Mr. Appleditch had had some business-misfortunes, not of a heavy nature, but sufficient to cast a gloom over the house in Dervish Town, and especially over the face of his spouse, who had set her heart on a new carpet for her drawing-room, and feared she ought not to procure it now. It is wonderful how conscientious some people are towards their balance at the banker's. How the drawing-room, however, could come to want a new carpet is something mysterious, except there is a peculiar power of decay inherent in things deprived of use. These influences operating, however, she began to think that the two scions of grocery were not drawing nine shillings' worth a week of the sap of divinity. This she hinted to Mr. Appleditch. It was resolved to give Hugh warning.
As it would involve some awkwardness to state reasons, Mrs. Appleditch resolved to quarrel with him, as the easiest way of prefacing his discharge. It was the way she took with her maids-of-all-work; for it was grand in itself, and always left her with a comfortable feeling of injured dignity.
As a preliminary course, she began to treat him with still less politeness than before. Hugh was so careless of her behaviour, that this made no impression upon him. But he came to understand it all afterwards, from putting together the remarks of the children, and the partial communications of Mr. Appleditch to Miss Talbot, which that good lady innocently imparted to her lodger.
At length, one day, she came into the room where Hugh was more busy in teaching than his pupils were in learning, and seated herself by the fire to watch for an opportunity. This was soon found. For the boys, rendered still more inattentive by the presence of their mother, could not be induced to fix the least thought upon the matter in hand; so that Hugh was compelled to go over the same thing again and again, without success. At last he said:
"I am afraid, Mrs. Appleditch, I must ask you to interfere, for I cannot get any attention from the boys to-day."
"And how could it be otherwise, Mr. Sutherland, when you keep wearing them out with going over and over the same thing, till they are sick of it? Why don't you go on?"
"How can I go on when they have not learned the thing they are at? That would be to build the chimneys before the walls."
"It is very easy to be witty, sir; but I beg you will behave more respectfully to me in the presence of my children, innocent lambs!"
Looking round at the moment, Hugh caught in his face what the elder lamb had intended for his back, a grimace hideous enough to have procured him instant promotion in the kingdom of apes. The mother saw it too, and added:
"You see you cannot make them respect you. Really, Mr. Sutherland!"
Hugh was about to reply, to the effect that it was useless, in such circumstances, to attempt teaching them at all, some utterance of which sort was watched for as the occasion for his instant dismission; but at that very moment a carriage and pair pulled sharply up at the door, with more than the usual amount of quadrupedation, and mother and sons darted simultaneously to the window.
"My!" cried Johnnie, "what a rum go! Isn't that a jolly carriage, Peetie?"
"Papa's bought a carriage!" shouted Peetie.
"Be quiet, children," said their mother, as she saw a footman get down and approach the door.
"Look at that buffer," said Johnnie. "Do come and see this grand footman, Mr. Sutherland. He's such a gentleman!"
A box on the ear from his mother silenced him. The servant entering with some perturbation a moment after, addressed her mistress, for she dared not address any one else while she was in the room:
"Please 'm, the carriage is astin' after Mr. Sutherland."
The lady turned to Mr. Sutherland, who, although surprised as well, was not inclined to show his surprise to Mrs. Appleditch.
"I did not know you had carriage-friends, Mr. Sutherland," said she, with a toss of her head.
"Neither did I," answered Hugh. "But I will go and see who it is."
When he reached the street, he found Harry on the pavement, who having got out of the carriage, and not having been asked into the house, was unable to stand still for impatience. As soon as he saw his tutor, he bounded to him, and threw his arms round his neck, standing as they were in the open street. Tears of delight filled his eyes.
"Come, come, come," said Harry; "we all want you."
"Who wants me?"
"Mrs. Elton and Euphra and me. Come, get in."
And he pulled Hugh towards the carriage.
"I cannot go with you now. I have pupils here."
Harry's face fell.
"When will you come?"
"Hurrah! I shall be back exactly in half-an-hour then. Do be ready, please, Mr. Sutherland."
Harry jumped into the carriage, telling the coachman to drive where he pleased, and be back at the same place in half-an-hour. Hugh returned into the house.
