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Fenton Lane has just gone from my side with trouble in his eyes.
He will not be himself to-morrow, not half the man he might be.
He left me in doubt and fear. Could I do anything oppressed with
doubt and fear? He has set his heart on what can never be. Could I
have prevented him from doing this? One thing at least is certain, - I
have not tried to prevent it, and I fear there have been many little
nameless things which he would regard as encouragement. And he
is only one. With others I have gone farther and they have fared
worse. It is said that Mr. Folger, whom I refused last winter, is
becoming dissipated. Mr. Arton shuns society and sneers at women.
Oh, don't let me think of any more. What have I been doing that
this coarse kitchen-maid can run so close a parallel between her
life and mine? How unwomanly and repulsive it all seems, as that
man put it! My delight and pride have been my gentleman friends,
and what one of them is the better, or has a better prospect for
life, because of having known me? Could there be a worse satire on
all the fine things written about woman and her influence than my
hitherto vain and complacent self?"

Sooner or later conscience tells the truth to all; and the sooner
the better, unless the soul arraigned is utterly weak, or else
belongs essentially to the criminal classes, which require almost
a miracle to reverse their evil gravitation. Marian Vosburgh
was neither weak nor criminal at heart. Thus far she had yielded
thoughtlessly, inconsiderately, rather than deliberately, to the
circumstances and traditions of her life. Her mother had been a
belle and something of a coquette, and, having had her career, was
in the main a good and sensible wife. She had given her husband
little trouble if not much help. She had slight interest in that which
made his life, and slight comprehension of it, but in affectionate
indifference she let him go his way, and was content with her domestic
affairs, her daughter, and her novel. Marian had unthinkingly looked
forward to much the same experience as her natural lot. To-night
she found herself querying: "Are there men to-day who are not half
what they might have been because of mamma's delusive smiles? Have
any gone down into shadows darker than those cast by misfortune and
death, because she permitted herself to become the light of their
lives and then turned away?"

Then came the rather painful reflection: "Mamma is not one to be
troubled by such thoughts. It does not even worry her that she is
so little to papa, and that he virtually carries on his life-work
alone. I don't see how I can continue my old life after to-night.
I had better shut myself up in a convent; yet just how I can change
everything I scarcely know."

The night proved a perturbed and almost sleepless one from the chaos
and bitterness of her thoughts. The old was breaking up; the new,
beginning.

The morning found her listless, discontented, and unhappy. The
glamour had faded out of her former life. She could not continue
the tactics practised in coarse imitation by the Irish servant, who
took her cue as far as possible from her mistress. The repugnance
was due as much to the innate delicacy and natural superiority of
Marian's nature as to her conscience. Her clear, practical sense
perceived that her course differed from the other only in being
veneered by the refinements of her social position, - that the evil
results were much greater. The young lady's friends were capable of
receiving more harm than the maid could inflict upon her acquaintances.

There would be callers again during the day and evening, and she
did not wish to see them. Their society now would be like a glass
of champagne from which the life had effervesced.

At last in her restlessness and perplexity she decided to spend a
day or two with her father in their city home, where he was camping
out, as he termed it. She took a train to town, and sent a messenger
boy to his office with a note asking him to dine with her.

Mr. Vosburgh looked at her a little inquiringly as he entered his
home, which had the comfortless aspect of a city house closed for
the summer.

"Am I de trop, papa? I have come to town for a little quiet, and
to do some shopping."

"Come to New York for quiet?"

"Yes. The country is the gayest place now, and you know a good
many are coming and going. I am tired, and thought an evening or
two with you would be a pleasant change. You are not too busy?"

"It certainly will be a change for you, Marian."

"Now there's a world of satire in that remark, and deserved, too,
I fear. Mayn't I stay?"

"Yes, indeed, till you are tired of me; and that won't be long in
this dull place, for we are scarcely in a condition now to receive
callers, you know."

"What makes you think I shall be tired of you soon, papa?"

"Oh - well - I'm not very entertaining. You appear to like variety.
I suppose it is the way with girls."

