Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Dora Thorne
Author: Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dora Thorne" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



DORA THORNE


by

Charlotte M. Braeme



Chapter I

"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 reason."

"There is no reason in prejudice," replied the young man haughtily.
"You can not bring forward one valid reason against my marriage."

Despite his annoyance, a smile broke over Lord Earle's grave face.

"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 place?"

"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 seriously."

"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 all."

"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 instance."

"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 followed."

"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 nothing."

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 and son.

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 here?"

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, father."

"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."



Chapter II

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 of
politics.

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 in vain.

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 for himself.

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 of Liberalism."

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 dread.

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 comfort.

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 model
estate.

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 was forged.

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 himself.

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 his fate?



Chapter III

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 equal her?

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 to do."

"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 tripped away.

"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 admired her.

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 care.

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, half-startled beauty.

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 accidentally.

"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 before.

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.



Chapter IV

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 first love.

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 consented.

"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 it?"

She gave him no answer, but turned away.  He caught her hands in his
own.

"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 of
tears.

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 his lips.

"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 wide
world."

"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 without you."

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 whisper.

"You shall never rue your trust, Dora," he said, proudly; but she
interrupted him.

"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 them.

"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 happy."

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 added.

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.



Chapter V

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 flushed."

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 this.

"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
impatience.

"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 said,
gently:

"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 day since."

Lord and Lady Earle exchanged a glance of dismay which did not escape
Ronald.

"Why have you not told us of this before?" asked his father, angrily.

"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, angrily.

"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 rustic beauty."

"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 months."

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 lady."

"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 you."

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 Holt's claims.

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 me."

"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. Her 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 Ronald.

"I am sorry for you," he said, "if you love Dora; for she will be my
wife."

"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 Eastham.

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.



Chapter VI

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 rose blossoms.

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 invited.

"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 myself."

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 here."

"She is in the library," said Valentine, with a smile that dazzled him.

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 irresistible.

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 all affectation.

"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 sneer.

"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 her.

"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 Charteris.

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 persuasive
powers.

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 her.

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.



Chapter VII

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 Lady Earle.

"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 asked.

"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 face.

"You have not told me," said Valentine, "whether you like my flowers."

"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 timid.

"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 queenly lilies."

He paused, for Valentine was looking at him with a wondering smile.

"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 her face.

"The simplest words you can use will always interest me," she said,
gently.

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 this
flower?"

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 different.

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 lustrous eyes.

"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 here."

"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 there."

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 summer music.

"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 face.

"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 white
lips.

"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 help me."

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 do?"

"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 you say."

A quiver of pain passed over the proud, calm face of Valentine
Charteris.

"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 Charteris."

"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 concealment."

"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 his neck.

"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 also."

The words came so prettily from her lips that Ronald smiled.

"Dora would be quite alarmed at you," he said; "she is so timid and
shy."

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 lunch.

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 flower gardens.

Valentine smiled and raised her fact to the quiet summer sky, thinking
of the hope that had been hers a few short hours before.

"You will go at once and see your father, will you not?" she said to
Ronald, as they parted.

"I am going now," he replied; but at that very moment Lady Earle came
up to him.

"Ronald," she said, "come into my boudoir.  Your father is there he
wants to see you before he goes to Holtham."

Valentine went straight to her mother's room.  Lady Charteris sat
waiting for her, beguiling the time with a book.  She smiled as her
daughter entered.

"I hope you have had a pleasant walk," she said; but both smile and
words died away as she saw the expression on her daughter's face, as
she bent over her mother.

"Mamma," said Valentine, gently, "all I said to you last night about
Earlescourt was a great mistake--it will never be my home. My vanity
misled me."

"Have you quarreled with Ronald?" asked Lady Charteris, quietly.

"No," was the calm reply.  "We are excellent friends but, mamma, I was
mistaken.  He did want to tell me something, but it was of his love for
some one else--not for me."

"He has behaved shamefully to you!" cried Lady Charteris.

"Hush, mamma!" said Valentine. "You forget how such words humiliate me.
I have refused men of far better position that Ronald Earle.  Never let
it be imagined that I have mistaken his intentions."

"Of course not," said her mother.  "I only say it to yourself,
Valentine; he seemed unable to live out of your sight--morning, noon,
and night he was always by your side."

"He only wanted me to be his friend," said Valentine.

"Ah, he is selfish, like all the men!" said Lady Charteris. "With whom
has he fallen in love, my dear?"

"Do not ask me," replied Valentine.  "He is in a terrible dilemma.  Do
not talk to me about it, mamma.  I made a foolish mistake, and do not
wish to be reminded of it."

Lady Charteris detected the suppressed pain in the tone of her child's
voice, and instantly formed her plans.

"I think of returning tomorrow," she said.  "Your father is getting
impatient to have us with him.  He can not come to Earlescourt himself.
You say Mr. Earle is in a terrible dilemma, Valentine.  I hope there
will be no scandalous expose while we are here.  I detest scenes."

"Lord Earle is far too proud for anything of that kind," said
Valentine.  "If there should be any unpleasantness, it will not appear
on the surface.  Mamma, you will not mention this to me again."

Valentine threw off her lace shawl and pretty hat; she then took up the
book her mother had laid down.

"My walk has tired me," she said; "the sun is very warm."

She lay down upon the sofa and turned her face to the window, where the
roses came nodding in.

"Stay here and read," said lady Charteris, with delicate tact. "I am
going to write my letters."

Valentine lay still, looking at the summer beauty outside.  No one knew
of the tears that gathered slowly in those proud eyes; no one knew of
the passionate weeping that could not be stilled.

When Lady Charteris returned in two hours, Valentine had regained her
calm, and there was no trace of tears in the smiles which welcomed her.
Proudly and calmly she bore the great disappointment of her life.  She
was no tragedy queen; she never said to herself that her life was
blighted or useless or burdensome.  But she did say that she would
never marry until she found some one with Ronald's simple chivalry, his
loyal, true nature, and without the weakness which had caused and would
cause so much suffering.



Chapter VIII

Lady Earle's boudoir was always considered one of the prettiest rooms
at Earlescourt.  Few, but rare, pictures adorned its walls. The long
French windows opened on to the prettiest part of the gardens, where a
large fountain rippled merrily in the sunshine. Groups of flowers in
rare and costly vases perfumed the room.

Lord Earle had but drawn a pretty lounging chair to the window, and sat
there, looking happier than he had looked for months. Lady Earle went
on with her task of arranging some delicate leaves and blossoms ready
for sketching.

"Ronald," said his father, "I have been waiting here some time. Have
you been out?"

"I have been in the park with Miss Charteris," replied Ronald.

Lord Earle smiled again, evidently well pleased to hear that
intelligence.

"A pleasant and sensible method of spending your time," he continued;
"and, strange to say, it is on that very subject I wish to speak to
you.  Your attentions to Miss Charteris--"

"My attentions!" cried Ronald.  "You are mistaken.  I have never paid
any."

"You need have no fear this time," said Lord Earle.  "Your mother tells
me of the numerous comments made last evening on your long tete-a-tete
in the conservatory.  I know some of your secrets. There can be no
doubt that Miss Charteris has a great regard for you.  I sent for you
to say that, far from my again offering any opposition to your
marriage, the dearest wish of my heart will be gratified when I call
Valentine Charteris my daughter."

He paused for a reply, but none came.  Ronald's face had grown
strangely pale.

"We never named our wish to you," continued Lord Earle, "but years ago
your mother and I hoped you would some day love Miss Charteris.  She is
very beautiful; she is the truest, noblest, the best woman I know.  I
am proud of your choice, Ronald--more proud than words can express."

Still Ronald made no reply, and Lady Earle looked up at him quickly.

"You need not fear for Valentine," she said. "I must not betray any
secrets; she likes you, Ronald; I will say no more.  If you ask her to
be your wife, I do not think you will ask in vain."

"There is some great mistake," said Ronald, his pale lips quivering.
"Miss Charteris has no thought for me."

"She has no thought for any one else," rejoined Lady Earle, quickly.

"And I," continued Ronald, "never dreamed of making her my wife. I do
not love her.  I can never marry Valentine Charteris."

The smiles died from Lord Earle's face, and his wife dropped the pretty
blossoms she was arranging.

"Then why have you paid the girl so much attention?" asked his father,
gravely.  "Every one has remarked your manner; you never seemed happy
away from her."

"I wished to make her my friend," said Ronald; "I never thought of
anything else."

He stood aghast when he remembered why he had tried so hard to win her
friendship.  What if Valentine misunderstood him?

"Others thought for you," said Lady Earle, dryly.  "Of course, if I am
mistaken, there is no more to be said; I merely intended to say how
happy such a marriage would make me.  If you do not love the young lady
the matter ends, I suppose."

"Can you not love her, Ronald?" asked his mother, gently.  "She is so
fair and good, so well fitted to be the future mistress of Earlescourt.
Can you not love her?"

"Nothing was further from my thoughts," he replied.

"Surely," interrupted Lady Earle, "you have forgotten the idle, boyish
folly that angered your father some time since--that can not be your
reason?"

"Hush, mother," said Ronald, standing erect and dauntless; "I was
coming to tell you my secret when you met me.  Father, I deceived and
disobeyed you.  I followed Dora Thorne to Eastham, and married her
there."

A low cry came from Lady Earle's lips.  Ronald saw his father's face
grow white--livid--with anger; but no word broke the awful silence that
fell upon them.  Hours seemed to pass in the space of a few minutes.

"You married her," said Lord Earle, in a low, hoarse voice,
"remembering what I said?"

"I married her," replied Ronald, "hoping you would retract hard, cruel
words that you never meant.  I could not help it, father; she has no
one but me; they would have forced her to marry some one she did not
like."

"Enough," interrupted Lord Earle.  "Tell me when and where.  Let me
understand whether the deed is irrevocable or not."

Calmly, but with trembling lips, Ronald gave him every particular.

"Yes, the marriage is legal enough," said the master of Earlescourt.
"You had to choose between duty, honor, home, position--and Dora
Thorne.  You preferred Dora; you must leave the rest."

"Father, you will forgive me," cried Ronald.  "I am your only son."

"Yes," said Lord Earle, drearily, "you are my only son.  Heaven grant
no other child may pierce his father's heart as you have done mine!
Years ago, Ronald, my life was blighted--my hopes, wishes, ambitions,
and plans all melted; they lived again in you. I longed with wicked
impatience for the time when you should carry out my dreams, and add
fresh luster to a grand old name.  I have lived in your life; and now,
for the sake of a simple, pretty, foolish girl, you have forsaken
me--you have deliberately trampled upon every hope that I had."

"Let me atone for it," cried Ronald.  "I never thought of these things."

"You can not atone," said Lord Earle, gravely.  "I can never trust you
again.  From this time forth I have no son.  My heir you must be when
the life you have darkened ends.  My son is dead to me."

There was no anger in the stern, grave face turned toward the unhappy
young man.

"I never broke my word," he continued, "and never shall.  You have
chosen your own path; take it.  You preferred this Dora to me; go to
her.  I told you if you persisted in your folly, I would never look
upon your face again, and I never will."

"Oh, Rupert!" cried Lady Earle; "be merciful.  He is my only child.  I
shall die if you send him from me."

"He preferred this Dora to you or to me," said Lord Earle.  "I am sorry
for you, Helena--Heaven knows it wrings my heart--but I shall not break
my word!  I will not reproach you," he continued, turning to his son,
"it would be a waste of time and words; you knew the alternative, and
are doubtless prepared for it."

"I must bear it, father; the deed was my own," said Ronald.

"We will end this scene," said Lord Earle, turning from his unhappy
wife, who was weeping passionately.  "Look at your mother, Ronald; kiss
her for the last time and go from her; bear with you the memory of her
love and of her tenderness, and of how you have repaid them. Take your
last look at me.  I have loved you--I have been proud of you, hopeful
for you; now I dismiss you from my presence, unworthy son of a noble
race.  The same roof will never shelter us again.  Make what
arrangements you will.  You have some little fortune; it must maintain
you.  I will never contribute one farthing to the support of my lodge
keeper's daughter.  Go where you like--do as you like.  You have chosen
your own path.  Some day you must return to Earlescourt as its master.
I thank Heaven it will be when the degradation of my home and the
dishonor of my race can not touch me.  Go now; I shall expect you to
have quitted the Hall before tomorrow morning."

"You can not mean it, father," cried Ronald.  "Send me from you punish
me--I deserve it; but let me see you again!"

"Never in life," said Lord Earle, calmly.  "Remember, when you see me
lying dead, that death itself was less bitter than the hour in which I
learned that you had deceived me."

"Mother," cried the unhappy youth, "plead for me!"

"It is useless," replied his father; "your choice has been made
deliberately.  I am not cruel.  If you write to me I shall return your
letters unopened.  I shall refuse to see or hear from you, or to allow
you to come near Earlescourt; but you can write to your mother--I do
not forbid that.  She can see you under any roof save mine.  Now,
farewell; the sunshine, the hope, the happiness of my life go with you,
but I shall keep my word.  See my solicitor, Mr. Burt, about your
money, and he will arrange everything in my place."

"Father," cried Ronald, with tears in his eyes, "say one kind word,
touch my hand once again!"

"No," said Lord Earle, turning from the outstretched hand; "that is not
the hand of an honorable man; I can not hold it in my own."

Then Ronald bent down to kiss his mother; her face was white and still;
she was not conscious of his tears or his passionate pleading.  Lord
Earle raised her face.  "Go," said he, calmly; "do not let your mother
find you here when she recovers."

He never forgot the pleading of those sorrowful eyes, the anguish of
the brave young face, as Ronald turned from him and left the room.

When Lady Earle awoke to consciousness of her misery, her son had left
her.  No one would have called Lord Earle hard or stern who saw him
clasp his weeping wife in his arms, and console her by every kind and
tender word he could utter.

Lord Earle did not know that in his wife's heart there was a hope that
in time he would relent.  It was hard to lose her brave boy for a few
months or even years; but he would return, his father must forgive him,
her sorrow would be but for a time.  But Lord Earle, inflexible and
unflinching, knew that he should never in life see his son again.

No one knew what Lord Earle suffered; as Valentine Charteris said, he
was too proud for scenes.  He dined with Lady Charteris and her
daughter, excusing his wife, and never naming his son. After dinner he
shut himself in his own room, and suffered his agony along.

      *      *      *      *      *

Earlescourt was full of bustle and activity.  The young heir was
leaving suddenly; boxes and trunks had to be packed.  He did not say
where he was going; indeed those who helped him said afterward that his
face was fixed and pale, and that he moved about like one in a dream.

Everything was arranged for Ronald's departure by the night mail from
Greenfield, the nearest station to Earlescourt.  He took with him
neither horses nor servants; even his valet, Morton, was left behind.
"My lady" was ill, and shut up in her room all day.

Valentine Charteris sat alone in the drawing room when Ronald came in
to bid her farewell.  She was amazed at the unhappy termination of the
interview.  She would have gone instantly to Lord Earle, but Ronald
told her it was useless--no prayers, no pleadings could change his
determination.

As Ronald stood here, looking into Valentine's beautiful face, he
remembered his mother's words, that she cared for him as she cared for
no other.  Could it be possible that this magnificent girl, with her
serene, queenly dignity, loved him?  She looked distressed by his
sorrow.  When he spoke of his mother, and she saw the quivering lips he
vainly tried to still, tears filled her eyes.

"Where shall you go," she asked, "and what shall you do?"

"I shall go to my wife at once," he replied, "and take her abroad.  Do
not look so pained and grieved for me, Miss Charteris I must do the
best I can.  If my income will not support me, I must work; a few
months' study will make me a tolerable artist. Do not forget my mother,
Valentine, and bid me 'Godspeed.'"

Her heart yearned for him--so young, so simple, so brave.  She longed
to tell him how much she admired him--how she wanted to help him, and
would be his friend while she lived.  But Miss Charteris rarely yielded
to any emotion; she had laid her hand in his and said:

"Goodbye, Ronald--God bless you!  Be brave; it is not one great deed
that makes a hero.  The man who bears trouble well is the greatest hero
of all."

As he left his home in that quiet starlit night, Ronald little thought
that, while his mother lay weeping as though her heart would break, a
beautiful face, wet with bitter tears, watched him from one of the
upper windows, and his father, shut up alone, listened to every sound,
and heard the door closed behind his son as he would have heard his own
death knell.

The next day Lady Charteris and her daughter left Earlescourt. Lord
Earle gave no sign of the heavy blow which had struck him. He was their
attentive host while they remained; he escorted them to their carriage,
and parted from them with smiling words.  Then he went back to the
house, where he was never more to hear the sound of the voice he loved
best on earth.

As the days and months passed, and the young heir did not return,
wonder and surprise reigned at Earlescourt.  Lord Earle never mentioned
his son's name.  People said he had gone abroad, and was living
somewhere in Italy.  To Lord Earl it seemed that his life was ended; he
had no further plans, ambition died away; the grand purpose of his life
would never be fulfilled.

Lady Earle said nothing of the trouble that had fallen upon her. She
hoped against hope that the time would come when her husband would
pardon their only son.  Valentine Charteris bore her disappointment
well. She never forgot the simple, chivalrous man who had clung to her
friendship and relied so vainly upon her influence.

Many lovers sighed round Valentine.  One after another she dismissed
them.  She was waiting until she saw some one like Ronald Earle--like
him in all things save the weakness which had so fatally shadowed his
life.



Chapter IX

In a small, pretty villa, on the banks of the Arno, Ronald Earle
established himself with his young wife.  He had gone direct to
Eastham, after leaving Earlescourt, his heart aching with sorrow for
home and all that he had left there, and beating high with joy at the
thought that now nothing stood between him and Dora. He told her of the
quarrel--of his father's stern words--and Dora, as he had foreseen
clung round his neck and wept.

She would love him all the more, she said.  She must love him enough to
make up for home and every one else.

Yet, strange to say, when Ronald told his pretty, weeping wife all that
happened, he made no mention of Valentine Charteris--he did not even
utter her name.

Ronald's arrangements were soon made.  He sent for Stephen Thorne and
his wife, and told them how and when he had married Dora.

"I am sorry for it," said Stephen.  "No good will ever come of such an
unequal match.  My girl had better have stayed at home, or married the
young farmer who loved her.  The distance between you is too great, Mr.
Earle, and I fear me you will find it out."

Ronald laughed at the idea that he should ever tire of Dora.  How
little these prosaic, commonplace people knew of love!

The good lodge keeper and his wife parted from Dora with many tears.
She was never to brighten their home again with her sweet face and gay
voice.  She was going away to strange lands over the sea.  Many dark
forebodings haunted them; but it was too late for advice and
interference now.

The first news that came to the villa on the banks of the Arno was that
Stephen Thorne and his wife had left the lodge and taken a small farm
somewhere in the county of Kent.  Lady Earle had found them the means,
and they had left without one word from Lord Earle.  He never asked
whither they had gone.

Despite his father's anger and his mother's sorrow, despite his poverty
and loss of position, Ronald for some months was very happy with his
young wife.  It was so pleasant to teach Dora, to watch her sweet,
dimpled face and the dark eyes grow large with wonder; to hear her
simple, naive remarks, her original ideas; to see her pretty, artless
ways; above all, it was pleasant to be so dearly loved.

He often thought that there never had been, never could be, a wife so
loving as Dora.  He could not teach her much, although he tried hard.
She sang simple little ballads sweetly and clearly; but although master
after master tried his best, she could never be taught to play--not
even as much as the easy accompaniments of her own songs.  Ronald hoped
that with time and attention she would be able to sketch, but Dora
never managed it.  Obediently enough she took pencil and paper in her
hands and tried, but the strokes would never come straight.  Sometimes
the drawing she made would resemble something so comical that both she
and Ronald laughed heartily; while the consciousness of her own
inferiority grieved her, and large, bright tears would frequently fall
upon the paper.  Then Ronald would take the pencils away, and Dora
would cling around his neck and ask him if he would not have been
happier with a cleverer wife.

"No, a thousand times, no," he would say; he loved Dora better in her
artless simplicity than he could have loved the cleverest woman in the
world.

"And you are quite sure," said Dora, "that you will never repent
marrying me?"

"No, again," was the reply.  "You are the crowning joy of my life."

It was pleasant to sit amid the oleanders and myrtles, reading the
great poems of the world to Dora.  Even if she did not understand them,
her face lighted with pleasure as the grand words came from Ronald's
lips.  It was pleasant, too, to sit on the banks of the Arno, watching
the blue waters gleaming in the sun.  Dora was at home there.  She
would say little of books, of pictures, or music; but she could talk of
beautiful Nature, and never tire.  She knew the changing colors of the
sky, the varied hues of the waves, the different voices of the wind,
the songs of the birds.  All these had a separate and distinct meaning
for her.

Ronald could not teach her much more.  She liked the beautiful poems he
read, but never could remember who had written them. She forgot the
names of great authors, or mixed them up so terribly that Ronald, in
despair, told her it would be better not to talk of books just yet--not
until she was more familiar with them.

But he soon found out that Dora could not read for many minutes
together.  She would open her book, and make a desperate attempt; then
her dark eyes would wander away to the distant mountains, or to the
glistening river.  She could never read while the sun shone or the
birds sang.

Seeing that, Ronald gave up all attempts at literature in the daytime;
when the lamps were lighted in the evening, and the fair face of Nature
was shut out, he tried again, and succeeded for ten minutes; then
Dora's eyes drooped, the white lids with their jetty fringe closed; and
with great dismay he found that over the masterpieces of the world Dora
had fallen asleep.

Two long, bright years had passed away before Ronald began to perceive
that he could educate his pretty young wife no further. She was a
strange mixture of ignorance and uncultivated poetry. She could speak
well; her voice was sweet, her accent, caught from him, good; alone he
never noticed any deficiencies, but if he met an English friend in
Florence and brought him home to dine, then Ronald began to wish that
Dora would leave off blushing and grow less shy, that she could talk a
little more, and that he might lose all fear of her making some
terrible blunder.

The third year of their married life dawned; Dora was just twenty, and
Ronald twenty-three.  There had been no rejoicing when he had attained
his majority; it passed over unnoticed and unmarked.  News came to them
from England, letters from the little farm in Kent, telling of simple
home intelligence, and letters from Lady Earle, always sad and stained
with tears.  She had no good news to tell them.  Lord Earle was well,
but he would never allow his son's name to be mentioned before him, and
she longed to see her son.  In all her letters Lady Earle said: "Give
my love to Dora."

In this, the third year of his married life, Ronald began to feel the
pressure of poverty.  His income was not more than three hundred a
year.  To Dora this seemed boundless riches; but the heir of
Earlescourt had spent more in dress and cigars.  Now debts began to
press upon him, writing home he knew was useless. He would not ask Lady
Earle, although he knew that she would have parted with the last jewel
in her case for him.

Ronald gave himself up to the study of painting.  A pretty little
studio was built, and Dora spent long hours in admiring both her
husband and his work.  He gave promise of being some day a good
artist--not a genius.  The world would never rave about his pictures;
but, in time, he would be a conscientious, painstaking artist.  Among
his small coterie of friends some approved, others laughed.

"Why not go to the Jews?" asked fashionable young men. "Earlescourt
must be yours some day.  You can borrow money if you like."

Ronald steadily refused to entertain the idea.  He wondered at modern
ideas of honor--that men saw no shame in borrowing upon the lives of
their nearest and dearest, yet thought it a disgrace to be a follower
of one of the grandest of arts.  He made one compromise--that was for
his father's sake.  As an artist, he was known by Dora's name of
Thorne, and, before long, Ronald Thorne's pictures were in great
request.  There was no dash of genius about them; but they were careful
studies.  Some few were sold, and the price realized proved no
unwelcome addition to a small income.

Ronald became known in Florence.  People who had not thought much of
Mr. Earle were eager to know the clever artist and his pretty, shy
wife.  Then the trial of Ronald Earle began in earnest.  Had he lived
always away from the world, out of society, the chances are that his
fate would have been different; but invitations began to pour in upon
him and Dora, and Ronald, half tired of his solitude, although he never
suspected it, accepted them eagerly.

Dora did not like the change; she felt lonely and lost where Ronald was
so popular and so much at home.

Among those who eagerly sought Ronald's society was the pretty
coquette, the Countess Rosali, an English lady who had married the
Count Rosali, a Florentine noble of great wealth.

No one in Florence was half so popular as the fair countess. Among the
dark, glowing beauties of sunny Italy she was like a bright sunbeam.
Her fair, piquant face was charming from its delicate bright coloring
and gay smiles; her hair, of the rare color painted by the old masters,
yet so seldom seen, was of pure golden hue, looking always as though
the sun shone upon it.

Countess Rosali, there was no denying the fact, certainly did enjoy a
little flirtation.  Her grave, serious husband knew it, and looked on
quite calmly.  To his grave mind the pretty countess resembled a
butterfly far more than a rational being. He knew that, though she
might laugh and talk to others, though she might seek admiration and
enjoy delicate flattery, yet in her heart she was true as steel.  She
loved bright colors, and everything else that was gay and brilliant.
She had gathered the roses; perhaps some one else had her share of
thorns.

The fair, dainty lady had a great desire to see Mr. Thorne.  She had
seen one of his pictures at the house of one of her friends a simple
little thing, but it had charmed her.  It was merely a bouquet of
English wild flowers; but then they were so naturally painted!  The
bluebells looked as though they had just been gathered.  One almost
fancied dew drops on the delicate wild roses; a spray of pink hawthorn,
daisies and golden buttercups mingled with woodbine and meadow-sweet,
told sweet stories of the English meadows.

"Whoever painted that," said the fair countess, "loves flowers, and
knows what English flowers mean."

The countess did not rest until Ronald had been introduced to her, and
then she would know his wife.  Her grave, silent husband smiled at her
evident admiration of the handsome young Englishman.  She liked his
clear, Saxon face and fair hair; she liked his simple, kindly manner,
so full of chivalry and truth. She liked pretty Dora, too; but there
were times when the dainty, fastidious countess looked at the young
wife in wonder, for, as she said one evening to her husband:

"There is something in Mrs. Thorne that puzzles me--she does not always
speak or look like a lady--"

Few days passed without bringing Ronald and Dora to the Villa Rosali.
It would have been better for Ronald had he never left his pretty home
on the banks of the Arno.



Chapter X

Going into society increased the expenses which Ronald and his wife
found already heavy enough.  There were times when the money received
from the sale of his pictures failed in liquidating bills; then Ronald
grew anxious, and Dora, not knowing what better to do, wept and blamed
herself for all the trouble.  It was a relief then to leave the home
over which the clouds lowered and seek the gay villa, where something
pleasant and amusing was always going on.

The countess gathered around her the elite of Florentine society; she
selected her friends and acquaintances as carefully as she selected her
dresses, jewels, and flowers.  She refused to know "bores" and
"nobodies"; her lady friends must be pretty, piquant, or fashionable,
any gentleman admitted into her charmed circle must have genius, wit,
or talent to recommend him.  Though grave matrons shook their heads and
looked prudish when the Countess Rosali was mentioned, yet to belong to
her set was to receive the "stamp of fashion."  No day passed without
some amusement at the villa--picnic, excursion, soiree, dance, or, what
its fair mistress preferred, private theatricals and charades.

"Help me," she said one morning, as Ronald and Dora, in compliance with
her urgent invitation, came to spend the day at the villa--"help me; I
want to do something that will surprise every one.  There are some
great English people coming to Florence--one of your heiresses, who is
at the same time a beauty.  We must have some grand charades or
tableaus.  What would you advise?  Think of something original that
will take Florence by surprise."

"Wishing any one to be original," said Ronald, smiling at her quick,
eager ways, "immediately deprives one of all thought.  I must have
time; it seems to me you have exhausted every subject."

"An artist has never-failing resources," she replied; "when every
'fount of inspiration' is closed it will be time to tell me there are
no ideas.  You must have seen many charades, Mrs. Thorne," she said,
turning suddenly to Dora; "they are very popular in England.  Tell me
of some."

Dora blushed.  She thought of the lodge and its one small parlor, and
then felt wretched and uncomfortable, out of place, and unhappy.

"I have never seen any charades," she said, stiffly, and with crimson
cheeks.

The countess opened her blue eyes in surprise, and Ronald looked
anxiously from one to the other.

"My wife was too young when we were married to have seen much of the
world," he said, inwardly hoping that the tears he saw gathering in
Dora's dark eyes would not fall.

"Ah, then, she will be of no use in our council," replied the countess,
quickly.  "Let us go out on the terrace; there is always inspiration
under an Italian sky."

She led the way to a pretty veranda on the terrace, and they sat under
the shade of a large spreading vine.

"Now we can discuss my difficulty in peace," said the lady, in her
pretty, imperious way. "I will, with your permission, tell you some of
my ideas."

The countess was not particularly gifted, but Ronald was charmed by the
series of pictures she placed before him, all well chosen, with
startling points of interest, scenes from noble poems, pictures from
fine old tragedies.  She never paused or seemed tired, while Dora sat,
her face still flushed, looking more awkward and ill at ease than
Ronald had ever seen her.  For the first time, as they sat under the
vine that morning, Ronald contrasted his wife with his dainty,
brilliant hostess, and felt that she lost by the contrast--"awkward and
ill at ease," self-conscious to a miserable degree.  For the first time
Ronald felt slightly ashamed of Dora, and wished that she knew more,
and could take some part in the conversation.  Dimples and smiles,
curling rings of dark hair, and pretty rosebud lips were, he thought,
all very well, but a man grew tired of them in time, unless there was
something to keep up the charm.  But poor little Dora had no resources
beyond her smiles and tears.  She sat shrinking and timid, half
frightened at the bright lady who knew so much and told it so well;
feeling her heart cold with its first dread that Ronald was not pleased
with her.  Her eyes wandered to the far-off hills.  Ah! Could it be
that he would ever tire of her and wished that he had married some one
like himself.  The very thought pierced her heart, and the timid young
wife sat with a sorrowful look upon her face that took away all its
simple beauty.

"I will show you a sketch of the costume," said the countess; "it is in
my desk.  Pray excuse me."

She was gone in an instant, and Dora was alone with her husband.

"For Heaven's sake, Dora," he said, quickly, "do look a little
brighter; what will the countess think of you?  You look like a
frightened school girl."

It was an injudicious speech.  If Ronald had only caressed her, all
would have been sunshine again; as it was, the first impatient words
she had ever heard from him smote her with a new, strange pain, and the
tears overflowed.

"Do not--pray--never do that," said Ronald; "we shall be the laughing
stock of all Florence.  Well-bred people never give way to emotion."

"Here is the sketch," said the countess, holding a small drawing in her
hand.  Her quick glance took in Dora's tears and the disturbed
expression of Ronald's face.

With kind and graceful tact the countess gave Dora time to recover
herself; but that was the last time she ever invited the young artist
and his wife alone.  Countess Rosali had a great dread of all domestic
scenes.

Neither Dora nor Ronald ever alluded again to this little incident; it
had one bad effect--it frightened the timid young wife, and made her
dread going into society.  When invitations to grand houses came, she
would say, "Go alone, Ronald; if I am with you they are sure to ask me
ever so many questions which I can not answer; then you will be vexed
with me, and I shall be ashamed of my ignorance."

"Why do you not learn?" Ronald would ask, disarmed by her sweet
humility.

"I can not," said Dora, shaking her pretty head.  "The only lesson I
ever learned in my life was how to love you."

"You have learned that by heart," replied Ronald.  Then he would kiss
her pitiful little face and go without her.

By slow degrees it became a settled rule that Dora should stay at home
and Ronald go out.  He had no scruples in leaving her--she never
objected; her face was always smiling and bright when he went away, and
the same when he returned.  He said to himself that Dora was happier at
home than elsewhere, that fine ladies frightened her and made her
unhappy.

Their ways in life, now became separate and distinct, Ronald going more
than ever into society, Dora clinging more to the safe shelter of home.

But society was expensive in two ways--not only from the outlay in
dress and other necessaries, but in the time taken from work. There
were many days when Ronald never went near his studio, and only
returned home late in the evening to leave early in the morning.  He
was only human, this young hero who had sacrificed so much for love;
and there were times, after some brilliant fete or soiree, when the
remembrance of home, Dora, hard work, narrow means, would come to him
like a heavy weight or the shadow of a dark cloud.

Not that he loved her less--pretty, tender Dora; but there was not one
feeling or taste in common between them.  Harder men would have tired
of her long before.  They never cared to speak much of home, for Dora
noticed that Ronald was always sad after a letter from Lady Earle.  The
time came when she hesitated to speak of her own parents, lest he
should remember much that she would have liked him to forget.

If any true friend had stepped in then, and warned them, life would
have been a different story for Ronald Earle and his wife.

Ronald's story became known in Florence.  He was the son of a wealthy
English peer, who had offended his father by a "low" marriage; in time
he would succeed to the title.  Hospitalities were lavished upon him,
the best houses in Florence were thrown open to him, and he was eagerly
welcomed there.  When people met him continually unaccompanied by his
young wife they smiled significantly, and bright eyes grew soft with
pity.  Poor, pretty Dora!

Ronald never knew how the long hours of his absence were spent by Dora.
She never looked sad or weary to him, he never saw any traces of tears,
yet Dora shed many.  Through the long sunny hours and far into the
night she sat alone, thinking of the home she had left in far-off
England--where she had been loved and worshiped by her rough, homely,
honest father and a loving mother; thinking too, of Ralph, and his
pretty, quiet homestead in the green fields, where she would have been
honored as its mistress, where no fine ladies would have vexed her with
questions, and no one would have thought her ignorant or awkward;
thinking of all these things, yet loving Ronald none the less, except
that a certain kind of fear began to mingle with her love.

Gradually, slowly, but surely, the fascination of the gay and brilliant
society in which Ronald was so eagerly courted laid hold of him.  He
did not sin willfully or consciously; little by little a distaste for
his own home and a weariness of Dora's society overcame him.  He was
never unkind to her, for Ronald was a gentleman; but he lingered no
more through the long sunny morning by her side.  He gave up all
attempts to educate her.  He ceased to tease her about books; he never
offered to read to her; and pretty, simple Dora, taught by the keen
instinct of love, noted it all.

Ronald saw some little change in her.  The dimples and smiles had
almost vanished from her face.  He seldom heard the laugh that had once
been so sweet to him. There was retiring grace in her manner that
suited her well.  He thought she was catching the "tone of good
society," and liked the change.

Some natures become ennobled under the pressure of adversity; but
limited means and petty money cares had no good effect upon Ronald
Earle.  He fretted under them.  He could do nothing as other people
did.  He could not purchase a magnificent bouquet for the countess; his
means would not permit it.  He could not afford a horse such as all his
gentlemen friends rode.  Adversity developed no good qualities in him;
the discipline was harder and sterner still that made of him a true man
at last.

Ronald went on with his painting fitfully, sometimes producing a good
picture, but often failing.

The greatest patron of the fine arts in Florence was the Prince di
Borgezi.  His magnificent palace was like one picture gallery. He saw
some sketches of Ronald's, and gave an order to him to paint a large
picture, leaving him to choose the subject.  In vain by night and by
day did Ronald ponder on what that subject should be.  He longed to
make his name immortal by it.  He thought once of Tennyson's "Dora,"
and of sketching his wife for the principal figure.  He did make a
sketch, but he found that he could not paint Dora's face; he could not
place the dimpling smiles and bright blushes on canvas, and they were
the chief charm.  He therefore abandoned the idea.

Standing one day where the sunbeams fell lightly through the thick
myrtles, an inspiration came to him.  He would paint a picture of Queen
Guinevere in her gay sweet youth and bright innocent beauty--Guinevere
with her lovely face and golden hair, the white plumes waving and
jewels flashing; the bright figure on the milk-white palfrey shining in
the mellow sunlight that came through the green trees.

Lancelot should ride by her side; he could see every detail of the
picture; he knew just the noble, brave, tender face Sir Lancelot should
have; but where could he find a model for Guinevere?  Where was there a
face that would realize his artist dreams of her?  The painting was
half completed before he thought of Valentine Charteris and her
magnificent blonde beauty--the very ideal of Queen Guinevere.

With renewed energy Ronald set to work.  Every feature of that perfect
face was engraved upon his mind.  He made sketch after sketch, until,
in its serene, sweet loveliness, Valentine's face smiled upon him.



Chapter XI

"Queen Guinevere" was a success far beyond Ronald's dearest hopes.
Artists and amateurs, connoisseurs of all ranks and degrees were
delighted with it.  The great charm of the picture was the lovely young
face.  "Whom was it like?"  "Where had he found his model?"  "Was ever
any woman so perfectly beautiful?" Such were the questions that people
never seemed tired of repeating.

The picture was hung in the gallery of the palace, and the Prince di
Borgezi became one of Ronald's best patrons.

The prince gave a grand ball in honor of a beautiful English lady, who,
with her family, had just arrived in Florence. Countess Rosali raved
about her, wisely making a friend where any one else would have feared
a rival.

Ronald had contrived an invitation, but was prevented from attending.
All the elite of Florence were there, and great was the excitement when
Countess Rosali entered the ball room with an exceedingly beautiful
woman--a queenly blonde--the lady about whom all Florence was
interested--an English heiress, clever as she was fair, speaking French
with a courtly grace and Italian with fluent skill; and when the prince
stood before her he recognized in one moment the original of his famous
"Guinevere."

The countess was in danger--a fairer, brighter star had arisen.
Valentine Charteris was the belle of the most brilliant hall ever given
in Florence.

When the prince had received his guest, and danced once with Miss
Charteris, he asked her if she would like to see his celebrated
picture, the "Guinevere," whose fame was spreading fast.

"Nothing," she said, "would please her better;" and as the Countess
Rosali stood near, the prince included her in the invitation.

"Certainly; I never tire of the 'Guinevere,' never weary of the
artist's triumph, for he is one of the most valued of my friends."

Prince di Borgesi smiled, thinking how much of the fair coquette's
admiration went to the artist's talent, and how much to his handsome
face.

They entered the long gallery, where some of the finest pictures in
Italy were hung.  The prince led the ladies to the southern end.
Valentine saw before her a magnificent painting--tall forest trees,
whose thick branches were interwoven, every green leaf distinct and
clear; she saw the mellow light that fell through them, the milk-white
palfrey and the jeweled harness, the handsome knight who rode near; and
then she saw her own face, bright, smiling, glowing with beauty, bright
in innocence, sweet in purity.  Valentine stared in astonishment, and
her companion smiled.

"There can be no doubt about the resemblance," said the countess. "The
artist has made you Queen Guinevere, Miss Charteris."

"Yes," said Valentine, wonderingly; "it is my own face.  How came it
there?  Who is the artist?"

"His name is Ronald Thorne," replied the countess.  "There is quite a
romance about him."

The countess saw Miss Charteris grow pale and silent.

"Have you ever seen him?" inquired the countess.  "Do you know him?"

"Yes," said Valentine, "my family and his have been on intimate terms
for years.  I knew that he was in Italy with his wife."

"Ah," rejoined the countess, eagerly, "then perhaps you know all about
his marriage?  Who was Mrs. Thorne?  Why did he quarrel with his
father?  Do tell us, Miss Charteris."

"Nay," said Valentine; "if Mrs. Thorne has any secrets, I shall not
reveal them.  I must tell mamma they are in Florence.  We must call and
see them."

"I was fond of Mrs. Thorne once," said the countess, plaintively, "but
really there is nothing in her."

"There must be something both estimable and lovable," replied Valentine
quickly, "or Mr. Thorne would never have married her."

Prince di Borgesi smiled approval of the young lady's reply.

"You admire my picture, Miss Charteris?" he asked.

"The more so because it is the work of an old friend," said Valentine;
and again the prince admired the grace of her words.

"Any other woman in her place," he thought, "would have blushed and
coquetted.  How charming she is!"

From that moment Prince di Borgezi resolved to win Valentine if he
could.

Lady Charteris was half pleased, half sorry, to hear that Ronald was in
Florence.  No one deplored his rash, foolish marriage more than she
did.  She thought Lord Earle stern and cruel; she pitied the young man
she had once liked so well, yet for all that she did not feel inclined
to renew the acquaintance.  When Valentine asked her to drive next
morning to the little villa on the banks of the Arno, she at first half
declined.

"I promised to be Ronald's friend years ago," said Valentine, calmly;
"and now, mamma, you must allow me to keep my word.  We must visit his
wife, and pay her every attention.  To refuse would imply a doubt of
me, and that I could not endure."

"You shall do as you like, my dear," replied Lady Charteris; "the young
man's mother is my dearest friend, and for her sake we will be kind to
him."

      *      *      *      *      *

It was one of those Italian mornings when the fair face of Nature
seemed bathed in beauty.  The air was full of the music of birds; the
waters of the Arno rolled languidly on; oleanders and myrtles were in
full bloom; birds sang as they sing only under the blue sky of Italy.

It was not yet noon when Lady Charteris and her daughter reached the
little villa.  Before they came to the house, Valentine caught one
glimpse of a pretty, pale face with large dark eyes. Could that be
pretty, smiling Dora?  There were the shining rings of dark hair; but
where were the smiles Ronald had described? That was not a happy face.
Care and sorrow were in every line of it.

They were told that Mr. Thorne was in his studio, and would see them
there.  They had sent no card, and Ronald believed the "two ladies" to
have called on some business connected with pictures. He started with
surprise when Lady Charteris and Valentine entered.  There were a few
words of confused greeting, a hurried explanation of the circumstances
that led Sir Hugh to Florence; and then Valentine looked long and
steadily at the only man she had ever cared for.  He was altered; the
frank, handsome face looked worn and thin; it had a restless
expression.  He did not look like a man who had found peace.  Lady
Charteris told him of her last visit to Earlescourt--how his mother
never ceased speaking of him, and his father still preserved the same
rigid, unbending silence.

