The Earth Trembled by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter X. Miss Ainsley
While in New York, Owen Clancy had been kept informed of the drift of those events in which he was especially interested. While Mara's effort had increased his admiration for her, its success had still further discouraged his hope. In his way he was as proud as she was. He had committed himself to a totally different line of action, for in his business relations he had been led into friendly relations with many Northern people in both cities. He had accepted and returned their hospitalities in kind as far as it was possible for a young bachelor of modest means. This courtesy had been expected and accepted as a matter of course, and to exchange it for cold, freezing politeness limited only to matters of trade, would not only subject him to ridicule but cut short his business career. Considerations supreme in Mara's circle were ignored by the great world, and, having once felt the impulses of the large currents of life, it would be impossible for Clancy to withdraw into the little side eddy wherein thought was ever turning back to no purpose. Having clasped hands and broken bread with the men and women of the North, he felt that he could not, and would not stultify himself, even for the sake of his love, by any change toward them. They would despise him not only as a miracle of narrowness but also as an insincere man, whose courtesy had been but business policy, easily dropped at the bidding of some more pressing interest.
His last interview with Mara had depressed him exceedingly, for while it had increased his love it had also revealed to him the radical divergence in their views and made it more clear that he could only hope to win her love by the sacrifice of self-respect. He must cease to be a thinking, independent man, a part of his own day and generation, and fix his thoughts upon the dead issues of the past. "The idea," he would mutter, "of sitting down and listening to Mrs. Hunter's inane and endless lament." He could not conform to Mara's views without being guilty of hypocrisy also, and she proved her narrowness by not recognizing this truth.
After all, the point of view was chiefly the cause of the trouble between them. She had ever dwelt in the shaded valley; he had been on the mountain-top, and so had secured a broad range of vision. He had come into contact with the great forces which were making the future and the men of the future, and he recognized that his own State and his own people must be vitalized by these forces or else be left far behind. And he represented a large and increasing class in his native city. In birth and breeding he was the peer of Mara or any of her aristocratic circle. He had admission to the best society in the State, and, if looked upon coldly by some, it was for the same reasons which actuated the girl for whom he would gladly yield everything except his principles and right of private judgment.
While he had many warm, sympathetic friends he felt that the old should give way to the new, he yet ran against the prejudices which Mara embodied so often that he began to feel ill at ease in Charleston.
He thought of removing permanently to cosmopolitan New York more than once during his absence North. If he should be fully convinced after his return that Mara was lost to him, unless he became a part of her implacable and reactionary coterie, it might be better for his peace of mind that he were far away.
One evening, before his departure home, he was invited to dine with a gentleman who had large railroad interests in the South. Mr. Ainsley was a widower, a man of wealth, and absorbed in the pleasure of its increase. He had made a business acquaintance with Clancy, and, finding him unusually intelligent and well informed in regard to Southern matters, naturally wished to converse more at length with him. The cordial invitation, the hearty welcome of the Northern capitalist could scarcely fail in gratifying the young Southerner, who keenly felt the importance of interesting just such men as his host in the enterprises under consideration. During the preliminary talk in the library of his palatial home, Mr. Ainsley soon discovered that his guest was not only well informed but frank and honest in statements, giving the cons as well as the pros, in spite of an evident desire to secure for the South all the advantages possible.
Before going to the dining-room, Miss Caroline, his host's only daughter, entered the library and was presented. Clancy was fairly dazzled by her remarkable beauty. She was a blonde of the unusual type characterized by dark eyes and golden hair. Naturally, therefore, the first impression of beauty was vivid, nor was it banished by closer observation. As she presided with ease and grace at her father's table, Clancy found himself fascinated as he had never been before by a stranger.
Although their table-talk lost its distinctively business and statistical character, Mr. Ainsley still pursued his inquiries in a broad, general way, and the daughter also asked questions in regard to life and society at the South which indicated a personal interest on her part.
