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infantry remain in winter quarters. It is a sad truth that the
army is discouraged and depleted to a degree never known before.
Homesickness is epidemic. A man shot himself the other day because
refused a furlough. Desertions have been fearfully numerous among
enlisted men, and officers have urged every possible excuse for
leaves of absence. A man with my appetite stands no chance whatever,
and our regimental surgeon laughs when I assure him that I am
suffering from acute heart-disease. Therefore, my only hope is a
wound, and I welcome our prospective raid in exchange for dreary
picket duty."

Marian knew what picket duty and raiding meant in February weather,
and wrote words of kindly warmth that sustained her friend through
hard, prosaic service.

She also saw that her father was burdened with heavy cares and
responsibilities. Disloyal forces and counsels were increasing in
the great centres at the North, and especially in New York City.
Therefore he was intrusted with duties of the most delicate and
difficult nature. It was her constant effort to lead him to forget
his anxieties during such evenings as he spent at home, and when
she had congenial callers she sometimes prevailed upon him to take
part in the general conversation. It so happened, one evening, that
Strahan and Merwyn were both present. Seeing that the latter felt
a little de trop, Mr. Vosburgh invited him to light a cigar in the
dining-room, and the two men were soon engaged in animated talk,
the younger being able to speak intelligently of the feeling in
England at the time. By thoughtful questions he also drew out his
host in regard to affairs at home.

The two guests departed together, and Marian, observing the pleased
expression on her father's face, remarked, "You have evidently
found a congenial spirit."

"I found a young fellow who had ideas and who was not averse to
receiving more."

"You can relieve my conscience wholly, papa," said the young girl,
laughing. "When Mr. Merwyn comes hereafter I shall turn him over
to you. He will then receive ideas and good influence at their
fountain-head. You and mamma are inclined to give him so much
encouragement that I must be more on the defensive than ever."

"That policy would suit me exactly," replied her father, with
a significant little nod. "I don't wish to lose you, and I'm more
afraid of Merwyn than of all the rest together."

"More afraid of HIM!" exclaimed the girl, with widening eyes.

"Of him."

"Why?"

"Because you don't understand him."

"That's an excellent reason for keeping him at a distance."

"Reason, reason. What has reason to do with affairs of this kind?"

"Much, in my case, I assure you. Thank you for forewarning me so
plainly."

"I've no dark designs against your peace."

Nevertheless, these half-jesting words foreshadowed the future,
so far as Mr. Vosburgh and Mr. Merwyn were concerned. Others were
usually present when the latter called, and he always seemed to
enjoy a quiet talk with the elder man. Mrs. Vosburgh never failed
in her cordiality, or lost hope that his visits might yet lead to
a result in accordance with her wishes. Marian made much sport of
their protege, as she called him, and, since she now treated him with
the same courtesy that other mere calling acquaintances received,
the habit of often spending part of the evening at the modest home
grew upon him. Mr. Vosburgh soon discovered that the young man
was a student of American affairs and history. This fact led to
occasional visits by the young man to the host's library, which
was rich in literature on these subjects.

On one stormy evening, which gave immunity from other callers,
Marian joined them, and was soon deeply interested herself. Suddenly
becoming conscious of the fact, she bade them an abrupt good-night
and went to her room with a little frown on her brow.

"It's simply exasperating," she exclaimed, "to see a young fellow
of his inches absorbed in American antiquities when the honor and
liberty of America are at stake. Then, at times, he permits such
an expression of sadness to come into his big black eyes! He is
distant enough, but I can read his very thoughts, and he thinks
me obduracy itself. He will soon return to his elegant home and
proceed to be miserable in the most luxurious fashion. If he were
riding with Mr. Lane, to-night, on a raid, he would soon distinguish
between his cherished woe and a soldier's hardships."

