Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"Forbear sharp speeches to her. She's a lady So tender of rebukes, that words are strokes, And strokes death to her."--SHAKSPEARE.
As we have said, the storm lasted for a week; and all that time Edward and Zoe were slowly drifting farther and farther apart.
But at last the clouds broke and the sun shone out cheerily. It was about the middle of the forenoon when this occurred.
"Oh," cried Miss Deane, "do see the sun! Now I shall no longer need to encroach upon your hospitality, my kind entertainers. I can go home by this afternoon's train, if you, Mr. Travilla, will be so very good as to take or send me to the depot."
"The Ion carriage is quite at your service," he returned politely.
"Thanks," she said; "then I'll just run up to my room, and do my bit of packing."
She hurried out to the hall, then the front door was heard to open; and the next minute a piercing shriek brought master, mistress, and servants running out to the veranda to inquire the cause.
Miss Deane lay there groaning, and crying out "that she had sprained her ankle terribly; she had slipped on a bit of ice, and fallen; and oh! when now would she be able to go home?"
The question found an echo in Zoe's heart, and she groaned inwardly at the thought of having this most unwelcome guest fastened upon her for weeks longer.
Yet she pitied her pain, and was anxious to do what she could for her relief. She hastened to the medicine-closet in search of remedies; while Edward and Uncle Ben gently lifted the sufferer, carried her in, and laid her on the sofa.
Also a messenger was at once despatched for Dr. Conly. Zoe stationed herself at a front window of the drawing-room to watch for his coming. Presently Edward came to her side. "Zoe," he said, "can't you go to Miss Deane?"
"What for?" she asked, without turning her head to look at him.
"To show your kind feeling."
"I'm not sure that I have any."
"Zoe! I am shocked! She is in great pain."
"She has plenty of helpers about her,--Christine, Aunt Dicey, and a servant-maid or two,--who will do all they can to relieve her. If I could do any thing more, I would; but I can't, and should only be in the way. You forget what a mere child you have always considered me, and that I have had no experience in nursing."
"It isn't nursing, I am asking you to give her, but a little kindly sympathy."
A carriage was coming swiftly up the avenue.
"There's the doctor," said Zoe. "You'd better consult with him about his patient; and, if he thinks my presence in her room will hasten her recovery, she shall have all I can give her of it, that we may get her out of the house as soon as possible."
"Zoe! I had no idea you could be so heartless," he said, with much displeasure, as he turned and left the room.
Zoe remained where she was, shedding some tears of mingled anger and grief, then hastily endeavoring to remove their traces; for Arthur would be sure to step into the parlor, to see her before leaving, if it were but for a moment.
She had barely recovered her composure when he came in, having found his patient not in need of a lengthened visit.
His face was bright, his tone cheery and kind, as he bade her good-morning, and asked after her health.
"I'm very well, thank you," she said, giving him her hand. "Is Miss Deane's accident a very bad one?"
"It is a severe sprain," he said: "she will not be able to bear her weight upon that ankle for six weeks." Then seeing Zoe's look of dismay, shrewdly guessing at the cause, he hastened to add, "But she might be sent home in an ambulance a few days hence, without the least injury."
Zoe looked greatly relieved, Edward scarcely less so.
"I can't understand how she came to fall," remarked Arthur reflectively.
"Nor I," said Zoe. "Wouldn't it be well for you to advise her never to set foot on that dangerous veranda again?"
Arthur smiled. "That would be a waste of breath," he said, "while Ion is so delightful a place to visit."
"How are they all at Viamede?" he asked, turning to Edward.
"Quite well at last accounts, thank you," Edward replied, adding, with a slight sigh, "I wish they were here,--my mother at least, if none of the others."
Zoe colored violently. "Cousin Arthur, do you think I am needed in your patient's room?" she asked.
"Only to cheer and amuse her with your pleasant society," he answered.
"She would find neither pleasure nor amusement in my society," said Zoe; "and hers is most distasteful to me."
"That's a pity," said Arthur, with a look of concern. "Suppose I lend you Ella for a few days? She, I think, would rather enjoy taking the entertainment of your guest off your hands."
