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- An Original Belle - 30/94 -
of empire, cost what it may, are more to you than husband or child. A mother would have said: 'You have reached manhood and have the rights of a man. I will advise you and seek to guide you. You know my feelings and views, and in their behalf I will even entreat you; but you have reached that age when the law makes you free, and holds you accountable to your own conscience.' Of what value is my life if it is not mine? I should have the right to make my own life, like others."
"You have the right to make it, but not to mar it."
"In other words, your prejudices, your fanaticism, are to take the place of my conscience and reason. You expect me to carry a sham of manhood out into the world. I wish you to release me from my oath."
"Never," cried Mrs. Merwyn, with a passion now equal to his own. "You have fallen into the hands of a Delilah, and she has shorn you of your manhood. Infatuated with a nameless Northern girl, you would blight your life and mine. When you come to your senses you will thank me on your knees that I interposed an oath that cannot be broken between you and suicidal folly;" and she was about to leave the room.
"Stop," he said, huskily. "When I bound myself I did so without realizing what I did. I was but a boy, knowing not the future. I did it out of mere good-will to you, little dreaming of the fetters you were forging. Since you will not release me and treat me as a man I shall keep the oath. I swore never to put on the uniform of a Union soldier, or to step on Southern soil with a hostile purpose, but you have taught me to detest your Confederacy with implacable hate; and I shall use my means, my influence, all that I am, to aid others to destroy it."
"What! are you not going back to England with us?"
"Before you have been there a week this insane mood will pass away."
"Did my father's moods pass away?"
"Your father--" began the lady, impetuously, and then hesitated.
"My father always yielded you your just rights and maintained his own. I shall imitate his example as far as I now may. The oath is a thing that stands by itself. It will probably spoil my life, but I cannot release myself from it."
"You leave me only one course, Willard,--to bear with you as if you were a passionate child. You never need hope for my consent to an alliance with the under-bred creature who has been the cause of this folly."
"Thank you. You now give me your complete idea of my manhood. I request that these subjects be dismissed finally between us. I make another pledge,--I shall be silent whenever you broach them;" and with a bow he left the apartment.
Half an hour later he was climbing the nearest mountain, resolved on a few hours of solitude. From a lofty height he could see the little Vosburgh cottage, and, by the aid of a powerful glass, observed that the pony phaeton did not go out as usual, although the day was warm and beautiful after the storm.
The mists of passion were passing from his mind, and in strong reaction from his violent excitement he sunk, at first, into deep depression. So morbid was he that he cried aloud: "O my father! Would to God that you had lived! Where are you that you can give no counsel, no help?"
But he was too young to give way to utter despondency, and at last his mind rallied around the words he had spoken to Marian. "I shall, hereafter, measure everything by the breadth of your woman's soul."
As he reviewed the events of the summer in the light of recent experience, he saw how strong, unique, and noble her character was. Faults she might have in plenty, but she was above meannesses and mercenary calculation. The men who had sought her society had been incited to manly action, and beneath all the light talk and badinage earnest and heroic purposes had been formed; he meanwhile, poor fool! had been too blinded by conceited arrogance to understand what was taking place. He had so misunderstood her as to imagine that after she had spent a summer in giving heroic impulses she would be ready to form an alliance that would stultify all her action, and lose her the esteem of men who were proving their regard in the most costly way. He wondered at himself, but thought:--
"I had heard so much about financial marriages abroad that I had gained the impression that no girl in these days would slight an offer like mine. Even her own mother was ready enough to meet my views. I wonder if she will ever forgive me, ever receive me again as a guest, so that I can make a different impression. I fear she will always think me a coward, hampered as I am by a restraint that I cannot break. Well, my only chance is to take up life from her point of view, and to do the best I can. There is something in my nature which forbids my ever yielding or giving up. So far as it is now possible I shall keep my word to her, and if she has a woman's heart she may, in time, so far relent as to give me a place among her friends. This is now my ambition, for, if I achieve this, I shall know I am winning such manhood as I can attain."
When Merwyn appeared at dinner he was as quiet and courteous as if nothing had happened; but his mother was compelled to note that the boyishness had departed out of his face, and in its strong lines she recognized his growing resemblance to his father.
Two weeks later he accompanied his mother and sisters to England. Before his departure he learned that Marian had been seriously ill, but was convalescent, and that her father had returned.
Meantime and during the voyage, with the differences natural to the relation of mother and son, his manner was so like that of his father towards her that she was continually reminded of the past, and was almost led to fear that she had made a grave error in the act she had deemed so essential. But her pride and her hopes for the future prevented all concession.
"When he is once more in society abroad this freak will pass away," she thought, "and some English beauty will console him."
But after they were well established in a pretty villa near congenial acquaintances, Merwyn said one morning, "I shall return to New York next week."
"Willard! how can you think of such a thing? I was planning to spend the latter part of the winter in Rome."
"That you may easily do with your knowledge of the city and your wide circle of friends."
"But we need you. We want you to be with us, and I think it most unnatural in you to leave us alone."
"I have taken no oath to dawdle around Europe indefinitely. I propose to return to New York and go into business."
"You have enough and more than enough already."
"I certainly have had enough of idleness."
"But I protest against it. I cannot consent."
"Mamma," he said, in the tone she so well remembered, "is not my life even partially my own? What is your idea of a man whom both law and custom make his own master? Even as a woman you chose for yourself at the proper age. What strange infatuation do you cherish that you can imagine that a son of Willard Merwyn has no life of his own to live? It is now just as impossible for me to idle away my best years in a foreign land as it would be for me to return to my cradle. I shall look after your interests and comfort to the best of my ability, and, if you decide to return to New York, you shall be received with every courtesy."
"I shall never return to New York. I would much prefer to go to my plantation and share the fortunes of my own people."
"I supposed you would feel in that way, and I will do all in my power to further your wishes, whatever they may be. My wishes, in personal matters, are now equally entitled to respect. I shall carry them out;" and with a bow that precluded all further remonstrance he left the room.
A day or two later she asked, abruptly, "Will you use your means and influence against the South?"
Mrs. Merwyn's face became rigid, but nothing more was said. When he bade her good-by there was an evident struggle in her heart, but she repressed all manifestations of feeling, and mother and son parted.
COMING TO THE POINT.
WHEN the tide has long been rising the time comes for it to recede. From the moment of Marian's awakening to a desire for a better womanhood, she had been under a certain degree of mental excitement and exaltation. This condition had culminated with the events that wrought up the loyal North into suspense, anguish, and stern, relentless purpose.
While these events had a national and world-wide significance, they also pressed closely, in their consequences, on individual life. It has been shown how true this was in the experience of Marian. Her own personal struggle alone, in which she was combating the habits and weakness of the past, would not have been a trivial matter,--it never is when there is earnest endeavor,--but, in addition to this, her whole soul had been kindling in sympathy with the patriotic fire that was impelling her dearest friends towards
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