Charlotte M. Braeme
Part 6 out of 7
He threw away his cigar, and ground his teeth with rage. Had the
skies fallen at his feet he could not have been more startled and
amazed. Then, after all, all women were alike. There was in
them no truth; no goodness; the whole world was alike. Yet he
had believed in her so implicitly--in her guileless purity, her
truth, her freedom from every taint of the world. That fair,
spirituelle form had seemed to him only as a beautiful casket
hiding a precious gem. Nay, still more, though knowing and
loving her, he had begun to care for everything good and pure
that interested her. Now all was false and hateful.
There was no truth in the world, he said to himself. This girl,
whom he had believed to be the fairest and sweetest among women,
was but a more skillful deceiver than the rest. His mother's
little deceptions, hiding narrow means and straitened
circumstances, were as nothing compared with Lillian's deceit.
And he had loved her so! Looking into those tender eyes, he had
believed love and truth shone there; the dear face that had
blushed and smiled for him had looked so pure and guileless.
How long was it since he had held her little hands clasped within
his own, and, abashed before her sweet innocence, had not dared
to touch her lips, even when she had promised to love him? How
he had been duped and deceived! How she must have laughed at his
Who was the man? Some one she must have known years before.
There was no gentleman in Lord Earle's circle who would have
stolen into his grounds like a thief by night. Why had he not
followed him, and thrashed him within an inch of his life? Why
had he let him escape?
The strong hands were clinched tightly. It was well for Hugh
Fernely that he was not at that moment in Lionel's power. Then
the fierce, hot anger died away, and a passion of despair seized
him. A long, low cry came from his lips, a bitter sob shook his
frame. He had lost his fair, sweet love. The ideal he had
worshiped lay stricken; falsehood and deceit marked its fair
While the first smart of pain was upon him, he would not return
to the house; he would wait until he was calm and cool. Then he
would see how she dared to meet him.
His hands ceased to tremble; the strong, angry pulsating of his
heart grew calmer. He went back to the drawing room; and, except
that the handsome face was pale even to the lips, and that a
strange, angry light gleamed in the frank, kindly eyes, there was
little difference in Lionel Dacre.
She was there, bending over the large folio he had asked her to
show him; the golden hair fell upon the leaves. She looked up as
he entered; her face was calm and serene; there was a faint pink
flush on the cheeks, and a bright smile trembled on her features.
"Here are the drawings," she said; "will you look over them?"
He remembered how he had asked her to sing to him, and she
refused, looking confused and uneasy the while. He understood
now the reason why.
He took a chair by her side; the folio lay upon a table placed in
a large room, lighted by a silver lamp. They were as much alone
there as though they had been in another room. She took out a
drawing, and laid it before him. He neither saw it nor heard
what she remarked.
"Lillian," he said, suddenly, "if you were asked what was the
most deadly sin a woman could commit, what should you reply?"
"That is a strange question," she answered. "I do not know,
Lionel. I think I hate all sin alike."
"Then I will tell you," he said bitterly; "it is false, foul
deceit--black, heartless treachery."
She looked up in amazement at his angry tone; then there was for
some moments unbroken silence.
"I can not see the drawings," he said; "take them away. Lillian
Earle, raise your eyes to mine; look me straight in the face.
How long is it since I asked you to be my wife?"
Her gentle eyes never wavered, they were fixed half in wonder on
his, but at his question the faint flush on her cheeks grew
"Not very long," she replied; "a few days."
"You said you loved me," he continued.
"I do," she said.
"Now, answer me again. Have you ever loved or cared for any one
else, as you say you do for me?"
"Never," was the quiet reply.
"Pray pardon the question--have you received the attentions of
any lover before receiving mine?"
"Certainly not," she said, wondering still more.
"I have all your affection, your confidence, your trust; you have
never duped or deceived me; you have been open, truthful, and
honest with me?"
"You forget yourself, Lionel," she said, with gentle dignity;
"you should not use such words to me."
"Answer!" he returned. "You have to do with a desperate man.
Have you deceived me?"
"Never," she replied, "In thought, word, or deed."
"Merciful Heaven!" he cried. "That one can be so fair and so
There was nothing but wonder in the face that was raised to his.
"Lillian," he said, "I have loved you as the ideal of all that
was pure and noble in woman. In you I saw everything good and
holy. May Heaven pardon you that my faith has died a violent
"I can not understand you," she said, slowly. "Why do you speak
to me so?"
"I will use plainer words," he replied--"so plain that you can
not mistake them. I, your betrothed husband, the man you love
and trust, ask you, Lillian Earle, who was it you met tonight in
your father's grounds?"
He saw the question strike her as lightning sometimes strikes a
fair tree. The color faded from her lips; a cloud came over the
clear, dove-like eyes; she tried to answer, but the words died
away in a faint murmur.
"Do you deny that you were there?" he asked. "Remember, I saw
you, and I saw him. Do you deny it?"
"No," she replied.
"Who was it?" he cried; and his eyes flamed so angrily upon her
that she was afraid. "Tell me who it was. I will follow him to
the world's end. Tell me."
"I can not, Lionel," she whispered; "I can not. For pity's sake,
keep my secret!"
"You need not be afraid," he said, haughtily. "I shall not
betray you to Lord Earle. Let him find out for himself what you
are, as I have done. I could curse myself for my own trust. Who
"I can not tell you," she stammered, and he saw her little white
hands wrung together in agony. "Oh, Lionel, trust me--do not be
angry with me."
"You can not expect me," he said, although he was softened by the
sight of her sorrow, "to know of such an action and not to speak
of it, Lillian. If you can explain it, do so. If the man was an
old lover of yours, tell me so; in time I may forget the deceit,
if you are frank with me now. If there be any circumstance that
extenuates or explains what you did, tell it to me now."
"I can not," she said, and her fair face drooped sadly away from
"That I quite believe," he continued, bitterly. "You can not and
will not. You know the alternative, I suppose?"
The gentle eyes were raised to his in mute, appealing sorrow, but
she spoke not.
"Tell me now," he said, "whom it was you stole out of the house
to meet--why you met him? Be frank with me; and, if it was but
girlish nonsense, in time I may pardon you. If you refuse to
tell me, I shall leave Earlescourt, and never look upon your
false, fair face again."
She buried her face in her hands, and he heard a low moan of
sorrow come from her white lips.
"Will you tell me, Lillian?" he asked again--and he never
forgot the deadly anguish of the face turned toward him.
"I can not," she replied; her voice died away, and he thought she
was falling from her chair.
"That is your final decision; you refuse to tell me what, as your
accepted lover, I have a right to know?"
"Trust me, Lionel," she implored. "Try, for the love you bear
me, to trust me!"
"I will never believe in any one again," he said. "Take back
your promise, Lillian Earle; you have broken a true and honest
heart, you have blighted a whole life. Heaven knows what I shall
become, drifted from you. I care not. You have deceived me.
Take back your ring. I will say goodbye to you. I shall not
care to look upon your false, fair face again."
"Oh, Lionel, wait!" she cried. "Give me time--do not leave me
"Time will make little difference," he answered; "I shall not
leave the Hall until tomorrow morning; you can write to me if you
wish me to remain."
He laid the ring upon the table, refusing to notice the
trembling, outstretched hand. He could not refrain from looking
back at her as he quitted the room. He saw the gentle face, so
full of deadly sorrow, with its white quivering lips; and yet he
thought to himself, although she looked stricken with anguish,
there was no guilt on the clear, fair brow.
He turned back from the door and went straight to Lord Earle.
"I shall leave Earlescourt tomorrow," he said, abruptly. "I must
go, Lord Earle; do not press to stay."
"Come and go as you will, Lionel," said Ronald, surprised at the
brusqueness of his manner; "we are always pleased to see you and
sorry to lose you. You will return soon, perhaps?"
"I will write to you in a few days," he replied. "I must say
goodbye to Lady Earle."
She was astounded. Beatrice and Lord Airlie came up to him
there was a general expression of surprise and regret. He,
unlike himself, was brusque, and almost haughty.
Sir Harry and Lady Laurence had gone home. Beatrice, with a
vague fear that something had gone wrong, said she was tired;
Lord Airlie said goodnight; and in a few minutes Lady Helena and
her son were left alone.
"What has come over Lionel?" asked Ronald. "Why, mother, how
mistaken I am! Do you know that I quite believed he was falling
in love with Lillian?"
"He did that long ago," replied Lady Helena, with a smile. "Say
nothing about it. Lionel is very proud and impetuous. I fancy
he and Lillian have had some little dispute. Matters of that
kind are best left alone--interference always does harm. He
will come back in a few days; and all be right again. Ronald,
there is one question I have been wishing to ask you--do not be
angry if I pain you, my son. Beatrice will be married soon--do
you not intend her mother to be present at the wedding?"
Lord Earle rose from his chair, and began, as he always did in
time of anxiety, to pace up and down the room.
"I had forgotten her claim," he said. "I can not tell what to
do, mother. It would be a cruel, unmerited slight to pass her
over, but I do not wish to see her. I have fought a hard battle
with my feelings, but I can not bring myself to see her."
"Yet you loved her very much once," said Lady Helena.
"I did," he replied, gently. "Poor Dora."