At last she said, "Papa thinks it quite possible that we may spend some time in your region, and in that case we should probably make Charleston our headquarters. I have a friend, Mrs. Willoughby--do you know her?"
"Yes, indeed; a charming lady. She resides on the Battery."
"I'm glad you know her. I met her abroad, and we became very fond of each other. She has often asked me to visit her, but as I rarely leave Papa, the way has never opened."
"My daughter is very good in accompanying me in my various business expeditions," her father explained, "and you know they do not often lead to fashionable watering-places, nor can they always be adjusted to such seasons as I could desire. I wish I could go to Charleston at an early date, but in view of other interests, I cannot tell when I can get away."
"When I do come, I shall make the most of my name and insist on being regarded as a Carolinian," said Miss Ainsley, laughing.
Clancy was pleased with the conceit and the delicate compliment implied, but he was already impressed with the idea that his hostess was the most cosmopolitan girl that he had ever met. She piqued his curiosity, and he led her to talk of her experiences abroad. Apparently she had been as much at home in Europe as in America, and had been received in the highest social circles everywhere. When after dinner she played for him some brilliant, difficult classical music, he began to regard her a perfect flower of metropolitan culture. Yet she perplexed him. She revealed so much about herself without the slightest hesitation, yet at the same time seemed to veil herself completely. He and her father could broach no topic of conversation in which she could not take an intelligent part. Matters of European policy were touched upon, and she was at home in regard to them. She smiled broadly when he tried to explain to her father that patience would still be required with the South, but that in time the two parts of the country would be more firmly welded together than ever. "Such antipathies amuse me," she said. "It is one side keeping up a quarrel which the other has forgotten all about."
"The circumstances are different, Miss Ainsley," Clancy replied. "The war cost me my father, my property, and impoverished my State."
He could not tell whether her eyes expressed sympathy or not, for they had beamed on him with a soft alluring fire from the first, but her father spoke up warmly: "The North has not forgotten, especially the older generation. We have not suffered materially and have become absorbed in new interests, but the heart of the North was wounded as truly as that of the South. I wish to assure you, Mr. Clancy, how deeply I sympathize with and honor your spirit of conciliation. What is there for us all but to be Americans? Believe me, sir, such men as yourself are the strength and hope of your section."
"I believe with you, Mr. Ainsley, that it has been settled that we are to have but one destiny as a nation, but in justice to my people I must say that our wounds were so deep and the changes involved so vast that it is but reasonable we should recover slowly. You may say that we committed errors during the reconstruction period, yet they were errors natural to a conquered people. In the censure we have received from many quarters we have been almost denied the right to our common human nature. Possibly the North, in our position would not have acted very differently. But the past is past, and the question is now, what is right and wise? I know that I represent a strong and growing sentiment which desires the unity and prosperity of the entire country. I in turn, sir, can say that men like yourself, in coming among us and investing their money do more than all politicians in increasing this sentiment. It proves that you trust us; and trust begets trust and good feeling. The North, however, will always be mistaken if it expects us to denounce our fathers or cease to honor the men who fought and prayed for what they believed was right."
"Suppose, Mr. Clancy," Miss Ainsley asked, with mirthful eyes, "that a party in the South had the power to array your section against the North again, would you go with your section?"
"Oh, come, Carrie, it is scarcely fair to ask tests on utterly improbable suppositions," said her father laughing, yet he awaited Clancy's answer with interest.
"No," he said quietly, "not with the light I now possess. I would have done so five years ago. Are Northern young men so intrinsically wise and good that they are not influenced by their traditions and immediate associations?"
"Mr. Clancy, where are your eyes? Go to the Delmonico cafe at noon to-morrow, and observe the flower of our patrician youth taking their breakfast. You will see beings who are intrinsically what they are."
"I fear we are rather even in this respect," said Clancy, laughing. "You have your metropolitan dudes and manikins, and we our rural ruffians, slaves of prejudice, who hate progress, schools and immigration, as they do soap and water. There is some consideration for our fellows, however, for they scarcely know any better, and many of their characteristics are bred in the bone. It would almost seem that the class you refer to are fools and nonentities from choice."
