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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Face Illumined - Chapter 24. A Hateful, Wretched Life
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A Face Illumined - Chapter 24. A Hateful, Wretched Life Post by :Andrew_Murray Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :2014

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A Face Illumined - Chapter 24. A Hateful, Wretched Life

Chapter XXIV. A Hateful, Wretched Life

The advent of half a score of young men from the city naturally made dancing the order of the occasion on Saturday evening. Mr. Burleigh, however, gave Sibley a hint that the features he had introduced the previous week must be omitted tonight, since nothing that would in the slightest degree lower the character of his house would be tolerated. The excitement therefore that Sibley had formerly received from Cognac, he now sought to obtain by pursuing with greater ardor his flirtation with Ida. Indeed, to such a nature as his, her beauty was quite as intoxicating as the "spirit of wine." There was a brilliancy in her appearance to night and a piquancy in her words that struck him as very unusual.

Nor was he alone in his admiration. The young men from the city thronged about her, and her hand was soon engaged for every dance until late in the evening; but on this occasion she had no opportunity, as before, of declining invitations from Van Berg. The solicitations of others went for little, the admiring eyes that she saw following her on every side could not compensate for the lack of all attention from him. He danced several times, but it was with those who seemed to be neglected by others. In his quiet, dignified bearing, in his unselfish affability toward those who otherwise would have had a dull evening, he appeared to her in most favorable contrast to the giddy young fellows who fluttered around her, and whose supreme thoughts were always of themselves, and of her only as she could minister to their pleasure.

"Miss Burton has so plainly won him," she thought, "that he has adopted her tactics of looking after those whom every one neglects. I could soon show him the one he has the greatest power of cheering, and I know that she has the deepest need of cheer of any one in this crowded house, but I'd rather die than give one hint of our first meeting he has humiliated me, and I in return love him! But he shall never know it. My looks can be as cold as his."

And so they were toward him, but for all others she had had the gayest smiles and repartee. Vividly conscious of the secret she would so jealously guard, she sought by every means in her power to mask it from him and all others. She would even permit her name for a time to be associated with a man she detested and despised, since thus the truth could be more effectively concealed.

Sibley's attentions were certainly ardent enough to attract attention, and occasionally there was a boldness in his compliments, which she, even in her reckless mood, sharply resented. His eyes seemed to grow more wolfish every time she encountered them, and more than once the thought crossed her mind:

"What a heaven it would be to look up into the eyes of a man I could trust, and who honored me."

What torture it was to see such a man present, and yet to feel that he justly scorned her.

Excitement and her strong will kept her up for a long time, but as the evening advanced despondency and weariness began to gain the mastery. Sibley came to her and said: "Miss Ida, I have your hand for the next waltz, but I see you are worn and tired. Let us go out on the cool piazza instead of dancing."

Listlessly she took his arm and passed through one of the open windows near. Van Berg had disappeared some time before, and there was no longer any motive to keep up the illusion of gayety.

Hardly had she stepped on the piazza before she heard her father say:

"Miss Burton, if it will give you any pleasure to know that you have made this evening memorably bright to one whose life is peculiarly clouded, you can certainly enjoy that assurance in the fullest measure. You have kept your word and have not preached at me at all; and yet I feel I ought to be a better man for this interview."

"O, Miss Ida," exclaimed Sibley, "this is the opportunity that I have been wishing for all the evening. I cannot tell you how gladly I exchange the glare of that room for the light of your eyes only. Would that life were but one long summer evening, and your eyes the only starts in my sky."

"Absurd," she carelessly replied; and then they passed out of hearing.

"Good-night, Miss Burton," said Mr. Mayhew abruptly; and he hastily descended the steps and was soon lost from view in the darkness.

