Read CHAPTER XVIII - THE DAWN OF ANOTHER DAY of The Actress's Daughter A Novel, free online book, by May Agnes Fleming, on ReadCentral.com.

“Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only ‘It might have been.’ 
God pity them both, and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

WHITTIER.

In the dead of night-of that last, sorrowful night-a slight, dark figure had flitted from one of the many doors of Richmond House, fluttered away in the chill night round through the sleeping town.  A visitor came to Miss Jerusha’s sea-side cottage that night, with a face so white and cold that the snow-wreaths dimmed beside it; the white face lay on the cold threshold, the dark figure was prostrate in the snow-drift before the door, and there the last farewell was taken while Miss Jerusha lay sleeping within.  And then the dusky form was whirling away and away again like a leaf on a blast, another stray waif on the great stream of life.

Six pealed from the town clock of Burnfield.  The locomotive shrieked, the bell rang, and the fiery monster was rushing along with its living freight to the great city of New York.

In the dusky gloom of that cold, cheerless winter morning the tall, dark form, all dressed in black and closely vailed had glided in like a spirit and taken her seat.  Muffled in caps, and cloaks, and comforters, every one had enough to do to mind themselves and keep from freezing, and no one heeded the still form that leaned back among the cushions, giving as little sign of life as though it were a statue in ebony.

The sun was high in the sky and Georgia was in New York.  She knew where to go; in her former visit she had chanced to relieve the wants of a poor widow living in an obscure tenement-house somewhere near the East River, and here, despairing of finding her way through the labyrinth of streets alone, she gave the cabman directions to drive.  Strangely calm she was now, but oh, the settled night of anguish in those large, wild, black eyes!

The poor are mostly grateful, and warm and heartfelt was Georgia’s welcome to that humble roof.  Questions were asked, but none answered; all Georgia said she wanted was a private room there for two or three days.

Alone at last, she sat down to think.  There was no time to brood over the past-her life-work was to be accomplished now.  What next? was the question that arose before her, the question that must be promptly answered.  How was she to live in this wilderness of human beings?

She leaned her head on her hands, forcibly wrenched her thoughts from the past and fixed them on the present.  How was she to earn a livelihood?  The plain, practical, homely question roused all her sleeping energies, and did her good.

The stage!  She thought of that first with an electric bound of the pulse; she knew, she was certain she could win a name and fame there; but could she, who had become the wife of Richmond Wildair, become an actress?  She knew his fastidious pride on this point; she knew the fact of her having been an actress in her childhood had never ceased to gall him more than anything else.

Georgia Darrell would have stepped on the boards and won the highest laurels the profession could bestow, but Georgia Wildair had another to think of beside herself.  Much as she longed for that exciting life-that life for which nature had so well qualified her, physically and mentally, for which she had so strong a desire-she put the thought aside and gave it up.

Though she had wrenched asunder the chains that bound her to him, she still carried a clanking fragment with her, and, no longer a free agent, she must think of something else.  Another reason there was why that profession could not be hers-she did not wish to be known or discovered by any she had ever known before; her desire was to be as dead to Richmond Wildair as if she had never existed-to leave him free, unfettered as he had been before this fatal marriage.  And, to make the more sure of this, she had resolved to drop his name and assume another.  She would take her mother’s name of Randall; it was her own name, too-Georgia Randall Darrell.

But what was she to do?  Females before now had won fame as artists, and Georgia had genius and an artist’s soul.  But she would have to wait and live on this poor widow’s bounty meantime, and that was too abhorrent to her nature to be for a moment thought of.  Nothing remained but to become a teacher or governess, and even in this she was doubtful if she could succeed.  She knew little or nothing of music, and that seemed absolutely essential in a governess, but still she would try.  If that failed, something else must be tried.

Drawing pen and ink toward her, she sat down and indited the following: 

     WANTED-A situation as governess in a respectable private family,
     by one capable of teaching French, German, and Latin, and all the
     branches of English education.  Address G. R., etc.

