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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Face Illumined - Chapter 48. Ida's Temptation
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A Face Illumined - Chapter 48. Ida's Temptation Post by :spenk Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :1680

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A Face Illumined - Chapter 48. Ida's Temptation

Chapter XLVIII. Ida's Temptation

If Van Berg had given thought to himself that evening as he did to Ida Mayhew he might have discovered some rather odd phenomena in his varying mental states. Earlier in the summer he had been a very deliberate and conscientious wooer. He had leisurely taken counsel of his reason, judgment, and good taste; he mentally consulted his parents, and satisfied himself that Miss Burton would have peculiar charms for them, and so it had come to seem almost a duty as well as a privilege to seek that young lady's hand. The sagacity and nice appreciation of character on which he had so greatly prided himself led to the belief that fortune in giving him a chance to win such a maiden had been very kind. That his pulse was so even and his heart had so little to say in the matter was only a proof that he did not possess an unbalanced head-long nature like that of Stanton, who had soon become wholly mastered by his passion. He had at one time reasoned it all out to his satisfaction, and believed he was paying his suit to the woman he would make his wife in an eminently proper way. but now that he was merely trying to obtain a young girl's friendship, the cool and masterful poise which he had then been able to maintain, was apparently deserting him. He might have asked himself if he ever remembered being such an enthusiastic friend before. He might have considered how often he had kept awake and counted the hours till he should meet a friend from whom he had just parted. That these obvious thoughts and contrasts did not occur to him only proved that he was smitten already by that blindness which a certain spiritual malady usually occasions in its earlier stages.

As for poor Ida, she still felt that her little boat was being carried forward by a shining tide--whither she dared not think. She had come to the city to escape from the artist, and as a result she might spend long hours alone with him in his studio and see far more of him than if she had remained in the country. She had not sought it--she had not even dared to hope or dream of such a thing; but now that this exquisite cup of pleasure had been pressed to her very lips by other hands she could not refuse it.

Her father had watched her keenly but furtively since she had been his companion, and until the artist had accosted her the evening before had not been able to understand the depression which she could not disguise wholly from him; but the light and welcome that flashed into her face when greeting Van Berg had suggested her secret, and all that followed confirmed his surmise. The truth was plainer still when she came down to their early breakfast the next morning with color in her cheeks and a fitful light of excitement in her eyes.

As he realized the truth he fairly trembled with apprehension and longing. "Oh, if Ida could only marry that man I would be almost beside myself with joy," he thought; "but I fear it is rash even to hope for such a thing. Indeed, I myself am the obstacle that would probably prevent it all. The Van Bergs are a proud race, and this young man's father knows me too well. O God! I could be annihilated if thereby my child could be happy."

"Ida," he said, hesitatingly, "perhaps I had better not go with you this morning. I imagine Mr. Van Berg asked me out of politeness rather than from any wish to see me and--and--I think I had better not go."

She looked up at him swiftly, and the rich color mantled her face, for she read his thoughts in part. But she only said quietly:

"Then I will not go."

"That would not be right or courteous, Ida," but I think you young people will get on better without me."

"You are mistaken, Father; I never intend to get on without you, and any friend of mine who does not welcome you becomes a stranger from that hour. But I think you are doing Mr. Van Berg an injustice. At any rate we will give him a chance to show a better spirit."

"Ida, my child, if you only knew how gladly I would sacrifice myself to make you happy!"

She came to him and put her arms around his neck and looking up into his face said, with the earnestness and solemnity of a vow, "I will take no happiness which I cannot receive as your loving daughter. As long as you are the man you have been since Sunday I will stand proudly at your side. If you should ever be weak again you will drag me down with you."

He held her from him and looked at her as a miser might gloat over his treasure.

"Ida, my good angel," he murmured.

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, trying to hide her feelings by a little brusqueness, "I'm as human a girl as there is in this city, and will try your patience a hundred times before the year is out. Come, let us go and visit this proud artist. He had better beware, or he may find an expression on my face that he won't like if I should decide to give him a sitting."

