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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XIII. THE LADY'S-MAID.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XIII. THE LADY'S-MAID.

Her yellow hair, beyond compare,

Comes trinkling down her swan-white neck;

And her two eyes, like stars in skies,

Would keep a sinking ship frae wreck.

Oh! Mally's meek, Mally's sweet,

Mally's modest and discreet;

Mally's rare, Mally's fair,

Mally's every way complete.

BURNS.

What arms for innocence but innocence.

GILES FLETCHER.

MARGARET had sought Euphra's room, with the intention of restoring to her the letter which she had written to David Elginbrod. Janet had let it lie for some time before she sent it to Margaret; and Euphra had given up all expectation of an answer.

Hopes of ministration filled Margaret's heart; but she expected, from what she knew of her, that anger would be Miss Cameron's first feeling. Therefore, when she heard no answer to her application for admission, and had concluded, in consequence, that Euphra was not in the room, she resolved to leave the letter where it would meet her eye, and thus prepare the way for a future conversation. When she saw Euphra and Harry, she would have retired immediately; but Euphra, annoyed by her entrance, was now quite able to speak.

|What do you want?| she said angrily.

|This is your letter, Miss Cameron, is it not?| said Margaret, advancing with it in her hand.

Euphra took it, glanced at the direction, pushed Harry away from her, started up in a passion, and let loose the whole gathered irritability of contempt, weariness, disappointment, and suffering, upon Margaret. Her dark eyes flashed with rage, and her sallow cheek glowed like a peach.

|What right have you, pray, to handle my letters? How did you get this? It has never been posted! And open, too. I declare! I suppose you have read it?|

Margaret was afraid of exciting more wrath before she had an opportunity of explaining; but Euphra gave her no time to think of a reply.

|You have read it, you shameless woman! Why don't you lie, like the rest of your tribe, and keep me from dying with indignation? Impudent prying! My maid never posted it, and you have found it and read it! Pray, did you hope to find a secret worth a bribe?|

She advanced on Margaret till within a foot of her.

|Why don't you answer, you hussy? I will go this instant to your mistress. You or I leave the house.|

Margaret had stood all this time quietly, waiting for an opportunity to speak. Her face was very pale, but perfectly still, and her eyes did not quail. She had not in the least lost her self-possession. She would not say at once that she had read the letter, because that would instantly rouse the tornado again.

|You do not know my name, Miss Cameron; of course you could not.|

|Your name! What is that to me?|

|That,| said Margaret, pointing to the letter, |is my father's name.|

Euphra looked at her own direction again, and then looked at Margaret. She was so bewildered, that if she had any thoughts, she did not know them. Margaret went on:

|My father is dead. My mother sent the letter to me.|

|Then you have had the impertinence to read it!|

|It was my duty to read it.|

|Duty! What business had you with it?|

Euphra felt ashamed of the letter as soon as she found that she had applied to a man whose daughter was a servant. Margaret answered:

|I could at least reply to it so far, that the writer should not think my father had neglected it. I did not know who it was from till I came to the end.|

Euphra turned her back on her, with the words:

|You may go.|

Margaret walked out of the room with an unconscious stately gentleness.

|Come back,| cried Euphra.

Margaret obeyed.

|Of course you will tell all your fellow-servants the contents of this foolish letter.|

Margaret's face flushed, and her eye flashed, at the first words of this speech; but the last words made her forget the first, and to them only she replied. Clasping. her hands, she said:

|Dear Miss Cameron, do not call it foolish. For God's sake, do not call it foolish.|

|What is it to you? Do you think I am going to make a confidante of you?|

Margaret again left the room. Notwithstanding that she had made no answer to her insult, Euphra felt satisfied that her letter was safe from profanation.

No sooner was Margaret out of sight, than, with the reaction common to violent tempers, which in this case resulted the sooner, from the exhaustion produced in a worn frame by the violence of the outburst, Euphra sat down, in a hopeless, unresting way, upon the chair from which she had just risen, and began weeping more bitterly than before. She was not only exhausted, but ashamed; and to these feelings was added a far greater sense of disappointment than she could have believed possible, at the frustration of the hope of help from David Elginbrod. True, this hope had been small; but where there is only one hope, its death is equally bitter, whether it be a great or a little hope. And there is often no power of reaction, in a mind which has been gradually reduced to one little faint hope, when that hope goes out in darkness. There is a recoil which is very helpful, from the blow that kills a great hope.

