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?