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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress' Daughter » CHAPTER XI. SOMETHING NEW.
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 The faltering speech, and look estranged,
Voice, step, and life, and beauty changed;
She might have marked all this and known
Such change is wrought by love alone.—Moore.
here were great doings going on up at the "house." All Burnfield was in a state of unprecedented excitement about it. The last Presidential election, the debut of the new school-marm, or even the first arrival of the locomotive at the Burnfield Railway depot, had not created half such a sensation. Marvelous tales ran like wild-fire through the town, of carpets, of fine velvets, as Mrs. Tolduso, the gossip-in-chief, called it; of mirrors reaching from floor to ceiling in dazzling gilt frames; of sofas, and couches, and lounging-chairs, and marble-topped tables, and no end of pictures, and statues, and upholstery, and "heaps, and heaps of other things—oh! most splendid," said Mrs. Tolduso; "sich as must have cost an awful sight of money."
Then workmen came from the city, and the stately old mansion underwent a course of painting and varnishing, until it fairly glittered; and the grounds were altered, and fountains erected, and statues of Hebes, and Waterbearers,[Pg 159] and Venuses rising from the sea-foam, and lions, with fountains spouting from their mouths and nostrils, and lots of other devices scattered everywhere. And then a prim little matron of a housekeeper, and an accomplished cook, and an aristocratic butler, and coquettish chambermaids in shaking gold ear-drops and pink bows, and a dignified coachman, and two fascinating young footmen, and a delightful old gardener, with beautiful white hair and whiskers, made his appearance, electrifying the neighborhood, and looking down with contempt on their open-mouthed, homespun neighbors.
The people stood a great deal more in awe of the aristocratic butler, and footman, and the rest of them, than they did of their young master, who was never stiff and pompous, but was given to pat the children on the head as he passed and throw them coppers, and touch his hat to the blooming, blushing, smiling country belles, and nod with careless condescension to their fathers and brothers. And then wild, mysterious rumors began to fly about that the young "squire" was going to marry some great city heiress, and bring her here to live, and those who were so fortunate as to be graciously noticed by any of the aristocratic flunkeys aforesaid, endeavored to "pump" them, but knowing nothing themselves they could only shake their heads and look mysterious unspeakable things, that said as plainly as words: "Of course we know all, but we have too great an esteem for the young gentleman in whose house we reside to betray his confidence;" so Mrs. Tolduso, and the rest of her set, had to coin their own news, and were still left to their own surmises.
Miss Jerusha, albeit not given to gossiping, could not help hearing these rumors, and the worthy spinster began[Pg 160] to grow alarmed. She had never realized until now the immense distance between the rich young gentleman, Mr. Wildair, and the poor daughter of the poor actress, Georgia Darrell, who wore her poverty as a duchess might her coronet. Why, the very servants of the house, in their arrogance, would look down on the village girl; the fascinating young footmen would have considered her honored by a smile; and the chambermaids would lift their rustling silken robes and sweep past her mouseline de laine in lofty disdain. Georgia, the cottage girl, mistress of the great house and all those awe-inspiring young ladies and gentlemen who did Mr. Wildair's work for a "consideration!" Oh, Miss Jerusha, no wonder your chin drops as you think of it, and a sigh comes whistling through your pursed-up lips like a sough of wind in a mainsail.
