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was placed. Yet what could he say to the serene, smiling girl before
him, whose unflinching blue eyes looked into his with a keenness
of insight that troubled him? His one thought now was to achieve
a retreat in which he could maintain the semblance of dignity and
good breeding.

With a light and deferential laugh he said: "I am taught, unmistakably,
Miss Vosburgh, that my regard, whatever it may be, is of little
consequence to you, and that it would be folly for me to try to
prove a thing that would not interest you if demonstrated. I feel,
however, that one question is due to us both, - Is my society a
disagreeable intrusion?"

"If it had been, Mr. Merwyn, you would have been aware of the fact
before this. I have enjoyed your conversation this morning."

"I hope, then, that in the future I can make a more favorable
impression, and that in time you will give me your hand."

Her blue eyes never left his face as he spoke, and they grew dark
with a meaning that perplexed and troubled him. She merely bowed
gravely and turned away.

Never had his complacency been so disturbed. He walked homeward with
steps that grew more and more rapid, keeping pace with his swift,
perturbed thoughts. As he approached his residence he yielded to
an impulse; leaped a wall, and struck out for the mountains.






CHAPTER XIII.

A SIEGE BEGUN.





"EITHER she is seeking to enhance her value, or else she is not the
girl I imagined her to be at all," was Willard Merwyn's conclusion
as he sat on a crag high upon the mountain's side. "Whichever
supposition is true, I might as well admit at once that she is the
most fascinating woman I ever met. She IS a woman, as she claims to
be. I've seen too many mere girls not to detect their transparent
deceits and motives at once. I don't understand Marian Vosburgh;
I only half believe in her, but I intend to learn whether there is
a girl in her station who would unhesitatingly decline the wealth
and position that I can offer. Not that I have decided to offer
these as yet, by any means, for I am in a position to marry wealth
and rank abroad; but this girl piques my curiosity, stirs my blood,
and is giving wings to time. At this rate the hour of our departure
may come before I am ready for it. I was mistaken in one respect
the first evening I met her. Lane, as well as Strahan and others,
would marry her if they could. She might make her choice from almost
any of those who seek her society, and she is not the pretty little
Bohemian that I imagined. Either none of them has ever touched her
heart, or else she knows her value and vantage, and she means to
make the most of them. If she knew the wealth and position I could
give her immediately, would not these certainties bring a different
expression into her eyes? I am not an ogre, that she should shrink
from me as the only incumbrance."

Could he have seen the girl's passion after he left her he would
have understood her dark look at their parting. Hastily seeking
her own room she locked the door to hide the tears of anger and
humiliation that would come.

"Well," she cried, "I AM punished for trifling with others. Here
is a man who seeks me in my home for no other purpose than his own
amusement and the gratification of his curiosity. He could not deny
it when brought squarely to the issue. He could not look me in the
eyes and say that he was my honest friend. He would flirt with me,
if he could, to beguile his burdensome leisure; but when I defined
what some are to me, and more would be, if permitted, he found no
better refuge than gallantry and evasion. What can he mean? what
can he hope except to see me in his power, and ready to accept any
terms he may choose to offer? O Arthur Strahan! your wish now is
wholly mine. May I have the chance of rejecting this man as I never
dismissed one before!"

It must not be supposed that Willard's frequent visits to the
Vosburgh cottage had escaped Mrs. Merwyn's vigilant solicitude, but
her son spoke of them in such a way that she obtained the correct
impression that he was only amusing himself. Her chief hope was
that her son would remain free until the South had obtained the
power it sought. Then an alliance with one of the leading families
in the Confederacy would accomplish as much as might have resulted
from active service during the struggle. She had not hesitated to
express this hope to him.

He had smiled, and said: "One of the leading theories of the day is
the survival of the fittest. I am content to limit my theory to a
survival. If I am alive and well when your great Southern empire takes
the lead among nations there will be a chance for the fulfilment
of your dream. If I have disappeared beneath Southern mud there
won't be any chance. In my opinion, however, I should have tenfold
greater power with our Southern friends if I introduced to them an
English heiress."

His mother had sighed and thought: "It is strange that this
calculating boy should be my son. His father was self-controlled
and resolute, but he never manifested such cold-blooded thought of
self, first and always."

