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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXII. THE RING.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXII. THE RING.

shining crystal, which

Out of her womb a thousand rayons threw.

BELLAY: translated by Spenser.

THE next day, Lady Emily was very nearly as well as she had proposed being. She did not, however, make her appearance below. Mr. Arnold, hearing at luncheon that she was out of bed, immediately sent up his compliments, with the request that he might be permitted to see her on his return from the neighbouring village, where he had some business. To this Lady Emily gladly consented.

He sat with her a long time, talking about various things; for the presence of the girl, reminding him of his young wife, brought out the best of the man, lying yet alive under the incrustation of self-importance, and its inevitable stupidity. At length, subject of further conversation failing,

|I wonder what we can do to amuse you, Lady Emily,| said he.

|Thank you, Mr. Arnold; I am not at all dull. With my kind friend, Mrs. Elton, and -- |

She would have said Margaret, but became instinctively aware that the mention of her would make Mr. Arnold open his eyes, for he did not even know her name; and that he would stare yet wider when he learned that the valued companion referred to was Mrs. Elton's maid.

Mr. Arnold left the room, and presently returned with his arms filled with all the drawing-room books he could find, with grand bindings outside, and equally grand plates inside. These he heaped on the table beside Lady Emily, who tried to look interested, but scarcely succeeded to Mr. Arnold's satisfaction, for he presently said:

|You don't seem to care much about these, dear Lady Emily. I daresay you have looked at them all already, in this dull house of ours.|

This was a wonderful admission from Mr. Arnold. He pondered -- then exclaimed, as if he had just made a grand discovery:

|I have it! I know something that will interest you.|

|Do not trouble yourself, pray, Mr. Arnold,| said Lady Emily. But he was already half way to the door.

He went to his own room, and his own strong closet therein.

Returning towards the invalid's quarters with an ebony box of considerable size, he found it rather heavy, and meeting Euphra by the way, requested her to take one of the silver handles, and help him to carry it to Lady Emily's room. She started when she saw it, but merely said:

|With pleasure, uncle.|

|Now, Lady Emily,| said he, as, setting down the box, he took out a curious antique enamelled key, |we shall be able to amuse you for a little while.|

He opened the box, and displayed such a glitter and show as would have delighted the eyes of any lady. All kinds of strange ornaments; ancient watches -- one of them a death's head in gold; cameo necklaces; pearls abundant; diamonds, rubies, and all the colours of precious stones -- every one of them having some history, whether known to the owner or not; gems that had flashed on many a fair finger and many a shining neck -- lay before Lady Emily's delighted eyes. But Euphrasia's eyes shone, as she gazed on them, with a very different expression from that which sparkled in Lady Emily's. They seemed to search them with fingers of lightning. Mr. Arnold chose two or three, and gave Lady Emily her choice of them.

|I could not think of depriving you.|

|They are of no use to me,| said Mr. Arnold, making light of the handsome offer.

|You are too kind. -- I should like this ring.|

|Take it then, dear Lady Emily.|

Euphrasia's eyes were not on the speakers, nor was any envy to be seen in her face. She still gazed at the jewels in the box.

The chosen gem was put aside; and then, one after another, the various articles were taken out and examined. At length, a large gold chain, set with emeralds, was lifted from where it lay coiled up in a corner. A low cry, like a muffled moan, escaped from Euphrasia's lips, and she turned her head away from the box.

|What is the matter, Euphra?| said Mr. Arnold.

|A sudden shoot of pain -- I beg your pardon, dear uncle. I fear I am not quite so well yet as I thought I was. How stupid of me!|

|Do sit down. I fear the weight of the box was too much for you.|

|Not in the least. I want to see the pretty things.|

|But you have seen them before.|

|No, uncle. You promised to show them to me, but you never did.|

|You see what I get by being ill,| said Lady Emily.

The chain was examined, admired, and laid aside.

Where it had lain, they now observed, in the corner, a huge stone like a diamond.

|What is this?| said Lady Emily, taking it up. |Oh! I see. It is a ring. But such a ring for size, I never saw. Do look, Miss Cameron.|

For Miss Cameron was not looking. She was leaning her head on her hand, and her face was ashy pale. Lady Emily tried the ring on. Any two of her fingers would go into the broad gold circlet, beyond which the stone projected far in every direction. Indeed, the ring was attached to the stone, rather than the stone set in the ring.

|That is a curious thing, is it not?| said Mr. Arnold. |It is of no value in itself, I believe; it is nothing but a crystal. But it seems to have been always thought something of in the family; -- I presume from its being evidently the very ring painted by Sir Peter Lely in that portrait of Lady Euphrasia which I showed you the other day. It is a clumsy affair, is it not?|

It might have occurred to Mr. Arnold, that such a thing must have been thought something of, before its owner would have chosen to wear it when sitting for her portrait.

