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his canvas. Marian grew almost as absorbed as himself, learning by
actual vision how quick, light strokes can reproduce and preserve
on a few square inches the transitory beauty of the hour and the
season.

At times she would stimulate his effort by half-spoken sentences
of satisfaction, and at last he turned and looked up suddenly at
her flushed, interested face.

"You are the muse," he exclaimed, impetuously, "who, by looking
over my shoulder, can make an artist of me."

She instinctively stepped farther away, saying, decisively, "Be
careful then to regard me as a muse."

She had replied to his ardent glance and tone, even more than to
his words. There was not a trace of sentiment in her clear, direct
gaze. The quiet dignity and reserve of her manner sobered him
instantly. Her presence, her words, the unexpected success in the
new departure which she had suggested, had excited him deeply; yet
a moment's thought made it clear that there had been nothing on
her part to warrant the hope of more than friendly interest. This
interest might easily be lost by a few rash words, while there
was slight reason that he should ever hope for anything more. Then
also came the consciousness of his straitened circumstances and the
absurdity of incurring obligations which he might never be able to
meet. He had assured himself a thousand times that art should be
his mistress, yet here he was on the eve of acting like a fool by
making love to one who never disguised her expensive tastes. He was
not an artist of the olden school, - all romance and passion, - and
the modishly dressed, reserved maiden before him did not, in the
remotest degree, suggest a languishing heroine in days of yore,
certain to love against sense and reason. The wild, sylvan shade,
the June atmosphere, the fragrance of the eglantine, even the
presence of art, in whose potent traditions mood is the highest law,
could not dispel the nineteenth century or make this independent,
clear-headed American girl forget for a moment what was sensible
and right. She stood there alone under the shadow of the chestnuts,
and by a glance defined her rights, her position towards her companion,
and made him respect them. Nor was he headlong, passionate, absurd.
He was a part of his age, and was familiar with New York society.
The primal instincts of his nature had obtained ascendency for
a mordent. Ardent words to the beautiful girl who looked over
his shoulder and inspired his touch seemed as natural as breath.
She had made herself for the moment a part of his enthusiasm. But
what could be the sequel of ardent words, even if successful, but
prosaic explanations and the facing of the inexorable problem of
supporting two on an income that scarcely sufficed for the Bohemian
life of one?

He had sufficient self-control, and was mentally agile enough to
come down upon his feet. Rising, he said, quietly: "If you will be
my muse, as far as many other claims upon your time and thoughts
permit, I shall be very grateful. I have observed that you have
a good eye for harmony in color, and, what is best of all, I have
induced you to be very frank. See how much you have helped me. In
brief - Bless me! how long have you been here?"

He pulled out his watch in comic dismay, and held it towards her.
"No lunch for us to-day," he concluded, ruefully.

"Well," exclaimed Marian, laughing, "this is the first symptom
I have ever had of being an artist. It was quite natural that you
should forget the needs of sublunary mortals, but that I should do
so must prove the existence of an undeveloped trait. I could become
quite absorbed in art if I could look on and see its wonders like
a child. You must come home with me and take your chance. If lunch
is over, we'll forage."

He laughingly shouldered his apparatus, and walked by her side
through the June sunshine and shade, she in the main keeping up
the conversation. At last he said, rather abruptly: "Miss Vosburgh,
you do not look on like a child, - rather, with more intelligence
than very many society girls possess; and - will you forgive me? - you
defend yourself like a genuine American woman. I have lived abroad,
you know, and have learned how to value such women. I wish you to
know how much I respect you, how truly I appreciate you, and how
grateful and honored I shall feel if you will be simply a frank,
kind friend. You made use of the expression 'How shall I make
you understand?' So I now use it, and suggest what I mean by a
question, - Is there not something in a man's nature which enables
him to do better if some woman, in whom he believes, shows that
she cares?"

"I should be glad if this were true of some men," she said, gently,
"because I do care. I'll be frank, too. Nothing would give me a
more delicious sense of power than to feel that in ways I scarcely
understood I was inciting my friends to make more of themselves
than they would if they did not know me. If I cannot do a little
of what you suggest, of what account am I to my friends?"

