Copyright
Edward Payson Roe.

Taken Alive online

. (page 15 of 26)
Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 15 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


done hitherto for his friend's discomfiture. Two or three children were
leaning over the young girl's chair, and she was amusing them by some
clever caricatures. She was not so interested, however, but that she
soon noted the new-comer, and bestowed upon him from time to time
curious and furtive glances. That these were not returned seemed to
occasion her some surprise, for she was not accustomed to be so utterly
ignored, even by a stranger. A little later Ackland saw her consulting
the hotel register.

"I have at least awakened her curiosity," he thought.

"I've been waiting for you to ask me who that pretty girl is," said
Mrs. Alton, laughing; "you do indeed exceed all men in indifference to
women."

"I know all about that girl," was the grim reply. "She has played the
very deuce with my friend Munson."

"Yes," replied Mrs. Alston, indignantly, "it was the most shameful
piece of coquetry I ever saw. She is a puzzle to me. To the children
and the old people in the house she is consideration and kindness
itself; but she appears to regard men of your years as legitimate game
and is perfectly remorseless. So beware! She is dangerous, invulnerable
as you imagine yourself to be. She will practice her wiles upon you if
you give her half a chance, and her art has much more than her pretty
face to enforce it. She is unusually clever."

Ackland's slight shrug was so contemptuous that his cousin was nettled,
and she thought, "I wish the girl could disturb his complacent
equanimity just a little. It vexes one to see a man so indifferent;
it's a slight to woman;" and she determined to give Miss Van Tyne the
vantage-ground of an introduction at the first opportunity.

And this occurred before the evening was over. To her surprise Ackland
entered into an extended conversation with the enemy. "Well," she
thought, "if he begins in this style there will soon be another victim.
Miss Van Tyne can talk to as bright a man as he is and hold her own.
Meanwhile she will assail him in a hundred covert ways. Out of regard
for his friend he should have shown some disapproval of her; but there
he sits quietly talking in the publicity of the parlor."

"Mrs. Alston," said a friend at her elbow, "you ought to forewarn your
cousin and tell him of Mr. Munson's fate."

"He knows all about Mr. Munson," was her reply. "Indeed, the latter is
his most intimate friend. I suppose my cousin is indulging in a little
natural curiosity concerning this destroyer of masculine peace, and if
ever a man could do so in safety he can."

"Why so?"

"Well, I never knew so unsusceptible a man. With the exception of a few
of his relatives, he has never cared for ladies' society."

Mrs. Alston was far astray in supposing that curiosity was Ackland's
motive in his rather prolonged conversation with Miss Van Tyne. It was
simply part of his tactics, for he proposed to waste no time in
skirmishing or in guarded and gradual approaches. He would cross
weapons at once, and secure his object by a sharp and aggressive
campaign. His object was to obtain immediately some idea of the calibre
of the girl's mind, and in this respect he was agreeably surprised, for
while giving little evidence of thorough education, she was unusually
intelligent and exceedingly quick in her perceptions. He soon learned
also that she was gifted with more than woman's customary intuition,
that she was watching his face closely for meanings that he might not
choose to express in words or else to conceal by his language. While he
feared that his task would be far more difficult than he expected, and
that he would have to be extremely guarded in order not to reveal his
design, he was glad to learn that the foe was worthy of his steel.
Meanwhile her ability and self-reliance banished all compunction. He
had no scruples in humbling the pride of a woman who was at once so
proud, so heartless, and so clever. Nor would the effort be wearisome,
for she had proved herself both amusing and interesting. He might enjoy
it quite as much as an intricate law case.

Even prejudiced Ackland, as he saw her occasionally on the following
day, was compelled to admit that she was more than pretty. Her features
were neither regular nor faultless. Her mouth was too large to be
perfect, and her nose was not Grecian; but her eyes were peculiarly
fine and illumined her face, whose chief charm lay in its power of
expression. If she chose, almost all her thoughts and feelings could
find their reflex there. The trouble was that she could as readily mask
her thought and express what she did not feel. Her eyes were of the
darkest blue and her hair seemed light in contrast. It was evident that
she had studied grace so thoroughly that her manner and carriage
appeared unstudied and natural. She never seemed self-conscious, and
yet no one had ever seen her in an ungainly posture or had known her to
make an awkward gesture. This grace, however, like a finished style in
writing, was tinged so strongly with her own individuality that it
appeared original as compared with the fashionable monotony which
characterized the manners of so many of her age. She could not have
been much more than twenty; and yet, as Mrs. Alston took pains to
inform her cousin, she had long been in society, adding, "Its homage is
her breath of life, and from all I hear your friend Munson has had many
predecessors. Be on your guard."

