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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress' Daughter » CHAPTER XVII. GONE.
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"Oh, break, break heart! poor bankrupt, break at once."
"Break, break, break,
At the foot of the crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of day that is dead
Will never come back to me."
here was an instant death-like pause, and all gazed, white with horror, on the scene before them. Freddy lay perfectly motionless, and Georgia, terrific in her roused wrath, stood over her like some dark priestess of doom. Not a voice dared to break the dreadful silence until Richmond Wildair, with a face from which every trace of color had[Pg 251] faded, and with a terrible light in his eyes, strode over and caught Georgia by the arm.
"Woman! fiend! what have you done?" he said, hoarsely.
She looked up, wrenched her arm free from his grasp, sprang back and dauntlessly confronted him.
"Given her the reward for which she so long has been laboring," she said, in a voice awful from its very depth of calm.
His grasp tightened on her arm, tightened till a black circle discolored the delicate skin; his eyes were fixed on hers with a fearful look; but, with the tempest sweeping through her soul, she felt not his grasp, she heeded not his look.
"Yes," she said, folding her arms and looking down steadily on the senseless figure, "I have taught her what it is to drive me to desperation. A worm will turn when it is crushed, and I—oh! what I have endured in silence! And now let all beware!" she said, raising her voice almost to a shriek, "for if I must go down, I shall drag down with me all who have acted a part in my misery. Stand back, Richmond Wildair! for I shall be your slave no longer!"
No one there but actually quailed before the dark passionate glance bent upon them, save Richmond. Some Roman father about to sacrifice his dearest child on the altar of duty, might have looked as terribly stern, as ominously rigid and calm, as he did then.
Without a word, he strode over and grasped both her wrists in his vise-like hold, and looked full and steadily in her wild, flashing eyes.
"Georgia," he said; "come with me."[Pg 252]
She strove again to wrench herself free, but this time she could not; he held her fast, and met her flashing defiant gaze with one of steady, immovable calm.
"You had better come. I do not wish to use force. If you do not come quietly you will be sorry for it."
His glance, far more than his words or voice, was conquering her. He felt the rigid muscles relax, and the fierce glance dying out before his own, and a convulsive shiver pass through her slight frame.
"Come, Georgia," drawing her toward the parlor; "dangerous maniacs should not be allowed to go at large. You will remain here until I come to you."
He opened the door, let her in, then came out, turned the key in the lock, and put it in his pocket.
All this had passed nearly in a moment. The others, spell-bound, had stood rooted to the ground, their eyes fixed on Georgia and Richmond, almost forgetting the very presence of Freddy.
Now he went over and raised her from the floor. Her arms hung lifeless by her side, her head fell over his arm, and a dark stream of blood flowed from a frightful wound in her forehead and trickled over her ghastly face.
A universal shriek from the ladies followed the sight, and some, overcome by seeing blood, swooned on the spot. Unheeding them all, Richmond made his way through the horrified group, entered the drawing-room, laid his burden on one of the sofas, and seizing the bell rope rang a peal that brought half a dozen servants rushing in at once.
"Here, one of you bring me some water and a sponge, instantly; and you, Edwards, be off for Dr. Fairleigh. Run! fly! lose not a moment."
The man darted off. Richmond, wetting the sponge,[Pg 253] began carefully to wipe away the blood and bathe her temples, while the others gathered around, not daring to break the deep silence by a single word. There was something startling in Richmond Wildair's face—something no one had ever seen there before, underlying all its outward ominous calm—something in its still, dark sternness that overawed all.
In ten minutes the doctor arrived and proceeded to examine the wound, while all present held their very breath in expectation. Richmond stood with his arms folded over his chest during those moments of suspense, motionless as a figure of granite; but the knotted veins standing out dark and swollen on his brow, his labored breathing, and the convulsive clenching of his hands, bespoke the agony of suspense he was undergoing.
"Well, doctor," he said, huskily, when the physician arose, "will—will she die?"
"Die! pooh! No, of course she won't! What would she die for?" said the doctor, a jolly little individual, rejoicing in a very bald head and a pair of bandy legs; "it's nothing but a scratch, man alive! nothing more. We'll clap a piece of sticking-plaster on and have her all alive like a bag of grasshoppers in no time. Die, indeed! I think I see her at it."
And so saying, the little man drew the edges of the wound together, applied sundry pieces of court-plaster, and then pronounced the job finished.
"And now to bring her to," said the little doctor, proceeding to give the palms of her hands an energetic slapping; "and meantime, my dear sir, how in the world did she manage to smash herself up in this fashion?"
