UNA MAKES A CONFESSION

He may be poor, and quite unknown,
In rank there may be men above him;
But my heart beats for him alone,
You ask the reason; this–I love him!

The next morning Beaumont examined the important document, upon which
hung the fate of his scheme, in order to see by the searching light of
day if a close scrutiny would reveal in any palpable degree his
alterations. According to his expectations, it appeared eminently
satisfactory, for the words he had inserted had turned quite black,
and assumed the ebon tint of the rest of the handwriting, so to an
ordinary observer the entire document appeared to have been written by
one person. True, if it were submitted to experts in a court of law,
the forgery might be detected; but Beaumont was quite satisfied in his
own mind that the paper would never have to stand such a test. The
directions in the will, the production of the paper and seal-ring
mentioned therein, and the evidence of Patience Allerby as to the
birth of Reginald, would be quite strong enough evidence to put him in
possession of the property, even if Una should contest the affair,
which he knew she would not do when she found that the heir who ousted
her from her rightful position was Reginald Blake.

Being therefore perfectly satisfied, Mr. Beaumont took the envelope,
directed by the Squire to Reginald Blake, at the Vicarage, and having
placed some new wax on the closing fold, he stamped it with the
Garsworth arms by means of the seal ring. Then placing the document he
had so carefully prepared inside, together with the ring, he melted
the under portion of the wax till it became soft and firmly closed the
letter so that no one, from its appearance, could detect the fraud.

This being done, he placed the important letter, together with the
keys given to him by Nestley, in his breast coat pocket, and set off
gaily to the Grange, in order to place it where it could be easily
found.

He had invented some trivial explanation to give to Una and Miss Cassy
should he meet them before carrying out his plan, and, of course, on
having done so, the mission of delivering the keys to Una would be
ample excuse for his intrusion on their grief. Fate, however, stood
his friend, for by going round to a side door he was enabled to enter
the house, and go to the housekeeper’s room, unseen by anyone, save
Jellicks, who admitted him.

Patience, looking pale and worn, arose to receive him, and he half
dreaded to glance at her lest she had altered her mind. Her first
remark, however, reassured him at once.

“Have you arranged everything?” she asked eagerly.

“Yes! Here is the precious document,” he replied, producing the
envelope, “and here are the keys of the Squire’s desk.”

“Where did you get them?”

“From Nestley; he gave them to me to return to Miss Challoner, as I
intend to do after placing this letter in the Squire’s desk. There’s
no time to be lost, Patience–take me up to the room at once.”

“Wait a moment,” she replied cautiously, growing a shade paler. “I’d
better go and see that Miss Cassy and Miss Una are safe in the oak
parlour first. Wait here.”

She glided out of the room like a ghost, and after an absence of ten
minutes returned to Beaumont with a more composed expression on her
face.

“They are at breakfast,” she said in a whisper, “no chance of being
disturbed by them. Come along, but make no noise. Every sound echoes
through this old place.”

Silently and stealthily they stole along the dark passages, which,
owing to the light filtering through grimy windows, had a dusky
appearance. Softly over the echoing pavement of the gloomy hall, up
the wide staircase with the old Garsworths frowning on them from the
walls, as if they knew their wicked errand, along the chill length of
the upper corridor, and then the slow turning of the key in the lock,
the gentle opening of the door, and they stood in the presence of the
dead.

So still, so lonely, so cold, with the heavy curtains drawn over the
wide windows, only admitting faint streaks of light which stole
whitely through the heavy atmosphere of the room. On the bed was the
black coffin, with the dead man laid therein. On either side tall
candles were burning with a sickly light, and the heavy draperies of
the bed hung motionless as if frozen with horror. In the dim shadows
of the far end of the room, where the faint daylight and the faint
candlelight produced an unnatural twilight, stood the desk, and
towards it Beaumont stepped with a stealthy activity, suggestive of
the sinuosity of a tiger. After him, soft-footed and pale, stole the
woman up.

“In which recess did you lock up the letter?” he asked in a low
whisper.

She indicated the place with outstretched finger and shuddered as she
heard the click of the key turning in the lock. A subdued rustle of
papers, a soft, shutting sound, another click as the key turned again,
and the first part of the scheme was achieved.

In the shadowy light of the room their faces looked pale and haggard,
as they sped silently and rapidly towards the door, as though they
feared lest the dead man should arise from his coffin and call upon
them to stop. Did no frown pass over that marble face? Did no sound
hint to them that a disembodied spirit stood near the bed wailing over
the failure of its cherished scheme through the treachery of humanity?
No, all was still as the grave as the two companions glided out of the
room, along the corridor, down the stairs, and found themselves once
more in the housekeeper’s room.

“Faugh!” said Beaumont, on whose pale face the beads of perspiration
were standing, “what unpleasant work. Give me some brandy.”

The housekeeper silently left the room and shortly returned with a
liqueur glass of the liquor, which he tossed off rapidly, and the
effect was soon seen in the glow which came over his face.

“You ought to have some yourself,” he suggested, handing her back the
glass.

“I don’t require it,” she replied coldly. “I’m used to the atmosphere
of this house. You are not.”

“It’s like a charnel-house,” he said, with a look of disgust. “Well,
I’ve done my part of the affair. Now, all you’ve got to do is to swear
Reginald is Fanny Blake’s son. I’ll leave it to your ingenuity to tell
a good story.”