"It is an awful thing to live at enmity with any one," said Lady
Helena--"but with one's own wife! I can not understand it,
"You mistake, mother," he said, eagerly; "I am not at enmity with
Dora. She offended me--she hurt my honor--she pained me in a
way I can never forget."
"You must forgive her some day," replied Lady Earle; "why not
"No," he said, sadly. "I know myself--I know what I can do and
what I can not do. I could take my wife in my arms, and kiss her
face--I could not live with her. I shall forgive her, mother,
when all that is human is dying away from me. I shall forgive
her in the hour of death."
Lillian Earle was no tragedy queen. She never talked about
sacrifice or dying, but there was in her calm, gentle nature a
depth of endurance rarely equaled. She had never owned, even to
herself, how dearly she loved Lionel Dacre--how completely every
thought and hope was centered in him. Since she had first
learned to care for him, she had never looked her life in the
face and imagined what it would be without him.
It never entered her mind to save herself at the expense of her
sister; the secret had been intrusted to her, and she could not
conceive the idea of disclosing it. If the choice had been
offered her between death and betraying Beatrice, she would have
chosen death, with a simple consciousness that she was but doing
So, when Lionel uttered those terrible words--when she found
that he had seen her--she never dreamed of freeing herself from
blame, and telling the story of her sister's fault. His words
were bitterly cruel; they stung her with sharp pain. She had
never seen contempt or scorn before on that kindly, honest face;
now, she read both. Yet, what could she do? Her sister's life
lay in her hands, and she must guard it.
Therefore, she bore the cruel taunts, and only once when the fear
of losing him tortured her, cried out for pity and trust. But he
had no trust; he stabbed her gentle heart with his fierce words,
he seared her with his hot anger; she might, at the expense of
another, have explained all, and stood higher than ever in his
esteem, but she would not do it.
She was almost stunned by the sorrow that had fallen upon her.
She saw him, with haughty, erect bearing, quit the drawing room,
and she knew that unless Beatrice permitted her to tell the
truth, she would never see his face again. She went straight to
her sister's room and waited for her.
The pale face grew calm and still; her sister could not refuse
her request when she had told her all; then she would write to
Lionel and explain. He would not leave Earlescourt; he would
only love her the better for her steadfast truth.
"Send Suzette away," she whispered to Beatrice, when she entered;
"I must see you alone at once."
Beatrice dismissed her maid, and then turned to her sister.
"What is it, Lily?" she asked. "Your face is deathly pale. What
"Beatrice," said Lillian, "will you let me tell your secret to
Lionel Dacre? It will be quite sacred with him."
"To Lionel Dacre!" she cried. "No, a thousand times over! How
can you ask me, Lily? He is Lord Airlie's friend and could not
keep it from him. Why do you ask me such an extraordinary
"He saw me tonight," she replied; "he was out in the grounds, and
saw me speaking to Hugh Fernely."
"Have you told him anything?" she asked; and for a moment
Beatrice looked despairing.
"Not a word," said Lily. "How could I, when you trusted me?"
"That is right," returned her sister, a look of relief coming
over her face; "his opinion does not matter much. What did he
"He thought I had been to meet some one I knew," replied Lillian,
her face growing crimson with shame.
"And was dreadfully shocked, no doubt," supplemented Beatrice.
"Well, never mind, darling. I am very sorry it happened, but it
will not matter. I am so near freedom and happiness, I can not
grieve over it. He will not surely tell? He is too honorable
"No," said Lillian, dreamily, "he will not tell."
"Then do not look so scared, Lily; nothing else matters."
"You forget what he must think of me," said Lillian. "Knowing
his upright, truthful character, what must he think of me?"
That view of the question had not struck Beatrice. She looked
grave and anxious. It was not right for her sister to be
"Oh, I am so sorry," she began, but Lillian interrupted her, she
came close to her, and lowered her pale face over her sister's
"Beatrice," she said, slowly, "you must let me tell him. He
cares for me. He loves me; I promised to be his wife, and I love
him--just as you do Lord Airlie."
Under the shock of those words Beatrice Earle sat silent and
"I love him," continued Lillian. "I did not tell you. He said
it was not to be mentioned until you were married. I love him so
dearly, Beatrice--and when he asked me who it was I had been to
meet, I could not answer him. He was very angry; he said sharp,
cruel words to me, and I could not tell him how false they were.
He will leave Earlescourt; he will never look upon my face again
unless I tell him all. He has said so, and he will keep his
word. Beatrice, must I lose my love?"
"It would be only for a time," she replied. "I hate myself for
being so selfish, but I dare not trust Lionel Dacre. He is so
impetuous, so hasty, he would betray me, as surely as he knew it.
Do you not remember his saying the other day that it was well for
him he had no secrets, for he could not manage to keep them!"
"He would keep this," pleaded Lillian--"for your sake and mine."
"He would not," said Beatrice; "and I am so near freedom, so near
happiness. Oh, Lily, you have saved me once--save me again! My
darling, keep my secret until I am married; then I swear to you I
will tell Lionel every word honorably myself, and he will love
you doubly. Could you do this for me?"
"It is not fair to him--he has a right to my confidence--it is
not fair to myself, Beatrice."
"One of us must be sacrificed," returned her sister. "If myself,
the sacrifice will last my life--will cause my death; if you, it
will last, at the most, only three or four weeks. I will write
to Lionel on my wedding day."
"Why trust him then and not now?" asked Lillian.
"Because, once married to Lord Airlie, I shall have no fear.
Three or four weeks of happiness are not so much to give up for
your own sister, Lily. I will say no more. I leave it for you
"Nay, do not do that," said Lillian, in great distress. "I could
not clear myself at your expense"--a fact which Beatrice
understood perfectly well.
"Then let the matter rest," said her sister; "some day I shall be
able to thank you for all you have done for me--I can not now.
On my wedding day I will tell Lionel Dacre that the girl he loves
is the truest, the noblest, the dearest in the world."
"It is against my better judgment," returned Lillian.
"It is against my conscience, judgment, love, everything," added
Beatrice; "but it will save me from cruel ruin and sorrow; and it
shall not hurt you, Lily--it shall bring you good, not harm.
Now, try to forget it. He will not know how to atone to you for
this. Think of your happiness when he returns."
She drew the golden head down upon her shoulder, and with the
charm that never failed, she talked and caressed her sister until
she had overcome all objections.
But during the long hours of that night a fair head tossed
wearily to and fro on its pillow--a fair face was stained with
bitter tears. Lionel Dacre lingered, half hoping that even at
the last she would come and bid him stay because she wished to
tell him all.
But the last moment came, and no messenger from Lillian brought
the longed-for words. He passed out from the Hall. He could not
refrain from looking once at the window of her room, but the
blind was closely drawn. He little knew or dreamed how and why
he would return.
Thursday morning dawned bright and beautiful, as though autumn
wished to surpass the glories or summer. Beatrice had not told
Lillian when she was going to meet Hugh, partly because she
dreaded her sister's anxiety, partly because she did not wish any
one to know how long she might be with him; for Beatrice
anticipated a painful interview, although she felt sure of
triumph in the end.
Lillian was ill and unable to rise; unused to emotion, the strain
upon her mind had been too great. When Lady Helena listened to
her maid's remarks and went up to see her granddaughter, she
forbade her to get up, and Lillian, suffering intensely, was only
too pleased to obey.
The breakfast party was a very small one. Lord Earle was absent;
he had gone to Holte. Lady Helena hurried away to sit with
Lillian. Lord Airlie had been smiling very happily over a
mysterious little packet that had come by post. He asked
Beatrice if she would go out with him--he had something to show
her. They went out into the park, intending to return in time
The morning was bright and calm. Something of the warmth and
beauty of the summer lingered still, although the ground was
strewn with fallen leaves.
Lord Airlie and Beatrice sat at the foot of the grand old cedar
tree whence they would see the distant glimmer of the deep, still
lake. The birds sang around them, and the sun shone brightly.
On the beautiful face of Beatrice Earle her lover read nothing
but happiness and love.
"I have something here for you, Beatrice," said Lord Airlie,
showing her a little packet--"a surprise. You must thank me by
saying that what it contains will be more precious to you than
anything else on earth."
She opened the pretty case; within it there lay a fine gold chain
of exquisite fashion and a locket of marvelous beauty.
She uttered a little cry of surprise, and raised the present in
"Now, thank me," said Lord Airlie, "in the way I asked."
"What it contains is more precious to me than anything on earth,"
she said. "You know that, Hubert; why do you make me repeat it?"
"Because I like to hear it," he answered. "I like to see my proud
love looking humble for a few minutes; I like to know that I have
caged a bright, wild bird that no one else could tame."
"I am not caged yet," she objected.
"Beatrice," said Lord Airlie, "make me a promise. Let me fasten
this locket around your neck, and tell me that you will not part
with it night or day for one moment until our wedding day."
"I can easily promise that," she said. She bent her beautiful
head, and Lord Airlie fastened the chain round her throat.
He little knew what he had done. When Lord Airlie fastened the
chain round the neck of the girl he loved, he bound her to him in
life and in death.
"It looks charming," he said. "How everything beautiful becomes
you, Beatrice! You were born to be a queen--who am I that I
should have won you? Tell me over again--I never grow tired of
hearing it--do you love me?"
