Copyright
Edward Payson Roe.

An Original Belle online

. (page 3 of 37)
Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 3 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


comprehend it. Fortunately she is not one of those who take very
anxious thought for the morrow, and you know I am inclined to let
things go on quietly as long as they will. Thus far I have merely
gone to an office as I did before the war, or else have been absent
on trips that were apparently civilian in character, and it has
been essential that I should have as little distraction of mind
as possible. I have lived long in hope that some decisive victory
might occur; but the future grows darker, instead of lighter, and
the struggle, instead of culminating speedily, promises to become
more deadly and to be prolonged. There is but one way out of
it for me, and that is through the final triumph of the old flag.
Therefore, what a day will bring forth God only knows. There have
been times when I wished to tell you something of this, but there
seemed little opportunity. As you said, a good many were coming and
going, you seemed happy and preoccupied, and I got into the habit
of reasoning, 'Every day that passes without a thought of trouble
is just so much gained; and it may be unnecessary to cloud her life
with fear and anxiety;' yet perhaps it would be mistaken kindness
to let trouble come suddenly, like an unexpected blow. I confess,
however, that I have had a little natural longing to be more to my
only child than I apparently was, but each day brought its increasing
press of work and responsibility, its perplexing and far-reaching
questions. Thus time has passed, and I said, 'Let her be a
light-hearted girl as long as she can.'"

"O papa, what a blind, heartless fool I've been!"

"No, my dear, only young and thoughtless, like thousands of
others. It so happened that nothing occurred to awaken you. One
day of your old life begat another. That so slight a thing should
make you think, and desire to be different, promises much to me,
for if your nature had been shallow and commonplace, you wouldn't
have been much disturbed. If you have the spirit your words indicate
to-night, it will be better for you to face life in the height and
depth of its reality, trusting in God and your own womanhood for
strength to meet whatever comes. Those who live on this higher
plane have deeper sorrows, but also far richer joys, than those who
exist from hand to mouth, as it were, in the immediate and material
present. What's more, they cease to be plebeian in the meaner sense
of the word, and achieve at one step a higher caste. They have broken
the conventional type, and all the possibilities of development
open at once. You are still a young, inexperienced girl, and have
done little in life except learn your lessons and amuse yourself,
yet in your dissatisfaction and aspiration you are almost infinitely
removed from what you were yesterday, for you have attained the
power to grow and develop."

"You are too philosophical for me. How shall I grow or develop?"

"I scarcely know."

"What definite thing shall I do to-morrow?"

"Do what the plant does. Receive the influence that tends to quicken
your best impulses and purposes; follow your awakened conscience
naturally. Do what seems to you womanly, right, noble in little things
or in great things, should there be opportunity. Did Shakespeare,
as a child, propose to write the plays which have made him chief
among men? He merely yielded to the impulse when it came. The law
holds good down to you, my little girl. You have an impulse which
is akin to that of genius. Instead of continuing your old indolent,
strolling gait on the dead level of life, you have left the beaten
track and faced the mountain of achievement. Every resolute step
forward takes you higher, even though it be but an inch; yet I
cannot see the path by which you will climb, or tell you the height
you may gain. The main thing is the purpose to ascend. For ihose
bent on noble achievement there is always a path. God only knows
to what it may bring you. One step leads to another, and you will
be guided better by the instincts and laws of your own nature than
if I tried to lead you step by step. The best I can do is to give
you a little counsel, and a helping hand now and then, as the
occasion requires."

"Now in truth, papa, do not all your fine words signify about what
you and mamma used to say years ago, - 'You must be a good little
girl, and then you will be happy'? It seems to me that many good
people are conventionality itself."

