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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Good Time Coming By T. S. Arthur Characters: 8629

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


IT was some time after her father left for the city, before Fanny came down from her room. She was pale, and looked as if she had passed a sleepless night. Her mother's concerned inquiries were answered evasively, and it was very apparent that she wished to avoid question and observation.

Aunt Grace again sought, in her obtrusive way, to penetrate the mystery of Fanny's changed exterior, but was no more successful than on the preceding evening.

"Don't worry her with so many questions, sister," said Mrs. Markland, aside, to Aunt Grace; "I will know all in good time."

"Your good time may prove a very bad time," was answered, a little sharply.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Mrs. Markland, turning her eyes full upon the face of her companion.

"I mean that in any matter affecting so deeply a girl like Fanny, the mother's time for knowing all about it is now. Something is wrong, you may depend upon it."

At the commencement of this conversation, Fanny retired from the room.

"The child's mind has been disturbed by the unfortunate letter from Mr. Lyon. The something wrong goes not beyond this."

"Unfortunate! You may well say unfortunate. I don't know what has come over Edward. He isn't the same man that he was, before that foreign adventurer darkened our sunny home with his presence. Unfortunate! It is worse than unfortunate! Edward's sending that letter at all was more a crime than a mistake. But as to the wrong in regard to Fanny, I am not so sure that it only consists in a disturbance of her mind."

There was a look of mystery, blended with anxious concern, in the countenance of Aunt Grace, that caused Mrs. Markland to say, quickly-

"Speak out what is in your thoughts, Grace. Have no concealments with me, especially on a subject like this."

"I may be over-suspicious-I may wrong the dear child-but-"

Aunt Grace looked unusually serious.

"But what?" Mrs. Markland had grown instantly pale at the strange words of her husband's sister.

"John, the gardener, says that he saw Mr. Lyon on the day after Edward went to New York."

"Where?"

"Not far from here."

"Deceived, as Edward was. John saw our new neighbour, Mr. Willet."

"Maybe so, and maybe not; and I am strongly inclined to believe in the maybe not. As for that Lyon, I have no faith in him, and never had, as you know, from the beginning. And I shouldn't be at all surprised if he were prowling about here, trying to get stolen interviews with Fanny."

"Grace! How dare you suggest such a thing?" exclaimed Mrs. Markland, with an energy and indignation almost new to her character.

Grace was rather startled by so unexpected a response from her sister-in-law, and for a moment or two looked abashed.

"Better be scared than hurt, you know, Agnes," she replied, coolly, as soon as she had recovered herself.

"Not if scared by mere phantoms of our own diseased imaginations," said Mrs. Markland.

"There is something more solid than a phantom in the present case, I'm afraid. What do you suppose takes Fanny away so often, all by herself, to the Fountain Grove?"

"Grace Markland! What can you mean by such a question?" The mother of Fanny looked frightened.

"I put the question to you for answer," said Grace, coolly. "The time was, and that time is not very distant, when Fanny could scarcely be induced to go a hundred yards from the house, except in company. Now, she wanders away alone, almost daily; and if you observe the direction she takes, you will find that it is toward Fountain Grove. And John says that it was near this place that he met Mr. Lyon."

"Mr. Willet, you mean," said Mrs. Markland, firmly.

"None are so blind as those who will not see," retorted Aunt Grace, in her impulsive way. "If any harm comes to the child, you and Edward will have none but yourselves to blame. Forewarned, forearmed, is a wise saying, by which you seem in no way inclined to profit."

Even while this conversation was in progress, the subject of it had taken herself away to the sweet, retired spot where, since her meeting with Mr. Lyon, she had felt herself drawn daily with an almost irresistible influence. As she passed through the thick, encircling grove that surrounded the open space where the beautiful summer-house stood and the silvery waters spor

ted among the statues, she was startled by a rustling noise, as of some one passing near. She stopped suddenly, her heart beating with a rapid motion, and listened intently. Was she deceived, or did her eyes really get uncertain glimpses of a form hurriedly retiring through the trees? For nearly a minute she stood almost as still as one of the marble figures that surrounded the fountain. Then, with slow, almost stealthy footsteps, she moved onward, glancing, as she did so, from side to side, and noting every object in the range of vision with a sharp scrutiny. On gaining the summer-house, the first object that met her eyes was a folded letter, lying upon the marble table. To spring forward and seize it was the work of an instant. It bore her own name, and in the now familiar hand of Lee Lyon!

A strong agitation seized upon the frame of the young girl, as she caught up the unexpected letter. It was some moments before her trembling fingers could break the seal and unfold the missive. Then her eyes drank in, eagerly, its contents:

"MY EVER DEAR FANNY:-Since our meeting at the fountain, I cannot say to you all that I would say in any letter under care to your father, and so I entrust this to a faithful messenger, who will see that it reaches your hands. I am now far to the South again, in prosecution of most important business, the safe progress of which would be interrupted, and the whole large result endangered, were your father to know of my visit at Woodbine Lodge at a time when he thought me hundreds of miles distant. So, for his sake, as well as my own, be discreet for a brief period. I will not long permit this burden of secrecy to lie upon your dear young heart-oh no! I could not be so unjust to you. Your truest, best, wisest counsellor is your mother, and she should know all that is in your heart. Keep your secret only for a little while, and then I will put you in full liberty to speak of all that has just occurred. None will approve your discretion more than your parents, I know, when all the grave reasons for this concealment are disclosed. Dear Fanny! how ever-present to me you are. It seems, often, as if you were moving by my side. In lonely moments, how like far off, sweet music, comes your voice stealing into my heart. Beloved one!-"

A sudden sound of approaching feet caused Fanny to crumple the letter, scarcely half read, in her hand, and thrust it into her bosom. Turning towards the point from whence the noise came, she perceived the form of her mother, who was only a few paces distant. Mrs. Markland saw the letter in Fanny's hand, and also saw the hasty motion of concealment. When she entered the summer-house where her daughter, who had risen up hurriedly, stood in the attitude of one suddenly alarmed, she marked with deep concern the agitated play of her countenance, and the half-guilty aversion of her eyes.

"My dear child!" she said, in a low, serious voice, as she laid a hand upon her, "what am I to understand by the singular change that has passed over you, and particularly by the strong disturbance of this moment? Why are you here alone? And why are you so startled at your mother's appearance?"

Fanny only bowed her face upon her mother's bosom, and, sobbed violently.

As the wildness of her emotion subsided, Mrs. Markland said:-

"Speak freely to your best friend, my darling child! Hide nothing from one who loves you better than any human heart can love you."

But Fanny answered not, except by a fresh gush of tears.

"Have you nothing to confide to your mother?" inquired Mrs. Markland in as calm a voice as she could assume, after waiting long enough for the heart of her daughter to beat with a more even stroke.

"Nothing," was answered in a voice as calm as that in which the interrogation was asked.

"Nothing, Fanny? Oh, my child! Do not deceive your mother!"

Fanny drew her slight form up into something of a proud attitude, and stood for an instant looking at her mother almost defiantly. But this was only for an instant. For scarcely was the position assumed, ere she had flung herself forward, again sobbing violently, into her arms.

But, for all this breaking down of her feelings, Fanny's lips remained sealed. She was not yet prepared to give up her lover's secret-and did not do so.

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