She told him again, her face glowing with happiness. He bent
over her and kissed the sweet face; he kissed the little white
hands and the rings of dark hair the wind blew carelessly near
"When the leaves are green, and the fair spring is come," he
said, "you will be my wife, Beatrice--Lady Airlie of Lynnton. I
love my name and title when I remember that you will share them.
And you shall be the happiest Lady Airlie that ever lived--the
happiest bride, the happiest wife the sun ever shone upon. You
will never part with my locket, Beatrice?"
"No," she replied; "never. I will keep it always."
They sat through the long bright hours under the shade of the old
cedar tree, while Lillian lay with head and heart aching,
wondering in her gentle way why this sorrow should have fallen
She did not know, as she lay like a pale broken lily, that years
ago her father, in the reckless heyday of youth, had wilfully
deceived his father, and married against his wish and commands;
she did not know how that unhappy marriage had ended in pride,
passion, and sullen, jealous temper--while those who should have
foreborne went each their own road--the proud, irritated husband
abroad, away from every tie of home and duty, the jealous, angry
wife secluding herself in the bitterness of her heart--both
neglecting the children intrusted to them. She knew how one of
those children had gone wrong; she knew the deceit, the misery,
the sorrow that wrong had entailed. She was the chief victim,
yet the sin had not been hers.
There were no fierce, rebellious feelings in her gentle heart, no
angry warring with the mighty Hand that sends crosses and
blessings alike. The flower bent by the wind was not more
pliant. Where her sorrow and love had cast her she lay, silently
enduring her suffering, while Lionel traveled without
intermission, wishing only to find himself far away from the
young girl he declared he had ceased to love yet could not
Thursday evening, and the hand of the ormolu clock pointed to a
quarter to ten. Lord Earle sat reading, Lady Helena had left
Lillian asleep, and had taken up a book near him. Lord Airlie
had been sketching for Beatrice a plan of a new wing at Lynnton.
Looking up suddenly she saw the time. At ten Hugh Fernely would
be at the shrubbery gate. She had not a moment to lose. Saying
she was feeling tired, she rose and went to bid Lord Earle
He remembered afterward how he had raised the beautiful face in
his hands and gazed at it in loving admiration, whispering
something the while about "Lady Airlie of Lynnton." He
remembered how she, so little given to caressing, had laid her
hand upon his shoulder, clasping her arms around his neck,
kissing his face, and calling him, "her own dear papa." He
remembered the soft, wistful light in her beautiful eyes, the
sweet voice that lingered in his ears. Yet no warning came to
him, nothing told him the fair child he loved so dearly stood in
the shadow of deadly peril.
If he had known, how those strong arms would have been raised to
shield her--how the stout, brave heart would have sheltered her!
As it was, she left him with jesting words on his lips, and he
did not even gaze after her as she quitted the room. If he had
only known where and how he should see that face again!
Beatrice went up to Lady Helena, who smiled without raising her
eyes from her book. Beatrice bent down and touched the kind,
stately face with her lips.
"Good night, grandmamma," she said. "How studious you are!"
"Good night--bless you, my child," returned Lady Helena; and the
fair face turned from her with a smile.
"You have left me until last," said Lord Airlie; "goodnight, my
Beatrice. Never mind papa--he is not looking at us, give me one
She raised her face to his, and he kissed the proud, sweet lips.
He touched the golden locket.
"You will never part with it," he said; and he smiled as she
Then she passed out of his sight, and he who would have laid down
his life for her saw her leave him without the faintest suspicion
of the shadow that hung over her.
The smile still lingered on her as she stood in her own room. A
few hours more--one more trial--she said to herself; then she
would be free, and might enjoy her happiness to its full extent.
How dearly Hubert loved her--how unutterably happy she would be
when Hugh released her! And he would--she never doubted it.
"I shall not want you again," she said to her maid. "And do not
call me in the morning. I am tired."
The door of Lillian's room was not closed; she went in. The
night lamp was shaded, and the blinds closely drawn, so that the
bright moonlight could not intrude. She went gently to the side
of the bed where her sister lay. Poor, gentle, loving Lillian!
The pale, sad face, with its wistful wearied expression, was
turned to the wall. There were some traces of tears, and even in
sleep deep sighs passed the quivering lips. Sorrow and woe were
impressed on the fair face. Yet, as Beatrice kissed the clear,
calm brow, she would gladly have changed places with her.
"I will soon make it up to her," she said, gazing long and
earnestly on the sleeping face. "In a few weeks she shall be
happier than she has ever been. I will make Master Lionel go on
his knees to her."
She left the room, and Lillian never knew who had bent so
lovingly over her.
Beatrice took from her wardrobe, a thick, warm shawl. She drew
it over her head, and so half hid her face. Then she went
noiselessly down the staircase that led from her suite of rooms
to the garden.
How fair and beautiful the night was--not cold, although it was
September, and the moon shining as she had rarely seen it shine
It seemed to sail triumphantly in the dark-blue sky. It poured a
flood of silvery light on the sleeping flowers and trees.
She had not lingered to look round the pretty dressing room as
she left it. Her eyes had not dwelt on the luxurious chamber and
the white bed, wherein she ought to have been sleeping, but, now
that she stood outside the Hall, she looked up at the windows
with a sense of loneliness and fear. There was a light in Lady
Helena's room and one in Lord Airlie's. She shrank back. What
would he think if he saw her now?
Deeply she felt the humiliation of leaving her father's house at
that hour of the night; she felt the whole shame of what she was
going to do; but the thought of Lord Airlie nerved her. Let this
one night pass, and a life time of happiness lay before her.
The night wind moaned fitfully among the trees; the branches of
the tall lime trees swayed over her head; the fallen leaves
twirled round her feet. She crossed the gardens; the moon cast
strange shadows upon the broad paths. At length she saw the
shrubbery gate, and, by it, erect and motionless, gazing on the
bending trees in the park, was Hugh Fernely. He did not hear her
light footsteps--the wind among the lime trees drowned them.
She went up to him and touched his arm gently.
"Hugh," she said, "I am here."
Before she could prevent him, he was kneeling at her feet. He
had clasped her hands in his own, and was covering them with hot
kisses and burning tears.
"My darling," he said, "my own Beatrice, I knew you would come!"
He rose then, and, before she could stop him, he took the shawl
from her head and raised the beautiful face so that the moonlight
fell clearly upon it.
"I have hungered and thirsted," he said, "for another look at
that face. I shall see it always now--its light will ever leave
me more. Look at me, Beatrice," he cried, "let me see those dark
But the glance she gave him had nothing in it but coldness and
dread. In the excitement of his joy he did not notice it.
"Words are so weak," he said, "I can not tell you how I have
longed for this hour. I have gone over it in fancy a thousand
times; yet no dream was ever so bright and sweet as this reality.
No man in the wide world ever loved any one as I love you,
She could not resist the passionate torrent of words--they must
have touched the heart of one less proud. She stood perfectly
still, while the calm night seemed to thrill with the eloquent
voice of the speaker.
"Speak to me," he said, at length. "How coldly you listen!
Beatrice, there is no love, no joy in your face. Tell me you are
pleased to see me--tell me you have remembered me. Say anything
let me hear your voice."
"Hugh," she answered, gently, drawing her hands from his strong
grasp, "this is all a mistake. You have not given me time to
speak. I am pleased to see you well and safe. I am pleased that
you have escaped the dangers of the deep; but I can not say more.
I--I do not love you as you love me."
His hands dropped nervously, and he turned his despairing face
"You must be reasonable," she continued, in her musical, pitiless
voice. "Hugh, I was only a dreaming, innocent, ignorant child
when I first met you. It was not love I thought of. You talked
to me as no one else ever had--it was like reading a strange,
wonderful story; my head was filled with romance, my heart was
not filled with love."
"But," he said, hoarsely, "you promised to be my wife."
"I remember," she acknowledged. "I do not deny it; but, Hugh, I
did not know what I was saying. I spoke without thought. I no
more realized what the words meant than I can understand now what
the wind is saying."
A long, low moan came from his lips; the awful despair in his
face startled her.
"So I have returned for this!" he cried. "I have braved untold
perils; I have escaped the dangers of the seas, the death that
lurks in heaving waters, to be slain by cruel words from the girl
I loved and trusted."
He turned from her, unable to check the bitter sob that rose to
"Hush, Hugh," she said, gently, "you grieve me."
"Do you think of my grief?" he cried. "I came here tonight, with
my heart on fire with love, my brain dizzy with happiness. You
have killed me, Beatrice Earle, as surely as ever man was slain."
Far off, among the trees, she saw the glimmer of the light in
Lord Airlie's room. It struck her with a sensation of fear, as
though he were watching her.
"Let us walk on," she said; "I do not like standing here."
They went through the shrubbery, through the broad, green glades
of the park, where the dew drops shone upon fern leaves and thick
grass, past the long avenue of chestnut trees, where the wind
moaned like a human being in deadly pain; on to the shore of the
deep, calm lake, where the green reeds bent and swayed and the
moonlight shone on the rippling waters. All this while Hugh had
not spoken a word, but had walked in silence by her side. He
turned to her at length, and she heard the rising passion in his
"You promised me," he said, "and you must keep your promise. You
said you would be my wife. No other man must dare to speak to
you of love," he cried, grasping her arm. "In the sight of
Heaven you are mine, Beatrice Earle."
