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This Eneas is come to Paradise Out of the swolowe of Hell. CHAUCER.--Legend of Dido.
The next day, Hugh was determined to find or make an opportunity of speaking to Euphra; and fortune seemed to favour him.--Or was it Euphra herself, in one or other of her inexplicable moods? At all events, she had that morning allowed the ladies and her uncle to go without her; and Hugh met her as he went to his study.
"May I speak to you for one moment?" said he, hurriedly, and with trembling lips.
Yes, certainly," she replied with a smile, and a glance in his face as of wonder as to what could trouble him so much. Then turning, and leading the way, she said:
"Come into my room."
He followed her. She turned and shut the door, which he had left open behind him. He almost knelt to her; but something held him back from that.
"Euphra," he said, "what have I done to offend you?"
"Offend me! Nothing."--This was uttered in a perfect tone of surprise.
"How is it that you avoid me as you do, and will not allow me one moment's speech with you? You are driving me to distraction."
"Why, you foolish man!" she answered, half playfully, pressing the palms of her little hands together, and looking up in his face, "how can I? Don't you see how those two dear old ladies swallow me up in their faddles? Oh, dear? Oh, dear! I wish they would go. Then it would be all right again--wouldn't it?"
But Hugh was not to be so easily satisfied.
"Before they came, ever since that night--"
"Hush-sh!" she interrupted, putting her finger on his lips, and looking hurriedly round her with an air of fright, of which he could hardly judge whether it was real or assumed--"hush!"
Comforted wondrously by the hushing finger, Hugh would yet understand more.
"I am no baby, dear Euphra," he said, taking hold of the hand to which the finger belonged, and laying it on his mouth; "do not make one of me. There is some mystery in all this--at least something I do not understand."
"I will tell you all about it one day. But, seriously, you must be careful how you behave to me; for if my uncle should, but for one moment, entertain a suspicion--good-bye to you--perhaps good-bye to Arnstead. All my influence with him comes from his thinking that I like him better than anybody else. So you must not make the poor old man jealous. By the bye," she went on--rapidly, as if she would turn the current of the conversation aside--"what a favourite you have grown with him! You should have heard him talk of you to the old ladies. I might well be jealous of you. There never was a tutor like his."
Hugh's heart smote him that the praise of even this common man, proud of his own vanity, should be undeserved by him. He was troubled, too, at the flippancy with which Euphra spoke; yet not the less did he feel that he loved her passionately.
"I daresay," he replied, "he praised me as he would anything else that happened to be his. Isn't that old bay horse of his the best hack in the county?"
"You naughty man! Are you going to be satirical?"
"You claim that as your privilege, do you?"
"Worse and worse! I will not talk to you. But, seriously, for I must go--bring your Italian to--to--" She hesitated.
"To the library--why not?" suggested Hugh.
"No-o," she answered, shaking her head, and looking quite solemn.
"Well, will you come to my study? Will that please you better?"
"Yes, I will," she answered, with a definitive tone. "Good-bye, now."
She opened the door, and having looked out to see that no one was passing, told him to go. As he went, he felt as if the oaken floor were elastic beneath his tread.
It was sometime after the household had retired, however, before Euphra made her appearance at the door of his study. She seemed rather shy of entering, and hesitated, as if she felt she was doing something she ought not to do. But as soon as she had entered, and the door was shut, she appeared to recover herself quite; and they sat down at the table with their books. They could not get on very well with their reading, however. Hugh often forgot what he was about, in looking at her; and she seemed nowise inclined to avert his gazes, or check the growth of his admiration.
Rather abruptly, but apparently starting from some suggestion in the book, she said to him:
"By the bye, has Mr. Arnold ever said anything to you about the family jewels?"
"No," said Hugh. "Are there many?"
"Yes, a great many. Mr. Arnold is very proud of them, as well as of the portraits; so he treats them in the same way--keeps them locked up. Indeed he seldom allows them to see daylight, except it be as a mark of especial favour to some one."
"I should like much to see them. I have always been curious about stones. They are wonderful, mysterious things to me."
Euphra gave him a very peculiar, searching glance, as he spoke.
"Shall I," he continued, "give him a hint that I should like to see them?"
"By no means," answered Euphra, emphatically, "except he should refer to them himself. He is very jealous of his possessions--his family possessions, I mean. Poor old man! he has not much else to plume himself upon; has he?"
"He is kind to you, Euphra."
She looked at him as if she did not understand him.
"Yes. What then?"
"You ought not to be unkind to him."
"You odd creature! I am not unkind to him. I like him. But we are not getting on with our reading. What could have led me to talk about family-jewels? Oh! I see. What a strange thing the association of ideas is! There is not a very obvious connexion here; is there?"
"No. One cannot account for such things. The links in the chain of ideas are sometimes slender enough. Yet the slenderest is sufficient to enable the electric flash of thought to pass along the line."
She seemed pondering for a moment.
"That strikes me as a fine simile," she said. "You ought to be a poet yourself."
Hugh made no reply.
"I daresay you have hundreds of poems in that old desk, now?"
"I think they might be counted by tens."
"Do let me see them."
"You would not care for them."
"Wouldn't I, Hugh?"
"I will, on one condition--two conditions, I mean."
"What are they?"
"One is, that you show me yours."
"Who told you I wrote verses? That silly boy?"
"No--I saw your verses before I saw you. You remember?"
"It was very dishonourable in you to read them."
"I only saw they were verses. I did not read a word."
"I forgive you, then. You must show me yours first, till I see whether I could venture to let you see mine. If yours were very bad indeed, then I might risk showing mine."
