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As he strode along in the sunshine his oath weighed upon him no
more than if he had promised not to go out in his sail-boat that
day.

At last, after surmounting a rather steep hill, he threw himself
on the grass under the shade of a tree. "It's going to be awfully
slow and stupid here," he muttered, "and it will be a month or
two before we can return. I hoped to be back in time to join the
Montagues in climbing Mont Blanc, and here I am tied up between
these mole-hill mountains and city law-offices. How shall I ever
get through with the time?"

A pony-phaeton, containing two ladies, appeared at the foot of
the hill and slowly approached. His eyes rested on it in languid
indifference, but, as it drew nearer, the younger of the two ladies
fixed his attention. Her charming summer costume at first satisfied
his taste, and, as her features became distinct, he was surprised
at their beauty, as he thought at first; but he soon felt that
animation redeemed the face from mere prettiness. The young girl
was talking earnestly, but a sudden movement of the horse caused
her to glance toward the road-side, and she encountered the dark
eyes of a stranger. Her words ceased instantly. A slight frown
contracted her brow, and, touching her horse with her whip, she
passed on rapidly.

"By Jove! Strahan is right. If I have many such countrywomen in
the neighborhood, I ought to find amusement."

He rose and sauntered after the phaeton, and saw that it turned in
at a pretty little cottage, embowered in vines and trees. Making a
mental note of the locality, he bent his steps in another direction,
laughing as he thought: "From that one glance I am sure that those
blue eyes will kindle more than one fellow before they are quenched.
I wonder if Strahan knows her. Well, here, perhaps, is a chance
for a summer lark. If Strahan is enamored I'd like to cut him out,
for by all the fiends of dulness I must find something to do."

Strahan had accepted an invitation to lunch at the Vosburghs' that
day, and arrived, hot and flushed, from his second morning's drill.

"Well!" he exclaimed, "I've seen the great Mogul."

"I believe I have also," replied Marian. "Has he not short and
slightly curly hair, dark eyes, and an impudent stare?"

"I don't recognize the 'stare' exactly. Merwyn is polite enough
in his way, and confound his way! But the rest of your description
tallies. Where did you see him?"

She explained.

"That was he, accomplishing his usual day's work. O ye dogs of war!
how I would like to have him in my squad one of these July days!
Miss Marian, I'd wear your shoe-tie in my cap the rest of my life,
if you would humble that fellow and make him feel that he never
spoke to a titled lady abroad who had not her equal in some American
girl. It just enrages me to see a New-York man, no better born than
myself, putting on such superior and indifferent airs. If he'd come
to me and say, 'Strahan, I'm a rebel, I'm going to fight and kill
you if I can,' I'd shake hands with him as I did not to-day. I'd
treat him like a jolly, square fellow, until we came face to face
in a fair fight, and then - the fortune of war. As it was, I felt
like taking him by the collar and shaking him out of his languid
grace. He told me to mind my own business so politely that I
couldn't take offence, although he gave scarcely any other reason
than that he proposed to mind his. When I met his Southern mother
on the piazza, she looked at me in my uniform at first as if I had
been a toad. They are rebels at heart, and yet they stand aloof and
sneer at the North, from which they derive protection and revenue.
I made his eyes flash once though," chuckled the young fellow in
conclusion.

Marian laughed heartily as she said: "Mr. Strahan, if you fight
as well as you talk, I foresee Southern reverses. You have no idea
how your indignation becomes you. 'As well-born,' did you say? Why,
my good friend, you are worth a wilderness of such lackadaisical
fellows. Ciphers don't count unless they stand after a significant
figure; neither do such men, unless stronger men use them."

"Your arithmetic is at fault, Miss Marian. Ciphers do have the
power of pushing a significant figure way back to the right of
the decimal point, and, as a practical fact, these elegant human
ciphers usually stand before good men and true in society. I don't
believe it would be so with you, but few of us would stand a chance
with most girls should this rich American, with his foreign airs
and graces, enter the lists against us."

In her sincerity and earnestness, she took his hand and said: "I
thank you for your tribute. You are right. Though this person had
the wealth of the Indies, and every external grace, he could not be
my friend unless he were a MAN. I've talked with papa a good deal,
and believe there are men in the Southern army just as honest and
patriotic as you are; but no cold-blooded, selfish betwixt-and-betweens
shall ever take my hand."

