Charlotte M. Braeme
Part 1 out of 7
Etext prepared by Theresa Armao.
by Charlotte M. Braeme
"The consequences of folly seldom end with its originator," said
Lord Earle to his son. "Rely upon it, Ronald, if you were to
take this most foolish and unadvisable step, you would bring
misery upon yourself and every one connected with you. Listen to
"There is no reason in prejudice," replied the young man
haughtily. "You can not bring forward one valid reason against
Despite his annoyance, a smile broke over Lord Earle's grave
"I can bring a thousand reasons, if necessary," he replied. "I
grant everything you say. Dora Thorne is very pretty; but
remember, she is quite a rustic and unformed beauty--and I
almost doubt whether she can read or spell properly. She is
modest and good, I grant, and I never heard one syllable against
her. Ronald, let me appeal to your better judgment--are a
moderate amount of rustic prettiness and shy modesty sufficient
qualifications for your wife, who will have to take your mother's
"They are quite sufficient to satisfy me," replied the young man.
"You have others to consider," said Lord Earle, quickly.
"I love her," interrupted his son; and again his father smiled.
"We know what it means," he said, "when boys of nineteen talk
about love. Believe me, Ronald, if I were to consent to your
request, you would be the first in after years to reproach me for
weak compliance with your youthful folly."
"You would not call it folly," retorted Ronald, his face flushing
hotly, "if Dora were an heiress, or the daughter of some--"
"Spare me a long discourse," again interrupted Lord Earle. "You
are quite right; if the young girl in question belonged to your
own station, or even if she were near it, that would be quite a
different matter. I am not annoyed that you have, as you think,
fallen in love, or that you wish to marry, although you are
young. I am annoyed that you should dream of wishing to marry a
simple rustic, the daughter of my lodge keeper. It is so
supremely ridiculous that I can hardly treat the matter
"It is serious enough for me," returned his son with a long, deep
sigh. "If I do not marry Dora Thorne, I shall never marry at
"Better that than a mesalliance," said Lord Earle, shortly.
"She is good," cried Ronald--"good and fair, modest and
graceful. Her heart is pure as her face is fair. What
mesalliance can there be, father? I never have believed and
never shall believe in the cruel laws of caste. In what is one
man better than or superior to another save that he is more
intelligent or more virtuous?"
"I shall never interfere in your politics, Ronald," said Lord
Earle, laughing quietly. "Before you are twenty-one you will
have gone through many stages of that fever. Youth is almost
invariably liberal, age conservative. Adopt what line of
politics you will, but do not bring theory into practice in this
"I should consider myself a hero," continued the young man, "if I
could be the first to break through the trammels of custom and
the absurd laws of caste."
"You would not be the first," said Lord Earle, quietly. "Many
before you have made unequal marriages; many will do so after
you, but in every case I believe regret and disappointment
"They would not in my case," said Ronald, eagerly; "and with Dora
Thorne by my side, I could so anything; without her, I can do
Lord Earle looked grieved at the pertinacity of his son.
"Most fathers would refuse to hear all this nonsense, Ronald," he
said, gently. "I listen, and try to convince you by reasonable
arguments that the step you seem bent upon taking is one that
will entail nothing but misery. I have said no angry word to
you, nor shall I do so. I tell you simply it can not be. Dora
Thorne, my lodge keeper's daughter, is no fitting wife for my
son, the heir of Earlescourt. Come with me, Ronald; I will show
you further what I mean."
They went together, the father and son, so like in face yet so
dissimilar in mind. They had been walking up and down the broad
terrace, one of the chief beauties of Earlescourt. The park and
pleasure grounds, with flushed summer beauty, lay smiling around
them. The song of hundreds of birds trilled through the sweet
summer air, the water of many fountains rippled musically, rare
flowers charmed the eye and sent forth sweet perfume; but neither
song of birds nor fragrance of flowers--neither sunshine nor
music--brought any brightness to the grave faces of the father
With slow steps they quitted the broad terrace, and entered the
hall. They passed through a long suite of magnificent
apartments, up the broad marble staircase, through long
corridors, until they reached the picture gallery, one of the
finest in England. Nearly every great master was represented
there. Murillo, Guido, Raphael, Claude Lorraine, Salvator Rosa,
Correggio, and Tintoretto. The lords of Earlescourt had all
loved pictures, and each of them ad added to the treasures of
that wonderful gallery.
One portion of the gallery was set aside for the portraits of the
family. Grim old warriors and fair ladies hung side by side;
faces of marvelous beauty, bearing the signs of noble descent,
shone out clearly from their gilded frames.
"Look, Ronald," Lord Earle said, laying one hand upon his
shoulder, "you stand before your ancestors now. Yours is a grand
old race. England knows and honors it. Look at these pictured
faces of the wives our fathers chose. There is Lady Sybella
Earle; when one of Cromwell's soldiers drew his dagger to slay
her husband, the truest friend King Charles ever had, she flung
herself before him, and received the blow in his stead. She
died, and he lived--noble and beautiful, is she not? Now look
at the Lacy Alicia--this fair patrician lady smiling by the side
of her grim lord; she, at the risk of her life, helped him to fly
from prison, where he lay condemned to death for some great
political wrong. She saved him, and for her sake he received
pardon. Here is the Lady Helena--she is not beautiful, but look
at the intellect, the queenly brow, the soul-lit eyes! She, I
need not tell you, was a poetess. Wherever the English language
was spoken, her verses were read--men were nobler and better for
reading them. The ladies of our race were such that brave men
may be proud of them. Is it not so, Ronald?"
"Yes," he replied, calmly; "they were noble women."
Lord Earle then led his son to a large painting, upon which the
western sunbeams lingered, brightening the fair face they shone
upon, until it seemed living and smiling. A deep and tender
reverence stole into Lord Earle's voice as he spoke:
"No fairer or more noble woman ever ruled at Earlescourt than
your mother, Ronald. She is the daughter of 'a hundred earls,'
high-bred, beautiful, and refined. Now, let me ask you, in the
name of common sense, do you wish to place my lodge keeper's
daughter by your mother's side? Admit that she is pretty and
good--is it in the fitting order of things that she should be
For the first time, in the heedless, fiery course of his love,
Ronald Earle paused. He looked at the serene and noble face
before him, the broad brow, the sweet, arched lips, the refined
patrician features, and there came to him the memory of another
face, charming, shy and blushing, with a rustic, graceful beauty
different from the one before him as sunlight compared to
moonlight. The words faltered upon his lips--instinctively he
felt that pretty, blushing Dora had no place there. Lord Earle
looked relieved as he saw the doubt upon his son's face.
"You see it, Ronald," he cried. "Your idea of the 'fusion' of
races is well enough in theory, but it will not do brought into
practice. I have been patient with you--I have treated you, not
as a school boy whose head is half turned by his first love, but
as a sensible man endowed with reason and thought. Now give me a
reward. Promise me here that you will make a brave effort, give
up all foolish thoughts of Dora Thorne, and not see her again.
Go abroad for a year or two--you will soon forget this boyish
folly, and bless the good sense that has saved you from it. Will
you promise me, Ronald?"
"I can not, father," he replied, "for I have promised Dora to
make her my wife. I can not break my word. You yourself could
never counsel that."
"In this case I can," said Lord Earle, eagerly. "That promise is
not binding, even in honor; the girl herself, if she has any
reason, can not and does not expect it."
"She believed me," said Ronald, simply. "Besides, I love her,
"Hush," replied Lord Earle, angrily, "I will listen to no more
nonsense. There is a limit to my patience. Once and for all,
Ronald, I tell you that I decidedly forbid any mention of such a
marriage; it is degrading and ridiculous. I forbid you to marry
Dora Thorne; if you disobey me, you must bear the penalty."
"And what would the penalty be?" asked the heir of Earlescourt,
with a coolness and calmness that irritated the father.
"One you would hardly wish to pay," replied the earl. "If, in
spite of my prayers, entreaties, and commands, you persist in
marrying the girl, I will never look upon your face again. My
home shall be no longer your home. You will lose my love, my
esteem, and what perhaps those who have lured you to ruin may
value still more, my wealth. I can not disinherit you; but, if
you persist in this folly, I will not allow you one farthing.
You shall be to me as one dead until I die myself."
"I have three hundred a year," said Ronald, calmly; "that my
godfather left me."
Lord Earle's face now grew white with anger.
"Yes," he replied, "you have that; it would not find you in
gloves and cigars now. But, Ronald, you can not be serious, my
boy. I have loved you--I have been so proud of you--you can
not mean to defy and wound me."
His voice faltered, and his son looked up quickly, touched to the
heart by his father's emotion.
"Give me your consent, father," he cried, passionately. "You
know I love you, and I love Dora; I can not give up Dora."
"Enough," said Lord Earle; "words seem useless. You hear my
final resolve; I shall never change it--no after repentance, no
entreaties, will move me. Choose between your parents, your home,
your position, and the love of this fair, foolish girl, of whom
in a few months you will be tired and weary. Choose between us.
I ask for no promises; you have refused to give it. I appeal no
more to your affection; I leave you to decide for yourself. I
might coerce and force you, but I will not do so. Obey me, and I
will make your happiness my study. Defy me, and marry the girl
then, in life, I will never look upon your face again.
Henceforth, I will have no son; you will not be worthy of the
name. There is no appeal. I leave you now to make your choice;
this is my final resolve."
