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CHAPTER XIV. Ten days after. I am stretched upon my bed, from which I have not risen since the day upon which I parted from Derrick. I am not ill—not attacked by any actual malady: yet from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, there is no soundness in me, and my mind, even more than my body, is one great sore. To lie listlessly through the weary hours, to watch the sunshine playing upon the walls, to listen to the monotonous twittering of the sparrows upon the housetops, and to wish when it is morning, that the night were come, and when it is night, that it were again morning—these have been my sole occupations. I have seen nobody—have heard no news of any sort—the world and all pertaining to it, might be dead, for all I know or think about it. My meals are brought to me by my landlady, or by the maid-of-all-work, and I eat and drink, as in a dream, and lay aside my plate, without knowing what I have eaten. Sometil11" s I have tried to think —to reason with myself, as to how all this is to end, and how I am to live when all my money shall be exhausted-but the exertion of thinking has been too much for me, and I have turned round upon my pil- low, and again gazed listlessly at the sunbeams upon the wall. On this particular day, however, I have been en- deavouring to rouse myself, with the reflection that this state of things cannot go on for ever, that this prolonged inactivity, must, if indulged in, prove ruinous to mind and body-and have just crept from my bed with a mighty effort, and am wondering how it is that I cannot stand upright without the aid of the foot-rail, when a knock comes to my door, and a telegram is brought in. The sight of it makes me grow dizzy I feel so certain that it is from Derrick but no-it is from the housekeeper at Beech Hill, stating that my uncle, Stephen Ashton, has arrived, and begging of me to go down without delay. She does not say at wnat time he has come, nor if he is ill, nor why I am to go to him, in place of his coming to me: I am left to surmise these things, and to wonder at the strangeness of the message. I am surprised at the small amount of energy there is left in me; how little this important news affects me; how slowly and apathetically I prepare to obey the summons. As I proceed to dress myself, my strength seems in a measure to return, and to my amazement I am able to get into a cab without assistance, and am whirled away to the station. It is a burning day in early summer: a contrast to the bitter weather which nipped my fingers and per- ished my frame, during my first well-remembered journey along the same route. At the station, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, is waiting to receive me. She looks in my face, and passes me by-and I then know how changed I must 1'0 When I speak to her, she is evidently shocked out is too good-natured to make any comment upon my altered looks. She only asks me a few brief questions, which I answer as briefly, and then offers me her arm, which I am glad to accept. As we walk from the station, she says- "Your uncle came yesterday. He asked for you, and seemed much disappointed when I told him your address he evidentlyjcounted upon finding you here and had himself, come down from town. I pressed him to remain for rest and refreshment, but he would not enter the house at all. He was on foot-had left his luggage in the city, and had come down by train. So ill and broken did he appear, that I myself ac- companied him to the gate. When opposite the lodge, and as he was thanking me and saying good- bye, he fell down motionless, and appeared to be suffering great agony. I fancy he is labouring under a disease of the heart, and that the unusual fatigue overcame him. Mrs. Johns, the woman who keeps the lodge, was away, but her husband and I carried him in, and did all we could to make him comfortable. I went for the doctor, but when he came, your uncle would not see him, and was furious with me for doing so. He makes little of his illness, but I fancy it is more serious than lie believes, for, despite his anxiety to return to town, he was quite unable to do so, or even to leave the lodge. Johns and I sat up with him all night. He would not allow us out of his presence, for fear we should telegraph for you, which he said was unnecessary, as he would bo able to go to you early in the morning. To-day, however, found him more prostrate than before, and he at length reluctantly consented that you should be sent for, and now seems anxious for your arrival. I commis- sioned Johns, when leaving, to send again for Dr. Marston, and to bring him into the patient's presence whether he were welcomed or otherwise. I have nothing more to tell you, Miss Ashton." I listen attentively to her recital—utter a few words, in commendation of her conduct—and then, walk on silently by hcr sde, until Beech Hill is reached. When we enter too lodge, I see three persons Johns, the gardener, who rises respectfully as we go in my uncle, Stephen Ashton, lean and miserable but evidently quite conscious, lying upon a bed in an inner room, the door of which is open; 'and a third I person, a man whom I take to be the doctor, stooping over the patient, and conversing with him. His back is toward me, but as he turns on our entrance, I see ¡ with untold amazement, that it is the tall stranger who haunted me upon the night of Mrs. Daring's flight, and whom I have since seen and recognised in Scotland Yard. He looks at us as we come In, but without any apparent curiosity, bows slightly, confers again for a moment with the sick man, and goes out, his exam- ple being followed by Johns, and also by Mrs. Hall, who first leads me up to the couch, and says-" This, sir, is your neice.' My uncle stretches out his lean hand, draws me forward into the full light, looks keenly at me with his penetrating eyes, and says- So, this is my niece. Child, how frail you look Are you ilL-" No, uncle." "Have you been ailing "No, indeed, uncle." "Well, well," he says, "you look as if you had. i'hey have been scaring you with stories about me: that is it: you are frightened. What a shame it is "No, uncle; you mistake. I am quite composed, and am not at all ill." He lays the tips of his ten fingers together, looks at me, half smiling, and says-" I don't believe it." His manner is so kind, that I cannot take offence at the words. I tell him that where he is so ill, himself, enquiries for me are quite superfluous, and ask if I can do anything to contribute to his comfort. He takes my hand, and says-" You are a good child, but I want for nothing. I am not in any paiu —only,'at times"—and he lays his hand upon his heart-" it gives me a blow that is all. I shall be up to-morrow—up and about! I cxild go to town this evening, I fancy, only they won't allow me. 0, wait awhile: I shall be quite strong to-morrow." His tone is hearty and cbcerful, but Death shakes hia hour-glass in the sick man's face, and belies his words. I throw off my bonnet, and sit calmly down by his lide, to await the next change. All my feelings are so numbed by suffering, that I am in no way dis- turbed. He locks my hand in his, and falls into a deep sleep. Through many long hours, I never move. I watch his thin worn face, sunk in its quiet repose, and stroke the emaciated fingers, lying so quietly within my own. Poor, poor heart, beating irregularly on sometimes almost audibly marching like a tired soldier, to its last well-earned rest. Poor heart full, as I come to know, of generous impulses, warm attentions, honour and steadfastness, and pure, guileless, unparaded re- ligion-wronged, and tortured, and wrung, by those who were ever its first care--bcating its funeral march as it nears the ghostly goal--throbbing its last throbs in a land of strangers. Poor, :poor heart! I could weep, if I had tears,—but the source of mine is dried. (To be concluded in our next).




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