Hitherto I have chiefly followed the history of my hero, if hero in any sense he can yet be called. Now I must leave him for a while, and take up the story of the rest of the few persons concerned in my tale.
Lady Emily had gone to Madeira, and Mr. Arnold had followed. Mrs. Elton and Harry, and Margaret, of course, had gone to London. Euphra was left alone at Arnstead.
A great alteration had taken place in this strange girl. The servants were positively afraid of her now, from the butler down to the kitchen-maid. She used to go into violent fits of passion, in which the mere flash of her eyes was overpowering. These outbreaks would be followed almost instantaneously by seasons of the deepest dejection, in which she would confine herself to her room for hours, or, lame as she was, wander about the house and the Ghost's Walk, herself pale as a ghost, and looking meagre and wretched.
Also, she became subject to frequent fainting fits, the first of which took place the night before Hugh's departure, after she had returned to the house from her interview with him in the Ghost's Walk. She was evidently miserable.
For this misery we know that there were very sufficient reasons, without taking into account the fact that she had no one to fascinate now. Her continued lameness, which her restlessness aggravated, likewise gave her great cause for anxiety. But I presume that, even during the early part of her confinement, her mind had been thrown back upon itself, in that consciousness which often arises in loneliness and suffering; and that even then she had begun to feel that her own self was a worse tyrant than the count, and made her a more wretched slave than any exercise of his unlawful power could make her.
Some natures will endure an immense amount of misery before they feel compelled to look there for help, whence all help and healing comes. They cannot believe that there is verily an unseen mysterious power, till the world and all that is in it has vanished in the smoke of despair; till cause and effect is nothing to the intellect, and possible glories have faded from the imagination; then, deprived of all that made life pleasant or hopeful, the immortal essence, lonely and wretched and unable to cease, looks up with its now unfettered and wakened instinct, to the source of its own life -- to the possible God who, notwithstanding all the improbabilities of his existence, may yet perhaps be, and may yet perhaps hear his wretched creature that calls. In this loneliness of despair, life must find The Life; for joy is gone, and life is all that is left: it is compelled to seek its source, its root, its eternal life. This alone remains as a possible thing. Strange condition of despair into which the Spirit of God drives a man -- a condition in which the Best alone is the Possible!
Other simpler natures look up at once. Even before the first pang has passed away, as by a holy instinct of celestial childhood, they lift their eyes to the heavens whence cometh their aid. Of this class Euphra was not. She belonged to the former. And yet even she had begun to look upward, for the waters had closed above her head. She betook herself to the one man of whom she had heard as knowing about God. She wrote, but no answer came. Days and days passed away, and there was no reply.
"Ah! just so!" she said, in bitterness. "And if I cried to God for ever, I should hear no word of reply. If he be, he sits apart, and leaves the weak to be the prey of the bad. What cares he?"
Yet, as she spoke, she rose, and, by a sudden impulse, threw herself on the floor, and cried for the first time:
"O God, help me!"
Was there voice or hearing?
She rose at least with a little hope, and with the feeling that if she could cry to him, it might be that he could listen to her. It seemed natural to pray; it seemed to come of itself: that could not be except it was first natural for God to hear. The foundation of her own action must be in him who made her; for her call could be only a response after all.
The time passed wearily by. Dim, slow November days came on, with the fall of the last brown shred of those clouds of living green that had floated betwixt earth and heaven. Through the bare boughs of the overarching avenue of the Ghost's Walk, themselves living skeletons, she could now look straight up to the blue sky, which had been there all the time. And she had begun to look up to a higher heaven, through the bare skeleton shapes of life; for the foliage of joy had wholly vanished -- shall we say in order that the children of the spring might come? -- certainly in order first that the blue sky of a deeper peace might reflect itself in the hitherto darkened waters of her soul.
