Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley
"The morning blush was lighted up by hope-- The hope of meeting him." --Miss LANDON. "Unkindness, do thy office; poor heart, break."
A week had now passed away since Miss Allison's departure, and Elsie, to whom it had been a sad and lonely one, was beginning to look eagerly for her first letter.
"It is just a week to-day since Rose left," remarked Adelaide at the breakfast table, "and I think we ought to hear from her soon. She promised to write on her journey. Ah! here comes Pomp with the letters now," she added, as the servant man entered the room bearing in his hand the bag in which he always brought the letters of the family from the office in the neighboring city, whither he was sent every morning.
"Pomp, you are late this morning," said Mrs. Dinsmore.
"Yes, missus," replied the negro, scratching his head, "de horses am berry lazy; spec dey's got de spring fever."
"Do make haste, papa, and see if there is not one from Rose," said Adelaide coaxingly, as her father took the bag, and very deliberately adjusted his spectacles before opening it.
"Have patience, young lady," said he. "Yes, here is a letter for you, and one for Elsie," tossing them across the table as he spoke.
Elsie eagerly seized hers and ran away to her own room to read it. It was a feast to her, this first letter, and from such a dear friend, too. It gave her almost as much pleasure for the moment as Miss Rose's presence could have afforded.
She had just finished its perusal and was beginning it again, when she heard Adelaide's voice calling her by name, and the next moment she entered the room, saying: "Well, Elsie, I suppose you have read your letter; and now I have another piece of news for you. Can you guess what it is?" she asked, looking at her with a strange smile.
"Oh! no, Aunt Adelaide; please tell me. Is dear Miss Rose coming back?"
"O! nonsense; what a guess!" said Adelaide. "No, stranger than that. My brother Horace--your papa--has actually sailed for America, and is coming directly home."
Elsie sprang up, her cheeks flushed, and her little heart beating wildly.
"O Aunt Adelaide!" she cried, "is it really true? is he coming? and will he be here soon?"
"He has really started at last; but how soon he will be here I don't know," replied her aunt, turning to leave the room. "I have told you all I know about it."
Elsie clasped her hands together, and sank down upon a sofa, Miss Rose's letter, prized so highly a moment before, lying unheeded at her feet; for her thoughts were far away, following that unknown parent as he crossed the ocean; trying to imagine how he would look, how he would speak, what would be his feelings toward her.
"Oh!" she asked, with a beating heart, "will he love me? My own papa! will he let me love him? will he take me in his arms and call me his own darling child?"
But who could answer the anxious inquiry? She must just wait until the slow wheels of time should bring the much longed-for, yet sometimes half-dreaded arrival.
Elsie's lessons were but indifferently recited that morning, and Miss Day frowned, and said in a tone of severity that it did not agree with her to receive letters; and that, unless she wished her papa to be much displeased with her on his expected arrival, she must do a great deal better than that.
She had touched the right chord then; for Elsie, intensely anxious to please that unknown father, and, if possible, gain his approbation and affection, gave her whole mind to her studies with such a determined purpose that the governess could find no more cause for complaint.
But while the child is looking forward to the expected meeting with such longing affection for him, how is it with the father?
Horace Dinsmore was, like his father, an upright, moral man, who paid an outward respect to the forms of religion, but cared nothing for the vital power of godliness; trusted entirely to his morality, and looked upon Christians as hypocrites and deceivers. He had been told that his little Elsie was one of these, and, though he would not have acknowledged it even to himself, it had prejudiced him against her. Then, too, in common with all the Dinsmores, he had a great deal of family pride; and, though old Mr. Grayson had been a man of sterling worth, intelligent, honest, and pious, and had died very wealthy, yet because he was known to have begun life as a poor boy, the whole family were accustomed to speak as though Horace had stooped very much in marrying his heiress.
And Horace himself had come to look upon his early marriage as a piece of boyish folly, of which he was rather ashamed; and so constantly had Mr. Dinsmore spoken in his letters of Elsie as "old Grayson's grandchild," that he had got into the habit of looking upon her as a kind of disgrace to him; especially as she had always been described to him as a disagreeable, troublesome child.
