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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress' Daughter » CHAPTER X. DREAMING.
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 "And underneath that face, like summer's ocean,
Its lips as moveless and its cheek as clear,
Slumbers a whirlpool of the heart's emotions—
Love, hatred, pride, hope, sorrow, all save fear."
ell, this is pleasant," said Richmond, throwing himself carelessly on the grass, and sending pebbles skimming over the surface of the river; "this is pleasant," he repeated, looking up at his companion, as she sat drawing under the shadow of an old elm down near the shore.
Three months had passed since his return, and the glowing golden midsummer days had come. All this time he had been a frequent visitor at the cottage—to see Miss Jerusha, of course; and very gracious, indeed, was that lady's reception of the young lord of the manor. Georgia was freezing at first, most decidedly below zero, and enough to strike terror into the heart of any less courageous knight than the one in question. But Mr. Richmond Wildair was not easily intimidated, and took all her chilling hauteur coolly enough, quite confident of triumphing in the end. It was a drawn battle between them, but he knew he was[Pg 145] the better general of the two, so he was perfectly easy as to the issue. In fact, he rather liked it than otherwise, on the principle of the "greater the trial, the greater the triumph," and, accustomed to be flattered and caressed, this novel mode of treatment was something new and decidedly pleasant. So he kept on "never minding," and visited the cottage often, and talked gayly with Miss Jerusha, and was respectful and quiet with Miss Georgia, until, as constant dropping will wear a stone, so Georgia's unnatural stiffness began to give way, and she learned to laugh and grow genial again, but remained still on the alert to resist any attempt at command. No such attempt was made, and at last Georgia and Richmond grew to be very good friends.
Georgia had a talent for drawing, and Richmond, who was quite an artist, undertook to teach her, and those lessons did more than anything else to put them on a sociable footing. Richmond liked to give his lessons out under the trees, where his pupil might sketch from nature, and Georgia rather liked it herself, too. It was very pleasant, those lessons; Georgia liked to hear about great cities, about this rush, and roar, and turmoil, and constant flow of busy life, and Richmond had the power of description in a high degree, and used to watch, with a sly, repressed smile, pencil and crayon drop from her fingers, and her eyes fix themselves in eager, unconscious interest on his face, as she grew absorbed in his narrative.
Dangerous work it was, with a pupil and master young and handsome, the romantic sea-shore and murmuring old trees for their school-room, and talking not forbidden either. How Miss Jerusha chuckled over it in confidence to Betsey Periwinkle—she didn't dare to trust Fly—and indulged in sundry wild visions of a brand-new brown silk[Pg 146] dress and straw bonnet suitable for the giving away a bride in.
Little did Georgia dream of these extravagant peeps into futurity, or the lessons would have ended then and there, this new-fledged intimacy been unceremoniously nipped in the bud, and Miss Jerusha's castles in Spain tumbled to the ground with a crash! But Georgia was in a dream and said nothing. Richmond did, and laughed quietly over it in the shadow of the old ancestral mansion.
"Yes, this is pleasant," said Richmond, one morning, as he lay idly on the grass, and Georgia sat on the trunk of a fallen tree near, taking her drawing lesson.
She lifted her head and laughed.
"What is pleasant?" she said.
"This—this feeling of rest, of peace, of indolence, of idleness. I never sympathized with Charley's love for the dolce far niente before, but I begin to appreciate it now. One tires of this hurrying, bustling, jostling, uproarious life in the city, and then laziness in the country is considered the greatest of earthly boons. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you know."
"And do you really like the country better than the city?" asked Georgia.
"I like it—yes—in slices. I shouldn't fancy being buried in the woods among catamounts, and panthers, and settlers hardly less savage. I shouldn't fancy sleeping in wigwams and huts, and living on bear's flesh and Johnny-cake; but I like this. I like to lie under the trees, away out of sight and hearing of the city, yet knowing three or four hours in the cars will bring me to it whenever I feel like going back. I like the feeling of languid repose these still, voice[Pg 147]less, midsummer noondays inspire; I like to have nothing to do; and plenty of time to do it in."
"What an epicure you are," said Georgia, smiling; "now it seems to me after witnessing the ever-changing, ever-restless life in Washington and New York, and all those other great cities, you would find our sober little humdrum Burnfield insupportably dull. I know I should; I would like above all things to live in a great city, life seems to be so fully waked up, so earnest there. I shall, too, some day," she said, in her calm, decided way, as she took up another pencil and went on quietly drawing.
"Indeed!" he said, slowly, watching the pebbles he sent skimming over the water as intently as if his whole life depended on them. "Indeed! how is that?"
"Oh! I shall go to seek my fortune," she said, laughingly, yet in earnest, too. "Do you know I am to be rich and great? 'Once upon a time there was a king and queen with three sons, and the youngest was called Jack.' I am Jack, and you know how well he always came out at the end of the story."