The Earles, of Earlescourt, were one of the oldest families in
England. The "Barony of Earle" is mentioned in the early reigns
of the Tudor kings. They never appeared to have taken any great
part either in politics or warfare. The annals of the family
told of simple, virtuous lives; they contained, too, some few
romantic incidents. Some of the older barons had been brave
soldiers; and there were stories of hair-breadth escapes and
great exploits by flood and field. Two or three had taken to
politics, and had suffered through their eagerness and zeal; but,
as a rule, the barons of Earle had been simple, kindly gentlemen,
contented to live at home upon their own estates, satisfied with
the duties they found there, careful in the alliances they
contracted, and equally careful in the bringing up and
establishment of their children. One and all they had been
zealous cultivators of the fine arts. Earlescourt was almost
overcrowded with pictures, statues, and works of art.
Son succeeded father, inheriting with title and estate the same
kindly, simple dispositions and the same tastes, until Rupert
Earle, nineteenth baron, with whom our story opens, became Lord
Earle. Simplicity and kindness were not his characteristics. He
was proud, ambitious, and inflexible; he longed for the time when
the Earles should become famous, when their name should be one of
weight in council. In early life his ambitious desires seemed
about to be realized. He was but twenty when he succeeded his
father, and was an only child, clever, keen and ambitious. In
his twenty-first year he married Lady Helena Brooklyn, the
daughter of one of the proudest peers in Britain. There lay
before him a fair and useful life. His wife was an elegant,
accomplished woman, who knew the world and its ways--who had,
from her earliest childhood, been accustomed to the highest and
best society. Lord Earle often told her, laughingly, that she
would have made an excellent embassadress--her manners were so
bland and gracious; she had the rare gift of appearing interested
in every one and in everything.
With such a wife at the head of his establishment, Lord Earle
hoped for great things. He looked to a prosperous career as a
statesman; no honors seemed to him too high, no ambition too
great. But a hard fate lay before him. He made one brilliant
and successful speech in Parliament--a speech never forgotten by
those who heard it, for its astonishing eloquence, its keen wit,
its bitter satire. Never again did his voice rouse alike friend
and foe. He was seized with a sudden and dangerous illness which
brought him to the brink of the grave. After a long and
desperate struggle with the "grim enemy," he slowly recovered,
but all hope of public life was over for him. The doctors said
he might live to be a hale old man if he took proper precautions;
he must live quietly, avoid all excitement, and never dream again
To Lord Earle this seemed like a sentence of exile or death. His
wife tried her utmost to comfort and console him, but for some
years he lived only to repine at his lot. Lady Helena devoted
herself to him. Earlescourt became the center and home of famous
hospitality; men of letters, artists, and men of note visited
there, and in time Lord Earle became reconciled to his fate. All
his hopes and his ambitions were now centered in his son, Ronald,
a fine, noble boy, like his father in every respect save one. He
had the same clear-cut Saxon face, with clear, honest eyes and
proud lips, the same fair hair and stately carriage, but in one
respect they differed. Lord Earle was firm and inflexible; no
one ever thought of appealing against his decision or trying to
change his resolution. If "my lord" had spoken, the matter was
settled. Even Lady Helena knew that any attempt to influence him
was vain. Ronald, on the contrary, could be stubborn, but not
firm. He was more easily influenced; appeal to the better part
of his nature, to his affection or sense of duty, was seldom made
No other children gladdened the Lord Earle's heart, and all his
hopes were centered in his son. For the second time in his life
great hopes and ambitions rose within him. What he had not
achieved his son would do; the honor he could no longer seek
might one day be his son's. There was something almost pitiful
in the love of the stern, disappointed man for his child. He
longed for the time when Ronald would be of age to commence his
public career. He planned for his son as he had never planned
Time passed on, and the heir of Earlescourt went to Oxford, as
his father had done before him. Then came the second bitter
disappointment of Lord Earle's life. He himself was a Tory of
the old school. Liberal principles were an abomination to him;
he hated and detested everything connected with Liberalism. It
was a great shock when Ronald returned from college a "full-
fledged Liberal." With his usual keenness he saw that all
discussion was useless.
"Let the Liberal fever wear out," said one of his friends; "you
will find, Lord Earle, that all young men favor it. Conservatism
is the result of age and experience. By the time your son takes
a position in the world, he will have passed through many stages
Lord Earle devoutly believed it. When the first shock of his
disappointment was over, Ronald's political zeal began to amuse
him. He liked to see the boy earnest in everything. He smiled
when Ronald, in his clear, young voice, read out the speeches of
the chief of his party. He smiled when the young man, eager to
bring theory into practice, fraternized with the tenant farmers,
and visited families from whom his father shrunk in aristocratic
There was little doubt that in those days Ronald Earl believed
himself called to a great mission. He dreamed of the time when
the barriers of caste would be thrown down, when men would have
equal rights and privileges, when the aristocracy of intellect
and virtue would take precedence of noble birth, when wealth
would be more equally distributed, and the days when one man
perished of hunger while another reveled in luxury should cease
to be. His dreams were neither exactly Liberal nor Radical; they
were simply Utopian. Even then, when he was most zealous, had
any one proposed to him that he should inaugurate the new state
of things, and be the first to divide his fortune, the futility
of his theories would have struck him more plainly. Mingling in
good society, the influence of clever men and beautiful women
would, Lord Earle believed, convert his son in time. He did not
oppose him, knowing that all opposition would but increase his
zeal. It was a bitter disappointment to him, but he bore it
bravely, for he never ceased to hope.
A new trouble was dawning for Lord Earle, one far more serious
than the Utopian dream of his son; of all his sorrows it was the
keenest and the longest felt. Ronald fell in love, and was bent
on marrying a simple rustic beauty, the lodge keeper's daughter.
Earlescourt was one of the fairest spots in fair and tranquil
England. It stood in the deep green heart of the land, in the
midst of one of the bonny, fertile midland counties.
The Hall was surrounded by a large park, where the deer browsed
under the stately spreading trees, where there were flowery dells
and knolls that would charm an artist; a wide brook, almost broad
and deep enough to be called a river, rippled through it.
Earlescourt was noted for its trees, a grand old cedar stood in
the middle of the park; the shivering aspen, the graceful elm,
the majestic oak, the tall, flowering chestnut were all seen to
greatest perfection there.
Art had done much, Nature more, to beautify the home of the
Earles. Charming pleasure gardens were laid out with unrivaled
skill; the broad, deep lake was half hidden by the drooping
willows bending over it, and the white water lilies that lay on
its tranquil breast.
The Hall itself was a picturesque, gray old building, with
turrets covered with ivy, and square towers of modern build;
there were deep oriel windows, stately old rooms that told of the
ancient race, and cheerful modern apartments replete with modern
One of the great beauties of Earlescourt was the broad terrace
that ran along one side of the house; the view from it was
unequaled for quiet loveliness. The lake shone in the distance
from between the trees; the perfume from the hawthorn hedges
filled the air, the fountains rippled merrily in the sunshine,
and the flowers bloomed in sweet summer beauty.
Lord Earle loved his beautiful home; he spared no expense in
improvements, and the time came when Earlescourt was known as a
One thing he did of which he repented till the hour of his death.
On the western side of the park he built a new lodge, and
installed therein Stephen Thorne and his wife, little dreaming as
he did so that the first link in what was to be a fatal tragedy
Ronald was nineteen, and Lord Earle thought, his son's college
career ended, he should travel for two or three years. He could
not go with him, but he hoped that surveillance would not be
needed, that his boy would be wise enough and manly enough to
take his first steps in life alone. At college he won the
highest honors; great things were prophesied for Ronald Earle.
They might have been accomplished but for the unfortunate event
that darkened Earlescourt with a cloud of shame and sorrow.
Lord and Lady Earle had gone to pay a visit to an old friend, Sir
Hugh Charteris, of Greenoke. Thinking Ronald would not reach
home until the third week in June, they accepted Sir Hugh's
invitation, and promised to spend the first two weeks in June
with him. But Ronald altered his plans; the visit he was making
did not prove to be a very pleasant one, and he returned to
Earlescourt two days after Lord and Lady Earle had left it. His
father wrote immediately, pressing him to join the party at
Greenoke. He declined, saying that after the hard study of the
few last months he longed for quiet and rest.
Knowing that every attention would be paid to his son's comfort,
Lord Earle thought but little of the matter. In after years he
bitterly regretted that he had not insisted upon his son's going
to Greenoke. So it happened that Ronald Earle, his college
career ended, his future lying like a bright, unruffled dream
before him, had two weeks to spend alone in Earlescourt.
The first day was pleasant enough. Ronald went to see the
horses, inspected the kennels, gladdened the gamekeeper's heart
by his keen appreciation of good sport, rowed on the lake, played
a solitary game at billiards, dined in great state, read three
chapters or "Mill on Liberalism," four of a sensational novel,
and fell asleep satisfied with that day, but rather at a loss to
know what he should do on the next.
It was a beautiful June day; no cloud was in the smiling heavens,
the sun shone bright, and Nature looked so fair and tempting that
it was impossible to remain indoors. Out in the gardens the
summer air seemed to thrill with the song of the birds.
Butterflies spread their bright wings and coquetted with the
fragrant blossoms; busy humming bees buried themselves in the
white cups of the lily and the crimson heart of the rose.
