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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. FATIMA.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER VI. FATIMA.

Those lips that Love's own hand did make

Breathed forth the sound that said, |I hate,|

To me that languished for her sake:

But when she saw my woeful state,

Straight in her heart did mercy come,

Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,

Was used in giving gentle doom,

And taught it thus anew to greet:

|I hate| she altered with an end,

That followed it as gentle day

Doth follow night, who, like a fiend,

From heaven to hell is flown away.

|I hate| from hate away she threw,

And saved my life, saying -- |Not you.|

SHAKSPERE.

MR. ARNOLD was busy at home for a few days after this, and Hugh and Harry had to go out alone. One day, when the wind was rather cold, they took refuge in the barn; for it was part of Hugh's especial care that Harry should be rendered hardy, by never being exposed to more than he could bear without a sense of suffering. As soon as the boy began to feel fatigue, or cold, or any other discomfort, his tutor took measures accordingly.

Harry would have crept into the straw-house; but Hugh said, pulling a book out of his pocket,

|I have a poem here for you, Harry. I want to read it to you now; and we can't see in there.|

They threw themselves down on the straw, and Hugh, opening a volume of Robert Browning's Poems, read the famous ride from Ghent to Aix. He knew the poem well, and read it well. Harry was in raptures.

|I wish I could read that as you do,| said he.

|Try,| said Hugh.

Harry tried the first verse, and threw the book down in disgust with himself.

|Why cannot I read it?| said he.

|Because you can't ride.|

|I could ride, if I had such a horse as that to ride upon.|

|But you could never have such a horse as that except you could ride, and ride well, first. After that, there is no saying but you might get one. You might, in fact, train one for yourself -- till from being a little foal it became your own wonderful horse.|

|Oh! that would be delightful! Will you teach me horses as well, Mr. Sutherland?|

|Perhaps I will.|

That evening, at dinner, Hugh said to Mr. Arnold:

|Could you let me have a horse to-morrow morning, Mr. Arnold?|

Mr. Arnold stared a little, as he always did at anything new. But Hugh went on:

|Harry and I want to have a ride to-morrow; and I expect we shall like it so much, that we shall want to ride very often.|

|Yes, that we shall!| cried Harry.

|Could not Mr. Sutherland have your white mare, Euphra?| said Mr. Arnold, reconciled at once to the proposal.

|I would rather not, if you don't mind, uncle. My Fatty is not used to such a burden as I fear Mr. Sutherland would prove. She drops a little now, on the hard road.|

The fact was, Euphra would want Fatima.

|Well, Harry,| said Mr. Arnold, graciously pleased to be facetious, |don't you think your Welsh dray-horse could carry Mr. Sutherland?|

|Ha! ha! ha! Papa, do you know, Mr. Sutherland set him up on his hind legs yesterday, and made him walk on them like a dancing-dog. He was going to lift him, but he kicked about so when he felt himself leaving the ground, that he tumbled Mr. Sutherland into the horse-trough.|

Even the solemn face of the butler relaxed into a smile, but Mr. Arnold's clouded instead. His boy's tutor ought to be a gentleman.

|Wasn't it fun, Mr. Sutherland?|

|It was to you, you little rogue!| said Sutherland, laughing.

|And how you did run home, dripping like a water-cart! -- and all the dogs after you!|

Mr. Arnold's monotonous solemnity soon checked Harry's prattle.

|I will see, Mr. Sutherland, what I can do to mount you.|

|I don't care what it is,| said Hugh; who though by no means a thorough horseman, had been from boyhood in the habit of mounting everything in the shape of a horse that he could lay hands upon, from a cart-horse upwards and downwards.

|There's an old bay that would carry me very well.|

|That is my own horse, Mr. Sutherland.|

This stopped the conversation in that direction. But next morning after breakfast, an excellent chestnut horse was waiting at the door, along with Harry's new pony. Mr. Arnold would see them go off. This did not exactly suit Miss Cameron, but if she frowned, it was when nobody saw her. Hugh put Harry up himself, told him to stick fast with his knees, and then mounted his chestnut. As they trotted slowly down the avenue, Euphrasia heard Mr. Arnold say to himself, |The fellow sits well, at all events.| She took care to make herself agreeable to Hugh by reporting this, with the omission of the initiatory epithet, however.

