Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness."--SHAKSPEARE.
Edward had met and held his desired interview with his business acquaintance, seen him aboard his train, and was standing watching it as it steamed away and disappeared in the distance, when a feminine voice, close at hand, suddenly accosted him.
"O Mr. Travilla! how are you? I consider myself very fortunate in finding you here."
He turned toward the speaker, and was not too greatly pleased at sight of her.
"Ah! good-evening, Miss Deane," he said, taking her offered hand, and speaking with gentlemanly courtesy. "In what can I be of service to you?"
"By inviting me to Ion to spend the night," she returned laughingly. "I've missed my train, and was quite in despair at the thought of staying alone over night in one of the miserable little hotels of this miserable little village. So I was delighted to see your carriage standing there, and you yourself beside it; for, knowing you to be one of the most hospitable of men, I am sure you will be moved to pity, and take me home with you."
Edward's heart sank at thought of Zoe, but, seeing no way out of the dilemma, "Certainly," he said, and helped his self-invited guest to a seat in his carriage, placed himself by her side, and bade the coachman drive on to Ion.
"Now, really, this is very good in you, Mr. Travilla," remarked Miss Deane: "there is no place I like better to visit than Ion, and I begin to think it was rather a fortunate mishap--missing my train."
"Very unfortunate for me, I fear," sighed Edward to himself. "The loss of her drive will be a great disappointment to Zoe, and the sight of such a guest far from making it up to her. I am thankful the visit is to be for only a night."
Aloud he said, "I fear you will find it less pleasant than on former occasions,--in fact, rather lonely; as all the family are absent--spending the winter at Viamede, my mother's Louisiana plantation--except my wife and myself."
"Ah! but your wife is a charming little girl,--I never can think of her as a woman, you know,--and you are a host in yourself," returned the lady laughingly.
Zoe's callers had left; and she, having donned hat and cloak, not to keep her husband a single moment, was at the window watching for his coming, when the carriage came driving up the avenue, and drew up at the door.
She hurried out, expecting to find no one there but himself, and to be at once handed to a seat in the vehicle, and the next minute be speeding away with him, enjoying her drive all the more for the little disappointment that had preceded it.
What, then, was her chagrin to see a visitor handed out, and that visitor the woman for whom she had conceived the most violent antipathy!
"Miss Deane, my dear," Edward said, with an entreating look at Zoe, which she did not see, her eyes being at that instant fixed upon the face of her uninvited and unwelcome guest.
"How do you do, my dear Mrs. Travilla? I hope you are glad to see me?" laughed the intruder, holding out a delicately gloved hand, "your husband has played the Good Samaritan to me to-night--saving me from having to stay in one of those wretched little hotels in the village till two o'clock to-morrow morning."
"I am in usual health, thank you. Will you walk in?" returned Zoe in a freezing tone, and utterly ignoring the offered hand. "Will you step into the parlor? or would you prefer being shown to your room first?"
"The latter, if you please," Miss Deane answered sweetly, apparently quite unaware that Zoe's manner was in the least ungracious.
"Dinah," said Zoe, to a maid-in-waiting, "show Miss Deane to the room she occupied on her last visit. Carry up her satchel, and see that she has every thing she wants."
Having given the order, Zoe stepped out to the veranda where Edward still was, having staid behind to give directions in regard to the horses.
"Zoe, love, I am very sorry," he said, as the man turned his horses' heads, and drove away toward the stables.
"O Edward! how could you?" she exclaimed reproachfully, tears of disappointment and vexation springing to her eyes.
"Darling, I really could not help it," he replied soothingly, drawing her to him with a caress, and went on to tell exactly what had occurred.
"She is not a real lady," said Zoe, "or she never would have done a thing like that."
"I agree with you, love," he said; "but I was sorry your reception of her was so extremely ungracious and cold."
"Would you have had me play the hypocrite, Ned?" she asked indignantly.
"No, Zoe, I should be very far from approving of that," he answered gravely: "but while it was right and truthful not to express pleasure which you did not feel, at her coming, you might, on the other hand, have avoided absolute rudeness; you might have shaken hands with her, and asked after her health and that of her father's family."
"I treated her as well as she deserved; and it does not make her any the more welcome to me, that she has already been the means of drawing down upon me a reproof from my husband's lips," Zoe said in tremulous tones, and turning away from him with her eyes full of tears.
"My words were hardly intended as that, little wife," Edward responded in a kindly tone, following her into the hall, catching her in his arms, and imprinting a kiss on her ruby lips.
"And I wanted my drive with you so badly," she murmured, half hiding her face on his breast; "but she has robbed us of that, and--O Ned! is she to come between us again, and make us quarrel, and be so dreadfully unhappy?" Her voice was full of tears and sobs before she had ended.
"No, no; I could not endure that any more than you," he said with emotion, and clasping her very close: "and it is only for to-night you will have to bear the annoyance of her presence; she is to leave in the morning."
"Is she? that is some comfort. I hope somebody will come in for the evening, and share with us the infliction of her society," Zoe said, concluding with a forlorn attempt at a laugh.
"Won't you take off that very becoming hat and cloak, Mrs. Travilla, and spend the evening?" asked Edward playfully.
"Thank you. I believe I will, if you will accompany me to the dressing-room," she returned, with a smiling look up into his face.
"That I will with pleasure," he said, "provided you will reward me with some assistance with my toilet."
"Such as brushing your hair, and tying your cravat? Yes, sir, I will: it's a bargain."
And so, laughing and chatting, they went up to their own private apartments.
Halt an hour later they came down again together, to find Miss Deane in the parlor, seated by a window overlooking the avenue.
"There's a carriage just drawing up before your front entrance," she remarked: "the Roselands family carriage, I think it is."