Ronald wandered through the gardens; the delicate golden laburnum
blossoms fell at his feet, and he sat down beneath a large
acacia. The sun was warm, and Ronald thought a dish of
strawberries would be very acceptable. He debated within himself
for some time whether he should return to the house and order
them, or walk down to the fruit garden and gather them for
What impulse was it that sent him on that fair June morning, when
all Nature sung of love and happiness, to the spot where he met
The strawberry gardens at Earlescourt were very extensive. Far
down among the green beds Ronald Earle saw a young girl kneeling,
gathering the ripe fruit, which she placed in a large basket
lined with leaves, and he went down to her.
"I should like a few of those strawberries," he said, gently, and
she raised to his a face he never forgot. Involuntarily he
raised his hat, in homage to her youth and her shy, sweet beauty.
"For whom are you gathering these?" he asked, wondering who she
was, and whence she came.
In a moment the young girl stood up, and made the prettiest and
most graceful of courtesies.
"They are for the housekeeper, sir," she replied; and her voice
was musical and clear as a silver bell.
"Then may I ask who you are?" continued Ronald.
"I am Dora Thorne," she replied, "the lodge keeper's daughter."
"How is it I have never seen you before?" he asked.
"Because I have lived always with my aunt, at Dale," she replied.
"I only came home last year."
"I see," said Ronald. "Will you give me some of those
strawberries?" he asked. "They look so ripe and tempting."
He sat down on one of the garden chairs and watched her. The
pretty white fingers looked so fair, contrasted with the crimson
fruit and green leaves. Deftly and quickly she contrived a small
basket of leaves, and filled it with fruit. She brought it to
him, and then for the first time Ronald saw her clearly, and that
one glance was fatal to him.
She was no calm, grand beauty. She had a shy, sweet, blushing
face, resembling nothing so much as a rosebud, with fresh, ripe
lips; pretty little teeth, which gleamed like white jewels, large
dark eyes, bright as stars, and veiled by long lashes; dark hair,
soft and shining. She was indeed so fair, so modest and
graceful, that Ronald Earle was charmed.
"It must be because you gathered them that they are so nice," he
said, taking the little basket from her hands. "Rest awhile,
Dora--you must be tired with this hot sun shining full upon you.
Sit here under the shade of this apple tree."
He watched the crimson blushes that dyed her fair young face.
She never once raised her dark eyes to his. He had seen
beautiful and stately ladies, but none so coy or bewitching as
this pretty maiden. The more he looked at her the more he
admired her. She had no delicate patrician loveliness, no
refined grace; but for glowing, shy, fresh beauty, who could
So the young heir of Earlescourt sat, pretending to enjoy the
strawberries, but in reality engrossed by the charming figure
before him. She neither stirred nor spoke. Under the boughs of
the apple tree, with the sunbeams falling upon her, she made a
fair picture, and his eyes were riveted upon it.
It was all very delightful, and very wrong. Ronald should not
have talked to the lodge keeper's daughter, and sweet, rustic
Dora Thorne should have known better. But they were young, and
such days come but seldom, and pass all too quickly.
"Dora Thorne," said Ronald, musingly--"what a pretty name! How
well it suits you! It is quite a little song in itself."
She smiled with delight at his words; then her shy, dark eyes
were raised for a moment, and quickly dropped again.
"Have you read Tennyson's 'Dora?'" he asked.
"No," she replied--"I have little time for reading."
"I will tell you the story," he said, patronizingly. "Ever since
I read it I have had an ideal 'Dora,' and you realize my dream."
She had not the least idea what he meant; but when he recited the
musical words, her fancy and imagination were stirred; she saw
the wheat field, the golden corn, the little child and its
anxious mother. When Ronald ceased speaking, he saw her hands
were clasped and her lips quivering.
"Did you like that?" he asked, with unconscious patronage.
"So much!" she replied. "Ah, he must be a great man who wrote
those words; and you remember them all."
Her simple admiration flattered and charmed him. He recited
other verses for her, and the girl listened in a trance of
delight. The sunshine and western wind brought no warning to the
heir of Earlescourt that he was forging the first link of a
dreadful tragedy; he thought only of the shy, blushing beauty and
coy grace of the young girl!
Suddenly from over the trees there came the sound of the great
bell at the Hall. Then Dora started.
"It is one o'clock!" she cried. "What shall I do? Mrs. Morton
will be angry with me."
"Angry!" said Ronald, annoyed at this sudden breakup of his
Arcadian dream. "Angry with you! For what?"
"She is waiting for the strawberries," replied conscious Dora,
"and my basket is not half full."
It was a new idea to him that any one should dare to be angry
with this pretty, gentle Dora.
"I will help you," he said.
In less than a minute the heir of Earlescourt was kneeling by
Dora Thorne, gathering quickly the ripe strawberries, and the
basket was soon filled.
"There," said Ronald, "you need not fear Mrs. Morton now, Dora.
You must go, I suppose; it seems hard to leave this bright
sunshine to go indoors!"
"I--I would rather stay," said Dora, frankly; "but I have much
"Shall you be here tomorrow?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied; "it will take me all the week to gather
strawberries for the housekeeper."
"Goodbye, Dora," he said, "I shall see you again."
He held out his hand, and her little fingers trembled and
fluttered in his grasp. She looked so happy, yet so frightened,
so charming, yet so shy. He could have clasped her in his arms
at that moment, and have said he loved her; but Ronald was a
gentleman. He bowed over the little hand, and then relinquished
it. He watched the pretty, fairy figure, as the young girl
"Shame on all artificial training!" said Ronald to himself.
"What would our fine ladies give for such a face? Imagine beauty
without coquetry or affectation. The girl's heart is as pure as
a stainless lily; she never heard of 'a grand match' or a 'good
parli.' If Tennyson's Dora was like her, I do not wonder at
anything that happened."
Instead of thinking to himself that he had done a foolish thing
that bright morning, and that his plain duty was to forget all
about the girl, Ronald lighted his cigar, and began to dream of
the face that had charmed him.
Dora took the fruit to Mrs. Morton, and received no reprimand;
then she was sent home to the cottage, her work for the day
ended. She had to pass through the park. Was it the same road
she had trodden this morning? What caused the new and shining
glory that had fallen on every leaf and tree? The blue heavens
seemed to smile upon her; every flower, every song of the bright
birds had a new meaning. What was it? Her own heart was beating
as it had never beaten before; her face was flushed, and the
sweet, limpid eyes shone with a new light. What was it? Then
she came to the brook-side and sat down on the violet bank.
The rippling water was singing a new song, something of love and
youth, of beauty and happiness--something of a new and fairy-
like life; and with the faint ripple and fall of the water came
back to her the voice that had filled her ears and touched her
heart. Would she ever again forget the handsome face that had
smiled so kindly upon her? Surely he was a king among men, and
he had praised her, said her name was like a song, and that she
was like the Dora of the beautiful poem. This grand gentleman,
with the clear, handsome face and dainty white hands, actually
So Dora dreamed by the brook-side, and she was to see him again
and again; she gave no thought to a cold, dark time when she
should see him no more. Tomorrow the sun would shine, the birds
sing, and she should see him once again.
Dora never remembered how that happy day passed. Good Mrs.
Thorne looked at her child, and sighed to think how pretty she
was and how soon that sweet, dimpled face would be worn with
Dora's first proceeding was characteristic enough. She went to
her own room and locked the door; then she put the cracked little
mirror in the sunshine, and proceeded to examine her face. She
wanted to see why Ronald Earle admired her; she wondered much at
this new power she seemed possessed of; she placed the glass on
the table, and sat down to study her own face. She saw that it
was very fair; the coloring was delicate and vivid, like that of
the heart of a rose; the fresh, red lips were arched and smiling;
the dark, shy eyes, with their long silken lashes, were bright
and clear; a pretty, dimpled, smiling face told of a sweet,
simple, loving nature--that was all; there was no intellect, no
soul, no high-bred refinement; nothing but the charm of bright,
Dora was half puzzled. She had never thought much of her own
appearance. Having lived always with sensible, simple people,
the pernicious language of flattery was unknown to her. It was
with a half-guilty thrill of delight that she for the first time
realized the charm of her own sweet face.
The sunny hours flew by. Dora never noted them; she thought only
of the morning past and the morning to come, while Ronald dreamed
of her almost unconsciously. She had been a bright feature in a
bright day; his artistic taste had been gratified, his eyes had
been charmed. The pretty picture haunted him, and he remembered
with pleasure that on the morrow he should see the shy, sweet
face again. No thought of harm or wrong even entered his mind.
He did not think that he had been imprudent. He had recited a
beautiful poem to a pretty, coy girl, and in a grand, lordly way
he believed himself to have performed a kind action.
The morning came, and they brought bright, blushing Dora to her
work; again the little white fingers glistened amid the crimson
berries. Then Dora heard him coming. She heard his footsteps,
and her face grew "ruby red." He made no pretense of finding her
"Good morning, Dora," he said; "you look as bright as the
sunshine and as fair as the flowers. Put away the basket; I have
brought a book of poems, and mean to read some to you. I will
help you with your work afterward."
Dora, nothing loath, sat down, and straightway they were both in
fairyland. He read industriously, stealing every now and then a
glance at his pretty companion. She knew nothing of what he was
reading, but his voice made sweeter music than she had ever heard
At length the book was closed, and Ronald wondered what thoughts
were running through his companion's simple, artless mind. So he
talked to her of her daily life, her work, her pleasures, her
friends. As he talked he grew more and more charmed; she had no
great amount of intellect, no wit or keen powers of repartee, but
the girl's love of nature made her a poetess. She seemed to know
all the secrets of the trees and the flowers; no beauty escaped
her; the rustle of green leaves, the sighs of the western wind,
the solemn hush of the deep-green woods, the changing tints of
the summer sky delighted her. Beautiful words, embodying
beautiful thoughts, rippled over the fresh, ripe lips. She knew
nothing else. She had seen no pictures, read no books, knew
nothing of the fine arts, was totally ignorant of all scholarly
lore, but deep in her heart lay a passionate love for the fair
face of nature.