Next morning, among hundreds of other “wants,” this appeared in the Herald, and nothing now remained for Georgia but to wait.  The excitement of her flight, the necessity of immediate action, and now the fever of suspense, kept her mind from dwelling too much on the past.  Had it been otherwise, with her impassioned nature, she might have sunk into an agony of despair, or raved in the delirium of brain-fever.  As it was, she remained stunned into a sort of calm-white, cold, passionless; but, oh! with such a settled night of utter sorrow in the great melancholy dark eyes.

Fortunately for her, she was not doomed to remain long in suspense.  On the third day a note was brought to her in a gentleman’s hand, and tearing it eagerly open, she read: 

“ASTOR HOUSE, Ja, 18 .

“MADAM:  Seeing your advertisement in the Herald, and being in
want of a governess, if not already engaged, you would do well to
favor me with a call at your earliest leisure.  I will leave the
city in two days.  Yours,

                                                                                                    “JOHN LEONARD.”

As she finished reading this, Georgia started to her feet, hastily donned her hat and cloak, with her thick vail closely over her face, and taking one of the widow’s little boys with her, as guide, set out for the hotel.

Upon reaching it she inquired for Mr. Leonard.  A servant went for him, and in a few minutes returned with a benevolent-looking old gentleman, with white hair and a kind, friendly face.

“You wished to see me, madam,” he said, bowing, and looking inquiringly at the Juno-like form dressed in black.

“Yes, sir; I am the governess,” said Georgia, her heart throbbing so violently that she turned giddy.

“Oh, indeed!” said the old gentleman, kindly; “perhaps we had better step up to my room, then; this is no place to settle business.”

Georgia followed him up two or three flights of stairs, to an elegantly furnished apartment.  Handing her a chair, he seated himself, and glanced somewhat curiously at her.

“You received my answer to your advertisement?” he said.

“Yes, sir,” said Georgia, in a stifled voice.

“May I ask your name madam?” said Mr. Leonard, whose curiosity seemed piqued.

Georgia threw back her heavy vail, and the old gentleman gave a start of surprise at sight of the white, cold, beautiful face, and dark, sorrowful eyes.

“My name is Randall-Miss Randall,” replied Georgia, while a faint red, that faded as quickly as it came, tinged her cheek at the deception.

Mr. Leonard bowed.

“I suppose you have credentials-your certificates from those with whom you have formerly lived?” said Mr. Leonard, hesitatingly, for he felt embarrassed to address this queenly looking girl, on whose marble-like face the awe-inspiring shadow of some mighty grief lay, as he would a common governess.

Georgia’s eyes dropped, and again that slight tinge of color flashed across her face, and again faded away.

“No, sir; I have not.  I never was a governess before; sudden reverses-adversity-

She broke down, put her trembling hand before her face, and averted her head.

Mr. Leonard was an impulsive, kind-hearted old gentleman, and the sight of settled anguish in that pale young face went right home to his heart, and touched him exceedingly.

“Yes, yes, to be sure, poor child!  I understand it all.  There, don’t cry-don’t, now.  You know there is nothing but ups and downs in this world, and reverses must be expected.  I like you, I like your looks, and I rather guess I’ll engage you without credentials.  There, don’t be cast down, my dear; don’t, now.  You really make me feel bad to see you in trouble.”

Georgia lifted her head and tried to smile, but it was so faint and sad, so like a cold gleam of moonlight on snow, that it touched that soft heart of his more and more.

“Poor thing! poor thing! poor little thing!” he said, winking very rapidly with both eyes behind his spectacles; “seen a great deal of trouble, I expect, in her time, must have, to give her that look.  I’ll engage her; upon my life I will!”

“There may be one objection, sir,” said Georgia, sadly.  “I can’t teach music.”

