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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Plantation Rosalind

By Anna Bowman Dodd (1855–1929)

[Born in Brooklyn, N. Y. Died in Paris, France, 1929. Glorinda. A Story. 1888.]

WHEN on the plantation, Withers at once began a diligent search for Glorinda. He went into all the rooms on the ground-floor, but she was not in any of them. He made a tour of the porticos; she was beneath none of them. He strolled through the outhouses and the yard, among the trees in front of the house; only Parthenia and the turkeys inhabited those domains. He was on the eve of asking Parthenia to see if Miss Glory was in her room and would come down to him, when he bethought him of the wood. It came to him with a swift flash of divination that she had surely gone there; she would be the more likely to have gone, since she supposed him off for the day.

The woods, as he entered them, seemed as empty and deserted as the house and park. As he cautiously made his way toward his old hiding-place, his quick ear soon detected the sounds of a voice. It was a voice he knew well now, and it was pitched in a tragic key; but it was still melodious and sonorous. She was there, and was reciting. His heart gave a quickened throb.

He almost crept along, beneath the protecting shelter of the tree-trunks. As he neared his old ambuscade, creep he did in reality, on hands and knees, pushing the briers aside, working his way through the tangled underbrush, letting the weight of his knees and feet strike the crackling forest leaves as lightly as he could. For nothing in the world would he have her see him; he felt it indeed to be a kind of treachery to push his way toward her, to spy her thus unseen. Yet he felt that for nothing in the world would he miss seeing her once more, as he had first seen her, in the comical yet strangely beautiful surroundings which her extraordinary fancy had conjured about her.

He had reached the poke-berries now. He was behind them. In front of him was a protecting cluster of young sumach. The leaves were more brilliantly scarlet than they had been a week since; they made the better shelter. They made also a kind of flaming network through which, as he crouched behind them, Withers could look out into the little amphitheatre in front of him.

The voice was declaiming in strained, affected tones; there were the same misplaced accents, the same melodramatic changes he had heard before. The girl herself he could not see; she was not in her old place, under the great elm. The little dusky audience, however, was in full session. The group of darkies beneath the shade of the great trees was lying in various postures and in the most complete stillness. Ever and anon the canopy of leaves above the recumbent figures would be lifted by a light slow breeze. Then the noon sun would flood the upturned faces and black skins in a bath of broad sunlight; and the motionless little negroes were like so many bronze figures. From the intent expression of their round fixed eyes Withers could divine the direction from which the voice came. They were as still as if under the magnetism of some spell, as through the trees came the fluttering sound of advancing footsteps.

  • “Come, woo me, woo me! for now I am in a holiday humor and like enough to consent,”
  • Glorinda’s rich voice cried out. The next instant, as she went on finishing the lines, she came, springing with light steps with hair afloat, her blue mantle caught into wind-swept folds, from the sudden rush she made as she rounded a near tree-trunk. And Glorinda—and Rosalind—stood before Withers’s eyes.

    She had on the famous blue tights. The mantle, the cloak she had worn as Juliet, fell to her knees, the splendid masses of her hair almost covering it. Some tunic she wore beneath, which he could not distinguish; all Withers really saw was the slender line from the knee downward, and the glorious hair that swept her figure like a veil.

    “My God! how beautiful she is!” he cried out under his breath.

    She was a vision as she stood there, the sun showering its light upon her, crowning her head like an aureole, dusting her brown tresses into a cloud of light, her face swept by the strong fierce brightness till it shone with a transfigured glory. The blue mantle encased her like some royal robe. The delicate limbs, released from their petticoat bondage, freed for the full play of their lovely sinuous action, palpitated in motion beneath, as one sees the stir of life beneath the wing of a bird.

    She was reciting Orlando’s part now, in the deep bass notes he had heard before. It was like a child playing at make-believe, he said to himself.

  • “How if the kiss be denied?”
  • said the pseudo-bass voice.
  • “Thou she puts you to entreaty,”
  • Rosalind answered, changing swiftly to falsetto. But in spite of the falsetto she was charming, she was adorable. She was better as Rosalind than she had been as Juliet; she was more coquettish, her touch was lighter, she had more movement and action, Withers said to himself beneath his breath, as he watched her. Nothing could be prettier than her innocent by-play, of the real conception of which, she had no more knowledge than a kitten; yet it was charming by-play for all that. Beautiful indeed she was when she clasped her white arms above her head, to look her imaginary Orlando in the face; more adorably lovely still when she made her red lips pout in imitation of a kiss.

    Then, all at once, there fell upon the air a terrible stillness.

    Glorinda’s voice had stopped with an awful suddenness. She was standing quite still, and she was looking at him, full, straight in the eyes. She had seen him through the bushes; he must have ventured too far beyond them.

    Glorinda grew at first deadly white. Withers felt his own face to be turning to flame.

    It was a full moment before she recovered herself. Then she went on—continuing, however, to give the lines in a perfectly commonplace voice—in tones which it made Withers’s heart ache to hear, they were so treacherously unsteady.

    She did not go to the end of the scene. She gave a few more lines, and then stopped. With a sudden access of self-possession she turned toward him, looking him full in the eyes again; through the network of leaves her eyes seemed like two threatening flames in their brilliancy.

    She spoke to the negroes, although Withers knew only too well whom she was really addressing.

    “You may go now; I can’t go on—it’s too hot, and I’m tired. Please go away at once.”

    He knew himself to be dismissed, and yet he could not move; he felt himself to be glued to the spot. He must see her once, cost what it might; he must speak to her and gain her forgiveness.

