The Adventures of Miss Volney
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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  Instead of the waters of the Thames Bella rushed into the arms of a man who was rapidly ascending the steps just as she ran blindly down. There was a collision, a misstep, and Bella's forehead struck squarely against the full white teeth of the man and a few drops of blood flowed from a sharp little cut above the eyes. The man uttered an exclamation of surprise as the gaslight revealed the face of Bella, and as soon as she had recovered from the blow she echoed his ejaculation when she discovered herself confronting Jack Dayton.

  "I was just coming to call upon you," he said. "I have tried for the last six weeks to find your address, and only obtained it by telegraphing to the Morning Meteor for the London address of the 'Investigator.' So you see how much trouble I have taken for your fair sake! But I did not intend to greet you quite so fervently; where on earth were you going, bare-headed, at such a rapid pace?"

  He looked very handsome in a new London suit, and Bella's sorrow at the desertion of Harry Lancaster was submerged in a sensation of pleased vanity at such persistent pursuit by Jack Dayton.

  "I was trying to recall a messenger whom I feared did not sufficiently understand my directions," she answered, ever ready with a quick lie to account for any strange action. "But it is no matter. I fancy he is well out of hearing ere this." And she ushered Jack into the house she had so recently left in desperation, laughing and jesting lightly over their "bloody encounter," as she wiped the stains from her white brow with his handkerchief.

  Jack had come to Bella to find out from her, if possible, the address of Vey Volney. He had hoped against hope that Vey would send him some message, and he had read with increasing passion the items concerning her popularity and the accounts of her relationship to Sir Reginald Volney. He felt that he could not return to America without seeing her once more, and he finally cabled for the address of "Investigator," feeling confident that in her capacity as correspondent she would have obtained some particulars concerning the whereabouts of this now famous American beauty. But he took pains to conceal the real motive of his call from Bella, knowing her vanity and preferring she should think his chief errand was with her. When the right opportunity came, however, he asked her if she had heard anything of her old friend Miss Volney, who was also in London, he believed.

  Bella, being rather sensitive on that subject, answered carelessly: "I have just learned that she has gone to the country to visit her uncle, and I wouldn't wonder at all if she should marry that cousin of hers." And then she quickly changed the conversation. While he listened to her bubble of light words Jack's heart sank, and then a desperation seized him and he said suddenly:

  "I came around to ask you to go out with me for a tête-à-tête supper at the jolliest little hotel I have found. Do you mind getting on your hat and accompanying me? I sail for New York next week, and we may not see each other again in a long time."

  But when Jack sailed for New York, Bella sailed also. Jack was in a reckless state of mind when he went out with Bella to dine. He had failed utterly in his attempt to see Vey again, and this very failure made her seem more dear than ever. The thought of returning to Gertrude was almost unbearable. He knew that she would greet him with reproach and fault-finding, as all her letters had been full of repinings and complaints, and having once broken through the bars of propriety and reason and followed another woman abroad, the way to more wicked folly was easy and Bella tempted him to make a fool of himself at her shrine by every art she knew, and they were many. Balked in her attempt to gain a sure foothold in London society, stung by the loss of Harry Lancaster, she felt that the devotion of this handsome and wealthy man would be the only thing that could keep her from self-destruction. She was too weak and too unhappy to attempt a reformation of her life alone. She felt that it would be dull work indeed. If Harry Lancaster had married her she believed that she could make a respectable member of society and a true, devoted wife. Deserted by him, she must have some enamored man at her beck and call, and Providence seemed to have provided Jack in her hour of need.

  She was resolved fully to enslave him, and she succeeded. One thing which aided her materially was Jack's impression that he was taking her away from Harry Lancaster. Jack had, unconsciously to himself, thrown his honor to the winds when he left his wife to come abroad on such an errand. The man who deceives his wife once in regard to his acquaintance or intimacy with another, lays the foundation for crime in his future conduct. Therefore, it is not strange that, under the influence of Bella's spell, Jack lost all reason of honor, and, drinking heavily, conceived the idea that it would be great sport to displace Harry Lancaster in Bella's affections. Bella aided him in this impression, and begged Jack to keep out of Mr. Lancaster's sight as she did not want a duel on her account.

