Chapter 24

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Lord Edward Buxton stood frozen in his spot, his mouth agape, with both his hands reached out in mid air with nothing in their grip but the crisp chill air, as the loud splash echoed in his ears. Seconds felt like hours as he stood, his shallow breathing deafening his ears. For a moment, time paused in the most wrenching way possible and he felt as though he had forgotten the mechanics of movement and thinking. "Edward," his friend and business partner's shout broke through the paralyzing atmosphere and Edward was suddenly grabbed at the elbow and shoved aside, as Isaac, being in entirely his full senses, started violently removing his coat and cravat, preparing to jump in the deep end.

Edward struggled to regain the control of his mind, he struggled to focus and he struggled to get his muscles to do his bidding, but everything seemed to be in a whirl. One minute she was there in front of him, scolding him like he had never been scolded before. One minute he wished she'd just give up with her rambling and not assume to know his all of his business when she does not. One minute he wished to walk away and leave Brockenhurst entirely so as to not be faced with her evident displeasure at the mere sight of him. The next minute she had let out a scream. The next minute she was gone. Edward lifted his right hand and hit himself on the forehead with the base of his palm, as hard as he could. It was then when the blood rushed to his head and a burst of pain escalated, he regained control.

Lord Isaac Algernon jumped into the water, his heart pounding faster as he splashed in and thrashed about on the surface, his eyes searching frantically for any figure in the water. The surface was dark, and the moonlight merely bounced off of it in reflection, and there was nothing on the surface. A loud splash sounded right beside him, and Isaac was met with the familiar face of Edward, he let out a frantic breath.

"You look on that side, I'll take this side," Isaac panted anxiously and Edward nodded, immediately disappearing inside the surface of the water.

Lord Edward Buxton bore his eyes in the dark water, swimming deeper as he tried to spot even a glimpse of the deep maroon gown Lady Diana Beaumont had worn, or perhaps a flash of orange from the gown Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick had on. His brain was focused, refusing to even think of anything outside of what was happening at present. There was nothing else on his mind but finding them, finding her. The cold water did not feel cold anymore, just inconvenient. Suddenly, he felt like the Lord Edward Buxton, that had, just months ago, scrambled inside of a burning mill, frantically searching for lives he could save. At that time, the fire around him had not felt hot anymore, it merely felt inconvenient; an obstacle, but nothing more. Edward had sworn he would never feel like that person again, that helpless, and utterly clueless person again. He had sworn that he would never be the reason anyone he cared for came to any harm. Yet here he was again, his heart hitting his rib cage violently as if shouting, 'This is all your fault.'

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a red hue. Whipping his head towards it, he saw the figure of Lady Diana Beaumont under that single ray of the moon shining through as if lending him a helping hand. Her body resting on a big rock, with the maroon gown floating all around her making it seem as though she lay on bed of red amongst the still dark water. Edward swam towards her quickly, reaching out to grab her by the waist, past the sea of the red material of her dress. Her eyes were shut closed, and her dark raven hair had come undone, cascading behind her head as it floated.

For a moment, Edward was stunned. The sight looked somewhat ethereal and otherworldly. It looked as though Lady Diana Beaumont had come straight out of those tales sailors speak of at sea, women luring men to their deaths into the depths. Being at such a close proximity to her, Edward felt as though she were glass and might shatter were he to hold her too tightly. Using his other arm and thrashing his legs, he swam upwards, the surface becoming closer and closer as he could see the moon get slightly bigger past the glassy surface of the water.

Once he broke through the surface, Edward took in a huge gust of air into his lungs and holding Diana upright into the water, swam towards the shore where he made out the figure of Isaac, bent over Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick as she lay on the ground, "She's breathing," he called over to Edward, his tone laced with relief. Then, Isaac quickly got up and approached the edge, taking Diana out of the water as Edward lifted her.

"Thank god you found her," Isaac let out, his breathing heavy, "Check if she is breathing."

Edward nodded anxiously, pulling himself out of the water and instantly taking hold of Diana from Isaac and placing her to the ground slowly so that he might check her pulse. Her chest moved slightly, and as Edward leaned in and placed his ear next to her mouth and nose, he could hear slow shallow breaths as they warmed his ear. He breathed a sigh of relief and swallowed his fear, before looking at Isaac, "She is breathing."