She did not remember that the one lesson taught him from his
very cradle had been that of self-pleasing. She had carried out
her imperious will where it had clashed with his, and had weakly
compensated him by indulgence in the trifles that make up a child's
life. SHE had never been controlled or made to yield to others in
thoughtful consideration of their rights and feelings, and did not
know how to instil the lesson; therefore - so inconsistent is human
nature - when she saw him developing her own traits, she was troubled
because his ambitions differed from her own. Had his hopes and
desires coincided with hers he would have been a model youth in
her eyes, although never entertaining a thought beyond personal and
family advantage. Apparently there was a wider distinction between
them, for she was capable of suffering and sacrifice for the South.
The possibilities of his nature were as yet unrevealed.

His course and spirit, however, set her at rest in regard to his
visits to Marian Vosburgh, and she felt that there was scarcely
the slightest danger that he would compromise himself by serious
attentions to the daughter of an obscure American official.

Willard returned from his brief absence, and was surprised at his
eager anticipation of another interview with Marian. He called
the morning after his arrival, and learning that she had just gone
to witness a drill of Strahan's company, he followed, and arrived
almost as soon as she did at the ground set apart for military
evolutions.

He was greeted by Marian in her old manner, and by Strahan in
his off-hand way. The young officer was at her side, and a number
of ladies and gentlemen were present as spectators. Merwyn took a
camp-stool, sat a little apart, and nonchalantly lighted a cigar.

Suddenly there was a loud commotion in the guard-house, accompanied
by oaths and the sound of a struggle. Then a wild figure, armed with
a knife, rushed toward Strahan, followed by a sergeant and two or
three privates. At a glance it was seen to be the form of a tall,
powerful soldier, half-crazed with liquor.

" - you!" exclaimed the man; "you ordered me to be tied up. I'll
larn you that we ain't down in Virginny yet!" and there was reckless
murder in his bloodshot eyes.

Although at that moment unarmed, Strahan, without a second's hesitation,
sprung at the man's throat and sought to catch his uplifted hand,
but could not reach it. The probabilities are that the young
officer's military career would have been ended in another second,
had not Merwyn, without removing his cigar from his mouth, caught
the uplifted arm and held it as in a vise.

"Stand back, Strahan," he said, quietly; but the young fellow would
not loosen his hold. Therefore Merwyn, with his left hand upon the
collar of the soldier, jerked him a yard away, and tripped him up
so that he fell upon his face. Twisting the fellow's hands across
his back, Merwyn said to the sergeant, "Now tie him at your leisure."

This was done almost instantly, and the foul mouth was also stopped
by a gag.

Merwyn returned to his camp-stool, and coolly removed the cigar
from his mouth as he glanced towards Marian. Although white and
agitated, she was speaking eager, complimentary, and at the same
time soothing words to Strahan, who, in accordance with his excitable
nature, was in a violent passion. She did not once glance towards
the man who had probably saved her friend's life, but Strahan came
and shook hands with him cordially, saying: "It was handsomely and
bravely done, Merwyn. I appreciate the service. You ought to be an
officer, for you could make a good one, - a better one than I am,
for you are as cool as a cucumber."

Others, also, would have congratulated Merwyn had not his manner
repelled them, and in a few moments the drill began. Long before
it was over Marian rose and went towards her phaeton. In a moment
Merwyn was by her side.

"You are not very well, Miss Vosburgh," he said. "Let me drive you
home."

She bowed her acquiescence, and he saw that she was pale and a
little faint; but by a visible effort she soon rallied, and talked
on indifferent subjects.

At last she said, abruptly: "I am learning what war means. It would
seem that there is almost as much danger in enforcing discipline
on such horrible men as in facing the enemy."

"Of course," said Merwyn, carelessly. "That is part of the risk."

"Well," she continued, emphatically, "I never saw a braver act than
that of Mr. Strahan. He was unarmed."

"I was also!" was the somewhat bitter reply, "and you did not even
thank me by a look for saving your friend from a bad wound to say
the least."

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Merwyn, you were armed with a strength
which made your act perfectly safe. Mr. Strahan risked everything."

