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Edward Payson Roe.

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for more details and oppressed with the foreboding that she would
never see her light-hearted friend again. She was almost tempted
to ask Merwyn to call, but felt a strange reluctance to do so.

"I gave him sufficient encouragement to continue his visits," she
thought, "and he should distinguish between the necessity of coming
every day and the privilege of coming occasionally."

One evening her father looked very grave as he handed Marian the
note addressed to him.

"O papa!" exclaimed the girl, "he's worse!"

"Yes, I fear Strahan is in a very critical condition. I happened
to meet Merwyn when he left the note to-day, and the young fellow
himself looked haggard and ill. But he carelessly assured me that
he was perfectly well. He said that the crisis of Strahan's fever
was approaching, and that the indications were bad."

"Papa!" cried the girl, tearfully, "I can't endure this suspense
and inaction. Why would it be bad taste for us to call on Mrs.
Strahan this evening? She must know how dear a friend Arthur is to
me. I don't care for conventionality in a case like this. It seems
cold-blooded to show no apparent interest, and it might do Arthur
good if he should learn that we had been there because of our
anxiety and sympathy."

"Well, my dear, what you suggest is the natural and loyal course,
and therefore outweighs all conventionality in my mind. We'll go
after dinner."

Marian's doubt as to her reception by Mrs. Strahan was speedily
dispelled, for the sorrow-stricken mother was almost affectionate
in her welcome.

"Arthur, in his delirium, often mentions your name," she said, "and
then he is in camp or battle again, or else writing his journal.
I have thought of sending for you, but he wouldn't have known you.
He does not even recognize me, and has not for days. Our physician
commands absolute quiet and as little change in those about him as
possible. What we should have done without Mr. Merwyn I scarcely
know. He is with him now, and has watched every night since Arthur's
return. I never saw any one so changed, or else we didn't understand
him. He is tireless in his strength, and womanly in his patience.
His vigils are beginning to tell on him sadly, but he says that he
will not give up till the crisis is past. If Arthur lives he will
owe his life largely to one who, last summer, appeared too indolent
to think of anything but his own pleasure. How we often misjudge
people! They were boys and playmates together, and are both greatly
changed. O Miss Vosburgh, my heart just stands still with dread
when I think of what may soon happen. Arthur had become so manly,
and we were so proud of him! He has written me more than once of
your influence, and I had hoped that the way might open for our
better acquaintance."

"Do you think the crisis may come to-night?" Marian asked, with
quivering lips.

"Yes, it may come now at any hour. The physician will remain all
night."

"Oh, I wish I might know early in the morning. Believe me, I shall
not sleep."

"You shall know, Miss Vosburgh, and I hope you will come and see
me, whatever happens. You will please excuse me now, for I cannot
be away from Arthur at this time. I would not have seen any one
but you."

At one o'clock in the morning there was a ring at Mr. Vosburgh's
door. He opened it, and Merwyn stood there wrapped in his fur
cloak. "Will you please give this note to Miss Vosburgh?" he said.
"I think it contains words that will bring welcome relief and hope.
I would not have disturbed you at this hour had I not seen your
light burning;" and, before Mr. Vosburgh could reply, he lifted
his hat and strode away.

The note ran as follows:

"MY DEAR MISS VOSBURGH: - Arthur became conscious a little before
twelve. He was fearfully weak, and for a time his life appeared
to flicker. I alone was permitted to be with him. After a while I
whispered that you had been here. He smiled and soon fell into a
quiet sleep. Our physician now gives us strong hopes.

"Sincerely and gratefully yours,

"CHARLOTTE STRAHAN."

Marian, who had been sleepless from thoughts more evenly divided
between her friend and Merwyn than she would have admitted even
to herself, handed the note to her father. Her face indicated both
gladness and perplexity. He read and returned it with a smile.

"Papa," she said, "you have a man's straightforward common-sense.
I am only a little half-girl and half-woman. Do you know, I almost
fear that both Mrs. Strahan and Mr. Merwyn believe I am virtually
engaged to Arthur."

"Their belief can't engage you," said her father, laughing. "Young
Strahan will get well, thanks to you and Merwyn. Mrs. Strahan said
that both were greatly changed. Merwyn certainly must have a hardy
nature, for he improves under a steady frost."