"Make me a promise," cried Strahan, giving the hand he held a hearty
and an approving shake.

"Well?"

"If opportunity offers, make this fellow bite the dust."

"We'll see about that. I may not think it worth the while, and I
certainly shall not compromise myself in the slightest degree."

"But if I bring him here you will be polite to him?"

"Just about as polite as he was to you, I imagine."

"Miss Marian, I wouldn't have any harm come to you for the wide
world. If - if anything should turn out amiss I'd shoot him, I
certainly would."

The girl's only answer was a merry peal of laughter.






CHAPTER XII.

"A VOW."





BENT, as was Strahan, upon his scheme of disturbing Merwyn's pride
and indifference, he resolved to permit several days to pass before
repeating his call. He also, as well as Marian, was unwilling
to compromise himself beyond a certain point, and it was his hope
that he might receive a speedy visit. He was not disappointed, for
on the ensuing day Merwyn sauntered up the Strahan avenue, and,
learning that the young officer had gone to camp, followed him
thither. The cold glance from the fair stranger in the phaeton dwelt
in his memory, and he was pleased to find that it formed sufficient
incentive to action.

Strahan saw him coming with a grim smile, but greeted him with
off-hand cordiality. "Sorry, Merwyn," he said, "I can give you only
a few moments before I go on duty."

"You are not on duty evenings?"

"Yes, every other evening."

"How about to-night?"

"At your service."

"Are you acquainted with the people who reside at a cottage - " and
he described Marian's abode.

"Yes."

"Who are they?"

"Mr. Vosburgh has rented the place as a summer residence for his
family. His wife and daughter are there usually, and he comes when
he can.

"And the daughter's name?"

"Miss Marian Vosburgh."

"Will you introduce me to her?"

"Certainly."

"I sha'n't be poaching on your grounds, shall I?"

"Miss Vosburgh honors me with her friendship, - nothing more."

"Is it so great an honor?"

"I esteem it as such."

"Who are they, anyway?"

"Well, as a family I regard them as my equals, and Miss Marian as
my superior."

"Oh come, Strahan, gossip about them a little."

The officer burst out laughing. "Well," he said, "for a man of your
phenomenal reticence you are asking a good many questions."

Merwyn colored slightly and blundered: "You know my motive, Strahan;
one does not care to make acquaintances that are not quite - " and
then the expression of his host's eyes checked him.

"I assure you the Vosburghs are 'QUITE,'" Strahan said, coldly. "Did
I not say they were my equals? You may esteem yourself fortunate
if Miss Vosburgh ever permits you to feel yourself to be her equal."

"Why, how so?" a little irritably.

"Because if a man has brains and discernment the more he sees of
her the more will he be inclined to doubt his equality."

Merwyn smiled in a rather superior way, and, with a light laugh,
said: "I understand, Strahan. A man in your plight ought to feel
in that way; at least, it is natural that he should. Now see here,
old fellow, I'll keep aloof if you say so."

"Why should you? You have seen few society queens abroad who
received so much and so varied homage as Miss Vosburgh. There are
half a dozen fellows there, more or less, every evening, and you
can take your chances among them."

"Oh, she's a bit of a coquette, then?"

"You must discover for yourself what she is," said the young man,
buckling on his sword. "She has my entire respect."

"You quite pique my curiosity. I'll drive in for you this evening."

At the hour appointed, Strahan, in civilian's dress, stepped into
Merwyn's carriage and was driven rapidly to the cottage. Throwing
the reins to a footman, the young fellow followed the officer with a
confidence not altogether well founded, as he soon learned. Many
guests were present, and Lane was among them. When Merwyn was
presented Marian was observed to bow merely and not give her hand,
as was her custom when a friend of hers introduced a friend. Some
of the residents in the vicinity exchanged significant smiles
when they saw that the fastidious and exclusive Willard Merwyn had
joined their circle. Mrs. Vosburgh, who was helping to entertain
the guests, recognized nothing in his presence beyond a new social
triumph for her daughter, and was very gracious. To her offices,
as hostess, he found himself chiefly relegated for a time.

