小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress' Daughter » CHAPTER III. A YOUNG TORNADO.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
 "She is active, stirring, all fire;
Cannot rest, cannot tire;
To a stone she had given life."
t was a bright, breezy May morning, just cool enough to render a fire pleasant and a brisk walk delightful. The sunshine came streaming down through the green, spreading boughs of the odorous pine trees, gilding their glistening leaves, and tinting with hues of gold the sparkling windows of Miss Jerusha's little cottage.
It was yet early morning, and the sun had just arisen, yet Miss Jerusha, brisk, resolute, and energetic, marched through the house, "up stairs, and down stairs, and in my lady's chamber," sweeping, dusting, scouring, scrubbing and scolding, all in a breath: for, reader, this was Monday, and that good lady was just commencing her spring "house-cleaning."
And Miss Jerusha's house-cleaning was something which required to be seen to be appreciated. Not that there was the slightest necessity for that frantic and distracting pro[Pg 37]cess which all good housekeepers consider it a matter of conscience to make their household suffer once or twice a year, for never since Miss Jerusha had come to the years of discretion had a single speck of dirt been visible to the naked eye inside of those spotless walls. But it was with Miss Jerusha the eleventh commandment and the fortieth article of the Episcopal creed, to go through a vigorous and uncompromising scouring down and scrubbing up every spring and fall, to the great mental agony and bodily torture of the unhappy little handmaiden, Fly, and her venerable cat, Betsey Periwinkle. Since the middle of April Miss Jerusha had shown signs of the coming epidemic, which on this eventful morning broke out in full force.
Any stranger, on looking in at that usually immaculate cottage, might have fancied a hurricane had passed through it in the night, or that the chairs, and tables, and pots, and pans, being of a facetious disposition, had taken it into their heads to get on a spree the night before, and pitch themselves in all sorts of frantic attitudes through the house. For the principal rule in Miss Jerusha's "house-cleaning" was first, with a great deal of pains and trouble, to fling chairs, and stools, and pails, and brooms in a miscellaneous heap through each room, to disembowel closets whose contents for the last six months had been a sealed mystery to human eyes, to take down and violently tear asunder unoffending bedsteads, and with a stout stick inflict a severe and apparently unmerited castigation on harmless mattresses and feather beds. This done, Miss Jerusha, who had immense faith in the hot water system, commenced with a steaming tub of that liquid at the topmost rafter of the cottage, and never drew breath until every crevice and cranny down to the lowest plank on the cellar floor had[Pg 38] undergone a severe application of first wetting and then drying.
Awful beyond measure was Miss Jerusha on these occasions—enough to strike terror into the heart of every shiftless mortal on this terrestrial globe, could he only have seen her. With her sleeves rolled up over her elbows, her mouth shut up, screwed up with grim determination of conquering or dying in the attempt, with an eye like a hawk for every invisible speck of dust, and the firm, determined tramp of the leader of a forlorn hope, Miss Jerusha marched through that blessed little cottage, a broom in one hand and a scrubbing-brush in the other, a sight to see, not to hear of.
And then, having brushed, and scrubbed, and scoured, and polished everything, from the "best room" down to the fur coat of Betsey Periwinkle, until it fairly shone, all that could offend the sight was poked back into the mysterious closets again, another revolution swept through every room, returning things to their places, and the whole household was triumphantly restored to its former state of distressing cleanliness. And thus ended Miss Jerusha's house-cleaning.
"Them there three beds shill all hev to come down this morning," said Miss Jerusha, folding her arms, and regarding them grimly, "and every one of them blessed bedposts hev got to be scalded right out. You, Fly! is that there fire a-burning?"
"Yes, miss," answered Fly, who was tearing distractedly in and out after wood and water, and as nearly fulfilling the impossibility of being in two places at once as it was possible for a mere mortal to do.
"And is that biler of hot water a-bilin'?"[Pg 39]
"Yes, miss."
"And did you tell Georgey to go down to Bunfield for some yaller soap?"
"Please, Miss Jerry, I couldn't find her."
