Hugh found his mother even worse than he had expected; but she rallied a little after his arrival.
In the evening, he wandered out in the bright moonlit snow.
How strange it was to see all the old forms with his heart so full of new things! The same hills rose about him, with all the lines of their shapes unchanged in seeming. Yet they were changing as surely as himself; nay, he continued more the same than they; for in him the old forms were folded up in the new. In the eyes of Him who creates time, there is no rest, but a living sacred change, a journeying towards rest. He alone rests; and he alone, in virtue of his rest, creates change.
He thought with sadness, how all the haunts of his childhood would pass to others, who would feel no love or reverence for them; that the house would be the same, but sounding with new steps, and ringing with new laughter. A little further thought, however, soon satisfied him that places die as well as their dwellers; that, by slow degrees, their forms are wiped out; that the new tastes obliterate the old fashions; and that ere long the very shape of the house and farm would be lapped, as it were, about the tomb of him who had been the soul of the shape, and would vanish from the face of the earth.
All the old things at home looked sad. The look came from this, that, though he could sympathize with them and their story, they could not sympathize with him, and he suffused them with his own sadness. He could find no refuge in the past; he must go on into the future.
His mother lingered for some time without any evident change. He sat by her bedside the most of the day. All she wanted was to have him within reach of her feeble voice, that she might, when she pleased, draw him within touch of her feeble hand. Once she said:
"My boy, I am going to your father."
"Yes, mother, I think you are," Hugh replied. "How glad he will be to see you!"
"But I shall leave you alone."
"Mother, I love God."
The mother looked at him, as only a mother can look, smiled sweetly, closed her eyes as with the weight of her contentment, fell asleep holding his hand, and slept for hours.
Meanwhile, in London, Margaret was watching Euphra. She was dying, and Margaret was the angel of life watching over her.
"I shall get rid of my lameness there, Margaret, shall I not?" said Euphra, one day, half playfully.
"It will be delightful to walk again without pain."
"Perhaps you will not get rid of it all at once, though."
"Why do you think so?" asked Euphra, with some appearance of uneasiness.
"Because, if it is taken from you before you are quite willing to have it as long as God pleases, by and by you will not be able to rest, till you have asked for it back again, that you may bear it for his sake."
"I am willing, Margaret, I am willing. Only one can't like it, you know."
"I know that," answered Margaret.
She spoke no more, and Margaret heard her weeping gently. Half an hour had passed away, when she looked up, and said:
"Margaret, dear, I begin to like my lameness, I think."
"Why, just because God made it, and bade me bear it. May I not think it is a mark on me from his hand?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Why do you think it came on me?"
"To walk back to Him with, dear."
"Yes, yes; I see it all."
Until now, Margaret had not known to what a degree the lameness of Euphra had troubled her. That her pretty ankle should be deformed, and her light foot able only to limp, had been a source of real distress to her, even in the midst of far deeper.
The days passed on, and every day she grew weaker. She did not suffer much, but nothing seemed to do her good. Mrs. Elton was kindness itself. Harry was in dreadful distress. He haunted her room, creeping in whenever he had a chance, and sitting in corners out of the way. Euphra liked to have him near her. She seldom spoke to him, or to any one but Margaret, for Margaret alone could hear with ease what she said. But now and then she would motion him to her bedside, and say -- it was always the same --
"Harry, dear, be good."
"I will; indeed I will, dear Euphra," was still Harry's reply.
Once, expressing to Margaret her regret that she should be such a trouble to her, she said:
"You have to do so much for me, that I am ashamed."
"Do let me wash the feet of one of his disciples;" Margaret replied, gently expostulating; after which, Euphra never grumbled at her own demands upon her.
Again, one day, she said:
"I am not right at all to-day, Margaret. God can't love me, I am so hateful."
