Edward Payson Roe.

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one. They understood her fully, and knew that the time had passed
forever when she would amuse herself at their expense. She had
become an inspiration of manly endeavor, and had ceased to be the
object of a lover's pursuit. If half-recognized hopes lurked in
their hearts, the fulfilment of these must be left to time.

"By the way," remarked Strahan, as he was taking his leave, "I hear
that these long-absent Merwyns have deigned to return to their native
land, - for their own rather than their country's good though, I
fancy. I suppose Mrs. Merwyn feels that it is time she looked after
her property and maintained at least the semblance of loyalty. I
also hear that they have been hob-nobbing with the English aristocracy,
who look upon us Yankees as a 'blasted lot of cads, you know.'
Shall I bring young Merwyn over to see you after he arrives?"

"As you please," she replied, with an indifferent shrug.

Strahan had a half-formed scheme in his mind, but when he called
upon young Merwyn he was at first inclined to hesitate. Great as
was his confidence in Marian, he had some vaguely jealous fears,
more for the young girl than for himself, in subjecting her to the
influence of the man that his boyhood's friend had become.

Willard Merwyn was a "swell" in Strahan's vernacular, but even in
the early part of their interview he gave the impression of being
something more, or rather such a superior type of the "swell" genus,
that Marian's friend was conscious of a fear that the young girl
might be dazzled and interested, perhaps to her sorrow.

Merwyn had developed into a broad-shouldered man, nearly six feet
in height. His quiet, courteous elegance did not disguise from one
who had known him so well in boyhood an imperious, self-pleasing
nature, and a tenacity of purpose in carrying out his own desires.
He accepted of his quondam friend's uniform without remark. That
was Strahan's affair and not his, and by a polite reserve, he made
the mercurial fellow feel that his affairs were his own. Strahan
chafed under this polished reticence, this absence of all curiosity.

"Blast him!" thought the young officer, "he acts like a superior
being, who has deigned to visit America to look after his rents,
and intimates that the country has no further concern with him or
he with it. Jove! I'd give all the pay I ever expect to get to see
him a rejected suitor of my plucky little American girl;" and he
regarded his host with an ill-disposed eye. At last he resolved to
take the initiative boldly.

"How long do you expect to remain here, Merwyn?"

"I scarcely know. It depends somewhat on my mother's plans."

"Thunder! It's time you had plans of your own, especially when a
man has your length of limb and breadth of chest."

"I have not denied the possession of plans," Merwyn quietly remarked,
his dark eye following the curling, upward flight of smoke from
his cigar.

"You certainly used to be decided enough sometimes, when I wanted
you to pull an oar."

"And you so good-naturedly let me off," was the reply, with a slight

"I didn't let you off good-naturedly, nor do I intend to now. Good
heavens, Merwyn! don't you read the papers? There's a chance now
to take an oar to some purpose. You were brave enough as a boy."

Merwyn's eyes came down from the curling smoke to Strahan's face
with a flash, and he rose and paced the room for a moment, then
said, in his old quiet tones, "They say the child is father of the

"Oh well, Merwyn," was the slightly irritable rejoinder, "I have
and ever had, you remember, a way of expressing my thoughts. If,
while abroad, you have become intolerant of that trait, why, the
sooner we understand each other the better. I don't profess to be
anything more than an American, and I called to-day with no other
motive than the obvious and natural one."

A shade of annoyance passed over Merwyn's face, but as Strahan
ceased he came forward and held out his hand, saying: "I like you
all the better for speaking your thoughts, - for doing just as you
please. You must be equally fair and yield to me the privilege of
keeping my thoughts, and doing as I please."

Strahan felt that there was nothing to do but to take the proffered
hand, so irresistible was the constraint of his host's courtesy,
although felt to be without warmth or cordiality. Disguising his
inward protest by a light laugh he said: "I could shake hands with
almost any one on such a mutual understanding. Well, since we have
begun on the basis of such absolute frankness on my part, my next
thought is, What shall be our relations while you are here? I am a
busier fellow than I was at one time, and my stay is also uncertain,
and sure to be brief. I do not wish to be unneighborly in remembrance
of old times, nor do I wish to be obtrusive. In the natural order
of things, I should show you, a comparative stranger, some attention,
inform you about the natives and transient residents, help you
amuse yourself, and all that. But I have not the slightest desire
to make unwelcome advances. I have plenty of such in prospect south
of Mason and Dixon's line."

