The Adventures of Miss Volney
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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  When fate decides that a human being shall walk in some certain direction she interposes obstacles in every diverging path.

  These obstacles are not always poetic ones; the methods of fate are often prosaic in the extreme.

  I once knew a woman who was in great moral peril. Tried and tried with the strife between galling and ungrateful duty and alluring inclination, she had well nigh succumbed to the latter, when she was saved by an attack of "jumping toothache." By the time the excruciating agony of physical pain had subsided reason asserted itself, and the peril passed.

  While Vey stood looking in Jack Dayton's face, with those wild and reckless thoughts surging through her savage young heart, a strange sensation disturbed her physical being. It was not nausea; it was not any feeling of illness which she had ever before experienced. It seemed to her that one of those "wrenches" which she had seen used by mechanics was suddenly twisted in the center of her digestive organs by some strong hand.

  She made the motion which small boys designate as "doubling up," and leaned her head away from Jack. He heard her say something about "stewardess," and a moment later she had disappeared into her stateroom on the arm of that personage.

  She did not reappear that day nor any day during the voyage. She was violently sea-sick and unable to lift her head from the pillow. Jack, who was a capital sailor, paced the deck in no amiable frame of mind.

  He had arranged this trip for the sole and only purpose of enjoying a tete-a-tete confab with Vey. He had no more sinister motive, for he was convinced that she was too noble and strong a character to stoop to folly. He respected her for it, yet her very nobility made him more unwilling to lose his hold upon her heart. He was very unhappy, and he argued for himself that he had a right to her friendship, and he longed to tell her of his trials and to revel in the dangerous pleasures of her affectionate sympathy.

  When a married man finds the sympathy of a young lady not bound to him by the ties of blood necessary to his comfort and happiness, the first step is taken toward the ruin of three lives.

  Jack had married in haste and repented quite as speedily. Many a girl knows how to win a husband, but few know how to keep one.. Gertrude Seymour had not been one of the few.

  Once "settled" in an establishment of her own, her husband taken into her father's firm as junior partner and rapidly accumulating wealth, she felt that the aim of life was achieved, and there was nothing else to do. Knowing mankind only in the most conventional manner, she did not realize the necessity of constantly studying a husband's tastes, foibles and peculiarities, and adapting herself to them; she expected Jack to do all the adapting; and if he displeased her in any way she never spoke angrily, but sulked, with an air of silent martyrdom, which is so much more irritating to a man than any phase of ill temper.

  Then when Jack was in the mood to stay at home Gertrude always had some plan to go out, and when he wanted to go out she was always tired and wanted to stay in; and so unconsciously she helped to drift him farther and farther away from her, until he thought of his home only as a counter-irritant to his office, and found the only rest from worry of one kind or another at the club.

  This was the state of matters when he met Vey, and, being a very ordinary type of man, he yielded to the very ordinary temptation to relight old fires.

"When the love we have won at any cost

   Has grown familiar as some old story
 Naught seems so sweet as the love we lost
   All bright with the past's weird glory."

  is a sentiment echoed by many a man. Vey's pathetic story of her love and sorrow for him, related before she knew of his marriage, added fuel to the flame of his passion, and he began that dangerous mental process of comparisons, and felt that he had indeed cheated himself of happiness. And now the future seemed unendurable to him unless he could brighten the gloom and monotony of his loveless lot by an occasional interview with Vey.

  He had seen an announcement of her intended departure for Europe on the 10th of May, and he had suddenly informed his father-in-law and his wife that his physician recommended a sea voyage as imperatively necessary to his physical well-being, and as it would be but a hurried trip, with possibly a walking tour across the country, he had decided to go alone.

  After a man begins to stretch principles to meet the demands of his desires a lie comes easy; besides, his head had troubled him greatly of late and he had suffered from insomnia. Gertrude knew. She complained in such a peevish manner of his abrupt departure, however, and made herself so unpleasant that he was doubly eager to join the woman he loved and enjoy at least a few hours of her agreeable society.

  And now after five minutes of that society he was doomed to pace the deck alone with his restless and impatient heart. Late in the afternoon as he was walking to and fro, chewing the cud of his own reflections, he came very near stumbling over a very small and very handsomely booted foot which was, by the seemingly unconscious movement of its owner, thrust almost in his path. Turning to apologize, Jack found himself facing Bella. She was ensconced in a cozy chair, wrapped in a becoming rug, and seemed just settling herself for an intellectual feast, as a paper knife and an uncut novel in her lap indicated.

  She held out a perfectly gloved hand and smiled up in his face, saying archly:

  "This is the twentieth time to-day at least that you have passed me without a glance, and now I don't believe you know who I am?"