"You are not consumed with admiration for girls' ways, are you,
papa?"

"I confess, my dear, that I have not given the subject much research.
As a naturalist would say, I have no doubt that you and your class
have curious habits and interesting peculiarities. There is a
great deal of life, you know, which a busy man has to accept in a
general way, especially when charged with duties which are a severe
and constant strain upon his mind. I try to leave you and your
mother as free from care as possible. You left her well, I trust?"

"Very well, and all going on as usual. I'm dissatisfied with myself,
papa, and you unconsciously make me far more so. Is a woman to be
only a man's plaything, and a dangerous one at that?"

"Why, Marian, you ARE in a mood! I suppose a woman, like a man, can
be very much what she pleases. You certainly have had a chance to
find out what pleases most women in your circle of acquaintances,
and have made it quite clear what pleases you."

"Satire again," she said, despondently. "I thought perhaps you
could advise and help me."

He came and took her face between his hands, looking earnestly into
her troubled blue eyes.

"Are you not content to be a conventional woman?" he asked, after
a moment.

"No!" was her emphatic answer.

"Well, there are many ways of being a little outre in this age
and land, especially at this stormy period. Perhaps you want a
career, - something that will give you a larger place in the public
eye?"

She turned away to hide the tears that would come. "O papa, you
don't understand me at all, and I scarcely understand myself," she
faltered. "In some respects you are as conventional as mamma, and
are almost a Turk in your ideas of the seclusion of women. The idea
of my wanting public notoriety! As I feel now, I'd rather go to a
convent."

"We'll go to dinner first; then a short drive in the park, for you
look pale, and I long for a little fresh air myself. I have been
at my desk since seven this morning, and have had only a sandwich."

"Why do you have to work so hard, papa?"

"I can give you two reasons in a breath, - you mentioned 'shopping,'
and my country is at war. They don't seem very near of kin, do
they? Documents relating to both converge in my desk, however."

"Have I sent you more bills than usual?"

"Not more than usual."

"I believe I'm a fool."

"I know you are a very pretty little girl, who will feel better
after dinner and a drive," was the laughing reply.

They were soon seated in a quiet family restaurant, but the young
girl was too perturbed in mind to enjoy the few courses ordered.
With self-reproach she recognized the truth that she was engaged
in the rather unusual occupation of becoming acquainted with
her father. He sat before her, with his face, generally stern and
inscrutable, softened by a desire to be companionable and sympathetic.
According to his belief she now had "a mood," and after a day or
two of quiet retirement from the world she would relapse into her
old enjoyment of social attention, which would be all the deeper
for its brief interruption.

Mr. Vosburgh was of German descent. In his daily life he had become
Americanized, and was as practical in his methods as the shrewd
people with whom he dealt, and whom he often outwitted. Apart
from this habit of coping with life just as he found it, he had an
inner nature of which few ever caught a glimpse, - a spirit and an
imagination deeply tinged with German ideality and speculation.
Often, when others slept, this man, who appeared so resolute,
hard, and uncompromising in the performance of duties, and who was
understood by but few, would read deeply in metaphysics and romantic
poetry. Therefore, the men and women who dwelt in his imagination
were not such as he had much to do with in real life. Indeed, he had
come to regard the world of reality and that of fancy as entirely
distinct, and to believe that only here and there, as a man or woman
possessed something like genius, would there be a marked deviation
from ordinary types. The slight differences, the little characteristic
meannesses or felicities that distinguished one from another, did
not count for very much in his estimation. When a knowledge of
such individual traits was essential to his plans, he mastered them
with singular keenness and quickness of comprehension. When such
knowledge was unnecessary, or as soon as it ceased to be of service,
he dismissed the extraneous personalities from his mind almost
as completely as if they had had no existence. Few men were less
embarrassed with acquaintances than he; yet he had an observant
eye and a retentive memory. When he wanted a man he rarely failed
to find the right one. In the selection and use of men he appeared
to act like an intelligent and silent force, rather than as a man
full of human interests and sympathies. He rarely spoke of himself,
even in the most casual way. Most of those with whom he mingled
knew merely that he was an agent of the government, and that he
kept his own counsel. His wife was to him a type of the average
American woman, - pretty, self-complacent, so nervous as to require
kind, even treatment, content with feminalities, and sufficiently
intelligent to talk well upon every-day affairs. In her society he
smiled at her, said "Yes," good-humoredly, to almost everything,
and found slight incentive to depart from his usual reticence. She
had learned the limits of her range, and knew that within it there
was entire liberty, beyond it a will like adamant. They got on admirably
together, for she craved nothing further in the way of liberty and
companionship than was accorded her, while he soon recognized that
the prize carried off from other competitors could no more follow
him into his realm of thought and action than she could accompany
him on a campaign. At last he had concluded philosophically that
it was just as well. He was engaged in matters that should not be
interfered with or babbled about, and he could come and go without
questioning. He had occasionally thought: "If she were such a woman
as I have read of and imagined, - if she could supplement my reason
with the subtilty of intuition and the reticence which some of her
sex have manifested, - she would double my power and share my inner
life, for there are few whom I can trust. The thing is impossible,
however, and so I am glad she is content."