Nevertheless, she could do little more than maintain a mental
protest at his course, in which he persevered unobtrusively, yet
unfalteringly. There was no trace of sentiment in his manner toward
her, nor the slightest conscious appeal for sympathy. His conversation
was so intelligent, and at times even brilliant, that she could not
help being interested, and she observed that he resolutely chose
subjects of an impersonal character, shunning everything relating
to himself. She could not maintain any feeling approaching contempt,
and the best intrenchment she could find was an irritated perplexity.
She could not deny that his face was growing strong in its manly
beauty. Although far paler and thinner than when she had first
seen it, a heavy mustache and large, dark, thoughtful eyes relieved
it from the charge of effeminacy. Every act, and even his tones,
indicated high breeding, and she keenly appreciated such things.
His reserve was a stimulus to thought, and his isolated life was
unique for one in his position, while the fact that he sought her
home and society with so little to encourage him was strong and
subtle homage. More than all, she thought she recognized a trait
in him which rarely fails to win respect, - an unfaltering will.
Whatever his plans or purposes were, the impression grew stronger
in her mind that he would not change them.

"But I have a pride and a will equal to his," she assured herself.
"He can come thus far and no farther. Papa thinks I will yield
eventually to his persistence and many fascinations. Were this
possible, no one should know it until he had proved himself the
peer of the bravest and best of my time."

Winter had passed, and spring brought not hope and gladness, but
deepening dread as the hour approached when the bloody struggle
would be renewed. Mr. Lane had participated in more than one cavalry
expedition, but had received no wounds. Strahan was almost ready
to return, and had sent much good material to the thinned ranks of
his regiment. His reward came promptly, for at that late day men
were most needed, and he who furnished them secured a leverage
beyond all political influence. The major in his regiment resigned
from ill-health, and Strahan was promoted to the vacancy at once.
He received his commission before he started for the front, and
he brought it to Marian with almost boyish pride and exultation.
He had called for Merwyn on his way, and insisted on having his
company. He found the young fellow nothing loath.

Merwyn scarcely entertained the shadow of a hope of anything more
than that time would soften Marian's feelings toward him. The war
could not last forever. Unexpected circumstances might arise, and
a steadfast course must win a certain kind of respect. At any rate
it was not in his nature to falter, especially when her tolerance
was parting with much of its old positiveness. His presence undoubtedly
had the sanction of her father and mother, and for the former he
was gaining an esteem and liking independent of his fortunes with
the daughter. Love is a hardy plant, and thrives on meagre sustenance.
It was evident that the relations between Marian and Strahan were
not such as he had supposed during the latter's illness. Her respect
and friendship he would have, if it took a lifetime to acquire
them. He would not be balked in the chief purpose of his life,
or retreat from the pledge, although it was given in the agony of
humiliation and defeat. As long as he had reason to believe that
her hand and heart were free, it was not in human nature to abandon
all hope.

On this particular evening Mr. Vosburgh admitted the young men,
and Marian, hearing Strahan's voice, called laughingly from the
parlor: "You are just in time for the wedding. I should have been
engaged to any one except you."

"Engaged to any one except me? How cruel is my fate!"

"Pardon me," began Merwyn quickly, and taking his hat again; "I
shall repeat my call at a time more opportune."

Marian, who had now appeared, said, in polite tones: "Mr. Merwyn,
stay by all means. I could not think of separating two such friends.
Our waitress has no relatives to whom she can go, therefore we are
giving her a wedding from our house."

"Then I am sure there is greater reason for my leave-taking
at present. I am an utter stranger to the bride, and feel that my
presence would seem an intrusion to her, at least. Nothing at this
time should detract from her happiness. Good-evening."

Marian felt the force of his words, and was also compelled to
recognize his delicate regard for the feelings of one in humble
station. She would have permitted him to depart, but Mr. Vosburgh
interposed quickly: "Wait a moment, Mr. Merwyn; I picked up a rare
book, down town, relating to the topic we were discussing the other
evening. Suppose you go up to my library. I'll join you there, for
the ceremony will soon be over. Indeed, we are now expecting the
groom, his best man, and the minister. It so happens that the happy
pair are Protestants, and so we can have an informal wedding."

"Oh, stay, Merwyn," said Strahan. "It was I who brought you here,
and I shouldn't feel that the evening was complete without you."

The former looked doubtfully at Marian, who added, quickly: "You
cannot refuse papa's invitation, Mr. Merwyn, since it removes the
only scruple you can have. It is, perhaps, natural that the bride
should wish to see only familiar faces at this time, and it was
thoughtful of you to remember this, but, as papa says, the affair
will soon be over."

