God wisheth none should wreck on a strange shelf: To Him man's dearer than to himself.
BEN Jonson. -- The Forest: To Sir Robert Wroth.
At breakfast the following morning, the influences of the past day on the family were evident. There was a good deal of excitement, alternated with listlessness. The moral atmosphere seemed unhealthy; and Harry, although he had, fortunately for him, had nothing to do with the manifestations of the previous evening, was affected by the condition of those around him. Hugh was still careful enough of him to try to divert the conversation entirely from what he knew would have a very injurious effect upon him; and Mr. Arnold, seeing the anxious way in which he glanced now and then at his pupil, and divining the reason, by the instinct of his affection, with far more than his usual acuteness, tried likewise to turn it aside, as often as it inclined that way. Still a few words were let fall by the visitors, which made Harry stare. Hugh took him away as soon as breakfast was over.
In the afternoon, Funkelstein called to inquire after the ladies; and hoped he had no injury to their health to lay on his conscience. Mr. Arnold, who had a full allowance of curiosity, its amount being frequently in an inverse ratio to that of higher intellectual gifts, begged him to spend the rest of the day with them; but not to say a word of what had passed the day before, till after Harry had retired for the night.
Renewed conversation led to renewed experiments in the library. Hugh, however, refused to have anything more to do with the plate-writing; for he dreaded its influence on his physical nature, attributing, as I have said, the vision of Margaret to a cerebral affection. And the plate did not seem to work satisfactorily with any one else, except Funkelstein, who, for his part, had no great wish to operate. Recourse was had to a more vulgar method -- that of expectant solicitation of those noises whereby the prisoners in the aërial vaults are supposed capable of communicating with those in this earthly cell. Certainly, raps were heard from some quarter or another; and when the lights were extinguished, and the crescent moon only allowed to shine in the room, some commotion was discernible amongst the furniture. Several light articles flew about. A pen-wiper alighted on Euphra's lap, and a sofa-pillow gently disarranged Mrs. Elton's cap. Most of the artillery, however, was directed against Lady Emily; and she it was who saw, in a faint stream of moonlight, a female arm uplifted towards her, from under a table, with a threatening motion. It was bare to the elbow, and draped above. It showed first a clenched fist, and next an open hand, palm outwards, making a repellent gesture. Then the back of the hand was turned, and it motioned her away, as if she had been an importunate beggar. But at this moment, one of the doors opened, and a dark figure passed through the room towards the opposite door. Everything that could be called ghostly, ceased instantaneously. The arm vanished. The company breathed more freely.
Lady Emily, who had been on the point of going into hysterics, recovered herself, and overcame the still lingering impulse: she felt as if she had awaked from a momentary aberration of the intellect. Mr. Arnold proceeded to light the candles, saying, in a righteous tone:
"I think we have had enough of this nonsense."
When the candles were lighted, there was no one to be seen in the room besides themselves. Several, Hugh amongst them, had observed the figure; but all had taken it for part of the illusive phantasmagoria. Hugh would have concluded it a variety of his vision of the former night; but others had seen it as well as he.
There was no renewal of the experiments that night. But all were in a very unhealthy state of excitement. Vague fear, vague wonder, and a certain indescribable oppression, had dimmed for the time all the clearer vision, and benumbed all the nobler faculties of the soul. Lady Emily was affected the most. Her eyes looked scared; there was a bright spot on one cheek amidst deathly paleness; and she seemed very unhappy. Mrs. Elton became alarmed, and this brought her back to a more rational condition. She persuaded Lady Emily to go to bed.
But the contagion spread; and indistinct terrors were no longer confined to the upper portions of the family. The bruit revived, which had broken out a year before -- that the house was haunted. It was whispered that, the very night after these occurrences, the Ghost's Walk had been in use as the name signified: a figure in death-garments had been seen gliding along the deserted avenue, by one of the maid-servants; the truth of whose story was corroborated by the fact that, to support it, she did not hesitate to confess that she had escaped from the house, nearly at midnight, to meet one of the grooms in a part of the wood contiguous to the avenue in question. Mr. Arnold instantly dismissed her -- not on the ground of the intrigue, he took care to let her know, although that was bad enough, but because she was a fool, and spread absurd and annoying reports about the house. Mr. Arnold's usual hatred of what he called superstition, was rendered yet more spiteful by the fact, that the occurrences of the week had had such an effect on his own mind, that he was mortally afraid lest he should himself sink into the same limbo of vanity. The girl, however, was, or pretended to be, quite satisfied with her discharge, protesting she would not have staid for the world; and as the groom, whose wages happened to have been paid the day before, took himself off the same evening, it may be hoped her satisfaction was not altogether counterfeit.
"If all tales be true," said Mrs. Elton, "Lady Euphrasia is where she can't get out."
