The Adventures of Miss Volney
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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  Just as Vey came to the conclusion that she had arrived in heaven, and was gazing into the face of an angel, a very earthly personage put in an appearance and dispelled the illusion.

  It was an extremely handsome, dark-eyed young man of possibly thirty years, and his face lighted and he showed two rows of very white teeth under a very dark mustache as his glance encountered the wide-open, intelligent eyes of the patient.

  And as Vey looked into those dark eyes a strange sensation took possession of her faculties for a second of time--a feeling that she had seen him before, some time, somewhere--a baffling half recollection which eluded her wholly when she tried to place it. Meantime the cause of these peculiar sensations was speaking.

  "Well, well, Sister Isadore," he said, in a cheerful chest-toned voice, addressing the angel who was ministering to Vey's comfort, "so our patient is better, is she, and our worst fears proved groundless?"

  Then he took Vey's white wrist between thumb and finger and said in a satisfied way: "Yes, the fever is rapidly leaving. You feel quite comfortable, I hope." And his eyes sought the patient's inquiringly.

  For answer Vey looked him in the face and said: "I wonder who you are?"

  The young man laughed. "I am sure you are better," he said, "now your feminine curiosity begins to display itself. This is the first time in three weeks that you have cared to know who I am. Well, I am Dr. Milford, and this is Sister Isadore, and you are in St. Vincent's Hospital recovering from as severe a fever as ever allowed its victim to escape. You must be very quiet now, and not try to talk or even think for several days, for you are very weak still."

  Vey attempted to lift her head from the pillow, and found Dr. Milford's words only too true. She was as weak as a new-born babe. So she closed her eyes with a little sigh, and did the most sensible thing possible when she fell asleep again.

  The next thing which aroused her to life was a sensation of keen, intense hunger. This craving appeased, King Thought began to assert himself again, and Pain, his valet, hurried to his side.

  Dr. Milford was startled to find his patient in tears on his next round of visits. He took her white hand in his kind palms, and said in a caressing voice, which he intended to be dictatorial: "This will never do, my dear child! You will soon bring on a relapse at this rate. What are you drying about? Now that you are out of danger you ought to rejoice, for we all thought you were going to die a week ago to-day."

  "I wish I had died," sobbed Vey. "I have nothing to live for."

  "You have your friends, at least, to live for," the Doctor answered.

  "I have not a friend in the world who would grieve if I died," Vey answered.

  "You are mistaken; I should feel very badly indeed if you died," Dr. Milford said, gravely, as he stroked her brow and looked down into her pale, handsome face.

  "You?" and Vey opened her large, blue eyes and gazed with wonder up into Dr. Milford's countenance. "Shy should you care anything about it?" she queried.

  "Well, because I have had a hard struggle to save your life, and it would be a professional blow to me if you should fall back now and die after all," the young doctor answered, frankly, "and," he added, "I have grown to feel a great interest in you personally during your illness. I have never felt so great an interest in any patient in my whole life as I have in you; I should have regarded your loss as the loss of a friend, although I do not yet even know your true name."

  Vey looked steadily in his eyes, while he was speaking, and as he paused she said, involuntarily, "My name is Vey Volney."

  She had had no intention of ever using that name again, but the words seemed to utter themselves.

  Dr. Milford often affected his patients in this manner; they found themselves telling him secrets which they had guarded from the world through long years.

  People said that he had "mesmeric eyes" and compelled confidence by some strange will power.

  Vey was sorry that she had given her name as soon as it was uttered, but it was too late to retract the words, for Dr. Milford was saying, "Well, Miss Volney, I am glad to know who you are. They said you were a Miss Adams at your lodging house, I believe. But when during your delirium we addressed you by the name and strove to soothe you, your denial of and evident repugnance to the appellation convinced me that it was not your baptismal name. And now I trust that you will do all in your power to hasten the recovery over which we all rejoice, Miss Volney, for life I am sure holds a great deal in store for one so young and beautiful as you."

