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credit in your little note-book," he said, flushing with pleasure.

"I shall not need a note-book to keep in mind anything that relates
to you. Your courage has made me a braver, truer girl. Arthur,
please, you won't get reckless in camp? I want to think of you
always as I think of you now. When time hangs heavy on your hands,
would it give you any satisfaction to write to me?"

"Indeed it will," cried the young officer. "Let me make a suggestion.
I will keep a rough journal of what occurs and of the scenes we
pass through, and Blauvelt will illustrate it. How should you like
that? It will do us both good, and will be the next best thing to
running in of an evening as we have done here."

Marian was more than pleased with the idea. When at last Strahan
said farewell, he went away with every manly impulse strengthened,
and his heart warmed by the evidences of her genuine regard.

In the afternoon Blauvelt called, and, with Marian and her mother,
drove to the station to take part in an ovation to Captain Strahan
and his company. The artist had affairs to arrange in the city
before enlisting, and proposed to enter the service at Washington.

The young officer bore up bravely, but when he left his mother and
sisters in tears, his face was stern with effort. Marian observed,
however, that his last glance from the platform of the cars rested
upon herself. She returned home depressed and nervously excited,
and there found additional cause for solicitude in a letter from
her father informing her of the great disaster to Union arms which
poor generalship had invited. This, as she then felt, would have
been bad enough, but in a few tender, closing words, he told her that
they might not hear from him in some time, as he had been ordered
on a service that required secrecy and involved some danger. Mrs.
Vosburgh was profuse in her lamentations and protests against her
husband's course, but Marian went to her room and sobbed until
almost exhausted.

Her nature, however, was too strong, positive, and unchastened to
find relief in tears, or to submit resignedly. Her heart was full
of bitterness and revolt, and her partisanship was becoming almost
as intense as that of Mrs. Merwyn.

The afternoon closed with a dismal rain-storm, which added to her
depression, while relieving her from the fear of callers. "O dear!"
she exclaimed, as she rose from the mere form of supper, "I have
both head-ache and heart-ache. I am going to try to get through
the rest of this dismal day in sleep."

"Marian, do, at least, sit an hour or two with me. Some one may
come and divert your thoughts."

"No one can divert me to-night. It seems as if an age had passed
since we came here in June."

"Your father knows how alone we are in the world, with no near
relatives to call upon. I think he owes his first duty to us."

"The men of the North, who are right, should be as ready to
sacrifice everything as the men of the South, who are wrong; and so
also should Northern women. I am proud of the fact that my father
is employed and trusted by his government. The wrong rests with
those who caused the war."

"Every man can't go and should not go. The business of the country
must be carried on just the same, and rich business men are
as important as soldiers. I only wish that, in our loneliness and
with the future so full of uncertainty, you would give sensible
encouragement to one abundantly able to give you wealth and the
highest position."

"Mr. Merwyn?"

"Yes, Mr. Merwyn," continued her mother, with an emphasis somewhat
irritable. "He is not an old, worn-out millionnaire, like Mr.
Lanniere. He is young, exceedingly handsome, so high-born that he
is received as an equal in the houses of the titled abroad. He has
come to me like an honorable man, and asked for the privilege of
paying his addresses. He would have asked your father had he been
in town. He was frank about his affairs, and has just received,
in his own name, a very large property, which he proposes to double
by entering upon business in New York."

"What does his mother think of his intentions toward me?" the young
girl asked, so quietly, that Mrs. Vosburgh was really encouraged.

"He says that he and his mother differ on many points, and will
differ on this one, and that is all he seemed inclined to say,
except to remark significantly that he had attained his majority."

"It was he whom you meant, when you said that some one might come
who would divert my thoughts?"

"I think he would have come, had it not been for the storm."

"Mamma, you have not given him any encouragement? You have not
compromised yourself, or me?"

Mrs. Vosburgh bridled with the beginnings of resentment, and said,
"Marian, you should know me too well - "

"There, there, mamma, I was wrong to think of such a thing; I ask
your pardon."

