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Darkness is fled: look, infant morn hath drawn Bright silver curtains 'bout the couch of night; And now Aurora's horse trots azure rings, Breathing fair light about the firmament. Stand; what's that? JOHN MARSTON.--Second Part of Antonio and Mellida.
When he came to himself, it was with a slow flowing of the tide of consciousness. His head ached. Had he fallen down stairs?--or had he struck his head against some projection, and so stunned himself? The last he remembered was--standing quite still in the dark, and hearing something. Had he been knocked down? He could not tell.--Where was he? Could the ghost have been all a dream? and this headache be nature's revenge upon last night's wine?--For he lay on the couch in the haunted chamber, and on his bosom lay the book over which he had dropped asleep.
Mingled with all this doubt, there was another. For he remembered that, when consciousness first returned, he felt as if he had seen Euphra's face bending down close over his.--Could it be possible? Had Euphra herself come to see how he had fared?--The room lay in the grey light of the dawn, but Euphra was nowhere visible. Could she have vanished ashamed through the secret door? Or had she been only a phantasy, a projection outwards of the form that dwelt in his brain; a phenomenon often occurring when the last of sleeping and the first of waking are indistinguishably blended in a vague consciousness?
But if it was so, then the ghost?--what of it? Had not his brain, by the events of the preceding evening, been similarly prepared with regard to it? Was it not more likely, after all, that she too was the offspring of his own imagination--the power that makes images--especially when considered, that she exactly corresponded to the description given by the Bohemian?--But had he not observed many points at which the Count had not even hinted?--Still, it was as natural to expect that an excited imagination should supply the details of a wholly imaginary spectacle, as that, given the idea of Euphra's presence, it should present the detail of her countenance; for the creation of that which is not, belongs as much to the realm of the imagination, as the reproduction of that which is.
It seemed very strange to Hugh himself, that he should be able thus to theorize, before even he had raised himself from the couch on which, perhaps, after all, he had lain without moving, throughout that terrible night, swarming with the horrors of the dead that would not sleep. But the long unconsciousness, in which he had himself visited the regions of death, seemed to have restored him, in spite of his aching head, to perfect mental equilibrium. Or, at least, his brain was quiet enough to let his mind work. Still, he felt very ghastly within. He raised himself on his elbow, and looked into the room. Everything was the same as it had been the night before, only with an altered aspect in the dawn-light. The dawn has a peculiar terror of its own, sometimes perhaps even more real in character, but very different from the terrors of the night and of candle-light. The room looked as if no ghost could have passed through its still old musty atmosphere, so perfectly reposeful did it appear; and yet it seemed as if some umbra, some temporary and now cast-off body of the ghost, must be lying or lingering somewhere about it. He rose, and peeped into the recess where the cabinet stood. Nothing was there but the well remembered carving and blackness. Having once yielded to the impulse, he could not keep from peering every moment, now into one, and now into another of the many hidden corners. The next suggesting itself for examination, was always one he could not see from where he stood:--after all, even in the daylight, there might be some dead thing there--who could tell? But he remained manfully at his post till the sun rose; till bell after bell rang from the turret; till, in short, Funkelstein came to fetch him.
"Good morning, Mr. Sutherland," said he. "How have you slept?"
"Like a--somnambulist," answered Hugh, choosing the word for its intensity. "I slept so sound that I woke quite early."
"I am glad to hear it. But it is nearly time for breakfast, for which ceremony I am myself hardly in trim yet."
So saying, Funkelstein turned, and walked away with some precipitation. What occasioned Hugh a little surprise; was, that he did not ask him one question more as to how he had passed the night. He had, of course, slept in the house, seeing he presented himself in deshabille.
Hugh hastened to his own room, where, under the anti-ghostial influences of the bath, he made up his mind not to say a word about the apparition to any one.
"Well, Mr. Sutherland, how have you spent the night?" said Mr. Arnold, greeting him.
"I slept with profound stupidity," answered Hugh; "a stupidity, in fact, quite worthy of the folly of the preceding wager."
This was true, as relating to the time during which he had slept, but was, of course, false in the impression it gave.
"Bravo!" exclaimed Mr. Arnold, with an unwonted impulsiveness. "The best mood, I consider, in which to meet such creations of other people's brains! And you positively passed a pleasant night in the awful chamber? That is something to tell Euphra. But she is not down yet. You have restored the character of my house, Mr. Sutherland; and next to his own character, a man ought to care for that of his house. I am greatly in your debt, sir."
At this moment, Euphra's maid brought the message, that her mistress was sorry she was unable to appear at breakfast.
Mrs. Elton took her place.
"The day is so warm and still, Mr. Arnold, that I think Lady Emily might have a drive to-day. Perhaps Miss Cameron may be able to join us by that time."
"I cannot think what is the matter with Euphra," said Mr. Arnold. "She never used to be affected in this way."
"Should you not seek some medical opinion?" said Mrs. Elton. "These constant headaches must indicate something wrong."
The constant headache had occurred just once before, since Mrs. Elton had formed one of the family. After a pause, Mr. Arnold reverted to the former subject.
"You are most welcome to the carriage, Mrs. Elton. I am sorry I cannot accompany you myself; but I must go to town to-day. You can take Mr. Sutherland with you, if you like. He will take care of you."
"I shall be most happy," said Hugh.
"So shall we all," responded Mrs. Elton kindly. "Thank you, Mr. Arnold; though I am sorry you can't go with us."
"What hour shall I order the carriage?"
"About one, I think. Will Herr von Funkelstein favour us with his company?"
"I am sorry," replied Funkelstein; "but I too must leave for London to-day. Shall I have the pleasure of accompanying you, Mr. Arnold?"
"With all my heart, if you can leave so early. I must go at once to catch the express train."
"I shall be ready in ten minutes."
"Pray, Mrs. Elton, make my adieus to Miss Cameron. I am concerned to hear of her indisposition."
"With pleasure. I am going to her now. Good-bye."
As soon as Mrs. Elton left the breakfast-room, Mr. Arnold rose, saying:
"I will walk round to the stable, and order the carriage myself. I shall then be able, through your means, Mr. Sutherland, to put a stop to these absurd rumours in person. Not that I mean to say anything direct, as if I placed any importance upon it; but, the coachman being an old servant, I shall be able through him, to send the report of your courage and its result, all over the house."
This was a very gracious explanation of his measures. As he concluded it, he left the room, without allowing time for a reply.
Hugh had not expected such an immediate consequence of his policy, and felt rather uncomfortable; but he soon consoled himself by thinking, "At least it will do no harm."
While Mr. Arnold was speaking, Funkelstein had been writing at a side-table. He now handed Hugh a cheque on a London banking-house for a hundred guineas. Hugh, in his innocence, could not help feeling ashamed of gaining such a sum by such means; for betting, like tobacco-smoking, needs a special training before it can be carried out quite comfortably, especially by the winner, if he be at all of a generous nature. But he felt that to show the least reluctance would place him at great disadvantage with a man of the world like the count. He therefore thanked him slightly, and thrust the cheque into his trowsers-pocket, as if a greater sum of money than he had ever handled before were nothing more for him to win, than the count would choose it to be considered for him to lose. He thought with himself: "Ah! well, I need not make use of it;" and repaired to the school-room.
Here he found Harry waiting for him, looking tolerably well, and tolerably happy. This was a great relief to Hugh, for he had not seen him at the breakfast-table--Harry having risen early and breakfasted before; and he had felt very uneasy lest the boy should have missed him in the night (for they were still bed-fellows), and should in consequence have had one of his dreadful attacks of fear.--It was evident that this had not taken place.
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