"Your solicitude in my behalf is quite touching," he replied. "Who is
this fair buccaneer that has made so many wrecks and exacts so heavy a
revenue from society? Who has the care of her and what are her
antecedents?"

"She is an orphan, and possessed, I am told, of considerable property
in her own name. A forceless, nerveless maiden aunt is about the only
antecedent we see much of. Her guardian has been here once or twice,
but practically she is independent."

Miss Van Tyne's efforts to learn something concerning Ackland were
apparently quite as casual and indifferent and yet were made with
utmost skill. She knew that Mrs. Alston's friend was something of a
gossip; and she led her to speak of the subject of her thoughts with an
indirect finesse that would have amused the young man exceedingly could
he have been an unobserved witness. When she learned that he was Mr.
Munson's intimate friend and that he was aware of her treatment of the
latter, she was somewhat disconcerted. One so forewarned might not
become an easy prey. But the additional fact that he was almost a
woman-hater put her upon her mettle at once, and she felt that here was
a chance for a conquest such as she had never made before. She now
believed that she had discovered the key to his indifference. He was
ready enough to amuse himself with her as a clever woman, but knew her
too well to bestow upon her even a friendly thought.

"If I can bring him to my feet it will be a triumph indeed," she
murmured exultantly; "and at my feet he shall be if he gives me half a
chance." Seemingly he gave her every chance that she could desire, and
while he scarcely made any effort to seek her society, she noted with
secret satisfaction that he often appeared as if accidentally near her,
and that he ever made it the easiest and most natural thing in the
world for her to join him. His conversation was often as gay and
unconventional as she could wish; but she seldom failed to detect in it
an uncomfortable element of satire and irony. He always left her
dissatisfied with herself and with a depressing consciousness that she
had made no impression upon him.

His conquest grew into an absorbing desire; and she unobtrusively
brought to bear upon him every art and fascination that she possessed.
Her toilets were as exquisite as they were simple. The children were
made to idolize her more than ever; but Ackland was candid enough to
admit that this was not all guile on her part, for she was evidently in
sympathy with the little people, who can rarely be imposed upon by any
amount of false interest. Indeed, he saw no reason to doubt that she
abounded in good-nature toward all except the natural objects of her
ruling passion; but the very skill and deliberateness with which she
sought to gratify this passion greatly increased his vindictive
feeling. He saw how naturally and completely his friend had been
deceived and how exquisite must have been the hopes and anticipations
so falsely raised. Therefore he smiled more grimly at the close of each
succeeding day, and was more than ever bent upon the accomplishment of
his purpose.

At length Miss Van Tyne changed her tactics and grew quite oblivious to
Ackland's presence in the house; but she found him apparently too
indifferent to observe the fact. She then permitted one of her several
admirers to become devoted; Ackland did not offer the protest of even a
glance. He stood, as it were, just where she had left him, ready for an
occasional chat, stroll, or excursion, if the affair came about
naturally and without much effort on his part. She found that she could
neither induce him to seek her nor annoy him by an indifference which
she meant should be more marked than his own.

Some little time after there came a windy day when the surf was so
heavy that there were but few bathers. Ackland was a good swimmer, and
took his plunge as usual. He was leaving the water when Miss Van Tyne
ran down the beach and was about to dart through the breakers in her
wonted fearless style.

"Be careful," he said to her; "the undertow is strong, and the man who
has charge of the bathing is ill and not here. The tide is changing - in
fact, running out already, I believe." But she would not even look at
him, much less answer. As there were other gentlemen present, he
started for his bath-house, but had proceeded but a little way up the
beach before a cry brought him to the water's edge instantly.