"I am not," she answered proudly; "and I never will be; no man
would, or could take advantage of a promise obtained from a
willful, foolish child."
"I will appeal to Lord Earle," he said; I will lay my claim
"You may do so," she replied; "and, although he will never look
upon me again, he will protect me from you."
She saw the angry light flame in his eyes; she heard his breath
come in quick, short gasps, and the danger of quarreling with him
struck her. She laid her hand upon his arm, and he trembled at
the gentle touch.
"Hugh," she said, "do not be angry. You are a brave man; I know
that in all your life you never shrank from danger or feared
peril. The brave are always generous, always noble; think of
what I am going to say. Suppose that, by the exercise of any
power, you could really compel me to be your wife, what would it
benefit you? I should not love you, I tell you candidly. I
should detest you for spoiling my life--I would never see you.
What would you gain by forcing me to keep my promise?"
He made no reply. The wind bent the reeds, and the water came up
the bank with a long, low wash.
"I appeal to your generosity," she said--"your nobility of
character. Release me from a promise I made in ignorance; I
appeal to your very love for me--release me, that I may be
happy. Those who love truly," she continued, receiving no reply,
"never love selfishly. If I cared for any one as you do for me,
I should consider my own happiness last or all. If you love me,
release me, Hugh. I can never be happy with you."
"Why not?" he asked, tightening his grasp upon her arm.
"Not from mercenary motives," she replied, earnestly; "not
because my father is wealthy, my home magnificent, and you belong
to another grade of society--not for that, but because I do not
love you. I never did love you as a girl should love the man she
means to marry."
"You are very candid," said he, bitterly; "pray, is there any one
else you love in this way?"
"That is beside the question," she replied, haughtily; "I am
speaking of you and myself. Hugh, if you will give me my freedom
if you will agree to forget the foolish promise of a foolish
child--I will respect and esteem you while I live; I shall bless
you every day; your name will be a sacred one enshrined in my
heart, your memory will be a source of pleasure to me. You shall
be my friend, Hugh, and I will be a true friend to you."
"Beatrice," he cried, "do not tempt me!"
"Yes, be tempted," she said; "let me urge you to be generous, to
be noble! See, Hugh, I have never prayed to any man--I pray to
you; I would kneel here at your feet and beseech you to release
me from a promise I never meant to give."
Her words touched him. She saw the softened look upon his face,
the flaming anger die out of his eyes.
"Hugh," she said, softly, "I, Beatrice Earle, pray you, by the
love you bear me, to release me from all claim, and leave me in
"Let me think," he replied; "give me a few minutes; no man could
part so hastily with the dearest treasure he has. Let me think
what I lose in giving you up."
They stood for some time in perfect silence; they had wandered
down to the very edge of the lake. The water rippled in the
moonlight, and while Hugh Fernely thought, Beatrice looked into
the clear depths. How near she was to her triumph! A few
minutes more and he would turn to her and tell her she was free.
His face was growing calm and gentle. She would dismiss him with
grateful thanks; she would hasten home. How calm would be that
night's sleep! When she saw Lord Airlie in the morning, all her
sorrow and shame would have passed by. Her heart beat high as
she thought of this.
"I think it must be so," said Hugh Fernely, at last; "I think I
must give you up, Beatrice. I could not bear to make you
miserable. Look up, my darling; let me see your face once more
before I say goodbye."
She stood before him, and the thick dark shawl fell from her
shoulders upon the grass; she did not miss it in the blinding joy
that had fallen upon her. Hugh Fernely's gaze lingered upon the
"I can give you up," he said, gently; "for your own happiness,
but not to another, Beatrice. Tell me that you have not learned
to love another since I left you."
She made no reply--not to have saved her life a thousand times
would she have denied her love for Lord Airlie. His kiss was
still warm on her lips--those same lips should never deny him.
"You do not speak," he added, gloomily. "By Heaven, Beatrice, if
I thought you had learned to love another man--if I thought you
wanted to be free from me to marry another--I should go mad
mad with jealous rage! Is it so? Answer me."
She saw a lurid light in his eyes, and shrank from him. He
tightened his grasp upon her arm.
"Answer me!" he cried, hoarsely. "I will know."
Not far from her slept the lover who would have shielded her with
his strong arm--the lover to whom every hair upon her dear head
was more precious than gold or jewels. Not far from her slept
the kind, loving father, who was prouder and fonder of her than
of any one on earth. Gaspar Laurence, who would have died for
her, lay at that moment not far away, awake and thinking of her.
Yet in the hour of her deadly peril, when she stood on the shore
of the deep lake, in the fierce grasp of a half-maddened man,
there was no one near to help her or raise a hand in her defense.
But she was no coward, and all the high spirit of her race rose
"Loosen your grasp, Hugh," she said, calmly; "you pain me."
"Answer me!" he cried. "Where is the ring I gave you?"
He seized both her hands and looked at them; they were firm and
cool--they did not tremble. As his fierce, angry eyes glanced
over them, not a feature of her beautiful face quivered.
"Where is my ring?" he asked. "Answer me, Beatrice."
"I have not worn it lately," she replied. "Hugh, you forget
yourself. Gentlemen do not speak and act in this way."
"I believe I am going mad," he said, gloomily. "I could
relinquish my claim to you, Beatrice for your own sake, but I
will never give you up to be the wife of any other man. Tell me
it is not so. Tell me you have not been so doubly false as to
love another, and I will try to do all you wish."
"Am I to live all my life unloved and unmarried?" she answered,
controlling her angry indignation by a strong effort, "because
when I was a lonely and neglected girl, I fell into your power?
I do not ask such a sacrifice from you. I hope you will love and
marry, and be happy."
"I shall not care," he said, "what happens after I am gone--it
will not hurt my jealous, angry heart then, Beatrice; but I
should not like to think that while you were my promised wife and
I was giving you my every thought, you were loving some one else.
I should like to believe you were true to me while you were my
She made no answer, fearing to irritate him if she told the
truth, and scorning to deny the love that was the crowning
blessing of her life. His anger grew in her silence. Again the
dark flush arose in his face, and his eyes flamed with fierce
Suddenly he caught sight of the gold locket she wore round her
neck, fastened by the slender chain.
"What is this thing you wear?" he asked, quickly. "You threw
aside my ring. What is this? Whose portrait have you there?
Let me see it."
"You forget yourself again," she said, drawing herself haughtily
away. "I have no account to render to you of my friends."
"I will see who is there!" he cried, beside himself with angry
rage. "Perhaps I shall know then why you wish to be freed from
me. Whose face is lying near your heart? Let me see. If it is
that of any one who has outwitted me, I will throw it into the
depths of the lake."
"You shall not see it," she said, raising her hand, and clasping
the little locket tightly. "I am not afraid, Hugh Fernely. You
will never use violence to me."
But the hot anger leaped up in his heart; he was mad with cruel
jealousy and rage, and tried to snatch the locket from her. She
defended it, holding it tightly clasped in one hand, while with
the other she tried to free herself from his grasp.
It will never be know how that fatal accident happened. Men will
never know whether the hapless girl fell, or whether Hugh
Fernely, in his mad rage, flung her into the lake. There was a
startled scream that rang through the clear air, a heavy fall, a
splash amid the waters of the lake! There was one awful,
despairing glance from a pale, horror-stricken face, and then the
waters closed, the ripples spread over the broad surface, and the
sleeping lilies trembled for a few minutes, and then lay still
again! Once, and once only, a woman's white hand, thrown up, as
it were, in agonizing supplication, cleft the dark water, and
then all was over; the wind blew the ripples more strongly; they
washed upon the grass, and the stir of the deep waters subsided!
Hugh Fernely did not plunge into the lake after Beatrice--it was
too late to save her; still, he might have tried. The cry that
rang through the sleeping woods, seemed to paralyze him--he
stood like one bereft of reason, sense and life. Perhaps the
very suddenness of the event overpowered him. Heaven only knows
what passed in his dull, crazed mind while the girl he loved sank
without help. Was it that he would not save her for another
that in his cruel love he preferred to know her dead, beneath the
cold waters, rather than the living, happy wife of another man?
Or was it that in the sudden shock and terror he never thought of
trying to save her?
He stood for hours--it seemed to him as years--watching the
spot where the pale, agonized face had vanished--watching the
eddying ripples and the green reeds. Yet he never sought to save
her--never plunged into the deep waters whence he might have
rescued her had he wished. He never moved. He felt no fatigue.
The first thing that roused him was a gleam of gray light in the
eastern sky, and the sweet, faint song of a little bird.
Then he saw that the day had broken. He said to himself, with a
wild horrible laugh, that he had watched all night by her grave.
He turned and fled. One meeting him, with fierce, wild eyes full
of the fire of madness, with pale, haggard face full of despair,
would have shunned him. He fled through the green park, out on
the high-road, away through the deep woods--he knew not whither
never looking back; crying out at times, with a hollow, awful
voice that he had been all night by her grave; falling at times
on his face with wild, woeful weeping, praying the heavens to
fall upon him and hide him forever from his fellow men.
He crept into a field where the hedge-rows were bright with
autumn's tints. He threw himself down, and tried to close his
hot, dazed eyes, but the sky above him looked blood-red, the air
seemed filled with flames. Turn where he would, the pale,
despairing face that had looked up to him as the waters opened
was before him. He arose with a great cry, and wandered on. He
came to a little cottage, where rosy children were at play,
talking and laughing in the bright sunshine.
