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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. LARCH AND OTHER HUNTING.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER V. LARCH AND OTHER HUNTING.

For there is neither buske nor hay

In May, that it n'ill shrouded bene,

And it with newé leavés wrene;

These woodés eke recoveren grene,

That drie in winter ben to sene,

And the erth waxeth proud withall,

For swoté dewes that on it fall,

And the poore estate forget,

In which that winter had it set:

And than becomes the ground so proude,

That it wol have a newé shroude,

And maketh so queint his robe and faire,

That it hath hewes an hundred paire,

Of grasse and floures, of Ind and Pers,

And many hewés full divers:

That is the robe I mean, ywis,

Through which the ground to praisen is.

CHAUCER'S translation of the Romaunt of the Rose.

SO passed the three days of rain. After breakfast the following morning, Hugh went to find Harry, according to custom, in the library. He was reading.

|What are you reading, Harry?| asked he.

|A poem,| said Harry; and, rising as before, he brought the book to Hugh. It was Mrs. Hemans's Poems.

|You are fond of poetry, Harry.|

|Yes, very.|

|Whose poems do you like best?|

|Mrs. Hemans's, of course. Don't you think she is the best, sir?|

|She writes very beautiful verses, Harry. Which poem are you reading now?|

|Oh! one of my favourites -- The Voice of Spring.|

|Who taught you to like Mrs. Hemans?|

|Euphra, of course.|

|Will you read the poem to me?|

Harry began, and read the poem through, with much taste and evident enjoyment; an enjoyment which seemed, however, to spring more from the music of the thought and its embodiment in sound, than from sympathy with the forms of nature called up thereby. This was shown by his mode of reading, in which the music was everything, and the sense little or nothing. When he came to the line,

|And the larch has hung all his tassels forth,|

he smiled so delightedly, that Hugh said:

|Are you fond of the larch, Harry?|

|Yes, very.|

|Are there any about here?|

|I don't know. What is it like?|

|You said you were fond of it.|

|Oh, yes; it is a tree with beautiful tassels, you know. I think I should like to see one. Isn't it a beautiful line?|

|When you have finished the poem, we will go and see if we can find one anywhere in the woods. We must know where we are in the world, Harry -- what is all round about us, you know.|

|Oh, yes,| said Harry; |let us go and hunt the larch.|

|Perhaps we shall meet Spring, if we look for her -- perhaps hear her voice, too.|

|That would be delightful,| answered Harry, smiling. And away they went.

I may just mention here that Mrs. Hemans was allowed to retire gradually, till at last she was to be found only in the more inaccessible recesses of the library-shelves; while by that time Harry might be heard, not all over the house, certainly, but as far off as outside the closed door of the library, reading aloud to himself one or other of Macaulay's ballads, with an evident enjoyment of the go in it. A story with drum and trumpet accompaniment was quite enough, for the present, to satisfy Harry; and Macaulay could give him that, if little more.

As they went across the lawn towards the shrubbery, on their way to look for larches and Spring, Euphra joined them in walking dress. It was a lovely morning.

|I have taken you at your word, you see, Mr. Sutherland,| said she. |I don't want to lose my Harry quite.|

|You dear kind Euphra!| said Harry, going round to her side and taking her hand. He did not stay long with her, however, nor did Euphra seem particularly to want him.

|There was one thing I ought to have mentioned to you the other night, Mr. Sutherland; and I daresay I should have mentioned it, had not Mr. Arnold interrupted our tête-à-tête. I feel now as if I had been guilty of claiming far more than I have a right to, on the score of musical insight. I have Scotch blood in me, and was indeed born in Scotland, though I left it before I was a year old. My mother, Mr. Arnold's sister, married a gentleman who was half Scotch; and I was born while they were on a visit to his relatives, the Camerons of Lochnie. His mother, my grandmother, was a Bohemian lady, a countess with sixteen quarterings -- not a gipsy, I beg to say.|

Hugh thought she might have been, to judge from present appearances.