"And then," resumed Strahan, "I have a little pie to show you, Miss
Marian, in which Merwyn had a big finger."

"I thought that was an affair between ourselves," said Merwyn,
throwing off his overcoat.

"Oh, do not for the world reveal any of Mr. Merwyn's secrets!"
cried the girl.

"It is no secret at all to you, Miss Marian, nor did I ever intend
that it should be one," Strahan explained.

"Mr. Merwyn, you labor under a disadvantage in your relations
with Mr. Strahan. He has friends, and friendship is not based on
reticence."

"Therefore I can have no friends, is the inference, I suppose."

"That cannot be said while I live," began the young officer, warmly;
but here a ring at the door produced instant dispersion. "I suppose
I can be present," Strahan whispered to Marian. "Barney Ghegan is
an older acquaintance of mine than of yours, and your pretty waitress
has condescended to smile graciously on me more than once, although
my frequent presence at your door must have taxed her patience."

"You have crossed her palm with too much silver, I fear, to make
frowns possible. Silver, indeed! when has any been seen? But money
in any form is said to buy woman's smiles."

"Thank Heaven it doesn't buy yours."

"Hush! Your gravity must now be portentous."

The aggressive Barney, now a burly policeman, had again brought
pretty Sally Maguire to terms, and on this evening received the
reward of his persistent wooing. After the ceremony and a substantial
supper, which Mrs. Vosburgh graced with her silver, the couple took
their brief wedding journey to their rooms, and Barney went on duty
in the morning, looking as if all the world were to his mind.

When Mr. Vosburgh went up to his library his step was at first
unnoted, and he saw his guest sitting before the fire, lost in a
gloomy revery. When observed, he asked, a little abruptly: "Is the
matter to which Mr. Strahan referred a secret which you wish kept?"

"Oh, no! Not as far as I am concerned. What I have done is a
bagatelle. I merely furnished a little money for recruiting purposes."

"It is not a little thing to send a good man to the front, Mr.
Merwyn."

"Nor is it a little thing not to go one's self," was the bitter
reply. Then he added, hastily, "I am eager to see the book to which
you refer."

"Pardon me, Mr. Merwyn, your words plainly reveal your inclination.
Would you not be happier if you followed it?"

"I cannot, Mr. Vosburgh, nor can I explain further. Therefore,
I must patiently submit to all adverse judgment." The words were
spoken quietly and almost wearily.

"I suppose that your reasons are good and satisfactory."

"They are neither good nor satisfactory," burst out the young man
with sudden and vindictive impetuosity. "They are the curse of my
life. Pardon me. I am forgetting myself. I believe you are friendly
at least. Please let all this be as if it were not." Then, as if
the possible import of his utterance had flashed upon him, he drew
himself up and said, coldly, "If, under the circumstances, you feel
I am unworthy of trust - "

"Mr. Merwyn," interrupted his host, "I am accustomed to deal with
men and to be vigilantly on my guard. My words led to what has
passed between us, and it ends here and now. I would not give you
my hand did I not trust you. Come, here is the book;" and he led
the way to a conversation relating to it.

Merwyn did his best to show a natural interest in the subject, but
it was evident that a tumult had been raised in his mind difficult
to control. At last he said: "May I take the book home? I will
return it after careful reading."

Mr. Vosburgh accompanied him to the drawing-room, and Marian
sportively introduced him to Major Strahan.

For a few minutes he was the gayest and most brilliant member of
the party, and then he took his leave, the young girl remarking,
"Since you have a book under your arm we cannot hope to detain you,
for I have observed that, with your true antiquarian, the longer
people have been dead the more interesting they become."

"That is perfectly natural," he replied, "for we can form all sorts
of opinions about them, and they can never prove that we are wrong."

"More's the pity, if we are wrong. Good-night."

"Order an extra chop, Merwyn, and I'll breakfast with you," cried
Strahan. "I've only two days more, you know."

"Well, papa," said Marian, joining him later in the library, "did
you and Mr. Merwyn settle the precise date when the Dutch took
Holland?"

"'More's the pity, if we ARE wrong!' I have been applying your
words to the living rather than to the dead."

"To Mr. Merwyn, you mean."

