Some days after, I received a few lines from Mrs. Ashleigh. Her arrangements for departure were made. They were to start the next morning. She had fixed on going into the north of Devonshire, and staying some weeks either at Ilfracombe or Lynton, whichever place Lilian preferred. She would write as soon as they were settled.
I was up at my usual early hour the next morning. I resolved to go out towards Mrs. Ashleigh’s house, and watch, unnoticed, where I might, perhaps, catch a glimpse of Lilian as the carriage that would convey her to the railway passed my hiding-place.
I was looking impatiently at the clock; it was yet two hours before the train by which Mrs. Ashleigh proposed to leave. A loud ring at my bell! I opened the door. Mrs. Ashleigh rushed in, falling on my breast.
“Heavens! What has happened?”
“She has left! she is gone — gone away! Oh, Allen, how? — whither? Advise me. What is to be done?”
“Come in-compose yourself — tell me all — clearly, quickly. Lilian gone — gone away? Impossible! She must be hid somewhere in the house — the garden; she, perhaps, did not like the journey. She may have crept away to some young friend’s house. But I talk when you should talk: tell me all.”
Little enough to tell! Lilian had seemed unusually cheerful the night before, and pleased at the thought of the excursion. Mother and daughter retired to rest early: Mrs. Ashleigh saw Lilian sleeping quietly before she herself went to bed. She woke betimes in the morning, dressed herself, went into the next room to call Lilian — Lilian was not there. No suspicion of flight occurred to her. Perhaps her daughter might be up already, and gone downstairs, remembering something she might wish to pack and take with her on the journey. Mrs. Ashleigh was confirmed in this idea when she noticed that her own room door was left open. She went downstairs, met a maidservant in the hall, who told her, with alarm and surprise, that both the street and garden doors were found unclosed. No one had seen Lilian. Mrs. Ashleigh now became seriously uneasy. On remounting to her daughter’s room, she missed Lilian’s bonnet and mantle. The house and garden were both searched in vain. There could be no doubt that Lilian had gone — must have stolen noiselessly at night through her mother’s room, and let herself out of the house and through the garden.
“Do you think she could have received any letter, any message, any visitor unknown to you?”
“I cannot think it. Why do you ask? Oh, Allen, you do not believe there is any accomplice in this disappearance! No, you do not believe it. But my child’s honour! What will the world think?”
Not for the world cared I at that moment. I could think only of Lilian, and without one suspicion that imputed blame to her.
“Be quiet, be silent; perhaps she has gone on some visit and will return. Meanwhile, leave inquiry to me.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06