What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
He found Weir kneeling on the hearth-rug. The hall was an immense place with a vaulted ceiling upheld by massive beams; the walls were wainscotted almost to the top with oak which had been polished for many a century; and the floor, polished also, was covered with rugs which had been very handsome in their day. There were several superb suits of armor and a quantity of massive, carved oaken furniture, extremely uncomfortable but very picturesque. In the open fire-place, which would have held many more than Harold and Weir within its depths, great logs were burning. The lamps had been brought in but had not been turned up, and save for the firelight the great cathedral apartment was a thicket of shadows, out of which the steel warriors gleamed, menacing guardians of the girl.
Weir made a pretty picture kneeling on the hearth-rug, with the fire-light playing on her dark face and pliant figure, in its closely-fitting black gown, throwing golden flickers on her hair, and coquetting with the lanterns in her eyes. She rose as Dartmouth approached, and he gave her one of his brilliant, satisfied smiles.
"We are to be married a month from to-day," he said. "A month from to-day and we shall be knocking about Europe and pining for English civilization." He drew her down on the cushioned seat that ran along the wall by the chimney-piece. "We cannot go out to-night; there is a storm coming up. Ah, did I not tell you?" as a gust of wind shrieked and rattled the sash.
She gave a little shiver and drew closer to him. "I hate a storm," she said. "It always brings back--" she stopped abruptly.
"Brings back what?"
"Nothing," hastily. "So father has given his consent? But I knew he would. I knew he liked you the moment you met; and when he alluded that night to your small hands and feet I knew that the cause was won. Had they been at fault, nothing could have persuaded him that you did not have a broad river of red blood in you somewhere, and he never would have approved of you had you been the monarch of a kingdom."
Dartmouth smiled. "The men at college used to laugh at my hands, until I nearly choked one of them to death one day, after which they never laughed at them again. There is no doubt now about my having been destined at birth for a Welsh maiden, and equipped accordingly. But you know your father pretty thoroughly."
"I have lived alone with him so long that I can almost read his mind, and I certainly know his peculiarities."
"It must have been a terribly lonely life for you. How old were you when your mother died?"
She moved with the nervous motion habitual to her whenever her mother's name was mentioned. "I was about nine," she said.
"Nine? And yet you remember nothing of her? Weir, it is impossible that you cannot remember her."
"I do not remember her," she said.
"I saw her picture in the library to-night. She must have been very beautiful, but like you only in being dark. Otherwise, there is not a trace of resemblance. But surely you must remember her, Weir; you are joking. I can remember when I was four years of age perfectly, and many things that happened."
"I remember nothing that happened before I was nine years old," she said.
He bent down suddenly and looked into her face. "Weir, what do you mean? There is always an uncomfortable suggestion of mystery whenever one speaks of your mother or your childhood. What is the reason you cannot remember? Did you have brain fever, and when you recovered, find your mind a blank? Such things have happened."
"No," she said, desperately, as if she had nerved herself for an effort. "That was not it. I have often wanted to tell you, but I cannot bear to speak of it. The old horror always comes back when I think of it. But I feel that I ought to tell you before we are married, and I will do so now since we are speaking of it. I did not have brain fever, but when I was nine years old--I died."
