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forgets and forgives such a thing easily if bribed by a fortune. I
will let all that be as if it were not, and meet you on the ground
of what is, at this present hour. I despise you because you have
no more mind or manhood - take it as you will - than to think that
this struggle for national life and liberty is a mere passing fracas
of politicians. Do you think I will tamely permit you to call my
noble father little better than a fool? He has explained to me what
this war means - he, of twice your age, and with a mind as large
as his manhood and courage. You have assumed to be his superior,
also, as well as that of Mr. Lane and Mr. Strahan, who are about
to peril life in the 'hurly-burly.' What are your paltry thousands
to me? Should I ever love, I will love a MAN; and had I your sex
and half your inches, I should this hour be in Virginia, instead of
defending those I love and honor against your implied aspersions.
Had you your mother's sentiments I should at least respect you,
although she has no right to be here enjoying the protection of a
government that she would destroy."

He was as pale as she had become flushed, and again he passed his
hand over his brow confusedly and almost helplessly. "It is all
like a horrid dream," he muttered.

"Mr. Merwyn, you have brought this on yourself," she said, more
calmly. "You have sought to wrong me in my own home. Your words and
manner have ever been an insult to the cause for which my father
may die - O God!" she exclaimed, with a cry of agony - "for which
he may now be dead! Go, go," she added, with a strong repellent
gesture. "We have nothing in common: you measure everything with
the inch-rule of self."

As if pierced to the very soul he sprung forward and seized her hand
with almost crushing force, as he cried: "No, I measure everything
hereafter by the breadth of your woman's soul. You shall not cast
me off in contempt. If you do you are not a woman, - you are a
fanatic, worse than my mother;" and he rushed from the house like
one distraught.

Panting, trembling, frightened by a volcanic outburst such as she
had never dreamed of, Marian sunk on a lounge, sobbing like a child.






CHAPTER XVI.

AWAKENED AT LAST.





IT may well be imagined that Mrs. Vosburgh was not far distant
during the momentous interview described in the last chapter, and,
as Merwyn rushed from the house as if pursued by the furies, she
appeared at once on the scene, full of curiosity and dismay.

Exclamations, questionings, elicited little from Marian. The strain
of the long, eventful day had been too great, and the young girl,
who might have been taken as a type of incensed womanhood a few
moments before, now had scarcely better resources than such remedies
as Mrs. Vosburgh's matronly experience knew how to apply. Few remain
long on mountain-tops, physical or metaphorical, and deep valleys
lie all around them. Little else could be done for the poor girl
than to bring the oblivion of sleep, and let kindly Nature nurse
her child back to a more healthful condition of body and mind.

But it would be long before Willard Merwyn would be amenable to the
gentle offices of nature. Simpson, the footman, flirting desperately
with the pretty waitress in the kitchen below, heard his master's
swift, heavy step on the veranda, and hastened out only in time to
clamber into his seat as Merwyn drove furiously away in the rain
and darkness. Every moment the trembling lackey expected they would
all go to-wreck and ruin, but the sagacious animals were given
their heads, and speedily made their way home.

The man took the reeking steeds to the stable, and Merwyn disappeared.
He did not enter the house, for he felt that he would stifle there,
and the thought of meeting his mother was intolerable. Therefore,
he stole away to a secluded avenue, and strode back and forth
under the dripping trees, oblivious, in his fierce perturbation,
of outward discomfort.

Mrs. Merwyn waited in vain for him to enter, then questioned the
attendant.

"Faix, mum, I know nothin' at all. Mr. Willard druv home loike one
possessed, and got out at the door, and that's the last oi've seen
uv 'im."

The lady received the significant tidings with mingled anxiety and
satisfaction. Two things were evident. He had become more interested
in Miss Vosburgh than he had admitted, and she, by strange good
fortune, had refused him.

"It was a piece of folly that had to come in some form, I suppose,"
she soliloquized, "although I did not think Willard anything like
so sure to perpetrate it as most young men. Well, the girl has
saved me not a little trouble, for, of course, I should have been
compelled to break the thing up;" and she sat down to watch and
wait. She waited so long that anxiety decidedly got the better of
her satisfaction.