  "Indeed I do," Jack replied, forced into taking the outstretched hand, and secretly hoping that none of his fellow-passengers knew as much of her history as he did. Since his memorable call upon her more than two years previous he had heard of her speculations in stock through a young broker who was for a time the favorite of her fickle fancy, and after that she had seemed to pass out of public view. A woman of Bella's class must e possessed of more than ordinary beauty, intelligence and force to long be remembered in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of metropolitan life. Bella was merely a doll-faced, shrewd, clever adventuress, and, besides this, she had been striving of late to be forgotten by all her old associates, for she believed that a new and more desirable position was opening for her.

  "I am surprised to see you bound for foreign shores," Jack remarked, feeling that he ought to say something.

  "Why, pray?" queried Bella as she toyed with her paper knife and looked up at him as smilingly and as much at ease as if she had nothing in her life to conceal.

  "Well, some way I fancied you a fixture in New York, as much--well, as much as Central Park," he concluded, struggling for a simile, and then suddenly conscious that he had found one more apropos than gallant.

  "Well, you see I am sent abroad," Bella replied, ignoring this double entendre.

  Jack wondered if the police authorities had been instrumental in this matter, but waited for her to continue. "Since I last met you--let me see, more than two years ago, is it not?" and Jack nodded, with a sharp pain at his heart recalling the incident.

  "Well since then I have been quite fortunate. Through a friend of my uncle's I have invested my rainy-day savings in Wall Street and realized quite a little competence therefrom. Having more leisure time to devote to study I began to write a little, just for my own amusement. But you know a woman never can keep anything to herself, and so my scribbling got into print, and now I am going abroad as special correspondent of the Morning Meteor. I expect to visit all the leading watering places and to come into contact with most of the foreign celebrities before I return."

  "You are very fortunate to receive such a position so early in your literary career," Jack relied, utterly amazed at her statement. He knew that Bella could tell a lie with perfect coolness, and that she could invent relatives and fortunes and events with great adroitness to suit an emergency, but he felt sure there must be some strata of truth underlying this statement regarding her literary pursuits, as that was a matter easily proved or disproved. Still it staggered him to think of her in the position she claimed to have obtained for several reasons. First of all, while she was shrewd, imitative and adaptable, amusing and witty, she was utterly devoid of originality. Then he knew, too, that in the capacity of correspondent she would, as a matter of necessity, be thrown in contact with other literary workers of her own sex. Jack knew the names of many of these in New York, and knew them to be pure, sweet women, noble wives and mothers some of them, others bright young girls worthy of any man's honest love and respect.

  He did not understand how Bella dared place her past career in juxtaposition with these women. He felt that she had no right to follow the same pursuits. Here he reasoned with the selfish cruel reasoning of a man; he condemned her past methods, yet when now she had possibly abandoned them for a field of respectable labor, he would have closed the doors upon her, compelling her to return to her evil ways. But in truth Jack did not believe Bella had reformed. He believed this new departure was simply a new phase of her old career. She was a sort of chameleon, taking color from her temporary place of refuge.

  Before the day was over he had solved the mystery. On the cabin stairway he encountered Harry Lancaster, a well-known club man and an acquaintance of the past year.

  "Hello," he cried, cordially extending his hand. "Where on earth did you come from? Haven't been seasick, I hope--an old sailor like you?"

  Harry Lancaster shook the offered hand with an indefinable air of coldness and answered somewhat distantly, "Only a trifle indisposed. The editorial staff of my paper tendered to me a farewell dinner last night, and that is never a wise beginning to a sea voyage you know. I have lain off all day, but am feeling quite well now."

  Jack knew Mr. Lancaster as an elegant bachelor, with an independent income from his father's estates, a popular club man, and a man who found feminine hearts so free to his taking that he never cared to possess himself of any one for life. But he had never before known that he was interested in a newspaper.

  "Your paper? Are you in the newspaper field then?" he asked, as he continued at Mr. Lancaster's side and accompanied him on deck, oblivious of his distant demeanor.

  "I am one of the stockholders in the Morning Meteor," Mr. Lancaster replied, somewhat stiffly, and just at that moment the encountered Bella, who was taking a solitary stroll on deck.

  Jack lifted his hat, and Bella bowed and smiled, and at the same instant Jack saw a look of quick intelligence pass between her and his companion. It was a silent mental telegram, but it said volumes to Jack, and Bella's literary proclivities were explained.