"I may have my sensible wishes and preferences," resumed the lady,
complacently, "but I have never yet acted the role of the anxious,
angling mamma. I cannot help wishing, however, that you would
consider favorably an offer like this one, and I certainly could
not treat Mr. Merwyn otherwise than with courtesy."

"That was right and natural of you, mamma. You have no controversy
with Mr. Merwyn; I have. I hate and detest him. Well, since he may
come, I shall dress and be prepared."

"O Marian! you are so quixotic!"

"Dear mamma, you are mistaken. Do not think me inconsiderate of
you. Some day I will prove I am not by my marriage, if I marry;"
and she went to her mother and kissed her tenderly.

Then by a sudden transition she drew herself up with the dark,
inscrutable expression that was becoming characteristic since deeper
experiences had entered into her life, and said, firmly: -

"Should I do as you suggest, I should be false to those true friends
who have gone to fight, perhaps to die; false to my father; false
to all that's good and true in my own soul. As to my heart," she
concluded, with a contemptuous shrug, "that has nothing to do with
the affair. Mamma, you must promise me one thing. I do not wish
you to meet Mr. Merwyn to-night. Please excuse yourself if he asks
for you. I will see him."

"Mark my words, Marian, you will marry a poor man."

"Oh, I have no objection to millionnaires," replied the girl,
with a short, unmirthful laugh, "but they must begin their suit in
a manner differing from that of two who have favored me;" and she
went to her room.

As Merwyn resembled his deceased parent, so Marian had inherited
not a little of her father's spirit and character. Until within
the last few months her mother's influence had been predominant,
and the young girl had reflected the social conventionalities to
which she was accustomed. No new traits had since been created. Her
increasing maturity had rendered her capable of revealing qualities
inherent in her nature, should circumstances evoke them. The flower,
as it expands, the plant as it grows, is apparently very different,
yet the same. The stern, beautiful woman who is arraying herself
before her mirror, as a soldier assumes his arms and equipments, is
the same with the thoughtless, pleasure-loving girl whom we first
met in her drawing-room in June; but months of deep and almost
tragic experience have called into activity latent forces received
from her father's soul, - his power of sustained action, of resolute
purpose, of cherishing high ideals, and of white, quiet anger.

Her toilet was scarcely completed when Willard Merwyn was announced.






CHAPTER XV.

SCORN.





IT is essential that we should go back several hours in our story.
On the morning of the day that witnessed the departure of Strahan
and his company Merwyn's legal adviser had arrived and had been
closeted for several hours with his client. Mr. Bodoin was extremely
conservative. Even in youth he had scarcely known any leanings
toward passion of any kind or what the world regards as folly. His
training had developed and intensified natural characteristics,
and now to preserve in security the property intrusted to his
care through a stormy, unsettled period had become his controlling
motive. He looked upon the ups and downs of political men and measures
with what seemed to him a superior and philosophical indifference,
and he was more than pleased to find in Merwyn, the son of his old
client, a spirit so in accord with his own ideas.

They had not been very long together on this fateful day before he
remarked: "My dear young friend, it is exceedingly gratifying to
find that you are level-headed, like your father. He was a man,
Willard, whom you do well to imitate. He secured what he wanted
and had his own way, yet there was no nonsense about him. I was
his intimate friend as well as legal adviser, and I know, perhaps,
more of his life than any one else. Your mother, to-day, is the
handsomest woman of her years I ever saw, but when she was of your
age her beauty was startling, and she had almost as many slaves
among the first young men of the South as there were darkies on the
plantation, yet your father quietly bore her away from them all.
What is more, he so managed as to retain her respect and affection
to the last, at the same time never yielding an inch in his just
rights or dignity, and he ever made Mrs. Merwyn feel that her just
rights and dignity were equally sacred. Proud as your mother was,
she had the sense to see that his course was the only proper one.
Their marriage, my boy, always reminded me of an alliance between
two sovereign and alien powers. It was like a court love-match
abroad. Your father, a Northern man, saw the beautiful Southern
heiress, and he sued as if he were a potentate from a foreign realm.
Well-born and accustomed to wealth all his life, he matched her
pride with a pride as great, and made his offer on his feet as if
he were conferring as much as he should receive. That, in fact,
was the only way to win a woman who had been bowed down to all
her life. After marriage they lived together like two independent
sovereigns, sometimes here, then in the city house, and, when
Mrs. Merwyn so desired it, on the Southern plantation, or abroad.
He always treated her as if she were a countess or a queen in her
own right and paid the utmost deference to her Southern ideas, but
never for a moment permitted her to forget that he was her equal and
had the same right to his Northern views. In regard to financial
matters he looked after her interests as if he were her prime minister,
instead of a husband wishing to avail himself of anything. In his
own affairs he consulted me constantly and together we planted his
investments on the bed-rock. These reminiscences will enable you
to understand the pleasure with which I recognize in you the same
traits. Of course you know that the law gives you great power over
your property. If you were inclined to dissipation, or, what would
be little better in these times, were hot-headed and bent on taking
part in this losing fight of the South, I should have no end of
trouble."

