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- An Original Belle - 4/94 -
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
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