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The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 12275

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I listened to the blind gentleman's footsteps as he slowly descended the stairs, and I asked Bob if he considered it safe to allow his nephew to go home unaccompanied.

"Quite safe," replied Bob. "When a man loses the sense of sight he acquires other senses which have not been precisely defined; he seems to have eyes at his fingers' ends. And Ronald prefers to be alone."

"Can you account," I inquired, approaching a subject which I knew was in Bob's mind, and to which he was unwilling to be the first to refer, "for his impression that there was another presence in the room beside ourselves?"

"I cannot," said Bob curtly; "nor can you."

"I do not pretend that I can; but it has set me thinking. Would you object to let me into the secret of the delusion under which he labors?"

"There can be no harm in my doing so," he replied, after a pause. "In a certain way it is a love story, of which I believe Ronald has seen the end, a belief which is not shared by him. The incidents are few, and he sets store upon them, as most young men do who have been in love. It commenced about six years ago, when Ronald, fagged with overwork, went for a summer ramble on the Continent. He spent a few days in Paris, and then took the morning train to Geneva. It is a long travel from Paris to Geneva, and to anyone not cheerfully inclined a wearisome one. A happy spirit is required to enjoy a dozen hours boxed up in a railway carriage, but probably this day was to Ronald the happiest, as it was certainly the most eventful, in his life. For traveling in that train were a young lady and her father, a widower, I believe, though upon this point I cannot speak with certainty, nor can I tell you the gentleman's name, for the reason that Ronald has never mentioned it to me. The lady's was Beatrice, and that is all I know. In the course of that eventful day Ronald found opportunity to make himself of service to the young lady, but his attentions did not appear to be as agreeable to the father as they were to the daughter. It could not be doubted that she accepted them very readily, and that Ronald was as attractive to her as she was to him. From what I have gathered I should say that it was a case of love at first sight on both sides. Ronald, as you have seen, is a handsome young fellow, who would be likely to win favor with ladies all the world over, and at the time I am speaking of he was not oppressed by the fear of losing his sight.

"When they were within a short distance of Geneva he asked Beatrice at which hotel they were going to put up, and she replied that she did not know. He inquired of her father, and that gentleman said he had not made up his mind.

"'I hope we shall meet again,' said Ronald to Beatrice. 'Where do you go from Geneva?'

"'To Chamounix, of course,' she replied. 'I have never been in Switzerland before. Have you?'

"'Oh, yes,' he said. And then he described to her some of the most beautiful spots in Switzerland, and you may be sure that those beautiful spots were the places he intended to visit, and for which he had taken a circular ticket.

"'Perhaps I shall see you in Chamounix,' he said. 'Do you remain long in Geneva?'

"She could not inform him, and he had perforce to live on hope; for, to a fishing inquiry he put to Beatrice's father as to their probable length of stay in Geneva, the reply he received was that no definite plan of travel had been laid out. They might remain in Geneva a week or a fortnight, or they might leave it the next day. Even at this early stage of his acquaintanceship with Beatrice, Ronald discovered that her father did not wish to be intruded upon by strangers. It was dark when the train stopped at the Geneva station, and all Ronald's offers of assistance with the luggage were refused. However, he had the satisfaction, when he shook hands with Beatrice and wished her goodnight, of receiving from her something more than a careless pressure, and he marched to his hotel with the determination not to lose sight of her.

"It was his intention to go to Cluses by rail, and thence by diligence to Chamounix. 'They will take a carriage, of course,' he thought, 'but we shall travel on the same day and arrive in Chamounix the same evening.'

"I have no doubt that he dreamt of Beatrice that night, and that, in his fancy, he saw her fair face in the depths of the beautiful lake the next morning. But that is all he saw of her in Geneva, for though he made diligent search and most industrious inquiries he could not discover the hotel at which Beatrice and her father were staying.

"I know," continued Bob, "that you have formed a favorable opinion of Ronald, but still you can have no idea of the stability of his character and of certain traits in it which distinguish him from most men. Once let an idea take firm possession of him and it is next to impossible to dislodge it. He dwells upon it, strengthens it by self-argument, and begets a strong faith in it. He is not easily discouraged and he seldom gives way to despair; he is, in a word, extraordinarily tenacious, and he was tenacious in this, the first serious love affair in his life. As he has expressed it to me, he felt that fate had brought him and Beatrice together, and that fate would not separate them. These are comfortable convictions; they rob life of many small miseries. Thus strengthened and fortified, Ronald continued his search for Beatrice in Geneva, and was not dashed because of the non-success that attended it. On the third day he determined to go on to Chamounix, and if they were not there to wait for their arrival. In so small a village as Chamounix Beatrice's father could scarcely hope to conceal his daughter from Ronald's eyes. On he went, and discovered that he was before them. There is but one road from Cluses to Chamounix, and from three to six o'clock on the afternoon of every successive day there was no more indefatigable pedestrian on that road than Ronald Elsdale. At length his patience was rewarded. An hour before the diligence was due he saw on the road which crosses the Arve a carriage, in which were seated Beat