"You, also, are satisfied, then, that it will be a losing fight?"
Merwyn had remarked.

"Yes, even though the South achieves its independence. I am off at
one side of all the turmoil, and my only aim is to keep my trusts
safe, no matter who wins. I see things as they are up to date and
not as I might wish them to be if under the influence of passion
or prejudice. The South may be recognized by foreign powers and
become a separate state, although I regard this as very doubtful.
In any event the great North and West, with the immense tides of
immigration pouring in, will so preponderate as to be overshadowing.
The Southern empire, of which Mrs. Merwyn dreams, would dwindle
rather than grow. Human slavery, right or wrong, is contrary to the
spirit of the age. But enough of this political discussion. I only
touch upon it to influence your action. By the course you are
pursuing you not only preserve all your Northern property, but
you will also enable me to retain for your mother and sisters the
Southern plantation. This would be impossible if you were seeking
'the bubble, reputation, at the cannon's mouth' on either side.
Whatever happens, there must still be law and government. Both
sides will soon get tired of this exhausting struggle, and then
those who survive and have been wise will reap the advantage. Now,
as to your own affairs, the legal formalities are nearly completed.
If you return and spend the winter in New York I can put you in
the way of vastly increasing your property, and by such presence
and business activity you will disarm all criticism which your
mother's Southern relations may occasion."

"Mamma will bitterly oppose my return."

"I can only say that what I advise will greatly tend to conserve
Mrs. Merwyn's interests. If you prefer, we can manage it in this
way: after you have safely established your mother and sisters
abroad I can write you a letter saying that your interests require
your presence."

And so it had been arranged, and the old lawyer sat down to dinner
with Mrs. Merwyn, paying her the courtly deference which, while it
gratified her pride, was accepted as a matter of course - as a part
of her husband's legacy. He had soon afterwards taken his departure,
leaving his young client in a most complacent and satisfactory
mood.

It may thus be seen that Merwyn was not an unnatural product of
the influences which had until now guided his life and formed his
character. The reminiscences of his father's friend had greatly
increased his sense of magnanimity in his intentions towards
Marian. In the overweening pride of youth he felt as if he were
almost regally born and royally endowed, and that a career was
opening before him in which he should prove his lofty superiority
to those whose heads were turned by the hurly-burly of the hour.
Young as he was, he had the sense to be in accord with wise old age,
that looked beyond the clouds and storm in which so many would be
wrecked. Nay, even more, from those very wrecks he would gather
wealth.

"The time and opportunity for cool heads," he smilingly assured
himself, "is when men are parting with judgment and reason."

Such was his spirit when he sought the presence of the girl whose
soul was keyed up to almost a passion of self-sacrifice. His mind
belittled the cause for which her idolized father was, at that
moment, perilling his life, and to which her dearest friends had
consecrated themselves. He was serene in congratulating himself
that "little Strahan" had gone, and that the storm would prevent
the presence of other interlopers.

Although the room was lighted as usual, he had not waited many
moments before a slight chill fell upon his sanguine mood. The house
was so still, and the rain dripped and the wind sighed so dismally
without, that a vague presentiment of evil began to assert itself.
Heretofore he had found the apartment full of life and mirth, and
he could not help remembering that some who had been its guests
might now be out in the storm. Would she think of this also?