"I have seen your picture," said Lady Charteris.  "How well you
remembered my daughter's face."

"It is one not easily forgotten," he replied; and then another deep
silence fell upon him.

"Where is Mrs. Earle?" asked Valentine.  "Our visit is chiefly to her.
Pray introduce her to mamma.  I know her already by description."

"I left my wife in the garden," said Ronald; "shall we join her there?"

They followed him into the pretty sunlit garden, where Valentine had
seen the pale, sad face.

"My wife is timid," said Ronald, "always nervous with strangers."

Dora was sitting under the shade of a large flowering tree, her hands
folded, and her eyes riveted on the distant hills; there was something
in her listless manner that touched both ladies more than any words
could have done.  A deep flush crimsoned her face when Ronald and his
guests stood before her.  She rose, not ungracefully; her eyelids
drooped in their old shy manner.  As Ronald introduced his wife,
something in the girl's wistful face went straight to Lady Charteris's
heart.  She spoke not a word, but folded Dora in her arms and kissed
her as her own mother might have done.

"You must learn to love us," said Valentine; "we are your husband's
dearest friends."

Poor Dora had no graceful words ready; her heart was full of gratitude,
but she knew not how to express it.  Ronald looked at her anxiously,
and she caught his glance.

"Now," thought Dora, "he will not be pleased."  She tried to say
something of her pleasure in seeing them, but the words were so stiff
and ungracious that Ronald hastened to interrupt them.

A luncheon of fruit and wine was brought out into the garden, and they
talked merrily--of Earlescourt and the dear old friends there; of the
ball and Prince di Borgesi; in all of which Dora felt that she had no
share.

Who was this beautiful lady, with her fair face and golden hair?

The same face she saw that Ronald had painted in his picture, and every
one admired.  How graceful she was!  How she talked!  The words seemed
to ripple like music over her perfect lips.  Where had Ronald known
her?  Why had he never told her of Miss Charteris?

"Ah!" thought Dora, "if I could be like her!"  And a sudden sense of
wonder struck her that Ronald had not loved and married this fair and
gracious lady.

Valentine neither forgot nor neglected her.  She tried to draw her into
their conversation, but Dora replied so uneasily and so briefly to all
her remarks that she saw the truest kindness was to leave her alone.

They spent a few hours pleasantly, and Lady Charteris would not leave
until Ronald promised to take his wife to spend a long day with them.

"I can hardly promise for Dora," said Ronald, kindly; "she seldom
leaves home."

"Mrs. Earle will not refuse me," said Valentine, with that smile which
no one ever resisted.  "She will come with you, and we will make her
happy."

When the day was settled, the ladies drove away, and Ronald watched the
carriage until it was out of sight.

"My dear Valentine," cried Lady Charteris when they were out of
hearing, "my dear child, what could possess Ronald Earle?  What could
he see in that shy, awkward girl to induce him to give up everything
and go into exile for her sake?  She is not even pretty."

"She is altered, mamma," began Valentine.

"Altered!" interrupted Lady Charteris.  "I should imagine she is, and
unhappy, too.  She is frightened to speak--she has no style, no manner,
no dignity.  He must have been insane."

"I am quite sure he loved her," said Valentine, warmly, "and loves her
now."

"That is just the mystery," replied her mother--"a clever man like he
is, accustomed to intelligent and beautiful women.  I shall never
understand it."

"Do not try," said Valentine, calmly.  "She is evidently nervous and
sensitive.  I mean to be a true friend to Ronald, mamma; I shall try to
train and form his wife."

Poor Dora! She was already trained and formed, but no one would
understand that.  People do not expect the perfume of the rose in a
wild strawberry blossom, or the fragrance of the heliotrope in a common
bluebell.  Yet they wondered that in this simple girl, ignorant of the
world and it ways, they did not find a cultivated mind, a graceful
manner, and a dignified carriage.  Their only thought was to train and
form her, whereas Nature and not Art had done both.

"Dora," said Ronald, as the carriage disappeared from view, "try to
like Lady Charteris and her daughter; they are so kindly disposed
toward you.  I shall be so pleased to see you good friends."

"I will try," she replied, cheerfully.  "How beautiful she is, Ronald!
Tell me about her.  You remember her face exactly; should you remember
mine as well?"

It was the first touch of jealousy stirring in the simple, loving heart.

"Far better," said Ronald, with a smile; and then he looked up in
alarm, for Dora was weeping wildly, and clinging to him.

"Oh, Ronald!" she said, "for your sake I wish I was like her. Shall you
ever tire of me, or wish you had not married me?"

Ronald soothed and comforted his wife, and did not return to his studio
that day, but sat talking to her, telling her how noble and good
Valentine Charteris was.



Chapter XII

It is very seldom that a man of good disposition goes wrong willfully.
Ronald Earle would have felt indignant if any one had accused him of
dishonor or even neglect.  He thought Dora enjoyed herself more at home
than in society, consequently he left her there.  Habits soon grow.
The time came when he thought it was the wiser course.  He felt more at
ease without her.  If Dora by chance accompanied him, he watched her
anxiously, fearful lest others should discover and comment upon the
little deficiencies she felt so acutely.

The visit to Lady Charteris was duly paid--a day that Ronald enjoyed,
and Dora thought would never end.  She could not feel at home with
these fine ladies, although Lady Charteris was kind to her and
Valentine laid herself out to please; not even when Valentine, pitying
her shy, timid manner and evident constraint, took her out into the
garden and tried hard to win her confidence.  Dora's heart seemed to
close against the beautiful, brilliant lady who knew her husband and
all his friends so well. A fierce, hot breath of jealousy stirred the
simple nature. Ronald talked to Miss Charteris of things all unknown to
her; they seemed to have the same thoughts and feelings, while she was
outside the charmed circle, and could never enter it.  She watched the
growing admiration on Ronald's face when Valentine played and sang, and
her restless heart grew weary and faint. She had never felt jealous
before.  When Countess Rosali talked and laughed with her husband,
treating him sometimes as a captive and again as a victor, Dora never
cared; but every smile on this woman's fair face pained her--she hardly
knew why.

When Miss Charteris, under pretense of showing her favorite flower,
took Dora away from the others, and condescended to her as she had
never done to any other, actually caressing the anxious little face and
herself offering to be Mrs. Earle's true friend, Dora's heart closed
against her.  She only replied by faint monosyllables, and never raised
her dark eyes to the face turned so kindly upon her.

When Ronald had taken his young wife away, Lady Charteris sat with her
daughter in an unbroken silence.

"Poor boy!" said the other lady at length, "and poor Dora!  This is one
more added to the list of unhappy marriages.  How will it end?"

As she watched the sun set in the golden west, Valentine asked herself
the same question: "How will it end?"

If any one had told Dora she was jealous, she would have denied it
indignantly, although Valentine was seldom out of her mind.

From pure kindness Lady Charteris wished Ronald to paint her daughter's
portrait; it was to be a large picture they could take back to
Greenoke.  He was pleased with the commission, and began to work at it
eagerly.  Lady Charteris came with Valentine, and remained with her
during the long sittings, doing everything in her power to please and
win the artist's timid wife.

The fair face, in its calm, Grecian beauty, grew upon the canvas. Many
a long hour, when Ronald was absent, Dora lingered over it. The
portrait had a strange fascination for her.  She dwelt upon every
feature until, if the lips had opened and smiled a mocking smile at
her, she would not have felt greatly surprised.  It was less a picture
to her than a living, breathing reality.  She would watch Ronald as he
worked at it, eager and enthusiastic; then, looking up and finding her
dark eyes riveted upon him with so strange an expression, he would call
her to see what progress he had made; and, never dreaming of the
growing jealousy in Dora's heart, speak with an artist's delight of the
peerless features.

Without any great or sudden change, day by day Dora grew more silent
and reserved.  She was learning to hide her thoughts, to keep her
little troubles in her own heart and ponder them.  The time was past
when she would throw herself into Ronald's arms and weep out her
sorrows there.

Ronald did not notice the change.  Home seemed very dull.  It was a
great pleasure to leave the solitary little villa and sit in the
brilliant salon of Lady Charteris's well-appointed home.  It was
pleasant to exchange dull monotony for sparkling conversation and gay
society.

Valentine had many admirers.  Every one knew the Prince di Borgesi
would gladly have laid his fortune and title at her feet; but she cared
for neither.  Ronald often watched her as noble and learned men offered
their homage to her.  She smiled brightly, spoke well and gracefully;
but he never saw in her face the look he once remembered there.  Lady
Charteris deplored her daughter's obstinacy.  She took Ronald into her
confidence, and confided to him her annoyance when one suitor after
another was dismissed.

Ronald was not particularly vain.  Like most men, he had a pleasing
consciousness of his own worth; but he could not help remembering his
mother's assurance that Valentine cared for him. Could it have been
true?  Was there ever a time when that beautiful girl, so indifferent
to all homage, cared for him? Could there have been a time when the
prize for which others sighed in vain was within his grasp and he
slighted it?

He did not dwell upon these thoughts, but they would come into his
mind.  It was seldom that a day passed without his calling at the
pretty home where Lady Charteris always welcomed him kindly. She was
sorry for him.  He was never de trop with her. Occasionally, too, she
drove out to see his wife; but the visits were rather of duty than of
pleasure.

Then Dora's health failed.  She grew weak and languid--irritable at
times--as unlike the smiling, blushing girl Ronald had met at
Earlescourt gardens as it was possible for her to be.  He wrote to tell
his mother that at length there was hope of an heir to their ancient
house.  He was very kind and patient to his ailing, delicate wife,
giving up parties and soirees to sit with her, but never able to guess
why Dora's dark eyes looked so strangely upon him.

Lady Charteris had planned an excursion to some picturesque ruin that
had pleased her daughter, who wished to make a sketch of it. Ronald was
asked to join them, and he had been looking forward for many days to a
few pleasant hours away from all care and anxiety--out in the beautiful
country with Valentine.  But when the morning came Dora looked pale and
ill.  She did not ask him to stay with her, but he read the wish in her
face.

"I will not go, Dora," said her husband; "I will not leave you. I shall
send a note of excuse to Lady Charteris, and take care of you all day."

"Is Miss Charteris going?" she asked, quietly.

"Yes, and several others," he replied.

"Then never mind me," said Dora; "do not give up a day's pleasure for
me."

Ronald might have guessed there was something wrong from the tone of
her voice, but Ronald was not of a suspicious nature.

"Now, Dora," he said, gently, "you know I would give up every pleasure
in the world for you."

He bent over her, and kissed her pale little face.  Time had been when
the simple heart would have thrilled with happiness at his words; but
Dora grew cold and hard.

"It used to be always so," she thought, "before she came with her
beauty and took him from me."

How much misery would have been averted had she told Ronald of her
jealous thoughts and fears!  He never suspected them.  When he returned
home, looking bright and happy, she would ask him, "Have you seen Miss
Charteris today?" and he, glad of her interest in his friends, would
reply that he had been to her mother's house, and tell her of music he
had heard or people he had met, or of Valentine's messages to her.  So
Dora fed the dark, bitter jealousy that had crept into her heart.

It was a proud but anxious day for Ronald when he wrote to tell his
mother that he was now the father of little twin daughters, two pretty,
fair babies, in place of the long looked-for heir of Earlescourt.

Lady Charteris was very kind to the lonely young mother--so kind that,
had she borne any other name, Dora must have loved her.  A glimpse of
the old happiness came back, for Ronald was proud and pleased with the
little twin sisters.

One bright morning, when Dora had been taken down into the pretty room
where the infants lay sleeping, Lady Charteris and her daughter came
in.  Ronald joined them and there was a long discussion as to the names.

"You must have an eye to the future," said Valentine, smiling. "These
little ladies will be very grand personages some day.  It would be a
nice compliment to Lady Earle if you called one Helena."

"I have made my choice," said Dora, in a clear, ringing voice. "I shall
call this little one with the fair hair Lillian, the other Beatrice."

A faint flush rose to her face as she spoke.  She would allow of no
interference here.  This smiling beauty should not give names to her
children.

"I admire your choice," said Lady Charteris; "Beatrice and Lillian are
very pretty names."

When Valentine bent over the cradle and kissed the children before
taking leave, Dora said, "I have had my own way, you see, Miss
Charteris, with my little ones.  Mr. Earle did not oppose me."

Valentine thought the words harsh and strange; she had no clew to their
meaning.  She could not have imagined Dora jealous of her. She made
some laughing reply, and passed on.  Dora was not lonely now, the care
of the little ones occupying her whole time; but, far from their
binding Ronald to his home, he became more estranged from it than ever.

The pretty, picturesque villa was very small; there was no room
available for a nursery.  Wherever Dora sat, there must the little ones
be; and although they were very charming to the mother and the nurse,
the continued cries and noise irritated Ronald greatly.  Then he grew
vexed; Dora cried, and said he did not love them, and so the barrier
grew day by day between those who should have been all in all to each
other.

The children grew.  Little Beatrice gave promise of great beauty. She
had the Earle face, Ronald said.  Lillian was a fair, sweet babe, too
gentle, her mother thought, to live.  Neither of them resembled her,
and at times Dora wished it had been otherwise.

Perhaps in all Ronald Earle's troubled life he never spent a more
unsettled or wretched year than this.  "It is impossible to paint," he
said to himself, "when disturbed by crying babies." So the greater part
of his time was spent away from home.  Some hours of every day were
passed with Valentine; he never stopped to ask himself what impulse led
him to seek her society; the calm repose of her fair presence
contrasted so pleasantly with the petty troubles and small miseries of
home.  When Miss Charteris rode out he accompanied her; he liked to
meet her at parties and balls.  He would have thought a day sad and
dark wherein he did not see her.

When the little ones reached their first birthday, Valentine, with her
usual kind thought, purchased a grand assortment of toys, and drove
over quite unexpectedly to the villa.  It was not a very cheerful scene
which met her gaze.

Ronald was busily engaged in writing.  Dora, flushed and worn, was
vainly trying to stop the cries of one child, while the other pulled at
her dress.  The anxious, dreary face struck Valentine with pain.  She
laid the parcel of toys down, and shook hands with Ronald, who looked
somewhat ashamed of the aspect of affairs.  Then, turning to Dora, she
took the child from her arms, and little Beatrice, looking at her with
wondering eyes, forgot to cry.

"You are not strong enough, Dora, to nurse this heavy child," said Miss
Charteris.  "Why do you not find some one to help you?"

"We can not afford it," said Ronald, gloomily.

"We spend too much in gloves and horses," added Dora, bitterly; but no
sooner were the words spoken than she would have given the world to
recall them.

Ronald made no reply, and Valentine, anxious to avert the storm she had
unwittingly raised, drew attention to the toys.

When Valentine left them, Dora and Ronald had their first quarrel long
and bitter.  He could ill brook the insult her words implied--spoken
before Valentine, too!--and she for the first time showed him how an
undisciplined, untrained nature can throw off the restraint of good
manners and good breeding.  It was a quarrel never to be forgotten,
when Ronald in the height of his rage wished that he had never seen
Dora, and she re-echoed the wish.  When such a quarrel takes place
between man and wife, the bloom and freshness are gone from love.  They
may be reconciled, but they will never again be to each other what they
once were. A strong barrier is broken down, and nothing can be put in
its place.



Chapter XIII

The angry, passionate words spoken by Ronald--almost the first he had
ever uttered--soon faded from his mind, but they rankled like poisoned
arrows in Dora's heart.  She believed them.  Before evening her husband
repented of his anger, and called himself a coward for having scolded
Dora.  He went up to her and raised her face to his.

"Little wife," He said, "we have both been wrong.  I am very sorry--let
us make friends."

There was just a suspicion of sullenness in Dora's nature, and it
showed itself in full force now.

"It is no matter," she replied, coolly; "I knew long ago that you were
tired of me."

Ronald would not answer, lest they should quarrel again, but he thought
to himself that perhaps she was not far wrong.

From that day the breach between them widened.  In after years Dora saw
how much she was to blame.  She understood then how distasteful her
quiet, sullen reserve must have been to a high-bred, fastidious man
like Ronald.  She did not see it then, but nursed in her heart
imaginary wrongs and injuries; and, above all, she yielded to a wild,
fierce jealousy of Valentine Charteris.

For some weeks Miss Charteris saw the cloud deepening on Ronald's face.
He grew silent, and lost the flow of spirit that had once seemed never
to fail; and during the few weeks that followed, a strong resolution
grew in her mind.  She was his true friend, and she would try to
restore peace and harmony between him and his wife.  She waited for
some days, but at her mother's house it was impossible to see him
alone.  Yet she honestly believed that, if she could talk to him,
remind him of his first love for Dora, of her simplicity and many
virtues, she might restore peace and harmony to her old friend's house.
She thought Ronald to blame. He had voluntarily taken active duties
upon himself, and to her clearly, rightly judging mind, there was no
earthly reason why he should not fulfill them.  He would not feel hurt
at her speaking, she felt sure, for he had voluntarily sought her aid
years ago. So Valentine waited day after day, hoping to find a chance
for those few words she thought would do so much good; but, as no
opportunity came, she resolved to make one.  Taking her little jeweled
pencil, she wrote the following lines that were in after-time a death
warrant:

"Dear Mr. Earle,--I wish to speak to you particularly and privately.  I
shall be in our grounds tomorrow morning about ten; let me see you
there before you enter the house.  Your sincere friend, Valentine
Charteris."

All the world might have read the note--there was nothing wrong in
it--good intentions and a kindly heart dictated it, but it worked fatal
mischief.  When Ronald was leaving her mother's house, Miss Charteris
openly placed the letter in his hands.

"This is the first note I have ever written to you," she said, with a
smile.  "You must not refuse the request it contains."

"I will send him home happy tomorrow," she thought, "he is easily
influenced for good.  He must make up the misunderstanding with his
pretty little wife--neither of them look happy."

Ronald did not open the letter until he reached home.  Then he read it
with a half-consciousness of what Valentine wanted him for.

"She is a noble woman," he thought.  "Her words made me brave
before--they will do me good again."

He left the folded paper upon the table in his studio; and jealous
little Dora, going in search of some work she had left, found it there.
She read it word by word, the color dying slowly out of her face as she
did so, and a bitter, deadly jealousy piercing her heart like a
two-edged sword.  It confirmed her worst fears, her darkest doubts.
How dared this brilliant, beautiful woman lure Ronald from her?  How
dared she rob her of his love?

Ronald looked aghast at his wife's face as she re-entered the sitting
room.  He had been playing with the children, and had forgotten for the
time both Valentine and her note.  He cried out in alarm as she turned
her white, wild face to him in dumb, silent despair.

"What is the matter, Dora?" he cried.  "Are you ill or frightened?  You
look like a ghost."

She made no reply, and her husband, thinking she had relapsed into one
of her little fits of temper, sighed heavily and bade her good night.

Poor, foolish, jealous heart--she never lay down to rest!

She had quite resolved she would go and meet the husband who was tired
of her and the woman who lured him away.  She would listen to all they
had to say, and then confront them.  No thought of the dishonor of such
a proceeding struck her.  Poor Dora was not gifted with great
refinement of feeling--she looked upon the step she contemplated rather
as a triumph over an enemy than a degradation to herself.  She knew the
place in the grounds where they should be sure to meet.  Miss Charteris
called it her bower; it was a thick cluster of trees under the shade of
which stood a pretty, rustic seat; and Dora thought that, if she placed
herself behind the trees, she would be able to hear all unseen.

Before Ronald partook of breakfast, Dora had quitted the house on her
foolish errand.  She knew the way to the house and the entrance to the
garden.  She had no fear; even were she discovered there, no one could
surmise more than that she was resting on her way to the house.  She
crouched behind the trees and waited.  It was wrong, weak, and wicked;
but there was something so pitiful in the white face full of anguish,
that one would hardly know whether to pity or blame her.

The sunshine reached her, the birds were singing in the trees, the
flowers were all blooming--she, in her sorrow and desolation, heeded
nothing.  At length she saw them--Valentine in her white morning dress,
her beautiful face full of deep, earnest emotion, and Ronald by her
side.  As she surmised, they walked straight to the trees, and
Valentine signed to Ronald to take a seat by her side.  Sweetly and
clearly every word she uttered sounded to Ronald, but they fell like
drops of molten lead on the jealous heart of Ronald's wife.

"You must try," Valentine was saying; "I used to think you would be a
hero.  You are proving yourself a very weak and erring man."

Dora could not distinguish Ronald's words so plainly; he said something
about life and its mistakes.

"I told you once," said Valentine, "that the man who could endure so
bravely the consequences of his own actions was a true hero. Grant the
worst--that you have made a mistake.  You must make the best you can of
it, and you are not doing that now."

"No," he said gravely.  "I am very unhappy--more so than you can
imagine, Valentine.  Life seems to have lost all its charms for me.  I
had such great hopes once, but they are all dead now."

"You are too young to say that," she replied; "a little courage, a
little patience, and all will be well.  If it comforts you to know that
my warmest, deepest sympathy is with you--"

Valentine Charteris never finished her sentence; a pale, angry face and
dark, gleaming eyes full of passion suddenly flashed before her.

"You may spare your pity, Miss Charteris," cried a hoarse voice. "Why
have you made my husband dissatisfied with me?  Why have you taken his
love from me?  Why do you write notes asking him to meet you, that you
may both speak evil and wrong of his low-born wife?"

"Hush!" said Ronald, sternly, grasping her arm.  "Stop those wild
words, Dora! Are you mad?"

"No, not yet," she cried; "but this false woman will drive me so!"

Then Miss Charteris rose, her calm, grand face unruffled, not a quiver
on her proud lips.

"Stay, Miss Charteris, one moment, I pray you," said Ronald, "while my
wife apologizes for her folly."

"It is all true," cried Dora.  "She wrote and asked you to meet her
here."

"Dora," said her husband, gravely, "did you read the letter Miss
Charteris wrote to me?"

"I did," she replied.

"And you deliberately came here to listen to what she had to say to
me?" he continued.  "You deliberately listened to what you were never
intended to hear?"

His grave, stern dignity calmed her angry passion, and she looked
half-frightened into his quiet white face.

"Answer me!" he said.  "Have you crouched behind those trees
deliberately and purposely to listen?

"Yes," she said; "and I would do so again if any one tried to take my
husband from me."

"Then may I be forgiven for the dishonor I have brought to my name and
race!" said Ronald.  "May I be forgiven for thinking such a woman fit
to be my wife!  Hear me," he continued, and the passion in his voice
changed to contempt: "Miss Charteris is your friend; she asked me to
meet her here that she might plead your cause, Dora--that she might
advise me to remain more at home with you, to go less into society, to
look more at the bright side of our married life, and be a better
husband than I have been lately; it was for that she summoned me here."

"I--I do not believe it," sobbed his wife.

"That is at your option," he replied coolly.  "Miss Charteris, I should
kneel to ask your pardon for the insults you have received.  If a man
had uttered them, I would avenge them.  The woman who spoke them bears
my name.  I entreat your pardon."

"It is granted," she replied; "your wife must have been mad, or she
would have known I was her friend.  I deeply regret that my good
intentions have resulted so unhappily.  Forget my annoyance, Mr. Earle,
and forgive Dora; she could not have known what she was saying."

"I forgive her," said Ronald; "but I never wish to look upon her face
again.  I see nothing but dishonor there.  My love died a violent death
ten minutes since.  The woman so dead to all delicacy, all honor as to
listen and suspect will never more be wife of mine."

"Be pitiful," said Valentine, for Dora was weeping bitterly now; all
her fire and passion, all her angry jealousy, had faded before his
wrath.

"I am pitiful," he replied.  "Heaven knows I pity her.  I pity myself.
We Earles love honorable women when we love at all.  I will escort you
to your house, Miss Charteris, and then Mrs. Earle and myself will make
our arrangements."

In her sweet, womanly pity, Valentine bent down and kissed the
despairing face.

"Try to believe that you are wrong and mistaken, Mrs. Earle," she said
gently.  "I had no thought save to be your friend."

They spoke no word as they passed through the pretty grounds. Valentine
was full of pity for her companion, and of regret for her own share in
that fatal morning's work.

When Ronald reached the cluster of trees again, Dora was not there.
Just at that moment he cared but little whither she had gone.  His
vexation and sorrow seemed almost greater than he could bear.



Chapter XIV

The passion and despair of that undisciplined heart were something
painful to see.  Reason, sense, and honor, for a time were all dead.
If Dora could have stamped out the calm beauty of Valentine's
magnificent face, she would have done so.  Ronald's anger, his bitter
contempt, stung her, until her whole heart and soul were in angry
revolt, until bitter thoughts raged like a wild tempest within her.
She could not see much harm in what she had done; she did not quite see
why reading her own husband's letter, or listening to a private
conversation of his was a breach of honor.  She thought but little at
the time of what she had done; her heart was full of anger against
Ronald and Valentine.  She clasped her hands angrily after Mrs.
Charteris had kissed her, crying out that she was false, and had lured
Ronald from her.  Any one passing her on the high-road would have
thought her mad, seeing the white face, the dark, gleaming eyes, the
rigid lips only opening for moans and cries that marred the sweet
silence.  He should keep his word; never--come what might never should
he look upon her fair face again--the face he had caressed so often and
thought so fair.  She would go away--he was quite tired of her, and of
her children, too.  They would tease him and intrude upon him no more.
Let him go to the fair, false woman, who had pretended to pity her.

The little nurse-maid, a simple peasant girl, looked on in mute
amazement when her mistress entered the room where the children were.

"Maria," she said, "I am going home, over the seas to England. Will you
come with me?"

The only thing poor Dora had learned during those quiet years was a
moderate share of Italian.  The young nurse looked up in wonder at the
hard voice, usually soft as the cooing of a ring-dove.

"I will go," she replied, "if the signora will take me.  I leave none
behind that I love."

With trembling, passionate hands and white, stern face, Dora packed her
trunks and boxes--the children's little wardrobe and her own, throwing
far from her every present, either of dress or toys, that Valentine had
brought.

She never delayed to look round and think of the happy hours spent in
those pretty rooms.  She never thought of the young lover who had given
up all the world for her.  All she remembered was the wrathful husband
who never wished to see her more--who, in presence of another, had
bitterly regretted having made her his wife.  She could not weep--the
burning brain and jealous, angry heart would have been better for that,
but the dark eyes were bright and full of strange, angry light.  The
little ones, looking upon her, wept for fear.  With eager, passionate
love she caught them in her arms, crying the while that they should
never remain to be despised as she was.

In the white-faced, angry woman, roused to the highest pitch of
passion, there was no trace of pretty, blushing Dora.  Rapidly were the
boxes packed, corded, and addressed.  Once during that brief time Maria
asked, "Where are you going, signora?"  And the hard voice answered,
"To my father's--my own home in England."

When everything was ready, the wondering children dressed, and the
little maid waiting, Dora sat down at her husband's desk and wrote the
following lines.  No tears fell upon them; her hand did not tremble,
the words were clear and firmly written:

"I have not waited for you to send me away.  Your eyes shall not be
pained again by resting on the face where you read dishonor. I saw
months ago that you were tired of me.  I am going to my father's house,
and my children I shall take with me--you care no more for them than
for me.  They are mine--not yours.  I leave you with all you love in
the world.  I take all I love with me.  If you prayed for long years, I
would never return to you nor speak to you again."

She folded the note and addressed it to her husband.  She left no kiss
warm from her lips upon it.  As she passed forever from the little
villa, she never turned for one last look at its vine-clad walls.

The gaunt, silent Italian servant who had lived with Dora since the
first day she reached Florence came to her in wonder and alarm, barely
recognizing her pretty, gentle mistress in the pale, determined woman
who looked like one brought to bay.  To her Dora spoke of the letter;
it was to be given to her husband as soon as he returned.  Not one word
did she utter in reply to the woman's question.  She hurried with the
keen desperation of despair, lest Ronald should return and find her
still there.

Soon after noon, and while Ronald lingered with some friends upon the
steps of the Hotel d'Italia, his wife reached the busy railway station
at Florence.  She had money enough to take her home, but none to spare.
She knew no rest; every moment seemed like an age to her, until the
train was in motion, and fair, sunny Florence left far behind.

Without the stimulus of anger Dora would have shrunk in terror from the
thought of a long journey alone--she who had never been without the
escort of a kind and attentive husband. But no prospect daunted her
now--the wide seas, the dangers of rail and road had no terror for her.
She was flying in hot haste and anger from one who had said before her
rival that he never wished to see her face again.

      *      *      *      *      *

The sun shining so brightly on the waters of the Arno lingered almost
lovingly on the fair, quiet English landscape.  Far down in the fertile
and beautiful county of Kent, where the broad channel washes the shore,
stands the pretty, almost unknown village of Knutsford.

The world is full of beauty, every country has its share Switzerland
its snow-clad mountains, Germany its dark woods and broad streams,
France its sunny plains, Italy its "thousand charms of Nature and Art;"
but for quiet, tranquil loveliness, for calm, fair beauty, looking
always fresh from the mighty hand that created it, there is nothing
like English scenery.

The white cliffs of Knutsford, like "grand giants," ran along the
shore; there was a broad stretch of yellow sand, hidden when the tide
was in, shining and firm when it ebbed.  The top of the cliff was like
a carpet of thick green grass and springing heather.  Far away, in the
blue distance, one could see, of a bright, sunny day, the outline of
the French coast.  The waves rolled in, and broke upon the yellow
sands; the sea-birds flew by with busy wings, white sails gleamed in
the sunshine. Occasionally a large steamer passed; there was no sound
save the rich, never-changing music of Nature, the rush of wind and
waves, the grand, solemn anthem that the sea never tires of singing.

Far down the cliff ran the zigzag path that led to the village; there
was no sign of the sea on the other side of the white rocks.  There the
green fields and pretty hop-gardens stretched out far and wide, and the
Farthinglow Woods formed a belt around them.  In the midst of a green,
fertile valley stood the lovely village of Knutsford.  It had no
regular street; there were a few cottages, a few farm houses, a few
little villas, one grand mansion, three or four shops, and quiet
homesteads with thatched roofs and eaves of straw.

The prettiest and most compact little farm in the village was the one
where Stephen Thorne and his wife dwelt.  It was called the elms, a
long avenue of elms leading to the little house and skirting the broad
green meadows.  It was at a short distance from the village, so quiet,
so tranquil, that, living there, one seemed out of the world.

Stephen Thorne and his wife were not rich.  In spite of Lady Earle's
bounty, it was hard for them at times to make both ends meet.  Crops,
even in that fair and fertile county, would fail, cattle would die,
rain would fall when it should not, and the sun refuse to shine.  But
this year everything had gone on well; the hay stood in great ricks in
the farm yard, the golden corn waved in the fields ripe and ready for
the sickle, the cows and sheep fed tranquilly in the meadows, and all
things had prospered with Stephen Thorne.  One thing only weighed upon
his heart--his wife would have it that Dora's letters grew more and
more sad; she declared her child was unhappy, and he could not persuade
her to the contrary.

It was a fair August evening.  Ah!  How weak and feeble are the words.
Who could paint the golden flush of summer beauty that lay over the
meadows and corn fields--the hedge rows filled with wild flowers, the
long, thick grass studded with gay blossoms, the calm, sullen silence
only broken by the singing of the birds, the lowing of cattle, the
rustling of green leaves in the sweet soft air?

Stephen Thorne had gone with his guest and visitor, Ralph Holt, to
fetch the cattle home.  In Ralph's honor, good, motherly Mrs. Thorne
had laid out a beautiful tea--golden honey that seemed just gathered
from the flowers, ripe fruits, cream from the dairy everything was
ready; yet the farmer and his guest seemed long in coming.  She went to
the door and looked across the meadows. The quiet summer beauty stole
like a spell over her.

Suddenly, down in the meadows, Mrs. Thorne caught sight of a lady
leading a little child by the hand.  She was followed by a young maid
carrying another.  As the lady drew nearer, Mrs. Thorne stood
transfixed and bewildered.  Could the summer sun or the flickering
shade be mocking her?  Was she dreaming or awake?  Far off still,
through the summer haze, she saw a white, wan face; dark eyes, shadowed
and veiled, as though by long weeping; lips, once rosy and smiling,
rigid and firm.  She saw what seemed to her the sorrowful ghost of the
pretty, blooming child that had left her long ago.  She tried to call
out, but her voice failed her.  She tried to run forward and meet the
figure coming slowly through the meadows, but she was powerless to
move.  She never heard the footsteps of her husband and his guest.  She
only stirred when Stephen Thorne placed his hand upon her shoulder, and
in a loud, cheery voice, asked what ailed her.

"Look," she said, hoarsely, "look down the meadow there and tell me--if
that is Dora or Dora's ghost?"

She drew near more swiftly now, for she had seen the three figures at
the door.  The white face and wild eyes seemed aflame with anxiety.

"Dora, Dora!" cried Mrs. Thorne, "is it really you?"

"It is," said a faint, bitter voice.  "I am come home, mother. My heart
is broken and I long to die."

They crowded around her, and Ralph Holt, with his strong arms, carried
the fragile, drooping figure into the house.  They laid her upon the
little couch, and drew the curling rings of dark hair back from her
white face.  Mrs. Thorne wept aloud, crying out for her pretty Dora,
her poor, unhappy child.  The two men stood watching her with grave,
sad eyes.  Ralph clenched his hand as he gazed upon her, the wreck of
the simple, gentle girl he had loved so dearly.

"If he has wronged her," he said to Stephen Thorne, "if he has broken
her heart, and sent her home to die, let him beware!"

"I knew it would never prosper," groaned her father; "such marriages
never do."

When Dora opened her eyes, and saw the three anxious faces around her,
for a moment she was bewildered.  They knew when the torture of memory
returned to her, for she clasped her hands with a low moan.

"Dora," said her mother, "what has happened?  Trust us, dear child--we
are your best friends.  Where is your husband?  And why have you left
him?"

"Because he has grown tired of me," she cried, with passion and anger
flaming again in her white, worn face.  "I did something he thought
wrong, and he prayed to Heaven to pardon him for making me his wife."

"What did you do?" asked her father, anxiously.

"Nothing that I thought wrong," she replied.  "Ask me no questions,
father.  I would rather die any death than return to him or see him
again.  Yet do not think evil of him.  It was all a mistake.  I could
not think his thoughts or live his life--we were quite different, and
very unhappy.  He never wishes to see me again, and I will suffer
anything rather than see him."

The farmer and his wife looked at each other in silent dismay. This
proud, angry woman and her passionate words frightened them. Could it
be their Dora, who had ever been sunshine and music to them?

"If you do not like to take me home, father," she said, in a hard
voice, "I can go elsewhere; nothing can surprise or grieve me now."

But kindly Mrs. Thorne had drawn the tired head to her.

"Do you not know, child," she said, gently, "that a mother's love never
fails?"

Ralph had raised the little one in his arms, and was looking with
wondering admiration at the proud, beautiful face of the little
Beatrice, and the fair loveliness of Lillian.  The children looked with
frank, fearless eyes into his plain, honest face.

"This one with dark hair has the real Earle face," said Stephen Thorne,
proudly; "that is just my lord's look--proud and quiet. And the little
Lillian is something like Dora, when she was quite a child."

"Never say that!" cried the young mother.  "Let them grow like any one
else, but never like me!"

They soothed her with gentle, loving words.  Her father said she should
share his home with her children, and he would never give her up again.
They bade her watch the little ones, who had forgotten their fears, and
laughed over the ripe fruit and golden honey.  They also drew aside the
white curtain, and let her tired eyes fall upon the sweet summer beauty
of earth and sky.  Was not everything peaceful?  The sun sinking in the
west, the birds singing their evening song, the flowers closing their
bright eyes, the wind whispering "good night" to the shimmering,
graceful elms--all was peace, and the hot, angry heart grew calm and
still.  Bitter tears rose to the burning eyes--tears that fell like
rain, and seemed to take away the sharpest sting of her pain.

With wise and tender thought they let Dora weep undisturbed.  The
bitter sobbing ceased at last.  Dora said farewell to her love. She lay
white and exhausted, but the anger and passion had died away.

"Let me live with you, father," she said, humbly.  "I will serve you,
and obey you.  I an content, more than content, with my own home.  But
for my little children, let all be as it was years ago."

When the little ones, like the flowers, had gone to sleep, and Dora had
gone into the pretty white room prepared for her, Ralph rose to take
his leave.

"Surely," said Thorne, "you are not leaving us.  You promised to stay a
whole week."

"I know," said the young farmer; "but you have many to think for now,
Mr. Thorne.  The time will come when the poor, wearied girl sleeping
above us will be Lady Earle.  Her husband knew I loved her.  No shadow
even of suspicion must rest upon her.  While your daughter remains
under your roof, I shall not visit you again."

Dora's father knew the young man was right.

"Let me see the little ones sometimes," continued Ralph; "and if large
parcels of toys and books find their way to the Elms, you will know who
sent them.  But I must not come in Dora's way; she is no loner Dora
Thorne."

As Stephen watched the young man walking quickly through the long gray
fields, he wished that Dora had never seen Ronald Earle.

Poor Dora's troubles were not yet ended.  When the warm August sun
peeped into her room on the following morning, she did not see it
shine; when the children crept to her side and called for mamma, she
was deaf to their little voices.  The tired head tossed wearily to and
fro, the burning eyes would not close.  A raging fever had her in its
fierce clutches.  When Mrs. Thorne, alarmed by the children's cries,
came in, Dora did not know her, but cried out loudly that she was a
false woman, who had lured her husband from her.

They sent in all haste for aid; but the battle was long and fierce.
During the hours of delirium, Mrs. Thorne gleaned sorrowfully some
portions of her daughter's story.  She cried out incessantly against a
fair woman--one Valentine--whom Ronald loved--cried in scorn and anger.
Frequently she was in a garden, behind some trees; then confronting
some one with flaming eyes, sobbing that she did not believe it; then
hiding her face and crying out:

"He has ceased to love me--let me die!"

But the time came when the fierce fever burned itself out, and Dora lay
weak and helpless as a little child.  She recovered slowly, but she was
never the same again.  Her youth, hope, love, and happiness were all
dead.  No smile or dimple, no pretty blush, came to the changed face;
the old coy beauty was all gone.

Calm and quiet, with deep, earnest eyes, and lips that seldom smiled,
Dora seemed to have found another self.  Even with her children the sad
restraint never wore off nor grew less.  If they wanted to play, they
sought the farmer in the fields, the good-natured nurse, or the
indulgent grandmamma--never the sad, pale mother.  If they were in
trouble then they sought her.

Dora asked for work.  She would have been dairy maid, house maid, or
anything else, but her father said "No."  A pretty little room was
given to her, with woodbines and roses peeping in at the window.  Here
for long hours every day, while the children played in the meadows, she
sat and sewed.  There, too, Dora, for the first time, learned what
Ronald, far away in sunny Italy, failed to teach her--how to think and
read.  Big boxes of books came from the town of Shorebeach.  Stephen
Thorne spared no trouble or expense in pleasing his daughter.  Dora
wondered that she had never cared for books, now that deeper and more
solemn thoughts came to her.  The pale face took a new beauty; no one
could have believed that the thoughtful woman with the sweet voice and
refined accent was the daughter of the blunt farmer Thorne and his
homely wife.

A few weeks passed, and but for the little ones Dora would have
believed the whole to have been but a long, dark dream.  She would not
think of Ronald; she would not remember his love, his sacrifices for
her; she thought only of her wrongs and his cruel words.

The children grew and throve.  Dora had no care at present as to their
education.  From her they learned good English, and between herself and
the faithful young nurse they could learn, she thought, tolerable
Italian.  She would not think of a future that might take these beloved
children from her.  She ignored Ronald's claim to them--they were hers.
He had tired of them when he tired of her.  She never felt the days
monotonous in that quiet farm house, as others might have done.  A dead
calm seemed to surround her; but it was destined soon to be broken.



Chapter XV

Ronald did not return in the evening to the pretty villa where he had
once been so happy.  In the warmth of his anger, he felt that he never
could look again upon his wife.  To his sensitive, refined nature there
was something more repulsive in the dishonorable act she had committed
than there would have been in a crime of deeper dye.  He was shocked
and startled--more so than if he awoke some fair summer morning to find
Dora dead by his side.  She was indeed dead to him in one sense.  The
ideal girl, all purity, gentleness, and truth, whom he had loved and
married, had, it appeared, never really existed after all.  He shrank
from the idea of the angry, vehement words and foul calumnies.  He
shrank from the woman who had forgotten every rule of good breeding,
every trace of good manners, in angry, fierce passion.

How was he ever to face Miss Charteris again?  She would never mention
one word of what had happened, but he could ill brook the shame Dora
had brought upon him.  He remembered the summer morning in the woods
when he told Valentine the story of his love, and had pictured his
pretty, artless Dora to her.  Could the angry woman who had dared to
insult him, and to calumniate the fairest and truest lady in all
England, possibly be the same?

Ronald had never before been brought into close contact with dishonor.
He had some faint recollection at college of having seen and known a
young man, the son of a wealthy nobleman, scorned and despised, driven
from all society, and he was told that it was because he had been
detected in the act of listening at the principal's door.  He
remembered how old and young had shunned this young man as though he
were plague-stricken; and now his own wife Dora had done the very same
thing under circumstances that rendered the dishonor greater.  He asked
himself, with a cynical smile, what he could expect?  He had married
for love of a pretty, child-like face, never giving any thought to
principle, mind, or intellect.  The only wonder was that so wretched
and unequal a match had not turned out ten times worse.  His father's
warning rang in his ears.  How blind, how foolish he had been!

