What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
"Harold," said Weir, the next morning after breakfast, as the door closed behind Sir Iltyd, "I shall entertain you until luncheon by showing you the castle."
"My dear girl," said Harold, smiling, "let your role of hostess sit lightly upon you. I do not want to be entertained. I am perfectly happy."
"Of that I have no doubt. Nevertheless I want you to see the castle, particularly the picture-gallery, where all my ancestors be."
"Then, by my troth, will I go, fair Mistress Penrhyn, for a goodly show your ancestors be, I make no doubt;" and Dartmouth plunged his hands into his pockets and looked down at her with a broad smile.
Weir lifted her head. "My English is quite as pure as yours," she said. "And you certainly cannot accuse me of using what the London girls call 'slang.'"
This time Dartmouth laughed aloud. "No, my dear," he said, "not even Shakespearean slang. But let us investigate the mysteries of the castle by all means. Lead, and I will follow."
"There are no mysteries," said Weir; "we have not even a ghost. Nor have we a murder, or crime of any sort, to make us blush for our family tree."
"Happy tree! Mine has a blush for every twig, and a drop curtain for every branch. Thank God for the Penrhyn graft! Let us hope that it will do as much good as its fairest flower has already done the degenerate scion of all the Dartmouths. But, to the castle! I would get through--I mean, I would gaze upon its antiquities as soon as possible."
"This castle is very interesting, Mr. Dartmouth," replied Weir, elevating her chin; "you have nothing so old in England."
"True, nor yet in Jerusalem, O haughtiest of Welsh maidens! I esteem it a favor that I am not put below the salt."
Weir laughed. "What a tease you are! But you know that in your heart your pride of family is as great as mine. Only it is the 'fad' of the day to affect to despise birth and lineage. We of Wales are more honest."
"Yes, it is your sign and seal, and it sits well upon you. I don't affect to despise birth and lineage, my dear. If I could not trace my ancestry back to the first tadpole who loafed his life away in the tropical forests of old, I should be miserable."
He spoke jestingly, but he drew himself up as he spoke, his lip was supercilious, and there was an intolerant light in his eye. At that moment he did not look a promising subject for the Liberal side of the House, avowedly as were his sympathies in that quarter. Weir, however, gave him an approving smile, and then commanded him to follow her.
She took him over the castle, from the dungeons below to the cell-like rooms in the topmost towers. She led him through state bedrooms, in which had slept many a warlike Welsh prince, whose bones could scarcely be in worse order than the magnificence which once had sheltered them. She piloted him down long galleries with arcades on one side, like a cloister, and a row of rooms on the other wherein the retainers of ancient princes of the house of Penrhyn had been wont to rest their thews after a hard day's fight. She slid back panels and conducted him up by secret ways to gloomy rooms, thick with cobwebs, where treasure had been hid, and heads too loyal to a fallen king had alone felt secure on their trunks. She led him to chambers hung with tapestries wrought by fair, forgotten grandmothers, who over their work had dreamed their eventless lives away. She showed him the chapel, impressive in its ancient Norman simplicity and in its ruin, and the great smoke-begrimed banqueting-hall, where wassails had been held, and beauty had thought her lord a beast.
"Well," she demanded, as they paused at length on the threshold of the picture-gallery, "what do you think of my father's castle?"
