What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part I. The Melody.
When, a few hours later, Dartmouth entered Mrs. Raleigh's salon, he saw Miss Penrhyn surrounded by some half-dozen men, and talking with the abandon of a pleased child, her eyes sparkling, her cheeks flushed. As he went over to her the flush faded slightly, but she held out her hand and smiled up into his eyes.
"You have been ill," she murmured, sympathetically. "You look so still."
"Yes," he said, "I have been ill; otherwise I should have made an effort to see you before. I suppose I cannot get a word with you to-night May I call on you to morrow morning?"
"Yes, you may come."
"Thank you. And there will not be a dozen other men there?"
She smiled. "I do not think there will be anyone else. I rarely receive in the morning."
"But are you sure?"
He had a long sweep of black lash, through which the clear blue of his eyes had a way of shining with a pleading, softening lustre, immensely effective. It was an accepted fact that when Mr. Dartmouth turned on this battery of eyes and lash, resistance was a forgotten art and protest a waste of time. Miss Penrhyn did not prove an exception to the rule. She hesitated, then answered, with a little laugh, as if amused at herself, "Well, yes, I am sure."
"Very well, then, remember, I look upon that as a promise. And I will try to get a word with you later, but there is no hope now."
He moved off and, leaning against the opposite wall, covertly watched her, while ostensibly listening with due sympathy to the hopes and fears of an old friend and embryo author. In a moment he made a discovery--of his friend's confidence I regret to say he heard not one word--she did not treat him as she treated other men. Well bred as she was, there was a perceptible embarrassment in her manner whenever he addressed her, but with these other men she was talking and smiling without a trace of effort or restraint. He knew what it meant. He was thoroughly aware that he was a man of extraordinary magnetism, and he had seen his power over a great many women. Ordinarily, to a man so sated with easy success as Harold Dartmouth, the certainty of conquest would have strangled the fancy, but there was something about this girl which awakened in him an interest he did not pretend to define, except that he found her more beautiful, and believed her to be more original, than other women. He was anxious to have a longer conversation with her, and ascertain whether or not he was correct in his latter supposition. He did not want to marry, and she was too good to flirt with, but platonics were left. And platonics with Miss Penrhyn suggested variety.
He also made another discovery. Someone played an interminable piece of classic music. During its recital it was not possible for Miss Penrhyn to talk with the men about her, and as the animation faded from her face, he noticed the same preoccupied look overspread it which had characterized it the night she had entered the ball-room at the Legation. Something troubled her, but to Dartmouth's quick eye it was not an active trouble, it was more like a shadow which took possession of her face in its moments of repose with the quiet assurance of a dweller of long standing. Possibly she herself was habitually forgetful of its cause; but the cause had struck deep into the roots of her nature, and its shadow had become a part of her beauty. Dartmouth speculated much and widely, but rejected the hypothesis of a lover. She had never loved for a moment; and in spite of his platonic predilections, this last of his conclusions held a very perceptible flavor of satisfaction. When the classic young lady had gracefully acknowledged the raptures she had evoked, and tripped back to her seat, Miss Penrhyn was asked to sing, and then Dartmouth saw his opportunity; he captured her when she had finished, and bore her off to the conservatory before anyone could interfere.
"You sing charmingly," he said. "Will you sing for me to-morrow?"
"If you can stretch flattery to that extent, with Patti at the Grand Opera House."
"I have been listening to Patti for fifteen years, and man loves variety. I wish I could tell where I have seen you before," he continued, abruptly. "Do you look like your mother? I may have seen her in my youth."
Her face flushed a sudden, painful red, and then turned very pale. "I do not remember my mother," she stammered. "She died when I was quite young."
"Poor thing!" thought Dartmouth. "How girls do grieve for an unknown mother!" "But you have seen her picture?" he said, aloud.
"Yes, I have seen her pictures. They are dark, like myself. But that is all."
"You must have had a lonely childhood, brought up all by yourself in that gloomy old castle I have heard described."
She colored again and crushed a fern-leaf nervously between her fingers. "Yes, it was lonesome. Yes--those old castles always are."
"By the way--I remember--my mother spent a summer down there once, some twelve or thirteen years ago, and--it comes back to me now--I remember having heard her speak of Rhyd-Alwyn as the most picturesque castle in Wales. She must have known your mother, of course. And you must have known the children. Why was I not there?"
"I do not remember," she said, rising suddenly to her feet, and turning so pale that Dartmouth started to his in alarm. "Come; let us go back to the salon."
"There is some mystery," thought Dartmouth. "Have I stumbled upon a family skeleton? Poor child!" But aloud he said, "No, do not go yet; I want to talk to you." And when he had persuaded her to sit down once more, he exerted himself to amuse her, and before long had the satisfaction of seeing that she had forgotten her agitation. It did not take him long to discover that she had read a great deal and that her favorite reading had been travels, and he entertained her with graphic recitals of such of his own varied experience as he thought most likely to interest her. She listened with flattering attention and a natural and keen sense of humor, and he was stimulated to a good deal more effort than habit prompted. "You will enjoy travelling," he said, finally; "and you will not travel like other women. You will see something besides picture-galleries, and churches, and Bons marches. I believe that you would realize what it is to be an atom of to-day in the presence of twenty centuries."