  Vey turned her face to the wall.

  "Life holds nothing for me but sorrow," she said, "and I do not thank you for saving me!"

  Sister Isadore heard the last remark, and her sweet, low voice fell like a drop of soothing oil on the troubled waters of Vey's heart.

  "There is nothing but sorrow for the greater number of people in the world," she said, "because the greater number seek for selfish joys, which fade like summer roses, leaving only thorns of pain. If we all desired as earnestly to give happiness as to receive it, there would be little misery in the world for others or for ourselves. It is what we bestow that we invariably receive in time. But you are too young to believe this yet.

  "I was once as rebellious as you, my child; I thought God denied me the things I most needed, and I defied him and strove to obtain happiness in my own way.

  "Punishment cruel and terrible followed, and I cursed my Creator and longed to die, but even death was denied me. Suddenly I began to look about me and found so many sorrowing, suffering hearts everywhere that I bethought me that it would at least hasten the footsteps of lagging Time if I strove to bind up the wounds of those who came in my pathway. And lo! so soon as I turned my thoughts away from self, and toward my suffering kind, contentment walked beside me, and a holy peace fell upon my anguished soul. Child, I suffered the bitterest woes that can befall any, yet I find much for which to thank God, and so will you when you cease to think wholly of self and turn your thoughts to others. If we cannot drink life's sweets, we can at least help to sweeten the cup of gall which fate forces to the lips of others."

  The solemn beauty of Sister Isadore's voice and words left their impress upon Vey's heart, and when she awoke from a long refreshing sleep, it was to make inquiries of Sister Isadore concerning the necessary steps to be taken in order to obtain a position as assistant nurse in the hospital.

  "I have no home, no influence, no money, and I must earn a living in some way," she said. "I have been thinking of your words, and if you can help me to the position, I should like to stay here with you."

  Through the influence of Dr. Milford, Vey was, ere long, installed as assistant in Sister Isadore's ward. Her first professional act was to faint dead away at sight of a blood-stain upon the face of a man who had fallen from a scaffolding and been brought to the hospital for treatment.

  This was supposed to result from the weak condition of her system, but when, after a month had elapsed, and she had never been abler to witness any phase of physical suffering without swooning, Dr. Milford and Sister Isadore held a consultation and decided that she was not destined for the profession of hospital nurse.

  Vey broke into tears when Dr. Milford made known to her the result of this conference.

  "Your nervous system seems to have received some great shock," he said, kindly, "and instead of associations like these, where you witness pain and misery on every hand, you need to be surrounded by cheerful people and brightness. I think if you could go into some family and take care of children for awhile it would be of great benefit to you. Or perhaps you could teach music. You--you sang somewhere, I believe, before your illness, did you not?"

  Dr. Milford felt a strange delicacy in mentioning to this girl, who was as beautiful and dignified as a young princess, his knowledge of her former position; and Vey felt a crimson color creeping over her pale cheeks like a sunrise over a snow bank as he spoke. Now that she was again Vey Volney, she shrank from the memory of her position as May Adams.

  "I could not teach music," she said hurriedly; "I only sang in--in the chorus, and I never had any regular instruction; I picked up what I learned. I should only be able to act as nurse girl in some family, but I should be glad of that position. I like children and always get along well with them. I have had a great deal of experience with them.

  Dr. Milford's face lighted. He knew nothing of the girl, save that she had been in the chorus of a great comic opera which had raged in the metropolis like an epidemic during the last year and a half, but he was strangely interested in her, and he felt a glow of satisfaction when he heard her say that she liked children and had been much associated with them.

  "She must be as good as she is beautiful," he said mentally.

  "I think I can obtain a place for you," he said aloud, "but you may need references. Mothers of families, of course, exercise a great deal of caution regarding those who take charge of their children. I would need to know something about your former life before I could be of much assistance to you. Probably you could refer me to some of your friends who would give you a line of recommendation."