He had loved his wife with all the warmth of his passionate nature, and had mourned bitterly over her untimely death; but years of study, travel and worldly pleasures had almost banished her image from his mind, and he seldom thought of her except in connection with the child for whom he felt a secret dislike.
Scarcely anything but the expected arrival was now spoken or thought of at Roselands, and Elsie was not the only one to whom old Time seemed to move with an unusually laggard pace.
But at length a letter came telling them that they might look upon it as being but one day in advance of its writer; and now all was bustle and preparation.
"O mammy, mammy!" exclaimed Elsie, jumping up and down, and clapping her hands for joy, as she came in from her afternoon ride, "just think! papa, dear papa, will be here to-morrow morning."
She seemed wild with delight; but suddenly sobered down, and a look of care stole over the little face, as the torturing question recurred to her mind, "Will he love me?"
She stood quite still, with her eyes fixed thoughtfully, and almost sadly, upon the floor, while Chloe took off her riding dress and cap and smoothed her hair. As she finished arranging her dress she clasped the little form in her arms, and pressed a fond kiss on the fair brow, thinking to herself that was the sweetest and loveliest little face she had ever looked upon.
Just at that moment an unusual bustle was heard in the house.
Elsie started, changed color, and stood listening with a throbbing heart.
Presently little feet were heard running rapidly down the hall, and Walter, throwing open the door, called out, "Elsie, he's come!" and catching her hand, hurried her along to the parlor door.
"Stop, stop, Walter," she gasped as they reached it; and she leaned against the wall, her heart throbbing so wildly she could scarcely breathe.
"What is the matter?" said he, "are you ill? come along;" and pushing the door open, he rushed in, dragging her after him.
So over-wrought were the child's feelings that she nearly fainted; everything in the room seemed to be turning round, and for an instant she scarcely knew where she was.
But a strange voice asked, "And who is this?" and looking up as her grandfather pronounced her name, she saw a stranger standing before her--very handsome, and very youthful-looking, in spite of a heavy dark beard and mustache--who exclaimed hastily, "What! this great girl my child? really it is enough to make a man feel old."
Then, taking her hand, he stooped and coldly kissed her lips.
She was trembling violently, and the very depth of her feelings kept her silent and still; her hand lay still in his, cold and clammy.
He held it an instant, at the same time gazing searchingly into her face; then dropped it, saying in a tone of displeasure, "I am not an ogre, that you need be so afraid of me; but there, you may go; I will not keep you in terror any longer."
She rushed away to her own room, and there, throwing herself upon the bed, wept long and wildly. It was the disappointment of a lifelong hope. Since her earliest recollection she had looked and longed for this hour; and it seemed as though the little heart would break with its weight of bitter anguish.
She was all alone, for Chloe had gone down to the kitchen to talk over the arrival, not doubting that her darling was supremely happy in the possession of her long looked-for parent.
And so the little girl lay there with her crushed and bleeding heart, sobbing, mourning, weeping as though she would weep her very life away, without an earthly friend to speak one word of comfort.
"O papa, papa!" she sobbed, "my own papa, you do not love me; me, your own little girl. Oh! my heart will break. O mamma, mamma! if I could only go to you; for there is no one here to love me, and I am so lonely, oh! so lonely and desolate."
And thus Chloe found her, when she came in an hour later, weeping and sobbing out such broken exclamations of grief and anguish.
She was much surprised, but comprehending at once how her child was suffering, she raised her up in her strong arms, and laying the little head lovingly against her bosom, she smoothed the tangled hair, kissed the tear-swollen eyes, and bathed the throbbing temples, saying, "My precious pet, my darlin' chile, your ole mammy loves you better dan life; an' did my darlin' forget de almighty Friend dat says, I have loved thee with an everlasting love,' an' 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee'? He sticks closer dan a brudder, precious chile, and says,'though a woman forget her sucking child, He will not forget His chillen.' Mothers love dere chillens better dan fathers, darlin', and so you see Jesus' love is better dan all other love; and I knows you hes got dat."