"Many are, and if they ARE good, it is a fortunate phase of
conventionality. For instance, I know of a man who by the law of
heredity and the force of circumstances has scarcely a bad habit
or trait, and has many good ones. He meets the duties of life in
an ordinary, satisfactory way, and with little effort on his part I
know of another man who externally presents nearly the same aspect
to society, who is quiet and unobtrusive in his daily life, and
yet he is fighting hereditary taint and habit with a daily heroism,
such as no soldier in the war can surpass. He is not conventional,
although he appears to be so. He is a knight who is not afraid to
face demons. Genuine strength and originality of character do not
consist in saying or doing things in an unusual way. Voluntary
eccentrics are even worse than the imitators of some model or the
careless souls which take their coloring from chance surroundings.
Conventionality ceases when a human being begins the resolute
development of his own natural law of growth to the utmost extent.
This is true because nature in her higher work is not stereotyped.
I will now be as definite as you can desire. You, for instance,
Marian Vosburgh, are as yet, even to yourself, an unknown quantity.
You scarcely know what you are, much less what you may become. This
conversation, and the feeling which led to it, prove this. There
are traits and possibilities in your nature due to ancestors of
whom you have not even heard. These combine with your own individual
endowments by nature to make you a separate and distinct being, and
you grow more separate and distinct by developing nature's gifts,
traits, powers, - in brief, that which is essentially your own. Thus
nature becomes your ally and sees to it with absolute certainty that
you are not like other people. Following this principle of action
you cannot know, nor can any one know, to just what you may attain.
All true growth is from within, outward. In the tree, natural law
prevents distortion or exaggeration of one part over another. In
your case reason, conscience, good taste, must supervise and direct
natural impulses. Thus following nature you become natural, and
cease to be conventional. If you don't do this you will be either
conventional or queer. Do you understand me?"

"I think I begin to. Let me see if I do. Let me apply your words to
one definite problem, - How can I be more helpful and companionable
to you?"

"Why, Marian, do you not see how infinitely more to me you are
already, although scarcely beyond the wish to be different from
what you were? I have talked to you as a man talks to a woman in the
dearest and most unselfish relation of life. There is one thing,
however, you never can know, and that is a father's love for a
daughter: it is essentially a man's love and a man's experience. I
am sure it is very different from the affection I should have for
a son, did I possess one. Ever since you were a baby the phrase,
'my little girl,' has meant more than you can ever know; and now
when you come voluntarily to my side in genuine sympathy, and seek
to enter INTELLIGENTLY into that which makes my life, you change
everything for the better, precisely as that which was in cold,
gray shadow before is changed by sunlight. You add just so much by
your young, fresh, womanly life to my life, and it is all the more
welcome because it is womanly and different from mine. You cease
to be a child, a dependant to be provided for, and become a friend,
an inspiration, a confidante. These relations may count little to
heavy, stolid, selfish men, to whom eating, drinking, excitement,
and money-making are the chief considerations, but to men of mind
and ideals, especially to a man who has devoted, his heart, brain,
and life to a cause upon which the future of a nation depends, they
are pre-eminent. You see I am a German at heart, and must have my
world of thought and imagination, as well as the world in which men
look at me with cold, hard, and even hostile eyes. Thus far this
ideal world has been peopled chiefly by the shadows of those who
have lived in the past or by the characters of the great creators
in poetry. Now if my blue-eyed daughter can prove to me that she
has too much heart and brain to be an ordinary society-girl like
half a million of others, and will share my interest in the great
thoughts and achievements of the past and the greater questions
of to-day, - if she can prove that when I have time I may enjoy a
tryst with her in regions far remote from shallow, coarse, commonplace
minds, - is not my whole life enriched? We can read some of my
favorite authors together and trace their influence on the thought
of the world. We can take up history and see how to-day's struggle
is the result of the past. I think I could soon give you an
intelligent idea of the questions of the time, for which men are
hourly dying. The line of battle stretches across the continent,
and so many are engaged that every few moments a man, and too often
a woman from heart-break, dies that the beloved cause may triumph.
Southern girls and women, as a rule, are far more awake to the events
of the time than their sisters in the North. Such an influence on
the struggle can scarcely be over-estimated. They create a public
sentiment that drives even the cowardly into the ranks, and their
words and enthusiasm incite brave young men to even chivalric courage.
It is true that there are very many like them in the North, but
there are also very many who restrain the men over whom they have
influence, - who are indifferent, as you have been, or in sympathy
with the South, - or who, as is true in most instances, do not yet
see the necessity for self-sacrifice. We have not truly felt the
war yet, but it will sooner or later come home to every one who has
a heart. I have been in the South, and have studied the spirit of
the people. They are just as sincere and conscientious as we are,
and more in earnest as yet. Christian love and faith, there, look
to Heaven for sanction with absolute sincerity, and mothers send
their sons, girls their lovers, and wives their husbands, to die
if need be. For the political conspirators who have thought first
and always of their ambition I have only detestation, but for the
people of the South - for the man I may meet in the ranks and kill
if I can - I have profound respect. I should know he was wrong, I
should be equally sure that he believed himself right.