But the artist did like the expression of Ida's face as he glanced up from his work with great frequency and with an admiring glow in his eyes that was anything but cool and business-like. Even her jealous love had not detected a tone or act in his reception of her father that was not all she could ask, and she had never seen the poor man look so pleased and hopeful as when he left the studio for his office. There had not been a particle of patronage in Van Berg's manner, but only the cordial and respectful courtesy of a younger gentleman towards an elderly one. Mr. Mayhew had been made at home at once, and before he left, the artist had obtained his promise to come again with his daughter on the following morning.

"His bearing towards father was the perfection of good breeding," thought Ida, and it would seem that some of the gratitude with which her heart overflowed found its way into her tones and eyes.

"You look so pleasantly and kindly, that you must be thinking of Mr. Eltinge," said Van Berg.

"You are not to paint my thoughts," said Ida, with a quick flush.

"I wish I could."

"I'm glad you can't."

"You do puzzle one, Miss Mayhew. On the day of our visit to the old garden your thoughts seemed as clear to me as the water of the little brook, and I supposed I saw all that was in your mind. But before the day was over I felt that I did not understand you at all."

"Mr. Van Berg, I'm astonished you are an artist."

"Because of the character of my work?"

"No, indeed. But such a wonderful taste for solving problems suggests a metaphysician. I think you would become discouraged with such tasks. Just think how many ladies there are in the world, and I'm sure any one of them is a more abstruse problem than I am."

The artist looked up at her in surprise and bit his lip with a faint trace of embarrassment, but he said, after a moment, "But it does not follow that they are interesting problems."

"You don't know," she replied.

"And never shall," he added. "I do know, however, that you are a very interesting one."

"I didn't agree to come here to be solved as a problem," she said demurely, but with a mirthful twinkle in her eyes; "I only promised you a sitting for the sake of Mr. Eltinge."

"Two sittings, Miss Mayhew."

"Well, yes, if two are needful."

"By all the nine muses! you do not expect me to make a good picture from only two sittings?"

"You know how slight is my acquaintance with any of those superior divinities, and in this sacred haunt of theirs I feel that I should express all my opinions with bated breath; but truly, Mr. Van Berg, I thought you could make a picture from the sketch you made in the garden."

"Yes, I could make A picture, but every sitting you will give enables me to make a better picture, and you know how much we both owe to Mr. Eltinge."

"I'm learning every day how much, how very much, I owe to him," she said, earnestly.

"Then for his sake you will promise to come as often as I wish you to," was his eager response, and it was so eager that she looked up at him in surprise.

"Really, Mr. Van Berg, I am becoming bewildered as to what that little sketch I asked you to make may involve."

"Will it be so wearisome for you to come here?" he asked, with a look of disappointment that surprised her still more.

"I didn't say that," was her quick reply; "and I promise to come to-morrow. Perhaps you will find that sufficient."

"I know it won't be sufficient."

"Cousin Ik has told me that you are very painstaking and conscientious in your work."

"Thanks to Cousin Ik. When I get a chance to paint such a picture as this I do, indeed, wish to make the most of it."

"But how long must Mr. Eltinge wait for it?"

"I think we can send it to him as a Christmas present."

"We? You, rather, will send it."

"No, WE; or rather, in giving me the sittings you give Mr. Eltinge all that makes the picture valuable to him."

Ida's cheeks began to burn, for the artist's words suggested a powerful temptation that; in accordance with her impetuous nature, came in the form of an impulse rather than an insidious and lurking thought. The impulse was to accept of the opportunities he pressed upon her, and, if possible, win him away from Jennie Burton. At first it seemed a mean and dishonorable thing to do, and her face grew crimson with shame at the very thought. Van Berg looked at her with surprise. Conscious himself that while he meant that Mr. Eltinge should profit richly from her visits, it was not by any means for the sake of the old gentleman only that he had been requesting her to come so often, his own color began to rise.

