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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Chief Legatee - Part 3. Money - Chapter 18. God's Forest, Then Man's
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The Chief Legatee - Part 3. Money - Chapter 18. God's Forest, Then Man's Post by :Prd2BHawn Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :1272

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The Chief Legatee - Part 3. Money - Chapter 18. God's Forest, Then Man's

PART III. MONEY
CHAPTER XVIII. GOD'S FOREST, THEN MAN'S

The pencil and pad fell from Mr. Ransom's hands. He stared at the girl who had made this astonishing statement, and his brain whirled.

As for her, she simply stooped and picked up the pad.

"You feel badly about that," said she. "You want me to read. I'll learn. That will make me more like sister. But I know some things now. I know what you are thinking about. You are curious about my life, what it has been and what kind of a girl I am. I'll tell you. I can talk if I cannot hear. I heard up to two years ago. Shall I talk now? Shall I tell you what I told Georgian when she found me crying in the street and took me home to her house?"

He nodded blindly.

With a smile as beautiful as Georgian's--for a moment he thought more beautiful--she drew him to a seat. She was all fire and purpose now. The spark of intelligence which was not always visible in her eye burned brightly. She would have looked lovely even to a stranger, but he was not thinking of her looks, only of the hopelessness of the situation, its difficulties and possibly its perils.

"I don't remember all that has happened to me," she began, speaking very fast. "I never tried to remember, when I was little; I just lived, and ran wild in the roads and woods like the weasels and the chipmunks. The gipsies were good to me. I had not a cross word in years. The wife of the king was my friend, and all I knew I learned from her. It was not much, but it helped me to live in the forest and be happy, as long as I was a little girl. When I grew up it was different. It was the king who was kind then, and the woman who was fierce. I didn't like his kindness, but she didn't know this, for after one day when she caught him staring at me across the fire, she sent me off after something she wanted in a small town we were camping near, and when I came back with it, the band was gone. I tried to follow, but it was dark and I didn't know the way; besides I was afraid--afraid of him. So I crept back to the town and slept in the straw of a barn I found open. Next day I sold my earrings and got bread. It didn't last long and I tried to work, but that meant sleeping under a roof, and houses smothered me, so I did my work badly and was turned out. Then I sold my ring. It was my last trinket, and when the few cents I got for it were gone, I wandered about hungry. This I was used to and didn't mind at first, but at last I went to work again, and I did better now for a little while, till one evening I saw, through the stable window of the inn where I was working, two black eyes staring in just as they stared across the dying embers of the gipsy camp. I did not scream, but I hid myself, and when they were gone away stole out and got on the cars, and gave the man my last dollar--all the money I had earned--for a ride to New York. I did not know any better. I knew he never went to New York, and I thought I would be safe from him there. But of the difference between the woods and a forest of brick and stone I never thought; of night with no shelter but the wall of some blind alley; of hunger in the sight of food, and wild beasts in the shape of men. I didn't know where to go or who to speak to. If any one stared at me long, I turned and ran away. I ran away once from a policeman. He thought me a thief, and started to run after me. But people slipped in between us and I got away. What happened next I don't know. Perhaps I was thrown down, perhaps I fell. I had come a long way and I was tired. When I did know anything, I was lying on my back in a narrow street, looking up at a tall building that seemed to go right up into the sky like the great rocks I had sometimes slept under when I was with the gipsies. Only there were windows in the rock, out of which looked faces, and I got looking back at one of these faces and the face looked at me, and I liked it and got up on my knees and held up my arms, and the face drew back out of sight, and I felt very sorry and cried and almost laid down again. I seemed so alone and hurt and hungry. But the children--there were crowds of children--wouldn't let me. They got in a ring and pulled at me, and some one cried: 'Big cheeks is coming! Big cheeks will eat her up,' and I was angry and got up on my feet. But I couldn't walk; I screamed when I tried to, which frightened the children, and they all ran away. But I didn't fall; an arm was round me, a good, kind arm, and though I didn't see the face of the woman who helped, for she had her head wrapped up in an old shawl, I felt that it was the same which had looked out of the window at me, and went willingly enough when she began to draw me toward the house and up the first flight of stairs, though I could hardly help screaming every time my foot touched the ground. At the top of the first flight I stopped; I could go no further. The woman heard me pant, and pushing the covering from her eyes, she turned my face towards the light and looked at it. I thought she wanted to see if I was strong enough to go on, but that wasn't it at all, for in a minute I heard her say, in a voice so sweet I thought I had never heard the like, 'Yes, you're pretty; I want a pretty girl to stay with me and go about selling my things. I love pretty girls; I never was pretty myself. Will you stay with me if I take you up to my room and take care of you? I'll be good to you, little duckling, everybody about here will tell you that; everybody but the children, they don't like me.' I moaned, but it was from happiness. It seemed too good to hear that cooing voice in my ear. I thought of my mother--a dream--and my arms went up as they had in the street below. 'I will stay,' I said. She caught my hands and that is all I remember till I found myself in bed, with my ankle bound up and a gentle hand smoothing my hair. It was a month before I walked again. All the time this woman tended me, but always from behind. I did not see her face--not well--only by glimpses and then only partly, for the shawl was always over her head, covering everything but her eyes and mouth. These were small, the smallest I ever saw, little pig eyes, and little screwed up mouth; but the look of them was kindly and that was all I cared about then; that and her talk, which made me cry one minute and laugh the next. I have never cried so much or laughed so much in my life as I did that one month. She told such sad things and she told such funny ones. She made me glad to see her come in and sorry to see her go out. She let no one else come near me. I did not care; I liked her too well. I was never tired of listening to her praises and she praised me a great deal. I even did not mind sleeping under a roof as much as I had before, perhaps because we were so near it; perhaps because the room was so full of all sorts of things, I never got tired of looking at them. Pretty things she called them, but when I saw more things, things outside in shop windows and the houses I afterwards went into, I knew they were very cheap things and not always pretty. But she thought they were, and used to talk about them by the hour and tell me stories she had made up about the pictures she had cut out of newspapers. And I learned something; I could not help it, and even began to think a bit--something I had never done before. But when I got on my feet again, and was given the choice of staying there all the time, I did not know at first whether I wanted to or not. For Mother Duda had been very honest with me, and the minute she found that I could walk again had told me that I would have to have great patience if I lived with her, and endure a very disagreeable sight. Then she pulled off her shawl and I saw her as she was and almost screamed, she looked so horrid to me, but I didn't quite, for her eyes wouldn't let me. They seemed to ask me not to care, but to love her a little though she was a fright to look at, and I tried but I couldn't, I could only keep from screaming.