As for Marian, she had promised, in his view, to be but a charming
repetition of her mother, with perhaps a mind of larger calibre.
She had learned more and had acquired more accomplishments, but all
this resulted, possibly, from her better advantages. Her drawing-room
conversation seemed little more than the ordinary small talk of the
day, fluent and piquant, while the girl herself was as undisturbed
by the vital questions of the hour and of life, upon which he dwelt,
as if she had been a child. He knew that she received much attention,
but it excited little thought on his part, and no surprise.
He believed that her mother was perfectly competent to look after
the proprieties, and that young fellows, as had been the case with
himself, would always seek pretty, well-bred girls, and take their
chances as to what the women who might become their wives should
prove to be.

Marian looked with awakening curiosity and interest at the face
before her, yet it was the familiar visage of her father. She had
seen it all her life, but now felt that she had never before seen
it in its true significance - its strong lines, square jaw, and
quiet gray eyes, with their direct, steady gaze. He had come and
gone before her daily, petted her now and then a little, met her
requests in the main good-humoredly, paid her bills, and would
protect her with his life; yet a sort of dull wonder came over her
as she admitted to herself that he was a stranger to her. She knew
little of his work and duty, less of his thoughts, the mental realm
in which the man himself dwelt. What were its landmarks, what its
characteristic features, she could not tell. One may be familiar
with the outlines of a country on a map, yet be ignorant of the
scenery, productions, inhabitants, governing forces, and principles.
Her very father was to her but a man in outline. She knew little of
the thoughts that peopled his brain, of the motives and principles
that controlled his existence, giving it individuality, and even
less of the resulting action with which his busy life abounded.
Although she had crossed the threshold of womanhood, she was still
to him the self-pleasing child that he had provided for since
infancy; and he was, in her view, the man to whom, according to the
law of nature and the family, she was to look for the maintenance
of her young life, with its almost entire separation in thoughts,
pleasures, and interests. She loved him, of course. She had always
loved him, from the time when she had stretched forth her baby hands
to be taken and fondled for a few moments and then relinquished to
others. Practically she had dwelt with others ever since. Now, as
a result, she did not understand him, nor he her. She would miss
him as she would oxygen from the air. Now she began to perceive
that, although he was the unobtrusive source of her life, home,
education, and the advantages of her lot, he was not impersonal,
but a human being as truly as herself. Did he want more from her
than the common and instinctive affection of a child for its parent?
If to this she added intelligent love, appreciation, and sympathy,
would he care? If she should be able to say, "Papa, I am kin to you,
not merely in flesh and blood, but in mind, hope, and aspiration;
I share with you that which makes your life, with its success and
failure, not as the child who may find luxurious externals curtailed
or increased, but as a sympathetic woman who understands the more
vital changes in spiritual vicissitude," - if she could truthfully
say all this, would he be pleased and reveal himself to her?

