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I'm only following the tactics in vogue, - taking the longest way
around to the point to be attacked. Lane said that if you carried
out your present principle of action you would have a power possessed
by few. I think he is right. I'm not flattering you. Little power
of any kind can co-exist with vanity. The secret of your fascination
is chiefly in your individuality. There are other girls more beautiful
and accomplished who have not a tithe of it. Now and then a woman
is peculiarly gifted with the power to influence men, - strong men,
too. You had this potency in no slight degree when neither your
heart nor your brain was very active. You will find that it will
increase with time, and if you are wise it will be greater when
you are sixty than at present. If you avoid the Scylla of vanity
on the one hand, and the Charybdis of selfishness on the other, and
if the sympathies of your heart keep pace with a cultivated mind,
you will steadily grow in social influence. I believe it for this
reason: A weak girl would have been sentimental with Lane, would have
yielded temporarily, either to his entreaty or to his anger, only
to disappoint him in the end, or else would have been conventional
in her refusal and so sent him to the bad, probably. You recognized
just what you could be to him, and had the skill - nature, rather,
for all was unpremeditated - to obtain an influence by which you
can incite him to a better manhood and a greater success, perhaps,
than if he were your accepted lover. Forgive this long preamble:
I am thinking aloud and feeling my way, as it were. What did you
ask him to promise? Why, to make the most and best of himself.
Why not let this sentence suggest the social scheme of your life?
Drop fellows who have neither brains nor heart, - no good mettle
in them, - and so far as you have influence strive to inspire the
others to make the most and best of themselves. You would not find
the kitchen-maid a rival on this plan of life; nor indeed, I regret
to say, many of your natural associates. Outwardly your life will
appear much the same, but your motive will change everything, and
flow through all your action like a mountain spring, rendering it
impossible for you to poison any life."

"O papa, the very possibility of what you suggest makes life appear
beautiful. The idea of a convent!"

"Convents are the final triumph of idiocy. If bad women could be
shut up and made to say prayers most of the time, no harm at least
would be done, - the good, problematical; but to immure a woman of
sweet, natural, God-bestowed impulses is the devil's worst practical
joke in this world. Come, little girl, it's late. Think over the
scheme; try it as you have a chance; use your power to incite men to
make the most and best of themselves. This is better than levying
your little tribute of flattery and attention, like other belles, - a
phase of life as common as cobble-stones and as old as vanity. For
instance, you have an artist among your friends. Possibly you can
make him a better artist and a better fellow in every way. Drop all
muffs and sticks; don't waste yourself on them. Have considerable
charity for some of the wild fellows, none for their folly, and from
the start tolerate no tendencies toward sentimentality. You will
find that the men who admire girls bent on making eyes rather than
making men will soon disappear. Sensible fellows won't misunderstand
you, even though prompted to more than friendship; and you will have
a circle of friends of which any woman might be proud. Of course
you will find at times that unspoken negatives will not satisfy;
but if a woman has tact, good sense, and sincerity, her position is
impregnable. As long as she is not inclined to love a man herself,
she can, by a mere glance, not only define her position, but
defend it. By simple dignity and reserve she can say to all, 'Thus
far and no farther.' If, without encouragement, any one seeks to
break through this barrier he meets a quiet negative which he must
respect, and in his heart does respect. Now, little girl, to sum up
your visit, with its long talks and their dramatic and unexpected
illustration, I see nothing to prevent you from going forward and
making the best and most of your life according to nature and truth.
You have a good start, and a rather better chance than falls to
the lot of the majority."

"Truly," said Marian, thoughtfully, "we don't appear to grow old
and change by time so much as by what happens, - by what we think
and feel. Everything appears changed, including you and myself."

"It's more in appearance than in reality. You will find the impetus
of your old life so strong that it will be hard even to change the
direction of the current. You will be much the same outwardly, as
I said before. The stream will flow through the same channel of
characteristic traits and habits. The vital change must be in the
stream itself, - the motive from which life springs."