Richmond did not reply. The sudden reaction from[Pg 254] torturing fears to perfect safety was too much even for him, and he stood at the window, his forehead bowed on his hand, his hard, stifled breathing distinctly audible in the silent room.
"Hey!" said the little doctor, looking up in surprise at his emotion. "Lord bless my soul! You didn't suppose she was going to die, really, did you! Well! well, well, well! the ignorance of people is wonderful! How did it happen, good folks?" said the doctor, making no attempt to hide his curiosity.
"An accident, sir," said Colonel Gleason, stiffly.
"Hum! ha! an accident!" said the doctor, musingly; "well, accidents will happen in the best of families, they say. Don't be alarmed, Squire Wildair; the young woman will be around as lively as a cricket in a day or two. Here, she's coming to already."
While he spoke there was a convulsive twitching around Freddy's mouth, a fluttering of the pulse, and the next moment she opened her eyes and gazed vaguely around.
"Here you are, all alive and kicking, marm," said the little country Galen; "no harm done, you know. Hand us a glass of water, somebody."
The water effectually restored Freddy, who was able to sit up and gaze about her with a bewildered air.
"My dearest Freddy, how do you feel? My darling girl, are you better?" said Mrs. Wildair, folding her in her arms.
"Of course she's better, marm," said the doctor, rubbing his hands gleefully; "right as ever so many trivets. There's a picture for you," he added, appealing to the company generally; "family affection's a splendid thing, and should be encouraged at any price. Let her keep on a[Pg 255] low diet, and she'll be as well, if not considerably better than ever, in two or three days. Might have been killed dead as a herring, though, if she had struck her temple, instead of up there."
"What's your fee, doctor?" said Mr. Wildair, in a cold, stern tone, and a face to match, as he abruptly crossed over to where he stood.
"Dollar," said the doctor, rubbing his hands with a joyous little chuckle—"court-plaster—visit—advice"—
"There it is—good-evening, sir. Edward, show Dr. Fairleigh to the door," said Mr. Wildair, frigidly.
"Good-evening, good-evening," said the bustling little man, hurrying out. "Always send for me whenever any of you think proper to knock your heads against anything. Good-evening," repeated the doctor, as he vanished, with an emphasis so great as to pronounce the word not only in italics, but even in small capitals.
Richmond went over and took Freddy's hand.
"My dearest cousin, how do you feel?" he said.
"Oh, dreadfully ill," she said faintly; "my head does ache so."
"Perhaps you had better go to your room and lie down," said Richmond, his lips quivering slightly. "Mother, you will go with her."
"Certainly, my dear boy. Come, Freddy, let me assist you up stairs."
Putting her arm round Miss Richmond's waist, Mrs. Wildair led her from the room. And then every one present took a deep breath, and looked first at one another and then at their host, with a glance that said, "What comes next?"
But if they expected an apology from Mr. Wildair they[Pg 256] were disappointed: for, turning round, he said, as calmly as if nothing had occurred:
"I believe we were to enact some pantomimes this evening—eh, Curtis! It is near time we were beginning, is it not, ladies?"
So completely "taken aback" were they by this cool way of doing business that a dead pause ensued, and amazed glances were again exchanged. Any one else but Richmond Wildair would have been embarrassed; but he stood calm and self-possessed, waiting for their answer.
"Really," said Mrs. Gleason, drawing herself up till her corset-laces snapped, "after the unaccountable scene that—ahem—has just occurred, you will have to excuse me if I decline joining in any amusements whatever this evening. My nerves have been completely unstrung. I never received such a shock in my life, and I must say——"
She paused in some confusion under the clear, piercing gaze of Richmond's dark eagle eye.
"Well, madam?" he said, with unruffled courtesy.
"In a word, Mr. Wildair," said the lady, stiffly, "I must say that I do not consider it safe to stay longer in the same house with a dangerous lunatic, for such I consider your wife must be. You will therefore excuse me if I take my departure for the city to-morrow."
In grave silence, Richmond bowed; and the offended lady, in magnificent displeasure, swept from the room.
"And, Mr. Wildair," said Miss Reid, languidly, "I too feel it absolutely necessary to return; violence is so unpleasant to witness. Good-night." And the young lady floated away.
Once again Richmond bowed, apparently unmoved, but[Pg 257] the slight twitching of the muscles of his mouth showed how keenly he felt this.