But how was he to account for this torrent of genealogical information, into which the ice of her late constraint had suddenly thawed? It was odd that she should all at once volunteer so much about herself. Perhaps she had made up one of those minds which need making up, every now and then, like a monthly magazine; and now was prepared to publish it. Hugh responded with a question:

|Do I know your name, then, at last? You are Miss Cameron?|

|Euphrasia Cameron; at your service, sir.| And she dropped a gay little courtesy to Hugh, looking up at him with a flash of her black diamonds.

|Then you must sing to me to-night.|

|With all the pleasure in gipsy-land,| replied she, with a second courtesy, lower than the first; taking for granted, no doubt, his silent judgment on her person and complexion.

By this time they had reached the woods in a different quarter from that which Hugh had gone through the other day with Harry. And here, in very deed, the Spring met them, with a profusion of richness to which Hugh was quite a stranger. The ground was carpeted with primroses, and anemones, and other spring flowers, which are the loveliest of all flowers. They were drinking the sunlight, which fell upon them through the budded boughs. By the time the light should be hidden from them by the leaves, which are the clouds of the lower firmament of the woods, their need of it would be gone: exquisites in living, they cared only for the delicate morning of the year.

|Do look at this darling, Mr. Sutherland!| exclaimed Euphrasia suddenly, as she bent at the root of a great beech, where grew a large bush of rough leaves, with one tiny but perfectly-formed primrose peeping out between. |Is it not a little pet? -- all eyes -- all one eye staring out of its curtained bed to see what ever is going on in the world. -- You had better lie down again: it is not a nice place.|

She spoke to it as if it had been a kitten or a baby. And as she spoke, she pulled the leaves yet closer over the little starer so as to hide it quite.

As they went on, she almost obtrusively avoided stepping on the flowers, saying she almost felt cruel, or at least rude, when she did so. Yet she trailed her dress over them in quite a careless way, not lifting it at all. This was a peculiarity of hers, which Hugh never understood till he understood herself.

All about in shady places, the ferns were busy untucking themselves from their grave-clothes, unrolling their mysterious coils of life, adding continually to the hidden growth as they unfolded the visible. In this, they were like the other revelations of God the Infinite. All the wild lovely things were coming up for their month's life of joy. Orchis-harlequins, cuckoo-plants, wild arums, more properly lords-and-ladies, were coming, and coming -- slowly; for had they not a long way to come, from the valley of the shadow of death into the land of life? At last the wanderers came upon a whole company of bluebells -- not what Hugh would have called bluebells, for the bluebells of Scotland are the single-poised harebells -- but wild hyacinths, growing in a damp and shady spot, in wonderful luxuriance. They were quite three feet in height, with long, graceful, drooping heads; hanging down from them, all along one side, the largest and loveliest of bells -- one lying close above the other, on the lower part; while they parted thinner and thinner as they rose towards the lonely one at the top. Miss Cameron went into ecstasies over these; not saying much, but breaking up what she did say with many prettily passionate pauses.

She had a very happy turn for seeing external resemblances, either humorous or pathetic; for she had much of one element that goes to the making of a poet -- namely, surface impressibility.

|Look, Harry; they are all sad at having to go down there again so soon. They are looking at their graves so ruefully.|

Harry looked sad and rather sentimental immediately. When Hugh glanced at Miss Cameron, he saw tears in her eyes.

|You have nothing like this in your country, have you, Mr. Sutherland?| said she, with an apparent effort.

|No, indeed,| answered Hugh.

And he said no more. For a vision rose before him of the rugged pine-wood and the single primrose; and of the thoughtful maiden, with unpolished speech and rough hands, and -- but this he did not see -- a soul slowly refining itself to a crystalline clearness. And he thought of the grand old grey-haired David, and of Janet with her quaint motherhood, and of all the blessed bareness of the ancient time -- in sunlight and in snow; and he felt again that he had forgotten and forsaken his friends.

|How the fairies will be ringing the bells in these airy steeples in the moonlight!| said Miss Cameron to Harry, who was surprised and delighted with it all. He could not help wondering, however, after he went to bed that night, that Euphra had never before taken him to see these beautiful things, and had never before said anything half so pretty to him, as the least pretty thing she had said about the flowers that morning when they were out with Mr. Sutherland. Had Mr. Sutherland anything to do with it? Was he giving Euphra a lesson in flowers such as he had given him in pigs?