  They were standing near the window at the end of one of the long wards. Sister Isadore had been called away by one of her patients. Vey looked up into the face of Dr. Milord with the eyes of some wounded animal as he spoke.

  A great crimson wave swept over her face as she thought of Mrs. Murphy--Jack Dayton--of Bella--of her manager--the only people in the great city to whom she could refer now, and not to one of these would she dare appeal.

  Mrs. Murphy was not the sort of woman from whom a reference would be desirable; neither was Bella! Her manger could only say that he had discharged her. Alas, Jack believed her to be an unworthy girl! The color faced and left her deathly pale, and the great tears stole down over her cheeks like dew on magnolia blossoms.

  "I have no friends to whom I could refer you," she said, looking at him bravely in the eyes. "I am strangely alone. I have no parents. I have supported myself since I was fourteen years old--indeed, before that time as nurse girl to a relative, afterward in the capacity of maid-of-all-work to a neighbor, then as 'figure' in two different cloak departments here in the city. I think either of my employers would speak well of me there, yet they knew nothing of me outside of work hours. I left the last place because I was very unhappy. I had lost a dear friend and was too sad to stay there longer. I suppose it was foolish from a worldly standpoint, but I could not help my nature. Then I became a chorus girl, and remained in that position till--I was discharged. I had done no wrong; but I offended by manager by not yielding to all his wishes, perhaps--I am sure I never knew why I was discharged. After seeking vainly for something to do I fell ill, and they brought me here. This is all my story, save the details of loneliness and sorrow, for which you do not care. I am a good girl--I have done no human creature harm in all my life! Yet I have suffered as no wicked person was ever made to suffer, I am sure, and I have no friends." The tears rolled down her cheeks and fell upon her clasped hands and a great sob shook her form.

  Dr. Milford laid a kind hand upon the soft rings of chestnut hair, and his voice trembled with emotion as he spoke her name.

  "Miss Volney," he said gently, "I am your friend, and Il will be your referee. I have seen a great deal of human nature, and know that you are a good, pure girl. I will obtain a situation for you never fear. I will take the first steps toward it to-night and will report to you to-morrow."

  That evening Dr. Milford made a journey to Brooklyn and laid the matter before his sister, Mrs. MacArthur, who was the happily mated mother of an interesting family of children. He described Vey's beauty, her homeless, orphaned condition, and prepossessing manner, in addition to the little he knew regarding her past.

  When he had finished Mrs. MacArthur smiled, nodded her head, then laughed aloud.


  "Well, Max, it has come at last, hasn't it? I always knew it would, but I really never supposed you were quite so romantic as all this."

  "What are you talking about, Elsie?" asked the Doctor, while a slow color crept under his olive skin.

  "I am talking about your romantic fascination for a little chorus girl with a pretty face. You are wildly in love with her, and you know it. And I am not the sister to attempt to lay one obstacle in your path, for I know how useless it would be. If a man has a passion for a woman there is no earthly power or no combination of circumstances that can prevent him from possessing her, unless the woman herself object, and even then he can conquer unless the woman has the stronger nature of the two. Now bring your little sweetheart over here tomorrow, and I will do everything I can for her, but if she robs the house, or murders us all in our beds some night, I hope you will take the blame of the rash situation upon yourself."

  "I have not been in a hospital for five years without being something of a judge of faces," Dr. Milford answered, "and I am willing to take oath, Elsie, that this girl is as good and purse and sweet as she is lovely. You will never regret having offered her a home, I am sure. I know the children will love her--they cannot help it."

  Even as Mrs. MacArthur had said, Dr. Milford was in the gasp of one of those sudden and unaccountable passions which sometimes blossom into full flower in a human heart without waiting for leaf or bud. From the hour he first looked upon Vey's fever-flushed face he had loved her.