His daughter and the man who seemed to be the companion of her choice, brought back at once the old conditions of his life. The prison walls closed around him again, the air seemed all the more foul and stifling in contrast with the pure atmosphere which he had been breathing, and the gloom of the night was light in comparison with his thoughts as he muttered:

"If Ida were only like this good angel she might save even me; but after my long absence she leaves me wholly to myself for the sake of a man who ought to be an offence to her. If I tell her and her mother what his reputation in New York is they will not listen to me. Although he is the known slave of every vice, my daughter smiles upon him. Froth and mud we are now and ever will be. After a glimpse into the life of that pure, good woman who has tried to be God's messenger to me to-night, I can find no words to express my loathing of the slough in which I and mine have mired. My only child, by the force of natural selection, bids fair to add to our number a drunkard and a libertine; and I am powerless to prevent it. The mother that should guard and guide her child, is blind to everything save that he is rich. Froth and mud! Froth and mud!"

Unable to endure his thoughts, he went to his room and found oblivion in the stupor of intoxication.

On reaching the end of the long piazza, Sibley led Ida to a veranda little frequented at that hour, saying, as he did so:

"Let us get away from prying eyes. I always feel when with you that three is an enormous crowd."

A gentleman who had been smoking rose hastily at this broad hint, which he could not help overhearing, and walked haughtily away.

Ida, with a regret deeper than she could have thought possible, saw that it was Van Berg. Her first impulse was to compel her companion to go back; but that would look like following him. Weary, disheartened by the fate that seemed ever against her, she sank into the chair he had just vacated.

For a time she did not heed or scarcely hear Sibley's characteristic flatteries, but at last he said plainly:

"Miss Ida, do you know that you are the one woman of all the world to me?"

"Oh, hush!" she replied, rising. "I know you say that to every pretty woman who will listen to you, as I shall no longer to-night. Come."

Baffled and puzzled also by the moody girl, who of late seemed so different from her former self, he had no resource but to accompany her back to the main entrance. Here, where the eyes of others were upon her, she said abruptly, but with a charming smile:

"Good-night, Mr. Sibley," and went directly to her room.

The young man looked rather nonplussed and muttered an oath as he walked away to console himself after the fashion of his kind.

"Is there no escape from this wretched life?" Ida sighed as she wearily threw herself into a chair on reaching her room. "A man whose addresses are an insult is my lover. The only man I can ever love associates me in his mind with this low fellow. My father obtains what little comfort he gets from the charity of a stranger. How can I face this prospect day after day. Oh, that I had never come here!"

"Ida," said her mother entering hastily, "what has happened to put your father out so? I had a headache this evening, and came up early. A little while ago he stalked in with his absurd tragic air. 'What is the matter,' I asked. 'Look to your daughter,' he said. 'What do you mean?' I asked, quite frightened. 'If you were a true mother,' he replied, 'you would no more leave her with that roue Sibley, than with so much pitch. Yet he is courting her openly; and what is worse, she receives his addresses, and permits herself to be identified with him.' 'Oh, pshaw,' I answered carelessly; 'Sibley is about on a par with half the young men in society, and Ida might do a great deal worse. No fear of her; for there isn't a girl living who knows how to take care of herself better than she.' 'Bah!' he said, 'if she knew how to take care of herself, she would permit a snake to touch her sooner than that man. Ida might do worse, might she? God knows how: I don't. A pretty family we shall be when he is added to our charming group. The mud will predominate then;' and with that he opened a bottle of brandy and drank himself stupid."

As Mrs. Mayhew rattled this conversation off in a loud whisper, Ida seemed turning into stone, but at its close she said icily:

"In speaking of such a union as possible, my parents have shown their opinion of me. Good-night. I wish to be alone."

"But did anything happen between you to set your father off so?" persisted Mrs. Mayhew.

"Nothing unusual. I suppose father heard one of Mr. Sibley's compliments; and that was enough to disgust any sensible man. Good-night."

"My gracious! You might as well turn me out of your room."

"Mother, I wish to be alone," said Ida, passionately.

"A pretty life I lead of it between you and your father," sobbed Mrs. Mayhew, retreating to her own apartment.

"A hateful, wretched life we all three shall lead to the end of time, for aught that I can see," Ida groaned as she restlessly paced her room; "but I have no better resource than to follow father's example."

She took an opiate, and so escaped from thought for a time in the deep lethargy it brought.

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