An Original Belle
By: E. P. Roe
No race of men, scarcely an individual, is so devoid of intelligence as not to recognize power. Few gifts are more courted. Power is almost as varied as character, and the kind of power most desired or appreciated is a good measure of character. The pre-eminence furnished by thew and muscle is most generally recognized; but, as men reach levels above the animal, other qualities take the lead. It is seen that the immaterial spirit wins the greater triumphs,—that the brainless giant, compared with the dwarf of trained intelligence, can accomplish little. The scale runs on into the moral qualities, until at last humanity has given its sanction to the Divine words, "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." The few who have successfully grasped the lever of which Archimedes dreamed are those who have attained the highest power to serve the world.
Among the myriad phases of power, perhaps that of a gifted and beautiful woman is the most subtile and hard to define. It is not the result of mere beauty, although that may be an important element; and if wit, intelligence, learning, accomplishments, and goodness are added, all combined cannot wholly explain the power that some women possess. Deeper, perhaps more potent, than all else, is an individuality which distinguishes one woman from all others, and imparts her own peculiar fascination. Of course, such words do not apply to those who are content to be commonplace themselves, and who are satisfied with the ordinary homage of ordinary minds, or the conventional attention of men who are incited to nothing better.
One of the purposes of this story is to illustrate the power of a young girl not so beautiful or so good as many of her sisters. She was rather commonplace at first, but circumstances led her to the endeavor to be true to her own nature and conscience and to adopt a very simple scheme of life. She achieved no marvellous success, nothing beyond the ability of multitudes like herself.
I have also sought to reproduce with some color of life and reality a critical period in our civil war. The scenes and events of the story culminate practically in the summer of 1863. The novel was not written for the sake of the scenes or events. They are employed merely to illustrate character at the time and to indicate its development.
The reader in the South must be bitter and prejudiced indeed if he does not discover that I have sought to be fair to the impulses and motives of its people.
In touching upon the Battle of Gettysburg and other historical events, I will briefly say that I have carefully consulted authentic sources of information. For the graphic suggestion of certain details I am indebted to the "History of the 124th Regt. N.Y.S.V.," by Col. Charles H. Weygant, to the recollections of Capt. Thomas Taft and other veterans now living.
Lieut.-Col. H. C. Hasbrouck, commandant of Cadets at West Point, has kindly read the proof of chapters relating to the battle of Gettysburgh.
My story is also related to the New York Draft Riots of 1863, an historical record not dwelt upon before in fiction to my knowledge. It is almost impossible to impart an adequate impression of that reign of terror. I have not hoped to do this, or to give anything like a detailed and complete account of events. The scenes and incidents described, however, had their counterpart in fact. Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby of New York saw a young man face and disperse a mob of hundreds, by stepping out upon the porch of his home and shooting the leader. This event took place late at night.
I have consulted "Sketches of the Draft Riots in 1863," by Hon. J. T. Headley, the files of the Press of that time, and other records.
The Hon. Thomas C. Acton. Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police during the riot, accorded me a hearing, and very kindly followed the thread of my story through the stormy period in question.
E. P. R
CORNWALL-ON-HUDSON, N.Y., AUG. 7, 1885.
CHAPTER I. A RUDE AWAKENING
CHAPTER II. A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
CHAPTER III. A NEW FRIEND
CHAPTER IV. WOMAN'S CHIEF RIGHT
CHAPTER V. "BE HOPEFUL, THAT I MAY HOPE"
CHAPTER VI. A SCHEME OF LIFE
CHAPTER VII. SURPRISES
CHAPTER VIII. CHARMED BY A CRITIC
CHAPTER IX. A GIRL'S LIGHT HAND
CHAPTER X. WILLARD MERWYN
CHAPTER XI. AN OATH AND A GLANCE
CHAPTER XII. "A VOW"
CHAPTER XIII. A SIEGE BEGUN
CHAPTER XIV. OMINOUS
CHAPTER XV. SCORN
CHAPTER XVI. AWAKENED AT LAST
CHAPTER XVII. COMING TO THE POINT
CHAPTER XVIII. A GIRL'S STANDARD
CHAPTER XIX. PROBATION PROMISED
CHAPTER XX. "YOU THINK ME A COWARD"
CHAPTER XXI. FEARS AND PERPLEXITIES
CHAPTER XXII. A GIRL'S THOUGHTS AND IMPULSES
CHAPTER XXIII. "MY FRIENDSHIP IS MINE TO GIVE"
CHAPTER XXIV. A FATHER'S FORETHOUGHT
CHAPTER XXV. A CHAINED WILL
CHAPTER XXVI. MARIAN'S INTERPRETATION OF MERWYN
CHAPTER XXVII. "DE HEAD LINKUM MAN WAS CAP'N LANE"
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE SIGNAL LIGHT
CHAPTER XXIX. MARIAN CONTRASTS LANE AND MERWYN
CHAPTER XXX THE NORTH INVADED
CHAPTER XXXI. "I'VE LOST MY CHANCE"
CHAPTER XXXII. BLAUVELT
CHAPTER XXXIII. A GLIMPSE OF WAR
CHAPTER XXXIV. A GLIMPSE OF WAR, CONTINUED
CHAPTER XXXV. THE GRAND ASSAULT
CHAPTER XXXVI. BLAUVELT'S SEARCH FOR STRAHAN
CHAPTER XXXVII. STRAHAN'S ESCAPE
CHAPTER XXXVIII. A LITTLE REBEL
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE CURE OF CAPTAIN LANE
CHAPTER XL. LOVE'S TRIUMPH
CHAPTER XLI. SUNDAY'S LULL AND MONDAY'S STORM
CHAPTER XLII. THAT WORST OF MONSTERS, A MOB
CHAPTER XLIII. THE "COWARD"
CHAPTER XLIV. A WIFE'S EMBRACE
CHAPTER XLV. THE DECISIVE BATTLE
CHAPTER XLVI. "I HAVE SEEN THAT YOU DETEST ME"
CHAPTER XLVII. A FAIR FRIEND AND FOUL FOES
CHAPTER XLVIII. DESPERATE FIGHTING
CHAPTER XLIX. ONE FACING HUNDREDS
CHAPTER L. ZEB
CHAPTER LI. A TRAGEDY
CHAPTER LII. "MOTHER AND SON"
CHAPTER LIII. "MISSY S'WANEE"
AN ORIGINAL BELLE.
A RUDE AWAKENING.
MARIAN VOSBURGH had been content with her recognized position as a leading belle. An evening spent in her drawing-room revealed that; but at the close of the particular evening which it was our privilege to select there occurred a trivial incident. She was led to think, and thought is the precursor of action and change in all natures too strong and positive to drift. On that night she was an ordinary belle, smiling, radiant, and happy in following the traditions of her past.
She had been admired as a child, as a school-girl, and given a place among the stars of the first magnitude since her formal debut. Admiration was as essential as sunshine; or, to change the figure, she had a large and a natural and healthful appetite for it. She was also quite as much entitled to it as the majority of her class. Thus far she had accepted life as she found it, and was in the main conventional. She was not a deliberate coquette; it was not her recognized purpose to give a heartache to as many as possible; she merely enjoyed in thoughtless exultation her power to attract young men to her side. There was keen excitement in watching them, from the moment of introduction, as they passed through the phases of formal acquaintanceship into relations that bordered on sentiment. When this point was reached experiences sometimes followed which caused not a little compunction.
She soon learned that society was full of men much like herself in some respects, ready to meet new faces, to use their old compliments and flirtation methods over and over again. They could look unutterable things at half a dozen different girls in the same season, while their hearts remained as invulnerable as old-fashioned pin-cushions, heart-shaped, that adorn country "spare rooms." But now and then a man endowed with a deep, strong nature would finally leave her side in troubled wonder or bitter cynicism. Her fair, young face, her violet eyes, so dark as to appear almost black at night, had given no token that she could amuse herself with feelings that touched the sources of life and death in such admirers.
"They should have known better, that I was not in earnest," she would say, petulantly, and more or less remorsefully.
But these sincere men, who had been so blind as to credit her with gentle truth and natural intuition, had some ideal of womanhood which had led to their blunder. Conscious of revealing so much themselves by look, tone, and touch of hand, eager to supplement one significant glance by life-long loyalty, they were slow in understanding that answering significant glances meant only, "I like you very well,—better than others, just at present; but then I may meet some one to-morrow who is a great deal more fun than you are."
Fun! With them it was a question of manhood, of life, and of that which gives the highest value and incentive to life. It was inevitable, therefore, that Marian Vosburgh should become a mirage to more than one man; and when at last the delusion vanished, there was usually a flinty desert to be crossed before the right, safe path was gained.
From year to year Mr. Vosburgh had rented for his summer residence a pretty cottage on the banks of the Hudson. The region abounded in natural beauty and stately homes. There was an infusion of Knickerbocker blood in the pre-eminently elect ones of society, and from these there was a gradual shading off in several directions, until by some unwritten law the social line was drawn. Strangers from the city might be received within the inner circle, or they might not, as some of the leaders practically decreed by their own action. Mr. Vosburgh did not care in the least for the circle or its constituents. He was a stern, quiet man; one of the strong executive hands of the government at a time when the vital questions of the day had come to the arbitrament of the sword. His calling involved danger, and required an iron will. The questions which chiefly occupied his mind were argued by the mouths of cannon.
