Lilian recovered, but the strange thing was this: all memory of the weeks that had elapsed since her return from visiting her aunt was completely obliterated; she seemed in profound ignorance of the charge on which I had been confined — perfectly ignorant even of the existence of Margrave. She had, indeed, a very vague reminiscence of her conversation with me in the garden — the first conversation which had ever been embittered by a disagreement — but that disagreement itself she did not recollect. Her belief was that she had been ill and light-headed since that evening. From that evening to the hour of her waking, conscious and revived, all was a blank. Her love for me was restored, as if its thread had never been broken. Some such instances of oblivion after bodily illness or mental shock are familiar enough to the practice of all medical men;27 and I was therefore enabled to appease the anxiety and wonder of Mrs. Ashleigh, by quoting various examples of loss, or suspension, of memory. We agreed that it would be necessary to break to Lilian, though very cautiously, the story of Sir Philip Derval’s murder, and the charge to which I had been subjected. She could not fail to hear of those events from others. How shall I express her womanly terror, her loving, sympathizing pity, on hearing the tale, which I softened as well as I could?
“And to think that I knew nothing of this!” she cried, clasping my hand; “to think that you were in peril, and that I was not by your side!”
Her mother spoke of Margrave, as a visitor — an agreeable, lively stranger; Lilian could not even recollect his name, but she seemed shocked to think that any visitor had been admitted while I was in circumstances so awful! Need I say that our engagement was renewed? Renewed! To her knowledge and to her heart it had never been interrupted for a moment. But oh! the malignity of the wrong world! Oh, that strange lust of mangling reputations, which seizes on hearts the least wantonly cruel! Let two idle tongues utter a tale against some third person, who never offended the babblers, and how the tale spreads, like fire, lighted none know how, in the herbage of an American prairie! Who shall put it out?
What right have we to pry into the secrets of other men’s hearths? True or false, the tale that is gabbled to us, what concern of ours can it be? I speak not of cases to which the law has been summoned, which law has sifted, on which law has pronounced. But how, when the law is silent, can we assume its verdicts? How be all judges where there has been no witness-box, no cross-examination, no jury? Yet, every day we put on our ermine, and make ourselves judges — judges sure to condemn, and on what evidence? That which no court of law will receive. Somebody has said something to somebody, which somebody repeats to everybody!
The gossip of L—— had set in full current against Lilian’s fair name. No ladies had called or sent to congratulate Mrs. Ashleigh on her return, or to inquire after Lilian herself during her struggle between life and death.
How I missed the Queen of the Hill at this critical moment! How I longed for aid to crush the slander, with which I knew not how to grapple — aid in her knowledge of the world and her ascendancy over its judgments! I had heard from her once since her absence, briefly but kindly expressing her amazement at the ineffable stupidity which could for a moment have subjected me to a suspicion of Sir Philip Derval’s strange murder, and congratulating me heartily on my complete vindication from so monstrous a charge. To this letter no address was given. I supposed the omission to be accidental, but on calling at her house to inquire her direction, I found that the servants did not know it.
What, then, was my joy when just at this juncture I received a note from Mrs. Poyntz, stating that she had returned the night before, and would be glad to see me.
I hastened to her house. “Ah,” thought I, as I sprang lightly up the ascent to the Hill, “how the tattlers will be silenced by a word from her imperial lips!” And only just as I approached her door did it strike me how difficult — nay, how impossible — to explain to her — the hard positive woman, her who had, less ostensibly but more ruthlessly than myself, destroyed Dr. Lloyd for his belief in the comparatively rational pretensions of clairvoyance — all the mystical excuses for Lilian’s flight from her home? How speak to her — or, indeed, to any one — about an occult fascination and a magic wand? No matter: surely it would be enough to say that at the time Lilian had been light-headed, under the influence of the fever which had afterwards nearly proved fatal, The early friend of Anne Ashleigh would not be a severe critic on any tale that might right the good name of Anne Ashleigh’s daughter. So assured, with a light heart and a cheerful face, I followed the servant into the great lady’s pleasant but decorous presence-chamber.
27 Such instances of suspense of memory are recorded in most physiological and in some metaphysical works. Dr. Abercrombie notices some, more or less similar to that related in the text: “A young lady who was present at a catastrophe in Scotland, in which many people lost their lives by the fall of the gallery of a church, escaped without any injury, but with the complete loss of the recollection of any of the circumstances; and this extended not only to the accident, but to everything that had occurred to her for a certain time before going to church. A lady whom I attended some years ago in a protracted illness, in which her memory became much impaired, lost the recollection of a period of about ten or twelve years, but spoke with perfect consistency of things as they stood before that time.” Dr. Aberercmbie adds: “As far as I have been able to trace it, the principle in such cases seems to be, that when the memory is impaired to a certain degree, the loss of it extends backward to some event or some period by which a particularly deep impression had been made upon the mind.”— ABERCROMBIE: On the Intellectual Powers, pp. 118, 119 (15th edition).
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