Lady Emily was just going to lay it down, when she spied something that made her look at it more closely.

|What curious engraving is this upon the gold?| she asked.

|I do not know, indeed,| answered Mr. Arnold. |I have never observed it.|

|Look at it, then -- all over the gold. What at first looks only like chasing, is, I do believe, words. The character looks to me like German. I wish I could read it. I am but a poor German scholar. Do look at it, please, dear Miss Cameron.|

Euphra glanced slightly at it without touching it, and said:

|I am sure I could make nothing of it. -- But,| she added, as if struck by a sudden thought, |as Lady Emily seems interested in it -- suppose we send for Mr. Sutherland. I have no doubt he will be able to decipher it.|

She rose as if she would go for him herself; but, apparently on second thoughts, went to the bell and rang it.

|Oh! do not trouble yourself,| interposed Lady Emily, in a tone that showed she would like it notwithstanding.

|No trouble at all,| answered Euphra and her uncle in a breath.

|Jacob,| said Mr. Arnold, |take my compliments to Mr. Sutherland, and ask him to step this way.|

The man went, and Hugh came.

|There's a puzzle for you, Mr. Sutherland,| said Mr. Arnold, as he entered. |Decipher that inscription, and gain the favour of Lady Emily for ever.|

As he spoke he put the ring in Hugh's hand. Hugh recognized it at once.

|Ah! this is Lady Euphrasia's wonderful ring,| said he.

Euphra cast on him one of her sudden glances.

|What do you know about it?| said Mr. Arnold, hastily.

Euphra flashed at him once more, covertly.

|I only know that this is the ring in her portrait. Any one may see that it is a very wonderful ring indeed, by only looking at it,| answered Hugh, smiling.

|I hope it is not too wonderful for you to get at the mystery of it, though, Mr. Sutherland?| said Lady Emily.

|Lady Emily is dying to understand the inscription,| said Euphrasia.

By this time Hugh was turning it round and round, trying to get a beginning to the legend. But in this he met with a difficulty. The fact was, that the initial letter of the inscription could only be found by looking into the crystal held close to the eye. The words seemed not altogether unknown to him, though the characters were a little strange, and the words themselves were undivided. The dinner bell rang.

|Dear me! how the time goes in your room, Lady Emily!| said Mr. Arnold, who was never known to keep dinner waiting a moment. |Will you venture to go down with us to-day?|

|I fear I must not to-day. To-morrow, I hope. But do put up these beauties before you go. I dare not touch them without you, and it is so much more pleasure seeing them, when I have you to tell me about them.|

|Well, throw them in,| said Mr. Arnold, pretending an indifference he did not feel. |The reality of dinner must not be postponed to the fancy of jewels.|

All this time Hugh had stood poring over the ring at the window, whither he had taken it for better light, as the shadows were falling. Euphra busied herself replacing everything in the box. When all were in, she hastily shut the lid.

|Well, Mr. Sutherland?| said Mr. Arnold.

|I seem on the point of making it out, Mr. Arnold, but I certainly have not succeeded yet.|

|Confess yourself vanquished, then, and come to dinner.|

|I am very unwilling to give in, for I feel convinced that if I had leisure to copy the inscription as far as I can read it, I should, with the help of my dictionary, soon supply the rest. I am very unwilling, as well, to lose a chance of the favour of Lady Emily.|

|Yes, do read it, if you can. I too am dying to hear it,| said Euphra.

|Will you trust me with it, Mr. Arnold? I will take the greatest care of it.|

|Oh, certainly!| replied Mr. Arnold -- with a little hesitation in his tone, however, of which Hugh was too eager to take any notice.

He carried it to his room immediately, and laid it beside his manuscript verses, in the hiding-place of the old escritoire. He was in the drawing-room a moment after.

There he found Euphra and the Bohemian alone. -- Von Funkelstein had, in an incredibly short space of time, established himself as Hausfreund, and came and went as he pleased. -- They looked as if they had been interrupted in a hurried and earnest conversation -- their faces were so impassive. Yet Euphra's wore a considerably heightened colour -- a more articulate indication. She could school her features, but not her complexion.

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