  There may be "honor among thieves," but so-called gentlemen pride themselves upon their ability to rob their dearest friend of wife or mistress. Harry Lancaster, however, was not Jack's dearest friend, and he felt elated at the idea of displacing him in Bella's affections.

  And so they sailed together for America.

  Vey, up at Aberton Manor, read his name among the list of passengers who had sailed for New York, and came to a sudden resolve.

  Sir Reginald Volney was so exactly like her father in personal appearance that she found herself half believing that God had permitted another miracle to transpire in her strangely eventful life, and that the parent for whose love and tenderness she had starved as a child had returned to bestow it upon her now In ten-fold degree. Sir Reginald wanted her always at his side, and was so full of affection and appreciation for his beautiful young cousin, whom he preferred to call "his niece," that Vey could have fallen at his feet with filial worship.

  That very day he had said to her, as she sat on a low hassock beside his invalid chair, "Dear, I hope you and Albert have come to an understanding ere this; I shall be willing to die if I can see my boy mated to a woman like you. I have never before seen one I deemed so worthy to be the mother of the children who will perpetuate my name. I am sure were your father living, he would bless this union."

  Vey recalled with bitter sorrow her father's indifference and neglect, and the thought was like a barbed arrow in her heart. She trembled and tightened her hold upon Sir Reginald's hand, as if in fear that his regard was slipping from her also; the old gentleman construed her silence to maidenly confusion, and the hand pressure as an affirmative response to his words. He continued to unfold his most cherished plans and hopes to her, until she was startled to find how seriously in earnest he was. She had not thought of Albert in the light of a lover. All his polite and even tender attentions she had supposed to be the result of their recently discovered kinship. He was no more like her ideal of what a man should be than a wax candle is like a summer sunrise. He was weak, worldly and effeminate, and he lacked that business education which, according to her American mind, was necessary to a strong man. He had never known what it was to struggle with the world in any way, therefore the sinews of his mind and heart were weak from lack of exercise, she reasoned. Yet he was of her own blood, and that fact awoke a certain peculiar softness in all her thoughts of him. She had so yearned for home, love and family ties these new found relatives were inexpressibly dear to her.

  She had just left Sir Reginald, who had talked himself to sleep, when she took up a London daily and read of Jack's departure for America. She knew positively now that all hopes of meeting him again was over. The ocean rolled between them. "And let it roll forever," she said; "I will stay here with my kin and he may stay there with his wife. That is as it should be."

  When Albert Volney asked her to be his wife the night previous to her departure for Paris, where Mrs. MacArthur had gone, she said yes, and received the fatherly blessing of Sir Reginald, who shed tears of delight and insisted upon her returning for the Christmas holidays, and begged that the marriage should take place as early thereafter as possible.

  Mrs. MacArthur received the news of the engagement with ill-concealed chagrin.

  "Do you love your cousin?" she asked, looking sharply at the girl as she sat at her knees when the confidence was given.

  "No," Vey answered, frankly and calmly, "not as you mean. I am fond of him, however, and I dearly love Sir Reginald. He is so like--so like my father, and all his declining days will be made happy by this marriage. If I cannot be happy myself I may as well try to make others so, and I dare say Albert and I shall get along very well with each other."

  "You are a stronger character than he," protested Mrs. MacArthur, who, since she was not to marry Max, desired to render her doubtful of the wisdom of her choice. "And I never did like to see the union of a weak man and a strong woman. Your cousin is always an echo of your ideas and opinions. He has no individuality of his own."

  "I think I will get along with him better than if he were strong and dictatorial," Vey answered. "One could enjoy being ruled by a man one loved--but otherwise I think I would prefer to rule. And, any way, nothing matters very much, you know, if only I make Sir Reginald happy and do not need to return to America again." And Vey went to her room and left Mrs. MacArthur to write a dismal letter to Dr. Milford, in which she begged him to give up all hope of Vey forever, since she had at last made a fool of herself beyond any chance of recovery.

  For reply Doctor Milford wrote: "It does not matter through what strange or remarkable experiences the physical expression of Vey Volney may pass, her real self belongs to me, and nothing can circumvent the pre-arranged plans of destiny. I have been applying myself to psychic research since you went away, and I am now in a state of certainty regarding things I only supposed heretofore. Do not, my dear sister, worry over anything. The shadows are passing and will shortly disappear in a burst of sunlight."