Then there is that rumor of that haughty young city heiress he is to marry. Miss Jerusha groans in spirit when she thinks of it, and wishes Georgia was not so careless about it, for the only time that young lady had been "short" with Miss Jerusha, for ever so long, was on the occasion of asking her opinion about the same heiress, when Georgia told her curtly "she neither knew nor cared—Mr. Wildair and his heiresses were nothing to her." Yes, Miss Jerusha's brilliant visions of a brown silk dress and new straw bonnet were fast going the way of many another brilliant vision, and she sighed again over the evanishment of human hopes, and then consoled herself with her everlasting stocking and the society of the Betsey Periwinkles, mother and daughter. It was true Mr. Wildair was a daily visitor still at the cottage, but his walks with Georgia were altogether discontinued, and the drawing lessons completely given up.[Pg 161]
Miss Jerusha did not know that this was by the cold, peremptory command of Georgia herself, and much to the dissatisfaction of the young gentleman; but she did know that the vivid crimson was paling in Georgia's cheek, the light dying out of her brilliant eyes, and the quick, elastic spring leaving her slow footsteps; knew it and marveled thereat. She saw, too, with suppressed indignation (for it doesn't pay to be angry with rich people) that Richmond saw it too, and seemed rather pleased than otherwise thereat, while Georgia was relapsing into her first mood, and invariably froze into a living iceberg the moment his light, firm step sounded on the threshold.
All this was very puzzling to Miss Jerusha, who soon after had the pleasure of hearing he was going to be married to somebody else—a report which he never even contradicted. And so matters were getting into a "pretty mess," as Miss Jerusha said; and things generally were in a very unsatisfactory state indeed, when one day Mr. Richmond Wildair transfixed Miss Jerusha by the polite request that she would do him the honor of coming and looking at his house. It was all finished now, he said, and he wanted her opinion of it.
"Lor', Mr. Wildair? what do you 'spose I know 'bout your fine houses, and your fol-de-rols and gimcracks that you've got into it. There ain't no good in my going," said Miss Jerusha knitting away, and looking as grim as old Father Time in the primer.
"Still, my dear Miss Jerusha, I should like your opinion of it, and you will really very much oblige me by coming," said Mr. Wildair, in tones of suave and stately courtesy. "If you will confer this pleasure on me, I will send my carriage for you any day you will be pleased to name."[Pg 162]
"Oh, gracious, no!" ejaculated Miss Jerusha, in alarm, as the remembrance of the dignified coachman came over her; "not for the world. Still I should admire to see it, but—Georgey, what do you say? Do I look fit to go?"
"You may please yourself, Miss Jerusha," she said in a voice so cold and constrained, that Miss Jerusha looked at her and shifted uneasily in her seat.
"Let me answer for Miss Darrell," broke in Richmond. "You do look fit to go, and I shall consider it a direct personal hint that you do not want to see me here any more if you refuse. If you will not visit me, I will not visit you."
"Perhaps it would have been better if you never had," thought Emily Murray, who chanced to be present.
"Oh, well, I s'pose I'd better," said Miss Jerusha, shifting uneasily in her seat again; "but the fact is, Mr. Wildair, them there servants o' yourn, are a stuck-up set, and I—"
"Have no fear on that score, my dear madam," said Mr. Wildair; "my servants will keep their proper places, and treat my guests with becoming deference. And now, when am I to expect you?"
"Well, to-morrow mornin', I guess," said Miss Jerusha, who perhaps would not have gone but for the opportunity of humbling and snubbing the servants, one or two of whom had sneered at her in Burnfield, by letting them see she was the honored friend of their master.
"If Miss Murray and Miss Darrell would honor me likewise by accompanying you," he said hesitatingly.
Georgia started as if she had received a galvanic shock, and a flash like sheet-lightning leaped from her fierce eyes; but Emily touched her hand softly, and replied, quickly, before she could speak:[Pg 163]
"Thank you, Mr. Wildair; you will excuse us. Georgia, you promised to show me that French book you were reading. Come with me now and get it."
Both arose, and, passing Mr. Wildair with a slight courtesy, swept from the room, leaving him in undisturbed possession of Miss Jerusha, but whether to his gratification or annoyance it would have taken a profound observer to tell, for his face wore its usual calm, unruffled expression. But his visit was shorter than usual that day, and in half an hour Miss Jerusha was alone.