  He had said it was merely an unusual interest and sympathy which she had stirred in his heart, but now that his sister gave it a stronger name, he acknowledged the truth to himself and tacitly to her. Mrs. MacArthur had always been his ally, confidant and confessor from the time their mother died and left him, a boy of thirteen years, to the companionship of his sister, twelve years his senior.

  Vey received the news of the situation with mingled sensations of gratitude and dread. She shrank from the thought of entering another strange circle, and she dreaded leaving Sister Isadore, who had grown to seem like a protecting saint to her during the few weeks of their association.

  Sister Isadore saw her weeping as she was making up her little cot bed the next morning for the last time. She took her hand and led her into her own private apartment, and sat down clasping both palms between her own.

  "Child," she said, in her low, tremulous voice, "something moves me to tell you my story. You are going back into the great world, and it may serve as a warning to you. You are young and beautiful, and you have suffered much. I know not if you have sinned, but something in your face tells me that you are still innocent. If you are, perhaps my story will help to keep you so; if you are not, it may serve to prove to you that even the Magdalene may find a place in God's vineyard to labor. I was a poor girl, with a pretty face and a restless heart, ten years ago. I toiled for my daily bread, and I received snubs and insults from people who were my inferiors in all save wealth. A wily man, with a fascinating voice and eye, crossed my path. He cultivated me by kind actions and thoughtful courtesies. He made me feel that I was a lady born and his equal. He won my confidence and he catered to my love of the beautiful by giving me costly and elegant presents. Then gradually he made me despise my way of living and dressing, and when the work was complete he tempted me to go with him into a new life of ease, excitement and luxury. I went and was lost to all who had ever known me for three years. Then he tired of me, and married a purse woman in his own station. I sought to end my misery by suicide, was rescued from the river ere death claimed me, and was brought hither raving in delirium. When I recovered I cursed God that I had not died; but now I bless Him that I live and am able to serve him."

  The story of Sister Isadore's temptation, so like her own in all save the ending, awoke Vey from her lethargy into a state of intense excitement. She realized that the sequel to her own story would have been the same had she responded to Jack Dayton's letter, yet she said, with a tone of bitterness, as Sister Isadore ceased speaking:

  "Well, at least you had three years of love and happiness. One might feel it right to be thrust out of Eden for wrong-doing, yet I have done no wrong. I have broken no commandment, and I find on every hand that those who live in sin have more happiness and prosperity than those who have tried to do right."

  "No, no!" cried Sister Isadore, "do not say that. I tell you it is not true. The misery of that three years, which you imagine happiness, no tongue can tell. Though I lived a life of excitement, that seemed like pleasure to the observer, it was no more like it than the glare of the electric light is like a moonbeam. The moment my lover was out of my sight the agony of jealousy I endured was worse than the pangs of the lost, as depicted by Dente's Inferno. Even the hours of wild happiness I found in his presence were marred by the terrible fear, which amounted to a certainty in my mind, that he would one day desert me; and my self-abasement and conscious degradation rendered my misery only second to what I endured when the final blow came. No, no, child, do not imagine that God permits any happiness to those who violate his laws. If he does seemingly for a time delay his vengeance it is only to make it the more terrible when it finally falls, as it is sure to do ere long."

  Vey, who had grown through her troubles into a morbid state of pessimism, was nevertheless impressed by the story of Sister Isadore with a consciousness of the worse woes she had escaped in turning her back up on wrong-doing. "Miserable as I am," she thought, "persecuted and desolate as my life has been since I set forth alone on the path of right, yet surely Sister Isadore has passed through even worse troubles. Perhaps God does rule after all."

  Mrs. MacArthur received Vey into her household with a sweet graciousness of manner that was a new revelation of womanhood to the poor girl. It was her first association with a woman of good birth and fashionable breeding and rare culture. It seemed to her at first that Mrs. MacArthur was affected and unnatural in her manners, or that she was constantly rehearsing a part for a play, but after a time she understood that these little airs and graces and tricks of speech were as natural\l to Mrs. MacArthur as her breath, and that she was sincerity itself and the soul of kindness.

