When Hugh came to himself, he was lying, in the first grey of the dawn, amidst the dews and vapours of the morning woods. He rose and looked around him. The Ghost's Walk lay in long silence before him. Here and there a little bird moved and peeped. The glory of a new day was climbing up the eastern coast of heaven. It would be a day of late summer, crowned with flame, and throbbing with ripening life. But for him the spirit was gone out of the world, and it was nought but a mass of blind, heartless forces.
Possibly, had he overheard the conversation, the motions only of which he had overseen the preceding night, he would, although equally perplexed, have thought more gently of Euphra; but, in the mood into which even then he must have been thrown, his deeper feelings towards her could hardly have been different from what they were now. Although he had often felt that Euphra was not very good, not a suspicion had crossed his mind as to what he would have called the purity of her nature. Like many youths, even of character inferior to his own, he had the loftiest notions of feminine grace, and unspottedness in thought and feeling, not to say action and aim. Now he found that he had loved a woman who would creep from her chamber, at the cost of great suffering, and almost at the risk of her life, to meet, in the night and the woods, a man no better than an assassin -- probably a thief. Had he been more versed in the ways of women, or in the probabilities of things, he would have judged that the very extravagance of the action demanded a deeper explanation than what seemed to lie on the surface. Yet, although he judged Euphra very hardly upon those grounds, would he have judged her differently had he actually known all? About this I am left to conjecture alone.
But the effect on Hugh was different from what the ordinary reader of human nature might anticipate. Instead of being torn in pieces by storms of jealousy, all the summer growths of his love were chilled by an absolute frost of death. A kind of annihilation sank upon the image of Euphra. There had been no such Euphra. She had been but a creation of his own brain. It was not so much that he ceased to love, as that the being beloved -- not died, but -- ceased to exist. There were moments in which he seemed to love her still with a wild outcry of passion; but the frenzy soon vanished in the selfish feeling of his own loss. His love was not a high one -- not such as thine, my Falconer. Thine was love indeed; though its tale is too good to tell, simply because it is too good to be believed; and we do men a wrong sometimes when we tell them more than they can receive.
Thought, Speculation, Suggestion, crowded upon each other, till at length his mind sank passive, and served only as the lists in which the antagonist thoughts fought a confused battle without herald or umpire.
But it is amazing to think how soon he began to look back upon his former fascination with a kind of wondering unbelief. This bespoke the strength of Hugh's ideal sense, as well as the weakness of his actual love. He could hardly even recall the feelings with which, on some well-remembered occasion, he had regarded her, and which then it had seemed impossible he should ever forget. Had he discovered the cloven foot of a demon under those trailing garments -- he could hardly have ceased to love her more suddenly or entirely. But there is an aching that is worse to bear than pain.
I trust my reader will not judge very hardly of Hugh, because of the change which had thus suddenly passed upon his feelings. He felt now just as he had felt on waking in the morning and finding that he had been in love with a dream-lady all the night: it had been very delightful, and it was sad that it was all gone, and could come back no more. But the wonder to me is, not that some loves will not stand the test of absence, but that, their nature being what it is, they should outlast one week of familiar intercourse.
He mourned bitterly over the loss of those feelings, for they had been precious to him. But could he help it? Indeed he could not; for his love had been fascination; and the fascination having ceased, the love was gone.
I believe some of my readers will not need this apology for Hugh; but will rather admire the facility with which he rose above a misplaced passion, and dismissed its object. So do not I. It came of his having never loved. Had he really loved Euphra, herself, her own self, the living woman who looked at him out of those eyes, out of that face, such pity would have blended with the love as would have made it greater, and permitted no indignation to overwhelm it. As it was, he was utterly passive and helpless in the matter. The fault lay in the original weakness that submitted to be so fascinated; that gave in to it, notwithstanding the vague expostulations of his better nature, and the consciousness that he was neglecting his duty to Harry, in order to please Euphra and enjoy her society. Had he persisted in doing his duty, it would at least have kept his mind more healthy, lessened the absorption of his passion, and given him opportunities of reflection, and moments of true perception as to what he was about. But now the spell was broken at once, and the poor girl had lost a worshipper. The golden image with the feet of clay might arise in a prophet's dream, but it could never abide in such a lover's. Her glance was powerless now. Alas, for the withering of such a dream! Perhaps she deserved nothing else; but our deserts, when we get them, are sad enough sometimes.
All that day he walked as in a dream of loss. As for the person whom he had used to call Euphra, she was removed to a vast distance from him. An absolutely impassable gulf lay between them.