Next morning, resplendent in her still new and gorgeous "kaliker gownd," Miss Jerusha set off for the "house." Opening the outer gate, she passed up a magnificent shaded avenue, where her eyes were greeted and electrified by glimpses of floral beauty hitherto unknown. Arriving at the hall-door, Miss Jerusha plucked up spirit and gave a thundering knock; for though there was a bell, the ancient lady knew nothing of any such modern innovations.
The unusual sound brought the two fascinating footmen and spruce chambermaids (who up to the present had had very little to do) to the door; and when it swung back and displayed the tall, lank form of Miss Jerusha in her astonishing dress, a universal titter ran from lip to lip.
"Well, old lady, what can we do for you to-day?" insinuated one of the footmen, thinking Miss Jerusha an appropriate subject to poke fun at.
"Where's your master?" said Miss Jerusha, sharply.
"Here, marm, this is him," said the fellow, pointing to his brother flunkey, who stood grinning, with his hands in his pockets.
"Yes, marm, I'm the high cockalorum; we hev'n't got anything for you to-day, though."[Pg 164]
"Gess you mistook the door, old lady, didn't you?" said the first, with an insolent leer.
The man's words and looks so enraged Miss Jerusha that, lifting her hand, she gave him a slap in the face that sent him reeling half way across the hall.
"Why, you old tramp," exclaimed the other, making a spring at the undaunted Miss Jerusha, when an iron grasp was laid on his collar, and he was hurled to the other side of the long hall, and his master's voice exclaimed:
"You insolent puppy! if I ever hear you address any one in this style again, I'll not leave a whole bone in your body. Miss Jerusha, I beg ten thousand pardons for having exposed you to the insolence of these rascals, but I will take care it never happens again. Here, you fellows," said Richmond, turning round; but the hall was deserted, and he and Miss Jerusha were alone.
"Never mind, Mr. Wildair," said Miss Jerusha, delighted at their discomfiture, "it ain't no matter; I guess they got as good as they brought, sir! What a big house this is, to be sure."
But when Miss Jerusha was led through it, and all its wonders and hitherto undreamed-of grandeur were revealed to her amazed eyes, speech failed her, and she stood astounded, transfixed, and awe-struck. Never in all her wildest visions, had she conjured up any thing like this, and she held her breath, and trod on tiptoe, and spoke in a stilled whisper, and wondered if she were not in an enchanted land, instead of simply in the sumptuous drawing rooms, boudoirs, and saloons of the "house."
Richmond watched her with an amused smile, and when she had been "upstairs, and downstairs, and in my lady's chamber," he insisted on her taking off her bonnet and[Pg 165] shawl, and staying for dinner. So he rang the bell, and ordered the servant to serve dinner an hour earlier than usual, and send up Mrs. Hamm, the housekeeper. And in a few minutes, Mrs. Hamm, a very grand little woman indeed, in a black satin dress, and gold watch, and dainty little black lace cap, swept in, and was introduced to Miss Skamp, who felt rather fluttered by the ceremony, and would have given a good deal to have been back in her cottage just then, scolding Fly and kicking Betsey Periwinkle. But Mrs. Hamm was a discreet little lady, and had heard the episode of the two footmen, and was intensely gracious and polite—so much so, indeed, that it seriously discomposed Miss Jerusha, who made a thousand blunders during dinner, and did not breathe freely until she was fairly on her way home again, in the carriage, too, for Mr. Wildair would not hear of her walking back.
That was a triumph for Miss Jerusha Glory Ann Skamp! Here was an eminence she had never dreamed of attaining! Driving through her native town, amid the wondering eyes of all the inhabitants crowding to every door and window, in the magnificent carriage, with silk velvet cushions, drawn by two beautiful horses in silver-mounted harness, and driven by a gentleman looking like a lord bishop at the very least.