Meanwhile the object of her thoughts was passing through an experience
of which he had never dreamed. In one brief hour his complacency,
pride, and philosophy of life had been torn to tatters. He saw
himself as Marian saw him, and he groaned aloud in his loathing and
humiliation. He looked back upon his superior airs as ridiculous,
and now felt that he would rather be a private in Strahan's company
than the scorned and rejected wretch that he was. The passionate
nature inherited from his mother was stirred to its depths. Even
the traits which he believed to be derived from his father, and
which the calculating lawyer had commended, had secured the young
girl's most withering contempt; and he saw how she contrasted him
with her father and Mr. Lane, - yes, even with little Strahan. In
her bitter words he heard the verdict of the young men with whom
he had associated, and of the community. Throughout the summer he
had dwelt apart, wrapped in his own self-sufficiency and fancied
superiority. His views had been of gradual growth, and he had come
to regard them as infallible, especially when stamped with the
approval of his father's old friend; but the scathing words, yet
ringing in his ears, showed him that brave, conscientious manhood
was infinitely more than his wealth and birth. As if by a revelation
from heaven he saw that he had been measuring everything with the
little rule of self, and in consequence he had become so mean and
small that a generous-hearted girl had shrunk from him in loathing.

Then in bitter anger and resentment he remembered how he was
trammelled by his oath to his mother. It seemed to him that his
life was blighted by this pledge and a false education. There was
no path to her side who would love and honor only a MAN.

At last the mere physical manifestations of passion and excitement
began to pass away, and he felt that he was acting almost like one
insane as he entered the house.

Mrs. Merwyn met him, but he said, hoarsely, "I cannot talk with
you to-night."

"Willard, be rational. You are wet through. You will catch your
death in these clothes."

"Nothing would suit me better, as I feel now;" and he broke away.

He was so haggard when he came down late the next morning that his
mother could not have believed such a change possible in so short
a time. "It is going to be more serious than I thought," was her
mental comment as she poured him out a cup of coffee.

It was indeed; for after drinking the coffee in silence, he looked
frowningly out of the window for a time; then said abruptly to the
waiter, "Leave the room."

The tone was so stern that the man stole out with a scared look.

"Willard," began Mrs. Merwyn, with great dignity, "you are acting
in a manner unbecoming your birth and breeding."

Turning from the window, he fixed his eyes on his mother with a
look that made her shiver.

At last he asked, in a low, stern voice, "Why did you bind me with
that oath?"

"Because I foresaw some unutterable folly such as you are now
manifesting."

"No," he said, in the same cold, hard tone. "It was because
your cursed Confederacy was more to you than my freedom, than my
manhood, - more to you than I am myself."

"O Willard! What ravings!"

"Was my father insane when he quietly insisted on his rights,
yielding you yours? What right had you to cripple my life?"

"I took the only effective means to prevent you from doing just
that for yourself."

"How have you succeeded?"

"I have prevented you, as a man of honor, from doing, under a gust
of passion, what would spoil all my plans and hopes."

"I am not a man. You have done your best to prevent me from being
one. You have bound me with a chain, and made me like one of the
slaves on your plantation. Your plans and hopes? Have I no right
to plans and hopes?"

"You know my first thought has been of you and for you."

"No, I do not know this. I now remember that, when you bound me,
a thoughtless, selfish, indolent boy, you said that you would have
torn your heart out rather than marry my father had you foreseen
what was coming. This miserable egotist, Jeff Davis, and his scheme
of empire, cost what it may, are more to you than husband or child.
A mother would have said: 'You have reached manhood and have the
rights of a man. I will advise you and seek to guide you. You know
my feelings and views, and in their behalf I will even entreat
you; but you have reached that age when the law makes you free,
and holds you accountable to your own conscience.' Of what value
is my life if it is not mine? I should have the right to make my
own life, like others."

"You have the right to make it, but not to mar it."

"In other words, your prejudices, your fanaticism, are to take the
place of my conscience and reason. You expect me to carry a sham of
manhood out into the world. I wish you to release me from my oath."

