Part 5 out of 10
"It's all an infernal lie," began Sibley. "I only made a slight,
half-jesting allusion to that prudish little school-ma'am that
these fellows are so cracked over; and they have gone on like mad
bulls ever since."
Mr. Burleigh started to his feet with a tremendous oath.
"You made an 'allusion,' as you term it, to Miss Burton, eh!--the
young lady who was put under my charge, and who comes from one of
the best families in New England. I know what kind of allusions
fellows of your kidney make;" and the incensed host struck his bell
"Send the porter here instantly," he said to the boy who answered.
"What do you mean to do?" asked Sibley, turning pale.
"I mean to put you out of my house within the next ten minutes,"
said Mr. Burleigh, emphatically. "You might as well have made an
allusion to my wife as to Miss Burton; and let me tell you that
if you wag your wanton tongue again, I'll have my colored waiters
whip you off the premises."
"But where shall I go?" whined Sibley, now thoroughly cowed.
"Go to the nearest kennel or sty you can find. Either place would
be more appropriate for you than my house. Mr. Van Berg and Mr.
Stanton, I think you for your conduct in this affair. You are
correct in supposing that I wish to entertain only gentlemen and
Sibley now began to bluster about law and vengeance.
"Be still, sir," thundered Mr. Burleigh. "One of the carriages
will take you to the depot or landing as you choose. After that,
trouble me or mine again at your peril. Now, be off. No, I'll not
take any of your dirty money; and if these friends of yours wish
to go with you, they are welcome to do so."
"We are only acquaintances of Mr. Sibley's," chorused his late
companions, "and came in merely to see fair play."
"Well, you haven't seen 'fair play,'" growled Mr. Burleigh. "I've
treated the fellow much better than he deserves."
Before Sibley could realize it, a carriage whirled him and his
baggage away. His reckless anger having evaporated, the base and
cowardly instincts of his nature resumed their sway, and he was glad
to slink off to New York, thus escaping further danger and trouble.
Chapter XXIX. Evil Lives Cast Dark Shadows.
Changes in the world without often make sad havoc in our content
and happiness. Loss of fortune and friends, removal to new scenes,
death and disaster, sometimes so alter the outlook that we have
to ask ourselves: Is this the same earth in which we have dwelt
hitherto? But the changes that can most blast and blacken, or, on
the other hand, glorify the world about us, are those which take
place within our souls.
Such a radical change had apparently taken place in Ida Mayhew's
world. She was bewildered with her trouble, and could not understand
the dreary outlook. She had come to the Lake House but a few weeks
before, a vain, light-hearted maiden, looking upon life with laughing
and thoughtless glances, and having no more definite purposes than
the butterfly that flits from flower to flower, caring not which
are harmless and which poisonous, so that they yield a momentary
But now, for causes utterly unforeseen and half-inexplicable, all
flowers had withered, and the old pleasures once so exhilarating
were a weariness even in thought. Her world, once a pleasure
garden, had been transformed into a path so thorny and flinty that
every step brought new bruises and lacerations; and it led away
among shadows so cold and dark, that she shivered at the thought
of her prospective life.
Her heart had so suddenly and thoroughly betrayed her, that she
was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and perplexity. The
spoiled and flattered girl had always been accustomed to have her
own way. Self-gratification had been the rule and habit of her
life. If Van Berg had only admired and complimented her, if he
had joined the honeyed chorus of flattery that had waited on her
sensuous beauty, his voice would probably have been unheeded and
lost among many others. But his sharp demand for something more
than a face and form had awakened her, and to her dismay she learned
that her real and lasting self was as dwarfed and deformed as her
transient and outward self was perfect.
The artist seemed to her princely, regal even, in his strong
cultivated manhood, his lofty calling and ambition, and his high
social rank. As for herself, it now appeared that her beauty,
whose spell she had thought no man could resist, had lured him to
her side only long enough to discover what she was and who she was,
and then he had turned away in disgust.
From their first moment of meeting, she felt that she had been
peculiarly unfortunate in the impressions she had made upon him.
Her attendant at the concert-garden had been a fool; and now he
was associating her with a man whom he more than despised. She
believed that he pitied her father as the victim of a wife's
heartlessness and a daughter's selfishness and frivolity, and that
he felt a repugnance toward her mother which his politeness could
not wholly disguise. He was probably learning to characterize them
in his mind by her father's horrible words--"froth and mud."
Such miserable thoughts were flocking round her like croaking
ravens as she sat rigid and motionless in her room, her form tense
from the severity of her mental distress. Suddenly Sibley's loud
tones, and her cousin's voice in reply, caught her attention, and
she opened the lattice of the blinds. She had scarcely done so
before she saw Stanton strike the blow which had felled Sibley to
With breathless interest she watched the scene till Van Berg
stepped forward. Then she sprang to a drawer, and taking out a
small field-glass which she carried on her summer excursions was
able to see the expression of the young men's faces, although she
could not distinguish their words. The stern, menacing aspect
of the artist made her tremble even at her distance, and it was
evident that his words were throwing Sibley into a transport of
rage; and when in his passion he tried to shoot Van Berg, she could
not repress the cry that attracted their attention.
Her mother, in the adjoining room, commenced knocking at the door,
asking what was the matter, but received no answer until Ida saw
that the young men were coming toward the house. Then she threw
open the door, and told Mrs. Mayhew that she had seen something
that looked like a large spider, and that nothing was the matter.
Without waiting for further questioning she flitted hastily
down-stairs and from one concealed post of observation to another
until she saw the angry party enter Mr. Burleigh's private office.
A small parlor next to it was empty, and once within it, the loud
tones spoken on the other side of the slight partition were distinctly
As she listened to the words which Van Berg and Mr. Burleigh
addressed to the man whom all in the house had regarded as her
accepted lover, or at least her congenial friend, her cheeks grew
scarlet, and when he was dismissed from the house, she fled to her
room; wishing that it were a place in which she might hide forever,
so overwhelming was her sense of shame and humiliation.
How could she meet the guests of the Lake House again? Worse than
all, how could she meet the scornful eyes of the man who had driven
from the place the suitor that she was supposed to favor as he
might have scourged away a dog.
She could not now explain that Sibley was and ever had been less
than nothing to her--that she had both detested and despised him.
She had permitted herself to touch pitch, and it had of necessity
left its stain. To go about now and proclaim her real sentiments
toward the man who apparently had been her favorite, would seem to
others, she thought, the quintessence of meanness. She felt that
she had been caught in the meshes of an evil web, and that it was
useless to struggle.
Despairing, hopeless, her cheeks burning with shame as with a fever,
she sat hour after hour refusing to see any one. She would not go
down to supper. She left the food untasted that was sent to her
room. She sat staring at vacancy until her face became a dim pale
outline in the deepening twilight, and finally was lost in the
shadow of night. But the darkness that gathered around the poor
girl's heart was deeper and almost akin to the rayless gloom that
positive crime creates, so nearly did she feel that she was associated
with one from whom her woman's soul, perverted as it was, shrank
with inexpressible loathing.
"Ida is in one of her worst tantrums," whispered Mrs. Mayhew to
Stanton; "I never knew her to act so badly as she has of late. I
wouldn't have thought that such a man as you have found Sibley to
be could gain so great a hold upon her feelings. But law! she'll
be all over it in a day or two. Nothing lasts with Ida, and least
of all, a beau."
"Well," said Stanton, bitterly, "she is disgracing herself and all
related to her by her inexcusable folly in this instance. Those
who pretended to be Sibley's friends at dinner, are now trying to
win a little respectability by turning against him, and the story
of his behavior is circulating through the house. All will soon
know that he shot at Van Berg, and that he made insulting remarks
about Miss Burton. It will appear to every one as if Ida were
sulking in her room on Sibley's account; and people are usually
thought to be no better than their friends."
"Oh, dear!" half sobbed Mrs. Mayhew, "won't you go up to her room
and show her the consequences of her folly?"
"No," said Stanton, irritably; "not to-night. I know her too
well. She will take no advice from me or any one else at present.
To-morrow I will have one more plain talk with her; and if she
won't listen to reason I wash my hands of her. Where is Uncle?"
"Don't ask me. Was there ever a more unfortunate woman? With such
a husband and daughter, how can I keep up appearances?"
Stanton walked away with a gesture of disgust and impatience.
"Curse it all!" he muttered; "and their shadows fall on me too.
What chance have I with the snow-white maiden I'd give my life for
when followed by such associations?"
Chapter XXX. The Deliberate Wooer Speaks First.
Mr. Burleigh was one of those fortunate men who when the weather
is rough outside--as was often the case in his calling--can always
find smooth water in the domestic haven of a wife's apartment. Thus
Mrs. Burleigh soon learned the cause of his perturbation; and as
she knew Jennie Burton would hear the story from some one else,
could not deny herself the feminine enjoyment of being the first
to tell it, and of congratulating her on the knightly defender she
had secured; for the quarrel had come before Mr. Burleigh in such
a form as to make Van Berg the principal in the affair.
Miss Burton's cheek flushed deeply and resentfully as she heard
the circumstances in which her name had been spoken, and she said
"Mr. Van Berg impressed me as a chivalric man from the first day of
our meeting. But I wish he had paid no heed to the words of such
a creature as Mr. Sibley. That his life was endangered on my
account pains me more than I can tell you;" and she soon grew so
white and faint that Mrs. Burleigh made her take a glass of wine.
"Death seems such a terrible thing to a young, strong man," she
added, shudderingly, after a moment, and she pressed her hands
against her eyes as if to shut out a vision from which she shrank.
"May he not still be in danger from this ruffian's revenge?" she
asked, looking up in sudden alarm.
"I'm afraid that he will be," said Mrs. Burleigh, catching the
infection of her fears. "I will have Mr. Burleigh see that he is
kept away from this place."
Soon after, as Miss Burton was passing through the main hall-way,
she met the artist, and stepping into one of the small parlors that
was unoccupied, she said:
"Mr. Van Berg, I wish to speak with you. I wish both to thank you,
and to ask a favor."