How true her father's words seemed on the following evening after
her return! Her mother, as she sat down, to their dainty little
dinner, looked as if her serenity had been undisturbed by a single
perplexing thought during the past few days. There was the same
elegant, yet rather youthful costume for a lady of her years; the
same smiling face, not yet so full in its outline as to have lost
all its girlish beauty. It was marred by few evidences of care and
trouble, nor was it spiritualized by thought or deep experience.

Marian observed her closely, not with any disposition towards cold
or conscious criticism, but in order that she might better understand
the conditions of her own life. She also had a wakening curiosity
to know just what her mother was to her father and he to her. The
hope was forming that she could make them more to each other. She
had too much tact to believe that this could be done by general
exhortations. If anything was to be accomplished it must be by
methods so fine and unobtrusive as to be scarcely recognized.

Her father's inner life had been a revelation to her, and she was
led to query: "Why does not mamma understand it? CAN she understand
it?" Therefore she listened attentively to the details of what had
happened in her absence. She waited in vain for any searching and
intelligent questions concerning the absent husband. Beyond that
he was well, and that everything about the house was just as she
had left it, Mrs. Vosburgh appeared to have no interest. She was
voluble over little household affairs, the novel that just then
absorbed her, and especially the callers and their chagrin at
finding the young girl absent.

"Only the millionnaire widower remained any length of time when
learning that you were away," said the lady, "and he spent most of
the evening with me. I assure you he is a very nice, entertaining
old fellow."

"How did he entertain you? What did he talk about?"

"Let me remember. Now I think of it, what didn't he talk about? He
is one of the most agreeable gossips I ever met, - knows everybody
and everything. He has at his finger-ends the history of all who
were belles in my time, and" (complacently) "I find that few have
done better than I, while some, with all their opportunities, chose
very crooked sticks."

"You are right, mamma. It seems to me that neither of us half
appreciates papa. He works right on so quietly and steadily, and
yet he is not a machine, but a man."

"Oh, I appreciate him. Nine out of ten that he might have married
would have made him no end of trouble. I don't make him any. Well,
after talking about the people we used to know, Mr. Lanniere began
a tirade against the times and the war, which he says have cost him
a hundred thousand dollars; but he took care in a quiet way to let
me know that he has a good many hundred thousands left. I declare,
Marian, you might do a great deal worse."

"Do you not think I might do a great deal better?" the young girl
asked, with a frown.

"I have no doubt you think so. Girls will be romantic. I was,
myself; but as one goes on in life one finds that a million, more
or less, is a very comfortable fact. Mr. Lanniere has a fine house
in town, but he's a great traveller, and an habitue of the best
hotels of this country and Europe. You could see the world with
him on its golden side."

"Well, mamma, I want a man, - not an habitue. What's more, I must
be in love with the man, or he won't stand the ghost of a chance.
So you see the prospects are that you will have me on your hands
indefinitely. Mr. Lanniere, indeed! What should I be but a part of
his possessions, - another expensive luxury in his luxurious life?
I want a man like papa, - earnest, large-brained, and large-hearted, - who,
instead of inveighing against the times, is absorbed in the vital
questions of the day, and is doing his part to solve them rightly.
I would like to take Mr. Lanniere into a military hospital or
cemetery, and show him what the war has cost other men."

"Why, Marian, how you talk!"

"I wish I could make you know how I feel. It seems to me that one
has only to think a little and look around in order to feel deeply.
I read of an awful battle while coming up in the cars. We have
been promised, all the spring, that Richmond would be taken, the
war ended, and all go on serenely again; but it doesn't look like
it."

"What's the use of women distressing themselves with such things?"
said Mrs. Vosburgh, irritably. "I can't bear to think of war and
its horrors, except as they give spice to a story. Our whole trouble
is a big political squabble, and you know I detest politics. It
is just as Mr. Lanniere says, - if our people had only let slavery
alone all would have gone on veil. The leaders on both sides will
find out before the summer is over that they have gone too far
and fast, and they had better settle their differences with words
rather than blows. We shall all be shaking hands ana making up
before Christmas."

"Papa doesn't think so."

"Your father is a German at heart. He has the sense to be practical
about every-day affairs and enjoy a good dinner, but he amuses
himself with cloudy speculations and ideals and vast questions
about the welfare of the world, or the 'trend of the centuries,'
as he said one day to me. I always try to laugh him out of such
vague nonsense. Has he been talking to you about the 'trend of the
centuries'?"