"Georgia, you are a—dreamer."
"I shall be a worker one of these days. My hour has not yet come." And Georgia hummed:
"I am asleep and don't waken me."
"What will you do when you awake, Georgia?"
"What Heaven and my own genius pleases; found a colony, find a continent, make war on Canada, run for President, teach a school, set fire to Cuba, learn dressmaking, or set up a menagerie, with Betsey Periwinkle for my stock in trade," she said, with one of her malicious, quizzical laughs.[Pg 148]
"Georgia, talk sense."
"Mr. Wildair, I flatter myself I am doing that now."
"Miss Darrell, shall I tell you your future?"
"I defy you to do it, sir."
"Don't be too sure. Now listen. In the first place, you will get married."
"No, sir-r!" exclaimed Georgia, with emphasis: "I scorn the insinuation! I am going to be an old maid, like Miss Jerusha."
"Don't interrupt, Miss Darrel; it's not polite. You will marry some sweet youth with nice curling whiskers, and his hair parted in the middle, and you will mend his old coats, and read him the newspaper, and trudge with him to market, and administer curtain lectures, and raise Shanghai roosters, and take a prize every year for the best butter and the nicest quilts in the county; and finally you will die, and go up to heaven, where you will belong, and have a wooden tombstone erected to your memory, with your virtues inscribed on it in letters five inches long."
"Shall I, indeed! that's all you know about it," said Georgia, half inclined to be provoked at this picture; "no, sir; I am bound to astonish the world some of these days—how, I haven't quite decided, but I know I shall do it. As for your delightful picture of conjugal felicity, you may be a Darby some day, but I will never be a Joan."
"You might be worse."
"And will be, doubtless. I never expect to be anything very good. Emily Murray will do enough of that for both of us."
"Emily is a good girl. Do you know what she reminds one of?"
"A fragrant little spring rose, I imagine."[Pg 149]
"Yes, of that, too; but she is more like the river just now as it flows on smooth, serene, untroubled and shining, smiling in the sunshine, unruffled and calm."
"And I am like that same river lashed to a fury in a December storm," said Georgia, with a darkening brow.
"Exactly—pre-cisely! though you are quiet enough now; but as those still waters must be lashed into tempests, just so certain will you—"
"Mr. Wildair, I don't relish your personalities," said Georgia, with a flushing cheek and kindling eye.
"I beg your pardon—it was an ungallant speech—but I did not know you cared for compliments. What shall I say you look like?—some gorgeous tropical flower?"
"No, sir! you shall compare me to nothing! Georgia Darrell looks like herself alone! There! how do you like my drawing?"
He took it and looked long and earnestly. It was rather a strange one. It represented a wintry sea and coast, with the dark, sluggish waves tossing like a strong heart in strong agony, and only lit by the fitful, watery, glimmer of a pale wintry moon breaking through the dark, lowering clouds above. Down on the shore knelt a young girl, her long hair and thin garments streaming behind her in the wind, her hands clasped, her face blanched, her eyes strained in horror far over the troubled face of the sea on a drowning form. Far out a female face rose above the devouring waves—such a face, so full of a terrible, nameless horror, despair and utter woe as no fancy less vivid than that of Georgia could ever have conceived. One arm was thrown up far over her head in the death struggle, and the eyes in that strange face were appalling to look on.[Pg 150]
Richmond Wildair held his breath as he gazed, and looked up in Georgia's dark face in a sort of fear.
"Georgia! Georgia!" he said, "what in Mercy's name were you thinking of when you drew that?"
She laughed.
"Don't you like it, Mr. Wildair?" she said.
"Like it! You're a goblin! a kelpie! a witch! an unearthly changeling! or you would never have conjured up that blood-chilling face. Why, you have been painting portraits! Did you know it?"
"I did not when I commenced—I found I had when they were done."
"And life-like portraits they are, too. That kneeling girl is Emily Murray, though her sweet face never wore that look of wild horror you have pictured there. And that other ghastly, agonized countenance, that seems rent by a thousand fiends, is—"
"Oh, Georgia! what spirit possessed you to paint that awful face?"
"How do I know? The spirit of prophecy, perhaps," she said, in a tone of dark gloom.
"Georgia Darrell, do you know what you deserve?"
"No, sir."
"Then I shall tell you. You ought to be locked in an attic, and fed on bread and water for a month, to cool the fever in your blood."
"Thank you; I would rather be excused. And now I come to think of it, it couldn't have been the spirit of prophecy either that inspired me, for your brother Charles once told me that I would never be drowned."
"No? How did he know it?"[Pg 151]
"He said a more elevated destiny awaited me—hanging."
"What if he turns out a true prophet?"
