Part 5 out of 7
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
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
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
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,
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
So they rode through the pleasant, sunlit air. A sudden thought
"I wonder," she said, "what mamma will think? You must go to see
her, Hubert. She dreaded love and marriage so much. Poor
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
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
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 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
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
"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
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
"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
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
She started, and the beautiful bloom just beginning to return,
"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
"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
"Shall you laugh if I tell you?" she asked.
"No," he replied; "I can not promise to sigh, but I will not
"I was thinking what I should do if--if anything happened to
"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
"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,
She turned from him, and he fancied a low moan came from her
"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
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
"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
"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
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
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
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
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
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,
"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!"
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?"
"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,
"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
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
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
"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
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,
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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
"Ten, if you wish it," he replied, "but no longer;" and the two
sisters walked through the long drawing room into the little
"Quick, Lillian," cried Beatrice, "have you seen him? What does
"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
A light that was dazzling as sunshine came into the beautiful
"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
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
"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.
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.