"No, mamma, he has not," replied Marian, gravely; "but if he does
I shall try to understand what he means and be interested. I know
that papa feels deeply about the war, and means to take the most
effective part in it that he can, and that he does not think it
will end so easily as you believe. These facts make me feel anxious,
for I know how resolute papa is."

"He has no right to take any risks," said the lady, emphatically.

"He surely has the same right that other men have."

"Oh, well," concluded Mrs. Vosburgh, with a shrug, "there is no use
in borrowing trouble. When it comes to acting, instead of dreaming
and speculating on vast, misty questions, I can always talk your
father into good sense. That is the best thing about him, - he is
well-balanced, in spite of his tendency to theories. When I show
him that a thing is quixotic he laughs, shrugs his shoulders, and
good-naturedly goes on in the even tenor of his way. It was the
luckiest thing in the world for him when he married me, for I soon
learned his weak points, and have ever guarded him against them.
As a result he has had a quiet, prosperous career. If he wishes to
serve the government in some civilian capacity, and is well paid
for it, why shouldn't he? But I would never hear of his going to
the front, fighting, and marching in Virginia mud and swamps. If
he ever breathes such a thought to you, I hope you will aid me in
showing him how cruel and preposterous it is."

Marian sighed, as she thought: "I now begin to see how well papa
understands mamma, but has she any gauge by which to measure him?
I fear he has found his home lonely, in spite of good dinners."

"Come, my dear," resumed Mrs. Vosburgh, "we are lingering too long.
Some of your friends may be calling soon, although I said I did
not know whether you would be at home to-night or not. Mr. Lanniere
will be very likely to come, for I am satisfied that he has serious
intentions. What's more, you might do worse, - a great deal worse."

"Three times you have said that, mamma, and I don't like it," said
Marian, a little indignantly. "Of course I might do worse; I might
kill him, and I should be tempted to if I married him. You know
that I do not care for him, and he knows it, too. Indeed, I scarcely
respect him. You don't realize what you are saying, for you would
not have me act from purely mercenary motives?"

"Oh, certainly not; but Mr. Lanniere is not a monster or a decrepit
centenarian. He is still in his prime, and is a very agreeable and
accomplished man of the world. He is well-connected, moves in the
best society, and could give his wife everything."

"He couldn't give me happiness, and he would spoil my life."

"Oh well, if you feel so, there is nothing more to be said. I can
tell you, though, that multitudes of girls would be glad of your
chance; but, like so many young people, you have romantic ideas,
and do not appreciate the fact that happiness results chiefly from
the conditions of our lot, and that we soon learn to have plenty
of affection for those who make them all we could desire;" and she
touched a bell for the waitress, who had been temporarily dismissed.

The girl came in with a faint smile on her face. "Has she been
listening?" thought Marian. "That creature, then, with her vain,
pretty, yet vulgar face, is the type of what I was. She has been
lighting the drawing-room for me to do what she proposes to do
later in the evening. She looks just the same. Mamma is just the
same. Callers will come just the same. How unchanged all is, as
papa said it would be! I fear much may be unchangeable."

She soon left the dining-room for the parlor, her dainty, merry
little campaigning-ground. What should be its future record? Could
she carry out the scheme of life which her father had suggested?
"Well," she concluded, with an ominous flash in her eyes at her fair
reflection in the mirror, "whether I can incite any one to better
things or not, I can at least do some freezing out. That gossipy,
selfish old Mr. Lanniere must take his million to some other market.
I have no room in my life for him. Neither do I dote on the future
acquaintance of Mr. Strahan. I shall put him on probation. If men
don't want my society and regard on the new conditions, they can
stay away; if they persist in coming, they must do something finer
and be something finer than in the past. The friendship of one man
like Fenton Lane is worth more than the attention of a wilderness
of muffs and sticks, as papa calls them. What I fear is that I shall
appear goody-goody, and that would disgust every one, including
myself."






CHAPTER VII.

SURPRISES.