Harry returned from his ride rather tired, but in high spirits.

|Oh, Euphra!| he cried, |Mr. Sutherland is such a rider! He jumps hedges and ditches and everything. And he has promised to teach me and my pony to jump too. And if I am not too tired, we are to begin to-morrow, out on the common. Oh! jolly!|

The little fellow's heart was full of the sense of growing life and strength, and Hugh was delighted with his own success. He caught sight of a serpentine motion in Euphra's eyebrows, as she bent her face again over the work from which she had lifted it on their entrance. He addressed her.

|You will be glad to hear that Harry has ridden like a man.|

|I am glad to hear it, Harry.|

Why did she reply to the subject of the remark, and not to the speaker? Hugh perplexed himself in vain to answer this question; but a very small amount of experience would have made him able to understand at once as much of her behaviour as was genuine. At luncheon she spoke only in reply; and then so briefly, as not to afford the smallest peg on which to hang a response.

|What can be the matter?| thought Hugh. |What a peculiar creature she is! But after what has passed between us, I can't stand this.|

When dinner was over that evening, she rose as usual and left the room, followed by Hugh and Harry; but as soon as they were in the drawing-room, she left it; and, returning to the dining-room, resumed her seat at the table.

|Take a glass of claret, Euphra, dear?| said Mr. Arnold.

|I will, if you please, uncle. I should like it. I have seldom a minute with you alone now.|

Evidently flattered, Mr. Arnold poured out a glass of claret, rose and carried it to his niece himself, and then took a chair beside her.

|Thank you, dear uncle,| she said, with one of her bewitching flashes of smile.

|Harry has been getting on bravely with his riding, has he not?| she continued.

|So it would appear.|

Harry had been full of the story of the day at the dinner-table, where he still continued to present himself; for his father would not be satisfied without hint. It was certainly good moral training for the boy, to sit there almost without eating; and none the worse that he found it rather hard sometimes. He talked much more freely now, and asked the servants for anything he wanted without referring to Euphra. Now and then he would glance at her, as if afraid of offending her; but the cords which bound him to her were evidently relaxing; and she saw it plainly enough, though she made no reference to the unpleasing fact.

|I am only a little fearful, uncle, lest Mr. Sutherland should urge the boy to do more than his strength will admit of. He is exceedingly kind to him, but he has evidently never known what weakness is himself.|

|True, there is danger of that. But you see he has taken him so entirely into his own hands. I don't seem to be allowed a word in the matter of his education any more.| Mr. Arnold spoke with the peevishness of weak importance. |I wish you would take care that he does not carry things too far, Euphra.|

This was just what Euphra wanted.

|I think, if you do not disapprove, uncle, I will have Fatima saddled to-morrow morning, and go with them myself.|

|Thank you, my love; I shall be much obliged to you.| The glass of claret was soon finished after this. A little more conversation about nothing followed, and Euphra rose the second time, and returned to the drawing-room. She found it unoccupied. She sat down to the piano, and sang song after song -- Scotch, Italian, and Bohemian. But Hugh did not make his appearance. The fact was, he was busy writing to his mother, whom he had rather neglected since he came. Writing to her made him think of David, and he began a letter to him too; but it was never finished, and never sent. He did not return to the drawing-room that evening. Indeed, except for a short time, while Mr. Arnold was drinking his claret, he seldom showed himself there. Had Euphra repelled him too much -- hurt him? She would make up for it to-morrow.

Breakfast was scarcely over, when the chestnut and the pony passed the window, accompanied by a lovely little Arab mare, broad-chested and light-limbed, with a wonderfully small head. She was white as snow, with keen, dark eyes. Her curb-rein was red instead of white. Hearing their approach, and begging her uncle to excuse her, Euphra rose from the table, and left the room; but re-appeared in a wonderfully little while, in a well-fitted riding-habit of black velvet, with a belt of dark red leather clasping a waist of the roundest and smallest. Her little hat, likewise black, had a single long, white feather, laid horizontally within the upturned brim, and drooping over it at the back. Her white mare would be just the right pedestal for the dusky figure -- black eyes, tawny skin, and all. As she stood ready to mount, and Hugh was approaching to put her up, she called the groom, seemed just to touch his hand, and was in the saddle in a moment, foot in stirrup, and skirt falling over it. Hugh thought she was carrying out the behaviour of yesterday, and was determined to ask her what it meant. The little Arab began to rear and plunge with pride, as soon as she felt her mistress on her back; but she seemed as much at home as if she had been on the music-stool, and patted her arching neck, talking to her in the same tone almost in which she had addressed the flowers.

