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I now feel as if I should never want to sleep again. It will be my
turn to watch to-night, and you must sleep."

"Yes, when I feel like it," replied Marian.

"I think you bear the strain of anxiety wonderfully."

"I am trying to retrieve myself."

"You have retrieved yourself, Miss Vosburgh. You have become a
genuine soldier. It didn't take long to make a veteran of you."

"So much for a good example, you see."

"Oh, well, it's easy enough for a man to face danger. Think how
many thousands do it as a matter of course."

"And must women be timid as a matter of course?"

"Women do not often inspire men as you do, Miss Marian. I know I am
different from what I was, and I think I always shall be different."

"I didn't treat you fairly, Mr. Merwyn, and I've grieved over the
past more than I can tell you."

"And you won't mistrust me again?"

"Never."

"You make me very happy, and you will never know how unhappy I have
been. Even before I left the country, last autumn, I envied the
drummer-boys of Strahan's regiment. I don't wish to take advantage
of your present feeling, or have you forget that I am still under
a miserable restraint which I can't explain. I must probably resume
my old inactive life, while your other friends win fame and rank
in serving their country. Of course I shall give money, but bah!
what's that to a girl like you? When all this hurly-burly in the
streets is over, when conventional life begins again, and I seem
a part of it, will you still regard me as a friend?"

His distrust touched her deeply, when she was giving him her
heart's best love, and her strong feeling caused her to falter as
she said, "Do you think I can grow cold towards the man who risked
his life for me?"

"That is exaggerated gratitude. Any decent man would risk his life
for you. Why, you were as brave as I. I often ask myself, can you
be a friend for my own sake, because of some inherent congeniality?
You have done more for your other friends than they for you, and
yet they are very dear to you, because you esteem them as men. I
covet a like personal regard, and I hope you will teach me to win
it."

"You have won it, - that is - "

"That is - ? There is a mental reservation, or you are too truthful
for undoubted assurance when shown that gratitude has no place in
this relation."

She averted her face from his searching eyes, and was deeply
embarrassed.

"I feared it would be so," he said, sadly. "But I do not blame
you. On the contrary I honor your sincerity. Very well, I shall
be heartily glad of any regard that you can give me, and shall try
to be worthy of it."

"Mr. Merwyn," she said, impetuously, "no friend of mine receives a
stronger, better, or more sincere regard than I give you for your
own sake. There now, trust me as I trust you;" and she gave him
her hand.

He took it in his strong grasp, but she exclaimed, instantly: "You
are feverish. You are ill. I thought your eyes were unnaturally
bright."

"They should be so if it is in the power of happiness to kindle
them!"

"Come now," she cried, assuming a little brusqueness of manner which
became her well; "I've given you my word, and that's my bond. If
you indulge in any more doubts I'll find a way to punish you. I'll
take my 'affidavy' I'm just as good a friend to you as you are to
me. If you doubt me, I shall doubt you."

"I beg your pardon; no you won't, or cannot, rather. You know well
that I have my father's unchangeable tenacity. It's once and always
with me."

"You are speaking riddles," she faltered, averting her face.

"Not at all. I am glad indeed that you can give me simple friendship,
unforced, uncompelled by any other motive than that which actuates
you in regard to the others. But you know well - your most casual
glance would reveal it to you - that I, in whom you have inspired
some semblance of manhood, can never dream of any other woman. When
you see this truth, as you often will, you must not punish me for
it. You must not try to cure me by coldness or by any other of the
conventional remedies, for you cannot. When we meet, speak kindly,
look kindly; and should it ever be not best or right that we should
meet, - that is, often, - we shall not."

"You are scarcely speaking as a friend," she said, in a low voice.

"Will you punish me if I cannot help being far more?"

"No, since you cannot help it," she replied, with a shy laugh.

A new light, a new hope, began to dawn upon him, and he was about
to speak impetuously when Mr. Vosburgh appeared and said, "Merwyn,
I've been watching two men who passed and repassed the house, and
who seem to be reconnoitring."

As Merwyn and Marian accompanied him to the parlor they heard the
heavy booming of cannon off on the east side, and it was repeated
again and again.

"Those are ominous sounds at this time of night," said Mr. Vosburgh.

"That they don't come from the rioters is a comfort," Merwyn replied;
"but it proves what I said before, - they are becoming more bold
and reckless."

"It may also show that the authorities are more stern and relentless
in dealing with them."

