Chapter XVI. A New Visitor and an Old Acquaintance.




     He's enough
To bring a woman to confusion,
More than a wiser man, or a far greater.

MIDDLETON.--The Witch.

When they reached the lodge, Lady Emily expressed a wish to walk up the avenue to the house. To this Mr. Arnold gladly consented. The carriage was sent round the back way; and Hugh, dismounting, gave his horse to the footman in attendance. As they drew near the house, the rest of the party having stopped to look at an old tree which was a favourite with its owner, Hugh and Harry were some yards in advance; when the former spied, approaching them from the house, the distinguished figure of Herr von Funkelstein. Saluting as they met, the visitor informed Hugh that he had just been leaving his card for him, and would call some other morning soon; for, as he was rusticating, he had little to occupy him. Hugh turned with him towards the rest of the party, who were now close at hand; when Funkelstein exclaimed, in a tone of surprise,

"What! Miss Cameron here!" and advanced with a profound obeisance, holding his hat in his hand.

Hugh thought he saw her look annoyed; but she held out her hand to him, and, in a voice indicating--still as it appeared to Hugh--some reluctance, introduced him to her uncle, with the words:

"We met at Sir Edward Laston's, when I was visiting Mrs. Elkingham, two years ago, uncle."

Mr. Arnold lifted his hat and bowed politely to the stranger. Had Euphra informed him that, although a person of considerable influence in Sir Edward's household, Herr von Funkelstein had his standing there only as Sir Edward's private secretary, Mr. Arnold's aversion to foreigners generally would not have been so scrupulously banished into the background of his behaviour. Ordinary civilities passed between them, marked by an air of flattering deference on Funkelstein's part, which might have been disagreeable to a man less uninterruptedly conscious of his own importance than Mr. Arnold; and the new visitor turned once more, as if forgetful of his previous direction, and accompanied them towards the house. Before they reached it he had, even in that short space, ingratiated himself so far with Mr. Arnold, that he asked him to stay and dine with them--an invitation which was accepted with manifest pleasure.

"Mr. Sutherland," said Mr. Arnold, "will you show your friend anything worth note about the place? He has kindly consented to dine with us; and in the meantime I have some letters to write."

"With pleasure," answered Hugh.

But all this time he had been inwardly commenting on the appearance of his friend, as Mr. Arnold called him, with the jealousy of a youth in love; for was not Funkelstein an old acquaintance of Miss Cameron? What might not have passed between them in that old hidden time?--for love is jealous of the past as well as of the future. Love, as well as metaphysics, has a lasting quarrel with time and space: the lower love fears them, while the higher defies them.--And he could not help seeing that Funkelstein was one to win favour in ladies' eyes. Very regular features and a dark complexion were lighted up by eyes as black as Euphra's, and capable of a wonderful play of light; while his form was remarkable for strength and symmetry. Hugh felt that in any company he would attract immediate attention. His long dark beard, of which just the centre was removed to expose a finely-turned chin, blew over each shoulder as often as they met the wind in going round the house. From what I have heard of him from other deponents besides Hugh, I should judge that he did well to conceal the lines of his mouth in a long moustache, which flowed into his bifurcated beard. He had just enough of the foreign in his dress to add to the appearance of fashion which it bore.

As they walked, Hugh could not help observing an odd peculiarity in the carriage of his companion. It was, that, every few steps, he gave a backward and downward glance to the right, with a sweeping bend of his body, as if he were trying to get a view of the calf of his leg, or as if he fancied he felt something trailing at his foot. So probable, from his motion, did the latter supposition seem, that Hugh changed sides to satisfy himself whether or not there was some dragging briar or straw annoying him; but no follower was to be discovered.

"You are a happy man, Mr. Sutherland," said the guest, "to live under the same roof with that beautiful Miss Cameron."

"Am I?" thought Hugh; but he only said, affecting some surprise:

"Do you think her so beautiful?"

Funkelstein's eyes were fixed upon him, as if to see the effect of his remark. Hugh felt them, and could not conform his face to the indifference of his words. But his companion only answered indifferently:

"Well, I should say so; but beauty is not, that is not beauty for us."

Whether or not there was poison in the fork of this remark, Hugh could only conjecture. He made no reply.

As they walked about the precincts of the house, Funkelstein asked many questions of Hugh, which his entire ignorance of domestic architecture made it impossible for him to answer. This seemed only to excite the questioner's desire for information to a higher pitch; and as if the very stones could reply to his demands, he examined the whole range of the various buildings constituting the house of Arnstead "as he would draw it."

"Certainly," said he, "there is at least variety enough in the style of this mass of material. There is enough for one pyramid."