"O mammy! ask Him to take me to Himself, and to mamma--for oh! I am very lonely, and I want to die!"
"Hush, hush, darlin'; old Chloe nebber could ask dat; dis ole heart would break for sure. Yous all de world to your old mammy, darlin'; and you know we must all wait de Lord's time."
"Then ask Him to help me to be patient," she said, in a weary tone. "And O mammy!" she added, with a burst of bitter tears, "ask Him to make my father love me."
"I will, darlin', I will," sobbed Chloe, pressing the little form closer to her heart; "an' don't you go for to be discouraged right away; for I'se sure Massa Horace must love you, fore long."
The tea-bell rang, and the family gathered about the table; but one chair remained unoccupied.
"Where is Miss Elsie?" asked Adelaide of one of the servants.
"Dunno, missus," was the reply.
"Well, then, go and see," said Adelaide; "perhaps she did not hear the bell."
The servant returned in a moment, saying that Miss Elsie had a bad headache and did not want any supper. Mr. Horace Dinsmore paused in the conversation he was carrying on with his father, to listen to the servant's announcement. "I hope she is not a sickly child," said he, addressing Adelaide; "is she subject to such attacks?"
"Not very," replied his sister dryly, for she had seen the meeting, and felt really sorry for Elsie's evident disappointment; "I imagine crying has brought this on."
He colored violently, and said in a tone of great displeasure, "Truly, the return of a parent is a cause for grief; yet I hardly expected my presence to be quite so distressing to my only child. I had no idea that she had already learned to dislike me so thoroughly."
"She doesn't," said Adelaide, "she has been looking and longing for your return ever since I have known her."
"Then she has certainly been disappointed in me; her grief is not at all complimentary, explain it as you will."
Adelaide made no reply, for she saw that he was determined to put an unfavorable construction upon Elsie's conduct, and feared that any defence she could offer would only increase his displeasure.
It was a weary, aching head the little girl laid upon her pillow that night, and the little heart was sad and sore; yet she was not altogether comfortless, for she had turned in her sorrow to Him who has said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," and she had the sweet assurance of His love and favor.
It was with a trembling heart, hoping yet fearing, longing and yet dreading to see her father, that Elsie descended to the breakfast- room the next morning. She glanced timidly around, but he was not there.
"Where is papa, Aunt Adelaide?" she asked.
"He is not coming down to breakfast, as he feels quite fatigued with his journey," replied her aunt; "so you will not see him this morning, and perhaps not at all to-day, for there will be a good deal of company here this afternoon and evening."
Elsie sighed, and looked sadly disapponted. She found it very difficult to attend to her lessons that morning, and every time the door opened she started and looked up, half hoping it might be her papa.
But he did not come; and when the dinner hour arrived, the children were told that they were to dine in the nursery, on account of the large number of guests to be entertained in the dining-room. The company remained until bedtime; she was not called down to the parlor; and so saw nothing of her father that day.
But the next morning Chloe told her the children were to breakfast with the family, as all the visitors had left excepting one or two gentlemen. So Elsie went down to the breakfast-room, where, to her surprise, she found her papa sitting alone, reading the morning paper.
He looked up as she entered.
"Good-morning, papa," she said, in half-trembling tones.
He started a little--for it was the first time he had ever been addressed by that title, and it sounded strange to his ears--gave her a glance of mingled curiosity and interest, half held out his hand, but drawing it back again, simply said, "Good-morning, Elsie," and returned to his paper.
Elsie stood irresolutely in the middle of the floor, wanting, yet not daring to go to him.
But just at that instant the door opened, and Enna, looking rosy and happy, came running in, and rushing up to her brother, climbed upon his knee, and put her arms around his neck, saying, "Good- morning, brother Horace. I want a kiss."
"You shall have it, little pet," said he, throwing down his paper.
Then, kissing her several times and hugging her in his arms, he said, "You are not afraid of me, are you? nor sorry that I have come home?"
"No, indeed," said Enna.
He glanced at Elsie as she stood looking at them, her large soft eyes full of tears. She could not help feeling that Enna had her place, and was receiving the caresses that should have been lavished upon herself.
