What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
When Dartmouth entered the drawing-room at Rhyd-Alwyn the next evening, a half hour after his arrival, he found Sir Iltyd alone, and received a warm greeting.
"My dear boy," the old gentleman exclaimed, "I am delighted to see you. It seems an age since you left, and your brief reports of your ill-health have worried me. As for poor Weir, she has been ill herself. She looks so wretched that I would have sent for a physician had she not, in her usual tyrannical fashion, forbidden me. I did not tell her you were expected to-night; I wanted to give her a pleasant surprise. Here she is now."
The door was pushed open and Weir entered the room. Dartmouth checked an involuntary exclamation and went forward to meet her. She had on a long white gown like that she had worn the morning he had asked her to marry him, but the similarity of dress only served to accentuate the change the intervening time had wrought. It was not merely that she had lost her color and that her face was haggard; it was an indefinable revolution in her personality, which made her look ten years older, and left her without a suggestion of girlishness. She still carried her head with her customary hauteur, but there was something in its poise which suggested defiance as well, and which was quite new. And the lanterns in her eyes had gone out; the storms had been too heavy for them. All she needed was the costume of the First Empire to look as if she had stepped out of the locket he had brought from Crumford Hall.
As she saw Dartmouth, the blood rushed over her face, dyeing it to the roots of her hair, then receded, leaving it whiter than her gown. When he reached her side she drew back a little, but he made no attempt to kiss her; he merely raised her hand to his lips. As he did so he could have sworn he saw the sun flashing on the domes beneath the window; and over his senses stole the perfume of jasmine. The roar without was not that of the ocean, but of a vast city, and--hark!--the cry of the muezzin. How weird the tapestry looked in the firelight, and how the figures danced! And he had always liked her to wear white, better even than yellow. He roused himself suddenly and offered her his arm. The butler was announcing dinner.
They went into the dining-room, and Dartmouth and Sir Iltyd talked about the change of ministry and the Gladstone attitude on the Irish question for an hour and a quarter. Weir neither talked nor ate, but sat with her hands clasped tightly in her lap. Dartmouth understood and sympathized. He felt as if his own nerves were on the rack, as if his brain had been rolled into a cord whose tension was so strained that it might snap at any moment. But Sir Iltyd was considerate. He excused himself as soon as dessert was removed, on the plea of finishing an important historical work just issued, and the young people went directly to the drawing-room. As Dartmouth closed the door Weir turned to him, the color springing into her face.
"Tell me," she said, peremptorily; "have you discovered what it meant?"
He took her hand and led her over to the sofa. She sat down, but stood up again at once. "I cannot sit quietly," she said, "until I know. The enforced repression of the past week, the having no one to speak to, and the mystery of that dream have driven me nearly mad. It was cruel of you to stay away so long--but let that pass. There is only one thing I can think of now--do you know anything more than when you left?"
He folded his arms and looked down. "Why should you think I could have learned anything at Crumford Hall?" he demanded, with apparent evasion.
"Because of the restraint and sometimes incoherence of your letters. I knew that something had happened to you; you seemed hardly the same man. You seemed like--Oh, I do not know. For heaven's sake, tell me what it is."
"Weir," he said, raising his head and looking at her, "what do you think it is?"
She put up her hands and covered her face. "I do not know," she said, uncertainly. "If there is to be any explanation it must come from you. With me there is only the indefinable but persistent feeling that I am not Weir Penrhyn but the woman of that dream; that I have no right here in my father's castle, and no right to the position I hold in the world. To me sin has always seemed a horrible thing, and yet I feel as if my own soul were saturated with it; and what is worse, I feel no repentance. It is as if I were being punished by some external power, not by my own conscience. As if--Oh, it is all too vague to put into words--Harold, what is it?"
"Let us sit down," he said, "and talk it over."
She allowed him to draw her down onto the sofa, and he looked at her for a moment. Then, suddenly, the purely human love triumphed. He forgot regret and disgust. He forgot the teachings of the world, and the ideal whose shattering he had mourned. He remembered nothing but that this woman so close to him was dearer than life or genius or ambition; that he loved her with all the strength and passion of which a man is capable. The past was gone, the future a blank; nothing remained but the glorious present, with its impulses which sprang straight from the heart of nature and which no creed could root out. He flung his arms about her, and the fierce joy of the moment thrilled and shook him as he kissed her. And for the moment she too forgot.
Then his arms slowly relaxed and he leaned forward, placing his elbow on his knee and covering his face with his hand. For a few moments he thought without speaking. He decided that he would tell her something to-night, but not all. He would give her a clue, and when she was alone she might work the rest out for herself. Then, together, they would decide what would be best to do. He took her hand.
"I have something to tell you," he said. "I did not tell you before I left because I thought it best not, but things have occurred since which make it desirable you should know. You do not know, I suppose, that on the night of our dream you got up in your sleep and wandered about the castle."
She leaned suddenly forward. "Yes?" she said, breathlessly. "I walked in my sleep? You saw me? Where?"
"In the gallery that overhangs the sea. I had gone there to watch the storm, and was about to return to my room when I saw you coming toward me. At first I thought you were the spirit of your grandmother--of Sioned Penrhyn. In your sleep you had dressed yourself like the picture in the gallery, and the resemblance was complete. Then, strangely enough, I walked up to you and took your hand and called you 'Sioned'--"
"Then you told me that you were dead, and had been wandering in the hereafter and looking for me; that you could not find me there, and so had come back to earth and entered into the body of a dead child, and given it life, and grown to womanhood again, and found me at last. And then you put your cold arms about me and drew me down onto a seat. I suddenly lost all consciousness of the present, and we were together in a scene which was like a page from a past existence. The page was that of the dream we have found so difficult a problem, and you read it with me, not alone in your room--Weir! What is the matter?"
She had pushed him violently from her and sprung to her feet, and she stood before him with wide-open, terror-stricken eyes, and quivering in every limb. She tried to speak, but no words came; her lips were white and shrivelled, and her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. Then she threw up her arms and fell heavily to the floor.