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- An Original Belle - 50/94 -
in July awakened intense hostility to the war and the government on the part of a large and rapidly increasing class of citizens. This class had its influential and outspoken leaders, who were evidently in league with a secret and disloyal organization known as the "Knights of the Golden Circle," the present object of which was the destruction of the Union and the perpetuation of slavery. In the city of New York the spirit of rebellion was as rampant in the breasts of tens of thousands as in Richmond, and Mr. Vosburgh knew it. His great sagacity and the means of information at his command enabled him to penetrate much of the intrigue that was taking place, and to guess at far more. He became haggard and almost sleepless from his labors and anxieties, for he knew that the loyal people of the North were living over a volcano.
Marian shared in this solicitude, and was his chief confidante. He wished her, with her mother, to go to some safe and secluded place in the country, and offered to lease again the cottage which they had occupied the previous summer, but Marian said that she would not leave him, and that he must not ask her to do so. Mrs. Vosburgh was eventually induced to visit relatives in New England, and then father and daughter watched events with a hundred-fold more anxiety than that of the majority, because they were better informed and more deeply involved in the issues at stake than many others. But beyond all thought of worldly interests, their intense loyal feeling burned with a pure, unwavering flame.
In addition to all that occupied her mind in connection with her father's cares and duties, she had other grounds for anxiety. Strahan wrote that his regiment was marching northward, and that he soon expected to take part in the chief battle of the war. Every day she hoped for some news from Lane, but none came. His wishes in regard to Mammy Borden and her son had been well carried out. Mr. Vosburgh had been led to suspect that the man in charge of his offices was becoming rather too curious in regard to his affairs, and too well informed about them. Therefore Zeb was installed in his place; and when Mrs. Vosburgh departed on her visit Marian dismissed the girl who had succeeded Sally Maguire, and employed the colored woman in her stead. She felt that this action would be pleasing to Lane, and that it was the very least that she could do.
Moreover, Mammy Borden was what she termed a "character," one to whom she could speak with something of the freedom natural to the ladies of the Southern household. The former slave could describe a phase of life and society that was full of novelty and romance to Marian, and "de young ladies," especially "Missy S'wanee," were types of the Southern girl of whom she never wearied of hearing. From the quaint talk of her new servant she learned to understand the domestic life of those whom she had regarded as enemies, and was compelled to admit that in womanly spirit and dauntless patriotism they were her equals, and had proved it by facing dangers and hardships from which she had been shielded. More than all, the old colored woman was a protegee of Captain Lane and was never weary of chanting his praises.
Marian was sincerely perplexed by the attitude of her mind towards this young officer. He kindled her enthusiasm and evoked admiration without stint. He represented to her the highest type of manhood in that period of doubt, danger, and strong excitement. Brave to the last degree, his courage was devoid of recklessness. The simple, untutored description of his action given by the refugees had only made it all the more clear that his mind was as keen and bright as his sword, while in chivalric impulses he had never been surpassed. Unconsciously Mammy Borden and her son had revealed traits in him which awakened Marian's deepest respect, suggesting thoughts of which she would not have spoken to any one. She had been shown his course towards beautiful women who were in his power, and who at the same time were plotting his destruction and that of his command. While he foiled their hostile purpose, no knight of olden times could have shown them more thoughtful consideration and respect. She felt that her heart ought to go out towards this ideal lover in utter abandon. Why did it not? Why were her pride, exultation, and deep solicitude too near akin to the emotions she would have felt had he been her brother? Was this the only way in which she could love? Would the sacred, mysterious, and irresistible impulses of the heart, of which she had read, follow naturally in due time?
She was inclined to believe that this was true, yet, to her surprise, the thought arose unbidden: "If Willard Merwyn were showing like qualities and making the same record--What absurdity is this!" she exclaimed aloud. "Why does this Mr. Merwyn so haunt me, when I could not give him even respect and friendship, although he sent an army into the field, yet was not brave enough to go himself? Where is he? What is he doing in these supreme hours of his country's history? Everything is at stake at the front, yes, and even here at the North, for I can see that papa dreads unspeakably what each day may bring forth, yet neither this terrible emergency nor the hope of winning my love can brace his timid soul to manly action. There is more manhood in one drop of the blood shed by Captain Lane than in Merwyn's whole shrinking body."
