Read CHAPTER IX - OLD FRIENDS MEET of The Actress's Daughter A Novel, free online book, by May Agnes Fleming, on ReadCentral.com.

        “It was not thus in other days we met;
    Hath time and absence taught thee to forget?”

And three years passed away.

Elsewhere these three years might have wrought strange changes, but they made few in good old Burnfield.  The old, never-ending, but ever new routine of births, and deaths, and marriages went on; children were growing up to be men and women-there were no young ladies and gentlemen in Burnfield-and other children were taking their place.  The only marked change was the introduction of a railway, that brought city people to the quiet sea-coast town every summer, and gave a sort of impetus to the stagnating business of the place.  Very dazzling and bewildering to the eyes of the sober-going Burnfieldians were those dashing city folks, who condescended to patronize them with a lofty superiority quite overwhelming.

One other change these three years had wrought-the girl Georgia was a woman in looks and stature, the handsome, haughty, capricious belle of Burnfield.  Time had passed unmarked by any incident worth mentioning.  Life was rather monotonous in that little sea-shore cottage, and Georgia might have stagnated with the rest but for the fiery life in her heart that would never be at rest long enough to suffer her to fall into a lethargy.

Georgia’s physical and mental education had been rapidly progressing during these three years.  She could manage a boat with the best oarsman in Burnfield; and often, when the winds were highest and the sea roughest, her light skiff-a gift from an admirer-might be seen dancing on the waters like a sea-gull, with the tall, slight form of a young girl guiding it through the foam, her wild black eyes lit up with the excitement of the moment, looking like some ocean goddess, or the queen of the storm riding the tempest she had herself raised.

Georgia braved all dangers because they brought her excitement, and she would have lived in a constant fever if she could; danger sent the hot blood bounding through her veins like quicksilver, and fear was a feeling unknown to her high and daring temperament.  So when the typhus fever once, a year previously, raged through the town, carrying off hundreds, and every one fled in terror, she braved it all, entered every house where it appeared in its most malignant form, braved storm, and night, and danger to nurse the pest-stricken, and became the guardian-angel of the town.  And this-not, reader, from any high and holy motive, not from that heavenly charity, that inspires the heroic Sister of Charity to do likewise-but simply because there was excitement in it, because she was fearless for herself and exulted in her power at that moment, and perhaps, to do Georgia justice, she was urged by a humane feeling of pity for the neglected sufferers.  She watched by the dead and dying, she boldly entered lazar houses where no one else would tread, and she did not take the disease.  Her high, perfect bodily health, her fine organization and utter fearlessness, were her safeguards.  Georgia had already obtained a sort of mastery over the townfolks; that deference was paid to her that simple minds always pay to lofty ones; but now her power was complete.  She reigned among them a crowned queen; the dark-eyed, handsome girl had obtained a mastery over them she could never lose; she had only to raise her finger to have them come at her beck; she was beginning to realize her childish dream of power, and she triumphed in it.  And so, free, wild, glad, and untamed, the young conqueress reigned, queen of the forest and river, and a thousand human hearts; looked up to, as comets are-something to admire and wonder at, at a respectful distance.

Under the auspices of Father Murray her education had progressed rapidly.  As his congregation was not very numerous, his labors were not very arduous, and he found a good deal of spare time for himself.  Being a profound scholar, he determined to devote himself to the education of his little niece Emily, and at her solicitation Georgia also became his pupil.  Poor, simple, happy little Emily was speedily outstripped and left far behind by her gifted companion, who mastered every science with a rapidity and ease really wonderful.  By nature she was a decided linguist, and learned French, and German, and Latin with a quickness that delighted the heart of good Father Murray.  All the religious training the wild girl had ever received in her life was imbibed now, but even yet it was only superficial; it just touched the surface of her sparkling nature, nothing sunk in.  She professed no particular faith; she believed in no formal creed; she worshiped the Lord of the mighty sea and the beautiful earth, the ruler of the storm and king of the universe, in a wild, strange, exultant way of her own, but she looked upon all professed creeds as so many trammels that no one with an independent will could ever submit to.  Ah! it was Georgia’s hour of highest earthly happiness then; she did not know how the heart of all atheists, infidels, and heretics cry out involuntarily to that merciful All Father in their hour of sorrow.  Georgia was as one who “having eyes saw not, having ears heard not.”  In the summer time of youth, and health, and happiness she would not believe, and it was only like many others when the fierce wintry tempest beat on her unsheltered head, when the dark night of utter anguish closed around her, she fell at the feet of Him who “doeth all things well,” offering not a fresh, unworldly heart, but one crushed, and rent, and consumed to calcined ashes in the red heat of her own fiery passions.