Every hope of his own life was wrecked, every hope and plan of his
father's disappointed and dead.  There seemed to him nothing left to
care for.  His wife--oh, he would not think of her!  The name vexed
him.  He could not stand in Valentine's presence again, and for the
first time he realized what she had been to him.  Home, and
consequently England, was closed to him; the grand mansion he had once
believed his had faded from his mind.

Thinking of all these things, Ronald's love for his young wife seemed
changed to dislike.  Three days passed before he returned home; then he
was somewhat startled to find her really gone.  He had anticipated
sullen temper, renewed quarrels, and then perhaps a separation, but he
was startled to find her actually gone.  The servant gave him the cold
farewell letter, written without tears, without sorrow.  He tore it
into shreds and flung it from him.

"The last act in the farce," he said, bitterly. "If I had not been mad,
I should have foreseen this."

The silent, deserted rooms did not remind him of the loving young wife
parted from him forever.  He was too angry, too annoyed, for any gentle
thoughts to influence him.  She had left him--so much the better; there
could never again be peace between them.  He thought with regret of the
little ones--they were too young for him to undertake charge of them,
so that they were best left with their mother for a time.  He said to
himself that he must make the best use he could of his life; everything
seemed at an end. He felt very lonely and unhappy as he sat in his
solitary home; and the more sorrow present upon him, the more bitter
his thoughts grew, the deeper became his dislike to this unhappy young
wife.

Ronald wrote to his mother, but said no word to her of the cause of
their quarrel.

"Dora and I," he said, "will never live together again--perhaps never
meet.  She has gone home to her father; I am going to wander over the
wide earth.  Will you induce my father to receive my children at
Earlescourt?  And will you see Mr. Burt, and arrange that half of my
small income is settled upon Dora?"

But to all his wife's entreaties Lord Earle turned a deaf ear. He
declared that never during his life time should the children of Dora
Thorne enter Earlescourt.  His resolution was fixed and unalterable.
How, he asked, was he to trust the man who had once deceived him?  For
aught he knew, the separation between Ronald and his wife might be a
deeply laid scheme, and, the children once with him, there would be a
grand reconciliation between the parents.

"I am not surprised," he said, "that the unhappy boy is weary of his
pretty toy.  It could not be otherwise; he must bear the consequences
of his own folly.  He had time for thought, he made his own choice--now
let him abide by it.  You have disregarded my wish, Lady Helena, in
even naming the matter to me.  Let all mention of it cease.  I have no
son.  One thing remember--I am not hard upon you--you can go where you
like, see whom you like, and spend what money you will, and as you
will."

Lady Earle was not long in availing herself of the permission. There
was great excitement at the Elms one morning, caused by the receipt of
a letter from Lady Earle saying that she would be there on the same day
to visit the son's wife and children.

The little ones looked up to her with wondering eyes.  To them she was
like a vision, with her noble face and distinguished air.

Stephen Thorne and his wife received the great lady not without some
trepidation; yet they were in no way to blame.  The fatal marriage had
been as great a blow to them as to Lord and Lady Earle.  With the quiet
dignity and graceful ease that never deserted her, Lady Earle soon made
them feel at home.  She started in utter surprise, when a quiet, grave
woman, on whose face sweetness and sullen humor were strangely mingled,
entered the room.  This could not be pretty, coy, blushing Dora!  Where
were the dimples and smiles?  The large dark eyes raised so sadly to
hers were full of strange, pathetic beauty.  With sharp pain the
thought struck Lady Earle, "What must not Dora have suffered to have
changed her so greatly!"  The sad eyes and worn face touched her as no
beauty could have done.  She clasped Dora in her arms and kissed her.

"You are my daughter now," she said, in that rich, musical voice which
Dora remembered so well.  "We will not mention the past; it is
irrevocable.  If you sinned against duty and obedience, your face tells
me you have suffered.  What has come between you and my son I do not
seek to know.  The shock must have been a great one which parted you,
for he gave up all the world for you, Dora, years ago.  We will not
speak of Ronald.  Our care must be the children.  Of course you wish
them to remain with you?"

"While it is possible," said Dora, wearily.  "I shall never leave home
again; but I can not hope to keep them here always."

"I should have liked to adopt them," said Lady Earle; "to take them
home and educate them, but--"

"Lord Earle will not permit it," interrupted Dora, calmly.  "I know--I
do not wonder."

"You must let me do all I can for them here," continued Lady Earle; "I
have made all plans and arrangements.  We will give the children an
education befitting their position, without removing them from you.
Then we shall see what time will do.  Let me see the little ones.  I
wish you had called one Helena, after me."

Dora remembered why she had not done so, and a flush of shame rose to
her face.

They were beautiful children, and Dora brought them proudly to the
stately lady waiting for them.  Lady Earle took Beatrice in her arms.

"Why, Dora," she said admiringly, "she has the Earle face, with a novel
charm all its own.  The child will grow up into magnificent woman."

"She has the Earle spirit and pride," said the young mother; "I find it
hard to manage her even now."

Then Lady Earle looked at the fair, spirituelle face and golden hair of
little Lillian.  The shy, dove-like eyes and sweet lips charmed her.

"There is a great contrast between them," she said, thoughtfully. "They
will require careful training, Dora; and now we will speak of the
matter which brought me here."

Dora noticed that, long as she remained, Lady Earle never let Beatrice
leave her arms; occasionally she bent over Lillian and touched her soft
golden curls, but the child with the "Earle face" was the one she loved
best.

Together with Stephen Thorne and his wife, Lady Earle went over the
Elms.  The situation delighted her; nothing could be better or more
healthy for the children, but the interior of the house must be
altered.  Then with delicate grace that could only charm, never wound,
Lady Earle unfolded her plans.  She wished a new suite of rooms to be
built for Dora and the children, to be nicely furnished with everything
that could be required.  She would bear the expense.  Immediately on
her return she would send an efficient French maid for the little ones,
and in the course of a year or two she would engage the services of an
accomplished governess, who would undertake the education of Beatrice
and Lillian without removing them from their mother's care.

"I shall send a good piano and harp," said Lady Earle, "it will be my
pride and pleasure to select books, music, drawings, and everything
else my grandchildren require.  I should wish them always to be nicely
dressed and carefully trained.  To you, Dora, I must leave the highest
and best training of all.  Teach them to be good, and to do their duty.
They have learned all when they have learned that."

For the first time in her life, the thought came home to Dora: How was
she to teach what she had never learned and had failed to practice?
That night, long after Lady Earle had gone away, and the children had
fallen to sleep, Dora knelt in the moonlight and prayed that she might
learn to teach her children to do their duty.

As Lady Earle wished, the old farm house was left intact, and a new
group of buildings added to it.  There was a pretty sitting room for
Dora, and a larger one to serve as a study for the children, large
sleeping rooms, and a bathroom, all replete with comfort.  Two years
passed before all was completed, and Lady Earle thought it time to send
a governess to the Elms.

      *      *      *      *      *

During those years little or nothing was heard from Ronald. After
reading the cold letter Dora left for him, it seemed as though all
love, all care, all interest died out of his heart. He sat for many
long hours thinking of the blighted life "he could not lay down, yet
cared little to hold."

He was only twenty-three--the age at which life opens to most men; yet
he was worn, tired, weary of everything--the energies that once seemed
boundless, the ambition once so fierce and proud, all gone.  His whole
nature recoiled from the shock.  Had Dora, in the fury of her jealousy
and rage, tried to kill him, he would have thought that but a small
offense compared with the breach of honor in crouching behind the trees
to listen.  He thought of the quiet, grand beauty of Valentine's face
while Dora was convulsed with passion.  He remembered the utter wonder
in Valentine's eyes when Dora's flamed upon them.  He remembered the
sickening sense of shame that had cowed him as he listened to her
angry, abusive words. And this untrained, ignorant, ill-bred woman was
his wife!  For her he had given up home, parents, position, wealth--all
he had in life worth caring for.  For her, and through her, he stood
there alone in the world.

Those thoughts first maddened him, then drove him to despair. What had
life left for him?  He could not return to England; his father's doors
were closed against him.  There was no path open to him; without his
father's help he could not get into Parliament.  He could not work as
an artist at home.  He could not remain in Florence; never again, he
said to himself, would he see Valentine Charteris--Valentine, who had
been the witness of his humiliation and disgrace.  Sooner anything than
that.  He would leave the villa and go somewhere--he cared little
where. No quiet, no rest came to him.  Had his misfortunes been
accidental--had they been any other than they were, the result of his
boyish folly and disobedience, he would have found them easier to bear;
as it was, the recollection that it was all his own fault drove him mad.

Before morning he had written a farewell note to Lady Charteris, saying
that he was leaving Florence at once, and would not be able to see her
again.  He wrote to Valentine, but the few stiff words expressed little
of what he felt.  He prayed her to forget the miserable scene that
would haunt him to his dying day; to pardon the insults that had driven
him nearly mad; to pardon the mad jealousy, the dishonor of Dora; to
forget him and all belonging to him.  When Miss Charteris read the
letter she knew that all effort to restore peace would for a time be in
vain. She heard the day following that the clever young artist, Mr.
Earle, had left.

Countess Rosali loudly lamented Ronald's departure.  It was so strange,
she said; the dark-eyed little wife and her children had gone home to
England, and the husband, after selling off his home, had gone with Mr.
Charles Standon into the interior of Africa.  What was he going to do
there?

She lamented him for two days without ceasing, until Valentine was
tired of her many conjectures.  He was missed in the brilliant salons
of Florence, but by none so much as by Valentine Charteris.

What the pretty, coquettish countess had said was true.  After making
many plans and forming many resolutions, Ronald met Mr. Standon, who
was on the point of joining an exploring expedition in South Africa.
He gladly consented to accompany him.  There was but little preparation
needed.  Four days after the never-to-be-forgotten garden scene, Ronald
Earle left Italy and became a wanderer upon the face of the earth.



Chapter XVI

Valentine Charteris never told the secret.  She listened to the wonder
and conjectures of all around her, but not even to her mother did she
hint what had passed.  She pitied Ronald profoundly.  She knew the
shock Dora had inflicted on his sensitive, honorable disposition.  For
Dora herself she felt nothing but compassion.  Her calm, serene nature
was incapable of such jealousies.  Valentine could never be jealous or
mean, but she could understand the torture that had made shy, gentle
Dora both.

"Jealous of me, poor child!" said Valentine to herself.  "Nothing but
ignorance can excuse her.  As though I, with half Florence at my feet,
cared for her husband, except as a dear and true friend."

So the little villa was deserted; the gaunt, silent servant found a
fresh place.  Ronald's pictures were eagerly bought up; the pretty
countess, after looking very sentimental and sad for some days, forgot
her sorrow and its cause in the novelty of making the acquaintance of
an impassive unimpressionable American. Florence soon forgot one whom
she had been proud to know and honor.

Two months afterward, as Miss Charteris sat alone in her favorite
nook--the bower of trees where poor Dora's tragedy had been
enacted--she was found by the Prince di Borgezi.  Every one had said
that sooner or later it would come to this.  Prince di Borgezi, the
most fastidious of men, who had admired many women but loved none,
whose verdict was the rule of fashion, loved Valentine Charteris.  Her
fair English face, with its calm, grand beauty, her graceful dignity,
her noble mind and pure soul had captivated him.  For many long weeks
he hovered round Valentine, longing yet dreading to speak the words
which would unite or part them for life.

Lately there had been rumors that Lady Charteris and her daughter
intended to leave Florence; then Prince di Borgezi decided upon knowing
his fate.  He sought Valentine, and found her seated under the shade of
her favorite trees.

"Miss Charteris," he said, after a few words of greeting, "I have come
to ask you the greatest favor, the sweetest boon, you can confer on any
man."

"What is it?" asked Valentine, calmly, anticipating some trifling
request.

"Your permission to keep for my own the original 'Queen Guinevere'," he
replied; "that picture is more to me than all that I possess.  Only one
thing is dearer, the original.  May I ever hope to make that mine also?"

Valentine opened her magnificent eyes in wonder. It was an offer of
marriage then that he was making.

"Have you no word for me, Miss Charteris?" he said.  "I lay my life and
my love at your feet.  Have you no word for me?"

"I really do not know what to say," replied Valentine.

"You do not refuse me?" said her lover.

"Well, no," replied Valentine.

"And you do not accept me?" he continued.

"Decidedly not," she replied, more firmly.

"Then I shall consider there is some ground for hope," he said.

Valentine had recovered her self-possession.  Her lover gazed anxiously
at her beautiful face, its proud calm was unbroken.

"I will tell you how it is," resumed Valentine, after a short pause; "I
like you better, perhaps, than any man I know, but I do not love you."

"You do not forbid me to try all I can to win your love?" asked the
prince.

"No," was the calm reply.  "I esteem you very highly, prince.  I can
not say more."

"But you will in time," he replied.  "I would not change your quiet
friendly liking, Miss Charteris, for the love of any other woman."

Under the bright sky the handsome Italian told the story of his love in
words that were poetry itself--how he worshiped the fair calm girl so
unlike the women of his own clime.  As she listened, Valentine thought
of that summer morning years ago when Ronald had told her the story of
his love; and then Valentine owned to her own heart, that, if Ronald
were in Prince di Borgezi's place, she would not listen so calmly nor
reply so coolly.

"How cold and stately these English girls are!" thought her lover.
"They are more like goddesses than women.  Would any word of mine ever
disturb the proud coldness of that perfect face?"

It did not then, but before morning ended Prince di Borgezi had
obtained permission to visit England in the spring and ask again the
same question.  Valentine liked him.  She admired his noble and
generous character, his artistic tastes, his fastidious exclusiveness
had a charm for her; she did not love him, but it seemed to her more
than probable that the day would come when she would do so.

      *      *      *      *      *

Lady Charteris and her daughter left Florence and returned to Greenoke.
Lady Earle paid them a long visit, and heard all they had to tell of
her idolized son.  Lady Charteris spoke kindly of Dora; and Valentine,
believing she could do something to restore peace, sent an affectionate
greeting, and asked permission to visit the Elms.

Lady Earle saw she had made a mistake when she repeated Valentine's
words to Dora.  The young wife's face flushed burning red, and then
grew white as death.

"Pray bring me no more messages from Miss Charteris," she replied.  "I
do not like her--she would only come to triumph over me; I decline to
see her.  I have no message to send her."

Then, for the first time, an inkling of the truth came to Lady Earle.
Evidently Dora was bitterly jealous of Valentine.  Had she any cause
for it?  Could it be that her unhappy son had learned to love Miss
Charteris when it was all too late?  From that day Lady Earle pitied
her son with a deeper and more tender compassion; she translated Dora's
curt words into civil English, and then wrote to Miss Charteris.
Valentine quite understood upon reading them that she was not yet
pardoned by Ronald Earle's wife.

Time passed on without any great changes, until the year came when Lady
Earle thought her grandchildren should begin their education. She was
long in selecting one to whom she could intrust them. At length she met
with Mrs. Vyvian, the widow of an officer who had died in India, a lady
qualified in every way for the task, accomplished, a good linguist,
speaking French and Italian as fluently as English--an accomplished
musician, an artist of no mean skill, and, what Lady Earl valued still
more, a woman of sterling principles and earnest religious feeling.

It was not a light task that Mrs. Vyvian undertook.  The children had
reached their fifth year, and for ten years she bound herself by
promise to remain with them night and day, to teach and train them.  It
is true the reward promised was great.  Lady Earle settled a handsome
annuity upon her.  Mrs. Vyvian was not dismayed by the lonely house,
the complete isolation from all society, or the homely appearance of
the farmer and his wife.  A piano and a harp were sent to the Elms.
Every week Lady Earle dispatched a large box of books, and the
governess was quite content.

Mrs. Vyvian, to whom Lady Earle intrusted every detail of her son's
marriage, was well pleased to find that Dora liked her and began to
show some taste for study.  Dora, who would dream of other things when
Ronald read, now tried to learn herself.  She was not ashamed to sit
hour after hour at the piano trying to master some simple little air,
or to ask questions when anything puzzled her in her reading.  Mrs.
Vyvian, so calm and wise, so gentle, yet so strong, taught her so
cleverly that Dora never felt her own ignorance, nor did she grow
disheartened as she had done with Ronald.

The time came when Dora could play pretty simple ballads, singing them
in her own bird-like, clear voice, and when she could appreciate great
writers, and speak of them without any mistake either as to their names
or their works.

It was a simple, pleasant, happy life; the greater part of the day was
spent by mother children in study.  In the evening came long rambles
through the green woods, where Dora seemed to know the name and history
of every flower that grew; over the smiling meadows, where the kine
stood knee-deep in the long, scented grass; over the rocks, and down by
the sea shore, where the waves chanted their grand anthem, and broke in
white foam drifts upon the sands.

No wonder the young girls imbibed a deep warm love for all that was
beautiful in Nature.  Dora never wearied of it--from the smallest blade
of grass to the most stately of forest trees, she loved it all.

The little twin sisters grew in beauty both in body and mind; but the
contrast between them was great; Beatrice was the more beautiful and
brilliant; Lillian the more sweet and lovable. Beatrice was all fire
and spirit; her sister was gentle and calm. Beatrice had great faults
and great virtues; Lillian was simply good and charming.  Yet, withal,
Beatrice was the better loved. It was seldom that any one refused to
gratify her wishes.

Dora loved both children tenderly; but the warmest love was certainly
for the child who had the Earle face.  She was imperious and willful,
generous to a fault, impatient of all control; but her greatest fault,
Mrs. Vyvian said, was a constant craving for excitement; a distaste for
and dislike of quiet and retirement.  She would ride the most restive
horse, she would do anything to break the ennui and monotony of the
long days.

Beautiful, daring, and restless, every day running a hundred risks, and
loved the better for the dangers she ran, Beatrice was almost worshiped
at the Elms.  Nothing ever daunted her, nothing ever made her dull or
sad.  Lillian was gentle and quiet, with more depth of character, but
little power of showing it; somewhat timid and diffident--a more
charming ideal of an English girl could not have been
found--spirituelle, graceful, and refined; so serene and fair that to
look at her was a pleasure.

Lady Earle often visited the Elms; no mystery had been made to the
girls--they were told their father was abroad and would not return for
many years, and that at some distant day they might perhaps live with
him in his own home.  They did not ask many questions, satisfied to
believe what was told them, not seeking to know more.

Lady Earle loved the young girls very dearly. Beatrice, so like her
father, was undoubtedly the favorite.  Lord Earle never inquired after
them; when Lady Earle asked for a larger check than usual, he gave it
to her with a smile, perfectly understanding its destination, but never
betraying the knowledge.

So eleven years passed like a long tranquil dream.  The sun rose and
set, the tides ebbed and flowed, spring flowers bloomed, and died, the
summer skies smiled, autumn leaves of golden hue withered on the
ground; and winter snows fell; yet no change came to the quiet
homestead in the Kentish meadows.

Beatrice and Lillian had reached their sixteenth year, and two fairer
girls were seldom seen.  Mrs. Vyvian's efforts had not been in vain;
they were accomplished far beyond the ordinary run of young girls.
Lillian inherited her father's talent for drawing.  She was an
excellent artist.  Beatrice excelled in music.  She had a magnificent
contralto voice that had been carefully trained.  Both were cultivated,
graceful, elegant girls, and Lady Earle often sighed to think they
should be living in such profound obscurity.  She could do nothing;
seventeen years had not changed Lord Earle's resolution.  Time, far
from softening, imbittered him the more against his son.  Of Ronald
Lady Earle heard but little.  He was still in Africa; he wrote at rare
intervals, but there was little comfort in his letters.

Lady Earle did what she could for her grandchildren, but it was a
strange, unnatural life.  They knew no other girls; they had never ben
twenty miles from Knutsford.  All girlish pleasures and enjoyments were
a sealed book to them.  They had never been to a party, a picnic, or a
ball; no life was ever more simple, more quiet, more devoid of all
amusement than theirs.  Lillian was satisfied and happy; her rich,
teeming fancy, her artistic mind, and contented, sweet disposition
would have rendered her happy under any circumstances--but it was
different with brilliant, beautiful Beatrice.  No wild bird in a cage
ever pined for liberty or chafed under restraint more than she did.
She cried out loudly against the unnatural solitude, the isolation of
such a life.

Eleven years had done much for Dora.  The coy, girlish beauty that had
won Ronald Earle's heart had given place to a sweet, patient womanhood.
Constant association with one so elegant and refined as Mrs. Vyvian had
done for her what nothing else could have achieved.  Dora had caught
the refined, high-bred accent, the graceful, cultivated manner, the
easy dignity.  She had become imbued with Mrs. Vyvian's noble thoughts
and ideas.

Dora retained two peculiarities--one was a great dislike for Ronald,
the other a sincere dread of all love and lovers for her children.
From her they heard nothing but depreciation of men. All men were
alike, false, insincere, fickle, cruel; all love was nonsense and
folly.  Mrs. Vyvian tried her best to counteract these ideas; they had
this one evil consequence--that neither Lillian nor Beatrice would ever
dream of even naming such subjects to their mother, who should have
been their friend and confidante.  If in the books Lady Earle sent
there was any mention of this love their mother dreaded so, they went
to Mrs. Vyvian or puzzled over it themselves.  With these two
exceptions Dora had become a thoughtful, gentle woman.  As her mind
became more cultivated she understood better the dishonor of the fault
which had robbed her of Ronald's love.  Her fair face grew crimson when
she remembered what she had done.

It was a fair and tranquil womanhood; the dark eyes retained their
wondrous light and beauty; the curling rings of dark hair were
luxuriant as ever; the lips wore a patient, sweet expression.  The
clear, healthy country air had given a delicate bloom to the fair face.
Dora looked more like the elder sister of the young girls than their
mother.

The quiet, half-dreamy monotony was broken at last.  Mrs. Vyvian was
suddenly summoned home.  Her mother, to whom she was warmly attached,
was said to be dying, and she wished her last few days to be spent with
her daughter.  At the same time Lady Earle wrote to say that her
husband was so ill that it was impossible for her to look for any lady
to supply Mrs. Vyvian's place.  The consequence was that, for the first
time in their lives, the young girls were left for a few weeks without
a companion and without surveillance.



Chapter XVII

One beautiful morning in May, Lillian went out alone to sketch. The
beauty of the sky and sea tempted her; fleecy-white clouds floated
gently over the blue heavens; the sun shone upon the water until, at
times, it resembled a huge sea of rippling gold. Far off in the
distance were the shining white sails of two boats; they looked in the
golden haze like the brilliant wings of some bright bird.  The sun upon
the white sails struck her fancy, and she wanted to sketch the effect.

It was the kind of morning that makes life seem all beauty and
gladness, even if the heart is weighed down with care.  It was a luxury
merely to live and breathe.  The leaves were all springing in the
woods; the meadows were green; wild flowers blossomed by the
hedge-rows; the birds sang gayly of the coming summer; the white
hawthorn threw its rich fragrance all around, and the yellow broom
bloomed on the cliffs.

As she sat there, Lillian was indeed a fair picture herself on that May
morning; the sweet, spirituelle face; the noble head with its crown of
golden hair; the violet eyes, so full of thought; the sensitive lips,
sweet yet firm; the white forehead, the throne of intellect.  The
little fingers that moved rapidly and gracefully over the drawing were
white and shapely; there was a delicate rose-leaf flush in the pretty
hand.  She looked fair and tranquil as the morning itself.

The pure, sweet face had no touch of fire or passion; its serenity was
all unmoved; the world had never breathed on the innocent, child-like
mind.  A white lily was not more pure and stainless than the young girl
who sat amid the purple heather, sketching the white, far-off sails.

So intent was Lillian upon her drawing that she did not hear light,
rapid steps coming near; she was not aroused until a rich musical voice
called, "Lillian, if you have not changed into stone or statue, do
speak."  Then, looking up, she saw Beatrice by her side.

"Lay down your pencils and talk to me," said Beatrice, imperiously.
"How unkind of you, the only human being in this place who can talk, to
come here all by yourself!  What do you think was to become of me?"

"I thought you were reading to mamma," said Lillian, quietly.

"Reading!" exclaimed Beatrice.  "You know I am tired of reading, tired
of writing, tired of sewing, tired of everything I have to do."

Lillian looked up in wonder at the beautiful, restless face.

"Do not look 'good' at me," said Beatrice, impatiently.  "I am tired to
death of it all.  I want some change.  Do you think any girls in the
world lead such lives as we do--shut up in a rambling old farm house,
studying from morn to night; shut in on one side by that tiresome sea,
imprisoned on the other by fields and woods?  How can you take it so
quietly, Lillian?  I am wearied to death."

"Something has disturbed you this morning," said Lillian, gently.

"That is like mamma," cried Beatrice; "just her very tone and words.
She does not understand, you do not understand; mamma's life satisfies
her, your life contents you; mine does not content me--it is all vague
and empty.  I should welcome anything that changed this monotony; even
sorrow would be better than this dead level--one day so like another, I
can never distinguish them."

"My dear Beatrice, think of what you are saying," said Lillian.

"I am tired of thinking," said Beatrice; "for the last ten years I have
been told to 'think' and 'reflect.'  I have thought all I can; I want a
fresh subject."

"Think how beautiful those far-off white sails look," said
Lillian--"how they gleam in the sunshine.  See, that one looks like a
mysterious hand raised to beckon us away."

"Such ideas are very well for you, Lillian," retorted Beatrice. "I see
nothing in them.  Look at the stories we read; how different those
girls are from us!  They have fathers, brothers, and friends; they have
jewels and dresses; they have handsome admirers, who pay them homage;
they dance, ride, and enjoy themselves.  Now look at us, shut up here
with old and serious people."

"Hush, Beatrice," said Lillian; "mamma is not old."

"Not in years, perhaps," replied Beatrice; "but she seems to me old in
sorrow.  She is never gay nor light-hearted.  Mrs. Vyvian is very kind,
but she never laughs.  Is every one sad and unhappy, I wonder?  Oh,
Lillian, I long to see the world--the bright, gay world--over the sea
there.  I long for it as an imprisoned bird longs for fresh air and
green woods."

"You would not find it all happiness," said Lillian, sagely.

"Spare me all truism," cried Beatrice.  "Ah, sister, I am tired of all
this; for eleven years the sea has been singing the same songs; those
waves rise and fall as they did a hundred years since; the birds sing
the same story; the sun shines the same; even the shadow of the great
elms fall over the meadow just as it did when we first played there.  I
long to away from the sound of the sea and the rustling of the elm
trees.  I want to be where there are girls of my own age, and do as
they do.  It seems to me we shall go on reading and writing, sewing and
drawing, and taking what mamma calls instructive rambles until our
heads grow gray."

"It is not so bad as that, Beatrice," laughed Lillian. "Lady Earle says
papa must return some day; then we shall all go to him."

"I never believe one word of it," said Beatrice, undauntedly. "At times
I could almost declare papa himself was a myth.  Why do we not live
with him?  Why does he never write?  We never hear of or from him, save
through Lady Earle; besides, Lillian, what do you think I heard Mrs.
Vyvian say once to grandmamma?  It was that we might not go to
Earlescourt at all--that if papa did not return, or died young, all
would go to a Mr. Lionel Dacre, and we should remain here.  Imagine
that fate--living a long life and dying at the Elms!"

"It is all conjecture," said her sister.  "Try to be more contented,
Beatrice.  We do not make our own lives, we have not the control of our
own destiny."

"I should like to control mine," sighed Beatrice.

"Try to be contented, darling," continued the sweet, pleading voice.
"We all love and admire you.  No one was ever loved more dearly or
better than you are.  The days are rather long at times, but there are
all the wonders and beauties of Nature and art."

"Nature and Art are all very well," cried Beatrice; "but give me life."

She turned her beautiful, restless face from the smiling sea; the south
wind dancing over the yellow gorse caught up the words uttered in that
clear, musical voice and carried them over the cliff to one who was
lying with half-closed eyes under the shade of a large tree--a young
man with a dark, half-Spanish face handsome with a coarse kind of
beauty.  He was lying there, resting upon the turf, enjoying the beauty
of the morning.  As the musical voice reached him, and the strange
words fell upon his ear, he smiled and raised his head to see who
uttered them. He saw the young girls, but their faces were turned from
him; those words range in his ears--"Nature and Art are all very well,
but give me life."

Who was it longed for life?  He understood the longing; he resolved to
wait there until the girls went away.  Again he heard the same voice.

"I shall leave you to your sails, Lillian.  I wish those same boats
would come to carry us away--I wish I had wings and could fly over the
sea and see the bright, grand world that lies beyond it.  Goodbye; I am
tired of the never-ending wash of those long, low waves."

He saw a young girl rise from the fragrant heather and turn to descend
the cliff.  Quick as thought he rushed down by another path, and,
turning back, contrived to meet her half-way. Beatrice came singing
down the cliff.  Her humor, never the same ten minutes together, had
suddenly changed.  She remembered a new and beautiful song that Lady
Earle had sent, and determined to go home and try it.  There came no
warning to her that bright summer morning.  The south wind lifted the
hair from her brow and wafted the fragrance of hawthorn buds and spring
flowers to greet her, but it brought no warning message; the birds
singing gayly, the sun shining so brightly could not tell her that the
first link in a terrible chain was to be forged that morning.

Half-way down the cliff, where the path was steep and narrow, Beatrice
suddenly met the stranger.  A stranger was a rarity at the Elms.  Only
at rare intervals did an artist or a tourist seek shelter and
hospitality at the old farm house.  The stranger seemed to be a
gentleman.  For one moment both stood still; then, with a low bow, the
gentleman stepped aside to let the young girl pass.  As he did so, he
noted the rare beauty of that brilliant face--he remembered the longing
words.

"No wonder," he thought; "it is a sin for such a face as that to be
hidden here."

The beauty of those magnificent eyes startled him.  Who was she? What
could she be doing here?  Beatrice turning again, saw the stranger
looking eagerly after her, with profound admiration expressed in every
feature of his face; and that admiring gaze, the first she had ever
received in her life, sank deep into the vain, girlish heart.

He watched the graceful, slender figure until the turn of the road hid
Beatrice from his view.  He followed her at a safe distance, and saw
her cross the long meadows that led to the Elms.  Then Hugh Fernely
waited with patience until one of the farm laborers came by.  By
judicious questioning he discovered much of the history of the
beautiful young girl who longed for life.  Her face haunted him--its
brilliant, queenly beauty, the dark, radiant eyes.  Come what might,
Hugh Fernely said to himself, he must see her again.

On the following morning he saw the girls return to the cliff. Lillian
finished her picture.  Ever and anon he heard Beatrice singing, in a
low, rich voice, a song that had charmed her with its weird beauty:

"For men must work, and women must weep; And the sooner it's over, the
sooner to sleep And goodbye to the bar and its moaning."

"I like those words, Lillian," he heard her say.  "I wonder how soon it
will be 'over' for me.  Shall I ever weep, as the song says?  I have
never wept yet."

This morning the golden-haired sister left the cliff first, and
Beatrice sat reading until the noonday sun shone upon the sea. Her book
charmed her; it was a story telling of the life she loved and longed
for--of the gay, glad world.  Unfortunately all the people in the book
were noble, heroic, and ideal.  The young girl, in her simplicity,
believed that they who lived in the world she longed for were all like
the people in her book.

When she left the path that led to the meadows, she saw by her side the
stranger who had met her the day before.  Again he bowed profoundly,
and, with many well-expressed apologies, asked some trifling question
about the road.

Beatrice replied briefly, but she could not help seeing the wonder of
admiration in his face.  Her own grew crimson under his gaze--he saw
it, and his heart beat high with triumph.  As Beatrice went through the
meadows he walked by her side.  She never quite remembered how it
happened, but in a few minutes he was telling her how many years had
passed since he had seen the spring in England.  She forgot all
restraint, all prudence, and raised her beautiful eyes to his.

"Ah, then," she cried, "you have seen the great world that lies over
the wide sea."

"Yes," he replied, "I have seen it.  I have been in strange, bright
lands, so different from England that they seemed to belong to another
world.  I have seen many climes, bright skies, and glittering seas,
where the spice islands lie."

As he spoke, in words that were full of wild, untutored eloquence, he
saw the young girl's eyes riveted upon him.  Sure of having roused her
attention, he bowed, apologized for his intrusion, and left her.

Had Dora been like other mothers, Beatrice would have related this
little adventure and told of the handsome young traveler who had been
in strange climes.  As it was, knowing her mother's utter dread of all
men--her fear lest her children should ever love and marry--Beatrice
never named the subject.  She thought much of Hugh Fernely--not of him
himself, but of the world he had spoken about--and she hoped it might
happen to her to meet him again.

"If we had some one here who could talk in that way," she said to
herself, "the Elms would not be quite so insupportable."

Two days afterward, Beatrice, wandering on the sands, met Hugh Fernely.
She saw the startled look of delight on his face, and smiled at his
pleasure.

"Pray forgive me," he said.  "I--I can not pass you without one word.
Time has seemed to me like one long night since I saw you last."

He held in his hand some beautiful lilies of the valley--every little
white warm bell was perfect.  He offered them to her with a low bow.

"This is the most beautiful flower I have seen for many years," he
said.  "May I be forgiven for begging permission to offer it to the
most beautiful lady I have ever seen?"

Beatrice took it from him, blushing at his words.  He walked by her
side along the yellow sands, the waves rolling in and breaking at their
feet.  Again his eloquence charmed her.  He told her his name, and how
he was captain of a trading vessel. Instinctively he seemed to
understand her character--her romantic, ideal way of looking at
everything.  He talked to her of the deep seas and their many wonders;
of the ocean said to be fathomless; of the coral islands and of waters
in whose depths the oyster containing the pale, gleaming pearl is
found; of the quiet nights spent at sea, where the stars shine as they
never seem to shine on land; of the strange hush that falls upon the
heaving waters before a storm.  He told of long days when they were
becalmed upon the green deep, when the vessel seemed

  "A painted ship upon a painted ocean."

With her marvelous fancy and quick imagination she followed him to the
wondrous depth of silent waters where strange shapes, never seen by
human eye, abound.  She hung upon his words; he saw it, and rejoiced in
his success.  He did not startle her by any further compliment, but
when their walk was ended he told her that morning would live in his
memory as the happiest time of his life.

After a few days it seemed to become a settled thing that Beatrice
should meet Hugh Fernely.  Lillian wondered that her sister so often
preferred lonely rambles, but she saw the beautiful face she loved so
dearly grow brighter and happier, never dreaming the cause.

For many long days little thought of Hugh Fernely came to Beatrice.
Her mind ran always upon what he had told her--upon his description of
what he had seen and heard.  He noted this, and waited with a patience
born of love for the time when she should take an interest in him.

Words were weak in which to express the passionate love he felt for
this beautiful and stately young girl.  It seemed to him like a fairy
tale.  On the morning he first saw Beatrice he had been walking a long
distance, and had lain down to rest on the cliffs. There the beautiful
vision had dawned upon him.  The first moment he gazed into that
peerless face he loved Beatrice with a passion that frightened himself.
He determined to win her at any cost.

At last and by slow degrees he began to speak of her and himself,
slowly and carefully, his keen eyes noting every change upon her face;
he began to offer her delicate compliments and flattery so well
disguised that it did not seem to her flattery at all.  He made her
understand that he believed her to be the most beautiful girl he had
ever beheld.  He treated her always as though she were a queen, and he
her humblest slave.

Slowly but surely the sweet poison worked its way; the day came when
that graceful, subtle flattery was necessary to the very existence of
Beatrice Earle.  There was much to excuse her; the clever, artful man
into whose hands she had fallen was her first admirer--the first who
seemed to remember she was no longer a child, and to treat her with
deferential attention.  Had she been, as other girls are, surrounded by
friends, accustomed to society, properly trained, prepared by the
tender wisdom of a loving mother, she would never have cast her proud
eyes upon Hugh Fernely; she would never have courted the danger or run
the risk.

As it was, while Dora preferred solitude, and nourished a keen dislike
to her husband in her heart--while Ronald yielded to obstinate pride,
and neglected every duty--while both preferred the indulgence of their
own tempers, and neglected the children the Almighty intrusted to them,
Beatrice went on to her fate.

It was so sad a story, the details so simple yet so pitiful. Every
element of that impulsive, idealistic nature helped on the tragedy.
Hugh Fernely understood Beatrice as perhaps no one else ever did.  He
idealized himself.  To her at length he became a hero who had met with
numberless adventures--a hero who had traveled and fought, brave and
generous.  After a time he spoke to her of love, at first never
appearing to suppose that she could care for him, but telling her of
his own passionate worship how her face haunted him, filled his dreams
at night, and shone before him all day--how the very ground she stood
upon was sacred to him--how he envied the flowers she touched--how he
would give up everything to be the rose that died in her hands. It was
all very pretty and poetical, and he knew how to find pretty,
picturesque spots in the woods where the birds and the flowers helped
him to tell his story.

Beatrice found it very pleasant to be worshiped like a queen; there was
no more monotony for her.  Every morning she looked forward to seeing
Hugh--to learning more of those words that seemed to her like sweetest
music.  She knew that at some time or other during the day she would
see him; he never tired of admiring her beauty.  Blameworthy was the
sad mother with her stern doctrines, blameworthy the proud, neglectful
father, that she knew not how wrong all this was.  He loved her; in a
thousand eloquent ways he told her so.  She was his loadstar, beautiful
and peerless.  It was far more pleasant to sit on the sea shore, or
under the greenwood trees, listening to such words than to pass long,
dreary hours indoors.  And none of those intrusted with the care of the
young girl ever dreamed of her danger.

So this was the love her mother dreaded so much.  This was the love
poets sung of and novelists wrote about.  It was pleasant; but in after
days, when Beatrice herself came to love, she knew that this had been
but child's play.

It was the romance of the stolen meeting that charmed Beatrice. If Hugh
had been admitted to the Elms she would have wearied of him in a week;
but the concealment gave her something to think of.  There was
something to occupy her mind; every day she must arrange for a long
ramble, so that she might meet Hugh.  So, while the corn grew ripe in
the fields, and the blossoms died away--while warm, luxurious summer
ruled with his golden wand Ronald Earle's daughter went on to her fate.



Chapter XVIII

At length there came an interruption to Hugh Fernely's love dream.  The
time drew near when he must leave Seabay.  The vessel he commanded was
bound for China, and was to sail in a few days. The thought that he
must leave the beautiful girl he loved so dearly and so deeply struck
him with unendurable pain; he seemed only to have lived since he had
met her, and he knew that life without her would be a burden too great
for him to bear.  He asked himself a hundred times over: "Does she love
me?"  He could not tell.  He resolved to try.  He dared not look that
future in the face which should take her from him.

The time drew near; the day was settled on which the "Seagull" was to
set sail, and yet Hugh Fernely had won no promise from Beatrice Earle.

One morning Hugh met her at the stile leading from the field into the
meadow lane--the prettiest spot in Knutsford.  The ground was a
perfectly beautiful carpet of flowers--wild hyacinths, purple
foxgloves, pretty, pale strawberry blossoms all grew there. The hedges
were one mass of wild roses and woodbine; the tall elm trees that ran
along the lane met shadily overhead; the banks on either side were
radiant in different colored mosses; huge ferns surrounded the roots of
the trees.

Beatrice liked the quiet, pretty, green meadow lane.  She often walked
there, and on this eventful morning Hugh saw her sitting in the midst
of the fern leaves.  He was by her side in a minute, and his dark,
handsome face lighted up with joy.

"How the sun shines!" he said.  "I wonder the birds begin to sing and
the flowers to bloom before you are out, Miss Earle."

"But I am not their sun," replied Beatrice with a smile.

"But you are mine," cried Hugh; and before she could reply he was
kneeling at her feet, her hands clasped in his, while he told her of
the love that was wearing his life away.

No one could listen to such words unmoved; they were true and eloquent,
full of strange pathos.  He told her how dark without her the future
would be to him, how sad and weary his life; whereas if she would only
love him, and let him claim her when he returned, he would make her as
happy as a queen.  He would take her to the bright sunny lands--would
show her all the beauties and wonders she longed to see--would buy her
jewels and dresses such as her beauty deserved--would be her humble,
devoted slave, if she would only love him.

It was very pleasant--the bright morning, the picturesque glade, the
warmth and brightness of summer all around.  Beatrice looked at the
handsome, pale face with emotion, she felt Hugh's warm lips pressed to
her hand, she felt hot tears rain upon her fingers, and wondered at
such love.  Yes, this was the love she had read of and thought about.

"Beatrice," cried Hugh, "do not undo me with one word.  Say you love
me, my darling--say I may return and claim you as my own. Your whole
life shall be like one long, bright summer's day."

She was carried away by the burning torrent of passionate words. With
all her spirit and pride she felt weak and powerless before the mighty
love of this strong man.  Almost unconscious of what she did, Beatrice
laid her white hands upon the dark, handsome head of her lover.

"Hush, Hugh," she said, "you frighten me.  I do love you; see, you
tears wet my hand."

It was not a very enthusiastic response, but it satisfied him. He
clasped the young girl in his arms, and she did not resist; he kissed
the proud lips and the flushed cheek.  Beatrice Earle said no word; he
was half frightened, half touched, and wholly subdued.

"Now you are mine," cried Hugh--"mine, my own peerless one; nothing
shall part us but death!"

"Hush!" cried Beatrice, again shuddering as with cold fear. "That is a
word I dislike and dread so much, Hugh--do not use it."

"I will not," he replied; and then Beatrice forgot her fears.  He was
so happy--he loved her so dearly--he was so proud of winning her.  She
listened through the long hours of that sunny morning.  It was the
fifteenth of July--he made her note the day and in two years he would
return to take her forever from the quiet house where her beauty and
grace alike were buried.