"Something is wrong with Miss Van Tyne," cried half a dozen voices.
"She ventured out recklessly, and it seems as if she couldn't get back."

At that moment her form rose on the crest of a wave, and above the
thunder of the surf came her faint cry, "Help!"

The other bathers stood irresolute, for she was dangerously far out,
and the tide had evidently turned. Ackland, on the contrary, dashed
through the breakers and then, in his efforts for speed, dived through
the waves nearest to the shore. When he reached the place where he
expected to find her he saw nothing for a moment or two but great
crested billows that every moment were increasing in height under the
rising wind. For a moment he feared that she had perished, and the
thought that the beautiful creature had met her death so suddenly and
awfully made him almost sick and faint. An instant later, however, a
wave threw her up from the trough of the sea into full vision somewhat
on his right, and a few strong strokes brought him to her side.

"Oh, save me!" she gasped.

"Don't cling to me," he said sternly. "Do as I bid you. Strike out for
the shore if you are able; if not, lie on your back and float."

She did the latter, for now that aid had reached her she apparently
recovered from her panic and was perfectly tractable. He placed his
left hand under her and struck out quietly, aware that the least
excitement causing exhaustion on his part might cost both of them their
lives.

As they approached the shore a rope was thrown to them, and Ackland,
who felt his strength giving way, seized it - desperately. He passed his
arm around his companion with a grasp that almost made her breathless,
and they were dragged half suffocated through the water until strong
hands on either side rushed them through the breakers.

Miss Van Tyne for a moment or two stood dazed and panting, then
disengaged herself from the rather warm support of the devoted admirer
whom she had tried to play against Ackland, and tried to walk, but
after a few uncertain steps fell senseless on the sand, thus for the
moment drawing to herself the attention of the increasing throng.
Ackland, glad to escape notice, was staggering off to his bath-house
when several ladies, more mindful of his part in the affair than the
men had been, overtook him with a fire of questions and plaudits.

"Please leave me alone," he said almost savagely, without looking
around.

"What a bear he is! Any one else would have been a little complacent
over such an exploit," they chorused, as they followed the unconscious
girl, who was now being carried to the hotel.

Ackland locked the door of his little apartment and sank panting on the
bench. "Maledictions on her!" he muttered. "At one time there was a
better chance of her being fatal to me than to Munson with his
yellow-fever tragedy in prospect. Her recklessness to-day was perfectly
insane. If she tries it again she may drown for all that I care, or at
least ought to care." His anger appeared to act like a tonic, and he
was soon ready to return to the house. A dozen sprang forward to
congratulate him, but they found such impatience and annoyance at all
reference to the affair that with many surmises the topic was dropped.

"You are a queer fellow," remarked his privileged cousin, as he took
her out to dinner. "Why don't you let people speak naturally about the
matter, or rather, why don't you pose as the hero of the occasion?"

"Because the whole affair was most unnatural, and I am deeply incensed.
In a case of necessity I am ready to risk my life, although it has
unusual attractions for me; but I'm no melodramatic hero looking for
adventures. What necessity was there in this case? It is the old story
of Munson over again in another guise. The act was that of an
inconsiderate, heartless woman who follows her impulses and
inclinations, no matter what may be the consequences." After a moment
he added less indignantly, "I must give her credit for one thing, angry
as I am - she behaved well in the water, otherwise she would have
drowned me."

"She is not a fool. Most women would have drowned you."

"She is indeed not a fool; therefore she's the more to blame. If she is
ever so reckless again, may I be asleep in my room. Of course one can't
stand by and see a woman drown, no matter who or what she is."

"Jack, what made her so reckless?" Mrs. Alston asked, with a sudden
intelligence lighting up her face.

"Hang it all! How should I know? What made her torture Munson? She
follows her impulses, and they are not always conducive to any one's
well-being, not even her own."

"Mark my words, she has never shown this kind of recklessness before."

"Oh, yes, she has. She was running her horse to death the other hot
morning and nearly trampled on a child;" and he told of an unexpected
encounter while he was taking a rather extended ramble.

"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Alston, smiling significantly, "I think I
understand her symptoms better than you do. If you are as cold-blooded
as you seem, I may have to interfere."

