Copyright
Edward Payson Roe.

Taken Alive online

. (page 16 of 26)
Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 16 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


again and waited in vain for his return. "If it were he, he shuns even
the slightest recognition," she thought despairingly; and the early
dawn was not far distant when she fell into an unquiet sleep.

For the next few days Miss Van Tyne was a puzzle to all except Mrs.
Alston. She was quite unlike the girl she had formerly been, and she
made no effort to disguise the fact. In the place of her old exuberance
of life and spirits, there was lassitude and great depression. The rich
color ebbed steadily from her face, and dark lines under her eyes
betokened sleepless nights. She saw the many curious glances in her
direction, but apparently did not care what was thought or surmised.
Were it not that her manner to Ackland was so misleading, the tendency
to couple their names together would have been far more general. She
neither sought nor shunned his society; in fact, she treated him as she
did the other gentlemen of her acquaintance. She took him at his word.
He had said he would forgive her on condition that she would not speak
of what he was pleased to term that "little episode," and she never
referred to it.

Her aunt was as much at fault as the others, and one day querulously
complained to Mrs. Alston that she was growing anxious about Eva. "At
first I thought she was disappointed over the indifference of that icy
cousin of yours; but she does not appear to care a straw for him. When
I mention his name she speaks of him in a natural, grateful way, then
her thoughts appear to wander off to some matter that is troubling her.
I can't find out whether she is ill or whether she has heard some bad
news of which she will not speak. She never gave me or any one that I
know of much of her confidence."

Mrs. Alston listened but made no comments. She was sure she was right
in regard to Miss Van Tyne's trouble, but her cousin mystified her.
Ackland had become perfectly inscrutable. As far as she could judge by
any word or act of his he had simply lost his interest in Miss Van
Tyne, and that was all that could be said; and yet a fine instinct
tormented Mrs. Alston with the doubt that this was not true, and that
the young girl was the subject of a sedulously concealed scrutiny. Was
he watching for his friend or for his own sake, or was he, in a spirit
of retaliation, enjoying the suffering of one who had made others
suffer? His reserve was so great that she could not pierce it, and his
caution baffled even her vigilance. But she waited patiently, assured
that the little drama must soon pass into a more significant phase.

And she was right. Miss Van Tyne could not maintain the line of action
she had resolved upon. She had thought, "I won't try to appear happy
when I am not. I won't adopt the conventional mask of gayety when the
heart is wounded. How often I have seen through it and smiled at the
transparent farce - farce it seemed then, but I now fear it was often
tragedy. At any rate there was neither dignity nor deception in it. I
have done with being false, and so shall simply act myself and be a
true woman. Though my heart break a thousand times, not even by a
glance shall I show that it is breaking for him. If he or others
surmise the truth, they may; let them. It is a part of my penance; and
I will show the higher, stronger pride of one who makes no vain,
useless pretence to happy indifference, but who can maintain a
self-control so perfect that even Mrs. Alston shall not see one
unmaidenly advance or overture."

She succeeded for a time, as we have seen, but she overrated her will
and underrated her heart, that with deepening intensity craved the love
denied her. With increasing frequency she said to herself, "I must go
away. My only course is to hide my weakness and never see him again. He
is inflexible, yet his very obduracy increases my love a hundred-fold."

At last after a lonely walk on the beach she concluded, "My guardian
must take me home on Monday next. He comes to-night to spend Sunday
with us, and I will make preparations to go at once."

Although her resolution did not fail her, she walked forward more and
more slowly, her dejection and weariness becoming almost overpowering.
As she was turning a sharp angle of rocks that jutted well down to the
water she came face to face with Ackland and Mrs. Alston. She was off
her guard; and her thoughts of him had been so absorbing that she felt
he must be conscious of them. She flushed painfully and hurried by with
slight recognition and downcast face, but she had scarcely passed them
when, acting under a sudden impulse, she stopped and said in a low tone:

"Mr. Ackland - "

He turned expectantly toward her. For a moment she found it difficult
to speak, then ignoring the presence of Mrs. Alston, resolutely began:

