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and loyal enough to go where my father would lead. Even if I loved a
man, even if I were married, I would rather that the one _I_ loved
did all a man's duty, though my heart was broken and my life blighted
in consequence, than to have him seeking safety and comfort in some
eminently prudent, temporizing course."

Mr. Vosburgh put his arm around his daughter, as he looked, for a
moment, into her tear-dimmed eyes, then kissed her good-night, and
said, quietly, "I understand you, Marian."

"But, papa!" she exclaimed, in sudden remorsefulness, "you won't
take any risks that you can honorably escape?"

"I promise you I won't go out to-night in search of the nearest
recruiting sergeant," replied her father, with a reassuring laugh.






CHAPTER XIX.

PROBATION PROMISED.





MERWYN had been in the city some little time when Marian, unknown
to him, learned of his presence. He, also, had seen her more than
once, and while her aspect had increased his admiration and a
feeling akin to reverence, it had also disheartened him. To a degree
unrecognized by the girl herself, her present motives and stronger
character had changed the expression of her face. He had seen her
when unconscious of observation and preoccupied by thoughts which
made her appear grave and almost stern, and he was again assured
that the advantages on which he had once prided himself were as
nothing to her compared with the loyalty of friends now in Virginia.
He could not go there, nor could he explain why he must apparently
shun danger and hardship. He felt that his oath to his mother would
be, in her eyes, no extenuation of his conduct. Indeed, he believed
that she would regard the fact that he could give such a pledge
as another proof of his unworthiness to be called an American. How
could it be otherwise when he himself could not look back upon the
event without a sense of deep personal humiliation?

"I was an idiotic fool when I gave away manhood and its rights,"
he groaned. "My mother took advantage of me."

In addition to the personal motive to conceal the fact of his oath,
he had even a stronger one. The revelation of his pledge would be
proof positive of his mother's disloyalty, and might jeopardize
the property on which she and his sisters depended for support.
Moreover, while he bitterly resented Mrs. Merwyn's course towards
him he felt that honor and family loyalty required that he should
never speak a word to her discredit. The reflection implied in
his final words to Marian had been wrung from him in the agony of
a wounded spirit, and he now regretted them. Henceforth he would
hide the fetters which in restraining him from taking the part in
the war now prompted by his feelings also kept him from the side of
the girl who had won the entire allegiance of his awakened heart.
He did not know how to approach her, and feared lest a false step
should render the gulf between them impassable. He saw that her
pride, while of a different character, was greater than his own
had ever been, and that the consideration of his birth and wealth,
which he had once dreamed must outweigh all things else, would not
influence her in the slightest degree. Men whom she regarded as his
equals in these respects were not only at her feet but also facing
the enemy as her loyal knights. How pitiable a figure in her eyes
he must ever make compared with them!

But there is no gravitation like that of the heart. He felt that
he must see her again, and was ready to sue for even the privilege
of being tolerated in her drawing-room on terms little better than
those formerly accorded him.

When he arrived in New York he had hesitated as to his course. His
first impulse had been to adopt a life of severe and inexpensive
simplicity. But he soon came to look upon this plan as an affectation.
There was his city home, and he had a perfect right to occupy it,
and abundant means to maintain it. After seeing Marian's resolute,
earnest face as she passed in the street unconscious of his
scrutiny, and after having learned more about her father from his
legal adviser, the impression grew upon him that he had lost his
chance, and he was inclined to take refuge in a cold, proud reticence
and a line of conduct that would cause no surmises and questionings
on the part of the world. He would take his natural position, and
live in such a way as to render curiosity impertinent.

He had inherited too much of his father's temperament to sit down
in morbid brooding, and even were he disposed toward such weakness
he felt that his words to Marian required that he should do all
that he was now free to perform in the advancement of the cause to
which she was devoted. She might look with something like contempt
on a phase of loyalty which gave only money when others were giving
themselves, but it was the best he could do. Whether she would ever
recognize the truth or not, his own self-respect required that he
should keep his word and try to look at things from her point of
view, and, as far as possible, act accordingly. For a time he was
fully occupied with Mr. Bodoin in obtaining a fuller knowledge of
his property and the nature of its investment. Having learned more
definitely about his resources he next followed the impulse to aid
the cause for which he could not fight.

