A Manifest Destiny

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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Bettina Mowbray, walking the deck of the ocean steamer bound for England, was aware that she was observed with interest by a great many pairs of eyes. Certainly the possessors of these eyes were not more interested in her than she was in the interpretation of their glances. It was, indeed, of the first importance to her to know that she was being especially noticed by the men and women of the world, who in large part made up the passenger list, since her beauty was her one endowment for the position in the great world which all her life she had intended and expected to occupy. She was anxious, therefore, to know whether the personal appearance which had been rated so high in the obscure places hitherto known to her would or would not hold its own when she got out into life, as it were.

Therefore, as Miss Mowbray paced the deck, at the side of the erect elderly woman who had been her nurse and was now her maid, she was vigilantly regardful of the looks which were turned upon her, and at times, by straining her ears, she could even catch a word or two of comment. Both looks and words were gratifying in the extreme. They not only confirmed the previous verdict passed upon her beauty, but they gave evidence to her keen intuition that, judged by a higher standard, she had won a higher tribute.

Yet, ardent as this admiration was on the one side, and grateful as it was on the other, there the matter stopped. To those who would have approached her more closely Bettina set up a tacit barrier which no one had been able to cross, and, after several days at sea, she was still limited to the society of her maid. Those who had spoken to her once had been so politely repelled that they had not spoken again, and many of those who had felt inclined to speak had, on coming nearer to her, refrained instinctively.

There was something, apart from her beauty, which attracted the eye and the imagination in this tall girl in her deep mourning. This, perhaps, was the twofold aspect which her different moods and expressions gave to her. At one time she looked so profoundly sad, dejected, almost despairing, that it was easy to connect her mourning dress with the loss of what had been dearest to her. At another time there was a buoyancy, animation, vividness, in her look which made her black clothes seem incongruous in any other sense than that in which a dark setting is sometimes used to throw into relief the brilliancy of a jewel.

And these two outward manifestations did, in truth, represent the dual nature which was Bettina’s. Her mother, who had studied her with a keen and affectionate insight, had often told her that the two key-notes of her nature were love and ambition. So far, all the ardor of Bettina’s heart had been centred in her delicate, exquisite little old mother, whom she had loved with something like frenzy; and it was from the loss of this mother that she was now enduring a degree of sorrow which might perhaps have overwhelmed her, had not the other strong instinct of nature acted as an antidote. After some weeks of what seemed like blank despair, the girl had roused herself with a sort of desperation, and looked about her to see what was yet left to her in life. Then it was that ambition had come to her rescue. With a hardened feeling in her breast she told herself that she could never love again in the way in which she had loved her mother, so she must make the most of her opportunity to become a brilliant figure in the world.

This opportunity, fortunately, was quite within sight. A path had been opened before her feet by which she might walk to a higher rank and position than even her extravagant dreams had led her to expect.

In the isolation of her narrow village life she had read in the papers accounts of the English aristocracy; and to show off her beauty in such an atmosphere, and be called by a titled name, had fired her imagination to such a degree that her good mother had had many a pang of fear for the future of her child....