This suited him exactly, since it gave him a chance for observation;
and certainly the little drawing-room, with its refined freedom,
was a revelation to him. Conversation, repartee, and jest were
unrestrained. While Lane was as gay as any present, Merwyn was
made to feel that he was no ordinary man, and it soon came out in
the natural flow of talk that he, too, was in the service. Merwyn
was introduced also to a captain of the regular army, and, whatever
he might think of these people, he instinctively felt that they
would no more permit themselves to be patronized than would the sons
of noble houses abroad. Indeed, he was much too adroit to attempt
anything of the kind, and, with well-bred ease, made himself at
home among them in general conversation.

Meanwhile, he watched Marian with increasing curiosity. To him she
was a new and very interesting type. He had seen no such vivacity
and freedom abroad, and his experience led him to misunderstand
her. "She is of the genus American girl, middle class," he thought,
"who, by her beauty and the unconventionality of her drawing-room,
has become a quasi-belle. None of these men would think of marrying
her, unless it is little Strahan, and he wouldn't five years hence.
Yet she is piquant and fascinating after her style, a word and a
jest for each and all, and spoken with a sort of good-comradeship,
rather than with an if-you-please-sir air. I must admit, however,
that there is nothing loud in tone, word, or manner. She is as
delicate and refined as her own beauty, and, although this rather
florid mamma is present as chaperon, the scene and the actors are
peculiarly American. Well, I owe Strahan a good turn. I can amuse
myself with this girl without scruple."

At last he found an opportunity to say, "We have met once before,
I believe, Miss Vosburgh."

"Met? Where?"

"Where I was inclined to go to sleep, and you gave me such a charming
frown that I awakened immediately and took a long ramble."

"I saw a person stretched at lazy length under the trees yesterday.
You know the horror ladies have of intoxicated men on the road-side."

"Was that the impression I made? Thanks."

"The impression made was that we had better pass as quickly as
possible."

"You made a very different impression. Thanks to Strahan I am here
this evening in consequence, and am delighted that I came."

"'Delighted' is a strong word, Mr. Merwyn. Now that we are speaking
of impressions, mine is that years have elapsed since you were
greatly delighted at anything."

"What gives you such an impression?"

"Women can never account for their intuitions."

"Women? Do not use such an elderly word in regard to one appearing
as if just entering girlhood."

"O Mr. Merwyn! have you not learned abroad that girls of my age
are elderly indeed compared with men of yours?"

He bit his lip. "English girls are not so - "

"Fast?"

"I didn't say that. They certainly have not the vivacity and
fascination that I am discovering in your drawing-room."

"Why, Mr. Merwyn! one would think you had come to America on a voyage
of discovery, and were surprised at the first thing you saw."

"I think I could show you things abroad that would interest you."

"All Europe could not tempt me to go abroad at this time. In your
estimation I am not even a woman, - only a girl, and yet I have enough
girlhood to wish to take my little part in the events of the day."

He colored, but asked, quietly, "What part are you taking?"

"Such questions," she replied, with a merry, half-mocking flash of
her eyes, "I answer by deeds. There are those who know;" and then,
being addressed by Mr. Lane, she turned away, leaving him with
confused, but more decided sensations than he had known for a long
time.

His first impulse was to leave the house, but this course would
only subject him to ridicule on the part of those who remained.
After a moment or two of reflection he remembered that she had not
invited him, and that she had said nothing essentially rude. He had
merely chosen to occupy a position in regard to his country that
differed radically from hers, and she had done little more than
define her position.

"She is a Northern, as mamma is a Southern fanatic, with the
difference that she is a young, effervescing creature, bubbling
over with the excitement of the times," he thought. "That fellow in
uniform, and the society of men like Strahan and Lane, haye turned
her head, and she has not seen enough of life to comprehend a man
of the world. What do I care for her, or any here? Her briery talk
should only amuse me. When she learns more about who I am and what
I possess she will be inclined to imitate her discreet mamma and
think of the main chance; meanwhile I escape a summer's dulness
and ennui;" and so he philosophically continued his observations
and chatted with Mrs. Vosburgh and others until, with Strahan, he
took his departure, receiving from Marian a bow merely, while to
Strahan she gave her hand cordially.

"You seem to be decidedly in Miss Vosburgh's good graces," said
Merwyn, as they drove away.