"Please do the latter only," he replied, smiling.
"Mr. Van Berg," she resumed, looking into his face with an expression
that made his heart beat more quickly, "your life was endangered
on my account this afternoon."
"That's a pleasant thought to me," he said, taking her hand, "that
is if you are not offended that I presumed to be your knight."
"It is a dreadful thought to me," she answered, earnestly; then in
a strange and excited manner she added: "You cannot know--death
to some is a horrible thing--it prevents so much--I've known--let
it come to the old and sad--I could welcome it--but to such as
you--O merciful Heaven! Grant me, please grant me, the favor I
would ask," she continued, clinging to his hand. "They say this
man Sibley is very passionate and revengeful. He may still try
to carry out his dreadful purpose. Please shun him, please avoid
him--in mercy do. I've more than I can bear now; and if--if--"
and she buried her face in her hands.
"And can my poor life be of such value to you, Miss Burton?" he
asked, in a deep low tone.
"Ah! you cannot understand," she said, with a sudden and passionate
gesture, "and I entreat you not to ask me to explain. From the
first you have been kind to me. I have felt from the day we met
that I had found a friend in you; and your risk, your care for me
to-day, gives you a peculiar claim as a friend, but in mercy do
not ask me to explain why I am so urgent in my request. I cannot,
indeed I cannot--at least not now, in this place. Something
happened--Sudden death in one young, strong, and full of hope, like
you, seems to me horrible--horrible. In mercy promise to incur no
risk on my account," she said passionately, and almost wildly.
"My poor little friend, how needlessly frightened you are!" he
said, soothingly and gently. "There, I will promise you anything
that a man of honor can. But a word against you, Jennie Burton,
touches me close, very close. As said the Earl of Kent, 'It invades
the region of my heart.'"
She looked up swiftly and questioningly, and then a sudden crimson
suffused her face. With a strong and uncontrollable instinct she
appeared to shrink from him.
"Kent served one who had lost the power to make return," she said,
shaking her head sadly as she turned away.
"Let me reply with Kent again," he earnestly responded. "'You
have that in your countenance'--in your character--'which I would
fain call master'; and I am mastered, nor can I be shaken from my
allegiance. I can at least imitate Kent's faithfulness, if not
his obtrusiveness, in the service of his king. You have already
claimed me as a friend, and so much at least I shall ever be. Let
me win more if I can."
She became very quiet now, and looked steadily into his flushed,
eager face with an expression of sorrowful regret and pain that
would have restrained him had a ten-fold stronger and more impetuous
love been seeking utterance, and by a gesture, simple yet eloquently
impressive, she put her finger to her lips. Then giving him her
hand she said, with strong emphasis:
"Mr. Van Berg, I would value such a FRIEND as you could be to me
more than I can tell you."
"I shall be to you all that you will permit," he said, gently yet
firmly. "As you now appear I could as soon think of urging my
clamorous human love on a sad-eyed saint that had suffered some
cruel form of martyrdom for her faith, and then, as the legends
teach, had been sent from heaven among us mortals upon some errand
"Your words are truer than you think," she replied, the pallor
deepening in her face. "I have suffered a strange, cruel form of
martyrdom. But I am not a saint, only a weak woman. I would value
such a friend as you could be exceedingly. Indeed--indeed," she
continued hesitatingly, "there are peculiar reasons why I wish
we might meet as friends occasionally. If you knew--if you knew
all--you would not ask to be more. Can you trust one who is clouded
by sadness and mystery?"
He took her hand in both of his and answered, "Jennie Burton,
there could no greater misfortune befall me than to lose my faith
in you. I associate you with all that is most sacred to me. Every
instinct of my heart assures me that although the mystery that
enshrouds your life may be as cold as death, it is, as far as you
are concerned, as white as snow."
"Yes, and as far as another is concerned also," she said
solemnly. "Your trust is generous, and I am very, very grateful.
Perhaps--possibly I may--some time--tell you, for you risked your
life for me; and--and--there is another reason. But I have never
spoken of it yet. Good-night."
"Stay," he said, "I cannot begin being a true friend to you by
being a false friend to another. I am ashamed that I have been so
preoccupied with myself that I have not spoken of it before. Mr.
Stanton resented Sibley's insulting language more promptly than I
did. I have been basely accepting a gratitude that rightly belongs
to him, and I assure you he is in far more danger from Sibley than
Her brow contracted in a sudden frown, and there was something like
irritation in her tones as she said:
"Danger again! and to another, for my sake! Must I be tortured
with fear and anxiety, because a low fellow, true to his nature,
will be scurrilous? Mr. Van Berg," she continued, with a sudden
flash of her eyes, "are you and Mr. Stanton quarrelling with Mr.
Sibley on your own account, or on mine? From henceforth I refuse
to have the remotest relation to such a quarrel. No remarks of
a man like Sibley can insult me, and hereafter any friend of mine
who lowers himself to resent them, or has aught to do with the
fellow, will both wound and humiliate me."
"After such words, Miss Burton," Van Berg answered with a smile,
"rest assured I shall avoid him as I would a pestilence. But
remember, I have been as guilty as Stanton, yes, more so; for
Stanton received the first provocation, and he is naturally more
impetuous than I am. But I have been thanked, as well as warned
and justly rebuked. I think," he added, as if the words cost him
an effort, " that if you will kindly ask Stanton to have nothing
more to do with Sibley, he will accede to your wishes; and whatever
he promises, he will perform."
"Is your friend, then, so honorable a man?" she asked.
"He is, indeed," replied Van Berg, earnestly, while a generous
flush suffused his face, "a true, noble-hearted fellow. He shows
his worst side at once, but you would discover new and good traits
hin him every day."
She turned away with a low laugh. "Since you are so loyal to your
old friend," she said, "I think you will prove true to your new
one. I shall put Mr. Stanton to the test, and discover whether he
will give up his quarrel with Mr. Sibley for the sake of such poor
thanks as I can give. Once more, good-night."
She was hastening away, when he seized her hand and said:
"Why do you go with averted face? Have I offended you?"
She trembled violently. "Please do not look at me so," she said,
falteringly. "I cannot endure it. Pity my weakness."
His hand tightened in its warm grasp, and the expression of his
face grew more ardent.
She looked up with a sudden flash in her eyes, and said, almost
"You must not look at me in that way, or else even friendship will
be impossible and we must become strangers. Perhaps, after all,
this will be the wisest course for us both," she added, in a gentler
He dropped her hand, but said firmly, "No, Miss Jennie, you have
given me the right to call you my friend, and I have seen friendship
in your eyes, and friends at least we shall be till the end of time.
I shall not say good-night. I shall not let you go away and brood
by yourself. I have learned that cheering others is the very elixir
of your life; so, come into the parlor. I will find Stanton and
our friend with the soprano voice, and the guests of the house
shall again bless the stars that sent you to us, as I do daily."
She smiled faintly and said:
"I'll join you there after a little while," and she flitted out
into the darkening hall-way, and sought her room by a side stair.
A few moments later Stanton, finding the object of his thoughts did
not appear among the guests who sought to escape the sultriness of
the evening on the wide piazzas or in the large, spacious parlor,
began to wander restlessly in a half-unconscious search. A servant
was just lighting the gas in the small and remote reception-room
as he glanced in. The apartment was empty, and no echoes of the
words just spoken were lingering.
A little later Miss Burton came down the main stair-way in her
breezy, cheery manner, and his jealous fears were quieted.
He joined her at once, saying that it was the unanimous wish that
she should give them some music again that evening.
She would join with him and others, she said; and her manner was
so perfectly frank and cordial, so like her bearing towards a lady
friend to whom she next spoke, that he fairly groaned in despair
of touching a heart that seemed to overflow with kindness toward
Van Berg soon appeared, but Miss Burton, on this occasion, managed
that the singing should be maintained by quite a large group about
the piano, and on account of the sultriness of the evening the
service of song was brief.
While Van Berg was leading a hymn that had been asked for by one
of the guests, Miss Burton found the opportunity of saying, "Mr.
Stanton, I wish to thank you for your chivalric defence to-day of
one who is poor and orphaned. Mr. Van Berg told me of your generous
and friendly course. Thus far I can believe that your conduct has
been inspired by the truest and most manly impulses. But if in
any way you again have aught to do with Mr. Sibley, I shall feel
deeply wounded and humiliated. I refuse to be associated with that
man, even in the remotest degree. Your delicate sense of honor will
teach you that if any further trouble grows out of this affair no
effort on your part can separate my name from it. The world rarely
distinguishes between a gentlemanly quarrel and a vulgar brawl,
especially where one of the parties is essentially vulgar. As a
gentleman you will surely shield me from any such associations."
Stanton, remembering his appointment with Sibley, bowed low to hide
"I would gladly shield you with my life from anything that could
cause you pain," he said, earnestly.
"I do not make any such vast and tragic demands," she replied,
smilingly, and holding out her hand; "only simple and prosaic
self-control, when tipsy, vulgar men act according to their nature.
He was about to kiss her hand, when she gently withdrew it, remarking:
"We plain people of New England are not descended from the Cavaliers,
He watched until in despair of her appearing again that evening,
and then strolled out into the night, feeling in his despondency
that no star in the summer sky was more unattainable than the poor
and orphaned girl, the impress of whose warm clasp still seemed
within his hand.
Chapter XXXI. An Emblem.
For some time Ida Mayhew neither heeded nor heard the choral music
in the parlor below, but at last a clearer, louder strain, in
which Van Berg's voice was pre-eminent, caught her attention and
she started up and listened at the window.
"He is singing songs of Heaven with Jennie Burton, and I--can there
be any worse perdition than this?" she said in a low, agonized
As if by a sudden impulse she quietly unfastened the door that led
to her father and mother's room. Perceiving that her mother was
not there, she stole noiselessly in, and turned up the lamp.
Mr. Mayhew reclined upon a lounge in the deep stupor of intoxication,
his dark hair streaked with gray falling across his face in a manner
that made it peculiarly ghastly and repulsive.