"How could he help risking everything? The infuriated beast was
coming towards you as well as him. Could he have run away? You are
not just to me, or at least you are very partial."

"One can scarcely help being partial towards one's friends. I
agree with you, however; Mr. Strahan could not have taken any other
course. Could you, with a friend in such peril?"

"Certainly not, with any one in such peril. Let us say no more
about the trifle."

She was silent a moment, and then said, impetuously: "You shall
not misunderstand me. I don't know whether I am unjust or not. I do
know that I was angered, and cannot help it. You may as well know
my thoughts. Why should Mr. Strahan and others expose themselves
to such risks and hardships while you look idly on, when you so
easily prove yourself able to take a man's part in the struggle?
You may think, if you do not say it, that it is no affair of mine;
but with my father, whom I love better than life, ready at any
moment to give his life for a cause, I cannot patiently see utter
indifference to that cause in one who seeks my society."

"I think your feelings are very natural, Miss Vosburgh, nor do
I resent your censure. You are surrounded by influences that lead
you to think as you do. You can scarcely judge for me, however.
Be fair and just. I yield to you fully - I may add, patiently - the
right to think, feel, and act as you think best. Grant equal rights
to me."

"Oh, certainly," she said, a little coldly; "each one must choose
his own course for life."

"That must ever be true," he replied, "and it is well to remember
that it is for life. The present condition of affairs is temporary.
It is the hour of excited impulses rather than of cool judgment.
Ambitious men on both sides are furthering their own purposes at
the cost of others."

"Is that your idea of the war, Mr. Merwyn?" she asked, looking
searchingly into his face.

"It is indeed, and time will prove me right, you will discover."

"Since this is your view, I can scarcely wonder at your course,"
she said, so quietly that he misunderstood her, and felt that she
half conceded its reasonableness. Then she changed the subject,
nor did she revert to it in his society.

As August drew to its close, Marian's circle shared the feverish
solicitude felt in General Pope's Virginia campaign. Throughout
the North there was a loyal response to the appeal for men, and
Strahan's company was nearly full. He expected at any hour the
orders which would unite the regiment at Washington.

One morning Mr. Lane came to say good-by. It was an impressive
hour which he spent with Marian when bidding her perhaps a final
farewell. She was pale, and her attempts at mirthfulness were forced
and feeble. When he rose to take his leave she suddenly covered
her face with her hand, and burst into tears.

"Marian!" he exclaimed, eagerly, for the deep affection in his
heart would assert itself at times, and now her emotion seemed to
warrant hope.

"Wait," she faltered. "Do not go just yet."

He took her unresisting hand and kissed it, while she stifled her
sobs.

"Miss Marian," he began, "you know how wholly I am yours - "

"Please do not misunderstand me," she interrupted. "I scarcely
know how I could feel differently if I were parting with my twin
brother. You have been such a true, generous friend! Oh, I am all
unstrung. Papa has been sent for from Washington, and we don't know
when he'll return or what service may be required of him. I only
know that he is like you, and will take any risk that duty seems
to demand. I have so learned to lean upon you and trust you that if
anything happened - well, I felt that I could go to you as a brother.
You are too generous to blame me that I cannot feel in any other
way. See, I am frank with you. Why should I not be when the future
is so uncertain? Is it a little thing that I should think of you
first and feel that I shall miss you most when I am so distraught
with anxiety?"

"No, Miss Marian. To me it is a sacred thing. I want you to know
that you have a brother's hand and heart at your disposal."

"I believe you. Come," she added, rising and dashing away her
tears, "I must be brave, as you are. Promise me that you will take
no risks beyond those required by duty, and that you will write to
me."

"Marian," he said, in a low, deep voice, "I shall ever try to do
what, in your heart, you would wish. You must also promise that if
you are ever in trouble you will let me know."

"I promise."

He again kissed her hand, like a knight of the olden time.

At the last turn of the road from which he was visible she waved
her handkerchief, then sought her room and burst into a passion of
tears.

"Oh," she sobbed, "as I now feel I could not refuse him anything.
I may never see him again, and he has been so kind and generous!"