Georgia rarely went to church; her place of worship was the dark solemn, old primeval forest, where, lying under the trees, listening to the drowsy twittering of the birds for her choir, she would dream her wild, rainbow-tinted visions of a future more glorious than this earth ever realized.  Ah! the dreams of eighteen!

It was a wild, blusterous afternoon in early spring, a dark, dry, windy day.  Miss Jerusha, the same old cast-iron vestal as of yore, sat in the best room, knitting away, just as you and I, reader, first saw her on Christmas Eve five years ago, just looking as if five minutes instead of years had passed since then, so little change is there in her own proper person or in that awe-inspiring apartment, the best room.  The asthmatic rocking-chair seems to have been attacked with rheumatism since, for its limbs are decidedly of a shaky character, and its consumptive wheeze, as it saws back or forward, betokens that its end is approaching.  Curled up at her feet lies that intelligent quadruped, Betsey Periwinkle, gazing with blinking eyes in the fire, and deeply absorbed in her own reflections.  A facetious little gray-and-white kitten (Betsey’s youngest), is amusing itself running round and round in a frantic effort to catch its own little shaving-brush of a tail, varying the recreation by making desperate dives at Miss Jerusha’s ball of stocking yarn, and invariably receives a kick in return that sends it flying across the room, but which doesn’t seem to disturb its equanimity much.  Out in the kitchen that small “cullud pusson,” Fly, is making biscuits for supper, and diffusing around her a most delightful odor of good things.  Miss Jerusha sits silently knitting for a long time with pursed-up lips, only glancing up now and then when an unusually high blast makes the little homestead shake, but at last the spirit moves her, and she speaks: 

“It’s abominable! it’s disgraceful! the neglect of parents nowadays! letting their young ’uns run into all sorts of danger, and without no insurance on ’em neither.  If that there little chap was mine, I’d switch him within an inch of his life afore I’d let him carry on with such capers.  He’ll be drowned just as sure as shootin’, and sarve him right, too, a venturesome, fool-hardy little limb!  You, Fly!”

Miss Jerusha’s voice has lost none of its shrillness and sharpness under the mollifying influence of Old Father Time.

“Yes, Mist,” sings out Fly, in a shrill treble.

“Ken you see that little viper yet, or has he got drownded?”

“He’s a-driftin’ out’n de riber, olé Mist; shill I run and tell his folks when I puts der biscuits in de oben?” says Fly, straining her eyes looking out of the kitchen window.

“No, you sha’n’t do no sich thing! if his folks don’t think he’s worth a-lookin’ arter thimselves, I ain’t a-goin’ to put myself out noways ’bout it. Let him drown, ef he’s a mind to, and perhaps they’ll look closer arter the rest.  A young ’un more or less ain’t no great loss.  Don’t let them ere biscuits burn, you Fly! or it’ll be wuss for you!  I wish Georgia was here; it’s time she was to hum.”

Quand un parle du diable on en voit lé vue!” says a clear, musical voice, and the present Georgia, a tall, superbly formed girl, with the shining eyes, and glossy hair of her childhood, but with a higher bloom and brighter smile than that tempestuous childhood ever knew, enters and stands before her, her dark hair blown out by the wind that has sent a deeper glow to her dark crimson cheeks, and a more vivid light to her splendid eyes.

“Oh, you’ve come, hev you?” says Miss Jerusha, rather crossly, “and a talkin’ of Hebrew and Greek, and sich other ungodly lingo, again.  It’s suthin’ bad, I know, or you wouldn’t be a sayin’ of it in thim onchristian langergers.  I allurs said nothin’ good would come of your heavin’ away of your time and larning thim.  I know it ain’t right; don’t sound as if it war.  I feel it in my bones that it ain’t.  Where hev you bin?”

“Over to Emily’s,” Georgia said, laughingly, as she snatched up Betsey Periwinkle, junior, and stroked her soft fur.  “What did you want me for when I came in?”

“Oh,” said Miss Jerusha, “it’s all along of that little imp, Johnny Smith, as has been and gone and went out in a boat, and I expect is upsot and gone to the bottom afore this.”

Georgia sprang to her feet in consternation.

“What! gone out in a boat! to-day! that child!  Miss Jerusha, what do you mean?”