It was new to Ronald. He had heard fashionable ladies speak of
everything they delighted in. He had ever heard of "music in the
fall of rain drops," or character in flowers.
Once Dora forgot her shyness, and when Ronald said something, she
laughed in reply. How sweet and pure that laughter was--like a
soft peal of silver bells! When Ronald Earle went to sleep that
night, the sound haunted his dreams.
Every morning brought the young heir of Earlescourt to the bright
sunny gardens where Dora worked among the strawberries. As the
days passed she began to lose something of her shy, startled
manner, and laughed and talked to him as she would have done to
her own brother. His vanity was gratified by the sweetest homage
of all, the unconscious, unspoken love and admiration of the
young girl. He liked to watch the blushes on her face, and the
quivering of her lips when she caught the first sound of his
coming footsteps. He liked to watch her dark eyes droop, and
then to see them raised to his with a beautiful, startled light.
Insensibly his own heart became interested. At first he had
merely thought of passing a pleasant hour; then he admired Dora,
and tried to believe that reading to her was an act of pure
benevolence; but, as the days passed on, something stronger and
sweeter attracted him. He began to love her--and she was his
Wonderful to say, these long tete-a-tetes had not attracted
observation. No rumor of them escaped, so that no thorn appeared
in this path of roses which led to the brink of a precipice.
It wanted three days until the time settled for the return of
Lord and Lady Earle. Sir Harry Laurence, of Holtham Hall, asked
Ronald to spend a day with him; and, having no valid excuse, he
"I shall not see you tomorrow, Dora," he said. "I am going away
for the day."
She looked at him with a startled face. One whole day without
him! Then, with a sudden deadly pain, came the thought that
these golden days must end; the time must come when she should
see him no more. The pretty, dimpled face grew pale, and a dark
shadow came into the clear eyes.
"Dora," cried Ronald, "why do you look so frightened? What is
She gave him no answer, but turned away. He caught her hands in
"Are you grieved that I am going away for one whole day?" he
asked. But she looked so piteous and so startled that he waited
for no reply. "I shall continue to see you," he resumed. "I
could not let any day pass without that."
"And afterward," she said, simply, raising her eyes to his full
Then Ronald paused abruptly--he had never given one thought to
the "afterward." Why, of course strawberries would not grow
forever--it would not always be summer. Lord Earle would soon
be back again, and then he must go abroad. Where would Dora be
then? He did not like the thought--it perplexed him. Short as
was the time he had known her, Dora had, in some mysterious way,
grown to be a part of himself. He could not think of a day
wherein he should not see her blushing, pretty face, and hear the
music of her words. He was startled, and clasped her little
hands more tightly within his own.
"You would not like to lose me, Dora?" he said, gently.
"No," she replied; and then tears fell from her dark eyes.
Poor Ronald! Had he been wise, he would have flown then; but he
bent his head over her, and kissed the tears away. The pretty
rounded cheek, so soft and child-like, he kissed again, and then
clasped the slight girlish figure in his arms.
"Do not shed another tear, Dora," he whispered; "we will not lose
each other. I love you, and you shall be my wife."
One minute before he spoke the idea had not even crossed his
mind; it seemed to him afterward that another voice had spoken by
"Your wife!" she cried, looking at him in some alarm. "Ah, no!
You are very kind and good, but that could never be."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because you are so far above me," replied the girl. "I and mine
are servants and dependents of yours. We are not equal; I must
learn to forget you," sobbed Dora, "and break my own heart!"
She could not have touched Ronald more deeply; in a moment he had
poured forth a torrent of words that amazed her. Fraternity and
equality, caste and folly, his mission and belief, his love and
devotion, were all mingled in one torrent of eloquence that
simply alarmed her.
"Never say that again, Dora," he continued, his fair, boyish face
flushing. "You are the equal of a queen upon her throne; you are
fair and true, sweet and good. What be a queen more than that?"
"A queen knows more," sighed Dora. "I know nothing in all the
"Then I will teach you," he said. "Ah, Dora, you know enough!
You have beautiful thoughts, and you clothe them in beautiful
words. Do not turn from me; say you love me and will be my wife.
I love you, Dora--do not make me unhappy."
"I would not make you unhappy," she said, "for the whole world;
if you wish me to love you--oh, you know I love you--if you
wish me to go away and forget you, I will do my best."
But the very thought of it brought tears again. She looked so
pretty, so bewildered between sorrow and joy, so dazzled by
happiness, and yet so piteously uncertain, that Ronald was more
charmed than ever.
"My darling Dora," he said, "you do love me. Your eyes speak, if
your lips do not tell me. Will you be my wife? I can not live
It was the prettiest picture in the world to see the color return
to the sweet face. Ronald bent his head, and heard the sweet
"You shall never rue your trust, Dora," he said, proudly; but she
"What will Lord Earle say?" she asked; and again Ronald was
startled by that question.
"My father can say nothing," he replied. "I am old enough to
please myself, and this is a free country. I shall introduce you
to him, Dora, and tell him you have promised to be my wife. No
more tears, love. There is nothing but happiness before us."
And so he believed. He could think of nothing, care for nothing
but Dora--her pretty face, her artless, simple ways, her
undisguised love for him. There was but one excuse. He was
young, and it was his first love; yet despite his happiness, his
pride, his independence, he did often wonder in what words he
should tell his father that he had promised to marry the lodge
keeper's daughter. There were even times when he shivered, as
one seized with sudden cold, at the thought.
The four days passed like a long, bright dream. It was a pretty
romance, but sadly misplaced--a pretty summer idyll. They were
but boy and girl. Dora met Ronald in the park, by the brook-
side, and in the green meadows where the white hawthorn grew.
They talked of but one thing, their love. Ronald never tired of
watching Dora's fair face and pretty ways; she never wearied of
telling him over and over again, in a hundred different ways, how
noble and kind he was, and how dearly she loved him.
Lord Earle wrote to say that he should be home on the Thursday
evening, and that they were bringing back a party of guests with
"There will be no time to tell my father just at present," said
Ronald; "so, Dora, we must keep our secret. It will not do to
tell your father before I tell mine."
They arranged to keep the secret until Lord Earle should be alone
again. They were to meet twice every day--in the early morning,
while the dew lay on the grass, and in the evening, when the Hall
would be full of bustle and gayety.
Ronald felt guilty--he hardly knew how or why--when his father
commiserated him for the two lonely weeks he had spent. Lonely!
He had not felt them so; they had passed all too quickly for him.
How many destinies were settled in that short time!
There was little time for telling his secret to Lord Earle. The
few guests who had returned to Earlescourt were men of note, and
their host devoted himself to their entertainment.
Lady Earle saw some great change in her son. She fancied that he
spent a great deal of time out of doors. She asked him about it,
wondering if he had taken to studying botany, for late and early
he never tired of rambling in the park. She wondered again at
the flush that crimsoned his face; but the time was coming when
she would understand it all.
It is probable that if Ronald at that time had had as much of
Dora's society as he liked, he would soon have discovered his
mistake, and no great harm would have been done; but the foolish
romance of foolish meetings had a charm for him. In those
hurried interviews he had only time to think of Dora's love--he
never noted her deficiencies; he was charmed with her tenderness
and grace; her artless affection was so pretty; the difference
between her and those with whom he was accustomed to talk was so
great; her very ignorance had a piquant charm for him. So they
went on to their fate.
One by one Lord Earle's guests departed, yet Ronald had not told
his secret. A new element crept into his love, and urged him on.
Walking one day through the park with his father they overtook
Dora's father. A young man was with him and the two were talking
earnestly together, so earnestly that they never heard the two
gentlemen; and in passing by Ronald distinguished the words, "You
give me your daughter, Mr. Thorne, and trust me to make her
Ronald Earle turned quickly to look at the speaker. He saw
before him a young man, evidently a well-to-do farmer from his
appearance, with a calm, kind face and clear and honest eyes; and
he was asking for Dora--Dora who was to be his wife and live at
Earlescourt. He could hardly control his impatience; and it
seemed to him that evening would never come.
Dinner was over at last. Lord Earle sat with Sir Harry Laurence
over a bottle of claret, and Lady Earle was in the drawing room
and had taken up her book. Ronald hastened to the favorite
trysting place, the brook-side. Dora was there already, and he
saw that her face was still wet with tears. She refused at first
to tell him her sorrow. Then she whispered a pitiful little
story, that made her lover resolve upon some rash deeds.
Ralph Holt had been speaking to her father, and had asked her to
marry him. She had said "No;" but her mother had wept, and her
father had grown angry, and had said she should obey him.
"He has a large farm," said Dora, with a bitter sigh. "He says I
should live like a great lady, and have nothing to do. He would
be kind to my father and mother; but I do not love him," she
Clasping her tender little hands round Ronald's arm, "I do not
love him," she sobbed; "and, Ronald, I do love you."
He bent down and kissed her pretty, tear-bedewed face, all the
chivalry of his nature aroused by her words.
"You shall be my wife, Dora," he said, proudly, "and not his.