"This is my work," she groaned. "Jennie Burton made a noble-looking
man of him last evening. I have made him this." She writhed and
wrung her hands over his unconscious form, appearing as might one
of Milton's fallen angels that had lost Heaven and happiness but
not the primal beauty of his birth-place.
"Well," she exclaimed with the sudden recklessness which was one
of her characteristics, "if I have caused your degradation I can
at least share in it;" and she took an opiate that she knew would
produce speedy and almost as deep a lethargy as that which paralyzed
her father; then threw herself, dressed, upon her couch, and did
not waken until late the following day.
Stanton was sorely troubled over his rash promise that he would
meet Sibley at daylight on Monday morning. After Miss Burton's
words he felt that he could not keep his appointment, and yet he
shrank from the ridicule he believed Sibley would heap upon him.
His perturbation was so great that he hunted up Van Berg before
retiring, and told him of his dilemma. The artist greatly relieved
his mind by saying:
"I think we both have had a lesson, Stanton, in regard to quarreling
with such fellows as Sibley, although I hardly see how we could
have acted differently. But villains are usually cowards after
their passion cools and they become sober. The case in hand is no
exception. Burleigh tells me he has just learned that Sibley took
a late boat to the city, and so does not mean to keep the appointment
to-morrow. Therefore, sleep the sleep of the just, old fellow.
The throbbing pain in Ida's head was so great when she awoke on
Monday that she half forgot the ache in her heart. She found that
her father had gone to the City and that the day was well advanced.
Her mother sat looking at her with an expression in which anxiety
and reproach were equally blended.
The unhappy woman had learned from her husband's habits to know
what remedies to employ, and so was able gradually to relieve her
daughter's physical distress; but Ida's weary lassitude and reticence
were proof against all her questions and reproaches. It seemed as
if nothing could rouse or sting her out of the dull apathy into which
she had reacted after the desperate excitement of the preceding day.
She pleaded illness, and stubbornly refused to go down to dinner.
At last her mother, much to her relief, left her to herself, and
went out to drive with Stanton, hoping that she might hit upon some
plan of action in regard to the two difficult problems presented
in her husband and daughter.
Towards evening Ida slowly and languidly dressed for supper, and
then sauntered down to the main piazza for a little fresh air.
The poor girl did not exaggerate the shadow that had fallen upon
her association with Sibley, and her supposed grief and resentment
at his treatment. Two or three whom she met bowed coldly and
distantly, and one passed without recognition. Even Jennie Burton
had been indignant all day that one of her sex could be infatuated
with such a fellow; and in her charitable thoughts she would be
glad to explain such perversity as the result of a disordered and
uncurbed fancy, rather than of a depraved heart.
It was not strange, however, that she should suppose Ida's manner
and indisposition were caused by Sibley's ignominious ejectment from
the house, when her own mother and cousin shared the same view.
What an unknown mystery each life is, even to the lives nearest to
As with slow, heavy steps, Ida approached the main entrance, she
noted the distant manner of those she met, and divined the cause;
but her apathy was so great that neither anger nor shame brought
the faintest color to her cheeks.
She stood in the doorway and looked out a few moments; but the
lovely summer landscape, with the cool shadows lengthening across
it, was a weariness, and she turned from it as the miserable do
from sights that only mock by their pleasant contrast.
The piazza was nearly empty, but before she stepped out upon it
she saw not far away a gentleman reading, who at last did cause
the blood to rush tumultuously into her face.
At another time she would have turned hastily from him; but in her
present morbid mood she acted from a different impulse. The artist
had not observed her approach, and standing a little back in the
shadow of the hall-way she found a cruel fascination in comparing
the man she loved with the low fellow whose shadow now fell so darkly
across her own character. She looked steadily at his downcast face
until every line and curve in his strong profile was impressed on
her memory. In the healthful color of his finely-chiseled features
there were no indications of that excess which already marred Sibley's
countenance. The decided contour corresponded with the positive
nature. The unhappy girl felt instinctively that if he were on her
side, he would be a faithful ally; but if against her, she would
find his inflexible will a granite wall against all the allurements
of her beauty. The face before her indicated a man controlled by
his higher, not lower nature; and in her deep humiliation she now
felt that even if he knew all that was passing in her heart, he
would bestow only transient pity, mingled with contempt.
She believed she could hope for nothing from him; and yet, did not
that belief leave her hopeless? To what else, to whom else could
she turn? Nothing else, no one else then seemed to promise any help,
any happiness. Her wretched experience had come as unexpectedly as
one of those mysterious waves that sweep the sunny shore of Peru.
Whither it would carry her she did not know, but every moment separated
her more hopelessly from him who appeared like an immovable rock
in his quiet strength.
She was turning despondently away when she heard Jennie Burton's
voice, and a moment later that young lady mounted the adjacent
steps and said to Van Berg:
"See what a prize I captured at this late season. Roses early in
August are like hidden treasures. See, they are genuine hybrids.
Have I not had rare good fortune?"
Van Berg rose at once, and met her at the top of the steps; and
Ida, who still remained unseen in the hall, now stepped forward
into the doorway, so that she might not seem a furtive listener,
as he was standing with his back towards her.
"Had I my way, Miss Burton," said the artist, "you should have this
rare good fortune every day of the year."
She blushed slightly, and said, rather coldly, "Good evening, Miss
Mayhew," thus rendering Van Berg aware of the latter's presence.
The artist only frowned, and gave no other recognition of Ida's
"Since you can't have your way, I shall make the most of my present
good fortune. Is not that a beautiful cluster?"
"It is indeed, with one exception. Do you not see that this
defective bud mars the beauty of all the others?"
"A 'worm I' the bud fell on its damask cheek.' I took it out and
killed it, and was in hopes that if I placed the injured flower in
water with the others it might still make a partial bloom. You will
think me absurd when I tell you I felt sorry for it, and thought
how many roses and lives would be more perfect were it not for some
gnawing 'worm i' the bud.'"
"The 'worm' in Shakespeare's allusion," said the artist, lightly,
"is redeemed by its association and symbolism; but the one that
has been at work here was a disagreeably prosaic thing that you
rightly put your foot upon. The bud, as it now appears, suggest
the worm more than anything else. So, please, let me cut it out;
for art cannot tolerate anything so radically marred and defective.
Its worm-eaten heart spoils the beauty of the entire cluster."
"I fear you artists become too critical and exacting. Well, cut
it out. I will submit to art in roses, but feel that marred and
defective lives should have very different treatment."
"That depends. If people persist in cherishing some worm of evil,
they cannot expect to be held in the same esteem as those who are
aiming at a more perfect development. There, now! does not our
cluster appear much better?"
"Yes; and yet I cannot help feeling sorry for the poor little bud
that has missed its one chance to bloom, and all will wither unless
I hasten to my room and put them in water."
In her prejudice against Ida she had not looked towards her while
talking with Van Berg, but in passing, a hasty glance almost caused
her to stay and speak to her, for she thought she saw her eyes
full of unshed tears. But her glance was brief and her prejudice
strong. Miss Burton had not a little of the wholesome feminine
intolerance for certain weaknesses in her sex. She would counsel
a wife to endure a bad husband with a meek and patient spirit. But
gentle as she was, she would scorn the maiden who could be attracted
by a corrupt man, and almost loathe her for indulging in such
an affinity. She could pity Ida--she could pity any one; but the
poor girl's unfortunate association with Sibley, and her seeming
interest in him, would subordinate pity to indignation and contempt.
Her thought was this:
"Miss Mayhew is still a maiden free to choose. Shame on her that
she chooses so ignobly! Shame on her that she turns her eyes
longingly to fetid pools, instead of upward to the breezy hills.
What kind of nature is that which prompts such a choice?"
The artist was more capable of Jennie Burton's indignation and
contempt than of her pity; and although he knew Ida still stood
in the doorway he did not turn to speak to her. His very attitude
seemed to indicate to the unhappy girl a haughty indifference, and
yet she was so unhappy, so in need of a kind word or reassuring
glance that she could not turn away.
"What a wretched mystery it all is," she thought. "I ought to hate,
yet I love him. Proud as I have thought myself, I could kneel at
his feet for one such word and glance as he just gave Miss Burton.
For contempt I return him honor and admiration. I cannot help
myself. By some strange perversity of my heart, I have become
his very slave. How can he be so blind! He thinks me pining for
a man that I despise and hate more than he ever can, though the
fellow attempted his life. Sibley has come between me and that
which is more than life--my chance for happiness and right living.
I shall become desperate and bad, like him, if this continues.
How strange it is that some sense, some instinct does not tell him
there that the girl who stands so near is lavishing every treasure
of her soul upon him!
"That poor little rose-bud represents me to his mind. How ruthlessly
he is pulling open its heart! Will he see anything else there save
the work of the destroyer? Can it not awaken a thought of pity?
I will--I must speak to him."
She took a hesitating step or two towards him. She could almost
hear her heart beat. Twice, thrice, words died upon her lips.
When was she ever so timid before! If he would only give her an
encouraging glance! If he would only turn a little towards her
and relax that haughty, unbending attitude---
"Mr. Van Berg," she said at last, in a voice that was constrained
and hard from her effort to be calm, "you seem very vindictive
towards that poor little flower."
He turned partially towards her and coldly said, "Good evening Miss
Mayhew;" then, after a second, added carelessly: "I admit that
this worm-eaten bud is rather vexatious. It has--what is left
of it--exquisite color, and in form nature had designed it to be
perfect; but" (with a slight contemptuous shrug) "you see what it
is," and he tossed it down into the roadway.
Her face was very pale and her voice low, as she answered: "And
so you condemn it to be trampled under foot."
"I condemn it! Not at all. Its own imperfection condemns it."
"The result is all the same," she replied, with sudden change
of manner. "It is tossed contemptuously away to be trodden under
foot. Dull and ignorant as you discovered me to be, Mr. Van Berg,
I am not so stupid but that I can understand you this evening.