That was the view of the matter that had seized upon the girl's
imagination.  It was not so much love for Hugh--she liked him. His
flattery--the excitement of meeting him--his love, had become necessary
to her; but had any other means of escape from the monotony she hated
presented itself, she would have availed herself of it quite as
eagerly.  Hugh was not so much a lover to her as a medium of escape
from a life that daily became more and more unendurable.

She listened with bright smiles when he told her that in two years he
should return to fetch her; and she, thinking much of the romance, and
little of the dishonor of concealment, told him how her sad young
mother hated and dreaded all mention of love and lovers.

"Then you must never tell her," he said--"leave that for me until I
return.  I shall have money then, and perhaps the command of a fine
vessel.  She will not refuse me when she knows how dearly I love you,
and even should your father--the father you tell of--come home, you
will be true to me, Beatrice, will you not?"

"Yes, I will be true," she replied--and, to do her justice, she meant
it at the time.  Her father's return seemed vague and uncertain; it
might take place in ten or twenty years--it might never be.  Hugh
offered her freedom and liberty in two years.

"If others should seek your love," he said, "should praise your beauty,
and offer you rank or wealth, you will say to yourself that you will be
true to Hugh?"

"Yes," she said, firmly, "I will do so."

"Two years will soon pass away," said he.  "Ah, Beatrice," he
continued, "I shall leave you next Thursday; give me all the hours you
can.  Once away from you, all time will seem to me a long, dark night."

It so happened that the farmer and his men were at work in a field
quite on the other side of Knutsford.  Dora and Lillian were intent,
the one upon a box of books newly arrived, the other upon a picture; so
Beatrice had every day many hours at her disposal.  She spent them all
with Hugh, whose love seemed to increase with every moment.

Hugh was to leave Seabay on Thursday, and on Wednesday evening he
lingered by her side as though he could not part with her.  To do Hugh
Fernely justice, he loved Beatrice for herself.  Had she been a
penniless beggar he would have loved her just the same. The only dark
cloud in his sky was the knowledge that she was far above him.  Still,
he argued to himself, the story she told of her father was an
impossible one.  He did not believe that Ronald Earle would ever take
his daughters home--he did not quite know what to think, but he had no
fear on that score.

On the Wednesday evening they wandered down the cliff and sat upon the
shore, watching the sun set over the waters.  Hugh took from his pocket
a little morocco case and placed it in Beatrice's hands.  She opened
it, and cried out with admiration; there lay the most exquisite ring
she had ever seen, of pure pale gold, delicately and elaborately
chased, and set with three gleaming opals of rare beauty.

"Look at the motto inside," said Hugh.

She held the ring in her dainty white fingers, and read: "Until death
parts us."

"Oh, Hugh," she cried, "that word again?  I dread it; why is it always
coming before me?"

He smiled at her fears, and asked her to let him place the ring upon
her finger.

"In two years," he said, "I shall place a plain gold ring on this
beautiful hand.  Until then wear this, Beatrice, for my sake; it is our
betrothal ring."

"It shall not leave my finger," she said. "Mamma will not notice it,
and every one else will think she has given it to me herself."

"And now," said Hugh, "promise me once more, Beatrice, you will be true
to me--you will wait for me--that when I return you will let me claim
you as my own?"

"I do promise," she said, looking at the sun shining on the opals.

Beatrice never forgot the hour that followed.  Proud, impetuous, and
imperial as she was, the young man's love and sorrow touched her as
nothing had ever done.  The sunbeams died away in the west, the
glorious mass of tinted clouds fell like a veil over the evening sky,
the waves came in rapidly, breaking into sheets of white, creamy foam
in the gathering darkness, but still he could not leave her.

"I must go, Hugh," said Beatrice, at length; "mamma will miss me."

She never forgot the wistful eyes lingering upon her face.

"Once more, only once more," he said.  "Beatrice, my love, when I
return you will be my wife?"

"Yes," she replied, startled alike by his grief and his love.

"Never be false to me," he continued.  "If you were--"

"What then?" she asked, with a smile, as he paused.

"I should either kill myself or you," he replied, "perhaps both. Do not
make me say such terrible things.  It could not be.  The sun may fall
from the heavens, the sea rolling there may become dry land.
Nature--everything may prove false, but not you, the noblest, the
truest of women.  Say 'I love you, Hugh,' and let those be your last
words to me.  They will go with me over the wide ocean, and be my rest
and stay."

"I love you, Hugh," she said, as he wished her.

Something like a deep, bitter sob came from his white lips. Death
itself would have been far easier than leaving her.  He raised her
beautiful face to his--his tears and kisses seemed to burn it--and then
he was gone.

Gone!  The romance of the past few weeks, the engrossing interest, all
suddenly collapsed.  Tomorrow the old monotonous life must begin again,
without flattery, praise, or love.  He had gone; the whole romance was
ended; nothing of it remained save the memory of his love and the ring
upon her finger.

At first there fell upon Beatrice a dreadful blank.  The monotony, the
quiet, the simple occupations, were more unendurable than ever; but in
a few days that feeling wore off, and then she began to wonder at what
she had done. The glamour fell from before her eyes; the novelty and
excitement, the romance of the stolen meetings, the pleasant homage of
love and worship no longer blinded her.  Ah, and before Hugh Fernely
had been many days and nights upon the wide ocean, she ended by growing
rather ashamed of the matter, and trying to think of it as little as
she could!  Once she half tried to tell Lillian; but the look of horror
on the sweet, pure face startled her, and she turned the subject by
some merry jest.

Then there came a letter from Mrs. Vyvian announcing her return. The
girls were warmly attached to the lady, who had certainly devoted the
ten best years of her life to them.  She brought with her many
novelties, new books, new music, amusing intelligence from the outer
world.  For some days there was no lack of excitement and amusement;
then all fell again into the old routine.

Mrs. Vyvian saw a great change in Beatrice.  Some of the old
impetuosity had died away; she was as brilliant as ever, full of life
and gayety, but in some way there was an indescribable change.  At
times a strange calm would come over the beautiful face, a far-off,
dreamy expression steal into the dark, bright eyes.  She had lost her
old frankness.  Time was when Mrs. Vyvian could read all her thoughts,
and very rebellious thoughts they often were.  But now there seemed to
be a sealed chamber in the girl's heart.  She never spoke of the
future, and for the first time her watchful friend saw in her a nervous
fear that distressed her.  Carefully and cautiously the governess tried
to ascertain the cause; she felt sure at last that, young as she was,
carefully as she had been watched, Beatrice Earle had a secret in her
life that she shared with no one else.



Chapter XIX

There were confusion and dismay in the stately home of the Earles.  One
sultry morning in August Lord Earle went out into the garden, paying no
heed to the excessive heat.  As he did not return to luncheon, the
butler went in search of him and found his master lying as one dead on
the ground.  He was carried to his own room, doctors were summoned in
hot haste from far and near; everything that science or love, skill or
wisdom could suggest was done for him, but all in vain.  The hour had
come when he must leave home, rank, wealth, position--whatever he
valued most--when he must answer for his life and what he had done with
it--when he must account for wealth, talent, for the son given to
him--when human likings, human passions, would seem so infinitely
little.

But while Lord Earle lay upon the bed, pale and unconscious, Lady
Earle, who knelt by him and never left him, felt sure that his mind and
heart were both active.  He could not speak; he did not seem to
understand.  Who knows what passes in those dread moments of silence,
when the light of eternity shows so clearly all that we have done in
the past?  It may be that while he lay there, hovering as it were
between two worlds, the remembrance of his son struck him like a
two-edged sword--his son, his only child given to him to train, not
only for earth but for heaven--the boy he had loved and idolized, then
cast off, and allowed to become a wanderer on the face of the earth.
It may be that his stern, sullen pride, his imperious self-will, his
resolute trampling upon the voice of nature and duty, confronted him in
the new light shining upon him.  Perhaps his own words returned to him,
that until he lay dead Ronald should never see Earlescourt again; for
suddenly the voice they thought hushed forever sounded strangely in the
silence of that death chamber.

"My son!" cried the dying man, clasping his hands--"my son!"

Those who saw it never forgot the blank, awful terror that came upon
the dying face as he uttered his last words.

They bore the weeping wife from the room.  Lady Earle, strong, and
resolute though she was, could not drive that scene from her mind.  She
was ill for many days, and so it happened that the lord of Earlescourt
was laid in the family vault long ere the family at the Elms knew of
the change awaiting them.

Ronald was summoned home in all haste; but months passed ere letters
reached him, and many more before he returned to England.

Lord Earle's will was brief, there was no mention of his son's name.
There was a handsome provision for Lady Earle, the pretty little estate
of Roslyn was settled upon her; the servants received numerous
legacies; Sir Harry Laurence and Sir Hugh Charteris were each to
receive a magnificent mourning ring; but there was no mention of the
once-loved son and heir.

As the heir at law, everything was Ronald's--the large amount of money
the late lord had saved, title, estates, everything reverted to him.
But Ronald would have exchanged all for one line of forgiveness, one
word of pardon from the father he had never ceased to love.

It was arranged that until Ronald's return his mother should continue
to reside at Earlescourt, and the management of the estates was
intrusted to Mr. Burt, the family solicitor.

Lady Earle resolved to go to the Elms herself; great changes must be
made there.  Ronald's wife and children must take their places in the
world; and she felt a proud satisfaction in thinking that, thanks to
her sensible and judicious management, Dora would fill her future
position with credit.  She anticipated Ronald's delight when he should
see his beautiful and accomplished daughters.  Despite her great
sorrow, the lady of Earlescourt felt some degree of hope for the
future.  She wrote to the Elms, telling Dora of her husband's death,
and announcing her own coming; then the little household understood
that their quiet and solitude had ended forever.

The first thing was to provide handsome mourning.  Dora was strangely
quiet and sad through it all.  The girls asked a hundred questions
about their father, whom they longed to see. They knew he had left home
in consequence of some quarrel with his father--so much Lady Earle told
them--but they never dreamed that his marriage had caused the fatal
disagreement; they never knew that, for their mother's sake, Lady Earle
carefully concealed all knowledge of it from them.

Lady Earle reached the Elms one evening in the beginning of September.
She asked first to see Dora alone.

During the long years Dora had grown to love the stately, gentle lady
who was Ronald's mother.  She could not resist her sweet, gracious
dignity and winning manners.  So, when Lady Earle, before seeing her
granddaughters, went to Dora's room, wishing for a long consultation
with her, Dora received her with gentle, reverential affection.

"I wish to see you first," said Lady Helena Earle, "so that we may
arrange our plans before the children know anything of them. Ronald
will return to England in a few months.  Dora, what course shall you
adopt?"

"None," she replied.  "Your son's return has nothing whatever to do
with me."

"But, surely," said lady Helena, "for the children's sake you will not
refuse at least an outward show of reconciliation?"

"Mr. Earle has not asked it," said Dora--"he never will do so, Lady
Helena.  It is as far from his thoughts as from mine."

Lady Earle sat for some moments too much astounded for speech.

"I never inquired the cause of your separation, Dora," she said,
gently, "and I never wish to know it.  My son told me you could live
together no longer.  I loved my own husband; I was a devoted and
affectionate wife to him.  I bore with his faults and loved his
virtues, so that I can not imagine what I should do were I in your
place.  I say to you what I should say to Ronald--they are solemn
words--'What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put
asunder.'  Now let me tell you my opinion.  It is this, that nothing
can justify such a separation as yours--nothing but the most outrageous
offenses or the most barbarous cruelty.  Take the right course, Dora;
submit to your husband. Believe me, woman's rights are all fancy and
nonsense; loving, gentle submission is the fairest ornament of woman.
Even should Ronald be in the wrong, trample upon all pride and temper,
and make the first advances to him."

"I can not," said Dora gravely.

"Ronald was always generous and chivalrous," continued Lady Earle.
"Oh, Dora, have you forgotten how my son gave up all the world for you?"

"No," she replied, bitterly; "nor has he forgotten it, Lady Earle."

The remembrance of what she thought her wrongs rose visibly before her.
She saw again the magnificent face of Valentine Charteris, with its
calm, high-bred wonder.  She saw her husband's white, angry, indignant
countenance--gestures full of unutterable contempt.  Ah, no, never
again!  Nothing could heal that quarrel.

"You must take your place in the world," continued Lady Earle. "You are
no longer simply Mrs. Earle of the Elms; you are Lady Earle, of
Earlescourt, wife of its lord, the mother of his children.  You have
duties too numerous for me to mention, and you must not shrink from
them."

"I refuse all," she replied, calmly; "I refuse to share your son's
titles, his wealth, his position, his duties; I refuse to make any
advances toward a reconciliation; I refuse to be reconciled."

"And why?" asked Lady Helena, gravely.

A proud flush rose to Dora's face--hot anger stirred in her heart.

"Because your son said words to me that I never can and never will
forget," she cried. "I did wrong--Lady Helena, I was mad, jealous,
blind--I did wrong--I did what I now know to be dishonorable and
degrading.  I knew no better, and he might have pardoned me,
remembering that.  But before the woman I believe to be my rival he
bitterly regretted having made me his wife."

"They were hard words," said Lady Earle.

"Very hard," replied Dora; "they broke my heart--they slew me in my
youth; I have never lived since then."

"Can you never forgive and forget them, Dora?" asked Lady Helena.

"Never," she replied; "they are burned into my heart and on my brain.
I shall never forget them; your son and I must be strangers, Lady
Earle, while we live."

"I can say no more," sighed Lady Earle.  "Perhaps a mightier voice will
call to you, Dora, and then you will obey."

A deep silence fell upon them.  Lady Helena was more grieved and
disconcerted than she cared to own.  She had thought of taking her
son's wife and children home in triumph, but it was not to be.

"Shall we speak of the children now?" she asked at length.  "Some
arrangements must be made for them."

"Yes," said Dora, "their father has claims upon them.  I am ready to
yield to them.  I do not believe he will ever love them or care for
them, because they are mine.  At the same time, I give them up to him
and to you, Lady Earle.  The sweetest and best years of their lives
have been spent with me; I must therefore not repine.  I have but one
stipulation to make, and it is that my children shall never hear one
word against me."

"You know little of me," said Lady Helena, "if you think such a thing
is possible.  You would rather part with your children than accompany
them?"

"Far rather," she replied.  "I know you will allow them to visit me,
Lady Earle.  I have known for many years that such a time must come,
and I am prepared for it."

"But, my dear Dora," said Lady Earle, warmly, "have you considered what
parting with your children implies--the solitude, the desolation?"

"I know it all," replied Dora.  "It will be hard, but not so hard nor
so bitter as living under the same roof with their father."

Carefully and quietly Dora listened to Lady Earle's plans and
arrangements--how her children were to go to Earlescourt and take the
position belonging to them.  Mrs. Vyvian was to go with them and remain
until Lord Earle returned.  Until then they were not to be introduced
into society; it would take some time to accustom them to so great a
change.  When Lord Earl returned he could pursue what course he would.

"He will be so proud of them!" said Lady Earle. "I have never seen a
girl so spirited and beautiful as Beatrice, nor one so fair and gentle
as Lillian.  Oh, Dora, I should be happy if you were going with us."

Never once during the few days of busy preparation did Dora's proud
courage give way.  The girls at first refused to leave her; they
exhausted themselves in conjectures as to her continued residence at
the Elms, and were forced to be satisfied with Lady Earle's off-hand
declaration that their mother could not endure any but a private life.

"Mamma has a title now," said Beatrice, wonderingly; "why will she not
assume it?"

"Your mother's tastes are simple and plain," replied Lady Earle. "Her
wishes must be treated with respect."

Dora did not give way until the two fair faces that had brightened her
house vanished.  When they were gone, and a strange, hushed silence
fell upon the place, pride and courage gave way.  In that hour the very
bitterness of death seemed to be upon her.



Chapter XX

It was a proud moment for Lady Earle when she led the two young girls
through the long line of servants assembled to receive them.  They were
both silent from sheer wonder.  They had left Florence at so early an
age that they had not the faintest remembrance of the pretty villa on
the banks of the Arno.  All their ideas were centered in the Elms--they
had never seen any other home.

Lady Earle watched the different effect produced upon them by the
glimpse of Earlescourt.  Lillian grew pale; she trembled, and her
wondering eyes filled with tears.  Beatrice, on the contrary, seemed
instantly to take in the spirit of the place.  Her face flushed; a
proud light came into her glorious eyes; her haughty head was carried
more regally than ever.  There was no timidity, no shyly expressed
wonder, no sensitive shrinking from new and unaccustomed splendor.

They were deeply impressed with the magnificence of their new home.
For many long days Lady Earle employed herself in showing the numerous
treasures of art and vertu the house contained.  The picture gallery
pleased Beatrice most; she gloried in the portraits of the grand old
ancestors, "each with a story to his name."  One morning she stood
before Lady Helena's portrait, admiring the striking likeness.
Suddenly turning to the stately lady by her side, she said: "All the
Ladies Earle are here; where is my own mamma?  Her face is sweet and
fair as any of these. Why is there no portrait of her?"

"There will be one some day," said Lady Helena.  "When your father
returns all these things will be seen to."

"We have no brother," continued Beatrice.  "Every baron here seems to
have been succeeded by his son--who will succeed my father?"

"His next of kin," replied Lady Earle, sadly--"Lionel Dacre; he is a
third cousin of Lord Earle.  He will have both title and estate."

She signed deeply; it was a real trouble to Lady Helena that she should
never see her son's son, never love and nurse, never bless the heir of
Earlescourt.

Lillian delighted most in the magnificent gardens, the thickly wild
wooded park, where every dell was filled with flowers and ferns, every
knoll crowned with noble trees.  The lake, with white lilies sleeping
on its tranquil bosom and weeping willows touching its clear surface,
pleased her most of all.  As they stood on its banks, Beatrice, looking
into the transparent depths, shuddered, and turned quickly away.

"I am tired of water," she said; "nothing wearied me so much at
Knutsford as the wide, restless sea.  I must have been born with a
natural antipathy to water."

Many days passed before they were familiar with Earlescourt. Every day
brought its new wonders.

A pretty suite of rooms had been prepared for each sister; they were in
the western wing, and communicated with each other.  The Italian nurse
who had come with them from Florence had preferred remaining with Dora.
Lady Earle had engaged two fashionable ladies' maids, had also ordered
for each a wardrobe suitable to the daughters of Lord Earle.

Mrs. Vyvian had two rooms near her charges.  Knowing that some months
might elapse before Ronald returned, Lady Helena settled upon a course
of action.  The young girls were to be kept in seclusion, and not to be
introduced to the gay world, seeing only a few old friends of the
family; they were to continue to study for a few hours every morning,
to drive or walk with Lady Earle after luncheon, to join her at the
seven o'clock dinner, and to pass the evening in the drawing room.

It was a new and delightful life.  Beatrice reveled in the luxury and
grandeur that surrounded her.  She amused Lady Earle by her vivacious
description of the quiet home at the Elms.

"I feel at home here," she said, "and I never did there.  At times I
wake up, half dreading to hear the rustling of the tall elm trees, and
old Mrs. Thorne's voice asking about the cows. Poor mamma!  I can not
understand her taste."

When they became more accustomed to the new life, the strange
incongruity in their family struck them both.  On one side a grand old
race, intermarried with some of the noblest families in England--a
stately house, title, wealth, rank, and position; on the other a simple
farmer and his homely wife, the plain old homestead, and complete
isolation from all they considered society.

How could it be?  How came it that their father was lord of Earlescourt
and their mother the daughter of a plain country farmer?  For the first
time it struck them both that there was some mystery in the life of
their parents.  Both grew more shy of speaking of the Elms, feeling
with the keen instinct peculiar to youth that there was something
unnatural in their position.

Visitors came occasionally to Earlescourt.  Sir Harry and Lady Laurence
of Holtham often called; Lady Charteris came from Greenoke, and all
warmly admired the lovely daughters of Lord Earle.

Beatrice, with her brilliant beauty, her magnificent voice, and gay,
graceful manner, was certainly the favorite.  Sir Harry declared she
was the finest rider in the county.

There was an unusual stir of preparation once when Lady Earle told them
that the daughter of her devoted friend, Lady Charteris, was coming to
spend a few days at Earlescourt.  Then, for the first time, they saw
the beautiful and stately lady whose fate was so strangely interwoven
with theirs.

Valentine Charteris was no longer "the queen of the county." Prince di
Bergezi had won the beautiful English woman.  He had followed her to
Greenoke and repeated his question.  There was neither coquetry nor
affectation in Valentine--she had thought the matter over, and decided
that she was never likely to meet with any one else she liked and
respected so much as her Italian lover.  He had the virtues, without
the faults, of the children of the South; a lavishly generous, princely
disposition; well-cultivated artistic tastes; good principles and a
chivalrous sense of honor.  Perhaps the thing that touched her most was
his great love for her.  In many respects he resembled Ronald Earle
more nearly than any one else she had ever met.

To the intense delight of both parents, Miss Charteris accepted him.
For her sake the prince consented to spend every alternate year in
England.

Three times had the whole country side welcomed the stately Italian and
his beautiful wife.  This was their fourth visit to England, and, when
the princess heard from Lady Charteris that Ronald's two daughters,
whom she remembered as little babes, were at Earlescourt, nothing would
satisfy her but a visit there.

The young girls looked in admiring wonder at the lady.  They had never
seen any one so dazzling or so bright.  The calm, grand, Grecian face
had gained in beauty; the magnificent head, with its wealth of golden
hair, the tall, stately figure, charmed them. And when Valentine took
them in her arms and kissed them her thoughts went back to the white,
wild face in the garden and the dark eyes that had flamed in hot anger
upon her.

"I knew your mother years ago," she said; "has she never mentioned my
name?  I used to nurse you both in the little villa at Florence.  I was
one of your father's oldest friends."

No, they had never heard her name; and Beatrice wondered that her
mother could have known and forgotten one so beautiful as the princess.

The week she remained passed like a long, bright dream. Beatrice almost
worshiped Valentine; this was what she had dreamed of long ago; this
was one of the ideal ladies living in the bright, gay world she was
learning to understand.

When the prince and princess left Earlescourt they made Lady Helena
promise that Beatrice and Lillian should visit them at Florence.  They
spoke of the fair and coquettish Countess Rosali, still a reigning
belle, and said how warmly she would welcome them for their father's
sake.

"You talk so much of Italy," said Valentine to Beatrice.  "It is just
the land for the romance you love.  You shall see blue skies and sunny
seas, vines, and myrtles, and orange trees in bloom; you shall see such
luxuriance and beauty that you will never wish to return to this cold,
dreary England."

It was thus arranged that, when Lord Earle returned, the visit should
be paid.  The evening after their guests' departure seemed long and
triste.

"I will write to mamma," said Beatrice; "it is strange she never told
us anything of her friend.  I must tell her all about the visit."

Not daring to ask the girls to keep any secret from Dora, Lady Earle
was obliged to let the letter go.  The passionate, lonely heart brooded
over every word.  Beatrice dwelt with loving admiration on the calm,
grand beauty of the princess, her sweet and gracious manner, her kindly
recollection of Dora, and her urgent invitation to them.  Dora read it
through calmly, each word stabbing her with cruel pain.  The old,
fierce jealousy rose in her heart, crushing every gentle thought.  She
tore the letter, so full of Valentine, into a thousand shreds.

"She drew my husband from me," she cried, "with the miserable beauty of
her fair face, and now she will win my children."

Then across the fierce tempest of jealous anger came one thought like a
ray of light.  Valentine was married; she had married the wealthy,
powerful prince who had been Ronald's patron; so that, after all, even
if she had lured Ronald from her, he had not cared for her, or she had
soon ceased to care for him.

Beatrice thought it still more strange when her mother's reply to that
long, enthusiastic letter came.  Dora said simply that she had never
named the Princess di Borgesi because she was a person whom she did not
care to remember.

Fifteen months passed, and at length came a letter from Lord Earle,
saying that he hoped to reach England before Christmas, and in any case
would be with them by Christmas day.  It was a short letter, written in
the hurry of traveling; the words that touched his children most, were
"I am glad you have the girls at Earlescourt; I am anxious to see what
they are like.  Make them happy, mother; let hem have all they want;
and, if it be possible, after my long neglect, teach them to love me."

The letter contained no mention of their mother; no allusion was made
to her.  The girls marked the weeks go by in some little trepidation.
What if, after all, this father, whom they did not remember, should not
like them: Beatrice did not think such a thing very probable, but
Lillian passed many an hour in nervous, fanciful alarm.

It was strange how completely all the old life had died away. Both had
felt a kind of affection for the homely farmer and his wife--they sent
many presents to them--but Beatrice would curl her proud lip in scorn
when she read aloud that "Mr. And Mrs. Thorne desired their humble duty
to Lady Earle."

Lady Earle felt no anxiety about her son's return; looking at his
daughters, she saw no fault in them.  Beautiful, accomplished, and
graceful, what more could he desire?  She inwardly thanked Providence
that neither of them bore the least resemblance to the Thornes.
Beatrice looked like one of the Ladies Earle just stepped out from a
picture; Lillian, in her fair, dove-like loveliness, was quite as
charming.  What would Lady Earle--so truthful, so honorable--have
thought or said had she known that their bright favorite with the Earle
face had plighted her troth, unknown to any one, to the captain of a
trading vessel, who was to claim her in two years for his wife?

Lady Earl had formed her own plans for Beatrice; she hoped the time
would come when she would be Lady Earle of Earlescourt. Nothing could
be more delightful, nothing easier, provided Beatrice would marry the
young heir, Lionel Dacre.

One morning, as the sisters sat in Lillian's room, Lady Earle entered
with an unusual expression of emotion on her fair, high-bred face.  She
held an open letter in her hand.

"My dear children," she said, "you must each look your very best this
evening.  I have a note here--your father will be home tonight."

The calm, proud voice faltered then, and the stately mistress of
Earlescourt wept at the thought of her son's return as she had never
wept since he left her.



Chapter XXI

Once more Ronald Earle stood upon English shores; once again he heard
his mother tongue spoken all around him, once again he felt the charm
of quiet, sweet English scenery.  Seventeen years had passed since he
had taken Dora's hand in his and told her he cared nothing for all he
was leaving behind him, nothing for any one in the world save
herself--seventeen years, and his love-dream had lasted but two!  Then
came the cruel shock that blinded him with anger and shame; then came
the rude awakening from his dream when, looking his life bravely in the
face, he found it nothing but a burden--hope and ambition gone--the
grand political mission he had once believed to be his own impossible
nothing left to him of his glorious dreams but existence--and all for
what?  For the mad, foolish love of a pretty face.  He hated himself
for his weakness and folly.  For that--for the fair, foolish woman who
had shamed him so sorely--he had half broken his mother's heart, and
had imbittered his father's life. For that he had made himself an
exile, old in his youth, worn and weary, when life should have been all
smiling around him.

These thoughts flashed through his mind as the express train whirled
through the quiet English landscape.  Winter snows had fallen, the
great bare branches of the tall trees were gaunt and snow-laden, the
fields were one vast expanse of snow, the frost had hardened the
icicles hanging from hedges and trees.  The scene seemed strange to him
after so many years of the tropical sun.  Yet every breath of the
sharp, frosty air invigorated him and brought him new life and energy.

At length the little station was reached, and he saw the carriage with
his liveried servants awaiting him.  A warm flush rose to Lord Earle's
face; for a moment he felt almost ashamed of meeting his old domestics.
They must all know now why he had left home. His own valet, Morton, was
there.  Lord Earle had kept him, and the man had asked permission to go
and meet his old master.

Ronald was pleased to see him; there were a few words of courteous
greeting from Lord Earle to all around, and a few still kinder words to
Morton.

Once again Ronald saw the old trees of which he had dreamed so often,
the stately cedars, the grand spreading oaks, the tall aspens, the lady
beeches, the groves of poplars--every spot was familiar to him.  In the
distance he saw the lake shining through the trees; he drove past the
extensive gardens, the orchards now bare and empty.  He was not ashamed
of the tears that rushed warmly to his eyes when the towers and turrets
of Earlescourt came in sight.

A sharp sense of pain filled his heart--keen regret, bitter remorse, a
longing for power to undo all that was done, to recall the lost
miserable years--the best of his life.  He might return; he might do
his best to atone for his error; but neither repentance nor atonement
would give him back the father whose pride he had humbled in the dust.

As the carriage rolled up the broad drive, a hundred instances of his
father's love and indulgence flashed across him--he had never refused
any request save one.  He wisely and tenderly tried to dissuade him
from the false step that could never be retraced but all in vain.

He remembered his father's face on that morning when, with outstretched
hands, he bade him leave his presence and never seek it more--when he
told him that whenever he looked upon his dead face he was to remember
that death itself was less bitter than the hour in which he had been
deceived.

Sad, bitter memories filled his heart when the carriage stopped at the
door and Ronald caught sight of the old familiar faces, some in smiles,
some in tears.

The library door was thrown open.  Hardly knowing whither he went, Lord
Earle entered, and it was closed behind him.  His eyes, dimmed with
tears, saw a tall, stately lady, who advanced to meet him with open
arms.

The face he remembered so fair and calm bore deep marks of sorrow; the
proud, tender eyes were shadowed; the glossy hair was threaded with
silver; but it was his mother's voice that cried to him, "My son, my
son, thank Heaven you have returned!"

He never remembered how long his mother held him clasped in her arms.
Earth has no love like a mother's love--none so tender, so true, so
full of sweet wisdom, so replete with pity and pardon.  It was her own
son whom Lady Earle held in her arms. She forgot that he was a man who
had incurred just displeasure. He was her boy, her own treasure, and so
it was that her words of greeting were all of loving welcome.

"How changed you are," she said, drawing him nearer to the fast-fading
light.  "Your face is quite bronzed, and you look so many years
older--so sad, so worn!  Oh, Ronald, I must teach you to grow young and
happy again!"

He sighed deeply, and his mother's heart grew sad as she watched his
restless face.

"Old-fashioned copy-books say, mother, that 'to be happy one must be
good.'  I have not been good," he said with a slight smile, "and I
shall never be happy."

In the faint waning light, through which the snow gleamed strangely,
mother and son sat talking.  Lady Earle told Ronald of his father's
death--of the last yearning cry when all the pent-up love of years
seemed to rush forth and overpower him with its force.  It was some
comfort to him, after all, that his father's last thoughts and last
words had been of him.

His heart was strangely softened; a new hope came to him. Granted that
the best part of his life was wasted, he would do his best with the
remainder.

"And my children," he said, "my poor little girls!  I will not see them
until I am calm and refreshed.  I know they are well and happy with
you."

Then, taking advantage of his mood, Lady Helena said what she had been
longing to say.

"Ronald," she began, "I have had much to suffer.  You will never know
how my heart has been torn between my husband and my son. Let my last
few years be spent in peace."

"They shall, mother," he said.  "Your happiness shall be my study."

"There can be no rest for me," continued his mother, "unless all
division in our family ends.  Ronald, I, who never asked you a favor
before, ask one now.  Seek Dora and bring her home reconciled and
happy."

A dark angry frown such as she had never seen there before came into
Lord Earle's face.

"Anything but that," he replied, hastily; "I can not do it, mother.  I
could not, if I lay upon my death bed."

"And why?" asked Lady Helena, simply, as she had asked Dora.

"For a hundred reasons, the first and greatest of which is that she has
outraged all my notions of honor, shamed and disgraced me in the
presence of one whom I esteemed and revered; she has--But no, I will
not speak of my wife's errors, it were unmanly.  I can not forgive her,
mother.  I wish her no harm; let her have every luxury my wealth can
procure, but do not name her to me.  I should be utterly devoid of all
pride if I could pardon her."

"Pride on your side," said Lady Earle, sadly, "and temper on hers!  Oh,
Ronald, how will it end?  Be wise in time; the most honest and noble
man is he who conquers himself.  Conquer yourself, my son, and pardon
Dora."

"I could more easily die," he replied, bitterly.

"Then," said Lady Earle, sorrowfully, "I must say to you as I said to
Dora--beware; pride and temper must bend and break. Be warned in time."

"Mother," interrupted Ronald, bending over the pale face so full of
emotion, "let this be the last time.  You distress yourself and me; do
not renew the subject.  I may forgive her in the hour of death--not
before."

Lady Helena's last hope died away; she had thought that in the first
hour of his return, when old memories had softened his heart, she would
prevail on him to seek his wife whom he had ceased to love, and for
their children's sake bring her home. She little dreamed that the
coming home, the recollection of his father, the ghost of his lost
youth and blasted hopes rising every instant, had hardened him against
the one for whom he had lost all.

"You will like to see the children now," said Lady Helena.  "I will
ring for lights.  You will be charmed with both.  Beatrice is much like
you--she has the Earle face, and, unless I am mistaken, the Earle
spirit, too."

"Beatrice," said Lillian, as they descended the broad staircase, "I am
frightened.  I wish I could remember something of papa his voice or his
smile; it is like going to see a stranger.  And suppose, after all, he
does not like us!"

"Suppose what is of greater importance," said Beatrice proudly "that we
do not like him!"

But, for all her high spirits and hauteur, Beatrice almost trembled as
the library door opened and Lady Earle came forward to met them.
Beatrice raised her eyes dauntlessly and saw before her a tall, stately
gentleman with a handsome face, the saddest and noblest she had ever
seen--clear, keen eyes that seemed to pierce through all disguise and
read all thoughts.

"There is Beatrice," said Lady Helena, as she took her hand gently; and
Ronald looked in startled wonder at the superb beauty of the face and
figure before him.

"Beatrice," he said, kissing the proud, bright face, "can it be
possible?  When I saw you last you were a little, helpless child."

"I am not helpless now," she replied, with a smile; "and I hope you are
going to love me very much, papa.  You have to make up for fifteen
years of absence.  I think it will not be very difficult to love you."

He seemed dazzled by her beauty--her frank, high spirit and fearless
words.  Then he saw a golden head, with sweet, dove-like eyes, raised
to his.

"I am Lillian, papa," said a clear, musical voice.  "Look at me,
please--and love me too."

He did both, charmed with the gentle grace of her manner, and the fair,
pure face.  Then Lord Earle took both his children in his arms.

"I wish," he said, in a broken voice and with tears in his eyes, "that
I had seen you before.  They told me my little twin children had grown
into beautiful girls, but I did not realize it."

And again, when she saw his proud happiness, Lady Helena longed to
plead for the mother of his children, that she might also share in his
love; but she dared not.  His words haunted her. Dora would be forgiven
only in the hour of death.



Chapter XXII

The evening of his return was one of the happiest of Lord Earle's life.
He was charmed with his daughters.  Lady Helena thought, with a smile,
that it was difficult to realize the relationship between them.
Although her son looked sad and care-worn, he seemed more like an elder
brother than the father of the two young girls.

There was some little restraint between them at first.  Lord Earle
seemed at a loss what to talk about; then Lady Helena's gracious tact
came into play.  She would not have dinner in the large dining room,
she ordered it to be served in the pretty morning room, where the fire
burned cheerfully and the lamps gave a flow of mellow light.  It was a
picture of warm, cozy English comfort, and Lord Earle looked pleased
when he saw it.

Then, when dinner was over, she asked Beatrice to sing, and she, only
pleased to show Lord Earle the extent of her accomplishments, obeyed.
Her superb voice, with its clear, ringing tones, amazed him.  Beatrice
sang song after song with a passion and fire that told how deep the
music lay in her soul.

Then Lady Helena bade Lillian bring out her folio of drawings, and
again Lord Earle was pleased and surprised by the skill and talent he
had not looked for.  He praised the drawings highly. One especially
attracted his attention--it was the pretty scene Lillian had sketched
on the May day now so long passed--the sun shining upon the distant
white sails, and the broad, beautiful sweep of sea at Knutsford.

"That is an excellent picture," he said; "it ought to be framed. It is
too good to be hidden in a folio.  You have just caught the right
coloring, Lillian; one can almost see the sun sparkling on the water.
Where is this sea-view taken from?"

"Do you not know it?" she asked, looking at him with wonder in her
eyes.  "It is from Knutsford--mamma's home."

Ronald looked up in sudden, pained surprise.

"Mamma's home!"  The words smote him like a blow.  He remembered Dora's
offense--her cold letter, her hurried flight, his own firm resolve
never to receive her in his home again--but he had not remembered that
the children must love her--that she was part of their lives.  He could
not drive her memory from their minds.  There before him lay the pretty
picture of "mamma's home."

"This," said Lillian, "is the Elms.  See those grand old trees, papa!
This is the window of Mamma's room, and this was our study."

He looked with wonder.  This, then, was Dora's home--the pretty, quaint
homestead standing in the midst of the green meadows.  As he gazed, he
half wondered what the Dora who for fifteen years had lived there could
be like.  Did the curling rings of black hair fall as gracefully as
ever?  Had the blushing dimpled face grown pale and still?  And then,
chasing away all softened thought, came the remembrance of that hateful
garden scene.  Ah, no, he could never forgive--he could not speak of
her even to these, her children!  The two pictures were laid aside, and
no more was said of framing them.

Lord Earle said to himself, after his daughters had retired, that both
were charming; but, though he hardly owned it to himself, if he had a
preference, it was for brilliant, beautiful Beatrice. He had never seen
any one to surpass her.  After Lady Helena had left him, he sat by the
fire dreaming, as his father long years ago had done before him.

It was not too late yet, he thought, to retrieve the fatal mistake of
his life.  He would begin at once.  He would first give all his
attention to his estate; it should be a model for all others.  He would
interest himself in social duties; people who lamented his foolish,
wasted youth should speak with warm admiration of his manhood; above
all matters he dreamed of great things for his daughters, especially
Beatrice.  With her beauty and grace, her magnificent voice, her frank,
fearless spirit, and piquant, charming wit, she would be a queen of
society; through his daughter his early error would be redeemed.
Beatrice was sure to marry well; she would bring fresh honors to the
grand old race ha had shamed.  When the annals of the family told, in
years to come, the story of his mistaken marriage, it would be amply
redeemed by the grand alliance Beatrice would be sure to contract.

His hopes rested upon her and centered in her.  As he sat watching the
glowing embers, there came to him the thought that what Beatrice was to
him he had once been to the father he was never more to see.  Ah!  If
his daughter should be like himself if she should ruin his hopes, throw
down the air castle he had built--should love unworthily, marry beneath
her, deceive and disappoint him!  But no, it should not be--he would
watch over her.  Lord Earle shuddered at the thought.

During breakfast on the morning following his return Lady Helena asked
what his plans were for the day--whether he intended driving the girls
over to Holte.

"No," said Lord Earle.  "I wish to have a long conversation with my
daughters.  We shall be engaged during the morning.  After luncheon we
will go to Holte."

Ronald, Lord Earle, had made up his mind.  In the place where his
father had warned him, and made the strongest impression upon him, he
would warn his children, and in the same way; so he took them to the
picture gallery, where he had last stood with his father.

With gentle firmness he said: "I have brought you here as I have
something to say to you which is best said here.  Years ago, children,
my father brought me, as I bring you, to warn and advise me--I warn and
advise you.  We are, though so closely related, almost strangers.  I am
ready to love you and do love you.  I intend to make your happiness my
chief study.  But there is one thing I must have--that is, perfect
openness, one thing I must forbid--that is, deceit of any kind, on any
subject.  If either of you have in your short lives a secret, tell it
to me now; if either of you love any one, even though it be one
unworthy, tell me now.  I will pardon any imprudence, any folly, any
want of caution--everything save deceit.  Trust me, and I will be
gentle as a tender woman; deceive me, and I will never forgive you."

Both fair faces had grown pale--Beatrice's from sudden and deadly fear;
Lillian's from strong emotion.

"The men of our race," said Lord Earle, "have erred at times, the women
never.  You belong to a long line of noble, pure, and high-bred woman;
there must be nothing in your lives less high, and less noble than in
theirs; but if there had been--if, from want of vigilance, of training,
and of caution there should be anything in this short past, tell it to
me now, and I will forget it."

Neither spoke to him one word, and a strange pathos came into his voice.

"I committed one act of deceit in my life," continued Lord Earle; "it
drove me from home, and it made me an exile during the best years of my
life.  It matters little what it was--you will never know; but it has
made me merciless to all deceit.  I will never spare it; it has made me
harsh and bitter.  You will both find in me the truest, the best of
friends; if in everything you are straightforward and honorable; but,
children, dearly as I love you, I will never pardon a lie or an act of
deceit."

"I never told a lie in my life," said Lillian, proudly.  "My mother
taught us to love the truth."

"And you, my Beatrice?" he asked, gently as he turned to the beautiful
face half averted from him.

"I can say with my sister," was the haughty reply, "I have never told a
lie."

Even as she spoke her lips grew pale with fear, as she remembered the
fatal secret of her engagement to Hugh Fernely.

"I believe it," replied Lord Earle.  "I can read truth in each face.
Now tell me--have no fear--have you any secret in that past life?
Remember, no matter what you may have done, I shall freely pardon it.
If you should be in any trouble or difficulty, as young people are at
times, I will help you.  I will do anything for you, if you will trust
me."

And again Lillian raised her sweet face to his.

"I have no secret," she said, simply. "I do not think I know a secret,
or anything like one.  My past life is an open book, papa, and you can
read every page in it."

"Thank Heaven!" said Lord Earle, as he placed his hand caressingly upon
the fair head.

It was strange, and he remembered the omission afterward, that he did
not repeat the question to Beatrice--he seemed to consider that
Lillian's answer included her.  He did not know her heart was beating
high with fear.