"Mr. Ackland, I must refer once more to a topic which you have in a
sense forbidden. I feel partially absolved, however, for I do not think
you have forgiven me anything. At any rate I must ask your pardon once
more for having so needlessly and foolishly imperilled your life. I say
these words now because I may not have another opportunity; we leave on
Monday." With this she raised her eyes to his with an appeal for a
little kindness which Mrs. Alston was confident could not be resisted.
Indeed, she was sure that she saw a slight nervous tremor in Ackland's
hands, as if he found it hard to control himself. Then he appeared to
grow rigid. Lifting his hat, he said gravely and unresponsively:

"Miss Van Tyne, you now surely have made ample amends. Please forget
the whole affair."

She turned from him at once, but not so quickly but that both he and
his cousin saw the bitter tears that would come. A moment later she was
hidden by the angle of the rock. As long as she was visible Ackland
watched her without moving, then he slowly turned to his cousin, his
face as inscrutable as ever. She walked at his side for a few moments
in ill-concealed impatience, then stopped and said decisively:

"I'll go no further with you to-day. I am losing all respect for you."

Without speaking, he turned to accompany her back to the house. His
reticence and coldness appeared to annoy her beyond endurance, for she
soon stopped and sat down on a ledge of the rocks that jutted down the
beach where they had met Miss Van Tyne.

"John, you are the most unnatural man I ever saw in my life," she began
angrily.

"What reason have you for so flattering an opinion," he asked coolly.

"You have been giving reason for it every day since you came here," she
resumed hotly. "I always heard it said that you had no heart; but I
defended you and declared that your course toward your mother even when
a boy showed that you had, and that you would prove it some day. But I
now believe that you are unnaturally cold, heartless, and unfeeling. I
had no objection to your wounding Miss Van Tyne's vanity and encouraged
you when that alone bid fair to suffer. But when she proved she had a
heart and that you had awakened it, she deserved at least kindness and
consideration on your part. If you could not return her affection, you
should have gone away at once; but I believe that you have stayed for
the sole and cruel purpose of gloating over her suffering."

"She has not suffered more than my friend, or than I would if - "

"You indeed! The idea of your suffering from any such cause! I half
believe you came here with the deliberate purpose of avenging your
friend, and that you are keeping for his inspection a diary in which
the poor girl's humiliation to-day will form the hateful climax."

They did not dream that the one most interested was near. Miss Van Tyne
had felt too faint and sorely wounded to go further without rest.
Believing that the rocks would hide her from those whose eyes she would
most wish to shun, she had thrown herself down beyond the angle and was
shedding the bitterest tears that she had ever known. Suddenly she
heard Mrs. Alston's words but a short distance away, and was so
overcome by their import that she hesitated what to do. She would not
meet them again for the world, but felt so weak that she doubted
whether she could drag herself away without being discovered,
especially as the beach trended off to the left so sharply a little
further on that they might discover her. While she was looking vainly
for some way of escape she heard Ackland's words and Mrs. Alston's
surmise in reply that he had come with the purpose of revenge. She was
so stung by their apparent truth that she resolved to clamber up
through an opening of the rocks if the thing were possible. Panting and
exhausted she gained the summit, and then hastened to an adjacent
grove, as some wounded, timid creature would run to the nearest cover.
Ackland had heard sounds and had stepped around the point of the rocks
just in time to see her disappearing above the bank. Returning to Mrs.
Alston, he said impatiently:

"In view of your opinions my society can have no attractions for you.
Shall I accompany you to the hotel?"

"No," was the angry reply. "I'm in no mood to speak to you again
to-day."

He merely bowed and turned as if to pursue his walk. The moment she was
hidden, however, he also climbed the rocks in time to see Miss Van Tyne
entering the grove. With swift and silent tread he followed her, but
could not at once discover her hiding-place. At last passionate sobs
made it evident that she was concealed behind a great oak a little on
his left. Approaching cautiously, he heard her moan:

"Oh, this is worse than death! He makes me feel as if even God had no
mercy for me. But I will expiate my wrong; I will, at the bitterest
sacrifice which a woman can make."