"Papa!" cried Marian, with a vivid blush, "you are a deeper and more
dangerous ally of Mr. Menvyn than mamma. I am on my guard against
you both, and I shall retire at once before you begin a panegyric
that will cease only when you find I am asleep."

"Yes, my dear, go and sleep the sleep of the unjust!"






CHAPTER XXII.

A GIRL'S THOUGHTS AND IMPULSES.





SLEEP, which Marian said would cut short her father's threatened
panegyrics of Merwyn, did not come speedily. The young girl had
too much food for thought.

She knew that Mrs. Strahan had not, during the past summer,
misunderstood her son's faithful nurse. In spite of all prejudice
and resentment, in spite of the annoying fact that he would intrude
so often upon her thoughts, she had to admit the truth that he was
greatly changed, and that, while she might be the cause, she could
take to herself no credit for the transformation. To others she had
given sincere and cordial encouragement. Towards him she had been
harsh and frigid. He must indeed possess a hardy nature, or else
a cold persistence that almost made her shiver, it was so indomitable.

She felt that she did not understand him; and she both shrunk from
his character and was fascinated by it. She could not now charge
him with disregard of her feelings and lack of delicacy. His visits
had ceased when he believed them to be utterly repugnant; he had
not availed himself of the opportunity to see her often afforded
by Strahan's illness, and had been quick to take the hint that he
could send his reports to her father. There had been no effort to
make her aware of his self-sacrificing devotion to her friend. The
thing that was irritating her was that he could approach so nearly
to her standard and yet fail in a point that to her was vital. His
course indicated unknown characteristics or circumstances, and she
felt that she could never give him her confidence and unreserved
regard while he fell short of the test of manhood which she believed
that the times demanded. If underneath all his apparent changes
for the better there was an innate lack of courage to meet danger
and hardship, or else a cold, calculating purpose not to take these
risks, she would shrink from him in strong repulsion. She knew
that the war had developed not a few constitutional cowards, - men
to be pitied, it is true, but with a commiseration that, in her
case, would be mingled with contempt. On the other hand, if he
reasoned, "I will win her if I can; I will do all and more than
she can ask, but I will not risk the loss of a lifetime's enjoyment
of my wealth," she would quietly say to him by her manner: "Enjoy
your wealth. I can have no part in such a scheme of existence; I
will not give my hand, even in friendship, to a man who would do
less than I would, were I in his place."

If her father was right, and he had scruples of conscience, or some
other unknown restraint, she felt that she must know all before
she would give her trust and more. If he could not satisfy her on
these points, as others had done so freely and spontaneously, he
had no right to ask or expect more from her than ordinary courtesy.

Having thus resolutely considered antidotes for a tendency towards
relentings not at all to her mind, and met, as she believed, her
father's charge of unfairness, her thoughts, full of sympathy and
hope, dwelt upon the condition of her friend. Recalling the past
and the present, her heart grew very tender, and she found that he
occupied in it a foremost place. Indeed, it seemed to her a species
of disloyalty to permit any one to approach his place and that of
Mr. Lane, for both formed an inseparable part of her new and more
earnest life.

She, too, had changed, and was changing. As her nature deepened and
grew stronger it was susceptible of deeper and stronger influences.
Under the old regime pleasure, excitement, triumphs of power that
ministered to vanity, had been her superficial motives. To the degree
that she had now attained true womanhood, the influences that act
upon and control a woman were in the ascendant. Love ceased to dwell
in her mind as a mere fastidious preference, nor could marriage
ever be a calculating choice, made with the view of securing the
greatest advantages. She knew that earnest men loved her without a
thought of calculation, - loved her for herself alone. She called
them friends now, and to her they were no more as yet. But their
downright sincerity made her sincere and thoughtful. Her esteem and
affection for them were so great that she was not at all certain
that circumstances and fuller acquaintance might not develop her
regard towards one or the other of them into a far deeper feeling.
In their absence, their manly qualities appealed to her imagination.
She had reached a stage in spiritual development where her woman's
nature was ready for its supreme requirement. She could be more
than friend, and was conscious of the truth; and she believed that
her heart would make a positive and final choice in accord with
her intense and loyal sympathies. In the great drama of the war
centred all that ideal and knightly action that has ever been so
fascinating to her sex, and daily conversation with her father had
enabled her to understand what lofty principles and great destinies
were involved. She had been shown how President Lincoln's proclamation,
freeing the slaves, had aimed a fatal blow at the chief enemies
of liberty, not only in this land, but in all lands. Mr. Vosburgh
was a philosophical student of history, and, now that she had become
his companion, he made it clear to her how the present was linked
to the past. Instead of being imbued with vindictiveness towards
the South, she was made to see a brave, self-sacrificing, but misled
people, seeking to rivet their own chains and blight the future of
their fair land. Therefore, a man like Lane, capable of appreciating
and acting upon these truths, took heroic proportions in her fancy,
while Strahan, almost as delicate as a girl, yet brave as the best,
won, in his straightforward simplicity, her deepest sympathy. The
fact that the latter was near, that his heart had turned to her
even from under the shadow of death, gave him an ascendency for
the time.