"Couldn't find her, hey? What's the reason you couldn't find her?" said Miss Jerusha, in a high key.
"'Case she'd been and gone away some whars. Please, ole miss, dar ain't nebber no sayin' whar anybody can find dat ar young gal," replied Fly, beginning to whimper in anticipation of getting her ears boxed for not performing an impossibility.
"Gone away! arter being told to stay at home and help with the house-cleaning! Oh, the little shif'less villain. I 'clare ef I hadn't a good mind to give her the best switchin' ever she got next time I ketch holt of her. Told me this morning she wasn't going to be a dish-washing old maid like me! a sassy, impident little monster! Old, indeed! I vow to gracious only for she dodged I'd hev twisted her neck for her! Old! hump! a pretty thing to be called at my time o' life! Old, indeed! A nasty, ungrateful little imp!"
While she spoke, the outer gate was slammed violently to; a slight little figure ran swiftly up the walk, and burst like a whirlwind into the sacred precincts of the best room—a small, light, airy figure, dressed in black, with crimson cheeks, and dancing, sparkling, flashing black eyes, fairly blazing with life and health, and freedom, and high spirits—a swift, blinding, dark, bright vision, so quick and impetuous in every motion as to startle you—a "thing all life and light," a little tropical butterfly, with the hidden sting of a wasp, impressing the beholder with the idea of a barrel of gunpowder, a pop-gun, a firecracker, or anything[Pg 40] else, very harmless and quiet-looking, but ready to explode and go off with a bang at any moment.
It was Georgia—our little Georgia; and how she came to be an inmate of Miss Jerusha's cottage it requires us to go back a little to tell.
On that very Christmas Eve, when with Deacon Drown she discovered the sleeping child and the ruined cottage, she was for a moment at a loss what to do. She knew the girl had fallen asleep, unconscious of the dread presence, and she had seen enough of her to be aware of the frantic and passionate scene that must ensue when she awoke and discovered her loss. She bent over her, and finding her sleeping heavily, she lifted her gently in her arms, and in a few whispered words desired the deacon not to remove the corpse, but to drive her home first with the orphan.
Wrapping the half-frozen child in her warm cloak, she had taken her seat, and was driven to the cottage without arousing her from her heavy slumber, and safely deposited her in Fly's little bed, to the great astonishment, not to say indignation, of that small, black individual, at finding her couch thus taken summary possession of.
It was late next morning when the little dancing girl awoke, and then she sprang up and gazed around her with an air of complete bewilderment. Her first glance fell on Miss Jerusha, who was bustling around, helping Fly to get breakfast, and the sight of that yellow, rigid frontispiece seemed to recall her to a realization of what had passed the preceding night.
She sprang up, shook back her thick, disordered black hair, and exclaimed:
"Who brought me here?"[Pg 41]
"I did, honey," said Miss Jerusha, speaking as gently as she knew how, which is not saying much.
"Where is mamma?"
"Oh, she's—how did you sleep last night?" said Miss Jerusha, actually quailing inwardly in anticipation of the coming scene; for, with her strong nerves and plain, practical view of things in general, the good old lady had a masculine horror of scenes.
"Where is my mamma?" said the child, sharply, fixing her piercing black eyes on Miss Jerusha's face.
"Oh, she's—well, she ain't here."
"Where is she, then? You ugly old thing, what have you done to my mamma?"
"Ugly old thing! Oh, dear bless me! there's a way to speak to her elders!" said the deeply shocked Miss Jerusha.
"Where's my mamma?" exclaimed the child, with a fierce stamp of the foot.
"Little gal, look here! that ain't no way to talk to—"
"Where's my mamma?" fairly shrieked the little girl, as she sprang forward and clutched Miss Jerusha's arm so fiercely as to extort from her a cry of pain.
"Ah-a-a-a-a-a! Oh-h-h-h! you little crab-fish, if you ain't pinched my arm black and blue! Your mamma's dead, and it's a pity you ain't along with her," said Miss Jerusha, in her anger and pain, giving the girl a push that sent her reeling against the wall.