A few mornings after the interview between Marian and her father
described in the previous chapter, Mr. Vosburgh, looking over his
paper at the breakfast-table, laughed and said: "What do you think
of this, Marian? Here is Merwyn's name down for a large donation
to the Sanitary and Christian Commissions."

His daughter smiled satirically as she remarked, "Such heroism
takes away my breath."

"You are losing the power, Marian," said her mother, irritably,
"of taking moderate, common-sense views of anything relating to
the war. If the cause is first in your thoughts why not recognize
the fact that Mr. Merwyn can do tenfold more with his money than
if he went to the front and 'stopped a bullet,' as your officer
friends express themselves? You are unfair, also. Instead of giving
Mr. Merwyn credit for a generous act you sneer at him."

The girl bit her lip, and looked perplexed for a moment. "Well,
then," she said, "I will give him credit. He has put himself to the
inconvenience of writing two checks for amounts that he will miss
no more than I would five cents."

"Ask your father," resumed Mrs. Vosburgh, indignantly, "if the
men who sustain these great charities and the government are not
just as useful as soldiers in the field. What would become of the
soldiers if business in the city should cease? Your ideas, carried
out fully, would lead your father to start to the front with a
musket, instead of remaining where he can accomplish the most good."

"You are mistaken, mamma. My only fear is that he will incur too
many risks as it is. I have never asked any one to go to the front,
and I certainly would not ask Mr. Merwyn. Indeed, when I think of
the cause, I would rather he should do as you suggest. I should be
glad to have him give thousands and increase the volume of business
by millions; but if he gave all he has, he could not stand in my
estimation with men who offer their lives and risk mutilation and
untold suffering from wounds. I know nothing of Mr. Merwyn's present
motives, and they may be anything but patriotic. He may think it to
his advantage to win some reputation for loyalty, when it is well
known that his mother has none at all. Those two gifts, paltry
for one of his means, count very little in these days of immense
self-sacrifice. I value, in times of danger, especially when great
principles are at stake, self-sacrifice and uncalculating heroism
above all things, and I prefer to choose my friends from among
those who voluntarily exhibit these qualities. No man living could
win my favor who took risks merely to please me. Mr. Merwyn is
nothing to me, and if I should ever meet him again socially, which
is not probable, I should be the last one to suggest that he should
go to the war; but if he, or any one, wishes my regard, there
must be a compliance with the conditions on which I give it. I am
content with the friends I have."

Mr. Vosburgh looked at his daughter for a moment as if she were
fulfilling his ideal, and soon after departed for his office.
A few days after, when the early shadows of the late autumn were
gathering, he was interrupted in his preparations to return up town
by the entrance of the subject of the recent discussion.

Merwyn was pale and evidently embarrassed as he asked, "Mr. Vosburgh,
have you a few moments of leisure?"

"Yes," replied the gentleman, briefly.

He led the way to a private office and gave his caller a chair.

The young man was at a loss to begin a conversation necessarily of
so delicate a nature, and hesitated.

Mr. Vosburgh offered no aid or encouragement, for his thought was,
"This young fellow must show his hand fully before I commit myself
or Marian in the slightest degree."

"Miss Vosburgh, no doubt, has told you of the character of our last
interview," Merwyn began at last, plunging in medias res.

"My daughter is in the habit of giving me her confidence," was the
quiet reply.

"Then, sir, you know how unworthy I am to make the request to which
I am nevertheless impelled. In justice I can hope for nothing. I
have forfeited the privilege of meeting Miss Vosburgh again, and I
do not feel that it would be right for me to see her without your
permission. The motives which first led me into her society were
utterly unworthy of a true man, and had she been the ordinary
society girl that I supposed she was, the results might have been
equally deserving of condemnation. I will not plead in extenuation
that I had been unfortunate in my previous associations, and in
the influences that had developed such character as I had. Can you
listen to me patiently?"

The gentleman bowed.

