Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"Is there no constancy in earthly things? No happiness in us, but what must alter?"
Zoe drove over to the village in good season to meet the last train for that day, coming from the direction in which Edward had gone, ardently hoping he might be on board.
The carriage was brought to a stand-still near the depot; and she eagerly watched the arrival of the train, and scanned the little crowd of passengers who alighted from it.
But Edward was not among them, and now it was quite certain that she could not see him before another day.
Just as she reached that conclusion, a telegram was handed her:--
"Can't be home before to-morrow or next day. Will return as soon as possible. E. TRAVILLA."
To the girl-wife the message seemed but cold and formal. "So different from the way he talks to me when he is not vexed or displeased, as he hardly ever is," she whispered to herself with starting tears during the solitary drive back to Ion. "I know it's silly--telegrams can't be loving and kind: it wouldn't do, of course--but I can't help feeling as if he is angry with me, because there's not a bit of love in what he says. And, oh, dear! to think he may be away two nights, and I'm longing so to tell him how sorry I am for being so cross this morning, and before that, too, and to have him take me in his arms and kiss me, and say all is right between us, that I don't know how to wait a single minute!"
She reached home in a sad and tearful mood. Ella, however, proved so entertaining and mirth-provoking a companion, that the evening passed quickly, and by no means unpleasantly.
But when the two had retired to their respective apartments, Zoe felt very lonely, and said to herself that she would rather have Edward there, even silent and displeased, as he had been for several days past, than be without him.
Her last thought before falling asleep, and her first on awaking next morning, were of him.
"Oh, dear!" she sighed half aloud, as she opened her eyes, and glanced round the room, "what shall I do if he doesn't come to-day? I'll have to stand it, of course; but what does a woman do who has no husband?" And for the first time she began to feel some sympathy for Miss Deane, as a lonely maiden lady.
She thought a good deal about her unwelcome guest while attending to the duties of the toilet, and determined to treat her with all possible kindness during the remainder of her enforced stay at Ion. So, meeting, on her way to the breakfast-room, the old negress who had been given charge of Miss Deane through the night, she stopped her, and asked how her patient was.
"Jes' pow'ful cross dis hyar mawnin', Miss Zoe," was the reply, in a tone of disgust. "Dar isn't one ob de fambly dat would be makin' half de fuss ef dey'd sprained bofe dey's ankles. Doan ye go nigh her, honey, fear she bite yo' head off."
"Indeed I sha'n't, Aunt Phillis, if there's any danger of that," laughed Zoe. "But as she can't jump up and run after me, I think I shall be quite safe if I don't go within arm's-length of her sofa."
"She's pow'ful cross," repeated Aunt Phillis: "she done gone call dis chile up time an' again fru de night; an' when I ax her, 'Whar yo' misery at?' she say, 'In my ankle, ob c'ose, yo' ole fool you! Cayn't yo' hab nuff sense to change de dressin'?'"
"Who is that has been so polite and complimentary to you, Aunt Phillis?" cried a merry voice in their rear.
Ella was descending the stairway at whose foot they stood, as they perceived, on turning at the sound of her voice.
"Good-morning, cousin: how bright and well you are looking!" said Zoe.
"Just as I feel. And how are you, Mrs. Travilla? I trust you did not spend the night in crying over Ned's absence?" was the gay rejoinder.
"No, not nearly all of it," returned Zoe, catching her spirit of fun.
"Mawnin', Miss Ella," said the old nurse, dropping a courtesy. "'Twas de lady what sprain her foot yisteday I was talkin' bout to Miss Zoe."
"Ah! how is she?"
"I doan' t'ink she gwine die dis day, Miss Ella," laughed the nurse, "she so pow'ful cross; and dey do say folks is dat way when dey's gittin' bettah."
"Yes, I have always heard it was a hopeful sign, if not an agreeable one," Ella remarked, "Was that the breakfast-bell I heard just now?"
"Yes," said Zoe. "I hope you feel ready to do justice to your meal?"
As they seated themselves at the table, Zoe, glancing toward Edward's vacant chair, remarked, with a sigh, that it seemed very lonely to sit down without him.
"Well, now," said Ella, "I think it's quite nice to take a meal occasionally without the presence of anybody of the masculine gender."
"Perhaps that is because you have never been married," said Zoe.
"Perhaps so," returned her cousin, laughing; "yet I don't think that can be all that ails me, for I have heard married women express the same opinion quite frequently. What shall we do with ourselves to-day, Zoe? I've no notion of devoting myself exclusively to Miss Deane's entertainment, especially if she is really as cross as reported."
"No, indeed! I couldn't bear to let you, even if you were willing," replied Zoe with decision. "I consented to your taking my place in that, only because I supposed you found her agreeable; while to me she is any thing else."
"Suppose we call on her together, after a little, and let the length of our stay depend upon the enjoyment our presence seems to afford her," suggested Ella.
"Agreed," said Zoe. "Then I will supply her with plenty of reading-matter, which, as she professes to be so very intellectual, ought to entertain her far better than we can. Shall we ride after that?"
