side. Had he
tried to make her rob her master or return to her old life of sin, he
would have failed dismally, but an appeal through her motherhood was
perilous to her strength, and Beaumont knew this when he used her love
for Reginald as a weapon against her. In spite of her prayers, her
tears, her comforting texts, she knew that if Beaumont wished her to
commit any crime to benefit her son she would do so in defiance of her
religious belief, however strong.

God alone knew the night of anguish this woman passed, wrestling with
the subtle temptation placed before her in such an attractive shape.
Those old saints, who, according to pious legends, fought with the
visible powers of evil, had no such terrible enemies to cope with, in
contrast to a soul racked with doubt fighting against spiritual
promptings.

In vain this poor soul, who wished to do right, closed her ears to the
infernal whisperings of evil spirits, in vain she read with frenzied
ardour the terrible prophecies of Isaiah or the comforting promises of
the Gospels, in vain she knelt weeping bitterly before the crucifix,
praying to be guarded from falling into sin. It was all useless.
Either spiritual weapons had lost their efficacy, or her intense
maternal passion blunted her sense of religious duty, and after a
terrible struggle with her invisible enemies, which left her
completely prostrate, she began to calmly consider Beaumont’s scheme.
From that moment she was lost; for, on reviewing the whole matter she
began to pacify her conscience with arguments concerning the rectitude
of the affair.

She would be doing no wrong to anyone–nay, she would be conferring a
benefit on Una, seeing that by her marriage with Reginald she would be
put in possession of the property at once, whereas should the will be
carried out strictly she would have to wait everlastingly for the
appearance of a non-existing person. Suppose she agreed to Beaumont’s
plan, and said Fanny Blake and the squire were the parents of her son,
he would become rich and honoured, bearing a renowned name and no
longer be an unknown waif, heavily handicapped in the battle of life.

On the other hand he would learn the shame of his birth, and that
would cast an everlasting shadow on his young spirit. What
wealth–what position could compensate in his own eyes for the moral
stigma thus cast upon him. He might succeed to the property, marry
Una, and thus do no harm to anyone, still, if he became a father, how
deeply would he feel for the sins of his parents being visited on his
offspring. No, she could not place him in such a position; better for
him to remain unknown and obscure, with a full belief in his
honourable birth, than go through life haunted by the spectre of an
intolerable disgrace.

While thus hesitating between these two views of the case, a sudden
idea came to her, which inclined her to refuse to help Beaumont and
let the boy make his own life, ignorant of the stain on his name. The
squire, in spite of his miserly habits, had a kind heart. She would
ask him to give Reginald fifty or a hundred pounds to help him, then
the lad could go to London and make a position by his vocal talents.
Thus, he would benefit in no way through money unjustly obtained, and
Una, being in possession of the property, he could marry her and enjoy
it just the same as if the scheme were carried out. Yes, it would be
the best way; he would at least never know who or what he was, and she
would thus assist him in life without committing a crime. The more she
thought of the plan the better she liked it, and falling on her knees
in the dark she thanked God long and fervently for the solution he had
shown her of the difficulty.

Next morning she proceeded to carry her ideas into effect, for after
Miss Cassy and Una had paid their usual morning visit, she found
herself alone with the squire and in a position to make her request.

Garsworth was lying in bed, propped up by pillows, and looked very
feeble indeed, so that Patience saw the end could not be far off, in
spite of Nestley’s care and attention.

After his recovery from his debauch, Nestley had felt bitter shame at
his fall, but having lost his self-respect by thus reverting to his
old ways, he tried to drown remorse by drinking, and alcohol was
rapidly regaining all its old influence over him. Still he did not let
it interfere with his attendance on the Squire, and if the old man saw
that Nestley’s hand was shaky, and his eyes becoming bleared, he said
nothing, and the unhappy young man performed his duties in a
mechanical way, drinking deeply whenever an opportunity offered.

Nestley, looking haggard and unsteady after his drinking of the
previous night, had just left the room, leaving Patience alone with
the Squire, when the old man spoke sharply:

“Patience, what is the matter with the doctor?”

“Drink!” she answered laconically.

“Drink!” repeated the Squire, raising himself on his elbow. “Nonsense,
woman, you must be mistaken, he drinks neither wine nor spirits.”

“He never did until a week ago,” answered Patience coolly, “he used to
be a total abstainer, but now–well, you can see for yourself.”

The long connection that had existed between this strange couple as
master and servant, had developed between them a certain amount of
familiarity.

“I remember,” said Garsworth musingly, “that in my last incarnation, I
drank ale very much–it was in the reign of Elizabeth, and we drank
confusion to the King of Spain–it resulted in confusion to myself. If
I had not been a drunkard, I would not have been a pauper; it’s a pity
this young man should follow the same downward path.”

“It’s his own fault,” replied Patience in a stony manner, “he ought to
stop when he finds it does him harm.”

“No doubt,” returned the old man acidly, “but did you ever know a man
deny himself anything if it did him harm?”

“You did.”

“Yes, because I had an object to gain. The life I led in Town was very
pleasant, but it would have left me a pauper for my next incarnation.”

It was no use trying to argue the old man out of his delusion, so
Patience said nothing, but stood beside him in grim silence with
folded arms.

“I’ll enjoy myself when I’m born again,” pursued Garsworth exultingly.
“I will have plenty of money and a new body. I will have youth once
again. Oh, youth! youth! how short are your golden hours. Young men
never know the treasure they possess in youth, and waste it in
idleness and folly; there’s that child you brought up, Reginald
Blake—-”

“I did not bring him up.”