As may be supposed, Margaret was the means of this happy meeting. Although she saw plainly enough that Euphra would like to see Hugh, she did not for some time make up her mind to send for him. The circumstances which made her resolve to do so were these.
For some days Euphra seemed to be gradually regaining her health and composure of mind. One evening, after a longer talk than usual, Margaret had left her in bed, and had gone to her own room. She was just preparing to get into bed herself, when a knock at her door startled her, and going to it, she saw Euphra standing there, pale as death, with nothing on but her nightgown, notwithstanding the bitter cold of an early and severe frost. She thought at first she must be walking in her sleep, but the scared intelligence of her open eyes, soon satisfied her that it was not so.
"What is the matter, dear Miss Cameron?" she said, as calmly as she could.
"He is coming. He wants me. If he calls me, I must go."
"No, you shall not go," rejoined Margaret, firmly.
"I must, I must," answered Euphra, wringing her hands.
"Do come in," said Margaret, "you must not stand there in the cold."
"Let me get into your bed."
"Better let me go with you to yours. That will be more comfortable for you."
"Oh! yes; please do."
Margaret threw a shawl round Euphra, and went back with her to her room.
"He wants me. He wants me. He will call me soon," said Euphra, in an agonised whisper, as soon as the door was shut. "What shall I do!"
"Come to bed first, and we will talk about it there."
As soon as they were in bed, Margaret put her arm round Euphra, who was trembling with cold and fear, and said:
"Has this man any right to call you?"
"No, no," answered Euphra, vehemently.
"Then don't go."
"But I am afraid of him."
"Defy him in God's name."
"But besides the fear, there is something that I can't describe, that always keeps telling me -- no, not telling me, pushing me -- no, drawing me, as if I could not rest a moment till I go. I cannot describe it. I hate to go, and yet I feel that if I were cold in my grave, I must rise and go if he called me. I wish I could tell you what it is like. It is as if some demon were shaking my soul till I yielded and went. Oh! don't despise me. I can't help it."
"My darling, I don't, I can't despise you. You shall not go to him."
"But I must," answered she, with a despairing faintness more convincing than any vehemence; and then began to weep with a slow, hopeless weeping, like the rain of a November eve.
Margaret got out of bed. Euphra thought she was offended. Starting up, she clasped her hands, and said:
"Oh Margaret! I won't cry. Don't leave me. Don't leave me."
She entreated like a chidden child.
"No, no, I didn't mean to leave you for a moment. Lie down again, dear, and cry as much as you like. I am going to read a little bit out of the New Testament to you."
"I am afraid I can't listen to it."
"Never mind. Don't try. I want to read it."
Margaret got a New Testament, and read part of that chapter of St. John's Gospel which speaks about human labour and the bread of life. She stopped at these words:
"For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me."
Euphra's tears had ceased. The sound of Margaret's voice, which, if it lost in sweetness by becoming more Scotch when she read the Gospel, yet gained thereby in pathos, and the power of the blessed words themselves, had soothed the troubled spirit a little, and she lay quiet.
"The count is not a good man, Miss Cameron?"
"You know he is not, Margaret. He is the worst man alive."
"Then it cannot be God's will that you should go to him."
"But one does many things that are not God's will."
"But it is God's will that you should not go to him."
Euphra lay silent for a few moments. Suddenly she exclaimed:
"Then I must not go to him," -- got out of bed, threw herself on her knees by the bedside, and holding up her clasped hands, said, in low tones that sounded as if forced from her by agony:
"I won't! I won't! O God, I will not. Help me, help me!"
Margaret knelt beside her, and put her arm round her. Euphra spoke no more, but remained kneeling, with her extended arms and clasped hands lying on the bed, and her head laid between them. At length Margaret grew alarmed, and looked at her. But she found that she was in a sweet sleep. She gently disengaged herself, and covering her up soft and warm, left her to sleep out her God-sent sleep undisturbed, while she sat beside, and watched for her waking.
She slept thus for an hour. Then lifting her head, and seeing Margaret, she rose quietly, as if from her prayers, and said with a smile:
"Margaret, I was dreaming that I had a mother."
"So you have, somewhere."
"Yes, so I have, somewhere," she repeated, and crept into bed like a child, lay down, and was asleep again in a moment.