Merwyn laughed with some heartiness as he said: "You have attained
one attribute of a soldier assuredly, - bluntness. Positively,
Strahan, you have developed amazingly. Why, only the other day we
were boys squabbling to determine who should have the first shot
at an owl we saw in the mountains. The result was, the owl took
flight. You never gave in an inch to me then, and I liked you all
the better for it. Come now, be reasonable. I yield to you your
full right to be yourself; yield as much to me and let us begin
where we left off, with only the differences that years have made,
and we shall get on as well as ever."

"Agreed," said Strahan, promptly. "Now what can I do for you? I
have only certain hours at my disposal."

"Well," replied Merwyn, languidly, "come and see me when you can,
and I'll walk over to your quarters - I suppose I should so call
them - and have a smoke with you occasionally. I expect to be awfully
dull here, but between the river and the mountains I shall have

"You propose to ignore society then?"

"Why say 'ignore'? That implies a conscious act. Let us suppose
that society is as indifferent to me as I to it."

"There's a little stutterer down at the hotel who claims to be an
English lord."

"Bah, Strahan! I hope your sword is sharper than your satire. I've
had enough of English lords for the present."

"Yes, Merwyn, you appear to have had enough of most things, - perhaps
too much. If your countrymen are uninteresting, you may possibly
wish to meet some of your countrywomen. I've been abroad enough to
know that you have never found their superiors."

"Well, that depends upon who my countrywoman is. I should prefer
to see her before I intrude - "

"Risk being bored, you mean."

"As you please. Fie, Strahan! you are not cultivating a soldier's
penchant for women?"

"It hasn't needed any cultivating. I have my opinion of a man who
does not admire a fine woman."

"So have I, only each and all must define the adjective for

"It has been defined for me. Well, my time is up. We'll be two
friendly neutral powers, and, having marked out our positions, can
maintain our frontiers with diplomatic ease. Good-morning."

Merwyn laughingly accompanied his guest to the door, but on the
piazza, they met Mrs. Merwyn, who involuntarily frowned as she saw
Strahan's uniform, then with quiet elegance she greeted the young
man. But he had seen her expression, and was somewhat formal.

"We shall hope to see your mother and sisters before long," the
lady remarked.

Strahan bowed, and walked with military erectness down the avenue,
his host looking after him with cynical and slightly contemptuous
good-nature; but Mrs. Merwyn followed the receding figure with an
expression of great bitterness.

Her appearance was that of a remarkable woman. She was tall, and
slight; every motion was marked by grace, but it was the grace of
a person accustomed to command. One would never dream of woman's
ministry when looking at her. Far more than would ever be true of
Marian she suggested power, but she would govern through her will,
her pride and prejudices. The impress of early influences had sunk
deep into her character. The only child of a doting father, she
had ruled him, and, of course, the helpless slaves who had watched
her moods and trembled at her passion. There were scars on human
backs to-day, which were the results of orders from her girlish
lips. She was not greatly to blame. Born of a proud and imperious
ancestry, she had needed the lessons of self-restraint and gentleness
from infancy. Instead, she had been absolute, even in the nursery;
and as her horizon had widened it had revealed greater numbers to
whom her will was law. From childhood she had passed into maidenhood
with a dower of wealth and beauty, learning early, like Marian,
that many of her own race were willing to become her slaves.

In the South there is a chivalric deference to women far exceeding
that usually paid to the sex at the North, and her appearance,
temperament, and position evoked that element to the utmost. He
knows little of human nature who cannot guess the result. Yet, by
a common contradiction, the one among her many suitors who won such
love as she could give was a Northern man as proud as herself. He
stood alone in his manner of approach, made himself the object of
her thoughts by piquing her pride, and met her varying moods by
a quiet, unvarying dignity that compelled her respect. The result
was that she yielded to the first man who would not yield undue
deference to her.