"She begins to see that my motives are a little mixed, and that is what is embarrassing her," he thought as he bent over his work to hide his own confusion.

"Mr. Van Berg, I'm getting tired of sitting still," Ida exclaimed. "It's contrary to my restless disposition. May I not make an exploring tour around your studio? You have no idea what a constraint I've been putting on my feminine curiosity."

"I give you a 'carte-blanche' to do as you please. Have you much curiosity?"

"I'm a daughter of Eve."

"Well, I'm coming to the conclusion that there is a good deal of 'old Adam' in me," and he felt that as she then appeared she could tempt him to almost anything.

Now that her back was towards him she felt safer, and her mellow laugh trilled out as she said, "We may have to dub this place a confessional rather than a studio of you talk in that way."

"If I confessed all my sins against you, Miss Mayhew, it would, indeed, be a confessional." He spoke so earnestly that she gave him a quick glance of surprise.

"There is no need," she said, hesitatingly, "since I have given you full absolution," and she suddenly became interested in something in the farthest corner of the apartment. After a moment she added, "If I am to come here I must say to you again, as I did on the day I so disgusted you by my behavior in the stage--you must let by-gones be by-gones."

It was now the artist's turn to laugh, and his merriment was so hearty and prolonged that she turned a vexed and crimson face towards him and said, "I think it's too bad in you to laugh at me so."

"Miss Mayhew, I assure you I'm not laughing at you at all. But your words suggest a good omen. Didn't that stage teach you that fate means us to be good friends in spite of all you can do? Before we met in that car of fortune I had been trying for a week or more to make your acquaintance, and made a martyr of myself in the effort. I played the agreeable to nearly every lady in the hotel, and perspired on picnics and boating parties that I did not enjoy. I played croquet and other games till I was half bored to death, and all in the effort to produce such a genial atmosphere of enjoyment and good-feeling that you would thaw a little towards me; but you wouldn't speak to me, nor even look at me. At last I gave up in despair and went off among the hills with my sketch-book, and when returning that blessed old stage overtook me. Wasn't I pleased when I found you were a fellow-passenger! and let me now express my thanks that you looked so resolutely away from me, for it gave me a chance to contrast a profile in which I could detect no fault with the broad, sultry visage of the stout woman opposite me. And then, thank heaven, the horses ran away. Whoever heard of stage horses running away before? It was a smile of fortune--a miracle. Submit to destiny, Miss Mayhew, for it's decreed that we should be good friends," and he laughed again in huge enjoyment of the whole scene.

In spite of herself Ida found his humor contagious and irresistible, and she laughed also till the tears came into her eyes.

"Mr. Van Berg," she exclaimed, "I ought to be indignant, or I ought to be ashamed to look you in the face. I don't know what I ought to do, only I'm sure it isn't the proper thing at all for me to be laughing in this way. I think I'll go home at once, for I'm only wasting your time.

His answer was not very relevant, for he said impetuously, "Oh, Miss Ida, I would give five years of my life to be able to paint your portrait as you now appear, for the picture would cure old melancholy himself and fill a prison-cell with light."

"I won't come here any more if you laugh at me so," she said, putting on her hat.

"See," he said, "I'm as grave as a judge. I will never laugh AT you, but I hope to laugh WITH you many a time, for to tell you the truth the experience has reminded me of the 'inextinguishable laughter of the Gods.' Please don't go yet."

"If I must come so often my visits must be brief."

"Then you will come?"

"I haven't promised anything except for to-morrow. Good-morning."

"Let me walk home with you."

"No, positively. You have wasted too much time already."

"You will at least shake hands in token of peace and amity before we part?"

"Oh, certainly, if you think it worth the while when we are to meet so soon again. Oh! you hurt me. You did that once before."

His face suddenly became grave and even tender in its expression, as he said, in a low, deep voice, "More than once, Miss Ida. Don't think I forget or forgive myself because you treat me so generously."

