« ПредишнаНапред »
he resumed, whispering to Mrs. Pierrepont, “what a number of our worst patients belong to that class. Disappointment in matrimony is generally the cause of their malady, and in some cases it is brought on by over-exertion and care.
“Ah, there she is again," he said, as frantic shrieks were heard issuing from the ward beyond ; " it is surprising what fearful language these poor creatures use in their fits of insanity; women, even young girls, whose life must necessarily have been one of innocence, utter the vilest, the most abusive words in their attacks. These pianos which you see are placed here for the use of the patients, and some of them play really wonderfully well; with your permission, I will give you an example of it.
“Here, Dawson, where is Marie, No. 44 ?” he asked, addressing one of the nurses who was passing by; “bring her here. Not well enough, you think” (as the attendant shook her head ominously at his request). “Oh, a little society will do her good," he rejoined, as the woman disappeared in quest of the patient after whom he had inquired.
Before a second almost had elapsed, the nurse returned accompanied by a very pretty-looking girl, fantastically dressed, and with her long fair hair hanging in profusion over her shoulders.
She stared about rather wildly as the visitors approached her, but at a sign from her attendant seated herself at one of the pianos in the vicinity, the doctor smiling his approval, and standing close by her side.
“ What a medley of strange yet sweet sounds,” thought Sybella, as the “ Last Rose of Summer," played with exquisite feeling, died away into the “Girls We Left Behind Us,” intermingled with martial airs and snatches from the “ Messiah."
The performance, strange though it appeared from its incongruity, was admirable, but, before the auditors had time to express their surprise at the singular beauty of her touch, the keys of the instrument rattled away in a harsh discordant jingle, and the girl had evidently lost all control over herself or remembrance of what she was about.
Passionately fond of music, although a poor performer herself, Sybella, in her excitement and admiration of the talent displayed, had advanced towards the piano, and, at the conclusion of this strange musical mélange, was standing by the side of the fair musician.
She started suddenly, however, as, on the music ceasing, a pair of wild eyes were lifted to her face expressive of an extraordinary feeling of aversion, and, before she could turn round or retire into the background, the maniac had risen from her stool, and thrown her arms closely round Sybella, whilst with expressions of hatred, mingled with inarticulate ravings, she struggled with her like an infuriated beast, using all her efforts to strangle her imaginary enemy.
Gently—gently,” exclaimed the doctor, as he disengaged quickly the thin arms which were twisted round the throat of Sybella; and, after consigning the latter to the care of her friends, led (with the aid of two of the nurses) the now raving maniac into one of the small chambers adjoining, where the soft flooring and padded walls allowed her to give full vent to her fury without damage to herself or others.
“Ah! I feared she was in a dangerous mood to-day,” remarked one of the elder attendants, removing Sybella's bonnet, and offering her a
glass of water. “She always is so at the full of the moon, and yesterday we had a whole day's work with her tantrums. Shall I get you a glass of wine, miss? You look quite faint."
But Sybella declined the offer, and, directly she had recovered sufficiently from her fright, she informed Mrs. Pierrepont that she thought the open air would be the best place for them all.
“This is another unhappy case of a governess,” said the doctor, as he rejoined them before they descended to the carriage. “She is not French, as her name would imply. Her real name is Robson ; she had been promised marriage by some officer in the army, and, after having been deserted by him, she lost her reason, and was brought to the establishment some years ago.
"She is as sane as you are at times,” he continued, “ but she always persists in believing that she was married. Her poor old grandmother often comes to see her. The girl was missing from her home for some time, it appears, but one day she arrived suddenly at her native village, and heard that her mother had died, mourning over her daughter's ingratitude and sin. This preyed upon her mind, and eventually she became quite insane. The curious part of the business is, that neither in her lucid nor in her wild moments can any one discover the name of her betrayer ; the old grandmother, even, does not know it.
“ It is singular that she should have fastened on to Miss Harcourt, for, although given to fits of passion and wilfulness at times, she has always been considered hitherto as a kind-hearted patient towards her fellows. But these outbreaks often happen here ; she may have fancied that she had known Miss Harcourt before, and that, from some unaccountable reason, she owed her a grudge."
“ What is the name of the village where you said she came from ?” demanded Sybella, as he handed her into the carriage.
“I really cannot recollect. Something beginning with a W, I think," was the reply.
“ Wilmington, was it ?” said Sybella.
“Wilmington. Yes, that is the name," he rejoined ; "a little village somewhere in the south of England, I believe.”