"I know," he continued, gently, "that some young girls have their
little love secrets.  You tell me you have none.  I believe you. I have
but one word more to say.  You will be out in the great world soon, and
you will doubtless both have plenty of admirers. Then will come the
time of trial and temptation; remember my words--there is no curse so
great as a clandestine love, no error so great or degrading.  One of
our race was so cursed, and his punishment was great.  No matter whom
you love and who loves you, let all be fair, honorable, and open as the
day.  Trust me, do not deceive me.  Let me in justice say I will never
oppose any reasonable marriage, but I will never pardon a clandestine
attachment.

"However dearly I might love the one who so transgressed," continued
Lord Earle, "even if it broke my heart to part from her, I should send
her from me at once; she should never more be a child of mine.  Do not
think me harsh or unkind; I have weighty reasons for every word I have
uttered.  I am half ashamed to speak of such things to you, but it must
be done.  You are smiling, Lillian, what is it?"

"I should laugh, papa," she replied, "if you did not look so very
grave.  We must see people in order to love them.  Beatrice, how many
do we know in the world?  Farmer Leigh, the doctor at Seabay, Doctor
Goode, who came to the Elms when mamma was ill, two farm laborers, and
the shepherd--that was the extent of our acquaintance until we came to
Earlescourt.  I may now add Sir Henry Holt and Prince Borgesi to my
list.  You forget, papa, we have lived out of the world."

Lord Earle remembered with pleasure that it was true.  "You will soon
be in the midst of a new world," he said, "and before you enter society
I thought it better to give you this warning.  I place no control over
your affections; the only thing I forbid, detest, and will never
pardon, is any underhand, clandestine love affair.  You know not what
they would cost."

He remembered afterward how strangely silent Beatrice was, and how her
beautiful, proud face was turned from him.

"It is a disagreeable subject," said Lord Earle, "and I am pleased to
have finished with it--it need never be renewed.  Now I have one more
thing to say--I shall never control or force your affections, but in my
heart there is one great wish."

Lord Earle paused for a few minutes; he was looking at the face of Lady
Alicia Earle, whom Beatrice strongly resembled.

"I have no son," he continued, "and you, my daughters, will not inherit
title or estate--both go to Lionel Dacre.  If ever the time should come
when Lionel asks either of you to be his wife, my dearest wish will be
accomplished.  And now, as my long lecture is finished, and the bell
has rung, we will prepare for a visit to Sir Harry and Lady Laurence."

There was not much time for thought during the rest of the day; but
when night came, and Beatrice was alone, she looked the secret of her
life in the face.

She had been strongly tempted, when Lord Earle had spoken so kindly, to
tell him all.  She now wished she had done so; all would have been
over.  He would perhaps have chided her simple, girlish folly, and have
forgiven her.  He would never forgive her now that she had deliberately
concealed the fact; the time for forgiveness was past.  A few words,
and all might have been told; it was too late now to utter them.  Proud
of her and fond of her as she saw Lord Earle was, there would be no
indulgence for her if her secret was discovered.

She would have to leave the magnificent and luxurious home, the
splendor that delighted her, the glorious prospects opening to her, and
return to the Elms, perhaps never to leave it again. Ah, no!  The
secret must be kept!  She did not feel much alarmed; many things might
happen.  Perhaps the "Seagull" might be lost she thought, without pain
or sorrow, of the possible death of the man who loved her as few love.

Even if he returned, he might have forgotten her or never find her.
She did not feel very unhappy or ill at ease--the chances, she thought,
were many in her favor.  She had but one thing to do to keep all
knowledge of her secret from Lord Earle.



Chapter XXIII

As time passed on all constraint between Lord Earle and his daughters
wore away; Ronald even wondered himself at the force of his own love
for them.  He had made many improvements since his return.  He did
wonders upon the estate; model cottages seemed to rise by magic in
place of the wretched tenements inhabited by poor tenants; schools,
almshouses, churches, all testified to his zeal for improvement.
People began to speak with warm admiration of the Earlescourt estate
and of their master.

Nor did he neglect social duties; old friends were invited to
Earlescourt; neighbors were hospitably entertained.  His name was
mentioned with respect and esteem; the tide of popularity turned in his
favor.  As the spring drew near, Lord Earle became anxious for his
daughters to make their debut in the great world.  They could have no
better chaperone than his own mother.  Lady Helena was speaking to him
one morning of their proposed journey, when Lord Earle suddenly
interrupted her.

"Mother," he said, "where are all your jewels?  I never see you wearing
any."

"I put them all away," said Lady Earle, "when your father died. I shall
never wear them again.  The Earle jewels are always worn by the wife of
the reigning lord, not by the widow of his predecessor.  Those jewels
are not mine."

"Shall we look them over?" asked Ronald.  "Some of them might be reset
for Beatrice and Lillian."

Lady Helena rang for her maid, and the heavy cases of jewelry were
brought down.  Beatrice was in raptures with them, and her sister
smiled at her admiration.

The jewels might have sufficed for a king's ransom; the diamonds were
of the first water; the rubies flashed crimson; delicate pearls gleamed
palely upon their velvet beds; there were emeralds of priceless value.
One of the most beautiful and costly jewels was an entire suite of
opals intermixed with small diamonds.

"These," said Lord Earle, raising the precious stones in his hands,
"are of immense value.  Some of the finest opals ever seen are in this
necklace; they were taken from the crown of an Indian price and
bequeathed to one of our ancestors.  So much is said about the unlucky
stone--the pierre du malheur, as the French call the opal--that I did
not care so much for them."

"Give me the opals, papa," said Beatrice, laughing; "I have no
superstitious fears about them.  Bright and beautiful jewels always
seemed to me one of the necessaries of life.  I prefer diamonds, but
these opals are magnificent."

She held out her hands, and for the first time Lord Earle saw the opal
ring upon her finger.  He caught the pretty white hand in his own.

"That is a beautiful ring," he said.  "These opals are splendid. Who
gave it to you, Beatrice?"

The question came upon her suddenly like a deadly shock; she had
forgotten all about the ring, and wore it only from habit.

For a moment her heart seemed to stand still and her senses to desert
her.  Then with a self-possession worthy of a better cause, Beatrice
looked up into her father's face with a smile.

"It was given to me at the Elms," she said, so simply that the same
thought crossed the minds of her three listeners--that it had been
given by Dora and her daughter did not like to say so.

Lord Earle looked on in proud delight while his beautiful daughters
chose the jewels they liked best.  The difference in taste struck and
amused him. Beatrice chose diamonds, fiery rubies, purple amethysts;
Lillian cared for nothing but the pretty pale pearls and bright
emeralds.

"Some of those settings are very old-fashioned," said Lord Earle. "We
will have new designs from Hunt and Boskell.  They must be reset before
you go to London."

The first thing Beatrice did was to take off the opal ring and lock it
away.  She trembled still from the shock of her father's question.  The
fatal secret vexed her.  How foolish she had been to risk so much for a
few stolen hours of happiness--for praise and flattery--she could not
say for love.

      *      *      *      *      *

The time so anxiously looked for came at last.  Lord Earle took
possession of his town mansion, and his daughters prepared for their
debut.  It was in every respect a successful one.  People were in
raptures with the beautiful sisters, both so charming yet so unlike.
Beatrice, brilliant and glowing, her magnificent face haunted those who
saw it like a beautiful dream--Lillian, fair and graceful, as unlike
her sister as a lily to a rose.

They soon became the fashion.  No ball or soiree, no dance or concert
was considered complete without them. Artists sketched them together as
"Lily and Rose," "Night and Morning," "Sunlight and Moonlight."  Poets
indited sonnets to them; friends and admirers thronged around them.  As
Beatrice said, with a deep-drawn sigh of perfect contentment, "This is
life"--and she reveled in it.

That same year the Earl of Airlie attained his majority, and became the
center of all fashionable interest.  Whether he would marry and whom he
would be likely to marry were two questions that interested every
mother and daughter in Belgravia.  There had not been such an eligible
parti for many years.  The savings of a long minority alone amounted to
a splendid fortune.

The young earl had vast estates in Scotland.  Lynnton Hall and Craig
Castle, two of the finest seats in England, were his.  His mansion in
Belgravia was the envy of all who saw it.

Young, almost fabulously wealthy, singularly generous and amiable, the
young Earl of Airlie was the center of at least half a hundred of
matrimonial plots; but he was not easily managed. Mammas with blooming
daughters found him a difficult subject.  He laughed, talked, danced,
walked, and rode, as society wished him to do; but no one had touched
his heart, or even his fancy.  Lord Airlie was heart-whole, and there
seemed no prospect of his ever being anything else.  Lady Constance
Tachbrook, the prettiest, daintiest coquette in London, brought all her
artillery of fascination into play, but without success.  The beautiful
brunette, Flora Cranbourne, had laid a wager that, in the course of two
waltzes, she would extract three compliments from him, but she failed
in the attempt.  Lord Airlie was pronounced incorrigible.

The fact was that his lordship had been sensibly brought up.  He
intended to marry when he could find some one to love him for himself,
and not for his fortune.  This ideal of all that was beautiful, noble,
and true in woman the earl was always searching for, but as yet had not
found.

On all sides he had heard of the beauty of Lord Earle's daughters, but
it did not interest him.  He had been hearing of, seeing, and feeling
disappointed in beautiful women for some years.  Many people made the
point of meeting the "new beauties," but he gave himself no particular
trouble.  They were like every one else, he supposed.

One morning, having nothing else to do, Lord Airlie went to a fete
given in the beautiful grounds of Lady Downham.  He went early,
intending to remain only a short time.  He found but a few guests had
arrived.  After paying the proper amount of homage to Lady Downham, the
young earl wandered off into the grounds.

It was all very pretty and pleasant, but he had seen the same before,
and was rather tired of it.  The day was more Italian than English,
bright and sunny, the sky blue, the air clear and filled with
fragrance, the birds singing as they do sing under bright, warm skies.

Flags were flying from numerous tents, bands of music were stationed in
different parts of the grounds, the fountains played merrily in the
sunlit air.  Lord Airlie walked mechanically on, bowing in reply to the
salutations he received.

A pretty little bower, a perfect thicket of roses, caught his
attention.  From it one could see all over the lake, with its gay
pleasure boats.  Lord Airlie sat down, believing himself to be quite
alone; but before he had removed a large bough that interfered with the
full perfection of the view he heard voices on the other side of the
thick, sheltering rose bower.

He listened involuntarily, for one of the voices was clear and pure,
the other more richly musical than any he had ever heard at times sweet
as the murmur of the cushat dove, and again ringing joyously and
brightly.

"I hope we shall not have to wait here long, Lillian," the blithe voice
was saying.  "Lady Helena promised to take us on the lake."

"It is very pleasant," was the reply; "but you always like to be in the
very center of gayety."

"Yes," said Beatrice; "I have had enough solitude and quiet to last me
for life.  Ah, Lillian, this is all delightful.  You think so, but do
not admit it honestly as I do."

There was a faint, musical laugh, and then the sweet voice resumed:

"I am charmed, Lillian, with this London life; this is worth calling
life--every moment is a golden one.  If there is a drawback, it
consists in not being able to speak one's mind."

"What do you mean?" asked Lillian.

"Do you not understand?" was the reply.  "Lady Helena is always talking
to me about cultivating what she calls 'elegant repose.' Poor, dear
grandmamma!  Her perfect idea of good manners seems to me to be a
simple absence--in society, at least--of all emotion and all feeling.
I, for one, do not admire the nil admirari system."

"I am sure Lady Helena admires you, Bee," said her sister.

"Yes," was the careless reply.  "Only imagine, Lillian, yesterday, when
Lady Cairn told me some story about a favorite young friend of hers the
tears came to my eyes.  I could not help it, although the drawing room
was full.  Lady Helena told me I should repress all outward emotion.
Soon after, when Lord Dolchester told me a ridiculous story about Lady
Everton, I laughed--heartily, I must confess, though not loudly--and
she looked at me.  I shall never accomplish 'elegant repose.'"

"You would not be half so charming if you did," replied her sister.

"Then it is so tempting to say at times what one really thinks! I can
not resist it.  When Lady Everton tells me, with that tiresome simper
of hers, that she really wonders at herself, I long to tell her other
people do the same thing.  I should enjoy, for once, the luxury of
telling Mrs. St. John that people flatter her, and then laugh at her
affectation.  It is a luxury to speak the truth at all times, is it
not, Lily?  I detest everything false, even a false word; therefore I
fear Lady Helena will never quite approve of my manner."

"You are so frank and fearless!  At the Elms, do you remember how every
one seemed to feel that you would say just the right thing at the right
time?" asked Lillian.

"Do not mention that place," replied Beatrice; "this life is so
different.  I like it so much, Lily--all the brightness and gayety.  I
feel good and contented now.  I was always restless and longing for
life; now I have all I wish for."

There was a pause then, and Lord Airlie longed to see who the speakers
were--who the girl was that spoke such frank, bright words--that loved
truth, and hated all things false--what kind of face accompanied that
voice.  Suddenly the young earl remembered that he was listening, and
he started in horror from his seat.  He pushed aside the clustering
roses.  At first he saw nothing but the golden blossoms of a drooping
laburnum; then, a little further on, he saw a fair head bending over
some fragrant flowers; then a face so beautiful, so perfect, that
something like a cry of surprise came from Lord Airlie's lips.

He had seen many beauties, but nothing like this queenly young girl.
Her dark, bright eyes were full of fire and light; the long lashes
swept her cheek, the proud, beautiful lips, so haughty in repose, so
sweet when smiling, were perfect in shape. From the noble brow a waving
mass of dark hair rippled over a white neck and shapely shoulders.  It
was a face to think and dream of, peerless in its vivid, exquisite
coloring and charmingly molded features.  He hardly noticed the
fair-haired girl.

"Who can she be?" thought Lord Airlie.  "I believed that I had seen
every beautiful woman in London."

Satisfied with having seen what kind of face accompanied the voice, the
young earl left the pretty rose thicket.  His friends must have thought
him slightly deranged.  He went about asking every one, "Who is here
today?"  Among others, he saluted Lord Dolchester with that question.

"I can scarcely tell you," replied his lordship.  "I am somewhat in a
puzzle.  If you want to know who is the queen of the fete, I can tell
you.  It is Lord Earle's daughter, Miss Beatrice Earle. She is over
there, see with Lady Downham."

Looking in the direction indicated, Lord Airlee saw the face that
haunted him.

"Yes," said Lord Dolchester, with a gay laugh; "and if I were young and
unfettered, she would not be Miss Earle much longer."



Chapter XXIV

Lord Airlie gazed long and earnestly at the beautiful girl who looked
so utterly unconscious of the admiration she excited.

"I must ask Lady Downham to introduce me," he said to himself,
wondering whether the proud face would smile upon him, and, if she
carried into practice her favorite theory of saying what she thought,
what she would say to him.

Lady Downham smiled when the young earl made his request.

"I have been besieged by gentlemen requesting introductions to Miss
Earle," she said.  "Contrary to your general rule, Lord Airlie, you go
with the crowd."

He would have gone anywhere for one word from those perfect lips. Lady
Downham led him to the spot where Beatrice stood, and in a few
courteous words introduced him to her.

Lord Airlie was celebrated for his amiable, pleasing manner.  He always
knew what to say and how to say it, but when those magnificent eyes
looked into his own, the young earl stood silent and abashed.  In vain
he tried confusedly to utter a few words; his face flushed, and
Beatrice looked at him in wonder.--Could this man gazing so ardently at
her be the impenetrable Lord Airlie?

He managed at length to say something about the beauty of the grounds
and the brightness of the day.  Plainly as eyes could speak, hers
asked: Had he nothing to say?

He lingered by her side, charmed and fascinated by her grace; she
talked to Lillian and to Lady Helena; she received the homage offered
to her so unconscious of his presence and his regard that Lord Airlie
was piqued.  He was not accustomed to being overlooked.

"Do you never grow tired of flowers and fetes, Miss Earle?" he asked at
length.

"No," replied Beatrice, "I could never grow tired of flowers--who
could?  As for fetes, I have seen few, and have liked each one better
than the last."

"Perhaps your life has not been, like mine, spent among them," he said.

"I have lived among flowers," she replied, "but not among fetes; they
have all the charm of novelty for me."

"I should like to enjoy them as you do," he said. "I wish you would
teach me, Miss Earle."

She laughed gayly, and the sound of that laugh, like a sweet, silvery
chime, charmed Lord Airlie still more.

He found out the prettiest pleasure boat, and persuaded Beatrice to let
him row her across the lake.  He gathered a beautiful water lily for
her.  When they landed, he found out a seat in the prettiest spot and
placed her there.

Her simple, gay manner delighted him.  He had never met any one like
her.  She did not blush, or look conscious, or receive his attentions
with the half-fluttered sentimental air common to most young ladies of
his acquaintance.

She never appeared to remember that he was Lord Airlie, nor sought by
any artifice to keep him near her.  The bright, sunny hours seemed to
pass rapidly as a dream.  Long before the day ended, the young earl
said to himself that he had met his fate; that if it took years to win
her he would count them well spent that in all the wide world she was
the wife for him.

Lord Earle was somewhat amused by the solicitude the young nobleman
showed in making his acquaintance and consulting his tastes.  After
Lady Downham's fete he called regularly at the house.  Lady Helena
liked him, but could hardly decide which of her grandchildren it was
that attracted him.

The fastidious young earl, who had smiled at the idea of love and had
disappointed half the fashionable mothers in Belgravia, found himself a
victim at last.

He was diffident of his own powers, hardly daring to hope that he
should succeed in winning the most beautiful and gifted girl in London.
He was timid in her presence, and took refuge with Lillian.

All fashionable London was taken by surprise when Lord Airlie threw
open his magnificent house, and, under the gracious auspices of his
aunt, Lady Lecomte, issued invitations for a grand ball.

Many were the conjectures, and great was the excitement.  Lord Earle
smiled as he showed Lady Helena the cards of invitation.

"Of course you will go," he said.  "We have no engagement for that day.
See that the girls look their best, mother."

He felt very proud of his daughters--Lillian, looking so fair and sweet
in her white silk dress and favorite pearls!  Beatrice, like a queen,
in a cloud of white lace, with coquettish dashes of crimson.  The Earle
diamonds shone in her dark hair, clasped the fair white throat, and
encircled the beautiful arms.  A magnificent pomegranate blossom lay in
the bodice of her dress, and she carried a bouquet of white lilies
mixed with scarlet verbena.

The excitement as to the ball had been great.  It seemed like a step in
the right direction at last.  The great question was, with whom would
Lord Airlie open the ball?  Every girl was on the qui vive.

The question was soon decided.  When Beatrice Earle entered the room,
Lord Airlie went straight to meet her and solicited her hand for the
first dance.  She did not know how much was meant by that one action.

He wondered, as he looked upon her, the queen of the most brilliant
ball of the season, whether she would ever love him if it was within
the bounds of possibility that she should ever care for him.  That
evening, for the first time, he touched the proud heart of Beatrice
Earle.  On all sides she had heard nothing but praises of Lord Airlie
his wealth, his talents, his handsome person and chivalrous manner.
The ladies were eloquent in praise of their young host.  She looked at
him, and for the first time remarked the noble, dignified carriage, the
tall, erect figure, the clear-cut patrician face--not handsome
according to the rules of beauty, but from the truth and honor written
there in nature's plainest hand.

Then she saw--and it struck her with surprise  how Lord Airlie, so
courted and run after, sought her out.  She saw smiles on friendly
faces, and heard her name mingled with his.

"My dear Miss Earle," said Lady Everton, "you have accomplished
wonders--conquered the unconquerable.  I believe every eligible young
lady in London has smiled upon Lord Airlie, and all in vain.  What
charm have you used to bring him to your feet?"

"I did not know that he was at my feet," replied Beatrice.  "You like
figurative language, Lady Everton."

"You will find I am right," returned lady Everton.  "Remember I was the
first to congratulate you."

Beatrice wondered, in a sweet, vague way, if there could be anything in
it.  She looked again at Lord Airlie.  Surely any one might be proud of
the love of such a man.  He caught her glance, and her face flushed.
In a moment he was by her side.

"Miss Earle," he said, eagerly, "you told me the other day you liked
flowers.  If you have not been in the conservatory, may I escort you
there?"

She silently accepted his arm, and they went through the magnificent
suite of rooms into the cool, fragrant conservatory.

The pretty fountain in the midst rippled musically, and the lamps
gleamed like pale stars among masses of gorgeous color.

Beatrice was almost bewildered by the profusion of beautiful plants.
Tier upon tier of superb flowers rose until the eye was dazzled by the
varied hues and brightness--delicate white heaths of rare perfection,
flaming azaleas, fuchsias that looked like showers of purple-red wine.
The plant that charmed Beatrice most was one from far-off Indian
climes--delicate, perfumed blossoms, hanging like golden bells from
thick, sheltering green leaves. Miss Earle stood before it, silent in
sheer admiration.

"You like that flower?" said Lord Airlie.

"It is one of the prettiest I ever saw," she replied.

In a moment he gathered the fairest sprays from the precious tree.  She
cried out in dismay at the destruction.

"Nay," said Lord Airlie, "if every flower here could be compressed into
one blossom, it would hardly be a fitting offering to you."

She smiled at the very French compliment, and he continued--"I shall
always have a great affection for that tree."

"Why?" she asked, unconsciously.

"Because it has pleased you," he replied.

They stood by the pretty plant, Beatrice touching the golden bells
softly with her fingers.  Something of the magic of the scene touched
her.  She did not know why the fountain rippled so musically, why the
flowers seemed doubly fair as her young lover talked to her.  She had
been loved.  She had heard much of love, but she herself had never
known what it really meant.  She did not know why, after a time, her
proud, bright eyes drooped, and had never met Lord Airlie's gaze, why
her face flushed and grew pale, why his words woke a new, strange,
beautiful music in her heart--music that never died until--

"I ask for one spray--only one--to keep in memory of this pleasant
hour," said Lord Airlie, after a pause.

She gave him a spray of the delicate golden bells.

"I should like to be curious and rude," he said, "and ask if you ever
gave any one a flower before?"

"No," she replied.

"Then I shall prize this doubly," he assured her.

That evening Lord Airlie placed the golden blossom carefully away.  The
time came when he would have parted with any treasure on earth rather
than that.

But his question had suddenly disturbed Beatrice.  For a moment her
thoughts flew to the sea shore at Knutsford.  The present faded from
her; she saw Hugh Fernely's face as it looked when he offered her the
beautiful lily.  The very remembrance of it made her shudder as though
seized with deathly cold--and Lord Airlie saw it.

"You are cold," he said; "how careless I am to keep you standing here!"
He helped her to draw the costly lace shawl around her shoulders, and
Beatrice was quickly herself again, and they returned to the ball room;
but Lord Airlie lingered by Miss Earle.

"You have enjoyed the ball, Beatrice," said Lord Earle, as he bade his
daughters good night.

"I have, indeed, papa," she replied.  "This has been the happiest
evening of my life."

"I can guess why," thought Lord Earle, as he kissed the bright face
upraised to him; "there will be no wretched underhand love business
there."

He was not much surprised on the day following when Lord Airlie was the
first morning caller, and the last to leave, not going until Lady
Helena told him that they should all be at the opera that evening and
should perhaps see him there.  He regretted that he had promised Lady
Morton his box for the night, when Lady Earle felt herself bound to ask
him to join them in theirs.

All night Beatrice had dreamed of the true, noble face which began to
haunt her.  She, usually so regardless of all flattery, remembered
every word Lord Airlie had spoken.  Could it be true, as Lady Everton
had said, that he cared for her?

Her lover would have been spared many anxious hours could he have seen
how the golden blossoms were tended and cared for.  Long afterward they
were found with the little treasures which young girls guard so
carefully.

When Lord Airlie had taken his departure and Lord Earle found himself
alone with his mother, he turned to her with the happiest look she had
ever seen upon his face.

"That seems to me a settled affair," he said.  "Beatrice will make a
grand countess--Lady Airlie of Lynnton.  He is the finest young fellow
and the best match in England.  Ah, mother, my folly might have been
punished more severely.  There will no mesalliance there."

"No," said Lady Earle, "I have no fears for Beatrice; she is too proud
ever to do wrong."



Chapter XXV

It was a pretty love story, although told in crowded London ball rooms
instead of under the shade of green trees.  Beatrice Earle began by
wondering if Lord Airlie cared for her; she ended by loving him herself.

It was no child's play this time.  With Beatrice, to love once was to
love forever, with fervor and intensity which cold and worldly natures
can not even understand.

The time came when Lord Airlie stood out distinct from all the world,
when the sound of his name was like music, when she saw no other face,
heard no other voice, thought of nothing else save him.  He began to
think there might be some hope for him; the proud, beautiful face
softened and brightened for him as it did for no other, and the
glorious dark eyes never met his own, the frank, bright words died away
in his presence.  Seeing all these things, Lord Airlie felt some little
hope.

For the first time he felt proud and pleased with the noble fortune and
high rank that were his by birthright.  He had not cared much for them
before; now he rejoiced that he could lavish wealth and luxury upon one
so fair and worthy as Beatrice Earle.

Lord Airlie was not a confident lover.  There were times when he felt
uncertain as to whether he should succeed.  Perhaps true and
reverential love is always timid.  Lord Earle had smiled to himself
many long weeks at the "pretty play" enacted before him, and Lady
Helena had wondered when the young man would "speak out" long before
Lord Airlie himself presumed to think that the fairest and proudest
girl in London would accept him.

No day ever passed during which he did not manage to see her.  He was
indefatigable in finding out the balls, soirees, and operas she would
attend.  He was her constant shadow, never happy out of her sight,
thinking of her all day, dreaming of her all night, yet half afraid to
risk all and ask her to be his wife, lest he should lose her.

To uninterested speculators Lord Airlie was a handsome, kindly,
honorable young man.  Intellectual, somewhat fastidious, lavishly
generous, a great patron of fine arts; to Beatrice Earle he was the
ideal of all that was noble and to be admired.  He was a prince among
men.  The proud heart was conquered.  She loved him and said to herself
that she would rather love him as a neglected wife than be the
worshiped wife of any other man.

She had many admirers; "the beautiful Miss Earle" was the belle of the
season.  Had she been inclined to coquetry or flirtation she would not
have been so eagerly sought after.  The gentlemen were quite as much
charmed by her utter indifference and haughty acceptance of their
homage as by her marvelous beauty.

At times Beatrice felt sure that Lord Airlie loved her; then a sudden
fit of timidity would seize her young lover, and again she would doubt
it.  One thing she never doubted--her own love for him.  If her dreams
were all false, and he never asked her to be his wife, she said to
herself that she would never be the wife of any other man.

The remembrance of Hugh Fernely crossed her mind at times--not very
often, and never with any great fear or apprehension.  It seemed to her
more like a dark, disagreeable dream than a reality.  Could it be
possible that she, Beatrice Earle, the daughter of that proud, noble
father, so sternly truthful, so honorable, could ever have been so mad
or so foolish?  The very remembrance of it made the beautiful face
flush crimson.  She could not endure the thought, and always drove it
hastily from her.

The fifteenth of July was drawing near; the two years had nearly
passed, yet she was not afraid.  He might never return, he might forget
her, although, remembering his looks and words, that, she feared, could
not be.

If he went to Seabay--if he went to the Elms, it was not probable that
he would ever discover her whereabouts, or follow her to claim the
fulfillment of her absurd promise.  At the very worst, if he discovered
that she was Lord Earle's daughter, she believed that her rank and
position would dazzle and frighten him.  Rarely as those thoughts came
to her, and speedily as she thrust them from her, she considered them a
dear price for the little novelty and excitement that had broken the
dead level calm of life at the Elms.

Lord Airlie, debating within himself whether he should risk, during the
whirl and turmoil of the London season, the question upon which the
happiness of his life depended, decided that he would wait until Lord
Earle returned to Earlescourt, and follow him there.

The summer began to grow warm; the hawthorn and apple blossoms had all
died away; the corn waved in the fields, ripe and golden; the hay was
all gathered in; the orchards were all filled with fruit.  The
fifteenth of July--the day that in her heart Beatrice Earle had half
feared--was past and gone.  She had been nervous and half frightened
when it came, starting and turning deathly pale at the sound of the
bell or of rapid footsteps.  She laughed at herself when the day ended.
How was it likely he would find her?  What was there in common between
the beautiful daughter of Lord Earle and Hugh Fernely, the captain of a
trading vessel?  Nothing, save folly and a foolish promise rashly asked
and rashly given.

Three days before Lord Earle left London, he went by appointment to
meet some friends at Brookes's.  While there, a gentleman entered the
room who attracted his attention, most forcibly--a young man of tall
and stately figure, with a noble head, magnificently set upon broad
shoulders; a fine, manly face, with proud, mobile features--at times
all fire and light, the eyes clear and glowing, again, gentle as the
face of a smiling woman. Lord Earle looked at him attentively; there
seemed to be something familiar in the outline of the head and face,
the haughty yet graceful carriage.

"Who is that?" he inquired of his friend, Captain Langdon. "I have seen
that gentleman before, or have dreamed of him."

"Is it possible that you do not know him?" cried the captain. "That is
Lionel Dacre, 'your next of kin,' if I am not mistaken."

Pleasure and pain struggled in Lord Earle's heart.  He remembered
Lionel many years ago, long before he committed the foolish act that
had cost him so much.  Lionel had spent some time with him at
Earlescourt; he remembered a handsome and high-spirited boy, proud and
impetuous, brave to rashness, generous to a fault; a fierce hater of
everything mean and underhand; truthful and honorable--his greatest
failing, want of cool, calm thought.

Lionel Dacre was poor in those days; now he was heir to Earlescourt,
heir to the title that, with all his strange political notions, Ronald
Earle ever held in high honor; heir to the grand old mansion and fair
domain his father had prized so highly.  Pleasure and pain were
strangely intermingled in his heart when he remembered that no son of
his would every succeed him, that he should never train his successor.
The handsome boy that had grown into so fine a man must take his place
one day.

Lord Earle crossed the room, and going up to the young man, laid one
hand gently upon his shoulder.

"Lionel," he said, "it is many years since we met.  Have you no
remembrance of me?"

The frank, clear eyes looked straight into his.  Lord Earle's heart
warmed as he gazed at the honest, handsome face.

"Not the least in the world," replied Mr. Dacre, slowly.  "I do not
remember ever to have seen you before."

"Then I must have changed," said Lord Earle.  "When I saw you last,
Lionel, you were not much more than twelve years old, and I gave you a
'tip' the day you went back to Eton.  Charlie Villiers was with you."

"Then you are Lord Earle," returned Lionel. "I came to London purposely
to see you," and his frank face flushed, and he held out his hand in
greeting.

"I have been anxious to see you," said Lord Earle; "but I have not been
long in England.  We must be better acquainted; you are my heir at law."

"Your what?" said Mr. Dacre, wonderingly.

"My heir," replied Lord Earle.  "I have no son; my estates are
entailed, and you are my next of kin."

"I thought you had half a dozen heirs and heiresses," said Lionel.  "I
remember some story of a romantic marriage.  Today I hear of nothing
but the beautiful Miss Earle."

"I have no son," interrupted Lord Earle, sadly. "I wrote to you last
week, asking you to visit me.  Have you any settled home?"

"No," replied the young man gayly.  "My mother is at Cowes, and I have
been staying with her."

"Where are you now?" asked Lord Earle.

"I am with Captain Poyntz, at his chambers; I promised to spend some
days with him," replied Lionel, who began to look slightly bewildered.

"I must not ask you to break an engagement," said Lord Earle, "but will
you dine with us this evening, and, when you leave Captain Poyntz, come
to us?"

"I shall be very pleased," said Lionel, and the two gentlemen left
Brookes's together.

"I must introduce you to Lady Earle and my daughters," said Ronald, as
they walked along.  "I have been so long absent from home and friends
that it seems strange to claim relationship with any one."

"I could never understand your fancy for broiling in Africa, when you
might have been happier at home," said Lionel.

"Did you not know?  Have you not heard why I went abroad?" asked Lord
Earle, gravely.

"No," replied Lionel.  "Your father never invited me to Earlescourt
after you left."

In a few words Lord Earle told his heir that he had married against his
father's wish, and in consequence had never been pardoned.

"And you gave up everything," said Lionel Dacre--"home, friends, and
position, for the love of a woman.  She must have been well worth
loving."

Lord Earle grew pale, as with sudden pain.  Had Dora been so well worth
loving?  Had she been worth the heavy price?

"You are my heir," he said gravely--"one of my own race; before you
enter our circle, Lionel, and take your place there, I must tell you
that my wife and I parted years ago, never to meet again.  Do not
mention her to me--it pains me."

Lionel looked at the sad face; he could understand the shadows there
now.

"I will not," he said.  "She must have been--"

"Not one word more," interrupted Lord Earle.  "In your thoughts lay no
unjust blame on her. She left me of her own free will. My mother lives
with me; she will be pleased to see you. Remember--seven sharp."

"I shall not forget," said Lionel, pained at the sad words and the sad
voice.

As Lord Earle went home for the first time during the long years, a
softer and more gentle thought of Dora came to him.  "She must have
been--"  What--what did Lionel suspect of her?  Could it be that,
seeing their divided lives, people judged as his young kinsman had
judged--that they thought Dora to blame--criminal, perhaps?  And she
had never in her whole life given one thought to any other than
himself; nay, her very errors--the deed he could not pardon--sprung
from her great affection for him.  Poor Dora!  The pretty, blushing
face, with its sweet, shy eyes, and rosy lips, came before him--the
artless, girlish love, the tender worship.  If it had been anything
else, any other fault, Ronald must have forgiven her in that hour.  But
his whole heart recoiled again as the hated scene rose before him.

"No," he said, "I can not forgive it.  I can not forget it.  Men shall
respect Dora; no one must misjudge her; but I can not take her to my
heart or my home again.  In the hour of death," he murmured, "I will
forgive her."



Chapter XXVI

Lady Earle thought her son looked graver and sadder that day than she
had ever seen him.  She had not the clew to his reflections; she did
not know how he was haunted by the thought of the handsome, gallant
young man who must be his heir--how he regretted that no son of his
would ever succeed him--how proud he would have been of a son like
Lionel.  He had but two children, and they must some day leave
Earlescourt for homes of their own.  The grand old house, the fair
domain, must all pass into the hands of strangers unless Lionel married
one of the beautiful girls he loved so dearly.

Lady Helena understood a little of what was passing in his mind when he
told her that he had met Lionel Dacre, who was coming to dine with him
that day.

"I used to hope Beatrice might like him," said Lady Earle; "but that
will never be--Lord Airlie has been too quick.  I hope he will not fall
in love with her; it would only end in disappointment."

"He may like Lillian," said Lord Earle.

"Yes," assented Lady Helena.  "Sweet Lily--she seems almost too pure
and fair for this dull earth of ours."

"If they both marry, mother," said Ronald, sadly, "we shall be quite
alone."

"Yes," she returned, "quite alone," and the words smote her with pain.
She looked at the handsome face, with its sad, worn expression.  Was
life indeed all over for her son--at the age, too, when other men
sunned themselves in happiness, when a loving wife should have graced
his home, cheered and consoled him, shared his sorrows, crowned his
life with love?  In the midst of his wealth and prosperity, how lonely
he was!  Could it be possible that one act of disobedience should have
entailed such sad consequences?  Ah, if years ago Ronald had listened
to reason, to wise and tender counsel--if he had but given up Dora and
married Valentine Charteris, how different his life would have been,
how replete with blessings and happiness, how free from care!

Lady Earle's eyes grew dim with tears as these thoughts passed through
her mind.  She went up to him and laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"Ronald," she said, "I will do my best to make home happy after our
bonny birds are caged.  For your sake, I wish things had been
different."

"Hush, mother," he replied gently.  "Words are all useless.  I must
reap as I have sown; the fruits of disobedience and deceit could never
beget happiness.  I shall always believe that evil deeds bring their
own punishment.  Do not pity me--it unnerves me.  I can bear my fate."

Lady Helena was pleased to see Lionel again.  She had always liked him,
and rejoiced now in his glorious manhood.  He stood before the two
sisters, half dazzled by their beauty.  The fair faces smiled upon him;
pretty, white hands were outstretched to meet his own.

"I am bewildered by my good fortune," he said. "I shall be the envy of
every man in London; people will no longer call me Lionel Dacre.  I
shall be known as the cousin of 'Les Demoiselles Earle.'  I have
neither brother nor sister of my own.  Fancy the happiness of falling
into the midst of such a family group."

"And being made welcome there!" interrupted Beatrice.  Lionel bowed
profoundly.  At first he fancied he preferred this brilliant, beautiful
girl to her fair, gentle sister.  Her frank, fearless talk delighted
him.  After the general run of young ladies--all fashioned, he thought,
after one model--it was refreshing to meet her.  Her ideas were so
original.

Lord Airlie joined the little dinner party, and then Lionel Dacre read
the secret which Beatrice hardly owned even to herself.

"I shall not be shipwrecked on that rock," he said to himself. "When
Beatrice Earle speaks to me her eyes meet mine; she smiles, and does
not seem afraid of me; but when Lord Airlie speaks she turns from him,
and her beautiful eyes droop.  She evidently cares more for him than
for all the world besides."

But after a time the fair, spirituelle loveliness of Lillian stole into
his heart.  There was a marked difference between the two sisters.
Beatrice took one by storm, so to speak; her magnificent beauty and
queenly grace dazzled and charmed one. With Lillian it was different.
Eclipsed at first sight by her more brilliant sister, her fair beauty
grew upon one by degrees. The sweet face, the thoughtful brow, the deep
dreamy eyes, the golden ripples of hair, the ethereal expression on the
calm features, seemed gradually to reveal their charm. Many who at
first overlooked Lillian, thinking only of her brilliant sister, ended
by believing her to be the more beautiful of the two.

They stood together that evening, the two sisters, in the presence of
Lord Airlie and Lionel Dacre.  Beatrice had been singing, and the air
seemed still to vibrate with the music of her passionate voice.

"You sing like a siren," said Mr. Dacre; he felt no diffidence in
offering so old a compliment to his kins-woman.

"No," replied Beatrice; "I may sing well--in fact, I believe I do.  My
heart is full of music, and it overflows on my lips; but I am no siren,
Mr. Dacre.  No one ever heard of a siren with dusky hair and dark brows
like mine."

"I should have said you sing like an enchantress," interposed Lord
Airlie, hoping that he was apter in his compliments.

"You have been equally wrong, my lord," she replied, but she did not
laugh at him as she had done at Lionel.  "If I were an enchantress,"
she continued, "I should just wave my wand, and that vase of flowers
would come to me; as it is, I must go to it. Who can have arranged
those flowers?  They have been troubling me for the last half hour."
She crossed the room, and took from a small side table an exquisite
vase filled with blossoms.

"See," she cried, turning to Lionel, "white heath, white roses, white
lilies, intermixed with these pale gray flowers!  There is no contrast
in such an arrangement.  Watch the difference which a glowing
pomegranate blossom or a scarlet verbena will make."

"You do not like such quiet harmony?" said Lionel, smiling, thinking
how characteristic the little incident was.

"No," she replied; "give me striking contrasts.  For many years the web
of my life was gray-colored, and I longed for a dash of scarlet in its
threads."

"You have it now," said Mr. Dacre, quietly.

"Yes," she said, as she turned her beautiful, bright fact to him; "I
have it now, never to lose it again."

Lord Airlie, looking on and listening, drinking in every word that fell
from her lips, wondered whether love was the scarlet thread interwoven
with her life.  He sighed deeply as he said to himself that it would
not be; this brilliant girl could never care for him.  Beatrice heard
the sigh and turned to him.

"Does your taste resemble mine, Lord Airlie?"

"I," interrupted Lord Airlie--"I like whatever you like, Miss Earle."

"Yourself best of all," whispered Lionel to Beatrice with a smile.

      *      *      *      *      *

As Mr. Dacre walked home that evening, he thought long and anxiously
about the two young girls, his kins-women.  What was the mystery? he
asked himself--what skeleton was locked away in the gay mansion?  Where
was Lord Earle's wife--the lady who ought to have been at the head of
his table--the mother of his children?  Where was she?  Why was her
place empty?  Why was her husband's face shadowed and lined with care?

"Lillian Earle is the fairest and sweetest girl I have ever met," he
said to himself.  "I know there is danger for me in those sweet, true
eyes, but if there be anything wrong--if the mother is blameworthy--I
will fly from the danger.  I believe in hereditary virtue and in
hereditary vice.  Before I fall in love with Lillian, I must know her
mother's story."

So he said, and he meant it.  There was no means of arriving at the
knowledge.  The girls spoke at times of their mother, and it was always
with deep love and respect.  Lady Helena mentioned her, but her name
never passed the lips of Lord Earle.  Lionel Dacre saw no way of
obtaining information in the matter.

There was no concealment as to Dora's abode.  Once, by special
privilege, he was invited into the pretty room where the ladies sat in
the morning--a cozy, cheerful room, into which visitors never
penetrated.  There, upon the wall, he saw a picture framed a beautiful
landscape, a quiet homestead in the midst of rich, green meadows; and
Lillian told him, with a smile, that was the Elms, at Knutsford, "where
mamma lived."

Lionel was too true a gentleman to ask why she lived there; he praised
the painting, and then turned the subject.

As Lady Earle foresaw, the time had arrived when Dora's children partly
understood there was a division in the family, a breach never to be
healed.  "Mamma was quite different from papa," they said to each
other; and Lady Helena told them their mother did not like fashion and
gayety, that she had been simply brought up, used always to quietness
and solitude, so that in all probability she would never come to
Earlescourt.

But as time went on, and Beatrice began to understand more of the great
world, she had an instinctive idea of the truth.  It came to her by
slow degrees.  Her father had married beneath him, and her mother had
no home in the stately hall of Earlescourt.  At first violent
indignation seized her; then calmer reflection told her she could not
judge correctly.  She did not know whether Lord Earle had left his
wife, or whether her mother had refused to live with him.