"Your friends can serve a useful purpose by amusing you."

"Then the reverse is true, and I am merely amusing to my friends.
Is that the gist of your fine words, after all?" and her face
flushed as she asked the question.

"No, it is not true, Miss Vosburgh. You have the power of entertaining
your friends abundantly, but you could make me a better artist,
and that with me would mean a better man, if you took a genuine
interest in my efforts."

"I shall test the truth of your words," was her smiling response.
"Meanwhile you can teach me to understand art better, so that I
shall know what I am talking about." Then she changed the subject.






CHAPTER IX.

A GIRL'S LIGHT HAND.





ON the evening of the 3d of July Marian drove down in her phaeton
to the station for her father, and was not a little surprised to
see him advancing towards her with Mr. Lane. The young man shook
hands with her cordially, yet quietly, and there was something in
his expression that assured her of the groundlessness of all the
fears she had entertained.

"I have asked Mr. Lane to dine with us," said her father. "He will
walk over from the hotel in the course of half an hour."

While the gentlemen had greeted her smilingly, there had been an
expression on their faces which suggested that their minds were
not engrossed by anticipation of a holiday outing. Marian knew well
what it meant. The papers had brought to every home in the land the
tidings of the awful seven days' fighting before Richmond. So far
from taking the city, McClellan had barely saved his army. Thousands
of men were dead in the swamps of the Chickahominy; thousands were
dying in the sultry heat of the South and on the malarial banks of
the James.

Mr. Vosburgh's face was sad and stern in its expression, and when
Marian asked, "Papa, is it so bad as the papers say?" he replied:
"God only knows how bad it is. For a large part of our army it is
as bad as it can be. The most terrible feature of it all to me is
that thick-headed, blundering men are holding in their irresolute
hands the destinies of just such brave young fellows as Mr. Lane
here. It is not so dreadful for a man to die if his death furthers
a cause which he believes to be sacred, but to die from the sheer
stupidity and weakness of his leaders is a bitter thing. Instead of
brave action, there is fatal blundering all along the line. For a
long time the President, sincere and true-hearted as he is, could
not learn that he is not a military man, and he has permitted a
large part of our armies to be scattered all over Virginia. They
have accomplished next to nothing. McClellan long since proved that
he would not advance without men enough to walk over everything.
He is as heavy as one of his own siege guns. He may be sure, if he
has all he wants, but is mortally slow, and hadn't brains enough
to realize that the Chickahominy swamps thinned his army faster
than brave fighting. He should have been given the idle, useless
men under McDowell and others, and then ordered to take Richmond.
If he wouldn't move, then they should have put a man in his place
who would, and not one who would sit down and dig. At last he has
received an impetus from Richmond, instead of Washington, and he
has moved at a lively pace, but to the rear. His men were as brave
as men could be; and if the courage shown on the retreat, or change
of base, as some call it, had been manifested in an advance, weeks
ago, Richmond would have been ours. The 'change of base' has carried
us well away from the point attacked, brave men have suffered and
died in vain, and the future is so clouded that only one thing is
certain."

"What is that, papa?" was the anxious query.

"We must never give up. We must realize that we are confronting
some of the best soldiers and generals the world has known. The
North is only half awake to its danger and the magnitude of its task.
We have sent out comparatively few of our men to do a disagreeable
duty for us, while we take life comfortably and luxuriously as
before. The truth will come home to us soon, that we are engaged
in a life-and-death struggle."

"Papa, these events will bring no changes to you? In your work, I
mean?"

"Not at present. I truly believe, Marian, that I can serve my country
more effectively in the performance of the duties with which I am
now charged. But who can tell what a day will bring forth? Lane is
going to the front. He will tell you all about it. He is a manly
fellow, and no doubt will explain why you have not heard from him."

"Real life has come in very truth," thought Marian, as she went to
her room to prepare for dinner; "but on every side it also brings
the thought of death."

Her face was pale, and clouded with apprehension, when she joined
the gentlemen; but Lane was so genial and entertaining at dinner
as to make it difficult for her to believe that he had resolved on
a step so fraught with risk. When at last they were alone in the
drawing-room she said, "Is it true that you intend to enter the
army?"