  "Stupid," muttered Mrs. MacArthur, tossing the letter aside with a grunt of disgust. "I do believe Max is mad, with his crazy, theosophical studies. If he were half a man--or lover--he would have come over here ere this and prevented this absurd marriage. No matter, if Vey is to become the mistress of Aberton Manor, she will have a dude for a husband and she will be very unhappy."

  Vey meanwhile was applying herself to music and French with a feverish enthusiasm which left her no time for melancholy thoughts.

  In December she was called to Aberton Manor, not for the holiday festivities, but to attend the funeral of Sir Reginald, who had died suddenly in his bed one morning. In consequence of the sad event her wedding was postponed until the following Summer.

  Albert closed the manor and accompanied his aunt and Miss Volney to Paris, where he could brighten the melancholy period of mourning by daily calls upon his fiancee.

  After the death of Sir Reginald, Vey experienced a great revulsion of feeling toward her lover. Daily association with him, removed from the presence of Sir Reginald, who had been so dear to her, revealed him in his true light of insufferable egotism and effeminacy, and the thought of returning to Aberton Manor as his wife appalled her. Yet not for one moment did the thought enter her mind that she could retract the promise which had rendered the last hours of Sir Reginald so happy in believing it would be fulfilled.

  She pleaded, however, that the marriage need not take place until December, and early in August she would return to America with her friends. A great homesickness had taken possession of her.

  One July day she sat in her room busied with preparations for the voyage, which she now anticipated with the eagerness of a restless heart forever seeking the happiness which eludes it, and a package of American mail was laid in her hands. Glancing over a New York daily she came upon an item which sent the blood leaping through her veins with passionate fury, and set her heart strings, so long unmoved that she had believed them rusted into tuneless indifference to the winds of fate, wailing again to the old minor strain.

  The item was to the effect "that J.C. Dayton, of the firm of Seymour & Dayton, the well known brokers, was the happy father of an infant son."

  Vey possessed to an unusual degree those divine maternal instincts without which the most beautiful and gifted woman seems like a strange discord struck by accident by the master hand--a grand chord ruined by one harsh note. Vey was born to the high estate of wifehood and motherhood. All her other gifts were subservient to her rare domestic qualities.

  She had, quite unconsciously to herself, spent the extremity of her sorrow over the loss of her first love. When the heart is young it cannot remain forever in the depths of despair, and Vey's life had grown out of the first seemingly hopeless slough of despond into which she had been hurled; but now a new anguish tore her breast in the thought that another woman mothered the child which she believed should have been her own. A fierce anger at destiny, the savage fury of a tigress robbed of her young, took possession of her and rendered her almost insane for the moment.

  She closed her eyes and imagined the child, the tiny counterpart of his father no doubt; she could see his small round head, his pink flushed face, his blinking blue eyes staring at her with that senseless and adorable expression of utter helplessness which appeals more strongly to the true mother than any later precociousness. She could feel its downy cheek upon her heart. She pressed its waxen hands and rosy limbs to her burning lips. She sustained its fragile life from her fragrant bosom and sang soothing lullabies and watched it sink into sweet slumber.

  The woman who has never known moments like these in imagination or reality has not penetrated to love's holy of holies; she has only entered its antechamber.

  Vey's thoughts were wholly of the child of the man she had so long and fervently loved and not of the man himself. It seemed to her that could she annihilate space and obstacles and seize this infant and fly with him to some lonely cave she should be content to dwell there with him alone forever, and never see the face of any other mortal.

  She clutched at her heart and beat her aching breast, and shed wild tears as a mother might who had returned from the grave of her first born, and then suddenly she seemed to fall asleep and dream. She thought the door of her room opened and that Max Milford came and put his hand jupon her brow and said: "My child, there is nothing the matter; everything is all right; you are only dreaming." And then she awoke to find herself sitting in her room alone, but with a great calm upon her spirit. She took up the New York paper which had fallen upon the floor, and re-read the item with perfect serenity and resumed her neglected tasks with cheerfulness and composure.

  She told Mrs. MacArthur of the strange and vivid dream which she had of her brother, adding, "I never in my life fell asleep like that in the middle of the day. I think it is so queer." But Mrs. MacArthur only sighed.

  They sailed a few days later, and Dr. Milford met them on their arrival, and welcomed Vey with the same brotherly air of old; while Vey, as the fiancee of her cousin, no longer feared to greet him with the cordial pleasure which she really felt in seeing him once more.