This very evening I will tell my father, and ask his consent to
our marriage. My mother is sure to love you--she is so kind and
gracious to every one. Do not tremble, my darling; neither Ralph
Holt nor any one else shall take you from me."
She was soon comforted! There was no bound or limit to her faith
in Ronald Earle.
"Go home now,"he said, "and tomorrow my father himself shall see
you. I will teach that young farmer his place. No more tears,
Dora--our troubles will end tonight."
He went with her down the broad walk, and then returned to the
Hall. He walked very proudly, with his gallant head erect,
saying to himself that this was a free country and he could do
what he liked; but for all that his heart beat loudly when he
entered the drawing room and found Lord and Lady Earle. They
looked up smilingly at him, all unconscious that their beloved
son, the heir of Earlescourt, was there to ask permission to
marry the lodge keeper's daughter.
Ronald Earle had plenty of courage--no young hero ever led a
forlorn hope with more bravery that he displayed in the interview
with his parents, which might have daunted a bolder man. As he
approached, Lady Earle raised her eyes with a languid smile.
"Out again, Ronald!" she said. "Sir Harry Laurence left his
adieus for you. I think the park possesses some peculiar
fascination. Have you been walking quickly? Your face is
He made no reply, but drew near to his mother; he bent over her
and raised her hand to his lips.
"I am come to tell you something," he said. "Father, will you
listen to me? I ask your permission to marry Dora Thorne, one of
the fairest, sweetest girls in England."
His voice never faltered, and the brave young face never quailed.
Lord Earle looked at him in utter amazement.
"To marry Dora Thorne!" he said. "And who, in the name of
reason, is Dora Thorne?"
"The lodge keeper's daughter," replied Ronald, stoutly. "I love
her, father, and she loves me."
He was somewhat disconcerted when Lord Earle, for all reply,
broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. He had expected a
storm--expostulations, perhaps, and reproaches--anything but
"You can not be serious, Ronald," said his mother, smiling.
"I am so much in earnest," he replied, "that I would give up all
I have in the world--my life itself, for Dora."
Then Lord Earle ceased laughing, and looked earnestly at the
handsome, flushed face.
"No," said he, "you can not be serious. You dare not ask your
mother to receive a servant's daughter as her own child. Your
jest is in bad taste, Ronald."
"It is no jest," he replied. "We Earles are always terribly in
earnest. I have promised to marry Dora Thorne, and, with your
permission, I intend to keep my word."
An angry flush rose to Lord Earle's face, but he controlled his
"In any case," he replied, quietly, "you are too young to think
of marriage yet. If you had chosen the daughter of a duke, I
should, for the present, refuse."
"I shall be twenty in a few months," said Ronald,"and I am
willing to wait until then."
Lady Earle laid her white jeweled hand on her son's shoulder, and
"My dear Ronald, have you lost your senses? Tell me, who is Dora
Thorne?" She saw tears shining in his eyes; his brave young face
touched her heart. "Tell me," she continued, "who is she? Where
have you seen her? What is she like?"
"She is so beautiful, mother," he said, "that I am sure you would
love her; she is as fair and sweet as she is modest and true. I
met her in the gardens some weeks ago, and I have met her every
Lord and Lady Earle exchanged a glance of dismay which did not
"Why have you not told us of this before?" asked his father,
"I asked her to be my wife while you were from home," replied
Ronald. "She promised and I have only been waiting until our
guests left us and you had more time."
"Is it to see Dora Thorne that you have been out so constantly?"
asked Lady Earle.
"Yes, I could not let a day pass without seeing her," he replied;
"it would be like a day without sunshine."
"Does any one else know of this folly?" asked Lord Earle,
"No, you may be quite sure, father, I should tell you before I
told any one else," replied Ronald.
They looked at him in silent dismay, vexed and amazed at what he
had done--irritated at his utter folly, yet forced to admire his
honor, his courage, his truth. Both felt that some sons would
have carefully concealed such a love affair from them. They were
proud of his candor and integrity, although deploring his folly.
"Tell us all about it, Ronald," said Lady Earle.
Without the least hesitation, Ronald told them every word; and
despite their vexation, neither could help smiling--it was such
a pretty story--a romance, all sunshine, smiles, tears, and
flowers. Lord Earle's face cleared as he listened, and he laid
one hand on his boy's shoulder.
"Ronald," said he, "we shall disagree about your love; but
remember, I do full justice to your truth. After all, the fault
is my own. I might have known that a young fellow of your age,
left all alone, was sure to get into mischief; you have done so.
Say no more now; I clearly and distinctly refuse my consent. I
appeal to your honor that you meet this young girl no more. We
will talk of it another time."
When the door closed behind him, Lord and Lady Earle looked at
each other. The lady's face was pale and agitated.
"Oh, Rupert," she said, "how brave and noble he is! Poor foolish
boy! How proud he looked of his absurd mistake. We shall have
trouble with him, I foresee!"
"I do not think so," replied her husband. "Valentine Charteris
will be here soon, and when Ronald sees her he will forget this
"It will be better not to thwart him," interrupted Lady Earle.
"Let me manage the matter, Rupert. I will go down to the lodge
tomorrow, and persuade them to send the girl away; and then we
will take Ronald abroad, and he will forget all about it in a few
All night long the gentle lady of Earlescourt was troubled by
strange dreams--by vague, dark fears that haunted her and would
not be laid to rest.
"Evil will come of it," she said to herself--"evil and sorrow.
This distant shadow saddens me now."
The next day she went to the lodge, and asked for Dora. She half
pardoned her son's folly when she saw the pretty dimpled face,
the rings of dark hair, lying on the white neck. The girl was
indeed charming and modest, but unfitted--oh, how unfitted!
ever to be Lady Earle. She was graceful as a wild flower is
graceful; but she had no manner, no dignity, no cultivation. She
stood blushing, confused, and speechless, before the "great
"You know what I want you for, Dora," said Lady Earle, kindly.
"My son has told us of the acquaintance between you. I am come
to say it must cease. I do not wish to hurt or wound you. Your
own sense must tell you that you can never be received by Lord
Earle and myself as our daughter. We will not speak of your
inferiority in birth and position. You are not my son's equal in
refinement or education; he would soon discover that, and tire of
Dora spoke no word, the tears falling from her bright eyes; this
time there was no young lover to kiss them away. She made no
reply and when Lady Earle sent for her father, Dora ran away; she
would hear no more.
"I know nothing of it, my lady," said the worthy lodge keeper,
who was even more surprised than his master had been. "Young
Ralph Holt wants to marry my daughter, and I have said that she
shall be his wife. I never dreamed that she knew the young
master; she has not mentioned his name."
Lady Earle's diplomacy succeeded beyond her most sanguine
expectations. Stephen Thorne and his wife, although rather
dazzled by the fact that their daughter had captivated the future
Lord Earlescourt, let common sense and reason prevail, and saw
the disparity and misery such a marriage would cause. They
promised to be gentle and kind to Dora, not to scold or reproach
her, and to allow some little time to elapse before urging Ralph
When Lady Earle rose, she placed a twenty-pound banknote in the
hands of Stephen Thorne, saying:
"You are sending Dora to Eastham; that will cover the expenses."
"I could not do that, my lady," said Stephen, refusing to take
the money. "I can not sell poor Dora's love."
Then Lady Earle held out her delicate white hand, and the man
bowed low over it. Before the sun set that evening, Stephen
Thorne had taken Dora to Eastham, where she was to remain until
Ronald had gone abroad.
For a few days it seemed as though the storm had blown over.
There was one angry interview between father and son, when Ronald
declared that sending Dora away was a breach of faith, and that
he would find her out and marry her how and when he could. Lord
Earle thought his words were but the wild folly of a boy deprived
of a much-desired toy. He did not give them serious heed.
The story of Earlescourt might have been different, had not
Ronald, while still amazed and irritated by his father's cool
contempt, encountered Ralph Holt. They met at the gate leading
from the fields to the high road; it was closed between them, and
neither could make way.
"I have a little account to settle with you, my young lordling,"
said Ralph, angrily. "Doves never mate with eagles; if you want
to marry, choose one of your own class, and leave Dora Thorne to
"Dora Thorne is mine," said Ronald, haughtily.
"She will never be," was the quick reply. "See, young master, I
have loved Dora since she was a--a pretty, bright-eyed child.
father lived near my father's farm then. I have cared for her
all my life--I do not know that I have ever looked twice at
another woman's face. Do not step in between me and my love.
The world is wide, and you can choose where you will--do not rob
me of Dora Thorne."
There was a mournful dignity in the man's face that touched
"I am sorry for you," he said, "if you love Dora; for she will be
"Never!" cried Ralph. "Since you will not listen to fair words,
I defy you. I will go to Eastham and never leave Dora again
until she will be my own."
High, angry words passed between them, but Ralph in his passion
had told the secret Ronald had longed to know--Dora was at
It was a sad story and yet no rare one. Love and jealousy robbed
the boy of his better sense; duty and honor were forgotten.
Under pretense of visiting one of his college friends, Ronald
went to Eastham. Lord and Lady Earle saw him depart without any
apprehension; they never suspected that he knew where Dora was.
It was a sad story, and bitter sorrow came from it. Word by word
it can not be written, but when the heir of Earlescourt saw Dora
again, her artless delight, her pretty joy and sorrow mingled,
her fear and dislike of Ralph, her love for himself drove all
thought of duty and honor from his mind. He prayed her to become
his wife secretly. He had said that when once they were married
his father would forgive them, and all would be well. He
believed what he said; Dora had no will but his. She forgot all
Lady Earle's warnings; she remembered only Ronald and his love.