"But if she repented before she died?" said Euphra, with a muffled scorn in her tone.
"My dear Miss Cameron, do you call becoming a nun -- repentance? We Protestants know very well what that means. Besides, your uncle does not believe it."
"Haven't you found out yet, dear Mrs. Elton, what my uncle's favourite phrase is?"
"No. What is it?"
"I don't believe it."
"You naughty girl!"
"I'm not naughty," answered Euphra, affecting to imitate the simplicity of a chidden child. "My uncle is so fond of casting doubt upon everything! If salvation goes by quantity, his faith won't save him."
Euphra knew well enough that Mrs. Elton was no tell-tale. The good lady had hopes of her from this moment, because she all but quoted Scripture to condemn her uncle; the verdict corresponding with her own judgment of Mr. Arnold, founded on the clearest assertions of Scripture; strengthened somewhat, it must be confessed, by the fact that the spirits, on the preceding evening but one, had rapped out the sentence: "Without faith it is impossible to please him."
Lady Emily was still in bed, but apparently more sick in mind than in body. She said she had tossed about all the previous night without once falling asleep; and her maid, who had slept in the dressing-room without waking once, corroborated the assertion. In the morning, Mrs. Elton, wishing to relieve the maid, sent Margaret to Lady Emily. Margaret arranged the bedclothes and pillows, which were in a very uncomfortable condition, sat down behind the curtain; and, knowing that it would please Lady Emily, began to sing, in what the French call a veiled voice, The Land o' the Leal. Now the air of this lovely song is the same as that of Scots wha hae; but it is the pibroch of onset changed into the coronach of repose, singing of the land beyond the battle, of the entering in of those who have fought the good fight, and fallen in the field. It is the silence after the thunder. Before she had finished, Lady Emily was fast asleep. A sweet peaceful half smile lighted her troubled face graciously, like the sunshine that creeps out when it can, amidst the rain of an autumn day, saying, "I am with you still, though we are all troubled." Finding her thus at rest, Margaret left the room for a minute, to fetch some work. When she returned, she found her tossing, and moaning, and apparently on the point of waking. As soon as she sat down by her, her trouble diminished by degrees, till she lay in the same peaceful sleep as before. In this state she continued for two or three hours, and awoke much refreshed. She held out her little hand to Margaret, and said:
"Thank you. Thank you. What a sweet creature you are!"
And Lady Emily lay and gazed in loving admiration at the face of the lady's-maid.
"Shall I send Sarah to you now, my lady?" said Margaret; "or would you like me to stay with you?"
"Oh! you, you, please -- if Mrs. Elton can spare you."
"She will only think of your comfort, I know, my lady."
"That recalls me to my duty, and makes me think of her."
"But your comfort will be more to her than anything else."
"In that case you must stay, Margaret."
"With pleasure, my lady."
Mrs. Elton entered, and quite confirmed what Margaret had said.
"But," she added, "it is time Lady Emily had something to eat. Go to the cook, Margaret, and see if the beef-tea Miss Cameron ordered is ready."
"What a comfort it is," said Mrs. Elton, wishing to interest Lady Emily, "that now-a-days, when infidelity is so rampant, such corroborations of Sacred Writ are springing up on all sides! There are the discoveries at Nineveh; and now these Spiritual Manifestations, which bear witness so clearly to another world."
But Lady Emily made no reply. She began to toss about as before, and show signs of inexplicable discomfort. Margaret had hardly been gone two minutes, when the invalid moaned out:
"What a time Margaret is gone! -- when will she be back?"
"I am here, my love," said Mrs. Elton.
"Yes, yes; thank you. But I want Margaret."
"She will be here presently. Have patience, my dear."
"Please, don't let Miss Cameron come near me. I am afraid I am very wicked, but I can't bear her to come near me."
"No, no, dear; we will keep you to ourselves."
"Is Mr. -- , the foreign gentleman, I mean -- below?"
"No. He is gone."
"Are you sure? I can hardly believe it."
"What do you mean, dear? I am sure he is gone."
Lady Emily did not answer. Margaret returned. She took the beef-tea, and grew quiet again.
"You must not leave her ladyship, Margaret," whispered her mistress. "She has taken it into her head to like no one but you, and you must just stay with her."
"Very well, ma'am. I shall be most happy."
Mrs. Elton left the room. Lady Emily said:
"Read something to me, Margaret."
"What shall I read?"
"Anything you like."
Margaret got a Bible, and read to her one of her father's favourite chapters, the fortieth of Isaiah.
"I have no right to trust in God, Margaret."
"Why, my lady?"
"Because I do not feel any faith in him; and you know we cannot be accepted without faith."
"That is to make God as changeable as we are, my lady."
"But the Bible says so."
"I don't think it does; but if an angel from heaven said so, I would not believe it."