“Well, well,” rejoined Garsworth testily. “You know what I mean, you
were his nurse–but he has youth, good looks, health and talents–why
doesn’t he go to London with such advantages, instead of wasting his
life in a dull village?”

“He’s got no money,” retorted Patience icily; “all you mention go for
nothing without money.”

“No doubt, no doubt,” muttered Garsworth, his eyes gleaming; “money is
a necessity–still he has talents, I hear.”

“What can talents do?”

“Everything; a clever brain commands the world.”

“I dare say,” retorted Patience ironically, “if it gets money to give
it a start. Master Reginald has it in him to make a great name by his
voice, but he needs help–the help of money–who will give him that
help?”

She eyed the old man keenly as she spoke.

“Ah, who indeed?” he replied carelessly, “who indeed?”

“Why not yourself?” said the housekeeper eagerly.

“I?” he ejaculated in surprise.

“Yes, you,” she retorted vehemently. “I was as you say the nurse of
that boy. I have loved him far more than his dead parents ever did;
they left him to me, and I stood in his mother’s place: it is my
dearest wish that he should succeed–with money he can do so. I have
served you long and faithfully and asked no favour, but now that you
have mentioned his name, I ask this first and last favour of you, give
him money and help him to succeed.”

“Do you think I’m mad?” cried the old man shrilly. “Why should I help
him? What is he to me? I have gathered all my wealth by years of
self-denial. I want to enjoy it in my next existence, not squander it
in this by helping a pauper.”

“And yet you talk of the golden hours of youth,” she replied bitterly.
“It’s easy saying, but hard doing. What is a hundred pounds to you?–a
drop in the ocean. What is it to him?–everything.”

“I can’t part with my money,” he said doggedly, turning his face away.

Her voice took a tender tone as she pleaded for her son.

“He has no claim upon you, I know, but think of his youth, his
talents, wasted in this dull village. You say you will remember in
your next body what you have done in this; for years you have never
done a kind action to a human being, do one now by helping this lad,
and your next existence will be none the worse for having helped an
unknown man.”

The old man made no reply, but was clearly moved by her argument.

“And again,” said Patience, still in the same anxious voice, “with
your help he will make a position in the world. What position will
you occupy? with all your money, you may be born a prince or a
ploughboy–you do not know–but in whatever station you are born, his
influence, his friendship, may be a help to you, and it will be all
the more precious when you know it is your work.”

The woman’s voice died away in a soft manner, and she anxiously
watched the old man’s wrinkled face to see if he would do what she
asked. Evidently her words appealed either to his selfishness or good
nature, for, turning towards her, a smile spread over his crabbed
face.

“I’ll do it, Patience,” he said quickly. “I’ll do it–perhaps he will
be of help to me in my next life–get me my cheque book, and I’ll
write a cheque for fifty pounds–no more–no more. I can’t afford it.”

“Fifty is no use–say one hundred,” she urged eagerly.

“Well, well! one hundred,” he said peevishly, “it’s a large sum, still
it may do good to me. I’ll write a letter with it, and tell him he
must do what I ask in my next life. Will he do that?”

“Yes! Yes!” she replied impatiently, in nowise affronted by his
selfish motives. “He is not the man to forget a kind action.”

“You don’t thank me,” he said angrily, as she went over to the
escritoire and got his cheque book. “Grasping! ungrateful!”

“I’m not ungrateful,” she retorted, bringing the pen and ink to him
with the cheque book, and a block of blotting paper to write on, “but
I do thank you. I was never one for lip service.”

“Bah! women are all alike,” he said viciously, sitting up in bed, and
seizing the pen. “Go and bring me some letter paper and an envelope.”

She did so, and returned to his bedside by the time he had written the
cheque.

“I’ve post-dated this cheque,” he said cunningly, “because I won’t
send it to him till just before I die.”

“What do you mean by post-dated?”

“This is the twelfth,” he replied, smoothing out the letter paper, “I
have dated it the thirtieth.”

“How do you know you’ll die then?”

“I don’t know if I will, you fool,” he retorted angrily, “but I think
so–if I don’t I’ll write another cheque.”

“Yes, and change your mind.”

“No–no–a promise is a promise–if he helps me in the future I’ll
help him now–be quiet, you cat, I want to write.”

She remained silent, and very slowly and painfully the old man wrote a
letter, then he directed the envelope to Reginald Blake at the
Vicarage and placed the letter and cheque therein. After doing this he
closed the letter and told her to bring sealing-wax and his seal.

“What for?” she asked, going over to his desk.

“Because I’m not going to let anyone but himself see what I have
written–you needn’t be afraid–I will do what I say, look at the
cheque, you fool.”

She had brought a candle to the bedside so that he could melt the wax
for the seal, and as he held the cheque out to her she read it in the
dim light.

“It’s all right,” she said with a sigh of relief, “I thank you very
much.”

“You needn’t,” he retorted cynically, sealing the letter with the
Garsworth arms. “I do it for my own sake not his; now put this letter
in the desk and let me see you do it.”

He handed her his keys, so taking them and the letter over to the
desk, she deposited it in the place indicated by his lean,
outstretched finger, and having locked it safely up, blew out the
candle and brought the keys back to him.

The Squire placed them under his pillow, then lay down again with a
sigh of exhaustion.

“There, I’ve done what you asked,” he said in a dull voice, “now go
away. I’ll sleep a little.”

Patience carefully tucked all the clothes round him and then left the
room with a look of triumph on her face.

“Now, Basil Beaumont,” she said when she was outside the door. “I
think I can laugh at you and your threats about my son.”