"Jealous," thought her father; "I cannot bear jealous people;" and he gave her a look of displeasure that cut her to the heart, and she turned quickly away and left the room to hide the tears she could no longer keep back.
"I am envious," she thought, "jealous of Enna. Oh! how wicked!" And she prayed silently, "Dear Saviour, help me! take away these sinful feelings."
Young as she was, she was learning to have some control over her feelings, and in a few moments she had so far recovered her composure as to be able to return to the breakfast-room and take her place at the table, where the rest were already seated, her sweet little face sad indeed and bearing the traces of tears, but quite calm and peaceful.
Her father took no further notice of her, and she did not dare trust herself to look at him. The servants filled her plate, and she ate in silence, feeling it a great relief that all were too busily engaged in talking and eating to pay any attention to her. She scarcely raised her eyes from her plate, and did not know how often a strange gentleman, who sat nearly opposite, fixed his upon her.
As she left the room at the conclusion of the meal, he asked, while following her with his eyes, "Is that one of your sisters, Dinsmore?"
"No," said he, coloring slightly; "she is my daughter."
"Ah, indeed!" said his friend. "I remember to have heard that you had a child, but had forgotten it. Well, you have no reason to be ashamed of her; she is lovely, perfectly lovely! has the sweetest little face I ever saw."
"Will you ride, Travilla?" asked Mr. Dinsmore hastily, as though anxious to change the subject.
"I don't care if I do," was the reply, and they went out together.
Some hours later in the day Elsie was at the piano in the music- room practising, when a sudden feeling that some one was in the room caused her to turn and look behind her.
Mr. Travilla was standing there.
"Excuse me," said he, bowing politely, "but I heard the sound of the instrument, and, being very fond of music, I ventured to walk in."
Elsie was very modest, and rather timid, too, but also very polite; so she said, "No excuse is necessary; but will you not take a seat, sir? though I fear my music will not afford you any pleasure, for you know I am only a little girl, and cannot play very well yet."
"Thank you," said he, taking a seat by her side. "And now will you do me the favor to repeat the song I heard you singing a few moments since?"
Elsie immediately complied, though her cheeks burned, and her voice trembled at first from embarrassment; but it grew stronger as she proceeded and in the last verse was quite steady and full. She had a very fine voice for a child of her age; its sweetness was remarkable both in singing and speaking; and she had also a good deal of musical talent, which had been well cultivated, for she had had good teachers, and had practised with great patience and perseverance. Her music was simple, as suited her years, but her performance of it was very good indeed.
Mr. Travilla thanked her very heartily, and complimented her singing; then asked for another and another song, another and another piece, chatting with her about each, until they grew quite familiar, and Elsie lost all feeling of embarrassment.
"Elsie, I think, is your name, is it not?" he asked after a little.
"Yes, sir," said she, "Elsie Dinsmore."
"And you are the daughter of my friend, Mr. Horace Dinsmore?"
"Your papa has been absent a long time, and I suppose you must have quite forgotten him."
"No, sir, not forgotten, for I never had seen him."
"Indeed!" said he, in a tone of surprise; "then, since he is an entire stranger to you, I suppose you cannot have much affection for him?"
Elsie raised her large, dark eyes to his face, with an expression of astonishment. "Not love papa, my own dear papa, who has no child but me? Oh! sir, how could you think that?"
"Ah! I see I was mistaken," said he, smiling; "I thought you could hardly care for him at all; but do you think that he loves you?"
Elsie dropped her face into her hands, and burst into an agony of tears.
The young gentleman looked extremely vexed with himself.
"My poor little girl, my poor, dear little girl," he said, stroking her hair, "forgive me. I am very, very sorry for my thoughtless question. Do be comforted, my poor child, for whether your papa loves you now or not, I am quite sure he soon will."
Elsie now dried her tears, rose and closed the instrument. He assisted her, and then asked if she would not take a little walk with him in the garden. She complied, and, feeling really very sorry for the wound he had so thoughtlessly inflicted, as well as interested in his little companion, he exerted all his powers to entertain her--talked with her about the plants and flowers, described those he had seen in foreign lands, and related incidents of travel, usually choosing those in which her father had borne a part, because he perceived that they were doubly interesting to her.