Thoughts like these passed through her mind as they dined together
and drove in the park. When at last they returned and sat in the
dimly-lighted parlor, Mr. Vosburgh recognized that her "mood" had
not passed away.






CHAPTER III.

A NEW FRIEND.





"MARIAN," asked her father, after smoking awhile in silence, "what
did you mean by your emphatic negative when I asked you if you were
not content to be a conventional woman? How much do you mean?"

"I wish you would help me find out, papa."

"How! don't you know?"

"I do not; I am all at sea."

"Well, my dear, to borrow your own illustration, you can't be far
from shore yet. Why not return? You have seemed entirely satisfied
thus far."

"Were you content with me, papa?"

"I think you have been a very good little girl, as girls go."

"'Good little girl, as girls go;' that's all."

"That's more than can be said of many."

"Papa, I'm not a little girl; I am a woman of twenty years."

"Yes, I know; and quite as sensible as many at forty."

"I am no companion for you."

"Indeed you are; I've enjoyed having you with me this evening
exceedingly."

"Yes, as you would have enjoyed my society ten years ago. I've been
but a little girl to you all the time. Do you know the thought that
has been uppermost in my mind since you joined me?"

"How should I? How long does one thought remain uppermost in a
girl's mind?"

"I don't blame you for your estimate. My thought is this, - we are
not acquainted with each other."

"I think I was acquainted with you, Marian, before this mood began."

"Yes, I think you were; yet I was capable of this 'mood,' as you
call it, before."

"My child," said Mr. Vosburgh, coming to her side and stroking her
hair, "I have spoken more to draw you out than for anything else.
Heaven forbid that you for a moment should think me indifferent to
anything that relates to your welfare! You wish me to advise, to
help you. Before I can do this I must have your confidence, I must
know your thoughts and impulses. You can scarcely have a purpose
yet. Even a quack doctor will not attempt diagnosis or prescribe
his nostrum without some knowledge of the symptoms. When I last
saw you in the country you certainly appeared like a conventional
society girl of an attractive type, and were evidently satisfied
so to remain. You see I speak frankly, and reveal to you my habit
of making quick practical estimates, and of taking the world as I
find it. You say you were capable of this mood - let us call it an
aspiration - before. I do not deny this, yet doubt it. When people
change it is because they are ripe, or ready for change, as
are things in nature. One can force or retard nature; but I don't
believe much in intervention. With many I doubt whether there is
even much opportunity for it. They are capable of only the gradual
modification of time and circumstances. Young people are apt to
have spasms of enthusiasm, or of self-reproach and dissatisfaction.
These are of little account in the long run, unless there is fibre
enough in character to face certain questions, decide them, and
then act resolutely on definite lines of conduct. I have now given
you my views, not as to a little child, but as to a mature woman
of twenty. Jesting apart, you ARE old enough, Marian, to think
for yourself, and decide whether you will be conventional or not.
The probabilities are that you will follow the traditions of your
past in a very ladylike way. That is the common law. You are too
well-bred and refined to do anything that society would condemn."

"You are not encouraging, papa."

"Nor am I discouraging. If you have within you the force to break
from your traditions and stop drifting, you will make the fact
evident. If you haven't it would be useless for me to attempt
to drag, drive, or coax you out of old ways. I am too busy a man
to attempt the useless. But until you tell me your present mental
attitude, and what has led to it, we are talking somewhat at random.
I have merely aimed to give you the benefit of some experience."

"Perhaps you are taking the right course; I rather think you are.
Perhaps I prove what a child I am still, because I feel that I
should like to have you treat me more as you did when I was learning
to walk. Then you stretched out your hands, and sustained me, and
showed me step by step. Papa, if this is a mood, and I go back
to my old, shallow life, with its motives, its petty and unworthy
triumphs, I shall despise myself, and ever have the humiliating
consciousness that I am doing what is contemptible. No matter how
one obtains the knowledge of a truth or a secret, that knowledge
exists, remains, and one can't be the same afterwards. It makes my
cheeks tingle that I obtained my knowledge as I did. It came like
a broad glare of garish light, in which I saw myself;" and she told
him the circumstances.