She sprang up to meet Ackland standing with folded arms before her. She
started violently and leaned against the tree for support. But the
weakness was momentary, for she wiped the tears from her eyes, and then
turned to him so quietly that only her extreme pallor proved that she
realized the import of her words.

"Mr. Ackland," she asked, "have you Mr. Munson's address?"

It was his turn now to start, but he merely answered: "Yes."

"Do - do you think he still cares for me?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Since then you are so near a friend, will you write to him that I will
try" - she turned away and would not look at him as, after a moment's
hesitation, she concluded her sentence - "I will try to make him as
happy as I can."

"Do you regret your course?" he asked with a slight tremor in his voice.

"I regret that I misled - that I wronged him beyond all words. I am
willing to make all the amends in my power."

"Do you love him?"

She now turned wholly away and shook her head.

"And yet you would marry him?"

"Yes, if he wished it, knowing all the truth."

"Can you believe he would wish it?" he asked indignantly. "Can you
believe that any man - "

"Then avenge him to your cruel soul's content," she exclaimed
passionately. "Tell him that I have no heart to give to him or to any
one. Through no effort or fault of mine I overheard Mrs. Alston's words
and yours. I know your design against me. Assuage your friend's grief
by assuring him of your entire success, of which you are already so
well aware. Tell him how you triumphed over an untaught, thoughtless
girl who was impelled merely by the love of power and excitement, as
you are governed by ambition and a remorseless will. I did not know - I
did not understand how cruel I was, although now that I do know I shall
never forgive myself. But if you had the heart of a man you might have
seen that you were subjecting me to torture. I did not ask or expect
that you should care for me; but I had a right to hope for a little
kindness, a little manly and delicate consideration, a little healing
sympathy for the almost mortal wound that you have made. But I now see
that you have stood by and watched like a grand inquisitor. Tell your
friend that you have transformed the thoughtless girl into a suffering
woman. I cannot go to Brazil. I cannot face dangers that might bring
rest. I must keep my place in society - keep it too under a hundred
observant and curious eyes. You have seen it all of late in this house;
I was too wretched to care. It was a part of my punishment, and I
accepted it. I would not be false again even in trying to conceal a
secret which it is like death to a woman to reveal. I only craved one
word of kindness from you. Had I received it, I would have gone away in
silence and suffered in silence. But your course and what I have heard
have made me reckless and despairing. You do not leave me even the poor
consolation of self-sacrifice. You are my stony-hearted fate. I wish
you had left me to drown. Tell your friend that I am more wretched than
he ever can be, because I am a woman. Will he be satisfied?"

"He ought to be," was the low, husky reply.

"Are you proud of your triumph?"

"No, I am heartily ashamed of it; but I have kept a pledge that will
probably cost me far more than it has you."

"A pledge?"

"Yes, my pledge to make you suffer as far as possible as he suffered."

She put her hand to her side as if she had received a wound, and after
a moment said wearily and coldly:

"Well, tell him that you succeeded, and be content;" and she turned to
leave him.

"Stay," he cried impetuously. "It is now your turn. Take your revenge."

"My revenge?" she repeated in unfeigned astonishment.

"Yes, your revenge. I have loved you from the moment I hoped you had a
woman's heart, yes, and before - when I feared I might not be able to
save your life. I know it now, though the very thought of it enraged me
then. I have watched and waited more to be sure that you had a woman's
heart than for aught else, though a false sense of honor kept me true
to my pledge. After I met you on the beach I determined at once to
break my odious bond and place myself at your mercy. You may refuse me
in view of my course - you probably will; but every one in that house
there shall know that you refused me, and your triumph shall be more
complete than mine."

She looked into his face with an expression of amazement and doubt; but
instead of coldness, there was now a devotion and pleading that she had
never seen before.

She was too confused and astounded, however, to comprehend his words
immediately, nor could the impression of his hostility pass away
readily.

"You are mocking me," she faltered, scarcely knowing what she said.