“You can’t-hum!” said Mr. Leonard, musingly.  “Well, that doesn’t make much odds, I guess.  My daughters have a music-master now, and he can teach little Jennie, I reckon, too.  Your pupils are two boys and a girl, none over thirteen; and as you teach French, and Latin, and grammar, and English, and all the other things necessary, music does not make much difference.  And as for salary-well, I’ll attend to that at the end of the quarter, and I think you will be satisfied.  When can you come?”

“Now, if necessary, sir-any time you like.”

“Well, to-morrow morning I start.  I live forty miles out of New York, and if you will give me your address, I will call for you in the carriage.”

“I thank you, sir, but it is too far out of your way.  I will come up here,” said Georgia, who did not wish to bring him to the mean habitation where she stopped.  “I suppose that is all,” she said, rising.

“All, at present, Miss Randall,” said Mr. Leonard, rising, and looking at her in surprise as she started at the unusual name.  “To-morrow at ten o’ clock, I leave.  Good-morning.”

He shook hands cordially with her at parting, and then Georgia hurried out, feeling that one faint gleam of sunshine had arisen in her darkened life.  In the desolate years of the weary life before her she would at least be a burden to no one, and for a few moments she felt as if an intolerable load had been lifted off her heart.  But when she was alone again in her chamber and the reaction past, the awful sense of her desolation came sweeping over her.  In all the wide world she had not one friend left.  Sun, and moon, and stars all had faded from her sky, and night-dark, woeful night-had closed, and a night for which there was no morning.  And, oh, worst of all, she felt it was her own fault, her own stormy, unbridled passions had done it all; and with a great cry, wrung from her tortured heart, she sank down quivering and white in the dusky gloom of that wild winter evening.  There was no light in Georgia’s despair; in happier days she had never prayed, and in the hour of her earthly anguish she could not.  In this world she could look forward to nothing but a wretched, despairing life, and to her the next was a dull, dead blank.  One name was in her heart, one name on her lips, one whom she had made her God, her earthly idol, and now he, too, was forever lost.

When the widow came in to awaken her the next morning, she was startled by the sight of the tall, dark form, wrapped in a shawl, sitting by the window, her forehead pressed to the cold pane, her face whiter than the snow-wreaths without.  She had not laid her head on a pillow the livelong night.

The cold, pale sunshine of the short January day was fading out of the sky, when a sleigh, well supplied with buffalo robes and the merry music of jingling bells, came flying up toward a large, handsome country villa, through the crimson curtained windows of which the ruddy light of many a glowing coal fire shone.  As it stopped before the door, a group from within came running out, and stood on the veranda, in eager expectation and pleasing bustle.

An old gentleman with white hair and a benevolent smile, answering to the cognomen of Mr. Leonard, got out and assisted a lady, tall and elegant, dressed in black, and closely vailed, to alight.  Then, giving a few hasty directions to a servant who was leading off the horses, he gave the lady his arm and led her up to the house.

And upon reaching the veranda he was instantly surrounded, and an incredible amount of kissing, and questioning, and laughing, and talking was done in an instant, and the old gentleman was whisked off and borne into a large, handsomely furnished parlor, where the brightest of fires was blazing in the brightest of grates, and pushed into a rocking-chair and whirled up before the fire in a twinkling.

“Lord bless my soul!” said the old gentleman, breathlessly, and laying a strong emphasis on the pronoun; “what a lot of whirlwinds you are, girls!  Where’s Miss Randall, eh?  Where’s Miss Randall?”

“Here, sir,” answered Georgia, as she entered the room.

“And pretty near frozen, I’ll be bound!  I know I am.  Mrs. Leonard, my dear, this young lady is the governess-Miss Randall.”

Georgia bowed to a little fat woman with restless, hazel eyes.

“And these are my two eldest daughters, Felice and Maggie,” continued Mr. Leonard, pointing to two pretty, graceful-looking young girls, who nodded carelessly to the governess; “and these are your pupils,” he added, pointing to two little boys, apparently between thirteen and ten, and to a little girl, who, from her resemblance to the younger, was evidently his twin sister.  “Albert, Royal, Jennie, come up and shake hands with Miss Randall.”