All this time Harry had been looking on, in a kind of paralysed condition, pale with perplexity and distress. He now came up to Euphra, and, trying to pull her hand gently from her face, said:

|What is it all about, Euphra, dear?|

|Oh! I have been very naughty, Harry.|

|But what is it all about? May I read the letter?|

|If you like,| answered Euphra, listlessly.

Harry read the letter with quivering features. Then, laying it down on the table with a reverential slowness, went to Euphra, put his arms round her and kissed her.

|Dear, dear Euphra, I did not know you were so unhappy. I will find God for you. But first I will -- what shall I do to the bad man? Who is it? I will -- |

Harry finished the sentence by setting his teeth hard.

|Oh! you can't do anything for me, Harry, dear. Only mind you don't say anything about it to any one. Put the letter in the fire there for me.|

|No -- that I won't,| said Harry, taking up the letter, and holding it tight. |It is a beautiful letter, and it does me good. Don't you think, though it is not sent to God himself, he may read it, and take it for a prayer?|

|I wish he would, Harry.|

|But it was very wrong of you, Euphra, dear, to speak as you did to the daughter of such a good man.|

|Yes, it was.|

|But then, you see, you got angry before you knew who she was.|

|But I shouldn't have got angry before I knew all about it|

|Well, you have only to say you are sorry, and Margaret won't think anything more about it. Oh, she is so good!|

Euphra recoiled from making confession of wrong to a lady's maid; and, perhaps, she was a little jealous of Harry's admiration of Margaret. For Euphra had not yet cast off all her old habits of mind, and one of them was the desire to be first with every one whom she cared for. She had got rid of a worse, which was, a necessity of being first in every company, whether she cared for the persons composing it, or not. Mental suffering had driven the latter far enough from her; though it would return worse than ever, if her mind were not filled with truth in the place of ambition. So she did not respond to what Harry said. Indeed, she did not speak again, except to beg him to leave her alone. She did not make her appearance again that day.

But at night, when the household was retiring, she rose from the bed on which she had been lying half-unconscious, and going to the door, opened it a little way, that she might hear when Margaret should pass from Mrs. Elton's room towards her own. She waited for some time; but judging, at length, that she must have passed without her knowledge, she went and knocked at her door. Margaret opened it a little, after a moment's delay, half-undressed.

|May I come in, Margaret?|

|Pray, do, Miss Cameron,| answered Margaret.

And she opened the door quite. Her cap was off, and her rich dark hair fell on her shoulders, and streamed thence to her waist. Her under-clothing was white as snow.

|What a lovely skin she has!| thought Euphra, comparing it with her own tawny complexion. She felt, for the first time, that Margaret was beautiful -- yes, more: that whatever her gown might be, her form and her skin (give me a prettier word, kind reader, for a beautiful fact, and I will gladly use it) were those of one of nature's ladies. She was soon to find that her intellect and spirit were those of one of God's ladies.

|I am very sorry, Margaret, that I spoke to you as I did today.|

|Never mind it, Miss Cameron. We cannot help being angry sometimes. And you had great provocation under the mistake you made. I was only sorry because I knew it would trouble you afterwards. Please don't think of it again.|

|You are very kind, Margaret.|

|I regretted my father's death, for the first time, after reading your letter, for I knew he could have helped you. But it was very foolish of me, for God is not dead.|

Margaret smiled as she said this, looking full in Euphra's eyes. It was a smile of meaning unfathomable, and it quite overcame Euphra. She had never liked Margaret before; for, from not very obscure psychological causes, she had never felt comfortable in her presence, especially after she had encountered the nun in the Ghost's Walk, though she had had no suspicion that the nun was Margaret. A great many of our dislikes, both to persons and things, arise from a feeling of discomfort associated with them, perhaps only accidentally present in our minds the first time we met them. But this vanished entirely now.

|Do you, then, know God too, Margaret?|

|Yes,| answered Margaret, simply and solemnly.

|Will you tell me about him?|

|I can at least tell you about my father, and what he taught me.|

|Oh! thank you, thank you! Do tell me about him -- now.|

|Not now, dear Miss Cameron. It is late, and you are too unwell to stay up longer. Let me help you to bed to-night. I will be your maid.|

As she spoke, Margaret proceeded to put on her dress again, that she might go with Euphra, who had no attendant. She had parted with Jane, and did not care, in her present mood, to have a woman about her, especially a new one.

