* * * * *
She was chattering either of her plans for the autumn, or of Dante and the discovery of his missing cantos, or else of how abominably Bob Townsend had treated Rosalind Jemmett, and they had almost reached the upper terrace—little Roger, indeed, his red head blazing in the sunlight, was already sidling by shy instalments toward them—when Patricia moaned inconsequently and for no ascertainable cause fainted.
It was the first time for four years she had been guilty of such an indiscretion, she was shortly afterward explaining to various members of the Musgraves’ house-party. It was the heat, no doubt. But since everybody insisted upon it, she would very willingly toast them in another bumper of aromatic spirits of ammonia.
“Just look at that, Rudolph! you’ve spilt it all over your coat sleeve. I do wish you would try to be a little less clumsy. Oh, well, I’m spruce as a new penny now. So let’s all go to luncheon.”
Patricia had not been in perfect health for a long while. It seemed to her, in retrospect, that ever since the agonies of little Roger’s birth she had been the victim of what she described as “a sort of all-overishness.” Then, too, as has been previously recorded, Patricia had been operated upon by surgeons, and more than once....
“Good Lord!” as she herself declared, “it has reached the point that when I see a turkey coming to the dinner-table to be carved I can’t help treating it as an ingenue.”
Yet for the last four years she had never fainted, until this. It disquieted her. Then, too, awoke faint pricking memories of certain symptoms ... which she had not talked about ...
Now they alarmed her; and in consequence she took the next morning’s train to Lichfield.
Mrs. Ashmeade, who has been previously quoted, now comes into the story. She is only an episode. Still, her intervention led to peculiar results—results, curiously enough, in which she was not in the least concerned. She simply comes into the story for a moment, and then goes out of it; but her part is an important one.
She is like the watchman who announces the coming of Agamemnon; Clytemnestra sharpens her ax at the news, and the fatal bath is prepared for the anax andron. The tragedy moves on; the house of Atreus falls, and the wrath of implacable gods bellows across the heavens; meanwhile, the watchman has gone home to have tea with his family, and we hear no more of him. There are any number of morals to this.
Mrs. Ashmeade comes into the story on the day Patricia went to Lichfield, and some weeks after John Charteris’s arrival at Matocton. Since then, affairs had progressed in a not unnatural sequence. Mr. Charteris, as we have seen, attributed it to Fate; and, assuredly, there must be a special providence of some kind that presides over country houses—a freakish and whimsical providence, which hugely rejoices in confounding one’s sense of time and direction.