"She had a goitre; that is what she called it, and the great pocket of flesh hanging down on either side of her neck frightened me. It frightened everybody; she was used to that, but she said she loved me and felt my fear more than she did others. Could I bear to live with her, knowing what her shawl hid? If I could she would be good to me, but if I couldn't she would do what she could to get me honest work in some other place. I didn't answer at first, but I did before she had put her shawl on again. I told her that I would forget everything but her good smile, and stay with her a little while. I stayed three years, helping her by going about and selling the tatting work she made.

"She could make beautiful patterns and so neat, but she couldn't sell them, on account of her awful appearance. So I was very useful to her, and felt I was earning my meat and drink and the kind looks and words which made them taste good. It taught me a lot, going around. I saw people and how they lived and what was nice and what wasn't. I was only sorry that Mother Duda couldn't go too. She loved pretty things so. But she never went out except at a very early hour in the morning, so early that it was still dark. It seemed a terrible hour to me, but she always came in with a smile, and when one day I asked her why, she said, because she saw so many other poor creatures out at this same hour, who were worse to look at than she was. This didn't seem possible to me, and once I went out with her to see. But I never went again. Such faces as we met; such deformity--men who never showed themselves by day--women who loved beauty and were hideous. We saw them on street corners--coming up cellar steps, slinking in and out of blind alleys--never where it was light--and they shrank from each other, but not from the policeman. They were not afraid of his eye; they were used to him and he to them. After I had passed a dozen such miserable creatures, I felt myself one of them and never wanted to go out at this hour again.

"Don't you believe this part of my story," she suddenly asked, looking up into Mr. Ransom's troubled face? "Ask the policeman who tramps about those streets every night; he'll tell you."

The question on Ransom's lips died. What use of asking what she could not hear.

"I wish I knew what you were thinking," she now murmured softly, so softly that he hardly caught the words. "But I never shall, I never shall. I will tell you now how I became deaf," she promised after a moment of wistful gazing. "Is there any one near? Can anybody hear me?" she continued, with a suspicious look about her.

He shook his head. It was the first movement he had made since she began her story.