Margaret watched her for another hour, and then seeing no signs of restlessness, but that on the contrary her sleep was profound, lay down beside her, and soon shared in that repose which to weary women and men is God's best gift.
She rose at her usual hour the next day, and was dressed before Euphra awoke. It was a cold grey December morning, with the hoar-frost lying thick on the roofs of the houses. Euphra opened her eyes while Margaret was busy lighting the fire. Seeing that she was there, she closed them again, and fell once more fast asleep. Before she woke again, Margaret had some tea ready for her; after taking which, she felt able to get up. She rose looking more bright and hopeful than Margaret had seen her before.
But Margaret, who watched her intently through the day, saw a change come over her cheer. Her face grew pale and troubled. Now and then her eyes were fixed on vacancy; and again she would look at Margaret with a woebegone expression of countenance; but presently, as if recollecting herself, would smile and look cheerful for a moment. Margaret saw that the conflict was coming on, if not already begun -- that at least its shadow was upon her; and thinking that if she could have a talk with Hugh about what he had been doing, it would comfort her a little, and divert her thoughts from herself, even if no farther or more pleasantly than to the count. She let Harry know Hugh's address, as given in the letter to her father. She was certain that, if Harry succeeded in finding him, nothing more was necessary to insure his being brought to Mrs. Elton's. As we have seen, Harry had traced him to Buccleuch Terrace.
Hugh re-entered the house in the same mind in which he had gone out; namely, that after Mrs. Appleditch's behaviour to him before his pupils, he could not remain their tutor any longer, however great his need might be of the pittance he received for his services.
But although Mrs. Appleditch's first feeling had been jealousy of Hugh's acquaintance with "carriage-people," the toadyism which is so essential an element of such jealousy, had by this time revived; and when Hugh was proceeding to finish the lesson he had begun, intending it to be his last, she said:
"Why didn't you ask your friend into the drawing-room, Mr. Sutherland?"
"Good gracious! The drawing-room!" thought Hugh -- but answered: "He will fetch me when the lesson is over."
"I am sure, sir, any friends of yours that like to call upon you here, will be very welcome. It will be more agreeable to you to receive them here, of course; for your accommodation at poor Miss Talbot's is hardly suitable for such visitors."
"I am sorry to say, however," answered Hugh, "that after the way you have spoken to me to-day, in the presence of my pupils, I cannot continue my relation to them any longer."
"Ho! ho!" resnorted the lady, indignation and scorn mingling with mortification; "our grand visitors have set our backs up. Very well, Mr. Sutherland, you will oblige me by leaving the house at once. Don't trouble yourself, pray, to finish the lesson. I will pay you for it all the same. Anything to get rid of a man who insults me before the very faces of my innocent lambs! And please to remember," she added, as she pulled out her purse, while Hugh was collecting some books he had lent the boys, "that when you were starving, my husband and I took you in and gave you employment out of charity -- pure charity, Mr. Sutherland. Here is your money."
"Good morning, Mrs. Appleditch," said Hugh; and walked out with his books under his arm, leaving her with the money in her hand.
He had to knock his feet on the pavement in front of the house, to keep them from freezing, for half-an-hour, before the carriage arrived to take him away. As soon as it came up, he jumped into it, and was carried off in triumph by Harry.
Mrs. Elton received him kindly. Euphra held out her hand with a slight blush, and the quiet familiarity of an old friend. Hugh could almost have fallen in love with her again, from compassion for her pale, worn face, and subdued expression.
Mrs. Elton went out in the carriage almost directly, and Euphra begged Harry to leave them alone, as she had something to talk to Mr. Sutherland about.
"Have you found any trace of Count Halkar, Hugh?" she said, the moment they were by themselves.
"I am very sorry to say I have not. I have done my best."
"I am quite sure of that. -- I just wanted to tell you, that, from certain indications which no one could understand so well as myself, I think you will have more chance of finding him now."
"I am delighted to hear it," responded Hugh. "If I only had him!"
Euphra sighed, paused, and then said:
"But I am not sure of it. I think he is in London; but he may be in Bohemia, for anything I know. I shall, however, in all probability, know more about him within a few days."