Oh! it was too much happiness! She the descendant of many Skamps, to be thus honored! What would her ancient "parients" say, could they look out of their graves and behold this glorious sight? Wouldn't she be looked up to in Burnfield for the future, and wouldn't she carry her head high though! Why, not one in all Burnfield but Mr. Barebones, the parson, had been invited to dine with the "Squire," and neither Mrs. nor Miss Barebones had ever[Pg 166] seen, much less riden in, his carriage. That was the red-letter day in all Miss Jerusha's life. She was sorry, very sorry, when the carriage drew up before her own door, and the dignified coachman, touching his gold-banded hat to her, drove off, and left her with a heart swelling high with pride and exultation, to enter her dwelling.
She found Georgia sitting in her favorite seat by the window commanding a view of the river, a book lying listlessly between her fingers, her eyes on the floor, her thoughts far away—far away. Miss Jerusha entered, dropped into a seat, and then began a glowing harangue on the glories and splendor of Richmond House.
Georgia moved her chair, turned her head aside, and listened like one deaf and dumb. Long and eloquently did the old lady expatiate on its beauties and pomp, but Georgia answered never a word.
"Ah! that heiress, or whatever gets him, will have good times of it," said Miss Jerusha, shaking her head by way of a wind-up. "What do you think, Georgia, but I asked him if he was really a-goin' to be married."
There was no reply; but Miss Jerusha was too full of her subject to mind this, and went on:
"Says, I, 'I hear you're a-goin' to be married, Mr. Wildair,' and he larfs. 'Is it true?' says I, and he nods and begins eatin' peaches, and larfs again. 'To a heiress?' says I. 'Yes, to an heiress—'mensely rich,' says he. 'That's what I am a-goin' to marry her for.' 'Marry her for her money!' says I; 'oh, Mr. Wildair, ain't you ashamed?' 'No,' says he, larfing all the time, and giving me one of those queer looks out of them handsome eyes of his'n. 'Well, you ought for to be,' says I, rail mad. 'Is she good-looking?' says I. 'Beautiful,' says he; 'the[Pg 167] handsomest gal you ever seen.' 'I don't believe it! I don't believe it!' says I. 'She couldn't be handsomer than my Georgie, no how; it's clean onpossible,' says I."
As if she had received a spear-thrust, Georgia sprang to her feet and turned upon Miss Jerusha such a white face and such fiercely blazing eyes that the good lady recoiled in terror, and the word died on her lips.
"Did you dare?" she exclaimed, hoarsely.
"Dare what? Oh, my dear! What hev I done, Georgia?" cried out Miss Jerusha, in dismay.
But Georgia did not reply. Fixing her eyes on Miss Jerusha's face with a look she never forgot, she turned and left the room.
"Awful sarpints! what hev I done?" said the dismayed Miss Jerusha. "I'm always a doing something to make Georgey mad without knowing it. Can't be helped. Gracious! if I only had a house like that!"
All through Burnfield spread the news of the visit extraordinary, and before night it was currently known to every gossip from one end of it to the other that young Squire Wildair, forgetting the ancient dignity of his house, was going to be immediately married to Georgia Darrell, and before long this rumor reached the ears of Miss Jerusha and Mr. Wildair himself. From the latter personage it provoked a peculiar smile, full of quiet meaning, but Miss Jerusha hardly knew whether to be pleased or otherwise.
For her own part, she would have considered the rumor an honor; but Georgia was so "queer," Miss Jerusha would not for all the world she should hear it. Other girls might not mind such things; but she was not like other girls, and the old maid had a vague, uneasy idea that something terrible would be the consequence if she heard it. But[Pg 168] Georgia did not hear it. There was a quiet, conscious dignity about her of late years that made people keep their distance and mind to whom they were talking; and not even that most inveterate of gossips, Mrs. Tolduso, would have been hardy enough to put the question to the haughty reserved girl. Therefore, though Emily, and Richmond, and Miss Jerusha, and every one over the innocent age of three years old in Burnfield, knew all about the current report, Georgia, the most deeply interested of all, never dreamed of its existence.