MR. Lanniere evidently had serious intentions, for he came
unfashionably early. He fairly beamed on the young girl when he
found her at home. Indeed, as she stood before him in her radiant
youth, which her evening costume enhanced with a fine taste quickly
recognized by his practised eyes, he very justly regarded her as
better than anything which his million had purchased hitherto. It
might easily be imagined that he had added a little to the couleur
de rose of the future by an extra glass of Burgundy, for he positively
appeared to exude an atmosphere of affluence, complacency, and
gracious intention. The quick-witted girl detected at once his
King-Cophetua air, and she was more amused than embarrassed. Then
the eager face of Fenton Lane arose in her fancy, and she heard
his words, "I would shoulder a musket and march away to-morrow if
you bade me!" How insignificant was all that this man could offer,
as compared with the boundless, self-sacrificing love of the other,
before whom her heart bowed in sincere homage if nothing more! What
was this man's offer but an expression of selfishness? And what
could she ever be but an accessory of his Burgundy? Indeed, as his
eyes, humid from wine, gloated upon her, and he was phrasing his
well-bred social platitudes and compliments, quite oblivious of
the fact that HER eyes were taking on the blue of a winter sky,
her cheeks began to grow a little hot with indignation and shame.
He knew that she did not love him, that naturally she could not,
and that there had been nothing in their past relations to inspire
even gratitude and respect towards him. In truth, his only effort
had been to show his preference and to indicate his wishes. What
then could his offer mean but the expectation that she would take
him as a good bargain, and, like any well-bred woman of the world,
comply with all its conditions? Had she given him the impression that
she could do this? While the possibility made her self-reproachful,
she was conscious of rising resentment towards him who was so
complacently assuming that she was for sale.

"Indeed, Miss Vosburgh," was the conclusion of his rather long
preliminaries, "you must not run away soon again. June days may
be charming under any circumstances, but your absence certainly
insures dull June evenings."

"You are burdening your conscience without deceiving me," the young
girl replied, demurely, "and should not so wrong yourself. Mamma
said that you were very entertaining, and that last evening was a
delightful one. It could scarcely be otherwise. It is natural that
people of the same age should be congenial. I will call mamma at
once."

"I beg you will not, - at least not just yet. I have something to
say to which I trust you will listen kindly and favorably. Do you
think me so very old?"

"No older than you have a perfect right to be, Mr. Lanniere," said
the girl, laughing. "I can think of no reason for your reproachful
tone."

"Let me give you one then. Your opinions are of immense importance
to me."

"Truly, Mr. Lanniere, this is strange beyond measure, especially
as I am too young to have formed many opinions."

"That fact only increases my admiration and regard One must reach
my years in order to appreciate truly the dewy freshness of youth.
The world is a terra incognita to you yet, and your opinions of
life are still to be formed. Let me give you a chance to see the
world from lofty, sunny elevations."

"I am too recently from my geography not to remember that while
elevations may be sunny they are very cold," was the reply, with
a charming little shiver. "Mont Blanc has too much perspective."

"Do not jest with me or misunderstand me, Miss Vosburgh," he said,
impressively. "There is a happy mean in all things."

"Yes, Mr. Lanniere, and the girl who means to be happy should take
care to discover it."

"May it not be discovered for her by one who is better acquainted
with life? In woman's experience is not happiness more often
thrust upon her than achieved? I, who know the world and the rich
pleasures and triumphs it affords to one who, in the military phrase
of the day, is well supported, can offer you a great deal, - more
than most men, I assure you."

"Why, Mr. Lanniere," said the young girl, looking at him with
demure surprise, "I am perfectly contented and happy. No ambition
for triumphs is consuming me. What triumphs? As for pleasure, each
day brings all and more than I deserve. Young as one may be, one
can scarcely act without a motive."

"Then I am personally nothing to you?" he said stiffly, and rising.

"Pardon me, Mr. Lanniere. I hope my simple directness may not appear
childish, but it seems to me that I have met your suggestions with
natural answers; What should you be to me but an agreeable friend
of mamma's?"