"That would be rather at the expense of the variety, would it not?" said Hugh, in spiteful response to the inconsequence of the second member of Funkelstein's remark. But the latter was apparently too much absorbed in his continued inspection of the house, from every attainable point of near view, to heed the comment.

"This they call the Ghost's Walk," said Hugh.

"Ah! about these old houses there are always such tales."

"What sort of tales do you mean?"

"I mean of particular spots and their ghosts. You must have heard many such?"

"No, not I."

"I think Germany is more prolific of such stories. I could tell you plenty."

"But you don't mean you believe such things?"

"To me it is equal. I look at them entirely as objects of art."

"That is a new view of a ghost to me. An object of art? I should have thought them considerably more suitable objects previous to their disembodiment."

"Ah! you do not understand. You call art painting, don't you--or sculpture at most? I give up sculpture certainly--and painting too. But don't you think a ghost a very effective object in literature now? Confess: do you not like a ghost-story very much?"

"Yes, if it is a very good one."

"Hamlet now?"

"Ah! we don't speak of Shakspere's plays as stories. His characters are so real to us, that, in thinking of their development, we go back even to their fathers and mothers--and sometimes even speculate about their future."

"You islanders are always in earliest somehow. So are we Germans. We are all one."

"I hope you can be in earnest about dinner, then, for I hear the bell."

"We must render ourselves in the drawing-room, then? Yes."

When they entered the drawing-room, they found Miss Cameron alone. Funkelstein advanced, and addressed a few words to her in German, which Hugh's limited acquaintance with the language prevented him from catching. At the same moment, Mr. Arnold entered, and Funkelstein, turning to him immediately, proceeded, as if by way of apology for speaking in an unknown tongue, to interpret for Mr. Arnold's benefit:

"I have just been telling Miss Cameron in the language of my country, how much better she looks than when I saw her at Sir Edward Lastons."

"I know I was quite a scare-crow then," said Euphra, attempting to laugh.

"And now you are quite a decoy-duck, eh, Euphra?" said Mr. Arnold, laughing in reality at his own joke, which put him in great good-humour for the whole time of dinner and dessert.

"Thank you, uncle," said Euphra, with a prettily pretended affectation of humility. Then she added gaily:

"When did you rise on our Sussex horizon, Herr von Funkelstein?"

"Oh! I have been in the neighbourhood for a few days; but I owe my meeting with you to one of those coincidences which, were they not so pleasant--to me in this case, at least--one would think could only result from the blundering of old Dame Nature over her knitting. If I had not had the good fortune to meet Mr. Sutherland the other evening, I should have remained in utter ignorance of your neighbourhood and my own felicity, Miss Cameron. Indeed, I called now to see him, not you."

Hugh saw Mr. Arnold looking rather doubtful of the foreigner's fine speeches.

Dinner was announced. Funkelstein took Miss Cameron, Hugh Mrs. Elton, and Mr. Arnold followed with Lady Emily, who would never precede her older friend. Hugh tried to talk to Mrs. Elton, but with meagre success. He was suddenly a nobody, and felt more than he had felt for a long time what, in his present deteriorated moral state, he considered the degradation of his position. A gulf seemed to have suddenly yawned between himself and Euphra, and the loudest voice of his despairing agony could not reach across that gulf. An awful conviction awoke within him, that the woman he worshipped would scarcely receive his worship at the worth of incense now; and yet in spirit he fell down grovelling before his idol. The words "euphrasy and rue" kept ringing in his brain, coming over and over with an awful mingling of chime and toll. When he thought about it afterwards, he seemed to have been a year in crossing the hall with Mrs. Elton on his arm. But as if divining his thoughts--just as they passed through the dining-room door, Euphra looked round at him, almost over Funkelstein's shoulder, and, without putting into her face the least expression discernible by either of the others following, contrived to banish for the time all Hugh's despair, and to convince him that he had nothing to fear from Funkelstein. How it was done Hugh himself could not tell. He could not even recall the look. He only knew that he had been as miserable as one waking in his coffin, and that now he was out in the sunny air.

During dinner, Funkelstein paid no very particular attention to Euphrasia, but was remarkably polite to Lady Emily. She seemed hardly to know how to receive his attentions, but to regard him as a strange animal, which she did not know how to treat, and of which she was a little afraid. Mrs. Elton, on the contrary, appeared to be delighted with his behaviour and conversation; for, without showing the least originality, he yet had seen so much, and knew so well how to bring out what he had seen, that he was a most interesting companion. Hugh took little share in the conversation beyond listening as well as he could, to prevent himself from gazing too much at Euphra.

