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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXI. SPIRIT VERSUS MATERIALISM.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXI. SPIRIT VERSUS MATERIALISM.

Next this marble venomed seat,

Smeared with gums of glutinous heat,

I touch with chaste palms moist and cold --

Now the spell hath lost his hold.

MILTON. -- Comas.

NEXT morning Lady Emily felt better, and wanted to get up: but her eyes were still too bright, and her hands too hot; and Margaret would not hear of it.

Fond as Lady Emily was in general of Mrs. Elton's society, she did not care to have her with her now, and got tired of her when Margaret was absent.

They had taken care not to allow Miss Cameron to enter the room; but to-day there was not much likelihood of her making the attempt, for she did not appear at breakfast, sending a message to her uncle that she had a bad headache, but hoped to take her place at the dinner-table.

During the day, Lady Emily was better, but restless by fits.

|Were you not out of the room for a little while last night, Margaret?| she said, rather suddenly.

|Yes, my lady. I told you I should have to go, perhaps.|

|I remember I thought you had gone, but I was not in the least afraid, and that dreadful man never came near me. I do not know when you returned. Perhaps I had fallen asleep; but when I thought about you next, there you were by my bedside.|

|I shall not have to leave you to-night,| was all Margaret's answer.

As for Hugh, when first he woke, the extraordinary experiences of the previous night appeared to him to belong only to the night, and to have no real relation to the daylight world. But a little reflection soon convinced him of the contrary; and then he went through the duties of the day like one who had nothing to do with them. The phantoms he had seen even occupied some of the thinking space formerly appropriated by the image of Euphra, though he knew to his concern that she was ill, and confined to her room. He had heard the message sent to Mr. Arnold, however, and so kept hoping for the dinner-hour.

With it came Euphra, very pale. Her eyes had an unsettled look, and there were dark hollows under them. She would start and look sideways without any visible cause; and was thus very different from her usual self -- ordinarily remarkable for self-possession, almost to coolness, of manner and speech. Hugh saw it, and became both distressed and speculative in consequence. It did not diminish his discomfort that, about the middle of dinner, Funkelstein was announced. Was it, then, that Euphra had been tremulously expectant of him?

|This is an unforeseen pleasure, Herr von Funkelstein,| said Mr. Arnold.

|It is very good of you to call it a pleasure, Mr. Arnold,| said he. |Miss Cameron -- but, good heavens! how ill you look!|

|Don't be alarmed. I have only caught the plague.|

|Only?| was all Funkelstein said in reply; yet Hugh thought he had no right to be so solicitous about Euphra's health.

As the gentlemen sat at their wine, Mr. Arnold said:

|I am anxious to have one more trial of those strange things you have brought to our knowledge. I have been thinking about them ever since.|

|Of course I am at your service, Mr. Arnold; but don't you think, for the ladies' sakes, we have had enough of it?|

|You are very considerate, Herr von Funkelstein; but they need not be present if they do not like it.|

|Very well, Mr. Arnold.|

They adjourned once more to the library instead of the drawing-room. Hugh went and told Euphra, who was alone in the drawing-room, what they were about. She declined going, but insisted on his leaving her, and joining the other gentlemen.

Hugh left her with much reluctance.

|Margaret,| said Lady Emily, |I am certain that man is in the house.|

|He is, my lady,| answered Margaret.

|They are about some more of those horrid experiments, as they call them.|

|I do not know.|

Mrs. Elton entering the room at the moment, Margaret said:

|Do you know, ma'am, whether the gentlemen are -- in the library again?|

|I don't know, Margaret. I hope not. We have had enough of that. I will go and find out, though.|

|Will you take my place for a few minutes first, please, ma'am?|

Margaret had felt a growing oppression for some time. She had scarcely left the sick-room that day.

|Don't leave me, dear Margaret,| said Lady Emily, imploringly.

|Only for a little while, my lady. I shall be back in less than a quarter of an hour.|

|Very well, Margaret,| she answered dolefully.

Margaret went out into the moonlight, and walked for ten minutes. She sought the more open parts, where the winds were. She then returned to the sick-chamber, refreshed and strong.

|Now I will go and see what the gentlemen are about,| said Mrs. Elton.

The good lady did not like these proceedings, but she was irresistibly attracted by them notwithstanding. Having gone to see for Lady Emily, she remained to see for herself.

