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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XVII. STRIFE.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XVII. STRIFE.

They'll turn me in your arms, Janet,

An adder and a snake;

But haud me fast, let me not pass,

Gin ye would be my maik.

They'll turn me in your arms, Janet,

An adder and an aske;

They'll turn me in your arms, Janet,

A bale that burns fast.

They'll shape me in your arms, Janet,

A dove, but and a swan;

And last, they'll shape me in your arms

A mother-naked man:

Cast your green mantle over me --

And sae shall I be wan.

Scotch Ballad: Tamlane.

AS soon as Hugh had left the house, Margaret hastened to Euphra. She found her in her own room, a little more cheerful, but still strangely depressed. This appearance increased towards the evening, till her looks became quite haggard, revealing an inward conflict of growing agony. Margaret remained with her.

Just before dinner, the upstairs bell, whose summons Margaret was accustomed to obey, rang, and she went down. Mrs. Elton detained her for a few minutes. The moment she was at liberty, she flew to Euphra's room by the back staircase. But, as she ascended, she was horrified to meet Euphra, in a cloak and thick veil, creeping down the stairs like a thief. Without saying a word, the strong girl lifted her in her arms as if she had been a child, and carried her back to her room. Euphra neither struggled nor spoke. Margaret laid her on her couch, and sat down beside her. She lay without moving, and, although wide awake, gave no other sign of existence than an occasional low moan, that seemed to come from a heart pressed almost to death.

Having lain thus for an hour, she broke the silence.

|Margaret, do you despise me dreadfully?|

|No, not in the least.|

|Yet you found me going to do what I knew was wrong.|

|You had not made yourself strong by thinking about the will of God. Had you, dear?|

|No. I will tell you how it was. I had been tormented with the inclination to go to him, and had been resisting it till I was worn out, and could hardly bear it more. Suddenly all grew calm within me, and I seemed to hate Count Halkar no longer. I thought with myself how easy it would be to put a stop to this dreadful torment, just by yielding to it -- only this once. I thought I should then be stronger to resist the next time; for this was wearing me out so, that I must yield the next time, if I persisted now. But what seemed to justify me, was the thought that so I should find out where he was, and be able to tell Hugh; and then he would get the ring for me, and, perhaps that would deliver me. But it was very wrong of me. I forgot all about the will of God. I will not go again, Margaret. Do you think I may try again to fight him?|

|That is just what you must do. All that God requires of you is, to try again. God's child must be free. Do try, dear Miss Cameron.|

|I think I could, if you would call me Euphra. You are so strong, and pure, and good, Margaret! I wish I had never had any thoughts but such as you have, you beautiful creature! Oh, how glad I am that you found me! Do watch me always.|

|I will call you Euphra. I will be your sister-servant -- anything you like, if you will only try again.|

|Thank you, with all my troubled heart, dear Margaret. I will indeed try again.|

She sprang from the couch in a sudden agony, and grasping Margaret by the arm, looked at her with such a terror-stricken face, that she began to fear she was losing her reason.

|Margaret,| she said, as if with the voice as of one just raised from the dead, speaking with all the charnel damps in her throat, |could it be that I am in love with him still?|

Margaret shuddered, but did not lose her self-possession.

|No, no, Euphra, darling. You were haunted with him, and so tired that you were not able to hate him any longer. Then you began to give way to him. That was all. There was no love in that.|

Euphra's grasp relaxed.

|Do you think so?|

|Yes.|

A pause followed.

|Do you think God cares to have me do his will? Is it anything to him?|

|I am sure of it. Why did he make you else? But it is not for the sake of being obeyed that he cares for it, but for the sake of serving you and making you blessed with his blessedness. He does not think about himself, but about you.|

|Oh, dear! oh, dear! I must not go.|

|Let me read to you again, Eupra.|

|Yes, please do, Margaret.|

She read the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, one of her father's favourite chapters, where all the strength and knowledge of God are urged to a height, that they may fall in overwhelming profusion upon the wants and fears and unbelief of his children. How should he that calleth the stars by their names forget his people?

While she read, the cloud melted away from Euphra's face; a sweet sleep followed; and the paroxysm was over for the time.

Was Euphra insane? and were these the first accesses of daily fits of madness, which had been growing and approaching for who could tell how long?