The party were to return to Hertford-street to luncheon, and, whilst her companions were discussing the sad story of the poor maniac, Sybella had ample time to indulge in the thoughts which the mention of Wilmington had conjured up.
Her mind wandered far back into the past. The little village, with its homely whitewashed cottages looking so picturesque and cheerful with their entourage of roses, was before her. The wide expanse
of common, with its indispensable pond, and the shrill, clear tones of the village children, as (whilst pursuing their evening's game of cricket) their merry voices rang out in the soft summer air. The very smell, faint and sweet, of the furze seemed present, as, in imagination, she wandered to the days that were Aed and gone.
“I knew something of that girl formerly,” said Sybella, rather abruptly, to Mr. Elliott ; " at least, I never saw her, but her grandmother, old Mrs. Robson, was one of my village pensioners at Wilmington. I recollect so well the day on which the old woman related to me the misery which had been brought upon them by this girl's misconduct.
“ The mother died in great distress, and left a little boy, who, in fact, must be brother to the poor creature whom we have just quitted; she gave me the whole account; of course, when we left Wilmington, I lost sight of them all.”
" Wilmington,” replied Mr. Elliott, reflectively. “Of course, that was the name of the village you have spoken to us so often about; it didn't strike me at the time, but, when Doctor Denby mentioned it, the name seemed familiar to me. She was one of your village beauties, I suppose,
Marie ?" "She was described to me by her grandmother as very pretty and very talented,” replied Sybella. “She was idolised by her foolish parents, and educated much above her station, poor thing, and now she is a hopeless maniac !
“ Do you know, Mrs. Elliott, at one time I used to think that this world was so full of happiness, that to live only ought to be sufficient for a mortal being! I knew nothing of life and its miseries then, but sooner or later, I suppose, we all have to learn the great lesson."
The Elliotts' carriage at this moment drew up before Mrs. Pierrepont's house in Hertford-street. That lady and her daughter had already arrived, and were in the act of disrobing, when Sybella, accompanied by her friends, ascended the wide staircase. The air was redolent with the perfume wafted from the numerous hothouse plants which were arranged in jardinières on the landing and about the entrance-hall.
She had been informed beforehand of the taste which reigned throughout the house, and, in comparison with her own humble little lodgings at Brompton, the tout ensemble appeared to her almost like fairyland, and she lingered in her ascent to admire the various statues, the foreign birds, and the flowers, which were grouped everywhere.
Theodosia entreated her not to stand on ceremony, but to come at once into her own apartment; and as the comfortable, gaily-furnished bedroom, replete with all the accessories of a fashionable young lady's toilette, met her view, it seemed like old times again, and she almost wondered that she could have endured so unrepiningly all the hardships of her late life.
The addition of Sybella to their travelling party had already formed a topic of frequent discussion in the family circle, and, during the drive home, Mrs. Pierrepont had been lavish in her praises of the delightful Miss Harcourt. Acting, therefore, in accordance with her mother's prepossession, Dosy was most empressée, and attempted to advance the proposed plan by giving her new acquaintance to understand, as she sat on a stool at her feet, that from the very first she had set her heart upon having her for a friend, and that to gain her affection would be the greatest pleasure of her life.
Dosy had not lived for twenty-one years with so artificial an instructress as her fascinating mother, without imbibing some small portion of her art; at any rate, with regard to the manufacture of pretty unmeaning speeches.
Her natural look of innocence, however, imparted a vast degree of naïveté to her flattering remarks, and as Sybella looked down upon the rounded pretty figure reclining in a graceful pose at her feet, she tried to believe the hyperbole, and began to think that a tour in the company
of these newly-made friends might, after all, be productive of much pleasure and amusement.
Theodosia, strange to say, had never been abroad, and she listened with almost a show of animation as Sybella, at her request, imparted to her, after luncheon, her experience, describing the gems which were to be found in the different_galleries and museums which she had visited during her residence in Italy, and which, from her frequent visits to them, were known almost by heart.
The guests were to remain until the last train, and, during the evening, Theodosia again placed herself in 'a devotional attitude before her new friend, eager, doubtless, to catch any stray pearls which might fall from her lips.
If she proved a good listener, her companion performed the part of narrator to perfection. One of Sybella's greatest charms had ever been the vive way in which she could relate an incident, and her thorough appreciation of the ridiculous---devoid, however, of all sarcasm-generally contrived to arrest the attention of, as well as amuse, her hearers.