  Harry Lancaster bowed himself away from Jack, walked to a distant part of the ship and seated himself to enjoy a good cigar and a book, seemingly oblivious of the presence of the fair blonde; and Jack, suddenly realizing that his recognition of Bella must have annoyed Mr. Lancaster exceedingly, under the circumstances decided that he might as well make the most of the droll situation.

  Vey would not or could not appear; Harry Lancaster plainly indicated that Jack bored him and ignored any acquaintance with Bella. So from a mixture of dullness and revenge he devoted himself to Bella's really amusing society a portion of each day, while the man who was paying her expenses abroad entertained himself in the card-room.

  Bella, like all her class, had no higher idea of sport than to render a lover jealous, and she enjoyed the situation extremely at the first, but was piqued beyond expression to discover not the least trace of jealousy in Harry Lancaster's manner even when alone with him.

  She cared more for him than she had ever cared for any of his predecessors, and in a different way; and she felt the first real heartburnings of her life when she discovered that she could not make him jealous. She realized that her hold upon him was slight indeed, and a disagreeable chill passed over her at the thought that he might possibly tire of the liason before she did.

  Harry Lancaster was called a thorough man of the world, and his really blase manner was the despair of the dudes who strove vainly to imitate it.

  His dark, Spaniard-like beauty and slow languorous air was always fascinating to women, and men liked him for his sportsman qualities and his liberality, and no one understood his queerly paradoxical nature.

  Early in life he had exhausted its novelty, and at thirty-three he found himself as sated as Solomon, amusing himself as best he could, doing many an act he condemned and warning others to be wiser, kissing light lips and then reproving the owner of them for granting the boon, and really finding his only satisfaction in the building up of a daily newspaper which he hoped to render superior to all competitors.

  He would have been gladly welcomed by society, ever cordial to men who have such requisites of birth, brains and gold, but it bored him, and he chose the clubs instead, as a source of recreation, varied with the theaters. At the former he had met Jack, at the latter Bella, where she had occupied a box and attracted his mingled admiration and pity. That was six months previous, and now they were going abroad together, although their companionship on shipboard was necessarily spoiled by Jack's presence. Harry Lancaster did not care to have his relations with Bella discussed in New York, where he had so far managed to keep the matter a secret. With all his blase qualities he was keenly sensitive to public opinion, and always strove to keep his immoralities under the rose.

  Bella was as eager as he to be discreet for once in her life. She was aiming at future respectability, and planned to make the most of the next few months.

  How she succeeded we shall see.

  Vey remained prostrate in her berth during the entire voyage, wholly unconscious of the curious comedy being enacted above. Bella, who had registered as "Mrs. Bailey," never once imagined that the "Miss Volney" whose name appeared in the passenger list could be her early companion in the "old tread mill," and the two left the ship without an encounter.

  Closely veiled Vey passed out with Mrs. MacArthur on one side and a troop of children on the other, and Jack was obliged to see her disappear into a carriage without having exchanged a word with her. He resolved not to be baffled, however; no matter how much he was obliged to defer his return to America he must see her again.

  Vey, meanwhile, had been reviewing her whole life, and reason had come to her rescue with something of resentment. She recalled all her slavish devotion to mankind and her consequent humiliations; her father's unkindness, her brothers' indifference, the insulting familiarity of Toad Adams and Mr. Murphy, the evil propositions of two theatrical managers, and the final cruel misconceptions of her character by Jack. All these memories acted like so many waves, one following another, until she felt herself tossed on the great billows of indignation, at fate, and Jack's persistent persecutions presented themselves in a new light to her mind and heart.

  "After all," she said to herself, "the only man in the world who has ever been unselfishly kind from first to last in his treatment of me is Dr. Milford. But for him I might still be a homeless waif unable longer to strive against temptation."

  And a very grateful sentiment toward Max Milford animated her heart. Was the doctor's "absent treatment" taking effect?

  Yet gratitude is no more love than a moonbeam is a sunbeam. One is reflective, the other creative.

  Mrs. MacArthur's old schoolmate, who had been a great beauty in her day, was now the wife of a successful artist in London.