It was the first cloud that shadowed the life of Lord Earle's beautiful
daughter.  The discovery did not diminish her love for the quiet, sad
mother, whose youth and beauty had faded so soon. If possible, she
loved her more; there was a pitying tenderness in her affection.

"Poor mamma!" thought the young girl--"poor, gentle mamma!  I must be
doubly kind to her, and love her better than ever."

Dora did not understand how it happened that her beautiful Beatrice
wrote so constantly and so fondly to her--how it happened that week
after week costly presents found their way to the Elms.

"The child must spend all her pocket money on me," she said to herself.
"How well and dearly she loves me--my beautiful Beatrice!"

Lady Helena remembered the depth of her mother's love.  She pitied the
lonely, unloved wife, deprived of husband and children.  She did all in
her power to console her.  She wrote long letters, telling Dora how
greatly her children were admired, and how she would like their mother
to witness their triumph. She told how many conquests Beatrice had
made; how the proud and exclusive Lord Airlie was always near her, and
that Beatrice, of her own fancy, liked him better than any one else.

"Neither Lord Earle nor myself could wish a more brilliant future for
Beatrice," wrote Lady Helena.  "As Lady Airlie of Lynnton, she will be
placed as her birth and beauty deserve."

But even Lady Helena was startled when she read Dora's reply.  It was a
wild prayer that her child should be saved--spared the deadly perils of
love and marriage--left to enjoy her innocent youth.

"There is no happy love," wrote poor Dora, "and never can be. Men can
not be patient, gentle, and true.  It is ever self they
worship--self-reflected in the woman they love.  Oh, Lady Helena, let
my child be spared!  Let no so-called love come near her!  Love found
me out in my humble home, and wrecked all my life.  Do not let my
bright, beautiful Beatrice suffer as I have done.  I would rather fold
my darlings in my arms and lie down with them to die than live to see
them pass through the cruel mockery of love and sorrow which I have
endured.  Lady Helena, do not laugh; your letter distressed me.  I
dreamed last night, after reading it, that I placed a wedding veil on
my darling's head, when, as it fell round her, it changed suddenly into
a shroud.  A mother's love is true, and mine tells me that Beatrice is
in danger."



Chapter XXVII

"I have been abroad long enough," said Lord Earle, in reply to some
remark made by Lady Helena.  "The girls do not care for the
sea--Beatrice dislikes it even; so I think we can not do better than to
return to Earlescourt.  It may not be quite fashionable, but it will be
very pleasant."

"Yes," said Lady Earle; "there is no place I love so well as home.  We
owe our neighbors something, too.  I am almost ashamed when I remember
how noted Earlescourt once was for its gay and pleasant hospitality.
We must introduce the girls to our neighbors.  I can foresee quite a
cheerful winter."

"Let us get over the summer and autumn," said Ronald with a smile,
"then we will look the winter bravely in the face.  I suppose, mother,
you can guess who has managed to procure an invitation to Earlescourt!"

"Lord Airlie?" asked Lady Helena.

"Yes," was the laughing reply.  "It did me good, mother--it made me
feel young and happy again to see and hear him.  His handsome, frank
face clouded when I told him we were going; then he sighed said London
would be like a desert--declared he could not go to Lynnton, the place
was full of work-people.  He did not like Scotland, and was as homeless
as a wealthy young peer with several estates could well be.  I allowed
him to bewilder himself with confused excuses and blunders, and then
asked him to join us at Earlescourt.  He almost 'jumped for joy,' as
the children say. He will follow us in a week or ten days.  Lionel will
come with us."

"I am very pleased," said Lady Earle.  "Next to you, Ronald, I love
Lionel Dacre; his frank, proud, fearless disposition has a great charm
for me.  He is certainly like Beatrice.  How he detests everything
false, just as she does!"

"Yes," said Ronald, gravely; "I am proud of my children.  There is no
taint of untruth or deceit there, mother; they are worthy of their
race.  I consider Beatrice the noblest girl I have ever known; and I
love my sweet Lily just as well."

"You would not like to part with them now?" said Lady Earle.

"I would sooner part with my life!" he replied.  "I am not given to
strong expressions, mother, but even you could never guess how my life
is bound up in theirs."

"Then let me say one word, Ronald," said his mother; "remember Dora
loves them as dearly and as deeply as you do.  Just think for a moment
what it has cost her to give them up to you!  She must see them soon,
with your full consent and permission.  They can go to her if you will."

"You are right, mother," he said, after a few minutes.  "They are
Dora's children, and she ought to see them; but they must not return to
that farm house--I can not bear the thought of it. Surely they can meet
on neutral ground--at your house, say, or in London; and let it be at
Christmas."

"It had better be in London," said Lady Helena.  "I will write to Dora,
and tell her.  The very anticipation of it will make her happy until
the time arrives--she loves the children so dearly."

And again a softened thought of Dora came to her husband.  Of course
she loved them.  The little villa at Florence rose before him; he saw
vividly, as though he had left it but yesterday, the pretty vine-shaded
room where Dora used to sit nursing the little ones.  He remembered her
sweet patience, her never-failing, gentle love.  Had he done right to
wound that sad heart afresh by taking those children from her?  Was it
a just and fitting reward for the watchful love and care of those
lonely years?

He would fain have pardoned her, but he could not; and he said to
himself again: "In the hour of death! I will forgive her then."

      *      *      *      *      *

The glowing August, so hot and dusty in London, was like a dream of
beauty at Earlescourt.  The tall trees gave grateful shelter, baffling
the sun's warm rays; the golden corn stood in the broad fields ready
for the sickle; the hedge-rows were filled with flowers.  The beech
trees in the park were in full perfection. Fruit hung ripe and heavy in
the orchards.  It was no longer the blossoming promise of spring, but
the perfect glory of summer.

For many long years Earlescourt had not been so gay.  The whole
country-side rang with fashionable intelligence.  The house was filled
with visitors, Lord Airlie heading the list.  Lionel Dacre, thinking
but little of the time when the grand old place would be his own, was
full of life and spirits.

Long arrears of hospitalities and festivities had to be repaid to the
neighborhood.  Beatrice and Lillian had to make their debut there.
Lady Helena decided upon commencing the programme with a grand dinner
party, to be followed by a ball in the evening. Ronald said something
about the weather being warm for dancing.

"We danced in London, papa," said Beatrice, "when the heat was so great
that I should not have felt any surprise if the whole roomful of people
had dissolved.  Here we have space--large, cool rooms, fresh air, a
conservatory as large as a London house; it will be child's play in
comparison with what we have gone through."

"Miss Earle is quite right," said Lord Airlie.  "A ball during the
season in London is a toil; here it would be nothing but a pleasure."

"Then a ball let it be," said Lord Earle.  "Lillian, make out a list of
invitations, and head it with Sir Harry and Lady Laurence of Holtham
Hall.  That reminds me, their eldest son, Gaspar, came home yesterday
from Germany; do not forget to include him."

"Little Gaspar," cried Lady Helena--"has he returned?  I should like to
see him."

"Little Gaspar," said Lord Earle, laughing, "is six feet high now,
mother.  You forget how time flies; he is taller than Lionel, and a
fine, handsome young fellow he is.  He will be quite an acquisition."

Lord Earle was too much engrossed to remark the uneasiness his few
words had caused.  Lord Airlie winced at the idea of a rival a handsome
man, and sentimental, too, as all those people educated in Germany are!

"I can not understand what possesses English people to send their sons
abroad for education," he said to Beatrice--"and to Germany of all
places in the world."

"Why should they not?" she asked.

"The people are so absurdly sentimental," he replied.  "Whenever I see
a man with long hair and dreamy eyes, I know he is a German."

"You are unjust," said Beatrice, as she left him to join Lillian.

"You are jealous," said Lionel, who had overheard the conversation.
"Look out for a rival in the lists, my lord."

"I wish this tiresome ball were over," sighed Lord Airlie.  "I shall
have no chance of speaking while it is on the tapis."

But he soon forgot his chagrin.  The formidable Gaspar appeared that
very morning, and, although Lord Airlie could perceive that he was at
once smitten with Beatrice's charms, he also saw that she paid no heed
whatever to the new-comer; indeed, after a few words of courteous
greeting, she returned to the point under discussion--what flowers
would look best in the ball room.

"If we have flowers at all," she said, imperiously, "let them be a
gorgeous mass of bloom--something worth looking at; not a few pale
blossoms standing here and there like 'white sentinels'; let us have
flowers full of life and fragrance.  Lillian, you know what I mean; you
remember Lady Manton's flowers--tier after tier of magnificent color."

"You like to do everything en reine, Beatrice," said Lady Helena, with
a well-pleased smile.

"If you have not flowers sufficient, Miss Earle," said Lord Airlie, "I
will send to Lynnton.  My gardener considers himself a past master of
his art."

"My dear Lord Airlie," said Lady Earle, "we have flowers in profusion.
You have not been through the conservatories. It would while away the
morning pleasantly for you all.  Beatrice, select what flowers you
will, and have them arranged as you like."

"See," said the triumphant beauty, "what a grand thing a strong will
is!  Imagine papa's saying he thought thirty or forty plants in full
flower would be sufficient!  We will surprise him.  If the gardener
loses his reason, as Lady Earle seems to think probable, he must be
taken care of."

Lord Airlie loved Beatrice best in such moods; imperious and piquant,
melting suddenly into little gleams of tenderness, then taking refuge
in icy coldness and sunny laughter.  Beautiful, dazzling, capricious,
changing almost every minute, yet charming as she changed, he would not
have bartered one of her proudest smiles or least words for anything on
earth.

He never forgot that morning spent among the flowers.  It was a glimpse
of elysium to him.  The way in which Beatrice contrived to do as she
liked amused him; her face looked fairer than ever among the blooming
flowers.

"There is the bell for lunch," she said at last.  "We have been here
nearly three hours."

"Most of your attendants look slightly deranged," said Lionel. "I am
sure I saw poor Donald weeping over his favorite plants. He told me
confidentially they would be fit for nothing after the heat of the ball
room."

"I shall invent some means of consolation for him," she replied. "I
like dancing among the bright flowers.  Why should we not have
everything gay and bright and beautiful, if we can?"

"Why not?" said Lionel, gravely.  "Ah, Miss Earle, why are we not
always young and beautiful and happy?  Why must flowers die, beauty
fade, love grow old?  Ask a philosopher--do not ask me. I know the
answer, but let some one else give it to you."

"Philosophy does not interest me at present," she said.  "I like
flowers, music, and dancing better.  I hope I shall never tire of them;
sometimes--but that is only when I am serious or tired--I feel that I
shall never live to grow old.  I can not imagine my eyes dim or my hair
gray.  I can not imagine my heart beating slowly.  I can not realize a
day when the warmth and beauty of life will have changed into cold and
dullness."

Even as she spoke a gentle arm stole round her, a fair, spirituelle
face, eyes full of clear, saintly light looked into hers, and a soft
voice whispered to her of something not earthly, not of flowers and
music, not of life and gayety, something far beyond these, and the
proud eyes for a moment grew dim with tears.

"Lily," she said, "I am not so good as you, but I will endeavor to be.
Let me enjoy myself first, just for a short time; I will be good, dear."

Her mood changed then, and Lord Airlie thought her more entrancing than
ever.

"That is the kind of wife I want," thought Lionel Dacre to himself,
looking at Lillian--"some one to guide me, to teach me. Ah, if women
only understood their mission!  That girl looked as I can imagine only
guardian angels look--I wish she would be mine."

Lord Airlie left the conservatory, with its thousand flowers, more in
love than ever.

He would wait, he said to himself, until the ball was over; then he
would ask Beatrice Earle to be his wife.  If she refused him, he would
go far away where no one knew him; if she accepted him, he would be her
devoted slave.  She should be a queen, and he would be her knight.

Ah!  What thanks would he return to Heaven if so great a blessing
should be his.



Chapter XXVIII

Lord Airlie muttered something that was not a benediction when, on the
morning following, Gaspar Laurence made his appearance at Earlescourt.

"We can not receive visitors this morning," said Beatrice, half
impatiently.  "Mr. Laurence must have forgotten the ball tonight."

But Mr. Laurence had forgotten nothing of the kind.  It was a delicious
morning, the sun shining brightly and clearly, the westerly breeze
blowing fresh and cool.  He had thought it likely that the young ladies
would spend the morning out-of-doors, and begged permission to join
them.

Lady Earle was pleased with the idea.  Lord Airlie mentioned something
about fatigue, but he was overruled.

"Stroll in the grounds," said Lady Helena; "go down by the lake; I will
join you there afterward.  A few hours in the fresh air will be the
best preparation for the ball."

They went together.  Gaspar's preference soon became apparent he would
not leave Beatrice, and Lord Airlie devotedly wished him at the
antipodes.

They sat down under the shade of a tall lady-birch, the deep, sunlit
lake shining through the trees.  Then Gaspar, taking a little book in
his hands, asked:

"Have you read 'Undine,' Miss Earle--Fouque's 'Undine?'"

"No," she replied; "I am half ashamed to say so."

"It is the sweetest, saddest story ever written," he continued. "This
is just the morning for it.  May I read it to you?"

There was a general and pleased murmur of assent.  Lord Airlie muttered
to himself that he knew the fellow would air his German sentiment--at
their expense.

Still it was very pleasant.  There was a gentle ripple on the deep
lake, the water washed among the tall reeds, and splashed with a faint,
musical murmur on the stones; the thick leafy branches rustled in the
wind; the birds sang in the trees.

Gaspar Laurence read well; his voice was clear and distinct; not a word
of the beautiful story was lost.

Beatrice listened like one in a dream.  Her proud, bright face
softened, her magnificent eyes grew tender and half sad.  Gaspar read
on--of the fair and lovely maiden, of the handsome young knight and his
love, of the water sprite, grim old Kuhlehorn, and the cottage where
Undine dwelt, of the knight's marriage, and then of proud, beautiful
Bertha.

The rippling of the lake and the singing of the birds seemed like an
accompaniment to the words, so full of pathos.  Then Gaspar came to
Bertha's love for the knight--their journey on the river to the huge
hand rising and snatching the jewel from Undine's soft fingers, while
the knight's love grew cold.

Even the waters of the lake seemed to sob and sigh as Gaspar read on of
sweet, sad Undine and of her unhappy love, of Bertha's proud triumph,
her marriage with the knight, and the last, most beautiful scene of
all--Undine rising from the unsealed fountain and going to claim her
love.

"How exquisite!" said Beatrice, drawing a long, deep breath. "I did not
know there was such a story in the world.  That is indeed a creation of
genius.  I shall never forget Undine."

Her eyes wandered to the sweet spirituelle face and fair golden hair of
her sister.  Lionel Dacre's glance followed hers.

"I know what you are thinking of," he said--"Miss Lillian is a perfect
Undine.  I can fancy her, with clasped hands and sad eyes, standing
between the knight and Bertha, or rising with shadowy robes from the
open fountain."

"It is a beautiful creation," said Beatrice, gently.  "Lillian would be
an ideal Undine--she is just as gentle, as fair, as true.  I am like
Bertha, I suppose; at least I know I prefer my own way and my own will."

"You should give some good artist a commission to paint a picture,"
said Lord Airlie.  "Choose the scene in the boat Undine bending over
the water, a dreamy expression on her fair face; Bertha sitting by the
knight, proud, bright, and half scornful of her companion.  Imagine the
transparent water Undine's little hand half lost in it, and the giant
fingers clasping hers.  I wonder that an artist has never painted that
scene."

"Who would do for the knight?" said Beatrice.  "Lillian and I will
never dispute over a knight."

"Artists would find some difficulty in that picture," said Lillian.
"How could one clothe a beautiful ideal like Undine? Sweeping robes and
waving plumes might suit Bertha; but how could one depict Undine?"

"The knight is the difficulty," laughed Lionel.

"Why should we not go out on the lake now?" said Gaspar; "I will row."

"I have been wishing for the last ten minutes," replied Beatrice, "to
be upon the lake.  I want to put my hand in the water and see what
comes."

Gaspar was not long in getting a pleasure boat out of the boat house.
Lionel managed to secure a seat near his Undine, and Lord Airlie by his
Beatrice.

It was even more pleasant on the water than on the land; the boat moved
easily along, the fresh, clear breeze helping it.

"Steer for those pretty water lilies," said Beatrice, "they look so
fresh and shining in the sun."

And as they floated over the water, her thoughts went back to that May
morning when Lillian sat upon the cliffs and sketched the white far-off
sails.  How distant it seemed!  She longed then for life.  Now every
sweet gift which life could bestow was here, crowned with love.  Yet
she sighed as Hugh Fernely's face rose before her.  If she could but
forget it!  After all it had been on her side but a mockery of love.
Yet another sigh broke from her lips, and then Lord Airlie looked
anxiously at her.

"Does anything trouble you, Miss Earle?" he asked.  "I never remember
to have seen you so serious before."

She looked for a moment wistfully into his face.  Ah, if he could help
her, if he could drive this haunting memory from her, if ever it could
be that she might tell him of this her trouble and ask him to save her
from Hugh Fernely!  But that was impossible. Almost as though in answer
to her thought, Gaspar Laurence began to tell them of an incident that
had impressed him.  A gentleman, a friend of his, after making
unheard-of sacrifices to marry a lady who was both beautiful and
accomplished, left her suddenly, and never saw her again, the reason
being that he discovered that she had deceived him by telling him a
willful lie before her marriage.  Gaspar seemed to think she had been
hardly used.  Lord Airlie and Lionel differed from him.

"I am quite sure," said Lord Airlie, "that I could pardon anything
sooner than a lie; all that is mean, despicable, and revolting to me is
expressed in the one word, 'liar.'  Sudden anger, passion, hot
revenge--anything is more easily forgiven. When once I discover that a
man or woman has told me a lie, I never care to see their face again."

"I agree with you," said Lionel; "perhaps I even go further.  I would
never pardon an air of deceit; those I love must be straightforward,
honest, and sincere always."

"Such a weight of truth might sink the boat," said Beatrice,
carelessly; but Lord Airlie's words had gone straight to her heart.  If
he only knew.  But he never would.  And again she wished that in reply
to her father's question she had answered truthfully.

The time came when Lillian remembered Mr. Dacre's words, and knew they
had not been spoken in vain.

Beatrice had taken off her glove, and drew her hand trough the cool,
deep water; thinking intently of the story she had just heard--of
Undine and the water-sprites--she leaned over the boat's side and gazed
into the depths.  The blue sky and white fleecy clouds, the tall green
trees and broad leaves, were all reflected there.  There was a strange,
weird fascination in the placid water--what went on in the depths
beneath?  What lay beneath the ripples?  Suddenly she drew back with a
startled cry a cry that rang out in the clear summer air, and haunted
Lord Airlie while he lived.  He looked at her; her face had grown
white, even to the very lips, and a nameless, awful dread lay in her
dark eyes.

"What is it?" he asked, breathlessly.  She recovered herself with a
violent effort, and tried to smile.

"How foolish I am!" she said; "and what is worse you will all laugh at
me.  It was sheer fancy and nonsense, I know; but I declare that
looking down into the water, I saw my own face there with such a
wicked, mocking smile that it frightened me."

"It was the simple reflection," said Lionel Dacre. "I can see mine.
Look again, Miss Earle."

"No," she replied, with a shudder; "it is only nonsense, I know, but it
startled me.  The face seemed to rise from the depths and smile--oh,
oh, such a smile!  When shall I forget it?"

"It was only the rippling of the water which distorted the reflection,"
said Lord Airlie.

Beatrice made no reply, but drew her lace shawl around her as though
she were cold.

"I do not like the water," she said presently; "it always frightens me.
Let us land, Mr. Laurence, please.  I will never go on the lake again."

Gaspar laughed, and Mr. Dacre declared Beatrice had had too strong a
dose of Undine and the water-sprites.  Lord Airlie felt her hand
tremble as he helped her to leave the boat.  He tried to make her
forget the incident by talking of the ball and the pleasure it would
bring.  She talked gayly, but every now and then he saw that she
shuddered as though icily cold.

When they were entering the house she turned round, and, in her
charming, imperious way, said:

"None of you must tell papa about my fright.  I should not like him to
think that an Earle could be either fanciful or a coward. I am brave
enough on land."

The heat had tried both girls, and Lady Helena said they must rest
before dinner.  She made Beatrice lie down upon the cosy little couch
in her dressing room.  She watched the dark eyes close, and thought how
beautiful the young face looked in repose.

But the girl's sleep was troubled.  Lady Earle, bending over her, heard
her sigh deeply and murmur something about the "deep water." She awoke,
crying out that she saw her own face, and Lady Earle saw great drops of
perspiration standing in beads upon her brow.

"What have you been dreaming of, child?" she asked.  "Young girls like
you ought to sleep like flowers."

"Flowers never quite close their eyes," said Beatrice, with a smile.
"I shut mine, but my brain is active, it seems, even in sleep.  I was
dreaming of the lake, Lady Helena.  Dreams are very wonderful; do they
ever come true?"

"I knew one that did," replied Lady Earle.  "When I was young, I had a
friend whom I loved very dearly--Laura Reardon.  A gentleman, a Captain
Lemuel, paid great attention to her.  She loved him--my poor Laura--as
I hope few people love.  For many months he did everything but make an
offer--saw her ever day, sent her flowers, books, and music, won her
heart by a thousand sweet words and gentle deeds.  She believed he was
in earnest, and never suspected him of being a male flirt.  He left
London, suddenly, saying goodbye to her in the ordinary way, and
speaking of his return in a few weeks.

"She came to me one morning and told me a strange dream.  She dreamed
she was dead, and lay buried in the center aisle of an old country
church.  At the same time, and in the usual vague manner of dreams, she
was conscious of an unusual stir.  She heard carriages drive up to the
church door; she heard the rustling of dresses, the sound of footsteps
above her head, the confused murmur of a crowd of people; then she
became aware that a marriage was going on.  She heard the minister ask:

"'George Victor Lemuel, will you have this woman for your lawful wedded
wife?'

"The voice she knew and loved best in the world replied:

"'I will.'

"'Alice Ferrars, will you take this man for your lawful wedded husband?"

"'I will,' replied the clear, low voice.

"She heard the service finished, the wedding bells peal, the carriages
drive away.  I laughed at her, Beatrice; but the strange thing is,
Captain George Lemuel was married on the very day Laura dreamed the
dream.  He married a young lady, Alice Ferrars, and Laura had never
heard of the name before she dreamed it.  The marriage took place in an
old country church.  That dream came true, Beatrice; I never heard of
another dream like it."

"Did your friend die?" she asked.

"No," replied Lady Helena; "she did not die, but her life was spoiled
by her unhappy love."

"I should have died had it been my disappointment," said Beatrice; "the
loss of what one loves must be more bitter than death."

      *      *      *      *      *

Far and near nothing was spoken of but the ball at Earlescourt.
Anything so brilliant or on so grand a scale had not been given in the
county for many years.

Lord Earle felt proud of the arrangements as he looked through the ball
room and saw the gorgeous array of flowers, tier upon tier of
magnificent bloom, a sight well worth coming many miles to see.  Here
and there a marble statue stood amid the flowers. Little fountains of
scented water rippled musically.  He stopped for a few moments looking
at the blossoms and thinking of his beautiful child.

"How she loves everything bright and gay!" he said to himself. "She
will be queen of the ball tonight."

As Lord Earle stood alone in his library that evening, where he had
been reading, stealing a quiet half hour, there came a gentle knock at
the door.

"Come in," he said, and there stood before him something that he
thought must be a vision.

"Grandmamma sent me," said Beatrice, blushing, "to see if I should do.
You are to notice my diamonds, papa, and tell me if you approve of the
setting."

As he looked at the radiant figure a sense of wonder stole over him.
Could this magnificent beauty really be Dora's daughter--Dora who had
stained her pretty hand with strawberry juice so many years ago?

He knew nothing of the details of the dress, he saw only the beautiful
face and glorious eyes, the crowns of waving hair, the white, stately
neck and exquisite arms.  Before him was a gleam of pale pink satin,
shrouded with lace so fine and delicate that it looked like a fairy
web; and the Earle diamonds were not brighter than the dark eyes.  They
became the wearer well.  They would have eclipsed a fair, faded beauty;
they added radiance to Beatrice's.

"Where is Lillian?" he asked; and she knew from the tone of his voice
how proud and satisfied he was.

"I am here, papa," said a gentle voice.  "I wanted you to see Beatrice
first."

Lord Earle hardly knew which to admire the more.  Lillian looked so
fair and graceful; the pure, spiritual face and tender eyes had new
beauty; the slender, girlish figure contrasted well with the stately
dignity of Beatrice.

"I hope it will be a happy evening for you both," he said.

"I feel sure it will for me," said Beatrice, with a smile.  "I am
thoroughly happy, and am looking forward to the ball with delight."

Lord Earle smiled half sadly as he gazed at her bright face, wondering
whether, in years to come, it would be clouded or shadowed.

"Will you dance, papa?" asked Beatrice, with a gleam of mischief in her
dark eyes.

"I think not," he replied; and Ronald Earle's thoughts went back to the
last time he had ever danced--with Valentine Charteris. He remembered
it well.  Ah, no!  All those pleasant, happy days were over for him.



Chapter XXIX

The dinner party was over, and carriage after carriage rolled up to the
Hall; the rooms began to fill; there was a faint sound of music, a
murmur of conversation and laughter.

"You have not forgotten your promise to me, Miss Earle?" said Lord
Airlie. "I am to have the first dance and the last, certainly, and as
many more as you can spare."

"I have not forgotten," replied Beatrice.  She was never quite at her
ease with him, although she loved him better than any one else on
earth.  There was ever present with her the consciousness that she did
so love him, and the wonder whether he cared for her.

They opened the ball, and many significant comments were made upon the
fact.  Gaspar Laurence was present.  He was deeply engaged for more
than two hours in making up his mind whether he should ask Beatrice to
dance with him or not--she looked so beautiful, so far above him.
Gaspar could not help loving her--that was impossible; the first moment
he saw her he was entranced.  But his was a humble, hopeless kind of
adoration.  He would sooner have dreamed of wooing and winning a royal
princess than of ever asking Beatrice to be his wife.

At length he summoned up courage, and was rewarded by a bright smile
and kind words.  Poor Gaspar!  When the beautiful face was near him,
and her hand rested on his shoulder, he thought he must be dreaming.

"There," he said, when the dance was over; "I shall not dance again.  I
should not like to lose the memory of that waltz."

"Why not?" she asked, wonderingly.

"I must be candid with you," said Gaspar, sadly.  "Perhaps my
confession is a vain one; but I love you, Miss Earle--so dearly that
the ground on which you stand is sacred to me."

"That is not a very timid declaration," said Beatrice with a smile.
"You are courageous, Mr. Laurence.  I have only seen you three times."

"It would make no difference," said Gaspar, "whether I had seen you
only once, or whether I met you every day.  I am not going to pain you,
Miss Earle.  Think kindly of me--I do not ask more; only remember that
living in this world there is one who would stand between you and all
peril--who would sacrifice his life for you.  You will not forget?"

"I will not," said Beatrice, firmly.  "Never could I forget such words.
I am willing to be your friend--I know how to value you."

"I shall be happier with your friendship than with the love of any
other woman," said Gaspar, gratefully.

Just then Lord Earle came and took Mr. Laurence away.  Beatrice stood
where he had left her, half screened from sight by the luxuriant
foliage and magnificent flowers of a rare American plant.  There was a
thoughtful, tender expression on her face that softened it into
wondrous beauty.  She liked Gaspar, and was both pleased and sorry that
he loved her.  Very pleasant was this delicious homage of
love--pleasant was it to know that strong, brave, gifted men laid all
they had in the world at her feet--to know that her looks, smiles, and
words moved them as nothing else could.

Yet she was sorry for Gaspar.  It must be sad to give all one's love
and expect no return.  She would be his friend, but she could never be
anything more.  She could give him her sincere admiration and esteem,
but not her love.

The proud, beautiful lips quivered, and the bright eyes grew dim with
tears.  No, not her love--that was given, and could never be recalled;
in all the wide world, from among all men's, Lord Airlie's face stood
out clear and distinct.  Living or dying, Lord Earle's daughter knew
she could care for no other man.

She had taken in her hand one of the crimson flowers of the plant above
her, and seemed lost in contemplating it.  She saw neither the blossom
nor the leaves.  She was thinking of Lord Airlie's face, and the last
words he had said to her, when suddenly a shadow fell before her, and
looking up hastily, she saw him by her side.  He appeared unlike
himself, pale and anxious.

"Beatrice," said he, "I must speak with you.  Pray come with me, away
from all these people.  I can bear this suspense no longer."

She looked at him, and would have refused; but she saw in his face that
which compelled obedience.  For Lord Airlie had watched Gaspar
Laurence--he had watched the dance and the interview that followed it.
He saw the softened look on her face, and it half maddened him.  For
the first time in his life Lord Airlie was fiercely jealous.  He
detested this fair-haired Gaspar, with his fund of German romance and
poetry.

Could it be that he would win the prize he himself would have died to
secure?  What was he saying to her that softened the expression on her
face?  What had he said that left her standing there with a tender
light in her dark eyes which he had never seen before?  He could not
bear the suspense; perhaps a ball room might not be the most
appropriate place for an offer of marriage, but he must know his fate,
let it be what it might.  He went up to her and made his request.

"Where are you going?" asked Beatrice, suddenly, for Lord Airlie had
walked rapidly through the suite of rooms, crowded with people, and
through the long conservatory.

"We are not alone," he replied.  "See, Lady Laurence and Mr. Gresham
prefer the rose garden here to those warm rooms.  I must speak with
you, Miss Earle.  Let me speak now."

They stood in the pretty garden, where roses of varied hues hung in
rich profusion; the air was heavy with perfume.  The moon shone
brightly in the evening sky; its beams fell upon the flowers, bathing
them in floods of silver light.

A little rustic garden seat stood among the sleeping roses; and there
Beatrice sat, wondering at the strong emotion she read in her lover's
face.

"Beatrice," he said, "I can bear it no longer.  Why did Gaspar Laurence
bend over you?  What was he saying?  My darling, do you not know how I
love you--so dearly and so deeply that I could not live without you?
Do you not know that I have loved you from the first moment I ever
beheld you?  Beatrice, my words are weak. Look at me--read the love in
my face that my lips know not how to utter."

But she never raised her eyes to him; the glorious golden light of love
that had fallen upon her dazzled her.

"You must not send me from you, Beatrice," he said, clasping her hands
in his.  "I am a strong man, not given to weakness; but, believe me, if
you send me from you, it will kill me.  Every hope of my life is
centered in you.  Beatrice, will you try to care for me?"

She turned her face to his--the moonlight showed clearly the bright
tears in her dark eyes.  For answer she said, simply:

"Do not leave me--I care for you now; my love--my love--did you not
know it?"

The sweet face and quivering lips were so near him that Lord Airlie
kissed the tears away; he also kissed the white hands that clasped his
own.

"You are mine--my own," he whispered, "until death; say so, Beatrice."

"I am yours," she said, "even in death."

It was a stolen half hour, but so full of happiness that it could never
fade from memory.

"I must go," said Beatrice, at length, unclasping the firm hand that
held her own.  "Oh, Lord Airlie, how am I to meet all my friends?  Why
did you not wait until tomorrow?"

"I could not," he said; "and you perhaps would not then have been so
kind."

He loved her all the more for her simplicity.  As they left the garden,
Lord Airlie gathered a white rose and gave it to Beatrice.  Long
afterward, when the leaves had become yellow and dry, the rose was
found.

They remained in the conservatory a few minutes, and then went back to
the ball room.

"Every waltz must be mine now," said Lord Airlie.  "And, Beatrice, I
shall speak to Lord Earle tonight.  Are you willing?"

Yes, she was willing.  It was very pleasant to be taken possession of
so completely.  It was pleasant to find a will stronger than her own.
She did not care how soon all the world knew that she loved him.  The
only thing she wondered at was why he should be so unspeakably happy.



Chapter XXX

Beatrice never recollected how the ball ended; to her it was one long
trance of happiness.  She heard the music, the murmur of voices, as
though in a dream.  There were times when everything seemed brighter
than usual--that was when Lord Airlie stood by her side.  Her heart was
filled with unutterable joy.

It was strange, but in that hour of happiness she never even thought of
Hugh Fernely; the remembrance of him never once crossed her mind.
Nothing marred the fullness of her content.

She stood by Lord Earle's side as guest after guest came up to say
adieu.  She saw Lord Airlie waiting for her father.

"Lord Earle will be engaged for some time, I fear," he said; "I must
see him tonight.  Beatrice, promise me you will not go to rest until
your father has given us his consent."

She could not oppose him.  When girls like Beatrice Earle once learn to
love, there is something remarkable in the complete abandonment of
their will.  She would fain have told him, with gay, teasing words,
that he had won concession enough for one night; as it was, she simply
promised to do as he wished.

Lord Earle received the parting compliments of his guests, wondering at
the same time why Lord Airlie kept near him and seemed unwilling to
lose sight of him.  The happy moment arrived when the last carriage
rolled away, and the family at Earlescourt were left alone.  Lady Earle
asked the two young girls to go into her room for half an hour to "talk
over the ball."  Lionel, sorry the evening was over, retired to his
room; then Hubert Airlie went to Lord Earle and asked if he might speak
with him for ten minutes.

"Will it not do tomorrow?" inquired Ronald, smiling, as he held up his
watch.  "See, it is past three o'clock."

"No," replied Lord Airlie; "I could not pass another night in suspense."

"Come with me, then," said the master of Earlescourt, as he led the way
to the library, where the lamps were still alight.

"Now, what is it?" he asked, good-humoredly, turning to the excited,
anxious lover.

"Perhaps I ought to study my words," said Lord Airlie; "but I can not.
Lord Earle, I love your daughter Beatrice.  Will you give her to me to
be my wife?"

"Sooner than to any one else in the world," replied Ronald.  "Is she
willing?"

"I think so," was the answer, Lord Airlie's heart thrilling with
happiness as he remembered her words.

"Let us see," said Lord Earle.  He rang the bell, and sent for his
daughter.

Lord Airlie never forgot the beautiful, blushing face half turned from
him as Beatrice entered the room.

"Beatrice," said her father, clasping her in his arms, "is this true?
Am I to give you to Lord Airlie?"

"If you please, papa," she whispered.

"I do please," he cried.  "Hubert, I give you a treasure beyond all
price.  You may judge of my daughter's love from her own word.  I know
it has never been given to any one but you.  You are my daughter's
first lover, and her first love.  You may take her to your heart, well
satisfied that she has never cared for any one else.  It is true,
Beatrice, is it not?"

"Yes," she said, faltering for a moment as, for the first time, she
remembered Hugh.

"Tomorrow," continued Lord Earle, "we will talk of the future; we are
all tired tonight.  You will sleep in peace, Airlie, I suppose?"

"If I sleep at all," he replied.

"Well, you understand clearly that, had the choice rested with me I
should have selected you from all others to take charge of my
Beatrice," said Lord Earle.  "Do not wait to thank me.  I have a faint
idea of how much a grateful lover has to say.  Good night."

      *      *      *      *      *

"What is it, Beatrice?" asked Lillian, as the two sisters stood alone
in the bright little dressing room.

"I can hardly tell you in sober words," she replied. "Lord Airlie has
asked me to be his wife--his wife; and oh, Lily, I love him so dearly!"

Pride and dignity all broke down; the beautiful face was laid upon
Lillian's shoulder, and Beatrice wept happy tears.

"I love him so, Lily," she went on; "but I never thought he cared for
me.  What have I ever done that I should be so happy?"

The moonbeams never fell upon a sweeter picture than these fair young
sisters; Lillian's pure, spirituelle face bent over Beatrice.

"I love him, Lily," she continued, "for himself.  He is a king among
men.  Who is so brave, so generous, so noble?  If he were a beggar, I
should care just as much for him."

Lillian listened and sympathized until the bright, dark eyes seemed to
grow weary; then she bade her sister goodnight, and went to her own
room.

Beatrice Earle was alone at last--alone with her happiness and love.
It seemed impossible that her heart and brain could ever grow calm or
quiet again.  It was all in vain she tried to sleep. Lord Airlie's
face, his voice, his words haunted her.

She rose, and put on a pretty pink dressing gown.  The fresh air, she
thought, would make her sleep, so she opened the long window gently,
and looked out.

The night was still and clear; the moon hung over the dark trees;
floods of silvery light bathed the far-off lake, the sleeping flowers,
and the green grass.  There was a gentle stir amid the branches; the
leaves rustled in the wind; the blue, silent heavens above bright and
calm.  The solemn beauty of the starlit sky and the hushed murmur
appealed to her.  Into the proud, passionate heart there came some
better, nobler thoughts.  Ah, in the future that lay so brilliant and
beautiful before her she would strive to be good, she would be true and
steadfast, she would think more of what Lily loved and spoke about at
times. Then her thoughts went back to her lover, and that happy half
hour in the rose garden.  From her window she could see it--the moon
shone full upon it.  The moonlight was a fair type of her life that was
to be, bright, clear, unshadowed.  Even as the thought shaped itself in
her mind, a shadow fell among the trees. She looked, and saw the figure
of a tall man walking down the path that divided the little garden from
the shrubbery.  He stood still there, gazing long and earnestly at the
windows of the house, and then went out into the park, and disappeared.

She was not startled.  A passing wonder as to who it might be struck
her.  Perhaps it was one of the gamekeepers or gardeners, but she did
not think much about it.  A shadow in the moonlight did not frighten
her.

Soon the cool, fresh air did its work; the bright, dark eyes grew tired
in real earnest, and at length Beatrice retired to rest.

The sun was shining brightly when she awoke.  By her side lay a
fragrant bouquet of flowers, the dew-drops still glistening upon them,
and in their midst a little note which said:

"Beatrice, will you come into the garden for a few minutes before
breakfast, just to tell me all that happened last night was not a
dream?"

She rose quickly.  Over her pretty morning-dress she threw a light
shawl, and went down to meet Lord Airlie.

"It was no dream," she said, simply, holding out her hand in greeting
to him.

"Dear Beatrice, how very good of you!" replied Lord Airlie; adding
presently: "we have twenty minutes before the breakfast bell will ring;
let us make the best of them."

The morning was fresh, fair, and calm, a soft haze hanging round the
trees.

"Beatrice," said Lord Airlie, "you see the sun shining there in the
high heavens.  Three weeks ago I should have thought it easier for that
same sun to fall than for me to win you.  I can scarcely believe that
my highest ideal of woman is realized.  It was always my ambition to
marry some young girl who had never loved any one before me.  You never
have.  No man ever held your hand as I hold it now, no man ever kissed
your face as I kissed it last night."

As he spoke, a burning flush covered her face.  She remembered Hugh
Fernely.  He loved her better for the blush, thinking how pure and
guileless she was.

"I fear I shall be a very jealous lover," he continued.  "I shall envy
everything those beautiful eyes rest upon.  Will you ride with me this
morning?  I want to talk to you about Lynnton--my home, you know.  You
will be Lady Airlie of Lynnton, and no king will be so proud as I
shall."

The breakfast bell rang at last.  When Beatrice entered the room, Lady
Earle went up to her.

"Your papa has told me the news," she said.  "Heaven bless you, and
make you happy, dear child!"

Lionel Dacre guessed the state of affairs, and said but little. The
chief topic of conversation was the ball, interspersed by many
conjectures on the part of Lord Earle as to why the post-bag was so
late.

It did not arrive until breakfast was ended.  Lord Earle distributed
the letters; there were three for Lord Airlie, one to Lady Earle from
Dora, two for Lionel, none for Lillian.  Lord Earle held in his hand a
large common blue envelope.

"Miss Beatrice Earle," he said; "from Brookfield.  What large writing!
The name was evidently intended to be seen."

Beatrice took the letter carelessly from him; the handwriting was quite
unknown to her; she knew no one in Brookfield, which was the nearest
post-town--it was probably some circular, some petition for charity,
she thought.  Lord Airlie crossed the room to speak to her, and she
placed the letter carelessly in the pocket of her dress, and in a few
minutes forgot all about it.

Lord Airlie was waiting; the horses had been ordered for an early hour.
Beatrice ran upstairs to put on her riding habit, and never gave a
thought to the letter.

It was a pleasant ride; in the after-days she looked back upon it as
one of the brightest hours she had ever known.  Lord Airlie told her
all about Lynnton, his beautiful home--a grand old castle, where every
room had a legend, every tree almost a tradition.

For he intended to work wonders; a new and magnificent wing should be
built, and on one room therein art, skill, and money should be lavished
without stint.

"Her boudoir" he said, "should be fit for a queen and for a fairy."

So they rode through the pleasant, sunlit air.  A sudden thought struck
Beatrice.

"I wonder," she said, "what mamma will think?  You must go to see her,
Hubert.  She dreaded love and marriage so much.  Poor mamma!"

She asked herself, with wondering love, what could have happened that
her mother should dread what she found so pleasant?  Lord Airlie
entered warmly into all her plans and wishes.  Near the grand suite of
rooms that were to be prepared for his beautiful young wife, Lord
Airlie spoke of rooms for Dora, if she would consent to live with them.

"I must write and tell mamma today," said Beatrice.  "I should not like
her to hear it from any one but myself."

"Perhaps you will allow me to inclose a note," suggested Lord Airlie,
"asking her to tolerate me."

"I do not think that will be very difficult," laughingly replied his
companion.

Their ride was a long one.  On their return Beatrice was slightly
tired, and went straight to her own room.  She wrote a long letter to
Dora, who must have smiled at her description of Lord Airlie.  He was
everything that was true, noble, chivalrous, and grand.  The world did
not hold such another.  When the letter was finished it was time to
dress for dinner.