"Aw, upon honnaw, Wildaih," lisped Mr. Lester, hastily, "though I regwet it—aw—exceedingly, you know—I weally must go back to New York to-morrow, too. Business, my deah fellow, comes—aw—befoah pleasure, and letters I——"
"I understand; pray, do not feel it necessary to apologize," said Mr. Wildair, with a slight sneer; "allow me to bid you good night, Mr. Lester, and a pleasant journey to New York to-morrow."
Poor Mr. Lester! There was no use in trying to brave it out under the light of those dark, scornful eyes, and he sneaked from the room with much the same feeling as if he had been kicked out.
There was another profound pause when he was gone. Not an eye there was ready to meet the falcon gaze of their host. Mr. Wildair stepped back a pace, folded his arms over his chest, and looked steadily at them.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen," he said calmly, "who next?"
"Wildair, my dear old fellow," said Dick Curtis, with tears in his eyes, "I—I feel—I feel—I'll be hanged if I know how I feel. It's too bad—it's too darned bad for them to treat you this way, after all you've tried to do for them. It's abominable, it's infernal, it's a shame! I beg your pardon, ladies, for swearing, but its enough to make a saint swear—I'll be shot if it's not!" said Mr. Curtis, looking round with a sort of howl of mingled rage and grief, and then seizing Richmond's hand and shaking it as if it had been a pump-handle.
"And I, too, Curtis," said the honest voice of Captain[Pg 258] Arlingford, "am with you there. Mr. Wildair, you must not set us all down for Mr. Lesters."
"The mean little ass!—ought to be kicked from here to sundown!" said Lieutenant Gleason, in a tone of disgust.
"And so ought mother," said Henry, sticking his hands in his pockets and striding up and down in indignation: "and the nasty Lydia Languish Dieaway Reid, a be-scented, be-frizzled, be-flounced stuck-up piece of dry-goods. I wish to gracious the whole of them were kicked to death by hornbugs," said Henry, thrusting his hands to the very bottom of his pockets and glaring defiance round the room.
A low murmur of earnest sympathy came from all present, Miss Harper included; for as Captain Arlingford had joined the opposition party, like certain politicians of the present day, she found it no way difficult to change her tactics and go over to the enemy.
"My friends, I thank you," said Mr. Wildair, in a suppressed voice, as he abruptly turned and walked to the window; "but—you must excuse me, and allow me to leave you for the present. I feel—" he broke off abruptly, wheeled round, and with a brief "good night," was gone.
He passed up stairs and sank into a chair. His brain seemed on fire, the room for a moment seemed whirling round, and thought was impossible. The shame, the disgrace, the mockery, the laughter, the scenes in Richmond House must cause among his city friends, alone, stood vividly before him. He fancied he could hear their jeering laughs and mocking sneers whenever he appeared, and, half maddened, he rose and began to pace up and down like a maniac. And then came the thought of her who had caused all this—of her who had nearly slain his cousin, and the[Pg 259] pallid hue of rage his face wore gave place to a glow of indignation.
He had seen Georgia leave the room that evening, and Freddy with her sweet smile rise to follow her, and his thought, had been, "Dear, kind little Freddy! what a generous, forgiving heart she must have to be so solicitous for Georgia's happiness, in spite of all she has done to her." And when he saw her lying wounded and bleeding, with his infuriated wife standing over her, he fancied she had merely spoken some soothing words, and that the demon within Georgia's fiery heart had prompted to return the kindness thus.
It is strange how blind the most wise of this world are when wisdom is entirely of this earth. Richmond Wildair, with his clear head and profound intellect, was completely deceived by his fawning, silk, silvery-voiced little cousin. In his eyes Georgia alone was at fault. Freddy was immaculate. She it was who had brought him to this—she, whom he had raised from her inferior position to be his wife—she, who, instead of being grateful, had commenced to play the termagant, as he called it, ere the honeymoon was over. And worse than that, she had proved herself that most despicable of human beings—a married flirt. Had she and Captain Arlingford not been together the whole day?—a sure proof that she had never cared much for him. Had she married him for his wealth and social position? Was it possible Georgia had done this? His brain for an instant reeled at the thought, and then he grew strangely calm. She was proud, ambitious, aspiring, fond of wealth and power, and this was the only means she had of securing them. Yes, it must be so. And as the conviction came across his mind, a deep, bitter, scornful[Pg 260] anger filled his heart and soul, and drove out every other feeling. With an impulsive bound he sprang up, and with a ringing step he passed down stairs and entered the parlor where he had left her.