As for Marian, she too cared little for the circle and its social dignitaries. She had no concessions to make, no court to pay. She was not a dignitary, but a sovereign, and had her own court. Gentleman friends from the city made their headquarters at a neighboring summer hotel; young men from the vicinity were attracted like moths, and the worst their aristocratic sisters could say against the girl was that she had too many male friends, and was not "of their set." Indeed, with little effort she could have won recognition from the bluest blood of the vicinage; but this was not her ambition. She cared little for the ladies of her neighborhood, and less for their ancestors, while she saw as much of the gentlemen as she desired. She had her intimates among her own sex, however, and was on the best terms with her good-natured, good-hearted, but rather superficial mother, who was a discreet, yet indulgent chaperon, proud of her daughter and of the attention she received, while scarcely able to comprehend that any serious trouble could result from it if the proprieties of life were complied with. Marian was never permitted to give that kind of encouragement which compromises a girl, and Mrs. Vosburgh felt that there her duty ceased. All that could be conveyed by the eloquent eye, the inflection of tones, and in a thousand other ways, was unnoted, and beyond her province.
The evening of our choice is an early one in June. The air is slightly chilly and damp, therefore the parlor is preferable to the vine-sheltered piazza, screened by the first tender foliage. We can thus observe Miss Vosburgh's deportment more closely, and take a brief note of her callers.
Mr. Lane is the first to arrive, perhaps for the reason that he is a downright suitor, who has left the city and business, in order to further the interests nearest his heart. He is a keen-eyed, strong-looking fellow, well equipped for success by knowledge of the world and society; resolute, also, in attaining his desired ends. His attentions to Marian have been unmistakable for some months, and he believes that he has received encouragement. In truth, he has been the recipient of the delusive regard that she is in the habit of bestowing. He is one whom she could scarcely fail to admire and like, so entertaining is he in conversation, and endowed with such vitality and feeling that his words are not airy nothings.
He greets her with a strong pressure of the hand, and his first glance reveals her power.
"Why, this is an agreeable surprise, Mr. Lane," she exclaims.
"Agreeable? I am very glad to hear that," he says, in his customary direct speech. "Yes, I ran up from the city this afternoon. On my way to lunch I became aware of the beauty of the day, and as my thoughts persisted in going up the river I was led to follow them. One's life does not consist wholly of business, you know; at least mine does not."
"Yet you have the reputation of being a busy man."
"I should hope so. What would you think of a young fellow not busy in these times?"
"I am not sure I should think at all. You give us girls too much credit for thinking."
"Oh, no; there's no occasion for the plural. I don't give 'us girls' anything. I am much too busy for that. But I know you think, Miss Marian, and have capacity for thought."
"Possibly you are right about the capacity. One likes to think one has brains, you know, whether she uses them or not. I don't think very much, however,—that is, as you use the word, for it implies the putting of one's mind on something and keeping it there. I like to let thoughts come and go as the clouds do in our June skies. I don't mean thunder-clouds and all they signify, but light vapors that have scarcely beginning or end, and no very definite being. I don't seem to have time or inclination for anything else, except when I meet you with your positive ways. I think it is very kind of you to come from New York to give me a pleasant evening."
"I'm not so very disinterested. New York has become a dull place, and if I aid you to pass a pleasant evening you insure a pleasanter one for me. What have you been doing this long June day, that you have been too busy for thought?"
"Let me see. What have I been doing? What an uncomfortable question to ask a girl! You men say we are nothing but butterflies, you know."
"I never said that of you."
"You ask a question which makes me say it virtually of myself. That is a way you keen lawyers have. Very well; I shall be an honest witness, even against myself. That I wasn't up with the lark this morning goes without saying. The larks that I know much about are on the wing after dinner in the evening. The forenoon is a variable sort of affair with many people. Literally I suppose it ends at 12 M., but with me it is rounded off by lunch, and the time of that event depends largely upon the kitchen divinity that we can lure to this remote and desolate region. 'Faix,' remarked that potentate, sniffing around disdainfully the day we arrived, 'does yez expects the loikes o' me to stop in this lonesomeness? We're jist at the ind of the wourld.' Mamma increased her wages, which were already double what she earns, and she still condescends to provide our daily food, giving me a forenoon which closes at her convenience. During this indefinite period I look after my flowers and birds, sing and play a little, read a little, entertain a little, and thus reveal to you a general littleness. In the afternoon I take a nap, so that I may be wide awake enough to talk to a bright man like you in case he should appear. Now, are you not shocked and pained at my frivolous life?"
"You have come to the country for rest and recuperation, Miss Marian?"
"Oh, what a word,—'recuperation!' It never entered my head that I had come into the country for that. Do I suggest a crying need for recuperation?"
"I wouldn't dare tell you all that you suggest to me, and I read more than you say between your lines. When I approached the house you were chatting and laughing genially with your mother."
"Oh, yes, mamma and I have as jolly times together as two girls."
"That was evident, and it made a very pleasant impression on me. One thing is not so evident, and it indicates a rather one-sided condition of affairs. I could not prevent my thoughts from visiting you often to-day before I came myself, but I fear that among your June-day occupations there has not been one thought of me."
She had only time to say, sotto voce, "Girls don't tell everything," when the maid announced, from the door, "Mr. Strahan."
This second comer was a young man precociously mature after a certain style. His home was a fine old place in the vicinity, but in his appearance there was no suggestion of the country; nor did he resemble the violet, although he was somewhat redolent of the extract of that modest flower. He was dressed in the extreme of the prevailing mode, and evidently cultivated a metropolitan air, rather than the unobtrusive bearing of one who is so thoroughly a gentleman that he can afford to be himself. Mr. Strahan was quite sure of his welcome, for he felt that he brought to the little cottage a genuine Madison-avenue atmosphere. He was greeted with the cordiality which made Miss Vosburgh's drawing-room one of the pleasantest of lounging-places, whether in town or country; and under his voluble lead conversation took the character of fashionable gossip, which would have for the reader as much interest as the presentation of some of the ephemeral weeds of that period. But Mr. Strahan's blue eyes were really animated as he ventured perilously near a recent scandal in high life. His budget of news was interspersed with compliments to his hostess, which, like the extract on his handkerchief, were too pronounced. Mr. Lane regarded him with politely veiled disgust, but was too well-bred not to second Miss Vosburgh's remarks to the best of his ability.
Before long two or three more visitors dropped in. One from the hotel was a millionnaire, a widower leisurely engaged in the selection of a second wife. Another was a young artist sketching in the vicinity. A third was an officer from West Point who knew Mr. Vosburgh. There were also callers from the neighborhood during the evening. Mrs. Vosburgh made her appearance early, and was almost as skilful a hostess as her daughter. But few of the guests remained long. They had merely come to enjoy a pleasant half-hour or more under circumstances eminently agreeable, and would then drive on and pay one or two visits in the vicinity. That was the way in which nearly all Marian's "friendships" began.
The little parlor resounded with animated talk, laughter, and music, that was at the same time as refined as informal. Mrs. Vosburgh would seat herself at the piano, that a new dancing-step or a new song might be tried. The gentlemen were at liberty to light their cigars and form groups among themselves, so free from stiffness was Marian's little salon. Brief time elapsed, however, without a word to each, in her merry, girlish voice, for she had the instincts of a successful hostess, and a good-natured sense of honor, which made her feel that each guest was entitled to attention. She was not much given to satire, and the young men soon learned that she would say more briery things to their faces than behind their backs. It was also discovered that ill-natured remarks about callers who had just departed were not tolerated,—that within certain limits she was loyal to her friends, and that, she was too high-minded to speak unhandsomely of one whom she had just greeted cordially. If she did not like a man she speedily froze him out of the ranks of her acquaintance; but for such action there was not often occasion, since she and her mother had a broad, easy tolerance of those generally accepted by society. Even such as left her parlor finally with wounds for which there was no rapid healing knew that no one would resent a jest at their expense more promptly than the girl whom they might justly blame for having smiled too kindly.
Thus she remained a general favorite. It was recognized that she had a certain kind of loyalty which could be depended upon. Of course such a girl would eventually marry, and with natural hope and egotism each one felt that he might be the successful competitor. At any rate, as in war, they must take their chances, and it seems that there is never a lack of those willing to assume such risks.
Thus far, however, Marian had no inclination to give up her present life of variety and excitement. She preferred incense from many worshippers to the devotion of one. The secret of this was perhaps that her heart had remained so untouched and unconscious that she scarcely knew she had one. She understood the widower's preference, enjoyed the compliment, and should there be occasion would, in perfect good taste, beg to be excused.
Her pulse was a little quickened by Mr. Lane's downright earnestness, and when matters should come to a crisis she would say lovely things to him of her esteem, respect, regret, etc. She would wish they might remain friends—why could they not, when she liked him so much? As for love and engagement, she did not, could not, think of that yet.
She was skilful, too, in deferring such crises, and to-night, in obedience to a signal, Mrs. Vosburgh remained until even Mr. Lane despaired of another word in private, and departed, fearing to put his fate to the test.
