Read CHAPTER XVI - REAPING THE WHIRLWIND of The Actress's Daughter A Novel, free online book, by May Agnes Fleming, on ReadCentral.com.

“Oh, woman wronged can cherish hate
More deep and dark than manhood may.”

WHITTIER.

And in that deep and utter agony-
Though then than ever most unfit to die-
She fell upon her knees and prayed for death.”

It was not in human heart, much less in a heart that loved her still, to gaze on that death-like face unmoved; and Richmond’s stern gaze relaxed, and his brow lost its cold severity, as he knelt beside her and said: 

“Dearest Georgia, one would think you were dying.  Deeply as you have mortified me, I have not the heart to see you thus wretched.  Look up-smile-speak to me.  What! not a word?  Good mercy, how deeply you seem to feel these things!”

“Let me go, Richmond; I am tired and sick, and want to be alone.”

“Yes, you are sick; the fiery spirit within you is wearing out your body.  Oh, Georgia! when are these storms of passion to cease?”

She lifted her melancholy black eyes to his face with a strange, prolonged gaze.

When I am dead.

“Oh, Georgia, sooner than that!  Oh, why did you insult my mother, disgrace me, and horrify all these people to-day!  Are you going crazy, Georgia?”

“No; I wish I were.”

“Georgia!” he said, shocked as much by her slow, strange tone as by her words.

“Perhaps I will be soon; you are all taking a good way to make me so.”

“Georgia!”

“It will be better for you, you know-you can marry a lady then.”

Georgia!

“Oh, you can marry your cousin-she will never disgrace you, Richmond,” she said, with a strange, short laugh.

“GEORGIA!”

“Oh, Richmond, why did you marry me? Why did you ever marry me?” she cried, suddenly changing her tone to one of piercing anguish, and wringing her pale fingers.

“Because,” he said, flushing deeply, “I mistook you for a noble-hearted, generous girl, instead of the vindictive, rebellious one you have turned out to be.  Because I made a mistake, as many another has done before me, and will do for all time.  Are you satisfied now, my dear?”

She rose from her seat and paced up and down, wringing her hands.

“Oh, I thought I would have been so happy!  You said you loved me, and I believed you.  I did not know you wanted a wife to bear the brunt of your mother’s sneers and your cousin’s insults-some one to afford a subject of laughter to your friends.  Oh, Richmond, I wish-I wish I had died before I ever met you!”

Richmond stood watching her in silence a moment, and the look of marked displeasure again settled on his face.

“Well, really, this is pleasant!” he said, slowly.  “You can act the part of the termagant to the life, Mistress Georgia.  I expected, and I believe so did all the rest, to see you knock my mother down a little while ago; that, I presume, will be the next exhibition.  You have made out a long list of complaints against me during the past; take care that I do not turn the tables and accuse you of something worse than being a virago, my lady.”

“Oh, I shall not be surprised.  Say and do what you please; nothing will astonish me now.  Oh, that it were not a crime to die!” she cried, passionately wringing her hands.

“Well, madam, you do not believe in hell, you know,” he said, with a sneer, “so what does it matter?”

“Two months ago I did not, Richmond; now I know of it.”

The frown deepened on his brow.

“What do you mean by that, Mrs. Wildair?” he said, hotly.

“Nothing,” she replied, with a cold smile.

“Have a care, my lady; your taunts may be carried too far.  It ill becomes you to take the offensive after what has passed this afternoon.”

“After what has passed!  By that you mean, I suppose, my preventing your mother from making the servants turn my best, my dearest friend, into the street like a dog,” she said, stopping in her walk and facing him.

“My mother mistook her for a beggar.  How was she to know she was anything to you?”

Georgia broke into a scornful laugh, and resumed her walk.

“Positively, Mrs. Wildair,” said Richmond, flushing crimson with anger, “this insulting conduct is too much.  If I cannot command your obedience, I at least insist on your respect.  And as we are upon the subject, I beg in your intercourse with one of my guests you will remember you are a wedded wife.  You seem to have forgotten it pretty well up to the present, both of you.”