He burst into a hearty laugh, and remarked, "Pat did put the ethics
of the thing strongly."

"He made 'the thing,' as you call it, odious then and forever. I've
been writhing in self-contempt ever since. When to be conventional
is to be like a kitchen-maid, and worse, do you wonder at my revolt
from the past?"

"Others won't see it in that light, my dear."

"What does it matter how others see it? I have my own life to live,
to make or mar. How can I go on hereafter amusing myself in what
now seems a vulgar, base, unwomanly way? It was a coarse, rude
hand that awakened me, papa, but I am awake. Since I have met you
I have had another humiliation. As I said, I am not even acquainted
with you. I have never shown any genuine interest in that which
makes your life, and you have no more thought of revealing yourself
and your work to me than to a child."

"Marian," said her father, slowly, "I think you are not only capable
of a change, but ripe for it. You inspire hope within me, and this
fact carries with it the assurance that you also inspire respect.
No, my dear, you don't know much about me; very few do. No man
with a nature like mine reveals himself where there is no desire
for the knowledge, no understanding, no sympathy, or even where
all these exist, unless prompted by his heart. You know I am the
last one in the world to put myself on exhibition. But it would
be a heavenly joy to me - I might add surprise - if my own daughter
became like some of the women of whom I have read and dreamed; and
I do read and dream of that in which you little imagine me to be
interested. To the world I am a stern, reticent, practical man I must
be such in my calling. In my home I have tried to be good-natured,
affectionate, and philosophical. I have seen little opportunity for
anything more. I do not complain, but merely state a fact which
indicates the general lot. We can rarely escape the law of heredity,
however. A poet and a metaphysician were among our German ancestry;
therefore, leading from the business-like and matter-of-fact apartment
of my mind, I have a private door by which I can slip away into
the realm of speculation, romance, and ideals. You perceive that
I have no unnatural or shame-faced reticence about this habit. I
tell you of it the moment you show sufficient interest to warrant
my speaking."

"But, papa, I cannot hope to approach or even suggest the ideals
of your fancy, dressed, no doubt, in mediaeval costume, and talking
in blank verse."

"That's a superficial view, Marian. Neither poetic or outlandish
costume, nor the impossible language put into the mouths of their
creations by the old bards, makes the unconventional woman. There
is, in truth, a conventionality about these very things, only it
is antiquated. It is not a woman's dress or phraseology that makes
her an ideal or an inspiration, but what she is herself. No two
leaves are alike on the same tree, but they are all enough alike
to make but one impression. Some are more shapely than others,
and flutter from their support with a fairer and more conspicuous
grace to the closely observant; but there is nothing independent
about them, nothing to distinguish them especially from their
companions. They fulfil their general purpose, and fall away. This
simile applies to the majority of people. Not only poetry and romance,
but history also, gives us instances wherein men and women differ
and break away from accepted types, some in absurd or grotesque
ways, others through the sheer force of gifted selfishness, and
others still in natural, noble development of graces of heart and
mind."

"Stop generalizing, and tell me, your silly, vain, flirtatious
daughter, how I can be unconventional in this prosaic midday of
civilization."

"Prosaic day? You are mistaken, Marian. There never was a period
like it Barbaric principles, older than Abraham, are now to triumph,
or give place to a better and more enlightened human nature. We
almost at this moment hear the echoes of a strife in which specimens
of the best manhood of the age are arrayed against one another in
a struggle such as the world has never witnessed. I have my part
in the conflict, and it brings to me great responsibilities and
dangers."

"Dangers! You in danger, papa?"

"Yes, certainly. Since you wish to be treated like a woman, and not
a child, - since you wish me to show my real life, - you shall know
the truth. I am controlled by the government that is engaged in a
life-and-death struggle to maintain its own existence and preserve
for the nation its heritage of liberty. Thus far I have been able
to serve the cause in quiet, unrecognized ways that I need not now
explain; but I am one who must obey orders, and I wish to do so,
for my heart is in the work. I am no better than other men who
are risking all. Mamma knows this in a way, but she does not fully



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 2 of 37)