"Yes, and it is time that it was true," was his smiling reply.

"I don't feel like laughing, Mr. Lane. Going to Virginia does not
strike me as a pleasure excursion. I have thought a great deal
since I saw you last. You certainly have kept your promise to be
a distant and absent friend."

He looked at her eagerly, as he said, "You have thought a great
deal - have you thought about me?"

"Certainly," she replied, with a slight flush; "I meant all that
I said that evening."

That little emphasized word dispelled the hope that had for a moment
asserted itself. Time and a better acquaintance with her own heart
had not brought any change of feeling to her, and after a moment
he said, quietly: "I think I can prove that I have been a sincere
and loyal friend as well as an absent one. Having never felt - well,
you cannot know - it takes a little time for a fellow to - pardon
me; let all that go. I have tried to gain self-control, and I have
obeyed your request, to do nothing rash, literally. I remained
steadily at work in my office a certain number of hours every
day. If the general hope that Richmond would be taken, and the war
practically ended, had proved well founded, for the sake of others
I should have resisted my inclination to take part in the struggle.
I soon concluded, however, that it would be just as well to prepare
for what has taken place, and so gave part of my afternoons and
evenings to a little useful training. I am naturally very fond
of a horse, and resolved that if I went at all it should be as a
cavalry-man, so I have been giving not a little of my time to horseback
exercise, sabre, pistol, and carbine practice, and shall not be
quite so awkward as some of the other raw recruits. I construed
McClellan's retreat into an order for me to advance, and have come
to you as soon as I could to report progress."

"Why could you not have come before? - why could you not have told
me?" she asked, a little reproachfully.

"Some day perhaps you will know," he replied, turning away for a
moment.

"I feared that maturer thought had convinced you that I could not
be much of a friend, - that I was only a gay young girl who wouldn't
appreciate an earnest man's purposes."

"Miss Marian, you wrong me in thinking that I could so wrong you.
Never for a moment have I entertained such a thought. I can't explain
to you all my experience. I wished to be more sure of myself, to
have something definite to tell you, that would prove me more worthy
of your friendship."

"My faith in you has never faltered a moment, Mr. Lane. While your
words make me proud indeed, they also make me very sad. I don't
wonder that you feel as you do about going, and were I a man
I should probably take the same course. But I am learning at last
what this war means. I can't with a light heart see my friends go."

"Let it be with a brave heart, then. There are tears in your eyes,
Miss Marian."

"Why should there not be? O Mr. Lane, I am not coldhearted and
callous. I am not so silly and shallow as I seemed."

"I never thought you so - "

By a gesture she stopped him, as she continued: "I recognized the
expression on papa's face and yours the moment I saw you, and I
know what it means."

"Yes, Miss Marian; and I recognize the expression on your face.
Were you a man you would have gone before this."

"I think it would be easier to go than to stay and think of all
one's friends must face."

"Of course it would be for one like you. You must not look on the
dark side, however. You will scarcely find a jollier set of men
than our soldiers."

"I fear too many are reckless. This you have promised me not to
be."

"I shall keep my promise; but a soldier must obey orders, you know.
O Miss Marian, it makes such a difference with me to know that you
care so much! Knowing you as I do now, it would seem like black
treason to do or be anything unmanly."

Callers were now announced, and before an hour had passed there
were half a dozen or more young men in the drawing-room. Some were
staying at the hotel, but the majority were from the villas in the
neighborhood, the holiday season permitting the return of those
in business. However dark and crimson might be the tide of thought
that flowed through the minds of those present, in memory of what
had occurred during the last few days, the light of mirth played
on the surface. The times afforded themes for jest, rather than
doleful predictions. Indeed, in accordance with a principle in human
nature, there was a tendency to disguise feelings and anxiety by
words so light as to border on recklessness. Questions as to future
action were coming home to all the young men, but not for the world
would they permit one another, or especially a spirited young girl,
to suspect that they were awed, or made more serious even, by the
thought that the battle was drawing nearer to them. Lane was a
leader in the gayety. His presence was regarded by some with both
surprise and surmise. It had been thought that he had disappeared
finally below Miss Vosburgh's horizon, but his animated face and
manner gave no indication of a rejected and despondent suitor.

