Chapter VII.
 
"Alone! alone! how drear it is
Always to be alone!"

WILLES

It was only a few days after Adelaide had suggested to her brother the propriety of separating Elsie from her nurse, that he had the offer of a very fine estate in the immediate neighborhood of his father's plantation.

Mr. Granville, the present owner, was about removing to a distant part of the country, and having become somewhat reduced in circumstances, was anxious to sell, and as the place suited Mr. Dinsmore exactly, they were not long in coming to an arrangement, satisfactory to both, by which it passed into his hands.

Horace Dinsmore had inherited a large fortune from his mother, and having plenty of money at his command, he immediately set about making sundry improvements upon his new purchase; laying out the grounds, and repairing and enlarging the already fine old mansion, adding all the modern conveniences, and furnishing it in the most tasteful and elegant style.

And so "Rumor, with her thousand tongues," soon had it noised abroad that he was about to bring home a second wife, and to that cause many attributed Elsie's pale and altered looks.

Such, however, was not Mr. Dinsmore's intention.

"I must have a housekeeper," he said to Adelaide. "I shall send Chloe there. She will do very well for the present, and it will give me the opportunity I desire of separating her from Elsie, while in the meantime I can be looking out for a better."

"But you are not going to leave us yourself, Horace?" said his sister inquiringly.

"Not immediately, Adelaide; I intend to end this controversy with Elsie first, and I indulge the hope that the prospect of sharing such a home with me as soon as she submits, will go far towards subduing her."

Mr. Dinsmore shrank from the thought of Elsie's grief, if forced to part from her nurse; but he was not a man to let his own feelings, or those of others, prevent him from carrying out any purpose he had formed, if, as in this case, he could persuade himself that he was doing right. And so--all his arrangements being now made--the very morning after his late interview with Elsie, Chloe was summoned to his presence.

He informed her of his purchase, and that it was his intention to send her there to take charge of his house and servants, for the present.

Chloe, who was both extremely surprised and highly flattered by this proof of her young master's confidence, looked very much delighted, as, with a low courtesy, she expressed her thanks, and her willingness to undertake the charge. But a sudden thought struck her, and she asked anxiously if "her child" was to go with her.

Mr. Dinsmore said "No," very decidedly; and when Chloe told him that that being the case, she would much rather stay where she was, if he would let her, he said she could not have any choice in the matter; she must go, and Elsie must stay.

Chloe burst into an agony of tears and sobs, begging to know why she was to be separated from the child she had loved and cherished ever since her birth; the child committed to her charge by her dying mother? What had she done to so displease her master, that he had determined to subject her to such a bitter trial?

Mr. Dinsmore was a good deal moved by her grief, but still not to be turned from his purpose. He merely waited until she had grown somewhat calmer, and then, in a tone of great kindness, but with much firmness and decision, replied, "that he was not angry with her; that he knew she had been very faithful in her kind care of his wife and child, and he should always take care of her, and see that she was made comfortable as long as she lived; but, for reasons which he did not think necessary to explain, he considered it best to separate her from Elsie for a time; he knew it would be hard for them both, but it must be done, and tears and entreaties would be utterly useless; she must prepare to go to her new home that very afternoon."

So saying he dismissed her, and she went back to Elsie's room wellnigh heart-broken; and there the little girl found her when she came in from school duties, sitting beside the trunk she had just finished packing, crying and sobbing as she had never seen her before.

"Oh, mammy, mammy! what is the matter? dear old mammy, what ails you?" she asked, running to her, and throwing her arms around her neck.

Chloe clasped her to her breast, sobbing out that she must leave her. "Massa Horace was going to send her away from her precious child."

Elsie was fairly stunned by the announcement, and for a moment could not speak one word. To be separated from her beloved nurse who had always taken care of her!--who seemed almost necessary to her existence. It was such a calamity as even her worst fears had never suggested, for they never had been parted, even for a single day; but wherever the little girl went, if to stay more than a few hours, her faithful attendant had always accompanied her, and she had never thought of the possibility of doing without her.