Imperfect as I am I could pity that unfortunate flower whose
fragrance rose to you like a low appeal for a little consideration,
at least. Would it not have bloomed as perfectly as the others if
the worm had let it alone? But, I suppose, with artist, if roses
or human lives are imperfect, that is the end of them. Misfortune
counts for nothing."
Van Berg listened in surprise to these words, and his haughty
complacency was decidedly disturbed. He was about to reply that
"Evil chosen and cherished was not a misfortune but a fault," when
she turned from him with more than her former coldness and entered
An impulse that he would have found difficult to analyze led him
to descend the steps and pick up the symbolic bud, now torn and
withering fast, and to place it between the leaves of his note-book.
If she had only seen this act it would have made a great difference;
but, ever present to her thought, it lay where he had tossed it,
the emblem of herself.
Chapter XXXII. The Dangers of Despair.
Discouragement and despair are dangerous and often destructive to
character. This would be especially true of one like Ida Mayhew;
for even in her imperfection she possessed a simplicity and unity
which made it impossible for a part of such moral nature as she
possessed to stand, if another part were undermined or broken down.
The whole fabric would stand or fall together.
She had been a wayward child, more neglected than petted, and
had naturally developed a passion for having her own will, right
or wrong. As she grew older, her extraordinary dower of beauty
threatened to be a fatal one. It brought her attention continuous
admiration and flattery from those who cared nothing for her
personally. She had received in childhood but little of the praise
which love prompts, the tender, indulgent idolatry which, although
dangerous indeed to one's best development, sometimes softens and
humanizes, instead of rendering selfish and arrogant.
Mrs. Mayhew petted and scolded her child according to her mood,
but was quite consistent in her general neglect. Mr. Mayhew was
a tired, busy man, who visited at his own home rather than lived
there. Thus the growing girl was left chiefly to her own impulses,
and average human nature ensured that the habit of thinking of
herself first and of pleasing herself at all times should be early
formed. Then, as she saw and became capable of understanding the
homage that waits on mere beauty, the world over, pride and vanity
grew in overshadowing rankness. The attention she received, however,
was chiefly made up of the bold stare of strangers, and the open
flattery of those who admired her beauty as they would that of a
picture, unconsciously but correctly leaving the impression that
they cared for her only because of her beauty. That the girl's
nature should grow hard and callous under such influences was what
might have been expected.
Neglect and a miserable sham of an education had dwarfed her mind.
She had been "finished" by an ultra fashionable school before she
understood the meaning of the studies which she passed over in a
dainty quickstep, scarcely touching the surface.
Her heart and moral nature were almost equally undeveloped. Hitherto
she had known but little experience tending to evoke gentle feeling
or generous action. She had confounded the few genuine admirers,
who, infatuated with her beauty, endowed her with all heavenly
graces, awaiting only the awakening hand of their love, with the
heartless or brainless fellows who were not particular about heavenly
graces, provided a girl had a fine figure and a fair face.
When the artist first met her at the concert garden, she was in
truth a modern Undine. She had feminine qualities and vices, but
not a woman's soul. She was not capable of any strong, womanly
action or feeling. Her scheme of life was simple indeed, although
she was learning to be very artful in carrying it out. It was to
have "a good time," as she would phrase it, and at any and every
cost to others. After wearying of the life of a belle, she proposed
to marry the best establishment that came her way, and became a
leader of fashion.
It would seem that not a few fine ladies carry out this simple scheme
of life, and never receive a woman's soul. There are Undines at
sixty as well as at sixteen.
The artist had been attracted by her beauty, like so many others,
but unlike others he had not (as was the case with not a few sensible
men) given an admiring glance at the face, and then, recognizing the
fact that there was not a woman back of it, passed on indifferently;
nor had he bestowed upon her imaginary virtues; and much less had
he been satisfied with more flesh and blood.
His manner had been exploring, questioning. He was looking for
her woman's soul, even though he might find it unawakened, like
the fabled beauty in the mythical castle.
His keen eyes had disturbed her equanimity from the first. As he
pursued his quest, her undefined fears and misgivings increased.
At last she was compelled to follow his questioning glances, and
look past outward beauty to her real self within. From that hour
the rank and evil weeds of pride and vanity began to wither. Honest
self-scrutiny was like a knife at their roots.
But these traits give a transient support like a false stimulant.
As they failed there was nothing to take their place--no faith in
God, no self-respect or self-reliance. She could not turn to her
own family for sustaining sympathy, such as many fin din their
homes, and which is all the more grateful because not inquisitive
nor expressed in formal terms. In her selfish pleasure-seeking
life she found that she had made an endless number of acquaintances,
but no friends. She had not even the resources of a cultivated
mind that could exist upon its own stores through this sudden famine
which had impoverished her world, nor could she think of a single
innocent, attractive, pursuit by which she could fill the weary
days. She was like a child that had dwelt in a tropical oasis, the
flowers and fruits of which had seemed as limitless as its extent.
She had supposed that the whole world would be like this oasis,
and the only necessity ever imposed on her would be that of choice
from its rich profusion. But ere she was aware she had lost
herself in a desert; the oasis had vanished like a mirage, and she
had no choice at all. That which her heart craved with an intensity
which fairly made it ache, seemed as hopeless as a sudden bloom
and fruitage from arid sands.
Instead of going down to supper she returned to the solitude of
her own room, but the apathy of the earlier part of the day had
vanished utterly. Indeed, body ad soul seemed to quiver with pain
like a wounded nerve. Anger, which had given a brief support,
faded out, and left only shame and despair as in memory she saw
the emblem, representing herself, tossed contemptuously into the
carriage-way by the man she loved.
"I remember reading," she groaned, "when at school, how conquerors
put their feet on the necks of their captives. He has put his
spurning foot on my heart. Oh, hateful riddle! Why should I love
the man that despises me?"
Her mother, and then Stanton, called at her door and asked her to
come down to supper.
"No," she said, briefly to each.
"If you knew what people were saying and surmising you would not
continue to make a spectacle of yourself," said her cousin, through
the closed door.
"That is one reason why I do not come down," she replied. "I'm
not in the mood to make a spectacle of myself. I have been shown
how one perfect member of society regards me, and I am not equal
to meeting any more faultless people to-night."
"Oh, nonsense!" cried Stanton, irritably. "You must come down."
"Break in the door then, and carry me down," was the sharp reply.
With a muttered oath he descended to the supper-room, and his
moody and absent manner revealed to Mrs. Mayhew and Van Berg that
his interview with his cousin had been anything but satisfactory.
For a time the artist seemed rather "distrait" also, as if a memory
were troubling him. He often looked around when any one entered,
and his eyes at times rested on Ida's vacant chair. But he
soon passed under the spell of Jennie Burton's genial talk, which
seemingly glowed with the sunshine that had enveloped her during
her quest of the roses, and the poor girl, who was fairly quivering
with pain because of his significant act and words on the piazza,
She knew she was forgotten. The hum of voices, the cheerful clatter
from the lighted supper-room, came up to her darkening apartment,
and only increased her sense of loneliness and isolation. Her quick
ear caught Van Berg's mellow laugh, evoked by one of Miss Burton's
It is a dreary sensation to find one's self wholly forgotten by mere
acquaintances; but to find that we have no place in the thoughts
of those we love, seems in a certain sense like being annihilated.
But for poor Ida was reserved a deeper suffering still, since she
believed that the man she loved did not dismiss her from his mind
indifferently, but rather with aversion and disgust.
She felt her isolation terribly. To whom could she turn in
her trouble? The thought of her father was both a reproach and a
humiliation. He was drifting hopelessly, and almost unresistingly,
towards final wreck, and, so far from seeking to restrain, she
had added to the evil impetus. She shrank from the very idea of
confiding in her garrulous, superficial mother. She felt that her
cousin detested as well as despised her. The flattered girl, who
a little before thought the world was at her feet, now felt friendless
and alone, scarcely tolerated by her own family, and scorned by
Of course she exaggerated the evil of her lot. The young an
inexperienced are ever prone to look, for the time, on the earlier
misfortunes of their lives as irretrievable. In after years they
may smile at their causeless despair; but the world is full of
tragedies that to the wise and sober minded had slight cause.
Ida's troubles, however, were scarcely slight, and she, above all
others, was the least fitted to bear trouble and thwarting. To be
refused anything would be a new and disagreeable experience, but
to be denied that which her heart craved supremely, tended to call
out all the passionate recklessness of her ungoverned, undisciplined
nature. The child from whom something is taken, will often cast
away in anger all that is offered in its place; and in like hasty
folly many a man and woman, to their eternal regret, have thrown
away life itself. Suicide is often the product of passion as well
as of despair; the irritable, headlong protest against evils that
might have been and should have been remedied.
As Ida sat alone in her desolation and shame, the thought
of self-destruction had surged up in the lava of other tumultuous
thoughts occasioned by the artist's scorn, and at first she had
shrunk from it with natural and instinctive dread. But the awful
thought began to fascinate her like a dizzy height from which it
seems so easy to fall and end everything.
In her morbid condition and to her poisoned imagination the act
did not appear so revolting after all. She had been made familiar
with it in her favorite novels. She had often seen it simulated
with applause on the stage, with all the melodramatic accessories
with which it is produce mere effect. Indeed, from her education,
she might also think self-destruction was the only dignified and
high-spirited thing to do.
For a time her thoughts took the coloring of high tragedy. She
would teach this proud artist a lessen, even though at supreme cost
to herself. If he would never love her, she would make it certain
that he could not longer despise her. She would write him a letter
that would harrow his very soul, informing him that she had taken
his hint and followed his suggestion. Since he had thrown away
the emblem of herself as a worthless and unsightly thing, she had
thrown herself away, so that faultless taste and faultless people
might be no more offended by the presence of so much imperfection.
For a moment her eyes glowed with exultation over his imagined
dismay as he read this message from one to whom no reparation could
be made; and then better and more wholesome feelings resumed their
sway. Perverted, misguided, and uncounselled as she was, she was
too young, too near the mother heart of nature, not to react from
the false and the evil towards the simple and the true.