At last the dainty apartment, the merry campaigning-ground, was darkened, and Marian, flushed, wearied, and complacent, stepped out on the piazza to breathe for a few moments the cool, fragrant air. She had dropped into a rustic seat, and was thinking over the events of the evening with an amused smile, when the following startling words arose from the adjacent shrubbery:—
"Arrah, noo, will ye niver be sinsible? Here I'm offerin' ye me heart, me loife. I'd be glad to wourk for ye, and kape ye loike a leddy. I'd be thrue to ye ivery day o' me loife,—an' ye knows it, but ye jist goes on makin' eyes at this wan an' flirtin' wid that wan an' spakin' swate to the t'other, an' kapin' all on the string till they can nayther ate nor slape nor be half the min they were till ye bewildered 'em. Ye're nothin' but a giddy, light-minded, shallow crather, a spoilin' min for your own fun. I've kep' company wid ye a year, and ye've jist blowed hot and cowld till I'm not meself any more, and have come nigh losin' me place. Noo, by St. Patrick, ye must show whether ye're a woman or a heartless jade that will sind a man to the divil for sport."
These words were poured out with the impetuosity of longsuffering endurance finally vanquished, and before the speaker had concluded Marian was on her way to the door, that she might not listen to a conversation of so delicate a nature. But she did not pass beyond hearing before part of the reply reached her.
"Faix, an' I'm no wourse than me young mistress."
It was a chance arrow, but it went straight to the mark, aad when Marian reached her room her cheeks were aflame.
A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
Gross matter can change form and character in a moment, when merely touched by the effective agent. It is easy to imagine, therefore, how readily a woman's quick mind might be influenced by a truth or a thought of practical and direct application. All the homilies ever written, all the counsel of matrons and sages, could not have produced on Marian so deep an impression as was made by these few chance words. They came as a commentary, not only on her past life, but on the past few hours. Was it true, then, that she was no better than the coquettish maid, the Irish servant in the family's employ? Was she, with her education and accomplishments, her social position and natural gifts, acting on no higher plane, influenced by no worthier motives and no loftier ambition? Was the ignorant girl justified in quoting her example in extenuation of a course that to a plain and equally ignorant man seemed unwomanly to the last degree?
Wherein was she better? Wherein lay the difference between her and the maid?
She covered her hot face with her hands as the question took the form: "Wherein am I worse? Is not our principle of action the same, while I have greater power and have been crippling higher types of men, and giving them, for sport, an impulse towards the devil? Fenton Lane has just gone from my side with trouble in his eyes. He will not be himself to-morrow, not half the man he might be. He left me in doubt and fear. Could I do anything oppressed with doubt and fear? He has set his heart on what can never be. Could I have prevented him from doing this? One thing at least is certain,—I have not tried to prevent it, and I fear there have been many little nameless things which he would regard as encouragement. And he is only one. With others I have gone farther and they have fared worse. It is said that Mr. Folger, whom I refused last winter, is becoming dissipated. Mr. Arton shuns society and sneers at women. Oh, don't let me think of any more. What have I been doing that this coarse kitchen-maid can run so close a parallel between her life and mine? How unwomanly and repulsive it all seems, as that man put it! My delight and pride have been my gentleman friends, and what one of them is the better, or has a better prospect for life, because of having known me? Could there be a worse satire on all the fine things written about woman and her influence than my hitherto vain and complacent self?"
Sooner or later conscience tells the truth to all; and the sooner the better, unless the soul arraigned is utterly weak, or else belongs essentially to the criminal classes, which require almost a miracle to reverse their evil gravitation. Marian Vosburgh was neither weak nor criminal at heart. Thus far she had yielded thoughtlessly, inconsiderately, rather than deliberately, to the circumstances and traditions of her life. Her mother had been a belle and something of a coquette, and, having had her career, was in the main a good and sensible wife. She had given her husband little trouble if not much help. She had slight interest in that which made his life, and slight comprehension of it, but in affectionate indifference she let him go his way, and was content with her domestic affairs, her daughter, and her novel. Marian had unthinkingly looked forward to much the same experience as her natural lot. To-night she found herself querying: "Are there men to-day who are not half what they might have been because of mamma's delusive smiles? Have any gone down into shadows darker than those cast by misfortune and death, because she permitted herself to become the light of their lives and then turned away?"
Then came the rather painful reflection: "Mamma is not one to be troubled by such thoughts. It does not even worry her that she is so little to papa, and that he virtually carries on his life-work alone. I don't see how I can continue my old life after to-night. I had better shut myself up in a convent; yet just how I can change everything I scarcely know."
The night proved a perturbed and almost sleepless one from the chaos and bitterness of her thoughts. The old was breaking up; the new, beginning.
The morning found her listless, discontented, and unhappy. The glamour had faded out of her former life. She could not continue the tactics practised in coarse imitation by the Irish servant, who took her cue as far as possible from her mistress. The repugnance was due as much to the innate delicacy and natural superiority of Marian's nature as to her conscience. Her clear, practical sense perceived that her course differed from the other only in being veneered by the refinements of her social position,—that the evil results were much greater. The young lady's friends were capable of receiving more harm than the maid could inflict upon her acquaintances.
There would be callers again during the day and evening, and she did not wish to see them. Their society now would be like a glass of champagne from which the life had effervesced.
At last in her restlessness and perplexity she decided to spend a day or two with her father in their city home, where he was camping out, as he termed it. She took a train to town, and sent a messenger boy to his office with a note asking him to dine with her.
Mr. Vosburgh looked at her a little inquiringly as he entered his home, which had the comfortless aspect of a city house closed for the summer.
"Am I de trop, papa? I have come to town for a little quiet, and to do some shopping."
"Come to New York for quiet?"
"Yes. The country is the gayest place now, and you know a good many are coming and going. I am tired, and thought an evening or two with you would be a pleasant change. You are not too busy?"
"It certainly will be a change for you, Marian."
"Now there's a world of satire in that remark, and deserved, too, I fear. Mayn't I stay?"
"Yes, indeed, till you are tired of me; and that won't be long in this dull place, for we are scarcely in a condition now to receive callers, you know."
"What makes you think I shall be tired of you soon, papa?"
"Oh—well—I'm not very entertaining. You appear to like variety. I suppose it is the way with girls."
"You are not consumed with admiration for girls' ways, are you, papa?"
"I confess, my dear, that I have not given the subject much research. As a naturalist would say, I have no doubt that you and your class have curious habits and interesting peculiarities. There is a great deal of life, you know, which a busy man has to accept in a general way, especially when charged with duties which are a severe and constant strain upon his mind. I try to leave you and your mother as free from care as possible. You left her well, I trust?"
"Very well, and all going on as usual. I'm dissatisfied with myself, papa, and you unconsciously make me far more so. Is a woman to be only a man's plaything, and a dangerous one at that?"
"Why, Marian, you ARE in a mood! I suppose a woman, like a man, can be very much what she pleases. You certainly have had a chance to find out what pleases most women in your circle of acquaintances, and have made it quite clear what pleases you."
"Satire again," she said, despondently. "I thought perhaps you could advise and help me."
He came and took her face between his hands, looking earnestly into her troubled blue eyes.
"Are you not content to be a conventional woman?" he asked, after a moment.
"No!" was her emphatic answer.
"Well, there are many ways of being a little outre in this age and land, especially at this stormy period. Perhaps you want a career,—something that will give you a larger place in the public eye?"
She turned away to hide the tears that would come. "O papa, you don't understand me at all, and I scarcely understand myself," she faltered. "In some respects you are as conventional as mamma, and are almost a Turk in your ideas of the seclusion of women. The idea of my wanting public notoriety! As I feel now, I'd rather go to a convent."
"We'll go to dinner first; then a short drive in the park, for you look pale, and I long for a little fresh air myself. I have been at my desk since seven this morning, and have had only a sandwich."
"Why do you have to work so hard, papa?"
"I can give you two reasons in a breath,—you mentioned 'shopping,' and my country is at war. They don't seem very near of kin, do they? Documents relating to both converge in my desk, however."
"Have I sent you more bills than usual?"
"Not more than usual."
"I believe I'm a fool."
"I know you are a very pretty little girl, who will feel better after dinner and a drive," was the laughing reply.
They were soon seated in a quiet family restaurant, but the young girl was too perturbed in mind to enjoy the few courses ordered. With self-reproach she recognized the truth that she was engaged in the rather unusual occupation of becoming acquainted with her father. He sat before her, with his face, generally stern and inscrutable, softened by a desire to be companionable and sympathetic. According to his belief she now had "a mood," and after a day or two of quiet retirement from the world she would relapse into her old enjoyment of social attention, which would be all the deeper for its brief interruption.
Mr. Vosburgh was of German descent. In his daily life he had become Americanized, and was as practical in his methods as the shrewd people with whom he dealt, and whom he often outwitted. Apart from this habit of coping with life just as he found it, he had an inner nature of which few ever caught a glimpse,—a spirit and an imagination deeply tinged with German ideality and speculation. Often, when others slept, this man, who appeared so resolute, hard, and uncompromising in the performance of duties, and who was understood by but few, would read deeply in metaphysics and romantic poetry. Therefore, the men and women who dwelt in his imagination were not such as he had much to do with in real life. Indeed, he had come to regard the world of reality and that of fancy as entirely distinct, and to believe that only here and there, as a man or woman possessed something like genius, would there be a marked deviation from ordinary types. The slight differences, the little characteristic meannesses or felicities that distinguished one from another, did not count for very much in his estimation. When a knowledge of such individual traits was essential to his plans, he mastered them with singular keenness and quickness of comprehension. When such knowledge was unnecessary, or as soon as it ceased to be of service, he dismissed the extraneous personalities from his mind almost as completely as if they had had no existence. Few men were less embarrassed with acquaintances than he; yet he had an observant eye and a retentive memory. When he wanted a man he rarely failed to find the right one. In the selection and use of men he appeared to act like an intelligent and silent force, rather than as a man full of human interests and sympathies. He rarely spoke of himself, even in the most casual way. Most of those with whom he mingled knew merely that he was an agent of the government, and that he kept his own counsel. His wife was to him a type of the average American woman,—pretty, self-complacent, so nervous as to require kind, even treatment, content with feminalities, and sufficiently intelligent to talk well upon every-day affairs. In her society he smiled at her, said "Yes," good-humoredly, to almost everything, and found slight incentive to depart from his usual reticence. She had learned the limits of her range, and knew that within it there was entire liberty, beyond it a will like adamant. They got on admirably together, for she craved nothing further in the way of liberty and companionship than was accorded her, while he soon recognized that the prize carried off from other competitors could no more follow him into his realm of thought and action than she could accompany him on a campaign. At last he had concluded philosophically that it was just as well. He was engaged in matters that should not be interfered with or babbled about, and he could come and go without questioning. He had occasionally thought: "If she were such a woman as I have read of and imagined,—if she could supplement my reason with the subtilty of intuition and the reticence which some of her sex have manifested,—she would double my power and share my inner life, for there are few whom I can trust. The thing is impossible, however, and so I am glad she is content."