She unclasped her arms from Chloe's neck, disengaging herself from her loving grasp, stood for a moment motionless and silent; then, suddenly sinking down upon her nurse's lap, again wound her arms about her neck, and hid her face on her bosom, sobbing wildly: "Oh, mammy, mammy! you shall not go! Stay with me, mammy! I've nobody to love me now but you, and my heart will break if you leave me. Oh, mammy, say that you won't go!"

Chloe could not speak, but she took the little form again in her arms, and pressed it to her bosom in a close and fond embrace, while they mingled their tears and sobs together.

But Elsie started up suddenly.

"I will go to papa!" she exclaimed; "I will beg him on my knees to let you stay! I will tell him it will kill me to be parted from my dear old mammy."

"'Tain't no use, darlin'! Massa Horace, he say I must go; an' you know what dat means, well as I do," said Chloe, shaking her head mournfully; "he won't let me stay, nohow."

"But I must try, mammy," Elsie answered, moving toward the door. "I think papa loves me a little yet, and maybe he will listen."

But she met a servant in the hall who told her that her father had gone out, and that she heard him say he would not return before tea-time.

And Chloe was to go directly after dinner; so there was no hope of a reprieve, nothing to do but submit as best they might to the sad necessity of parting; and Elsie went back to her room again, to spend the little time that remained in her nurse's arms, sobbing out her bitter grief upon her breast. It was indeed a hard, hard trial to them both; yet neither uttered one angry or complaining word against Mr. Dinsmore.

Fanny, one of the maids, brought up Elsie's dinner, but she could not eat. Chloe's appetite, too, had failed entirely; so they remained locked in each other's embrace until Jim came to the door to tell Chloe the carriage was waiting which was to convey her to her new home.

Once more she strained her nursling to her breast, sobbing out the words: "Good-by, darlin'! de good Lord bless an' keep you forebber an' ebber, an' nebber leave you alone."

"Oh, mammy, mammy, don't leave me!" almost shrieked the child, clinging to her with a convulsive grasp.

"Don't now, darlin'! don't go for to break dis ole heart! You knows I must go," said Chloe, gently disengaging herself. "We'll ask de Lord to bring us together again soon, dear chile, an' I think he will 'fore long," she whispered in Elsie's ear; and with another fond caress she left her all drowned in tears, and half fainting with grief.

An hour might have passed--it seemed longer than that to Elsie--when the door opened, and she started up from the sofa, where she had flung herself in the first abandonment of her sorrow. But it was only Fanny, come to tell her that Jim had brought her horse to the door, and to prepare her for her ride.

She quietly submitted to being dressed; but, ah! how strange it seemed to have any other than Chloe's hands busy about her! It swelled her young heart wellnigh to bursting, though Fanny, who evidently understood her business well, was very kind and attentive, and full of unobtrusive sympathy and love for her young charge.

The brisk ride in the fresh air did Elsie good, and she returned quite calm and composed, though still very sad.

Fanny was in waiting to arrange her dress again, and when that was done, went down to bring up her supper. It was more tempting than usual, but Elsie turned from it with loathing.

"Do, Miss Elsie, please do try to eat a little," urged Fanny, with tears in her eyes. "What will Massa Horace say if he axes me 'bout your eatin' an' I'm 'bliged to tell him you didn't eat never a mouthful of dinner, an' likewise not the first crumb of your supper?"

That, as Fanny well knew, was a powerful argument with Elsie, who, dreading nothing so much as her father's displeasure, which was sure to be excited by such a report of her conduct, sat down at once and did her best to make a substantial meal.

Fanny was not more than half satisfied with the result of her efforts; but seeing it was useless to press her any further, silently cleared away the tea-things and carried them down-stairs, and Elsie was left alone.