“Miss Randall! why, Licie, that’s the name of that nice gentleman who brought you the roses last night, ain’t it?” said little Jennie, looking up cunningly at her elder sister.

Miss Felice glanced at Miss Maggie and smiled and blushed, and began twisting one of her ringlets over her taper fingers, looking very conscious indeed.

“May I ask if you are any relation to young Mr. Randall, the poet, of New York?” said Mrs. Leonard, pushing up her spectacles and trying to see Georgia through the thick vail which still covered her face.

“Why, mamma, what a question!  Of course she’s not,” said Miss Felice, rather pettishly; “he has no relatives, you know.  There’s plenty of the name.”

Georgia threw back her vail at this moment, and stooped to kiss little Jennie, who came up and held her rosy mouth puckered for that purpose, as if she was quite accustomed to be treated to that sort of small coin.

“Oh, Felice, what a beautiful face!” exclaimed Miss Maggie, in an impulsive whisper.

“Ye-es, she’s not bad-looking-for a governess,” drawled Miss Felice.  “They are generally so frightfully ugly.  She’s a great deal too pale though, and too solemn looking; it gives me the dismals to look at her; and she’s ever so much too tall” (Miss Felice, be it known, was rather on the dumpy pattern than otherwise), “and too slight for her size, and her forehead’s too high, and her-

“Oh, Felice, stop!  You’ll try to make out she’s as ugly as sin directly.  Did you ever see such splendid eyes?”

“I don’t like black eyes,” said Miss Felice, in a dissatisfied tone; “they are too sharp and fiery.  They do well enough for men, but I don’t approve of them at all for women.”

“Dear me, what a pity!” said Miss Maggie, sarcastically; “but you can’t call hers fiery-they’re dreadfully melancholy, I’m sure.  Now ain’t they, mamma?”

“What dear?” said Mrs. Leonard, not catching the whispered question.

“Hasn’t Miss Randall got lovely melancholy black eyes?”

“Oh, bother her melancholy black eyes!” said Miss Felice, impatiently.  “What a time you do make about people, Mag.  And she only a governess, too.  I should think you would be ashamed.”

“Well, I ain’t ashamed-not the least,” said Maggie; “and no matter whether she’s a governess or not, she looks like a lady.  I’m sure she’s very clever, too.  I wonder who she’s in black for.”

“Ask her,” said Miss Felice, shortly, as she picked up a French novel, and, placing her feet on the fender, sat down to read.

Miss Felice was blessed with a temper much shorter than sweet, and Miss Maggie, who was rather good-natured, took her curt replies as a matter of course, and, going over to Georgia, said pleasantly: 

“Miss Randall, if you wish to go up to your room, I will be your cicerone for the occasion.  Perhaps you would like to brush your hair before tea.”

“Thank you,” said Georgia, rising languidly, and following Miss Maggie from the room.

“This is to be your sanctum sanctórum, Miss Randall,” said Maggie, opening the door of a small and plainly but neatly furnished bedroom, rendered cheerful by red drapery and a redder fire.  “It’s not very gorgeous, you perceive; but it’s the one the governess always uses here.  Our last one-Miss Fitzgerald, an Irish young lady-went and precipitated herself into the awful gulf of -

“What?” said Georgia, with a slight start, caused by Miss Maggie’s awe-struck manner.

“Matrimony!” said Miss Maggie, in a thrilling whisper.  “Ain’t it dreadful?  Governesses, and ministers, and curates, and all sorts of poor people generally will persist in such atrocities, on the principle that what won’t keep one, I suppose, will keep two.  Don’t you ever get married, Miss Randall. I never mean to - Why, my goodness, what’s the matter now?”