Even if she were mad, or going mad, was not this the right way to treat her? I wonder how often the spiritual cure of faith in the Son of Man, the Great Healer, has been tried on those possessed with our modern demons. Is it proved that insanity has its origin in the physical disorder which, it is now said, can be shown to accompany it invariably? Let it be so: it yet appears to me that if the physician would, like the Son of Man himself, descend as it were into the disorganized world in which the consciousness of his patient exists, and receiving as fact all that he reveals to him of its condition -- for fact it is, of a very real sort -- introduce, by all the means that sympathy can suggest, the one central cure for evil, spiritual and material, namely, the truth of the Son of Man, the vision of the perfect friend and helper, with the revelation of the promised liberty of obedience -- if he did this, it seems to me that cures might still be wrought as marvellous as those of the ancient time.

It seems to me, too, that that can be but an imperfect religion, as it would be a poor salvation, from which one corner of darkness may hide us; from whose blessed health and freedom a disordered brain may snatch us; making us hopeless outcasts, till first the physician, the student of physical laws, shall interfere and restore us to a sound mind, or the great God's-angel Death crumble the soul-oppressing brain, with its thousand phantoms of pain and fear and horror, into a film of dust in the hollow of the deserted skull.

Hugh repaired immediately to Falconer's chambers, where he was more likely to find him during the day than in the evening. He was at home. He told him of his interview with Euphra, and her feeling that the count was not far off.

|Do you think there can be anything in it?| asked he, when he had finished his relation.

|I think very likely,| answered his friend. |I will be more on the outlook than ever. It may, after all, be through the lady herself that we shall find the villain. If she were to fall into one of her trances, now, I think it almost certain she would go to him. She ought to be carefully watched and followed, if that should take place. Let me know all that you learn about her. Go and see her again to-morrow, that we may be kept informed of her experiences, so far as she thinks proper to tell them.|

|I will,| said Hugh, and took his leave.

But Margaret, who knew Euphra's condition, both spiritual and physical, better than any other, had far different objects for her, through means of the unholy attraction which the count exercised over her, than the discovery of the stolen ring. She was determined that neither sleeping nor waking should she follow his call, or dance to his piping. She should resist to the last, in the name of God, and so redeem her lost will from the power of this devil, to whom she had foolishly sold it.

The next day, the struggle evidently continued; and it had such an effect on Euphra, that Margaret could not help feeling very anxious about the result as regarded her health, even if she should be victorious in the contest. But not for one moment did Margaret quail; for she felt convinced, come of it what might, that the only hope for Euphra lay in resistance. Death, to her mind, was simply nothing in the balance with slavery of such a sort.

Once -- but evidently in a fit of absence -- Euphra rose, went to the door, and opened it. But she instantly dashed it to again, and walking slowly back, resumed her seat on the couch. Margaret came to her from the other side of the bed, where she had been working by the window, for the last quarter of an hour, for the sake of the waning light.

|What is it, dear?| she said.

|Oh, Margaret! are you there? I did not know you were in the room. I found myself at the door before I knew what I was doing.|

|But you came back of yourself this time.|

|Yes I did. But I still feel inclined to go.|

|There is no sin in that, so long as you do not encourage the feeling, or yield to it.|

|I hate it.|

|You will soon be free from it. Keep on courageously, dear sister. You will be in liberty and joy soon.|

|God grant it.|

|He will, Euphra. I am sure he will.|

|I am sure you know, or you would not say it.|

A knock came to the street door. Euphra started, and sat in the attitude of a fearful listener. A message was presently brought her, that Mr. Sutherland was in the drawing-room, and wished to see her.

Euphra rose immediately, and went to him. Margaret, who did not quite feel that she could be trusted yet, removed to a room behind the drawing-room, whence she could see Euphra if she passed to go down stairs.

