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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXVII. MORE TROUBLES.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXVII. MORE TROUBLES.

Come on and do your best

To fright me with your sprites: you're powerful at it.

You smell this business with a sense as cold

As is a dead man's nose.

A Winter's Tale.

WHEN Mr. Arnold came home to dinner, and heard of the accident, his first feeling, as is the case with weak men, was one of mingled annoyance and anger. Hugh was the chief object of it; for had he not committed the ladies to his care? And the economy of his house being partially disarranged by it, had he not a good right to be angry? His second feeling was one of concern for his niece, which was greatly increased when he found that she was not in a state to see him. Still, nothing must interfere with the order of things; and when Hugh went into the drawing-room at the usual hour, he found Mr. Arnold standing there in tail coat and white neck-cloth, looking as if he had just arrived at a friend's house, to make one of a stupid party. And the party which sat down to dinner was certainly dreary enough, consisting only, besides the host himself, of Mrs. Elton, Hugh, and Harry. Lady Emily had had exertion enough for the day, and had besides shared in the shock of Euphra's misfortune.

Mr. Arnold was considerably out of humour, and ready to pounce upon any object of complaint. He would have attacked Hugh with a pompous speech on the subject of his carelessness, but he was rather afraid of his tutor now; -- so certainly will the stronger get the upper hand in time. He did not even refer to the subject of the accident. Therefore, although it filled the minds of all at table, it was scarcely more than alluded to. But having nothing at hand to find fault with more suitable, he laid hold of the first wise remark volunteered by good Mrs. Elton; whereupon an amusing pas de deux immediately followed; for it could not be called a duel, inasmuch as each antagonist kept skipping harmlessly about the other, exploding theological crackers, firmly believed by the discharger to be no less than bomb-shells. At length Mrs. Elton withdrew.

|By the way, Mr. Sutherland,| said Mr. Arnold, |have you succeeded in deciphering that curious inscription yet? I don't like the ring to remain long out of my own keeping. It is quite an heirloom, I assure you.|

Hugh was forced to confess that he had never thought of it again.

|Shall I fetch it at once?| added he.

|Oh! no,| replied Mr. Arnold. |I should really like to understand the inscription. To-morrow will do perfectly well.|

They went to the drawing-room. Everything was wretched. However many ghosts might be in the house, it seemed to Hugh that there was no soul in it except in one room. The wind sighed fitfully, and the rain fell in slow, soundless showers. Mr. Arnold felt the vacant oppression as well as Hugh. Mrs Elton having gone to Lady Emily's room, he proposed back gammon; and on that surpassing game, the gentlemen expended the best part of two dreary hours. When Hugh reached his room he was too tired and spiritless for any intellectual effort; and, instead of trying to decipher the ring, went to bed, and slept as if there were never a ghost or a woman in the universe.

His first proceeding, after breakfast next day, was to get together his German books; and his next to take out the ring, which was to be subjected to their analytical influences. He went to his desk, and opened the secret place. There he stood fixed. -- The ring was gone. His packet of papers was there, rather crumpled: the ring was nowhere. What had become of it? It was not long before a conclusion suggested itself. It flashed upon him all at once.

|The ghost has got it,| he said, half aloud. |It is shining now on her dead finger. It was Lady Euphrasia. She was going for it then. It wasn't on her thumb when she went. She came back with it, shining through the dark -- stepped over me, perhaps, as I lay on the floor in her way.|

He shivered, like one in an ague-fit.

Again and again, with that frenzied, mechanical motion, which, like the eyes of a ghost, has |no speculation| in it, he searched the receptacle, although it freely confessed its emptiness to any asking eye. Then he stood gazing, and his heart seemed to stand still likewise.

But a new thought stung him, turning him almost sick with a sense of loss. Suddenly and frantically he dived his hand into the place yet again, useless as he knew the search to be. He took up his papers, and scattered them loose. It was all unavailing: his father's ring was gone as well.