She had sunk on a sofa, her face hidden in the cushions, her hands clasped over her heart, as if to still the intolerable pain there.  She made no reply to the words that had struck her ear, but conveyed no meaning, and after waiting in vain for an answer, he resumed, with a still deepening frown: 

“You will not honor me with an answer, madam.  Probably your smiles and answers are all alike reserved for the fascinating Captain Arlingford.  How do you intend to meet my mother, Mrs. Wildair, after what has happened to-day?”

“Oh, Richmond, I do not know!  Oh, Richmond, do, do leave me!”

“Madam!”

“I am so tired, and so sick.  I cannot talk to-night!” she cried out, lifting her bowed head, and clasping her hands to her throbbing temples.

“Be it so, then, madam.  I shall not intrude again,” said Richmond, as, with a face dark with anger, he turned and left the room.

Next morning at breakfast Georgia did not appear.  There was an embarrassment-a restraint upon all present, which deepened when the unconscious Captain Arlingford, the only one who ventured to pronounce her name, inquired for Mrs. Wildair.

A dusky fire, the baleful fire of jealousy, flamed up in Richmond Wildair’s eyes.  Freddy and his mother saw it, and exchanged glances, and the old evil smile broke over the former’s face.

“She was indisposed last night,” said Mr. Wildair, with freezing coldness, “and I presume has not yet sufficiently recovered to be able to join us at table.  You will have the happiness of seeing her at dinner, Captain Arlingford.”

There was something in his tone that made Captain Arlingford look up, and Mrs. Wildair, fearing a public disagreement, which did not suit her purpose at all, said hastily in a tone of the most motherly solicitude: 

“Poor, dear child.  I am afraid that little affair of yesterday has mortified her to death.  Freddy, love, do go up to her room, and see how she is.”

Now Miss Freddy, who was a most prudent young lady, for sundry good reasons of her own, would have preferred at first not bearding the lioness in her den, but after an instant’s thought, the desire of exulting over her proved too strong for her fears, and she rose with alacrity from her seat, and with her unvarying smile on her face, passed from the room, and up stairs.

Upon reaching Georgia’s door she halted, and discreetly peeped through the keyhole.  Nothing was to be seen, however, and the silence of the grave reigned within.  She softly turned the handle of the door, but it was locked, and after hesitating a moment, she rapped.  Her summons was at first unanswered, and was repeated loudly three or four times before the door swung back, and Georgia, pale and haggard, with disordered hair and garments, stood before her.  So changed was she that Freddy started back, and then, recovering herself, she drew a step nearer, folded her arms, and looked up in her face with a steady, insolent smile.  But that smile seemed to have no effect upon Georgia, who, white, cold, and statue-like, stood looking down upon her from the depths of her great black eyes.

“Good-morning, my dear Georgia,” she said, smiling. “Captain Arlingford sends his compliments, and begs to know how you are.”

There was no reply to this insulting speech.  The black eyes never moved in their steady gaze.

“What shall I tell the handsome captain, Georgia?” continued the little fiend.  “He was inquiring most anxiously for you this morning.  Shall I say you will relieve that anxiety by gracing our dinner table?  Allow me to insinuate, in case you do, that it would be advisable to use a little rouge, or they will think a corpse has risen from the church-yard to take the head of Richmond Wildair’s table.  And, worse than all, the flame with which your red cheeks inspired the gallant captain will go out like a candle under an extinguisher at sight of that whitey-brown complexion.  Say, Georgia, tell me in confidence how did you get up that high color?  As you and I are such near friends you might let me know, that I may improve my own sallow countenance likewise.”

No reply-the tail form was rigid-the white face cold and set-the black eyes fixed-the pale lips mute.