As for Marian, she had promised, in his view, to be but a charming repetition of her mother, with perhaps a mind of larger calibre. She had learned more and had acquired more accomplishments, but all this resulted, possibly, from her better advantages. Her drawing-room conversation seemed little more than the ordinary small talk of the day, fluent and piquant, while the girl herself was as undisturbed by the vital questions of the hour and of life, upon which he dwelt, as if she had been a child. He knew that she received much attention, but it excited little thought on his part, and no surprise. He believed that her mother was perfectly competent to look after the proprieties, and that young fellows, as had been the case with himself, would always seek pretty, well-bred girls, and take their chances as to what the women who might become their wives should prove to be.
Marian looked with awakening curiosity and interest at the face before her, yet it was the familiar visage of her father. She had seen it all her life, but now felt that she had never before seen it in its true significance—its strong lines, square jaw, and quiet gray eyes, with their direct, steady gaze. He had come and gone before her daily, petted her now and then a little, met her requests in the main good-humoredly, paid her bills, and would protect her with his life; yet a sort of dull wonder came over her as she admitted to herself that he was a stranger to her. She knew little of his work and duty, less of his thoughts, the mental realm in which the man himself dwelt. What were its landmarks, what its characteristic features, she could not tell. One may be familiar with the outlines of a country on a map, yet be ignorant of the scenery, productions, inhabitants, governing forces, and principles. Her very father was to her but a man in outline. She knew little of the thoughts that peopled his brain, of the motives and principles that controlled his existence, giving it individuality, and even less of the resulting action with which his busy life abounded. Although she had crossed the threshold of womanhood, she was still to him the self-pleasing child that he had provided for since infancy; and he was, in her view, the man to whom, according to the law of nature and the family, she was to look for the maintenance of her young life, with its almost entire separation in thoughts, pleasures, and interests. She loved him, of course. She had always loved him, from the time when she had stretched forth her baby hands to be taken and fondled for a few moments and then relinquished to others. Practically she had dwelt with others ever since. Now, as a result, she did not understand him, nor he her. She would miss him as she would oxygen from the air. Now she began to perceive that, although he was the unobtrusive source of her life, home, education, and the advantages of her lot, he was not impersonal, but a human being as truly as herself. Did he want more from her than the common and instinctive affection of a child for its parent? If to this she added intelligent love, appreciation, and sympathy, would he care? If she should be able to say, "Papa, I am kin to you, not merely in flesh and blood, but in mind, hope, and aspiration; I share with you that which makes your life, with its success and failure, not as the child who may find luxurious externals curtailed or increased, but as a sympathetic woman who understands the more vital changes in spiritual vicissitude,"—if she could truthfully say all this, would he be pleased and reveal himself to her?
Thoughts like these passed through her mind as they dined together and drove in the park. When at last they returned and sat in the dimly-lighted parlor, Mr. Vosburgh recognized that her "mood" had not passed away.
A NEW FRIEND.
"MARIAN," asked her father, after smoking awhile in silence, "what did you mean by your emphatic negative when I asked you if you were not content to be a conventional woman? How much do you mean?"
"I wish you would help me find out, papa."
"How! don't you know?"
"I do not; I am all at sea."
"Well, my dear, to borrow your own illustration, you can't be far from shore yet. Why not return? You have seemed entirely satisfied thus far."
"Were you content with me, papa?"
"I think you have been a very good little girl, as girls go."
"'Good little girl, as girls go;' that's all."
"That's more than can be said of many."
"Papa, I'm not a little girl; I am a woman of twenty years."
"Yes, I know; and quite as sensible as many at forty."
"I am no companion for you."
"Indeed you are; I've enjoyed having you with me this evening exceedingly."
"Yes, as you would have enjoyed my society ten years ago. I've been but a little girl to you all the time. Do you know the thought that has been uppermost in my mind since you joined me?"
"How should I? How long does one thought remain uppermost in a girl's mind?"
"I don't blame you for your estimate. My thought is this,—we are not acquainted with each other."
"I think I was acquainted with you, Marian, before this mood began."
"Yes, I think you were; yet I was capable of this 'mood,' as you call it, before."
"My child," said Mr. Vosburgh, coming to her side and stroking her hair, "I have spoken more to draw you out than for anything else. Heaven forbid that you for a moment should think me indifferent to anything that relates to your welfare! You wish me to advise, to help you. Before I can do this I must have your confidence, I must know your thoughts and impulses. You can scarcely have a purpose yet. Even a quack doctor will not attempt diagnosis or prescribe his nostrum without some knowledge of the symptoms. When I last saw you in the country you certainly appeared like a conventional society girl of an attractive type, and were evidently satisfied so to remain. You see I speak frankly, and reveal to you my habit of making quick practical estimates, and of taking the world as I find it. You say you were capable of this mood—let us call it an aspiration—before. I do not deny this, yet doubt it. When people change it is because they are ripe, or ready for change, as are things in nature. One can force or retard nature; but I don't believe much in intervention. With many I doubt whether there is even much opportunity for it. They are capable of only the gradual modification of time and circumstances. Young people are apt to have spasms of enthusiasm, or of self-reproach and dissatisfaction. These are of little account in the long run, unless there is fibre enough in character to face certain questions, decide them, and then act resolutely on definite lines of conduct. I have now given you my views, not as to a little child, but as to a mature woman of twenty. Jesting apart, you ARE old enough, Marian, to think for yourself, and decide whether you will be conventional or not. The probabilities are that you will follow the traditions of your past in a very ladylike way. That is the common law. You are too well-bred and refined to do anything that society would condemn."
"You are not encouraging, papa."
"Nor am I discouraging. If you have within you the force to break from your traditions and stop drifting, you will make the fact evident. If you haven't it would be useless for me to attempt to drag, drive, or coax you out of old ways. I am too busy a man to attempt the useless. But until you tell me your present mental attitude, and what has led to it, we are talking somewhat at random. I have merely aimed to give you the benefit of some experience."
"Perhaps you are taking the right course; I rather think you are. Perhaps I prove what a child I am still, because I feel that I should like to have you treat me more as you did when I was learning to walk. Then you stretched out your hands, and sustained me, and showed me step by step. Papa, if this is a mood, and I go back to my old, shallow life, with its motives, its petty and unworthy triumphs, I shall despise myself, and ever have the humiliating consciousness that I am doing what is contemptible. No matter how one obtains the knowledge of a truth or a secret, that knowledge exists, remains, and one can't be the same afterwards. It makes my cheeks tingle that I obtained my knowledge as I did. It came like a broad glare of garish light, in which I saw myself;" and she told him the circumstances.
He burst into a hearty laugh, and remarked, "Pat did put the ethics of the thing strongly."
"He made 'the thing,' as you call it, odious then and forever. I've been writhing in self-contempt ever since. When to be conventional is to be like a kitchen-maid, and worse, do you wonder at my revolt from the past?"
"Others won't see it in that light, my dear."
"What does it matter how others see it? I have my own life to live, to make or mar. How can I go on hereafter amusing myself in what now seems a vulgar, base, unwomanly way? It was a coarse, rude hand that awakened me, papa, but I am awake. Since I have met you I have had another humiliation. As I said, I am not even acquainted with you. I have never shown any genuine interest in that which makes your life, and you have no more thought of revealing yourself and your work to me than to a child."
"Marian," said her father, slowly, "I think you are not only capable of a change, but ripe for it. You inspire hope within me, and this fact carries with it the assurance that you also inspire respect. No, my dear, you don't know much about me; very few do. No man with a nature like mine reveals himself where there is no desire for the knowledge, no understanding, no sympathy, or even where all these exist, unless prompted by his heart. You know I am the last one in the world to put myself on exhibition. But it would be a heavenly joy to me—I might add surprise—if my own daughter became like some of the women of whom I have read and dreamed; and I do read and dream of that in which you little imagine me to be interested. To the world I am a stern, reticent, practical man I must be such in my calling. In my home I have tried to be good-natured, affectionate, and philosophical. I have seen little opportunity for anything more. I do not complain, but merely state a fact which indicates the general lot. We can rarely escape the law of heredity, however. A poet and a metaphysician were among our German ancestry; therefore, leading from the business-like and matter-of-fact apartment of my mind, I have a private door by which I can slip away into the realm of speculation, romance, and ideals. You perceive that I have no unnatural or shame-faced reticence about this habit. I tell you of it the moment you show sufficient interest to warrant my speaking."