Georgia had given such a violent start, and a spasm of such intense anguish had passed over her face, that Miss Maggie jumped back, and stood regarding her with wide-open and startled eyes, the picture of astonishment.

“Nothing-nothing,” said Georgia, leaning her elbow on the table, and dropping her forehead on it:  “a sudden pain-gone now.  Pray do not be alarmed.”

“Oh, I ain’t alarmed,” said Miss Maggie composedly.  “Do you think you will like to live out here?  It’s awful lonesome, I can tell you; a quarter of a mile almost to the nearest house.  Licie and I want papa to stop in New York in the winter, but he won’t-he doesn’t mind a word we say.  Papas are always the dreadfulest, most obstinate sort of people in the world-now, ain’t they?-always thinking they know best, you know, and always dreadfully provoking.  Oh, dear me!” said Miss Maggie, with a deep sigh, as she fell back in her chair, and held up and glanced admiringly at one pretty little foot and distracting ankle, “I don’t know what we should ever do only papa comes from the city to see us, and that nice Signor Popkins, who was a count or a legion of honor, or some funny thing in France, and got exiled by that nasty Louis Napoleon, comes and gives Licie and me two music lessons every week.  Oh!  Miss Randall, he’s got just the sweetest hair you ever saw; and mustaches-oh, my goodness! such mustaches-that stick out like two shaving-brushes; and splendid long whiskers, like a cow’s tail.  Felice don’t care much for him, because she thinks she’s caught that nice, clever Mr. Randall, your namesake, you know; but I guess she ain’t so sure of him as she thinks.  Oh! he does write the most divine poetry ever was-down right splendid, you know; and every lady is raving about him.  He’s travelled all over Europe, and Asia, and Africa, and the North Pole, and California, and lots of other nice places, and knows-oh, dear me, he knows a dreadful sight of things, and is a splendid talker.  He only came from England two weeks ago, and everybody is making such a time about him.  Felice met him at a party, and he came here last night with the divinest bouquet, and she thinks she has him, but I know better.  Then some more gentlemen come here.  Lem Turner, and Ike Brown, and Dick Curtis, but he’s gone away somewhere to the country, to where some friend of his lives - Hey?  What now?  Another pain, Miss Randall?”

“No-yes.  Excuse me, Miss Leonard, I am very tired, and will lie down now.  You will please to tell them I do not feel well enough to go down to tea.”

“Well, there!  I might have known you were tired, and not kept on talking so, but I am such a dreadful chatterbox.  I’ll tell Susan to bring up your tea.  Good-by, Miss Randall; I hope you’ll be quite well to-morrow, I’m sure.”  And the loquacious damsel bowed a smiling adieu, and retired.

Georgia was better the next morning, and able to join the family at breakfast, which meal was enlivened by a steady flow of talk from Miss Maggie, and a series of snappish contradictions and marginal notes from Miss Felice, who never got her temper on till near noon.  Mr. and Mrs. Leonard took both daughters as matters of course, and seemed quite used to this sort of thing.  On Georgia’s part it passed almost in silence, as she sat like some cold, marble statue, with scarcely more signs of life.

After breakfast Miss Felice sat down to practice some unearthly exercises on the grand piano that adorned the drawing-room, and Miss Maggie Leonard bore off Georgia and the three juvenile Leonards to a large, high, severe-looking room, adorned with a dismal looking blackboard, sundry maps, with red, green, yellow splashes, supposed to represent this terrestrial globe.  Four solemn-looking black desks were in the four corners, and one in the middle for the teacher.  Books, and ink bottles, and slates, without end, were scattered about, and this, Mrs. Leonard informed Georgia, was the school-room, and after administering a small lecture to Messrs. Albert and Royal and Miss Jennie, the purport of which was that the world in general expected them to be good children and learn fast, and mind Miss Randall, she floated out, bearing off the unwilling Miss Maggie, and Georgia began her new life as teacher.