"Yes, it is true. They called it catalepsy, a trance; but it was not; I was really dead. I was thrown from a horse a few months after my mother's death, and killed instantly. They laid me in the family vault, but my father had ice put about me and would not have me covered, and went every hour to see me, as he told me afterward. I remember nothing; and they say that when people are in a trance they are conscious of everything that passes around them. I knew nothing until one night I suddenly opened my eyes and looked about me. It was just such a night as this, only in mid-winter; the wind was howling and shrieking, and the terrible gusts shook the vault in which I lay. The ocean roared like thunder, and I could hear it hurl itself in its fury against the rocks at the foot of the castle. A lamp was burning at my feet, and by its flickering light I could see in their niches on every side of me the long lines of dead who had lain there for centuries. And I was alone with them, locked in with them; no living creature within call! And I was so deathly cold. There was a great block of ice on my chest, and slabs of it were packed about my limbs so tightly that I could not move. I could only feel that horrible, glassy cold which I knew had frozen the marrow in my bones and turned my blood to jelly; and the pain of it was something which I have no words to describe. I tried to call out, but the ice was on my chest, and I could hardly breathe. Then for a moment I lay trying to collect my thoughts. I did not know where I was. I did not know that I was in the vault of my ancestors. I only felt that I had been wandering and wandering in some dim, far-off land looking for someone I could never find, and that suddenly I had come into another world and found rest. But although I did not know that I was in the vault at Rhyd-Alwyn, and that my name was Weir Penrhyn, I knew that I was laid out as a corpse, and that the dead were about me. Child as I was, it seemed to me that I must go frantic with the horror of the thing, stretched out in that ghastly place, a storm roaring about me, bound hand and foot, unable to cry for help. I think that if I had been left there all night I should have died again or lost my mind, but in a moment I heard a noise at the grating and men's voices.
"'I must go in and see her once more,' I heard a strange voice say. 'It seems cruelty to leave her alone in this storm.' And then a man came in and bent over me. In a moment he called sharply, 'Madoc!--bring me the light.' And then another man came, and I looked up into two strange, eager, almost terrified faces. I heard incoherent and excited voices, then the ice was dashed off my chest and I was caught up in a pair of strong arms and borne swiftly to the house. They took me to a great blazing fire and wrapped me in blankets and poured hot drinks down my throat, and soon that terrible chill began to leave me and the congealed blood in my veins to thaw. And in a few days I was as well as ever again. But I remembered no one. I had to become acquainted with them all as with the veriest strangers. I had the natural intelligence of my years, but nothing more. Between the hour of my soul's flight from its body and that of its return it had been robbed of every memory. I remembered neither my mother nor any incident of my childhood. I could not find my way over the castle, and the rocks on which I had lived since infancy were strangers to me. Everything was a blank up to the hour when I opened my eyes and found myself between the narrow walls of a coffin."
"Upon my word!" exclaimed Dartmouth. "Why, you are a regular heroine of a sensational novel."
Weir sprang to her feet and struck her hands fiercely together, her eyes blazing. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she cried, passionately. "Can you never be serious? Must you joke about everything? I believe you will find something to laugh at in the marriage service. That thing I have told you is the most serious and horrible experience of my life, and yet you treat it as if I were acting a part in a melodrama in a third-rate theatre! Sometimes I think I hate you."
Dartmouth caught her in his arms and forced her to sit down again beside him. "My dear girl," he said, "why is it that a woman can never understand that when a man feels most he chaffs, especially if he has cultivated the beastly habit. Your story stirred me powerfully; the more so because such things do not happen to every-day girls--"
"Do not wrong me; I am in dead earnest. As a plain matter of fact, I never heard of anything so horrible. Thank heaven it happened when you were so young! No woman's will and spirit could rise superior to such a memory if it were a recent one. But am I forgiven?"
"As you are perfectly incorrigible, I suppose there is no use being angry with you," she said, still with a little pout on her lips. "But I will forgive you on one condition only."
"You are never to mention the subject to me again after to-night."
"I never will; but tell me, has the memory of your childhood never come back for a moment?"
"Never. All I remember is that sense of everlasting wandering and looking for something. For a long while I was haunted with the idea that there was something I still must find. I never could discover what it was, but it has left me now. If you had not been so unkind, I should have said that it is because I am too happy for mysterious and somewhat supernatural longings."
"But as it is, you won't. It was an odd feeling to have, though. Perhaps it was a quest for the memories of your childhood--for a lost existence, as it were. If ever it comes again, tell me, and we will try and work it out together."
"Harold!" she exclaimed, smiling outright this time, "you will be trying to analyze the cobwebs of heaven before long."
"No," he said, "they are too dense."