She looked on in horror as she stood behind a chestnut tree a short distance from the waters edge—could it be that she was seeing things? Yes, she thought grimly, the expression was only too appropriate. But whatever had induced her to walk from the town, to follow him tonight? Certainly not the weather, fine as it was, with the moon coming out from behind the occasional cloud. Nor was it her health, which certainly could not permit her to wander outside at night—if not for that, why else would her father have sent her here? Was it, then, in the vain hope (how well she realised it now!) that her beloved—
Beloved? That was hardly the way to describe him! He had certainly claimed to love her, and her alone, but surely no true gentleman was capable of such an action as this? She looked over to the struggle in the water, unable to intervene; she had thought, at first, of calling for help, but what was the sense in that? Her cry would almost certainly have gone unheard, for who else would be out so late? And besides (she shuddered as the thought crossed her mind), who knows how he might have reacted to her presence? She could not walk away from the scene; she might have tripped in the darkness, or otherwise made him aware that someone was there . . . No, it was best to stay where she was, however unpleasant it might be—for unpleasant was undoubtedly the way to describe what she was seeing. How foolish of her to have thought that he loved her, that he had ever loved her! Had there been any valid reason for her decision to follow him? Admittedly there were rumours circulating around the spa that hinted at a concealed malevolence behind that noble façade; did she hope that, by following him at a discreet distance in the small hours of the night (whatever was he doing, walking the streets at such a late hour?), she could persuade herself that nothing was amiss, that he was not what gossip suggested he was? Oh, if only she had stayed in the hotel! Then she would have never known about this . . . She turned her eyes to the water again. The struggle seemed to have grown in intensity as the old man tried all the harder to keep his head out of the water; simultaneously, his attacker became all the more determined to bring the matter to a close.
She could see his face now, twisted into an almost demonic leer. There was little that she could praise in him now; the mask of manners had vanished, had long since been carried away by the waters of the river. What had been revealed, the ghastliness of his features, what could only be his true nature, had confirmed her worst fears, had caused her feelings for him to dissolve. All that remained now was fearful to look at—as was what he was doing. And then, suddenly, the water of the river seemed still again. The old mans efforts had redoubled briefly, she was quite sure of that, for the watery moon had been momentarily rent asunder, but now all was still, save for the gentle lapping of the water over the sand. Even he was motionless for a short while, but he quickly straightened up once more, looking disdainfully down at the shape in front of him. Then he turned quickly and was soon out of the river, leaving as sole evidence of his passage the corpse that floated upon the waters surface. The moon passed behind a cloud as he walked toward the grove through which he had come. The darkness enveloped him, and he was gone.
She turned round, her eyes looking emptily ahead. She strained to consider the evenings events, but her mind would not function. She was not conscious of the fact that she was now alone, nor did she realise that the moons soothing light was shining once again. In desperation she leant against the trunk of the chestnut tree, a moonbeam lighting up her face.
Helen Summer was very pale.
And yet how even more idiotic of her to have come out at all! Helen scolded herself, as she had already done many times that evening, for even entertaining the thought that he, of all people, should ever have had the least affection for her. Certainly, he had seemed amiable enough during this, the first week of her stay, but how could she ever face him now without his noticing any change in her demeanour, her speech, even her affections? It was one thing acting as if nothing had happened, but quite another as far as her true feelings were concerned; it would be impossible for her to avoid him, for he would be sure to call on her in the morning to ask her if she would care for a stroll that afternoon.
What was the time, anyhow? She was already quite tired when she had unpinned her watch some time before leaving the hotel, and she could not guess how much time had elapsed since her departure. Just then, Helen heard a church clock striking, some way off. It struck once, and went quiet once more.
Helen considered at length: either it was half-past the hour (what hour? she hadnt the least idea) or one oclock—surely it couldnt be that late! Helen nevertheless hastened her step; her mind had now cleared, and she could not block out thoughts of her evenings adventures, how apprehensive yet excited she had been at first, only to be shocked and horrified as events grew to their terrible conclusion. Still shivering, Helen walked on in the shadow of the Tresserve hill.
A few steps further, she collapsed by the roadside, cold, weak and afraid.