At last the sounds of conflict died away, the street appeared quiet
and deserted, and they all returned to the dining-room.

The light enabled Merwyn to look eagerly and questioningly at
Marian. She smiled, flushed, and, quickly averting her eyes, began
to speak on various topics in a way that warned Merwyn to restrain
all further impatience; but she inspired so strong and delicious a
hope that he could scarcely control himself. He even fancied that
there was at times a caressing accent in her tone when she spoke
to him.

"Surely," he thought, "if what I said were repugnant, she would give
some hint of the fact; but how can it be possible that so soon - "

"Come, Marian, I think you may safely retire now," said her father;
"I hear Riten coming up."

Even as he spoke, a front parlor window was crashed in. Merwyn
and Mr. Vosburgh sprung into the hall, revolvers in hand; Riten
instinctively fled back towards the stairs leading to the basement,
in which she had extinguished the light, and Mr. Vosburgh told his
daughter to follow the servant.

But she stood still, as if paralyzed, and saw a man rushing upon
him with a long knife. Mr. Vosburgh fired, but, from agitation,
ineffectually. Merwyn at the same moment had fired on another man,
who fell. A fearful cry escaped from the girl's lips as she saw that
her father was apparently doomed. The gleaming knife was almost
above him. Then - how it happened she could never tell, so swift was
the movement - Merwyn stood before her father. The knife descended
upon his breast, yet at the same instant his pistol exploded against
the man's temple, and the miscreant dropped like a log. There were
sounds of other men clambering in at the window, and Mr. Vosburgh
snatched Merwyn back by main force, saying to Marian, "Quick! for
your life! down the stairs!"

The moment the door closed upon them all he slid the heavy bolt.
Riten stood sobbing at the foot of the stairs.

"Hush!" said Mr. Vosburgh, sternly. "Each one obey me. Out through
the area door instantly."

Across this he also let down a heavy bar, and, taking his daughter's
hand, he hurried her to the fence, removed the boards, and, when all
had passed through, replaced them. Mr. Erkmann, at his neighbor's
request, had left his rear basement door open, and was on the
watch. He appeared almost instantly, and counselled the fugitives
to remain with him.

"No," said Mr. Vosburgh; "we will bring no more peril than we must
on you. Let us out into the street at once, and then bar and bolt
everything."

"But where can you go at this time?"

"To my house," said Merwyn, firmly. "Please do as Mr. Vosburgh
asks. It will be safest for all."

"Well, since you will have it so."

"Hasten, hasten," Merwyn urged.

Mr. Erkmann unlatched the door and looked out. The street was quiet
and deserted, and the fugitives rushed away with whispered thanks.

"Marian, tie Riten's apron over your head, so as to partially
disguise your face," said her father.

Fortunately they met but few people, and no crowds whatever. As
they approached Merwyn's home his steps began to grow unsteady.

"Papa," said Marian, in agitated tones, "Mr. Merwyn is wounded; he
wants your support."

"Merciful Heaven, Merwyn! are you wounded?"

"Yes, hasten. I must reach home before giving out."

When they gained his door he had to be almost carried up the steps,
and Mr. Vosburgh rang the bell furiously.

Only a moment or two elapsed before the scared face of Thomas
appeared, but as Merwyn crossed the threshold he fainted.

They carried him to his room, and then Mr. Vosburgh said, "Bring
a physician and lose not a second. Say it is a case of life and
death. Hold! first bring me some brandy."

"Oh, oh!" Marian moaned, "I fear it's death! O papa he gave his
life for you."

"No, no," was the hoarse response; "it cannot, shall not be. It's
only a wound, and he has fainted from loss of blood. Show your nerve
now. Moisten his lips with brandy. You, Riten, chafe his wrists
with it, while I cut open his shirt and stanch the wound."

A second more and a terrible gash on Merwyn's breast was revealed.
How deep it was they could not know.

Marian held out her handkerchief, and it was first used to stop
the flow of blood. When it was taken away she put it in her bosom.

The old servant, Margy, now rushed in with lamentations.

"Hush!" said Mr. Vosburgh, sternly. "Chafe that other wrist with
brandy."

But the swoon was prolonged, and Marian, pallid to her lips, sighed
and moaned as she did her father's bidding.

Thomas was not very long in bringing a good physician, who had
often attended the family. Marian watched his face as if she were
to read there a verdict in regard to her own life, and Mr. Vosburgh
evinced scarcely less solicitude.

