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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 4. A Second Meeting
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 4. A Second Meeting Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3488

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 4. A Second Meeting


Viola was just leaving her mother's gate the following afternoon when a man's voice, cordial, assured, and cultivated, startled her.

"Good-morning. Is this your home?"

She looked up to meet the smiling eyes of the stranger horseman. Again an indefinable charm of manner robbed his greeting of offence, and quite composedly she replied:

"Yes, this is our home."

"What a view you have, and what music!" He indicated the river which ran white and broad over its pebbles, just below the walk. "I am enchanted with the place. I think you must love it very much."

Her face expressed a qualified assent. "Oh yes, but I get tired of it sometimes, especially in winter when we are all shut in with snow."

"Then you really are a year-round resident? I suppose my view _is the tourist's view. I can't believe anybody lives here in winter. I hope you won't mind my introducing myself"--he handed her a card. "You made such a pretty picture up there beside the trail yesterday that I couldn't forbear speaking to you on a second meeting. I wanted to know whether you were real or just a fragment of sunset cloud."

The ease and candor of his manner, joined to the effect of the name on the card, fully reassured her, and she looked up with a smile. "Won't you come in and rest?"

"Thank you, I should like particularly to do so, I've been for a climb up that peak behind your cottage and I'm tired."

Her reserve quite melted, the girl led the way to the door where her mother stood in artless wonder.

"Mother, this is Dr. Serviss, of Corlear College."

"I'm glad to know you, sir," said Mrs. Lambert, with old-fashioned formality. "Won't you come in?"

"Thank you. It will be a pleasure."

"Are you a physician?" she asked, as she took his hat and stick.

"Oh, dear, no! Nothing so useful as that. I'm a doctor by brevet, as they say in the army." Then, as though acknowledging that his hostess was entitled to know a little more about her intrusive guest, he added: "I am a student of biology, Mrs. Lambert, and assistant to Dr. Weissmann, the head of the bacteriological department of Corlear Medical College. We study germs--microscopic 'bugs,'" he ended, with humorous glance at Viola. "What a charming bungalow you have here! Did you gather those wild flowers?"

Viola answered in the tone of a pupil to her master, "Yes, sir."

"But some of them grow high. You must be a mountaineer. Pardon my curiosity--it is inexcusable--but how long have you lived here?"

The mother looked at her daughter for confirmation. "Eight years."

"Of course you are from the East?"

"Yes, from Wisconsin."

He laughed. "_We call Wisconsin a Western State. Of course, it's the ignorant prejudice of the New-Yorker, but I find it hard to think of you as actual residents of this far-away little town. I thought only miners lived here?"

"We are miners. My husband has a mine up in the Basin, but he's putting in some new machinery just now and is unable to come down but once a week." Then mildly resenting his implied criticism of the town, she added: "We have just as nice people here as you'll find anywhere."

He responded gallantly, "I am quite prepared to believe that, Mrs. Lambert. But do many nice people like you live here all the year round?" He was bent on drawing the girl out, but she did not respond.

The mother answered: "I haven't been away except to take my daughter East to school."

He was cautious. "By East you mean Milwaukee?"

"Diamond Lake, Wisconsin."

He turned to the girl. "How long were you away?"

"Four years."

"Did you like it?"

"Very much."

"That is the reason you find it lonesome here." Up to this moment his attitude was that of a teacher towards a pretty pupil. "You miss your classmates, I suppose? Still there must be diversions here, even for a young girl."

The mother sighed. "It really is very lonesome here for Viola--if it weren't for her church work and her music I don't know what she'd do. There are so few young people, and then her years at the seminary spoiled her for the society out here, anyway."

"So much the worse for Colorow society," laughed Serviss. Then, to clear the shadow which had gathered on the girl's face, he said: "I see a fine piano, and shelves of music books. This argues that you love music. Won't you sing for me? I am hungry for a song."

"I do not sing," she replied, coldly, "I have no voice."

"Then play for me. I have been for eight weeks on the desert and I am famishing for music."

"Are you a musician?" asked Mrs. Lambert.

"Oh no, only a music-lover."