Elsie, having been thrown very much upon her own resources for amusement, and having a natural love for books, and constant access to her grandfather's well-stocked library, had read many more, and with much more thought, than most children of her age, so that Mr. Travilla found her a not uninteresting companion, and was often surprised at the intelligence shown by her questions and replies.
When the dinner-bell rang he led her in, and seated her by himself, and never was any lady more carefully waited upon than little Elsie at this meal. Two or three other gentlemen guests were present, giving their attention to the older ladies of the company, and thus Mr. Travilla seemed to feel quite at liberty to devote himself entirely to her, attending to all her wants, talking with her, and making her talk.
Elsie now and then stole a glance at Mrs. Dinsmore, fearing her displeasure; but to her great relief, the lady seemed too much occupied to notice her. Once she looked timidly at her father, and her eyes met his. He was looking at her with an expression half curious, half amused. She was at a loss to understand the look, but, satisfied that there was no displeasure in it, her heart grew light, and her cheeks flushed with happiness.
"Really, Dinsmore," said Mr. Travilla, as they stood together near one of the windows of the drawing-room soon after dinner, "your little girl is remarkably intelligent, as well as remarkably pretty; and I have discovered that she has quite a good deal of musical talent."
"Indeed! I think it is quite a pity that she does not belong to you, Travilla, instead of me, since you seem to appreciate her so much more highly," replied the father, laughing.
"I wish she did," said his friend. "But, seriously, Dinsmore, you ought to love that child, for she certainly loves you devotedly."
He looked surprised. "How do you know?" he asked.
"It was evident enough from what I saw and heard this morning. Dinsmore, she would value a caress from you more than the richest jewel."
"Doubtful," replied Horace, hastily quitting the room, for Elsie had come out on to the portico in her riding suit, and Jim, her usual attendant, was bringing up her horse.
"Are you going to ride, Elsie?" asked her father, coming up to her.
"Yes, papa," she said, raising her eyes to his face.
He lifted her in his arms and placed her on the horse, saying to the servant as he did so, "Now, Jim, you must take good care of my little girl."
Tears of happiness rose in Elsie's eyes as she turned her horse's head and rode down the avenue. "He called me his little girl," she murmured to herself, "and bade Jim take good care of me. Oh! he will love me soon, as good, kind Mr. Travilla said he would."
Her father was still standing on the portico, looking after her.
"How well she sits her horse!" remarked Travilla, who had stepped out and stood close by his side.
"Yes, I think she does," was the reply, in an absent tone. He was thinking of a time, some eight or nine years before, when he had assisted another Elsie to mount her horse, and had ridden for hours at her side.
All the afternoon memories of the past came crowding thickly on his mind, and an emotion of tenderness began to spring up in his heart toward the child of her who had once been so dear to him; and as he saw the little girl ride up to the house on her return, he again went out, and lifting her from her horse, asked kindly, "Had you a pleasant ride, my dear?"
"Oh! yes, papa, very pleasant," she said, looking up at him with a face beaming with delight. He stooped and kissed her, saying, "I think I shall ride with you one of these days; should you like it?"
"Oh! so very, very much, papa," she answered, eagerly.
He smiled at her earnestness, and she hastened away to her room to change her dress and tell Chloe of her happiness.
Alas! it was but a transient gleam of sunshine that darted across her path, to be lost again almost instantly behind the gathering clouds.
More company came, so that the drawing-room was quite full in the evening; and, though Elsie was there, her father seemed too much occupied with the guests to give her even a glance. She sat alone and unnoticed in a corner, her eyes following him wherever he moved, and her ear strained to catch every tone of his voice; until Mr. Travilla, disengaging himself from a group of ladies and gentlemen on the opposite side of the room, came up to her, and taking her by the hand, led her to a pleasant-looking elderly lady, who sat at a centre-table examining some choice engravings which Mr. Dinsmore had brought with him from Europe.