  "A nice brother you are!" Mrs. MacArthur said in a tone of reproof, the day after their arrival, "I never can forgive you for allowing Tom to come over twice without you. To think you let us stay abroad a year and a half nearly, without once coming over yourself!"

  "But I did go over! Only my time was limited and I could stay but a moment," Dr. Milford replied, looking steadily at Vey.

  "What nonsense," responded his sister. "What do you mean?"

  "Ask Miss Volney; she will tell you that I was there, for she saw me," he replied, and walked away.

  "You have told him of my dream," laughed Vey, blushing slightly.

  "Indeed I have not mentioned it," affirmed Mrs. MacArthur, earnestly. "I would not aggravate him by telling such a thing now." Both ladies teased Dr. Milford for further explanation of his words, but he only said: "Wait a while, we shall all know more by and by."

  Vey found out through Mr. MacArthur, who had retained a copy as a literary curiosity, of Bella's letter to the Morning Meteor concerning her. It was published with large head lines and sub-headings as follows: "Vey Volney's Adventures." "Remarkable Experience of a New York Chorus Girl from Saleslady to Actress." "She Dances Herself Into the Heart of a Handsome Young Doctor; His Sister Takes Her Up and Introduces Her Into Society." "She Goes Abroad and Discovers That She is Own Cousin to Sir Reginald Volney--The Probabilities That She Will Become Lady Volney." "An Early Affair of the Heart," etc., etc.

  The article was written in the most sensational manner, and laid bare to the public every detail of Vey's life which was known to Bella, and whatever she did not know her imagination had supplied. She wrote of Vey's early position as salesgirl, of her rustic dress and coarse shoes, of her strange disappearance from the boarding house, supposed to be the result of a disappointment in love; of her adventures upon the stage. Then the interim between these facts and her sudden appearance as a belle in European society, Bella supplied with such statements as she deemed possible or probable. Knowing nothing of Vey's hospital experience, but having heard Mrs. Alden speak of Mrs. MacArthur's brother, Bella judged from her knowledge of men and the stage that Vey must have danced herself into that susceptible young man's favor, and so she set the story forth as a fact. It rendered the article more striking and sensational.

  Vey was horrified and indignant when she finished its perusal, and she was both amazed and disgusted when she discovered what its effect had been upon many of her old acquaintances. There were not a few who took pains openly to cut her, and many of Mrs. MacArthur's friends expressed the opinion that they had been badly treated in having a young lady with such a doubtful early history imposed upon them; and the fact of her having discovered desirable relatives abroad only augmented the jealous spite of these gnat-minded individuals.

  A member of a literary society devoted to the advancement of women, which Vey had frequently attended as the guest of Mrs. MacArthur, who was a member, objected to her in strong terms.

  "The club is not a reformatory," she said, "and I drew the conclusion after reading 'Investigator's' letter, that Miss Volney's early career was exceedingly promiscuous. Society may pardon this in the light of her present position, but I, as a respectable wife and mother, cannot."

  Mrs. MacArthur looked the sallow, thin-featured woman in the face with eyes that flashed forth indignant sparks.

  "I sometimes think," she said slowly, "that the most uncharitable, cruel and severe judgments in this world come from the women who have never had the opportunity to be tempted in any way. I often wonder if it is because they resent this lack of opportunity that they have no mercy on their more sorely tried sisters and are so quick to condemn. May I ask what you know concerning the author of the article you read? Are you sure 'Investigator' is reliable authority on which to criticize my protege?"

  "'Investigator' is a very charming and bright young woman," responded Mrs. Sharpbeak, tersely. "She came to write up the club not long ago and we were all delighted with her. She earns her living by her pen, and no doubt knew the circumstances concerning Miss Volney which she related. I think you have been deceived in that girl."

  Mrs. MacArthur bit her tongue to keep back the truth concerning Bella. Here was a woman assuming the role of society mentor and crying down an innocent and injured girl, who had done nothing more than to achieve an unenviable notoriety through her misfortunes and fortunes; and at the same time her mentor was upholding and praising a woman who used the respectable office of a correspondent as a cloak to her vices. Mrs. MacArthur longed to prove these facts to Mrs. Sharpbeak, as she could easily have done by relating the expose of Bella's assumed character of Harry Lancaster's wife in London. But she was one of those noble women who believed that life was too short to permit her to waste the time in unmasking the vices of her own sex.