"I shall not be surprised."
"You will not?"
"Most certainly not. They hang people for murder, don't they?"
"Well!" she repeated, mimicking his tone, "I expect to be the death of somebody one of these days."
He knew she spoke lightly, yet suddenly there rushed to his mind the recollection of the conversation he had once held with his brother, in which he compared her to Lady Macbeth, and declared his belief in her capability of committing that far-famed lady's crime. Strange that it should come back to him so vividly and painfully then.
"Well, signor," said the clear, musical voice of Georgia, breaking in upon his reverie, "of what is your serene highness thinking so intently? Do you fear you are to be the future victim?"
"I listen, mynheer."
"Suppose you loved somebody very much—"
"A mighty absurd supposition to begin with. I never intend to do any such thing."
"Now, Georgia, be serious. Suppose you loved some one with all your heart, if you possess such an article, you flinty female anaconda, and they professed to love you, and afterward deceived you, what would you do?"
"Do!" her face darkened, her eyes blazed, her lips sprung quivering apart, her hands clenched; "do! I should BLAST them with my vengeance; I would live for revenge,[Pg 152] I would die for revenge! I would track them over the world like a sleuth-hound. I would defy even death by the power of my own will until I had wreaked this doom on their devoted head. Deceive me! Safer would it be to tamper with the lightning's chain than with the heart that beats here."
She struck her breast and rose to her feet transformed! The terrific look that had started him in the pictured face, flamed up in her living one now, and she stood like a young Medusa, ready to blight all on whom her dark, scorching glance might rest.
He stood appalled before her. Was she acting, or was this storm of passion real? It was a relief to him to see one of his own servants approaching at that moment with a letter in his hand. The presence of a third person restored Georgia to herself, and, leaning against a tree, she looked darkly over the smiling, shining waters.
"From Charley!" was Richmond's joyful exclamation, as he glanced at the superscription of the letter and dismissed the man who brought it. "It is nearly six months since he wrote last, and we were all getting seriously uneasy about him. Will you excuse me while I read it, Georgia?"
Georgia bent her head in token of acquiescence, and taking up another piece of paper, began carelessly drawing a scaffold, with herself hanging, to horrify her companion. So absorbed did she become in her task, that she did not observe the long silence of her companion, until suddenly lifting her eyes, she beheld a startling sight.
With the letter clutched with a death-grip in his hand, his face livid, his brow corrugated, his eyes fixed, his whole[Pg 153] form rigid and motionless, he sat with his eyes riveted on that fatal letter.
In all her life Georgia had never seen the calm, self-sustained Richmond Wildair moved, and now—oh, this was awful! She sprang to his side and caught his arm, crying out:
"Richmond! Richmond! oh, Richmond! what is the matter?"
He lifted his eyes with a hollow groan.
"Oh, Georgia!"
"Richmond! oh, Richmond! is Charley dead?"
"Dead? No! Would he were!" he said, with passionate bitterness.
"Oh, Richmond, this is terrible! What has your brother—"
"Brother! it is false!" he exclaimed, fiercely, springing to his feet; "he is no brother of mine!"
"Good gracious! Richmond, what has he done?"
"Done!" he repeated, furiously: "he has disgraced himself, disgraced us all—done what I will never forgive."
It was the first time Georgia had ever heard him utter such language. As a gentleman, he was not in the habit of staining his lips with expletives, and now even her strong nature shrank, and she shuddered.
"Oh, what has Charley done? What can he have done? He so frank, so kind, so warm-hearted? Oh he cannot have committed a crime! It is impossible," cried Georgia, vehemently.
"It is not impossible!—lost, fallen, degraded wretch! Oh, mercy! that I should have lived to see this day! Oh, who—who shall tell my mother this?"[Pg 154]
"Richmond, be calm—I implore you. Tell me what he has done?"
"What you shall never know—what I shall never tell you!" he cried, passionately.
The color retreated from Georgia's very lips, leaving her white as marble.
"If it is murder—"
"Murder! That might be forgiven! A man may kill another in the heat of passion and be forgiven. Murder, robbery, arson, all might be forgiven; but this! Oh, Georgia, ask me not! I feel as if I should go mad."
What had he done, what awful crime was this that had no name, before which, in Richmond's eyes, even murder sank into insignificance?
Georgia stood appalled, while Richmond, with the fatal letter crushed in his hand, strode up and down as if he were indeed mad. Then, as his eye fell on the familiar hand-writing, his mood changed, and he passionately exclaimed:
"Oh, Charles! Oh, my brother! Would you had died ere you had come to this! Oh, Georgia! I loved him so! every one loved him so! and now—and now!"
He turned away and shaded his eyes with his hands, while his strong chest heaved with irrepressible emotion.