The word fell like a blow on the child, stunning her into quiet. Her mamma dead! She could not realize—she could not comprehend it.
She stood as if frozen, her hand uplifted as it had been[Pg 42] when she heard it, her lips apart, her eyes wide open and staring. Dead! She stood still, stunned, bewildered.
Miss Jerusha was absolutely terrified. She had expected tears, cries, passionate grief, but not this ominous stillness. That fixed, rigid, unnatural look chilled her blood. She went over and shook the child in her alarm.
"Little girl! Georgey! don't look so—don't! It ain't right, you know!"
She turned her eyes slowly to Miss Jerusha's face, her lips parted, and one word slowly dropped out:
"Honey, your ma's dead, and gone to heaven—I hope," said Miss Jerusha, who felt that common politeness required her to say so, although she had her doubts on the subject. "You mustn't take on about it, you—Oh, gracious! the child's gone stark, staring mad!"
Her words had broken the spell. Little Georgia realized it all at last. With a shriek,—a wild, terrific shriek, that Miss Jerusha never forgot—she threw up her arms and fell prostrate on the ground.
And there she lay and shrieked. She did not faint. Miss Jerusha, with her hands clasped over her bruised and wounded ear-drums, wished from the bottom of her heart she would; but Georgia was of too sanguine a temperament to faint. Shriek after shriek, sharp, prolonged, and shrill, broke from her lips as she lay on her face on the floor, her hands clasped over her head.
Miss Jerusha and Fly, nearly frantic with the ear-splitting torture, strove to raise her up, but the little fury seemed endowed with supernatural strength, and screamed and struggled, and bit at them like a mad thing, until they were glad enough to go off and leave her alone. And there[Pg 43] she lay and screamed for a full hour, until even her lungs of brass gave way, and shrieks absolutely refused to come.
Then a new spirit seemed to enter the child. She leaped to her feet as if those members were furnished with steel springs, and made for the door. Fortunately, Miss Jerusha had locked it, somehow anticipating some such movement, and in that quarter she was foiled. She seized the lock and shook the door furiously, stamping with impotent passion at finding it resist all her efforts.
"Open the door!" she screamed, with a stamp, turning upon Miss Jerusha a pair of eyes that glowed like those of a young tigress.
The old lady actually shrank under the burning light of that dark, passionate glance, but composedly sat still and knit away.
"Open the door!" shrieked the mad child, shaking it so fiercely that Miss Jerusha fairly expected to see the lock come off before her eyes.
But the lock resisted her efforts. Delirious with her frantic rage, the wild girl dashed her head against it with a shriek of foiled passion—dashed it against it again and again, until it was all cut and bleeding; and then she flew at the horrified Miss Jerusha like a very fury, sinking her long nails in her face and tearing off the skin, like a maniac as she was.
That at last aroused all Miss Jerusha's wiry strength, and, grasping the child's wrists in a vise-like grip, she held her fast while she struggled to free herself in vain, for the fictitious strength given her by her storm of passion had exhausted itself by its very violence, and every effort now to free herself grew fainter and fainter, until at last she[Pg 44] swayed to and fro, tottered, and would have fallen had not Miss Jerusha held her fast.
Lifting her in her arms, Miss Jerusha bore her upstairs and laid her in her own bed. And then over-charged nature gave way, and, burying her face in the pillow, Georgia burst into a passionate flood of tears, sobbing convulsively. Long she wept, until the fountains of her tears were dry, and then, worn out by her own violence, she fell into a dreamless sleep.
"Well, my sakes alive!" said Miss Jerusha, drawing a long breath and getting up, "of all the children ever I seen I never saw any like that there little limb. 'Clare to gracious! there's something bad inside that young gal—that's my opinion. Sich eyes, like blazin' coals of fire! My conscience! I really don't feel safe with her in the house."
But Georgia awoke calm and utterly exhausted, and thus passed away the first violence of her grief, which like a blaze of straw, burned up fiercely for a moment and then went out in black ashes. Still grave and unsmiling the little girl went about, with no life in her face save what burned in her great wild eyes.