“You can be certain of that,” she replied coldly. “I’ve done with all
scruples, and since it is to enrich my son, you may be sure I will do
my best. And now I suppose in order to avert all suspicion, you’d
better see Miss Una.”

“Yes, of course. I want to return her these keys,” he replied,
jingling the bunch. “If any questions are asked, of course you can
swear I have not been out of the room. But I don’t think you need be
afraid, everything will go quite smooth. There is a strong motive.”

“And the motive?”

“Una’s love for Reginald. Now go and tell her I am here.”

When Patience left the room on her errand he dusted his boots with his
handkerchief, pulled down his shirt-cuffs and settled his tie and hair
in the mirror over the fireplace. By the time Patience returned he had
quite recovered his nonchalant manner, and was humming a tune when she
entered.

“Well?” he asked, facing round.

“It’s all right. She will see you,” replied the housekeeper, and,
catching up his hat and stick, Beaumont followed her along the passage
to the oak parlour.

Una and Miss Cassy, both in deep mourning, were seated at the
breakfast-table when he entered, and as the door closed on Patience,
he apologised for disturbing them.

“Of course I would not have thought of intruding on your grief,” he
said, in a courtly manner, “but the fact is, Miss Challoner, I have a
message for you from Doctor Nestley.”

“Ah, poor, dear doctor,” whimpered Miss Cassy, dabbing her red
eye-lids with a pocket handkerchief. “He’s gone away–so very odd.”

“I don’t think so, aunt,” observed Una quietly. “He had done all he
could for my poor cousin, and now it would be merely wasting his time
for him to remain. What is the message, Mr. Beaumont?”

“Just to give you these keys,” he said, handing the bunch to her.
“They belonged to the squire, and Nestley picked them up after the
death, intending to give them to you, only he forgot all about them
till it was too late, so asked me to bring them to you.”

Una took the keys with a grave bow.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Beaumont,” she said, putting them in her
pocket. “It was very kind of you to bring them. I trust Doctor Nestley
is well?”

Beaumont shrugged his shoulders, the meaning of which action she
understood with feminine quickness.

“Let us hope he will be quite well when he returns home,” she said
with emphasis, her colour rising. “I am truly sorry for him. Where did
he contract this unfortunate habit?”

“Oh, in London, I believe,” said Beaumont carelessly. “I knew him
there five or six years ago. He was very fast in those days. Then he
pulled up and reformed altogether. I am sorry to see him resuming his
old habits.”

Mr. Beaumont did not think it necessary to explain how he had tempted
the unhappy young man, so poor Nestley was blamed severely by both
ladies for his evident tendency to fast living.

“So dreadful,” piped Miss Cassy, lifting up her hands. “I really
cannot understand it, and the dear doctor was so nice. Really, it’s
very odd. Oh, are you going, Mr. Beaumont? So sorry–good-bye.”

Beaumont bowed to both the ladies and then left the room, quite
satisfied with his interview.

“I think I have fixed up everything satisfactorily,” he muttered to
himself, as he lighted a cigarette outside on the terrace. “If
Patience only carries out her part of the affair as well as I have
done mine, we’ll soon put Reginald in possession of the property, and
then–it’s my turn.”

Miss Cassy watched him cross the terrace, and turned to Una with a
look of admiration in her eyes.

“What a handsome man Mr. Beaumont is–so distinguished?” she said
volubly. “Quite like a Spanish what’s-his-name, you know.”

“He’s not bad-looking,” replied Una absently, “but I prefer Reginald.”

“Mr. Blake?” said Miss Cassy, rather astonished to hear her niece
speak of him in such a familiar way.

Una saw that she had betrayed herself, so, going over to the elder
lady, put her arms round her waist caressingly.

“Auntie, you must have seen it all the time.”

“Seen what?” asked Miss Cassy, opening her eyes widely.

“That I love Reginald.”

“Love Reginald Blake! Oh, my dear–how very odd.”

“I don’t see it’s odd at all,” replied Una blushing, “we love one
another very dearly.”

“But, my dear, he’s nobody.”

“He’s everybody–in my eyes,” said Una fondly.

“What would the Squire have said?” observed Miss Cassy in dismay.

“Forbidden the marriage, I’ve no doubt,” replied Una, “so that is why
we kept our engagement quiet–but now we are free to marry.”

“Oh, Una, how heartless you are–so odd, and the poor Squire just
dead.”

“My dear auntie,” said Una gravely, “I am the last person in the world
to speak ill of the dead, but I cannot feign a regret which I do not
feel; the Squire asked us down here for his own gratification–not
ours; we have lived on our own money, and not his; he has taken no
notice of us at all–so neither you nor I can pretend to weep over the
death of a man whom we hardly ever saw, and who certainly did nothing
to deserve tears.”

“But still, he may have left you his fortune,” urged Miss Cassy in a
tearful voice.

“I doubt it,” replied Una with a sigh, “but fortune or no fortune, I
cannot pretend to a grief I do not feel.”

“And you are quite determined to marry Reginald Blake?”

“Quite–we love each other devotedly.”

“I’m sure I hope so,” said poor Miss Cassy whimpering, “it’s just like
a romance of what’s-his-name–so very odd; he is good-looking, I
know–but money–he’s got no money.”

“I don’t want money–I want him.”

“He’s got no name.”

“He’ll make one with his voice.”

“I’m sure,” cried Miss Cassy in despair, “I can’t see what you see in
him.”

Una closed the argument in a most decisive manner.

“I love him.”

This remark was unanswerable, so Miss Cassy dissolved in tears.