"To some such man I shall eventually yield," she assured herself,
"and not to one who brings a chill of doubt, not to one unmastered
by loyal impulses to face every danger which our enemies dare meet."

Then she slept, and dreamt that she saw Strahan reaching out his
hands to her for help from dark, unknown depths.

She awoke sobbing, and, under the confused impulse of the moment,
exclaimed: "He shall have all the help I can give; he shall live.
While he is weaker, he is braver than Mr. Lane. He triumphed over
himself and everything. He most needs me. Mr. Lane is strong in
himself. Why should I be raising such lofty standards of self-sacrifice
when I cannot give love to one who most needs it, most deserves
it?"






CHAPTER XXIII.

"MY FRIENDSHIP IS MINE TO GIVE."





STRAHAN'S convalescence need not be dwelt upon, nor the subtle aid
given by Marian through flowers, fruit, and occasional calls upon
his mother.

These little kindnesses were tonics beyond the physician's skill,
and he grew stronger daily. Mrs. Strahan believed that things were
taking their natural course, and, with the delicacy of a lady,
was content to welcome the young girl in a quiet, cordial manner.
Merwyn tacitly accepted the mother's view, which she had not wholly
concealed in the sick-room, and which he thought had been confirmed
by Marian's manner and interest. With returning health Strahan's
old sense of humor revived, and he often smiled and sighed over
the misapprehension. Had he been fully aware of Marian's mood, he
might have given his physician cause to look grave over an apparent
return of fever.

In the reticence and delicacy natural to all the actors in this
little drama, thoughts were unspoken, and events drifted on in
accordance with the old relations. Merwyn's self-imposed duties of
nurse became lighter, and he took much-needed rest. Strahan felt
for him the strongest good-will and gratitude, but grew more and
more puzzled about him. Apparently the convalescent was absolutely
frank concerning himself. He spoke of his esteem and regard for
Marian as he always had done; his deeper affection he never breathed
to any one, although he believed the young girl was aware of it,
and he did not in the least blame her that she had no power to give
him more than friendship.

Of his military plans and hopes he spoke without reserve to Merwyn,
but in return received little confidence. He could not doubt the
faithful attendant who had virtually twice saved his life, but he
soon found a barrier of impenetrable reserve, which did not yield
to any manifestations of friendliness. Strahan at last came to
believe that it veiled a deep, yet hopeless regard for Marian. This
view, however, scarcely explained the situation, for he found his
friend even more reticent in respect to the motives which kept him
a civilian.

"I'd give six months' pay," said the young officer, on one occasion,
"if we had you in our regiment, and I am satisfied that I could
obtain a commission for you. You would be sure of rapid promotion.
Indeed, with your wealth and influence you could secure
a lieutenant-colonelcy in a new regiment by spring. Believe me,
Merwyn, the place for us young fellows is at the front in these
times. My blood's up, - what little I have left, - and I'm bound to
see the scrimmage out. You have just the qualities to make a good
officer. You could control and discipline men without bluster or
undue harshness. We need such officers, for an awful lot of cads
have obtained commissions."