  This lady--a Mrs. Alden--as soon as she set eyes on Vey declared that she would become the reigning beauty of the season, and set about to prove her predictions true by introducing the young lady into that charming literary and artistic society which is everywhere the real aristocracy of the world (for intellect is a monarch to whom even kings bow), and which the approval of England's Prince has rendered next to court circles in the eyes of our English cousins. Indeed, it is bounded, we might say, by royalty on the north and by the great palpitating hearts of the middle classes on the south, and is infused with the spirit of both. One who has dwelt much among the English people says that it is the constant effort of the Prince of Wales--who sets the fashion in all things--to neutralize the tendency of English society toward vapid conventionality. Therefore he welcomes an occasional musical, literary or operatic artist into his own circles. Quick to follow his example, there are several titled hostesses in London who make it a point to invite some artist or author or musician to their receptions, and greatly to Vey's astonishment and almost terror, she one night found herself, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Alden, sitting at dinner table with some twelve noted people, each one famous in some way, and the Prince himself lent his august presence; but, fortunately for Vey, he bestowed no encomiums upon her beauty, thus sparing her the unpleasant comment of the American press, sure to follow that occurrence. Vey was not presented to the Queen. She did not feel the slightest ambition to sit in a carriage during five or six tedious hours, with an uncovered head, that she might finally be permitted to bestow a caress on the pudgy hand of a queen and to walk backward from her august presence.

  But in the society of brilliant authors, artists and musicians she found much that exhilarated and strengthened her. To be sure, she was often disappointed in her ideal of these gifted creatures, finding them but prosaic and commonplace beings externally; for pearls are frequently found in the unpoetic oyster and diamonds in rough rocks, and the jewel of talent has frequently as strange a setting. But she never came away from any of these assemblies without feeling that she had received a new thought or taken a new degree in her knowledge of the beautiful, and she heard less unkind gossip and belittling scandal among these busy-minded people than ever before since her introduction into "polite society."

  As for Vey she fulfilled Mrs. Alden's predictions and became the rage of the hour.

  She was now in the very perfection of young womanhood, and her beauty possessed all the charm of early youth, yet the added attraction which experience and suffering brings tinged her expression and attitudes with a premature ripeness, as the first frost of September sometimes gives more brilliant color to the young leaf without marring its beauty.

  She was perhaps a trifle above medium height, yet not tall; of sufficient stature to wear a shawl gracefully (which no short woman can do), yet small enough to e cuddled by strong arms, which possibility always lends to lovely woman an increased interest in masculine eyes.

  Large beauties never lack for admiration; but the unobtrusive little girl often carries off the lovers. It is natural for man to act the part of defender and protector, and he enjoys the consciousness of superiority even in the matter of size. So while his admiring eyes follow the statuesque Juno, his heart goes out to the petite fairy who can curl up on his breast like a child.

  Vey's figure was that rare combination of voluptuousness and delicacy so adorable because so seldom found. The arms and shoulders seemed slender when veiled with coverings, but revealed in evening dress not a suggestion of the frame was visible through Nature's soft, smooth upholsterings of gleaming white flesh. Looking upon her, a connoisseur in woman's beauty knew that even in old age she would retain a fine form, and that her matchless proportions would never be disfigured by obesity of emaciation.

  Ere she had been six weeks in London something occurred which added materially to her popularity and increased her circle of admirers. At the house of a woman famous for her eccentric brilliancy of mind, as well as being the mother of an erratic genius well known in Americana, Vey one day encountered the undeniable stare of a very blonde young Englishman.

  He wore an eyeglass of the most disfiguring kind, and stared at her so persistently that she was about to take an abrupt leave, when Lady W. approached her. "Miss Vey," she said, "a very dear friend of ours desires to be presented to you. He declares that you are the very personification of his great grandmother in her youth; a compliment, my dear, for she was famed for her beauty. May I bring the young gentleman to you?"

  Vey bowed assent, wondering at the free use of her Christian name by a lady whom she had never met until that day, but attributing it to her absent-mindedness, and as she thus explained the riddle to herself she heard Mrs. W saying: "Miss Vey, allow me to introduce Mr. Volney," and then the two stood vis-a-vis, and Lady W. moved away to look after other guests.

  "Miss Vey, you must pardon my rudeness," began the young man, "but you are really so like the portrait of my ancestress I was startled on entering the room--"

  "Allow me to correct a mistake by our hostess," said Vey, smiling. "She sadly mixed our names--I am Miss Volney: Miss Vey Volney--and I believe I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing your name."

  The young man readjusted his eyeglass and his stare. ""My name is Mr. Albert Volney," he said. "Can it be possible we are related? My father has only one relative whose history is at all shrouded in mystery--that was his cousin Andrew, who went away to seek his fortune before I was born, and was never afterward heard from."

  "My father's name was Albert Volney," Vey said, almost in a whisper, and then the two found a seat on a divan and fell to talking, and it was proven then and there, that Vey's father was the youngest son of a younger son, and that he had gone to America and cut loose from all his family, and that Albert's father was Vey's cousin by one remove, and he himself was her own kin--her own blood. A great yearning stirred in her lonely heart toward him and her eyes filled with tears, and just then Lady W. approached them and Mr. Volney imparted the wonderful news to her, which spread like wildfire, and rendered "the young American heiress"--for such in some strange way Vey was reported to be--more popular than ever.