The parlor was scarcely in its usual pretty order, and no flowers
graced the table. Evidently no one was expected. "All the better,"
he assured himself; "and her desolation will probably incline her
the more to listen to one who can bring golden gleams on such a
dreary night."

A daily paper, with heavy headlines, lay on a chair near him. The
burden of these lines was DEFEAT, CARNAGE, DEATH.

They increased the slight chill that was growing upon him, and made
him feel that possibly the story of his birth and greatness which
he had hoped to tell might be swallowed up by this other story
which fascinated him with its horror.

A slight rustle caused him to look up, and Marian stood before him.
Throwing aside the paper as if it were an evil spell, he rose,
would have offered his hand had there been encouragement, but the
girl merely bowed and seated herself as she said: "Good-evening,
Mr. Merwyn. You are brave to venture out in such a storm."

Was there irony in the slight accent on the word "brave"? How
singularly severe was her costume, also! - simple black, without an
ornament. Yet he admitted that he had never seen her in so effective
a dress, revealing, as it did, the ivory whiteness of her arms and
neck.

"There is only one reason why I should not come this evening, - you
may have hoped to escape all callers."

"It matters little what one hopes in these times," she said, "for
events are taking place which set aside all hopes and expectations."

In her bitter mood she was impatient to have the interview over, so
that she accomplished her purpose. Therefore she proposed, contrary
to her custom with him, to employ the national tragedy, to which
he was so indifferent, as one of her keenest weapons.

"It is quite natural that you should feel so, Miss Vosburgh, in
regard to such hopes as you have thus far entertained - "

"Since they are the only hopes I know anything about, Mr. Merwyn,
I am not indifferent to them. I suppose you were at the depot to
see your friend, Mr. Strahan, depart?" and the question was asked
with a steady, searching scrutiny that was a little embarrassing.

Indeed, her whole aspect produced a perplexed, wondering admiration, for
she seemed breathing marble in her cold self-possession. He felt,
however, that the explanation which he must give of his absence
when so many were evincing patriotic good-will would enable him to
impress her with the fact that he had superior interests at stake
in which she might have a share.

Therefore he said, gravely, as if the reason were ample: "I should
have been at the depot, of course, had not my legal adviser come
up from town to-day and occupied me with very important business.
Mr. Bodoin's time is valuable to him, and he presented, for my
consideration, questions of vital interest. I have reached that
age now when I must not only act for myself, but I also have very
delicate duties to perform towards my mother and sisters."

"Mr. Strahan had a sad duty to perform towards his mother and
sisters, - he said good-by to them."

"A duty which I shall soon have to perform, also," Merwyn said.

She looked at him inquiringly. Had he at last found his manhood,
and did he intend to assert it? Had he abandoned his calculating
policy, and was he cherishing some loyal purpose? If this were
true and she had any part in his decision, it would be a triumph
indeed; and, while she felt that she could never respond to any
such proposition as he had made through her mother, she could forget
the past and give him her hand in friendly encouragement towards
such a career as Lane and Strahan had chosen. She felt that it would
be well not to be over-hasty in showing resentment, but if possible
to let him reveal his plans and character fully. She listened
quietly, therefore, without show of approval or disapproval, as he
began in reply to her questioning glance.

"I am going to be frank with you this evening, Miss Vosburgh. The
time has come when I should be so. Has not Mrs. Vosburgh told you
something of the nature of my interview with her?"

The young girl merely bowed.

"Then you know how sincere and earnest I am in what - in what I
shall have to say."

To his surprise he felt a nervous trepidation that he would not
have imagined possible in making his magnanimous offer. He found
this humble American girl more difficult to approach than any other
woman he had ever met.

"Miss Vosburgh," he continued, hesitatingly, "when I first entered
this room I did not understand your true worth and superiority,
but a sense of these has been growing on me from that hour to this.
Perhaps I was not as sincere as I - I - should have been, and you
were too clever not to know it. Will you listen to me patiently?"