“Mrs. Wildair and Mrs. Colonel Gleason used to insist it was liquid rouge, but Captain Arlingford and I knew better, and told them all country girls had great flaming red cheeks just like that.  We were right, were we not, Georgia?”

Still dumb.  Her silence was beginning to startle even Freddy’s admirable equanimity.

“And now, my dear Georgia, I must really tear myself away from you.  When shall I say we are to be honored by your charming presence again?”

The white lips parted, one hand was slightly raised.

“Are you done?” she said, in a voice so husky that it was almost inaudible.

“Ye-yes,” said Freddy, startled in spite of herself.  “I only await your answer, my dear.”

For all answer, Georgia stepped back, closed the door in the very face of the insolent girl, and locked it.

For one moment Freddy stood transfixed, while her sallow face grew sallower, and her thin lips fairly trembled with impotent rage.  Turning a look of concentrated spite and hatred toward the door, she descended the stairs.

“Well, Freddy,” said Mrs. Wildair, when she re-entered the parlor, “how is Georgia?”

“Not very well, I should say, by her looks-how she felt, she did not condescend to tell me,” unable for once to suppress the bitterness she felt.

Richmond, who was chatting with Miss Reid and Miss Harper, started, and a faint tinge of color shone on his cheek.

“When is she coming down?” asked Mrs. Wildair.

“My dear aunt, Mrs. Georgia, for some reason of her own, saw fit to answer none of my questions.  She closed the door in my face by way of reply.”

Richmond began talking rapidly, and with so much empressement, to his two companions that languid Miss Reid lifted her large sleepy-looking eyes in faint wonder, and a malicious smile curled the lips of Miss Harper.

A sleighing party was to be the order of the day, and, after breakfast, the ladies hurried to their rooms to don their furs and cloaks; and Richmond, seizing the first opportunity, hurried to Georgia’s room and knocked loudly and authoritatively at the door.

It did not open; all was silent within.

“Georgia, open the door, I command you!” he said, in a voice of suppressed passion.  “Open the door this instant; I insist.”

It opened slowly, and he saw the collapsed and haggard face of his wife, but he was too deeply angry to heed or care for her looks at that moment.  Entering the room, he closed the door, and with a light in his eyes and a look in his face that, with all his anger, he had never worn hitherto, he confronted her.

“Madam, what did you mean by your conduct to my cousin this morning?” he said, in a tone that he had never used to her before.

A spasm shot across her face, and she reeled as if she had received a blow.

“Oh, Richmond! oh, my husband! do not say that you knew of her coming this morning!” she cried in tones of such anguish as he had never heard before.

“I did know it, madam!  And when she was generous and forgiving enough to forget your insolent treatment, and come to ask how you were, she should have been treated otherwise than having the door slammed in her face,” he said in a voice quivering with passion.

She did not speak-she could not.  Dizzily she sat down with her hands over her heart, always her habit when the pain there was most acute.

He knew, then, of this last deadly insult-he sanctioned it-he encouraged it.  His cousin was all the world to him-she was nothing.  It only needed this to fill the cup of her degradation to the brim.  Her hands tightened involuntarily over her heart, she could not help it; she felt as though it were breaking.

“And now, madam, since you will persist in your insolent course, listen to me.  You shall not any longer slight the guests, who do you too much honor-yes, madam, I repeat it, who do you too much honor, by residing under the same roof with you.  Since my requests are unheeded, listen to my commands!  We are all now going out to drive; in four hours we will return, and see that you are dressed and in the drawing-room ready to receive us when we come.  I do not ask you to do this.  I command you, and you refuse at your peril!  Leave off this ghastly look, and all the rest of your tantrums, my lady, and try to act the courteous hostess for once.  Remember, now, and try to recall your broken vow of wifely obedience for the first time; for, as sure as Heaven hears me, if you dare disobey you shall repent it!  I did not wish to speak thus, but you have compelled me, and now that I have been aroused you shall learn what it is to brave me with impunity.  Madam, look up; have you heard me?”