Mr. Merwyn employed his power charily, however, or rather with
principle. He quietly insisted on his rights; but as he granted hers
without a word, and never irritated her by small, fussy exactions,
good-breeding prevented any serious clashing of wills, and their
married life had passed in comparative serenity. As time elapsed
her will began, in many ways, to defer to his quieter and stronger
will, and then, as if life must teach her that there is no true
control except self-control, Mr. Merwyn died, and left her mistress
of almost everything except herself.

It must not be supposed, however, that her self-will was a
passionate, moody absolutism. She had outgrown that, and was too
well-bred ever to show much temper. The tendency of her mature
purposes and prejudices was to crystallize into a few distinct
forms. With the feminine logic of a narrow mind, she made her husband
an exception to the people among whom he had been born and bred.
Widowed, she gave her whole heart to the South. Its institutions,
habits, and social code were sacred, and all opponents thereof
sacrilegious enemies. To that degree that they were hostile, or
even unbelieving, she hated them.

During the years immediately preceding the war she had been abroad
superintending the education of Willard and two younger daughters,
and when hostilities began she was led to believe that she could
serve the cause better in England than on her remote plantation.
In her fierce partisanship, or rather perverted patriotism, - for
in justice it must be said that she knew no other country than the
South, - she was willing to send her son to Richmond. He thwarted
this purpose by quietly manifesting one of his father's traits.

"No," he said, "I will not fight against the section to which my
father belonged. To my mind it's a wretched political squabble at
best, and the politicians will settle it before long. I have my
life before me, and don't propose to be knocked on the head for
the sake of a lot of political John Smiths, North or South."

In vain she tried to fire his heart with dreams of Southern empire.
He had made up that part of himself derived from Northern birth - his
mind - and would not yield. Meantime his Southern, indolent,
pleasure-loving side was appealed to powerfully by aristocratic
life abroad, and he felt it would be the sheerest folly to abandon
his favorite pursuits. He was little more then than a graceful
animal, shrewd enough to know that his property was chiefly at the
North, and that it would be unwise to endanger it.

Mrs. Merwyn's self-interest and natural affection led her to yield
to necessity with fairly good grace. The course resolved upon
by Willard preserved her son and the property. When the South
had accomplished its ambitious dreams she believed she would have
skill enough to place him high among its magnates, while, if he
were killed in one of the intervening battles, - well, she was loyal
enough to incur the risk, but at heart she did not deeply regret
that she had escaped the probable sacrifice.

Thus time passed on, and she used her social influence in behalf
of her section, but guardedly, lest she should jeopardize the
interests of her children. In May of the year in which our story
opened, the twenty-first birthday of Willard occurred, and was
celebrated with befitting circumstance. He took all this quietly,
but on the morning of the day following he said to his mother: -

"You remember the provisions of my father's will. My share of the
property was to be transferred to me when I should become of age.
We ought to return to New York at once and have the necessary papers
made out."

In vain she protested that the property was well managed, that the
income was received regularly, that he could have this, and that
it would be intensely disagreeable for her to visit New York. He,
who had yielded indifferently to all her little exactions, was
inexorable, and the proud, self-willed woman found that he had so
much law and reason on his side that she was compelled to submit.

Indeed, she at last felt that she had been unduly governed by her
prejudices, and that it might be wise to go and see for themselves
that their affairs were managed to the best advantage. Deep
in her heart was also the consciousness that it was her husband's
indomitable will that she was carrying out, and that she could
never escape from that will in any exigency where it could justly
make itself felt. She therefore required of her son the promise
that their visit should be as unobtrusive as possible, and that
he would return with her as soon as he had arranged matters to his
mind. To this he had readily agreed, and they were now in the land
for which the mother had only hate and the son indifference.



