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"YOU had a visitor this afternoon," said Mr. Markland, as he sat conversing with his wife and daughter, soon after his arrival from the city.
"I believe not," returned Mrs. Markland. "Oh, yes. I met a gentleman coming from this direction, and he said that he had been here."
"A gentleman? Who?"
"Our new neighbour, Mr. Willet."
"I did not know that he called."
"He may only have inquired for me at the door," said Mr. Markland. "I wish you had seen him."
"What kind of a man does he appear to be?" asked Mrs. Markland.
"My first impressions are favourable. But there is a singular fact in regard to his appearance in our neighbourhood."
Mrs. Markland and Fanny looked up curiously.
"I have been very much worried, since my return;" and Mr. Markland's eyes rested on his daughter, as he said this. The change that instantly passed over her face a little surprised him. Her eyes fell under his gaze, and the crimson blood rose to her forehead.
"What has worried you?" tenderly inquired Mrs. Markland.
"I met with a strange rumour in the city."
"About Mr. Lyon."
Mrs. Markland's whole manner changed, her usual quiet aspect giving place to strongly manifested interest. Her eyes, as well as those of her husband, turned to-ward Fanny, who, by partial aversion, sought to hide from close observation her suffused countenance.
"What of Mr. Lyon?" asked Mrs. Markland.
"At least two persons have affirmed, quite positively, that they saw Mr. Lyon, as well in the city as in this neighbourhood, on the day before yesterday," said Mr. Markland.
The colour suddenly receded from the face of his wife, who looked half-frightened at so unexpected an announcement. Fanny turned herself further away from observation.
"Saw Mr. Lyon! Can it be possible he did not go South at the time he said that he would leave?" Mrs. Markland's voice was troubled.
"He went, of course," was the cheerful, confident answer of Mr. Markland.
"You are sure of it?"
"How do you explain the mystery, if it may so be called?"
"After hours of doubt, perplexity, and uneasiness, I met the man himself."
"Not Mr. Lyon?"
Fanny started at her father's announcement, and partly turned toward him a face that was now of a pallid hue.
"No; not Mr. Lyon," said Mr. Markland, in answer to his wife's ejaculation, "but a person so nearly resembling him, that, for a few moments, even I was deceived."
"How singular! Who was the man?"
"Our new neighbour, Mr. Willet."
"Why, Edward! That is remarkable."
"Yes, it is really so. I had just parted from Mr. Allison, who was certain of having seen Mr. Lyon in this neighbourhood, on the day before yesterday, when I met Mr. Willet. I can assure you that I was startled when my eyes first rested upon him. For a few moments, pulsation was suspended. A nearer approach corrected my error; and a brief conversation with our new neighbour, gave me a strong prepossession in his favour."
Before this sentence was completed, Fanny had arisen and gone quietly from the room. For a few moments after her departure, the father's and mother's eyes rested upon the door through which her graceful form had vanished. Then they looked at each other, sighed, and were silent.
The moment Fanny was beyond the observation of her parents, wings seemed added to her feet, and she almost flew to her chamber.
"Bless the child! What's the matter? She looks frightened to death!" exclaimed Aunt Grace, who met her on the way, and she followed her quickly. But, when she tried to open the chamber door, she found it locked within.
"Fanny! Fanny, child!" She rattled at the lock, as she thus called the name of her niece.
But no sound came from within.
The sound of feet was on the floor.
"What is wanted, aunt?" said a low, husky voice, close to the door within. It did not seem like the voice of Fanny.
"I wish to see you for a few moments. Let me in."
"Not now, Aunt Grace. I want to be alone," was answered, in the same altered voice.
"Mercy on us!" sighed Aunt Grace, as she turned, disappointed and troubled, from the door of her niece's chamber. "What is coming over the house? and what ails the child? That dreadful Mr. Lyon is at the bottom of all this. Oh! I wish the ship that brought him over had sunk in the middle of the ocean. I knew he would bring trouble, the moment my eyes rested upon him; and it is here quicker than I expected."