The scorching sun, olive groves, palazzos, and poderes of her dearlyloved Italy being now entirely threadbare before the chat was ended, at Theodosia's entreaties she retraced her steps and spoke of Paris and Spa, where she had made the longest stay.
" I was not more than a year abroad, although I appear to have seen so much,” she observed, in reply to Dosy's remark that she was clever, and had seen everything.'
Theodosia had not troubled her companion with many questions ; she was apparently too much engrossed in the description she had drawn, as it were, unwittingly from Sybella ; but, with the usual nervousness attendant on a false position, the latter, long before the recital was ended, dreaded that some remark tending to an explanation as to whom she was residing with during the time she passed abroad would be forth coming.
Miss Harcourt had been the name by which she was known to every one, and on forming this new connexion she had discussed the point again with her only friends. Their advice had been that she should keep her first resolve and retain her maiden appellation. Besides, as Mr. Elliott told her, it would prevent the hundred-and-one remarks which would at once be forthcoming were she now to assume her right name and position as the wife of the absent Captain Travers.
There would be no end to the scandal and the ill-natured reports, he assured her; therefore, in her firm reliance on his maturer judgment, Sybella consented to be introduced to the Pierreponts as Miss Harcourt; and, doubtless, they imagined that she was a lonely artist who had to rely on her talents for her daily bread.
Before they parted that evening, she assured Mrs. Pierrepont, in answer to her invitation, that nothing would give her greater pleasure than to accompany them abroad. The departure was to take place the following week, and not much time, therefore, could be allowed either for reflection or preparation.
An anxious, fretful feeling had taken possession of Sybella's mind, and she longed to fly away and find, if possible, rest. Once abroad and amongst strangers, she might overcome the love which she hardly dared even confess to herself was lurking in her heart for the absent David.
From the little which she had seen of Theodosia Pierrepont, she was inclined to think that, if not over-gifted, at any rate she was amiable, and anxious to be friendly and kind towards herself.
Her mother she could scarcely fathom. Perhaps she possessed more acuteness in deciphering character than many of her predecessors in that lady's good graces ; but she was défiante of the unbounded enthusiasm which was accorded to all she said or did, and, although she was quite aware of her own good points, still Sybella did not like to have them extolled in an audible whisper before her face.
“ I know I have some small share of good looks,” remarked the young lady, mentally, as she sat in the Hertford-street drawing-room." But Mrs. Pierrepont and her daughter make me out so perfect, that I fear, before long, I shall become a dethroned idol in their eyes; still I hope that I shall like her,” she continued, as she watched with interest the ani. mated manner in which Mrs. Pierrepont was arguing the merits and demerits of a certain route to be taken with Mr. Elliott.
Her large eyes had dilated in her excitement, and the dark masses of hair, which gleamed in the light from the chandelier, made her quite attractive as she cleverly contrived to parry all his objections.
“You would make a first-rate counsel, my dear madam,” laughingly rejoined her opponent, as she again commenced an argument in favour of her own route." In fact, by your eloquence you will end by persuading me against my own conviction. Such being the case, I must seek refuge from your attempts in an ignominious flight.”
It was arranged before they left Hertford-street that Mrs. Pierrepont should call at Twickenham in a day or two, for the purpose of finally settling their plans and the date of their departure for Bruges.
The uneasiness with which the inevitable separation of Miss Saunders from Sybella had been regarded was fortunately at an end, for a friend with whom she had been intimate in former years had settled in an abode on the outskirts of London, and with her poor Sawney, amidst many parting tears, proposed to take up her abode until fortune, as she said, should be pleased to unite her again to her dear pupil ; but not even the sum of fifty pounds, which was pressed upon her for the purchase of sundry comforts wherewith to make her solitary life more endurable, could reconcile her in any way to this sudden change. The fountains played to such an extent as to call forth a sharp reprimand on the part of Mr. Elliott, to compel her to put some restraint upon them. It had to be pointed out to her forcibly that, as the journey was for Sybella's ultimate good, grief, such as she gave way to, was an act of great selfishness.
“Dear old Sawney!" said the latter, caressingly, “my absence will not last for ever; and, depend upon it, the years during which you have so unselfishly borne with all my whims and caprices will never pass out of
“I cannot explain matters fully to you at present, but it really is incumbent on me to seek a little change. Believe me, that I act upon the advice of these good friends, as well as upon a conviction which my own judgment points out to be correct, that it is the best course for me to take.
“I am glad you saw Captain Chetwynde yesterday, and informed him yourself that I had left England. Tell me, Sawney, how did he look ?”