"I told you she was my friend."

"Is it very difficult to become her friend?"

"Well, that depends. You should not find it difficult, since you
are so greatly my superior."

"Oh, come, Strahan."

"Pardon me, I forgot I was to express only my own thoughts, not
yours."

"You don't know my thoughts or circumstances. Come now, let us be
good comrades. I will begin by thanking you cordially for introducing me
to a charming young girl. I am sure I put on no airs this evening."

"They would not have been politic, Merwyn, and, for the life of
me, I can see no reason for them."

"Very well. Therefore you didn't see any. How like old times we
are! We were always together, yet always sparring a little."

"You must take us as we are in these times," said Strahan, with a
light laugh, for he felt it would jeopardize his scheme, or hope
rather, if he were too brusque with his companion. "You see it is
hard for us to understand your cosmopolitan indifference. American
feeling just now is rather tense on both sides of the line, and if
you will recognize the fact you will understand us better."

"I think I am already aware of the fact. If Miss Vosburgh were of
our sex you would soon have another recruit."

"I'd soon have a superior officer, you mean."

"I fancy you are rather under her thumb already."

"It's a difficult position to attain, I assure you."

"How so?"

"I have observed that, towards a good many, Miss Vosburgh is quite
your equal in indifference."

"I like her all the better for that fact."

"So do I."

"How is it that you are so favored?"

"No doubt it seems strange to you. Mere caprice on her part,
probably."

"You misunderstand me. I would like to learn your tactics."

"Jove! I'd like to teach you. Come down to-morrow and I'll give
you a musket."

"You are incorrigible, Strahan. Do you mean that her good-will can
be won only at the point of the bayonet?"

"No one coached me. Surely you have not so neglected your education
abroad that you do not know how to win a lady's favor."

"You are a neutral, indeed."

"I wouldn't aid my own brother in a case of this kind."

"You are right; in matters of this kind it is every one for himself.
You offered to show me, a stranger, some attention, you know."

"Yes, Merwyn, and I'll keep my word. I will give you just as good
courtesy as I receive. The formalities have been complied with and
you are acquainted with Miss Vosburgh. You have exactly the same
vantage that I had at the start, and you certainly cannot wish for
more. If you wish for further introductions, count on me."

Merwyn parted from his plain-spoken companion, well content.
Strahan's promise to return all the courtesy he received left a
variable standard in Merwyn's hands that he could employ according
to circumstances or inclination. He was satisfied that his neighbor,
in accordance with a trait very common to young men, cherished for
Miss Vosburgh a chivalric and sentimental regard at which he would
smile when he became older. Merwyn, however, had a certain sense
of honor, and would not have attempted deliberately to supplant one
to whom he felt that he owed loyalty. His mind having been relieved
of all scruples of this character, he looked forward complacently
to the prospect of winning - what? He did not trouble himself to define
the kind of regard he hoped to inspire. The immediate purpose to
kill time, that must intervene before he could return to England,
was sufficient. There was promise of occupation, mild excitement,
and an amusing triumph, in becoming the foremost figure in Marian's
drawing-room.

There is scarcely need to dwell upon the events of a few subsequent
weeks and the gradual changes that were taking place. Life with
its small vicissitudes rarely results from deliberate action.
Circumstances, from day to day, color and shape it; yet beneath
the rippling, changing surface a great tide may be rising. Strahan
was succeeding fairly well in his recruiting service, and, making
allowances for his previous history, was proving an efficient
officer. Marian was a loyal, steadfast friend, reprimanding with
mirthful seriousness at times, and speaking earnest and encouraging
words at others. After all, the mercurial young fellow daily won her
increased respect and esteem. He had been promoted to a captaincy,
and such was the response of the loyal North, during that dreary
summer of disaster and confused counsels, that his company was nearly
full, and he was daily expecting orders for departure. His drill
ground had become the occasional morning resort of his friends, and
each day gave evidence of improved soldierly bearing in his men.