  Vey endeavored to correct the impression of her wealth, but it was an almost hopeless task; she did not succeed in disabusing the mind of her new-found cousin of the idea, but when she came to speak to him of her past life she found it impossible to go into details. His own luxuriously-cared-for youth had been so unlike her own that she felt it would be impossible for him to comprehend her trials; and nothing is more bitter than to relate the bare facts of a torturing experience to one who cannot go behind the scenes with us and enter into all the unexpressed details.

  So she told him only that her parents died during her early childhood, and that she had made her home with friends, in and out of New York, and that the lady with whom she now lived as companion had brought her abroad. Albert asked her no questions further than this, and the thought never for a moment entered his head that his cousin had ever endured hardships or suffered privations or been obliged to actually work for wages. It was no uncommon thing for a real lady born--the daughter of a younger son--to act as companion to women of wealth, just as Vey was doing, and he was proud of her beauty and popularity, and he felt exhilarated always in her presence as if he had drunk champagne.

  His father, Sir Reginald Volney, who was an invalid at Aberton Manor, wrote and invited her to make him a visit at the close of the season, and Mrs. Ashland, who was his sister, and widow of a former member of Parliament, offered to come to London and act as her chaperon in case Mrs. MacArthur could not accompany her; and Vey felt as if she must be dreaming all the wonderful things which were happening.

  And yet through it all she was conscious that all her emotions were more intense and all the days possessed more interest for her because of Jack's presence in the same city.

  She knew he would not leave England without making every effort to see her again, and in spite of herself the possibility of this encounter lent new lustre to every hour.

  Meanwhile, Bella was living in furnished lodgings in Regent Park as "Mrs. Bailey." Yet her cards, which a leading London stationer had engraved for her shortly after her arrival, bore another name. Harry Lancaster, generally supposed to be her brother in Regent Park, called every day or two, and frequently took her to drive and to the theater. Bella counselled with him concerning her literary ventures, and reported to him her successes and failures in obtaining interviews with noted people, often appealing to him to correct and revise her letters before sending them for publication. These letters were written over the signature of "Investigator," and they were not marked by any especial style, nor did they supply any long-felt want in the newspaper world. But they teemed with that light gossip concerning the dress, personality and habits of people who were before the public gaze, which is the small change of literature and always in demand.

  Harry Lancaster had planned and suggested this occupation for Bella, and it was wholly through his influence that "Investigator's" letters were first published and liberally paid for.

  In his occasional association with women of Bella's class he always supplemented the character of roue with that of mentor, thus striking a truce with his conscience. In Bella's bright initiative qualities of mind, he had seen a possible path leading out of the mire of sin, and he had urged her into it; yet at the same time he continued an association with her which he did not strive to justify. She was not the first indiscreet woman to whom he had given good counsel and bad example.

  Bella, meanwhile, construed his interest in her intellectual development to mean a strong personal regard, and she built fairy castles and reveled in the happy dreams of the days when she should become Harry Lancaster's wife and take her undisputed place among the respectable married people, instead of creeping in through some artifice and dreading exposure.

  The craving of a woman who has sold herself to sin, for respectable society, is like the craving for water of the alcohol victim.

  Bella had written a somewhat fulsome, but very much appreciated account of the beauty, talents and costumes of a young actress who was sojourning in London. A warm and admiring friendship between the two resulted, and one day the "new Rachael," as Bella designated the girl, invited her to visit the studio of an artist to whom she was sitting in her favorite role.

  The first object which struck Bella's eye on entering the studio was a remarkably lifelike portrait of her old, now half-forgotten companion--Vey Volney. She sat down staring hard at it. "Who in the world is that?" she asked; "it is for all the world like a girl I used to know."

  "That is the new American beauty, Miss Volney," answered the artist, who was none other than Mr. Alden himself. "She has been quite the fashion here this season, both on account of her beauty and because of her romantic story," and thereupon Mr. Alden related the facts regarding Vey.

  Bella listened with amazement, recalling her last interview with Vey, when poorly dressed and hungry, she had related her sad situation and need of employment. But she wisely refrained from any mention of these facts, as she now resolved to make the most of her old acquaintance and if possible use her as an open sesame to circles which she longed to enter.

  "I am delighted to hear of dear Vey's good fortune," she said. "I always thought her something different from ordinary people, and there seemed to e a sort of mystery about her. I should so love to see her again."

