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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXX. CHANGES.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXX. CHANGES.

Hey, and the rue grows bonny wi' thyme!

And the thyme it is withered, and rue is in prime.

Refrain of an old Scotch song, altered by BURNS.

He hath wronged me; indeed he hath; -- at a word, he hath; -- believe me; Robert Shallow, Esquire, saith he is wronged.

Merry Wives of Windsor.

AT length, one evening, entering the drawing-room before dinner, Hugh found Euphra there alone. He bowed with embarrassment, and uttered some commonplace congratulation on her recovery. She answered him gently and coldly. Her whole air and appearance were signs of acute suffering. She did not make the slightest approach to their former familiarity, but she spoke without any embarrassment, like one who had given herself up, and was, therefore, indifferent. Hugh could not help feeling as if she knew every thought that was passing in his mind, and, having withdrawn herself from him, was watching him with a cold, ghostly interest. She took his arm to go into the dining-room, and actually leaned upon it, as, indeed, she was compelled to do. Her uncle was delighted to see her once more. Mrs. Elton addressed her with kindness, and Lady Emily with sweet cordiality. She herself seemed to care for nobody and nothing. As soon as dinner was over, she sent for her maid, and withdrew to her own room. It was a great relief to Hugh to feel that he was no longer in danger of encountering her eyes.

Gradually she recovered strength, though it was again some days before she appeared at the dinner-table. The distance between Hugh and her seemed to increase instead of diminish, till at length he scarcely dared to offer her the smallest civility, lest she should despise him as a hypocrite. The further she removed herself from him, the more he felt inclined to respect her. By common consent they avoided, as much as before, any behaviour that might attract attention; though the effort was of a very different nature now. It was wretched enough, no doubt, for both of them.

The time drew near for Lady Emily's departure.

|What are your plans for the winter, Mrs. Elton?| said Mr. Arnold, one day.

|I intend spending the winter in London,| she answered.

|Then you are not going with Lady Emily to Madeira?|

|No. Her father and one of her sisters are going with her.|

|I have a great mind to spend the winter abroad myself; but the difficulty is what to do with Harry.|

|Could you not leave him with Mr. Sutherland?|

|No. I do not choose to do that.|

|Then let him come to me. I shall have all my little establishment up, and there will be plenty of room for Harry.|

|A very kind offer. I may possibly avail myself of it.|

|I fear we could hardly accommodate his tutor, though. But that will be very easily arranged. He could sleep out of the house, could he not?|

|Give yourself no trouble about that. I wish Harry to have masters for the various branches he will study. It will teach him more of men and the world generally, and prevent his being too much influenced by one style of thinking.|

|But Mr. Sutherland is a very good tutor.|

|Yes. Very.|

To this there could be no reply but a question; and Mr. Arnold's manner not inviting one, the conversation was dropped.

Euphra gradually resumed her duties in the house, as far as great lameness would permit. She continued to show a quiet and dignified reserve towards Hugh. She made no attempts to fascinate him, and never avoided his look when it chanced to meet hers. But although there was no reproach any more than fascination in her eyes, Hugh's always fell before hers. She walked softly like Ahab, as if, now that Hugh knew, she, too, was ever conscious.

Her behaviour to Mrs. Elton and Lady Emily was likewise improved, but apparently only from an increase of indifference. When the time came, and they departed, she did not even appear to be much relieved.

Once she asked Hugh to help her with a passage of Dante, but betrayed no memory of the past. His pleased haste to assist her, showed that he at least, if fancy-free, was not memory-clear. She thanked him very gently and truly, took up her book like a school-girl, and limped away. Hugh was smitten to the heart. |If I could but do something for her!| thought he; but there was nothing to be done. Although she had deserved it, somehow her behaviour made him feel as if he had wronged her in ceasing to love her.

One day, in the end of September, Mr. Arnold and Hugh were alone after breakfast. Mr. Arnold spoke:

|Mr. Sutherland, I have altered my plans with regard to Harry. I wish him to spend the winter in London.|

Hugh listened and waited. Mr. Arnold went on, after a slight pause:

|There I wish him to reap such advantages as are to be gained in the metropolis. He has improved wonderfully under your instruction; and is now, I think, to be benefited principally by a variety of teachers. I therefore intend that he shall have masters for the different branches which it is desirable he should study. Consequently I shall be compelled to deny him your services, valuable as they have hitherto been.|

|Very well, Mr. Arnold,| said Mr. Sutherland, with the indifference of one who feels himself ill-used. |When shall I take my leave of him?|

|Not before the middle of the next month, at the earliest. But I will write you a cheque for your salary at once.|

So saying, Mr. Arnold left the room for a moment, and returning, handed Hugh a cheque for a year's salary. Hugh glanced at it, and offering it again to Mr. Arnold, said:

|No, Mr. Arnold; I can claim scarcely more than half a year's salary.|

|Mr. Sutherland, your engagement was at so much a year; and if I prevent you from fulfilling your part of it, I am bound to fulfil mine. Indeed, you might claim further provision.|

|You are very kind, Mr. Arnold.|

|Only just,| rejoined Mr. Arnold, with conscious dignity. |I am under great obligation to you for the way in which you have devoted yourself to Harry.|

Hugh's conscience gave him a pang. Is anything more painful than undeserved praise?

|I have hardly done my duty by him,| said he.

|I can only say that the boy is wonderfully altered for the better, and I thank you. I am obliged to you: oblige me by putting the cheque in your pocket.|

Hugh persisted no longer in his refusal; and indeed it had been far more a feeling of pride than of justice that made him decline accepting it at first. Nor was there any generosity in Mr. Arnold's cheque; for Hugh, as he admitted, might have claimed board and lodging as well. But Mr. Arnold was one of the ordinarily honourable, who, with perfect characters for uprightness, always contrive to err on the safe side of the purse, and the doubtful side of a severely interpreted obligation. Such people, in so doing, not unfrequently secure for themselves, at the same time, the reputation of generosity.

Hugh could not doubt that his dismissal was somehow or other connected with the loss of the ring; but he would not stoop to inquire into the matter. He hoped that time would set all right; and, in fact, felt considerable indifference to the opinion of Mr. Arnold, or of any one in the house, except Harry.

The boy burst into tears when informed of his father's decision with regard to his winter studies, and could only be consoled by the hope which Hugh held out to him -- certainly upon a very slight foundation -- that they might meet sometimes in London. For the little time that remained, Hugh devoted himself unceasingly to his pupil; not merely studying with him, but walking, riding, reading stories, and going through all sorts of exercises for the strengthening of his person and constitution. The best results followed both for Harry and his tutor.

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