  Mrs. MacArthur had received Vey out of a desire to please the brother whom she idolized, but she had anticipated an unpleasant experience, and under her genial manner lurked a certain amount of suspicion toward the young girl. But as the days wore into weeks she was surprised to find nothing to condemn and everything to admire in her protege. The children idolized her, and Mrs. MacArthur found herself with more leisure time than she had ever known since she became a mother. If Miss Volney was in the house mamma was seldom called for in any emergency. Vey had "put a spell" upon the MacArthur children, even as she had done with the Adams infant.

  As for Vey, a new life opened for her with her entrance into the MacArthur family. The children clambered to hear fairy stories read aloud from a small library of books with every visit of "Uncle Max," as Maxton Milford was designated, increased. Then Mr. MacArthur was fond of reading aloud from the best authors, and Vey was asked to join the family circle of listeners, where Dr. Milford was frequently found also. A new world revealed itself to the rapidly expanding mind of the young girl. She grasped an idea with the voraciousness of a hungry brain which was starved without knowing it, and she was often overwhelmed with amazement and fright when she found herself eagerly discussing the theories and customs of the day with these educated and refined people, who seemed to belong to another planet than the one on which she had heretofore existed. Her fresh, original thoughts, expressed in the most quaint and often witty manner, brought an entirely new element into this somewhat conventional family, and rendered her a never-failing source of interest and entertainment.

  Sometimes a sudden exhibition of ignorance regarding the ordinary matters of educated society would startle them all with a new and unexpected phase of this untaught but rarely gifted mind. One of these occurrences took place one evening when she was reading aloud to Mr. and Mrs. MacArthur from a new novel which had that day been brought home. The word "chaperon" occurred, and Vey dropped the book into her lap, and asked abruptly, "what does 'chaperon' mean?"

  Her serious, questioning expression precluded the idea of any jest, and Mrs. MacArthur maintained a composed expression, while she answered:

  "Why, a chaperon is a married lady who has charge of or accompanies the young lady in the presence of gentlemen. For instance, I am your chaperon when we go to theaters with Dr. Milford. A chaperon is a nuisance very often, but a necessity, and becoming more of one with each roll of the wheel of civilization. My father has told me how he escorted my dear mother about during the days of their courtship, with no interference of any meddlesome third party; indeed, after he began to 'pay her attention' he said it was always customary for her parents and elders to vacate the parlor wholly after his arrival on the scene, and allow him an undisturbed evening of courtship."

  "A privilege he never allowed his daughter's suitor to enjoy," laughed Mr. MacArthur. "I thought myself lucky if on saying good night I saw you alone for two seconds until after our wedding day was named."

  "And that was quite as it should be and quite as my daughters' suitors will be treated," rejoined his wife, blushing slightly at the reference to the old days of her courtship. "And no one would be more indignant at the neglect of this observance than you, sir. You know you are a stickler for the proprieties in these matters."

  "Most certainly," assented Tom MacArthur. "I never want my daughters to be exposed to annoyance or unpleasant comment, if it can be avoided, and therefore I want them carefully chaperoned from the hour they enter society until they receive the protection of a husband's name. Yet I must confess I worked hard many a time to circumvent the proprieties in your case."

  Vey had listened to all this with rapidly changing expression on her young face.

  "Do you mean to say, then," she asked, as Mrs. MacArthur ceased speaking, "that it is not considered proper in polite society for a young lady to go to a theater or pass an evening alone with a young gentleman?"

  "We mean just that," Mrs. MacArthur replied, "if the gentleman is not a relative."

  Vey was recalling the only happiness her life had ever known--those delicious hours alone with Jack. And the rules of society would even have robbed her of those.