"But, papa, I cannot hope to approach or even suggest the ideals of your fancy, dressed, no doubt, in mediaeval costume, and talking in blank verse."
"That's a superficial view, Marian. Neither poetic or outlandish costume, nor the impossible language put into the mouths of their creations by the old bards, makes the unconventional woman. There is, in truth, a conventionality about these very things, only it is antiquated. It is not a woman's dress or phraseology that makes her an ideal or an inspiration, but what she is herself. No two leaves are alike on the same tree, but they are all enough alike to make but one impression. Some are more shapely than others, and flutter from their support with a fairer and more conspicuous grace to the closely observant; but there is nothing independent about them, nothing to distinguish them especially from their companions. They fulfil their general purpose, and fall away. This simile applies to the majority of people. Not only poetry and romance, but history also, gives us instances wherein men and women differ and break away from accepted types, some in absurd or grotesque ways, others through the sheer force of gifted selfishness, and others still in natural, noble development of graces of heart and mind."
"Stop generalizing, and tell me, your silly, vain, flirtatious daughter, how I can be unconventional in this prosaic midday of civilization."
"Prosaic day? You are mistaken, Marian. There never was a period like it Barbaric principles, older than Abraham, are now to triumph, or give place to a better and more enlightened human nature. We almost at this moment hear the echoes of a strife in which specimens of the best manhood of the age are arrayed against one another in a struggle such as the world has never witnessed. I have my part in the conflict, and it brings to me great responsibilities and dangers."
"Dangers! You in danger, papa?"
"Yes, certainly. Since you wish to be treated like a woman, and not a child,—since you wish me to show my real life,—you shall know the truth. I am controlled by the government that is engaged in a life-and-death struggle to maintain its own existence and preserve for the nation its heritage of liberty. Thus far I have been able to serve the cause in quiet, unrecognized ways that I need not now explain; but I am one who must obey orders, and I wish to do so, for my heart is in the work. I am no better than other men who are risking all. Mamma knows this in a way, but she does not fully comprehend it. Fortunately she is not one of those who take very anxious thought for the morrow, and you know I am inclined to let things go on quietly as long as they will. Thus far I have merely gone to an office as I did before the war, or else have been absent on trips that were apparently civilian in character, and it has been essential that I should have as little distraction of mind as possible. I have lived long in hope that some decisive victory might occur; but the future grows darker, instead of lighter, and the struggle, instead of culminating speedily, promises to become more deadly and to be prolonged. There is but one way out of it for me, and that is through the final triumph of the old flag. Therefore, what a day will bring forth God only knows. There have been times when I wished to tell you something of this, but there seemed little opportunity. As you said, a good many were coming and going, you seemed happy and preoccupied, and I got into the habit of reasoning, 'Every day that passes without a thought of trouble is just so much gained; and it may be unnecessary to cloud her life with fear and anxiety;' yet perhaps it would be mistaken kindness to let trouble come suddenly, like an unexpected blow. I confess, however, that I have had a little natural longing to be more to my only child than I apparently was, but each day brought its increasing press of work and responsibility, its perplexing and far-reaching questions. Thus time has passed, and I said, 'Let her be a light-hearted girl as long as she can.'"
"O papa, what a blind, heartless fool I've been!"
"No, my dear, only young and thoughtless, like thousands of others. It so happened that nothing occurred to awaken you. One day of your old life begat another. That so slight a thing should make you think, and desire to be different, promises much to me, for if your nature had been shallow and commonplace, you wouldn't have been much disturbed. If you have the spirit your words indicate to-night, it will be better for you to face life in the height and depth of its reality, trusting in God and your own womanhood for strength to meet whatever comes. Those who live on this higher plane have deeper sorrows, but also far richer joys, than those who exist from hand to mouth, as it were, in the immediate and material present. What's more, they cease to be plebeian in the meaner sense of the word, and achieve at one step a higher caste. They have broken the conventional type, and all the possibilities of development open at once. You are still a young, inexperienced girl, and have done little in life except learn your lessons and amuse yourself, yet in your dissatisfaction and aspiration you are almost infinitely removed from what you were yesterday, for you have attained the power to grow and develop."
"You are too philosophical for me. How shall I grow or develop?"
"I scarcely know."
"What definite thing shall I do to-morrow?"
"Do what the plant does. Receive the influence that tends to quicken your best impulses and purposes; follow your awakened conscience naturally. Do what seems to you womanly, right, noble in little things or in great things, should there be opportunity. Did Shakespeare, as a child, propose to write the plays which have made him chief among men? He merely yielded to the impulse when it came. The law holds good down to you, my little girl. You have an impulse which is akin to that of genius. Instead of continuing your old indolent, strolling gait on the dead level of life, you have left the beaten track and faced the mountain of achievement. Every resolute step forward takes you higher, even though it be but an inch; yet I cannot see the path by which you will climb, or tell you the height you may gain. The main thing is the purpose to ascend. For ihose bent on noble achievement there is always a path. God only knows to what it may bring you. One step leads to another, and you will be guided better by the instincts and laws of your own nature than if I tried to lead you step by step. The best I can do is to give you a little counsel, and a helping hand now and then, as the occasion requires."
"Now in truth, papa, do not all your fine words signify about what you and mamma used to say years ago,—'You must be a good little girl, and then you will be happy'? It seems to me that many good people are conventionality itself."
"Many are, and if they ARE good, it is a fortunate phase of conventionality. For instance, I know of a man who by the law of heredity and the force of circumstances has scarcely a bad habit or trait, and has many good ones. He meets the duties of life in an ordinary, satisfactory way, and with little effort on his part I know of another man who externally presents nearly the same aspect to society, who is quiet and unobtrusive in his daily life, and yet he is fighting hereditary taint and habit with a daily heroism, such as no soldier in the war can surpass. He is not conventional, although he appears to be so. He is a knight who is not afraid to face demons. Genuine strength and originality of character do not consist in saying or doing things in an unusual way. Voluntary eccentrics are even worse than the imitators of some model or the careless souls which take .their coloring from chance surroundings. Conventionality ceases when a human being begins the resolute development of his own. natural law of growth to the utmost extent. This is true because nature in her higher work is not stereotyped. I will now be as definite as you can desire. You, for instance, Marian Vosburgh, are as yet, even to yourself, an unknown quantity. You scarcely know what you are, much less what you may become. This conversation, and the feeling which led to it, prove this. There are traits and possibilities in your nature due to ancestors of whom you have not even heard. These combine with your own individual endowments by nature to make you a separate and distinct being, and you grow more separate and distinct by developing nature's gifts, traits, powers,—in brief, that which is essentially your own. Thus nature becomes your ally and sees to it with absolute certainty that you are not like other people. Following this principle of action you cannot know, nor can any one know, to just what you may attain. All true growth is from within, outward. In the tree, natural law prevents distortion or exaggeration of one part over another. In your case reason, conscience, good taste, must supervise and direct natural impulses. Thus following nature you become natural, and cease to be conventional. If you don't do this you will be either conventional or queer. Do you understand me?"
"I think I begin to. Let me see if I do. Let me apply your words to one definite problem,—How can I be more helpful and companionable to you?"
"Why, Marian, do you not see how infinitely more to me you are already, although scarcely beyond the wish to be different from what you were? I have talked to you as a man talks to a woman in the dearest and most unselfish relation of life. There is one thing, however, you never can know, and that is a father's love for a daughter: it is essentially a man's love and a man's experience. I am sure it is very different from the affection I should have for a son, did I possess one. Ever since you were a baby the phrase, 'my little girl,' has meant more than you can ever know; and now when you come voluntarily to my side in genuine sympathy, and seek to enter INTELLIGENTLY into that which makes my life, you change everything for the better, precisely as that which was in cold, gray shadow before is changed by sunlight. You add just so much by your young, fresh, womanly life to my life, and it is all the more welcome because it is womanly and different from mine. You cease to be a child, a dependant to be provided for, and become a friend, an inspiration, a confidante. These relations may count little to heavy, stolid, selfish men, to whom eating, drinking, excitement, and money-making are the chief considerations, but to men of mind and ideals, especially to a man who has devoted, his heart, brain, and life to a cause upon which the future of a nation depends, they are pre-eminent. You see I am a German at heart, and must have my world of thought and imagination, as well as the world in which men look at me with cold, hard, and even hostile eyes. Thus far this ideal world has been peopled chiefly by the shadows of those who have lived in the past or by the characters of the great creators in poetry. Now if my blue-eyed daughter can prove to me that she has too much heart and brain to be an ordinary society-girl like half a million of others, and will share my interest in the great thoughts and achievements of the past and the greater questions of to-day,—if she can prove that when I have time I may enjoy a tryst with her in regions far remote from shallow, coarse, commonplace minds,—is not my whole life enriched? We can read some of my favorite authors together and trace their influence on the thought of the world. We can take up history and see how to-day's struggle is the result of the past. I think I could soon give you an intelligent idea of the questions of the time, for which men are hourly dying. The line of battle stretches across the continent, and so many are engaged that every few moments a man, and too often a woman from heart-break, dies that the beloved cause may triumph. Southern girls and women, as a rule, are far more awake to the events of the time than their sisters in the North. Such an influence on the struggle can scarcely be over-estimated. They create a public sentiment that drives even the cowardly into the ranks, and their words and enthusiasm incite brave young men to even chivalric courage. It is true that there are very many like them in the North, but there are also very many who restrain the men over whom they have influence,—who are indifferent, as you have been, or in sympathy with the South,—or who, as is true in most instances, do not yet see the necessity for self-sacrifice. We have not truly felt the war yet, but it will sooner or later come home to every one who has a heart. I have been in the South, and have studied the spirit of the people. They are just as sincere and conscientious as we are, and more in earnest as yet. Christian love and faith, there, look to Heaven for sanction with absolute sincerity, and mothers send their sons, girls their lovers, and wives their husbands, to die if need be. For the political conspirators who have thought first and always of their ambition I have only detestation, but for the people of the South—for the man I may meet in the ranks and kill if I can—I have profound respect. I should know he was wrong, I should be equally sure that he believed himself right.