She smiled up at him with quick sympathy. "Yes," she said, "I believe one must more frequently be awed than pleased, or even enraptured. And I can imagine how even the most self-content of men, if he absorb the meaning of Europe, must feel his insignificance. If he has wit enough to reflect that all these represented ages, with their extraordinary results, abstract and concrete, have come and gone with no aid of his; that no prophet ever whispered his name among the thousands of great in every conceivable destiny; that he is, mentally and physically, simply a result of evolution and civilization, not, in any way worth mentioning, a cause, he will be apt to reflect as well upon how many men, all told, have ever heard of his existence or who besides his grandchildren will remember him a generation hence. He will probably wish that arithmetic had never been invented. Or if he be one of the great of earth, he is only one after all, and, if he be in danger of bursting from inflation, he can be grateful for a timely reminder that there are several millions on the globe who have never heard of him, and a few millions more who do not and never will take the faintest interest in him or his career. But it needs the presence of twenty centuries to bring the fact of man's individual insignificance home to most of us."
"She is clever," thought Dartmouth, as he dismissed his brougham a little later and walked home alone. "Very un-modern and most reprehensibly unconventional, in so much as she thinks, and develops her mental muscles; but very charming, notwithstanding. There is an incongruity about her, however, which is almost absurd. She has been brought up in such seclusion--and under the sole tuition of a man not only a pedant, but who has never stepped through the gates of the last generation--that she reminds one of those fair English dames who used to prowl about their parks with the Phaedo under their arm and long for a block on which to float down to prosperity; Plato had quite enough to do to sail for himself. And upon this epitomized abstraction of the sixteenth century, this mingling of old-time stateliness, of womanly charm, of tougher mental fibre, are superimposed the shallow and purely objective attributes of the nineteenth-century belle and woman of fashion. It is almost a shock to hear her use our modern vernacular, and when she relapses into the somewhat stilted language in which she is still accustomed to think, it is a positive relief. She is conscious that she is apt to be a little high-flown, and when she forgets herself and is natural, she quickly pulls herself in with a round turn, which is an apology in itself. Upon such occasions a man wants to get his fingers about the throat of the world. She has acquired all the little arts and mannerisms of the London drawing-room girl, and although they do not sit ungracefully upon her, because she is innately graceful, and too clever to assume a virtue which she cannot assimilate, still it is like a foreigner who speaks your language to perfection in all but accent, and whom you long to hear in his own tongue. Put her back in her Welsh castle, and the scales would fall from her as from a mermaid who loves. If she returns to her father at the end of the season, I think I will call upon her six months later. She should go now, though; scales are apt to corrode. But what is the mystery about the mother? Did she elope with the coachman? But, no; that is strictly a modern freak of fashion. Perhaps she died in a mad-house. Not improbable, if she had anything of the nature of this girl in her, and Sir Iltyd sowed the way with thorns too sharp. Poor girl! she is too young for mysteries, whatever it is. I shall like to know her better, but she is so intense that she makes me feel frivolous. I am never intense except when I have the blues, and intensity, with my peculiar mental anatomy, is a thing to be avoided. In what is invariably the last chapter of those attacks of morbid dissatisfaction I shall some day feel an intense desire to blow out my brains, and shall probably succumb. I wonder if she will induce another rhyming attack to-night. Was that night a dream or a reality? Could I have had a short but sharp attack of brain fever? Perhaps the less I think about it the better; but it is decidedly hard to be gifted with the instincts of a poet and denied the verbal formulation. And it was the most painfully realistic, aggressively material thing, that conflict in my brain, that mortal ever experienced. That, however, may have been a mere figment of my excited imagination. But what excited my imagination? That is the question. If I remember aright, I was mentally discoursing with some enthusiasm upon Miss Penrhyn's charms, but in strict impartiality it cannot be said that I was excited. The excitement was like that produced by an onslaught from behind. It is the more surprising, as I think it may be conceded that I have myself pretty well in hand by this time, and that my nerves, unruly as nature saw fit to make them, are now my very abject slaves. Occasionally one of our fiction carpenters flies off at a tangent and treats us to a series of intellectual gymnastics, the significance of which--so we are called upon to digest--is that the soul of one dead, finding its present clime too warm--or too cold--or having left something undone on earth, takes temporary and summary possession of an unfortunate still in the flesh, and through this unhappy medium endeavors to work his will. Perhaps that is what is the matter with me. Pollok, perchance, who died in his flower, thinking that he had not given the world a big enough pill to swallow, wants to concoct another dose in my presumably vacant brain. I appreciate the compliment, but I disdain to be Pollok's mouthpiece: I will be original or nothing. Besides, it is deuced uncomfortable. And I should like to know if there is anything in life more bitter than the sense, even momentary, of loss of self-mastery. Well, as I remarked a few moments since, the less I think about it the better, considering my unfortunate peculiarities. I will go and see Miss Penrhyn to-morrow; that will be sufficiently distracting for the present."