Her mother was buried, and so Miss Jerusha with some inward fear and trembling ventured to tell her at last; but the child heard it quietly enough. She need not have feared, for it was morally and physically impossible for the little girl to ever get up another passion-gust like the last.
One source of secret and serious anxiety to Miss Jerusha was the fate of the little boy, Warren Darrell. Since that night when she had turned him from the door, nothing had ever been heard of him; no one had seen him,[Pg 45] no traces of him could be found, and one and all came to the conclusion that he must have perished in the storm that night. Miss Jerusha too, had to adopt the same belief at last, and in that moment she felt as though she had been guilty of a murder. No one knew he had come to the cottage, and she had her own reason for keeping it a secret, and for politely informing Fly she would twist her neck for her if she ever mentioned it; and in dread of that disagreeable operation, Fly consented to hold her tongue.
Feeling as if she ought to do something to atone for the guilt of which her conscience, so often referred to by herself, accused her, Miss Jerusha resolved, by way of the severest penance she could think of, to adopt Georgia. Several of the "selectmen" offered to take the child and send her to the workhouse, but Miss Jerusha curtly refused in terms much shorter than sweet, and snappishly requested them to go and mind their own affairs and she would mind little Georgia Darrell.
And so, from that day the little dancer became an inmate of the lonely sea-side cot. For the first few weeks she was preternaturally grave and still—"in the dumps" Miss Jerusha called it; then this passed away—like all the grief of childhood, ever light and short-lived—and then Miss Jerusha began to realize the trouble and tribulations in store for her, and the life of worry and vexation of spirit the restless elf would lead her.
In the first place, Miss Georgia emphatically and decidedly "put her foot down," and gave her guardianess (if such a word is admissible) to understand, in the plainest possible English, that she had not the remotest or faintest idea of doing one single hand's turn of work.[Pg 46]
"I never had to work," said the young lady, drawing herself up, "and I ain't a-going to begin now for anybody. I don't believe in work at all, and I don't think it proper, no way."
In vain Miss Jerusha expostulated; her little ladyship heard her with the most provoking indifference. Then the old lady began to scold, whereupon Georgia flew into one of her "tantrums," as Miss Jerusha called them, and, springing to her feet, exclaimed:
"I won't, then, not if I die for it! I've always done just whatever I liked, and I'm going to keep on doing it—I just am! And I ain't going to be an old pot-wiper for anybody—I just ain't, old taffy candy!"
And then the sprite bounced out, banging the door after her until the house shook, leaving Miss Jerusha to stand transfixed with horror and indignation at this last "most unkindest cut of all," which referred to the candy Miss Jerusha was in the habit of making and selling in Burnfield.
And thus the wild, fearless child kept the old lady in a constant series of tremors and palpitations by the dangers she ran into headlong. Not a tree in the forest she would not climb like a squirrel, and often the dry frozen branches breaking with her, she would find it impossible to get down again, and have to remain there until Miss Jerusha would get a ladder and take her down. And on these occasions, while the old lady scolded and ranted down below, the young lady up in her lofty perch would be in convulsions of laughter at her look of terror and dismay. Not a rock on the beach, slippery and icy as they were, she had not clambered innumerable times, to the manifest danger of breaking her neck.[Pg 47]
It was well for her she could climb and cling to them like a cat, or she would most assuredly have been killed; as it was, she tumbled off two or three times, thereby raising more bumps on her head than Nature ever placed there. Then she made a point of visiting Burnfield every day, and making herself acquainted generally with the inhabitants of that little "one-horse town," astonishing the natives to such a degree by the facility with which she stood on her head, or made a hoop of herself by catching her feet in her hands and rolling over and over, that some of them had serious doubts whether she was real, or only an optical delusion. And then her dancing! The first time Miss Jerusha saw her she came nearer fainting than she had ever done before in her life.
