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IT was not until the middle of the succeeding week that Mr. Markland returned from New York. He had a look of care that did not escape the observation of his wife. To her inquiries as to the cause of his prolonged absence, he replied vaguely, yet with reference to some business of vast magnitude, in which he had become interested. Two days passed without allusion, on either side, to the subject of their daughter's relation to Mr. Lyon, and then, to some question of Mrs. Markland, her husband replied in so absent a way, that she did not press the matter on his attention. Fanny was reserved and embarrassed in the presence of her father, and evidently avoided him.
More than a week went by in this unsatisfactory manner, when, on returning one day from the city, Mr. Markland showed an unusual elation of spirits. As soon as there was an opportunity to be alone with his wife, he said--
"I may have to be absent several weeks."
"Why so?" she asked, quickly, as a shadow fell over her face.
"Business," was briefly answered.
Mrs. Markland sighed, and her eyes fell to the floor.
"I have been a drone in the world's busy hive long enough, Agnes; and now I must go to work again, and that in right good earnest. The business that took me to New York is growing daily in importance, and will require my best thought and effort. The more thoroughly I comprehend it, the more clearly do I see its vast capabilities. I have already embarked considerable money in the enterprise, and shall probably see it to my interest to embark more. To do this, without becoming an active worker and director, would neither be wise nor like your husband, who is not a man to trust himself on the ocean of business without studying well the charts, and, at times, taking fast hold upon the rudder."
"You might have been so happy here, Edward," said Mrs. Markland, looking into his face and smiling feebly.
"A happy idler? Impossible!"
"You have been no idler, my husband, since our retirement from the city. Look around, and say whose intelligence, whose taste, are visible wherever the eye falls?"
"A poor, vain life, for a man of thought and energy, has been mine, Agnes, during the last few years. The world has claims on me beyond that of mere landscape-gardening! In a cultivation of the beautiful alone no man of vigorous mind can or ought to rest satisfied. There is a goal beyond, and it is already dimly revealed, in the far distance, to my straining vision."
"I greatly fear, Edward," replied his wife, speaking in her gentle, yet impressive way, "that when the goal you now appear so eager to reach, is gained, you will see still another beyond."
"It may be so, Agnes," was answered, in a slightly depressed voice; "yet the impulse to bear onward to the goal now in view is not the less ardent for the suggestion. I can no more pause than the avalanche once in motion. I must onward in the race I have entered."
"To gain what, Edward?"
"I shall gain large wealth."
"Have we not all things here that heart can desire, my husband?"
"No, Agnes," was replied with emphasis.
"What is lacking?"
"Edward!" There came a quick flush to the brow of Mrs. Markland.
"I cannot help the fact, Agnes," said Mr. Markland. "For months I have suffered from a growing dissatisfaction with the fruitless life I am leading."
"And yet with what a fond desire we looked forward to the time when we could call a spot like this our own! The world had for us no more tempting offer."
"While struggling up from the valley, we cannot know how wide the landscape will spread beneath our enchanted vision. We fix our eyes on the point to be gained. That reached, we are, for a time, content with our elevation. But just enough of valley and mountain, stretching far off in the dim distance, is revealed, to quicken our desire for a more extended vision, and soon, with renewed strength, we lift our gaze upward, and the word 'excelsior!' comes almost unbidden to our lips. There is a higher and a highest place to be gained, and I feel, Agnes, that there will be no rest for my feet until I reach the highest."
"Pray heaven your too eager feet stumble not!" almost sobbed Mrs. Markland, with something of a prophetic impulse.
The tone and manner of his wife, more than her words, disturbed Mr. Markland.
"Why should the fact of my re-entering business so trouble you?" he asked. "An active, useful life is man's truest life, and the only one in which he can hope for contentment."
Mrs. Markland did not answer, but partly turned her face away to conceal its expression.
"Are you not a little superstitious?" inquired her husband.
"I believe not," was answered with forced calmness. "But I may be very selfish."
"Selfish, Agnes! Why do you say that?"
"I cannot bear the thought of giving you up to the busy world again," she answered, tenderly, leaning her head against him. "Nor will it be done without struggle and pain on my part. When we looked forward to the life we have been leading for the last few years, I felt that I could ask of the world nothing of external good beyond; I have yet asked nothing. Here I have found my earthly paradise. But if banishment must come, I will try to go forth patiently, even though I cannot shut the fountain of tears. There is another Eden."
Mr. Markland was about replying, when his sister entered the room, and he remained silent.
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