"Never," cried Mrs. Merwyn, with a passion now equal to his own.
"You have fallen into the hands of a Delilah, and she has shorn
you of your manhood. Infatuated with a nameless Northern girl, you
would blight your life and mine. When you come to your senses you
will thank me on your knees that I interposed an oath that cannot
be broken between you and suicidal folly;" and she was about to
leave the room.

"Stop," he said, huskily. "When I bound myself I did so without
realizing what I did. I was but a boy, knowing not the future. I
did it out of mere good-will to you, little dreaming of the fetters
you were forging. Since you will not release me and treat me as a
man I shall keep the oath. I swore never to put on the uniform of
a Union soldier, or to step on Southern soil with a hostile purpose,
but you have taught me to detest your Confederacy with implacable
hate; and I shall use my means, my influence, all that I am, to
aid others to destroy it."

"What! are you not going back to England with us?"

"Yes."

"Before you have been there a week this insane mood will pass away."

"Did my father's moods pass away?"

"Your father - " began the lady, impetuously, and then hesitated.

"My father always yielded you your just rights and maintained his
own. I shall imitate his example as far as I now may. The oath is
a thing that stands by itself. It will probably spoil my life, but
I cannot release myself from it."

"You leave me only one course, Willard, - to bear with you as if you
were a passionate child. You never need hope for my consent to an
alliance with the under-bred creature who has been the cause of
this folly."

"Thank you. You now give me your complete idea of my manhood. I
request that these subjects be dismissed finally between us. I make
another pledge, - I shall be silent whenever you broach them;" and
with a bow he left the apartment.

Half an hour later he was climbing the nearest mountain, resolved
on a few hours of solitude. From a lofty height he could see
the little Vosburgh cottage, and, by the aid of a powerful glass,
observed that the pony phaeton did not go out as usual, although
the day was warm and beautiful after the storm.

The mists of passion were passing from his mind, and in strong
reaction from his violent excitement he sunk, at first, into deep
depression. So morbid was he that he cried aloud: "O my father!
Would to God that you had lived! Where are you that you can give
no counsel, no help?"

But he was too young to give way to utter despondency, and at last
his mind rallied around the words he had spoken to Marian. "I shall,
hereafter, measure everything by the breadth of your woman's soul."

As he reviewed the events of the summer in the light of recent
experience, he saw how strong, unique, and noble her character was.
Faults she might have in plenty, but she was above meannesses and
mercenary calculation. The men who had sought her society had been
incited to manly action, and beneath all the light talk and badinage
earnest and heroic purposes had been formed; he meanwhile, poor
fool! had been too blinded by conceited arrogance to understand
what was taking place. He had so misunderstood her as to imagine
that after she had spent a summer in giving heroic impulses she
would be ready to form an alliance that would stultify all her
action, and lose her the esteem of men who were proving their regard
in the most costly way. He wondered at himself, but thought: -

"I had heard so much about financial marriages abroad that I had
gained the impression that no girl in these days would slight an
offer like mine. Even her own mother was ready enough to meet my
views. I wonder if she will ever forgive me, ever receive me again
as a guest, so that I can make a different impression. I fear she
will always think me a coward, hampered as I am by a restraint
that I cannot break. Well, my only chance is to take up life from
her point of view, and to do the best I can. There is something in
my nature which forbids my ever yielding or giving up. So far as
it is now possible I shall keep my word to her, and if she has a
woman's heart she may, in time, so far relent as to give me a place
among her friends. This is now my ambition, for, if I achieve this,
I shall know I am winning such manhood as I can attain."

When Merwyn appeared at dinner he was as quiet and courteous as
if nothing had happened; but his mother was compelled to note that
the boyishness had departed out of his face, and in its strong
lines she recognized his growing resemblance to his father.

Two weeks later he accompanied his mother and sisters to England.
Before his departure he learned that Marian had been seriously ill,
but was convalescent, and that her father had returned.