  "I do not like the idea at all," she said with spirit. "It--it implies that you cannot trust your daughter, or the gentleman you have invited to your house. It is an insult to both. You should not allow any man to call upon you whom you could not trust with your daughter alone." She reddened at the sound of her own words, and wondered how she had dared speak on such a subject. But it was all so new, and it seemed to explain much of her past misery to her.

  "The trouble is, the wisest of us do not always know whom we can trust in these matters," he said soberly. "To make this unrestrained liberty of our young people safe, all our men must be gentlemen through and through, all our girls wise as well as pure and prudent, and all the world of spectators kind and lenient judges of them. Unfortunately, such a state of affairs does not exist. The world misjudges even innocent folly, and a man sees so much deviltry going on in the very best sort of society, so much thoughtless that leads to worse things, or causes misconstruction, that he feels like protecting his own family very carefully. American men have always been said to be the safest in the world to trust our unprotected women with, yet I have known so-called fine gentlemen to use every subtle art to mislead an innocent but thoughtless girl, in whom parents and friends have the most implicit confidence, and have consequently left unguarded. Then, too, men are ready to misconstrue some act of innocent ignorance on the part of a young girl, and the very man who should be her defender and protector proves often her worst foe unless she is protected from suspicion by the presence of an older person."

  Vey felt a sudden spasm of pain at her heart as she recalled her own experience and she was at a loss for any argument. She was excited with the recollection of her freedom of association with Jack, and she was blaming herself for it. "He belonged to a higher, a more cultivated grade of society than I had ever known," she thought, "where girls would not go about for hours and hours with him, and so he misunderstood me. If I had only known! If I had only known!"

  "At the same time," continued Mr. MacArthur, "I confess I find American men growing less chivalrous and less high minded in these matters as our customs grow more strict. I fear it is the inevitable result. Put a man on his honor, and it brings out the bet of him. Show him that you suspect him, and it arouses the worst of him. Yet, as a country grows in yeas, it is impossible to keep to the primitive customs of its youth. The pillion goes out, the chaperon comes in; and while the chivalry of our men is in a degree lessened, the security of society is immeasurably increased."

  Vey became familiar with all the foibles and peculiarities of society ere long, or she was introduced to an agreeable circle of acquaintances, as a friend of the family, and her position of governess and companion was supposed to be nominal, and no one knew that she came to them a wait from the hospital. Some one of those inventive minds ever to sound in society set the statement afloat that she was a relative of Mrs. MacArthur's, and that lady took no pains to correct the impression. If Vey was to be Dr. Milford's wife, as she now hoped, the report of relationship was only premature. And so, with considerable alarm, the young lady found herself occupying a social position she had never sought or desired. She was included in the invitations which society showered upon Mrs. MacArthur, and her beauty and the richness of her voice in song soon made her a universal favorite in social circles.

  Soon after her entrance into the MacArthur nursery the possibilities of her voice had been revealed to her hostess as she sang to the children. Mrs. MacArthur had urged her to use the grand piano in the parlor at any time.

  Vey thanked her, but said sadly: "It is only an aggravation to touch a piano. I do not know how to play, and the desire to b ring music out of the key almost maddens me. "Take a course of lessons, then," suggested Mrs. McArthur, who believed she was helping to educate a wife for her brother. "You must possess talent of a high order or you could not feel so strongly on the subject. Maud has an excellent teacher, and I will make arrangements with him to-morrow for you."

  Vey's desire for a musical education had been so intense that it amounted almost to a command, and therefore it came to her. Even the mysterious forces of the universe yield to a resolute human will. She entered with feverish enthusiasm upon her studies, and she was shortly regarded by her teacher, and her increasing circle of friends as a musical prodigy. When she had been with Mrs. MacArthur six months no social gathering among their acquaintances was considered a success unless Miss Volney sang. All the pent-up passion and yearning of her heart seemed to find vent in song, and after she was engaged to sing in one of the church choirs it was said by rival congregations that it was Miss Volney's voice, not the clergyman's eloquence, which filled the pews on the Sabbath as they had never before been filled.