"I eventually learned to comprehend Miss Vosburgh's superiority in
some degree, and was so fascinated by her that I offered marriage
in perfect good faith; but the proposal was made in a complacent
and condescending spirit that was so perfectly absurd that now I
wonder at my folly. Her reply was severe, but not so severe as I
deserved, and she led me to see myself at last in a true light. It
is little I can now ask or hope. My questions narrow down to these:
Is Miss Vosburgh disposed to give me only justice? Have I offended
her so deeply that she cannot meet me again? Had my final words no
weight with her? She has inspired in me the earnest wish to achieve
such character as I am capable of, - such as circumstances permit.
During the summer I saw her influence over others. She was the
first one in the world who awakened in my own breast the desire
to be different. I cannot hope that she will soon, if ever, look
upon me as a friend; but if she can even tolerate me with some degree
of kindliness and good-will, I feel that I should be the better
and happier for meeting her occasionally. If this is impossible,
please say to her that the pledge implied among the last words
uttered on that evening, which I shall never forget, shall be kept.
I shall try to look at right and duty as she would."

As he concluded, Mr. Vosburgh's face softened somewhat. For a while
the young man's sentences had been a little formal and studied,
evidently the result of much consideration; they had nevertheless
the impress of truth. The gentleman's thought was: "If Mr. Merwyn
makes good his words by deeds this affair has not yet ended. My
little girl has been much too angry and severe not to be in danger
of a reaction."

After a moment of silence he said: "Mr. Merwyn, I can only speak for
myself in this matter. Of course, I naturally felt all a father's
resentment at your earlier attentions to my daughter. Since you
have condemned them unsparingly I need not refer to them again. I
respect your disposition to atone for the past and to enter on a
life of manly duty. You have my hearty sympathy, whatever may be the
result. I also thank you for your frank words to me. Nevertheless,
Miss Vosburgh must answer the questions you have asked. She is
supreme in her drawing-room, and alone can decide whom she will
receive there. I know she will not welcome any one whom she believes
to be unworthy to enter. I will tell her all that you have said."

"I do not hope to be welcomed, sir. I only ask to be received with
some degree of charity. May I call on you to-morrow and learn Miss
Vosburgh's decision?"

"Certainly, at any hour convenient to you."

Merwyn bowed and retired. When alone he said, with a deep sigh of
relief: "Well, I have done all in my power at present. If she has
a woman's heart she won't be implacable."

"What kept you so late?" Mrs. Vosburgh asked, as her husband came
down to dinner.

"A gentleman called and detained me."

"Give him my compliments when you see him again," said Marian,
"and tell him that I don't thank him for his unreasonable hours.
You need more recreation, papa. Come, take us out to hear some
music to-night."

A few hours later they were at the Academy, occupying balcony
seats. Marian was glancing over the house, between the acts, with
her glass, when she suddenly arrested its motion, and fixed it on
a lonely occupant of an expensive box. After a moment she handed
the lorgnette to her father, and directed him whither to look. He
smiled and said, "He appears rather pensive and preoccupied, doesn't
he?"

"I don't fancy pensive, preoccupied men in these times. Why didn't
he fill his box, instead of selfishly keeping it all to himself?"

"Perhaps he could not secure the company he wished."

"Who is it?" Mrs. Vosburgh asked.

She was told, and gave Merwyn a longer scrutiny than the others.

"Shall I go and give him your compliments and the message you spoke
of at dinner?" resumed Mr. Vosburgh, in a low tone.

"Was it Mr. Merwyn that called so late?" she asked, with a sudden
intelligence in her eyes.

Her father nodded, while the suggestion of a smile hovered about
his mouth.

"Just think of it, Marian!" said Mrs. Vosburgh. "We all might now
be in that box if you had been like other girls."

"I am well content where I am."

During the remainder of the evening Mr. Vosburgh observed some
evidences of suppressed excitement in Marian, and saw that she
managed to get a glimpse of that box more than once. Long before
the opera ended it was empty. He pointed out the fact, and said,
humorously, "Mr. Merwyn evidently has something on his mind."

"I should hope so; and so have you, papa. Has he formally demanded
my hand with the condition that you stop the war, and inform the
politicians that this is their quarrel, and that they must fight
it out with toothpicks?"