"Oh, bah!" he answered impatiently. "Pardon me, but I should despise
myself forever should I become sentimental, knowing what I do."

"Jack, had you no compunctions when fearing that such a beautiful girl
might perish? We are going to have an awful night. Hear the wind
whistle and moan, and the sky is already black with clouds. The roar of
the surface grows louder every hour. Think of that lovely form being
out in those black angry waves, darted at and preyed upon by horrible
slimy monsters. Oh, it fairly makes my flesh creep!"

"And mine too," he said with a strong gesture of disgust; "especially
when I remember that I should have kept her company, for of course I
could not return without her. I confess that when at first I could not
find her I was fairly sick at the thought of her fate. But remember how
uncalled for it all was - quite as much so as that poor Will Munson is
on his way to die with the yellow fever, like enough."

"Jack," said his cousin, affectionately, laying her hand on his arm,
"blessings on your courage to-day! If what might have happened so
easily had occurred, I could never have looked upon the sea again
without a shudder. I should have been tormented by a horrible memory
all my life. It was brave and noble - "

"Oh, hush!" he said angrily. "I won't hear another word about it even
from you. I'm not brave and noble. I went because I was compelled to
go; I hated to go. I hate the girl, and have more reason now than ever.
If we had both drowned, no doubt there would have been less trouble in
the world. There would have been one lawyer the less, and a coquette
extinguished. Now we shall both prey on society in our different ways
indefinitely."

"Jack, you are in an awful mood to-day."

"I am; never was in a worse."

"Having so narrowly escaped death, you ought to be subdued and
grateful."

"On the contrary, I'm inclined to profanity. Excuse me; don't wish any
dessert. I'll try a walk and a cigar. You will now be glad to be rid of
me on any terms."

"Stay, Jack. See, Miss Van Tyne has so far recovered as to come down.
She looked unutterable things at you as she entered."

"Of course she did. Very few of her thoughts concerning me or other
young men would sound well if uttered. Tell your friends to let this
topic alone, or I shall be rude to them," and without a glance toward
the girl he had rescued he left the dining-room.

"Well, well," murmured Mrs. Alston, "I never saw Jack in such a mood
before. It is quite as unaccountable as Miss Tyne's recklessness. I
wonder what is the matter with HIM."

Ackland was speedily driven back from his walk by the rain, which fact
he did not regret, for he found himself exhausted and depressed.
Seeking a retired piazza in order to be alone, he sat down with his hat
drawn over his eyes and smoked furiously. Before very long, however, he
was startled out of a painful revery by a timid voice saying:

"Mr. Ackland, won't you permit me to thank you?"

He rose. Miss Van Tyne stood before him with outstretched hand. He did
not notice it, but bowing coldly, said:

"Please consider that you have thanked me and let the subject drop."

"Do not be so harsh with me," she pleaded. "I cannot help it if you
are. Mr. Ackland, you saved my life."

"Possibly."

"And possibly you think that it is scarcely worth saving."

"Possibly your own conscience suggested that thought to you."

"You are heartless," she burst out indignantly. He began to laugh.
"That's a droll charge for you to make," he said.

She looked at him steadfastly for a moment, and then murmured: "You are
thinking of your friend, Mr. Munson."

"That would be quite natural. How many more can you think of?"

"You are indeed unrelenting," she faltered, tears coming into her eyes;
"but I cannot forget that but for you _I_ should now be out there" - and
she indicated the sea by a gesture, then covered her face with her
hands, and shuddered.

"Do not feel under obligations. I should have been compelled to do as
much for any human being. You seem to forget that I stood an even
chance of being out there with you, and that there was no more need of
the risk than there was that my best friend's life should be blight - "

"You - you out there?" she cried, springing toward him and pointing to
the sea.

"Certainly. You cannot suppose that having once found you, I could come
ashore without you. As it was, my strength was rapidly giving way, and
were it not for the rope - "

"Oh, forgive me," she cried passionately, seizing his hand in spite of
him. "It never entered my mind that you could drown. I somehow felt
that nothing could harm you. I was reckless - I didn't know what I was
doing - I don't understand myself any more. Please - please forgive me,
or I shall not sleep to-night."

"Certainly," he said lightly, "if you will not refer to our little
episode again."