"I fear not," she said, lifting her eyebrows, "if I were a medical student I should be tempted to kill one of them--it wouldn't be murder--to see if he had a brain."
"You think brain, then, is absolutely essential?'
"Yes, indeed. I could endure a man without a heart, but not if he were a fool. If a man is not capable of thinking himself into what is sensible he is a poor creature."
Clancy shrugged his shoulders in slight protest and soon after took his leave, having first acquiesced in an appointment with Mr. Ainsley at his office in the morning.
On the way to his hotel and until late into the night, he thought over his experiences of the evening. Did Miss Ainsley intend to compliment him by suggesting that he was thinking himself into what was sensible? It was difficult to tell what she intended as far as he was concerned. "She could only have the most transient interest in such a stranger as I am," he reasoned, "yet her eyes were like magnets. They both fascinate and awaken misgivings. Perhaps they are the means by which she discovers whether a man is a fool or not; if he speedily loses his head under their spells, she mentally concludes, weighs and finds wanting. Probably, however, like hosts of pretty women, she simply enjoys using her powers and seeing men succumb; and men not forearmed and steeled as I am, might well hesitate to see her often, for my impression is right strong that she has more brain than heart. Yet she is a dazzling creature. Jove, what a contrast to Mara! Yet there is a nobility and womanly sincerity in Mara's expression than I cannot discover in Miss Ainsley's face. However wrong Mara may be, you are sure she is sincere and that she would be true to her conscience even if she put the whole North to the sword; but this brilliant girl--how much conscience and heart has she? Back of all her culture and accomplishments there is a woman; yet what kind of a woman? Well, the prospects are that I may have a chance to find out when she comes South. One thing is certain, she will not discover that I am a fool by speedily kindling a vain sentiment. Yet I would like to find her out, to discover the moral texture of her being. A girl like Miss Ainsley could more than fulfil a man's ideal or else make his life a terror."
He called again just before his departure, and saw her alone. As at first, she appeared to veil the woman in her nature completely, while, at the same time, the mild lightning of her eyes played about him.
Although consciously on his guard he found himself fascinated in spite of himself by her marvellous beauty, and his curiosity piqued more than ever. He discovered that her range of reading was wide, especially in modern European literature, and he was charmed by her broad, liberal views. Perhaps it was because he was singularly free from egotism that he was so conscious of her fine reticence which took the mask of apparent frankness. Most men would have been flattered by her seeming interest in them and willingness to listen to all they had to say about themselves. According to Clancy's opinion, conversation should be an equal interchange. He looked direct into Miss Ainsley's eyes. They bewildered and perplexed him, for they appeared to gather the rays of some light he did not understand and focus them upon himself. He wished he could see her in the society of other men and could learn more of her antecedents so that he might better account for her, but he went away feeling that she was more of an enigma than ever.
The glamour of her perplexing personality was upon him during much of his journey, but as he approached his native city thoughts of Mara predominated. Was she utterly estranged, and was the secret of her coldness due to the truth that he had never had any real hold upon her heart? If Mrs. Hunter had not so harshly interposed at the critical moment of their last interview, he believed that he would have discovered why it was she said he was "breaking her heart." Was it because he charged her with disloyalty to her kindred? Or had his own course which she felt was separating them some part in her distress? The fact that she had been silent to his last appeal, that she had proved his fears in regard to her poverty to be true, yet had sought aid from such an unexpected source, rather than permit him to endow her with his love and all that it involved, forced him to the miserable conclusion that she had at least decided against him.
But hope dies hard in a lover's breast. He longed to see her again, yet how could he see her except in the presence of others?
He knew they soon would meet; he was determined that they should; and possibly something in her involuntary manner or expression might suggest that she had thought of his words in his absence.
She had thought of his words as we know, but she had also been given other food for reflection which the following chapter will reveal.