Again she bowed, and lower this time to conceal a slight smile of
triumph.

Encouraged, he proceeded: "Now that I have learned to know you well,
I wish you to know me better, - to know all about me. My father was
a Northern man with strong Northern traits; my mother, a Southern
woman with equally strong Southern traits. I have been educated
chiefly abroad. Is it strange, then, that I cannot feel exactly as
you do, or as some of your friends do?"

"As we once agreed, Mr. Merwyn, each must choose his own course
for life."

"I am glad you have reminded me of that, for I am choosing for life
and not for the next ten months or ten years. As I said, then, all
this present hurly-burly will soon pass away." Her face darkened,
but in his embarrassment and preoccupation he did not perceive it.
"I have inherited a very large property, and my mother's affairs
are such that I must act wisely, if not always as she would wish."

"May I ask what Mrs. Merwyn would prefer?"

"I am prepared to be perfectly frank about myself," he replied,
hesitatingly, "but - "

"Pardon me. It is immaterial."

"I have a perfect right to judge and act for myself," resumed
Merwyn, with some emphasis.

"Thank you. I should remember that."

The words were spoken in a low tone and almost as if in soliloquy,
and her face seemed to grow colder and more impassive if possible.

With something approaching dismay Merwyn had observed that the
announcement of his large fortune had had no softening influence on
the girl's manner, and he thought, "Truly, this is the most dreary
and business-like wooing that I ever imagined!"

But he had gone too far to recede, and his embarrassment was
beginning to pass into something like indignation that he and all
he could offer were so little appreciated.

Restraining this feeling, he went on, gravely and gently: "You once
intimated that I was young, Miss Vosburgh, yet the circumstances
and responsibilities of my lot have led me to think more, perhaps,
than others of my age, and to look beyond the present hour. I regard
the property left me by my father as a trust, and I have learned
to-day that I can greatly increase and probably double it. It is
my intention, after taking my mother and sisters abroad, to return
to New York and to enter cautiously into business under the guidance
of my legal adviser, who is a man of great sagacity. Now, as you
know, I have said from the first that it is natural for you to
feel deeply in regard to the events of the day; but I look beyond
all this turmoil, distraction, and passion, which will be as
temporary as it is violent. I am thinking for you as truly as for
myself. Pardon me for saying it; I am sure I am in a better condition
of mind to think for you than you are to judge for yourself.
I can give you the highest social position, and make your future
a certainty. From causes I can well understand the passion of the
hour has been swaying you - "

She rose, and by an emphatic gesture stopped him, and there was a
fire in the blue eyes that had been so cold before. She appeared
to have grown inches as she stood before him and said, in tones
of concentrated scorn: "You are indeed young, yet you speak the
calculating words of one so old as to have lost every impulse of
youth. Do you know where my father is at this moment?"

"No," he faltered.

"He is taking part, at the risk of his life, in this temporary
hurly-burly, as you caricature it. It is he who is swaying me, and
the memory of the brave men whom you have met here and to whom you
fancied yourself superior. Did not that honored father exist, or
those brave friends, I feel within my soul that I have womanhood
enough to recognize and feel my country's need in this supreme hour
of her peril. You thoughtful beyond your years? - you think for me?
What did you think of me the first evening you spent here? What were
your thoughts as you came again and again? To what am I indebted
for this honor, but the fact that you could only beguile a summer's
ennui by a passing flirtation which would leave me you little cared
where, after you had joined your aristocratic friends abroad? Now
your plans have changed, and, after much deliberation, you have
come to lift me to the highest position! Never dream that I can
descend to your position!"

He was fairly trembling with anger and mortification, and she was
about to leave the apartment.

"Stay!" he said, passing his hand across his brow as if to brush
away confusion of mind; "I have not given you reason for such
contempt, and it is most unreasonable."

"Why is it unreasonable?" she asked, her scornful self-control
passing into something like passion. "I will speak no more of the
insult of your earlier motives towards me, now that you think you
can afford to marry me. In your young egotism you may think a girl



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 11 of 37)