"My daughter is passionately fond of the piano," the mother explained, "and her teachers advised her to go on and make a specialty of it. They recommended Boston, but Viola wants to go to New York. She wanted to go last year, but I couldn't let her go. I'd been without her for four years, and Mr. Lambert's affairs wouldn't permit us both to go, and so she had to stay; but it _does seem too bad for one as gifted as she is to give it up."

At this moment Serviss changed his entire attitude towards these people. They were too genuine, too trustful, and too fine to permit of any patronization, and the girl's dignified silence and the charm of her pellucid eyes and rose-leaf lips quite transmuted him from the curious onlooker to the friend. "I can understand your dilemma," he said, with less of formal cheer and more of genuine sympathy. "And yet, if your daughter has most decided talent it is only fair to give her a chance to show what she can do."

The girl flushed and her eyes fell as the mother bent towards her visitor.

"I wish you would listen to her play, Dr. Serviss, and tell me what you think of her talent."

His eyes shone with humor. "I will listen with great pleasure; but don't ask a chemist to judge a pianist. I love music--it is a sweet noise in my ears--but I can hardly distinguish Chopin from Schumann." He faced the girl. "Play for me. I shall be very deeply indebted." As she still hesitated he added: "Please do, or I will certainly think you consider me intrusive."

As Viola slowly rose, Mrs. Lambert said: "You must not feel that way, Dr. Serviss. We are highly honored to entertain one so eminent as you are. I was brought up to value learning. Play for him, Viola."

"What is the reason for her reluctance?" Serviss asked himself. "Is it shyness? Or does she resent me?"

With a glance of protest at her mother the girl took her seat at the piano. "I will try," she said, bluntly. "But I know I shall fail."

Twice she laid her hands upon the keys only to snatch them away again as if they were white-hot metal, and Serviss fancied her cheek grew pale. The third time she clashed out a few jarring chords intermixed with quite astonishing roulade on the treble--an unaccountable interruption, as if a third hand had been thrust in to confuse her. She stopped, and he began to share her embarrassment.

She tried again, shaking her head determinedly from side to side as if to escape some invisible annoying object. It seemed as if some mocking sprite in the instrument were laboring to make her every harmony a discord, and Serviss keenly regretted his insistence.

Suddenly she sprang up with an impatient, choking cry. "I can't do it! He won't let me!" she passionately exclaimed, and rushed from the room leaving her visitor gazing with pity and amazement into the face of the mother, who seemed troubled but in no wise astounded by her daughter's hysterical action. She sat in silence--a painful silence, as if lacking words to express her thought; and Serviss rose, rebuked, and for the first time ill at ease.

"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Lambert; I didn't intend to embarrass your daughter."

"She is very nervous--"

"I understand. Being a complete stranger, I should not have insisted. One of the best singers I ever knew was so morbidly shy that on the platform she was an absolute failure. Her vocal chords became so contracted that she sang quite out of tune, and yet among friends she was magnificent."

The mother's voice was quite calm. "It was not your fault, sir. Sometimes she's this way, even when her best friends ask her to play. That's why I fear she will never be able to perform in concerts--she is _liable to these break-downs."

He was puzzled by something concealed in the mother's tone, and pained and deeply anxious to restore the peaceful charm of the home into which he had, in a sense, unbiddenly penetrated. "I am guilty--unpardonably guilty. I beg you to tell her that my request was something more than polite seeming--I was sincerely eager to hear her play. Perhaps at another time, when she has come to know me better, she will feel like trying again. I don't like to think that our acquaintance has ended thus--in discord. May I not come in again, now that I am, in a sense, explained?"

He blundered on from sentence to sentence, seeking to soften the stern, straight line on the mother's lips--a line of singular repression, sweet but firm.

"I wish you _would come again. I should really like your advice about Viola's future. Can't you come in this evening?"

"I shall be very glad to do so. At what hour?"

"At eight. Perhaps she will be able to play for you then."

With a feeling of having blundered into a most unpleasant predicament, through a passing interest in a pretty girl, Serviss retreated to his hotel across the river.

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