"Which dress will you wear, miss?" asked the attentive maid.

"The prettiest I have," said the young girl, her bright face glowing
with the words she had just written.

What dress could be pretty enough for him?  One was found at last that
pleased her--a rich, white crepe.  But she would wear no
jewels--nothing but crimson roses.  One lay in the thick coils of her
dark hair, another nestled against her white neck, others looped up the
flowing skirt.

Beatrice's toilet satisfied her--this, too, with her lover's fastidious
taste to please.  She stood before the large mirror, and a pleased
smile overspread her face as she saw herself reflected therein.

Suddenly she remembered the letter.  The morning-dress still hung upon
a chair.  She took the envelope from the pocket.

"Shall you want me again, Miss Earle?" asked her maid.

"No," replied Beatrice, breaking the seal; "I am ready now."

The girl quitted the room, and Beatrice, standing before the mirror,
drew out a long, closely written letter, turning presently, in
amazement, to the signature, wondering who could be the writer.



Chapter XXXI

The sun shone brightly upon the roses that gleamed in her hair and
nestled against the white neck.  Could it be lingering in cruel mockery
upon the pale face and the dark eyes so full of wild horror?  As
Beatrice Earle read that letter, the color left even her lips, her
heart seemed to stand still, a vague, nameless dread took hold of her,
the paper fell from her hands, and with a long, low cry she fell upon
her knees, hiding her face in her hands.

It had fallen at last--the cruel blow that even in her dreams and
thoughts she had considered impossible.  Hugh Fernely had found her
out, and claimed her as his own!

This letter, which had stricken joy and beauty from the proud face and
left it white and cold almost as the face of the dead was from him; and
the words it contained were full of such passionate love that they
terrified her.  The letter ran as follows:

"My own Beatrice,--From peril by sea and land I have returned to claim
you.  Since we parted I have stood face to face with death in its most
terrible form.  Each time I conquered because I felt I must see you
again.  It is a trite saying that death is immortal.  Death itself
would not part me from you--nay, if I were buried, and you came to my
grave and whispered my name, it seems to me I must hear you.

"Beatrice, you promised to be my wife--you will not fail me? Ah, no, it
can not be that the blue heavens above will look on quietly and witness
my death blow!  You will come to me, and give me a word, a smile to
show how true you have been.

"Last evening I wandered round the grounds, wondering which were the
windows of my love's chamber, and asking myself whether she was
dreaming of me.  Life has changed for you since we sat upon the cliffs
at Knutsford and you promised to be my wife.  I heard at the farm all
about the great change, and how the young girl who wandered with me
through the bonny green woods is the daughter of Lord Earle.  Your
home, doubtless, is a stately one. Rank and position like yours might
frighten some lovers--they do not daunt me.  You will not let them
stand between us.  You can not, after the promises you uttered.

"Beatrice, my voyage has been a successful one; I am not a rich man,
but I have enough to gratify every wish to your heart.  I will take you
away to sunny lands over the sea where life shall be so full of
happiness that you will wish it never to end.

"I wait your commands.  Rumor tells me Lord Earl is a strange,
disappointed man.  I will not yet call upon you at your own home; I
shall await your reply at Brookfield.  Write at once, Beatrice, and
tell me how and when I may meet you.  I will go anywhere, at any time.
Do not delay--my heart hungers and thirsts for one glance of your
peerless face.  Appoint an hour soon.  How shall I live until it comes?
Until then think of me as

  "Your devoted lover, Hugh Fernely.
    "Address Post Office, Brookfield."

She read every word carefully and then slowly turned the letter over
and read it again.  Her white lips quivered with indignant passion.
How dared he presume so far?  His love! Ah, if Hubert Airlie could have
read those words!  Fernely's love!  She loathed him; she hated, with
fierce, hot hatred, the very sound of his name.  Why must this most
wretched folly of her youth rise up against her now?  What must she do?
Where could she turn for help and counsel?

Could it be possible that this man she hated so fiercely had touched
her face and covered her hands with kisses and tears? She struck the
little white hands which held the letter against the marble stand, and
where Hugh Fernely's tears had fallen a dark bruise purpled the fair
skin; white hard, fierce words came from the beautiful lips.

"Was I blind, foolish, mad?" she cried.  "Dear Heaven, save me from the
fruits of my own folly!"

Then hot anger yielded to despair.  What should she do?  Look which way
she might, there was no hope.  If Lord Earle once discovered that she
had dealt falsely with him, she would be driven from the home she had
learned to love.  He would never pardon such concealment, deceit, and
folly as hers.  She knew that.  If Lord Airlie ever discovered that any
other man had called her his love, had kissed her face, and claimed her
as his own, she would lose his affection.  Of that she was also quite
sure.

If she would remain at Earlescourt, if she would retain her father's
affection and Lord Airlie's love, they must never hear of Hugh Fernely.
There could be no doubt on that head.

What should she do with him?  Could she buy him off?  Would money
purchase her freedom?  Remembering his pride and his love, she thought
not.  Should she appeal to his pity--tell him all her heart and life
were centered in Lord Airlie?  Should she appeal to his love for pity's
sake?

Remembering his passionate words, she knew it would be useless. Had she
but been married before he returned--were she but Lady Airlie of
Lynnton--he could not have harmed her.  Was the man mad to think he
could win her--she who had had some of the most noble-born men in
England at her feet?  Did he think she would exchange her grand old
name for his obscure one--her magnificence for his poverty.

There was no more time for thought; the dinner bell had sounded for the
last time, and she must descend.  She thrust the letter hastily into a
drawer, and locked it, and then turned to her mirror.  She was startled
at the change.  Surely that pale face, with its quivering lips and
shadowed eyes could not be hers. What should she do to drive away the
startled fear, the vague dread, the deadly pallor?  The roses she wore
were but a ghastly contrast.

"I must bear it better," she said to herself.  "Such a face as this
will betray my secret.  Let me feel that I do not care that it will all
come right in the end."

She said the words aloud, but the voice was changed and hoarse.

"Women have faced more deadly peril than this," she continued, "and
have won.  Is there any peril I would not brave for Hubert Airlie's
sake?"

Beatrice Earle left the room.  She swept, with her beautiful head
erect, through the wide corridors and down the broad staircase. She
took her seat at the sumptuous table, whereon gold and silver shone,
whereon everything recherche and magnificent was displayed.  But she
had with her a companion she was never again to lose, a haunting fear,
a skeleton that was never more to quit her side, a miserable
consciousness of folly that was bringing sore wretchedness upon her.
Never again was she to feel free from fear and care.

"Beatrice," said Lady Earle when dinner was over, "you will never learn
prudence."

She started, and the beautiful bloom just beginning to return, vanished
again.

"Do not look alarmed, my dear," continued Lady Helena; "I am not angry.
I fear you were out too long today.  Lord Airlie must take more care of
you; the sun was very hot, and you look quite ill.  I never saw you
look as you do tonight."

"We had very little sun," replied Beatrice, with a laugh as she tried
to make a gay one; "we rode under the shade in the park.  I am tired,
but not with my ride."

It was a pleasant evening, and when the gentlemen joined the ladies in
the drawing room, the sunbeams still lingered on flower and tree.  The
long windows were all open, and the soft summer wind that came in was
laden with the sweet breath of the flowers.

Lord Airlie asked Beatrice to sing.  It was a relief to her; she could
not have talked; all the love and sorrow, all the fear and despair that
tortured her, could find vent in music.  So she sat in the evening
gloaming, and Lord Airlie, listening to the superb voice, wondered at
the pathos and sadness that seemed to ring in every note.

"What weird music, Beatrice!" he said, at length.  "You are singing of
love, but the love is all sorrow.  Your songs are generally so bright
and happy.  What has come over you?"

"Nothing," was the reply, but he, bending over her, saw the dark eyes
were dim with tears.

"There," cried Lord Airlie, "you see I am right.  You have positively
sung yourself to tears."

He drew her from the piano, and led her to the large bay window where
the roses peeped in.  He held her face up to the mellow evening light,
and looked gravely into her beautiful eyes.

"Tell me," he said, simply, "what has saddened you, Beatrice you have
no secrets from me.  What were you thinking of just now when you sang
that dreamy 'Lebenwold?'  Every note was like a long sigh."

"Shall you laugh if I tell you?" she asked.

"No," he replied; "I can not promise to sigh, but I will not smile."

"I was thinking what I should do if--if anything happened to part us."

"But nothing ever will happen," he said; "nothing can part us but
death.  I know what would happen to me if I lost you, Beatrice."

"What?" she asked, looking up into the handsome, kindly face.

"I should not kill myself," he said, "for I hold life to be a sacred
gift; but I should go where the face of no other woman would smile upon
me.  Why do you talk so dolefully, Beatrice? Let us change the subject.
Tell me where you would like to go when we are married--shall it be
France, Italy, or Spain?"

"Would nothing ever make you love me less, Hubert?" she asked. "Neither
poverty nor sickness?"

"No," he replied; "nothing you can think of or invent."

"Nor disgrace?" she continued; but he interrupted her half angrily.

"Hush!" he said, "I do not like such a word upon your lips; never say
it again.  What disgrace can touch you?  You are too pure, too good."

She turned from him, and he fancied a low moan came from her trembling
lips.

"You are tired, and--pray forgive me, Beatrice--nervous too," said Lord
Airlie; "I will be your doctor.  You shall lie down here upon this
couch.  I will place it where you can see the sun set in the west, and
I will read to you something that will drive all fear away.  I thought
during dinner that you looked ill and worn."

Gently enough he drew the couch to the window, Lady Earle watching him
the while with smiling face.  He induced Beatrice to lie down, and then
turned her face to the garden where the setting sun was pleasantly
gilding the flowers.

"Now, you have something pleasant to look at," said Lord Airlie, "and
you shall have something pleasant to listen to.  I am going to read
some of Schiller's 'Marie Stuart.'"

He sat at her feet, and held her white hands in his.  He read the
grand, stirring words that at times seemed like the ring of martial
music, and again like the dirge of a soul in despair.

His clear, rich voice sounded pleasantly in the evening calm.
Beatrice's eyes lingered on the western sky all aflame, but her
thoughts were with Hugh Fernely.

What could she do?  If she could but temporize with him, if she could
but pacify him, for a time, until she was married, all would be safe.
He would not dare to talk of claiming Lady Airlie it would be vain if
he did.  Besides, she would persuade Lord Airlie to go abroad; and,
seeing all pursuit useless, Hugh would surely give her up.  Even at the
very worst, if Hubert and she were once married, she would not fear; if
she confessed all to him, he would forgive her.  He might be very
angry, but he would pardon his wife.  If he knew all about it before
marriage, there was no hope for her.

She must temporize with Fernely--write in a style that would convey
nothing, and tell him that he must wait.  He could not refuse.  She
would write that evening a letter that should give him no hope, nor yet
drive him to despair.

"That is a grand scene, is it not?" said Lord Airlie suddenly; then he
saw by Beatrice's startled look that she had not listened.

"I plead guilty at once," she replied.  "I was thinking--do not be
angry--I was thinking of something that relates to yourself. I heard
nothing of what you read, Hubert. Will you read it again?"

"Certainly not," he said, with a laugh of quiet amusement. "Reading
does not answer; we will try conversation.  Let us resume the subject
you ran away from before--where shall we go for our wedding trip?"

Only three days since she would have suggested twenty different places;
she would have smiled and blushed, her dark eyes growing brighter at
every word.  Now she listened to her lover's plans as if a ghostly hand
had clutched her heart and benumbed her with fear.

      *      *      *      *      *

That evening it seemed to Beatrice Earle as though she would never be
left alone.  In the drawing room stood a dainty little escritoire used
by the ladies of Earlescourt.  Here she dared not write lest Lord
Airlie should, as he often did, linger by her, pretending to assist
her.  If she went into the library, Lord Earle would be sure to ask to
whom she was writing.  There was nothing to be done but to wait until
she retired to her own room.

First came Lady Earle, solicitous about her health, recommending a long
rest and a quiet sleep; then Lillian, full of anxiety, half longing to
ask Beatrice if she thought Lionel Dacre handsomer and kinder than any
one else; then the maid Suzette, who seemed to linger as though she
would never go.

At length she was alone, the door locked upon the outer world. She was
soon seated at her little desk, where she speedily wrote the following
cold letter, that almost drove Hugh Fernely mad:

"My dear Hugh,--Have you really returned?  I thought you were lost in
the Chinese Seas, or had forgotten the little episode at Knutsford.  I
can not see you just yet.  As you have heard, Lord Earle has peculiar
notions--I must humor them.  I will write again soon, and say when and
where I can see you.  Yours sincerely, Beatrice Earle."

She folded the letter and addressed it as he wished; then she left her
room and went down into the hall, where the post-bag lay open upon the
table.  She placed the missive inside, knowing that no one would take
the trouble to look at the letters; then she returned, as she had come,
silently.

The letter reached Brookfield at noon the following day.  When Hugh
Fernely opened it he bit his lips with rage.  Cold, heartless lines!
Not one word was there of welcome.  Not one of sorrow for his supposed
death; no mention of love, truth, or fidelity; no promise that she
would be his.  What could such a letter mean?

He almost hated the girl whom he had loved so well.  Yet he could not,
would not, believe anything except that perhaps during his long absence
she had grown to think less kindly of him.  She had promised to be his
wife, and let come what might, he would make her keep her word.

So he said, and Hugh Fernely meant it.  His whole life was centered in
her and he would not tamely give her up.

The letter dispatched, Beatrice awaited the reply with a suspense no
words can describe.  A dull wonder came over her at times why she must
suffer so keenly.  Other girls had done what she had done--nay, fifty
times worse--and no Nemesis haunted them.  Why was this specter of fear
and shame to stand by her side every moment and distress her?

It was true it had been very wrong of her to meet this tiresome Hugh
Fernely in the pleasant woods and on the sea shore; but it had broken
the monotony that had seemed to be killing her.  His passionate love
had been delicious flattery; still she had not intended anything
serious.  It had only been a novelty and an amusement to her, although
to him perhaps it had been a matter of life or death.  But she had
deceived Lord Earle.  If, when he had questioned her, and sought with
such tender wisdom to win her confidence, if she had told him her story
then, he would have saved her from further persecution and from the
effects of her own folly; if she had told him then, it would not have
mattered there would have been no obstacle to her love for Lord Airlie.

It was different now.  If she were to tell Lord Earle, after his
deliberate and emphatic words, she could expect no mercy; yet, she said
to herself, other girls have done even worse, and punishment had not
overtaken them so swiftly.

At last she slept, distressed and worn out with thought.



Chapter XXXII

For the first time in her life, when the bright sun shone into her
room, Beatrice turned her face to the wall and dreaded the sight of
day.  The post-bag would leave the hall at nine in the morning--Hugh
would have the letter at noon.  Until then she was safe.

Noon came and went, but the length of the summer's day brought nothing
save fresh misery.  At every unusual stir, every loud peal of the bell,
every quick footstep, she turned pale, and her heart seemed to die
within her.

Lady Earle watched her with anxious eyes.  She could not understand the
change that had come over the brilliant young girl who had used to be
the life of the house.  Every now and then she broke out into wild
feverish gayety.  Lillian saw that something ailed her sister--she
could not tell what.

For the fiftieth time that day, when the hall door bell sounded,
Beatrice looked up with trembling lips she vainly tried to still. At
last Lady Earle took the burning hands in her own.

"My dear child," she said, "you will have a nervous fever if you go on
in this way.  What makes you start at every noise?  You look as though
you were waiting for something dreadful to happen."

"No one ever called me nervous," replied Beatrice, with a smile,
controlling herself with an effort; "mamma's chief complaint against me
was that I had no nerves;" adding presently to herself: "This can not
last.  I would rather die at once that live in this agony."

The weary day came to a close, however, and it was well for Beatrice
that Lord Airlie had not spent it with her.  The gentlemen at
Earlescourt had all gone to a bachelor's dinner, given by old Squire
Newton of the Grange.  It was late when they returned, and Lord Airlie
did not notice anything unusual in Beatrice.

"I call this a day wasted," he said, as he bade her goodnight; "for it
has been a day spent away from you.  I thought it would never come to
an end."

She sighed, remembering what a dreary day it had been to her. Could she
live through such another?  Half the night she lay awake, wondering if
Hugh's answer to her letter would come by the first post, and whether
Lord Earle would say anything if he noticed another letter from
Brookfield.  Fortune favored her.  In the morning Lord Earle was deeply
engrossed by a story Lionel was telling, and asked Beatrice to open the
bag for him.  She again saw a hated blue envelope bearing her own name.
When all the other letters were distributed, she slipped hers into the
pocket of her dress, without any one perceiving the action.

Breakfast was over at last; and leaving Lord Airlie talking to Lillian,
Beatrice hastened to read the letter.  None of Hugh's anger was there
set down; but if she had cared for him her heart must have ached at the
pathos of his simple words.  He had received her note, he said--the
note so unworthy of her--and hastened to tell her that he was obliged
to go to London on some important business connected with his ship, and
that he should be absent three weeks.  He would write to her at once on
his return, and he should insist upon seeing her then, as well as exact
the fulfillment of her promise.

It was a respite; much might happen in three weeks.  She tore the
letter into shreds, and felt as though relieved of a deadly weight.  If
time could but be gained, she thought--if something could happen to
urge on her marriage with Hubert Airlie before Hugh returned!  At any
rate, for the moment she was free.

She looked like herself again when Lord Airlie came to ask her if she
would ride or walk.  The beautiful bloom had returned to her face and
the light to her eyes.  All day she was in brilliant spirits.  There
was no need now to tremble at a loud ring or a rapid step.  Three weeks
was a long time--much might happen. "Oh, if Lord Airlie would but force
me to marry him soon!"

That very evening Lord Airlie asked her if she would go out with him.
He wanted to talk to her alone, for he was going away on the morrow,
and had much to say to her.

"Where are you going?" she asked with sad, wondering eyes, her chance
of escaping seeming rapidly to diminish.

"I am going to Lynnton," he replied, "to see about plans for the new
buildings.  They should be begun at once.  For even if we remain abroad
a whole year they will then be hardly finished.  I shall be away ten
days or a fortnight.  When I return, Beatrice, I shall ask you a
question.  Can you guess what it will be?"

There was no answering smile on her face.  Perhaps he would be absent
three weeks.  What chance of escape had she now?

"I shall ask you when you will fulfill your promise," he
continued--"when you will let me make you in deed and in word my wife.
You must not be cruel to me, Beatrice.  I have waited long enough.  You
will think about it while I am gone, will you not?"

Lord Earle smiled as he noted his daughter's face.  Airlie was going
away, and therefore she was dull--that was just as it should be.  He
was delighted that she cared so much for him.  He told Lady Helena that
he had not thought Beatrice capable of such deep affection.  Lady
Helena told him she had never known any one who could love so well or
hate so thoroughly as Beatrice.

The morning came, and Lord Airlie lingered so long over his farewell
that Lady Helena began to think he would alter his mind and remain
where he was.  He started at last, however, promising to write every
day to Beatrice, and followed by the good wishes of the whole household.

He was gone, and Hugh was gone; for three weeks she had nothing to
fear, nothing to hope, and a settled melancholy calm fell upon her.
Her father and Lady Helena thought she was dull because her lover was
away; the musical laugh that used to gladden Lord Earle's heart was
hushed; she became unusually silent; the beautiful face grew pale and
sad.  They smiled and thought it natural.  Lillian, who knew every
expression of her sister's face, grew anxious, fearing there was some
ailment either of body or mind of which none of them were aware.

They believed she was thinking of her absent lover and feeling dull
without him.  In reality her thoughts were centered upon one idea--what
could she do to get rid of Hugh Fernely?  Morning, noon, and night that
one question was always before her.  She talked when others did, she
laughed with them; but if there came an interval of silence the
beautiful face assumed a far-off dreamy expression Lillian had never
seen there before. Beatrice was generally on her guard, watchful and
careful, but there were times when the mask she wore so bravely fell
off, and Lillian, looking at her then, knew all was not well with her
sister.

What was to be done to get free from Hugh?  Every hour in the day fresh
plans came to her--some so absurd as to provoke feverish, unnatural
laughter, but none that were feasible.  With all her daring wit, her
quick thought, her vivid fancy--with all her resource of mind and
intellect, she could do nothing.  Day and night the one question was
still there--what could she do to get free from Hugh Fernely?



Chapter XXXIII

A whole week passed, and the "something" Beatrice longed for had not
happened.  Life went on quietly and smoothly.  Her father and Lady
Earle busied themselves in talking of preparations for the marriage.
Lionel Dacre and Lillian slowly drifted into the fairyland of hope,
Lord Airlie wrote every day.  No one dreamed of the dark secret that
hung over Earlescourt.

Every morning Beatrice, with the sanguine hopefulness of youth, said to
herself, "Something will happen today;" every night she thought,
"Something must happen tomorrow;" but days and nights went on calmly,
unbroken by any event or incident such as she wished.

The time of reprieve was rapidly passing.  What should she do if, at
the end of three weeks, Lord Airlie returned and Hugh Fernely came back
to Earlescourt?  Through the long sunny hours that question tortured
her--the suspense made her sick at heart. There were times when she
thought it better to die at once than pass through this lingering agony
of fear.

But she was young, and youth is ever sanguine; she was brave, and the
brave rarely despair.  She did not realize the difficulties of her
position, and she did not think it possible that anything could happen
to take her from Hubert Airlie.

Only one person noted the change in Beatrice, and that was her sister,
Lillian Earle.  Lillian missed the high spirits, the brilliant
repartee, the gay words that had made home so bright; over and over
again she said to herself all was not well with her sister.

Lillian had her own secret--one she had as yet hardly whispered to
herself.  From her earliest childhood she had been accustomed to give
way to Beatrice.  Not that there was any partiality displayed, but the
willful young beauty generally contrived to have her own way.  By her
engaging manners and high spirits she secured every one's attention;
and thus Lillian was in part overlooked.

She was very fair and gentle, this golden-haired daughter of Ronald
Earle.  Her face was so pure and spirituelle that one might have
sketched it for the face of a seraph; the tender violet eyes were full
of eloquence, the white brow full of thought.  Her beauty never
dazzled, never took any one by storm; it won by slow degrees a place in
one's heart.

She was of a thoughtful, unobtrusive nature; nothing could have made
her worldly, nothing could have made her proud.

Sweet, calm, serene, ignorant alike of all the height of happiness and
the depths of despair--gifted, too with a singularly patient
disposition and amiable temper, no one had ever seen Lillian Earle
angry or hasty; her very presence seemed full of rest and peace.

Nature had richly endowed her.  She had a quick, vivid fancy, a rare
and graceful imagination; and perhaps her grandest gift was a strong
and deep love for things not of this world.  Not that Lillian was given
to "preaching," or being disagreeably "goody," but high and holy
thoughts came naturally to her.  When Lord Earle wanted amusement, he
sent for Beatrice--no one could while away long hours as she could;
when he wanted comfort, advice, or sympathy, he sought Lillian.  Every
one loved her, much as one loves the sunbeams that bring bright light
and warmth.

Lionel Dacre loved her best of all.  His only wonder was that any one
could even look at Beatrice when Lillian was near.  He wondered
sometimes whether she had not been made expressly for him--she was so
strong where he was weak, her calm serene patience controlled his
impetuosity, her gentle thoughtfulness balanced his recklessness, her
sweet, graceful humility corrected his pride.

She influenced him more than he knew--one word from her did wonders
with him.  He loved her for her fair beauty, but most of all for the
pure, guileless heart that knew no shadow of evil upon which the world
had never even breathed.

Lionel Dacre had peculiar ideas about women.  His mother, who had been
a belle in her day, was essentially worldly.  The only lessons she had
ever taught him were how to keep up appearance, how to study
fashionable life and keep pace with it.

She had been a lady of fashion, struggling always with narrow means;
and there were times when her son's heart grew sick, remembering the
falseness, the meanness, the petty cunning maneuvers she had been
obliged to practice.

As he grew older and began to look around the world, he was not
favorably impressed.  The ladies of his mother's circle were all
striving together to get the foremost place.  He heard of envy,
jealousy, scandal, untruth, until he wondered if all women were alike.

He himself was of a singularly truthful, honorable nature--all deceit,
all false appearances were hateful to him.  He had formed to himself an
ideal of a wife, and he resolved to live and die unmarried unless he
could find some one to realize it.

Lillian Earle did.  He watched her keenly; she was truthful and open as
the day.  He never heard a false word from her  not even one of the
trifling excuses that pass current in society for truth.  He said to
himself, if any one was all but perfect, surely she was.  To use his
own expression, he let his heart's desire rest in her; all he had ever
hoped for or dreamed of was centered in her.  He set to work
deliberately and with all the ardor of his impetuous nature to win her
love.

At first she did not understand him; then by degrees he watched the
pure young heart awaken to consciousness.  It was as pretty a
development of love as ever was witnessed.  At the sound of his
footsteps or his voice the faint color flushed into her face, light
came into her eyes; and when he stood by her side, bending his handsome
head to read her secret, she would speak a word or two, and then hurry
away from him.  If he wished to join her in her walks or rides, she
begged to be excused with trembling lips and drooping eyes.

She hardly knew herself what had come to her--why the world seemed
suddenly to have grown so fair--what made fresh luster in the sky
above.  A vague, delicious happiness stirred in the gentle heart.  She
longed for, yet half dreaded, Lionel's presence. When he was near her,
the little hands trembled and the sweet face grew warm and flushed.
Yet the measure of her content and happiness seemed full.

Lionel saw it all, and he wondered why such a precious treasure as the
love of this pure, innocent girl should be his.  What had he ever done
to deserve it?  Through her he began to respect all other women,
through her he began to value the high and holy teachings he had
hitherto overlooked.  She was his ideal realized.  If ever the time
should come for him to be disappointed in her, then he would believe
all things false--but it never could be.

How should he tell her of his love?  It would be like trying to cage a
startled, timid bird.  He stood abashed before her sweet innocence.

But the time came when he resolved to woo and win her--when he felt
that his life would be unbearable without her; and he said to himself
that sweet Lillian Earle should be his wife, or he would never look
upon a woman's face again.

Lionel felt some slight jealousy of Beatrice; he paid dearly enough for
it in the dark after-days.  He fancied that she eclipsed Lillian.  He
thought that if he spoke to Lord Earle of his love, he would insist
upon both marriages taking place on one day; and then his fair gentle
love would, as usual, be second to her brilliant sister.

"That shall never be," he said to himself.  "Lillian shall have a
wedding day of her own, the honors unshared.  She shall be the one
center of attraction."

He determined to say nothing to Lord Earle until Beatrice was married;
surely her wedding must take place soon--Lord Airlie seemed unable to
exist out of her presence.  When they were married and gone, Lillian
should have her turn of admiration and love.  It was nothing but proud,
jealous care for her that made him delay.

And Lillian discovered her own secret at last.  She knew she loved
Lionel.  He was unlike every one else.  Who was so handsome, so brave,
so good?  She liked to look shyly at the frank, proud face and the
careless wave of hair thrown back from his brow; his voice made music
in her heart, and she wondered whether he really cared for her.

In her rare sweet humility she never saw how far she was above him; she
never dreamed that he looked up to her as a captain to his queen.  He
was always by her side, he paid her a thousand graceful attentions, he
sought her advice and sympathy, some unspoken words seemed ever on his
lips.  Lillian Earle asked herself over and over again whether he loved
her.

She was soon to know.  From some careless words of Lord Earle's, Lionel
gathered that Beatrice's marriage would take place in November.  Then
he decided, if he could win her consent, that Lillian's wedding should
be when the spring flowers were blooming.

August, with its sunny days, was at an end.  Early in September Lillian
stood alone on the shore of the deep, clear lake.  Lionel saw her
there, and hastened to join her, wondering at the grave expression on
her face.

"What are you thinking of, Lillian?" he asked.  "You look sad and
anxious."

"I was thinking of Beatrice," she replied.  "She seems so changed, so
different.  I can not understand it."

"I can," said Lionel.  "You forget that she will soon leave the old
life far behind her.  She is going into a new world; a change so great
may well make one thoughtful."

"She loves Lord Airlie," returned Lillian--she could hear even then the
musical voice saying, "I love him so dearly, Lily"--"she can not be
unhappy."

"I do not mean that," he replied; "thought and silence are not always
caused by unhappiness.  Ah, Lily," he cried, "I wonder if you guess
ever so faintly at the thoughts that fill my heart!  I wonder if you
know how dearly I love you.  Nay, do not turn from me, do not look
frightened.  To me you are the truest, noblest, and fairest woman in
the world.  I love you so dearly, Lily, that I have not a thought or
wish away from you.  I am not worthy to win you, I know--you are as far
above me as the sun shining overhead  but, if you would try, you might
make me what you would.  Could you like me?"

The sweet flushed face was raised to his; he read the happiness shining
in the clear eyes.  But she could not speak to him; words seemed to die
upon her lips.  Lionel took the little white hands and clasped them in
his own.

"I knew I should frighten you, Lily," he said, gently.  "Forgive me if
I have spoken too abruptly.  I do not wish you to decide at once.  Take
me on trial--see if you can learn to love me weeks, months, or years
hence.  I am willing to wait a whole life time for you, my darling, and
should think the time well spent.  Will it be possible for you ever to
like me?"

"I like you now," she said, simply.

"Then promise to endeavor to love me," he persisted; "will you, Lily?
I will do anything you wish me; I will try my best to be half as good
as you are.  Promise me, darling--my life hangs on your answer."

"I promise," she said; and he knew how much the words meant.

On the little hand that rested in his own he saw a pretty ring; it was
a large pearl set in gold.  Lionel drew it from her finger.

"I shall take this, Lily," he said; "and, when Beatrice is married and
gone, I shall go to Lord Earle and ask him to give you to me.  I will
not go now; we will keep our secret for a short time.  Two love affairs
at once would be too much.  You will learn to love me, and when the
spring time comes, perhaps you will make me happy as Beatrice will by
then have made Lord Airlie.  I shall keep the ring.  Lillian, you are
my pearl, and this will remind me of you.  Just to make me very happy,
say you are pleased."

"I will say more than that," she replied, a happy smile rippling over
her face; "I have more than half learned my lesson."

He kissed the pretty hand, and looked at the fair, flushed face he
dared not touch with his lips.

"I can not thank you," he said, his voice full of emotion.  "I will
live for you, Lily, and my life shall prove my gratitude.  I begin to
wish the spring were nearer.  I wonder if you will have learned your
lesson then."



Chapter XXXIV

Lord Airlie's return to Earlescourt had been delayed.  The changes to
take place at Lynnton involved more than he thought. It was quite three
weeks before he could leave the Hall and seek again the presence he
loved best on earth.

Three weeks, yet nothing had happened.  Beatrice had watched each day
begin and end until her heart grew faint with fear; she was as far as
ever from finding herself freed from Hugh Fernely.

Lord Airlie, on his arrival, was startled by the change in her
brilliant face.  Yet he was flattered by it.  He thought how intensely
she must love him if his absence could affect her so strongly.  He
kissed her pale face over and over again, declaring that he would not
leave her any more--no one else knew how to take care of her.

They were all pleased to welcome him for every one liked Lord Airlie,
and the family circle did not seem complete without him. That very
night he had an interview with Lord Earle and besought him to allow the
marriage to take place as soon as possible.  He had been miserable away
from Beatrice, he declared, and he thought she looked pale and grave.
Would Lord Earle be willing to say November, or perhaps the latter end
of October?

"My daughter must arrange the time herself" said Lord Earle; "whatever
day she chooses will meet with my approval."

Lord Airlie went to the drawing room where he had left Beatrice, and
told her Lord Earle's answer; she smiled, but he saw the white lips
quiver as she did so.

Only one month since his passionate, loving words would have made the
sweetest music to her; she listened and tried to look like herself, but
her heart was cold with vague, unutterable dread.

"The fourteenth of October"--clever Lord Airlie, by some system of
calculation known only to himself, persuaded Beatrice that that was the
"latter end of the month."

"Not another word," he said, gayly.  "I will go and tell Lord Earle.
Do not say afterward that you have changed your mind, as many ladies
do. Beatrice, say to me, 'Hubert, I promise to marry you on the
fourteenth of October.'"

She repeated the words after him.

"It will be almost winter," he added; "the flowers will have faded, the
leaves will have fallen from the trees; yet no summer day will ever be
so bright to me as that."

She watched him quit the room, and a long, low cry came from her lips.
Would it ever be?  She went to the window and looked at the trees.
When the green leaves lay dead she would be Lord Airlie's wife, or
would the dark cloud of shame and sorrow have fallen, hiding her
forever from his sight?

Ah, if she had been more prudent!  How tame and foolish, how
distasteful the romance she had once thought delightful seemed now!  If
she had but told all to Lord Earle!

It was too late now!  Yet, despite the deadly fear that lay at her
heart, Beatrice still felt something like hope.  Hope is the last thing
to die in the human breast--it was not yet dead in hers.

At least for that one evening--the first after Lord Airlie's
return--she would be happy.  She would throw the dark shadow away from
her, forget it, and enjoy her lover's society.  He could see smiles on
her face, and hear bright words such as he loved.  Let the morrow bring
what it would, she would be happy that night.  And she kept her word.

Lord Airlie looked back afterward on that evening as one of the
pleasantest of his life.  There was no shadow upon the beautiful face
he loved so well.  Beatrice was all life and animation; her gay, sweet
words charmed every one who heard them.  Even Lionel forgot to be
jealous, and admired her more than he ever had before.

Lord Earle smiled as he remarked to Lady Helena that all her fears for
her grandchild's health were vain--the true physician was come at last.

When Lord Airlie bade Beatrice good night, he bent low over the white,
jeweled hand.

"I forget all time when with you," he said; "it does not seem an hour
since I came to Earlescourt."

The morrow brought the letter she had dreaded yet expected to see.

It was not filled with loving, passionate words, as was the first Hugh
had written.  He said the time had come when he must have an
answer--when he must know from her own lips at what period he might
claim the fulfillment of her promise--when she would be his wife.

He would wait no longer.  If it was to be war, let the war begin he
should win.  If peace, so much the better.  In any case he was tired of
suspense, and must know at once what she intended to do.  He would
trust to no more promises; that very night he would be at Earlescourt,
and must see her.  Still, though he intended to enforce his rights, he
would not wantonly cause her pain.  He would not seek the presence of
her father until she had seen him and they had settled upon some plan
of action.

"I know the grounds around Earlescourt well," he wrote.  "I wandered
through them for many nights three weeks ago.  A narrow path runs from
the gardens to the shrubbery--meet me there at nine; it will be dark
then, and you need not fear being seen. Remember, Beatrice, at nine
tonight I shall be there; and if you do not come, I must seek you in
the house, for see you I will."

The letter fell from her hands; cold drops of fear and shame stood upon
her brow; hatred and disgust filled her heart.  Oh, that she should
ever have placed herself in the power of such a man!

The blow had fallen at last.  She stood face to face with her shame and
fear.  How could she meet Hugh Fernely?  What should she say to him?
How must such a meeting end?  It would but anger him the more.  He
should not even touch her hand in greeting, she said to herself; and
how would he endure her contempt?

She would not see him.  She dared not.  How could she find time? Lord
Airlie never left her side.  She could not meet Hugh.  The web seemed
closing round her, but she would break through it.

She would send him a letter saying she was ill, and begging him to wait
yet a little longer.  Despite his firm words, she knew he would not
refuse it if she wrote kindly.  Again came the old hope something might
happen in a few days.  If not, she must run away; if everything failed
and she could not free herself from him, then she would leave home; in
any case she would not fall into his hands--rather death than that.

More than once she thought of Gaspar's words.  He was so true, so
brave--he would have died for her.  Ah, if he could but help her, if
she could but call him to her aid!  In this, the dark hour of her life
by her own deed she had placed herself beyond the reach of all human
help.

She would write--upon that she was determined; but who would take the
letter?  Who could she ask to stand at the shrubbery gate and give to
the stranger a missive from herself?  If she asked such a favor from a
servant, she would part with her secret to one who might hold it as a
rod of iron over her.  She was too proud for that.  There was only one
in the world who could help her, and that was her sister Lillian.

She shrank with unutterable shame from telling her.  She remembered how
long ago at Knutsford she had said something that had shocked her
sister, and the scared, startled expression of her face was with her
still.  It was a humiliation beyond all words.  Yet, if she could
undergo it, there would be comfort in Lillian's sympathy.  Lillian
would take the letter, she would see Hugh, and tell him she was ill.
Ill she felt in very truth. Hugh would be pacified for a time if he saw
Lillian.  She could think of no other arrangement.  That evening she
would tell her sister--there was rest even in the thought.

Long before dinner Lady Helena came in search of Beatrice--it was high
time, she said, that orders should be sent to London for her trousseau,
and the list must be made out at once.

She sat calmly in Lady Helena's room, writing in obedience to her
words, thinking all the time how she should tell Lillian, how best make
her understand the deadly error committed, yet save herself as much as
she could.  Lady Earle talked of laces and embroidery, of morning
dresses and jewels, while Beatrice went over in her mind every word of
her confession.

"That will do," said Lady Earle, with a smile; "I have been very
explicit, but I fear it has been in vain.  Have you heard anything I
have said, Beatrice?"

She blushed, and looked so confused that Lady Helena said, laughingly:

"You may go--do not be ashamed.  Many years ago I was just as much in
love myself, and just as unable to think of anything else as you are
now."

There was some difficulty in finding Lillian; she was discovered at
last in the library, looking over some fine old engravings with Mr.
Dacre.  He looked up hastily when Beatrice asked her sister to spare
her half an hour.

"Do not go, Lily," he said, jestingly; "it is only some nonsense about
wedding dresses.  Let us finish this folio."

But Beatrice had no gay repartee for him.  She looked grave, although
she tried to force a smile.

"I can not understand that girl," he said to himself, as the library
door closed behind the two sisters.  "I could almost fancy that
something was distressing her."

"Lily," said Beatrice, "I want you very much.  I am sorry to take you
from Lionel; you like being with him, I think."

The fair face of her sister flushed warmly.

"But I want you, dear," said Beatrice.  "Oh, Lily, I am in bitter
trouble!  No one can help me but you."

They went together into the little boudoir Beatrice called her own.
She placed her sister in the easy lounging chair drawn near the window,
and then half knelt, half sat at her feet.

"I am in such trouble, Lily!" she cried.  "Think how great it is when I
know not how to tell you."

The sweet, gentle eyes looked wonderingly into her own.  Beatrice
clasped her sister's hands.

"You must not judge me harshly," she said, "I am not good like you,
Lily; I never could be patient and gentle like you.  Do you remember,
long ago, at Knutsford, how I found you one morning upon the cliffs,
and told you that I hated my life?  I did hate it, Lillian," she
continued.  "You can never tell how much; its quiet monotony was
killing me.  I have done wrong; but surely they are to blame who made
my life what it was then--who shut me out from the world, instead of
giving me my rightful share of its pleasures.  I can not tell you what
I did, Lily."

She laid her beautiful, sad face on her sister's hands.  Lillian bent
over her, and whispered how dearly she loved her, and how she would do
anything to help her.

"That very morning," she said, never raising her eyes to her sister's
face--"that morning, Lily, I met a stranger--a gentleman he seemed to
me--and he watched me with admiring eyes. I met him again, and he spoke
to me.  He walked by my side through the long meadows, and told me
strange stories of foreign lands he had visited--such stories!  I
forgot that he was a stranger, and talked to him as I am talking to you
now.  I met him again and again.  Nay, do not turn from me; I shall die
if you shrink away."

The gentle arms clasped her more closely.

"I am not turning from you," replied Lillian.  "I can not love you more
than I do now."

"I met him" continued Beatrice, "every day, unknown to every one about
me.  He praised my beauty, and I was filled with joy; then he talked to
me of love, and I listened without anger.  I swear to you," she said,
"that I did it all without thought; it was the novelty, the flattery,
the admiration that pleased me, not he himself, I believe Lily.  I
rarely thought of him.  He interested me; he had eloquent words at his
command, and seeing how I loved romance, he told me stories of
adventure that held me enchanted and breathless.  I lost sight of him
in thinking of the wonders he related.  They are to blame, Lily, who
shut me out from the living world.  Had I been in my proper place here
at home, where I could have seen and judged people rightly, it would
not have happened.  At first it was but a pleasant break in a life
dreary beyond words; then I looked for the daily meed of flattery and
homage.  I could not do without it.  Lily, will you hold me to have
been mad when I tell you the time came when I allowed that man to hold
my hands as you are doing, to kiss my face, and win from me a promise
that I would be his wife?"

Beatrice looked up then and saw the fair, pitying face almost as white
as snow.

"Is it worse than you thought?" she asked.

"Oh, yes," said Lillian; "terrible, irretrievable, I fear!"



Chapter XXXV

There was unbroken silence for some minutes; then Lillian bent over her
sister, and said:

"Tell me all, darling; perhaps I can help you."

"I promised to be his wife, Lily," continued Beatrice.  "I am sure I
did not mean it.  I was but a child.  I did not realize all that the
words meant.  He kissed my face, and said he should come to claim me.
Believe me, Lily, I never thought of marriage. Brilliant pictures of
foreign lands filled my mind; I looked upon Hugh Fernely only as a
means of escape from a life I detested. He promised to take me to
places the names of which filled me with wonder.  I never thought of
leaving you or mamma--I never thought of the man himself as of a lover."

"You did not care for him, then, as you do for Lord Airlie?" interposed
Lillian.