"Oh, thank you!" said Zoe, brightening; "that would be a relief: and, besides, I should enjoy Ella myself, between times, and after Miss Deane goes home."
"Please tell Ella we will both be greatly obliged if she will come," Edward said.
"I'll do so," said Arthur, rising to go; "but I have a long drive to take, in another direction, before returning to Roselands. And you must remember," he added with a smile, "that I lend her for only a few days. Cal and I wouldn't know how to do without her very long."
With that, he took his departure, leaving Edward and Zoe alone together.
"I am sorry, Zoe, that you thought it necessary to let Arthur into the secret of the mutual dislike between Miss Deane and yourself," remarked Edward, in a grave, reproving tone.
Zoe colored angrily. "I don't care who knows it," she retorted, with a little toss of her head. "I did not think it necessary to let Arthur into the secret, as you call it (I don't consider it one), but neither did I see any objection to his knowing about it."
"Then, let me request you to say no more on the subject to any one," he said, with vexation.
"I sha'n't promise," she muttered, half under her breath. But he heard it.
"Very well, then, I forbid it; and you have promised to obey me."
"And you promised that it should always be love and coaxing," she said, in tones trembling with pain and passion. "I'll have to tell Ella something about it."
"Then, say only what is quite necessary," he returned, his tones softening.
Then, after a moment's silence, in which Zoe's face was turned from him so that he could not see its expression, "Won't you go now, and ask if Miss Deane is any easier? Surely, as her hostess, you should do so much."
"No, I won't! I'll do all I can to make her comfortable; I'll provide her with society more agreeable to her than mine; I'll see that she has interesting reading-matter, if she wants it; I'll do any thing and every thing I can, except that; but you needn't ask that of me."
"O Zoe! I had thought you would do a harder thing than that at my request," he said reproachfully.
Ignoring his remark, she went on, "I just believe she fell and hurt herself purposely, that she might have an excuse for prolonging her visit, and continuing to torment me."
"Zoe, Zoe, how shockingly uncharitable you are!" he exclaimed. "I could never have believed it of you! We are told, 'Charity thinketh no evil.' Do try not to judge so harshly."
He left the room; and Zoe indulged in a hearty cry, but hastily dried her eyes, and turned her back toward the door, as she heard his step approaching again.
He just looked in, saying, "Zoe, I am going to drive over to Roselands for Ella: will you go along?"
"No. I've been lectured enough for one day," was her ungracious rejoinder; and he closed the door, and went away.
He was dumb with astonishment and pain. "What has come over her?" he asked himself. "She has always before been so delighted to go any and every where with me. Have I been too ready to reprove her of late? I have thought myself rather forbearing, considering how much ill-temper she has shown. She has had provocation, to be sure; but it is high time she learned to exercise some self-control. Yet perhaps I should have been more sympathizing, more forbearing and affectionate."
He had stepped into his carriage, and was driving down the avenue. He passed through the great gates, and turned into the road, still thinking of Zoe, and mentally reviewing their behavior toward each other since the unfortunate day in which Miss Deane had crossed their threshold.
The conclusion he presently arrived at was, that he had not been altogether blameless; that, if his reproofs had been given in more loving fashion, they would have been received in a better spirit; that he had not been faithful to his promise always to try "love and coaxing" with the impulsive, sensitive child-wife, who, he doubted not, loved him with her whole heart; and, once convinced of that, he determined to say so on his return, and make it up with her.
True, it seemed to him that she ought to make the first advances toward an adjustment of their slight differences (quarrels they could scarcely be called; a slight coldness, a cessation of accustomed manifestations of conjugal affection, a few sharp or impatient words on each side), but he would be too generous to wait for that; he loved her dearly enough to sacrifice his pride to some extent; he could better afford that than the sight of her unhappiness.
In the mean time Zoe was bitterly repenting of the rebuff she had given him. He had hardly closed the door when she started up, and ran to it to call him back, apologize for her curt refusal to go with him, and ask if she might still accept his invitation. But it was too late: he was already beyond hearing.