"Yes."

"Has he been unbosoming himself to you?"

"Oh, no, indeed!"

"Why then has he so awakened your sympathy?"

"I fear he is facing more than any of your friends."

"And, possibly, fear is the reason."

"I do not think so."

"It appears strange to me, papa, that you are more ready to trust
than I am. If there is nothing which will not bear the light, why
is he so reticent even to his friend?"

"I do not know the reasons for his course, nor am I sure that they
would seem good ones to me, but my knowledge of human nature is
at fault if he is not trustworthy. I wish we did know what burdens
his mind and trammels his action. Since we do not I will admit,
to-night, that I am glad you feel toward him just as you do."

"Papa, you entertain doubts at last."

"No, I admit that something of importance is unknown and bids fair
to remain so, but I cannot help feeling that it is something for
which he is not to blame. Nevertheless, I would have you take no
steps in the dark, were the whole city his."

"O papa! you regard this matter much too seriously. What steps had
I proposed taking? How much would it cost me to dispense with his
society altogether?"

"I do not know how much it might cost you in the end."

"Well, you can easily put the question to the test."

"That I do not propose to do. I shall not act as if what may be
a great misfortune was a fault. Events will make everything clear
some day, and if they clear him he will prove a friend whom I, at
least, shall value highly. He is an unusual character, one that
interests me greatly, whatever future developments may reveal. It
would be easy for me to be careless or arbitrary, as I fear many
fathers are in these matters. I take you into my confidence and
reveal to you my thoughts. You say that your reason has much to
do with this matter. I take you at your word. Suspend judgment in
regard to Merwyn. Let him come and go as he has done. He will not
presume on such courtesy, nor do you in any wise commit yourself,
even to the friendly regard that you have for others. For your
sake, Marian, for the chances which the future may bring, I should
be glad if your heart and hand were free when I learn the whole
truth about this young fellow. I am no match-maker in the vulgar
acceptation of the word, but I, as well as you, have a deep interest
at stake. I have informed myself in regard to Mr. Merwyn, senior.
The son appears to have many of the former's traits. If he can never
meet your standard or win your love that ends the matter. But, in
spite of everything, he interests you deeply, as well as myself;
and were he taking the same course as your friend who has just
left, he would stand a better chance than that friend. You see how
frank I am, and how true to my promise to help you."

Marian came and leaned her arm on his shoulder as she looked
thoughtfully into the glowing grate.

At last she said: "I am grateful for your frankness, papa, and
understand your motives. Many girls would not make the sad blunders
they do had they such a counsellor as you, one who can be frank
without being blunt and unskilful. In respect to these subjects,
even with a daughter, there must be delicacy as well as precision
of touch."

"There should also be downright common-sense, Marian, a recognition
of tacts and tendencies, of what is and what may be. On one side
a false delicacy often seals the lips of those most interested,
until it is too late to speak; on the other, rank, wealth, and
like advantages are urged without any delicacy at all. These have
their important place, but the qualities which would make your
happiness sure are intrinsic to the man. You know it is in my line
to disentangle many a snarl in human conduct. Look back on the
past without prejudice, if you can. Merwyn virtually said that he
would make your standard of right and wrong his, - that he would
measure things as you estimate them, with that difference, of course,
inherent in sex. Is he not trying to do so? Is he not acting, with
one exception, as you would wish? Here comes in the one thing we
don't understand. As you suggest, it may be a fatal flaw in the
marble, but we don't know this. The weight of evidence, in my mind,
is against it. His course toward Strahan - one whom he might easily
regard as a rival - is significant. He gave him far more than
money; he drained his own vitality in seeking to restore his friend
to health. A coarse, selfish man always cuts a sorry figure in a
sick-room, and shuns its trying duties even in spite of the strongest
obligations. You remember Mrs. Strahan's tribute to Merwyn. Yet
there was no parade of his vigils, nor did he seek to make capital
out of them with you. Now I can view all these things dispassionately,
as a man, and, as I said before, they give evidence of an unusual
character. Apparently he has chosen a certain course, and he has
the will-power to carry it out. Your heart, your life, are still
your own. All I wish is that you should not bestow them so hastily
as not to secure the best possible guaranties of happiness. This
young man has crossed your path in a peculiar way. You have immense
influence over him. So far as he appears free to act you influence
his action. Wait and see what it all means before you come to any
decision about him. Now," he concluded, smiling, "is my common-sense
applied to these affairs unnatural or unreasonable?"

