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- The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales - 20/79 -
Blunderbore Hall, the seat of James Rawjester, Esq., was encompassed by dark pines and funereal hemlocks on all sides. The wind sang weirdly in the turrets and moaned through the long-drawn avenues of the park. As I approached the house I saw several mysterious figures flit before the windows, and a yell of demoniac laughter answered my summons at the bell. While I strove to repress my gloomy forebodings, the housekeeper, a timid, scared-looking old woman, showed me into the library.
I entered, overcome with conflicting emotions. I was dressed in a narrow gown of dark serge, trimmed with black bugles. A thick green shawl was pinned across my breast. My hands were encased with black half-mittens worked with steel beads; on my feet were large pattens, originally the property of my deceased grandmother. I carried a blue cotton umbrella. As I passed before a mirror I could not help glancing at it, nor could I disguise from myself the fact that I was not handsome.
Drawing a chair into a recess, I sat down with folded hands, calmly awaiting the arrival of my master. Once or twice a fearful yell rang through the house, or the rattling of chains, and curses uttered in a deep, manly voice, broke upon the oppressive stillness. I began to feel my soul rising with the emergency of the moment. "You look alarmed, miss. You don't hear anything, my dear, do you?" asked the housekeeper nervously.
"Nothing whatever," I remarked calmly, as a terrific scream, followed by the dragging of chairs and tables in the room above, drowned for a moment my reply. "It is the silence, on the contrary, which has made me foolishly nervous."
The housekeeper looked at me approvingly, and instantly made some tea for me.
I drank seven cups; as I was beginning the eighth, I heard a crash, and the next moment a man leaped into the room through the broken window.
The crash startled me from my self-control. The housekeeper bent toward me and whispered,--
"Don't be excited. It's Mr. Rawjester,--he prefers to come in sometimes in this way. It's his playfulness, ha! ha! ha!"
"I perceive," I said calmly. "It's the unfettered impulse of a lofty soul breaking the tyrannizing bonds of custom." And I turned toward him.
He had never once looked at me. He stood with his back to the fire, which set off the herculean breadth of his shoulders. His face was dark and expressive; his under jaw squarely formed, and remarkably heavy. I was struck with his remarkable likeness to a gorilla.
As he absently tied the poker into hard knots with his nervous fingers, I watched him with some interest. Suddenly he turned toward me:--
"Do you think I'm handsome, young woman?"
"Not classically beautiful," I returned calmly; "but you have, if I may so express myself, an abstract manliness,--a sincere and wholesome barbarity which, involving as it does the naturalness"--But I stopped, for he yawned at that moment,--an action which singularly developed the immense breadth of his lower jaw,--and I saw he had forgotten me. Presently he turned to the houskeeper,--
The old woman withdrew with a curtsey.
Mr. Rawjester deliberately turned his back upon me and remained silent for twenty minutes. I drew my shawl the more closely around my shoulders and closed my eyes.
"You are the governess?" at length he said.
"I am, sir."
"A creature who teaches geography, arithmetic, and the use of the globes--ha!--a wretched remnant of femininity,--a skimp pattern of girlhood with a premature flavor of tea-leaves and morality. Ugh!"
I bowed my head silently.
"Listen to me, girl!" he said sternly; "this child you have come to teach--my ward--is not legitimate. She is the offspring of my mistress,--a common harlot. Ah! Miss Mix, what do you think of me now?"
"I admire," I replied calmly, "your sincerity. A mawkish regard for delicacy might have kept this disclosure to yourself. I only recognize in your frankness that perfect community of thought and sentiment which should exist between original natures." I looked up; he had already forgotten my presence, and was engaged in pulling off his boots and coat. This done, he sank down in an armchair before the fire, and ran the poker wearily through his hair. I could not help pitying him.
The wind howled dismally without, and the rain beat furiously against the windows. I crept toward him and seated myself on a low stool beside his chair.
Presently he turned, without seeing me, and placed his foot absently in my lap. I affected not to notice it. But he started and looked down.
"You here yet--Carrothead? Ah, I forgot. Do you speak French?"
"Taisez-vous!" he said sharply, with singular purity of accent. I complied. The wind moaned fearfully in the chimney, and the light burned dimly. I shuddered in spite of myself. "Ah, you tremble, girl!"
"It is a fearful night."
"Fearful! Call you this fearful? Ha! ha! ha! Look! you wretched little atom, look!" and he dashed forward, and, leaping out of the window, stood like a statue in the pelting storm, with folded arms. He did not stay long, but in a few minutes returned by way of the hall chimney. I saw from the way that he wiped his feet on my dress that he had again forgotten my presence.
"You are a governess. What can you teach?" he asked, suddenly and fiercely thrusting his face in mine.
"Manners!" I replied calmly.
"Ha! teach _me!_"
"You mistake yourself," I said, adjusting my mittens. "Your manners require not the artificial restraint of society. You are radically polite; this impetuosity and ferociousness is simply the sincerity which is the basis of a proper deportment. Your instincts are moral; your better nature, I see, is religious. As St. Paul justly remarks-- see chap. 6, 8, 9, and 10 "--
He seized a heavy candlestick, and threw it at me. I dodged it submissively but firmly.
"Excuse me," he remarked, as his under jaw slowly relaxed. "Excuse me, Miss Mix--but I can't stand St. Paul! Enough--you are engaged."
I followed the housekeeper as she led the way timidly to my room. As we passed into a dark hall in the wing, I noticed that it was closed by an iron gate with a grating. Three of the doors on the corridor were likewise grated. A strange noise, as of shuffling feet and the howling of infuriated animals, rang through the hall. Bidding the housekeeper good-night, and taking the candle, I entered my bedchamber.
I took off my dress, and putting on a yellow flannel nightgown, which I could not help feeling did not agree with my complexion, I composed myself to rest by reading Blair's "Rhetoric" and Paley's "Moral Philosophy." I had just put out the light, when I heard voices in the corridor. I listened attentively. I recognized Mr. Rawjester's stern tones.
"Have you fed No. One?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said a gruff voice, apparently belonging to a domestic.
"How's No. Two?"
"She's a little off her feed, just now, but will pick up in a day or two."
"And No. Three?"
"Perfectly furious, sir. Her tantrums are ungovernable."
The voices died away, and I sank into a fitful slumber.
I dreamed that I was wandering through a tropical forest. Suddenly I saw the figure of a gorilla approaching me. As it neared me, I recognized the features of Mr. Rawjester. He held his hand to his side as if in pain. I saw that he had been wounded. He recognized me and called me by name, but at the same moment the vision changed to an Ashantee village, where, around the fire, a group of negroes were dancing and participating in some wild Obi festival. I awoke with the strain still ringing in my ears.
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