"His pulse certainly shows great exhaustion; but I cannot yet
believe that it is a desperate case. We must first tally him, and
then I will examine his wound. Mr. Vosburgh, lift him up, and let
me see if I cannot make him swallow a little diluted brandy."

At last Merwyn revived somewhat, but did not seem conscious of what
was passing around him. The physician made a hasty examination of
the wound and said, "It is not so severe as to be fatal in itself,
but I don't like the hot, dry, feverish condition of his skin."

"He was feverish before he received the wound," said Marian, in a
whisper. "I fear he has been going far beyond his strength."

"I entreat you, sir, not to leave him," said Mr. Vosburgh, "until
you can give us more hope."

"Rest assured that I shall not. I am the family physician, and I
shall secure for him in the morning the best surgical aid in the
city. All that can be done in these times shall be done. Hereafter
there must be almost absolute quiet, especially when he begins to
notice anything. He must not be moved, or be allowed to move, until
I say it is safe. Perhaps if all retire, except myself and Thomas,
he will be less agitated when he recovers consciousness. Margy,
you make good, strong coffee, and get an early breakfast."

They all obeyed his suggestions at once.

The servant showed Mr. Vosburgh and his daughter into a sitting-room
on the same floor, and the poor girl, relieved from the necessity
of self-restraint, threw herself on a lounge and sobbed and moaned
as if her heart was breaking.

Wise Mr. Vosburgh did not at first restrain her, except by soothing,
gentle words. He knew that this was nature's relief, and that she
would soon be the better and calmer for it.

The physician wondered at the presence of strangers in the Merwyn
residence, and speedily saw how Marian felt towards his patient; but
he had observed professional reticence, knowing that explanations
would soon come. Meanwhile he carefully sought to rally his patient,
and watched each symptom.

At last Merwyn opened his eyes and asked, feebly: "Where am I? What
has happened?"

"You were injured, but are doing well," was the prompt reply. "You
know me, Dr. Henderson, and Thomas is here also. You are in your
own room."

"Yes, I see," and he remained silent for some little time; then
said, "I remember all now."

"You must keep quiet and try not to think, Mr. Merwyn. Your life
depends upon it."

"My mind has a strong disposition to wander."

"The more need of quiet."

"Miss Vosburgh is here. I must see her."

"Yes, by and by."

"Doctor, I fear I am going to be out of my mind. I must see Miss
Vosburgh. I will see her; and if you are wise you will permit me to
do so. My life depends upon it more than upon your skill. Do what
I ask, and I will be quiet."

"Very well, then, but the interview must be brief."

"It must be as I say."

Marian was summoned. Hastily drying her eyes, she tried to suppress
her strong emotion.

Merwyn feebly reached out his hand to her, and she sat down beside
him.

"Do not try to talk," she whispered, taking his hand.

"Yes, I must while I am myself. Dr. Henderson, I love and honor
this girl, and would make her my wife should she consent. I may
be dying, but if she is willing to stay with me, it seems as if
I could live through everything, fever and all. If she is willing
and you do not permit her to stay, I want you to know that my blood
is on your hands! Marian, are you willing to stay?"

"Yes," she replied; and then, leaning down, she whispered: "I do
love you; I have loved you ever since I understood you. Oh, live
for my sake! What would life be now without you?"

"Now you shall stay."

"See, doctor, he is quiet while I am with him," she said, pleadingly.

"And only while you are with me. I know I should die if you were
sent away."

"She shall stay with you, Mr. Merwyn, if you obey my orders in
other respects. I give you my word," said Dr. Henderson.

"Very well. Now have patience with me."

"Thomas," whispered the physician, "have the strongest beef tea
made, and keep it on hand."

Mr. Vosburgh intercepted the man, and was briefly told what had
taken place. "Now there is a chance for them both," the agitated
father muttered, as he restlessly paced the room. "Oh, how terribly
clouded would our lives be, should he die!"






CHAPTER LII.

MOTHER AND SON.





FOR a time Merwyn did keep quiet, but he soon began to mutter
brokenly and unintelligibly. Marian tried to remove her hand to
aid the physician a moment, but she felt the feeble tightening of
his clasp, and he cried, "No, no!"

This, for days, was the last sign he gave of intelligent comprehension
of what was going on around him.