So they were married in the quiet parish church of Helsmeer,
twenty miles from Eastham, and no human being either knew or
guessed their secret.
There was no excuse, no palliation for an act that was undutiful,
dishonorable, and deceitful--there was nothing to plead for him,
save that he was young, and had never known a wish refused.
They were married. Dora Thorne became Dora Earle. Ronald parted
from his pretty wife immediately. He arranged all his plans with
what he considered consummate wisdom. He was to return home, and
try by every argument in his power to soften his father and win
his consent. If he still refused, then time would show him the
best course. Come what might, Dora was his; nothing on earth
could part them. He cared for very little else. Even if the
very worst came, and his father sent him from home, it would only
be for a time, and there was Dora to comfort him.
He returned to Earlescourt, and though his eyes were never raised
in clear, true honesty to his father's face, Lord Earle saw that
his son looked happy, and believed the cloud had passed away.
Dora was to remain at Eastham until she heard from him. He could
not write to her, nor could she send one line to him; but he
promised and believed that very soon he should take her in all
honor to Earlescourt.
It was a beautiful morning toward the end of August; the balmy
sweetness of spring had given way to the glowing radiance of
summer. The golden corn waved in the fields, the hedge rows were
filled with wild flowers, the fruit hung ripe in the orchards.
Nature wore her brightest smile. The breakfast room at
Earlescourt was a pretty apartment; it opened on a flower garden,
and through the long French windows came the sweet perfume of
It was a pretty scene--the sunbeams fell upon the rich silver,
the delicate china, the vases of sweet flowers. Lord Earle sat
at the head of the table, busily engaged with his letters. Lady
Earle, in the daintiest of morning toilets, was smiling over the
pretty pink notes full of fashionable gossip. Her delicate,
patrician face looked clear and pure in the fresh morning light.
But there was no smile on Ronald's face. He was wondering, for
the hundredth time, how he was to tell his father what he had
done. He longed to be with his pretty Dora; and yet there was a
severe storm to encounter before he could bring her home.
"Ah," said Lady Earle, suddenly, "here is good news--Lady
Charteris is positively coming, Rupert. Sir Hugh will join her
in a few days. She will be here with Valentine tomorrow."
"I am very glad," said Lord Earle, looking up with pleasure and
surprise. "We must ask Lady Laurence to meet them."
Ronald sighed; his parents busily discussed the hospitalities and
pleasures to be offered their guests. A grand dinner party was
planned, and a ball, to which half the country side were to be
"Valentine loves gayety," said Lady Earle, "and we must give her
plenty of it."
"I shall have all this to go through," sighed Ronald--"grand
parties, dinners, and balls, while my heart longs to be with my
darling; and in the midst of it all, how shall I find time to
talk to my father? I will begin this very day."
When dinner was over, Ronald proposed to Lord Earle that they
should go out on the terrace and smoke a cigar there. Then took
place the conversation with which our story opens, when the
master of Earlescourt declared his final resolve.
Ronald was more disturbed than he cared to own even to himself.
Once the words hovered upon his lips that he had married Dora.
Had Lord Earl been angry or contemptuous, he would have uttered
them; but in the presence of his father's calm, dignified wisdom,
he was abashed and uncertain. For the first time he felt the
truth of all his father said. Not that he loved Dora less, or
repented of the rash private marriage, but Lord Earle's appeal to
his sense of the "fitness of things" touched him.
There was little time for reflection. Lady Charteris and her
daughter were coming on the morrow. Again Lady Earle entered the
field as a diplomatist, and came off victorious.
"Ronald," said his mother, as they parted that evening, "I know
that, as a rule, young men of your age do not care for the
society of elderly ladies; I must ask you to make an exception in
favor of Lady Charteris. They showed me great kindness at
Greenoke, and you must help me to return it. I shall consider
every attention shown to the lady and her daughter as shown to
Ronald smiled at his mother's words, and told her he would never
fail in her service.
"If he sees much of Valentine," thought his mother, "he can not
help loving her. Then all will be well."
Ronald was not in the house when the guests arrived; they came
rather before the appointed time. His mother and Lady Charteris
had gone to the library together, leaving Valentine in the
drawing room alone. Ronald found her there. Opening the door,
he saw the sleeve of a white dress; believing Lady Earle was
there, he went carelessly into the room, then started in
astonishment at the vision before him. Once in a century,
perhaps, one sees a woman like Valentine Charteris; of the purest
and loveliest Greek type, a calm, grand, magnificent blonde, with
clear, straight brows, fair hair that shone like satin and lay in
thick folds around her queenly head--tall and stately, with a
finished ease and grace of manner that could only result from
long and careful training. She rose when Ronald entered the
room, and her beautiful eyes were lifted calmly to his face.
Suddenly a rush of color dyed the white brow. Valentine
remembered what Lady Earle had said of her son. She knew that
both his mother and hers wished that she should be Ronald's wife.
"I beg your pardon," he said hastily, "I thought Lady Earle was
"She is in the library," said Valentine, with a smile that
He bowed and withdrew. This, then, was Valentine Charteris, the
fine lady whose coming he had dreaded. She was very beautiful--
he had never seen a face like hers.
No thought of love, or of comparing this magnificent woman with
simple, pretty Dora, ever entered his mind. But Ronald was a
true artist, and one of no mean skill. He thought of that pure
Grecian face as he would have thought of a beautiful picture or
an exquisite statue. He never thought of the loving, sensitive
woman's heart hidden under it.
It was not difficult when dinner was over to open the grand piano
for Valentine, to fetch her music, and listen while she talked of
operas he had never heard. It was pleasant to watch her as she
sat in the evening gloaming, her superb beauty enhanced by the
delicate evening dress of fine white lace; the shapely shoulders
were polished and white, the exquisite arms rounded and clasped
by a bracelet of pearls. She wore a rose in the bodice of her
dress, and, as Ronald bent over the music she was showing him the
sweet, subtle perfume came to him like a message from Dora.
Valentine Charteris had one charm even greater than her beauty.
She talked well and gracefully--the play of her features, the
movement of her lips, were something not to be forgotten; and her
smile seemed to break like a sunbeam over her whole face--it was
Poor Ronald stood by her, watching the expression that seemed to
change with every word; listening to pretty polished language
that was in itself a charm. The two mothers, looking on, and
Lord Earle felt himself relieved from a heavy weight of care.
Then Lady Earle asked Valentine to sing. She was quite free from
"What kind of music do you prefer?" she asked, looking at Ronald.
"Simple old ballads," he replied, thinking of Dora, and how
prettily she would sing them.
He started when the first note of Valentine's magnificent voice
rang clear and sweet in the quiet gloaming. She sang some quaint
old story of a knight who loved a maiden--loved and rode away,
returning after long years to find a green grave. Ronald sat
thinking of Dora. Ah, perhaps, had he forsaken her, the pretty
dimpled face would have faded away! He felt pleased that he had
been true. Then the music ceased.
"Is that what you like?" asked Valentine Charteris, "it is of the
stronger sentimental school."
Simple, honest Ronald wondered if sentiment was a sin against
etiquette, or why fashionable ladies generally spoke of it with a
"Do you laugh at sentiment?" he asked; and Valentine opened her
fine eyes in wonder at the question. Lady Earle half overheard
it, and smiled in great satisfaction. Matters must be going on
well, she thought, if Ronald had already begun to speak of
sentiment. She never thought that his heart and mind were with
Dora while he spoke--pretty Dora, who cried over his poetry, and
devoutly believed in the language of flowers.
The evening passed rapidly, and Ronald felt something like regret
when it ended. Lady Earle was too wise to make any comments; she
never asked her son if he liked Valentine or what he thought of
"I am afraid you are tired," she said, with a charming smile;
"thank you for helping to amuse my friends."
When Ronald thought over what he had done, his share seemed very
small; still his mother was pleased, and he went to rest resolved
that on the morrow he would be doubly attentive to Miss
Three days passed, and Ronald had grown quite at ease with
Valentine. They read and disputed over the same books; Ronald
brought out his large folio of drawings, and Valentine wondered
at his skill. He bent over her, explaining the sketches,
laughing and talking gayly, as though there was no dark
background to his life.
"You are an accomplished artist," said Miss Charteris, "you must
have given much time to study."
"I am fond of it," said Ronald; "if fate had not made me an only
son, I should have chosen painting as my profession."
In after years these words came back to them as a sad prophecy.
Ronald liked Miss Charteris. Apart from her grand beauty, she
had the charm, too, of a kindly heart and an affectionate nature.
He saw how much Lady Earle loved her, and resolved to tell
Valentine all about Dora, and ask her to try to influence his
mother. With that aim and end in view, he talked continually to
the young lady; he accompanied her in all her walks and drives,
and they sang and sketched together. Ronald, knowing himself so
safely bound to Dora, forgot in what light his conduct must
appear to others. Lady Earle had forgotten her fears; she
believed that her son was learning to love Valentine, and her
husband shared her belief.
All things just then were couleur de rose at Earlescourt. Ronald
looked and felt happy--he had great faith in Valentine's
Days passed by rapidly; the time for the grand ball was drawing
near. Lady Earle half wondered when her son would speak of Miss
Charteris, and Valentine wondered why he lingered near her, why
oftentimes he was on the point of speaking, and then drew back.
She quite believed he cared for her, and she liked him in return,
as much as she was capable of liking any one.
