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A STRANGE STORY.

BY THE AUTHOR OF "MY NOVEL," " RIENZI," &C.
CHAPTER XLIII.

I WAS just outside the garden-door, when I
felt an arm thrown round me, my cheek kissed,
and wetted with tears. Could it be Lilian?
Alas, no! It was her mother's voice, that, between
laughing and crying, exclaimed hysterically:
"This is joy, to see you again, and on
these thresholds. I have just come from
your house; I went there on purpose to congratulate
you, and to talk to you about Lilian.
But you have seen her?"

"Yes; I have but this moment left her. Come
this way." I drew Mrs. Ashleigh back into the
garden, along the old winding walk, which the
shrubs concealed from view of the house. We
sat down on a rustic seat, where I had often
sat with Lilian, midway between the house
and the Monks' Well. I told the mother what
had passed between me and her daughter; I
made no complaint of Lilian's coldness and
change; I did not hint at its cause. "Girls of
her age will change," said I, "and all that now
remains is for us two to agree on such a tale
to our curious neighbours, as may rest the
whole blame on me. Man's Name is of robust
fibre; it could not push its way to a place in
the world, if it could not bear, without sinking,
the load idle tongues may lay on it. Not so
Woman's Namewhat is but gossip against
Man, is scandal against Woman."

"Do not be rash, my dear Allen," said Mrs.
Ashleigh, in great distress. "I feel for you, I
understand you; in your case I might act as you
do. I cannot blame you. Lilian is changed-
changed unaccountably. Yet sure I am that the
change is only on the surface, that her heart is
really yours, as entirely and as faithfully as ever
it was; and that later, when she recovers from
the strange, dreamy kind of torpor which appears
to have come over all her faculties and all
her affections, she would awake with a despair
which you cannot conjecture, to the knowledge
that you had renounced her."

"I have not renounced her," said I, impatiently;
"I did but restore her freedom of
choice. But pass by this now, and explain to
me more fully the change in your daughter,
which I gather from your words is not confined
to me."

"I wished to speak of it before you saw her,
and for that reason came to your house. It
was on the morning in which we left her aunt's
to return hither that I first noticed something
peculiar in her look and manner. She seemed
absorbed and absent, so much so that I asked her
several times to tell me what made her so grave,
but I could only get from her that she had had
a confused dream which she could not recal distinctly
enough to relate, but that she was sure it
boded evil. During the journey she became
gradually more herself, and began to look forward
with delight to the idea of seeing you
again. Well, you came that evening. What
passed between you and her you know best.
You complained that she slighted your request
to shun all acquaintance with Mr. Margrave. I
was surprised that, whether your wish were
reasonable or not, she could have hesitated to
comply with it. I spoke to her about it after
you had gone, and she wept bitterly at thinking
she had displeased you."

"She wept! You amaze me. Yet the next
day what a note she returned to mine!"

"The next day the change in her became very
visible to me. She told me, in an excited manner,
that she was convinced she ought not to marry
you. Then came, the following day, the news of
your committal. I heard of it, but dared not
break it to her. I went to our friend the mayor,
to consult with him what to say, what do; and
to learn more distinctly than I had done from
terrified, incoherent servants, the rights of so
dreadful a story. When I returned, I found, to
my amazement, a young stranger in the drawing-
room; it was Mr. MargraveMiss Brabazon had
brought him at his request. Lilian was in the
room, too, and my astonishment was increased
when she said to me with a singular smile, vague
but tranquil: 'I know all about Allen Fenwick;
Mr. Margrave has told me all. He is a friend
of Allen's. He says there is no cause for fear.'
Mr. Margrave then apologised to me for his intrusion
in a caressing, kindly manner, as if one
of the family. He said he was so intimate with
you that he felt that he could best break to Miss
Ashleigh an information she might receive elsewhere,
for that he was the only man in the town
who treated the charge with ridicule. You
know the wonderful charm of this young man's
manner. I cannot explain to you how it was,
but in a few moments I was as much at home
with him as if he had been your brother. To be

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