Merwyn had walked to a window so that his friend could not see his
face, and at last he replied, quietly and almost coldly: "There
are some things, Strahan, in respect to which one cannot judge for
another. I am as loyal as you are now, but I must aid the cause in
my own way. I would prefer that you should not say anything more
on this subject, for it is of no use. I have taken my course, and
shall reveal it only by my action. There is one thing that I can
do, and shall be very glad to do. I trust we are such good friends
that you can accept of my offer. Your regiment has been depleted.
New men would render it more effective and add to your chances of
promotion. It will be some time before you are fit for active service.
I can put you in the way of doing more than your brother-officers
in the regiment, even though you are as pale as a ghost. Open
a recruiting office near your country home again, - you can act at
present through a sergeant, - and I will give you a check which will
enable you to add to the government bounty so largely that you can
soon get a lot of hardy country fellows. No one need know where
the money comes from except ourselves."

Strahan laughed, and said: "It is useless for me to affect
squeamishness in accepting favors from you at this late day. I
believed you saved my life last summer, and now you are almost as
haggard as I am from watching over me. I'll take your offer in good
faith, as I believe you mean it. I won't pose as a self-sacrificing
patriot only. I confess that I am ambitious. You fellows used
to call me 'little Strahan.' YOU are all right now, but there are
some who smile yet when my name is mentioned, and who regard my
shoulder-straps as a joke. I've no doubt they are already laughing
at the inglorious end of my military career. I propose to prove
that I can be a soldier as well as some bigger and more bewhiskered
men. I have other motives also;" and his thought was, "Marian may
feel differently if I can win a colonel's eagles."

Merwyn surmised as much, but he only said, quietly: "Your motives
are as good as most men's, and you have proved yourself a brave,
efficient officer. That would be enough for me, had I not other
motives also."

"Hang it all! I would tell you my motives if you would be equally
frank."

"Since I cannot be, you must permit me to give other proofs
of friendship. Nor do I expect, indeed I should be embarrassed by
receiving, what I cannot return."

"You're an odd fish, Merwyn. Well, I have ample reason to give you
my faith and loyalty, as I do. Your proposition has put new life
into me already. I needn't spend idle weeks - "

"Hold on. One stipulation. Your physician must regulate all your
actions. Remember that here, as at the front, the physician is, at
times, autocrat."

Mervvyn called twice on Marian during his friend's convalescence,
and could no longer complain of any lack of politeness. Indeed, her
courtesy was slightly tinged with cordiality, and she took occasion
to speak of her appreciation of his vigils at Strahan's side. Beyond
this she showed no disposition towards friendliness. At the same,
time, she could not even pretend to herself that she was indifferent.
He piqued both her pride and her curiosity, for he made no further
effort to reveal himself or to secure greater favor than she
voluntarily bestowed. She believed that her father looked upon her
course as an instance of feminine prejudice, of resentment prolonged
unnaturally and capriciously, - that he was saying to himself, "A
man would quarrel and have done with it after amends were made,
but a woman - "

"He regards this as my flaw, my weakness, wherein I differ from him
and his kind," she thought. "I can't help it. Circumstances have
rendered it impossible for me to feel toward Mr. Merwyn as toward
other men. I have thought the matter out and have taken my stand.
If he wishes more than I now give he must come up to my ground,
for I shall not go down to his."

She misunderstood her father. That sagacious gentleman said nothing,
and quietly awaited developments.

It was a glad day for Arthur Strahan when, wrapped and muffled
beyond all danger, he was driven, in a close carriage, to make an
afternoon visit to Marian. She greeted him with a kindness that
warmed his very soul, and even inspired hopes which he had, as yet,
scarcely dared to entertain. Time sped by with all the old easy
interchange of half-earnest nonsense. A deep chord of truth and
affection vibrated through even jest and merry repartee. Yet, so
profound are woman's intuitions in respect to some things, that,
now she was face to face with him again, she feared, before an hour
passed, that he could never be more to her than when she had given
him loyal friendship in the vine-covered cottage in the country.

"By the way," he remarked, abruptly, "I suppose you never punished
Merwyn as we both, at one time, felt that he deserved? He admits
that he calls upon you quite frequently, and speaks of you in terms
of strongest respect. You know I am his sincere, grateful friend
henceforth. I don't pretend to understand him, but I trust him,
and wish him well from the depths of my heart."