  "If you are an old friend of Miss Volney's we would be pleased to see you at our apartments this evening," suggested Mr. Alden, courteously. "We give a little reception in her honor, and this portrait is to be on exhibition, and in your capacity as correspondent (Bella's card bore: 'Correspondent of Morning Meteor' in the corner), "you would meet many bright people worth writing about, no doubt."

  Bella accepted the informal invitation with an eagerness of manner which might have led a more worldly minded man to suspect her social security.

  Vey could not imagine who the "old friend" was when Mr. Alden related the circumstance at dinner that night.

  "I fancy it is some mistake," she said, "and no doubt the lady will feel greatly mortified when she finds herself in the presence of a stranger to-night. I am sure I never knew anyone of that name, and I have no acquaintances among the writers and correspondents of New York."

  The name on the card which Bella had presented to Mr. Alden was "Mrs. H. A. Lancaster."

  "She may have been that curious American institution 'the interviewer,'" laughed Mr. Alden, "anxious to write an article about you, and so represented herself to be your friend. Well, she was a thoroughly charming lady, and very pretty, too, and I am sure she will be an ornament to our rooms this evening."

  The guests had all arrived, and a buzz like that of a human bee filled the handsome apartments of the artist at the time when Bella was announced. She was charmingly attired, and floated across the rooms toward her host like a full-blown rose In motion; met the introduction to Mrs. Alden with easy grace, and, after an interchange of the formalities, proceeded to pay her respects to the guest of honor.

  Vey, who was conversing with an old gentleman who had been contemporary with Thackeray and Cooper and was forever relating his reminiscences, turned at the sound of her name to meet the smiling face of--Bella.

  A strange spasm contracted her heart, all the room full of elegantly attired people vanished, and she seemed to be sitting in the restaurant on Sixth Avenue, hungry, homeless and desperate hearted. Bella did not wait for her to speak, but seized her hand between her two palms, and poured out a volume of words expressive of her delight at meeting her "dear old friend," and with frequent references to "happy old days in New York."

  Vey did not wish to make a scene in the parlors of her friend, and so she forced herself to say:

  "So you are married, Bella; and are you living in London?"

  "No, only sojourning," Bella replied, while her furtive, restless glance took note of everything and everyone about her.

  "You see I have taken to literature since last I saw you, and I am writing foreign letters for the newspaper of which my husband is an owner. I shall have a very interesting article to write about your romantic experiences here."

  'Is your husband I London also?" Vey asked, wondering how much longer she must endure her painful situation.

  "Oh dear, yes," laughed Bella. "He could not exist away from me. But he has important business affairs and he is not the least bit of a society man; and so I run about to receptions to gather material for my letters quite independently--in real American fashion. Unless my column of matter reaches the Morning Meteor in time for each Sunday edition trouble ensues--and so it keeps me busy enough; but it is delightful work and I enjoy coming in contact with the bright people I meet. Pardon! What did you say, Mr. Alden? The author of 'Killed by a Curse' desires an introduction--oh, with pleasure," and Bella sailed off on the arm of her host to hear his lions roar.

  When she left, an hour later, her hands were full of cards and she had accepted an invitation to attend another reception the next day, and other courtesies were extended her as "Miss Volney's old friend."

  This sudden social success of Bella's was not in accordance with the customs of English society. But there happened to be present on this occasion a lady living not far distant from Cavendish Square who possessed a mania for celebrities and an insatiable appetite for being written about. Hearing Bella talk of her literary labors and her connection with a great American daily, "which must have its weekly accounts of London receptions and notables," Bella declared, this good lady immediately seized upon her as a valuable adjunct to her week day at home. Other people were very courteous to Bella also, because Mrs. Alden was immensely popular and Vey was a great social success, and this pretty, entertaining blonde woman who fluttered about like a great yellow butterfly they believed to be an intimate friend of both ladies and "delightfully American" in her way.

  Vey managed to get through the evening some how, but her pallor increased, and her expression was noticeable to all who knew her. So soon as she was able to excuse herself she retired to the adjoining apartments, which were occupied by Mrs. MacArthur, who had preceded her, and threw herself into that astonished lady's arms weeping wildly.

  All her past misery was revived by this encounter with Bella, and a fierce rebellion against the world arose in her heart.

  "My dear child, what is the matter?" asked Mrs. MacArthur, frightened at the intensity of her sobs.