    The little audience had quickly scattered. Withers rose then, pushing his way toward the place where she had been standing. But she was no longer there; she had gone down into the hollow to undress, probably; he would wait. Then a low, stifled sob fell on his ear; the edge of a blue mantle caught his eye. It must be—it was Glorinda; she was lying on the ground, on the other side of the tree-trunk.

    She had thrown herself prone upon the ground; she had hidden her face in her mantle; she was sobbing convulsively.

    Withers was beside her in an instant. Unconsciously he put his arm about her, as he knelt over her.

    “Oh, don’t, don’t, Miss Glory!” he cried out, as he tried to raise her, to clasp her waist, and to pull her upward. “I—I am a brute; I am ashamed; I can never forgive myself; but oh, for Heaven’s sake don’t weep! you will break my heart; you will make yourself ill;” and he went on struggling to raise her all the while, to turn her face toward him. But Glory still kept it hidden, now in her mantle, now in the masses of her hair. She was weeping still, but not so violently. She was sobbing softly as she let him pull her toward him, raising her till she was sitting beside him, with her face still buried in her hair. She kept on weeping, but less and less bitterly. Withers stroked the long tresses with his hand, as for a few brief seconds Glorinda’s head lay, in the abandonment of her distress, upon his shoulder. He kept on talking all the while in the heat of his remorse and repentance.

    “I can never forgive myself—never. I am ashamed,—I am ashamed even to ask you to forgive me for doing such an outrageous thing,—for spying on you like that.”

    The head on his shoulder gave a convulsive little sob.

    “But you see,” he went on, trying to lift the head that he might look into her face,—“but you see, I had done it before, I had seen you before, as—Juliet—last week—before I came, and”——

    The head was suddenly raised now. Glorinda’s sobbing ceased. She brushed a wet mist from before her eyes, as she sat, drawing herself away from him, that she might look him quite full in the face.

    “You saw me before as Juliet?” She had found her voice, which was firm in spite of the tears still hanging on her wet eyelids.

    “Yes, yes, it was by accident—wholly by accident. I was passing, you know, through the woods, resting here, and I couldn’t help seeing you; you were acting when I got here,—before I came”——

    “Then you have known all the time, ever since you came, that I—that”— She almost broke down here, her voice dying into a half-born sob; but she rallied, straightening herself up with a bravery that made Withers ache to see. Some new force now possessed her; for her eyes suddenly brightened, in spite of the tears which suffused them.

    “Then, since you’ve seen me, since you know all, you can tell me—will you—truly, frankly?” In her new-born earnestness, she leaned toward Withers, grasping his hand, as she spoke.

    “Tell you—tell you what? I’ll tell you anything; you know I will!”

    “Then—tell me—do you think I shall succeed,—do you think there’s any chance?”

    Withers could scarcely divine her meaning. She seemed to see, to comprehend his perplexity. She went on:

    “I mean, do you think there’s any chance for me in the theatres; that any one would take me? You ought to know; you live in the great cities. I’ve thought of asking you before; but—but I’ve never dared; I was afraid”——

    “My dear little girl, what has put such nonsense into your head? why do you want to act?” Withers answered, as he took both Glory’s hands in one of his, turning her face full in front of him with the other. He had a hard truth to tell, and he felt it would be easier to do so if he could look into her eyes. They did not lower beneath his gaze, as she responded quickly:

    “Because—because I must; because we are so—so poor. Don’t you think I could?”

    He could see that she was in an agony of suspense.

    “Yes, I do, with years of practice, under skilled teachers. But that means time and money; and if you want”——

    “Oh, couldn’t I begin at once, in little parts,—in tiny, tiny parts? I’ve heard of others doing that, and rising”——

    “Yes; but such a life is one you couldn’t lead. What do you know of the world? Who could go about with you, to protect you? And besides, where would the money come from? For in little parts you’d get little or no pay. No, no, Miss Glory, you’d better give it up; it isn’t any sort of a life for you.”

    Her face, as he had gone on trying to say all he must, as kindly as he could, had worn a hundred different expressions, as it was swept by the emotions that were rending her young bosom. If the gift of mobility were all an actress needed as a pledge of success, she was at least fully equipped in that capacity. But she did not look in the least like taking his advice, like renouncing her hopes, as he drew to the end of his sentence; the buoyancy had died out of her face, but the determination was still set on brow and lip.

    “Why—why couldn’t I try as Juliet, as Rosalind, then, at once? Others have, who’ve not been trained,—I’ve read of them; perhaps I’d succeed, too. Are you sure I wouldn’t succeed?” she went on, gazing up at him with a passion of hope in her great eyes.

    As she had gone on talking, she had begun to braid her hair, to get it out of the way. She was braiding the last ends now, as she continued to look up at him; her swift fingers were running in and out of the strands like pink and white shuttles through a golden web. In the hurry of her braiding, the blue mantle had slipped. It had become loosened at the shoulder; it had fallen so that the short tunic and the encased limbs were fully revealed.

    As his eye swept the full yet delicate lines of her figure, Withers could have laughed aloud at her question; for hers was the shape, and these were the curves, of a young goddess. Succeed? Good God! what couldn’t she do with such a beauty as hers?

    He held his breath. He could barely summon strength to meet her eyes; for she was still looking up at him with her wild-eyed, eager, expectant gaze, as she went on mechanically braiding her hair.

    For one fierce moment the temptation nearly blinded him to clasp her to him, to gather all that beauty and loveliness in one sweet swift embrace to his arms, to his lips. Then Withers turned to clutch wildly at the tufts of grass, digging the hand on which he was leaning deep into the moist dull earth, and the moment of his temptation had passed. That cool touch of the soil beneath his fingers was the drop of moisture that checked the fever in his blood.