“Why, just what I say,” said Miss Jerusha, testily; “that there little cuss has a taste for drowndin’, for he’s never out of a boat when he can get into one, and I do b’lieve it’s more’n half your fault, too, abringing of him out with you every day in your derned little egg-shell of a skiff.  Ef he hain’t got to the bottom before this it’s a wonder.”

“Oh, that child! that child! he will be drowned!  Good Heaven, Miss Jerusha, why did you not send and tell his parents?”

“Well, ‘taint my place to look arter other folks’ young ’uns, is it?” said Miss Jerusha, shifting uneasily under the stern, indignant gaze bent upon her.  “Let every tub stand on its own bottom, I say.”

“Oh, Miss Georgia!  Miss Georgia!” cried Fly, excitedly, “dar he is! run right into dat ar rock out’n de riber, an’ now he can’t get off, an’ de tide is a risin’ so fast he’ll be swep’ off pooty soon.”

Georgia sprang to the window and looked out.  The river, swollen and turbid by the spring freshets, and lashed into fury by the high winds, was one sheet of white foam, like the land in a December snow-storm.  The boat had struck a high rock, or rather small island, out in the river, and there stood a lad of about ten years old with outstretched arms, evidently shrieking for help; but his cries were drowned in the uproar of the winds and waves.  In ten minutes it was evident the sea would sweep over the rock, and then-

Georgia with a wild, frenzied gesture, turned and fled from the house, seized two light oars that lay outside the door, threw them over her shoulder, and sped with the lightness and fleetness of a mountain deer down the rocks to the beach.

“Oh, Miss Jerry!  Miss Jerry! she’s a-goin’ arter him,” shrieked Fly.  “Oh, laudy! dey’ll bof be drowned dead!  Oh!  Oh!  Oh!” And shrieking, Fly rushed out and darted off toward the nearest house to tell the news.

New settlers had lately come to Burnfield, and Miss Jerusha’s nearest neighbors, the parents of the venturesome little Smith, lived within a quarter of a mile of her.  Mercury himself was not a fleeter messenger than Fly, and soon the Smiths and other people around were alarmed and hurrying in crowds to the beach.  As Fly, still screaming out the news, was darting hither and thither, a hand was laid on her arm, and looking up, she saw a gentleman, young and handsome, muffled in a Spanish cloak, and with his hat pulled down over his eyes.

“What’s all this uproar about, my good girl?  Where are all these people hurrying to?” he asked, arresting her.

“Oh, to der beach!  Miss Georgia will be drowned,” cried Fly, breaking from him, and darting off among the crowd.

The stranger hurried on with the rest, and a very few minutes brought him to the beach, already thronged with the alarmed neighbors.  On a high rock stood Miss Jerusha, wringing her hands and gesticulating wildly, and more wildly urging the men to go to Georgia’s assistance, going through all the phrases of the potential mood, “exhorting, commanding, entreating,” in something after the following fashion: 

“Oh, she’ll be drownded! she’ll be drownded!  I know she will, and sarve her right, too-a ventursome, undutiful young hussy!  Oh, my gracious! what are you all a-standing here for, a-doing nothing, and Georgey drownding?  Go right off this minit and git a boat and go after her.  There! there! she’s down now!  No, she’s up again, but she’s sartin to be drownded, the infernally young fool!  Oh, Pete Jinking! you derned lazy old coward! get out your boat and go arter her!  Oh, Pete! you’re a nice old man! do go arter her!  There! now she’s upsot!  No, she’s right end up agin, but the next time she sure to go!  Oh, my conscience! won’t none en ye go arter her, you miserable set of sneakin’ cowards you!  Oh, my stars and garters! what a life I lead long o’ that there derned young gal!”

“There’s no boat to be had,” said “Pete Jinking,” “and if there was, Miss Georgia’s skiff would live where a larger one would go down.  If she can’t manage it, no one can.”

“Oh, yes! talk, talk, talk! git it off your own shoulders, you cowardly old porpoise, you! afraid to venture where a delikay young gal does.  Oh, Georgey, you blamed young pepper-pod, wait till I catch hold of you!” said Miss Jerusha, wringing her hands in the extremity of her distress.

“She has reached him! she has reached him!  There, she has him in the boat!” cried the stranger, excitedly.

“And she has got him! she has got him!  Hurra! hurra! hurra!” shouted the crowd on the shore, as they breathlessly shaded their eyes to gaze across the foaming waters.

