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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII. THE PICTURE GALLERY.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER VII. THE PICTURE GALLERY.

the house is crencled to and fro,

And hath so queint waies for to go,

For it is shapen as the mase is wrought.

CHAUCER -- Legend of Ariadne.

LUNCHEON over, and Harry dismissed as usual to lie down, Miss Cameron said to Hugh:

|You have never been over the old house yet, I believe, Mr. Sutherland. Would you not like to see it?|

|I should indeed,| said Hugh. |It is what I have long hoped for, and have often been on the point of begging.|

|Come, then; I will be your guide -- if you will trust yourself with a madcap like me, in the solitudes of the old hive.|

|Lead on to the family vaults, if you will,| said Hugh.

|That might be possible, too, from below. We are not so very far from them. Even within the house there is an old chapel, and some monuments worth looking at. Shall we take it last?|

|As you think best,| answered Hugh.

She rose and rang the bell. When it was answered,

|Jacob,| she said, |get me the keys of the house from Mrs. Horton.|

Jacob vanished, and reappeared with a huge bunch of keys. She took them.

|Thank you. They should not be allowed to get quite rusty, Jacob.|

|Please, Miss, Mrs. Horton desired me to say, she would have seen to them, if she had known you wanted them.|

|Oh! never mind. Just tell my maid to bring me an old pair of gloves.|

Jacob went; and the maid came with the required armour.

|Now, Mr. Sutherland. Jane, you will come with us. No, you need not take the keys. I will find those I want as we go.|

She unlocked a door in the corner of the hall, which Hugh had never seen open. Passing through a long low passage, they came to a spiral staircase of stone, up which they went, arriving at another wide hall, very dusty, but in perfect repair. Hugh asked if there was not some communication between this hall and the great oak staircase.

|Yes,| answered Euphra; |but this is the more direct way.|

As she said this, he felt somehow as if she cast on him one of her keenest glances; but the place was very dusky, and he stood in a spot where the light fell upon him from an opening in a shutter, while she stood in deep shadow.

|Jane, open that shutter.|

The girl obeyed; and the entering light revealed the walls covered with paintings, many of them apparently of no value, yet adding much to the effect of the place. Seeing that Hugh was at once attracted by the pictures, Euphra said:

|Perhaps you would like to see the picture gallery first?|

Hugh assented. Euphra chose key after key, and opened door after door, till they came into a long gallery, well lighted from each end. The windows were soon opened.

|Mr. Arnold is very proud of his pictures, especially of his family portraits; but he is content with knowing he has them, and never visits them except to show them; or perhaps once or twice a year, when something or other keeps him at home for a day, without anything particular to do.|

In glancing over the portraits, some of them by famous masters, Hugh's eyes were arrested by a blonde beauty in the dress of the time of Charles II. There was such a reality of self-willed boldness as well as something worse in her face, that, though arrested by the picture, Hugh felt ashamed of looking at it in the presence of Euphra and her maid. The pictured woman almost put him out of countenance, and yet at the same time fascinated him. Dragging his eyes from it, he saw that Jane had turned her back upon it, while Euphra regarded it steadily.

|Open that opposite window, Jane,| said she; |there is not light enough on this portrait.|

Jane obeyed. While she did so, Hugh caught a glimpse of her face, and saw that the formerly rosy girl was deadly pale. He said to Euphra:

|Your maid seems ill, Miss Cameron.|

|Jane, what is the matter with you?|

She did not reply, but, leaning against the wall, seemed ready to faint.

|The place is close,| said her mistress. |Go into the next room there,| -- she pointed to a door -- |and open the window. You will soon be well.|

|If you please, Miss, I would rather stay with you. This place makes me feel that strange.|

She had come but lately, and had never been over the house before.

|Nonsense!| said Miss Cameron, looking at her sharply. |What do you mean?|

|Please, don't be angry, Miss; but the first night e'er I slept here, I saw that very lady -- |

|Saw that lady!|

|Well, Miss, I mean, I dreamed that I saw her; and I remembered her the minute I see her up there; and she give me a turn like. I'm all right now, Miss.|

Euphra fixed her eyes on her, and kept them fixed, till she was very nearly all wrong again. She turned as pale as before, and began to draw her breath hard.

|You silly goose!| said Euphra, and withdrew her eyes; upon which the girl began to breathe more freely.