She could not refrain from another cry, and was very angry with herself for her petulance. She regretted the loss of the drive, too, which would have been a real treat after the week of confinement to the house.
She had refused to comply with her husband's request that she would go to Miss Deane and ask how she was: now she repented, and went as soon as she had removed the traces of her tears.
"Ah! you have come at last!" was the salutation she received on entering the room where Miss Deane lay on a sofa, with the injured limb propped upon pillows. "I began to fear," sweetly, "that your delicate nerves had given way under the sight of my sufferings."
"My nerves are not delicate," returned Zoe coldly; "in fact, I never discovered that I had any; so please do not trouble yourself with anxiety on that account. I trust the applications have relieved you somewhat."
"Very little, thank you. I suppose it was hardly to be expected that they would take effect so soon. Ah, me!" she added with a profound sigh, "I fear I am tied to this couch for weeks."
"No; do not disturb yourself with that idea," said Zoe. "The doctor told me you could easily be taken home in a few days in an ambulance."
"I shall certainly avail myself of the first opportunity to do so," said Miss Deane, her eyes flashing with anger, "for I plainly perceive that I have worn out my welcome."
"No, not at all," said Zoe; "at least, not so far as I am concerned." Miss Deane looked her incredulity and surprise, and Zoe explained,--"I think I may as well be perfectly frank with you," she said. "You have not worn out your welcome with me, because I had none for you when you came. How could I, knowing that you invariably make trouble between my husband and myself?"
"Truly, a polite speech to make to a guest!" sniffled Miss Deane. "I hope you pride yourself on your very polished manners."
"I prefer truth and sincerity." said Zoe, "I shall do all I can to make you comfortable while you are here; and, if you choose to avoid the line of conduct I have objected to, we may learn to like each other. I very well know that you do not love me now."
"Since frankness is in fashion at this moment," was the contemptuous retort, "I will own that there is no love lost between us. Stay," as Zoe was about to leave the room, "let me give you a piece of disinterested advice. Learn to control your quick temper, and show yourself more amiable, or you may find one of these days, when it is too late, that you have lost your husband's heart."
At that, Zoe turned away, and went swiftly from the room. She was beyond speaking, her whole frame quivering from head to foot with the agitation of her feelings.
Lose the love of her idolized husband? That would be worse than death. But it should never be: he loved her dearly now (it could not be possible that these last few wretched days had robbed her quite of the devoted affection she had known beyond a doubt to be hers before); and she would tell him, as soon as he came in, how sorry she was for the conduct that had vexed him, and never, no, never again, would she do or say any thing to displease him, or lower herself in his estimation.
As she thought thus, hurrying down the hall, she caught the sound of wheels on the drive, and ran out, expecting to see him, as it was about time for his return from Roselands.
It was the Ion carriage she had heard, but only Ella Conly alighted from it.
They exchanged greetings, then Zoe asked half breathlessly, "Where's Edward?"
"Gone," Ella responded, moving on into the hall. "Come, let's go into the parlor, and sit down, and I'll tell you all I know about it. Why, Zoe," as she turned and caught sight of her companion's face, "you are as pale as death, and look ready to faint! There's nothing to be scared about, and you mustn't mind my nonsense."
"Oh, tell me! tell me quickly!" gasped Zoe, sinking into a chair, her hands clasped beseechingly, her eyes wild with terror: "what, what has happened?"
"Nothing, child, nothing, except that we met cousin Horace on our way here, and he carried Ned off to Union. They had to hurry to catch a train, in order to be in time for some business matter in the city, I didn't understand what: so Ned couldn't wait to write the least bit of a note to tell you about it; and he told me to explain every thing to you, and say you were not to fret or worry, not even if he shouldn't get home to-night; for he might not be able to finish up the business in time for even the last train that would bring him."
The color had come back to Zoe's cheek, but her countenance was still distressed; and as Ella concluded, two scalding tears rolled quickly down her face, and plashed upon the small white hands lying clasped in her lap.
"Dear me!" said Ella, "how fond you are of him!"