And so matters were getting most delightfully complicated, and Miss Jerusha's dreams were growing "small by degrees and beautifully less," when, one evening, about a fortnight after her visit, Georgia, who had been out for a walk—a very unusual thing for her of late days—came suddenly in, so changed, so transfigured, that Miss Jerusha dropped her knitting and opened her mouth and eyes to an alarming wideness in her surprise. Her face was radiant, lighted, brilliant; her eyes like stars, her cheeks glowing; she seemed to have found the fabled elixir of youth, and life, and hope, and happiness.
"Why, Georgia! My-y-y conscience!" exclaimed Miss Jerusha, with a perfect shake on the pronoun in her surprise.
But Georgia laughed. Miss Jerusha could not remember when she had heard her laugh before, and the rosy color lighted up beautifully her beaming face.
"What on airth has come to you, Georgey?" exclaimed Miss Jerusha, more completely bewildered than she had ever been before in the whole course of her life. "Why, one would think you was enchanted or something."
Again Georgia laughed. It was perfect music to hear[Pg 169] her, and fairly gladdened Miss Jerusha's old heart. She did not say what had "come to her," but it was evidently something pleasant, for no face had changed so in one hour as hers had.
"Never mind, Miss Jerusha; shall I set the table for tea? Here, Betsey, get out of the way. Come, Fly, make haste; Miss Jerusha wants her tea, I know."
"Well, gracious!" was Miss Jerusha's ejaculation, as she watched the graceful form flitting airily hither and thither, like an embodied sunbeam, "if that gal ain't got as many streaks as a tulip! What will be the next, I wonder?"
All tea-time Georgia was another being; and when it was over, instead of going straight to her room, as was her fashion, she took some needle-work that Miss Jerusha could not sew on after candle-light, and sat down to work and talk, while Miss Jerusha sat at her work, still digesting her astonishment, and not quite certain whether she had not gone out of her mind.
The clock struck nine. Miss Jerusha, who, from time immemorial, had made it a point of conscience never to sit up a moment later, began folding up her work. Georgia, who was standing with her elbow resting on the mantelpiece, her forehead dropped upon it, and her luminous eyes filled with a deep joy too intense for smiles, fixed on the green boughs on the hearth, now came over, and, to the great surprise of the venerable spinster, knelt down before her, and put her arms caressingly around her waist.
"Miss Jerusha," she said, softly, lifting her dark, beautiful eyes to her wrinkled face.
"Well, Georgey," said Miss Jerusha, in a subdued tone of wonder.[Pg 170]
"It is nearly six years since you first took me here to live, is it not?" she asked.
"Nearly six yes," said Miss Jerusha.
"And since then I have been a very wild, wayward, disobedient girl; repaying all your kindness with ingratitude, have I not?"
"Why, Georgey!"
"I have been passionate, stubborn, and willful; saucy, impertinent, and ungrateful; I know I have, I feel it now. You were very good to take the poor little orphan girl, who might have starved but for you, and this was your reward. Oh, Miss Jerusha! dear, best friend that ever was in this world, can you ever forgive me?"
"Oh, Georgey!" said Miss Jerusha, fairly sobbing.
"I am sorry for what I have done; say you forgive me, Miss Jerusha," said Georgey, sweetly.
"Oh, Georgey! my dear little Georgey, I do forgive you," and, quite melted, Miss Jerusha sobbed outright.
"Dear Miss Jerusha, how I thank you. Lay your hand on my head and say 'Heaven bless you!' I have no mother nor father to bless me now."
"May the Lord in Heaven bless thee, Georgey!" and Miss Jerusha's hand, trembling with unwonted emotion, fell on the young head bent so meekly now, and two bright drops fell shining there, too.
Georgia's beautiful arms encircled her neck, and her lips touched those of her old friend for the first time, and then she was gone. And Miss Jerusha found that there was something new under the sun.
But Miss Jerusha discovered, when the morning dawned, that still another surprise awaited her.


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