"Look at the clock, my dear, and see how long I have talked to
you. Can you now doubt that you will be companionable to me? Men
down town think I am hard as a rock, but your touch of sympathy
has been as potent as the stroke of Moses' rod. You have had an
inundation of words, and the future is rosy to me with hope because
you are not asleep."

"Have I shown lack of interest, papa?"

"No, Marian, your intent eyes have been eloquent with feeling.
Therefore I have spoken so long and fully. You have, as it were,
drawn the words from me. You have made this outpouring of my heart
seem as natural as breathing, for when you look as you do to-night,
I can almost think aloud to you. You have a sympathetic face, my
child, and when expressing intelligent sympathy it grows beautiful.
It was only pretty before. Prettiness is merely a thing of outline
and color; beauty comes from the soul."

She came and stood at his side, resting her arm lightly on his
shoulder.

"Papa," she said, "your words are a revelation to me. Your world
is indeed a new one, and a better one than mine. But I must cease
to be a girl, and become a woman, to enter it."

"You need not be less happy; you do not loset anything. A picture
is ever finer for shadows and depth of perspective. You can't get
anything very fine, in either art or life, from mere bright surface
glare."

"I can't go back to that any more; something in my very soul tells
me that I cannot; and your loneliness and danger would render even
the wish to do so base. No, I feel now that I would rather be
a woman, even though it involves a crown of thorns, than to be a
shallow creature that my own heart would despise. I may never be
either wise or deep, but I shall be to you all I can."

"You do very much for me in those words alone, my darling. As
I said before, no one can tell what you may become if you develop
your own nature naturally."






CHAPTER IV.

WOMAN'S CHIEF RIGHT.





It was late when Marian and her father parted, and each felt that a
new era had begun in their lives. To the former it was like a deep
religious experience. She was awed and somewhat depressed, as well
as resolute and earnest. Life was no pleasure excursion to her
father. Questions involving the solemnity of danger, possibly death,
occupied his mind. Yet it was not of either that he thought, but
of the questions themselves. She saw that he was a large-hearted,
large-brained man, who entered into the best spirit of his age,
and found recreation in the best thought of the past, and she felt
that she was still but a little child beside him.

"But I shall no longer be a silly child or a shallow, selfish,
unfeeling girl. I know there is something better in my nature than
this. Papa's words confirm what I have read but never thought of
much: the chief need of men who can do much or who amount to much
is the intelligent sympathy of women who understand and care for
them. Why, it was the inspiration of chivalry, even in the dark
ages. Well, Marian Vosburgh, if you can't excel a kitchen-maid,
it would be better that you had never lived."

The sun was shining brightly when she wakened on the following
morning, and when she came to breakfast their domestic handed her
a note from her father, by which she was informed that he would
dine with her earlier than usual, and that they would take a sail
down the bay.

Brief as it was, it breathed an almost lover-like fondness and
happiness. She enjoyed her first exultant thrill at her sense of
power as she comprehended that he had gone to his work that day a
stronger and more hopeful man.