She would not look up and meet his eyes, but replied, in tones that trembled with repressed feeling, "I could forgive anything after your manner towards father this morning. Never think I can forget such favors," and then she snatched away her hand and went swiftly out. Her tears fell fast as she sought her home by quiet streets with bowed head and vail drawn tightly down, and she murmured:

"I cannot give him up--I cannot, indeed, I cannot. If I lose him it must be because there is no help for it."

Then conscience uttered its low, faint protest and her tears fell faster still.

When reaching her room she threw herself on the sofa and sobbed, "Would it be so very, very wrong to win him if I could? she can't love him as much as I do. Why, I was ready to die even to win his respect, and now in these visits he gives me a chance to win his love. Is he pledged to Miss Burton yet? If he is, I do not know it. He does seem to care for me--there is often something in his face and tone that whispers hope. If he loves her as I love him he could not be here in New York all this week. But it's her love that troubles me--I've seen it in her eyes when he was not observing, and I fear she just worships him. Alas, he gave her reason. His manner has been that of a lover, and no one--he least of all--would think of flirting with Jennie Burton. But does he lover her so deeply that I could not win him if I had a chance? Would it be very wicked if I did? Must I give up my happiness for her happiness? I came to New York to get away from danger and temptation and here I am right in the midst of it. What shall I do! Oh, my Saviour, I'm half afraid to speak to thee about this."

"If I could only see Mr. Eltinge," she murmured, after an hour of distracted thought and indecision. "There is no time to write--indeed, I could not write on such a subject, and--and--I'm afraid he'd advise me against it. He can't understand a woman's feelings in a case like this, at least he could not understand a passionate, faulty girl like me. I've no patience--no fortitude. I could die for my love--I think, I hope, I could for my faith,--but I feel no power within me to endure patiently year after year. I would be like the poor, weak women they shut up in the Inquisition and who suffered on to the end only through remorseless compulsion, because the walls were too thick for escape, and the tormentor's hands and the rack were irresistible. My soul would succumb as well as my body. This would seem wild, wicked talk to Mr. Eltinge; it would seem weak and irrational to any man. But I'm only Ida Mayhew, and such is my nature. I've been made all the more incapable of patient self-sacrifice by self-indulgence from my childhood up. Oh, will it be very, very wrong to win him if I can?" and the passionate tears and sobs that followed these words would seem to indicate that she understood her nature only too well.

At last she concluded, in weariness and exhaustion, "I'm too weak and distracted to think any more. I hardly know whether it's right or wrong. I hope it isn't very wrong. I won't decide now. Let matters take their own course as they have done and I may see clearer by and by."

But deep in her heart she felt that this was about the same as yielding to the temptation.

She bathed her eyes, tried to think how she could spend the intervening hours before they would meet again. Then with a sense of dismay she began to consider, "If we are to meet so often what are we to talk about? He once tried to converse with me and found me so ignorant he couldn't. It seemed to me I didn't know anything that evening, and he'll soon grow disgusted with me again as he sees my poor little pack of knowledge is like a tramp's bundle that he carries around with him. I must read--I must study every moment, or I haven't the remotest chance of success. Success! Oh, merciful heaven! it's the same as if I were setting about it all deliberately and there's no use of deceiving myself. I hope it isn't very, very wrong."

She went to her father's library with flushed cheeks and hesitating steps, as if it were the tree from which she might pluck the fruit of forbidden knowledge. The long rows of ponderous and neglected books appalled her; she took down two or three and they seemed like unopened mines, deep and rocky. She felt instinctively that there was not time for her to transmute their ores into graceful and natural mental adornments.

"Methuselah himself couldn't read them all," she exclaimed. "By the powers! if here isn't more books than I can carry, on one subject. I suppose cartloads have been written about art. I've no doubt he's read them all, but I never can; I fear my attempt to read up is like trying to get strong by eating a whole ox at once. Oh, why did I waste my school-days, and indeed all my life as I have!" and she stamped her foot in her impatience and irritation.