  "That woman, that Mrs. Lancaster, do you know who she was?" cried Vey wildly; "it was Bella, the one I told you about, who used to be in the store with me; the one who proved so unworthy. She dared to come here to-day and claim acquaintance with me, and she received and accepted three invitations this week as a friend of mind. Oh, it drives me wild to think of it all! I have felt of late that Heaven was in some measure repaying me for my past deprivations and loneliness by giving me such kind friends and rare opportunities. But now, here is Bella, who lived for years the life of an adventuress while I lived in the poverty of virtue, and she is enjoying every blessing which is mine to-day. I have been punished for the appearance of evil while she has chosen evil and remained unchastised. She has lived in fine apartments, feasted on good food, worn handsome garments, while I starved and lived like a beggar, and to-day she stands in these parlors, admired and sought after, and with all the blessings which are mine--yes, more, far more!" she added with increasing excitement "for she is a worshiped wife, and may know the blessings of motherhood. Oh, how cruel, how unjust God is."

  Mrs. MacArthur drew the unhappy girl closer in her arms and allowed her to weep upon her motherly breast, while she reasoned with her as follows:

  "My dear child, you must be broader in your views of God and man, or rather woman," she said; "if Bella has reformed, and is a true wife to some man, and is pursing a worthy career, why not welcome her back to the fold of respectability as readily as we would all welcome a reformed man? Doubtless more than one man was present at your reception whose past life would not bear comparison with Bella's. If we bar out one, why not bar out both? In regard to the suffering you have borne in order to maintain your spotless purity, I have always found that those who suffer much at some time in life always rejoice much at some other time. Happiness will come to you as surely as sorrow came. You say, too, that you have been punished for even the semblance of evil, and that Bella so far has escaped chastisement for evil itself. Now I think this is a proof that God designs you for great happiness in high places. A potter would see cart wheels roll over the rubbish of an ash barrel without feeling anger; but he would be very indignant if he saw the clay he had prepared for fine vases thrown into the street. We give a sharp reproof to the messenger boy who tarries with a dispatch of life and death import, while we pass unheeding the strolling beggar's child who sits idly all day by the wayside. As I see more and more of the world, and see one man crushed to earth by one false step and another pursuing a career of crime for years unmolested, I am convinced it is because God had expected more of one than of the other. I am sure the future holds more for you than it can hold for a woman like Bella. A woman so devoid of sensibilities as she seems to be can find no pleasure in life which a nature like yours need envy. As for her position as wife and possible mother--surely those blessings may come to you if you but say the word."

  Vey rose up and stood with her hand upon the door of her own room; she looked earnestly and sadly at her friend as she replied: "I shall never in this world marry. The man I loved was taken from me by a cruel fate which seems to rule the earth. I could not be the wife or any other." Then she closed the door and disappeared for the night.

  When any extremely handsome young woman makes an assertion of that kind with such emphasis it is very safe to expect her wedding cards within a few years at the longest. Therefore it was not surprising that the announcement of Vey's betrothal to her cousin, Albert Volney, only son of Sir Reginald Volney, was made in the following month of September.

  Sitting over a cozy supper after the reception at Mr. Alden's Bella told Harry Lancaster of the celebrities whom she had met, the courtesies she had received and the material for future letters which she had obtained. She had expected him to be lost in admiration of her smartness and tact. Instead, Harry Lancaster set down his glass of wine and gazed at his companion in startled silence; then his lips emitted a low whistle.

  "You have the cheek of--his Majesty, Bella!" he said with an amused laugh. "But you are running frightful risks. It is all right for you to get in with the dramatic people; they are liberal in their judgments, as a rule, and too busy and too unsettled in any one place to look into other people's private affairs. But once let this exclusive circle hear the truth about you and you will be flayed alive. Mrs. Alden was one of the belles of New York in her youth; I wouldn't take too many chances were I you. Didn't anyone ask you where Mr. Bailey was? And did you assume a becomingly sorrowful and widowlike air and gaze upward?"

  Bella flushed angrily and her eyes glittered.

  "I am as good as half Mrs. Alden's guests were, I have no doubt," she answered, sharply. "If the truth were known, I don't suppose Vey Volney is the paragon she pretends to be. The monde does not differ much from the demi-monde, save in the matter of hiding its sins."

  "You are getting cynical, my dear," responded her companion, lazily. "But I am not of your opinion. There are many, many pure homes in the world, and into such people who are defying the proprieties have no right to intrude. If we want to be worthy of respectable society we ought to become respectable. I really do not find much satisfaction in this sort of deception myself, and I should find less if the matter becomes town talk."

  Bella looked at him with an eager, startled glance.

  I am sure I am anxious enough to become respectable," she said, "I am tired of deceit and lies."