She went out to do her shopping, and was soon in a Broadway temple
of fashion, but found that she was no longer a worshipper. A week
before the beautiful fabrics would have absorbed her mind and awakened
intense desires, for she had a passion for dress, and few knew how
to make more of it than she. But a new and stronger passion was
awakening. She was made to feel at last that she had not only a
woman's lovely form and features, but a woman's mind. Now she began
to dream of triumphs through the latter, and her growing thought was
how to achieve them. Not that she was indifferent to her costume;
it should be like the soldier's accoutrements; her mind the weapon.

As is common with the young to whom any great impulse or new, deep
experience comes, she was absorbed by it, and could think of little
else. She went over her father's words again and again, dwelling on
the last utterance, which had contained the truth uppermost in all
that he had said, - "Develop the best in your own nature naturally."

What was her own nature, her starting-point? Her introspection
was not very reassuring. She felt that perhaps the most hopeful
indication was her strong rebound from what she at last recognized
as mean and unworthy. She also had a little natural curiosity and
vanity to see if her face was changing with changing motives. Was
there such a difference between prettiness and beauty? She was
perfectly sure she would rather be beautiful than pretty.

Her mirror revealed a perplexed young face, suggesting
interrogation-points. The day was ending as it had begun, with a
dissatisfaction as to the past, amounting almost to disgust, and
with fears, queries, and uncertainties concerning the future. How
should she take up life again? How should she go on with it?

More importunate still was the question, "What has the future in
store for me and for those I love? Papa spoke of danger; and when
I think of his resolute face, I know that nothing in the line of
duty will daunt him. He said that it might not be kindness to leave
me in my old, blind, unthinking ignorance, - that a blow, shattering
everything, might come, finding us all unprepared. Oh, why don't
mamma feel and see more? We have been just like comfortable passengers
on a ship, while papa was facing we knew not what. I may not be
of much use, but I feel now as if I wanted to be with him. To stay
below with scarcely any other motive than to have a good time, and
then to be paralyzed, helpless, when some shock of trouble comes,
now seems silly and weak to the last degree. I am only too glad
that I came to my senses in time, for if anything should happen to
papa, and I had to remember all my days that I had never been much
to him, and had left him to meet the stress of life and danger
alone, I am sure I should be wretched from self-reproach."

When he came at six o'clock, she met him eagerly, and almost her
first words were, "Papa, there hasn't been any danger to-day?"

"Oh, no; none at all; only humdrum work. You must not anticipate
trouble. Soldiers, you know, jest and laugh even when going into
battle, and they are all the better soldiers for the fact. No; I
have given you a wrong impression. Nothing has been humdrum to-day.
An acquaintance down town said: 'What's up, Vosburgh? Heard good
news? Have our troops scored a point?' You see I was so brightened
up that he thought nothing but a national victory could account for
the improvement. Men are like armies, and are twice as effective
when well supported."

"The idea of my supporting you!"

"To me it's a charming idea. Instead of coming back to a dismal,
empty house, I find a blue-eyed lassie who will go with me to
dinner, and add sauce piquante to every dish. Come, I am not such
a dull, grave old fellow as you imagine. You shall see how gallant
I can become under provocation. We must make the most of a couple
of hours, for that is all that I can give you. No sail to-night, as
I had planned, for a government agent is coming on from Washington
to see me, and I must be absent for at least an hour or two after
eight o'clock. You won't mope, will you? You have something to
read? Has the day been very long and lonely? What have you been
doing and thinking about?"

"When are you going to give me a chance to answer?"

"Oh, I read your answer, partly at least, in your eyes. You can
amplify later. Come, get ready for the street. Put on what you
please, so that you wear a smile. These are not times to worry over
slight reverses as long as the vital points are safe."

The hour they passed at dinner gave Marian a new revelation of
her father. The quiet man proved true the words of Emerson, "Among
those who enjoy his thought, he will regain his tongue."