"We must humor him as far as we can in safety," the doctor remarked,
in a low whisper, and so began the battle for life.

Day was now dawning, and Thomas was despatched for a very skilful
surgeon, who came and gave the help of long experience.

At last Dr. Henderson joined Mr. Vosburgh in the breakfast-room, and
the latter sent a cup of coffee to his daughter by the physician,
who said, when he returned: "I think it would be well for me to
know something about Mr. Merwyn's experience during the past few
days. I shall understand his condition better if I know the causes
which led to it."

Mr. Vosburgh told him everything.

"Well," said the doctor, emphatically, "we should do all within
human effort to save such a young fellow."

"I feel that I could give my life to save him," Mr. Vosburgh added.

Hours passed, and Merwyn's delirium became more pronounced. He
released his grasp on Marian's hand, and tossed his arms as if in
the deepest trouble, his disordered mind evidently reverting to
the time when life had been so dark and hopeless.

"Chained, chained," he would mutter. "Cruel, unnatural mother, to
chain her son like a slave. My oath is eating out my very heart.
SHE despises me as a coward. Oh if she knew what I was facing!"
and such was the burden of all his broken words.

The young girl now learned the secret which had been so long
unfathomed. Vainly, with streaming eyes, she tried at first to
reassure him, but the doctor told her it was of no use, the fever
must take its course. Yet her hand upon his brow and cheek often
seemed to have a subtle, quieting spell.

Mr. Vosburgh felt that, whatever happened, he must attend to his
duties. Therefore he went to headquarters and learned that the
crisis of the insurrection had passed. The Seventh Regiment was on
duty, and other militia organizations were near at hand.

He also related briefly how he had been driven from his home on the
previous night, and was told that policemen were in charge of the
building. Having received a permit to enter it, he sent his despatch
to Washington, also a quieting telegram to his wife, assuring her
that all danger was past.

Then he went to his abandoned home and looked sadly on the havoc
that had been made. Nearly all light articles of value had been
carried away, and then, in a spirit of revenge, the rioters had
destroyed and defaced nearly everything. His desk had been broken,
but the secret drawer remained undiscovered. Having obtained his
private papers, he left the place, and, as it was a rented house,
resolved that he would not reside there again.

On his return to Merwyn's home, the first one to greet him was
Strahan, his face full of the deepest solicitude.

"I have just arrived," he said. "I first went to your house and was
overwhelmed at seeing its condition; then I drove here and have
only learned enough to make me anxious indeed. O my accursed wound
and fever! They kept the fact of the riot from me until this morning,
and then I learned of it almost by accident, and came instantly in
spite of them."

"Mr. Strahan, I entreat you to be prudent. I am overwhelmed with
trouble and fear for Merwyn, and I and mine must cause no more
mischief. Everything is being done that can be, and all must be
patient and quiet and keep their senses."

"Oh, I'm all right now. As Merwyn's friend, this is my place.
Remember what he did for me."

"Very well. If you are equal to it I shall be glad to have you
take charge here. As soon as I have learned of my daughter's and
Merwyn's welfare I shall engage rooms at the nearest hotel, and, if
the city remains quiet, telegraph for my wife;" and he sent Thomas
to Dr. Henderson with a request to see him.

"No special change, and there cannot be very soon," reported the
physician.

"But my daughter - she must not be allowed to go beyond her strength."

"I will look after her as carefully as after my other patient,"
was the reassuring reply.

"It's a strange story, Mr. Strahan," resumed Mr. Vosburgh, when
they were alone. "You are undoubtedly surprised that my daughter
should be one of Merwyn's watchers. He saved my life last night, and
my daughter and home the night before. They are virtually engaged."

"Oh that I had been here!" groaned Strahan.

"Under the circumstances it was well that you were not. It would
probably have cost you your life. Only the strongest and soundest
men could endure the strain. Merwyn came to our assistance from the
first;" and he told the young officer enough of what had occurred
to make it all intelligible to him.

Strahan drew a long breath, then said: "He has won her fairly. I
had suspected his regard for her; but I would rather have had his
opportunity and his wound than be a major-general."

"I appreciate the honor you pay my daughter, but there are some
matters beyond human control," was the kind response.

"I understand all that," said the young man, sadly; "but I can
still be her loyal friend, and that, probably, is all that I ever
could have been."

"I, at least, can assure you of our very highest esteem and respect,
Mr. Strahan;" and after a few more words the gentlemen parted.

