Our vows are exchanged at the altar, the rite which made Lilian my wife is performed; we are returned from the church amongst the hills, in which my fathers had worshipped; the joy-bells that had pealed for my birth had rung for my marriage. Lilian has gone to her room to prepare for our bridal excursion; while the carriage we have hired is waiting at the door. I am detaining her mother on the lawn, seeking to cheer and compose her spirits, painfully affected by that sense of change in the relations of child and parent which makes itself suddenly felt by the parent’s heart on the day that secures to the child another heart on which to lean.
But Mrs. Ashleigh’s was one of those gentle womanly natures which, if easily afflicted, are easily consoled. And, already smiling through her tears, she was about to quit me and join her daughter, when one of the inn-servants came to me with some letters, which had just been delivered by the postman. As I took them from the servant, Mrs. Ashleigh asked if there were any for her. She expected one from her housekeeper at L— — who had been taken ill in her absence, and about whom the kind mistress felt anxious. The servant replied that there was no letter for her, but one directed to Miss Ashleigh, which he had just sent up to the young lady.
Mrs. Ashleigh did not doubt that her housekeeper had written to Lilian, whom she had known from the cradle and to whom she was tenderly attached, instead of to her mistress; and, saying something to me to that effect, quickened her steps towards the house.
I was glancing over my own letters, chiefly from patients, with a rapid eye, when a cry of agony, a cry as if of one suddenly stricken to the heart, pierced my ear — a cry from within the house. “Heavens! was that Lilian’s voice?” The same doubt struck Mrs. Ashleigh, who had already gained the door. She rushed on, disappearing within the threshold and calling to me to follow. I bounded forward, passed her on the stairs, was in Lilian’s room before her.
My bride was on the floor prostrate, insensible: so still, so colourless, that my first dreadful thought was that life had gone. In her hand was a letter, crushed as with a convulsive sudden grasp.
It was long before the colour came back to her cheek, before the breath was perceptible on her lip. She woke, but not to health, not to sense. Hours were passed in violent convulsions, in which I momentarily feared her death. To these succeeded stupor, lethargy, not benignant sleep. That night, my bridal night, I passed as in some chamber to which I had been summoned to save youth from the grave. At length — at length — life was rescued, was assured! Life came back, but the mind was gone. She knew me not, nor her mother. She spoke little and faintly; in the words she uttered there was no reason.
I pass hurriedly on; my experience here was in fault, my skill ineffectual. Day followed day, and no ray came back to the darkened brain. We bore her, by gentle stages, to London. I was sanguine of good result from skill more consummate than mine, and more especially devoted to diseases of the mind. I summoned the first advisers. In vain! in vain!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06