Alone! She looked around upon the familiar furniture with a strange feeling of desolation; an over-powering sense of loneliness came over her; she missed the dear face that had been familiar to her from her earliest infancy, and had ever looked so lovingly upon her; the kind arms wont to fold her in a fond embrace to that heart ever beating with such true, unalterable affection for her; that breast, where she might ever lean her aching head, and pour out all her sorrows, sure of sympathy and comfort.

She could not stay there, but passing quickly out on to the balcony upon which the windows of her room opened, she stood leaning against the railing, her head resting upon the top of it, and the silent tears dropping one by one upon the floor.

"Oh, mammy, mammy!" she murmured half aloud, "why did you leave your poor heart-broken child? How can I live without you--without any one to love me?"

"Elsie," said Mr. Dinsmore's voice, close at her side, "I suppose you think me a very cruel father thus to separate you from your nurse. Is it not so?"

"Papa, dear papa, don't say that," she cried with a burst of sobs and tears, as she turned hastily round, and taking his hand in both of hers, looked up pleadingly into his face. "I know you have a right to do it, papa; I know I belong to you, and you have a right to do as you will with me, and I will try to submit without murmuring, but I cannot help feeling sad, and shedding some tears."

"I am not blaming you for crying now; it is quite excusable under the circumstances," he replied in a slightly softened tone, adding, "I take no pleasure in causing you sorrow, Elsie; and though I have sent away your nurse, I have provided you with another servant, who will, I think, be respectful and kind, and attentive to all your wishes. If she is not, you have only to complain to me, and she shall be at once removed, and her place supplied by another. And I have good reasons for what I am doing. You have resisted my authority for a long time now, and I must try the effect of placing you under new influences. I fear Chloe has, at least tacitly, encouraged you in your rebellion, and therefore I intend to keep you apart until you have learned to be submissive and obedient."

"Dear papa," replied the little girl meekly, "you wrong poor mammy, if you think she would ever uphold me in disobedience to you; for on the contrary, she has always told me that I ought, on all occasions, to yield a ready and cheerful obedience to every command, or even wish of yours, unless it was contrary to the word of God."

"There! that is just it!" said he, interrupting her with a frown; "she and Mrs. Murray have brought you up to believe that you and they are wiser and more capable of interpreting the Bible, and deciding questions of right and wrong, than your father; and that is precisely the notion that I am determined to get out of your head."

She opened her lips to reply, but bidding her be silent, he turned to leave her; but she clung to him, looking beseechingly up into his face.

"Well," he said, "what is it--what do you want?"

She struggled for utterance.

"Oh, papa!" she sobbed, "I feel so sad and lonely to-night--will you not sit down a little while and take me on your knee?--my heart aches so to lay my head against you just for one moment. Oh, papa, dear papa, will you not let me--will you not kiss me once, just once? You know I am all alone!--all alone!"

He could not resist her pleading looks and piteous accents. A tear trembled in his eye, and hastily seating himself, he drew her to his knee, folded her for an instant in his arms, laid her head against his breast, kissed her lips, her brow, her cheek; and then putting her from him, without speaking a word, walked quickly away.

Elsie stood for a moment where he had left her, then sinking on her knees before the sofa, whence he had just risen, she laid her head down upon it, weeping and sobbing most bitterly, "Oh! papa, papa! oh, mammy, mammy, dear, dear mammy! you are all gone, all gone! and I am alone! alone! all alone!--nobody to love me--nobody to speak to me. Oh, mammy! Oh, papa! come back, come back to me--to your poor little Elsie, for my heart is breaking."

Alas! that caress, so earnestly pleaded for, had only by contrast increased her sense of loneliness and desolation. But in the midst of her bitter grief a loving, gentle voice came to her ear, whispering in sweetest tones, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." "When thy father and thy mother forsake thee, I, the Lord, will take thee up." "I will deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee." And the sobs were hushed--the tears flowed more quietly, until at length they ceased altogether, and the little sorrowing one fell asleep.

"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted."