Then Anne told him all the strange adventure of Portchester Castle, and even of the apparition of the night before. That gentleness and sympathy seemed to draw out all that was in her heart, and to her surprise, he did not treat the story of that figure as necessarily a delusion. He had known and heard too much of spiritual manifestations to the outward senses to declare that such things could not be.
What she had seen might be explained by one of four hypotheses. It was either a phantom of her brain, and her being fully awake, although recently dwelling on the recollection, rendered that idea less probable, or the young man had not been killed and she had seen him in propria persona.
She had Charles Archfield’s word that the death was certain. He had never been heard of again, and if alive, the walk before Whitehall was the last place where he would be. As to mistaking any one else for him, the Bishop remembered enough of the queer changeling elf to agree with her that it was not a very probable contingency. And if it were indeed a spirit, why should it visit her? There had been one good effect certainly in the revival of home thoughts and turning her mind from the allurements of favour, but that did not seem to account for the spirit seeking her out.
Was it, Anne faltered, a sign that she ought to confess all, for the sake of procuring Christian burial for him. Yet how should she, when she had promised silence to young Archfield? True, it was for his wife’s sake, and she was dead; but there were the rest of his family and himself to be considered. What should she do?
The Bishop thought a little while, then said that he did not believe that she ought to speak without Mr. Archfield’s consent, unless she saw any one else brought into danger by her silence. If it ever became possible, he thought, that she should ascertain whether the body were in the vault, and if so, it might be possible to procure burial for it, perhaps without identification, or at any rate without making known what could only cause hostility and distress between the two families, unless the young man himself on his return should make the confession. This the Bishop evidently considered the sounder, though the harder course, but he held that Anne had no right to take the initiative. She could only wait, and bear her load alone; but the extreme kindness and compassion with which he talked to her soothed and comforted her so much that she felt infinitely relieved and strengthened when he dismissed her with his blessing, and far happier and more at peace than she had been since that terrible summer morning, though greatly humbled, and taught to repent of her aspirations after earthly greatness, and to accept her present condition as a just retribution, and a trial of constancy.
CHAPTER XIX: THE DAUGHTER’S SECRET
“Thy sister’s naught: O Regan, she
Sharp-tooth’d unkindness, like a vulture, here:
I can scarce speak to thee.”