Hugh asked her if she could tell him anything more about Count Halkar.

|Only,| she answered, |that I am still surer of his being near me.|

|How do you know it?|

|I need not mind telling you, for I have told you before that he has a kind of supernatural power over me. I know it by his drawing me towards him. It is true I might feel it just the same whether he was in America or in London; but I do not think he would care to do it, if he were so far off. I know him well enough to know that he would not wish for me except for some immediate advantage to himself.|

|But what is the use of his doing so, when you don't know where he is to be found.|

|I should go straight to him, without knowing where I was going.|

Hugh rose in haste.

|Put on your bonnet and cloak, and come with me. I will take care of you. Lead me to him, and the ring shall soon be in your hands again.|

Euphra hesitated, half rose, but sat down immediately.

|No, no! Not for worlds,| she said. |Do not tempt me. I must not -- I dare not -- I will not go.|

|But I shall be with you. I will take care of you. Don't you think I am able, Euphra?|

|Oh, yes! quite able. But I must not go anywhere at that man's bidding.|

|But it won't be at his bidding: it will be at mine.|

|Ah! that alters the case rather, does it not? I wonder what Margaret would say.|

|Margaret! What Margaret?| said Hugh.

|Oh! my new maid,| answered Euphra, recollecting herself.

|Not being well at present, she is my nurse.|

|We shall take a cab as soon as we get to the corner.|

|I don't think the count would be able to guide the horse,| said Euphra, with a smile. |I must walk. But I should like to go. I will. It would be such a victory to catch him in his own toils.|

She rose and ran up stairs. In a few minutes she came down again, cloaked and veiled. But Margaret met her as she descended, and leading her into the back drawing-room, said:

|Are you going, Euphra?|

|Yes; but I am going with Mr. Sutherland,| answered Euphra, in a defensive tone. |It is to please him, and not to obey the count.|

|Are you sure it is all to please Mr. Sutherland? If it were, I don't think you would be able to guide him right. Is it not to get rid of your suffering by yielding to temptation, Euphra? At all events, if you go, even should Mr. Sutherland be successful with him, you will never feel that you have overcome him, or he, that he has lost you. He will still hold you fast. Don't go. I am sure you are deceiving yourself.|

Euphra stood for a moment and pouted like a naughty child. Then suddenly throwing her arms about Margaret's neck, she kissed her, and said:

|I won't go, Margaret. Here, take my things up stairs for me.|

She threw off her bonnet and cloak, and rejoined Hugh in the drawing-room.

|I can't go,| she said. |I must not go. I should be yielding to him, and it would make a slave of me all my life.|

|It is our only chance for the ring,| said Hugh.

Again Euphra hesitated and wavered; but again she conquered.

|I cannot help it,| she said. |I would rather not have the ring than go -- if you will forgive me.|

|Oh, Euphra!| replied Hugh. |You know it is not for myself.|

|I do know it. You won't mind then if I don't go?|

|Certainly not, if you have made up your mind. You must have a good reason for it.|

|Indeed I have.| And even already she felt that resistance brought its own reward.

Hugh went almost immediately, in order to make his report to Falconer, with whom he had an appointment for the purpose.

|She is quite right,| said Falconer. |I do not think, in the relation in which she stands to him, that she could safely do otherwise. But it seems to me very likely that this will turn out well for our plans, too. Let her persist, and in all probability he will not only have to resign her perforce, but will so far make himself subject to her in turn, as to seek her who will not go to him. He will pull upon his own rope till he is drawn to the spot where he has fixed it. What remains for you and me to do, is to keep a close watch on the house and neighbourhood. Most likely we shall find the villain before long.|

|Do you really think so?|

|The whole affair is mysterious, and has to do with laws with which we are most imperfectly acquainted; but this seems to me a presumption worth acting upon. Is there no one in the house on whom you could depend for assistance -- for information, at least?|

|Yes. There is the same old servant that Mrs. Elton had with her at Arnstead. He is a steady old fellow, and has been very friendly with me.|

|Well, what I would advise is, that you should find yourself quarters as near the spot as possible; and, besides keeping as much of a personal guard upon the house as you can, engage the servant you mention to let you know, the moment the count makes his appearance. It will probably be towards night when he calls, for such a man may have reasons as well as instincts to make him love the darkness rather than the light. You had better go at once; and when you have found a place, leave or send the address here to me, and towards night-fall I will join you. But we may have to watch for several days. We must not be too sanguine.|