She sent for him. He went to her filled with a sense of insensibility. She was much worse, and suffering great pain. Hugh saw at once that she knew that all was over between them, and that he had seen her pass his door, or had been in her room, for he had
left her door a little open, and she had left it shut. One pathetic, most pitiful glance of deprecating entreaty she fixed upon him, as after a few moments of speechless waiting, he turned to leave the room -- which would have remained deathless in his heart, but that he interpreted it to mean: "Don't tell;" so he got rid of it at once by the grant of its supposed request. She made no effort to detain him. She turned her face away, and, hard-hearted, he heard her sob, not as if her heart would break -- that is little -- but like an immortal woman in immortal agony, and he did not turn to comfort her. Perhaps it was better -- how could he comfort her? Some kinds of comfort -- the only kinds which poor mortals sometimes have to give -- are like the food on which the patient and the disease live together; and some griefs are soonest got rid of by letting them burn out. All the fire-engines in creation can only prolong the time, and increase the sense of burning. There is but one cure: the fellow-feeling of the human God, which converts the agony itself into the creative fire of a higher life.
As for Von Funkelstein, Hugh comforted himself with the conviction that they were destined to meet again.
The day went on, as days will go, unstayed, unhastened by the human souls, through which they glide silent and awful. After such lessons as he was able to get through with Harry, -- who, feeling that his tutor did not want him, left the room as soon as they were over -- he threw himself on the couch, and tried to think. But think he could not. Thoughts passed through him, but he did not think them. He was powerless in regard to them. They came and went of their own will: he could neither say come nor go. Tired at length of the couch, he got up and paced about the room for hours. When he came to himself a little, he found that the sun was nearly setting. Through the top of a beech-tree taller than the rest, it sent a golden light, full of the floating shadows of leaves and branches, upon the wall of his room. But there was no beauty for him in the going down of the sun; no glory in the golden light; no message from dream-land in the flitting and blending and parting, the constantly dissolving yet ever remaining play of the lovely and wonderful shadow-leaves. The sun sank below the beech-top, and was hidden behind a cloud of green leaves, thick as the wood was deep. A grey light instead of a golden filled the room. The change had no interest for him. The pain of a lost passion tormented him -- the aching that came of the falling together of the ethereal walls of his soul, about the space where there had been and where there was no longer a world.
A young bird flew against the window, and fluttered its wings two or three times, vainly seeking to overcome the unseen obstacle which the glass presented to its flight. Hugh started and shuddered. Then first he knew, in the influence of the signs of the approaching darkness, how much his nerves had suffered from the change that had passed. He took refuge with Harry. His pupil was now to be his consoler; who in his turn would fare henceforth the better, for the decay of Hugh's pleasures. The poor boy was filled with delight at having his big brother all to himself again; and worked harder than ever to make the best of his privileges. For Hugh, it was wonderful how soon his peace of mind began to return after he gave himself to his duty, and how soon the clouds of disappointment descended below the far horizon, leaving the air clear above and around. Painful thoughts about Euphra would still present themselves; but instead of becoming more gentle and sorrowful as the days went on, they grew more and more severe and unjust and angry. He even entertained doubts whether she did not know all about the theft of both rings, for to her only had he discovered the secret place in the old desk. If she was capable of what he believed, why should she not be capable of anything else? It seemed to him most simple and credible. An impure woman might just as well be a thief too. -- I am only describing Hugh's feelings.
But along with these feelings and thoughts, of mingled good and bad, came one feeling which he needed more than any -- repentance. Seated alone upon a fallen tree one day, the face of poor Harry came back to him, as he saw it first, poring over Polexander in the library; and, full of the joy of life himself, notwithstanding his past troubles, strong as a sunrise, and hopeful as a Prometheus, the quivering perplexity of that sickly little face smote him with a pang. "What might I not have done for the boy! He, too, was in the hands of the enchantress, and, instead of freeing him, I became her slave to enchain him further." Yet, even in this, he did Euphra injustice; for he had come to the conclusion that she had laid her plans with the intention of keeping the boy a dwarf, by giving him only food for babes, and not good food either, withholding from him every stimulus to mental digestion and consequent hunger; and that she had objects of her own in doing so -- one perhaps, to keep herself necessary to the boy as she was to the father, and so secure the future. But poor Euphra's own nature and true education had been sadly neglected. A fine knowledge of music and Italian, and the development of a sensuous sympathy with nature, could hardly be called education. It was not certainly such a development of her own nature as would enable her to sympathise with the necessities of a boy's nature. Perhaps the worst that could justly be said of her behaviour to Harry was, that, with a strong inclination to despotism, and some feeling of loneliness, she had exercised the one upon him in order to alleviate the other in herself. Upon him, therefore, she expended a certain, or rather an uncertain kind of affection, which, if it might have been more fittingly spent upon a lapdog, and was worth but little, might yet have become worth everything, had she been moderately good.
Hugh did not see Euphra again for more than a fortnight.