"My lady, I love God with all my heart, and I cannot bear you should think so of him. You might as well say that a mother would go away from her little child, lying moaning in the dark, because it could not see her, and was afraid to put its hand out into the dark to feel for her."
"Then you think he does care for us, even when we are very wicked. But he cannot bear wicked people."
"Who dares to say that?" cried Margaret. "Has he not been making the world go on and on, with all the wickedness that is in it; yes, making new babies to be born of thieves and murderers and sad women and all, for hundreds of years? God help us, Lady Emily! If he cannot bear wicked people, then this world is hell itself, and the Bible is all a lie, and the Saviour did never die for sinners. It is only the holy Pharisees that can't bear wicked people."
"Oh! how happy I should be, if that were true! I should not be afraid now."
"You are not wicked, dear Lady Emily; but if you were, God would bend over you, trying to get you back, like a father over his sick child. Will people never believe about the lost sheep?"
"Oh! yes; I believe that. But then --"
"You can't trust it quite. Trust in God, then, the very father of you -- and never mind the words. You have been taught to turn the very words of God against himself."
Lady Emily was weeping.
"Lady Emily," Margaret went on, "if I felt my heart as hard as a stone; if I did not love God, or man, or woman, or little child, I would yet say to God in my heart: 'O God, see how I trust thee, because thou art perfect, and not changeable like me. I do not love thee. I love nobody. I am not even sorry for it. Thou seest how much I need thee to come close to me, to put thy arm round me, to say to me, my child; for the worse my state, the greater my need of my father who loves me. Come to me, and my day will dawn. My beauty and my love will come back; and oh! how I shall love thee, my God! and know that my love is thy love, my blessedness thy being.'"
As Margaret spoke, she seemed to have forgotten Lady Emily's presence, and to be actually praying. Those who cannot receive such words from the lips of a lady's-maid, must be reminded what her father was, and that she had lost him. She had had advantages at least equal to those which David the Shepherd had -- and he wrote the Psalms.
She ended with:
"I do not even desire thee to come, yet come thou."
She seemed to pray entirely as Lady Emily, not as Margaret. When she had ceased, Lady Emily said, sobbing:
"You will not leave me, Margaret? I will tell you why another time."
"I will not leave you, my dear lady."
Margaret stooped and kissed her forehead. Lady Emily threw her arms round her neck, and offered her mouth to be kissed by the maid. In another minute she was fast asleep, with Margaret seated by her side, every now and then glancing up at her from her work, with a calm face, over which brooded the mist of tears.
That night, as Hugh paced up and down the floor of his study about midnight, he was awfully startled by the sudden opening of the door and the apparition of Harry in his nightshirt, pale as death, and scarcely able to articulate the words:
"The ghost! the ghost!"
He took the poor boy in his arms, held him fast, and comforted him. When he was a little soothed,
"Oh, Harry!" he said, lightly, "you've been dreaming. Where's the ghost?"
"In the Ghost's Walk," cried Harry, almost shrieking anew with terror.
"How do you know it is there?"
"I saw it from my window. -- I couldn't sleep. I got up and looked out -- I don't know why -- and I saw it! I saw it!"
The words were followed by a long cry of terror.
"Come and show it to me," said Hugh, wanting to make light of it.
"No, no, Mr. Sutherland -- please not. I couldn't go back into that room."
"Very well, dear Harry; you shan't go back. You shall sleep with me, to-night."
"Oh! thank you, thank you, dear Mr. Sutherland. You will love me again, won't you?"
This touched Hugh's heart. He could hardly refrain from tears. His old love, buried before it was dead, revived. He clasped the boy to his heart, and carried him to his own bed; then, to comfort him, undressed and lay down beside him, without even going to look if he too might not see the ghost. She had brought about one good thing at least that night; though, I fear, she had no merit in it.
Lady Emily's room likewise looked out upon the Ghost's Walk. Margaret heard the cry as she sat by the sleeping Emily; and, not knowing whence it came, went, naturally enough, in her perplexity, to the window. From it she could see distinctly, for it was clear moonlight: a white figure went gliding away along the deserted avenue. She immediately guessed what the cry had meant; but as she had heard a door bang directly after (as Harry shut his behind him with a terrified instinct, to keep the awful window in), she was not very uneasy about him. She felt besides that she must remain where she was, according to her promise to Lady Emily. But she resolved to be prepared for the possible recurrence of the same event, and accordingly revolved it in her mind. She was sure that any report of it coming to Lady Emily's ears, would greatly impede her recovery; for she instinctively felt that her illness had something to do with the questionable occupations in the library. She watched by her bedside all the night, slumbering at times, but roused in a moment by any restlessness of the patient; when she found that, simply by laying her hand on hers, or kissing her forehead, she could restore her at once to quiet sleep.