The Reverend Charles Aylesbury looked closer at the girl by the roadside and had to agree with his companion that, whoever she was, this young lady could not be what he had suggested—he could not bring himself to repeat the word, even now—as, however sparsely she was dressed, her clothes were of particularly fine quality.
Charles had collected Charlotte from her suite early that morning as they were to go rowing on the Bourget Lake that day; it was something they had looked forward to ever since their arrival a week ago, and they were far from disappointed when they set off: the sun had just started to rise as they approached the lake, illuminating the lake and the mountains beyond it with bright sunshine. Charles and his fiancée had considered it a good omen for the day ahead, but this illusion had been irrevocably destroyed when Charlotte had pointed out a girl lying apparently unconscious by the roadside. He knew Charlotte to be of a kindly disposition but was nonetheless displeased to see this aspect of her character assert itself—she had insisted on stopping, when, in Charles opinion, it would have been quite sufficient to inform the police of their discovery if the girl were still there on their return. But no, Charlotte had been adamant and had appealed to her fiancés Christian beliefs.
What about the Good Samaritan? she had asked him testily—a question to which he had been unable to find an answer.
They—or rather, Charlotte—had asked the coachman to stop, and were now standing over the girl. She was alive, yes, but seemed very weak. They could not, however, agree what to do now.
Dont you think we had better—? asked Charlotte, her voice full of concern.
Well, what are we going to do about her? asked Charles, irritated at what he regarded to be an unnecessary stop.
Both had spoken at once, and stopped.
Come along, Charles, continued Charlotte after a slight pause, well take her back to the suite and get Arthur to examine her.
Charles was not keen on returning to the town but decided against arguing the point. Had she really said Arthur? Personally, he didnt hold a very high opinion of Charlottes brothers capabilities as anyones medical adviser—especially when his patient was a complete stranger and would therefore have no idea of the pitfalls of being examined by the Hon: Arthur Harkfield, Esq. The arrogant young pup had admittedly professed an interest in medicine (even to the extent of going to medical college—quite ridiculous!) but his chances of ever adding the letters M.D. to his name were very slim.
Your brother? queried Charles in disbelief. Dont you thin a qualified doctor—
You dont really think Id trust one of those Aixois so-called doctors, do you? Charlotte retorted, rather scornfully. From what Mother says, its bad enough having one of them in charge of your cure.
Ignoring Charles look of exasperation, she called the bewildered coachman over to help him lift the girl into their carriage.
So much for rowing on the lake! muttered Charles as he and Charlotte got back in the carriage.
She ignored his remark, paying attention only to their passenger. Shes still unconscious, she said as they set off back to the town. Charlotte knew she was speaking to herself, but continued in a worried undertone: Shes very pale, isnt she? Doesnt look well.
I dont suppose you would if youd been out all night, Charles, having apparently heard her remark, told her with a little scorn in his voice. Shes covered in dew, he said in answer to Charlottes enquiring look.
Whatever was she doing out, though? asked Charlotte of no-one in particular.
This time, Charles gave no answer. The carriage continued along the road back to the town; the sun, now climbing up ahead of them, shone down from a cloudless sky, and it was already quite warm. Charlotte continued to lean over the immobile girl, expressing her concern for the young lady—she looked so very ill. As the town came into sight, she thought she saw their passenger stir slightly, but made no remark to her companion. It could well have been imagination.
Charlotte? Charles asked suddenly.
Ive been thinking. Its all very well saying your brother will examine this girl, but what do we do afterwards? What I mean is, do we just send her home, wherever that may be, or does she stay with us until she gets better?
I dont know, Charles, Charlotte conceded softly. I suppose it would be best to wait until she recovers consciousness and tells us what she was doing on the road to the port.
They continued in silence for some time. Then, as Charlotte placed her hand on Helens cold forehead for the umpteenth time, she saw the young ladys lips move. Although Charlotte advised her to keep still and rest, her passenger continued speaking in a weak voice. Charles, alerted by Charlotte, turned his head briefly, but the girl had once again lost consciousness.
What did she say, Charlotte? he asked as he turned to face the road.
I dont know, she admitted, puzzled. Something about Sir Hillary Westonbury drowning someone.
Sir Hillary Westonbury? said Charles in disbelief. She must be delirious.