As Strahan disappeared in the winding of the avenue a sudden and
terrible thought occurred to Mrs. Merwyn. She glanced at her son,
who had walked to the farther end of the piazza, and stood for a
moment with his back towards her. His manly proportions made her
realize, as she had never done before, that he had attained his
majority, - that he was his own master. He had said he would not
fight against the North, but, as far as the South was concerned,
he had never committed himself. And then his terrible will!

She went to her room and thought. He was in a land seething with
excitement and patriotic fervor. She knew not what influences a
day might bring to bear upon him. Above all else she feared taunts
for lack of courage. She knew that her own passionate pride slept
in his breast and on a few occasions she had seen its manifestations.
As a rule he was too healthful, too well organized and indolent,
to be easily irritated, while in serious matters he had not been
crossed. She knew enough of life to be aware that his manhood had
never been awakened or even deeply moved, and she was eager indeed
to accomplish their mission in the States and return to conditions
of life not so electrical.

In the mean time she felt that she must use every precaution. She
summoned a maid and asked that her son should be sent to her.

The young man soon lounged in, and threw himself into an easy chair.

His mother looked at him fixedly for a moment, and then asked, "Why
is young Strahan in THAT uniform?"

"I didn't ask him," was the careless reply. "Obviously, however,
because he has entered the service in some capacity."

"Did he not suggest that it would be a very proper thing for you
to do, also?"

"Oh, of course. He wouldn't be Strahan if he hadn't. He has a high
appreciation of a 'little brief authority,' especially if vested in
himself. Believing himself to be so heroic he is inclined to call
others to account."

"I trust you have rated such vaporings at their worth."

"I have not rated them at all. What do I care for little Strahan
or his opinions? Nil."

"Shall you see much of him while we are compelled to remain in this
detestable land?"

"More of him than of any one else, probably. We were boys together,
and he amuses me. What is more to the point, if I make a Union officer
my associate I disarm hostile criticism and throw an additional
safeguard around my property. There is no telling to what desperate
straits the Northern authorities may be reduced, and I don't propose
to give them any grounds for confiscation."

"You are remarkably prudent, Willard, for a young man of Southern

"I am of Northern descent also," he replied, with a light laugh.
"Father was as strong a Northern man - so I imagine - as you are a
Southern woman, and so, by a natural law, I am neutral, brought to
a standstill by two equal and opposite forces."

The intense partisan looked at him with perplexity, and for a moment
felt a strange and almost superstitious belief in his words. Was
there a reciprocal relation of forces which would render her schemes
futile? She shared in the secret hopes and ambitions of the Southern
leaders. Had Northern and Southern blood so neutralized the heart
of this youth that he was indifferent to both sections? and had she,
by long residence abroad, and indulgence, made him so cosmopolitan
that he merely looked upon the world as "his oyster"? She was
not the first parent who, having failed to instil noble, natural
principles in childhood, is surprised and troubled at the outcome
of a mind developing under influences unknown or unheeded. That
the South would be triumphant she never doubted a moment. It would
not merely achieve independence, but also a power that would grow
like the vegetation of its genial climate, and extend until the
tapering Isthmus of Panama became the national boundary of the
empire. But what part would be taken by this strange son who seemed
equally endowed with graceful indolence and indomitable will? Were
his tireless strength and energy to accomplish nothing better than
the climbing of distant mountains? and would he maintain indifference
towards a struggle for a dominion beyond Oriental dreams? Physically
and mentally he seemed capable of doing what he chose; practically
he chose to do what he pleased from hour to hour. Amusing himself
with a languid, good-natured disregard of what he looked upon as
trivial affairs, he was like adamant the moment a supreme and just
advantage was his. He was her husband over agaim, with strange
differences. What could she do at the present moment but the thing
she proposed to do?

"Willard," she said, slowly, and in a voice that pierced his
indifference, "have you any regard for me?"

"Certainly. Have I shown any want of respect?"

"That is not the question at all. You are young, Willard, and you
live in the future. I live much in the past. My early home was in
the South, where my family, for generations, has been eminent. Is
it strange, then, that I should love that sunny land?"

"No, mamma."

"Well, all I ask at present is that you will promise me never,
under any motive, to take up arms against that land of my ancestors."

