The People of the Mist
The People of the Mist
THE SWEARING OF THE OATH
ARTHUR BEACH, JANE'S BROTHER, WAS standing in the hall waiting to speak to Leonard, but he passed without a word, closing the hall door behind him. Outside snow was falling, though not fast enough to obscure the light of the moon which shone through the belt of firs.
Leonard walked on down the drive till he neared the gate, when suddenly he heard the muffled sound of feet pursuing him through the snow. He turned with an exclamation, believing that the footsteps were those of Arthur Beach, for at the moment he was in no mood for further conversation with any male member of that family. As it chanced, however, he found himself face to face not with Arthur, but with Jane herself, who perhaps had never looked more beautiful than she did at this moment in the snow and the moonlight. Indeed, whenever Leonard thought of her in after-years, and that was often, there arose in his mind a vision of a tall and lovely girl, her auburn hair slightly powdered over with the falling flakes, her breast heaving with emotion, and her wide grey eyes gazing piteously upon him.
"Oh! Leonard," she said nervously, "why do you go without saying good-bye to me?"
He looked at her awhile before he answered, for something in his heart told him that this was the last sight which he should win of his love for many a year, and therefore his eyes dwelt upon her as we gaze upon one whom the grave is about to hide from us for ever.
At last he spoke, and his words were practical enough.
"You should not have come out in those thin shoes through the snow, Jane. You will catch cold."
"I wish I could," she answered defiantly, "I wish that I could catch such a cold as would kill me; then I should be out of my troubles. Let us go into the summer-house; they will never think of looking for me there."
"How will you get there?" asked Leonard; "it is a hundred yards away, and the snow always drifts in that path."
"Oh! never mind the snow," she said.
But Leonard did mind it, and presently he hit upon a solution of the difficulty. Having first glanced up the drive to see that nobody was coming, he bent forward and without explanation or excuse put his arms around Jane, and lifting her as though she were a child, he bore her down the path which led to the summer-house. She was heavy, but, sooth to say, he could have wished the journey longer. Presently they were there, and very gently he laid her on her feet again, kissing her upon the lips as he did so. Then he took off his overcoat and wrapped it round her shoulders.
All this while Jane had not spoken. Indeed, the poor girl felt so happy and so safe in her lover's arms that it seemed to her as though she never wished to speak, or to do anything for herself again. It was Leonard who broke the silence.
"You ask me why I left without saying good-bye to you, Jane. It was because your father has dismissed me from the house and forbidden me to have any more to do with you."
"Oh, why?" asked the girl, lifting her hands despairingly.
"Can't you guess?" he answered with a bitter laugh.
"Yes, Leonard," she whispered, taking his hand in sympathy.
"Perhaps I had better put it plainly," said Leonard again; "it may prevent misunderstandings. Your father has dismissed me because my father embezzled all my money. The sins of the father are visited upon the children, you see. Also he has done this with more than usual distinctness and alacrity, because he wishes you to marry young Mr. Cohen, the bullion-broker and the future owner of Outram."
"I know, I know," she said, "and oh! Leonard, I hate him!"
"Then perhaps it will be as well not to marry him," he answered.
"I would rather die first," she said with conviction.
"Unfortunately one can't always die when it happens to be c