"Had Mr. Sutherland and you been old acquaintances then, Herr von Funkelstein?" asked Mr. Arnold, reverting to the conversation which had been interrupted by the announcement of dinner.

"Not at all. We met quite accidentally, and introduced ourselves. I believe a thunderstorm and a lecture on biology were the mediating parties between us. Was it not so, Mr. Sutherland?"

"I beg your pardon," stammered Hugh. But Mr. Arnold interposed:

"A lecture on what, did you say?"

"On biology."

Mr. Arnold looked posed. He did not like to say he did not know what the word meant; for, like many more ignorant men, he thought such a confession humiliating. Von Funkelstein hastened to his relief.

"It would be rather surprising if you were acquainted with the subject, Mr. Arnold. I fear to explain it to you, lest both Mr. Sutherland and myself should sink irrecoverably in your estimation. But young men want to know all that is going on."

Herr Funkelstein was not exactly what one would call a young man; but, as he chose to do so himself, there was no one to dispute the classification.

"Oh! of course," replied Mr. Arnold; "quite right. What, then, pray, is biology?"

"A science, falsely so called," said Hugh, who, waking up a little, wanted to join in the conversation.

"What does the word mean?" said Mr. Arnold.

Von Funkelstein answered at once:

"The science of life. But I must say, the name, as now applied, is no indication of the thing signified."

"How, then, is a gentleman to know what it is?" said Mr. Arnold, half pettishly, and forgetting that his knowledge had not extended even to the interpretation of the name.

"It is one of the sciences, true or false, connected with animal magnetism."

"Bah!" exclaimed Mr. Arnold, rather rudely.

"You would have said so, if you had heard the lecture," said Funkelstein.

The conversation had not taken this turn till quite late in the dining ceremony. Euphra rose to go; and Hugh remarked that her face was dreadfully pale. But she walked steadily out of the room.

This interrupted the course of the talk, and the subject was not resumed. Immediately after tea, which was served very soon, Funkelstein took his leave of the ladies.

"We shall be glad to see you often while in this neighbourhood," said Mr. Arnold, as he bade him good night.

"I shall, without fail, do myself the honour of calling again soon," replied he, and bowed himself out.

Lady Emily, evidently relieved by his departure, rose, and, approaching Euphra, said, in a sweet coaxing tone, which even she could hardly have resisted:

"Dear Miss Cameron, you promised to sing, for me in particular, some evening. May I claim the fulfilment of your promise?"

Euphra had recovered her complexion, and she too seemed to Hugh to be relieved by the departure of Funkelstein.

"Certainly," she answered, rising at once. "What shall I sing?"

Hugh was all ear now.

"Something sacred, if you please."

Euphra hesitated, but not long.

"Shall I sing Mozart's Agnus Dei, then?"

Lady Emily hesitated in her turn.

"I should prefer something else. I don't approve of singing popish music, however beautiful it may be."

"Well, what shall it be?"

"Something of Handel or Mendelssohn, please. Do you sing, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth?'"

"I daresay I can sing it," replied Euphra, with some petulance; and went to the piano.

This was a favourite air with Hugh; and he placed himself so as to see the singer without being seen himself, and to lose no slightest modulation of her voice. But what was his disappointment to find that oratorio-music was just what Euphra was incapable of! No doubt she sang it quite correctly; but there was no religion in it. Not a single tone worshipped or rejoiced. The quality of sound necessary to express the feeling and thought of the composer was lacking: the palace of sound was all right constructed, but of wrong material. Euphra, however, was quite unconscious of failure. She did not care for the music; but she attributed her lack of interest in it to the music itself, never dreaming that, in fact, she had never really heard it, having no inner ear for its deeper harmonies. As soon as she had finished, Lady Emily thanked her, but did not praise her more than by saying:

"I wish I had a voice like yours, Miss Cameron."

"I daresay you have a better of your own," said Euphra, falsely.

Lady Emily laughed.

"It is the poorest little voice you ever heard; yet I confess I am glad, for my own sake, that I have even that. What should I do if I never heard Handel!"

Every simple mind has a little well of beauty somewhere in its precincts, which flows and warbles, even when the owner is unheedful. The religion of Lady Emily had led her into a region far beyond the reach of her intellect, in which there sprang a constant fountain of sacred song. To it she owed her highest moods.

"Then Handel is your musician?" said Euphra. "You should not have put me to such a test. It was very unfair of you, Lady Emily."

Lady Emily laughed, as if quite amused at the idea of having done Euphra any wrong. Euphra added:

"You must sing now, Lady Emily. You cannot refuse, after the admission you have just made."

"I confess it is only fair; but I warn you to expect nothing."

