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A STRANGE STORY.

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

CHAPTER LV.

IT seemed incredible that Lilian could wander
far without being observed. I soon ascertained
that she had not gone away by the railwayby any
public conveyancehad hired no carriage; she
must, therefore, be still in the town, or have left
it on foot. The greater part of the day was
consumed in unsuccessful inquiries, and faint hopes
that she would return; meanwhile, the news of
her disappearance had spread: how could such
news fail to do so?

An acquaintance of mine met me under the
archway of Monks' Gate. He wrung my hand,
and looked at me with great compassion.

"I fear," said he, " that we were all deceived
in that young Margrave. He seemed so well
conducted, in spite of his lively manners.
But—"

"But what?"

"Mrs. Ashleigh was, perhaps, imprudent to
admit him into her house so familiarly. He was
certainly very handsome. Young ladies will be
romantic."

"How dare you, sir!" I cried, choked with
rage. "And without any colouring to so
calumnious a suggestion! Margrave has not been
in the town for many days. No one knows even
where he is."

"Oh yes, it is known where he is. He wrote
to order the effects which he had left here to be
sent to Penrith."

"When?"

"The letter arrived the day before yesterday.
I happened to be calling at the house where he
last lodged when at L—, the house opposite
Mrs. Ashleigh's garden. No doubt the servants
in both houses gossip with each other. Miss
Ashleigh could scarcely fail to hear of Mr.
Margrave's address from her maid; and since
servants will exchange gossip, they may also convey
letters. Pardon me, you know I am your
friend."

"Not from the moment you breathe a word
against my betrothed wife," said I, fiercely.

I wrenched myself from the clasp of the man's
hand, but his words still rang in my ears. I
mounted my horse; I rode into the adjoining
suburbs, the neighbouring villages; there,
however, I learned nothing till, just at nightfall, in
a hamlet, about ten miles from L—, a labourer
declared he had seen a young lady dressed as I
described, who passed by him in a path through
the fields a little before noon; that he was
surprised to see one so young, so well dressed, and
a stranger to the neighbourhood (for he knew
by sight the ladies of the few families scattered
round) walking alone; that as he stepped out of
the path to make way for her, he looked hard
into her face, and she did not heed himseemed
to gaze, right before, into space. If her expression
had been less quiet and gentle, he should
have thought, he could scarcely say why, that
she was not quite right in her mindthere was
a strange unconscious stare in her eyes, as if she
were walking in her sleep. Her pace was very
steadyneither quick nor slow. He had watched
her till she passed out of sight, amidst a wood
through which the path wound its way to a
village at some distance.

I followed up this clue. I arrived at the
village to which my informant directed me, but
night had set in. Most of the houses were
closed, so I could glean no further information
from the cottages or at the inn. But the police
superintendent of the district lived in the village,
and to him I gave instructions which I had not
given, and indeed would have been disinclined
to give, to the police at L—. He was intelligent
and kindly: he promised to communicate
at once with the different police-stations for
miles round, and with all delicacy and privacy.
It was not probable that Lilian could have
wandered in one day much farther than the place at
which I then was; it was scarcely to be
conceived that she could baffle my pursuit and
the practised skill of the police. I rested but a
few hours, at a small public-house, and was on
horseback again at dawn. A little after sunrise,
I again heard of the wanderer. At a lonely
cottage, by a brick-kiln, in the midst of a wide
common, she had stopped the previous evening,
and asked for a draught of milk. The woman
who gave it to her inquired if she had lost her
way? She said, " No;" and only tarrying a few
minutes, had gone across the common; and the
woman supposed she was a visitor at a
gentleman's house which was at the further end of the
waste, for the path she took led to no town, no

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