Miss Cameron presently drew Hugh into conversation again, and the old times were once more forgotten for a season. They were worthy of distinguishing note -- that trio in those spring woods: the boy waking up to feel that flowers and buds were lovelier in the woods than in verses; Euphra finding everything about her sentimentally useful, and really delighting in the prettinesses they suggested to her; and Hugh regarding the whole chiefly as a material and means for reproducing in verse such impressions of delight as he had received and still received from all (but the highest) poetry about nature. The presence of Harry and his necessities was certainly a saving influence upon Hugh; but, however much he sought to realize Harry's life, he himself, at this period of his history, enjoyed everything artistically far more than humanly.

Margaret would have walked through all this infant summer without speaking at all, but with a deep light far back in her quiet eyes. Perhaps she would not have had many thoughts about the flowers. Rather she would have thought the very flowers themselves; would have been at home with them, in a delighted oneness with their life and expression. Certainly she would have walked through them with reverence, and would not have petted or patronised nature by saying pretty things about her children. Their life would have entered into her, and she would have hardly known it from her own. I daresay Miss Cameron would have called a mountain a darling or a beauty. But there are other ways of showing affection than by patting and petting -- though Margaret, for her part, would have needed no art-expression, because she had the things themselves. It is not always those who utter best who feel most; and the dumb poets are sometimes dumb because it would need the |large utterance of the early gods| to carry their thoughts through the gates of speech.

But the fancy and skin-sympathy of Miss Cameron began already to tell upon Hugh. He knew very little of women, and had never heard a woman talk as she talked. He did not know how cheap this accomplishment is, and took it for sensibility, imaginativeness, and even originality. He thought she was far more en rapport with nature than he was. It was much easier to make this mistake after hearing the really delightful way in which she sang. Certainly she could not have sung so, perhaps not even have talked so, except she had been capable of more; but to be capable of more, and to be able for more, are two very distinct conditions.

Many walks followed this, extending themselves farther and farther from home, as Harry's strength gradually improved. It was quite remarkable how his interest in everything external increased, in exact proportion as he learned to see into the inside or life of it. With most children, the interest in the external comes first, and with many ceases there. But it is in reality only a shallower form of the deeper sympathy; and in those cases where it does lead to a desire after the hidden nature of things, it is perhaps the better beginning of the two. In such exceptional cases as Harry's, it is of unspeakable importance that both the difference and the identity should be recognized; and in doing so, Hugh became to Harry his big brother indeed, for he led him where he could not go alone.

As often as Mr. Arnold was from home, which happened not unfrequently, Miss Cameron accompanied them in their rambles. She gave as her reason for doing so only on such occasions, that she never liked to be out of the way when her uncle might want her. Traces of an inclination to quarrel with Hugh, or even to stand upon her dignity, had all but vanished; and as her vivacity never failed her, as her intellect was always active, and as by the exercise of her will she could enter sympathetically, or appear to enter, into everything, her presence was not in the least a restraint upon them.

On one occasion, when Harry had actually run a little way after a butterfly, Hugh said to her:

|What did you mean, Miss Cameron, by saying you were only a poor relation? You are certainly mistress of the house.|

|On sufferance, yes. But I am only a poor relation. I have no fortune of my own.|

|But Mr. Arnold does not treat you as such.|

|Oh! no. He likes me. He is very kind to me. -- He gave me this ring on my last birthday. Is it not a beauty?|

She pulled off her glove and showed a very fine diamond on a finger worthy of the ornament.

|It is more like a gentleman's, is it not?| she added, drawing it off. |Let me see how it would look on your hand.|

She gave the ring to Hugh; who, laughing, got it with some difficulty just over the first joint of his little finger, and held it up for Euphra to see.

|Ah! I see I cannot ask you to wear it for me,| said she. |I don't like it myself. I am afraid, however,| she added, with an arch look, |my uncle would not like it either -- on your finger. Put it on mine again.|

Holding her hand towards Hugh, she continued:

|It must not be promoted just yet. Besides, I see you have a still better one of your own.|

As Hugh did according to her request, the words sprang to his lips, |There are other ways of wearing a ring than on the finger.| But they did not cross the threshold of speech. Was it the repression of them that caused that strange flutter and slight pain at the heart, which he could not quite understand?

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