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O, cocks are crowing a merry midnight, I wot the wild-fowls are boding day; Give me my faith and troth again, And let me fare me on my way. Sae painfully she clam the wa', She clam the wa' up after him; Hosen nor shoon upon her feet, She hadna time to put them on. Scotch Ballad.--Clerk Saunders.
Dreary days passed. The reports of Euphra were as favourable as the nature of the injury had left room to expect. Still they were but reports: Hugh could not see her, and the days passed drearily. He heard that the swelling was reduced, and that the ankle was found not to be dislocated, but that the bones were considerably injured, and that the final effect upon the use of the parts was doubtful. The pretty foot lay aching in Hugh's heart. When Harry went to bed, he used to walk out and loiter about the grounds, full of anxious fears and no less anxious hopes. If the night was at all obscure, he would pass, as often as he dared, under Euphra's window; for all he could have of her now was a few rays from the same light that lighted her chamber. Then he would steal away down the main avenue, and thence watch the same light, whose beams, in that strange play which the intellect will keep up in spite of--yet in association with--the heart, made a photo-materialist of him. For he would now no longer believe in the pulsations of an ethereal medium; but--that the very material rays which enlightened Euphra's face, whether she waked or slept, stole and filtered through the blind and the gathered shadows, and entered in bodily essence into the mysterious convolutions of his brain, where his soul and heart sought and found them.
When a week had passed, she was so far recovered as to be able to see Mr. Arnold; from whom Hugh heard, in a somewhat reproachful tone, that she was but the wreck of her former self. It was all that Hugh could do to restrain the natural outbreak of his feelings. A fortnight passed, and she saw Mrs. Elton and Lady Emily for a few moments. They would have left before, but had yielded to Mr. Arnold's entreaty, and were staying till Euphra should be at least able to be carried from her room.
One day, when the visitors were out with Mr. Arnold, Jane brought a message to Hugh, requesting him to walk into Miss Cameron's room, for she wanted to see him. Hugh felt his heart flutter as if doubting whether to stop at once, or to dash through its confining bars. He rose and followed the maid. He stood over Euphra pale and speechless. She lay before him wasted and wan; her eyes twice their former size, but with half their former light; her fingers long and transparent; and her voice low and feeble. She had just raised herself with difficulty to a sitting posture, and the effort had left her more weary.
"Hugh!" she said, kindly.
"Dear Euphra!" he answered, kissing the little hand he held in his.
She looked at him for a little while, and the tears rose in her eyes.
"Hugh, I am a cripple for life."
"God forbid, Euphra!" was all he could reply.
She shook her head mournfully. Then a strange, wild look came in her eyes, and grew till it seemed from them to overflow and cover her whole face with a troubled expression, which increased to a look of dull agony.
"What is the matter, dear Euphra?" said Hugh, in alarm. "Is your foot very painful?"
She made no answer. She was looking fixedly at his hand.
"Shall I call Jane?"
She shook her head.
"Can I do nothing for you?"
"No," she answered, almost angrily.
"Shall I go, Euphra?"
He left the room instantly. But a sharp though stifled cry of despair drew him back at a bound. Euphra had fainted.
He rang the bell for Jane; and lingered till he saw signs of returning consciousness.
What could this mean? He was more perplexed with her than ever he had been. Cunning love, however, soon found a way of explaining it--A way?--Twenty ways--not one of them the way.
Next day, Lady Emily brought him a message from Euphra--not to distress himself about her; it was not his fault.
This message the bearer of it understood to refer to the original accident, as the sender of it intended she should: the receiver interpreted it of the occurrence of the day before, as the sender likewise intended. It comforted him.