She took her place at the piano, and sang--He shall feed his flock. Her health had improved so much during her sojourn at Arnstead, that, when she began to sing, the quantity of her voice surprised herself; but after all, it was a poor voice; and the execution, if clear of any great faults, made no other pretence to merit. Yet she effected the end of the music, the very result which every musician would most desire, wherein Euphra had failed utterly. This was worthy of note, and Hugh was not even yet too blind to perceive it. Lady Emily, with very ordinary intellect, and paltry religious opinions, yet because she was good herself, and religious--could, in the reproduction of the highest kind of music, greatly surpass the spirited, intellectual musician, whose voice was as superior to hers as a nightingale's to a sparrow's, and whose knowledge of music and musical power generally, surpassed hers beyond all comparison.

It must be allowed for Euphra, that she seemed to have gained some perception of the fact. Perhaps she had seen signs of emotion in Hugh's face, which he had shaded with his hand as Lady Emily sang; or perhaps the singing produced in her a feeling which she had not had when singing herself. All I know is, that the same night--while Hugh was walking up and down his room, meditating on this defect of Euphra's, and yet feeling that if she could sing only devil's music, he must love her--a tap came to the door which made him start with the suggestion of the former mysterious noises of a similar kind; that he sprang to the door; and that, instead of looking out on a vacant corridor, as he all but anticipated, he saw Euphra standing there in the dark--who said in a whisper:

"Ah! you do not love me any longer, because Lady Emily can sing psalms better than I can!"

There was both pathos and spite in the speech.

"Come in, Euphra."

"No. I am afraid I have been very naughty in coming here at all."

"Do come in. I want you to tell me something about Funkelstein."

"What do you want to know about him? I suppose you are jealous of him. Ah! you men can both be jealous and make jealous at the same moment." A little broken sigh followed. Hugh answered:

"I only want to know what he is."

"Oh! some twentieth cousin of mine."

"Mr. Arnold does not know that?"

"Oh dear! no. It is so far off I can't count it, In fact I doubt it altogether. It must date centuries back."

"His intimacy, then, is not to be accounted for by his relationship?"

"Ah! ah! I thought so. Jealous of the poor count!"

"Count?"

"Oh dear! what does it matter? He doesn't like to be called Count, because all foreigners are counts or barons, or something equally distinguished. I oughtn't to have let it out."

"Never mind. Tell me something about him."

"He is a Bohemian. I met him first, some years ago, on the continent."

"Then that was not your first meeting--at Sir Edward Laston's?"

"No."

"How candid she is!" thought Hugh.

"He calls me his cousin; but if he be mine, he is yet more Mr. Arnold's. But he does not want it mentioned yet. I am sure I don't know why."

"Is he in love with you?"

"How can I tell?" she answered archly. "By his being very jealous? Is that the way to know whether a man is in love with one? But if he is in love with me, it does not follow that I am in love with him--does it? Confess. Am I not very good to answer all your impertinent downright questions? They are as point blank as the church-catechism;--mind, I don't say as rude.--How can I be in love with two at--a--?"

She seemed to cheek herself. But Hugh had heard enough--as she had intended he should. She turned instantly, and sped--surrounded by the "low melodious thunder" of her silken garments--to her own door, where she vanished noiselessly.

"What care I for oratorios?" said Hugh to himself, as he put the light out, towards morning.

Where was all this to end? What goal had Hugh set himself? Could he not go away, and achieve renown in one of many ways, and return fit, in the eyes of the world, to claim the hand of Miss Cameron? But would he marry her if he could? He would not answer the question. He closed the ears of his heart to it, and tried to go to sleep. He slept, and dreamed of Margaret in the storm.

A few days passed without anything occurring sufficiently marked for relation. Euphra and he seemed satisfied without meeting in private. Perhaps both were afraid of carrying it too far; at least, too far to keep clear of the risk of discovery, seeing that danger was at present greater than usual. Mr. Arnold continued to be thoroughly attentive to his guests, and became more and more devoted to Lady Emily. There was no saying where it might end; for he was not an old man yet, and Lady Emily appeared to have no special admirers. Arnstead was such an abode, and surrounded with such an estate, as few even of the nobility could call their own. And a reminiscence of his first wife seemed to haunt all Mr. Arnold's contemplations of Lady Emily, and all his attentions to her. These were delicate in the extreme, evidently bringing out the best life that yet remained in a heart that was almost a fossil. Hugh made some fresh efforts to do his duty by Harry, and so far succeeded, that at least the boy made some progress--evident enough to the moderate expectations of his father. But what helped Harry as much as anything, was the motherly kindness, even tenderness, of good Mrs. Elton, who often had him to sit with her in her own room. To her he generally fled for refuge, when he felt deserted and lonely.



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