"No; his request was more modest than that."

"You think I am dying with curiosity, but I can wait until we get
home."

When they returned, Mr. Vosburgh went to his library, for he was
somewhat owlish in his habits.

Marian soon joined him, and said: "You must retire as soon as you
have finished that cigar. Even the momentous Mr. Merwyn shall not
keep us up a second longer. Indeed, I am so sleepy already that I may
ask you to begin your tale to-night, and end with 'to be continued.'"

He looked at her so keenly that her color rose a little, then said,
"I think, my dear, you will listen till I say 'concluded;'" and he
repeated the substance of Merwyn's words.

She heard him with a perplexed little frown. "What do you think I
ought to do, papa?"

"Do you remember the conversation we had here last June?"

"Yes; when shall I forget it?"

"Well, since you wish my opinion I will give it frankly. It then
became your ambition to make the most and best of men over whom
you had influence, if they were worth the effort. Merwyn has been
faulty and unmanly, as he fully admits himself, but he has proved
apparently that he is not commonplace. You must take your choice,
either to resent the past, or to help him carry out his better
purposes. He does not ask much, although no doubt he hopes for far
more. In granting his request you do not commit yourself to his
hopes in the least."

"Well, papa, he said that I couldn't possess a woman's heart and
cast him off in utter contempt, so I think I shall have to put him
on probation. But he must be careful not to presume again. I can
be friendly to many, but a friend to very few. Before he suggests
that relation he must prove himself the peer of other friends."






CHAPTER XX.

"YOU THINK ME A COWARD."





MERWYN had not been long in the city before he was waited upon
and asked to do his share towards sustaining the opera, and he had
carelessly taken a box which had seldom been occupied. On the evening
after his interview with Mr. Vosburgh, his feeling of suspense was
so great that he thought he could beguile a few hours with music.
He found, however, that the light throng, and even the harmonious
sounds, irritated, rather than diverted, his perturbed mind, and
he returned to his lonely home, and restlessly paced apartments
rendered all the more dreary by their magnificence.

He proved his solicitude in a way that led Mr. Vosburgh to smile
slightly, for when that gentleman entered his office, Merwyn was
awaiting him.

"I have only to tell you," he said, in response to the young man's
questioning eyes, "that Miss Vosburgh accedes to your request as
you presented it to me;" and in parting he gave his hand with some
semblance of friendliness.

Merwyn went away elated, feeling that he had gained all for which
he had a right to hope. Eager as he was for the coming interview
with Marian, he dreaded it and feared that he might be painfully
embarrassed. In this eagerness he started early for an evening
call; but when he reached his destination, he hesitated, passing
and repassing the dwelling before he could gather courage to enter.
The young girl would have smiled, could she have seen her former
suitor, once so complacent and condescending. She certainly could
not complain of lack of humility now.

At last he perceived that two other callers had passed in, and he
followed them, feeling that their presence would enable both him
and the object of his thoughts to take refuge in conventionalities.

He was right in this view, for with a scarcely perceptible increase
of color, and a polite bow, Marian received him as she would any
other mere calling acquaintance, introduced him to the two gentlemen
present, and conversation at once became general. Merwyn did not
remain long under constraint. Even Marian had to admit to herself
that he acquitted himself well and promised better for the future.
When topics relating to the war were broached, he not only talked
as loyally as the others, but also proved himself well informed.
Mrs. Vosburgh soon appeared and greeted him cordially, for the
lady was ready enough to entertain the hopes which his presence
again inspired. He felt that his first call, to be in good taste,
should be rather brief, and he took his departure before the others,
Marian bowing with the same distant politeness that had characterized
her greeting. She made it evident that she had granted just what he
had asked and nothing more. Whether he could ever inspire anything
like friendliness the future only would reveal. He had serious
doubts, knowing that he suffered in contrast with even the guests
of the present evening. One was an officer home on sick-leave; the
other exempted from military duty by reason of lameness, which did
not extend to his wit and conversational powers. Merwyn also knew
that he would ever be compared with those near friends now in
Virginia.

