In a very few minutes I was once more in the grounds of that old gable house; the servant, who went before me, entered them by the stairs and the wicket-gate of the private entrance; that way was the shortest. So again I passed by the circling glade and the monastic well — sward, trees, and ruins all suffused in the limpid moonlight.
And now I was in the house; the servant took up-stairs the note with which I was charged, and a minute or two afterwards returned and conducted me to the corridor above, in which Mrs. Ashleigh received me. I was the first to speak.
“Your daughter — is — is — not seriously ill, I hope. What is it?”
“Hush!” she said, under her breath. “Will you step this way for a moment?” She passed through a doorway to the right. I followed her, and as she placed on the table the light she had been holding, I looked round with a chill at the heart — it was the room in which Dr. Lloyd had died. Impossible to mistake. The furniture indeed was changed, there was no bed in the chamber; but the shape of the room, the position of the high casement, which was now wide open, and through which the moonlight streamed more softly than on that drear winter night, the great square beams intersecting the low ceiling — all were impressed vividly on my memory. The chair to which Mrs. Ashleigh beckoned me was placed just on the spot where I had stood by the bedhead of the dying man.
I shrank back — I could not have seated myself there. So I remained leaning against the chimney-piece, while Mrs. Ashleigh told her story.
She said that on their arrival the day before, Lilian had been in more than usually good health and spirits, delighted with the old house, the grounds, and especially the nook by the Monk’s Well, at which Mrs. Ashleigh had left her that evening in order to make some purchases in the town, in company with Mr. Vigors. When Mrs. Ashleigh returned, she and Mr. Vigors had sought Lilian in that nook, and Mrs. Ashleigh then detected, with a mother’s eye, some change in Lilian which alarmed her. She seemed listless and dejected, and was very pale; but she denied that she felt unwell. On regaining the house she had sat down in the room in which we then were — “which,” said Mrs. Ashleigh, “as it is not required for a sleeping-room, my daughter, who is fond of reading, wished to fit up as her own morning-room, or study. I left her here and went into the drawing-room below with Mr. Vigors. When he quitted me, which he did very soon, I remained for nearly an hour giving directions about the placing of furniture, which had just arrived, from our late residence. I then went up-stairs to join my daughter, and to my terror found her apparently lifeless in her chair. She had fainted away.”
I interrupted Mrs. Ashleigh here. “Has Miss Ashleigh been subject to fainting fits?”
“No, never. When she recovered she seemed bewildered, disinclined to speak. I got her to bed, and as she then fell quietly to sleep, my mind was relieved. I thought it only a passing effect of excitement, in a change of abode; or caused by something like malaria in the atmosphere of that part of the grounds in which I had found her seated.”
“Very likely. The hour of sunset at this time of year is trying to delicate constitutions. Go on.”
“About three quarters of an hour ago she woke up with a loud cry, and has been ever since in a state of great agitation, weeping violently, and answering none of my questions. Yet she does not seem light-headed, but rather what we call hysterical.”
“You will permit me now to see her. Take comfort; in all you tell me I see nothing to warrant serious alarm.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48