Hugh was making some wise remarks in his own mind on the unsteady condition of a nature in which the imagination predominates over the powers of reflection, when Euphra turned to him, and began to tell him that that was the picture of her three or four times great-grandmother, painted by Sir Peter Lely, just after she was married.

|Isn't she fair?| said she. -- |She turned nun at last, they say.|

|She is more fair than honest,| thought Hugh. |It would take a great deal of nun to make her into a saint.| But he only said, |She is more beautiful than lovely. What was her name?|

|If you mean her maiden name, it was Halkar -- Lady Euphrasia Halkar -- named after me, you see. She had foreign blood in her, of course; and, to tell the truth, there were strange stories told of her, of more sorts than one. I know nothing of her family. It was never heard of in England, I believe, till after the Restoration.|

All the time Euphra was speaking, Hugh was being perplexed with that most annoying of perplexities -- the flitting phantom of a resemblance, which he could not catch. He was forced to dismiss it for the present, utterly baffled.

|Were you really named after her, Miss Cameron?|

|No, no. It is a family name with us. But, indeed, I may be said to be named after her, for she was the first of us who bore it. You don't seem to like the portrait.|

|I do not; but I cannot help looking at it, for all that.|

|I am so used to the lady's face,| said Euphra, |that it makes no impression on me of any sort. But it is said,| she added, glancing at the maid, who stood at some distance, looking uneasily about her -- and as she spoke she lowered her voice to a whisper -- |it is said, she cannot lie still.|

|Cannot lie still! What do you mean?|

|I mean down there in the chapel,| she answered, pointing.

The Celtic nerves of Hugh shuddered. Euphra laughed; and her voice echoed in silvery billows, that broke on the faces of the men and women of old time, that had owned the whole; whose lives had flowed and ebbed in varied tides through the ancient house; who had married and been given in marriage; and gone down to the chapel below -- below the prayers and below the psalms -- and made a Sunday of all the week.

Ashamed of his feeling of passing dismay, Hugh said, just to say something:

|What a strange ornament that is! Is it a brooch or a pin? No, I declare it is a ring -- large enough for three cardinals, and worn on her thumb. It seems almost to sparkle. Is it ruby, or carbuncle, or what?|

|I don't know: some clumsy old thing,| answered Euphra, carelessly.

|Oh! I see,| said Hugh; |it is not a red stone. The glow is only a reflection from part of her dress. It is as clear as a diamond. But that is impossible -- such a size. There seems to me something curious about it; and the longer I look at it, the more strange it appears.|

Euphra stole another of her piercing glances at him, but said nothing.

|Surely,| Hugh went on, |a ring like that would hardly be likely to be lost out of the family? Your uncle must have it somewhere.|

Euphra laughed; but this laugh was very different from the last. It rattled rather than rang.

|You are wonderfully taken with a bauble -- for a man of letters, that is, Mr. Sutherland. The stone may have been carried down any one of the hundred streams into which a family river is always dividing.|

|It is a very remarkable ornament for a lady's finger, notwithstanding,| said Hugh, smiling in his turn.

|But we shall never get through the pictures at this rate,| remarked Euphra; and going on, she directed Hugh's attention now to this, now to that portrait, saying who each was, and mentioning anything remarkable in the history of their originals. She manifested a thorough acquaintance with the family story, and made, in fact, an excellent show-woman. Having gone nearly to the other end of the gallery,

|This door,| said she, stopping at one, and turning over the keys, |leads to one of the oldest portions of the house, the principal room in which is said to have belonged especially to the lady over there.|

As she said this, she fixed her eyes once more on the maid.

|Oh! don't ye now, Miss,| interrupted Jane. |Hannah du say as how a whitey-blue light shines in the window of a dark night, sometimes -- that lady's window, you know, Miss. Don't ye open the door -- pray, Miss.|

Jane seemed on the point of falling into the same terror as before.

|Really, Jane,| said her mistress, |I am ashamed of you; and of myself, for having such silly servants about me.|

|I beg your pardon, Miss, but -- |

|So Mr. Sutherland and I must give up our plan of going over the house, because my maid's nerves are too delicate to permit her to accompany us. For shame!|

|Oh, du ye now go without me!| cried the girl, clasping her hands.

|And you will wait here till we come back?|

|Oh! don't ye leave me here. Just show me the way out.|

And once more she turned pale as death.

|Mr. Sutherland, I am very sorry, but we must put off the rest of our ramble till another time. I am, like Hamlet, very vilely attended, as you see. Come, then, you foolish girl,| she added, more mildly.