She lifted her eyes, so full, in their dark depths of utter woe, of undying despair.

Yes.

“And you will obey?”

“Yes.”

“See that you do!  And remember, no more scenes of vulgar violence.  Chain your unbridled passions, and behave as one in your sane mind for once.  You shall have to take care what you are at for the future, mistress!”

And with this last menace, he departed to join his guests in their excursion.

For upward of three hours after he left her, she lay as she had lain all that livelong night, prostrate, rigid, and motionless.  Others in her situation might have shed tears, but Georgia had none to shed; her eyes were dry and burning, her lips parched; natures like hers do not weep, in their deadliest straits the heart sheds tears of blood.

She arose at last, and giddily crossed the room, and rang the bell.  Her maid answered the summons.

“Susan,” she said, lifting her heavy eyes, “make haste and dress me.  I am going down to the drawing-room.”

“What will you please to wear, madam?” said Susan, looking at her in wonder.

“Anything, anything, it does not matter, only make haste,” she said, slowly.

Susan, thus left to herself, arrayed her mistress in a rich crimson satin, with heavy frills of lace, bound her shining black hair around her head in elaborate plaits and braids, fastened her ruby earrings in her small ears, clasped a bracelet set with the same fiery jewels on her beautiful rounded arm, and then, finally, seeing even the crimson satin did not lend a glow to the deadly pale face, she applied rouge to the cheeks and lips, until Georgia was apparently as blooming as ever before her.  And all this time she had sat like a statue, like a milliner’s lay figure, to be dressed, unheeding, unnoticing it all, until Susan had finished.

“Will you please to see if you will do, ma’am,” said Susan, respectfully.

Georgia lifted her languid eyes to the beautiful face and form in its dark, rich beauty and fiery costume, and said faintly: 

“Yes; you have done very well.  You can go now.”

The girl departed, and Georgia sat with her arms dropped listlessly by her side, her heavy lashes sweeping her cheek unconscious of the flight of time.  Suddenly the merry jingle of many sleigh-bells dashing up the avenue, mingled with silvery peals of laughter, broke upon her ear, and she started to her feet, pressed her hand to her forehead, as if to still the pulse so loudly beating there, and then walked from the room, and descended the stairs.

As she reached the hall, the whole party laughing and talking, with flushed cheeks, and sparkling eyes, flashed in, and the next instant, like one in a dream, she felt herself surrounded, listening to them all talking at once, without comprehending a word.

“Of course she is better.  See what a high color she has,” said the voice of Freddy Richmond, the first she clearly distinguished amid the din.

“I strongly disapprove of rouging,” said Mrs. Wildair, in an audible whisper, to Mrs. Gleason, as they both swept up stairs with a great rustling of silks.

“What a bewildered look she has,” said Miss Harper, with a slight laugh, as she too, brushed past; “one would think she was walking in a dream.”

“Here comes Captain Arlingford, Hattie, dear,” as she tripped after her; “she will awake now.”

Poor Georgia! she did indeed feel like one in a dream; yet she heard every jibe as plainly as even the speakers could wish, but she replied not.

“My dear Mrs. Wildair, I am rejoiced to see you again, and looking so well too,” said the frank, manly voice of Captain Arlingford, as he shook her hand warmly.  “I trust you have quite recovered from your late indisposition.”

“Quite, I thank you,” said Georgia, trying to smile.  Every voice and every look she had lately heard had been so cold and harsh that her languid pulses gave a grateful bound at the honest, hearty warmth of the frank young sailor’s tone.

Richmond Wildair had just entered in time to witness this little scene, and something as near a scowl as his serene brow could ever wear, darkened it at that very moment.  Well has it been said that “jealousy is as cruel as the grave,” it is also willfully blind.  The very openness, the very candor of this greeting, might have disarmed all suspicion, but Richmond Wildair would not see anything but his earnest eagerness, and the smile that rewarded him.