  But Harry Lancaster changed the conversation without saying the words she had hoped for, and shortly took his leave. She was restless and unhappy and disappointed after he left her. She had expected that he would feel proud and delighted with her success in obtaining an entree into such desirable society. She had thought that it would strengthen his love and admiration, and help to bring about the results she longed for, and that she might return to America his lawful wife; she had fully determined upon that, so she had assumed his name, thinking it would save confusion and simplify matters if their present association was recalled in the future by any chance acquaintance with an uncomfortably good memory. She did not mean that he should know of her premature assumption of the name until after the marriage, and now she felt anxious and worried and depressed to think he had spoke of her so lightly, and she sat down and applied herself to the construction of a letter for the Morning Meteor on the subject of Vey Volney, and tried to work off her depression.

  She attended the reception the next afternoon and met noted people who would form the subject of future letters, but Miss Volney was not present, having gone to the country seat of her uncle, the hostess said, and Bella was constantly thinking of Harry Lancaster's words, and they were like a thorn in her heart.

  He did not call that evening nor the next, but on the third she heard his step and sprang to the door to meet him. He stood cold, pale, angry-eyed before her, and began speaking at once:

  "I was at the Savage Club last night," he said, "and I met Mr. Alden. When my name was spoken he remarked that he had already experienced the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Lancaster. I answered him laughingly, that was a greater favor than fate had yet granted me, as I was still a bachelor. He explained that a lady had called at his studio and represented herself as the wife of Mr. Lancaster, of the Morning Meteor. Her engraved card bore that name. She had taken notes to write an article about his life and work, and she had been invited to his house and introduced to his guests as Mrs. Lancaster. I was obliged, naturally, to stand by my former assertion that I was still a bachelor, and made my exit from the club as soon as possible. Permit me to say that this unwarrantable use of my name by you is an insolence I cannot pardon. It any woman ever bears my name it will not be one who has a past like yours."

  Harry was deathly pale, and his sarcastic words felt like coals of fire upon Bella's heart.

  "I am no worse than you are," she retorted. "Why should you consider yourself fit to marry some good woman, if you think me so vile?"

  "You would hardly expect me to answer instantly the conundrum which has vexed the world for centuries," he replied, with cold irony. "So long as society grants men more concessions that it grants your sex, so long men will demand these concessions. I, for one, would not recommend more mercy to immoral women. I would recommend more severity for immoral men. I can assure you I shall never ask any woman to be my wife without first telling her all my past sins. Then if she accepts me I shall try to make my future worthy of her. If you are as frank, and any man is willing to take you for a wife, rest assured I shall never molest you. But like the majority of men of the world, I myself should demand absolute purity in a wife."

  Bella was sobbing wildly, and every word he uttered pierced her heart anew, and struck death to the hope she had cherished for months.

  "You have done me a cruel wrong," she cried, "in bring me here with you, only to insult me."

  "It is you who have insulted me by your audacious use of my name," he answered, unmoved by her tears. "As for my wronging you, I never wronged a woman in my life--that is my proudest thought. You and I understood each other perfectly from the first, and there has been no deception on my part. You had no right to use my name, and no reason to expect the right to use it. But I did not come here to discuss metaphysics with you; I came her to arrange a matter of far greater import to you--namely, money! I go to Paris to-morrow, and sail for New York shortly. I have arranged with my banker to place $5,00 at your disposal. I shall instruct the managing editor of the Meteor to use all the material you send and to increase your salary. This saves you from the necessity of further folly and encourages you to pursue a respectable career. I would advise you, however, to leave London, or at least avoid Mrs. Alden's set, as I have been the innocent cause of exposing you there. But the world is large and far more helpful to a persevering and courageous woman who is determined to succeed than many people give it credit for. You can live down your past, in a great measure, if you will resolve to keep out of further complications and live worthy of your new vocation. These words may seem like a mockery from me, but I speak them in solemn earnest, as the last words I shall ever say to you. Good-by."

  He turned and walked down the hall without another word. Bella flung herself at his feet with a wild cry.

  "Harry, Harry, do not leave me--forgive me--stay with me. I love you, I love you, and I shall die if you leave me." But she heard the closing jar of the street door--that sound which has proved a death knell to so many breaking hearts, and she rose up white, wild-eyed and frantic with grief.

  For the first time in her life she loved with all the passion of which her shallow nature was capable, and for the first time in her life she was deserted. For the first tie, also, she realized the priceless blessing of virtue, and loathed the self-imposed stain upon her womanhood. Standing there in that one terrible moment it seemed to her that she could willingly live in poverty a lifetime to be worthy of his love for an hour, and that life without him would be more bitter than any terrors death might hold for her. She ran down the hall and opened the street door, and, bareheaded as she was, resolved to find that resort of so many desperate creatures before her--the Thames--and die.

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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