"Look at the clock, my dear, and see how long I have talked to you. Can you now doubt that you will be companionable to me? Men down town think I am hard as a rock, but your touch of sympathy has been as potent as the stroke of Moses' rod. You have had an inundation of words, and the future is rosy to me with hope because you are not asleep."
"Have I shown lack of interest, papa?"
"No, Marian, your intent eyes have been eloquent with feeling. Therefore I have spoken so long and fully. You have, as it were, drawn the words from me. You have made this outpouring of my heart seem as natural as breathing, for when you look as you do to-night, I can almost think aloud to you. You have a sympathetic face, my child, and when expressing intelligent sympathy it grows beautiful. It was only pretty before. Prettiness is merely a thing of outline and color; beauty comes from the soul."
She came and stood at his side, resting her arm lightly on his shoulder.
"Papa," she said, "your words are a revelation to me. Your world is indeed a new one, and a better one than mine. But I must cease to be a girl, and become a woman, to enter it."
"You need not be less happy; you do not loset anything. A picture is ever finer for shadows and depth of perspective. You can't get anything very fine, in either art or life, from mere bright surface glare."
"I can't go back to that any more; something in my very soul tells me that I cannot; and your loneliness and danger would render even the wish to do so base. No, I feel now that I would rather be a woman, even though it involves a crown of thorns, than to be a shallow creature that my own heart would despise. I may never be either wise or deep, but I shall be to you all I can."
"You do very much for me in those words alone, my darling. As I said before, no one can tell what you may become if you develop your own nature naturally."
WOMAN'S CHIEF RIGHT.
It was late when Marian and her father parted, and each felt that a new era had begun in their lives. To the former it was like a deep religious experience. She was awed and somewhat depressed, as well as resolute and earnest. Life was no pleasure excursion to her father. Questions involving the solemnity of danger, possibly death, occupied his mind. Yet it was not of either that he thought, but of the questions themselves. She saw that he was a large-hearted, large-brained man, who entered into the best spirit of his age, and found recreation in the best thought of the past, and she felt that she was still but a little child beside him.
"But I shall no longer be a silly child or a shallow, selfish, unfeeling girl. I know there is something better in my nature than this. Papa's words confirm what I have read but never thought of much: the chief need of men who can do much or who amount to much is the intelligent sympathy of women who understand and care for them. Why, it was the inspiration of chivalry, even in the dark ages. Well, Marian Vosburgh, if you can't excel a kitchen-maid, it would be better that you had never lived."
The sun was shining brightly when she wakened on the following morning, and when she came to breakfast their domestic handed her a note from her father, by which she was informed that he would dine with her earlier than usual, and that they would take a sail down the bay.
Brief as it was, it breathed an almost lover-like fondness and happiness. She enjoyed her first exultant thrill at her sense of power as she comprehended that he had gone to his work that day a stronger and more hopeful man.
She went out to do her shopping, and was soon in a Broadway temple of fashion, but found that she was no longer a worshipper. A week before the beautiful fabrics would have absorbed her mind and awakened intense desires, for she had a passion for dress, and few knew how to make more of it than she. But a new and stronger passion was awakening. She was made to feel at last that she had not only a woman's lovely form and features, but a woman's mind. Now she began to dream of triumphs through the latter, and her growing thought was how to achieve them. Not that she was indifferent to her costume; it should be like the soldier's accoutrements; her mind the weapon.
As is common with the young to whom any great impulse or new, deep experience comes, she was absorbed by it, and could think of little else. She went over her father's words again and again, dwelling on the last utterance, which had contained the truth uppermost in all that he had said,—"Develop the best in your own nature naturally."
What was her own nature, her starting-point? Her introspection was not very reassuring. She felt that perhaps the most hopeful indication was her strong rebound from what she at last recognized as mean and unworthy. She also had a little natural curiosity and vanity to see if her face was changing with changing motives. Was there such a difference between prettiness and beauty? She was perfectly sure she would rather be beautiful than pretty.
Her mirror revealed a perplexed young face, suggesting interrogation-points. The day was ending as it had begun, with a dissatisfaction as to the past, amounting almost to disgust, and with fears, queries, and uncertainties concerning the future. How should she take up life again? How should she go on with it?
More importunate still was the question, "What has the future in store for me and for those I love? Papa spoke of danger; and when I think of his resolute face, I know that nothing in the line of duty will daunt him. He said that it might not be kindness to leave me in my old, blind, unthinking ignorance,—that a blow, shattering everything, might come, finding us all unprepared. Oh, why don't mamma feel and see more? We have been just like comfortable passengers on a ship, while papa was facing we knew not what. I may not be of much use, but I feel now as if I wanted to be with him. To stay below with scarcely any other motive than to have a good time, and then to be paralyzed, helpless, when some shock of trouble comes, now seems silly and weak to the last degree. I am only too glad that I came to my senses in time, for if anything should happen to papa, and I had to remember all my days that I had never been much to him, and had left him to meet the stress of life and danger alone, I am sure I should be wretched from self-reproach."
When he came at six o'clock, she met him eagerly, and almost her first words were, "Papa, there hasn't been any danger to-day?"
"Oh, no; none at all; only humdrum work. You must not anticipate trouble. Soldiers, you know, jest and laugh even when going into battle, and they are all the better soldiers for the fact. No; I have given you a wrong impression. Nothing has been humdrum to-day. An acquaintance down town said: 'What's up, Vosburgh? Heard good news? Have our troops scored a point?' You see I was so brightened up that he thought nothing but a national victory could account for the improvement. Men are like armies, and are twice as effective when well supported."
"The idea of my supporting you!"
"To me it's a charming idea. Instead of coming back to a dismal, empty house, I find a blue-eyed lassie who will go with me to dinner, and add sauce piquante to every dish. Come, I am not such a dull, grave old fellow as you imagine. You shall see how gallant I can become under provocation. We must make the most of a couple of hours, for that is all that I can give you. No sail to-night, as I had planned, for a government agent is coming on from Washington to see me, and I must be absent for at least an hour or two after eight o'clock. You won't mope, will you? You have something to read? Has the day been very long and lonely? What have you been doing and thinking about?"
"When are you going to give me a chance to answer?"
"Oh, I read your answer, partly at least, in your eyes. You can amplify later. Come, get ready for the street. Put on what you please, so that you wear a smile. These are not times to worry over slight reverses as long as the vital points are safe."
The hour they passed at dinner gave Marian a new revelation of her father. The quiet man proved true the words of Emerson, "Among those who enjoy his thought, he will regain his tongue."
At first he drew her out a little, and with his keen, quick insight he understood her perplexity, her solicitude about him and herself and the future, her resolute purpose to be a woman, and the difficulties of seeing the way to the changes she desired. Instead of replying directly to her words, he skilfully led their talk to the events of the day, and contemporaneous history became romance under his version; the actors in the passing drama ceased to be names and officials, and were invested with human interest. She was made to see their motives, their hopes, fears, ambitions; she opened her eyes in surprise at his knowledge of prominent people, their social status, relations, and family connection. A genial light of human interest played over most of his words, yet now and then they touched on the depths of tragedy; again he seemed to be indulging in sublimated gossip, and she saw the men and women who posed before the public in their high stations revealed in their actual daily life.
She became so interested that at times she left her food untasted. "How can you know all this?" she exclaimed.
"It is my business to know a great deal," he replied. "Then natural curiosity leads me to learn more. The people of whom I have spoken are the animated pieces on the chess-board. In the tremendous game that we are playing, success depends largely on their strength, weakness, various traits,—in brief, their character. The stake that I have in the game leads me to know and watch those who are exerting a positive influence. It is interesting to study the men and women who, in any period, made and shaped history, and to learn the secrets of their success and failure. Is it not natural that men and women who are making history to-day—who in fact are shaping one's own history—should be objects of stronger attention? Now, as in the past, women exert a far greater influence on current events than you would imagine. There are but few thrones of power behind which you will not find a woman. What I shall do or be during the coming weeks and months depends upon some of the people I have sketched, free-handed, for you alone. You see the sphinx—for as such I am regarded by many—opens his mouth freely to you. Can you guess some of my motives for this kind of talk?"
"You have wanted to entertain me, papa, and you have succeeded. You should write romances, for you but touch the names one sees in the papers and they become dramatic actors."