She threw herself upon her couch. "Oh, that I might live and be
happy!" she sobbed. "If in the place of the bitter frost of his
words and manner he would give me but one ray of kindness, I would
try to bloom, even though but a poor worm-eaten bud."
Frowns blight far more flowers than October nights.
Chapter XXXIII. "Hope dies Hard."
When alone with his friend after supper, Stanton broke out, "Since
Ida can't exist without the sight of that wretch, Sibley, I wish
she would follow him to New York. If she dotes on such scum, they
had better be married, as far as such people can be, and so relieve
her relatives of an incubus that is well-nigh intolerable."
"Are you absolutely sure that she does dote on Sibley, and that
he is the cause of her evident trouble?" asked Van Berg, with a
perplexed frown lowering on his brow.
"I'm not sure of anything concerning her save that she was born to
make trouble. I know she was with him all the time he was here,
and since he was metaphorically kicked off the premises she has
sulked in her room. I suppose, of course, that she is mortified,
and hates to meet people. Indeed, from a remark she made, some
one must have snubbed her vigorously to-day; but her course makes
everything a hundredfold worse. I am besmirched because of my
relationship. I can see this in the bearing of more than one, and
even Miss Burton, who could not be consciously unkind to any one,
keeps me at a distance by barriers, which, although seemingly
viewless, are so real I cannot pass them."
Van Berg surmised that the evasive tact which Miss Burton exercised
towards his friend was not caused by his relationship to Ida, and
yet was compelled to admit that her frank and friendly bearing
towards himself was scarcely less dispiriting. Her manner, as a
rule, was so plainly that of a friend only, that were it not for
occasional and furtive glances which he intercepted, he would deem
his prospects little better than Stanton's, in spite of all that
had passed between them. Even in these stolen, questioning, longing
glances, there was an element that trouble and perplexed him, and
the strange thought crossed his mind that when she looked most
intently she did not see Harold Van Berg, but an intervening vision.
Her mystery, however, rendered her only the more attractive, and
she seemed like a good angel that had come from an unknown world
concerning which she could not speak, and perhaps he could not
Her society was like a delicate wine, delightfully exhilarating
while enjoyed, but whose effect is transient. He was provoked at
himself to find how well he endured her absence, and how content
he was with the genuine friendship she was evidently forming for
him. Sometimes he even longed for more of the absorbing passion
which he saw had wholly mastered Stanton; but tried to satisfy
himself by reasoning that his love was in accordance with his nature,
which was calm and constant, rather than impulsive and passionate.
"All the higher faculties of my soul are her allies," he thought,
complacently. "I admire honor, and even reverence her. She could
walk through life as my companion, my equal, and in many respects,
my superior;" and so with all the delicate and unobtrusive tact of
which he was the master he proposed to press his suit.
Since Jennie Burton had plainly intimated that, like King Lear,
she had lost her woman's kingdom--her heart--and so was not able
to reward such suit and service, how came it she kept poor Stanton
at a distance, but welcomed the society of Van Berg? Possibly her
intuition recognized the fact that in the case of Stanton she had
touched the heart, but had won the mind of the artist. The first
seemed disposed to give all and to demand all. Stanton's all
did not count for very much thus far in her estimation. She had
recognized the character he had brought to the Lake House--that of
a pleasure-loving man of the world--and she was far too modest to
suppose that she could work any material change in this character.
Self-indulgent by nature, she believed that he had proposed to
enjoy a summer flirtation with one whom he would easily forget in
the autumn, and, while this impression lasted, she punished him by
requiring that he should be the chivalric attendant of every forlorn
female in the house. When she believed, however, that such heart
as he possessed was truly interested, she became as unapproachable
as the afternoon horizon, whose rich glow is seemingly near, but
can never be reached. While she recognized the genuineness of
his passion, she did not, as before intimated, regard it as a very
"Good dinners and fairer faces than mine will comfort him before
Christmas," she thought.
Few know themselves--their own capabilities of joy, suffering, or
achievement. As with Ida, Stanton was at a loss to understand the
changes in his own character. It was quite possible, therefore,
that Miss Burton should misunderstand him. Indeed he had, as yet,
but little place in her sad and preoccupied thoughts.
For some reason, however, Van Berg's society had for her a peculiar
fascination that she could not resist. She scarcely knew whether
she derived from it more of pleasure than of pain. She often asked
herself this question:
"Which were better for a traveller in the desert--to see a mirage,
or the sands only in all their barren reality?"
Her judgment said, the latter; but when the elusive mirage appeared,
she looked often with a longing wistfulness that might well suggest
a pilgrim that was athirst and famishing.
In spite of her quickness, Van Berg occasionally caught something
of this expression, and while he drew encouragement from it, he
was too free from vanity and too acute an observer to conclude that
all would result as he hoped. The unwelcome thought would come
that he was only the occasion and not the cause, of these furtive
glances. Was her heart already wedded to a memory, and was she
interested in him chiefly because for some reason he gave vividness
and reality to that memory? If this were true, what more had he to
hope for than Stanton? If this were true, was he not in a certain
sense pursuing a shadow? Woud success be success? Would he wish
to clasp, as his wife, a woman whose heart had been buried in a
sepulchre from which the stone might never be rolled away?
His first impression, that Miss Burton had passed through
some experience, some ordeal of suffering that separated her from
ordinary humanity, often reasserted itself more strongly than ever.
At times her flame-like spirit would flash up with a glow and
brilliancy that lighted and warmed his very soul, but the feeling
began to grow upon him that this genial fire consumed the costliest
of all offerings--self. Did not her own broken heart and shattered
hopes supply the fuel? Instead of brooding apart over some misfortune
that would have crushed most natures, was she not seeking to make
her life an altar on which she laid as a gift to others the best
treasures of her woman's soul?
The more closely he studied her character, and the controlling
impulses of her life, the more sincere became his admiration,
and the deeper his reverence. He felt with truth that she WAS of
different and finer clay from himself.
So strong was this impression, that the thought occurred to him that
in this and kindred reasons might be found the explanation of the
peculiar regard he felt for her. He had virtually offered himself,
and would again if he could find the opportunity. If he were sure
the he would win her, he would exult as one might who had secured
the revenue of a kingdom, the purest and largest gem in the world, or
some other possession that was unique and priceless. The whole of
his strong intellectual nature would be jubilant over the great
success of his life. He was also conscious that some of the
deepest feelings of his soul were interested. She was becoming
like a religion to him, and he imagined that his regard for her
was somewhat akin to that of a devout Catholic for a patron saint.
And yet he was compelled to admit to himself that he did not
lover her as he supposed he would love the woman he hoped to make
his wife. Why was his heart so tranquil and his pulse so steady?
Certainly not because of assured success. Why did his regard differ
so radically from Stanton's consuming passion? Should Stanton
win her he felt that he could still seek her society and enjoy her
friendship. The prospect of never winning her himself did not rob
life of its zest and color. On the contrary, he believed that she
would ever be an inspiration, an exquisite ideal realized in actual
life. As such he could not lose her any more than those women whom
poetry, fiction, and history had placed as stars in his firmament,
and this belief so contented him as to awaken surprise.
As he returned from a long and solitary stroll on Monday evening
he soliloquized complacently, "I am making too great a mystery of
it all. She is not an ordinary woman. Why should I feel towards
her the ordinary and conventional love which any woman might evoke?
There is more of spirit than of flesh and blood in her exquisite
organization. Sorrow has refined away every gross and selfish
element, and left a saint towards whom devotion is far more seemly
and natural than passion. She awakens in me a regard corresponding
to her own nature, and I thank heaven that I am at least finely
enough organized to understand her and so can seek to win her in
accordance with the subtle laws of her being. She would shrink
inevitably from a downright, headlong passion like that of Stanton's,
no matter how honest it might be or how good the man expressing
it. No hand, however strong, will ever grasp this 'rara avis,'
this good angel, rather. Her wings must be pinioned by gossamer
threads of patient kindness, delicate sympathy, nice appreciation,
and all woven and wound so unobtrusively that the shy spirit may
not be startled. What a fool I was to blurt out my feelings last
evening! What rare good fortune is mine in the fact that she
gives me the vantage-ground of friendship from which to urge a suit
wherein must be combined sincerity with consummate skill. I fear
I must efface some other image before I can implant my own. How
fortunate I am that my cool and well-poised nature will enable me
to work under the guidance of judgment rather than impulse."
Feeling that he had much to gain and was in danger of irretrievable
loss, he lightly mounted the steps of the hotel, bent on finding
at once the object of his thoughts.
He saw her leaving a group in the parlor, of which Stanton was one,
and he hastened to intercept her in the hall-way. Just as he was
about to speak to her, Mr. Burleigh came bustling up and said:
"Miss Burton, a stranger--not to fame or fortune, nor to you
probably, but a stranger to me--is inquiring for you--a stranger
from the South. He would not give his name, and--good heaven, Miss
Burton! are you ill?"
Van Berg led her into a private parlor near. She certainly had
grown very white and faint. But after a moment there came a flash
of hope and eager expectation into her face that no words could
"His name--his name?" she gasped.
Mr. Burleigh looked at her a second, and then said: "Stay quietly
here, I'll bring him to you; and then, Mr. Van Berg, perhaps you
and I might form an enormous crowd."
"Had I not better leave you at once?" the artist asked when they
"Wait a moment. I--I--am very weak. It cannot be--but hope dies
Trembling like a leaf, and with eyes aflame with intense, eager
hope, she watched the door.
A moment later Mr. Burleigh ushered in a middle-aged gentleman,
who commenced saying:
"Pardon me, Miss Burton, for not sending my name, but you would
not have known it"--then the young lady's appearance checked him.
The effect of his coming was indeed striking. It was as if a gust
of wind had suddenly extinguished a lamp. The luminous eyes closed
for a moment, and the face became so pallid and ashen in its hue as
to suggest death. It was evident to Van Berg that her disappointment
was more bitter than death.