  So the dream of Vey's life was realized, as all our dreams would be if we l longed as ardently and waited as patiently as she did for her desire to be granted.

  The heart that never swerves from its purpose always obtains its wish. It is because we waver and change in our thoughts and complain to instead of demand from Providence that so few of us receive the things we want in this life.

  It was one of those remarkable experiences, stranger than fiction, which had changed the life of this homeless waif so suddenly into that of a reigning belle. Admirers blocked about her, with praise and flattery, as bees drone about a sweet flower. People raved about her beauty, which in this genial atmosphere bloomed into greater perfection; and society regarded all her slightly lapses from conventional modes of speech and manner as delightful whims of beauty and genius, and hailed her as a new type.

  Had society dreamed of the ignorance and poverty of brain and body in which the poor girl had heretofore existed, it would have been severe in its criticism of these same "whims." Mme. Grundy is mercilessly severe on cranks, yet she herself is the greatest of all that strange herd. Once give her the impression that you know how to do everything correction, and you may be eccentric and outre as you please, and she applauds and cries "Bravo! How droll and interesting you are!" But reveal to her the fact that you are not quite sure of your ground, let her discover that you consult a "book of etiquette" on the sly, and if you but drop your fan she will trample you under the hoofs of her ridicule.

  Vey learned the customs of refined society as easily as young birds learn to fly; and as she gained in knowledge of the world she became more and more conscious of the dangers and perils through which she had passed, and she grew more and more lenient in her feelings toward jack. "There is an ignorant innocence that springs from lack of culture, and is not unlike indelicacy to a careless observer," she reasoned. "How could he know, how could he dream, that I was as untaught regarding the world and human nature as a young kitten? O Jack, Jack, all my knowledge has come too late, for I can never be happy without you!"

  During all these months Dr. Milford had been restraining his impulse to speak of his love to Vey until he felt that she was thoroughly wonted in her new life. Besides this, he dreaded to break that indescribable charm which pervades life before a great passion finds vent in words. There is no season in human existence so delicious as this. It bears about it the glory of a summer dawn before the road of commerce disturbs its tranquility, the perfume of an apple orchard in bloom before it discloses its inner leaves to every gazer. A sensuous and refined nature--and a sensuous nature is always refined, just as a sensual one is always coarse--finds more exquisite rapture in this phase of love than in any of its succeeding seasons. Imagination supplies a perfection which realization often withholds, and the object which only the eyes and the heart have dared claim must descend a step from its pedestal when words are given and asked.

  Dr. Milford, with that delightful egotism which a handsome and popular bachelor always carries about with him, however hidden from observation, believed he had only to speak to win the prize he sought. Although a woman may resent this certainty on the part of a lover, she despises the man who doubts his ability to win her.

  This might, as Vey sat at the piano, pale, beautiful and radiating that atmosphere of light which is peculiar to people of intense feeling and strong mentality, it seemed to Dr. Milford the hour had come for him to claim her as his own.

  She was singing "Robin Adair," and just as her glorious young voice poured forth the music of the lines

"What when the play was o'er,
 What made my heart so sore?
 Oh, it was parting from
                              Robin Adair!"

  She broke into a storm of tears, and hurriedly left the room.

  Mrs. MacArthur followed her and sent back word that Miss Volney begged to be excused for the night, and Max Milford was obliged to gulp down his disappointment and seek his lodgings without a further explanation of the young lady's conduct.

  The next day he received the following note from his sister:

  "My Dear Max.--I know you will be anxious to learn the explanation of our dear Miss Volney's tears last evening. I think it is only right to tell you that she has made me her confidant to some extent. It is enough for you to know that she has loved--and still loves--some man who has well-nigh broken her heart. But she assures me the fault was entirely her own, and that he could not do otherwise than he did and retain his self respect. I fear it will be a long time before another love will be welcomed in the chambers of her heart that are now heavily draped in mourning for the lost. In the meantime, we must do all we can to brighten her strangely sad and lonely life."