rice and her father. He did not wish to be seen by them so early on their arrival and he stepped out briskly before them to the Chamounix village. Their carriage drew up at the Hotel d'Angleterre and in the course of half an hour they left the hotel for a stroll. The moment they were out of sight he entered and engaged a room, and maneuvered to have his seat at the dinner table placed next to theirs. They were greatly surprised to see him, and I need scarcely say that of the two Beatrice was by far the better pleased. Such chance meetings, however, as these between tourists on the Continent are common enough, and, as Ronald is unmistakably a gentleman, Beatrice's father could not but receive him politely. In the course of conversation over the dinner table Beatrice informed Ronald that they intended to remain in Chamounix for at least a week.

"'We are not quite sure,' said Beatrice's father quickly.

"'Oh, yes, we are,' said Beatrice. 'It was a binding promise.'

"He made a grimace, but did not reply.

"I mention these small matters," said Bob, breaking off here, "so that you may rightly understand the attitude adopted by the elder gentleman toward my nephew, and it certainly seems to be not open to doubt that he did not regard Ronald with a favorable eye.

"In the course of that week at Chamounix some understanding must have been arrived at by the young people which caused them to consider themselves engaged, but I believe there was nothing absolutely definite between them at the time. Beatrice and her father left Chamounix for Lucerne, and Ronald followed; but he was as unsuccessful in his endeavors to find them in Lucerne as he had been in Geneva. He went from place to place in the hope of meeting them, and it was not until a fortnight had elapsed that he had the happiness of tracking them to Como. To make short of a long story, Beatrice's father could no longer affect ignorance of the feelings which existed between Ronald and Beatrice, and in a conversation with Ronald he expressed open disapproval of my nephew's attentions. The only effect this opposition had upon Ronald was to deepen his love for Beatrice, and it appeared to be the same with the young lady. In one of the interviews between the gentlemen, Beatrice's father did not hesitate to declare that Ronald was following his daughter for her money, which Ronald indignantly denied, the truth being that he had no idea that Beatrice was in any way an heiress; and, except that she was a lady, and her father a gentleman, he was entirely ignorant of their social position.

"From this point of Ronald's story, what I have to relate must be conveyed in more general terms. I gather that when the tour was ended the young people met occasionally and corresponded; and also that every obstacle that he could devise was placed in their way by Beatrice's father. Thus passed twelve months or so, at the end of which time the young lady mysteriously disappeared; and all Ronald's efforts to trace her were of no avail. It was in the midst of this trouble that his sight began to fail him, and then it was that he was assailed by the doubt whether, threatened with blindness, he had any right to marry. Had it not been for this impending visitation he had sufficient confidence in his prospects to warrant him in setting up a home to which he could bring a wife. But now all was changed, and the best he could hope for was that his exertions would enable him to support himself and his mother in fair comfort. If he had known how to communicate with Beatrice he would have explained this frankly to her, but he did not know where to address her; and consequently Beatrice's father was thus far master of the situation. As you have seen, Ronald was not spared the affliction; the most experienced specialists could do nothing for him; he finally lost his sight, and I am afraid there is no hope of his regaining it.

"Misfortunes never come singly, and they did not come singly to Ronald. About a year after blindness fell upon him he heard that Beatrice was dead, and that before her death she had been for some time in London. If her love for him had been lasting and sincere it was strange that, being in London, she had made no effort to see him and had not even written to him. There would have been no difficulty in her doing one or the other, because she was acquainted with his address; and here comes in one of his delusions. Notwithstanding her silence he believes that she was faithful to him. Upon this you may reasonably ask, 'Why, then, did he himself not endeavor to meet her--why did he discontinue his efforts to ascertain where she was living?' His answer is that he could not offer her a home, that he dared not ask her to share his lot, and that it was his duty to set her free entirely. There is a lack of logic in the method of his reasoning. By his own action he wishes her to believe herself in no way bound to him, and at the same time he believes that she is faithful to the vows they exchanged. Lovers are seldom logical, and my nephew is no exception to the rule.

"But this is a trifling delusion in comparison with one I am now about to mention.

"Beatrice did not die a natural death. Retiring to rest one night, apparently in good health, she was found dead in her bed the next morning. Bear in mind that I do not vouch for the exact correctness of the particulars I am giving you. Ronald has always been exceedingly reticent upon the subject, and it is only from chance observations that have fallen from him that I have gathered and put together what I am now relating. She met her death by asphyxiation. Putting out the gas before getting into bed she must have accidentally turned it on again, for her room was filled with its fumes. In the face of all this, what will you think of my nephew when I tell you that he is under the delusion that Beatrice still lives?"

With the spectral cat in full view of me, I replied:

"Seeing what I see, I cast no doubt upon any man's delusions. It is warm here, Bob, let us go on the roof; perhaps this lady here would like a mouthful of fresh air."

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