"Do not pain me!" begged Beatrice.  "I love Hubert with the love that
comes but once in life; that man was nothing to me except that his
flattery, and the excitement of contriving to meet him, made my life
more endurable.  He gave me a ring, and said in two years' time he
should return to claim me.  He was going on a long voyage.  Lily, I
felt relieved when he was gone--the novelty was over--I had grown
tired.  Besides, when the glamour fell from my eyes, I was ashamed of
what I had done.  I tried to forget all about him; every time the
remembrance of him came to my mind I drove it from me.  I did not think
it possible he would ever return.  It was but a summer's pastime.  That
summer has darkened my life.  Looking back, I own I did very wrong.
There is great blame attaching to me, but surely they who shut me out
from the living world were blameworthy also.

"Remember all through my story, darling, that I am not so good, not so
patient and gentle as you. I was restless at the Elms, like a bird in a
cage; you were content.  I was vain, foolish, and willful; but, looking
back at the impetuous, imperious child, full of romance, untrained,
longing for the strife of life, longing for change, for excitement, for
gayety, chafing under restraint, I think there was some little excuse
for me.  There was no excuse for what followed.  When papa spoke to
us--you remember it, Lily--and asked so gently if we had either of us a
secret in our lives--when he promised to pardon anything, provided we
kept nothing from him--I ought to have told him then.  There is no
excuse for that error.  I was ashamed. Looking round upon the noble
faces hanging on the wall, looking at him, so proud, so dignified, I
could not tell him what his child had done.  Oh, Lily, if I had told
him, I should not be kneeling here at your feet now."

Lillian made no reply, but pressed the proud, drooping figure more
closely to her side.

"I can hardly tell the rest," said Beatrice; "the words frighten me as
I utter them.  This man, who has been the bane of my life, was going
away for two years.  He was to claim me when he returned.  I never
thought he would return; I was so happy, I could not believe it."  Here
sobs choked her utterance.

Presently she continued: "Lily, he is here; he claims me, and also the
fulfillment of my promise to be his wife."

A look of unutterable dread came over the listener's fair, pitying face.

"He wrote to me three weeks since; I tried to put him off.  He wrote
again this morning, and swears he will see me.  He will be here tonight
at nine o'clock.  Oh, Lily, save me, save me, or I shall die!"

Bitter sobs broke from the proud lips.

"I never knelt to any one before," Beatrice said; "I kneel to you, my
sister.  No one else can help me.  You must see him for me, give him a
letter from me, and tell him I am very ill.  It is no untruth, Lily.  I
am ill, my brain burns, and my heart is cold with fear.  Will you do
this for me?"

"I would rather almost give you my life," said Lillian gently.

"Oh, do not say that, Lily!  Do you know what there is at stake? Do you
remember papa's words--that, if ever he found one of us guilty of any
deceit, or involved in any clandestine love affair, even if it broke
his heart he would send the guilty one from him and never see her
again?  Think, darling, what it would be for me to leave
Earlescourt--to leave all the magnificence I love so dearly, and drag
out a weary life at the Elms.  Do you think I could brook Lord Earle's
angry scorn and Lady Helena's pained wonder?  Knowing our father as you
know him, do you believe he would pardon me?"

"I do not," replied Lily, sadly.

"That is not all," continued Beatrice.  "I might bear anger, scorn, and
privation, but, Lily, if this miserable secret is discovered, Lord
Airlie will cease to love me.  He might have forgiven me if I had told
him at first; he would not know that I had lied to him and deceived
him.  I can not lose him--I can not give him up.  For our mother's
sake, for my sake, help me, Lily. Do what I have asked!"

"If I do it," said Lillian, "it will give you but a few days' reprieve;
it will avail nothing; he will be here again."

"I shall think of some means of escape in a few days," answered
Beatrice wistfully.  "Something must happen, Lily, fortune could not be
so cruel to me; it could not rob me of my love.  If I can not free
myself, I shall run away.  I would rather suffer anything than face
Lord Airlie or my father.  Say you will help me for my love's sake!  Do
not let me lose my love!"

"I will help you," said Lillian; "it is against my better
judgment--against my idea of right--but I can not refuse you. I will
see the man, and give him your letter. Beatrice, let me persuade you.
You can not free yourself.  I see no way--running away is all
nonsense--but to tell Lord Earle and your lover; anything would be
better than to live as you do, a drawn sword hanging over your heart.
Tell them, and trust to their kindness; at least you will have peace of
mind then.  They will prevent him from annoying you."

"I can not," she said, and the breath came gasping from her lips.
"Lillian, you do not know what Lord Airlie is to me.  I could never
meet his anger.  If ever you love any one you will understand better.
He is everything to me.  I would suffer any sorrow, even death, rather
than see his face turned coldly from me."

She loosened her grasp of Lillian's hands and fell upon the floor,
weeping bitterly and passionately.  Her sister, bending over her, heard
the pitiful words--"My love, my love!  I can not lose my love!"

The passionate weeping ceased, and the proud, sad face grew calm and
still.

"You can not tell what I have suffered, Lily," she said, humbly. "See,
my pride is all beaten down, only those who have had a secret, eating
heart and life away, can tell what I have endured. A few more days of
agony like this, and I shall be free forever from Hugh Fernely."

Her sister tried to soothe her with gentle words, but they brought no
comfort.

"He will be here at nine," she said; "it is six now.  I will write my
letter.  He will be at the shrubbery gate.  I will manage so that you
shall have time.  Give him the note I will write, speak to him for me,
tell him I am ill and can not see him.  Shall you be frightened?"

"Yes," replied Lillian, gently; "but that will not matter.  I must
think of you, not of myself."

"You need not fear him," said Beatrice.  "Poor Hugh, I could pity him
if I did not hate him.  Lily, I will thank you when my agony is over; I
can not now."

She wrote but a few words, saying she was ill and unable to see him; he
must be satisfied, and willing to wait yet a little longer.

She gave the letter to her sister.  Lillian's heart ached as she noted
the trembling hands and quivering lips.

"I have not asked you to keep my secret, Lily," said Beatrice,
sorrowfully.

"There is no need," was the simple reply.

      *      *      *      *      *

Sir Harry and Lady Laurence dined that day at Earlescourt, and it was
nearly nine before the gentlemen, who did not sit long over their wine,
came into the drawing room.  The evening was somewhat chilly; a bright
fire burned in the grate, and the lamps were lighted.  Sir Harry sat
down to his favorite game of chess with Lady Helena; Lord Earle
challenged Lady Laurence to a game at ecarte.  The young people were
left to themselves.

"In twenty years' time," said Lionel to Lillian, "we may seek refuge in
cards; at present music and moonlight are preferable, Lily.  You never
sing to me; come to the piano now."

But she remembered the dreaded hour was drawing near.

"Pray excuse me," she begged; "I will sing for you presently."

He looked surprised; it was the first time she had ever refused him a
favor.

"Shall we finish the folio of engravings?" he asked.

Knowing that, when once she was seated by his side, it would be
impossible to get away, she again declined; but this time the fair face
flushed, and the sweet eyes drooped.

"How guilty you look," he said.  "Is there any mystery on hand? Are you
tired of me?  Or is there to be another important consultation over the
wedding dresses?"

"I have something to attend to," she replied, evasively.  "Get the
folio ready--I shall not be long."

Beatrice, who had listened to the brief dialogue in feverish suspense,
now came to the rescue, asking Lionel to give them the benefit of his
clear, ringing tenor in a trio of Mendelssohn's.

"My 'clear, ringing tenor' is quite at your service," he said with a
smile.  "Lily is very unkind to me tonight."

They went to the piano, where Lord Airlie awaited them; and Lillian,
looking at her small, jeweled watch--Lord Earle's present--saw that it
wanted three minutes to nine.

She at once quitted the room, unobserved, as she thought; but Lionel
saw her go.

No words can tell how distasteful and repugnant was the task she had
undertaken.  She would have suffered anything almost to have evaded it.
She, who never had a secret; she, whose every word and action were open
as the day; she, who shrank from all deceit and untruth as from a
deadly plague, to be mixed up with a wretched clandestine love affair
like this!  She, to steal out of her father's house at night, to meet a
stranger, and plead her sister's cause with him!  The thought horrified
her; but the beautiful face in its wild sorrow, the sad voice in its
passionate anguish, urged her on.

Lillian went hastily to her own room.  She took a large black shawl and
drew it closely round her, hiding the pretty evening dress and the rich
pearls.  Then, with the letter in her hand, she went down the staircase
that led from her rooms to the garden.

The night was dark; heavy clouds sailed swiftly across the sky, the
wind moaned fitfully, bending the tall trees as it were in anger, then
whispering round them as though suing for pardon. Lillian had never
been out at night alone before, and her first sensation was one of
fear.  She crossed the gardens where the autumn flowers were fading;
the lights shone gayly from the Hall windows; the shrubbery looked dark
and mysterious.  She was frightened at the silence and darkness, but
went bravely on.  He was there.  By the gate she saw a tall figure
wrapped in a traveling cloak; as she crossed the path, he stepped
hastily forward, crying with a voice she never forgot:

"Beatrice, at last you have come!"

"It is not Beatrice," she said, shrinking from the outstretched arms.
"I am Lillian Earle.  My sister is ill, and has sent you this."



Chapter XXXVI

Hugh Fernely took the letter from Lillian's hands, and read it with a
muttered imprecation of disappointment.  The moon, which had been
struggling for the last hour with a mass of clouds, shone out faintly;
by its light Lillian saw a tall man with a dark, handsome face browned
with the sun of warm climes, dark eyes that had in them a wistful
sadness, and firm lips.  He did not look like the gentlemen she was
accustomed to.  He was polite and respectful.  When he heard her name,
he took off his hat, and stood uncovered during the interview.

"Wait!" he cried.  "Ah, must I wait yet longer?  Tell your sister I
have waited until my yearning wish to see her is wearing my life away."

"She is really ill," returned Lillian. "I am alarmed for her.  Do not
be angry with me if I say she is ill through anxiety and fear."

"Has she sent you to excuse her?" he asked, gloomily.  "It is of no
use.  Your sister is my promised wife, Miss Lillian, and see her I
will."

"You must wait at least until she is willing," said Lillian, and her
calm, dignified manner influenced him even more than her words, as she
looked earnestly into Hugh Fernely's face.

It was not a bad face, she thought; there was no cruelty or meanness
there.  She read love so fierce and violent in it that it startled her.
He did not look like one who would wantonly and willfully make her
sister wretched for life.  Hope grew in her heart as she gazed.  She
resolved to plead with him for Beatrice, to ask him to forget a
childish, foolish promise--a childish error.

"My sister is very unhappy," she said, bravely; "so unhappy that I do
not think she can bear much more; it will kill her or drive her mad."

"It is killing me," he interrupted.

"You do not look cruel, Mr. Fernely," continued Lillian. "Your face is
good and true--I would trust you.  Release my sister. She was but a
foolish, impetuous child when she made you that promise.  If she keeps
it, all her life will be wretched.  Be generous and release her."

"Did she bid you ask me?" he interrogated.

"No," she replied; "but do you know what the keeping of the promise
will cost her?  Lord Earle will never forgive her.  She will have to
leave home, sister, friends--all she loves and values most.  Judge
whether she could ever care for you, if you brought this upon her."

"I can not help it," he said gloomily.  "She promised to be my wife,
Miss Lillian--Heaven knows I am speaking truthfully--and I have lived
on her words.  You do not know what the strong love of a true man is.
I love her so that if she chose to place her little foot upon me, and
trample the life out of me, I would not say her nay.  I must see
her--the hungry, yearning love that fills my heart must be satisfied."
Great tears shone in his eyes, and deep sobs shook his strong frame.

"I will not harm her," he said, "but I must see her.  Once, and once
only, her beautiful face lay on my breast--that beautiful, proud face!
No mother ever yearned to see her child again more than I long to see
her.  Let her come to me, Miss Lillian; let me kneel at her feet as I
did before,--If she sends me from her, there will be pity in death; but
she can not.  There is not a woman in the world who could send such
love as mine away!  You can not understand," he continued. "It is more
than two years since I left her; night and day her face has been before
me.  I have lived upon my love; it is my life--my everything.  I could
no more drive it from my breast than I could tear my heart from my body
and still live on."

"Even if my sister cared for you," said Lillian, gently--for his
passionate words touched her--"you must know that Lord Earle would
never allow her to keep such a promise as she made."

"She knew nothing of Lord Earle when it was made," he replied, "nor did
I.  She was a beautiful child, pining away like a bright bird shut up
in a cage.  I promised her freedom and liberty; she promised me her
love.  Where was Lord Earle then?  She was safe with me.  I loved her.
I was kinder to her than her own father; I took care of her--he did
not."

"It is all changed now," said Lillian.

"But I can not change," he answered.  "If fortune had made me a king,
should I have loved your sister less!  Is a man's heart a plaything?
Can I call back my love?  It has caused me woe enough."

Lillian knew not what to say in the presence of this mighty love; her
gentle efforts at mediation were bootless.  She pitied him she pitied
Beatrice.

"I am sure you can be generous," she said, after a short silence.
"Great, true, noble love is never selfish.  My sister can never be
happy with you; then release her.  If you force her, or rather try to
force her, to keep this rash promise, think how she will dislike you.
If you are generous, and release her, think how she will esteem you."

"Does she not love me?" he asked; and his voice was hoarse with pain.

"No," replied Lillian, gently; "it is better for you to know the truth.
She does not love you--she never will."

"I do not believe it," he cried.  "I will never believe it from any
lips but her own!  Not love me!  Great Heaven!  Do you know you are
speaking of the woman who promised to be my wife?  If she tells me so,
I will believe her."

"She will tell you," said Lillian, "and you must not blame her. Come
again when she is well."

"No," returned Hugh Fernely; "I have waited long enough.  I am here to
see her, and I swear I will not leave until she has spoken to me."

He drew a pencil case from his pocket, and wrote a few lines on the
envelope which Beatrice had sent.

"Give that to your sister," he said, softly; "and, Miss Lillian, I
thank you for coming to me.  You have been very kind and gentle.  You
have a fair, true face.  Never break a man's heart for pastime, or
because the long sunny hours hang heavy upon your hands."

"I wish I could say something to comfort you," she said.  He held out
his hand and she could not refuse hers.

"Goodbye, Miss Lillian!  Heaven bless you for your sympathy."

"Goodbye," she returned, looking at the dark, passionate face she was
never more to see.

The moon was hidden behind a dense mass of thick clouds.  Hugh Fernely
walked quickly down the path.  Lillian, taking the folded paper,
hastened across the gardens.  But neither of them saw a tall, erect
figure, or a pale, stricken face; neither of them heard Lionel Dacre
utter a low cry as the shawl fell from Lillian's golden head.

He had tried over the trio, but it did not please him; he did not want
music--he wanted Lillian.  Beatrice played badly, too, as though she
did not know what she was doing.  Plainly enough Lord Airlie wanted him
out of the way.

"Where are you going?" asked Beatrice, as he placed the music on the
piano.

"To look for a good cigar," he replied.  "Neither Airlie nor you need
pretend to be polite, Bee, and say you hope I will not leave you."  He
quitted the drawing room, and went to his own room, where a box of
cigars awaited him.  He selected one, and went out into the garden to
enjoy it.  Was it chance that led him to the path by the shrubbery?
The wind swayed the tall branches, but there came a lull, and then he
heard a murmur of voices.  Looking over the hedge, he saw the tall
figure of a man, and the slight figure of a young girl shrouded in a
black shawl.

"A maid and her sweetheart," said Lionel to himself.  "Now that is not
precisely the kind of thing Lord Earle would like; still, it is no
business of mine."

But the man's voice struck him--it was full of the dignity of true
passion.  He wondered who he was.  He saw the young girl place her hand
in his for a moment, and then hasten rapidly away.

He thought himself stricken mad when the black shawl fall and showed in
the faint moonlight the fair face and golden hair of Lillian Earle.

      *      *      *      *      *

When Lillian re-entered the drawing room, the pretty ormulu clock was
chiming half past nine.  The chess and card tables were just as she had
left them.  Beatrice and Lord Airlie were still at the piano.  Lionel
was nowhere to be seen.  She went up to Beatrice and smilingly asked
Lord Airlie if he could spare her sister for five minutes.

"Ten, if you wish it," he replied, "but no longer;" and the two sisters
walked through the long drawing room into the little boudoir.

"Quick, Lillian," cried Beatrice, "have you seen him?  What does he
say?"

"I have seen him," she replied; "there is no time now to tell all he
said.  He sent this note," and Lillian gave the folded paper into her
sister's hand, and then clasped both hands in her own.

"Let me tell you, Beatrice darling, before you read it," she said,
"that I tried to soften his heart; and I think, if you will see him
yourself, and ask for your freedom, you will not ask in vain."

A light that was dazzling as sunshine came into the beautiful face.

"Oh, Lily," she cried, "can it be true?  Do not mock me with false
hopes; my life seems to tremble in the balance."

"He is not cruel," said Lillian. "I am sorry for him.  If you see him I
feel sure he will release you.  See what he says."

Beatrice opened the letter; it contained but a few penciled lines.  She
did not give them to Lillian to read.

"Beatrice," wrote Hugh Fernely, "you must tell me with your own lips
that you do not love me.  You must tell me yourself that every sweet
hope you gave me was a false lie.  I will not leave Earlescourt again
without seeing you.  On Thursday night, at ten o'clock, I will be at
the same place--meet me, and tell me if you want your freedom.  Hugh."

"I shall win!" she cried.  "Lily, hold my hands--they tremble with
happiness. See, I can not hold the paper.  He will release me, and I
shall not lose my love--my love, who is all the world to me.  How must
I thank you?  This is Tuesday; how shall I live until Thursday?  I feel
as though a load, a burden, the weight of which no words can tell, were
taken from me.  Lily, I shall be Lord Airlie's wife, and you will have
saved me."

"Beatrice," said Lord Earle, as the sisters, in returning, passed by
the chess table, "our game is finished, will you give us a song?"

Never had the magnificent voice rung out so joyously, never had the
beautiful face looked so bright.  She sang something that was like an
air of triumph--no under current of sadness marred its passionate
sweetness.  Lord Airlie bent over her chair enraptured.

"You sing like one inspired, Beatrice," he said.

"I was thinking of you," she replied; and he saw by the dreamy, rapt
expression of her face that she meant what she had said.

Presently Lord Airlie was summoned to Lady Helena's assistance in some
little argument over cards, and Beatrice, while her fingers strayed
mechanically over the keys, arrived at her decision.  She would see
Hugh.  She could not avert that; and she must meet him as bravely as
she could.  After all, as Lillian had said, he was not cruel, and he
did love her.  The proud lip curled in scornful triumph as she thought
how dearly he loved her.  She would appeal to his love, and beseech him
to release her.

She would beseech him with such urgency that he could not refuse. Who
ever refused her?  Could she not move men's hearts as the wind moves
the leaves?  He would be angry at first, perhaps fierce and passionate,
but in the end she would prevail.  As she sat there, dreamy, tender
melodies stealing, as it were, from her fingers, she went in fancy
through the whole scene.  She knew how silent the sleeping woods would
be--how dark and still the night.  She could imagine Hugh's face,
browned by the sun and travel.  Poor Hugh!  In the overflow of her
happiness she felt more kindly toward him.

She wished him well.  He might marry some nice girl in his own station
of life, and be a prosperous, happy man, and she would be a good friend
to him if he would let her.  No one would ever know her secret.
Lillian would keep it faithfully, and down the fair vista of years she
saw herself Lord Airlie's beloved wife, the error of her youth repaired
and forgotten.

The picture was so pleasant that it was no wonder her songs grew more
triumphant.  Those who listened to the music that night never forgot it.



Chapter XXXVII

Lionel Dacre stood for some minutes stunned with the shock and
surprise.  He could not be mistaken; unless his senses played him
false, it was Lillian Earle whom he had mistaken for a maid meeting her
lover.  It was Lillian he had believed so pure and guileless who had
stolen from her father's home under the cover of night's darkness and
silence--who had met in her father's grounds one whom she dared not
meet in the light of day.

If his dearest friend had sworn this to Lionel he would not have
believed it.  His own senses he could not doubt.  The faint, feeble
moonlight had as surely fallen on the fair face and golden hair of
Lillian Earle as the sun shone by day in the sky.

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 blind folly!

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 form.

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 deeper.

"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 false!"

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 death."

"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 is he?"

"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 him.

"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 so!"

"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, Ronald."

"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 now?"

"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."



Chapter XXXVIII

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 her duty.

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 has
happened?"

"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 question?"

"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 say?"

"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 for that."

"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 misjudged.

"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 arm.

"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 motionless.

"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 to decide."

"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 for luncheon.

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 her
hands.

"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 him.

"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 upon her.

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 forget.



Chapter XXXIX

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 goodnight.

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 kiss."

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 answered:

"No, never!"

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 before.

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 eyes again."

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, Beatrice."

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 from her.

"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 his
lips.

"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 voice.

"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 before
him."

"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 peace.

"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."



Chapter XL

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 peerless features.

"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 within her.

"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 own."

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 light.

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 trees.

      *      *      *      *      *

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 sedges.

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.



Chapter XLI

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 was tired."

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 very
particularly."

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 terror.

"She is probably with Miss Lillian," she said.  "Why make such a
mystery, Suzette?"

"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
Helena.

"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 myself."

Lady Helena went through the pretty sitting room where the books
Beatrice had been reading lay upon the table, on to Lillian's chamber.

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 one."

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 round myself."

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 over him.

"I can not find her," he said.  "Mother, I do not understand this.  She
can not have left us.  She was not unhappy--my beautiful child."

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 Beatrice Earle.

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 lake?

"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 it?"

"Come away," said Lord Airlie.  "The men will not work while we are
here."

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 you?"

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.



Chapter XLII

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 approaching wedding.

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 her hand?

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 sleep.

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 moved.

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 wrong.

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 death.

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 without delay.

"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 Earle's daughter.

"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 rest."

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 ever wore.

"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 lake.

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 heavy.

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 Earle.

"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 morning sky.

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 expenses.

"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 friends."

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 lay dead.

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."



Chapter XLIII

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 of
death."

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 were
unstirred.

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, last home.

      *      *      *      *      *

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 up
crying:

"Mamma, is it true?  Is Beatrice dead?"

"It is true, my darling," whispered her mother, gently.  "Dead, but not
lost to us--only gone before."

The young girl recovered very slowly.  The skillful doctor in
attendance upon her sad that, as soon as it was possible to remove her,
she should be carried direct from her room to a traveling carriage,
taken from home, and not allowed to return to the Hall until she was
stronger and better.

They waited until that day came, and meanwhile Lady Dora Earle learned
to esteem Lord Airlie very dearly.  He seemed to find more comfort with
her than with any one else.  They spoke but of one subject--the loved,
lost Beatrice.

Her secret was never known.  Lord Earle and Lionel Dacre kept it
faithfully.  No allusion to it ever crossed their lips.  To Lord
Airlie, while he lived, the memory of the girl he had loved so well was
pure and untarnished as the falling snow.  Not even to her mother was
the story told.  Dora believed, as did every one else, that Beatrice
had fallen accidentally into the lake.

When Lillian grew stronger--better able to bear the mention of her
sister's name--Lord Earle went to her room one day, and, gently enough,
tried to win her to speak to him of what she knew.

She told him all--of her sister's sorrow, remorse, and tears; her
longing to be free from the wretched snare in which she was caught; how
she pleaded with her to interfere.  She told him of her short interview
with the unhappy man, and its sad consequences for her.

Then the subject dropped forever.  Lord Earle said nothing to her of
Lionel, thinking it would be better for the young lover to plead his
own cause.

One morning, when she was able to rise and sit up for a time, Lionel
asked permission to see her.  Lady Dora, who knew nothing of what had
passed between them, unhesitatingly consented.

She was alarmed when, as he entered the room, she saw her daughter's
gentle face grow deathly pale.

"I have done wrong," she said.  "Lillian is not strong enough to see
visitors yet."

"Dear Lady Dora," explained Lionel, taking her hand, "I love Lillian;
and she loved me before I was so unhappy as to offend her.  I have come
to beg her pardon.  Will you trust her with me for a few minutes?"

Lady Dora assented, and went away, leaving them together.

"Lillian," said Lionel, "I do not know in what words to beg your
forgiveness.  I am ashamed and humbled.  I know your sister's story,
and all that you did to save her.  When one was to be sacrificed, you
were the victim.  Can you ever forgive me?"

"I forgive you freely," she gently answered.  "I have been in the
Valley of the Shadow of Death, and all human resentment and unkindness
seem as nothing to me."

"And may I be to you as I was before?" he asked.

"That is another question," she said.  "I can not answer it now. You
did not trust me, Lionel."

Those were the only words of reproach she ever uttered to him. He did
not annoy her with protestation; he trusted that time would do for him
what he saw just then he could not do for himself.

He sat down upon the couch by her side, and began to speak to her of
the tour she was about to make; of the places she should visit
carefully avoiding all reference to the troubled past.

Three days afterward Lillian started on her journey to the south of
France insisted upon by the doctor.  Lord Earle and his wife took
charge of their child; Lord Airlie, declaring he could not yet endure
Lynnton, went with them.  Lady Helena and Lionel Dacre remained at
home, in charge of the Hall and the estate.

One thing the latter had resolved upon--that, before the travelers
returned, the lake should be filled up, and green trees planted over
the spot where its waters now glistened in the sun.

No matter how great the expense and trouble, he was resolved that it
should be done.

"Earlescourt would be wretched," he said, "if that fatal lake remained."

The day after the family left Earlescourt, he had workmen engaged.  No
one was sorry at his determination.  Lady Helena highly approved of it.
The water was drained off, the deep basin filled with earth, and tall
saplings planted where once the water had glistened in the sun.  The
boat house was pulled down, and all vestige of the lake was done away
with.

Lionel Dacre came home one evening from the works in very low spirits.
Imbedded in the bottom of the lake they had found a little slipper--the
fellow to it was locked away in Dora's drawer.  He saved it to give it
to her when she returned.



Chapter XLIV

Two years passed away, and the travelers thought of returning. Lillian
had recovered health and strength, and, Lord Earle said, longed for
home.

One bright June day they were expected back.  Lionel Dacre had driven
to the station.  Lady Earle had laid aside her mourning dress, and sat
anxiously awaiting her son.  She wished the homecoming were over, and
that they had all settled down to the new life.

Her wish was soon gratified.  Once again she gazed upon the face of her
only and beloved son.  He was little changed--somewhat sunburned, it
was true; but there was less of the old pride and sternness, a kindly
smile playing round his lips.  There was, too, a shade of sadness that
plainly would never leave him; Lord Earle could never forget his lost
child.

Lady Helena looked anxiously at Dora, but there was no cause for fear.
The rosy, dimpled beauty of youth had passed away, but a staid dignity
had taken its place.  She looked a graceful amiable woman, with eyes of
wondrous beauty thickly veiled by long lashes, and a wealth of rippling
black hair.  Lady Helena thought her far more beautiful now than when
the coy smiles and dimples had been the chief charm.  She admired, too,
the perfect and easy grace with which Dora fell at once into her proper
place as mistress of that vast establishment.

The pretty, musical voice was trained and softened; the delicate,
refined accent retained no trace of provincialism.  Everything about
Dora pleased the eye and gratified the taste; the girlish figure had
grown matronly and dignified; the sweet face had in it a tinge of
sadness one may often see in the face of a mother who has lost a child.
Lady Helena, fastidious and critical, could find no fault with her
son's wife.

She welcomed her warmly, giving up to her, in her own graceful way, all
rule and authority.  Helping her if in any way she required it, but
never interfering, she made Dora respected by the love and esteem she
always evinced for her.

But it was on Lillian's face that Lady Helena gazed most earnestly.
The pallor of sickness had given way to a rosy and exquisite bloom.
The fair, sweet face in its calm loveliness seemed to her perfect, the
violet eyes were full of light. Looking at her, Lady Helena believed
there were years of life in store for Ronald's only child.

There was much to talk about.  Lord Earle told his mother how Hubert
Airlie had gone home to Lynnton, unable to endure the sight of
Earlescourt.  He had never regained his spirits.  In the long years to
come it was possible, added Ronald, that Lord Airlie might marry, for
the sake of his name; but if ever the heart of living man lay buried in
a woman's grave, his was with the loved, lost Beatrice.

Lionel Dacre knew he had done wisely and well to have the bed of the
lake filled up.  In the morning he saw how each member of the family
shrank from going out into the grounds.  He asked Lord Earle to
accompany him, and then the master of Earlescourt saw that the deep,
cruel water no longer shimmered amid the trees.

Lionel let him bring his wife and daughter to see what had been done;
and they turned to the author of it with grateful eyes, thanking him
for the kind thought which had spared their feelings.  Green trees
flourished now on the spot where the water had glistened in the sun;
birds sang in their branches, green grass and ferns grew round their
roots.

Yet among the superstitious, strange stories were told.  They said that
the wind, when it rustled among those trees, wailed with a cry like
that of one drowning, that the leaves shivered and trembled as they did
on no other branches; that the stirring of them resembled deep-drawn
sighs.  They said flowers would never grow in the thick grass, and that
the antlered deer shunned the spot.

As much as possible the interior arrangements of Earlescourt had been
altered.  Lillian had rooms prepared for her in the other wing; those
that had belonged to her hapless sister were left undisturbed.  Lady
Dora kept the key; it was known when she had been visiting them; the
dark eyes bore traces of weeping.

Beatrice had not been forgotten and never would be.  Her name was on
Lillian's lips a hundred times each day.  They had been twin sisters,
and it always seemed to her that part of herself lay in the church yard
at the foot of the hill.

Gaspar Laurence had gone abroad--he could not endure the sight or name
of home.  Lady Laurence hoped that time would heal a wound that nothing
else could touch.  When, after some years, he did return, it was seen
that his sorrow would last for life.  He never married--he never cared
for the name of any woman save that of Beatrice Earle.

      *      *      *      *      *

A week after their return, Lillian Earle stood one evening watching
from the deep oriel window the sun's last rays upon the flowers.
Lionel joined her, and she knew from his face that he had come to ask
the question she had declined to answer before.

"I have done penance, Lillian," he said, "if ever man has. For two
years I have devoted time, care, and thought to those you love, for
your sake; for two years I have tried night and day to learn, for your
sake, to become a better man.  Do not visit my fault too heavily upon
me.  I am hasty and passionate--I doubted you who were true and pure;
but, Lillian, in the loneliness and sorrow of these two years I have
suffered bitterly for my sin.  I know you are above all coquetry.  Tell
me, Lillian, will you be my wife?"

She gave him the answer he longed to hear, and Lionel Dacre went
straight to Lord Earle.  He was delighted--it was the very marriage
upon which he had set his heart years before.  Lady Dora was delighted,
too; she smiled more brightly over it than she had smiled since the
early days of her married life.  Lady Helena rejoiced when they told
her, although it was not unexpected news to her, for she had been
Lionel's confidante during Lillian's illness.

There was no reason why the marriage should be delayed; the June roses
were blooming then, and it was arranged that it should take place in
the month of August.

There were to be no grand festivities--no one had heart for them; the
wedding was to be quiet, attended only by a few friends; and Lord Earle
succeeded in obtaining a promise from Lionel which completely set his
heart at rest.  It was that he would never seek another home--that he
and Lillian would consent to live at Earlescourt.  Her father could not
endure the thought of parting with her.

"It will be your home, Lionel," he said, "in the course of after-years.
Make it so now.  We shall be one family, and I think a happy one."

So it was arranged, much to everybody's delight.  A few days before the
wedding took place, a letter came which seemed to puzzle Lord Earle
very much.  He folded it without speaking, but, when breakfast was
over, he drew his wife's hand within his own.

"Dora," he said, "there will never be any secrets between us for the
future.  I want you to read this letter--it is from Valentine Charteris
that was, Princess Borgezi that is.  She is in England, at Greenoke,
and asks permission to come to Lillian's wedding; the answer must rest
with you, dear."

She took the letter from him and read it through; the noble heart of
the woman spoke in every line, yet in some vague way Dora dreaded to
look again upon the calm, grand beauty of Valentine's face.

"Have no fear, Dora, in saying just what you think," said her husband;
"I would not have our present happiness clouded for the world.  One
word will suffice--if you do not quite like the thought, I will write
to her and ask her to defer the visit."

But Dora would not be outdone in magnanimity.  With resolute force, she
cast from her every unworthy thought.

"Let her come, Ronald," she said, raising her clear, dark eyes to his.
"I shall be pleased to see her.  I owe her some amends."

He was unfeignedly pleased, and so was every one else.  Lady Helena
alone felt some little doubts as to Dora's capability of controlling
herself.

The Princess Borgezi was to come alone; she had not said at what hour
they might expect her.

Lady Dora had hardly understood why her thoughts went back so
constantly to her lost child.  Beatrice had loved the beautiful,
gracious woman who was coming to visit them.  It may have been that
which prompted her, on the day before Lillian's marriage, when the
house was alive with the bustle and turmoil of preparation, to go to
the silent, solitary rooms where her daughter's voice had once made
sweetest music.

She was there alone for some time; it was Lord Earle who found her, and
tried to still her bitter weeping.

"It is useless, Ronald," she cried; "I can not help asking why my
bright, beautiful darling should be lying there.  It is only two years
since a wedding wreath was made for her."

Nothing would comfort her but a visit to her daughter's grave. It was a
long walk, but she preferred taking it alone.  She said she should feel
better after it.  They yielded to her wish. Before she had quitted the
house many minutes, the Princess Borgezi arrived.

There was no restraint in Ronald's greeting.  He was heartily glad to
see her--glad to look once more on the lovely Grecian face that had
seemed to him, years ago, the only model for Queen Guinivere.  They
talked for a few minutes; then Valentine, turning to him, said:

"Now let me see Lady Dora.  My visit is really to her."

They told her whither she had gone; and Lady Helena whispered something
to her with brought tears to Valentine's eyes.

"Yes," she said; "I will follow her.  I will ask her to kiss me over
her daughter's grave."

Some one went with her to point out the way, but Valentine entered the
church yard alone.

Through the thick green foliage she saw the shining of the white marble
cross, and the dark dress of Dora, who knelt by the grave.

She went up to her.  Her footsteps, falling noiselessly on the soft
grass, were unheard by the weeping mother.

Valentine knelt by her side.  Dora, looking up, saw the calm face
beaming down upon her, ineffable tenderness in the clear eyes. She felt
the clasp of Valentine's arms, and heard a sweet voice whisper:

"Dora, I have followed you here to ask you to try to love me, and to
pardon me for my share in your unhappy past.  For the love of your
dead, who loved me, bury here all difference and dislike."

She could not refuse.  For the first time, Lord Earle's wife laid her
head upon that noble woman's shoulder and wept away her sorrow, while
Valentine soothed her with loving words.

Over the grave of a child the two women were reconciled--all dislike,
jealousy, and envy died away forever.  Peace and love took their place.

In the after-time there was something remarkable in Dora's reverential
love for Valentine.  Lord Earle often said that in his turn he was
jealous of her.  His wife had no higher ideal, no truer friend than the
Princess Borgezi.

The wedding day dawned at last; and for a time all trace of sadness was
hidden away.  Lord Earle would have it so.  He said that that which
should be the happiest day of Lillian's life must not be clouded.  Such
sad thoughts of the lost Beatrice as came into the minds of those who
had loved her remained unspoken.

The summer sun never shone upon a more lovely bride, nor upon a fairer
scene than that wedding.  The pretty country church was decorated with
flowers and crowded with spectators.

Side by side at the altar stood Lady Dora Earle and Valentine. People
said afterward they could not decide whom they admired most--Lady
Helena's stately magnificence, Dora's sweet, simple elegance, or the
Princess Borgezi's statuesque Grecian beauty.

Lord Earle had prepared a surprise for Dora.  When the little wedding
party returned from the church, the first to greet them was Stephen
Thorne, now a white-headed old man, and his wife. The first to show
them all honor and respect were Lord Earle and his mother.  Valentine
was charmed with their homely simplicity.

For months after they returned to Knutsford the old people talked of
"the lady with the beautiful face, who had been so kind and gracious to
them."

Lord Airlie did not attend the wedding, but he had urged Lionel to
spend his honeymoon at Lynnton Hall, and Lillian had willingly
consented.

So they drove away when the wedding breakfast was over. A hundred
wishes for their happiness following them, loving words ringing after
them.  Relatives, friends, and servants had crowded round them; and
Lillian's courage gave way at last.  She turned to Lionel, as though
praying him to shorten their time of parting.

"Heaven bless you, my darling!" whispered Dora to her child. "And mind,
never--come what may--never be jealous of your husband."

"Goodbye, Lionel," said Lord Earle, clasping the true, honest hand in
his; "and, if ever my little darling here tries you, be patient with
her."

The story of a life time was told in these two behests.



Chapter XLV

Ten years had passed since the wedding bells chimed for the marriage of
Lillian Earle.  New life had come to Earlescourt. Children's happy
voices made music there; the pattering of little feet sounded in the
large, stately rooms, pretty, rosy faces made light and sunshine.

The years had passed as swiftly and peacefully as a happy dream. One
event had happened which had saddened Lord Earle for a few days--the
death of the pretty, coquettish Countess Rosali.  She had nor forgotten
him; there came to him from her sorrowing husband a ring which she had
asked might be given to him.

Gaspar Laurence was still abroad, and there was apparently no
likelihood of his return.  The Princess Borgezi with her husband and
children, had paid several visits to the Hall.  Valentine had one
pretty little daughter, upon whom Lionel's son was supposed to look
with most affection.  She had other daughters--the eldest, a tall,
graceful girl, inherited her father's Italian face and dark, dreamy
eyes.  Strange to say, she was not unlike Beatrice.  It may have been
that circumstance which first directed Lord Airlie's attention to her.
He met her at Earlescourt, and paid her more attention than he had paid
to any one since he had loved so unhappily years before.

No one was much surprised when he married her.  And Helena Borgezi made
a good wife.  She knew his story, and how much of his heart lay in the
grave of his lost love.  He was kind, gentle, and affectionate to her,
and Helena valued his thoughtful, faithful attachment more than she
would have valued the deepest and most passionate love of another man.

One room at Lynnton was never unlocked; strange feet never entered it;
curious eyes never looked round it.  It was the pretty boudoir built,
but never furnished, for Hubert Airlie's first love.

Time softened his sorrow; his fair, gentle wife was devoted to him,
blooming children smiled around him; but he never forgot Beatrice.  In
his dreams, at times, Helena heard her name on his lips; but she was
not jealous of the dead.  No year passed in which she did not visit the
grave where Beatrice Earle slept her last long sleep.

       *      *      *      *      *

Dora seemed to grow young again with Lillian's children.  She nursed
and tended them.  Lady Helena, with zealous eyes, looked after
Bertrand, the future lord of Earlescourt, a brave, noble boy, his
father's pride and Lillian's torment and delight, who often said he was
richer than any other lad in the country, for he had three mothers,
while others had but one.

      *      *      *      *      *

The sun was setting over the fair broad lands of Earlescourt, the
western sky was all aflame; the flowers were thirsting for the soft dew
which had just begun to fall.

Out in the rose garden, where long ago a love story had been told, were
standing a group that an artist would have been delighted to sketch.

Lionel had some choice roses in bloom, and after dinner the whole party
had gone out to see them.  Lady Helena Earle was seated on the garden
chair whereon Beatrice had once sat listening to the words which had
gladdened her brief life.  A number of fair children played around her.

Looking on them with pleased eyes was a gentle, graceful lady. Her
calm, sweet face had a story in it, the wondrous dark eyes had in them
a shadow as of some sorrow not yet lived down.  Lady Dora Earle was
happy; the black clouds had passed away.  She was her husband's best
friend, his truest counselor; and Ronald had forgotten that she was
ever spoken of as "lowly born."  The dignity of her character, acquired
by long years of stern discipline, asserted itself; no one in the whole
country side was more loved or respected than Lady Dora Earle.

Ronald, Lord Earle, was lying on the grass at his wife's feet. He
looked older, and the luxuriant hair was threaded with silver; but
there was peace and calm in his face.

He laughed at Lillian and her husband conversing so anxiously over the
roses.

"They are lovers yet," he said to Dora; and she glanced smilingly at
them.

The words were true.  Ten years married, they were lovers yet. There
was gentle forbearance on one side, an earnest wish to do right on the
other.  Lillian Dacre never troubled her head about "woman's rights;"
she had no idea of trying to fill her husband's place; if her opinion
on voting was asked, the chances were that she would smile and say,
"Lionel manages all those matters."  Yet in her own kingdom she reigned
supreme; her actions were full of wisdom, he words were full of kindly
thought.  The quiet, serene beauty of her youth had developed into that
of magnificent womanhood.  The fair, spirituelle face was peerless in
her husband's eyes.  There was no night or day during which Lionel
Dacre did not thank Heaven for that crown of all great gifts, a good
and gentle wife.

There was a stir among the children; a tall, dark gentleman was seen
crossing the lawn, and Lionel cried: "Here is Gaspar Laurence with his
arms full of toys--those children will be completely spoiled!"

The little ones rushed forward, and Bertrand, in his hurry, fell over a
pretty child with large dark eyes and dark hair.  Lord Earle jumped up
and caught her in his arms.

"Bertie, my boy," he said, "always be kind to little Beatrice!" The
child clasped her arms round his neck.  He kissed the dark eyes and
murmured to himself, "Poor little Beatrice!"

The summer wind that played among the roses, lifting the golden,
rippling hair from Lillian's forehead and tossing her little girl's
curls into Lord Earle's face, was singing a sweet, low requiem among
the trees that shaded the grave of Beatrice Earle.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dora Thorne" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home