The poor girl was indeed morbid from excitement and anxiety. Her
pale face began to give evidence of the strain which the times
imposed on her in common with all those whose hearts had much at
stake in the conflict.

In vain her mother remonstrated with her, and told her that she was
"meeting trouble half-way." Once the sagacious lady had ventured
to suggest that much uncertainty might be taken out of the future
by giving more encouragement to Mr. Merwyn. "I am told that he is
almost a millionnaire in his own right," she said.

"What is he in his own heart and soul?" had been the girl's indignant
answer. "Don't speak to me in that way again, mamma."

Meanwhile Merwyn was a close observer of all that was taking place,
and was coming to what he regarded as an heroic resolution. Except
as circumstances evoked an outburst of passion, he yielded to habit,
and coolly kept his eye on the main chances of his life, and these
meant what he craved most.

Two influences had been at work upon his mind during the summer.
One resulted from his independent possession of large property. He
had readily comprehended the hints thrown out by his lawyer that,
if he remained in New York, the times gave opportunity for a
rapid increase in his property, and the thought of achieving large
wealth for himself, as his father had done before him, was growing
in attractiveness. His indolent nature began to respond to vital
American life, and he asked himself whether fortune-making in his
own land did not promise more than fortune-seeking among English
heiresses; moreover, he saw that his mother's devotion to the South
increased daily, and that feeling at the North was running higher
and becoming more and more sharply defined. As a business man in
New York his property would be safe beyond a doubt, but if he were
absent and affiliating with those known to be hostile to the North,
dangerous complications might arise.

Almost unconsciously to himself at first the second influence was
gaining daily in power. As he became convinced that Marian was
not an ordinary girl, ready for a summer flirtation with a wealthy
stranger, he began to give her more serious thought, to study her
character, and acknowledge to himself her superiority. With every
interview the spell of her fascination grew stronger, until at last
he reached the conclusion which he regarded as magnanimous indeed.
Waiving all questions of rank and wealth on his part he would become
a downright suitor to this fair countrywoman. It did not occur to
him that he had arrived at his benign mood by asking himself the
question, "Why should I not please myself?" and by the oft-recurring
thought: "If I marry rank and wealth abroad the lady may eventually
remind me of her condescension. If I win great wealth here and lift
this girl to my position she will ever be devoted and subservient
and I be my own master. I prefer to marry a girl that pleases me
in her own personality, one who has brains as well as beauty. When
these military enthusiasts have disappeared below the Southern
horizon, and time hangs more heavily on her hands, she will find
leisure and thought for me. What is more, the very uncertainties
of her position, with the advice of her prudent mamma, will incline
her to the ample provision for the future which I can furnish."

Thus did Willard Merwyn misunderstand the girl he sought, so strong
are inherited and perverted traits and lifelong mental habits.
He knew how easily, with his birth and wealth, he could arrange a
match abroad with the high contracting powers. Mrs. Vosburgh had
impressed him as the chief potentate of her family, and not at all
averse to his purpose. He had seen Mr. Vosburgh but once, and the
quiet, reticent man had appeared to be a second-rate power. He had
also learned that the property of the family was chiefly vested in
the wife. Of course, if Mr. Vosburgh had been in the city, Merwyn
would have addressed him first, but he was absent and the time of
his return unknown.

The son knew his mother would be furious, but he had already
discounted that opposition. He regarded this Southern-born lady as
a very unsafe guide in these troublous times. Indeed, he cherished
a practical kind of loyalty to her and his sisters.

"Only as I keep my head level," he said to himself, "are they safe.
Mamma would identify herself with the South to-day if she could,
and with a woman's lack of foresight be helpless on the morrow.
Let her dream her dreams and nurse her prejudices. I am my father's
son, and the responsible head of the family; and I part with no
solid advantage until I receive a better one. I shall establish
mamma and the girls comfortably in England, and then return to a
city where I can soon double my wealth and live a life independent
of every one."

This prospect grew to be so attractive that he indulged, like Mr.
Lanniere, in King Cophetua's mood, and felt that one American girl
was about to become distinguished indeed.