"I cannot blame you that you think me capable of mocking the noble
candor which has cost you so dear, as I can now understand. I cannot
ask you to believe that I appreciate your heroic impulse of
self-sacrifice - your purpose to atone for wrong by inflicting
irreparable wrong on yourself. It is natural that you should think of
me only as an instrument of revenge with no more feeling than some
keen-edged weapon would have. This also is the inevitable penalty of my
course. When I speak of my love I cannot complain if you smile in
bitter incredulity. But I have at least proved that I have a resolute
will and that I keep my word; and I again assure you that it shall be
known this very night that you have refused me, that I offered you my
hand, that you already had my heart, where your image is enshrined with
that of my mother, and that I entreated you to be my wife. My cousin
alone guessed my miserable triumph; all shall know of yours."

As he spoke with impassioned earnestness, the confusion passed from her
mind. She felt the truth of his words; she knew that her ambitious
dream had been fulfilled, and that she had achieved the conquest of a
man upon whom all others had smiled in vain. But how immeasurably
different were her emotions from those which she had once anticipated!
Not her beauty, not her consummate skill in fascination had wrought
this miracle, but her woman's heart, awakened at last; and it thrilled
with such unspeakable joy that she turned away to hide its reflex in
her face. He was misled by the act into believing that she could not
forgive him, and yet was perplexed when she murmured with a return of
her old piquant humor:

"You are mistaken, Mr. Ackland; it shall never be known that I refused
you."

"How can you prevent it?"

"If your words are sincere, you will submit to such terms as I choose
to make."

"I am sincere, and my actions shall prove it; but I shall permit no
mistaken self-sacrifice on your part, nor any attempt to shield me from
the punishment I well deserve."

She suddenly turned upon him a radiant face in which he read his
happiness, and faltered:

"Jack, I do believe you, although the change seems wrought by some
heavenly magic. But it will take a long time to pay you up. I hope to
be your dear torment for a lifetime."

He caught her in such a strong, impetuous embrace that she gasped:

"I thought you were - cold to our sex."

"It's not your sex that I am clasping, but you - YOU, my Eve. Like the
first man, I have won my bride under the green trees and beneath the
open sky."

"Yes, Jack; and I give you my whole heart as truly as did the first
woman when there was but one man in all the world. That is MY REVENGE."

This is what Will Munson wrote some weeks later:

"Well, Jack, I've had the yellow fever, and it was the most fortunate
event of my life. I was staying with a charming family, and they would
not permit my removal to a hospital. One of my bravest and most devoted
nurses has consented to become my wife. I hope you punished that little
wretch Eva Van Tyne as she deserved."

"Confound your fickle soul!" muttered Ackland. "I punished her as she
did not deserve; and I risked more than life in doing so. If her heart
had not been as good as gold and as kind as Heaven she never would have
looked at me again."

Ackland is quite as indifferent to the sex as ever, but Eva has never
complained that he was cold to her.






A CHRISTMAS-EVE SUIT


The Christmas holidays had come, and with them a welcome vacation for
Hedley Marstern. Although as yet a briefless young lawyer, he had a
case in hand which absorbed many of his thoughts - the conflicting
claims of two young women in his native village on the Hudson. It must
not be imagined that the young women were pressing their claims except
as they did so unconsciously, by virtue of their sex and various
charms. Nevertheless, Marstern was not the first lawyer who had clients
over whom midnight oil was burned, they remaining unaware of the fact.

If not yet a constitutional attorney, he was at least constitutionally
one. Falling helplessly in love with one girl simplifies matters. There
are no distracting pros and cons - nothing required but a concentration
of faculties to win the enslaver, and so achieve mastery. Marstern did
not appear amenable to the subtle influences which blind the eyes and
dethrone reason, inspiring in its place an overwhelming impulse to
capture a fortuitous girl because (to a heated imagination) she
surpasses all her sex. Indeed, he was level-headed enough to believe
that he would never capture any such girl; but he hoped to secure one
who promised to make as good a wife as he would try to be a husband,
and with a fair amount of self-esteem, he was conscious of
imperfections. Therefore, instead of fancying that any of his fair
acquaintances were angels, he had deliberately and, as some may think,
in a very cold-blooded fashion, endeavored to discover what they
actually were. He had observed that a good deal of prose followed the
poetry of wooing and the lunacy of the honeymoon; and he thought it
might be well to criticise a little before marriage as well as after it.