Steering her light craft with a master hand, Georgia reached the rock barely in time, for scarcely had the lad leaped into the boat when a huge wave swept over the rocks, and not one there but shuddered at the death he had so narrowly escaped.

But the occupants of the skiff were far from safe, and a dead silence fell on all as they hushed the very beating of their hearts to watch.  She had turned its head towards the shore, and bending her slight form to the oars, she pulled vigorously against the dashing waves.  Now poised and quivering on the topmost crest of some large wave, now sinking down, down, far down out of sight until they feared it would never rise, yet, still re-appearing, she toiled bravely.  Her long, wild, black hair, unbound by the wind, streamed in the breeze, drenched and dripping with sea-brine.  On and on toiled the brave girl, nearer and nearer to the shore she came, until at last, with a mighty shout, that burst involuntarily from their relieved hearts, a dozen strong hands were extended, caught the boat, and pulled it far up on the shore.  And then “Hurrah! hurrah!  Hurrah for Georgia! hurrah for Georgia Darrell!” burst from every lip, and hats were waved, and the cheer arose again and again, until the welkin rang, and the crowd pressed around her, shaking hands, and congratulating her, and hemming her in, until, half laughing, half impatient, she broke from them, exclaiming: 

“There, there, good folks, that will do-please let me pass.  Mrs. Smith, here is your naughty little boy; you will have to take better care of him for the future.  Uncle Pete, will you just look after my skiff, and bring those oars up to the house?  My clothes are so heavy with the wet that they are as much as I can carry.  Now, Miss Jerusha, don’t begin to scold; I am not drowned, you see, so it will be all a waste of ammunition.  Come along; I want to get out of this crowd.”

Fatigued with her exertions, pale and wet, she toiled wearily up the bank, very unlike herself.  The stranger, muffled in his black brigandish-looking cloak and slouched hat, stood motionless watching her, and Georgia glanced carelessly at him and passed on.  Strangers were not much of a novelty in Burnfield now, so this young, distinguished looking gentleman awoke no surprise until she saw him advance toward her with outstretched hand.  And Georgia stepped back and glanced at him in haughty amaze.

“Miss Darrell, you are a second Grace Darling.  Allow me to congratulate you on what you have done to-day.”

“Sir!”

“You will not shake hands, Miss Darrell?  And yet we are not strangers.”

“You labor under a mistake, sir!  I do not know you!  Will you allow me to pass?”

He stood straight before her, a smile curling his mustached lip at her regal hauteur.

“And has five years, five short years, completely obliterated even the memory of Richmond Wildair?”

“Richmond Wildair! Who was he?” she said, lifting her eyes with cool indolence, and looking up straight into the bronzed, manly face, from which the hat was now raised.  “Oh, I recollect!  How do you do, sir?  Come, Miss Jerusha; let me help you up the bank.”

He stood for a moment transfixed.  Had he expected to meet the impulsive little girl he had left?  Had he expected this scornful young empress, with her chilling “who was he?

She did not notice his extended hand-that reminded him of the child Georgia-but, taking Miss Jerusha’s arm, walked with her up the path, the proud head erect, but the springing step slow and labored.

He watched her a moment, and smiled.  That smile would have reminded Georgia of other days had she seen it-a smile that said as plainly as words could speak, “You shall pay for this, my lady!  You shall find my power has not passed away.”

It was a surprise to Georgia, this meeting, and not a pleasant one.  She recollected how he had mastered and commanded her in her masterless childhood-a recollection that filled her with angry indignation; a recollection that made her compress her lips, set her foot down hard, and involuntarily clinch the small hand; a recollection that sent a bright, angry light to her black, flashing eyes, and a hot, irritated spot burning on either cheek; and the dark brows knit as he had often seen them do before as he came resolutely up and stood on the other side of Miss Jerusha.

“And will you, too, disown me, Miss Jerusha?” he said, with a look of reproach.  “Is Richmond Wildair totally forgotten by all his old friends in Burnfield?”

Miss Jerusha, who had not overheard his conversation with Georgia, faced abruptly round, and looked at him in the utmost surprise.

“Why, bless my heart if it ain’t!  Wall, railly now!  Why, I never!  Georgey, don’t you remember the young gent as you used to be so thick ’long of?  Wal, now! how do you do?  Why, I’m rail glad to see you.  I railly am, now!” And Miss Jerusha shook his hand with an empressement quite unusual with her in her surprise.

“Thank you, Miss Jerusha.  I am glad all my friends have not forgotten me,” said Richmond.

