“I do not think I can reach them,” said Vera, slowly. She was puzzled and half-frightened by the quick, feverish words and manner.
“Yes, yes, your arms are long—much longer than mine; you can reach them very well. See, I will hold the sleeve of your dress like this; it is very strong. I can hold you quite safely. Kneel down and reach out for it, Vera. Do, please, I want it so much. There is one so close there, just beyond your hand. Stoop over a little further; don’t be afraid; I have got you tightly.”
And Vera knelt and stretched out over the dark face of the waters.
Then, all at once, there was a cry—a wild struggle—a splash of the dark, seething waves—and Helen stood up again in her bright raiment alone on the margin of the pool; whilst ever-widening circles stretched hurriedly away and away, as though terror-stricken, from the baleful spot where Vera Nevill had sunk below the ill-fated waters.
* * * * *
Someone came madly rushing out of the bushes behind her. Helen screamed aloud.
“It was an accident! She slipped forward—her footing gave way!” gasped the unhappy woman in her terror. “Oh, Maurice, for pity’s sake, believe me; it was an accident!” She sunk upon her knees, with wildly outstretched arms, and trembling, and uplifted hands.
“Stand aside,” he said, hoarsely, pushing her roughly from him, so that she almost fell to the earth, and he plunged deep into the still quivering waters.
It was the water-lilies that brought her to her death. The long clinging stems amongst which she sank held her fair body in their cold, clammy embraces, so that she never rose again. It was long before they found her.
And, oh! who shall ever describe that dreadful scene by the margin of Shadonake Bath, whilst the terrified crowd that had gathered there quickly waited for her whom all knew to be hopelessly gone from them for ever!
The sobbing, frightened women; the white, stricken faces of the men; the agony of those who had loved her; the distress and dismay of those who had only admired her; and there was one trembling, shuddering wretch, in her satin and her jewels, standing white and haggard apart, with knees that shook together, and teeth that clattered, and tearless sobs that shook her from head to foot, staring with a half-maddened stare upon the fatal waters.
Then, when all was at an end and the worst was known, when the poor dripping body had been reverently covered over and borne away by loving arms amid a torrent of sobs and wailing tears towards the house, then some one came near her and spoke to her—some one off whom the water came pouring in streams, and whose face was white and wild as her own.
“Get you away out of my sight,” said the man whom she had loved so fruitlessly to her.
“Have pity! have pity!” was the cry of despair that burst from her quivering lips. “Was it not all an accident?”