|Be quiet, Fatty dear; you're frightening Mr. Sutherland.|

But Hugh, seeing the next moment that she was in no danger, sprang into his saddle. Away they went, Fatima infusing life and frolic into the equine as Euphra into the human portion of the cavalcade. Having reached the common, out of sight of the house, Miss Cameron, instead of looking after Harry, lest he should have too much exercise, scampered about like a wild girl, jumping everything that came in her way, and so exciting Harry's pony, that it was almost more than he could do to manage it, till at last Hugh had to beg her to go more quietly, for Harry's sake. She drew up alongside of them at once, and made her mare stand as still as she could, while Harry made his first essay upon a little ditch. After crossing it two or three times, he gathered courage; and setting his pony at a larger one beyond, bounded across it beautifully.

|Bravo! Harry!| cried both Euphra and Hugh. Harry galloped back, and over it again; then came up to them with a glow of proud confidence on his pale face.

|You'll be a horseman yet, Harry,| said Hugh.

|I hope so,| said Harry, in an aspiring tone, which greatly satisfied his tutor. The boy's spirit was evidently reviving. Euphra must have managed him ill. Yet she was not in the least effeminate herself. It puzzled Hugh a good deal. But he did not think about it long; for Harry cantering away in front, he had an opportunity of saying to Euphra:

|Are you offended with me, Miss Cameron?|

|Offended with you! What do you mean? A girl like me offended with a man like you?|

She looked two and twenty as she spoke; but even at that she was older than Hugh. He, however, certainly looked considerably older than he really was.

|What makes you think so?| she added, turning her face towards him.

|You would not speak to me when we came home yesterday.|

|Not speak to you? -- I had a little headache -- and perhaps I was a little sullen, from having been in such bad company all the morning.|

|What company had you?| asked Hugh, gazing at her in some surprise.

|My own,| answered she, with a lovely laugh, thrown full in his face. Then after a pause: |Let me advise you, if you want to live in peace, not to embark on that ocean of discovery.|

|What ocean? what discovery?| asked Hugh, bewildered, and still gazing.

|The troubled ocean of ladies' looks,| she replied. |You will never be able to live in the same house with one of our kind, if it be necessary to your peace to find out what every expression that puzzles you may mean.|

|I did not intend to be inquisitive -- it really troubled me.|

|There it is. You must never mind us. We show so much sooner than men -- but, take warning, there is no making out what it is we do show. Your faces are legible; ours are so scratched and interlined, that you had best give up at once the idea of deciphering them.|

Hugh could not help looking once more at the smooth, simple, naïve countenance shining upon him.

|There you are at it again,| she said, blushing a little, and turning her head away. |Well, to comfort you, I will confess I was rather cross yesterday -- because -- because you seemed to have been quite happy with only one of your pupils.|

As she spoke the words, she gave Fatima the rein, and bounded off, overtaking Harry's pony in a moment. Nor did she leave her cousin during all the rest of their ride.

Most women in whom the soul has anything like a chance of reaching the windows, are more or less beautiful in their best moments. Euphra's best was when she was trying to fascinate. Then she was -- fascinating. During the first morning that Hugh spent at Arnstead, she had probably been making up her mind whether, between her and Hugh, it was to be war to the knife, or fascination. The latter had carried the day, and was now carrying him. But had she calculated that fascination may re-act as well?

Hugh's heart bounded, like her Arab steed, as she uttered the words last recorded. He gave his chestnut the rein in his turn, to overtake her; but Fatima's canter quickened into a gallop, and, inspirited by her companionship, and the fact that their heads were turned stablewards, Harry's pony, one of the quickest of its race, laid itself to the ground, and kept up, taking three strides for Fatty's two, so that Hugh never got within three lengths of them till they drew rein at the hall-door, where the grooms were waiting them. Euphra was off her mare in a moment, and had almost reached her own room before Hugh and Harry had crossed the hall. She came down to luncheon in a white muslin dress, with the smallest possible red spot in it; and, taking her place at the table, seemed to Hugh to have put off not only her riding habit, but the self that was in it as well; for she chatted away in the most unconcerned and easy manner possible, as if she had not been out of her room all the morning. She had ridden so hard, that she had left her last speech in the middle of the common, and its mood with it; and there seemed now no likelihood of either finding its way home.

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