  "Give a helping hand to every woman who needs it," was her motto, "and let the unworthy ones work out their own punishment. It is sure to come without my aid." So she kept her silence regarding Bella on this most trying occasion, and closed the conference with Mrs. Sharpbeak by saying: "Miss Volney is entirely worthy of the interest I have taken in her, and I shall certainly bring her as my guest to this club whenever I feel inclined to do so. Any member who objects lacks the breadth of judgment necessary to a worthy worker in the society and had better withdraw."

  Vey found just as many people, however, who were ready to court her society with renewed assiduity because of her success abroad. And the rumors of her approaching nuptials with Sir Albert Volney induced a horde of hitherto indifferent acquaintances to warm into ardent friendship.

  In September she received a letter from her fiance, which materially changed that aspect of her future. The letter read as follows:

  "My Dear Vey:--In looking over a file of American papers at the Club yesterday afternoon, I came upon a most remarkable article in which your name figured extensively. Imagine my indignation on perusing it to find the writer who assumed the nom de plume of 'Investigator,' represented you as a former shop girl of some sort, and afterward a ballet or chorus girl, in which capacity you had ensnared the fancy of some gentleman through whom you made an entrance into the family with which you came abroad. It also hinted at some love affair which had marred your early girlhood. My own name was dragged into this most vulgar letter, and our marriage prognosticated.

  "I do not know how the publication of this article could be permitted to pass unnoticed by you or your friends. I cannot suppose that it is true, for you certainly would never have allowed our betrothal had your early career been of the nature described. I wish to obtain your permission to bring the writer and publisher of the outrageous libel to a legal punishment before our marriage takes place.:

  This was Vey's reply:


  "MY DEAR COUSIN: The main statements in the article you refer to are facts. I have been both 'saleslady' and 'chorus girl.' It is the prevalent impression of American minds that any woman who has maintained her purity in the great battle of a self-supporting career and fitted herself to adorn the best society of the new world is quite worthy to become the wife of the king himself. Therefore I felt no hesitancy on the score of equality when you asked for my hand in marriage. Since the receipt of your letter, however, I am conscious of a hopeless inequality between us and by this post I return your ring and beg you to consider yourself as free as is your cousin                                                       "VEY VOLNEY"

  This letter elicited no reply, and Vey found herself possessed of a lighter heart than she had carried for months. She informed Mrs. MacArthur of the broken fetters, and begged her to keep the matter a secret as long as possible.

  Bella, meantime, was in close correspondence with a number of people whom she had met in London, for this ambitious young woman clung to every respectable acquaintance with the persistency of a drowning man to a spar, and among her correspondents was one who had heard the rumor that the marriage between the American beauty and Sir Albert Volney was "off".

  Bella was not by nature malicious or vindictive. She was shallow, insincere, mercenary and devoid of any ideals of morality. But she was good-natured, jolly, and with really kind impulses. She would rather do a person a good turn than not, and she had really intended to do Vey a favor when she wrote that letter from London. Her coarse-fibred mind saw no indelicacy in it. And she imagined Vey feeling very grateful for being so well "written up."

  Now, however, she entertained less friendly emotions toward Miss Volney, knowing that her pretense of being the wife of Harry Lancaster had been exposed to Mrs. Alden, and through her doubtless to Mrs. MacArthur and Vey, she feared her, and at the same time felt a bitter resentment toward her at being the indirect cause of Harry Lancaster's desertion. So when the item of news reached her concerning Vey's broken engagement, "Investigator's" letter was the first to give it publicity, closing with a paragraph, however, which declared that so beautiful and accomplished a girl as Miss Volney must have been herself the one to cause this change in the programme of Cupid, as no man with any sense would allow such a prize to slip from his grasp. Thus Bella satisfied her impulse to give the bit of gossip to the public newsmongers, and at the same time protected herself against Vey's resentment "by giving her plenty of taffy," as she expressed it to herself.

  It was through the daily press, then, that Max Milford first learned of Vey's freedom, for Mrs. MacArthur had been true to her promises of secrecy in the affair.

  He smiled as he read the item, but there was no change in his friendly treatment of Miss Volney.

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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