Fanny, oh entering her room, had fallen, half-fainting, across her bed. It required a strong effort to arouse herself and sufficiently command her voice to answer the call of her aunt and refuse to admit her. As soon as the latter had gone away, she staggered back to her bed, and again threw herself upon it, powerless, for the time, in mind as well as body. Never, before, had she concealed anything from her parents--never acted falsely, or with even a shadow of duplicity. Into what a fearful temptation had she suddenly fallen; and what a weight of self-condemnation, mingled with doubt and fear, pressed upon her heart. At the moment when she was about revealing all to her father, and thus ending his doubts, her purpose was checked by the unlooked-for announcement that a person so nearly resembling Mr. Lyon, as even for a moment to deceive her father, was in the neighbourhood, checked the words that were rising to her lips, and sealed them, for the time, in silence. To escape from the presence of her parents was her next impulse, and she obeyed it.
Fully half an hour passed before calmness was restored to the mind of Fanny, and she could think with any degree of clearness. From childhood, up to this period of her life, her mother had been her wise counsellor, her loving friend, her gentle monitor. She had leaned upon her in full confidence--had clung to her in weakness, as the vine to its strong support. And now, when she most needed her counsel, she shrunk from her, and feared to divulge the secret that was burning painfully into her heart. And yet, she did not purpose to keep her secret; for that, her reason and filial love both told her, was wrong; while all the time a low, sweet, almost sad voice, seemed murmuring in her ear--"Go to your mother!"
"I must, I will go to her!" she said, at last, firmly. "A daughter's footsteps must be moving along dangerous ways, if she fears to let her mother know the paths she is treading. Oh, mother!" and she clasped her hands almost wildly against her bosom. "My good, wise, loving mother!--how could I let a stranger come in between us, and tempt my heart from its truth to you for a moment! Yes, yes, you must know all, and this very hour."
Acting from this better state of mind, Fanny unlocked her door, and was passing along one of the passages in the direction of her mother's room, when she met Aunt Grace.
"Oh! child! child! what is the matter with you?" exclaimed the aunt, catching hold of her, and looking intently into her pale face. "Come, now, tell me all about it--that's a dear, good girl."
"Tell you about what, Aunt Grace?" said Fanny, with as much firmness as she could assume, trying, as she spoke, to disengage herself from the firm grasp with which she was held.
"About all this matter that troubles you. Why, dear me! you look just as if you'd come out of a spell of sickness. What is it, dear? Now do tell your aunty, who loves you just as well as if you were her own child. Do, love."
And Aunt Grace tried to draw the head of Fanny close to her bosom. But her niece struggled to be free, answering, as she did so--
"Don't question me now, Aunt Grace, please. Only let me go to mother. I want to see her."
"She is not in her room," said Miss Markland.
"Are you certain?"
"Oh, yes. I have just come from there."
"Where is she, then?"
"In the library, with your father."
Without a word more, Fanny turned from her aunt, and, gliding back to her own chamber, entered, and closed the door.
"Oh, dear, dear, dear! What does ail the child?" almost sobbed Aunt Grace, wringing her hands together, as she stood, with a bewildered air, gazing upon the door through which the form of her niece had just passed. "Something is the matter--something dreadful. And it all comes of Edward's foolish confidence in a stranger, that I could see, with half an eye, was not a man to be trusted."
For some minutes, Miss Markland remained standing as her niece had left her, trying to make up her mind to act in some decided way for the remedy of existing troubles.
"I'll just speak to Edward plainly about this business," she at length said, with considerable warmth of manner. "Shall I stand, with sealed lips, and witness such a sacrifice? No--no--no!"
And with nothing clearly settled or arranged in her thoughts, Aunt Grace started for the library, with the intention of speaking out plainly to her brother. The opportunity for doing so, however, did not occur; for, on entering the library, she found it empty.
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