"Miss Burton took a long walk this afternoon," he said, hastily,
"and, I fear, went much beyond her strength. Perhaps she had better
see you to-morrow."
"Oh, certainly, certainly; I will remain, if there is need," the
By a strong and evident effort Miss Burton regained self-control,
and said, with a faint smile that played over her face a moment
like a gleam of wintry sunshine:
"You strong men often call women weak, and we, too often, prove you
right. As Mr. Van Berg suggests, I am a little overtaxed to-night.
Perhaps I had better see you in the morning."
"I am a transient guest, and ought to be on my way with the first
train," said the gentleman. "My errand is as brief as it is
grateful to me. Do not leave, sir," he said to Van Berg. "If you
are a friend of Miss Burton it will be pleasant for you to hear
what I have to say; and, I warrant you that she will never tell
you nor anyone else herself."
"May I stay?" he asked.
She felt so weak and unnerved, so in need of a sustaining hand and
mind that she looked at him appealingly, and said:
"Yes. This gentleman cannot disgrace me more than I have myself
"Disgrace you! Miss Burton," exclaimed the gentleman. "Your name
is a household word in our home, and our honor for it is only
excelled by our love. You remember my invalid daughter, Emily
Musgrave--our only and unfortunate child. She attended the college
in which you are an instructress. Before she came under your
influence her infirmities were crushing her spirit and embittering
her life. So morbid was she becoming that she apparently began to
hate her mother and myself as the authors of her wretched existence.
But by some divine magic you sweetened the bitter waters of her
life, and now she is a fountain of joy in our home. In her behalf
and her mother's, I thank you; and even more, if possible, in my own
behalf, for the reproachful, averted face of my child was killing
me;" and tears stood in the strong man's eyes.
There was nothing conventional in the way in which Jeannie Burton
received his warm gratitude. She leaned wearily back in her chair,
and for a moment closed her eyes. There was far more resignation
than of pleasure in her face, and she had the air of one submitting
to a fate which one could not and ought not to resist.
"Your three lives are much happier then?" she said, gently, as if
wishing to hear the reassuring truth again.
"You do not realize your service to us," said Mr. Musgrave, eagerly.
"Our lives were not happy at all. There seemed nothing before us
but increasing pain. You have not added to a happiness already
existing merely, but have caused us to exchange positive suffering
for happiness. Emily seems to have learned the art of making every
day of our lives a blessing, and she says you taught her how. I
would go around the world to say to you, 'God bless you for it!'"
"Such assurances ought to make one resigned, if not content,"
she murmured in a low tone, as if half speaking to herself. Then
rising, by an evident effort, she cordially gave her hand to Mr.
Musgrave, and said:
"You see, sir, that I am scarcely myself to-night. I think I could
give you a better impression of your daughter's friend to-morrow.
Give her my sincere love and congratulations. She is evidently
bearing her burden better than I mine. You cannot know how much
good your words have done me to-night. I needed them, and they
will help me for years to come."
The gentleman's eyes grew moist again, and he said, huskily:
"I know you are rather alone in the world, but if it should ever
happen that there is anything that I could do for you were I your
father, call on John Musgrave. There, I cannot trust myself to
speak to you any more, though I have so much to say. Good-night,
and good-by;" and he made a very precipitate retreat, thoroughly
overcome by his warm Southern heart.
"I dread to leave you looking so sad and ill, or else I would say
good-night also," said Van Berg.
She started as if she had half forgotten his presence, and kept
her face averted as she replied:
"I will say good-night to you, Mr. Van Berg. I would prove poor
company this evening."
"Before you go I wish to thank you for letting me stay," he said,
hastily. "As Mr. Musgrave asserted, you would indeed never have
told me what I have heard, and yet I would not have missed hearing
it for more than you will believe. How many lives have you blessed,
"Not very many, I fear, but I half wish I knew. Each one would be
like an argument."
"Arguments that should prove that you ought to let the dead past
bury its dead, and live in the richer present," he said, earnestly.
"The richer present!" she repeated slowly, and her face grew almost
stern in its reproach.
"Forgive me--in the present you so enrich, then," he said, eagerly.
Again she averted her face, and he saw that for some reason she
wished to avoid his eyes.
"I am too weak and unnerved to do more than say good-night again,"
she said, trying to smile. "You are fast learning that if you
would be my friend you must be a patient and generous one."
"Thank heaven I came to the Lake House!" ejaculated the artist as
he strolled out into the star-light. Thank heaven for this mingling
mystery and crystal purity. It does me good to trust her. There
is a deep and abiding joy in the very generosity she inspires. I
am learning the spell under which Emily Musgrave came. But how
strange it all is! She expected some one to-night, whom she would
have welcomed as she never will me. "The only rival I have to fear
may not be dead, as I supposed, and yet my perverse heart is more
full of pity for her than jealousy. I had no idea that I was capable
of such self-abnegation. Has she the art of spiritual alchemy,
and so can transmute natures full of alloy into fine gold?"
Van Berg was an acute observer, and had large acquaintance with
the world in which he lived, and its inhabitants. He was in the
main, however, an unknown quantity to himself.
Chapter XXXIV. Puzzled.
Tuesday was dreary enough to more than one at the Lake House.
Clouds covered the sky, yet they gave little promise of the rain
which the thirsty earth so needed. To Ida, as she looked out late
in the morning, they seemed like a leaden wall around her, shutting
off all avenues of escape.
Her mother joined her as she went down to a cold and dismal breakfast,
long after all the other guests had left the dining-room, and she
commenced fretting and fuming, as was her custom when the world
did not arrange itself to suit her mood.
"Everything is on the bias to-day," she said, "and you most of all
from your appearance. I wish I could see things straightened out
for once. The little school-ma'am, who turns everybody's head, is
sick in her room, and did not come down to breakfast. Therefore
we had a Quaker meeting. If you had been present with your long
face, the occasion would have been one of oppressive solemnity. Ik
appeared as dejected as if he were to be executed before dinner,
and scarcely ate a mouthful; I never saw a fellow so changed in all
my life. Although your artist friend had a rapt, absorbed look,
he was still able to absorb a good deal of steak and coffee. I
saw him and Miss Burton emerge from a private parlor last night,
and he probably understands Miss Burton's malady better than the
rest of us. Why--what's the matter? Would to heaven I understood
your malady better! Are you sick?"
"Yes," said Ida, rising abruptly from the table, "I am sick--sick
of myself, sick of the world."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. Mayhew, sharply, "are you so wrapt
up in that fellow Sibley, that you can't live without him?"
Ida made a slight but expressive gesture of protest and disgust;
then said, in a low tone, as if to herself: "If my own mother so
misjudges me, what can I expect of others?"
Mrs. Mayhew followed her daughter to her room with a perplexed and
"Ida," she began, "you are all out of sorts; you are bilious; you've
got this horrid malaria, that the doctors are always talking about,
in your system. Let me send for our city physician, Doctor Betts.
Never was such a man at diagnosis. He seems to look right inside
of one and see everything that's going on wrong."
"For heaven's sake don't send for him then!" exclaimed Ida.
Mrs. Mayhew looked askance at her daughter a moment, and then asked
"Why? What's going on wrong in you?"
"I do not know of anything that's going on right,--to use your own
"You mean to say, then, that there is something wrong?"
"You intimated at the breakfast-table that everything was going
wrong. So it has seemed to me, for some time. But come, mother,
drugs can't reach my trouble, and so you can't help me. You must
leave me to myself."
"I think you might tell your own mother what is the matter," whined
"I think I might also," said Ida, coldly. "It is not my fault but
my great misfortune that I cannot."
At this Mrs. Mayhew whimpered: "You are very cruel to talk to me
in that way."
"I suppose I'm everything that's bad," Ida answered recklessly.
"That seems to be the general verdict. Perhaps it would be best
for you all were I out of the way. I can scarcely remember when
I have had a friendly look from any one. Things could not be much
worse with me than they are now. I think I would like a change,
and may have a very decided one." Then seizing her hat, she left
her mother to herself.
Mrs. Mayhew sank into a chair, and a heavy frown gathered on her
brow as she thought deeply for a few moments.
"That girl means mischief," she muttered. "I wonder if she is
holding any communication with Sibley? I always thought Ida would
take care of herself, but she'll bear watching now. She hasn't
been like herself since she came to this place. I must consult
Ik at once. Things are bad enough now, heaven knows; but if Ida
should do anything disgraceful, I'd have to throw up the game." (Mrs.
Mayhew was an inveterate card-player, and her favorite amusement
often colored her thoughts and words.)
Stanton was found smoking and pretending to read a newspaper in
a retired corner of the piazza, but from which, nevertheless, he
could see whether Miss Burton made her appearance during the morning.
Mrs. Mayhew explained her fears, and the young man used very strong
language in expressing his disgust and irritation.
"A curse upon it all!" he concluded. "Since she must, and apparently
will gratify this low taste, can you not return to New York, patch
up the fellow into some sort of respectability and marry them with
a blare of brazen instruments that will drown the world's unpleasant
"That would be better than the scandal of an elopement," mused
perplexed Mrs. Mayhew. "From what you say, Sibley is bad enough,
and Ida seems reckless enough to do anything. I wish we had never
"So do I," groaned Stanton. "No, I don't, either. In fact I'm in
a devil of a mess myself. You know it, and I suppose all see it.
I can't help it if they do. My passion, no doubt, is vain, but
it's to my credit. Ida's is disgraceful to herself and to us all.
If I'd been here alone and Van Berg had not come, I might have
succeeded; but NOW"--and with a despairing gesture he turned away.
"Ik, come back," cried his aunt, "of course I feel for you. You
are independent, and can marry whom you please, though heaven knows
you could do better than---"
"Heaven knows nothing of the kind," he interrupted, irritably, "and
if you were nearer heaven--but there, what's the use."
"You're right now, Ik. We can't afford to quarrel. You must
talk to Ida. We must watch her. Find out if you can what is in
her mind, and if the worst comes to the worst, they will have to
be married. I suppose it will be wise to hint to her that if she
WILL marry Sibley she had better do it in as respectable and quiet
a way as possible."