What did he hope? What could he hope? He scarcely knew, and would
not even entertain the questions. He was only too glad that the door
was not closed to him, and, with the innate hopefulness of youth,
he would leave the future to reveal its possibilities. He was so
thoroughly his father's son that he would not be disheartened, and
so thoroughly himself that the course he preferred would be the
one followed, so far as was now possible.

"Well?" said Mr. Vosburgh, when Marian came to the library to kiss
him good-night.

"What a big, long question that little word contains!" she cried,
laughing, and there was a little exhilaration in her manner which
did not escape him.

"You may tell me much, little, or nothing."

"I will tell you nothing, then, for there is nothing to tell.
I received and parted with Mr. Merwyn on his terms, and those you
know all about. Mamma was quite gracious, and my guests were polite
to him."

"Are you willing to tell me what impression he made in respect to
his loyalty?"

"Shrewd papa! You think this the key to the problem. Perhaps it
is, if there is any problem. Well, so far as WORDS went he proved
his loyalty in an incidental way, and is evidently informing himself
concerning events. If he has no better proof to offer than words,
his probation will end unfavorably, even though he may not be
immediately aware of the fact. Of course, now that I have granted
his request, I must be polite to him so long as he chooses to come."

"Was he as complacent and superior as ever?"

"Whither is your subtlety tending? Are you, as well as mamma, an
ally of Mr. Merwyn? You know he was not. Indeed, I must admit that,
in manner, he carried out the spirit of his request."

"Then, to use your own words, he was 'befittingly humble'? No, I am
not his ally. I am disposed to observe the results of your experiment."

"There shall be no experimenting, papa. Circumstances have enabled
him to understand me as well as he ever can, and he must act in
view of what he knows me to be. I shall not seek to influence him,
except by being myself, nor shall I lower my standard in his favor."

"Very well, I shall note his course with some interest. It is
evident, however, that the uncertainties of his future action will
not keep either of us awake."

When she left him, he fell into a long revery, and his concluding
thoughts were: "I doubt whether Marian understands herself in respect
to this young fellow. She is too resentful. She does not feel the
indifference which she seeks to maintain. The subtle, and, as yet,
unrecognized instinct of her womanhood leads her to stand aloof.
This would be the natural course of a girl like Marian towards a man
who, for any cause, had gained an unusual hold upon her thoughts.
I must inform myself thoroughly in regard to this Mr. Merwyn. Thus
far her friends have given me little solicitude; but here is one,
towards whom she is inclined to be hostile, that it may be well to
know all about. Even before she is aware of it herself, she is on
the defensive against him, and this, to a student of human nature,
is significant. She virtually said to-night that he must win his
way and make his own unaided advances toward manhood. Ah, my little
girl! if it was not in him ever to have greater power over you than
Mr. Strahan, you would take a kindlier interest in his efforts."

If Marian idolized her father as she had said, it can readily
be guessed how much she was to him, and that he was not forgetful
of his purpose to learn more about one who manifested so deep an
interest in his daughter, and who possibly had the power to create
a responsive interest. It so happened that he was acquainted with
Mr. Bodoin, and had employed the shrewd lawyer in some government
affairs. Another case had arisen in which legal counsel was required,
and on the following day advice was sought.

When this part of the interview was over, Mr. Vosburgh remarked,
casually, "By the way, I believe you are acquainted with Mr. Willard
Merwyn and his affairs."

"Yes," replied the lawyer, at once on the alert.

"Do your relations to Mr. Merwyn permit you to give me some
information concerning him?"

The attorney thought rapidly. His client had recently been inquiring
about Mr. Vosburgh, and, therefore, the interest was mutual.
On general principles it was important that the latter should be
friendly, for he was a secret and trusted agent of the government,
and Mrs. Merwyn's course might render a friend at court essential.
Although the son had not mentioned Marian's name, Mr. Bodoin
shrewdly guessed that she was exerting the influence that had so
greatly changed the young man's views and plans. The calculating
lawyer had never imagined that he would play the role of match-maker,
but he was at once convinced that, in the stormy and uncertain
times, Merwyn could scarcely make a better alliance than the one
he meditated. Therefore with much apparent frankness the astute



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 14 of 37)