This apparently reassured her, for she proceeded at once to say:

"Mother Duda had never told me anything about herself. It scared me then when one morning I found sitting at the breakfast table a man who she said was her son. He was big and pale looking, and had a slight swelling on one side of his neck which made me sick; but I tried to be polite, though I did not like him at all and had a sudden feeling of having no home any more. That was the first day. The next two were worse. For he didn't hate me as I did him, and wouldn't leave the house while I was there, saying he could not bear to be away from his mother. But he skipped out quick enough after I was gone, so the neighbors said, and sometimes I think he followed me. Mother Duda wasn't like her old self at all. She loved him, he was her son, but she didn't like all he did. She wanted him to work; he wouldn't work. He sat and stared at me as the gipsy king used to stare, and if I grew red and hot it was from shame and fear and horror of the great throat I saw growing from day to day, and which would some time be like his mother's. He knew I didn't like him, but he wasn't good like Mother Duda, and told me one day that he was going to make me his wife, whether I wanted him to or not, and talked about a great secret, and the big man he would be some day. This made me angry, and I said that all the bigness he would ever have would be in his neck. At which he struck me, right across the ear, hard, so hard that I fell on the floor with a scream, and Mother Duda came running. He was sorry then and threw down the thing he had in his hand; but the harm had been done and I was sick a month and had doctors and awful pain, and when I was well again I couldn't hear a sound with that ear. Hans wasn't there while I was ill; I shouldn't have got well if he had been; but he came back when I was up again and was very meek though he didn't stop looking at me. I thought I would run away one day, and went out without my basket, but after I had tried two whole days to get work and couldn't, I went back. Mother Duda almost squeezed the heart out of me for joy, and Hans went down on his knees and promised not to do or say anything more that I didn't like. He even promised to go to work, but his work was of a queer kind. It kept him in his little room and meant spending money, and not getting it. Men came to see him and were locked up with him in his little room. And if he went out, he locked the door and took the key away, and said great times were coming and that I would be glad to marry him some day, whether his neck was big or small. But I knew I shouldn't and kept very close to Mother Duda and begged her to get me a new home, and she promised and I was feeling happier, when one day Hans was called out by a man and went away so fast that he forgot to lock his door, and Mother Duda and I went into the room, and it was then that the thing happened which spoiled all my life. I don't understand it. I never did, for no one could tell me anything after that day. Mother Duda had gone up to a table and was moving things about, trying to see what they were, when everything turned black, the room shook, and I was whirling all about, trying to take hold of things which seemed to be falling about me, till I too fell. When I knew anything, there was lots of people looking at me; people of the house, men, women, and children, but what was strangest of all was the awful stillness. No one made any sound--nothing made any sound, though I saw an old book-shelf tumble down from the wall while I was looking, and people moved about and opened their lips and seemed to be talking. Had Hans struck me again? I began to think so, and got up from the floor where I was lying and tried to call out, but my voice made no noise though people looked around as if it had, and I felt an awful fright, not only for myself but for Mother Duda, who was being carried out of the door by two men, and who did not move at all and who never moved again. Poor Mother Duda, she was killed and I was deaf. I knew it after a little while, but I don't know what did it; something that Hans had; something that Mother Duda touched--a square something--I had just caught a glimpse of it in Mother Duda's hand when the room flew into a wreck and I became what I am now."

"Dynamite," murmured Ransom; then paused and had a small struggle with his heart, for she was looking up into his face, demanding sympathy with Georgian's eyes; and being close together on the short seat, he could not help but feel her shudders and share the intense excitement which choked her.

"Oh," she cried, as he laid his hand a moment on her arm and then took it away again, "one minute to hear! the next to find the world all still, always still,--a poor girl--not knowing how to read or write! But you cannot care about that; you cannot care about me. It's sister you want to hear about, how she came to find me; how we came here for new and terrible things to happen; always for new and terrible things to happen which I don't understand.

"Hans never came back. All sorts of policemen came into the house, doctors came, priests came, but no Hans. Mother Duda was buried, I rode in a coach at the funeral, but still no Hans. The old life was over, and when the food was all gone from the shelves, I took my little basket and went out, not meaning to come back again. And I did not. I sold my basket out; got a handful of pennies and went to the market to get something to eat. Then I went into a park, where there were benches, and sat down to rest. I did not know of any place to go to and began to cry, when a lady stopped before me, and I looked up and saw myself.