Great Heaven! How long was it since the dead girl, now sleeping
under the deep waters, was happy and bright as they?
He fled again. This time the piercing cry filled his ears; it
seemed to deaden his brain. He fell in the field near the
cottage. Hours afterward the children out at play found him
lying in the dank grass that fringed the pond under the alder
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The first faint flush of dawn, a rosy light, broke in the eastern
sky, a tremulous, golden shimmer was on the lake as the sunbeams
touched it. The forest birds awoke and began to sing; they flew
from branch to branch; the flowers began to open their "dewy
eyes," the stately swans came out upon the lake, bending their
arched necks, sailing round the water lilies and the green
The sun shone out at length in his majesty, warming and
brightening the fair face of nature--it was full and perfect
day. The gardeners came through the park to commence their work;
the cows out in the pasture land stood to be milked, the busy
world began to rouse itself; but the fatal secret hidden beneath
the cold, dark water remained still untold.
The sun shone bright and warm in the breakfast room at
Earlescourt. The rays fell upon the calm, stately face of Lady
Helena, upon the grave countenance of her son, upon the bright,
handsome features of Lord Airlie. They sparkled on the delicate
silver, and showed off the pretty china to perfection. The
breakfast was upon the table, but the three occupants of the room
had been waiting. Lady Helena took her seat.
"It seems strange," she said to Lord Earle, "to breakfast without
either of the girls. I would not allow Lillian to rise; and from
some caprice Beatrice forbade her maid to call her, saying she
Lord Earle made some laughing reply, but Lady Helena was not
quite pleased. Punctuality with her had always been a favorite
virtue. In case of real illness, allowance was of course to be
made; but she herself had never considered a little extra fatigue
as sufficient reason for absenting herself from table.
The two gentlemen talked gayly during breakfast. Lord Earle
asked Hubert if he would go with him to Holte, and Lord Airlie
said he had promised to drive Beatrice to Langton Priory.
Hearing that, Lady Helena thought it time to send some little
warning to her grandchild. She rang for Suzette, the maid who
waited upon Beatrice, and told her to call her young mistress.
She stood at her writing table, arranging some letters, when the
maid returned. Lady Helena looked at her in utter wonder--the
girl's face was pale and scared.
"My lady," she said, "will you please come here? You are wanted
Lady Helena, without speaking to either of the gentlemen, went to
the door where the girl stood.
"What is it, Suzette?" she asked. "What is the matter?"
"For mercy's sake, my lady," replied the maid, "come upstairs. I
I can not find Miss Beatrice--she is not in her room;" and the
girl trembled violently or Lady Helena would have smiled at her
"She is probably with Miss Lillian," she said. "Why make such a
"She is not there, my lady; I can not find her," was the answer.
"She may have gone out into the garden or the grounds," said Lady
"My lady," Suzette whispered, and her frightened face grew
deathly pale, "her bed has not been slept in; nothing is touched
in her room; she has not been in it all night."
A shock of unutterable dread seized Lady Earle; a sharp spasm
seemed to dart through her heart.
"There must be some mistake," she said, gently; "I will go
upstairs with you."
The rooms were without occupant; no disarray of jewels, flowers,
or dresses, no little slippers; no single trace of Beatrice's
presence was there.
The pretty white bed was untouched--no one had slept in it; the
blinds were drawn, and the sunlight struggled to enter the room.
Lady Helena walked mechanically to the window, and drew aside the
lace curtains; then she looked round.
"She has not slept here," she said; "she must have slept with
Miss Lillian. You have frightened me, Suzette; I will go and see
Lady Helena went through the pretty sitting room where the books
Beatrice had been reading lay upon the table, on to Lillian's
The young girl was awake, looking pale and languid, yet better
than she had looked the night before. Lady Earle controlled all
emotion, and went quietly to her.
"Have you seen Beatrice this morning?" she asked. "I want her."
"No," replied Lillian; "I have not seen her since just before
dinner last evening."
"She did not sleep with you, then?" said Lady Earle.
"No, she did not sleep here," responded the young girl.
Lady Helena kissed Lillian's face, and quitted the room; a
deadly, horrible fear was turning her faint and cold. From the
suite of rooms Lord Earle had prepared and arranged for his
daughters a staircase ran which led into the garden. He had
thought at the time how pleasant it would be for them. As Lady
Helena entered, Suzette stood upon the stairs with a bow of pink
ribbon in her hand.
"My lady," she said, "I fastened the outer door of the staircase
last night myself. I locked it, and shot the bolts. It is
unfastened now, and I have found this lying by it. Miss Earle
wore it last evening on her dress."
"Something terrible must have happened," exclaimed Lady Helena.
"Suzette, ask Lord Earle to come to me. Do not say a word to any
He stood by her side in a few minutes, looking in mute wonder at
her pale, scared face.
"Ronald," she said, "Beatrice has not slept in her room all
night. We can not find her."
He smiled at first, thinking, as she had done, that there must be
some mistake, and that his mother was fanciful and nervous; but,
when Lady Helena, in quick, hurried words, told him of the
unfastened door and the ribbon, his face grew serious. He took
the ribbon from the maid's hand--it seemed a living part of his
daughter. He remembered that he had seen it the night before on
her dress, when he had held up the beautiful face to kiss it. He
had touched that same ribbon with his face.
"She may have gone out into the grounds, and have been taken
ill," he said. "Do not frighten Airlie, mother; I will look
He went through every room of the house one by one, but there was
no trace of her. Still Lord Earle had no fear; it seemed so
utterly impossible that any harm could have happened to her.
Then he went out into the grounds, half expecting the beautiful
face to smile upon him from under the shade of her favorite
trees. He called aloud, "Beatrice!" The wind rustled through
the trees, the birds sang, but there came no answer to his cry.
Neither in the grounds nor in the garden could he discover any
trace of her. He returned to Lady Helena, a vague fear coming
"I can not find her," he said. "Mother, I do not understand
this. She can not have left us. She was not unhappy--my
There was no slip of paper, no letter, no clew to her absence.
Mother and son looked blankly at each other.
"Ronald," she cried, "where is she? Where is the poor child?"
He tried to comfort her, but fear was rapidly mastering him.
"Let me see if Airlie can suggest anything," he said.
They went down to the breakfast room where Lord Airlie still
waited for the young girl he was never more to meet alive. He
turned round with a smile, and asked if Beatrice were coming.
The smile died from his lips when he saw the pale, anxious faces
of mother and son.
"Hubert," said Lord Earle, "we are alarmed--let us hope without
cause. Beatrice can not be found. My mother is frightened."
Lady Helena had sunk, pale and trembling, upon a couch. Lord
Airlie looked bewildered. Lord Earle told him briefly how they
had missed her, and what had been done.
"She must be trying to frighten us," he said; "she must have
hidden herself. There can not be anything wrong." Even as he
spoke he felt how impossible it was that his dignified Beatrice
should have done anything wrong.
He could throw no light upon the subject. He had not seen her
since he had kissed her when bidding her goodnight. Her maid was
the last person to whom she had spoken. Suzette had left her in
her own room, and since then nothing had been seen or heard of
Father and lover went out together. Lord Airlie suggested that
she had perhaps gone out into the gardens and had met with some
accident there. They went carefully over every part--there was
no trace of Beatrice. They went through the shrubbery out into
the park, where the quiet lake shone amid the green trees.
Suddenly, like the thrust of a sharp sword, the remembrance of
the morning spent upon the water came to Lord Airlie. He called
to mind Beatrice's fear--the cold shudder that seized her when
she declared that her own face with a mocking smile was looking
up at her from the depths of the water.
He walked hurriedly toward the lake. It was calm and clear--the
tall trees and green sedges swaying in the wind, the white lilies
rising and falling with the ripples. The blue sky and green
trees were reflected in the water, the pleasure boat was fastened
to the boat house. How was he to know the horrible secret of the
"Come away, Airlie!" cried Lord Earle. "I shall go mad! I will
call all the servants, and have a regular search."
In a few minutes the wildest confusion and dismay reigned in the
Hall; women wept aloud, and men's faces grew pale with fear.
Their beautiful, brilliant young mistress had disappeared, and
none knew her fate. They searched garden, park, and grounds; men
in hot haste went hither and thither; while Lady Earle lay half
dead with fear, and Lillian rested calmly, knowing nothing of
what had happened.
It was Lord Airlie who first suggested that the lake should be
dragged. The sun rode high in the heavens then, and shone
gloriously over water and land.
They found the drags, and Hewson, the butler, with Lee and
Patson, two gardeners, got into the boat. Father and lover stood
side by side on the bank. The boat glided softly over the water;
the men had been once round the lake, but without any result.
Hope was rising again in Lord Airlie's heart, when he saw those
in the boat look at each other, then at him.
"My lord," said Cowden, Lord Earle's valet, coming up to Hubert,
"pray take my master home; they have found something at the
bottom of the lake. Take him home; and please keep Lady Earle
and the women all out of the way."
"What is it?" cried Lord Earle. "Speak to me, Airlie. What is
"Come away," said Lord Airlie. "The men will not work while we
They had found something beneath the water; the drags had caught
in a woman's dress; and the men in the boat stood motionless
until Lord Earle was out of sight.