"I did want to entertain you and make a fair return for your society; I wish to prove that I can be your companion as truly as you can become mine; but I have aimed to do more. I wish you to realize how interesting the larger and higher world of activity is. Do not imagine that in becoming a woman, earnest and thoughtful, you are entering on an era of solemn platitudes. You are rather passing from a theatre of light comedy to a stage from which Shakespeare borrowed the whole gamut of human feeling, passion, and experience. I also wished to satisfy you that you have mind enough to become absorbed as soon as you begin to understand the significance of the play. After you have once become an intelligent spectator of real life you can no more go back to drawing-room chit-chat, gossip, and flirtation than you can lay down Shakespeare's 'Tempest' for a weak little parlor comedy. I am too shrewd a man, Marian, to try to disengage you from the past by exhortations and homilies; and now that you have become my friend, I shall be too sincere with you to disguise my purposes or methods. I propose to co-operate frankly with you in your effort, for in this way I prove my faith in you and my respect for you. Soon you will find yourself an actor in real life, as well as a spectator."
"I fear I have been one already,—a sorry one, too. It is possible to do mischief without being very intelligent or deliberate. You are making my future, so far as you are concerned, clearer than I imagined it could be. You do interest me deeply. In one evening you make it evident how much I have lost in neglecting you—for I have neglected you, though not intentionally. Hereafter I shall be only too proud if you will talk to me as you have done, giving me glimpses of your thoughts, your work, and especially your dangers, where there are any. Never deceive me in this respect, or leave me in ignorance. Whatever may be the weaknesses of my nature, now that I have waked up, I am too proud a girl to receive all that I do from your hands and then give almost my whole life and thought to others. I shall be too delighted if you are happier for my meddling and dropping down upon you. I'll keep your secrets too, you see;" and she confirmed her words by an emphatic little nod. "You can talk to me about people, big and little, with whom you have to do, just as serenely as if you were giving your confidence to an oyster.
"But, papa, I am confronted by a question of real life, just as difficult for me as any that can perplex you. I can't treat this question any more as I have done. I don't see my way at all. Now I am going to be as direct and straightforward as a man, and not beat around the bush with any womanish finesse. There is a gentleman in this city who, if he knew I was in town to-night, would call, and I might not be able to prevent him from making a formal proposal. He is a man whom I respect and like very much, and I fear I have been too encouraging,—not intentionally and deliberately you know, but thoughtlessly. He was the cleverest and the most entertaining of my friends, and always brought a breezy kind of excitement with him. Don't you see, papa? That is what I lived for, pleasure and excitement, and I don't believe that anything can be so exciting to a girl as to see a man yielding to her fascinations, whatever they may be. It gives one a delicious sense of power. I shall be frank, too. I must be, for I want your advice. You men like power. History is full of the records of those who sold their own souls for it, and walked through blood and crime to reach it. I think it is just as natural for a woman to love power also, only now I see that it is a cruel and vile thing to get it and use it merely for amusement. To me it was excitement. I don't like to think how it may all end to a man like Fenton Lane, and I am so remorseful that I am half inclined to sacrifice myself and make him as good a wife as I can."
"Do you love him?"
"No. I don't think I know what love is. When a mere girl I had a foolish little flame that went out with the first breath of ridicule. Since that time I have enjoyed gentlemen's society as naturally as any other girl of our set, perhaps more keenly. Their talk and ways are so different from those of girls! Then my love of power came in, you see. The other girls were always talking about their friends and followers, and it was my pride to surpass them all. I liked one better than another, of course, but was always as ready for a new conquest as that old fool, 'Alexander the Little,' who ran over the world and especially himself. What do you think, papa? Shall I ever see one who will make all the others appear as nothing? Or, would it be nobler to devote myself to a true, fine man, like Mr. Lane, no matter how I felt?"
"God forbid! You had better stay at your mother's side till you are as old and wrinkled as Time himself."
"I am honestly glad to hear you say so. But what am I to do? Sooner or later I shall have to refuse Mr. Lane, and others too."
"Refuse them, then. He would be less than a man who would ask a girl to sacrifice herself for him. No, my dear, the most inalienable right of your womanhood is to love freely and give yourself where you love. This right is one of the issues of this war,—that the poorest woman in this land may choose her own mate. Slavery is the corner-stone of the Confederacy, wherein millions of women can be given according to the will of masters. Should the South triumph, phases of the Old-World despotism would creep in with certainly, and in the end we should have alliances, not marriages, as is the case so generally abroad. Now if a white American girl does not make her own choice she is a weak fool. The law and public sentiment protect her. If she will not choose wisely, she must suffer the consequences, and only under the impulse of love can a true choice be made. A girl must be sadly deficient in sense if she loves a weak, bad, disreputable man, or a vulgar, ignorant one. Such mesalliances are more in seeming than in reality, for the girl herself is usually near in nature to what she chooses. There are few things that I would more earnestly guard you against than a loveless marriage. You would probably miss the sweetest happiness of life, and you would scarcely escape one of its worst miseries."
"That settles it, then. I am going to choose for myself,—to stay with you and mamma, and to continue sending you my bills indefinitely."
"They will be love letters, now."
"Very dear ones, you will think sometimes. But truly, papa, you must not let me spend more than you can afford. You should be frank on this point also, when you know I do not wish to be inconsiderate. The question still remains, What am I to do with Mr. Lane?"
"Now I shall throw you on your own resources. I believe your woman's tact can manage this question better than my reason; only, if you don't love him and do not think you can, be sure to refuse him. I have nothing against Mr. Lane, and approve of what I know about him; but I am not eager to have a rival, or to lose what I have so recently gained. Nevertheless, I know that when the true knight comes through the wood, my sleeping beauty will have another awakening, compared with which this one will seem slight indeed. Then, as a matter of course, I will quietly take my place as 'second fiddle' in the harmony of your life. But no discordant first fiddle, if you please; and love alone can attune its strings. My time is up, and, if I don't return early, go to bed, so that mamma may not say you are the worse for your days in town. This visit has made me wish for many others."
"You shall have them, for, as Shakespeare says, your wish 'jumps' with mine."
"BE HOPEFUL, THAT I MAY HOPE."
LEFT to herself Marian soon threw down the book she tried to read, and thought grew busy with her father's later words. Was there then a knight—a man—somewhere in the world, so unknown to her that she would pass him in the street without the slightest premonition that he was the arbiter of her destiny? Was there some one, to whom imagination could scarcely give shadowy outline, so real and strong that he could look a new life into her soul, set all her nerves tingling, and her blood coursing in mad torrents through her veins? Was there a stranger, whom now she would sweep with a casual glance, who still had the power to subdue her proud maidenhood, overcome the reserve which seemed to reach as high as heaven, and lay a gentle yet resistless grasp, not only on her sacred form, but on her very soul? Even the thought made her tremble with a vague yet delicious dread. Then she sprung to her feet and threw back her head proudly as she uttered aloud the words, "If this can ever be true, my power shall be equal to his."
A moment later she was evoking half-exultant chords from the piano. These soon grew low and dreamy, and the girl said softly to herself: "I have lived more in two days than in months of the past. Truly real life is better than a sham, shallow existence."
The door-bell rang, and she started to her feet. "Who can know I am in town?" she queried.
Fenton Lane entered with extended hand and the words: "I was passing and knew I could not be mistaken in your touch. Your presence was revealed by the music as unmistakably as if I had met you on the street. Am I an intruder? Please don't order me away under an hour or two."
"Indeed, Mr. Lane, truth compels me to say that I am here in deep retirement. I have been contemplating a convent."
"May I ask your motive?"
"To repent of my sins."
"You would have to confess at a convent. Why not imagine me a venerable father, dozing after a good dinner, and make your first essay at the confessional?"
"You tax my imagination too greatly. So I should have to confess; therefore no convent for me."
"Of course not. I should protest against it at the very altar, and in the teeth of the Pope himself. Can't you repent of your sins in some other way?"
"I suppose I shall have to."
"They would be a queer lot of little peccadilloes. I should like to set them all under a microscope."
"I would rather that your glass should be a goblet brimmed from Lethe."
"There is no Lethe for me, Miss Marian, so far as you are concerned."
"Come, tell me the news from the seat of war," she said, abruptly.
"This luxurious arm-chair is not a seat of war."
"Papa has been telling me how Southern girls make all the men enlist."
"I'll enlist to-morrow, if you ask me to."
"Oh, no. You might be shot, and then you would haunt me all my life."
"May I not haunt you anyway?" said Lane, resolutely, for he had determined not to let this opportunity pass. She was alone, and he would confirm the hope which her manner for months had inspired. "Come, Miss Marian," he continued, springing to his feet and approaching her side, his dark eyes full of fire and entreaty; "you cannot have misunderstood me. You know that while not a soldier I am also not a carpet-knight and have not idled in ladies' bowers. I have worked hard and dreamed of you. I am willing to do all that a man can to win you. Cowardice has not kept me from the war, but you. If it would please you I would put on the blue and shoulder a musket to-morrow. If you will permit more discretion and time, I can soon obtain a commission as an officer. But before I fight other battles, I wish to win the supreme victory of my life. Whatever orders I may take from others, you shall ever be my superior officer. You have seen this a long time; a woman of your mind could not help it. I have tried to hope with all a lover's fondness that you gave me glimpses of your heart also, but of this nothing would satisfy a man of my nature but absolute assurance."
He stood proudly yet humbly before her, speaking with strong, impassioned, fluent utterance, for he was a man who had both the power and the habit of expression.