"Your father's castle is the most consistent thing I have seen for a long time: it is an artistically correct setting for your father's daughter. The chain of evolution is without a missing link. And what is better, the last link is uncorroded with the rust of modern conventions. Seriously, your castle is the most romantic I have ever seen. The nineteenth century is forgotten, and I am a belted Knight of Merrie England who has stormed your castle and won you by his prowess. You stood in your window, high up in your tower, and threw me a rose, while your father stalked about the ramparts and swore that my bones should whiten on the beach. I raised the rose to my lips, dashed across the drawbridge, and hurled my lance at the gates. About my head a shower of barbs and bullets fell, but I heeded them not. Behind me thundered my retainers, and under their onslaught the mighty gates gave way with a crash, and the castle was ours! We trampled into the great hall, making it ring with our shouts and the clash of our shields. Your father's men fled before us, but he calmly descended the staircase and confronted us with his best Welsh stare. 'I fear ye not, villains,' he cried. 'Barbarians, English dogs! I defy ye. Do your worst. My daughter and I for death care not. The mighty house of Istyn-ap-Dafyd-ap-Owain-ap-Caradoc-ap-Iltyd-ap-Penrhyn knoweth not fear of living man, nor yet of death's mysterious charnel-house.' 'Wrong me not, gentle sir,' I cried, snatching off my helmet and trailing its plumes upon the floor; 'I come in love, not in destruction. Give me but thy daughter, O Dafyd-ap-Owain-ap-Istyn-ap-Caradoc-ap-Iltyd-ap-Penrhyn, and thy castle and thy lands, thy rocks and thy sea, are thine again, even as were they before the beauty of the Lady Weir turned my blood to lava and my heart to a seething volcano. Give me but thy daughter's hand, and wealth shall flow into thy coffers, and the multitude of thy retainers shall carry terror to the heart of thy foe. What say ye, my Lord Caradoc-ap-Owain-ap-etcetera?' Whereupon the lord of Rhyd-Alwyn unbent his haughty brows, and placing one narrow, white, and shapely hand upon my blood-stained baldric, spoke as follows: 'Well said, young Briton. Spoken like a brave knight and an honorable gentleman. My daughter thou shalt have, my son thou shalt be, thy friends shall be my friends, and thou and all of them shall be baptized Welshmen.' And then he himself re-ascended the staircase and sought you in your tower and led you down and placed your hand in mine. And the drums beat, and the shields clashed, and once more the mighty storm shook the rooks from the roof. But we heard it not, for on your finger I had placed the betrothal ring, then thrown my brawny arms about you and forgot that earth existed. Excuse my eloquence," he cried, as he lifted her up and kissed her, "but your castle and yourself are inspiring."
"That was all very charming, however," she said, "if you only had not such a reprehensible way of jumping from the sublime to the ridiculous, like a meteor from world to world."
"Prettily said, sweetheart. But, trust me, if I ever reach the sublime I will stay there. Now, to your ancestors! Great heaven! what an array!"
They had entered a long, narrow room, against whose dark background stood out darker canvasses of an army of now celestial Penrhyns; an army whose numbers would have been a morning's task to count. The ancient Penrhyns had been princes, like most of their ilk; and the titles which Weir glibly recited, and the traditions of valor and achievement which she had at her tongue's end, finally wrung from Dartmouth a cry for mercy.
"My dear girl!" he exclaimed, "keep the rest for another day. Those 'aps' are buzzing in my ears like an army of infuriated gnats, and those mighty deeds are so much alike--who is that?"
He left her side abruptly and strode down the gallery to a picture at the end, and facing the room. It was the full-length, life-size portrait of a woman with gown and head-dress in the style of the First Empire. One tiny, pointed foot was slightly extended from beneath the white gown, and--so perfect had been the skill of the artist--she looked as if about to step from the canvas to greet her guests.
"That is my grandmother, Sioned, wife of Dafyd-ap-Penrhyn, who, I would have you know, was one of the most famous diplomatists of his day," said Weir, who had followed, and stood beside him. "She was the daughter of the proudest earl in Wales--but I spare you his titles. I am exactly like her, am I not? It is the most remarkable resemblance which has ever occurred in the family."
"Yes," said Dartmouth, "you are like her." He plunged his hands into his pockets and stared at the floor, drawing his brows together. Then he turned suddenly to Weir. "I have seen that woman before," he said. "That is the reason why I thought it was your face which was familiar. I must have seen your grandmother when I was a very young child. I have forgotten the event, but I could never forget such a face."
"But Harold," said Weir, elevating her brows "It is quite impossible you could ever have seen my grandmother. She died when papa was a little boy."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite sure. I have often heard him say he had no memory whatever of his mother. And grandpapa would never talk with him about her. He was a terribly severe old man, they say--he died long years before I was born--but he must have loved my grandmother very much, for he could not bear to hear her name, and he never came to the castle after her death."
"It is strange," said Harold, musingly, "but I have surely seen that face before."
He looked long at the beautiful, life-like picture before him. It was marvellously like Weir in form and feature and coloring. But the expression was sad, the eyes were wistful, and the whole face was that, not of a woman who had lived, but of a woman who knew that out of her life had passed the power to live did she bow her knee to the Social Decalogue. As Weir stood, with her bright, eager, girlish face upheld to the woman out of whose face the girlish light had forever gone, the resemblance and the contrast were painfully striking.
"I love her!" exclaimed Weir, "and whenever I come in here I always kiss her hand." She went forward and pressed her lips lightly to the canvas, while Dartmouth stood with his eyes fastened upon the face whose gaze seemed to meet his own and--soften--and invite--
He stepped forward suddenly as Weir drew back. "She fascinates me, also," he said, with a half laugh. "I, too, will kiss her hand."