"Yes, and take a promenade on the verandas. We'll have to take our exercise in those ways, as the roads are not yet fit for walking."
"Yes," said Zoe; "but I hope that by afternoon they will be good enough for driving; as I mean to drive over to the depot to meet the late train, hoping to find Ned on it."
"Don't expect him till to-morrow," said Ella.
"Why not?" queried Zoe, looking as if she could hardly endure the thought.
"Because, in that case, your disappointment, if you have one, will be agreeable."
"Yes; but, on the other hand, I should lose all the enjoyment of looking forward through the whole day, to seeing him this evening. Following your plan, I shouldn't have half so happy a day as if I keep to my own."
"Ah! that's an entirely new view of the case," Ella said in her merry, laughing tones.
Miss Deane did not seem to enjoy their society, and they soon withdrew from her room; Zoe having done all in her power to provide her with every comfort and amusement available in her case.
"I'm glad that's over," sighed Zoe, when they were alone again. "And now for our ride, if you are ready, Ella. I ordered my pony for myself, and mamma's for you; and I see they are at the door."
"Then let us don our riding-habits, and be off at once," said Ella.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as they cantered down the avenue.
"To the village, if you like. I want to call at the post-office."
"In hopes of finding a note from Ned, I suppose. I don't believe there can be one there that would bring you later news than yesterday's telegram. But I have no objection to making sure, and would as soon ride in that direction as any other."
Nothing from Edward was found at the office; and the young wife seemed much disappointed, till Ella suggested that that looked as if he expected to be at home before night.
It was a cheering idea to Zoe: she brightened up at once, and in the afternoon drove over the same road, feeling almost certain Edward would be on the incoming train, due about the time she would reach the village, or rather at the time she had planned to be there. Ella, who had asked to accompany her, was slow with her dressing, taxing Zoe's patience pretty severely by thus causing ten minutes' detention.
"Come, now, don't be worried: it won't kill Ned to have to wait ten or fifteen minutes," she said laughingly, as she stepped into the carriage, and seated herself by Zoe's side.
"No, I dare say not," returned the latter, trying to speak with perfect pleasantness of tone and manner; "and he isn't one of the impatient ones, who can never bear to be kept waiting a minute, like myself," she added with a smile. "Now, Uncle Ben, drive pretty fast, so that we won't be so very far behind time."
"Fas' as I kin widout damagin' de hosses, Miss Zoe," answered the old coachman. "Marso Ed'ard allus tole me be keerful ob dem, and de roads am putty bad sence de big storm."
Zoe glanced at her watch as they entered the village. "Drive directly to the depot, Uncle Ben," she said. "It's fully fifteen minutes past the time for the train to be in."
"I ain't heard de whistle, Miss Zoe," he remarked, as he turned his horses' heads in the desired direction.
"No, nor have I," said Ella; "and we ought to have heard it fully five minutes before it got in. There may have been a detention. That is nothing very unusual," she hastened to add, as she saw that Zoe had suddenly grown very pale.
The carriage drew up before the door of the depot; and the girls leaned from its windows, sending eager, searching glances from side to side, and up and down the track.
No train was in sight, and the depot seemed strangely silent and deserted.
"Oh!" cried Zoe, "what can be the matter?"
"I suppose the train must have got in some time ago,--perhaps before we left Ion," replied Ella, in a re-assuring tone; "and all the passengers have dispersed to their homes, or wherever they were going."
"No, there could not have been time for all that," Zoe responded, in accents full of anxiety and alarm.
"Our watches may be much too slow," suggested Ella, trying to re-assure both herself and her cousin, yet trembling with apprehension as she spoke.
"No, it isn't possible that they and all the timepieces in the house could be so far from correct," said Zoe despairingly.
"Dar doan' 'pear to be nobody 'bout dis hyar depot," remarked Uncle Ben reflectively; "but I reckon dar's somebody comin' to 'splain de mattah. Wha's de 'casion ob dis mos' onusual state ob t'ings?" he added, as a woman, who been watching the carriage and its occupants, the open door of a neighboring house, came miming in their direction.
"What de mattah, Aunt Rhoda?" he queried, as she reached the side of the vehicle, almost breathless with excitement and exertion.
"Why, Uncle Ben, dar--dar's been a accident to de kyars, dey say, an' dey's all broke up, and de folks roun' here is all"--
"Where? where?" exclaimed Ella, while Zoe sank back against the cushions, quite unable to speak for the moment.
"Dunno, Miss," was the reply; "but," pointing up the road, "it's out dat way, 'bout a mile, I reckon. Yo see, de kyars was a comin' fas' dis way, and 'nudder ole injine whiskin' 'long dat way, and dey bofe comes togedder wid a big crash, breakin' de kyars, and de injines bofe of em, till dey's good for nuffin' but kin'lin' wood; and de folks what's ridin' in de kyars is all broke up too, dey says; and de doctahs and body"--
"Edward!" gasped Zoe. "Drive us there, Uncle Ben, drive with all your might! O Edward, my husband, my husband!" and she burst into hysterical weeping.