He sank on a chair for a moment; but, instantly recovering, found himself, before he was quite aware of his own resolution, halfway down stairs, on his way to Mr. Arnold's room. It was empty. He rang for his servant. Mr. Arnold had gone away on horseback, and would not be home till dinner-time. Counsel from Mrs. Elton was hopeless. Help from Euphra he could not ask. He returned to his own room. There he found Harry waiting for him. His neglected pupil was now his only comforter. Such are the revenges of divine goodness.

|Harry!| he said, |I have been robbed.|

|Robbed!| cried Harry, starting up. |Never mind, Mr. Sutherland; my papa's a justice of the peace. He'll catch the thief for you.|

|But it's your papa's ring that they've stolen. He lent it to me, and what if he should not believe me?|

|Not believe you, Mr. Sutherland? But he must believe you. I will tell him all about it; and he knows I never told him a lie in my life.|

|But you don't know anything about it, Harry.|

|But you will tell me, won't you?|

Hugh could not help smiling with pleasure at the confidence his pupil placed in him. He had not much fear about being believed, but, at the best, it was an unpleasant occurrence.

The loss of his own ring not only added to his vexation, but to his perplexity as well. What could she want with his ring? Could she have carried with her such a passion for jewels, as to come from the grave to appropriate those of others as well as to reclaim her own? Was this her comfort in Hades, 'poor ghost'?

Would it be better to tell Mr. Arnold of the loss of both rings, or should he mention the crystal only? He came to the conclusion that it would only exasperate him the more, and perhaps turn suspicion upon himself, if he communicated the fact that he too was a loser, and to such an extent; for Hugh's ring was worth twenty of the other, and was certainly as sacred as Mr. Arnold's, if not so ancient. He would bear it in silence. If the one could not be found, there could certainly be no hope of the other.

Punctual as the clock, Mr. Arnold returned. It did not prejudice him in favour of the reporter of bad tidings, that he begged a word with him before dinner, when that was on the point of being served. It was, indeed, exceeding impolitic; but Hugh would have felt like an impostor, had he sat down to the table before making his confession.

|Mr. Arnold, I am sorry to say I have been robbed, and in your house, too.|

|In my house? Of what, pray, Mr. Sutherland?|

Mr. Arnold had taken the information as some weak men take any kind of information referring to themselves or their belongings -- namely, as an insult. He drew himself up, and lowered portentously.

|Of your ring, Mr. Arnold.|

|Of -- my -- ring?|

And he looked at his ring-finger, as if he could not understand the import of Hugh's words.

|Of the ring you lent me to decipher,| explained Hugh.

|Do you suppose I do not understand you, Mr. Sutherland? A ring which has been in the family for two hundred years at least! Robbed of it? In my house? You must have been disgracefully careless, Mr. Sutherland. You have lost it.|

|Mr. Arnold,| said Hugh, with dignity, |I am above using such a subterfuge, even if it were not certain to throw suspicion where it was undeserved.|

Mr. Arnold was a gentleman, as far as his self-importance allowed. He did not apologize for what he had said, but he changed his manner at once.

|I am quite bewildered, Mr. Sutherland. It is a very annoying piece of news -- for many reasons.|

|I can show you where I laid it -- in the safest corner in my room, I assure you.|

|Of course, of course. It is enough you say so. We must not keep the dinner waiting now. But after dinner I shall have all the servants up, and investigate the matter thoroughly.|

|So,| thought Hugh with himself, |some one will be made a felon of, because the cursed dead go stalking about this infernal house at midnight, gathering their own old baubles. No, that will not do. I must at least tell Mr. Arnold what I know of the doings of the night.|

