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- An Original Belle - 80/94 -


"No, Marian," replied her father, confidently, "that young fellow has a future. He is one of those rare spirits which a period like this develops, and he'll take no common part in it. He has probably gone to see if his own home is safe. Now trust God and be a soldier, as you promised."

"I couldn't bear to have anything happen to him and I have no chance to make amends, to show I am not so weak and silly as I appeared this morning."

"Then let him find you strong and self-controlled when he appears. Come down now, for I must question my agents while they are yet at supper; then I must go out, and I'll leave them for your protection till I return."

He put his arm about her, and led her to the stairway, meanwhile thinking, "A spell is working now which she soon will have to recognize."

By the time his agents had finished their meal, Mr. Vosburgh had completed his examination of them and made his notes. He then placed a box of cigars on the table, instructed them about admitting Merwyn should he come, and with his daughter went up to the library, where he wrote another long despatch.

"After sending this," he said, "and getting the woman I spoke of, I will not leave you again to-night, unless there should be very urgent necessity. You can sit in the darkened front room, and watch till either I or Merwyn returns."

This she did and listened breathlessly.

The rain continued to pour in torrents, and the lightning was still so vivid as to blind her eyes at times, while the crashes of thunder often drowned the roar of the unquiet city; but undaunted, tearless, motionless, she watched the deserted street and listened for the footfall of one whom she had long despised, as she had assured herself.

An hour passed. The storm was dying away, and still he did not come. "Alas!" she sighed, "he is wounded; if not by the rabble, certainly by me. I know now what it has cost him to be thought a coward for months, and must admit that I don't understand him at all. How vividly come back the words he spoke last December, 'What is the storm, and what the danger, to that which I am facing?' What was he facing? What secret and terrible burden has he carried patiently through all my coldness and scorn? Oh, why was I such an idiot as to offend him mortally just as he was about to retrieve himself and render papa valuable assistance,--worse still, when he came to my protection!"

The gloomy musings were interrupted by the sound of a carriage driven rapidly up town in a neighboring street. It stopped at the corner to the east, and a man alighted and came towards the Vosburgh residence. A moment later Marian whispered, excitedly, "It's Mr. Merwyn."

He approached slowly and she thought warily, and began mounting the steps.

"Is it Mr. Merwyn?;" she called.

"Yes."

"I will admit you at the basement door;" and she hastened down. She meant to give her hand, to speak in warm eulogy of his action, but his pale face and cold glance as he entered chilled her. She felt tongue-tied in the presence of the strangers who sat near the table smoking.

Merwyn started slightly on seeing them, and then she explained, hastily, "These gentlemen are assisting my father in a way you understand."

He bowed to them, then sank into a chair, as if too weary to stand.

"Mr. Merwyn," she began, eagerly, "let me make you some fresh coffee. That on the range is warm, but it has stood some little time."

"Please do not take the slightest trouble," he said, decidedly. "That now ready will answer. Indeed, I would prefer it to waiting. I regret exceedingly that Mr. Vosburgh is not at home, for I am too exhausted to wait for him. Can I not help myself?" and he rose and approached the range.

"Not with my permission," she replied, with a smile, but he did not observe it. She stole shy glances at him as she prepared the coffee. Truly, as he sat, drooping in his chair, wet, ragged, and begrimed, he presented anything but the aspect of a hero. Yet as such he appeared in her eyes beyond all other men whom she had ever seen.

She said, gently: "Let me put the coffee on the table, and get you some supper. You must need it sorely."

"No, I thank you. I could not eat anything to-night;" and he rose and took the coffee from her hand, and drank it eagerly. He then said, "I will thank you for a little more."

With sorrow she noted that he did not meet her eyes or relax his distant manner.

"I wish you could wait until papa returns," she said, almost entreatingly, as she handed him a second cup.

"I hope Mr. Vosburgh will pardon my seeming lack of courtesy, and that you will also, gentlemen. It has been a rather long, hard day, and I find that I have nearly reached the limit of my powers." With a short, grim laugh, he added: "I certainly am not fit to remain in the presence of a lady. I suppose, Miss Vosburgh, I may report what little I have to say in the presence of these gentlemen? I would write it out if I could, but I cannot to-night."

"I certainly think you may speak freely before these gentlemen," was her reply.

"Mr. Vosburgh trusts us implicitly, and I think we are deserving of it," said one of the agents.

"Why need you go out again when you are so weary?" Marian asked. "I am expecting papa every moment, and I know he would like you to stay with him."

"That would be impossible. Besides, I have some curiosity to learn whether I have a home left. My report in brief amounts to little more than this. Soon after our return from the mayor's residence on Broadway we were ordered down to Printing-House Square. Intelligence that an immense mob was attacking the Tribune Office had been received. Our hasty march thither, and the free use of the club on our arrival, must account for my present plight. You see, gentlemen, that I am not a veteran, only a raw recruit. In a day or two I shall be more seasoned to the work. You may say to your father, Miss Vosburgh, that the mob had been broken before we arrived. We met them on their retreat across City-Hall Park, and nothing was left for us but the heavy, stupid work of knocking a good many of the poor wretches on the head. Such fighting makes me sick; yet it is imperative, no doubt. Inspector Carpenter is at City Hall with a large force, and the rioters are thoroughly dispersed. I think the lower part of the city will be quiet for the night."

"You were wise, Mr. Merwyn, to ride up town," said Marian, gravely. "I know well that you have been taxed to-day beyond the strength of any veteran."

"How did you know that I rode up town?"

"I was watching for papa, and saw you leave your carriage."

"I could never have reached home had I not secured a cab, and that reminds me that it is waiting around the corner; at least, the driver promised to wait. I shall now say good-night. Oh, by the way, in the press of other things I forgot to say that Mrs. Ghegan reached her husband, and that her good nursing, with surgical help, will probably save his life."

Bowing to the agents, who had been listening and watching him with great curiosity, he turned to the door.

Marian opened it for him, and, stepping out into the dusky area, said, "I see that you do not forgive me."

"And I have seen, to-day, Miss Vosburgh, that you detest me. You showed the truth plainly when off your guard. Your own pride and sense of justice may lead you to seek to make amends for an error in your estimate of me. Having convinced you that I am not a coward, I have accomplished all that I can hope for, and I'm in no mood for hollow courtesies. I shall do everything in my power to aid your father until the trouble is over or I am disabled, and then will annoy you no more. Good-night;" and he strode away, with a firm, rapid step, proving that his pride for a moment had mastered his almost mortal weariness.

Marian returned to her post in the second story to watch for her father, her ears tingling, and every faculty confused, while excited, by the words Merwyn had spoken. He had revealed his attitude towards her clearly, and, as she grew calmer, she saw it was not a mere question of the offence she had given him that morning which she had to face, but rather a deep-rooted conviction that he was personally detested.

"If he knew how far this is from the truth NOW!" she thought, with a smile.

Then the query presented itself: "How far is it from the truth? Why am I thinking more of him than of the riot, our danger, yes, even my father?"

In the light of that lurid day much had been revealed to her, and before her revery ceased she understood her long months of irritation and anger at Merwyn's course; she saw why she had not dismissed him from her thoughts with contemptuous indifference and why she had ingeniously wrought the MacIan theory of constitutional timidity. When had she given so much thought to a man whom she had disliked? Even in her disapproval of him, even when her soldier friends appeared at their best and she was contrasting him with them to his fatal disadvantage as she believed, thoughts of him would pursue her constantly. Now that he had shown himself the peer of each and all in manhood and courage, it seemed as if feelings, long held in check, were released and were sweeping irresistibly towards one


An Original Belle - 80/94

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