"Mother," said Mr. Travilla, "This is my little friend Elsie."
"Ah!" said she, giving the little girl a kiss, "I am glad to see you, my dear."
Mr. Travilla set a chair for her close to his mother and then sat down on her other side, and taking up the engravings one after another, he explained them to her in a most entertaining manner, generally having some anecdote to tell in connection with each.
Elsie was so much amused and delighted with what he was saying that she at last quite forgot her father, and did not notice where he was.
Suddenly Mr. Travilla laid down the engraving he had in his hand, saying: "Come, Miss Elsie, I want my mother to hear you play and sing; will you not do me the favor to repeat that song I admired so much this morning?"
"Oh! Mr. Travilla!" exclaimed the little girl, blushing and trembling, "I could not play or sing before so many people. Please excuse me."
"Elsie," said her father's voice just at her side, "go immediately, and do as the gentleman requests."
His tone was very stern, and as she lifted her eyes to his face, she saw that his look was still more so; and tremblingly and tearfully she rose to obey.
"Stay," said Mr. Travilla kindly, pitying her distress, "I withdraw my request."
"But I do not withdraw my command," said her father in the same stern tone; "go at once, Elsie, and do as I bid you."
She obeyed instantly, struggling hard to overcome her emotion.
Mr. Travilla, scolding himself inwardly all the time for having brought her into such trouble, selected her music, and placing it before her as she took her seat at the instrument, whispered encouragingly, "Now, Miss Elsie, only have confidence in yourself; that is all that is necessary to your success."
But Elsie was not only embarrassed, but her heart was well-nigh broken by her father's sternness, and the tears would fill her eyes so that she could see neither notes nor words. She attempted to play the prelude, but blundered sadly, her embarrassment increasing every moment.
"Never mind," said Mr. Travilla, "never mind the prelude, but just begin the song."
She made the attempt, but fairly broke down, and burst into tears before she had got through the first verse. Her father had come up behind her, and was standing there, looking much mortified.
"Elsie," he said, leaning down and speaking in a low, stern tone, close to her ear, "I am ashamed of you; go to your room and to your bed immediately."
With a heart almost bursting with grief and mortification she obeyed him, and her pillow was wet with many bitter tears ere the weary eyes closed in slumber.
When she came down the next morning she learned to her great grief that Mr. Travilla and his mother had returned to their own home; she was very sorry she had not been permitted to say good-bye to her friend, and for several days she felt very sad and lonely, for all her father's coldness of manner had returned, and he scarcely ever spoke to her; while the younger members of the family ridiculed her for her failure in attempting to play for company; and Miss Day, who seemed unusually cross and exacting, often taunted her with it also.
These were sad, dark days for the little girl; she tried most earnestly to attend to all her duties, but so depressed were her spirits, so troubled was her mind, that she failed repeatedly in her lessons, and so was in continual disgrace with Miss Day, who threatened more than once to tell her papa.
It was a threat which Elsie dreaded extremely to have put in execution, and Miss Day, seeing that it distressed her, used it the more frequently, and thus kept the poor child in constant terror.
How to gain her father's love was the constant subject of her thoughts, and she tried in many ways to win his affection. She always yielded a ready and cheerful obedience to his commands, and strove to anticipate and fulfil all his wishes. But he seldom noticed her, unless to give a command or administer a rebuke, while he lavished many a caress upon his little sister, Enna. Often Elsie would watch him fondling her, until, unable any longer to control her feelings, she would rush away to her own room to weep and mourn in secret, and pray that her father might some day learn to love her. She never complained even to poor old Aunt Chloe, but the anxious nurse watched all these things with the jealous eye of affection; she saw that her child--as she delighted to call her--was very unhappy, and was growing pale and melancholy; and her heart ached for her, and many were the tears the shed in secret over the sorrows of her nursling.
"Don't 'pear so sorrowful, darlin'," she sometimes said to her; "try to be merry, like Miss Enna, and run and jump on Massa Horace's knee, and den I tink he will like you better."
"O mammy! I can't," Elsie would say; "I don't dare to do it."
And Chloe would sigh and shake her head sorrowfully.