That day seemed endless to Georgia.  Accustomed to uncontrolled freedom and wild liberty, she was fitted less for a teacher than for anything else in the world.  That love of children which it is necessary every teacher should possess, Georgia had not, and before the wearisome day was done every feeling that had not been stunned into numbness rose in rebellion against the intolerable servitude.

At four o’clock the day’s labor was over, and the children, glad to be released, scampered off.

Seating herself at the desk, Georgia dropped her throbbing head upon it, giddy and blind with one of her deadly headaches, which until the last month or two, she had never known.

Suddenly the door was flung open, and Miss Maggie’s ringing voice was heard.

“Well, Miss Randall, how did you get on?  Mamma wouldn’t let me come up, and it was real mean of her.  Why, what’s the matter?  Oh, my goodness! you look dreadful!”

“I have got a headache,” said Georgia, pressing her hands to her throbbing temples dizzily.

“Oh, you have!  Being in this hot room all day has caused it.  Do let me bring you your things, and come out for a walk.  It is a beautiful evening, though cold, and the air will do you good.  Come.  I’ll go with you, Miss Randall:  Shall I go and get your things?”

“You are very good,” said Georgia, faintly; “I think I will; I feel almost suffocated.”

Maggie bounded away, and the next moment came flying back, rolled up in a huge shawl, and her pretty face eclipsed in an immense quilted hood.  She held another shawl and hood in her hands, and before Georgia knew where she was, she found herself all muffled up and ready for the road.

“Now, then!” said Miss Maggie, briskly; “come along!  See if the wind won’t blow roses into those white cheeks of yours!”

Passing her arm around Georgia’s waist, Maggie drew her with her out of the house.

The day was cold, and clear, and bright, and windless; a frosty, sunshiny, cold afternoon.  The sun, sinking in the west, shed a red glow over the snow-covered fields, and gave a golden brightness to the windows of the house.

Some of the old wild spirit, that nothing but death could ever entirely crush out of Georgia’s gipsy heart, rose as the cold, keen frosty air cooled her fevered brow.  The languid eyes lit up, and she started at a rapid walk that kept Maggie breathless, and laughing, and running, and quite unable to talk.

“Oh, my stars!” said Maggie, at last, as she stopped, panting, and leaned against a fence.  “If you haven’t got the seven-league boots on, Miss Randall, then I should like to know who has?  You ought to go into training for a female pedestrian, and you would make your fortune in twenty-five-cent pieces.  I declare I’m just about tired to death.”

“Why, how thoughtless I am!” said Georgia, whose excited pace had scarcely kept time with her excited thoughts; “I forgot you could not walk as fast as I can.  Suppose you sit down and rest, and I will wait.”

“All right, then,” said Maggie, as she clambered with great agility to the top of the fence and sat down on the top rail; “but ’Hold, Macduff! who comes here?’”

A sleigh came dashing along the road, drawn by a small, spirited horse that seemed fairly to fly.  It was occupied by a gentleman wearing a large black cloak, and a fur cap drawn down over his brow.

As he reached them he turned round and glanced carelessly toward the two girls.  For one instant his face was turned fully toward them, the next he was whirling away out of sight.

“Oh, how handsome! oh, isn’t he beautiful?” exclaimed Maggie, clasping her hands enthusiastically; “such splendid eyes, and such a pale, handsome face, and such a glorious driver.  My! how I would like to be in that sleigh with him.  I would-wouldn’t you, Miss Randall?”

She turned to Georgia, and fairly leaped off the fence in amazement to see her standing rigid and motionless, with wildly distended eyes and white, startled face, gazing after the object of Maggie’s admiration.

“Why, Miss Randall!  Miss Randall!” said Maggie, catching her arms, “what’s the matter?  Do you know him?”

“Let us go back, Miss Leonard,” said Georgia, passing her hand over her eyes as if to dispel some wild vision.

Know him!  Yes, as if they had parted but yesterday.  Could Georgia forget Charley Wildair?