And she—poor, stormy, passionate Georgia! what had been her feelings all this time? At first, in the tumultuous tempest sweeping through her soul, a deep, swelling rage against all who were goading her on to desperation, alone filled her thoughts. She had paced up and down wildly, madly, until this passed away, and then came another and more terrible feeling—what if she had killed Freddy? As if she had been stunned by a blow, she tottered to a seat, while a thousand voices seemed shrieking in her ears, "Murderess! murderess!"
Oh! the horror, the agony, the remorse that were hers at that moment. She put her hands to her ears to shut out the dreadful sound of those phantom voices, and crouching down in a strange, distorted position, she struggled alone with all her agonizing remorse. How willingly in that moment would she have given her own life—a thousand lives, had she possessed them—to have recalled her arch enemy back to life once more. So she lay for hours, feeling as though her very reason was tottering on its throne, and so Richmond found her when he opened the door. She sprang to her feet with a wild bound, and flying over, she caught his hand and almost shrieked:
"Oh Richmond! is she dead? Oh, Richmond! in the name of mercy, speak and tell me, is she dead?"
She might have quailed before the look of unutterable scorn bent on her, but she did not. He shook her hand off as if it had been a viper, and folding his arms, looked steadily and silently down upon her.[Pg 261]
"Richmond! Richmond! speak and tell me. Oh, I shall go mad!" she cried, in frenzied tones.
She looked as though she were going mad indeed, with her streaming hair, her pallid face, and wildly blazing eyes. Perhaps he feared her reason was tottering, for he sternly replied:
"Cease this raving, madam; you have been saved from becoming a murderess in act, though you are one in the sight of heaven."
"And she will not die?"
"Oh, thank heaven!" and, totally overcome, she sank for the first time in her life, almost fainting into her seat.
Richmond looked at her with deep, scornful eyes.
"You to thank Heaven!—you to take that name on your lips!—you, who this night attempted a murder! Oh, woman do you not fear the vengeance of that Heaven you invoke!"
"Oh, Richmond! spare me not. I deserve all you would say. Oh! in all this world there is not another so lost, so fallen, so guilty as I."
"You are right, there is not; for one who would attempt the life of a young and innocent girl must be steeped in guilt so black that Hades itself must shudder. Had you caused the death of Frederica Richmond, as you tried to, I myself would have gone to the nearest magistrate, had you arrested, and forced you off this very night to the county jail. I would have prosecuted you, though every one else in the world was for you; and I would have gone to behold you perish on the scaffold, and then—and then only—felt that justice was satisfied."
She almost shrieked, as she covered her face with her[Pg 262] hands from his terrible gaze, but, unheeding her anguish, he went on in a calm, pitiless voice:
"You, one night not long since, told me you wished you had never married me. That you really ever wished it I do not now believe; for one who could commit a cold-blooded murder would not hesitate at a lie—a lie. Do you hear, Georgia? But I tell you now, that I wish I had been dead and in my grave ere I ever met Georgia Darrell!"
"Oh, Richmond! Spare me! spare me!" she cried, in a dying voice.
"No; I am like yourself—I spare not. You have merited this, and a thousand times more from me, and you shall listen now. That you married me for my wealth and for the power it would give you, I know only too well. You were an unnatural child, and I might have known you would be an unnatural woman; but I willfully blinded my eyes, and believed what you told me that accursed night on the sea-shore, and I married you—fool that I was! I braved the scorn of the world, the sneers of my friends, the just anger of my mother, and stooped—are you listening, Georgia?—and stooped to wed you. And now I have my reward."
"Oh, Richmond! I shall go mad!" she wailed, writhing in her seat, and feeling as if every fiber in her heart were tearing from its place, so intense was her anguish.
But still the clear, clarion-like voice rang out on the air like a death-bell, cold, calm, and pitiless as the grave:
"Once, in one of your storms of passion, madam, you asked me why I married you. Now I answer you: because I was mad, demented, besotted, crazed, or I most assuredly should never have dreamed of such a thing. Perhaps you wish I had not, for then the gallant sailor you admire so[Pg 263] much might have taken it into his hair-brained head to do what I did in a fit of insanity—for which a life of misery like this is to atone—and married you. That I have deprived you of this happiness, I deeply regret; for, madam, much as you may repent this marriage, you can never, never repent it half as much as I do now."