Watching his opportunity he called upon Mrs. Vosburgh while Marian
was out of the way, formally asking her, in her husband's absence,
for permission to pay his addresses; and he made known his financial
resources and prospects with not a little complacent detail.

Mrs. Vosburgh was dignified and gracious, enlarged on her daughter's
worth, hinted that she might be a little difficult to win by
reason of the attentions she had received and her peculiar views,
yet left, finally, the impression that so flattering proposals
could not be slighted.

Merwyn went home with a sigh of relief. He would no longer approach
Marian with doubtful and ill-defined intentions, which he believed
chiefly accounted for the clever girl's coldness towards him.






CHAPTER XIV.

OMINOUS.





SUBORDINATE only to her father and two chief friends, in Marian's
thoughts, was her enemy, for as such she now regarded Willard Merwyn.
She had felt his attentions to be humiliating from the first. They
had presented her former life, in which her own amusement and pleasure
had been her chief thought, in another and a very disagreeable
light. These facts alone would have been sufficient to awaken a
vindictive feeling, for she was no saint. In addition, she bitterly
resented his indifference to a cause made so dear by her father's
devotion and her friends' brave self-sacrifice. Whatever his
motive might be, she felt that he was cold-blooded, cowardly, or
disloyal, and such courtesy as she showed him was due to little else
than the hope of inflicting upon him some degree of humiliation.
She had seen too many manifestations of honest interest and ardent
love to credit him with any such emotion, and she had no scruples
in wounding his pride to the utmost.

Meanwhile events in the bloody drama of the war were culminating.
The Union officers were thought to have neither the wisdom to fight
at the right time nor the discretion to retreat when fighting was
worse than useless. In consequence thousands of brave men were
believed by many to have died in vain once more on the ill-fated
field of Bull Run.

One morning, the last of August, Strahan galloped to the Vosburgh
cottage and said to Marian, who met him at the door: "Orders have
come. I have but a few minutes in which to say good-by. Things
have gone wrong in Virginia, and every available man is wanted in
Washington."

His flushed face was almost as fair as her own, and gave him a boyish
aspect in spite of his military dress, but unhesitating resolution
and courage beamed from his eyes.

"Oh, that I were a man!" Marian cried, "and you would have company.
All those who are most to me will soon be perilling their lives."

"Guess who has decided to go with me almost at the last moment."

"Mr. Blauvelt?"

"Yes; I told him that he was too high-toned to carry a musket,
but he said he would rather go as a private than as an officer. He
wishes no responsibility, he says, and, beyond mere routine duty,
intends to give all his time and thoughts to art. I am satisfied
that I have you to thank for this recruit."

"Indeed, I have never asked him to take part in the war."

"No need of your asking any one in set terms. A man would have to
be either a coward, or else a rebel at heart, like Merwyn, to resist
your influence. Indeed, I think it is all the stronger because
you do not use it openly and carelessly. Every one who comes here
knows that your heart is in the cause, and that you would have been
almost a veteran by this time were you of our sex. Others, besides
Blauvelt, obtained the impulse in your presence which decided them.
Indeed, your drawing-room has been greatly thinned, and it almost
looks as if few would be left to haunt it except Merwyn."

"I do not think he will haunt it much longer, and I should prefer
solitude to his society."

"Well," laughed Strahan, "I think you will have a chance to put
one rebel to rout before I do. I don't blame you, remembering your
feeling, but Merwyn probably saved my life, and I gave him my
hand in a final truce. Friends we cannot be while he maintains his
present cold reserve. As you told me, he said he would have done
as much for any one, and his manner since has chilled any grateful
regard on my part. Yet I am under deep obligations, and hereafter
will never do or say anything to his injury."

"Don't trouble yourself about Mr. Merwyn, Arthur. I have my own
personal score to settle with him. He has made a good foil for
you and my other friends, and I have learned to appreciate you the
more. YOU have won my entire esteem and respect, and have taught me
how quickly a noble, self-sacrificing purpose can develop manhood.
O Arthur, Heaven grant that we may all meet again! How proud I
shall then be of my veteran friends! and of you most of all. You
are triumphing over yourself, and you have won the respect of every
one in this community."

"If I ever become anything, or do anything, just enter half the



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 10 of 37)