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Ebook has 1543 lines and 81027 words, and 31 pages

Release date: October 1, 2023

Original publication: New York: Street & Smith, 1899

Bertha Clay Library No. 153


A Tragedy of Love and Hate



"The Duke's Secret," "The Earl's Error," "Lord Lynne's Choice," "The Earl's Atonement," "The Gipsy's Daughter," "Dora Thorne," etc.


A Tragedy of Love and Hate



The great bough of a spreading maple tree was swaying to and fro in the summer wind, a shapely bough covered with green leaves. On it sat a little bird, swaying with the branch, singing as though the world were all summer and sunshine and there was no winter to follow--singing of brighter suns than men see shine, heaven-taught music, not understood by mortal ears, while the golden, fragrant air around seemed to grow silent and listen.

For it was summertime, and the flowers were blooming; the earth was fair and smiling, the sky blue; there was a hush in the green woods and a ripple on the waters, a golden haze in the air.

Holme Woods looked very beautiful in their summer dress; great sheets of blue hyacinths spread far and wide, fragrant clusters of violets nestled against the roots of the trees, birds caroled in the shady branches.

The river Lee ran through Holme Woods, and where the large maple tree stood it formed a clear, limpid pool. The swaying bough bent over it, and the shadow of the singing bird fell in the water.

Was it suddenly the song changed? the jubilant notes, so shrill, so clear and sweet, died away, and a mournful dirge took their place? was it fancy, or was it really so? The bird saw what men could not see--the deed done that morning in the shade of the summer woods.

For in the water, her long, fair hair entangled in the lilies and reeds, her dead face turned to the shining skies, lay a woman drowned--drowned that very morning, while the sun shone and the flowers bloomed.

Perhaps the little singing bird had been for some hours on the branch; perhaps it had heard all, wondering what was happening.

It might have been that a death cry roused it and disturbed its song, then, when the cry had risen appealingly to the very face of the heavens, and died away, it had left its soft, warm nest to sway on the bending branch and look into the water to see what terrible sight was there.

Surely earth holds no more cruel sight than a fair woman dead, than the sun shining warm, bright and golden on a dead white face.

The morning passed on; the heat increased, the ripples grew languid, as though it were too warm for the river to run, a purple haze came in place of the golden light, the birds drooped on the wing, the bees hummed in the bells of the flowers, the butterflies rested on the fragrant hearts of the wild roses--sultry noon had set in, yet the white face only grew more rigid and fixed. They had not missed her from her stately home, she who was never to enter it again.

How much longer would it have lasted? How much longer would the bird have swayed while the death dirge came from its tiny beak? The brooding stillness was suddenly disturbed by the sharp, shrill bark of a dog; there was a rustling of leaves, and then a pretty little King Charles ran to the water's edge.

There was something of human sagacity in the look that he gave at the dead face. Then, as though he knew what had happened, he turned back, barking furiously, tearing in wild haste through the woods. Again the brooding stillness fell and the heat grew again, the sleepy ripples barely touched the face, and the fair hair entangled in the water lilies was faintly stirred.

Another long, silent hour, and then down the path that led to the river came a woman--a pretty, bright, well-dressed girl--evidently, from her appearance, a lady's maid; the little dog was barking round her, pulling her dress with his teeth if she seemed to stop or hesitate. Then her eyes fell on the white, upturned face. She gave a terrible cry, and stood for one moment as though she were turned to stone; then another and still more awful cry came from her lips.

"Oh, my God!" she said, "what shall I do?"

There was a ghastly terror in her face as she turned to fly--terror that was beyond words. One, meeting her, with those white, parted lips and wild eyes, would have thought she was fleeing from something worse than death itself.

The parted branches closed behind her, and again the hot, brooding silence fell over the trees and the water, and the drowned woman lying so helplessly there.

But it was not for long this time; very soon it was broken by wild cries and hoarse voices; by the shrill barking of dogs; by the noisy parting of boughs, and the screams of women.

There was help at last; help sufficient to have saved a dozen women from danger and death--but it was all too late. The quiet sanctuary of death was rudely invaded; the birds flew away in fright; the bluebells were trampled under foot. Lady Clarice Alden was missed at last, and this was where her servants found her.

Strong men raised the silent figure and laid it on the grass.

Then one could see it was the body of a young and most beautiful woman, richly dressed. A long robe of blue silk and white lace clung to the perfect limbs; there were rings on the fingers; a costly bracelet on one arm; a golden chain of rare beauty round the neck; a watch, small and richly jeweled; brooches and earrings. Very ghastly the rich jewels looked on the dead body.

"Is she really dead?" cried the maid who had been the first to find her, Mary Thorne. She knelt down by Lady Alden's side. With trembling fingers she opened the silken robe, and placed her hand on the quiet heart.

"It does not beat," she cried. "Oh, my lady, my lady is dead!"

An elderly man, who had been butler at Aldenmere for many years, assumed the command.

"Tear down some of those big branches," he said, "and make a litter of them, then carry your lady to the house. You, Griffiths, saddle the fleetest horse in the stable and ride to Leeholme; bring both doctors with you. Hunter, you take Sir Ronald's own horse and go in search of him; does any one know where he went?"

"Sir Ronald is gone to Thurston," replied one of the grooms. "I saddled his horse this morning before ten."

"Then you will be able to find him. Do not tell him the news suddenly, Hunter; tell him first that my lady is ill, and he is wanted at once at home."

His directions were quickly followed out; they tore down the branch on which the bird had been swaying and singing, the bird flew frightened away. They carried her home, through the sunny glades of the park, crushing the sweet flowers under foot; and it was thus that Lady Clarice Alden was brought for the last time to her own home.


The news spread like lightning; the men, as they rode furiously in search of her husband and doctor, told the story to those who listened with horror-stricken faces.

"Lady Alden of Aldenmere has been drowned in the river Lee, that part called the Pool, in Holme Woods."

In the meantime they had carried the body of the hapless lady to her own chamber; the weeping, terrified servants filled the room, and Mrs. Glynn, the housekeeper, armed with authority, sent them all away except Mary Thorne. They laid her on the sumptuous bed, with its pink silk and white lace hangings; they wrung the water from her long, fair hair, and then there came the sound of an arrival.

"All the doctors on earth could not help her, poor lady," said Mrs. Glynn, with a long-drawn sigh. But the doctors came in and tried their best.

"Stone dead--she has been dead over two hours," said Dr. Mayne. "How did it happen?"

Before there was time for a reply the door opened again, and Sir Ronald Alden, the lady's husband, master of Aldenmere, entered.

He walked quickly up to the bedside and his eyes fell upon the silent figure lying there. The ghastly fear in his face deepened as he gazed.

"What is it?" he said, clutching Dr. Mayne's arm. "What has happened--what is this?"

"You must bear it bravely, Sir Ronald," said the doctor, pityingly. "Lady Alden has met with a terrible accident."

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