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The Highest Power
By MARY HEATON VORSE
Illustration by Everett Shinn
T was a matter of chance that I, a and the comprehension of man.
Let her much older man, knew Vivian Nevers beauty be only great enough, and her lovso well, and I want to tell her story; ers will not seek to know who she is, but for it leads not only to certain interest- each one will imagine her the woman of ing speculations concerning the heart of his dreams, and she herself may remain woman, but others as well — whether, for unknown and unloved all her days. instance, the cherishing of any ideal day "Why did n't you tell them what you in and day out, even if the ideal in itself want, Vivian?” I asked her at last. “You seems one which we have pigeonholed as know well enough, don't you?" She "unworthy," does not form some impreg- turned slowly toward me and looked at nable fastness in the soul.
me with somber eyes, very speculating When Vivian was eighteen I got a eyes, as though she were searching me glimpse of the inner heart of her, which through and through. burned with such a cold and yet impas- "Yes, I know what I want,” she said sioned fire, when a group of young people at last. I waited for her to go on, but in a house party were telling what they she did n't speak. She was stronger than asked of life. The girls, Vivian among I, for I spoke first: them, were débutantes, the men, quite "What is it?" I asked her. young; I, the only older one, was there be- "Power," she answered. She seemed cause I was an old friend of Vivian's then very earnest and very young. mother. They all babbled forth what they "Power?" I echoed with middle-aged wanted like clamorous, greedy, spoiled stupidity. “The high places of the earth?" children writing letters to Santa Claus. She nodded very gravely and looked
Vivian was the only one who did n't straight at me, and suddenly the youthfultalk. When they appealed to her she ness of her was lost in the passion I read smiled vaguely at them and said she did
I saw that she had in her, n't know yet what she did want.
eating at her heart, an unquenchable deThe group broke up, and she and I sire. I had no further temptation to smile were left alone. She was absorbed in her at her youthfulness; I had never had, own thoughts; very intense she looked as even when I was young, so impassioned she let her gaze travel far out into the an ambition toward anything as that I night. As I looked at her, the purpose- felt in her. fulness of her pose and the intentness of “How do you mean to get what you her expression made me realize that I had want?" I asked her next. really never seen her before, that in some “There's only one way for me, and subtle way she had always been on her that 's through marriage." guard. I reflected, too, that she was so “You may find the price high,” I sugvery beautiful that her beauty would for- gested. “What if it goes against your ever serve her as a complete disguise if heart?” she chose; for there is no greater disguise “At least I shall get a man this way,” for a woman's true nature than beauty, she famed at me, "while the other way and almost no greater barrier between her I sha'n't be able to tell. I don't see any
in her eyes.
of them able to tell the ones who marry had he the quality of charm. I did n't see for what they call love."
how any girl he seriously cared for could We talked a long time that night. I keep from falling in love with him, he can't tell you how completely she con- had so much simplicity and fineness. I vinced me that she had in her the pecu- think he would have made any one else but liar talent from which her ambition Vivian happy. He had almost everything sprang. She wanted to be near the heart any woman could ask of a man, including of life and see the great people of the money and position, as position goes in world and shape her own place in the this country, but Vivian had plucked him world of affairs. She wanted power and out of her heart. responsibility. She had no young cyni- The next thing was her affair with a cism about love, but in her own case she prince of royal blood. The affair rang counted on her ambition outweighing any through Europe. It seemed for a moment upflashing of instinct. It is hard to con- as though this prize was hers. It seemed ceive of a conversation like this with a for a moment as if his desire combined miss of eighteen not having its element of with her grace and beauty would triumph the ridiculous, but I never had a conver- over the inevitable obstacles to such a sation that more completely escaped it. marriage. He was too near the throne She did n't say she would achieve what for their marriage to be made without all she wanted; she only said she intended to sorts of compromises. With all Europe try for it with all her intensity. That she wondering whether tradition or this rolooked the part of a great lady so well, I mantic and beautiful young couple would saw, made it possible.
win, Vivian withdrew from the scene. It was six years before I saw her again She withdrew while there still seemed to except for unimportant moments.
We be possibilities left on her side. She must never referred to our conversation, but have calculated every chance and seen we always met as close friends. The that the sort of victory she wanted could Neverses did n't need to do that distaste- n't possibly be hers. So she quietly and ful and devious thing known as "climb- with the utmost dignity departed. And ing." She went everywhere; was pre- she would never see him again. sented at court in England. I heard of This made her an international figure. her as much courted in Italy. Meantime Every one in America knew who Vivian I noticed that it was Mrs. Nevers and Nevers was, so did every one in Europe. not Vivian of whom people spoke as ambi- Her attitude in the whole affair left her tious. I even heard Vivian referred to as with public opinion tremendously on her a "sweet girl.” During that house party side, but a worldly old woman said to I had seen that the girl already had in her mother an unconscious tool. The latter "I call Marion Mrs. Now-or-Never, was immensely proud of her daughter and for this next year is the time for her to seemed, if you can put it that way, make any sort of a match she wants for vaguely appalled by her. She had even Vivian-except a royal one.” then sensed a purpose and a hardness of With a proper sense of proportion the fiber in the girl that she did n't in the Neverses were seen about very little for least understand.
some time, and then it was in America. I heard two things of her that made me They had been traveling and visiting very believe that she had remained true to her quietly abroad, and it was there they met purpose. One was the affair of David Haldane. Van Voorhis. His family did n't call I met the Neverses again on their reVivian sweet. They said she had played turn and I met Haldane at the same time. with David and broken his heart. I won- When I saw him I remembered Vivian's dered when I met him if she had n't words of six years ago, “At least he will broken her own as well, to such an extent be a man."