After she had left, Lady Emily grew more uneasy. Not even Margaret's presence could make her comfortable. Mrs. Elton did not return. Many minutes elapsed. Lady Emily said at last:

|Margaret, I am terrified at the idea of being left alone, I confess; but not so terrified as at the idea of what is going on in that library. Mrs. Elton will not come back. Would you mind just running down to ask her to come to me?|

|I would go with pleasure,| said Margaret; |but I don't want to be seen.|

Margaret did not want to be seen by Hugh. Lady Emily, with her dislike to Funkelstein, thought Margaret did not want to be seen by him.

|You will find a black veil of mine,| she said, |in that wardrobe -- just throw it over your head, and hold a handkerchief to your face. They will be so busy that they will never see you.|

Margaret yielded to the request of Lady Emily, who herself arranged her head-dress for her.

Now I must go back a little. -- When Mrs. Elton reached the room, she found it darkened, and the gentlemen seated at the table. A running fire of knocks was going on all around.

She sat down in a corner. In a minute or two, she fancied she saw strange figures moving about, generally near the floor, and very imperfectly developed. Sometimes only a hand, sometimes only a foot, shadowed itself out of the dim obscurity. She tried to persuade herself that it was all done, somehow or other, by Funkelstein, yet she could not help watching with a curious dread. She was not a very excitable woman, and her nerves were safe enough.

In a minute or two more, the table at which they were seated, began to move up and down with a kind of vertical oscillation, and several things in the room began to slide about, by short, apparently purposeless jerks. Everything threatened to assume motion, and turn the library into a domestic chaos. Mrs. Elton declared afterwards that several books were thrown about the room. -- But suddenly everything was as still as the moonlight. Every chair and table was at rest, looking perfectly incapable of motion. Mrs. Elton felt that she dared not say they had moved at all, so utterly ordinary was their appearance. Not a sound was to be heard from corner or ceiling. After a moment's silence, Mrs. Elton was quite restored to her sound mind, as she said, and left the room.

|Some adverse influence is at work,| said Funkelstein, with some vexation. |What is in that closet?|

So saying he approached the door of the private staircase, and opened it. They saw him start aside, and a veiled dark figure pass him, cross the library, and go out by another door.

|I have my suspicions,| said Funkelstein, with a rather tremulous voice.

|And your fears too, I think. Grant it now,| said Mr. Arnold.

|Granted, Mr. Arnold. Let us go to the drawing-room.|

Just as Margaret had reached the library door at the bottom of the private stair, either a puff of wind from an open loophole window, or some other cause, destroyed the arrangement of the veil, and made it fall quite over her face, She stopped for a moment to readjust it. She had not quite succeeded, when Funkelstein opened the door. Without an instant's hesitation, she let the veil fall, and walked forward.

Mrs. Elton had gone to her own room, on her way to Lady Emily's. When she reached the latter, she found Margaret seated as she had left her, by the bedside. Lady Emily said:

|I did not miss you, Margaret, half so much as I expected. But, indeed, you were not many moments gone. I do not care for that man now. He can't hurt me, can he?|

|Certainty not. I hope he will give you no more trouble either, dear Lady Emily. But if I might presume to advise you, I would say -- Get well as soon as you can, and leave this place.|

|Why should I? You frighten me. Mr. Arnold is very kind to me.|

|The place quite suits Lady Emily, I am sure, Margaret.|

|But Lady Emily is not so well as when she came.|

|No, but that is not the fault of the place,| said Lady Emily. |I am sure it is all that horrid man's doing.|

|How else will you get rid of him, then? What if he wants to get rid of you?|

|What harm can I be doing him -- a poor girl like me?|

|I don't know. But I fear there is something not right going on.|

|We will tell Mr. Arnold at once,| said Mrs. Elton.

|But what could you tell him, ma'am? Mr. Arnold is hardly one to listen to your maid's suspicions. Dear Lady Emily, you must get well and go.|

|I will try,| said Lady Emily, submissive as a child.

|I think you will be able to get up for a little while tomorrow.|

A tap came to the door. It was Euphrasia, inquiring after Lady Emily.

|Ask Miss Cameron to come in,| said the invalid.

She entered. Her manner was much changed -- was subdued and suffering.

|Dear Miss Cameron, you and I ought to change places. I am sorry to see you looking so ill,| said Lady Emily.

|I have had a headache all day. I shall be quite well to-morrow, thank you.|

|I intend to be so too,| said Lady Emily, cheerfully.

After some little talk, Euphra went, holding her hand to her forehead. Margaret did not look up, all the time she was in the room, but went on busily with her needle.

That night was a peaceful one.

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