Lady Lili was waiting for him at the end of the corridor.

Lady Lili was waiting for him at the end of the corridor. Alred supposed she had been there a while, as he had spent some time talking with Dunstan in his room. Indeed, he had done so deliberately, in the hope that Lili would not try to speak to him before he retired.

“Good evening again, Lili,” he said as lightly as he could.

Lili did not even smile. “The holidays are over.”

“I know, but…”

“I shall tell her tonight. This has gone on long enough.”

“Now, Lili…”

“What now?” she snapped. “Candlemas?”



“I think we have done wrong, Alred. As soon as we learned the truth, I should have told her.”

“But it was right before Christmas…” he pleaded.

“Think of how angry she will be when she learns I knew and never told her! And let her make a fool of herself over you!”

“And angry at me,” he sighed.

'I shan't even tell her you knew.'

“Oh, no,” Lili said. “I shan’t even tell her you knew. That would hurt her and humiliate her too much. I shall tell her I found the poem, and that it was for me, and I had mislaid it. I shan’t tell her I told you about it.”

Alred wanted to tell Lili that was kind of her, but somehow it didn’t quite seem to be.

“I shall tell her tonight when she comes up to bed,” Lili said firmly.

“Oh, not tonight, Lili,” he begged. “Wait until the morning. We had such a pleasant day…”

'Wait until the morning.  We had such a pleasant day...'

“We always have pleasant days! I want to tell her at night so that she may spend it crying, as she probably will, and have time to compose herself before morning.”

Alred’s own eyes filled with tears at the thought of the poor, timid girl crying into her pillow over the death of her pretty dreams. Perhaps she would call herself a fool for ever believing such a poem could be written for her. Perhaps, he thought with a sudden chill, Lili would even tell her so.

Truly, the poem was not quite the right poem for Hetty, any more than a paean to the sun could be equally well applied to the moon. However, it had not been a poem written merely in praise of the sun, but had been a declaration of love – and there were few girls more worthy of such poems than Hetty.

“Do you agree?” she asked.

'Do you agree?'

Alred could not find any arguments besides those he had already used. He was beginning to feel like a coward. He did not know whether he was acting more to spare Hetty’s feelings or to spare his own. Also he knew he would never again see her smile at him as she had for these past three weeks.

“I don’t like to see anyone hurt,” he said miserably.

“It is inevitable, and I do think it kinder to do it sooner rather than later. I fear you have already been too much together, and it will be far more difficult for her than it would have been before we came. You did not visit us so very often.”

And to think he had avoided visiting Egelric because he could not bear to see Lili! And to think that poor Hetty must have been wondering all those months why he so seldom came to see her!

“Poor girl,” he whispered.

“Yes, yes!” Lili cried and stamped her foot in frustration at the tears that were coming to her own eyes.

'Don't wake her to tell her if she's already sleeping.'

“Don’t wake her to tell her if she’s already sleeping,” he pleaded. “Promise me that much. Let her sleep. Let her reach the end of her dream. Her last little dream,” he choked.

“She’s not sleeping anyway! I was just in her room. She must be downstairs reading, or playing chess with Dunstan.”

“I just came from Dunstan’s room.”

“Then she must be reading. I don’t know. I shall await her in her room.”

'I shall await her in her room.'

It all would have been very pretty and very poignant if Hetty had only existed in one of the fairy tales that Gwynn so loved. But in such a tale, the fair Lady Hedwige would either have been rewarded at the end by true love or merely died of grief. These were the only two sufficiently romantic outcomes.

The real Lady Hetty would simply suffer on in the quiet, obscure way she had already suffered for much of her tragic life. The real Lady Hetty would not be deprived of true love, for she had never possessed it, but some part of her earthly share of hope and innocence would have been spent. She would never again be such a fool as to love a man as easily – if those shy smiles were to be believed – as she had let herself love him. It seemed a crueler thing than a fairy tale death by broken heart.

“May God forgive my folly and your carelessness, Lili,” Alred sighed, though Lili had already gone to await Hetty like a spider in her web. “May God forgive us for hurting that poor girl.”

'May God forgive us for hurting that poor girl.'