So Mr. Arnold must still wait for his dinner; or rather, which was really of more consequence in the eyes of Mr. Arnold, the dinner must be kept waiting for him. For order and custom were two of Mr. Arnold's divinities; and the economy of his whole nature was apt to be disturbed by any interruption of their laws, such as the postponement of dinner for ten minutes. He was walking towards the door, and turned with some additional annoyance when Hugh addressed him again:

|One moment, Mr. Arnold, if you please.|

Mr. Arnold merely turned and waited.

|I fear I shall in some degree forfeit your good opinion by what I am about to say, but I must run the risk.|

Mr. Arnold still waited.

|There is more about the disappearance of the ring than I can understand.|

|Or I either, Mr. Sutherland.|

|But I must tell you what happened to myself, the night that I kept watch in Lady Euphrasia's room.|

|You said you slept soundly.|

|So I did, part of the time.|

|Then you kept back part of the truth?|

|I did.|

|Was that worthy of you?|

|I thought it best: I doubted myself.|

|What has caused you to change your mind now?|

|This event about the ring.|

|What has that to do with it? How do you even know that it was taken on that night?|

|I do not know; for till this morning I had not opened the place where it lay: I only suspect.|

|I am a magistrate, Mr. Sutherland: I would rather not be prejudiced by suspicions.|

|The person to whom my suspicions refer, is beyond your jurisdiction, Mr. Arnold.|

|I do not understand you.|

|I will explain myself.|

Hugh gave Mr. Arnold a hurried yet circumstantial sketch of the apparition he believed he had seen.

|What am I to judge from all this?| asked he, coldly, almost contemptuously.

|I have told you the facts; of course I must leave the conclusions to yourself, Mr. Arnold; but I confess, for my part, that any disbelief I had in apparitions is almost entirely removed since -- |

|Since you dreamed you saw one?|

|Since the disappearance of the ring,| said Hugh.

|Bah!| exclaimed Mr. Arnold, with indignation. |Can a ghost fetch and carry like a spaniel? Mr. Sutherland, I am ashamed to have such a reasoner for tutor to my son. Come to dinner, and do not let me hear another word of this folly. I beg you will not mention it to any one.|

|I have been silent hitherto, Mr. Arnold; but circumstances, such as the commitment of any one on the charge of stealing the ring, might compel me to mention the matter. It would be for the jury to determine whether it was relevant or not.|

It was evident that Mr. Arnold was more annoyed at the imputation against the nocturnal habits of his house, than at the loss of the ring, or even its possible theft by one of his servants. He looked at Hugh for a moment as if he would break into a furious rage; then his look gradually changed into one of suspicion, and, turning without another word, he led the way to the dining-room, followed by Hugh. To have a ghost held in his face in this fashion, one bred in his own house, too, when he had positively declared his absolute contempt for every legend of the sort, was more than man could bear. He sat down to dinner in gloomy silence, breaking it only as often as he was compelled to do the duties of a host, which he performed with a greater loftiness of ceremony than usual.

There was no summoning of the servants after dinner, however. Hugh's warning had been effectual. Nor was the subject once more alluded to in Hugh's hearing. No doubt Mr. Arnold felt that something ought to be done; but I presume he could never make up his mind what that something ought to be. Whether any reasons for not prosecuting the inquiry had occurred to him upon further reflection, I am unable to tell. One thing is certain; that from this time he ceased to behave to Hugh with that growing cordiality which he had shown him for weeks past. It was no great loss to Hugh; but he felt it; and all the more, because he could not help associating it with that look of suspicion, the remains of which were still discernible on Mr. Arnold's face. Although he could not determine the exact direction of Mr. Arnold's suspicions, he felt that they bore upon something associated with the crystal ring, and the story of the phantom lady. Consequently, there was little more of comfort for him at Arnstead.

Mr. Arnold, however, did not reveal his change of feeling so much by neglect as by ceremony, which, sooner than anything else, builds a wall of separation between those who meet every day. For the oftener they meet, the thicker and the faster are the bricks and mortar of cold politeness, evidently avoided insults, and subjected manifestations of dislike, laid together.

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