An Awakening

When at last Constance left me for the night, I threw myself across the bed without removing my garments, that I might the sooner lose my sorrows in the forgetfulness of sleep. Without avail, however, till the night was far spent, and then only for a moment; for awakening, I found Aunt Jane bending over me grim and determined, a cruel smile lighting up her cold, impassive face. Yes, it was as Uncle Job had said. She could not be misled, and spying out my hiding-place, had bribed the attendants, and so gained access to my room—and I was lost. Stifling my cries, she beckoned her servants to her side, and they, taking me in their arms, bore me through the silent house to the carriage that stood waiting before the door. Thrusting me within, they drove away, muffling my voice till we were far beyond the town. Then releasing me, as if in mockery, I beat my head against the sides of the vehicle, screaming aloud for help, but vainly, for no answer was returned to my angry cries. This till my strength was gone and I sank back exhausted in my seat.
Thus we reached her home in the gray of the morning, but not to enter, for turning into a vacant field, she hid me in a house half buried in the ground, apart and far from the traveled road. Here they left me, but returning in the evening, covered my prison deep with dirt, so that it resembled a gigantic grave. In this loathsome cell I remained for many weeks, mold gathering on my garments and fever racking my worn frame. Nor was this all, for from out the sides of my prison snakes and lizards peered at me with lack-luster eyes as I sat brooding the day through, and at night monstrous field-rats, gaining entrance, ran to and fro across my body, or warmed themselves beneath my jacket. Here in the early morning or late at night my aunt came to visit me, striking the door of my prison with her staff as she called my name. Grieved and incensed, I for a long time refused to answer, but at last, rising to my feet in rage to upbraid her for her cruelty, I awoke, trembling and covered with sweat, to find Setti rapping on my door and calling my name:
“Gilbert! Gilbert!”
Springing up, I ran to her, crying:
“Here! here! Save me, save me, Setti!” clasping my arms about her body as I spoke.
Startled by my action and wild speech, she sought to disengage herself, but observing my distraught air, bent down and kissed me, saying soothingly:
“What is the matter, Gilbert? What has frightened you? You tremble, and your face is as pale as death.”
“It’s the cold and damp,” I answered, scarce knowing what I said, only that I sought to cling to her the tighter.
“That is not it, Gilbert, for the morning is soft and warm,” she answered, peering into my face. “You are ill or hiding something from me. What is it?”
“Oh, I’ve had a dream, a dreadful dream—or it was true, I don’t know which. I thought Aunt Jane came and took me to her home and hid me in a cave where no one could find me or hear my cries.”
“Oh you poor boy! It was only a dream, for see, this is the Dragon, and your uncle is downstairs, and Constance will be here in a moment with your breakfast.”
“Let’s go to her; it’s better than staying here,” I answered, looking back into the room, unable to command my voice or trembling limbs.
“No, Gilbert, not till you are yourself again. Constance must not see you in this way, for the poor thing is dead with grief already,” she answered, striving to quiet my agitation.
“I’ll stay, but don’t leave me, for I’ll not stop here alone; I can’t!” I cried, fear still overcoming me.
“See, it is nothing,” she answered, entering the room and looking about. “It was all a dream, Gilbert. There, you will be yourself again in a minute”; and putting her arm about me, she led me to the open window, and looking out, I saw the day was just breaking.
In this manner, and after some time, I regained my composure, so that when Constance entered she in no wise suspected that anything had gone amiss. Spreading the table, Setti motioned the servant to go away, and making some excuse, she presently followed, leaving us alone. Seating myself, I made pretense of eating, but only that, so deeply was I stirred by what had happened and the thought of parting from Constance. Now, though a long life has elapsed since that unhappy morning, I can see her as plainly as then, striving to smile or say some cheerful word, but more often with tears filling her gentle eyes and clogging her utterance as she sat sad-faced and despondent by my side. In this way I made believe I had some appetite, till the horn sounded the departure of the stage. Then, springing to my feet, I took her in my arms and kissed her a thousand times, but without speech of any kind, so full were we of the sorrow of parting. At last, tearing myself away, I hurried below, where I found Mr. Seymour waiting for me in the hall.
“Good by, God bless you!” he cried, with a striving at gayety as he put his arm about me and led me to the door. “Remember, Gilbert, that we love you always, and will welcome you back with open arms whenever you choose to come,” he concluded, his voice choking.
My heart too full for utterance, I raised his hand and kissed it, and without stopping, hurried on to where Uncle Job stood waiting to put me in the stage. Thus we went away, and turning, I saw Constance looking down on me from the room where we had just parted, waving me a last farewell.