THE NORTH INVADED.
Merwyn could scarcely have believed that he had sunk so low in Marian's estimation as her words at the close of the previous chapter indicated, yet he guessed clearly the drift of her opinion in regard to him, and he saw no way of righting himself. In the solitude of his country home he considered and dismissed several plans of action. He thought of offering his services to the Sanitary Commission, but his pride prevented, for he knew that she and others would ask why a man of his youth and strength sought a service in which sisters of charity could be his equals in efficiency. He also saw that joining a regiment of the city militia was but a half-way measure that might soon lead to the violation of his oath, since these regiments could be ordered to the South in case of an emergency.
The prospect before him was that of a thwarted, blighted life. He might live till he was gray, but in every waking moment he would remember that he had lost his chance for manly action, when such action would have brought him self-respect, very possibly happiness, and certainly the consciousness that he had served a cause which now enlisted all his sympathies.
At last he wrote to his mother an impassioned appeal to be released from his oath, assuring her that he would never have any part in the Southern empire that was the dream of her life. He cherished the hope that she, seeing how unalterable were his feelings and purposes, would yield to him the right to follow his own convictions, and with this kindling hope his mind grew calmer.
Then, as reason began to assert itself, he saw that he had been absent from the city too long already. His pride counselled: "The world has no concern with your affairs, disappointments, or sufferings. Be your father's son, and maintain your position with dignity. In a few short weeks you may be free. If not, your secret is your own, and no living soul can gossip about your family affairs, or say that you betrayed your word or your family interests. Meanwhile, in following the example of thousands of other rich and patriotic citizens, you can contribute more to the success of the Union cause than if you were in the field."
He knew that this course might not secure him the favor of one for whom he would face every danger in the world, but it might tend to disarm criticism and give him the best chances for the future.
He at once carried out his new purposes, and early in June returned to his city home. He now resolved no longer to shrink and hide, but to keep his own counsel, and face the situation like one who had a right to choose his own career. Mr. Bodoin, his legal adviser, received the impression that he had been quietly looking after his country property, and the lawyer rubbed his bloodless hands in satisfaction over a youthful client so entirely to his mind.
Having learned more fully what his present resources were, Merwyn next called on Mr. Vosburgh at his office. That gentleman greeted the young man courteously, disguising his surprise and curiosity.
"I have just returned from my country place," Merwyn began, "and shall not have to go there very soon again, Can I call upon you as usual?"
"Certainly," replied Mr. Vosburgh; but there was no warmth in his tone.
"I have also a favor to ask," resumed Merwyn, with a slight deepening of color in his bronzed face. "I have not been able to follow events very closely, but so far as I can judge there is a prospect of severe battles and of sudden emergencies. If there is need of money, such means as I have are at your disposal."
Even Mr. Vosburgh, at the moment, felt much of Marian's repulsion as he looked at the tall youth, with his superb physique, who spoke of severe battles and offered "money." "Truly," he thought, "she must be right. This man will part with thousands rather than risk one drop of blood."
But he was too good a patriot to reveal his impression, and said, earnestly: "You are right, Mr. Merwyn. There will be heavy fighting soon, and all the aid that you can give the Sanitary and Christian Commissions will tend to save life and relieve suffering."
Under the circumstances he felt that he could not use any of the young man's money, even as a temporary loan, although at times the employment of a few extra hundreds might aid him greatly in his work.
Merwyn went away chilled and saddened anew, yet feeling that his reception had been all that he had a right to expect.
There had been no lack of politeness on Mr. Vosburgh's part, but his manner had not been that of a friend.
"He has recognized that I am under some secret restraint," Merwyn thought, "and distrusts me at last. He probably thinks, with his daughter, that I am afraid to go. Oh that I had a chance to prove that I am, at least, not a coward! In some way I shall prove it before many weeks pass."
At dinner, that evening, Mr. Vosburgh smiled significantly at
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