The hours dragged on, and at last Dr. Henderson insisted that Marian
should go down to lunch. She first met Strahan in the sitting-room,
and sobbed on his shoulder: "O Arthur! I fear he will die, and if
he does I shall wish to die, too. You must stand by us both like
a loyal brother."

"Marian, I will," he faltered; and he kept his word.

He made her take food, and at last inspired her with something of
his own sanguine spirit.

"Oh, what a comfort it is to have you here!" she said, as she was
returning to her post. "You make despair impossible."

Again the hours dragged slowly on, the stillness of the house
broken only by Merwyn's delirious words. Then, for a time, there
was disquiet in bitter truth.

All through the dreadful night just described, an ocean steamer had
been ploughing its way towards the port of New York. A pilot had
boarded her off Sandy Hook, and strange and startling had been his
tidings to the homeward-bound Americans. The Battle of Gettysburg,
the capture of Vicksburg, and, above all, the riots had been the
burden of his narrations.

Among the passengers were Mrs. Merwyn and her daughters. Dwelling
on the condition of her son's mind, as revealed by his letter, she
had concluded that she must not delay her departure from England an
hour longer than was unavoidable. "It may be," she thought, "that
only my presence can restrain him in his madness; for worse than
madness it is to risk all his future prospects in the South just
when our arms are crowned with victories which will soon fulfil
our hopes. His infatuation with that horrid Miss Vosburgh is the
secret of it all."

Therefore, her heart overflowing with pride and anger, which
increased with every day of the voyage, she had taken an earlier
steamer, and was determined to hold her son to his oath if he had
a spark of sanity left.

Having become almost a monomaniac in her dream of a Southern empire,
she heard in scornful incredulity the rumor of defeat and disaster
brought to her by her daughters. All the pride and passion of her
strong nature was in arms against the bare thought. But at quarantine
papers were received on board, their parallel columns lurid with
accounts of the riot and aglow with details of Northern victories.
It appeared to her that she had sailed from well-ordered England,
with its congenial, aristocratic circles, to a world of chaos.
When the steamer arrived at the wharf, many of the passengers were
afraid to go ashore, but she, quiet, cold, silent, hiding the anger
that raged in her heart, did not hesitate a moment. She came of a
race that knew not what fear meant. At the earliest possible moment
she and her daughters entered a carriage and were driven up town.
The young girls stared in wonder at the troops and other evidences
of a vast disturbance, and when they saw Madison Square filled with
cavalry-horses they exclaimed aloud, "O mamma, see!"

"Yes," said their mother, sternly, "and mark it well. Even these
Northern people will no longer submit to the Lincoln tyranny.
He may win a few brief triumphs, but the day is near when our own
princely leaders will dictate law and order everywhere. The hour
has air passed when he will have the South only to fight;" and in
her prejudice and ignorance she believed her words to be absolutely
infallible.

Strahan met them as they entered, and received but a cold greeting
from the lady.

"Where is Willard?" she asked, hastily.

"Mrs. Merwyn, you must prepare yourself for a great shock. Your
son - "

Her mind was prepared for but one great disaster, and, her self-control
at last giving way, she almost shrieked, "What! has he taken arms
against the South?"

"Mrs. Merwyn," replied Strahan, "is that the worst that could
happen?"

A sudden and terrible dread smote the proud woman, and she sunk
into a chair, while young Estelle Merwyn rushed upon Strahan, and,
seizing his hand, faltered in a whisper, "Is - is - " but she could
proceed no further.

"No; but he soon will be unless reason and affection control your
actions and words. Your family physician is here, Mrs. Merwyn, and
I trust you will be guided by his counsel."

"Send him to me," gasped the mother.

Dr. Henderson soon came and explained in part what had occurred.

"Oh, those Vosburghs!" exclaimed Mrs. Merwyn, with a gesture
of unspeakable revolt at the state of affairs. "Well," she added,
with a stern face, "it is my place and not a stranger's to be at
my son's side."

"Pardon me, madam; you cannot go to your son at all in your present
mood. In an emergency like this a physician is autocrat, and your
son's life hangs by a hair."

"Who has a better right - who can do more for a child than a mother?"

"That should be true, but - " and he hesitated in embarrassment, for
a moment, then concluded, firmly: "Your son is not expecting you,
and agitation now might be fatal to him. There are other reasons



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 36 of 37)