There were a number of charming girls in the social circle of his
native town; and he had, during later years, made himself quite
impartially agreeable to them. Indeed, without much effort on his part
he had become what is known as a general favorite. He had been too
diligent a student to become a society man, but was ready enough in
vacation periods to make the most of every country frolic, and even on
great occasions to rush up from the city and return at some unearthly
hour in the morning when his partners in the dance were not half
through their dreams. While on these occasions he had shared in the
prevailing hilarity, he nevertheless had the presentiment that some one
of the laughing, light-footed girls would one day pour his coffee and
send him to his office in either a good or a bad mood to grapple with
the problems awaiting him there. He had in a measure decided that when
he married it should be to a girl whom he had played with in childhood
and whom he knew a good deal about, and not to a chance acquaintance of
the world at large. So, beneath all his diversified gallantries he had
maintained a quiet little policy of observation, until his thoughts had
gradually gathered around two of his young associates who,
unconsciously to themselves, as we have said, put in stronger and
stronger claims every time he saw them. They asserted these claims in
the only way in which he would have recognized them - by being more
charming, agreeable, and, as he fancied, by being better than the
others. He had not made them aware, even by manner, of the distinction
accorded to them; and as yet he was merely a friend.

But the time had come, he believed, for definite action. While he
weighed and considered, some prompter fellows might take the case out
of his hands entirely; therefore he welcomed this vacation and the
opportunities it afforded.

The festivities began with what is termed in the country a "large
party"; and Carrie Mitchell and Lottie Waldo were both there,
resplendent in new gowns made for the occasion. Marstern thought them
both charming. They danced equally well and talked nonsense with much
the same ease and vivacity. He could not decide which was the prettier,
nor did the eyes and attentions of others afford him any aid. They were
general favorites, as well as himself, although it was evident that to
some they might become more, should they give encouragement. But they
were apparently in the heyday of their girlhood, and thus far had
preferred miscellaneous admiration to individual devotion. By the time
the evening was over Marstern felt that if life consisted of large
parties he might as well settle the question by the toss of a copper.

It must not be supposed that he was such a conceited prig as to imagine
that such a fortuitous proceeding, or his best efforts afterward, could
settle the question as it related to the girls. It would only decide
his own procedure. He was like an old marauding baron, in honest doubt
from which town he can carry off the richest booty - that is, in case he
can capture any one of them. His overtures for capitulation might be
met with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and he be sent
limping off the field. Nevertheless, no man regrets that he must take
the initiative, and he would be less than a man who would fear to do
so. When it came to this point in the affair, Marstern shrugged his
shoulders and thought, "I must take my chances like the rest." But he
wished to be sure that he had attained this point, and not lay siege to
one girl only to wish afterward it had been the other.

His course that evening proved that he not only had a legal cast of
mind but also a judicial one. He invited both Miss Mitchell and Miss
Waldo to take a sleigh-ride with him the following evening, fancying
that when sandwiched between them in the cutter he could impartially
note his impressions. His unsuspecting clients laughingly accepted,
utterly unaware of the momentous character of the trial scene before
them.

As Marstern smoked a cigar before retiring that night, he admitted to
himself that it was rather a remarkable court that was about to be
held. He was the only advocate for the claims of each, and finally he
proposed to take a seat on the bench and judge between them. Indeed,
before he slept he decided to take that august position at once, and
maintain a judicial impartiality while noting his impressions.

Christmas Eve happened to be a cold, clear, star-lit night; and when
Marstern drove to Miss Waldo's door, he asked himself, "Could a fellow
ask for anything daintier and finer" than the red-lipped, dark-eyed
girl revealed by the hall-lamp as she tripped lightly out, her anxious
mamma following her with words of unheeded caution about not taking
cold, and coming home early. He had not traversed the mile which
intervened between the residences of the two girls before he almost
wished he could continue the drive under the present auspices, and
that, as in the old times, he could take toll at every bridge, and
encircle his companion with his arm as they bounced over the "thank-'ee


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 16 of 26)