Going up to Georgia, he brushed almost rudely past Arlingford, and, offering her his arm, he said coldly: 

“You will take cold standing in this draught, my dear; allow me to lead you to the drawing-room.”

At his look and tone the smile died away.  He saw it, and the scowl deepened.

Placing her on a sofa, he stooped over and said in a hissing whisper in her ear: 

“Do not too openly show your preference for the gallant captain this evening, Mrs. Wildair.  If you cannot dissimulate for my sake, try it for your own.  People will talk, you know, if your partiality is too public.”

A flash like sheet-lightning leaped from Georgia’s eyes, as the insulting meaning of his words flashed upon her; she caught her breath and sprang to her feet, but with a bow and a smile he turned and was gone.

“Oh, mercy! that I were dead!” was the passionate cry wrung from her anguished heart at this last worst blow of all.  “Oh, this is the very climax of wrong and insult!  Oh, what, what have I done to be treated thus?”

How this evening passed Georgia never knew.  As Miss Harper had said, she was like one in a dream, but it was over at last; and, totally worn out and exhausted, she was sleeping a deep dreamless sleep of utter prostration.

Next morning, at the breakfast table, Henry Gleason suddenly called out-

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, what’s to be the bill of fare for to-day?”

“Somebody was talking of teaching us to skate yesterday,” said Miss Harper.  “I want to learn dreadfully.  What do you say to going down to that pond we were looking at and giving us our first lesson.”

“I’m there!” said Master Henry, whose language was always more emphatic than choice, “what do you say, all of you young shavers?”

“I second the motion for one,” said Mr. Curtis

“And I for another,” said Lieutenant Gleason, and a universal assent came from the gentlemen.

“And what says our host?” said Miss Harper, with a smile.

“That he is always delighted to sanction anything Miss Harper proposes,” he said, with a bow.

“And what says our hostess?” said Captain Arlingford, turning to Georgia, who with her fictitious bloom gone, sat pale and languid at the head of the table.

“That she is afraid you will have to hold her excused,” replied Georgia.  “I scarcely feel well enough to accompany you.”

“You are indeed looking ill,” said Miss Arlingford, anxiously; “pray allow me to stay with you, then, as you are unable to go out.”

“And me too!” sung out Henry Gleason so eagerly that the mouthful he was eating went the wrong way, nearly producing strangulation.  “There is not much fun in teaching girls to skate; all they do is stand on their feet a minute, then squeal out, and flop down like a lot of bad balloons, and then get up and screech and go head over heels again.  It’s twice as jolly hearing Miss Arlingford sing.”

Miss Arlingford laughed, and bowed her thanks for the compliment.

“And may I beg to stay too?” said Captain Arlingford; “I am really getting quite played out with so much exertion, and mean to take life easy for a day or two.  Come now, Mrs. Wildair, be merciful to Harry and me?”

“I think you had better try to join us, Georgia,” said Richmond, with no very pleased look; “the air will do you good.”

“Indeed I cannot,” said Georgia, who was half blinded with a throbbing headache; “my head aches, and I beg you will excuse me.  But I cannot think of depriving any of you of the pleasure of going, though I thank you for your kind consideration.”

“Now, Mrs. Wildair, I positively shall not take a refusal,” said Miss Arlingford, who saw that it would do better not to leave Georgia alone with her morbid fancies.  “I shall take it quite unkindly if you send me away.  I shall try if I cannot exorcise your headache by some music, and I really must intercede, too, for my young friend, Master Harry here, who was delightful enough to compliment me a little while ago.”

“And will no one intercede for me?” said the captain.

I will,” said Harry.  “We three will have a real nice good time all to ourselves - hanged if we don’t!  Oh, Miss Arlingford, you’re a-a brick! you are so!” he exclaimed enthusiastically; “and Mrs. Georgia, I guess you’d better let Arlingford stay too.  Three ain’t company, and four is.”