She was no tragedy queen, but a loving, affectionate girl, unable
to reach the height of passionate love, or the depth of despair.
She was well disposed toward Ronald--Lady Earle spoke so much of
him at Greenoke. She knew too that a marriage with him would
delight her mother.
Valentine's favorable impression of Ronald was deepened when she
saw him. Despite the one great act of duplicity which shadowed
his whole life, Ronald was true and honorable. Valentine admired
his clear Saxon face and firm lips; she admired his deep bright
eyes, that darkened with every passing emotion; she liked his
gentle, chivalrous manner, his earnest words, his deferential
attention to herself, his affectionate devotion to Lady Earle.
There was not a braver or more gallant man in England than this
young heir of Earlescourt. He inherited the personal beauty and
courage of his race. He gave promise of a splendid manhood; and
no one knew how proudly Lord Earle had rejoiced in that promise.
In her calm stately way, Valentine liked him; she even loved him,
and would have been happy as his wife. She enjoyed his keen,
intellectual powers and his originality of thought. Even the
"dreadful politics," that scared and shocked his father, amused
Ronald, whose heart was full of the pretty little wife he dared
neither see nor write to, gave no heed to Valentine's manner; it
never occurred to him what construction could be put upon his
friendly liking for her.
The day came for the grand ball, and during breakfast the ladies
discussed the important question of bouquets; from that the
conversation changed to flowers. "There are so many of them,"
said Valentine, "and they are all so beautiful, I am always at a
loss which to choose."
"I should never hesitate a moment," said Ronald, laughingly.
"You will accuse me, perhaps of being sentimental, but I must
give preference to the white lily-bells. Lilies of the valley
are the fairest flowers that grow."
Lady Earle overheard the remark; no one else appeared to notice
it, and she was not much surprised when Valentine entered the
ball room to see white lilies in her fair hair, and a bouquet of
the same flowers, half-shrouded by green leaves, in her hand.
Many eyes turned admiringly upon the calm, stately beauty and her
white flowers. Ronald saw them. He could not help remarking the
exquisite toilet, marred by no obtrusive colors, the pretty lily
wreath and fragrant bouquet. It never occurred to him that
Valentine had chosen those delicate blossoms in compliment to
him. He thought he had never seen a fairer picture than this
magnificent blonde; then she faded from his mind. He looked
round on those fair and noble ladies, thinking that Dora's shy,
sweet face was far lovelier than any there. He looked at the
costly jewels, the waving plumes, the sweeping satins, and
thought of Dora's plain, pretty dress. A softened look came into
his eyes, as he pictured his shy, graceful wife. Some day she,
too, would walk through these gorgeous rooms, and then would all
admire the wisdom of his choice. So the heir of Earlescourt
dreamed as he watched the brilliant crowd that began to fill the
ball room; but his reverie was suddenly broken by a summons from
"Ronald," said she, looking slightly impatient, "have you
forgotten that it is your place to open the ball? You must ask
Miss Charteris to dance with you."
"That will be no hardship," he replied, smiling at his mother's
earnest manner. "I would rather dance with Miss Charteris than
any one else."
Lady Earle wisely kept silence; her son went up to Valentine and
made his request. He danced with her again and again--not as
Lady Earle hoped, from any unusual preference, but because it
gave him less trouble than selecting partners among strange young
ladies. Valentine understood him; they talked easily, and
without restraint. He paid her no compliments, and she did not
seem to expect any. With other ladies, Ronald was always
thinking, "What would they say if they knew of that fair young
wife at Eastham?" With Valentine no such idea haunted him--he
had an instinctive belief in her true and firm friendship.
Lady Earle overheard a few whispered comments, and they filled
her heart with delight. Old friends whispered to her that "it
would be a splendid match for her son," and "how happy she would
be with such a daughter-in-law as Miss Charteris, so beautiful
and dignified;" and all this because Ronald wanted to secure
Valentine's friendship, so that she might intercede for Dora.
When, for the fourth time, Ronald asked Miss Charteris "for the
next dance," she looked up at him with a smile.
"Do you know how often we have danced together this evening?" she
"What does it matter?" he replied, wondering at the flush that
crimsoned her face. "Forgive me, Miss Charteris, if I say that
you realize my idea of the poetry of motion."
"Is that why you ask me so frequently?" she said, archly.
"Yes," replied honest Ronald; "it is a great pleasure; for one
good dancer there are fifty bad ones."
He did not quite understand the pretty, piqued expression of her
"You have not told me," said Valentine, "whether you like my
"They are very beautiful," he replied; but the compliment of her
selection was all lost upon him.
Miss Charteris did not know whether he was simply indifferent or
"You told me these lilies were your favorite flowers," she said.
"Yes," replied Ronald; "but they are not the flowers that
resemble you." He was thinking how much simple, loving Dora was
like the pretty delicate little blossoms. "You are like the tall
He paused, for Valentine was looking at him with a wondering
"Do you know you have paid me two compliments in less than five
minutes?" she said. "And yesterday we agreed that between true
friends they were quite unnecessary."
"I--I did not intend to pay idle compliments," he replied. "I
merely said what I thought. You are like a tall, grand, white
lily, Miss Charteris. I have often thought so. If you will not
dance with me again, will you walk through the rooms?"
Many admiring glances followed them--a handsomer pair was seldom
seen. They passed through the long suite of rooms and on to the
conservatory, where lamps gleamed like stars between the green
plants and rare exotics.
"Will you rest here?" said Ronald. "The ball room is so crowded
one can not speak there."
"Ah," thought Miss Charteris, "then he really has something to
say to me!"
Despite her calm dignity and serene manner, Valentine's heart
beat high. She loved the gallant young heir--his honest, kindly
nature had a great charm for her. She saw that the handsome face
bending over the flowers was agitated and pale. Miss Charteris
looked down at the lilies in her hand. He came nearer to her,
and looked anxiously at her beautiful face.
"I am not eloquent," said Ronald--"I have no great gift of
speech; but, Miss Charteris, I should like to find some words
that would reach your heart and dwell there."
He wanted to tell her of Dora, to describe her sweet face with
its dimples and blushes, her graceful manner, her timid,
sensitive disposition. He wanted to make her love Dora, to help
him to soften his mother's prejudices and his father's anger; no
wonder his lips quivered and his voice faltered.
"For some days past I have been longing to speak to you,"
continued Ronald; "now my courage almost fails me. Miss
Charteris, say something that will give me confidence." She
looked up at him, and any other man would have read the love in
"The simplest words you can use will always interest me," she
His face cleared, and he began: "You are kind and generous--"
Then came an interruption--Sir Harry Laurence, with a lady,
entered the conservatory.
"This is refreshing," he said to Ronald. "I have been ten
minutes trying to get here, the rooms are so full."
Miss Charteris smiled in replying, wishing Sir Harry had waited
ten minutes longer.
"Promise me," said Ronald, detaining her, as Sir Harry passed on,
"that you will give me one half hour tomorrow."
"I will do so," replied she.
"And you will listen to me, Miss Charteris?" he continued. "You
will hear all I have to say?"
Valentine made no reply; several other people came, some to
admire the alcove filled with ferns which drooped from the wall
by which she was standing, others to breathe the fragrant air.
She could not speak without being overheard; but, with a charming
smile, she took a beautiful lily from her bouquet and held it out
to him. They then went back into the ball room.
"He loves me," thought Valentine; and, as far as her calm, serene
nature was capable of passionate delight, she felt it.
"She will befriend me," thought Ronald; "but why did she give me
The most remote suspicion that Valentine had mistaken him--that
she loved him--never crossed the mind of Ronald Earle. He was
singularly free from vanity. Perhaps if he had a little more
confidence in himself, the story of the Earles might have been
Lady Charteris looked at her daughter's calm, proud face. She
had noticed the little interview in the conservatory, and drew
her own conclusions from it. Valentine's face confirmed them
there was a delicate flush upon it, and a new light shone in the
"You like Earlescourt?" said Lady Charteris to her daughter that
evening, as they sat in her drawing room alone.
"Yes, mamma, I like it very much," said Valentine.
"And from what I see," continued the elder lady, "I think it is
likely to be your home."
"Yes, I believe so," said Valentine, bending over her mother, and
kissing her. "Ronald has asked me to give him one half hour
tomorrow, and I am very happy, mamma."
For one so calm and stately, it was admission enough. Lady
Charteris knew, from the tone of her daughter's voice, that she
loved Ronald Earle.
Ronald slept calmly, half hoping that the end of his troubles was
drawing nigh. Valentine, whom his mother loved so well, would
intercede for Dora. Lord Earle would be sure to relent; and he
could bring Dora home, and all would be well. If ever and anon a
cold fear crept into his heart that simple, pretty Dora would be
sadly out of place in that magnificent house, he dashed it from
him. Miss Charteris slept calmly, too, but her dreams were
different from Ronald's. She thought of the time when she would
be mistress of that fair domain, and the wife of its brave young
lord. She loved him well. No one had ever pleased her as he had
--no one would ever charm her again. Valentine had made the
grand mistake of her life.
The morrow so eagerly looked for was a fair, bright day. The sun
shone warm and bright, the air was soft and fragrant, the sky
blue and cloudless. Lady Charteris did not leave her room for
breakfast, and Valentine remained with her mother.
When breakfast was ended, Ronald lingered about, hoping to see
Valentine. He had not waited long before he saw the glimmer of
her white dress and blue ribbons. He met her in the hall.