"Yes," said Zoe, with a not very successful effort to smile through her tears: "who wouldn't be, in my place? I owe every thing to Ned, and he pets and indulges me to the greatest extent. Besides, he is so good, noble, and true, that any woman might be proud to be his wife."
"Yes: I admit every word of it; but all that doesn't explain your tears," returned Ella, half sympathizingly, half teasingly. "Now, I should have supposed that anybody who could boast of such a piece of perfection for a husband would be very happy."
"But I--we've hardly ever been separated over night," stammered Zoe, blushing rosy red; "and--and--O Ella! I hadn't a chance to say good-by to him, and--and you know accidents so often happen"--
She broke down with a burst of tears and sobs that quite dismayed her cousin.
"Why, Zoe, I'm afraid you cannot be well," she said. "Come, cheer up, and don't borrow trouble."
"I'm afraid I'm very silly, and have been making you very uncomfortable," said Zoe, hastily wiping away her tears, "and it's a great shame; particularly, considering that you have kindly come on purpose to help me through with a disagreeable task.
"I'll show you to your room now, if you like," she added, rising, "and try to behave myself better during the rest of your visit."
"Apologies are quite uncalled for," returned Ella lightly, as they went up-stairs together. "I have always had a good time at Ion, and don't believe this is going to be an exception to the general rule. But do you know," lowering her voice a little, "I don't propose to spend nearly all my time with that hateful Miss Deane. I never could bear her."
"Then, how good it was in you to come!" exclaimed Zoe gratefully. "But I should never have asked it of you, if I had thought you disliked her as well as I."
They were now in the room Ella was to occupy, and she was taking off her hat and cloak. "Oh, never mind! I was delighted to come anyhow," she answered gayly, as she threw aside the latter garment, and took possession of an easy-chair beside the open fire. "To tell you a secret," she went on laughingly, "I like my cousins Ned and Zoe Travilla immensely, and am always glad of an excuse to pay them a visit. But that Miss Deane,--oh! she's just too sweet for any thing!" making a grimace expressive of disgust and aversion, "and a consummate, incorrigible flirt: any one of the male sex can be made to serve her turn, from a boy of sixteen to a man of seventy-five."
"I think you are correct about that," said Zoe. "And, do you know, she is forever making covert sneers at my youth; and it's perfectly exasperating to me."
"Sour grapes," laughed Ella. "I wouldn't let it vex me in the least: it's all to hide her envy of you, because you are really young, and married too. I know very well she's dreadfully afraid of being called an old maid."
"I suspected as much," Zoe remarked. "But don't you think gentlemen are more apt to be pleased with her than ladies?"
"Yes: they don't see through her as her own sex do. And she is handsome, and certainly a brilliant talker. I'd give a good deal for conversational powers equal to hers."
"So would I," Zoe said, with an involuntary sigh.
Ella gave her a keen, inquiring look; and Zoe flushed hotly under it.
"Shall we go down now?" she asked. "It is nearly dinner-time; and we shall have to dine alone unless some one drops in unexpectedly," she added, as they left the room together, and passed down the stairs, arm in arm.
"If Arthur should, wouldn't it be a trial to Miss Deane to have to dine in her own room?" exclaimed Ella, with a gleeful laugh.
"Why, what do you mean?" asked Zoe, opening her eyes wide with surprise.
"That she would not have the slightest objection to becoming Mrs. Dr. Conly."
"But you don't think there's any danger?" queried Zoe, by no means pleased with the idea of having the lady in question made a member of the family connection.
"No, and I certainly hope not. It wouldn't be I that would want to call her sister," returned Ella emphatically.
"I should think Art had sufficient penetration to see through her," said Zoe. "But no; on second thoughts, I'm not so sure; for Ned will have it that it's more than half my imagination when I say she sneers at me."
"That's too bad," said Ella. "But Art is older than Ned by some years, and has probably had more opportunity to study character."
"Yes," replied Zoe, speaking with some hesitation, not liking to admit that any one was wiser than her husband, little as she was inclined to own herself in the wrong when he differed from her.