"Don't measure God's mind by your own, Euphra. It would be a poor love that depended not on itself, but on the feelings of the person loved. A crying baby turns away from its mother's breast, but she does not put it away till it stops crying. She holds it closer. For my part, in the worst mood I am ever in, when I don't feel I love God at all, I just look up to his love. I say to him: 'Look at me. See what state I am in. Help me!" Ah! you would wonder how that makes peace. And the love comes of itself; sometimes so strong, it nearly breaks my heart."
"But there is a text I don't like."
"Take another, then."
"But it will keep coming."
"Give it back to God, and never mind it."
"But would that be right?"
"One day, when I was a little girl, so high, I couldn't eat my porridge, and sat looking at it. 'Eat your porridge,' said my mother. 'I don't want it,' I answered. 'There's nothing else for you,' said my mother -- for she had not learned so much from my father then, as she did before he died. 'Hoots!' said my father -- I cannot, dear Euphra, make his words into English."
"No, no, don't," said Euphra; "I shall understand them perfectly."
"'Hoots! Janet, my woman!' said my father. 'Gie the bairn a dish o' tay. Wadna ye like some tay, Maggy, my doo?' 'Ay wad I,' said I. 'The parritch is guid eneuch," said my mother. 'Nae doot aboot the parritch, woman; it's the bairn's stamack, it's no the parritch.' My mother said no more, but made me a cup of such nice tea; for whenever she gave in, she gave in quite. I drank it; and, half from anxiety to please my mother, half from reviving hunger, attacked the porridge next, and ate it up. 'Leuk at that!' said my father. 'Janet, my woman, gie a body the guid that they can tak', an' they'll sune tak' the guid that they canna. Ye're better noo, Maggy, my doo?' I never told him that I had taken the porridge too soon after all, and had to creep into the wood, and be sick. But it is all the same for the story."
Euphra laughed a feeble but delighted laugh, and applied the story for herself.
So the winter days passed on.
"I wish I could live till the spring," said Euphra. "I should like to see a snowdrop and a primrose again."
"Perhaps you will, dear; but you are going into a better spring. I could almost envy you, Euphra."
"But shall we have spring there?"
"I think so."
"I think we shall -- better than here."
"But they will not mean so much."
"Then they won't be so good. But I should think they would mean ever so much more, and be ever so much more spring-like. They will be the spring-flowers to all winters in one, I think."
Folded in the love of this woman, anointed for her death by her wisdom, baptized for the new life by her sympathy and its tears, Euphra died in the arms of Margaret.
Margaret wept, fell on her knees, and gave God thanks. Mrs. Elton was so distressed, that, as soon as the funeral was over, she broke up her London household, sending some of the servants home to the country, and taking some to her favourite watering place, to which Harry also accompanied her.
She hoped that, now the affair of the ring was cleared up, she might, as soon as Hugh returned, succeed in persuading him to follow them to Devonshire, and resume his tutorship. This would satisfy her anxiety about Hugh and Harry both.
Hugh's mother died too, and was buried. When he returned from the grave which now held both father and mother, he found a short note from Margaret, telling him that Euphra was gone. Sorrow is easier to bear when it comes upon sorrow; but he could not help feeling a keen additional pang, when he learned that she was dead whom he had loved once, and now loved better. Margaret's note informed him likewise that Euphra had left a written request, that her diamond ring should be given to him to wear for her sake.
He prepared to leave the home whence all the homeness had now vanished, except what indeed lingered in the presence of an old nurse, who had remained faithful to his mother to the last. The body itself is of little value after the spirit, the love, is out of it: so the house and all the old things are little enough, after the loved ones are gone who kept it alive and made it home.
All that Hugh could do for this old nurse was to furnish a cottage for her out of his mother's furniture, giving her everything she liked best. Then he gathered the little household treasures, the few books, the few portraits and ornaments, his father's sword, and his mother's wedding-ring; destroyed with sacred fire all written papers; sold the remainder of the furniture, which he would gladly have burnt too, and so proceeded to take his last departure from the home of his childhood.