"I certainly can wait with great equanimity," she replied, laughing,
"and I admit the reasonableness of what you say as you put it. Nor
can I any longer affect any disguises with you. Mr. Merwyn DOES
interest me, and has retained a hold upon my thoughts which has
annoyed me. He has angered and perplexed me. It has seemed as if
he said, 'I will give you so much for your regard; I will not give,
however, what you ask.' As you put it to-night, it is the same as
if he said, 'I cannot.' Why can he not? The question opens unpleasant
vistas to my mind. It will cost me little, however, to do as you
wish, and my curiosity will be on the qui vive, if nothing more."






CHAPTER XXV.

A CHAINED WILL.





IN due time Strahan departed, hopeful and eager to enter on the
duties pertaining to his higher rank. He felt that Marian's farewell
had been more than she had ever given him any right to expect.
Her manner had ever been too frank and friendly to awaken delusive
hopes, and, after all, his regard for her was characterized more
by boyish adoration than by the deep passion of manhood. To his
sanguine spirit the excitement of camp and the responsibilities of
his new position formed attractions which took all poignant regret
from his leave-taking, and she was glad to recognize this truth.
She had failed signally to carry out her self-sacrificing impulse,
when he was so ill, to reward his heroism and supplement his life
with her own; and she was much relieved to find that he appeared
satisfied with the friendship she gave, and that there was no
need of giving more. Indeed, he made it very clear that he was not
a patriotic martyr in returning to the front, and his accounts of
army life had shown that the semi-humorous journal, kept by himself
and Blauvelt, was not altogether a generous effort to conceal from
her a condition of dreary duty, hardship, and danger. Life in the
field has ever had its fascinations to the masculine nature, and
her friends were apparently finding an average enjoyment equal
to her own. She liked them all the better for this, since, to her
mind, it proved that that the knightly impulses of the past were
unspent, - that, latent in the breasts of those who had seemed mere
society fellows, dwelt the old virile forces.

"I shall prove," she assured herself, proudly, "that since true men
are the same now as when they almost lived in armor, so ladies in
their bowers have favors only for those to whom heroic action is
second nature."

Blauvelt had maintained the journal during Strahan's absence, doing
more with pencil than pen, and she had rewarded him abundantly
by spicy little notes, full of cheer and appreciation. She had
no scruples in maintaining this correspondence, for in it she had
her father's sanction, and the letters were open to her parents'
inspection when they cared to see them. Indeed, Mr. and Mrs.
Vosburgh enjoyed the journal almost as much as Marian herself.

After Strahan's departure, life was unusually quiet in the young
girl's home. Her father was busy, as usual, and at times anxious,
for he was surrounded by elements hostile to the government. Aware,
however, that the army of the Potomac was being largely reinforced,
that General Hooker was reorganizing it with great success, and
that he was infusing into it his own sanguine spirit, Mr. Vosburgh
grew hopeful that, with more genial skies and firmer roads, a blow
would be struck which would intimidate disloyalty at the North as
well as in the South.

Marian shared in this hopefulness, although she dreaded to think
how much this blow might cost her, as well as tens of thousands of
other anxious hearts.

At present her mind was at rest in regard to Mr. Lane, for he had
written that his regiment had returned from an expedition on which
they had encountered little else than mud, sleet, and rain. The
prospects now were that some monotonous picket-duty in a region
little exposed to danger would be their chief service, and that
they would be given time to rest and recruit.

This lull in the storm of war was Merwyn's opportunity. The inclement
evenings often left Marian unoccupied, and she divided her time
between her mother's sitting-room and her father's library, where
she often found her quondam suitor, and not infrequently he spent
an hour or two with her in the parlor. In a certain sense she had
accepted her father's suggestions. She was studying the enigma with
a lively curiosity, as she believed, and had to admit to herself
that the puzzle daily became more interesting. Merwyn pleased her
fastidious taste and interested her mind, and the possibilities



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 17 of 37)