"I have not the slightest disposition to do so."

"Willard, what to-day is, is. Neither you nor I know what shall be
on the morrow. I never expected to marry a Northern man, yet I did
so; nor should I regret it if I consulted my heart only. He was
different from all his race. I did not foresee what was coming,
or I could have torn my heart out before involving myself in these
Northern complications. I cannot change the past, but I must provide
for the future. O Willard, to your eyes your Northern fortune seems
large. But a few years will pass before you will be shown what
a trifle it is compared with the prizes of power and wealth that
will be bestowed upon loyal Southerners. You have an ancestry, an
ability, that would naturally place you among the foremost. Terrible
as would be the sacrifice on my part, I could still give you my
blessing if you imitated young Strahan in one respect, and devoted
yourself heart, soul, and sword to our cause."

"The probable result would be that you and my sisters would
be penniless, I sleeping in mud, and living on junk and hoe-cake.
Another result, probable, only a little more remote, is that the
buzzards would pick my bones. Faugh! Oh, no. I've settled that
question, and it's a bore to think a question over twice. There
are thousands of Americans in Europe. Their wisdom suits me until
this tea-pot tempest is over. If any one doubts my courage I'll
prove it fast enough, but, if I had my way, the politicians, North
and South, should do their own fighting and starving."

"But, Willard, our leaders are not mere politicians. They are men
of grand, far-reaching schemes, and when their plans are accomplished,
they will attain regal power and wealth."

"Visions, mamma, visions. I have enough of my father's blood in
my veins to be able to look at both sides of a question. Strahan
asked me severely if I did not read the papers;" and he laughed
lightly. "Well, I do read them, at least enough of them to pick
out a few grains of truth from all the chaff. The North and South
have begun fighting like two bull-dogs, and it's just a question
which has the longer wind and the more endurance. The chances are
all in favor of the North. I shall not throw myself and property
away for the sake of a bare possibility. That's settled."

"Have you ice-water in your veins?" his mother asked, passionately.

"I have your blood, madam, and my father's, hence I am what I am."

"Well, then you must be a man of honor, of your word. Will you
promise never to take arms against the South?"

"I have told you I have no disposition to do so."

"The promise, then, can cost you little, and it will be a relief
to my mind."

"Oh, well, mamma, if it will make you feel any easier, I promise
with one exception. Both South and North must keep their hands off
the property my father gave me."

"If Southern leaders were dictating terms in New York City, as they
will, ere long, they would never touch your property."

"They had better not."

"You know what I mean, Willard. I ask you never to assume this
hated Northern uniform, or put your foot on Southern soil with a
hostile purpose."

"Yes, I can promise that."

"Swear it to me then, by your mother's honor and your father's

"Is not my word sufficient?"

"These things are sacred to me, and I wish them treated in a sacred
manner. If you will do this my mind will be at rest and I may be
able to do more for you in the future."

"To satisfy you, I swear never to put on the Northern uniform or
to enter the South with a hostile purpose."

She stepped forward and touched his forehead with her lips, as she
said: "The compact is sealed. Your oath is registered on earth and
in heaven. Your simple word as a man of honor will satisfy me as
to one other request. I wish you never to speak to any one of this
solemn covenant between us."

"I'm not in the habit of gossiping over family affairs," he replied,

"I know that, and also that your delicacy of feeling would keep
you from speaking of a matter so sacred to me. But I am older and
more experienced than you, and I shall feel safer if you promise.
You would not gossip about it, of course. You might refer to it
to some friend or to the woman who became your wife. I can foresee
complications which might make it better that it should be utterly
unknown. You little know how I dream and plan for you, and I only
ask you never to speak of this interview and its character to a
living soul."

"Certainly, mother, I can promise this. I should feel it small
business to babble about anything which you take so to heart. These
visions of empire occupy your mind and do no harm. I only hope you
will meet your disappointment philosophically. Good-by now till

"Poor mamma!" thought the young man, as he started out for a walk;
"she rails against Northern fanatics, forgetting that it is just
possible to be a little fanatical on the Southern side of the line."

Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 8 of 37)