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?"