Every tender, womanly feeling in Georgia's heart was stirred, and she went over and took his hand in hers, and said, gently:
"Mr. Wildair, things may not be so bad as you suppose. I am sure they are not. I could stake my soul on the innocence of Charles Wildair. Oh, it is impossible, absurd, he can be guilty of any crime. The Charley Wildair I once knew can never have fallen so low. Oh, Richmond, I feel he is innocent. I know he is."[Pg 155]
"Georgia, I thank you for your sympathy; it is my best consolation now; but I am not deceived; he is guilty; he has confessed all. And now, Georgia, I never want to hear his name mentioned again; never speak of him to me more. I must go home now: I must be alone, for this shock has quite unmanned me. Do not speak of this to any one. Farewell!"
He pressed her hand, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and started off in the direction of Burnfield.
Lost in amaze, Georgia stood watching him until he was out of sight, and then resumed her seat on the grass, to think over this strange scene, and wonder what possible crime Charley Wildair had committed. It was hard to associate with any crime the memory of the handsome, happy, generous boy she remembered; but it must be so. He confessed it himself; his brother, who passionately loved him, branded him with it; therefore it must be so. While she sat thinking, two soft hands were placed over her eyes, and a silky curl touched her cheek.
"Emily," said Georgia, quietly, without moving.
"Yes, that same small individual," said a sweet voice; and our fair Emily came from behind her, and threw herself down on the grass by her side.
"Where did you drop from?" asked Georgia, not exactly delighted at the interruption.
"Not from the clouds, Lady Georgia. I went to the cottage, and learned from Miss Jerusha that teacher and pupil had gone off sky-gazing and 'makin' pictures. At the risk of being de trop, I followed, and here I am. Where's Monsieur le Tutor?"
"Gone home," said Georgia, listlessly.
"And left you here all by yourself! How shockingly[Pg 156] ungallant! Now, I thought better things of the lord of Richmond Hall. What do you think of him, Georgia?"
"Of whom?"
"Of whom! You know well enough. Of Mr. Wildair."
"I have formed no opinion on the subject."
"Well, that's odd. I have, and I think him a splendid fellow—so gentlemanly, and all that. I wonder what he thinks of us?"
"He thinks you are a good girl, and I am a dreamer."
"A good girl! Well, that's very moderate praise, blank and cool, but just as much as I want. And you are a dreamer—I knew that before. Will you ever awaken, Georgia?"
"I shall have to; I never wish it, though."
"Then the awakening will not be pleasant?"
"No; I feel a presentiment that it will not. Oh, Emily! I am tired of my present stagnant life; and yet, sometimes I wish I might never be anything but a 'dreamer of dreams,' without even realizing how real life is. I wish I were now like you, my little Princess Frostina."
"You and I can never be alike—never, Georgia; every element in our nature is as essentially different as our looks. You are a blaze of red sky-rockets, and I am a little insignificant whiff of down."
"No indeed; you are a good, lovable girl, with a warm heart, a clear head, and a cool temper, who will lead a happy life, and die a happy death. But I—oh, Emily, Emily! what is to be my fate?"
She spoke with a sort of cry, and Emily started and gazed on her with a troubled, anxious face.[Pg 157]
"Oh, Georgia, what is the matter? Dear Georgia! what is the matter? You look so dark, and strange, and troubled."
"I am out of spirits—a bad fit of the blues, Em," said Georgia, trying to smile. "I am a sort of monomaniac, I think; I do not know what is the matter with me. I wish I were away from here; I grow fairly wild at times. Emily, I shall die if I stay here much longer."
All that day something lay on her heart like lead. Perhaps it was the memory of that mysterious letter, and Charley's guilt, and his brother's anguish, that weighed it down. Miss Jerusha had long ago given up wondering at anything her eccentric protegee might see fit to do; but when all day long she saw her sit, dark and silent, with folded hands, at the window, gazing at the ever-restless, flowing river, she did wonder what strange thoughts were passing through her young heart, or, to use her own expression, what had "come to her." Fly gave it as her opinion, it was only a "new streak," in the already sufficiently "streaked" character of her young mistress. And Betsey Periwinkle, wondering too, but maintaining a discreet silence on the subject, came purring round her, while her more demonstrative offspring leaped into her lap and held up her head for her customary caress.
Unheeding them all, Georgia went early to her room, and leaning her head on her hand, gazed languidly out. The soft evening breeze lifted the damp, shining braids of her dark hair, and kissed softly her grave, beautiful face, and the evening star rose up in solemn beauty, and shone down into the dark eyes fixed so earnestly on the far-off horizon that seemed her prison wall. And Georgia looked[Pg 158] up, and felt a holy calm steal into her heart, and forgot all her somber fancies, and her high heart-beating grew still in gazing on the trembling beauty of that solitary star.


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