Through the depths of water they saw the gleam of a white, dead
face, and a floating mass of dark hair. They raised the body
with reverent hands. Strong men wept aloud as they did so. One
covered the quiet face, and another wrung the dripping water from
the long hair. The sun shone on, as though in mockery, while
they carried the drowned girl home.
Slowly and with halting steps they carried her through the warm,
sunny park where she was never more to tread, through the bright,
sunlit gardens, through the hall and up the broad staircase, the
water dripping from her hair and falling in large drops, into the
pretty chamber she had so lately quitted full of life and hope.
They laid her on the white bed wherefrom her eyes would never
more open to the morning light, and went away.
"Drowned, drowned! Drowned and dead!" was the cry that went from
lip to lip, till it reached Lord Earle where he sat, trying to
soothe his weeping mother. "Drowned! Quite dead!" was the cry
that reached Lillian, in her sick room, and brought her down pale
and trembling. "Drowned and dead hours ago," were the words that
drove Lord Airlie mad with the bitterness of his woe.
They could not realize it. How had it happened? What had taken
her in the dead of the night to the lake?
They sent messengers right and left to summon doctors in hot
haste, as though human skill could avail her now.
"I must see her," said Lord Airlie. "If you do not wish to kill
me, let me see her."
They allowed him to enter, and Lord Earle and his mother went
with him. None in that room ever forgot his cry--the piercing
cry of the strong man in his agony--as he threw himself by the
dead girl's side.
"Beatrice, my love, my darling, why could I not have died for
And then with tears of sympathy they showed him how even in death
the white cold hand grasped his locket, holding it so tightly
that no ordinary foe could remove it.
"In life and in death!" she had said, and she had kept her word.
While the weeping group still stood there, doctors came; they
looked at the quiet face, so beautiful in death, and said she had
been dead for hours. The words struck those who heard them with
unutterable horror. Dead, while those who loved her so dearly,
who would have given their lives for her, had lain sleeping near
her, unconscious of her doom--dead, while her lover had waited
for her, and her father had been intently thinking of her
What had she suffered during the night? What awful storm of
agony had driven her to the lake? Had she gone thither
purposely? Had she wandered to the edge and fallen in, or was
there a deeper mystery? Had foul wrong been done to Lord Earle's
daughter while he was so near her, and yet knew nothing of it?
She still wore her pretty pink evening dress. What a mockery it
looked! The delicate laces were wet and spoiled; the pink
blossoms she had twined in her hair clung to it still; the
diamond arrow Lord Airlie had given her fastened them, a diamond
brooch was in the bodice of her dress, and a costly bracelet
encircled the white, cold arm. She had not, then, removed her
jewels or changed her dress. What could have taken her down to
the lake? Why was Lord Airlie's locket so tightly clinched in
Lord Airlie, when he was calm enough to speak, suggested that she
might have fallen asleep, tired, before undressing--that in her
sleep she might have walked out, gone to the edge of the lake,
and fallen in.
That version spread among the servants. From them it spread like
wildfire around the whole country-side; the country papers were
filled with it, and the London papers afterward told how "the
beautiful Miss Earle" had been drowned while walking in her
But Lord Airlie's suggestion did not satisfy Ronald Earle; he
would not leave the darkened chamber. Women's gentle hands
removed the bright jewels and the evening dress. Lady Helena,
with tears that fell like rain, dried the long, waving hair, and
drew it back from the placid brow. She closed the eyes, but she
could not cross the white hands on the cold breast. One held the
locket in the firm, tight clasp of death, and it could not be
Ronald would not leave the room. Gentle hands finished their
task. Beatrice lay in the awful beauty of death--no pain, no
sorrow moving the serene loveliness of her placid brow. He knelt
by her side. It was his little Beatrice, this strange, cold,
marble statue--his little baby Beatrice, who had leaped in his
arms years ago, who had cried and laughed, who had learned in
pretty accents to lisp his name--his beautiful child, his proud,
bright daughter, who had kissed him the previous night while he
spoke jesting words to her about her lover. And he had never
heard her voice since--never would hear it again. Had she
called him when the dark waters closed over her bright head?
Cold, motionless, no gleam of life or light--and this was Dora's
little child! He uttered a great cry as the thought struck him:
"What would Dora say?" He loved Beatrice; yet for all the long
years of her childhood he had been absent from her. How must
Dora love the child who had slept on her bosom, and who was now
parted from her forever.
And then his thoughts went back to the old subject: "How had it
happened? What had taken her to the lake?"
One knelt near who might have told him, but a numb, awful dread
had seized upon Lillian. Already weak and ill, she was unable to
think, unable to shape her ideas, unable to tell right from
She alone held the clew to the mystery, and she knelt by that
death bed with pale, parted lips and eyes full of terror. Her
face startled those who saw it. Her sorrow found no vent in
tears; the gentle eyes seemed changed into balls of fire; she
could not realize that it was Beatrice who lay there, so calm and
still--Beatrice, who had knelt at her feet and prayed that she
would save her--Beatrice, who had believed herself so near the
climax of her happiness.
Could she have met Hugh, and had he murdered her? Look where she
would, Lillian saw that question written in fiery letters. What
ought she to do? Must she tell Lord Earle, or did the promise
she had made bind her in death as well as in life. Nothing could
restore her sister. Ought she to tell all she knew, and to stain
in death the name that was honored and loved?
One of the doctors called in saw the face of Lillian Earle. He
went at once to Lady Helena, and told her that if the young lady
was not removed from that room, and kept quiet she would be in
danger of her life.
"If ever I saw a face denoting that the brain was disturbed," he
said, "that is one."
Lillian was taken back to her room, and left with careful nurses.
But the doctor's warning proved true. While Lord Earle wept over
the dead child, Lady Helena mourned over the living one, whose
life hung by a thread.
The day wore on; the gloom of sorrow and mourning had settled on
the Hall. Servants spoke with hushed voices and moved with
gentle tread. Lady Helena sat in the darkened room where Lillian
lay. Lord Airlie had shut himself up alone, and Ronald Earle
knelt all day by his dead child. In vain they entreated him to
move, to take food or wine, to go to his own room. He remained
by her, trying to glean from that silent face the secret of her
And when night fell again, he sunk exhausted. Feverish slumbers
came to him, filled with a haunted dream of Beatrice sinking in
the dark water and calling upon him for help. Kindly faces
watched over him, kindly hands tended him. The morning sun found
him still there.
Lady Helena brought him some tea and besought him to drink it.
The parched, dried lips almost refused their office. It was an
hour afterward that Hewson entered the room, bearing a letter in
his hand. It was brought, he said by Thomas Ginns, who lived at
the cottage past Fair Glenn hills. It had been written by a man
who lay dying there, and who had prayed him to take it at once
"I ventured to bring it to you, my lord," said the butler; "the
man seemed to think it a matter of life or death."
Lord Earle took the letter from his hands--he tried to open it,
but the trembling fingers seemed powerless. He signed to Hewson
to leave the room, and, placing the letter upon the table,
resumed his melancholy watch. But in some strange way his
thoughts wandered to the missive. What might it not contain,
brought to him, too, in the solemn death chamber? He opened it,
and found many sheets of closely covered paper. On the first was
written "The Confession of Hugh Fernely."
The name told him nothing. Suddenly an idea came to him--could
this confession have anything to do with the fate of the beloved
child who lay before him? Kneeling by the dead child's side, he
turned over the leaf and read as follows:
"Lord Earle, I am dying--the hand tracing this will soon be
cold. Before I die I must confess my crime. Even now, perhaps,
you are kneeling by the side of the child lost to you for all
time. My lord, I killed her.
"I met her first nearly three years ago, at Knutsford; she was
out alone, and I saw her. I loved her then as I love her now.
By mere accident I heard her deplore the lonely, isolated life
she led, and that in such terms that I pitied her. She was
young, beautiful, full of life and spirits; she was pining away
in that remote home, shut out from the living world she longed
for with a longing I can not put into words. I spoke to her--do
not blame her, she was a beautiful, ignorant child--I spoke to
her, asking some questions about the road, and she replied.
Looking at her face, I swore that I would release her from the
life she hated, and take her where she would be happy.
"I met her again and again. Heaven pardon me if I did my best to
awake an interest in her girlish heart! I told her stories of
travel and adventure that stirred all the romance in her nature.
With the keen instinct of love I understood her character, and
played upon its weakness while I worshiped its strength.
"She told me of a sad, patient young mother who never smiled, of
a father who was abroad and would not return for many years.
Pardon me, my lord, if, in common with many others, I believed
this story to be one to appease her. Pardon me, if I doubted
as many others did--whether the sad young mother was your wife.
"I imagined that I was going to rescue her from a false position
when I asked her to be my wife. She said her mother dreaded all
mention of love and lovers, and I prayed her to keep my love a
secret from all the world.
"I make no excuses for myself; she was young and innocent as a
dreaming child. I ought to have looked on her beautiful face and
left her. My lord, am I altogether to blame? The lonely young
girl at Knutsford pined for what I could give her--happiness and
pleasure did not seem so far removed from me. Had she been in
her proper place I could never have addressed her.