"Oh, my gracious!" said Miss Jerusha, in tones of horror, when afterward relating the occurrence, "I never see sich onchristian actions before in all my born days. There she was a-flinging of her legs about as if they belonged to somebody else, and a-twistin' of her arms about over her head, and a-jigging back and forward, and a-standin' onto one blessed toe and spinnin' round like a top, with the other leg a stickin' straight out like a toastin'-fork. I 'clare it gave me sich a turn as I hain't got over yit, and never expects to. Oh, my conscience! It was railly orful to look at the onnatural shapes that there little limb could twist herself into. And to think of her, when she got done, a-kneelin' down on one knee as if she was sayin' of her prayers, as she ought for to do, and then take and blow me up for not applaudin', as she called it. A sassy little wiper!"
Georgia's daily visits to Burnfield were a serious annoyance to Miss Jerusha; for there were some who delighted[Pg 48] in her wild antics, just as they would in the mischievous pranks of a monkey, encouraged her in her willfulness, and exhorted her to defy the "Old Dragon," as Miss Jerusha was incorrectly styled. And such a hold did these counsels take on the mind of the young girl, that she really began to look upon Miss Jerusha in the light of a domestic tyrant—a sort of female Bluebeard, whom it would not only be right and just to defy and put down, but morally wrong not to do it. But though this was Georgia's inward belief, yet, to her credit be it spoken, a sort of chivalrous feeling led her always to defend Miss Jerusha on these occasions; and if any one went too far in sneering at her, Georgia's little brown fist was doubled up, and the offender, unless warned by some prudent friend to "look out for squalls," stood in considerable danger.
Then, too, the chief delight of the Burnfieldians was in watching her dance; and Georgia, nothing loth, would mount an extempore platform, and whirl, and pirouette, and flash hither and thither, amid thunders of applause from the astonished and delighted audience. Her singing, too—for Georgia had really a beautiful voice, and knew every song that ever was heard of, from Casta Diva to Jim Crow—was a source of never-failing delight to the townfolks, who were troubled with very few amusements in winter; and Georgia was never really in her element save when dancing, or singing, or showing off before an audience.
And so the little explosive grenade became a well known character in Burnfield, and Miss Jerusha's injunctions to stay from it went the way of all good advice—that is, in one ear and out of the other. No sort of weather could keep the sprite in the house. The fiercer the wind blew,[Pg 49] Georgia's high spirit only rose the higher; the keener the cold, the more piercing the blast, it only flashed a deeper crimson to her glowing cheeks and lips, and kindled a clearer light in her bright black eyes, and she bounded like a young antelope over the frozen ground, shouting with irrepressible life. Out amid the wildest winter storms you might see that small dark figure flying along with streaming hair, bending and dipping to the shrieking blast that could have whirled her light form away like a feather, flying over the icy ground that her feet hardly seemed to touch.
Georgia, wild, fervid child, vowed she loved the storms; and on tempestuous nights, when the wind howled, and raved, and shook the cottage, and roared through the pines, she would clap her hands in glee, and run down through it all toward the high rocks near the shore, and bend over them to feel the salt spray from the white-crested waves dash in her face. Then, coming back, she would scandalize Miss Jerusha, and terrify Fly nearly into fits, by protesting that the white caps of the waves were the bleached faces of drowned men holding a revel with the demons of the storm, and that whenever she died, she was determined to be buried in the sand, for that no grave or coffin could ever hold her, and she knew she would have splendid times with the mermaids, and mermen, and old Father Neptune, and Mrs. Amphitrite, and the rest of them, in their coral grottoes down below.
Now, Miss Jerusha was by no means strait-laced in spiritual matters herself, but such an ungodly belief as this would shock even her, and, with a deeply horrified look, she would lay down her knitting and begin:
"Oh, my stars and garters! sich talk! Don't you know, you wicked child, that there ain't no sich place[Pg 50] as that under the sun? There's nothing but mud, and fish-bones, and nasty sharks like what swallered Joner down there. No, you misfortunate little limb, folks allers goes to heaven or t'other place when they die, and it's my belief you'll take a trip downward, and sarve you right, too, you wicked little heathen you!"