Georgia’s lip curled slightly, and facing round, she said: 

“Miss Jerusha, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go on.  I want to change this wet dress;” and without waiting for a reply, Georgia hurried on.

“What brings him here?” she said to herself, as she walked quickly toward the cottage.  “I suppose he thinks he is to be my lord and master as of yore, that I am still a slave to come at his beck, and because he is rich and I am poor he can command me as much as he pleases.  He shall not do it! he shall not!  I will never forgive him for conquering me,” flashed Georgia, clenching her hand involuntarily as she walked.

“And so you’ve come back!  Wall, now, who’d a thought it?  Is the square got well and come back, too?”

“My uncle is dead,” said the young man, gravely.

“Do tell!  Dead, is he?  Wall, we’ve all got to go, some time or another, so there’s no good making a fuss.  What’s going to come of the old place up there?”

“I am going to have it fitted up and improved, and use it for a country-seat.”

“Oh-I see! it’s your’n, is it?  Nice place it is, and worth a good many thousands, I’ll be bound!  S’pose you’ll be getting married shortly, and bringing a wife there to oversee the sarvints, and poultry, and things, eh?” and Miss Jerusha peered at him sharply with her small eyes.

“Really, Miss Jerusha, I don’t know,” he said, laughingly, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his waving dark hair.  “If I could get any one to have me, I might.  Do you think I could succeed in that sort of speculation here in Burnfield?  The young ladies here know more about looking after poultry than they do in the city.”

“Ah! they ain’t properly brought up there,” said Miss Jerusha, shaking her head; “it’s nothin’ but boardin’ schools, and beaus, and theaters, and other wickednesses there; ’tain’t ekil to the country noways.  You’ll get a wife though, easy enough; young men with lots of money don’t find much trouble doing that, either in town or country.  How’s that nice brother o’ your’n?” said Miss Jerusha, suddenly recollecting the youth who had by force possessed himself of so large a share of her affections.

“He is very well, or was when I heard from him last.  He has gone abroad to make the grand tour.”

“Oh-has he?” said Miss Jerusha, rather mystified, and not quite certain what new patent invention the grand tour was.  “Why couldn’t he make it at home?” Then, without waiting for an answer, “Won’t you come in? do come in; tea’s just ready, and you hain’t had a chance to speak to Georgey yet, hey?  You’re most happy.  Very well, walk right in and take a cheer.  You, Fly!”

“Yes’m, here I is,” cried Fly, rushing in breathlessly, and diving frantically at the oven.

“Where’s your young mistress?”

“Up stairs.”

“Well, you hurry up and get tea; fly round now, will you?  Oh, here comes Georgey.  Why, Georgey! don’t you know who this is?”

Georgia gave a start of surprise, and her face darkened as she entered and saw him sitting there so much at home.

Passing him with a distant courtesy she said, with marked coldness: 

“I have that pleasure.  Fly, attend to your baking; I’ll set the table.”

Miss Jerusha was too well accustomed to the varying moods of her ward to be much surprised at this capricious conduct; so she entered into conversation with Richmond, or rather began a racking cross examination as to what he had been doing, where he had been, what he was going to do, and how the last five years had been spent generally.

To all her questions Mr. Wildair replied with the utmost politeness, but-he told her just as much as he chose and no more.  From this she learned that he had been studying for the bar, and had been admitted, that his career hitherto had been eminently successful, that his uncle’s death had rendered him independent of his profession, but that having a passion for that pursuit he was still determined to continue it; that his brother’s health remaining delicate, change of scene had been recommended, and that therefore he had gone abroad and was not expected home for a year yet; that a desire to fit up and refurnish the “House,” as it was called, par excellence, in Burnfield, was the sole cause of his leaving Washington-where for the past five years he had mostly resided-and finally, that his stay in this flourishing township “depended on circumstances.”

It was late that evening when he went away.  Georgia had listened, and, except to Fly, had not spoken half a dozen words, still wrapped in her mantel of proud reserve.  She stood at the window when he was gone, looking out at the dark, flowing waves.

“Nice young man,” said Miss Jerusha, approvingly, referring to her guest.

There was no answer.

“Good-lookin’, too,” pursued Miss Jerusha, looking reflectively at Betsey Periwinkle, “and rich.  Hem!  I say, Georgia-you’re fond of money-wouldn’t it be pleasant if you was to be mistress bime-by of the big house-hey?”

She looked up for an answer, but Georgia was gone.