"The idea of anything being respectable and quiet where they are
concerned!" snarled Stanton.
"Well, well," groaned Mrs. Mayhew, "do your best."
But Ida was not to be found.
She appeared at dinner, however, and not a few looked at her,
and stole furtive glances again and again. Among these observers
was the artist, and it was evident that he was both perplexed and
troubled. Was this cold, marble-cheeked woman the butterfly that
had fluttered into the country a few weeks since?
"She may be a bad woman," he thought, "but she has become a woman
in the last few days. She looks years older. I thought her shallow,
but she's too deep for me. For some reason I can't associate
that face, as it now appears, with Sibley, and yet it is so full
of mingled pain and defiance, that one might almost think she
meditated a crime. She looks ill. She is ill--she is growing
thin and hollow-eyed. What a magnificent study she would make of
a half-famished captive; or of beauty chained--not married to a
man hateful and hated; or, possibly, of innocence meditating guilt,
and yet seeking vainly to disguise the dark thoughts by a marble
mask. There is some transforming process going on in Ida Mayhew's
mind, and from her appearance I rather dread the outcome; but her
face is becoming a rare study."
Although with the exception of a slight response to his formal
bow she had sought to ignore his presence and to avoid his eyes,
she was still conscious of this furtive scrutiny, and it hurt
her cruelly. It seemed as if he were studying her as one might a
"His critical eyes are trying to look into me heart as they did
into the poor little rose-bud," she thought; and her face grew
more rigid and inscrutable under his gaze. as early as possible
she left the table.
"I wish I knew just what her trouble was," thought the artist. "If
not connected with that wretch Sibley, I could pity her with all
my heart. Well, take all the good the gods send, I'll sketch her
face this afternoon as I have last seen it."
"Your cousin begins to look decidedly ill," he said to Stanton,
His friend's only reply was an imprecation.
"Your remark is emphatic enough, but I don't understand it any
better than I do Miss Mayhew."
"It's to your credit you don't. Her mother has reason to believe
that there is some deviltry on foot between her and Sibley. I'm to
find out and thwart her if I can. I suppose I shall have to say,
in substance: 'Since you will throw yourself away on the fellow,
go through all the formalities that society demands. In such case
your family will submit, if they can't approve. You see I'm frank
with you, as I've been from the first.' Would to heaven she had
never come here, and now think of it there has been a change in
her for the worse ever since she came. It must be the influence of
that cursed Sibley. Some women are fools to begin with; but from
a fool infatuated with a villain, good Lord deliver us!"
"You fear an elopement then?" said Van Berg, his face darkening
into his deepest frown.
"I fear worse than that. Sibley is as treacherous as a quagmire.
If a woman ventured into a false position with him he would marry
her only when compelled to do so. I'm savage enough to shoot
them both this afternoon. I see but one way out. I must warn her
promptly, and in language so emphatic that she will understand it,
that everything must be after the regulation style."
Van Berg made a gesture of contempt, but said to his friend:
"Stanton, I'm sorry for you. Such trouble as this would cut
me deeper than any other kind. If I can do anything to help you,
count on me. I'm in the mood myself to shoot Sibley, for he has
spoiled for me the fairest face that evil ever perverted."
Van Berg did not sketch Ida Mayhew's face that afternoon. On the
contrary, he resolutely sought to banish her image from his mind.
When last he saw that face, it seemed made of Parian marble. Now
it rose before him so blackened and besmirched that he thought of
it only with anger and disgust.
Ida kept herself so secluded in the afternoon that Stanton could
not find her, but this very seclusion, which the poor girl sought
in order to hide her wounds, only increased his own and Mrs. Mayhew's
fears deepened their suspicions.
She was a little late in appearing at the super-table, for her
return from the wanderings of the afternoon had required more time
than she supposed. She was very weary; moreover, the hours spent
in solitude with nature had quieted her overstrung nerves. The
sun had shone upon her, though the world seemed to frown. Flowers
had looked shyly and sweetly into her face as if they saw nothing
there to criticise. She had plucked a few and fastened them into
her breast-pin, and their faint perfume was like a low, soothing
voice. She was in a softened and receptive mood, and a kind word,
even a kind glance, might have tuned the scale in favor of better
thoughts and better living.
But she did not receive them. Her coming to the table was greeted
with an ominous silence, for each one was conscious of thoughts
so greatly to her prejudice that they scarcely wished to meet her
eye. Mrs. Mayhew looked excessively worried and anxious. Stanton
was flushed and angry. The artist was icy as he only knew how to
be when he deemed there was sufficient occasion; and in his opinion,
the presence of the prospective and willing bride of the man who
had attempted his life, and, what was far worse, insulted the woman
he most honored, was occasion, indeed.
From time to time he gave her a cold, curious glance, as one might
look at some strange, abnormal thing for which there is no accounting;
but his slight scrutiny was no longer furtive. He looked at her
openly as he would at an OBJECT, and not at a woman whose feelings
he would not wound for the world. His thought was: "A creature
akin to Sibley deserves no consideration, and can put in no just
claim for delicacy."
Indeed he felt a peculiar vindictiveness towards her to-night, because
she had so thwarted him, and was about to carry her extraordinary
dower of beauty to the moral slough that seemingly awaited
her. Therefore, his glance swept carelessly over her with a cold
indifference that chilled her very soul.
But these transient glances caught enough to trouble him with a
vague uneasiness. Although he was steeled against her by prejudice
and anger, something in her appearance so pleaded in her favor
that misgivings would arise. Once he thought she met his eyes with
something like an appeal in her own, but he would not look long
enough to be sure. A moment later he was vexed with himself that
he had not.
The silence or the forced remarks at the table were equally oppressive,
and Ida immediately felt that she was the cause of the restraint.
She was about to leave the table in order to relieve them of her
presence, when Miss Burton unexpectedly entered and took her chair,
which hitherto had been vacant. She was a little pale and wan,
but this only made her look the more interesting, and both Stanton
and Van Berg welcomed her as they would the sunshine after a dreary
storm. Even Mrs. Mayhew seemed to find a wonderful relief in her
coming, and added her voluble congratulations.
"I have had nervous headaches myself, and know how to sympathize
with you," she concluded.
"She does not know how to sympathize with me," sighed her daughter.
The sigh caught Van Berg's attention, and he was surprised to see
that the maiden's eyes were full of tears. She bowed her head a
moment to hide them, and then abruptly left the table and the room.
The artist's misgivings ended in something like compunction, as
he thought: "Her tears are caused by the contrast between the icy
reception we gave her, and the cordial welcome we have just given
Miss Burton. Confound it all! I wish I knew the exact truth, or
that she would leave for parts unknown where I could never see her
Miss Burton glanced wistfully after the retreating maiden, but no
explanation was offered. Then, as if feeling that she had lost a
day's opportunity for diffusing sunshine, she became more genial
and brilliant than Van Berg had ever known her to be. They lingered
long at the table; Mr. Burleigh and others joined them. Their
laughter rang out and up to the dusky room in which poor Ida was
"I wish I were dead and out of every one's way."
Van Berg laughed with the others, but never for a moment did he
lose the uneasy consciousness that he might possibly be misjudging
Ida Mayhew. Although Mr. Burleigh's portly form occupied her
chair, it did not prevent him from seeing a pale tearful face that
was far too beautiful, far too free from all gross and sensual
elements, to harmonize with the character he was supposing her to
possess. He re-called what she had said about the "fragrance" of
the rose-bud he had torn and tossed away, rising to him like "a
low, timid appeal for mercy." Had she shyly and timidly appealed
to him for a kinder judgement that evening, and had he been too
blind and prejudiced to see anything save the stains left by Sibley's
name? If she proposed to go to Sibley, why was she not like him
in manner? It was strange that one akin to such a fellow should
fasten wild flowers on her bosom, and still more strange that they
should be so becoming.
The cool and sagacious Van Berg, who so prided himself on his
correct judgment, was decidedly perplexed and perturbed.
Chapter XXXV. Desperately Wounded.
Stanton basked in Miss Burton's smiles until a significant look
from Mrs. Mayhew reminded him of his disagreeable task, for the
performance of which there seemed a greater urgency than ever.
Ida's rather precipitate withdrawal from the supper-room was another
proof in their eyes that some mischief was brewing.
He listened at her door for a moment, and could not fail to hear
the stifled sound of her passionate grief; then knocked, but there
was no response.
"Ida," he said, in a kinder tone than usual, "I want to see you."
She tried to quiet her sobbing, and after a moment faltered: "You
had better leave me to myself."
"No, I must see you," he said kindly but firmly. "I have something
to say to you."
The poor girl was so lonely and heart-broken, that she was ready
for the least ray of comfort. She now saw that she was ignorant
and exceedingly faulty. She was ready to admit the fact that she
had acted very foolishly and unwisely, and that circumstances were
against her. Ill-omened circumstances have brought to condemnation
and death innocent men. Ida would not now claim that she was
innocent of blame, but events had seemed so unfortunate of late,
that she was half ready to think that some vindictive hand was
But she did not feel that she was now worse than she had been.
On the contrary, she had longings for a better life and a broader
culture such as she had never experienced before. The artist's
eyes, in searching for her woman's soul, revealed to her that she
had been a fool; but now she would gladly become a woman if some
one would only point out the way.
"Mother and Ik might learn that I am not wholly bad if they would
only take the trouble to find out," she murmured. "Ik used to be
kind-hearted, and I thought he cared a little for me, in spite of
our sparing. Why is he so hard on me of late? Why can't he believe
that I am just as capable of detesting Sibley as he is? Perhaps
he does mean to say a kind word, and give me a chance to explain."