"Not to you can I tell the details of my love story--how I
worshiped with passionate love the beautiful, innocent child who
smiled into my face and drank in my words. I asked her to be my
wife, and she promised. My lord, I never for a moment dreamed
that she would ever have a home with you--it did not seem to me
possible. I intended to return and marry her, firmly believing
that in some respects my rank and condition in life were better
than her own. She promised to be true to me, to love no one
else, to wait for me, and to marry me when I returned.
"I believe now that she never loved me. My love and devotion
were but a pleasant interruption in the monotony of her life.
They were to blame also who allowed her no pleasures--who
forced her to resort to this stolen one.
"My lord, I placed a ring upon your daughter's finger, and
pledged my faith to her. I can not tell you what my love was
like; it was a fierce fire that consumed me night and day.
"I was to return and claim her in two years. Absence made me
love her more. I came back, rich in gold, my heart full of
happiness, hope making everything bright and beautiful. I went
straight to Knutsford--alas! she was no longer there! And then
I heard that the girl I loved so deeply and so dearly was Lord
"I did not dream of losing her; birth, title, and position seemed
as nothing beside my mighty, passionate love. I thought nothing
of your consent, but only of her; and I went to Earlescourt. My
lord, I wrote to her, and my heart was in every line. She sent
me a cold reply. I wrote again; I swore I would see her. She
sent her sister to me with the reply. Then I grew desperate, and
vowed I would lay my claim before you. I asked her to meet me
out in the grounds, at night, unseen and unknown. She consented,
and on Thursday night I met her near the shrubbery.
"How I remember her pretty pleading words, her beautiful proud
face! She asked me to release her. She said that it had all
been child's play--a foolish mistake--and that if I would give
her her freedom from a foolish promise she would always be my
friend. At first I would not hear of it; but who could have
refused her? If she had told me to lie down at her feet and let
her trample the life out of me, I should have submitted.
"I promised to think of her request, and we walked on to the
border of the lake. Every hair upon her head was sacred to me;
the pretty, proud ways that tormented me delighted me, too. I
promised I would release her, and give her the freedom she asked,
if she told me I was not giving her up to another. She would
not. Some few words drove me mad with jealous rage--yes, mad;
the blood seemed to boil in my veins. Suddenly I caught sight of
a golden locket on her neck, and I asked her whose portrait it
contained. She refused to tell me. In the madness of my rage I
tried to snatch it from her. She caught it in her hands, and,
shrinking back from me, fell into the lake.
"I swear it was a sheer accident--I would not have hurt a hair
of her head; but, oh! My lord, pardon me--pardon me, for
Heaven's sake--I might have saved her and I did not; I might
have plunged in after her and brought her back, but jealousy
whispered to me, 'Do not save her for another--let her die.' I
stood upon the bank, and saw the water close over her head. I
saw the white hand thrown up in wild appeal, and never moved or
stirred. I stood by the lake-side all night, and fled when the
morning dawned in the sky.
"I killed her. I might have saved her, but did not. Anger of
yours can add nothing to my torture; think what it has been. I
was a strong man two days since; when the sun sets I shall be
numbered with the dead. I do not wish to screen myself from
justice. I have to meet the wrath of Heaven, and that appalls me
as the anger of man never could. Send the officers of the law
for me. If I am not dead, let them take me; if I am, let them
bury me as they would a dog. I ask no mercy, no compassion nor
forgiveness; I do not merit it.
"If by any torture, any death, I could undo what I have done, and
save her, I would suffer the extremity of pain; but I can not.
My deed will be judged in eternity.
"My lord, I write this confession partly to ease my own
conscience, party to shield others from unjust blame. Do not
curse me because, through my mad jealousy, my miserable revenge,
as fair and pure a child as father ever loved has gone to her
So the strange letter concluded. Lord Earle read every word,
looking over and anon at the quiet, dead face that had kept the
secret hidden. Every word seemed burned in upon his brain; every
word seemed to rise before him like an accusing spirit.
He stood face to face at last with the sin of his youth; it had
found him out. The willful, wanton disobedience, the marriage
that had broken his father's heart, and struck Ronald himself
from the roll of useful men; the willful, cruel neglect of duty;
the throwing off of all ties; the indulgence in proud,
unforgiving temper, the abandonment of wife and children--all
ended there. But for his sins and errors, that white, still
figure might now have been radiant with life and beauty.
The thought stung him with cruel pain. It was his own fault.
Beatrice might have erred in meeting Hugh Fernely; Fernely had
done wrong in trying to win that young child-like heart for his
own; but he who left his children to strange hands, who neglected
all duties of parentage, had surely done the greatest wrong.
For the first time his utter neglect of duty came home to him.
He had thought himself rather a modern hero, but now he caught a
glimpse of himself as he was in reality. He saw that he was not
even a brave man; for a brave man neglects no duty. It was
pitiful to see how sorrow bent his stately figure and lined his
proud face. He leaned over his dead child, and cried to her to
pardon him, for it was all his fault. Lady Helena, seeking him
in the gloom of that solemn death chamber, found him weeping as
strong men seldom weep.
He did not give her the letter, nor tell her aught of Hugh
Fernely's confession. He turned to her with as sad a face as man
"Mother," he said, "I want my kinsman, Lionel Dacre. Let him be
sent for, and ask him to come without delay."
In this, the crowning sorrow of his life, he could not stand
alone. He must have some one to think and to plan for him, some
one to help him bear the burden that seemed too heavy for him to
carry. Some one must see the unhappy man who had written that
letter, and it should be a kinsman of his own.
Not the brave, sad young lover, fighting alone with his sorrow
he must never know the tragedy of that brief life, to him her
memory must be sacred and untarnished, unmarred by the knowledge
of her folly.
Lady Helena was not long in discovering Lionel Dacre's
whereabouts. One of the footmen who had attended him to the
station remembered the name of the place for which he had taken a
ticket. Lady Helena knew that Sir William Greston lived close
by, and she sent at once to his house.
Fortunately the messenger found him. Startled and horrified by
the news, Lionel lost no time in returning. He could not realize
that his beautiful young cousin was really dead. Her face, in
its smiling brightness, haunted him. Her voice seemed to mingle
with the wild clang of the iron wheels. She was dead, and he was
going to console her father.
No particulars of her death had reached him; he now only knew
that she had walked out in her sleep, and had fallen into the
Twenty-four hours had not elapsed since Lord Earle cried out in
grief for his young kinsman, yet already he stood by his side.
"Persuade him to leave that room," said Lady Helena. "Since our
darling was carried there he has never left her side."
Lionel did as requested. He went straight to the library, and
sent for Lord Earle, saying that he could not at present look
upon the sad sight in the gloomy death chamber.
While waiting there, he heard of Lillian's dangerous illness.
Lady Helena told him how she had changed before her sister's
death; and, despite the young man's anger, his heart was sore and
He hardly recognized Lord Earle in the aged, altered man who soon
stood before him. The long watch, the bitter remorse, the
miserable consciousness of his own folly and errors had written
strange lines upon his face.
"I sent for you, Lionel," he said, "because I am in trouble--so
great that I can no longer bear it alone. You must think and
work for me; I can do neither for myself."
Looking into his kinsman's face, Lionel felt that more than the
death of his child weighed upon the heart and mind of Ronald
"There are secrets in every family," said Ronald; "henceforth
there will be one in mine--and it will be the true story of my
daughter's death. While I knelt yesterday by her side, this
letter was brought to me. Read it, Lionel; then act for me."
He read it slowly, tears gathering fast in his eyes, his lips
quivering, and his hands tightly clinched.
"My poor Beatrice!" he exclaimed; and then the strength of his
young manhood gave way, and Lionel Dacre wept as he had never
wept before. "The mean, pitiful scoundrel!" he cried, angry
indignation rising as he thought of her cruel death. "The
wretched villain--to stand by while she died!"
"Hush!" said Lord Earle. "He has gone to his account. What have
you to say to me, Lionel? Because I had a miserable quarrel with
my wife I abandoned my children. I never cared to see them from
the time they were babes until they were women grown. How guilty
am I? That man believed he was about to raise Beatrice in the
social scale when he asked her to be his wife, or as he says, he
would never have dreamed of proposing to marry my daughter. If
he merits blame, what do I deserve?"
"It was a false position, certainly," replied Lionel Dacre.
"This secret must be kept inviolate," said Lord Earle. "Lord
Airlie must never know it--it would kill Lady Helena, I believe.
One thing puzzles me, Lionel--Fernely says Lillian met him. I
do not think that is true."
"It is!" cried Lionel, a sudden light breaking in upon him. "I
saw her with him. Oh, Lord Earle, you may be proud of Lillian!
She is the noblest, truest girl that ever lived. Why, she
sacrificed her own love, her own happiness, for her sister! She
loved me; and when this wedding, which will never now take place,
was over, I intended to ask you to give me Lillian. One night,
quite accidentally, while I was wandering in the grounds with a
cigar, I saw her speaking to a stranger, her fair sweet face full
of pity and compassion, which I mistook for love. Shame to me
that I was base enough to doubt her--that I spoke to her the
words I uttered! I demanded to know who it was she had met, and
why she had met him. She asked me to trust her, saying she could
not tell me. I stabbed her with cruel words, and left her vowing
that I would never see her again. Her sister must have trusted
her with her secret, and she would not divulge it."
"We can not ask her now," said Lord Earle; "my mother tells me
she is very ill."