Merwyn thus far had characteristically carried out his plans to
"kill time." Thoroughly convinced of his comparative superiority,
he had been good-naturedly tolerant of the slow recognition accorded
to it by Marian. Yet he believed he was making progress, and the
fact that her favor was hard to win was only the more incitement.
If she had shown early and decided preference his occupation would
have been gone; for what could he have done in those initiatory
weeks of their acquaintance if her eyes and tones had said, "I am
ready to take you and your wealth"? The attitude she maintained,
although little understood, awakened a kind of respect, while the
barriers she quietly interposed aroused a keener desire to surmount
them. By hauteur and reserve at times he had made those with whom
he associated feel that his position in regard to the civil conflict
was his own affair. Even Marian avoided the subject when talking
with him, and her mother never thought of mentioning it. Indeed,
that thrifty lady would have been rather too encouraging had not
her daughter taken pains to check such a spirit. At the same time
the young girl made it emphatically understood that discussion of
the events of the war should be just as free when he was present
as when he was absent.

Yet in a certain sense he was making progress, in that he awakened
anger on her part, rather than indifference. If she was a new type
to him so was he to her, and she found her thoughts reverting to him
in hostile analysis of his motives and character. She had received
too much sincere homage and devotion not to detect something cynical
and hollow in his earlier attentions. She had seen glances toward
her mother, and had caught in his tones an estimate which, however
true, incensed her greatly. Her old traits began to assert themselves,
and gradually her will accorded with Strahan's hope. If, without
compromising herself, she could humble this man, bringing him to
her feet and dismissing him with a rather scornful refusal, such an
exertion of power would give her much satisfaction. Yet her pride,
as well as her principle, led her to determine that he should sue
without having received any misleading favor on her part.

Merwyn had never proposed to sue at all, except in the way of
conventional gallantry. For his own amusement he had resolved to
become her most intimate and familiar friend, and then it would
be time to go abroad. If false hopes were raised it would not much
matter; Strahan or some one else would console her. He admitted
that his progress was slow, and her reserve hard to combat. She
would neither drive nor sail with him unless she formed one of a
party. Still in this respect he was on the same footing with her
best friends. One thing did trouble him, however; she had never
given him her hand, either in greeting or in parting.

At last he brought about an explanation that disturbed his equanimity
not a little. He had called in the morning, and she had chatted
charmingly with him on impersonal matters, pleasing him by her
intelligent and gracefully spoken ideas on the topics broached.
As a society girl she met him on this neutral ground without the
slightest restraint or embarrassment. As he also talked well she had
no scruple in enjoying a pleasure unsought by herself, especially
as it might lead to the punishment which she felt that he deserved.
Smilingly she had assured herself, when he was announced, "If he's
a rebel at heart, as I've been told, I've met the enemy before
either Mr. Lane or Mr. Strahan."

When Merwyn rose to take his leave he held out his hand and said:
"I shall be absent two or three days. In saying good-by won't you
shake hands?"

She laughingly put her hands behind her back and said, "I can't."

"Will not, you mean?"

"No, I cannot. I've made a vow to give my hand only to my own
friends and those of my country."

"Do you look upon me as an enemy?"

"Oh, no, indeed."

"Then not as a friend?"

"Why, certainly not, Mr. Merwyn. You know that you are not my
friend. What does the word mean?"

"Well," said he, flushing, "what does it mean?"

"Nothing more to me than to any other sincere person. One uses
downright sincerity with a friend, and would rather harm himself
than that friend."

"Why is not this my attitude towards you?"

"You, naturally, should know better than I."

"Indeed, Miss Vosburgh, you little know the admiration you have
excited," he said, gallantly.

An inscrutable smile was her only response.

"That, however, has become like the air you breathe, no doubt."

"Not at all. I prize admiration. What woman does not? But there
are as many kinds of admiration as there are donors."

"Am I to infer that mine is of a valueless nature?"

"Ask yourself, Mr. Merwyn, just what it is worth."

"It is greater than I have ever bestowed upon any one else," he
said, hastily; for this tilt was disturbing his self-possession.

Again she smiled, and her thought was, "Except yourself."

He, thinking her smile incredulous, resumed: "You doubt this?"

"I cannot help thinking that you are mistaken."

"How can I assure you that I am not?"

"I do not know. Why is it essential that I should be so assured?"

He felt that he was being worsted, and feared that she had detected
the absence of unselfish good-will and honest purpose toward her. He
was angry with himself and her because of the dilemma in which he



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 9 of 37)