The poor maid, what with terror of Lady Euphrasia, and respect for her mistress, was in a pitiable condition of moral helplessness. She seemed almost too frightened to walk behind them. But if she had been in front it would have been no better; for, like other ghost-fearers, she seemed to feel very painfully that she had no eyes in her back.

They returned as they came; and Jane receiving the keys to take to the housekeeper, darted away. When she reached Mrs. Horton's room, she sank on a chair in hysterics.

|I must get rid of that girl, I fear,| said Miss Cameron, leading the way to the library; |she will infect the whole household with her foolish terrors. We shall not hear the last of this for some time to come. We had a fit of it the same year I came; and I suppose the time has come round for another attack of the same epidemic.|

|What is there about the room to terrify the poor thing?|

|Oh! they say it is haunted; that is all. Was there ever an old house anywhere over Europe, especially an old family house, but was said to be haunted? Here the story centres in that room -- or at least in that room and the avenue in front of its windows.|

|Is that the avenue called the Ghost's Walk?|

|Yes. Who told you?|

|Harry would not let me cross it.|

|Poor boy! This is really too bad. He cannot stand anything of that kind, I am sure. Those servants!|

|Oh! I hope we shall soon get him too well to be frightened at anything. Are these places said to be haunted by any particular ghost?|

|Yes. By Lady Euphrasia -- Rubbish!|

Had Hugh possessed a yet keener perception of resemblance, he would have seen that the phantom-likeness which haunted him in the portrait of Euphrasia Halkar, was that of Euphrasia Cameron -- by his side all the time. But the mere difference of complexion was sufficient to throw him out -- insignificant difference as that is, beside the correspondence of features and their relations. Euphra herself was perfectly aware of the likeness, but had no wish that Hugh should discover it.

As if the likeness, however, had been dimly identified by the unconscious part of his being, he sat in one corner of the library sofa, with his eyes fixed on the face of Euphra, as she sat in the other. Presently he was made aware of his unintentional rudeness, by seeing her turn pale as death, and sink back in the sofa. In a moment she started up, and began pacing about the room, rubbing her eyes and temples. He was bewildered and alarmed.

|Miss Cameron, are you ill?| he exclaimed.

She gave a kind of half-hysterical laugh, and said:

|No -- nothing worth speaking of. I felt a little faint, that was all. I am better now.|

She turned full towards him, and seemed to try to look all right; but there was a kind of film over the clearness of her black eyes.

|I fear you have headache.|

|A little, but it is nothing. I will go and lie down.|

|Do, pray; else you will not be well enough to appear at dinner.|

She retired, and Hugh joined Hairy.

Euphra had another glass of claret with her uncle that evening, in order to give her report of the morning's ride.

|Really, there is not much to be afraid of, uncle. He takes very good care of Harry. To be sure, I had occasion several times to check him a little; but he has this good quality in addition to a considerable aptitude for teaching, that he perceives a hint, and takes it at once.|

Knowing her uncle's formality, and preference for precise and judicial modes of expression, Euphra modelled her phrase to his mind.

|I am glad he has your good opinion so far, Euphra; for I confess there is something about the youth that pleases me. I was afraid at first that I might be annoyed by his overstepping the true boundaries of his position in my family: he seems to have been in good society, too. But your assurance that he can take a hint, lessens my apprehension considerably. To-morrow, I will ask him to resume his seat after dessert.|

This was not exactly the object of Euphra's qualified commendation of Hugh. But she could not help it now.

|I think, however, if you approve, uncle, that it will be more prudent to keep a little watch over the riding for a while. I confess, too, I should be glad of a little more of that exercise than I have had for some time: I found my seat not very secure to-day.|

|Very desirable on both considerations, my love.|

And so the conference ended.

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