Zoe gave her husband a bright, pleased look. It seemed her wish for an addition to their party for the evening had been granted.
The next moment the room-door was thrown, open, and Dr. Conly and Miss Ella were announced.
They were cordially welcomed, asked to tea, and staid the evening, greatly relieving Zoe in the matter of entertaining her unwelcome guest, who devoted herself to the doctor, and left Edward to his wife and cousin, a condition of things decidedly agreeable to Zoe.
A little after nine the Roselands carriage was announced; and the doctor and Ella took their departure, Edward and Zoe accompanying them to the outer door.
The sky was black with clouds, and the wind roaring through the trees on the lawn.
"We are going to have a heavy storm. I think," remarked Arthur, glancing upward: "there is not a star to be seen, and the wind blows almost a gale. I hope no patient of mine will want the doctor very badly to-night," he added with a slight laugh. "Step in out of the wind, cousin Zoe, or you may be the very one to send for me."
Doing as directed, "No, indeed," she said: "I'm sure I couldn't have the heart to call anybody up out of a warm bed to face such a cutting wind as this."
"No, no; never hesitate when there is a real necessity," he returned, speaking from his seat in the carriage, where he had already taken his place beside his sister, whom Edward had handed in. "Good-night, and hurry in, both of you, for my sake if not for your own."
But they lingered a moment till the carriage turned, and drove swiftly down the avenue.
"I am so glad they came," remarked Zoe, as Edward shut the door and locked it for the night.
"Yes," he said: "they added a good deal to the pleasure of the evening. As we couldn't be alone together, three guests were more acceptable than one."
"Decidedly; and that one was delighted, I'm sure, to have an opportunity to exercise her conversational gifts for the benefit of a single man instead of a married one."
"Zoe, love, don't allow yourself to grow bitter and sarcastic," Edward said, turning toward her, laying a hand lightly, affectionately, upon her shoulder, and gazing down into her eyes with a look of grave concern.
She colored under it, and turned away with a pout that almost spoiled the beauty of her fair face. She was more than ever impatient to be rid of their self-invited guest.
"She always sets Ned to scolding me," was the bitter thought in her heart as she went slowly back to the parlor, where they had left Miss Deane, Edward following, sighing inwardly at the change in his darling always wrought by that unwelcome presence in the house.
"How the wind roars down the chimney!" Miss Deane remarked as her host and hostess re-entered the room, where she was comfortably seated in an easy-chair beside the glowing grate. "I fear to-morrow will prove a stormy day; but in that case I shall feel all the more delighted with my comfortable quarters here,--all the more grateful to you, Mr. Travilla, for saving me from a long detention in one of those miserable little country taverns, where I should have died of ennui."
"You seem kindly disposed, my dear madam, to make a great deal of a small service," returned Edward gallantly.
But Zoe said not a word. She stood gazing into the fire, apparently lost in thought; but the color deepened on her cheek, and a slight frown contracted her brows.
Presently she turned to her guest, saying courteously, "You must be weary with your journey, Miss Deane: would you like to retire?"
"Thank you, I should," was the reply; and thereupon the good-nights were said, and they sought their respective rooms.
"You are not displeased with me, dear?" Zoe asked, lifting her eyes inquiringly to her husband's face as she stood before their dressing-room fire with his arm about her waist: "you are looking so very grave."
"No, dearest, I am not disposed to find fault with you," he said, softly caressing her hair and cheek with his disengaged hand; "though I should be glad if you could be a trifle more cordial to our uninvited guest."
"It's my nature to act just as I feel; and, if there's a creature on earth I thoroughly detest, it is she!" returned the child-wife with almost passionate vehemence. "I know she hates me,--for all her purring manner and sweet tones and words,--and that she likes nothing better than to make trouble between my husband and me."
"My dear child, you really must try not to be so uncharitable and suspicious," Edward said in a slightly reproving tone. "I do not perceive any such designs or any hypocrisy in her conduct toward you."
"No: men are as blind as a bat in their intercourse with such women; never can see through their designs; always take them to be as sweet and amiable as they pretend to be. It takes a woman to understand her own sex."
"Maybe so," he said soothingly; "but we will leave the disagreeable subject for to-night at least, shall we not?"
"Yes; and, oh, I do hope the weather to-morrow will not be such as to afford her an excuse for prolonging her stay!"
"I hope not, indeed, love," he responded; "but let us resolve, that, if it does, we will try to bear the infliction patiently, and give our self-invited guest no right to accuse us of a lack of hospitality toward her. Let us not forget or disobey the Bible injunction, to 'use hospitality one to another without grudging.'"
"I'll try not to. I'll be as good to her as I can, without feeling that I am acting insincerely."
"And that is all I ask, love. Your perfect freedom from any thing approaching to deceit is one of your greatest charms, in your husband's eyes," he said, tenderly caressing her. "It would, I am sure, be quite impossible for me to love a wife in whose absolute truth and sincerity I had not entire confidence."
"And you do love me, your foolish, faulty little wife?" she said, in a tone that was a mixture of assertion and inquiry, while her lovely eyes gazed searchingly into his.
"Dearly, dearly, my sweet!" he said, smiling fondly down upon her. "And now to bed, lest these bright eyes and rosy cheeks should lose something of their brilliance and beauty."
"Suppose they should," she said, turning slightly pale, as with sudden pain. "O Ned! if I live, I must some day grow old and gray and wrinkled, my eyes dim and sunken: shall you love me then, darling?"
"Better than ever, love," he whispered, holding her closer to his heart; "for how long we shall have lived and loved together! We shall have come to be as one indeed, each with hardly a thought or feeling unshared by the other."