Meantime and during the voyage, with the differences natural to
the relation of mother and son, his manner was so like that of his
father towards her that she was continually reminded of the past,
and was almost led to fear that she had made a grave error in the
act she had deemed so essential. But her pride and her hopes for
the future prevented all concession.

"When he is once more in society abroad this freak will pass away,"
she thought, "and some English beauty will console him."

But after they were well established in a pretty villa near
congenial acquaintances, Merwyn said one morning, "I shall return
to New York next week."

"Willard! how can you think of such a thing? I was planning to
spend the latter part of the winter in Rome."

"That you may easily do with your knowledge of the city and your
wide circle of friends."

"But we need you. We want you to be with us, and I think it most
unnatural in you to leave us alone."

"I have taken no oath to dawdle around Europe indefinitely. I
propose to return to New York and go into business."

"You have enough and more than enough already."

"I certainly have had enough of idleness."

"But I protest against it. I cannot consent."

"Mamma," he said, in the tone she so well remembered, "is not my
life even partially my own? What is your idea of a man whom both
law and custom make his own master? Even as a woman you chose for
yourself at the proper age. What strange infatuation do you cherish
that you can imagine that a son of Willard Merwyn has no life of
his own to live? It is now just as impossible for me to idle away
my best years in a foreign land as it would be for me to return
to my cradle. I shall look after your interests and comfort to the
best of my ability, and, if you decide to return to New York, you
shall be received with every courtesy."

"I shall never return to New York. I would much prefer to go to my
plantation and share the fortunes of my own people."

"I supposed you would feel in that way, and I will do all in
my power to further your wishes, whatever they may be. My wishes,
in personal matters, are now equally entitled to respect. I shall
carry them out;" and with a bow that precluded all further remonstrance
he left the room.

A day or two later she asked, abruptly, "Will you use your means
and influence against the South?"

"Yes."

Mrs. Merwyn's face became rigid, but nothing more was said. When
he bade her good-by there was an evident struggle in her heart,
but she repressed all manifestations of feeling, and mother and
son parted.






CHAPTER XVII.

COMING TO THE POINT.





WHEN the tide has long been rising the time comes for it to recede.
From the moment of Marian's awakening to a desire for a better
womanhood, she had been under a certain degree of mental excitement
and exaltation. This condition had culminated with the events
that wrought up the loyal North into suspense, anguish, and stern,
relentless purpose.

While these events had a national and world-wide significance, they
also pressed closely, in their consequences, on individual life.
It has been shown how true this was in the experience of Marian.
Her own personal struggle alone, in which she was combating the
habits and weakness of the past, would not have been a trivial
matter, - it never is when there is earnest endeavor, - but, in
addition to this, her whole soul had been kindling in sympathy with
the patriotic fire that was impelling her dearest friends towards
danger and possible death. Lane's, Strahan's, and Blauvelt's
departure, and her father's peril, had brought her to a point that
almost touched the limit of endurance. Then had come the man whose
attentions had been so humiliating to her personally, and who
represented to her the genius of the Rebellion that was bringing
her such cruel experience. She saw his spirit of condescension even
in his offer of marriage; worse still, she saw that he belittled
the conflict in which even her father was risking his life; and her
indignation and resentment had burst forth upon him with a power
that she could not restrain.

The result had been most unexpected. Instead of slinking away
overwhelmed with shame and confusion, or departing in haughty anger,
Merwyn had revealed to her that which is rarely witnessed by any
one, - the awakening of a strong, passionate nature. In the cynical,
polished, self-pleasing youth was something of which she had not
dreamed, - of which he was equally unaware. Her bitter words pierced
through the strata of self-sufficiency and pride that had been
accumulating for years. She stabbed with truth the outer man and
slew it, but the inner and possible manhood felt the sharp thrust
and sprung up wounded, bleeding, and half desperate with pain. That
which wise and kindly education might have developed was evoked in
sudden agony, strong yet helpless, overwhelmed with the humiliating
consciousness of what had been, and seeing not the way to what
she would honor. Yet in that supreme moment the instinct asserted
itself that she, who had slain his meaner self, had alone the power
to impart the impulse toward true manhood and to give the true
measure of it. Hence a declaration so passionate, and an appeal so
full of his immense desire and need, that she was frightened, and
faltered helplessly.