"Will you come out into the gardens, Miss Charteris?" he asked.
"The morning is so beautiful, and you promised me one half hour.
Do not take that book with you. I shall want all your attention
for I have a story to tell you."
He walked by her side through the pleasure gardens where the lake
gleamed in the sunshine, the water lilies sleeping on its quiet
bosom; through the fragrant flower beds where the bees hummed and
the butterflies made love to the fairest blossoms.
"Let us go on to the park," said Valentine; "the sun is too warm
"I know a little spot just fitted for a fairy bower," said
Ronald. "Let me show it to you. I can tell my story better
They went through the broad gates of the park, across which the
checkered sunbeams fell, where the deer browsed and king-cups and
tall foxgloves grew--on to the brook side where Dora had rested
so short a time since to think of her new-found happiness.
The pale primroses had all died away, the violets were gone; but
in their place the deep green bank was covered with other flowers
of bright and sunny hue. The shade of tall trees covered the
bank, the little brook sang merrily, and birds chimed in with the
rippling water; the summer air was filled with the faint, sweet
"It is a pretty spot," said Miss Charteris.
The green grass seemed to dance in the breeze, and Ronald made
something like a throne amid it.
"You shall be queen, and I your suppliant," he said. "You
promise to listen; I will tell you my story."
They sat a few minutes in deep silence, broken only by the
singing brook and the music of the birds; a solemn hush seemed to
have fallen on them, while the leaves rustled in the wind.
If Ronald Earle's heart and mind had not been filled with another
and very different image, he must have seen how fair Valentine
looked; the sunlight glinting through the dense green foliage
fell upon her face, while the white dress and blue ribbons, the
fair floating hair, against the dark background of the bank and
the trees, made a charming picture; but Ronald never saw it.
After long years the memory of it came back to him, and he
wondered at his own blindness. He never saw the trembling of the
white fingers that played carelessly with sprays of purple
foxglove; he never saw the faint flush upon her face, the quiver
of her proud, beautiful lips, or the love light in her eyes. He
only saw and thought of Dora.
"I told you, Miss Charteris, last evening, that I was not
eloquent," began Ronald. "When anything lies deep in my heart, I
find great difficulty in telling it in words."
"All sacred and deep feeling is quiet," said Valentine; "a
torrent of words does not always show an earnest nature. I have
many thoughts that I could never express."
"If I could only be sure that you would understand me, Miss
Charteris," said Ronald--"that you would see and comprehend the
motives that I can hardly explain myself! Sitting here in the
summer sunshine, I can scarcely realize how dark the cloud is
that hangs over me. You are so kind and patient, I will tell you
my story in my own way." She gathered a rich cluster of
bluebells, and bent over them, pulling the pretty flowers into
pieces, and throwing leaf after leaf into the stream.
"Three months since," continued Ronald, "I came home to
Earlescourt. Lord and Lady Earle were both at Greenoke; I, and
not quite myself, preferred remaining here alone and quiet. One
morning I went out into the garden, listless for want of
something to do. I saw there--ah! Now I want words, Miss
Charteris--the fairest girl the sun ever shone upon."
He saw the flowers fall from Valentine's grasp; she put her hand
to her brow, as though to shield her face.
"Does the light annoy you?" he asked.
"No," she replied, steadily; "go on with your story."
"A clever man," said Ronald, "might paint for you the pretty
face, all smiles and dimples, the dark shining rings of hair that
fell upon a white brow, the sweet, shy eyes fringed by long
lashes, seldom raised, but full of wonderful light when once you
could look into their depths. I can only tell you how in a few
days I grew to love the fair young face, and how Dora Thorne
that was her name, Miss Charteris--loved me."
Valentine never moved nor spoke; Ronald could see the bright
flush die away, and the proud lips quiver.
"I must tell you all quickly," said Ronald. "She is not what
people call a lady, this beautiful wild flower of mine. Her
father lives at the lodge; he is Lord Earle's lodge keeper, and
she knows nothing of the world or its ways. She has never been
taught or trained, though her voice is like sweet music, and her
laugh like the chime of silver bells. She is like a bright April
day, smiles and tears, sunshine and rain--so near together that
I never know whether I love her best weeping or laughing."
He paused, but Valentine did not speak; her hand still shaded her
"I loved her very much," said Ronald, "and I told her so. I
asked her to be my wife, and she promised. When my father came
home from Greenoke I asked his consent, and he laughed at me. He
would not believe me serious. I need not tell you the details.
They sent my pretty Dora away, and some one who loved her--who
wanted to make her his wife--came, and quarreled with me. He
my rival--swore that Dora should be his. In his passion he
betrayed the secret so well kept from me. He told me where she
was, and I went to see her."
There was no movement in the quiet figure, no words passed the
"I went to see her," he continued; "she was so unhappy, so pretty
in her sorrow and love, so innocent, so fond of me, that I forgot
all I should have remembered, and married her."
Valentine started then and uttered a low cry.
"You are shocked," said Ronald; "but, Miss Charteris, think of
her so young and gentle! They would have forced her to marry the
farmer, and she disliked him. What else could I do to save her?"
Even then, in the midst of that sharp sorrow, Valentine could not
help admiring Ronald's brave simplicity, his chivalry, his honor.
"I married her," he said, "and I mean to be true to her. I
thought my father would relent and forgive us, but I fear I was
too sanguine. Since my marriage my father has told me that if I
do not give up Dora he will not see me again. Every day I
resolve to tell him what I have done, but something interferes to
prevent it. I have never seen my wife since our wedding day.
She is still at Eastham. Now, Miss Charteris, be my friend, and
Bravely enough Valentine put away her sorrow--another time she
would look it in the face; all her thoughts must now be for him.
"I will do anything to serve you," she said, gently. "What can I
"My mother loves you very much," said Ronald; "she will listen to
you. When I have told her, will you, in your sweet, persuasive
way, interfere for Dora? Lady Earle will be influenced by what
A quiver of pain passed over the proud, calm face of Valentine
"If you think it wise for a stranger to interfere in so delicate
a matter, I will do so cheerfully," she said; "but let me counsel
on thing. Tell Lord and Lady Earle at once. Do not delay, every
hour is of consequence."
"What do you think of my story?" asked Ronald, anxiously. "Have
I done right or wrong?"
"Do not ask me," replied Valentine.
"Yes," he urged, "I will ask again; you are my friend. Tell me,
have I done right or wrong?"
"I can speak nothing but truth," replied Valentine, "and I think
you have done wrong. Do not be angry. Honor is everything; it
ranks before life or love. In some degree you have tarnished
yours by an underhand proceeding, a private marriage, one
forbidden by your parents and distasteful to them."
Ronald's face fell as her words came to him slowly and clearly.
"I thought," said he, "I was doing a brave deed in marrying Dora.
She had no one to take her part but me."
"It was a brave deed in one sense," said Valentine. "You have
proved yourself generous and disinterested. Heaven grant that
you may be happy!"
"She is young and impressionable," said Ronald; "I can easily
mold her to my own way of thinking. You look very grave, Miss
"I am thinking of you," she said, gently; "it seems to me a grave
matter. Pardon me--but did you reflect well--were you quite
convinced that the whole happiness of your life was at stake? If
so, I need say no more. It is an unequal marriage, one not at
all fitting in the order of things."
How strange that she should use his father's words!
"Tell your father at once," she continued. "You can never
retrace the step you have taken. You may never wish to do so,
but you can and must retrieve the error of duplicity and
"You will try and make my mother love Dora?" said Ronald.
"That I will," replied Valentine. "You sketched her portrait
well. I can almost see her. I will speak of her beauty, her
grace, her tenderness."
"You are a true friend," said Ronald, gratefully.
"Do not overrate my influence," said Valentine. "You must learn
to look your life boldly in the face. Candidly and honestly I
think that, from mistaken notions of honor and chivalry, you have
done wrong. A man must be brave. Perhaps one of the hardest
lessons in life is to bear unflinchingly the effects and
consequences of one's own deeds. You must do that, you must not
flinch, you must bear what follows like a man and a hero."
"I will," said Ronald, looking at the fair face, and half wishing
that the little Dora could talk to him as this noble girl did;
such noble words as hers made men heroes. Then he remembered how
Dora would weep if he were in trouble, and clasp her arms round
"We shall still be friends, Miss Charteris?" he said, pleadingly.
"Whatever comes you will not give me up?"
"I will be your friend while I live," said Valentine, holding out
her white hand, and her voice never faltered. "You have trusted
me--I shall never forget that. I am your friend, and Dora's
The words came so prettily from her lips that Ronald smiled.
"Dora would be quite alarmed at you," he said; "she is so timid
Then he told Valentine of Dora's pretty, artless ways, of her
love for all things beautiful in nature, always returning to one
theme--her great love for him. He little dreamed that the calm,
stately beauty listened as one on the rack--that while he was
talking of Dora she was trying to realize the cold, dreary blank
that had suddenly fallen over her life, trying to think what the
future would be passed without him, owning to herself that for
this rash, chivalrous marriage, for his generous love, she
admired him more than ever.
The hand that played carelessly among the wild flowers had ceased
to tremble, the proud lips had regained their color, and then
Valentine arose, as she was going out with Lady Earle after
A feeling of something like blank despair seized Valentine when
she thought of what she must say to her other. As she remembered
their few words the previous evening, her face flushed hotly.
"I can never thank you enough for your kind patience," said
Ronald, as they walked back through the shady park and the bright
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