"See here, Miss Jerusha," said Georgia, curiously, "Emily Murray says there's another place—sort of half-way house, you know, with a hard name; let's see—pug—pug—no, purgatory, that's it—where people that ain't been horrid bad nor yet horrid good goes to, and after being scorched for awhile to take the badness out of them, they go up to heaven and settle down there for good. Is that so, Miss Jerusha?"
"There!" said Miss Jerusha, dropping her knitting in consternation, "I allers said no good would come of her going to Burnfield and taking up with unbelievers and other wagrants. Oh, you wicked, drefful little gal! No; there ain't no sich place; in course there ain't. If you had read that pretty chapter I gave you in the Bible last Sunday instead of tying Betsey Perwinkle's tail to her hind leg and nearly setting of her crazy, you wouldn't be such a benighted little heathen as you are."
"Well, I didn't like it—there! All about two ugly great bears eating a lot of children for calling somebody names. I don't like things like that. There ain't no fun in reading about them, and I'd a heap sooner read Robinson Crusoe; he was a nice old man, I know he was. And when I grow up to be a big woman, I'm going to find out his island and live there myself—you see if I don't."
Miss Jerusha gave a contemptuous snort.
"You grow up, indeed! As if the Lord would let a[Pg 51] wicked little wretch like you, that believes in gods and goddesses and purgatory and such abominations grow up. No; if you ain't carried off in a flash of fire and brimstone, like King Solomon or some of them, you may think yourself safe, my lady."
"Well, I don't care if I am," said Georgia. "I do believe in mermaids, because I've seen them often and often, and I know they live in beautiful coral grottoes under the sea, because I've read all about it. And I know there are witches, and ghosts and fairies, because I've read all about them in the 'Legends of the Hartz Mountains,' the nicest book that ever was, and some Hallow Eve I'm going to try some tricks—you see if I don't."
The little girl's eyes were sparkling, and she was gesticulating with eager earnestness. Miss Jerusha held up her hands in horror.
"My-y conscience! only hear her! Oh, what ever will become of that there young gal? Why, you wicked child, where do you expect to go when you die?"
"To heaven," said Georgia, decidedly.
"Humph!" said Miss Jerusha, contemptuously. "A nice angel you'd make, wouldn't you? More likely the other place. I shill hev to speak to Mr. Barebones to take you into his Bible class, for I believe in my soul it ain't safe to sleep in the house with such an unbeliever."
"Well, you may speak to him as fast as you like, but I sha'n't go. A sour, black old ogre, all skin and bones, like a consumptive red herring! I'm going with Emily Murray to that nice church where they have all the pretty pictures, and that nice old man, Em's uncle, with no hair on his head, and all dressed up so beautifully. And old Father Murray is just the dearest old man ever was, and[Pg 52] hasn't got a long, solemn face like Mr. Barebones. Come, Bets, let you and I have a waltz."
And seizing Betsey Periwinkle by the two fore-paws, she went whirling with her round the room, to the great astonishment, not to say indignation, of that amiable animal, who decidedly disapproved of waltzing in her own proper person, and began to expostulate in sundry indignant mews quite unheeded by her partner, until Miss Jerusha angrily snatched her away, and would have favored Georgia with a box on the ear, only the recollection of the theatre manager returned to her memory, and her uplifted hand dropped. And Georgia, laughing her shrill, peculiar laugh, danced out of the room, singing a snatch from some elegant ditty.
"Was there ever such a aggravating young 'un?" exclaimed Miss Jerusha, relapsing into her chair. "I sartinly shill hev to speak to Mr. Barebones about her. Gracious! what a thing it is to be afflicted with children!"
True to her word, Miss Jerusha did speak to Mr. Barebones, and that zealous Christian promised to take Georgia in hand; but the young lady not only flatly refused to listen to a word, but told him her views of matters and things in general, and of himself in particular, so plainly and decidedly, that, in high dudgeon, the minister got up, put on his hat, and took himself off.
And so Miss Georgia was left to her own devices, and stood in a fair way of becoming a veritable savage, when an event occurred that gave a new spring to her energies, and turned the current of her existence in another direction.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533