At first he drew her out a little, and with his keen, quick insight
he understood her perplexity, her solicitude about him and herself
and the future, her resolute purpose to be a woman, and the
difficulties of seeing the way to the changes she desired. Instead
of replying directly to her words, he skilfully led their talk to
the events of the day, and contemporaneous history became romance
under his version; the actors in the passing drama ceased to be
names and officials, and were invested with human interest. She
was made to see their motives, their hopes, fears, ambitions; she
opened her eyes in surprise at his knowledge of prominent people,
their social status, relations, and family connection. A genial
light of human interest played over most of his words, yet now and
then they touched on the depths of tragedy; again he seemed to be
indulging in sublimated gossip, and she saw the men and women who
posed before the public in their high stations revealed in their
actual daily life.

She became so interested that at times she left her food untasted.
"How can you know all this?" she exclaimed.

"It is my business to know a great deal," he replied. "Then natural
curiosity leads me to learn more. The people of whom I have spoken
are the animated pieces on the chess-board. In the tremendous game
that we are playing, success depends largely on their strength,
weakness, various traits, - in brief, their character. The stake
that I have in the game leads me to know and watch those who are
exerting a positive influence. It is interesting to study the men
and women who, in any period, made and shaped history, and to learn
the secrets of their success and failure. Is it not natural that
men and women who are making history to-day - who in fact are shaping
one's own history - should be objects of stronger attention? Now, as
in the past, women exert a far greater influence on current events
than you would imagine. There are but few thrones of power behind
which you will not find a woman. What I shall do or be during the
coming weeks and months depends upon some of the people I have
sketched, free-handed, for you alone. You see the sphinx - for as
such I am regarded by many - opens his mouth freely to you. Can you
guess some of my motives for this kind of talk?"

"You have wanted to entertain me, papa, and you have succeeded.
You should write romances, for you but touch the names one sees in
the papers and they become dramatic actors."

"I did want to entertain you and make a fair return for your
society; I wish to prove that I can be your companion as truly as
you can become mine; but I have aimed to do more. I wish you to
realize how interesting the larger and higher world of activity is.
Do not imagine that in becoming a woman, earnest and thoughtful,
you are entering on an era of solemn platitudes. You are rather
passing from a theatre of light comedy to a stage from which
Shakespeare borrowed the whole gamut of human feeling, passion,
and experience. I also wished to satisfy you that you have mind
enough to become absorbed as soon as you begin to understand the
significance of the play. After you have once become an intelligent
spectator of real life you can no more go back to drawing-room
chit-chat, gossip, and flirtation than you can lay down Shakespeare's
'Tempest' for a weak little parlor comedy. I am too shrewd a man,
Marian, to try to disengage you from the past by exhortations and
homilies; and now that you have become my friend, I shall be too
sincere with you to disguise my purposes or methods. I propose to
co-operate frankly with you in your effort, for in this way I prove
my faith in you and my respect for you. Soon you will find yourself
an actor in real life, as well as a spectator."

"I fear I have been one already, - a sorry one, too. It is possible
to do mischief without being very intelligent or deliberate. You
are making my future, so far as you are concerned, clearer than
I imagined it could be. You do interest me deeply. In one evening
you make it evident how much I have lost in neglecting you - for I
have neglected you, though not intentionally. Hereafter I shall be
only too proud if you will talk to me as you have done, giving me
glimpses of your thoughts, your work, and especially your dangers,
where there are any. Never deceive me in this respect, or leave
me in ignorance. Whatever may be the weaknesses of my nature, now
that I have waked up, I am too proud a girl to receive all that I
do from your hands and then give almost my whole life and thought
to others. I shall be too delighted if you are happier for my
meddling and dropping down upon you. I'll keep your secrets too,
you see;" and she confirmed her words by an emphatic little nod.
"You can talk to me about people, big and little, with whom you
have to do, just as serenely as if you were giving your confidence
to an oyster.

"But, papa, I am confronted by a question of real life, just as
difficult for me as any that can perplex you. I can't treat this
question any more as I have done. I don't see my way at all. Now
I am going to be as direct and straightforward as a man, and not
beat around the bush with any womanish finesse. There is a gentleman
in this city who, if he knew I was in town to-night, would call, and
I might not be able to prevent him from making a formal proposal.
He is a man whom I respect and like very much, and I fear I have



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 3 of 37)