And much more of this sort, with which I will not weary my readers. It ended in Hugh's taking from the old escritoire a bundle of papers, and handing them to Euphra. But the reader need not fear that I am going to print any of these verses. I have more respect for my honest prose page than to break it up so. Indeed, the whole of this interview might have been omitted, but for two circumstances. One of them was, that in getting these papers, Hugh had to open a concealed portion of the escritoire, which his mathematical knowledge had enabled him to discover. It had evidently not been opened for many years before he found it. He had made use of it to hold the only treasures he had--poor enough treasures, certainly! Not a loving note, not a lock of hair even had he--nothing but the few cobwebs spun from his own brain. It is true, we are rich or poor according to what we are, not what we have. But what a man has produced, is not what he is. He may even impoverish his true self by production.
When Euphra saw him open this place, she uttered a suppressed cry of astonishment.
"Ah!" said Hugh, "you did not know of this hidie-hole, did you?"
"Indeed, I did not. I had used the desk myself, for this was a favourite room of mine before you came, but I never found that. Dear me! Let me look."
She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned over him, as he pointed out the way of opening it.
"Did you find nothing in it?" she said, with a slight tremour in her voice.
"There may be more places."
"No. I have accounted for the whole bulk, I believe."
"But now you must give me my guerdon," said Hugh timidly.
The fact was, the poor youth had bargained, in a playful manner, and yet with an earnest, covetous heart, for one, the first kiss, in return for the poems she begged to see.
She turned her face towards him.
The second circumstance which makes the interview worth recording is, that, at this moment, three distinct knocks were heard on the window. They sprang asunder, and saw each other's face pale as death. In Euphra's, the expression of fright was mingled with one of annoyance. Hugh, though his heart trembled like a bird, leaped to the window. Nothing was to be seen but the trees that "stretched their dark arms" within a few feet of the oriel. Turning again towards Euphra, he found, to his mortification, that she had vanished--and had left the packet of poems behind her.
He replaced them in their old quarters in the escritoire; and his vague dismay at the unaccountable noises, was drowned in the bitter waters of miserable humiliation. He slept at last, from the exhaustion of disappointment.
When he awoke, however, he tried to persuade himself that he had made far too much of the trifling circumstance of her leaving the verses behind. For was she not terrified?--Why, then, did she leave him and go alone to her own room?--She must have felt that she ought not to be in his, at that hour, and therefore dared not stay.--Why dared not? Did she think the house was haunted by a ghost of propriety? What rational theory could he invent to account for the strange and repeated sounds?--He puzzled himself over it to the verge of absolute intellectual prostration.
He was generally the first in the breakfast-room; that is, after Euphra, who was always the first. She went up to him as he entered, and said, almost in a whisper:
"Have you got the poems for me? Quick!"
Hugh hesitated. She looked at him.
"No," he said at last.--"You never wanted them."
"That is very unkind; when you know I was frightened out of my wits. Do give me them."
"They are not worth giving you. Besides, I have not got them. I don't carry them in my pocket. They are in the escritoire. I couldn't leave them lying about. Never mind them."
"I have a right to them," she said, looking up at him slyly and shyly.
"Well, I gave you them, and you did not think them worth keeping. I kept my part of the bargain."
She looked annoyed.
"Never mind, dear Euphra; you shall have them, or anything else I have;--the brain that made them, if you like."
"Was it only the brain that had to do with the making of them?"
"Perhaps the heart too; but you have that already."
Her face flushed like a damask rose.
At that moment Mrs. Elton entered, and looked a little surprised. Euphra instantly said:
"I think it is rather too bad of you, Mr. Sutherland, to keep the poor boy so hard to his work, when you know he is not strong. Mrs. Elton, I have been begging a holiday for poor Harry, to let him go with us to Wotton House; but he has such a hard task-master! He will not hear of it."
The flush, which she could not get rid of all at once, was thus made to do duty as one of displeasure. Mrs. Elton was thoroughly deceived, and united her entreaties to those of Miss Cameron. Hugh was compelled to join in the deception, and pretend to yield a slow consent. Thus a holiday was extemporised for Harry, subject to the approbation of his father. This was readily granted; and Mr. Arnold, turning to Hugh, said:
"You will have nothing to do, Mr. Sutherland: had you not better join us?"
"With pleasure," replied he; "but the carriage will be full."
"You can take your horse."
"Thank you very much. I will."
The day was delightful; one of those grey summer-days, that are far better for an excursion than bright ones. In the best of spirits, mounted on a good horse, riding alongside of the carriage in which was the lady who was all womankind to him, and who, without taking much notice of him, yet contrived to throw him a glance now and then, Hugh would have been overflowingly happy, but for an unquiet, distressed feeling, which all the time made him aware of the presence of a sick conscience somewhere within. Mr. Arnold was exceedingly pleasant, for he was much taken with the sweetness and modesty of Lady Emily, who, having no strong opinions upon anything, received those of Mr. Arnold with attentive submission. He saw, or fancied he saw in her, a great resemblance to his deceased wife, to whom he had been as sincerely attached as his nature would allow. In fact, Lady Emily advanced so rapidly in his good graces, that either Euphra was, or thought fit to appear, rather jealous of her. She paid her every attention, however, and seemed to gratify Mr. Arnold by her care of the invalid. She even joined in the entreaties which, on their way home, he made with evident earnestness, for an extension of their visit to a month. Lady Emily was already so much better for the change, that Mrs. Elton made no objection to the proposal. Euphra gave Hugh one look of misery, and, turning again, insisted with increased warmth on their immediate consent. It was gained without much difficulty before they reached home.
Harry, too, was captivated by the gentle kindness of Lady Emily, and hardly took his eyes off her all the way; while, on the other hand, his delicate little attentions had already gained the heart of good Mrs. Elton, who from the first had remarked and pitied the sad looks of the boy.
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