Almost without a word, Hugh went to do as Falconer said. The only place he could find suitable, was a public-house at the corner of a back street, where the men-servants of the neighbourhood used to resort. He succeeded in securing a private room in it, for a week, and immediately sent Falconer word of his locality. He then called a second time at Mrs. Elton's, and asked to see the butler. When he came:

|Irwan,| said he, |has Herr von Funkelstein called here to-day?|

|No, sir, he has not.|

|You would know him, would you not?|

|Yes, sir; perfectly.|

|Well, if he should call to-night, or to-morrow, or any time within the next few days, let me know the moment he is in the house. You will find me at the Golden Staff, round the corner. It is of the utmost importance that I should see him at once. But do not let him know that any one wants to see him. You shall not repent helping me in this affair. I know I can trust you.|

Hugh had fixed him with his eyes, before he began to explain his wishes. He had found out that this was the best way of securing attention from inferior natures, and that it was especially necessary with London servants; for their superciliousness is cowed by it, and the superior will brought to bear upon theirs. It is the only way a man without a carriage has to command attention from such. Irwan was not one of this sort. He was a country servant, for one difference. But Hugh made his address as impressive as possible.

|I will with pleasure, sir,| answered Irwan, and Hugh felt tolerably sure of him.

Falconer came. They ordered some supper, and sat till eleven o'clock. There being then no chance of a summons, they went out together. Passing the house, they saw light in one upper window only. That light would burn there all night, for it was in Euphra's room. They went on, Hugh accompanying Falconer in one of his midnight walks through London, as he had done repeatedly before. From such companionship and the scenes to which Falconer introduced him, he had gathered this fruit, that he began to believe in God for the sake of the wretched men and women he saw in the world. At first it was his own pain at the sight of such misery that drove him, for consolation, to hope in God; so, at first, it was for his own sake. But as he saw more of them, and grew to love them more, he felt that the only hope for them lay in the love of God; and he hoped in God for them. He saw too that a God not both humanly and absolutely divine, a God less than that God shadowed forth in the Redeemer of men, would not do. But thinking about God thus, and hoping in him for his brothers and sisters, he began to love God. Then, last of all, that he might see in him one to whom he could abandon everything, that he might see him perfect and all in all and as he must be -- for the sake of God himself, he believed in him as the Saviour of these his sinful and suffering kin.

As early as was at all excusable, the following morning, he called on Euphra. The butler said that she had not come down yet, but he would send up his name. A message was brought back that Miss Cameron was sorry not to see him, but she had had a bad night, and was quite unable to get up. Irwan replied to his inquiry, that the count had not called. Hugh withdrew to the Golden Staff.

A bad night it had been indeed. As Euphra slept well the first part of it, and had no attack such as she had had upon both the preceding nights, Margaret had hoped the worst was over. Still she laid herself only within the threshold of sleep ready to wake at the least motion.

In the middle of the night she felt Euphra move. She lay still to see what she would do. Euphra slipped out of bed, and partly dressed herself; then went to her wardrobe, and put on a cloak with a large hood, which she drew over her head. Margaret lay with a dreadful aching at her heart. Euphra went towards the door. Margaret called her, but she made no answer. Margaret flew to the door, and reached it before her. Then, to her intense delight, she saw that Euphra's eyes were closed. Just as she laid her hand on the door, Margaret took her gently in her arms.

|Let me go, let me go!| Euphra almost screamed. Then suddenly opening her eyes, she stared at Margaret in a bewildered fashion, like one waking from the dead.

|Euphra! dear Euphra!| said Margaret.

|Oh, Margaret! is it really you?| exclaimed Euphra, flinging her arms about her. |Oh, I am glad. Ah! you see what I must have been about. I suppose I knew when I was doing it, but I don't know now. I have forgotten all about it. Oh dear! oh dear! I thought it would come to this.|

|Come to bed, dear. You couldn't help it. It was not yourself. There is not more than half of you awake, when you walk in your sleep.|

They went to bed. Euphra crept close to Margaret, and cried herself asleep again. The next day she had a bad head-ache. This with her always followed somnambulation. She did not get up all that day. When Hugh called again in the evening, he heard she was better, but still in bed.

Falconer joined Hugh at the Golden Staff, at night; but they had no better success than before. Falconer went out alone, for Hugh wanted to keep himself fresh. Though very strong, he was younger and less hardened than Falconer, who could stand an incredible amount of labour and lack of sleep. Hugh would have given way under the half.

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