It had become almost a habit with Hugh, to ascend the oak tree in the evening, and sit alone, sometimes for hours, in the nest he had built for Harry. One time he took a book with him; another he went without; and now and then Harry accompanied him. But I have already said, that often after tea, when the house became oppressive to him from the longing to see Euphra, he would wander out alone; when, even in the shadows of the coming night, he would sometimes climb the nest, and there sit, hearing all that the leaves whispered about the sleeping birds, without listening to a word of it, or trying to interpret it by the kindred sounds of his own inner world, and the tree-talk that went on there in secret. For the divinity of that inner world had abandoned it for the present, in pursuit of an earthly maiden. So its birds were silent, and its trees trembled not.
An aging moon was feeling her path somewhere through the heavens; but a thin veil of cloud was spread like a tent under the hyaline dome where she walked; so that, instead of a white moon, there was a great white cloud to enlighten the earth,--a cloud soaked full of her pale rays. Hugh sat in the oak-nest. He knew not how long he had been there. Light after light was extinguished in the house, and still he sat there brooding, dreaming, in that state of mind in which to the good, good things come of themselves, and to the evil, evil things. The nearness of the Ghost's Walk did not trouble him, for he was too much concerned about Euphra to fear ghost or demon. His mind heeded them not, and so was beyond their influence.
But while he sat, he became aware of human voices. He looked out from his leafy screen, and saw once more, at the end of the Ghost's Walk, a form clothed in white. But there were voices of two. He sent his soul into his ears to listen. A horrible, incredible, impossible idea forced itself upon him--that the tones were those of Euphra and Funkelstein. The one voice was weak and complaining; the other firm and strong.
"It must be some horrible ghost that imitates her," he said to himself; for he was nearly crazy at the very suggestion.
He would see nearer, if only to get rid of that frightful insinuation of the tempter. He descended the tree noiselessly. He lost sight of the figure as he did so. He drew near the place where he had seen it. But there was no sound of voices now to guide him. As he came within sight of the spot, he saw the white figure in the arms of another, a man. Her head was lying on his shoulder. A moment after, she was lifted in those arms and borne towards the house,--down the Ghost's Avenue.
A burning agony to be satisfied of his doubts seized on Hugh. He fled like a deer to the house by another path; tried, in his suspicion, the library window; found it open, and was at Euphra's door in a moment. Here he hesitated. She must be inside. How dare he knock or enter?
If she was there, she would be asleep. He would not wake her. There was no time to lose. He would risk anything, to be rid of this horrible doubt.
He gently opened the door. The night-light was burning. He thought, at first, that Euphra was in the bed. He felt like a thief, but he stole nearer. She was not there. She was not on the couch. She was not in the room. Jane was fast asleep in the dressing-room. It was enough.
He withdrew. He would watch at his door to see her return, for she must pass his door to reach her own. He waited a time that seemed hours. At length--horrible, far more horrible to him than the vision of the ghost--Euphra crept past him, appearing in the darkness to crawl along the wall against which she supported herself, and scarcely suppressing her groans of pain. She reached her own room, and entering, closed the door.
Hugh was nearly mad. He rushed down the stair to the library, and out into the wood. Why or whither he knew not.
Suddenly he received a blow on the head. It did not stun him, but he staggered under it. Had he run against a tree? No. There was the dim bulk of a man disappearing through the boles. He darted after him. The man heard his footsteps, stopped, and waited in silence. As Hugh came up to him, he made a thrust at him with some weapon. He missed his aim. The weapon passed through his coat and under his arm. The next moment, Hugh had wrenched the sword-stick from him, thrown it away, and grappled with--Funkelstein. But strong as Hugh was, the Bohemian was as strong, and the contest was doubtful. Strange as it may seem--in the midst of it, while each held the other unable to move, the conviction flashed upon Hugh's mind, that, whoever might have taken Lady Euphrasia's ring, he was grappling with the thief of his father's.
"Give me my ring," gasped he.
An imprecation of a sufficiently emphatic character was the only reply. The Bohemian got one hand loose, and Hugh heard a sound like the breaking of glass. Before he could gain any advantage--for his antagonist seemed for the moment to have concentrated all his force in the other hand--a wet handkerchief was held firmly to his face. His fierceness died away; he was lapt in the vapour of dreams; and his senses departed.
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