She listened with something like dismay. Her heart, instead of kindling, grew only more heavy and remorseful. Her whole nature shrunk, while pity and compunction wrung tears from her eyes. This was real life in very truth. Here was a man ready to give up safe, luxurious existence, a career already successful, and face death for her. She knew him well enough to be sure that if he could wear her colors he would march away with the first regiment that would receive him. He was not a man to be influenced by little things, but yielded absolutely to the supreme impulses of his life. If she said the word, he would make good his promise with chivalrous, straightforward promptness, facing death, and all that death could then mean to him, with a light, half-jaunty courage characteristic of the ideal soldier. She had a secret wonder at herself that she could know all this and yet be so vividly conscious that what he asked could never be. Her womanly pity said yes; her woman's heart said no. He was eager to take her in his arms, to place the kiss of life-long loyalty on her lips; but in her very soul she felt that it would be almost sacrilege for him to touch her; since the divine impulse to yield, without which there can be no divine sanction, was absent.
She listened, not as a confused, frightened girl, while he spoke that which she had guessed before. Other men had sued, although none had spoken so eloquently or backed their words by such weight of character. Her trouble, her deep perplexity, was not due to a mere declaration, but was caused by her inability to answer him. The conventional words which she would have spoken a few days before died on her lips. They would be an insult to this earnest man, who had the right to hope for something better. What was scarcely worse—for there are few emergencies in which egotism is wholly lost—she would appear at once to him and to herself in an odious light. Her course would be well characterized by the Irish servant's lover, for here was a man who from the very fineness of his nature, if wronged, might easily go to the devil.
His words echoed her thought, for her hesitation and the visible distress on her face led him to exclaim, in a voice tense with something like agony: "O Marian, since you hesitate, hesitate longer. Think well before you mar—nay, spoil—my life. For God's sake don't put me off with some of the sham conventionalities current with society girls. I could stand anything better than that. I am in earnest; I have always been in earnest; and I saw from the first, through all your light, graceful disguises, that you were not a shallow, brainless, heartless creature,—that a noble woman was waiting to be wakened in your nature. Give me time; give yourself time. This is not a little affair that can be rounded off according to the present code of etiquette; it is a matter of life or death to me. Be more merciful than a rebel bullet."
She buried her face in her hands and sobbed helplessly.
He was capable of feeling unknown depths of tenderness, but there was little softness in his nature. As he looked down upon her, his face grew rigid and stern. In her sobs he read his answer,—the unwillingness, probably the inability, of her heart to respond to his,—and he grew bitter as he thought of the past.
With the cold, quiet tones of one too strong, controlled, and well-bred to give way violently to his intense anger, he said: "This is a different result from what you led me to expect. All your smiles end in these unavailing tears. Why did you smile so sweetly after you understood me, since you had nothing better in store? I was giving you the homage, the choice of my whole manhood, and you knew it. What were you giving me? Why did your eyes draw out my heart and soul? Do you think that such a man as I can exist without heart and soul? Did you class me with Strahan, who can take a refusal as he would lose a game of whist? No, you did not. I saw in your very eyes a true estimate of Strahan and all his kind. Was it your purpose to win a genuine triumph over a man who cared nothing for other women? Why then don't you enjoy it? You could not ask for anything more complete."
"Trample on me—I deserve it," she faltered.
After a moment's pause, he resumed: "I have no wish to trample on you. I came here with as much loyalty and homage as ever a man brought to a woman in any age. I have offered you any test of my love and truth that you might ask. What more could a man do? As soon as I knew what you were to me, I sought your father's permission to win you, and I told you my secret in every tone and glance. If your whole nature shrunk from me, as I see it does, you could have told me the truth months since, and I should have gone away honoring you as a true-hearted, honest girl, who would scorn the thought of deceiving and misleading an earnest man. You knew I did not belong to the male-flirt genus. When a man from some sacred impulse of his nature would give his very life to make a woman happy, is it too much to ask that she should not deliberately, and for mere amusement, wreck his life? If she does not want his priceless gift, a woman with your tact could have revealed the truth by one glance, by one inflection of a tone. Not that I should have been discouraged so easily, but I should have accepted an unspoken negative long since with absolute respect. But now—" and he made a gesture eloquent with protest and despair.
"But now," she said, wearily, "I see it all in the light in which you put it. Be content; you have spoiled my life as truly as I have yours."
"Yes, for this evening. There will be only one less in your drawing-room when you return."
"Very well," she replied, quietly. Her eyes were dry and hot now, and he could almost see the dark lines deepening under them, and the increasing pallor of her face. "I have only this to say. I now feel that your words are like blows, and they are given to one who is not resisting, who is prostrate;" and she rose as if to indicate that their interview should end.
He looked at her uneasily as she stood before him, with her pallid face averted, and every line of her drooping form suggesting defeat rather than triumph; yes, far more than defeat—the apathetic hopelessness of one who feels himself mortally wounded.
"Will you please tell me just what you mean when you say I have spoiled your life?" he asked.
"How should I know? How should anyone know till he has lived out its bitterness? What do you mean by the words? Perhaps you will remember hereafter that your language has been inconsistent as well as merciless. You said I was neither brainless nor heartless; then added that you had spoiled my life merely for one evening. But there is no use in trying to defend myself: I should have little to urge except thoughtlessness, custom, the absence of evil intention,—other words should prove myself a fool, to avoid being a criminal. Go on and spoil your life; you seem to be wholly bent upon it. Face rebel bullets or do some other reckless thing. I only wish to give you the solace of knowing that you have made me as miserable as a girl can be, and that too at a moment when I was awakening to better things. But I am wasting your valuable time. You believe in your heart that Mr. Strahan can console me with his gossip to-morrow evening, whatever happens."
"Great God! what am I to believe?"
She turned slowly towards him and said, gravely: "Do not use that name, Mr. Lane. He recognizes the possibility of good in the weakest and most unworthy of His creatures. He never denounces those who admit their sin and would turn from it."
He sprung to her side and took her hand. "Look at me," he pleaded.
His face was so lined and eloquent with suffering that her own lip quivered.
"Mr. Lane," she said, "I have wronged you. I am very sorry now. I've been sorry ever since I began to think—since you last called. I wish you could forgive me. I think it would be better for us both if you could forgive me."
He sunk into a chair and burying his face in his hands groaned aloud; then, in bitter soliloquy, said: "O God! I was right—I knew I was not deceived. She is just the woman I believed her to be. Oh, this is worse than death!"
No tears came into his eyes, but a convulsive shudder ran through his frame like that of a man who recoils from the worst blow of fate.
"Reproach—strike me, even," she cried. "Anything is better than this. Oh, that I could—but how can I? Oh, what an unutterable fool I have been! If your love is so strong, it should also be a little generous. As a woman I appeal to you."
He rose at once and said: "Forgive me; I fear that I have been almost insane,—that I have much to atone for."
"O Mr. Lane, I entreat you to forgive me. I did admire you; I was proud of your preference,—proud that one so highly thought of and coveted by others should single me out. I never dreamt that my vanity and thoughtlessness could lead to this. If you had been ill or in trouble, you would have had my honest sympathy, and few could have sacrificed more to aid you. I never harbored one thought of cold-blooded malice. Why must I be punished as if I had committed a deliberate crime? If I am the girl you believe me to be, what greater punishment could I have than to know that I had harmed a man like you? It seems to me that if I loved any one I could suffer for him and help him, without asking anything in return. I could give you honest friendship, and take heart-felt delight in every manly success that you achieved. As a weak, faulty girl, who yet wishes to be a true woman, I appeal to you. Be strong, that I may be strong; be hopeful, that I may hope; be all that you can be, that I may not be disheartened on the very threshold of the better life I had chosen."
He took her hand, and said: "I am not unresponsive to your words. I feel their full force, and hope to prove that I do; but there is a tenacity in my nature that I cannot overcome. You said, 'if you loved'—do you not love any one?"
"No. You are more to me—twice more—than any man except my father."
"Then, think well. Do not answer me now, unless you must. Is there not a chance for me? I am not a shadow of a man, Marian. I fear I have proved too well how strong and concentrated my nature is. There is nothing I would not do or dare—"
"No, Mr. Lane; no," she interrupted, shaking her head sadly, "I will never consciously mislead a man again a single moment. I scarcely know what love is; I may never know; but until my heart prompts me, I shall never give the faintest hope or encouragement of this nature. I have been taught the evil of it too bitterly."
"And I have been your remorseless teacher, and thus perhaps have destroyed my one chance."
"You are wrong. I now see that your words were natural to one like you, and they were unjust only because I was not deliberate. Mr. Lane, let me be your friend. I could give you almost a sister's love; I could be so proud of you!"
"There," he said. "You have triumphed after all. I pledge you my word—all the manhood I possess—I will do whatever you ask."
She took his hand in both her own with a look of gratitude he never forgot, and spoke gladly: "Now you change everything. Oh, I am so glad you did not go away before! What a sad, sleepless night I should have had, and sad to-morrows stretching on indefinitely! I ask very much, very much indeed,—that you make the most and best of yourself. Then I can try to do the same. It will be harder for you than for me. You bring me more hope than sadness; I have given you more sadness than hope. Yet I have absolute faith in you because of what papa said to me last night. I had asked him how I could cease to be what I was, be different, you know, and he said, 'Develop the best in your own nature naturally.' If you will do this I shall have no fears."
"Yet I have been positively brutal to you to-night."
"No man can be so strong as you are and be trifled with. I understand that now, Mr. Lane. You had no sentimentality to be touched, and my tears did not move you in the least until you believed in my honest contrition."
"I have revealed to you one of my weaknesses. I am rarely angry, but when I am, my passion, after it is over, frightens me. Marian, you do forgive me in the very depths of your heart?"