The mirth was at its height when Strahan entered, dressed plainly
in the uniform of a second lieutenant. He was greeted with a shout
of laughter by the young men, who knew him well, and by a cordial
pressure from Marian's hand. This made the gauntlet which he knew
he must run of little consequence to him. All except Lane drew up
and gave him a military salute.


"Pretty fair for the awkward squad," he remarked, coolly.

"Come, report, report," cried several voices; "where have you been?"

"In Virginia."

"Why, of course, fellows, he's been arranging the change of base
with McClellan, only the army went south and he came north."

"I've been farther south than any of you."

"See here, Strahan, this uniform is rather new for a veteran's."

"Yes; never dealt in old clothes."

"Where's your command?"

"Here, if you'll all enlist. I think I could make soldiers of some
of you."

"Why, fellows, what a chance for us! If Strahan can't teach us the
etiquette of war, who can?"

"Yes, gentlemen; and I will give you the first rule in advance.
Always face the music."

"Dance music, you mean. Strahan has been at West Point and knows
that a fellow in civilian togs stands no chance. How he eclipses
us all to-night with the insignia of rank on his shoulders! Where
will you make headquarters?"

"At home, for the present."

"That's right. We knew you would hit upon the true theory
of campaigning. Never was there a better strategic point for your
operations, Strahan, than the banks of the Hudson."

"I shall try to prove you right. A recruiting sergeant will join
me in a day or two, and then I can accommodate you all with muskets."

"All? Not Miss Marian?"

"Those possessing her rank and influence do not carry muskets."

"Come, fellows, let us celebrate the 4th by enlisting under Strahan,"
cried the chief spokesman, who was not a very friendly neighbor of
the young officer. "It won't be long before we shall know all the
gossip of the Confederacy."

"You will certainly have to approach near enough to receive some
very direct news."

"Gentlemen," cried Marian, "a truce! Mr. Strahan has proved that
he can face a hot fire, and send back good shots, even when greatly
outnumbered. I have such faith in him that I have already given him
my colors. You may take my word for it that he will render a good
account of himself. I am now eager to hear of his adventures."

"I haven't had any, Miss Marian. What I said about Virginia was
mere bluff, - merely made an excursion or two on the Virginia side
of the Potomac, out of curiosity."

"But what does this uniform mean?"

"Merely what it suggests. I went to Washington, which is a great
camp, you know. Through relatives I had some influence there, and
at last obtained a commission at the bottom of the ladder in a new
regiment that is to be recruited. Meanwhile I was put through the
manual of arms, with a lot of other awkward fellows, by a drill
officer. I kept shady and told my people to be mum until something
came out of it all. Come, fellows, thirteen dollars a month, hard
tack, and glory! Don't all speak at once!"

"I'm with you as far as going is concerned," said Lane, shaking
Strahan's hand warmly, "only I've decided on the cavalry."

"Were I a man, you should have one recruit for your regiment to-night,"
said Marian. "You have gone to work in a way that inspires confidence."

"I foresee, fellows, that we shall all have to go, or else Miss
Marian will cross us out of her books," remarked one of the young
men.

"No, indeed," she replied. "I would not dare urge any one to go.
But those who, like Mr. Lane and Mr. Strahan, decide the question
for themselves, cannot fail to carry my admiration with them."

"That's the loudest bugle call I expect to hear," remarked Mr.
Blauvelt, who entered at that moment.

"Here's the place to open your recruiting-office," added another,
laughing. "If Miss Marian would be free with her colors, she could
raise a brigade."

"I can assure you beforehand that I shall not be free with them;
much less will I hold them out as an inducement. Slight as may be
their value, they must be earned."

"What chivalrous deed has Strahan performed?" was asked, in chorus.

"One that I appreciate, and I don't give my faith lightly,"

"Mr. Strahan, I congratulate you," said Lane, with a swift and
somewhat reproachful glance at Marian; "you have already achieved
your best laurels."