"Well," she sighed at last, with a grim sort of humor; "I must do the best I can. It's the same as if I were on a desert island. I must tie together some sort of a raft in order to cross the gulf that separates us, for I never can stand it to stay here alone. Since I have not time to spare I may as well commence with that encyclopaedia, and learn a little about as many things as possible; then if he introduces a subject he shall at least see that I know what he is talking about." And during the afternoon the poor girl plodded through sever articles, often recalling her wandering thoughts by impatient little gestures, and by the time her father returned she was conscious of knowing a very little indeed about a number of things. "No matter," she thought, compressing her lips, "I won't give up till I must. It's my one chance for happiness in this world, and I'll cling to it while there is a shred of hope left."

It was with an eager and resolute face that she confronted her father that evening, as they sat down to dinner. He thought she would descant on her experiences of the morning, and he was anxious for a chance to say how truly he appreciated Mr. Van Berg's cordial manner, but she surprised him by asking abruptly:

"Father, when do we elect another president?"

He told her, and then followed a rapid fire of questions about the general and state government, and the names and characters of the men who held the chief offices. At last Mr. Mayhew laid down his knife and fork in his astonishment, and asked sententiously:

"How long is it since you decided to go into politics?"

Ida's laugh was very reassuring, and she said, "Poor father! I don't wonder you think I've lost my wits, now that I'm trying to use the few I have. Don't you see? I don't know anything that's worth knowing. I wasted my time at school, for my head was full of beaux, dress, and nonsense. Besides, I don't think my teachers took much pains to make me understand anything. At any rate, my dancing-master, and perhaps my music-teacher--a little bit--are the only ones that have any reason to be proud of the result. Now I want you to brush up your ideas about everything, so you can answer the endless questions I am going to ask you."

"Why bless you, child, you take away my breath. Rome wasn't built in a day."

"The way they built Rome will never answer for me. I must grow like one of our Western cities that has a mayor and opera-house almost before the Indians and wolves are driven out of town. Speaking of Rome reminds me how little I know of that city, and it's a burning shame, too, for I spent a month there."

"Well," said Mr. Mayhew, with kindling interest, "suppose we take up a course of reading about Rome for the winter."

"For the winter! That won't do at all. Can't you tell me something of interest about Rome this evening?"

"I've already mentioned the interesting fact--that it wasn't built in a day. I think that's the most important thing that you need to know about Rome and everything else this evening. Why, Ida, you can't become wise as an ostrich makes its supper--by swallowing everything that comes in its way. You are not a bit like an ostrich."

"An ostrich is a silly bird that puts its head under the sand and thins its whole great body hidden because it can't see itself, isn't it, father?"

"I've heard that story told of it," replied Mr. Mayhew, laughing.

"Anything but an ostrich, then. Come, I'll read the evening paper to you on condition you tell me the leading questions of the day. What is just now the leading question of the day?"

"Well," said Mr. Mayhew, demurely, but with a sparkle of humor in his eye, "one of the leading questions of this day with me has been whether Mr. Van Berg would not enjoy dining with us to-morrow evening now that he is here alone in the city?"

Ida instantly held the newspaper before her crimson face and said:

"Father, you ought to be ashamed thus to divert my mind from the pursuit of useful knowledge."

Her father came to her side and said very kindly: "Ida, darling, you are a little bit like an ostrich now."

She sprang up, and, hiding her face on his shoulder, trembled like a leaf. "Oh, father," she whispered, "I would not have him know for the world. Is it so very plain?"

"Not to him, my child, but the eyes of a love like mine are very keen. So you needn't be on your guard before your old father as you must be before him and the world. You shall have only rest and sympathy at home as far as I can give them. Indeed, if you will let me, I'll become a very unobtrusive, but perhaps, useful ally. At any rate, I'll try not to make any stupid, ignorant blunders. I have like Mr. Van Berg from the first hour of our meeting, and I would thank God from the depths of my heart if this could be."

