"In life and in death!" she had said, and she had kept her word.
While the weeping group still stood there, doctors came; they looked at the quiet face, so beautiful in death, and said she had been dead for hours. The words struck those who heard them with unutterable horror. Dead, while those who loved her so dearly, who would have given their lives for her, had lain sleeping near her, unconscious of her doom--dead, while her lover had waited for her, and her father had been intently thinking of her 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?