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A STRANGE STORY.

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

CHAPTER LXII.

Our vows are exchanged at the altarthe rite
which made Lilian my wife is performedwe
are returned from the church, amongst the hills,
in which my fathers had worshipped; the joybells
that rang for my marriage had pealed for
my birth. 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 letters 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 of one suddenly stricken to the
heart, pierced my eara cry from within the
house. " Heavens! was not 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 forwardpassed her
on the stairswas 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 momently 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 specially devoted
to diseases of the mind. I summoned the
first advisers. In vain!—in vain!

CHAPTER LXIII.

And the cause of this direful shock? Not
this time could it be traced to some evil spell,
some phantasmal influence. The cause was clear,
and might have produced effects as sinister on
nerves of stronger fibre if accompanied with a
heart as delicately sensitive, an honour as
exquisitely pure.

The letter found in her hand was without
name; it was dated from L——, and bore the
postmark of that town. It conveyed to Lilian,
in the biting words which female malice can
make so sharp, the tale we had sought sedulously
to guard from her earher flight, the construction
that scandal put upon it. It affected for
my blind infatuation a contemptuous pity; it
asked her to pause before she brought on the
name I offered to her an indelible disgrace. If
she so decided, she was warned not to return to
L——, or to prepare there for the sentence that
would exclude her from the society of her own
sex. I cannot repeat more, I cannot minute
down all that the letter expressed or implied, to
wither the orange blossoms in a bride's wreath.
The heart that took in the venom cast its poison
on the brain, and the mind fled before the presence

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