These thoughts passed through her mind as she lighted the gas and
bathed her face, that she might, to some extent, remove the evidences
Stanton misunderstood her wholly. The new Ida, that deep feeling
and recent events were developing, was unknown to him, and he had
been too preoccupied to see the changes, even had they been more
apparent. He did feel a sort f commiseration for her evident
suffering, for he was too kind-hearted not to sympathize even
when he believed pain to be well-deserved. But he thought he must
still deal with her as a wayward, passionate child, as he had in
the past, when she cried till she obtained what she wished, right
or wrong. He now believed that she was as fully bent on carrying
out her own unreasonable will, but remembered that she was no
longer a child, and might be guilty of folly that society would
not forgive as childish. Therefore he wished to see her face, and
was disposed to be wary and observant.
He gave her a quick, keen glance as he entered and then said:
"What's the matter, Ida? Why do you sit here in the shadows? It's
as dark as a pocket;" and he turned the gas higher.
She did not answer, but sat down with her face averted from him and
the light. "He has come here as a spy, and not as a comforter,"
He looked at her a moment, mistook her silence as an expression of
the settled obstinacy of her purpose.
"Well, Ida," he said, a little irritably, "I know you of old. I
suppose you will have your own way as usual. If we must submit,
why then we must; but you can't expect us to do so with any grace.
If you won't give up this Sibley, for heaven's sake let your mother
arrange the matter after the fashion of the day! Out of regard
for your family, go through all the regular formalities."
She started violently and then leaned back in her chair as if she
were faint, and half stunned by a blow. He regarded her manner as
evidence of guilt, or, at least, of proposed criminal imprudence
on her part, and went on still more plainly:
"If you can't exist without Sibley--why, marry him; but see to it
that there is a plenty of priest, altar, and service; for you know,
or you ought to, that he's a man who can't be trusted a hair's
She averted her face still farther, and said in a low constrained
"My family, then, consent that I should marry Mr. Sibley?"
"No; we submit to the marriage as an odious necessity, on condition
that you put the whole matter into your mother's hands and allow
her to arrange everything according to society's requirements."
"Please let me understand you," she said in a lower voice. "My
family offer to submit to the marriage as a dire necessity lest my
relations with Mr. Sibley cover them with a deeper shame?"
"Well, in plain English, yes."
"It is indeed extraordinarily plain English--brutally plain. And
does--does Mr. Van Berg share in your estimate of me?"
Her manner and words began to puzzle Stanton, and he remembered
the artist's question--"Are you absolutely sure that Sibley is the
cause of her trouble?" He thought that perhaps it might be good
policy to contrast the two men.
"To be frank," he replied, "I think Mr. Van Berg has both wished
and tried to think well of you. He admired your beauty immensely,
and sought to find something in your character that corresponded with
it. Even after your studied rudeness to him, your open preference
of Sibley's society to his, and your remark explaining your course,
'congenial society or none at all'" (Ida fairly groaned as he
recalled her folly), "he tried to treat you politely. That you
should refuse the society of a gentleman like my friend for the
sake of such a low fellow as Sibley, is to us all a disgusting and
fathomless mystery. The belief that you could throw yourself and
your rare beauty into this abominable slough, was so revolting to
Van Berg, that he never would wholly accept of it until to-day."
She rose to her feet and turned upon him. Her eyes were fairly
blazing with indignation, and her face was white and terrible
from her anger. In tones such as he had never heard any woman use
before, she said:
"But to-day you have succeeded in satisfying him that this is not
only possible, but the most natural thing for me to do. You have
told him that my family will submit to my marriage with a loathsome
wretch, who got drunk in the presence of ladies, insulted an orphan
girl, and attempted murder--and all in one Sunday afternoon. I
suppose you thought me captivated, and carried away by such a burst
and blaze of villainy; and so my high-toned family explain to the
faultless and aristocratic Mr. Van Berg that they will submit to
an odious marriage lest I clandestinely follow the scoundrel who
was very properly driven away, like the base cur he is. This is
why you received me to-night as if I were a pestilence. This is
why I was treated at the table as if I were a death's head. This
is why your perfect friend looked towards me as if my chair
were vacant. He refused even to recognize the existence of such
a loathsome thing as my family explain to him that I am. Great
heaven! may I never live to receive a deeper humiliation than this!"
"But, Ida," cried Stanton, deeply alarmed and agitated by her manner,
"how else could we explain your action and your reckless words to
"Oh, I admit that circumstances are against me, but there is no
excuse for this outrage! I don't know what I did say to mother.
I've been too wretched and discouraged to remember. She IS my
mother, and I'll say nothing against her, though, heaven knows,
she has been a strange mother to me. Would to God I had a father
that I could go to, or a brother! But it seems I have not a friend
in the great, scornful world. Don't interrupt me. Words count
for nothing now, and mine least of all. If you were all ready to
believe me capable of what you have plainly intimated, you need
something stronger than words to convince you to the contrary. Of
one thing I shall make sure--you and your faithless friend shall
never have the chance to insult me again. I wish you to leave my
"Oh come, Ida, listen to reason," Stanton began coaxingly.
"I admitted you," she interrupted with a repellant gesture, "in
the hope of receiving a little kindness, for which I was famishing,
but I would rather you had stabbed me than have said what you have.
Hush, not a word more. The brutal wrong has been done. Will you
not go? This is my private apartment. I command you to leave
it; and if you will not obey I will summon Mr. Burleigh;" and she
placed her hand on the bell.
Her manner was at once so commanding and threatening that Stanton,
with a gesture of deprecation and protest, silently obeyed.
He was so surprised and unnerved by the interview in which the
maiden had turned upon him with a fiery indignation that was almost
volcanic, that he wished to think the affair all over and regain
his composure before meeting any one. Clearly they had failed to
understand Ida of late, and had misjudged her utterly. And yet,
guided by appearances, he felt that they could scarcely have come
to any other conclusion.
Now that he had been jostled out of his preoccupation, he began to
realize that Ida had not appeared of late like the frivolous girl
that had accompanied him to the country. Changes were taking
place in her as well as in himself, "but not from the same cause,"
he thought. "After her words and manner to-night, I cannot doubt
that Sibley has disgusted her as well as the rest of us, although
she had a strange way of showing it. It cannot be that a woman
would speak of a man for whom she had any regard, as Ida did of
the wretch with whom we were associating her; and as for Van Berg,
she has taken no pains to conceal her strong dislike for him from
the first day of their meeting. I can't think of anyone else at
present (although there might be a score) who is disturbing the
shallow waters of her mind.
"I'm inclined to think that she is deeply mortified at the false
position in which Sibley has placed her, and is too proud to make
explanations. It may be also that she is realizing more fully the
disgrace of her father's course, and it is also possible that she
is waking up to a sense of her own deficiencies. Although she
could not fail to dislike such people as Jennie Burton and Van Berg,
she would be apt to contrast herself with them and the impression
which she and they made on society. Confound it all! I wish I had
not taken it for granted that she was pining for Sibley and ready
to throw herself away for his sake. It has placed me in a deucedly
awkward position. I doubt if she ever fully forgives me, and I
can't blame her if she doesn't."
"Well?" said Mrs. Mayhew, as Stanton moodily approached her.
"Come with me," he said. When they were alone he prefaced his
story with the irritable remark:
"It's a pity you can't understand your daughter better. She detests
"Thank heaven for that," exclaimed the mother.
"I should be more inclined to thank both heaven and yourself if
you had discovered the fact before sending me on such an intensely
disagreeable mission. You must manage your daughter yourself
hereafter, for she'll never take anything more from me;" and he told
her substantially the nature of his interview, and his surmises as
to the real causes of her trouble.
"I think you are right," said Mrs. Mayhew, whose impressions were
as changeable as superficial; "and I'm excessively glad to think so.
With her beauty, Ida can, in spite of her father, make a brilliant
match, in every sense of the word;" and with the prospect of this
supreme consummation of life regained, the wife and mother gave a
sigh of great relief.
"But she's in an awful mood, I can tell you," said Stanton, dubiously.
"I never knew a woman to look and speak as she did to-night. If
you don't manage better she'll make us trouble yet."
"Oh, I'm used to Ida's tantrums. They don't last. Nothing does
with her. Time and another admirer will bring her around."
"Well, you ought to know," said Stanton with a shrug; "but I retire
from the management. I can't help saying, however, that something
in her looks and words makes me uneasy. I regret exceedingly I
spoke as I did, and shall apologize at the first opportunity."
"You'll have that in the morning. Things are so much better than
I feared that I am greatly relieved. She'll come around now if
nothing more is said. Roiled water always settles when kept quiet;"
and Mrs. Mayhew returned to the parlor in much better spirits.
Stanton followed his aunt and joined a small group that had gathered
around Miss Burton. Van Berg gave him a quick, questioning look,
but gathered the impression only that he had been subjected to a
very painful interview.
"She has evidently realized his worst fears," he thought; "curses
on her!" and his face grew fairly black for a moment with anger
But Jennie Burton's silver tongue soon charmed away the evil spirits
from both the young men.
She had fine conversation powers, and her keen intuition and her
controlling passion to give pleasure enabled her to detect and draw
out the best thoughts of others. Her evident sympathy put every
one at ease, and gave people the power of such happy expression
that they were surprised at themselves, and led to believe that
they not only received but gave something better than average.
Therefore, under the magic of her good-will, both eyes and minds
kindled, and even common-place persons became almost brilliant and
Stanton's was the only clouded face in her circle that evening; and
true to her instinct, she set about banishing his trouble, whatever
it might be--an easy task with her power over him.
Since it daily became more evident to her that she must wound his
vanity, and perhaps his heart a little, she tried to make amends by
showing him such public consideration as might rob his disappointment
of humiliation and bitterness.
Stanton, therefore, soon forgot Ida's desperate face, and was
enjoying himself at his best.
Yet Ida's face but faintly revealed her heart. It seemed that the
end had now come in very truth, and she was conscious chiefly of
a wild impulse to escape from her shame and suffering. There was
also a bitter sense of wrong and a wish to retaliate.
"I'll teach them all a lesson," she muttered, as she paced her room
swiftly to and fro. "This proud artist thinks he can look at me as
if I were empty air; that he can forget me as he has the rose-bud
he tossed away. I will insure that he looks at me once with
a face as white as mine will then be, and that he remembers me to
his dying day."