"I've received them, but not earned them yet. Miss Marian gives a
fellow a good send-off, however, and time will tell the story with
us all. I must now bid you good-evening," he said to the young
girl. "I merely stopped for a few moments on my way from the train."

She followed him to the door, and said, sotto voce: "You held your
own splendidly. Your first report is more than satisfactory;" and
he departed happier than any major-general in the service.

When the rest had gone, Lane, who had persistently lingered, began:
"No doubt it will appear absurd to you that a friend should be
jealous. But Strahan seems to have won the chief honors."

"Perhaps he has deserved them, Mr. Lane. I know what your opinion
of him was, and I think you guessed mine. He has won the chief battle
of life, - victory over himself. Ever since I have known you, you
have inspired my respect as a strong, resolute man. In resolving
upon what you would do instinctively Mr. Strahan has had such a
struggle that he has touched my sympathies. One cannot help feeling
differently toward different friends, you know. Were I in trouble,
I should feel that I could lean upon you. To encourage and sustain
would always be my first impulse with Mr. Strahan. Are you content?"

"I should try to be, had I your colors also."

"Oh, I only gave him a rose. Do you want one?"

"Certainly."

"Well, now you are even," she said, laughing, and handing him one
of those she wore.

He looked at it thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, quietly:
"Some would despise this kind of thing as the merest sentiment.
With others it would influence the sternest action and the supreme
moments of life."






CHAPTER X.

WILLARD MERWYN.





DURING her drives Marian had often passed the entrance to one of
the finest old places in the vicinity, and, although aware that the
family was absent in Europe, she had observed that the fact made
no difference in the scrupulous care of that portion of the grounds
which was visible. The vista from the road, however, was soon lost
among the boles and branches of immense overshadowing oaks. Even to
the passer-by an impression of seclusion and exclusion was given,
and Marian at last noted that no reference was made to the family
in the social exchanges of her little drawing-room. The dwelling
to which the rather stiff and stately entrance led was not visible
from the car-windows as she passed to and from the city, so abrupt
was the intervening bluff, but upon one occasion from the deck of
a steamboat she had caught glimpses through the trees of a large
and substantial brick edifice.

Before Strahan had disappeared for a time, as we have related, her
slight curiosity had so far asserted itself that she had asked for
information concerning the people who left their beautiful home
untenanted in June.

"I fancy I can tell you more about them than most people in this
vicinity, but that is not so very much. The place adjoins ours,
and as a boy I fished and hunted with Willard Merwyn a good deal.
Mrs. Merwyn is a widow and a Southern-bred woman. A Northern man
of large wealth married her, and then she took her revenge on the
rest of the North by having as little to do with it as possible.
She was said to own a large property in the South, - plantation,
negroes, and all that. The place on the Hudson belonged to the
Merwyn side of the house, and the family have only spent a few
summers here and have been exclusive and unpopular. My mother made
their acquaintance abroad, and they knew it would be absurd to put
on airs with us; so the ladies of the two families have exchanged
more or less formal visits, but in the main they have little to do
with the society of this region. As boys Willard and myself did not
care a fig for these things, and became very good friends. I have
not seen him for several years; they have all been abroad; and I
hear that he has become an awful swell."

"Why then, if he ever returns, you and he will be good friends
again," Marian had laughingly replied and had at once dismissed
the exclusive Merwyns from her mind.

On the morning of the 4th of July Strahan had come over to have a
quiet talk with Marian, and had found Mr. Lane there before him.
By feminine tactics peculiarly her own, Marian had given them to
understand that both were on much the same footing, and that their
united presence did not form "a crowd;" and the young men, having
a common ground of purpose and motive, were soon at ease together,
and talked over personal and military matters with entire freedom,
amusing the young girl with accounts of their awkwardness in drill
and of the scenes they had witnessed. She was proud indeed of her
two knights, as she mentally characterized them, - so different,
yet both now inspiring a genuine liking and respect. She saw that
her honest goodwill and admiration were evoking their best manhood
and giving them as much happiness as she would ever have the power
to bestow, and she felt that her scheme of life was not a false



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 7 of 37)