  So Dr. Milford knew that he must play that most difficult of all parts for an indefinite time to come--the part of a friend to the woman he worshipped with a lover's ardor. Had he been more selfish or less strong-willed he would have found the situation unendurable and fled from it; but, with a patience born of a great love and an iron will, he controlled himself and continued to act the part of brother to the woman he longed to make his wife.

  Vey had been a member of the MacArthur family a little more than a year when the made their preparations to go abroad for a prolonged stay. She was to accompany them, for the children would have caused an insurrection if Miss Volney had been left behind. Beside that fact, Mrs. MacArthur was now so strongly attached to the girl that a separation would have been impossible unless compulsory. Vey had been applying herself to French the last few months, hoping to be able to act as interpreter for the family abroad. She took up the study with the same eagerness which characterized all her efforts in culture. And yet she did not love knowledge for knowledge's sake, and she felt no personal pride in acquiring accomplishments. It was all done with a feverish thought hidden hope that she might one day meet Jack Dayton and prove to him her worthiness that he might know how she had consecrated her life and labors to his memory. It was he who first gave her an interest in literature, and all her efforts toward culture were made for his sake.

  One late April day Mrs. MacArthur requested Vey to go to New York on a shopping expedition alone. She had never gone save when accompanied by her friends since leaving the hospital, and it was with a feeling of undefined dread that she stepped off the ferry boat and took the car for the shopping district of the great metropolis. The old ghosts of loneliness and despair rose up and haunted her footsteps, the old desolation seized upon her heart, and again it seemed to her that she was the homeless waif, forgotten by God and persecuted by man, with only the maddening memory of a few months of happiness to temper with its bitter-sweet the acid of life's cup. Recollection pursued her with relentlessness, and she hurriedly made her purchases and performed the errands which Mrs. MacArthur had written upon her tablets, and was just emerging from Stewart's, eager to get away from the city so associated with her brief joy and her prolonged misery, when she came face to face with Jack Dayton. Both stopped; each gazed into the other's face with hungry eyes.

  Jack noted the quiet elegance of her costume, the refined beauty of her face, and great curling clusters of chestnut hair, and wondered if he had been dreaming some horrible nightmare that day at Brentano's, more than two years ago.

  "Jack!" "Vey!" they cried simultaneously, and reached for each other's hands, and stood looking in each other's face with hungry eyes.

  "Where did you come from?" he asked eagerly.

  "From Brooklyn," Vey answered, and her own voice sounded strange to her, and she thought she must be in a dream.

  She had imagined this meeting a thousand times. It had seemed to her she should fall dead with excitement and joy if ever her eyes again beheld that worshipped face; yet now here she stood, clasping his hand and speaking calmly, while the roar of the great city went on about them. It is almost always so, that some long expected crisis comes into our lives robed in the common-place and robbed of all the dramatic elements with which our imagination has vested.

  Jack pressed the gray-gloved hand closer. "Then it was you?" he cried, with a tremor in his voice. "I could not believe it; I thought it only a similarity of names, but I have scarcely slept an hour since I saw the paper--I mean the Home Journal of a few weeks ago. Do you remember? It gave an account of a musicale at Mrs. MacArthur's, where you sang."

  Vey nodded her head. "Yes," she said, "I saw it. I live with Mrs. MacArthur, you know, and she gave the musicale for me. She thinks I have a great voice. Everyone is so kind to me, Jack--but I have never been happy one moment since I last saw you--until now."

  Jack almost crushed the hand he held in his. "Come into St. Denis, where we can converse unnoticed and undisturbed."

  And Vey, who had so hungered for the sound of his voice, turned and followed him without a word, but with great glory shining in her eyes.

The Adventures of Miss Volneyby Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Tumwater, WA: The Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society, 2006.
Based on the printing by Street & Smith, c1900.

The Adventures of Miss Volney
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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