+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

through the head, and insulted Launcelot,
and abused Norah in really gross language,
and said that if Edmund came near the hall
again he would have him horsewhipped by
his groom. In short, he was a wild, mouthing
madman, much too occupied with his own
disappointment to feel any thankfulness at
Norah's escape, or at his own. He did not
remember this, nor think how he would have felt,
had Norah been married before the crash and
exposure came. He only remembered that
his bewitching mistress had betrayed him,
and that she had been deceiving and laughing
at him during the time of her sweetest
blandishments. Poor starched Colonel, it
was a rare fall for his dignity!

At this moment of supreme anger little
Norah stole into the room, deathly pale and
broken, but bearing up in the wonderful
way proper to frail little women, who
support trials which would destroy the robust.
The sight of her renewed the Colonel's
passion. He advanced to her menacingly, his
hand uplifted. That gesture, and Norah's
patient, timid, half-crouching attitude
revealed a family secret to Launcelot. It
seemed no new thing to the girl to have
her father's hand turned against her;
indeed, it was so usual, that she neither
resented nor wondered at it. But Launce
started forward and drew her hastily to his
side, holding her, quite unconscious of
appearances, with his left arm round her waist,
while prepared to defend her with his right,
even against her father.

The nearest approach to love which Norah
had ever felt was then, when Launcelot
Thorold took her on his arm. It was the
first time in her life that she had ever known
the real protection of a manthat protection
of superior strength which is so sweet
to women to receive. Her father had beaten
and subdued her into mechanical submission;
Gregory had overwhelmed her with
his passion and overcome her by the force
of his love; young Edmund had worshipped
and reverenced her; but no one had
ever before protected her, no one had made
her feel her weakness a claim to aid and
care. If Launcelot had read her heart at
this moment, perhaps he, too, would have
mistaken and hoped.

The Colonel baffled in his assault on
Norah, turned against Launcelot, and a painful
and undignified scene was the result;
when in the midst of their highest altercation
a small knot of men, bearing a body in
the midst, was seen crossing the park. Both
Launcelot and Norah were struck with the
same foreboding.

"Stay hereyou are safe," whispered
Launce, rushing from the room, judging
correctly that the Colonel's attention would
be diverted, and that Norah was therefore
left in no peril.

She saw him cross the lawn, and almost
meet the men. But one of them, the head
gamekeeper, stept forward and spoke to him,
laying his broad hand on his arm in the
honest equality of sympathy. Launce thrust
him aside, hastily but not ungently; and then
she heard an agonised cry, as he recognised
his fair young brother, with a deep wound on
his forehead, lying stark in the arms of his
bearers. That beautiful young face! Even
in death the glory of the love and genius
which had animated it in life lay like a light
across it. Beautiful young boy! What a
fearful quenching of so much excellence, of
so much rare promise and rich beginnings.

"God bless my heart and soul!" said the
Colonel, when he heard the particulars.
"How very unpleasant for me. It will be in
all the newspapers."

The verdict of the coroner's inquest was,
"found drowned." Norah told no one what
she knew and what she suspected. Her
evidence would have been priceless to the jury;
but no one dreamed that she could have
enlightened them. She had not been
observed walking with Edmund through the
shrubbery; and the gamekeeper was the last
man who had seen him alive. It was possible
that he had missed his footing and fallen
headlong into the river; where, the blow
having stunned him, it was not difficult to be
drowned. There was no mark of struggling
on the bank, no sign of personal violence:
he had not been robbed; it was not known
that he had an enemy in the world.

But, Launce was not satisfied, and Norah
felt nearly certain of the truth. Launce,
however, could do nothing. He could not bring
his suspicions home to their object, or
concentrate them into any intelligent act; and
it never occurred to Norah to say to living
soul what she thought or knew. She had
been too well drilled into silence and
reticence to get into trouble by too much talking.
So the tragedy paled into the grey indistinctness
of the past, and the precise circumstances
were soon obliterated and forgotten.

Launce went back to his own home; the
only one of those three joyous young creatures
who had set out,so full of pleasure, for a mere
ordinary conventional visit. But what a
terrible ending to that ordinary visit! What a
household wreck was swept back to them by
the storm that had shaken Lyndon to the
base. Poor Launce! he who had been,
perhaps, the happiest of them all, and the most
helpful to them all, now left alone, as the
sole comfort of the wretched parents. How
often he went over the old walks, and sat in
the old seats, and lived again and again
over every happy hour of that pleasant family
life, which had had few equals in the county
for beauty, hope, and affection!

The Colonel never rallied after the shock.
He sank rapidly into the old man: less stern
and violent, but more peevish and irritable;
more wearisome but less terrifying. He
would not allow Norah to quit his presence
for half-an-hour, and he found fault with her,