Ella threw her arms about her. "Don't, dear Zoe, oh, don't cry so! He may not be hurt. He may not have been on that train at all."
Ben had already turned and whipped up his horses, and now they dashed along the road at a furious rate.
Zoe dropped her head on Ella's shoulder, answering only with tears and sobs and moans, till the carriage came to a sudden stand-still.
"We's got dar, Miss Zoe," said Uncle Ben, in a subdued tone full of grief and sympathy.
She lifted her head; and her eye instantly fell upon a little group, scarcely a yard distant, consisting of several men, among whom she recognized Dr. Conly, gathered about an apparently insensible form lying on the ground.
Ella and Ben saw it too. She suddenly caught the reins from his hands: he sprang from the carriage, and, lifting Zoe in his strong arms as if she had been but a child, set her on her feet, and supported her to the side of the prostrate man; the little crowd respectfully making way for her, at the words spoken by Ben in a voice half choked with emotion, "Hit's Marse Ed'ard's wife, gen'lemen."
It was Edward lying there motionless, and with a face like that of a corpse.
With an agonized cry, Zoe dropped on her knees at his side, and pressed her lips passionately to his.
There was no response, no movement, not the quiver of an eyelid; and she lifted her grief-stricken face to that of the doctor, with a look of anguished inquiry in the beautiful eyes fit to move a heart of stone.
"I do not despair of him yet, dear cousin Zoe," Arthur said in a low, moved tone. "I lave found no external injury, and it may be that he is only stunned."
The words had scarcely left his lips when Edward drew a sighing breath, and opened his eyes, glancing up into Zoe's face bending over Mm in deepest, tenderest solicitude.
"Ah, love! is it you?" he murmured faintly, and with a smile. "Where am I? What has happened?"
"O Ned! dear, dear Ned! I thought you were killed!" she sobbed, covering his face with kisses and tears.
"There has been an accident, and you got a blow that stunned you," answered the doctor; "but I think you are all right now, or will be soon."
"An accident!" Edward repeated, with a bewildered look, and putting his hand to his head. "What was it?"
"A collision on the railroad," Arthur said. "There is an ambulance here: I think I will put you in it, and have you taken home at once. 'Tis only a few miles, and not a rough road."
"Yes, yes: home is much the best place," he sighed, again putting his hand to his head.
"Are you in pain?" asked Arthur.
"Not much, but I feel strangely confused. I should like to be taken home as soon as possible. But not to the neglect of any one who may have been more seriously hurt than I," he added, feebly raising his head to look about him.
"There are none such," Arthur answered. "You perhaps remember that the cars were nearly empty of passengers: no lives were lost and no one, I think, worse hurt than yourself."
"And I?" returned Edward, in a tone of inquiry.
"Have escaped without any broken bones, and I trust will be all right in a few days."
"O Ned! how glad I am it is no worse!" sobbed Zoe, clinging to his hand, while the tears rolled fast down her cheeks.
"Yes, little wife," he said, gazing lovingly into her eyes.
"There, I positively forbid any more talking," said Arthur, with a mixture of authority and playfulness. "Here is the ambulance. Help me to lift him in, men," to the by-standers. "And you, cousin Zoe, get into your carriage, and drive on behind it, or ahead if you choose."
"Can't I ride in the ambulance beside him?" she asked, almost imploringly.
"No, no: you will both be more comfortable In doing as I have directed."
"Then, please go with him yourself," she entreated.
"I shall do so, certainly," he answered, motioning her away, then stooping to assist the others in lifting the injured man.
Zoe would not stir till she had seen Edward put into the ambulance, and made as comfortable for his ride home as circumstances would permit. Then, as the vehicle moved slowly off, she hurried to her carriage.
Ben helped her in, sprang into his own seat, and, as he took the reins from Ella, Zoe gave the order, "Home now, Uncle Ben, keeping as close behind the ambulance as you can."
"Oh, don't, Zoe! you oughtn't to!" expostulated Ella, perceiving that her cousin was crying violently behind her veil. "I don't think Ned is very badly hurt. Didn't you hear Arthur say so?"
"He only expressed such a hope: he didn't say certainly," sobbed Zoe. "And when people are in danger, doctors always try to hide it from their friends."
"Arthur is perfectly truthful," asserted Ella, with some warmth. "He may keep his opinions to himself at times, but he never builds people up with false hopes. So cheer up, coz," she added, squeezing Zoe's hand affectionately.
"I know that what you say of cousin Arthur is all true," sobbed Zoe; "but I could see he had fears as well as hopes: and--and--Ned doesn't seem a bit like himself; he has such a dazed look, as if not quite in his right mind."
"But he knew you and Art; and it is to be expected that a man would feel dazed after such a shock as he must have had."
"Yes, of course. Oh, I'm afraid he's dreadfully, dreadfully hurt, and will never get over it!"
"Still," returned Ella, "try to hope for the best. Don't you think that is the wiser plan always?"
"I suppose so," said Zoe, laughing and crying hysterically; "but I can't be wise to-night; indeed, I never can."