Hugh resolved to go at once to Falconer, and communicate to him what Euphra had told him. But he said nothing to her as to the means by which he had tried to discover the count; for although he felt sure that he had done right in telling Falconer all about it, he was afraid lest Euphra, not knowing what sort of a man he was, might not like it. Euphra, on her part, did not mention Margaret's name; for she had begged her not to do so.
"You will tell me when you know yourself?"
"Perhaps. -- I will, if I can. I do wish you could get the ring. I have a painful feeling that it gives him power over me."
"That can only be a nervous fancy, surely," Hugh ventured to say.
"Perhaps it is. I don't know. But, still, without that, there are plenty of reasons for wishing to recover it. He will put it to a bad use, if he can. But for your sake, especially, I wish we could get it."
"Thank you. You were always kind."
"No," she replied, without lifting her eyes; "I brought it all upon you."
"But you could not help it."
"Not at the moment. But all that led to it was my fault."
She paused; then suddenly resumed:
"I will confess. -- Do you know what gave rise to the reports of the house being haunted?"
"It was me wandering about it at night, looking for that very ring, to give to the count. It was shameful. But I did. Those reports prevented me from being found out. But I hope not many ghosts are so miserable as I was. -- You remember my speaking to you of Mr. Arnold's jewels?"
"I wanted to find out, through you, where the ring was. But I had no intention of involving you."
"I am sure you had not."
"Don't be too sure of anything about me. I don't know what I might have been led to do. But I am very sorry. Do forgive me."
"I cannot allow that I have anything to forgive. But tell me, Euphra, were you the creature, in white that I saw in the Ghost's Walk one night? I don't mean the last time."
"Very likely," she answered, bending her head yet lower, with a sigh.
"Then who was the creature in black that met you? And what became of you then?"
"Did you see her?" rejoined Euphra, turning paler still. "I fainted at sight of her. I took her for the nun that hangs in that horrid room."
"So did I," said Hugh. "But you could not have lain long; for I went up to the spot where you vanished, and found nothing."
"I suppose I got into the shrubbery before I fell. Or the count dragged me in. -- But was that really a ghost? I feel now as if it was a good messenger, whether ghost or not, come to warn me, if I had had the courage to listen. I wish I had taken the warning."
They talked about these and other things, till Mrs. Elton, who had made Hugh promise to stay to lunch, returned. When they were seated at table, the kind-hearted woman said:
"Now, Mr. Sutherland, when will you begin again with Harry?"
"I do not quite understand you," answered Hugh.
"Of course you will come and give him lessons, poor boy. He will be broken-hearted if you don't."
"I wish I could. But I cannot -- at least yet; for I know his father was dissatisfied with me. That was one of the reasons that made him send Harry to London."
Harry looked wretchedly disappointed, but said nothing.
"I never heard him say anything of the sort."
"I am sure of it, though. I am very sorry he has mistaken me; but he will know me better some day."
"I will take all the responsibility," persisted Mrs. Elton.
"But unfortunately the responsibility sticks too fast for you to take it. I cannot get rid of my share if I would."
"You are too particular. I am sure Mr. Arnold never could have meant that. This is my house too."
"But Harry is his boy. If you will let me come and see him sometimes, I shall be very thankful, though. I may be useful to him without giving him lessons."
"Thank you," said Harry with delight.
"Well, well! I suppose you are so much in request in London that you won't miss him for a pupil."
"On the contrary, I have not a single engagement. If you could find me one, I should be exceedingly obliged to you."
"Dear! dear! dear!" said Mrs. Elton. "Then you shall have Harry."
"Oh! yes; please take me," said Harry, beseechingly.
"No, I cannot. I must not."
Mrs. Elton rang the bell.
"James, tell the coachman I want the carriage in an hour."
Mrs. Elton was as submissive to her coachman as ladies who have carriages generally are, and would not have dreamed of ordering the horses out so soon again for herself; but she forgot everything else when a friend was in need of help, and became perfectly pachydermatous to the offended looks or indignant hints of that important functionary.
Within a few minutes after Hugh took his leave, Mrs. Elton was on her way to repeat a visit she had already paid the same morning, and to make several other calls, with the express object of finding pupils for Hugh. But in this she was not so successful as she had expected. In fact, no one whom she could think of, wanted such services at present. She returned home quite down-hearted, and all but convinced that nothing could be done before the approach of the London season.