"Please don't speak in that way," she sighed, turning away.

"I have complied with your request."

"I suppose I must be content," she resumed sadly. Then turning her head
slowly toward him she added hesitatingly: "Will you forgive me for - for
treating your friend - "

"No," he replied, with such stern emphasis that she shrank from him and
trembled.

"You are indeed heartless," she faltered, as she turned to leave him.

"Miss Van Tyne," he said indignantly, "twice you have charged me with
being heartless. Your voice and manner indicate that I would be
unnatural and unworthy of respect were I what you charge. In the name
of all that's rational what does this word 'heartless' mean to you?
Where was your heart when you sent my friend away so wretched and
humbled that he is virtually seeking the death from which you are so
glad to escape?"

"I did not love him," she protested faintly.

He laughed bitterly, and continued, "Love! That's a word which I
believe has no meaning for you at all, but it had for him. You are a
remarkably clever woman, Miss Van Tyne. You have brains in abundance.
See, I do you justice. What is more, you are beautiful and can be so
fascinating that a man who believed in you might easily worship you.
You made him believe in you. You tried to beguile me into a condition
that with my nature would be ruin indeed. You never had the baby plea
of a silly, shallow woman. I took pains to find that out the first
evening we met. In your art of beguiling an honest, trusting man you
were as perfect as you were remorseless, and you understood exactly
what you were doing."

For a time she seemed overwhelmed by his lava-like torrent of words,
and stood with bowed head and shrinking, trembling form; but when he
ceased she turned to him and said bitterly and emphatically:

"I did NOT understand what I was doing, nor would my brain have taught
me were I all intellect like yourself. I half wish you had left me to
drown," and with a slight, despairing gesture she turned away and did
not look back.

Ackland's face lighted up with a sudden flash of intelligence and deep
feeling. He started to recall her, hesitated, and watched her earnestly
until she disappeared; then looking out on the scowling ocean, he took
off his hat and exclaimed in a deep, low tone:

"By all that's divine, can this be? Is it possible that through the
suffering of her own awakening heart she is learning to know the pain
she has given to others? Should this be true, the affair is taking an
entirely new aspect, and Munson will be avenged as neither of us ever
dreamed would be possible."

He resumed his old position and thought long and deeply, then rejoined
his cousin, who was somewhat surprised to find that his bitter mood had
given place to his former composure.

"How is this, Jack?" she asked. "As the storm grows wilder without, you
become more serene."

"Only trying to make amends for my former bearishness," he said
carelessly, but with a little rising color.

"I don't understand you at all," she continued discontentedly. "I saw
you sulking in that out-of-the-way corner, and I saw Miss Van Tyne
approach you hesitatingly and timidly, with the purpose, no doubt, of
thanking you. Of course I did not stay to watch, but a little later I
met Miss Van Tyne, and she looked white and rigid. She has not left her
room since."

"You take a great interest in Miss Van Tyne. It is well you are not in
my place."

"I half wish I was and had your chances. You are more pitiless than the
waves from which you saved her."

"I can't help being just what I am," he said coldly. "Good-night." And
he too disappeared for the rest of the evening.

The rain continued to fall in blinding torrents, and the building
fairly trembled under the violence of the wind. The guests drew
together in the lighted rooms, and sought by varied amusements to pass
the time until the fierceness of the storm abated, few caring to retire
while the uproar of the elements was so great.

At last as the storm passed away, and the late-rising moon threw a
sickly gleam on the tumultuous waters, Eva looked from her window with
sleepless eyes, thinking sadly and bitterly of the past and future.
Suddenly a dark figure appeared on the beach in the track of the
moonlight. She snatched an opera-glass, but could not recognize the
solitary form. The thought would come, however, that it was Ackland;
and if it were, what were his thoughts and what place had she in them?
Why was he watching so near the spot that might have been their
burial-place?

"At least he shall not think that I can stolidly sleep after what has
occurred," she thought, and she turned up her light, opened her window,
and sat down by it again. Whoever the unseasonable rambler might be, he
appeared to recognize the gleam from her window, for he walked hastily
down the beach and disappeared. After a time she darkened her room


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 15 of 26)