|No, Margaret. You have enough to do without adding me to your troubles.|

|Please, do let me, Miss Cameron. It will be a great pleasure to me. I have hardly anything to call work. You should see how I used to work when I was at home.|

Euphra still objected, but Margaret's entreaty prevailed. She followed Euphra to her room. There she served her like a ministering angel; brushed her hair -- oh, so gently! smoothing it out as if she loved it. There was health in the touch of her hands, because there was love. She undressed her; covered her in bed as if she had been a child; made up the fire to last as long as possible; bade her good night; and was leaving the room, when Euphra called her. Margaret returned to the bed-side.

|Kiss me, Margaret,| she said.

Margaret stooped, kissed her forehead and her lips, and left her.

Euphra cried herself to sleep. They were the first tears she had ever shed that were not painful tears. She slept as she had not slept for months.

In order to understand this change in Euphrasia's behaviour to Margaret -- in order, in fact, to represent it to our minds as at all credible -- we must remember that she had been trying to do right for some time; that Margaret, as the daughter of David, seemed the only attainable source of the knowledge she sought; that long illness had greatly weakened her obstinacy; that her soul hungered, without knowing it, for love; and that she was naturally gifted with a strong will, the position in which she stood in relation to the count proving only that it was not strong enough, and not that it was weak. Such a character must, for any good, be ruled by itself, and not by circumstances. To have been overcome in the process of time by the persistent goodness of Margaret, might have been the blessed fate of a weaker and worse woman; but if Euphra did not overcome herself, there was no hope of further victory. If Margaret could even wither the power of her oppressor, it would be but to transfer the lordship from a bad man to a good woman; and that would not be enough. It would not be freedom. And indeed, the aid that Margaret had to give her, could only be bestowed on one who already had freedom enough to act in some degree from duty. She knew she ought to go and apologize to Margaret. She went.

In Margaret's presence, and in such a mood, she was subjected at once to the holy enchantment of her loving-kindness. She had never received any tenderness from a woman before. Perhaps she had never been in the right mood to profit by it if she had. Nor had she ever before seen what Margaret was. It was only when service -- divine service -- flowed from her in full outgoing, that she reached the height of her loveliness. Then her whole form was beautiful. So was it interpenetrated by, and respondent to, the uprising soul within, that it radiated thought and feeling as if it had been all spirit. This beauty rose to its best in her eyes. When she was ministering to any one in need, her eyes seemed to worship the object of her faithfulness, as if all the time she felt that she was doing it unto Him. Her deeds were devotion. She was the receiver and not the giver. Before this, Euphra had seen only the still waiting face; and, as I have said, she had been repelled by it. Once within the sphere of the radiation of her attraction, she was drawn towards her, as towards the haven of her peace: she loved her.

To this, at length, had her struggle with herself in the silence of her own room, and her meditations on her couch, conducted her. Shall we say that these alone had been and were leading her? Or that to all these there was a hidden root, and an informing spirit? Who would not rather believe that his thoughts come from an infinite, self-sphered, self-constituting thought, than that they rise somehow out of a blank abyss of darkness, and are only thought when he thinks them, which thinking he cannot pre-determine or even foresee?

When Euphra woke, her first breath was like a deep draught of spiritual water. She felt as if some sorrow had passed from her, and some gladness come in its stead. She thought and thought, and found that the gladness was Margaret. She had scarcely made the discovery, when the door gently opened, and Margaret peeped in to see if she were awake.

|May I come in?| she said.

|Yes, please, Margaret.|

|How do you feel to-day?|

|Oh, so much better, dear Margaret! Your kindness will make me well.|

|I am so glad! Do lie still awhile, and I will bring you some breakfast. Mrs. Elton will be so pleased to find you let me wait on you!|

|She asked me, Margaret, if you should; but I was too miserable -- and too naughty, for I did not like you.|

|I knew that; but I felt sure you would not dislike me always.|

|Why?|

|Because I could not help loving you.|

|Why did you love me?|

|I will tell you half the reason. -- Because you looked unhappy.|

|What was the other half?|

|That I cannot -- I mean I will not tell you.|

|Never?|

|Perhaps never. But I don't know. -- Not now.|

|Then I must not ask you?|

|No -- please.|

|Very well, I won't.|

|Thank you. I will go and get your breakfast.|

|What can she mean?| said Euphra to herself.

But she would never have found out.

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