Perhaps some of my readers may think that she had enough to repent of to keep her from weariness. She had plenty to repent of, no doubt; but repentance, between the paroxysms of its bitterness, is a very dreary and November-like state of the spiritual weather. For its foggy mornings and cheerless noons cannot believe in the sun of spring, soon to ripen into the sun of summer; and its best time is the night, that shuts out the world and weeps its fill of slow tears. But she was not altogether so blameworthy as she may have appeared. Her affectations had not been altogether false. She valued, and in a measure possessed, the feelings for which she sought credit. She had a genuine enjoyment of nature, though after a sensuous, Keats-like fashion, not a Wordsworthian. It was the body, rather than the soul, of nature that she loved -- its beauty rather than its truth. Had her love of nature been of the deepest, she would have turned aside to conceal her emotions rather than have held them up as allurements in the eyes of her companion. But as no body and no beauty can exist without soul and truth, she who loves the former must at least be capable of loving the deeper essence to which they owe their very existence.
This view of her character is borne out by her love of music and her liking for Hugh. Both were genuine. Had the latter been either more or less genuine than it was, the task of fascination would have been more difficult, and its success less complete. Whether her own feelings became further involved than she had calculated upon, I cannot tell; but surely it says something for her, in any case, that she desired to retain Hugh as her friend, instead of hating him because he had been her lover.
How glad she would have been of Harry now! The days crawled one after the other like weary snakes. She tried to read the New Testament: It was to her like a mouldy chamber of worm-eaten parchments, whose windows had not been opened to the sun or the wind for centuries; and in which the dust of the decaying leaves choked the few beams that found their way through the age-blinded panes.
This state of things could not have lasted long; for Euphra would have died. It lasted, however, until she felt that she had been leading a false, worthless life; that she had been casting from her every day the few remaining fragments of truth and reality that yet kept her nature from falling in a heap of helpless ruin; that she had never been a true friend to any one; that she was of no value -- fit for no one's admiration, no one's love. She must leave her former self, like a dead body, behind her, and rise into a purer air of life and reality, else she would perish with that everlasting death which is the disease and corruption of the soul itself.
To those who know anything of such experiences, it will not be surprising that such feelings as these should be alternated with fierce bursts of passion. The old self then started up with feverish energy, and writhed for life. Never any one tried to be better, without, for a time, seeming to himself, perhaps to others, to be worse. For the suffering of the spirit weakens the brain itself, and the whole physical nature groans under it; while the energy spent in the effort to awake, and arise from the dust, leaves the regions previously guarded by prudence naked to the wild inroads of the sudden destroying impulses born of suffering, self-sickness, and hatred. As in the delirious patient, they would dash to the earth whatever comes first within reach, as if the thing first perceived, and so (by perception alone) brought into contact with the suffering, were the cause of all the distress.
One day a letter arrived for her. She had had no letter from any one for weeks. Yet, when she saw the direction, she flung it from her. It was from Mrs. Elton, whom she disliked, because she found her utterly uninteresting and very stupid.
Poor Mrs. Elton laid no claim to the contraries of these epithets. But in proportion as she abjured thought, she claimed speech, both by word of mouth and by letter. Why not? There was nothing in it. She considered reason as an awful enemy to the soul, and obnoxious to God, especially when applied to find out what he means when he addresses us as reasonable creatures. But speech? There was no harm in that. Perhaps it was some latent conviction that this power of speech was the chief distinction between herself and the lower animals, that made her use it so freely, and at the same time open her purse so liberally to the Hospital for Orphan Dogs and Cats. Had it not been for her own dire necessity, the fact that Mrs. Elton was religious would have been enough to convince Euphra that there could not possibly be anything in religion.
The letter lay unopened till next day -- a fact easy to account for, improbable as it may seem; for besides writing as largely as she talked, and less amusingly because more correctly, Mrs. Elton wrote such an indistinct though punctiliously neat hand, that the reading of a letter of hers involved no small amount of labour. But the sun shining out next morning, Euphra took courage to read it, while drinking her coffee, although she could not expect to make that ceremony more pleasant thereby. It contained an invitation to visit Mrs. Elton at her house in --- Street, Hyde Park, with the assurance that, now that everything was arranged, they had plenty of room for her. Mrs. Elton was sure she must be lonely at Arnstead; and Mrs. Horton could, no doubt, be trusted -- and so on.
Had this letter arrived a few weeks earlier, Euphra would have infused into her answer a skilful concoction of delicate contempt; not for the amusement of knowing that Mrs. Elton would never discover a trace of it, but simply for a relief to her own dislike. Now she would have written a plain letter, containing as brief and as true an excuse as she could find, had it not been, that, inclosed in Mrs. Elton's note she found another, which ran thus: