Lionel Dacre stood for some minutes stunned with the shock and surprise. He could not be mistaken; unless his senses played him false, it was Lillian Earle whom he had mistaken for a maid meeting her lover. It was Lillian he had believed so pure and guileless who had stolen from her father's home under the cover of night's darkness and silence--who had met in her father's grounds one whom she dared not meet in the light of day.
If his dearest friend had sworn this to Lionel he would not have believed it. His own senses he could not doubt. The faint, feeble moonlight had as surely fallen on the fair face and golden hair of Lillian Earle as the sun shone by day in the sky.
He threw away his cigar, and ground his teeth with rage. Had the skies fallen at his feet he could not have been more startled and amazed. Then, after all, all women were alike. There was in them no truth; no goodness; the whole world was alike. Yet he had believed in her so implicitly--in her guileless purity, her truth, her freedom from every taint of the world. That fair, spirituelle form had seemed to him only as a beautiful casket hiding a precious gem. Nay, still more, though knowing and loving her, he had begun to care for everything good and pure that interested her. Now all was false and hateful.
There was no truth in the world, he said to himself. This girl, whom he had believed to be the fairest and sweetest among women, was but a more skillful deceiver than the rest. His mother's little deceptions, hiding narrow means and straitened circumstances, were as nothing compared with Lillian's deceit.
And he had loved her so! Looking into those tender eyes, he had believed love and truth shone there; the dear face that had blushed and smiled for him had looked so pure and guileless.
How long was it since he had held her little hands clasped within his own, and, abashed before her sweet innocence, had not dared to touch her lips, even when she had promised to love him? How he had been duped and deceived! How she must have laughed at his blind folly!
Who was the man? Some one she must have known years before. There was no gentleman in Lord Earle's circle who would have stolen into his grounds like a thief by night. Why had he not followed him, and thrashed him within an inch of his life? Why had he let him escape?
The strong hands were clinched tightly. It was well for Hugh Fernely that he was not at that moment in Lionel's power. Then the fierce, hot anger died away, and a passion of despair seized him. A long, low cry came from his lips, a bitter sob shook his frame. He had lost his fair, sweet love. The ideal he had worshiped lay stricken; falsehood and deceit marked its fair form.