"I also wish him well," Marian remarked, quietly.

He looked at her doubtfully for a moment, then said, "Well, I
suppose you have reasons for resentment, but I assure you he has
changed very greatly."

"How do you know that, when you don't understand him?"

"I do know it," said the young fellow, earnestly. "Merwyn never
was like other people. He is marked by ancestry; strong-willed,
reticent on one side, proud and passionate on the other. My own
mother was not more untiring and gentle with me than he, yet if I
try to penetrate his reserve he becomes at once distant, and almost
cold. When I thought he was seeking to amuse himself with you I
felt like strangling him; now that I know he has a sincere respect
for you, if not more, I have nothing against him. I wish he would
join us in the field, and have said as much to him more than once.
He has the means to raise a regiment himself, and there are few
possessing more natural ability to transform raw recruits into
soldiers."

"Why does he not join you in the field?" she asked, quickly, and
there was a trace of indignation in her tones.

"I do not think he will ever speak of his reasons to any one. At
least, he will not to me."

"Very well," she said; and there was significance in her cold,
quiet tones.

"They result from no lack of loyalty," earnestly resumed Strahan,
who felt that for some reason he was not succeeding as his friend's
advocate. "He has generously increased my chances of promotion by
giving me a large sum towards recruiting my regiment."

"After your hard experience, are you fully determined to go back?"
she asked, with a brilliant smile. "Surely you have proved your
courage, and, with your impaired health, you have a good reason
not for leaving the task to stronger men."

"And take my place contentedly among the weaker ones in your
estimation?" he added, flushing. "How could you suggest or think
such a thing? Certainly I shall go back as soon as my physician
permits, and I shall go to stay till the end, unless I am knocked
over or disabled."

Her eyes flashed exultantly as she came swiftly to him. "Now you
can understand me," she said, giving him her hand. "My friendship
and honor are for men like you and Mr. Lane and Mr. Blauvelt, who
offer all, and not for those who offer - MONEY."

"By Jove, Miss Marian, you make me feel as if I could storm Richmond
single-handed."

"Don't think I say this in any callous disregard of what may happen.
God knows I do not; but in times like these my heart chooses friends
among knightly men who voluntarily go to meet other men as brave.
Don't let us talk any more about Mr. Merwyn. I shall always treat
him politely, and I have gratefully acknowledged my indebtedness for
his care of you. He understands me, and will give me no opportunity
to do as you suggested, were I so inclined. His conversation is
that of a cultivated man, and as such I enjoy it; but there it all
ends."

"But I don't feel that I have helped my friend in your good graces
at all," protested Strahan, ruefully.

"Has he commissioned you to help him?" she asked, quickly.

"No, no, indeed. You don't know Merwyn, or you never would have
asked that question."

"Well, I prefer as friends those whom I do know, who are not
inshrouded in mystery or incased in reticence. No, Arthur Strahan,
my friendship is mine to give, be it worth much or little. If he
does not care enough for it to take the necessary risks, when the
bare thought of shunning them makes you flush hotly, he cannot
have it. All his wealth could not buy one smile from me. Now let
all this end. I respect your loyalty to him, but I have my own
standard, and shall abide by it;" and she introduced another topic.






CHAPTER XXIV.

A FATHER'S FORETHOUGHT.





STRAHAN improved rapidly in health, and was soon able to divide his
time between his city and his country home. The recruiting station
near the latter place was successful in securing stalwart men,
who were tempted by the unusually large bounties offered through
Merwyn's gift. The young officer lost no opportunities of visiting
Marian's drawing-room, and, while his welcome continued as cordial
as ever, she, nevertheless, indicated by a frank and almost sisterly
manner the true state of her feelings toward him. The impulse
arising at the critical hour of his illness speedily died away. His
renewed society confirmed friendship, but awakened nothing more,
and quieter thoughts convinced her that the future must reveal what
her relations should be to him and to others.

As he recovered health her stronger sympathy went out to Mr. Lane,
who had not asked for leave of absence.

"I am rampantly well," he wrote, "and while my heart often travels
northward, I can find no plausible pretext to follow. I may receive
a wound before long which will give me a good excuse, since, for
our regiment, there is prospect of much active service while the



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 16 of 37)