He understood her fence perfectly, and was aware that the absence
of a mercenary spirit on her part made his suit appear almost
ridiculous. If her clear young eyes would not see him through a
golden halo, but only as a man and a possible mate, what could he
be to her? Even gold-fed egotism could not blind him to the truth
that she was looking at HIM, and that the thought of bartering
herself for a little more of what she had to her heart's content
already was not even considered. There was distressing keenness in
the suggestion that, not wanting the extraneous things he offered,
no motive was left. He was scarcely capable of suspecting her
indignation that he should deem her capable of sacrificing her fair
young girlhood for greater wealth and luxury, even had she coveted
them, - an indignation enhanced by her new impulses. The triumphs,
happiness, and power which she now was bent on achieving could
never be won under the dense shade of his opulent selfishness. He
embodied all that was inimical to her hopes and plans, all that was
opposed to the motives and inspiration received from her father,
and she looked at him with unamiable eyes.

While he saw this to some extent, he was unaccustomed to denial by
others or by himself. She was alluringly beautiful, as she stood
before him, - all the more valued because she valued herself so
highly, all the more coveted because superior to the sordid motives
upon which even he had counted as the chief allies in his suit.
In the intense longing of a self-indulgent nature he broke out,
seizing her hand as he spoke: "O Miss Marian, do not deny me.
I know I could make you happy. I would give you everything. Your
slightest wish should be law. I would be your slave."

"I do not wish a slave," she replied, freezingly, withdrawing her
hand. "I am content, as I told you; but were I compelled to make
a choice it should be in favor of a man to whom I could look up,
and whom I could aid in manly work. I shall not make a choice until
compelled to by my heart."

"If your heart is still your own, give me a chance to win it,"
resumed the suitor, seeking vainly to take her hand again. "I am
in my prime, and can do more than most men. I will put my wealth
at your disposal, engage in noble charities, patriotic - "

This interview had been so absorbing as to make them oblivious of
the fact that another visitor had been admitted to the hall. Hearing
voices in the drawing-room, Mr. Strahan entered, and now stood just
behind Mr. Lanniere, with an expression in which dismay, amusement,
and embarrassment were so comically blended that Marian, who first
saw him, had to cover her face with her handkerchief to hide her
sense of the ludicrous.

"Pardon me," said the inopportune new-comer, "I - I - "

"Maledictions on you!" exclaimed the goaded millionnaire, now
enraged beyond self-control, and confronting the young fellow with
glaring, bloodshot eyes.

This greeting put Strahan entirely at his ease, and a glimpse of
Marian's mirth had its influence also. She had turned instantly
away, and gone to the farther side of the apartment.

"Come now, Mr. Lanniere," he said, with an assumption of much
dignity; "there is scant courtesy in your greeting, and without
reason. I have the honor of Miss Vosburgh's acquaintance as truly
as yourself. This is her parlor, and she alone has the right to
indicate that I am unwelcome. I shall demand no apologies here and
now, but I shall demand them. I may appear very young - "

"Yes, you do; very young. I should think that ears like yours might
have - " And then the older man paused, conscious that the violence
of his anger was carrying him too far.

Strahan struck a nonchalant attitude, as he coolly remarked: "My
venerable friend, your passion is unbecoming to your years. Miss
Vosburgh, I humbly ask your pardon that my ears were not long enough
to catch the purport of this interview. I am not in the habit of
listening at a lady's door before I enter. My arrival at a moment
so awkward for me was my misfortune. I discovered nothing to your
discredit, Mr. Lanniere. Indeed, your appreciation of Miss Vosburgh
is the most creditable thing I know about you, - far more so than
your insults because I merely entered the door to which I was shown
by the maid who admitted me. Miss Vosburgh, with your permission
I will now depart, in the hope that you will forgive the annoyance - "

"I cannot give you my permission under the circumstances, Mr.
Strahan. You have committed no offence against me, or Mr. Lanniere,
either, as he will admit after a little thought. Let us regard the
whole matter as one of those awkward little affairs over which good
breeding can speedily triumph. Sit down, and I will call mamma."

"Pardon me, Miss Vosburgh," said Mr. Lanniere, in a choking voice,
for he could not fail to note the merriment which the mercurial



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 5 of 37)