"Quick, we have to get them inside," Lord Isaac Algernon ordered, trying his best to keep his voice steady, even when Edward could tell his friend felt far from steady himself. Isaac grabbed his dry coat that lady on the grass and covered Alicia's unconscious form with it, "No one will hear or see us out here in this dark from the estate."

Lord Edward Buxton did the same as he nodded and bent down to pick Diana up as he put one arm under her waist and with his other; he gathered her drenched skirts and placed his hand under her legs, hoisting her up as he stood tall. He could tell that she wasn't as heavy as the drenched clothing added to her weight; even so, he could still hold her with ease.

With a glance at Isaac to make sure he was following behind with Alicia in his arms, Edward offered him a quick nod, before both of the gentlemen made their way towards the estate, their breathing escaping their lips in pants.





"I told him to drain that lake, oh, that wretched thing." An exasperated declaration wove swiftly into Lady Diana Beaumont's ears as she felt herself shift closer to reality, the darkness and mystical freedom that her eyelids and mind offered her, slowly drifting away. She sensed the faint feel of soft sheets of the bed she lay on, and she sensed the alteration in the shift of air as the people in the room sighed and spoke. Diana could tell that they had been speaking for a while.

"Your husband couldn't have possibly known, Lady Templemore," another female voice spoke, this one more soft, assuring and calm than the first one.

"But I told him it was a nuisance! My nerves would tremble at just the thought of that deep bottomless pit filled with water my husband deemed a lake in his youth," The Countess spoke, her tone laced with grief and frustration. Diana wanted to smile at her aunt's fuss, yet she hadn't yet gained control of her body so as to open her eyes and let reality fully claim her. "Now look what has occurred! My niece and Alicia almost drowned if it weren't for Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon," The lady of the house claimed again, her voice getting louder with desperation before she took a deep breath and lowered her voice in self pity, "What kind of an aunt am I to let this happen to my niece?"

As Diana lay there, she tried to stir, to move herself at the mention of Alicia, to catch a glimpse and make sure she was alright, but to no avail. Diana was in that strange place, between reality and darkness, that place where she felt as though she had one foot here and the other there. At one point, Diana figured if she was dead, and perhaps it was her soul adrift in the atmosphere feeling the air moving and the faint floral scene of the room. It would make sense that her body didn't feel hers to command any more, and the fact that she could hear her aunts' voices yet see nothing but darkness. If she had almost drowned, like her aunt had put it, then where was she at present? Why wasn't she feeling any pain and why was her body feeling like an empty vessel? Have I died? She asked herself again, her soul astir in panic. Her mind suddenly caught onto another part of her aunt's statement, had the Lords really jumped in after them? After she had yelled and scolded Lord Buxton so?

"Come now, Lady Templemore," Aunt Frederica's soft voice came into Diana's ears again, calming her yet offering no solid reassurance, "None of this is of your doing."

The Countess of Brockenhurst let out a sorrowful sob and Diana felt herself stiffen at the sound. She hated the thought of tears from her aunt's eyes, or from any of her family's eyes. Sometimes, she just wanted to shout at all of them and let them know that they are not allowed to cry, let them know that as long as she's alive; each one of them is forbidden to cry. It did strange things to her, those tears from a loved one, they turned her inside out and it felt as though she had scorching hot wax poured all over her beating heart, and as much as she'd swallow, her throat would burn.

Gathering up her might, she tried to move, to open her eyes and tell her Aunt Agnes that she was alright and that there was no reason to cry, but as her attempt failed, so did her will. Was she even alive enough to be alright?

"You heard what the doctor said-," Aunt Frederica started, but was immediately interrupted.

"He said that the girls may be alright once the fever dies a little and they wake up," The Countess cried, "Since then, their fevers have refused entirely to die down and it's been twenty four hours."

Diana felt a wave of shock as realization hit her. It's been a whole day since she's been in her present state. What if she doesn't indeed wake up? Will she die then? It was strange; she'd always imagine that death would be something surprising, something that would just happen to her without any warning. Never have warnings been so scary.

"Yes, but he also said that we need to tend to them to ensure the fever goes down, and that is what we shall do," Aunt Frederica completed, her voice determined yet pained.

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