And “Do, Mrs. Wildair!” “Do, Mrs. Georgia,” chimed in Captain and Miss Arlingford laughingly.  And Georgia, unable to refuse without positive rudeness, smiled a faint assent.

For one instant a scowl of midnight blackness lingered on the face of Richmond, the next it was gone, and Georgia saw him, smiling and gay, set off with the rest on their skating excursion.

The dinner hour was past before they arrived.  Georgia had spent a pleasanter morning than she had for many a day, and there was something almost like cheerfulness in her tone as she addressed some questions to her husband after his return.  He did not reply, but turned on her a terrible look, that sent her sick and faint back in her seat, and then, without a word, he passed on and was gone.

That look was destined to overthrow all Georgia’s new-found calmness for that day.  She scarcely understood what had caused it.  Surely he must have known she was ill, she thought, and not fitted to join in an excursion like that, and surely he could not be angry at her for staying at home while too sick to go out.  Feeling that the gayety of the drawing-room that evening was like “vinegar upon niter” to her feelings, she quitted it and passed out into the long hall.  The moon was shining brightly through the glass sides of the door, and she leaned her burning forehead against the cold panes and looked out at the bright stars shining down on the placid earth.

There was a rustle of garments behind her, a soft cat-like step she knew too well, and turning round she saw the hateful face with its baleful smile fixed upon her.

A flush of indignation covered her pale face.  Could she not move a step without being dogged by this creature?

“Well, Mrs. Georgia,” began Freddy, with a sneer, “I hope you had a pleasant time to-day with the gay sailor.”

Georgia clinched her hands and set her teeth hard together to keep down her rising passion.

“Leave me!” she said, with an imperious stamp.

“Oh, just let me stay a little while,” said Freddy, jeeringly.  “What confidence he must have in you to make an appointment in the very face of your husband!”

“Will you leave me?”

“Not just yet, my dear cousin,” Freddy said, smiling up in her face.  “What a romantic thing it would be if we were to have an elopement in real life-how delightful it would be, wouldn’t it?”

Georgia’s face grew ghastly, even to her lips, and her whole frame shook with the storm of passion raging within.  Freddy saw it, and exulted in her power.

“How delightfully jealous Richmond is, to be sure, of his pauper bride and her sailor lover; how his friends will talk when they go back to the city-and how Mrs. Wildair, of Richmond Hall, who is too much of a fool ever to know how to carry out an intrigue properly, will be laughed at.  Ha! ha! ha! what delicious scenes have been witnessed here since we came, to be sure.”

What demon was it leaped into Georgia’s eyes at that moment-what meant her awful, calm, and terrible look?

“How will it read in the papers?  ’We are pained to learn that the young and beautiful wife of Richmond Wildair, Esq., of Burnfield, eloped last night.  The gay Adonis is Captain Arlingford, U. S. N., who was, we believe, at the time, the honored guest of the wronged husband.  Mr. Wildair has pursued the guilty couple, and a duel will probably be the consequence of this sad affair.’  Ha! ha!  What do you think of my imagination, Georgia?”

No reply; but, oh! that dreadful look!

“Oh, the insolence of earthworms like you,” continued Freddy, in her bitter gibing tone, “you dare to lift your eyes to one who would have honored you too much by letting you wipe the dust off his shoes. You, the parish pauper, reared by the bounty of a wretched old hag-you, the child of a strolling player, who died on the roadside like a dog-you, the -

But she never finished the sentence.  With the awful shriek of a demon-a shriek that those who heard could never forget, Georgia sprang upon her, caught her by the throat, and hurled her with the strength of madness against the wall.

With a faint cry, strangled in its birth, Freddy held up her hands to save herself; but she was as a child in the fierce grasp of the woman she had infuriated.

Ere the last cadence of that terrible shriek had ceased ringing through the house, every one, servants, guests and all, were on the spot.  And there they saw Georgia standing like an incarnate fury, and Frederica Richmond lying motionless on the ground, her face deluged in blood.