"Dear, good father, how little I understood you. I've been living in poverty over a gold mine. But father, I'm so ignorant and Mr. Van Berg knows everything."

"Not quite, you'll find. He's only a man, Ida. But you can never win him through politics or by discussing with him the questions of the day. These are not in your line nor his."

"What can I do, father. Indeed, it does not seem to me maidenly to do anything."

"It would not be maidenly, Ida, to step one hair's breadth beyond the line of scrupulous, womanly delicacy, and by any such course you would only defeat and thwart yourself. A woman must always be sought; and as a rule, she loses as she seeks. But I strust to your instincts to guide you here. You have only to be simple and true, as you have been since the happy miracle that transformed you. Unless a man is infatuated as I--but no matter. A man that keeps his sense welcomes truthfulness--a high delicate sense of honor--above all things in a woman, for it gives him a sense of security and rest. By truthfulness I do not mean the indiscreet blurting out of things that good taste would leave unsaid, but clear-eyed integrity that hides no guile. Then, again, unless a man is blinded by passion or some kind of infatuation he knows that the chief need of his life is a home lighted and warmed by an unwavering love. With these his happiness and success are secured, as far as they can be in this world, unless he is a brute and a fool, and has no right to exist at all. But I am growing preachy. Let me suggest some things that I have observed in this artist. He is a high-toned pagan and worships beauty; but with this outward perfection he also demands spiritual loveliness, for with him mind and honor are in the ascendant. He admired you immensely from the first, and since your character has been growing in harmony with your face he has sought your society. So, be simple, true, and modest, and you will win him if the thing is possible. You will never win him by being anything else, and you might lose your own respect and his too."

"I'll suffer anything rather than that, father. I think you had better not invite him to-morrow evening."

"I'll be governed by what I see to-morrow," he replied, musingly. "Both my business and my habit of mind have taught me to observe and study men's motives and impulses very closely. You could order a suitable dinner after leaving the studio, could you not?"

"Yes, father."

"Well, then, my Princess Ida, I'll be your grand vizier, and I'll treat with this foreign power with such a fine diplomacy that he shall appreciate all the privileges he obtains. But we will keep our self-respect hereafter, Ida, and then we can look the world in the face and ask no odds of it."

"Yes, father, let us keep that at all events. And yet I'm only a woman."

"You are the woman that has made me happy, and I think there is another man who will want to be made happy also. And now we will defer all other questions of the day, for I must go out for a time. Do not think I undervalue your craving for information, and you shall have it as fast as you can take care of it. You have grown pale and thin this summer, but I do not expect you to become plump and rosy again in a day."

"Oh, I'm rosy too often as it is. Why is it that girls must blush so ridiculously when they don't want to? That's the question of the day for me. I could flirt desperately in old times, and yet look as demure and cool as if I were an innocent. But now, oh! I'm fairly enraged with myself at times."

"They say blushes are love's trail," said Mr. Mayhew with a laugh, "and since he is around I suppose he must leave his tracks. If you wish for a more scientific reason let me add that physiology teaches us that the blood comes from the heart. I can assure you, however, that there are but few gentlemen who admire ladies that cannot blush, and Mr. Van Berg is not one of them."

Ida spent the evening at her piano instead of over the encyclopaedia, but she sighed again and again.

"Simple and true! I fear Jennie Burton and Mr. Eltinge would say I was neither if they knew what was in my heart. But I can't help it--I can't give him up after what has happened since I came to the city, unless I must."

But the music she selected was simple and true. Tossing her brilliant and florid pieces impatiently aside, she played or sang only that which was plaintive, low, and in harmony with her thoughts. It also seemed to have a peculiar attractiveness to a tall gentleman who lingered some moments beneath the windows, and even took one or two steps up towards the door, and then turned and strode away as if conscious that he must either enter or depart at once.

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