"I must see her," cried Lionel, "and ask her to pardon me if she
can. What am I to do for you, Lord Earle? Command me as though
I were your own son."
"I want you to go to the cottage," said Ronald, "and see if the
man is living or dead. You will know how to act. I need not ask
a kinsman and a gentleman to keep my secret."
In a few minutes Lionel Dacre was on his way to the cottage,
riding as though it were for dear life. Death had been still
more swift. Hugh Fernely lay dead.
The cottager's wife told Lionel how the children out at play had
found a man lying in the dank grass near the pond, and how her
husband, in his own strong arms, had brought him to their abode.
He lay still for many hours, and then asked for pen and ink. He
was writing, she said, nearly all night, and afterward prayed her
husband to take the letter to Lord Earle. The man refused any
nourishment. Two hours later they went in to persuade him to
take some food, and found him lying dead, his face turned to the
Lionel Dacre entered the room. The hot anger died out of his
heart as he saw the anguish death had marked upon the white
countenance. What torture must the man have suffered, what hours
of untold agony, to have destroyed him in so short a time! The
dark, handsome face appeared to indicate that the man had been
dying for years.
Lionel turned reverently away. Man is weak and powerless before
death. In a few words he told the woman that she should be amply
rewarded for her kindness, and that he himself would defray all
"He was perhaps an old servant of my lord's?" she said.
"No," was the reply; "Lord Earle did not know him--had never
seen him; but the poor man was well known to one of Lord Earle's
Thanks to Lionel's words, the faintest shadow of suspicion was
never raised. Of the two deaths, that of Miss Earle excited all
attention and aroused all sympathy. No one spoke of Hugh
Fernely, or connected him with the occurrence at the Hall.
There was an inquest, and men decided that he had "died by the
visitation of God." No one knew the agony that had cast him
prostrate in the thick, dank grass, no one knew the unendurable
anguish that had shortened his life.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When Lionel returned to the Hall, he went straight to Lord Earle.
"I was too late," he said; "the man had been dead some hours."
His name was not mentioned between them again. Lord Earle never
inquired where he was buried--he never knew.
The gloom had deepened at the Hall. Lillian Earle lay nigh unto
death. Many believed that the master of Earlescourt would soon
be a childless man. He could not realize it. They told him how
she lay with the cruel raging fever sapping her life, but he
seemed to forget the living child in mourning for the one that
In compliance with Lionel's prayer, Lady Helena took him into the
sick room where Lillian lay. She did not know him; the gentle,
tender eyes were full of dread and fear; the fair, pure face was
burning with the flush of fever; the hot, dry lips were never
still. She talked incessantly--at times of Knutsford and
Beatrice--then prayed in her sweet, sad voice that Lionel would
trust her--only trust her; when Beatrice was married she would
tell him all.
He turned away; her eyes had lingered on his face, but no gleam
of recognition came into them.
"You do not think she will die?" he asked of Lady Helena; and she
never forgot his voice or his manner.
"We hope not," she said; "life and death are in higher hands than
ours. If you wish to help her, pray for her."
In after years Lionel Dacre like to remember that the best and
most fervent prayers of his life had been offered for gentle,
innocent Lillian Earle.
As he turned to quit the chamber he heard her crying for her
mother. She wanted her mother--why was she not there? He
looked at Lady Helena; she understood him.
"I have written," she said. "I sent for Dora yesterday; she will
be here soon."
On the second day succeeding that on which Dora had been sent
for, Beatrice Earle was to be laid in her grave. The servants of
the household, who had dearly loved their beautiful young
mistress, had taken their last look at her face. Lady Helena had
shed her last tears over it. Lord Airlie had asked to be alone
for a time with his dead love. They had humored him, and for
three long hours he had knelt by her, bidding her a sorrowful
farewell, taking his last look at the face that would never again
smile on earth for him.
They respected the bitterness of his uncontrollable sorrow; no
idle words of sympathy were offered to him; men passed him by
with an averted face--women with tearful eyes.
Lord Earle was alone with his dead child. In a little while
nothing would remain of his beautiful, brilliant daughter but a
memory and a name. He did not weep; his sorrow lay too deep for
tears. In his heart he was asking pardon for the sins and
follies of his youth; his face was buried in his hands, his head
bowed over the silent form of his loved child; and when the door
opened gently, he never raised his eyes--he was only conscious
that some one entered the room, and walked swiftly up the gloomy,
darkened chamber to the bedside. Then a passionate wailing that
chilled his very blood filled the rooms.
"My Beatrice, my darling! Why could I not have died for you?"
Some one bent over the quiet figure, clasping it in tender arms,
calling with a thousand loving words upon the dear one who lay
there--some one whose voice fell like a strain of long-forgotten
music upon his ears. Who but a mother could weep as she did?
Who but a mother forget everything else in the abandonment of
her sorrow, and remember only the dead?
Before he looked up, he knew it was Dora--the mother bereft of
her child--the mother clasping in her loving arms the child she
had nursed, watched, and loved for so many years. She gazed at
him, and he never forgot the woeful, weeping face.
"Ronald," she cried, "I trusted my darling to you; what has
happened to her?"
The first words for many long years--the first since he had
turned round upon her in his contempt, hoping he might be
forgiven for having made her his wife.
She seemed to forget him then, and laid her head down upon the
quiet heart; but Ronald went round to her. He raised her in his
arms, he laid the weeping face on his breast, he kissed away the
blinding tears, and she cried to him:
"Forgive me, Ronald--forgive me! You can not refuse in the hour
How the words smote him. They were his own recoiling upon him.
How often he had refused his mother's pleading--hardened his own
heart, saying to himself and to her that he could not pardon her
yet--he would forgive her in the hour of death, when either he
or she stood on the threshold of eternity!
Heaven had not willed it so. The pardon he had refused was wrung
from him now; and, looking at his child, he felt that she was
sacrificed to his blind, willful pride.
"You will forgive me, Ronald," pleaded the gentle voice, "for the
love of my dead child? Do not send me from you again. I have
been very unhappy all these long years; let me stay with you now.
Dear, I was beside myself with jealousy when I acted as I did."
"I forgive you," he said, gently, "can you pardon me as easily,
Dora? I have spoiled your life--I have done you cruel wrong;
can you forget all, and love me as you did years ago?"
All pride, restraint, and anger were dead. He whispered loving
words to his weeping wife, such as she had not heard for years;
and he could have fancied, as he did so, that a happy smile
lingered on the fair face of the dead.
No, it was but the light of a wax taper flickering over it; the
strange, solemn beauty of that serene brow and those quiet lips
Half an hour afterward Lady Helena, trembling from the result of
her experiment, entered the room. She saw Ronald's arms clasped
round Dora, while they knelt side by side.
"Mother," said Lord Earle, "my wife has pardoned me. She is my
own again--my comfort in sorrow."
Lady Earle touched Dora's face with her lips, and told what her
errand was. They must leave the room now--the beautiful face of
Beatrice Earle was to be hidden forever from the sight of men.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
That evening was long remembered at Earlescourt; for Lady Dora
thenceforward took her rightful position. She fell at once into
the spirit of the place, attending to every one and thinking of
every one's comfort.
Lillian was fighting hard for her young life. She seemed in some
vague way to understand that her mother was near. Lady Dora's
hand soothed and calmed her, her gentle motherly ways brought
comfort and rest; but many long days passed before Lillian knew
those around her, or woke from her troubled, feverish dream.
When she did so, her sister had been laid to rest in her long,
* * * * * * * * * * * *
People said afterward that no fairer day had ever been than that
on which Beatrice Earle was buried. The sun shone bright and
warm, the birds were singing, the autumn flowers were in bloom,
as the long procession wound its way through the trees in the
park; the leaves fell from the trees, while the long grass
rustled under the tread of many feet.
Lord Earle and Hubert Airlie were together. Kindly hearts knew
not which to pity the more--the father whose heart seemed broken
by his sorrow, or the young lover so suddenly bereft of all he
loved best. From far and near friends and strangers gathered to
that mournful ceremony; from one to another the story flew how
beautiful she was, and how dearly the young lord had loved her,
how she had wandered out of the house in her sleep and fallen
into the lake.
They laid her to rest in the green church-yard at the foot of the
hill--the burial place of the Earles.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The death bell had ceased ringing; the long white blinds of the
Hall windows were drawn up; the sunshine played once more in the
rooms; the carriages of sorrowing friends were gone; the funeral
was over. Of the beautiful, brilliant Beatrice Earle there
remained but a memory.
They told afterward how Gaspar Laurence watched the funeral
procession, and how he had lingered last of all in the little
church-yard. He never forgot Beatrice; he never looked into the
face of another woman with love on his own.
It was all over, and on the evening of that same day a quiet,
deep sleep came to Lillian Earle. It saved her life; the wearied
brain found rest. When she awoke, the lurid light of fever died
out of her eyes, and they looked in gratified amazement upon Lady
Dora who sat by her side.
"Mamma," she whispered, "am I at home at Knutsford?"
Dora soothed her, almost dreading the time when memory should
awaken in full force. It seemed partly to return then, for
Lillian gave vent to a wearied sigh, and closed her eyes.
Then Dora saw a little of wild alarm cross her face. She sprang
"Mamma, is it true? Is Beatrice dead?"
"It is true, my darling," whispered her mother, gently. "Dead,
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