"I thought I was dreaming or had the fever again, as when I was sick with my ear, and I thought it was myself as I would look in heaven, for she had such beautiful clothes on and looked so happy. But when she talked, I could see her lips move and I couldn't hear; and I knew that I was just in the park with my empty basket and my onion and bread, and that the lady was a lady and no one I knew, only so like what I had seen of myself in the glass that I was shaking all over, and she was shaking all over, and neither of us could look away. And still her lips moved, and seeing her at last look frightened and angry that I didn't answer, I spoke and said that I was deaf; that I was very sorry that I couldn't hear because we looked so much alike, though she was a great lady and I was a very, very poor girl who hadn't any home or any friends, or anything to wear or eat but what she saw. At this her eyes grew bigger even than before, and she tried to talk some more, and when I shook my head she took hold of my arm and began drawing me away, and I went and we got on the cars, and she took me to a house and into a room where she took away my basket and put me in a chair, and took off first her hat, then my own, and showed me the two heads in a glass, and then looked at me so hard that I cried out, 'Sister,' which made her jump up and put her hand on her heart, then look at me again harder and harder, till I remembered way back in my life, and I said:

"'When I was a little girl I had a sister they called my twin. That was before I lived in the woods with the gipsies. Are you that sister grown up? The place where we played together had a tall fence with points at the top. There were flowers and there were bushes with currants on them all round the fence.'

"She made a sudden move, and I felt her arms about my neck. I think she cried a little. I didn't, I was too glad. I knew she was that sister the moment our faces touched, and I knew she would care for me, and that I needn't go back into the streets any more. So I kissed her and talked a good deal and told her what I've been telling, and she tried to answer, tried as you did to write, but all I could understand was that she meant to keep me, but not in the place where we were, and that I was to go out again. But she fixed me up a little before we went out, and she bought me some things, so that I looked different. Then we went into another house, where she talked with a woman for a long time, and then sat down with me and moved her lips very patiently, motioning me to watch and try to understand. But I was frightened and couldn't. So she gave up and, kissing me, made motions with her hands which I understood better; she wanted me to stay there while she went away, and I promised to if she would come back soon. At this she took out her watch. I was pleased with the watch, and she let me look at it, and inside against the cover I saw a picture. You know whose it was."

The depths to which her voice sank, the trembling of her tones, startled Ransom. Had she been less unfortunate, he would have moved to a different seat, but he could not show her a discourtesy after so pitiful a tale. But the nod he gave her was a grave one, and her cheek flushed and her head fell, as she softly added: "It was the first time I ever saw a face I liked--you won't mind my saying so,--and I wanted to keep the watch, but sister carried it away. She didn't tell me what it meant, her having your picture where she could see it all the time, but when she came again she made me know that you and she were married, by pointing at the picture and then throwing something white over her head; I didn't ask for the watch after that, but--"

A far-away look, a trembling of her whole body, finished this ingenuous confession. Ransom edged himself away and then was sorry for it, for her lip quivered and her hands, from being quiet, began that nervous interlacing of the fingers which bespeaks mental perturbation.

"I am very ignorant," she faltered; "perhaps I have said something wrong. I don't mean to, I want to be a good girl and please you, so that you won't send me away now sister is gone. Ah, I know what you want," she suddenly broke out, as he seized her by the arm and looked inquiringly at her. "You want me to tell why I jumped out of the carriage that night and vexed Georgian and was naughty and wouldn't speak to her. I can't, I can't. You wouldn't like it if I did. But I'm sorry now, and will never vex you, but do just what you want me to. Shall I go up-stairs now?"

He shook his head. How could he let her go with so much unsaid? She had talked frankly till she had reached the very place where his greatest interest lay. Then she had suddenly shown shyness of her subject and leaped the gap, as it were, to the present moment. How recall her to the hour when she had seen Georgian for the second time? How urge her into a description of those days succeeding his wife's flight from the hotel, of which he had no account, save the feverish lines of the letter she had sent him. He was racking his brain for some method of communicating his wishes to Anitra, when he heard steps behind him, and, turning, saw the clerk approaching him with a telegram.

He glanced at her slyly as he took it. Somehow he couldn't get used to her deafness, and expected her to give some evidence of surprise or curiosity. But she was still studying her hands, and as his eyes lingered on her downcast face he saw a tear well from her lids and wet the cheek she held partly turned from him. He wanted to kiss that tear, but refrained and opened his telegram instead. It was from Mr. Harper, and ran thus:

Expect a visitor. The man we know has left the St. Denis.

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