She had fallen at his feet, whether from physical weakness, or whether she had writhed there in her intolerable agony, he did not know, and, at that moment, did not care. He stepped back, looked down upon her as she lay a moment, and went on:
"I fancied I loved you well enough then to brave the whole world for your sake; but that, like all the rest of my short brain-fever, has completely passed away. What feeling can one have for a murderess—for such in heart you are—but one of horror and loathing?"
She sprang to her feet with a moaning cry, and stood before him with one arm half raised; her lips opened as if to speak, but no voice came forth.
"Hear me out, madam," he interposed, waving his hand, "for it is the last time, perhaps, you will ever be troubled by a word from me. You have driven my guests from my house, you have eternally disgraced me, and, lest you should murder the very servants next, must not be allowed to go free. While a friend of mine resides under this roof you shall remain locked a close prisoner in your room, as a lunatic too dangerous to be at large. And if that does not subdue the fiend within you, one thing yet remains for me to do—that I may go free once more."
He paused, and the rage he had subdued by the strength of his mighty will all along, showed now in the death-like[Pg 264] whiteness of his face, white even to his lips, like the white ashes over red-hot coals.
Again her arm was faintly raised, again her trembling lips parted, but the power of speech seemed to have been suddenly taken from her. No sound came forth.
"What I allude to will make me free as air—free as I was before I met you—free to bring another mistress to Richmond House before your very eyes. Money will procure it, and of that I have enough. I allude to a divorce—do you know what that means?"
Yes, she knew. Her arms dropped by her side as if she had been suddenly stricken with death, the light died out in her eyes, the words she would have uttered were frozen on her lips, and, as if the last blow she could ever receive had fallen, she laid her hand on her heart and lifted her eyes, calm as his now, to his face.
Some author has said, "Great shocks kill weak minds, and stir strong ones with a calm resembling death." So it was now with Georgia; she had been stunned into calm—the calm of undying, life-long despair. She had believed and trusted all along—she had thought he loved her until now—and now!
What was there in her face that awed even him? It was not anger, nor reproach, nor yet sorrow. A thrill of nameless terror shot through his heart, and with the last cruel words all anger passed away. He advanced a step toward her, as if to speak again, but she raised her hand, and lifting her eyes to his face with a look he never forgot, she turned and passed from the room.
And Richard Wildair was alone. He had not meant one-half of what he had said in the white heat of his passion, and the idea of a divorce had no more entered his[Pg 265] head than that of slaying himself on the spot had. He had said it in his rage, none the less deep for being suppressed, and now he would have given uncounted worlds that those fatal words had never been uttered.
He went out to the hall, but she had gone—he caught the last flutter of her dress as she passed the head of the stairs toward her own room.
"I ought not to have said that," he said uneasily to himself as he paced up and down. "I am sorry for it now. To-morrow I will see her again, and then—well, 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' I cannot live this life longer. I will not stay in Burnfield. I cannot stay. I shall go abroad and take her with me. Yes, that is what I will do. Travel will work wonders in Georgia, and who knows what happiness may be in store for us yet."
He walked to the window and looked out. The white snow lay in great drifts on every side, looking cold and white and death-like in the pale luster of a wintry moon. With a shudder he turned away, and threw himself moodily on a couch in the warm parlor, saying, as if to reassure himself:
"Yes, to-morrow I will see her, and all shall be well—to-morrow—to-morrow."
There was a paper lying on the table, and he took it up and looked lightly over it. The first thing that struck his eyes was a poem, headed:
"To-morrow never comes."
Richmond Wildair would have been ashamed to tell it, but he actually started and turned pale with superstitious terror. It seemed so like an answer to his thoughts that startled him more than anything of the kind had ever done before.[Pg 266]
To him that night passed in feverish dreams. How passed it with another beneath that roof?
At early morning he was awake. An unaccountable presentment of an impending calamity was upon him and would not be shaken off.
Scarcely knowing what he did, he went up to Georgia's room, and softly turned the handle of the door. He had expected to find it locked, but it was not so; it opened at his touch, and he went in.
Why does he start and clutch it as if about to fall? The room is empty, and the bed has not been slept in all night.
A note, addressed to him, lies on the table. Dizzily he opens it, and reads:
"My dearest husband: Let me call you so for this once, this last time—you are free! On this earth I will never disgrace you again. May heaven bless you and forgive.
She was gone—gone forever! Clutching the note in his hand, he staggered, rather than walked, down stairs, opened the door, and, in a cold gray of coming dawn, passed out.
All around the stainless snow-drifts seemed mocking him with their white blank faces, lying piled as they had been last night when he had driven his young wife from his side. Cold and white they were here still, and Georgia was—where?


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