In the following weary days of suffering and weakness, she realized
that she was very human, and not at all the exalted heroine that
she had unconsciously come to regard herself. The suitor whom she
had thought to dismiss in contempt and anger, and to have done with,
could not be banished from her mind. The fact that he had proved
himself to be all that she had thought him did not satisfy her,
for the reason that he had apparently shown himself to be so much
more. She had judged him superficially, and punished him accordingly.
She had condemned him unsparingly for traits which, except for a few
short months, had been her own characteristics. While it was true
that they seemed more unworthy in a man, still they were essentially
the same.

"But he was not a man," she sighed. "He was scarcely more than the
selfish boy that wealth, indulgence, and fashionable life had made
him. Why was I so blind to this? Why could I not have seen that
nothing had ever touched him deeply enough to show what he was,
or, at least, of what he was capable? What was Strahan before his
manhood was awakened? A little gossiping exquisite. Even Mr. Lane,
who was always better than any of us, has changed wonderfully
since he has had exceptional motives for noble action. What was I,
myself, last June, when I was amusing myself at the expense of a
man whom I knew to be so good and true? In view of all this, instead
of having a little charity for Mr. Merwyn, who, no doubt, is only
the natural product of the influences of his life, I only tolerated
him in the vindictive hope of giving the worst blow that a woman can
inflict. I might have seen that he had a deeper nature; at least,
I might have hoped that he had, and given him a chance to reveal
it. Perhaps there has never been one who tried to help him toward
true manhood. He virtually said that his mother was a Southern
fanatic, and his associations have been with those abroad who
sympathized with her. Is it strange that a mere boy of twenty-one
should be greatly influenced by his mother and her aristocratic
friends? He said his father was a Northern man, and he may have
imbibed the notion that he could not fight on either side. Well,
if he will give up such a false idea, if he will show that he is
not cold-blooded and calculating, as his last outbreak seemed to
prove, and can become as brave and true a soldier as Strahan, I
will make amends by treating him as I do Strahan, and will try to
feel as friendly towards him. He shall not have the right to say
I'm 'not a woman but a fanatic.'"

She proved herself a woman by the effort to make excuses for one
towards whom she had been severe, by her tendency to relent after
she had punished to her heart's content.

"But," added the girl aloud, in the solitude of her room, "while I
may give him my hand in some degree of kindliness and friendship,
if he shows a different spirit, he shall never have my colors, never
my loyal and almost sisterly love, until he has shown the courage
and manhood of Mr. Lane and Mr. Strahan. They shall have the first
place until a better knight appears."

When, one September evening, her father quietly entered his home
he gave her an impulse towards convalescence beyond the power of
all remedies. There were in time mutual confidences, though his
were but partial, because relating to affairs foreign to her life,
and tending to create useless anxieties in respect to the future.
He was one of those sagacious, fearless agents whom the government,
at that period, employed in many and secret ways. For obvious reasons
the nature and value of their services will never be fully known.


Marian was unreserved in her relation of what had occurred, and
her father smiled and reassured her.

"In one sense you are right," he said. "We should have a broader,
kindlier charity for all sorts of people, and remember that, since
we do not know their antecedents and the influences leading to
their actions, we should not be hasty to judge. Your course might
have been more Christian-like towards young Merwyn, it is true.
Coming from you, however, in your present state of development,
it was very natural, and I'm not sure but he richly deserved your
words. If he has good mettle he will be all the better for them.
If he spoke from mere impulse and goes back to his old life and
associations, I'm glad my little girl was loyal and brave enough
to lodge in his memory truths that he won't forget. Take the good
old doctrine to your relenting heart and don't forgive him until
he 'brings forth fruits meet for repentance.' I'm proud of you that
you gave the young aristocrat such a wholesome lesson in regard to
genuine American manhood and womanhood."

Mrs. Vosburgh's reception of her husband was a blending of welcome
and reproaches. What right had he to overwhelm them with anxiety,



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 12 of 37)