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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XIX. THE GHOST'S WALK.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald


Thierry. -- 'Tis full of fearful shadows.

Ordella. -- So is sleep, sir;

Or anything that's merely ours, and mortal;

We were begotten gods else. But those fears

Feeling but once the fires of nobler thoughts,

Fly, like the shapes of clouds we form, to nothing.

BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER. -- Thierry and Theodoret.

MARGARET sat watching the waking of Lady Emily. Knowing how much the first thought colours the feeling of the whole day, she wished that Lady Emily should at once be aware that she was by her side.

She opened her eyes, and a smile broke over her face when she perceived her nurse. But Margaret did not yet speak to her.

Every nurse should remember that waking ought always to be a gradual operation; and, except in the most triumphant health, is never complete on the opening of the eyes.

|Margaret, I am better,| said Lady Emily, at last.

|I am very glad, my lady.|

|I have been lying awake for some time, and I am sure I am better. I don't see strange-coloured figures floating about the room as I did yesterday. Were you not out of the room a few minutes ago?|

|Just for one moment, my lady.|

|I knew it. But I did not mind it. Yesterday, when you left me, those figures grew ten times as many, the moment you were gone. But you will stay with me to-day, too, Margaret?| she added, with some anxiety.

|I will, if you find you need me. But I may be forced to leave you a little while this evening -- you must try to allow me this, dear Lady Emily.|

|Of course I will. I will be quite patient, I promise you, whatever comes to me.|

When Harry woke, after a very troubled sleep, from which he had often started with sudden cries of terror, Hugh made him promise not to increase the confusion of the household, by speaking of what he had seen. Harry promised at once, but begged in his turn that Hugh would not leave him all day. It did not need the pale scared face of his pupil to enforce the request; for Hugh was already anxious lest the fright the boy had had, should exercise a permanently deleterious effect on his constitution. Therefore he hardly let him out of his sight.

But although Harry kept his word, the cloud of perturbation gathered thicker in the kitchen and the servants' hall. Nothing came to the ears of their master and mistress; but gloomy looks, sudden starts, and sidelong glances of fear, indicated the prevailing character of the feelings of the household.

And although Lady Emily was not so ill, she had not yet taken a decided turn for the better, but appeared to suffer from some kind of low fever. The medical man who was called in, confessed to Mrs. Elton, that as yet he could say nothing very decided about her condition, but recommended great quiet and careful nursing. Margaret scarcely left her room, and the invalid showed far more than the ordinary degree of dependence upon her nurse. In her relation to her, she was more like a child than an invalid.

About noon she was better. She called Margaret and said to her:

|Margaret, dear, I should like to tell you one thing that annoys me very much.|

|What is it, dear Lady Emily?|

|That man haunts me. I cannot bear the thought of him; and yet I cannot get rid of him. I am sure he is a bad man. Are you certain he is not here?|

|Yes, indeed, my lady. He has not been here since the day before yesterday.|

|And yet when you leave me for an instant, I always feel as if he were sitting in the very seat where you were the moment before, or just coming to the door and about to open it. That is why I cannot bear you to leave me.|

Margaret might have confessed to some slighter sensations of the same kind; but they did not oppress her as they did Lady Emily.

|God is nearer to you than any thought or feeling of yours, Lady Emily. Do not be afraid. If all the evil things in the universe were around us, they could not come inside the ring that he makes about us. He always keeps a place for himself and his child, into which no other being can enter.|

|Oh! how you must love God, Margaret!|

|Indeed I do love him, my lady. If ever anything looks beautiful or lovely to me, then I know at once that God is that.|

|But, then, what right have we to take the good of that, however true it is, when we are not beautiful ourselves?|

|That only makes God the more beautiful -- in that he will pour out the more of his beauty upon us to make us beautiful. If we care for his glory, we shall be glad to believe all this about him. But we are too anxious about feeling good ourselves, to rejoice in his perfect goodness. I think we should find that enough, my lady. For, if he be good, are not we his children, and sure of having it, not merely feeling it, some day?|

Here Margaret repeated a little poem of George Herbert's. She had found his poems amongst Mrs. Elton's books, who, coming upon her absorbed in it one day, had made her a present of the volume. Then indeed Margaret had found a friend.

The poem is called Dialogue:

|Sweetest Saviour, if my soul

Were but worth the having -- |

|Oh, what a comfort you are to me, Margaret!| Lady Emily said, after a short silence. Where did you learn such things?|

|From my father, and from Jesus Christ, and from God himself, showing them to me in my heart.|

|Ah! that is why, as often as you come into my room, even if I am very troubled, I feel as if the sun shone, and the wind blew, and the birds sang, and the tree-tops went waving in the wind, as they used to do before I was taken ill -- I mean before they thought I must go abroad. You seem to make everything clear, and right, and plain. I wish I were you, Margaret.|

|If I were you, my lady, I would rather be what God chose to make me, than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about -- born in God's thoughts -- and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking. Is it not, my lady?|

|It is,| said Lady Emily, and was silent.

The shadows of evening came on. As soon as it was dark, Margaret took her place at one of the windows hidden from Lady Emily by a bed-curtain. She raised the blind, and pulled aside one curtain, to let her have a view of the trees outside. She had placed the one candle so as not to shine either on the window or on her own eyes. Lady Emily was asleep. One hour and another passed, and still she sat there -- motionless, watching.

Margaret did not know, that at another window -- the one, indeed, next to her own -- stood a second watcher. It was Hugh, in Harry's room: Harry was asleep in Hugh's. He had no light. He stood with his face close against the windowpane, on which the moon shone brightly. All below him the woods were half dissolved away in the moonlight. The Ghost's Walk lay full before him, like a tunnel through the trees. He could see a great way down, by the light that fell into it, at various intervals, from between the boughs overhead. He stood thus for a long time, gazing somewhat listlessly. Suddenly he became all eyes, as he caught the white glimmer of something passing up the avenue. He stole out of the room, down to the library by the back-stair, and so through the library window into the wood. He reached the avenue sideways, at some distance from the house, and peeped from behind a tree, up and down. At first he saw nothing. But, a moment after, while he was looking down the avenue, that is, away from the house, a veiled figure in white passed him noiselessly from the other direction. From the way in which he was looking at the moment, it had passed him before he saw it. It made no sound. Only some early-fallen leaves rustled as they hurried away in uncertain eddies, startled by the sweep of its trailing garments, which yet were held up by hands hidden within them. On it went. Hugh's eyes were fixed on its course. He could not move, and his heart laboured so frightfully that he could hardly breathe. The figure had not advanced far, however, before he heard a repressed cry of agony, and it sank to the earth, and vanished; while from where it disappeared, down the path, came, silently too, turning neither to the right nor the left, a second figure, veiled in black from head to foot.

|It is the nun in Lady Euphrasia's room,| said Hugh to himself.

This passed him too, and, walking slowly towards the house, disappeared somewhere, near the end of the avenue. Turning once more, with reviving courage -- for his blood had begun to flow more equably -- Hugh ventured to approach the spot where the white figure had vanished. He found nothing there but the shadow of a huge tree. He walked through the avenue to the end, and then back to the house, but saw nothing; though he often started at fancied appearances. Sorely bewildered, he returned to his own room. After speculating till thought was weary, he lay down beside Harry, whom he was thankful to find in a still repose, and fell fast asleep.

Margaret lay on a couch in Lady Emily's room, and slept likewise; but she started wide awake at every moan of the invalid, who often moaned in her sleep.

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