"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?