Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
Thou shall not see me blush, Nor change my countenance for this arrest. --SHAKESPEARE'S "HENRY VI.," PART II.
It was a sultry summer night. In the grounds of one of the largest and most beautiful of the many elegant country seats to be found in the suburbs of Cincinnati two gentlemen were pacing leisurely to and fro.
They were friends who had met that day for the first time in several years; strongly attached friends, spite of a very considerable difference in their ages. They had had much to say to each other for the first few hours, but it was now several minutes since either had spoken.
The silence was broken by the younger of the two exclaiming in a tone of hearty congratulation, "This is a magnificent place, Beresford! It does my heart good to see you so prosperous!"
"It is a fine place, Travilla, but," and he heaved a deep sigh, "I sometimes fear my wealth is to prove anything but a blessing to my children; that in fact my success in acquiring it is to be the ruin of my first-born."
"Ah, I hope not! Is Rudolph not doing well?"
"Well?" groaned the father, dropping his head upon his breast, "he seems to be rushing headlong to destruction. Have you not noticed his poor mother's sad and careworn look? or mine? That boy is breaking our hearts. I could not speak of it to every one, but to you, my long-tried friend, I feel that I may unburden myself, sure of genuine sympathy--" And he went on to tell how his son, becoming early imbued with the idea that his father's wealth precluded all necessity of exertion on his part, had grown up in habits of idleness that led to dissipation, and going on from bad to worse, was now a drunkard, a gambler, and frequenter of low haunts of vice.
"Day and night he is a heavy burden upon our hearts," continued the unhappy father; "when he is with us we find it most distressing to behold the utter wreck his excesses are making of him, and when he is out of our sight it is still worse; for we don't know what sin or danger he may be running into. Indeed at times we are almost distracted. Ah, Travilla, much as I love my wife and children, I am half tempted to envy your bachelor exemption from such care and sorrow!"
Mr. Travilla's kind heart was deeply moved. He felt painfully conscious of his own inability to comfort in such sorrow; but spoke of God's power to change the heart of the most hardened sinner, his willingness to save, and his promises to those who seek his aid in the time of trouble.
"Thank you. I knew you would feel for us; your sympathy does me good," returned Mr. Beresford, grasping his friend's hand and pressing it between his own; "your words too; for however well we know these truths we are apt to forget them, even when they are most needed.
"But it is growing late, and you must be weary after your journey. Let me show you to your room."
Three days passed in which Rudolph was not once seen in his home, and his parents were left in ignorance of his whereabouts. They exerted themselves for the pleasure and entertainment of their guest, but he could see plainly that they were enduring torture of anxiety and suspense.
Late in the evening of the third day, Mr. Beresford said to him, "My carriage is at the door. I must go into town and search for my boy. I have done so vainly several times since he last left his home, but I must try again to-night. Will you go with me?"
Travilla consented with alacrity, and they set out at once.
While on their way to the city Mr. Beresford explained that, for some time past, he had had reason to fear that his son was frequenting one of its gambling-hells; that thus far he had failed in his efforts to gain admittance, in order to search for him; but to-day, a professed gambler, well known in the house; had come to him and offered his assistance.
"As his convoy, I think we shall get in," added Mr. Beresford. "I cannot fathom the man's motives, but suspect he owes a grudge to a newcomer, who, he says, is winning large sums from Rudolph. I shall drive to Smith's livery stable, leave my horse and carriage there, then walk on to the place, which is only a few squares distant. Our guide is to meet us at the first corner from Smith's."
This programme was carried out, their guide was in waiting at the appointed place, and at once conducted them to the gambling-house Mr. Beresford had spoken of. They were admitted without question or demur, and in another moment found themselves standing beside a table where a number of men were at play, nearly all so absorbed in their game as to seem entirely unconscious of the presence of spectators.
Two of them, pitted against each other, and both young, though there must have been several years' difference in their ages, particularly attracted Travilla's attention; and glancing at his friend, he saw that it was the same with him,--that his eyes were fixed upon the face of the younger of the two, with an expression of keen distress, while he trembled with emotion, and almost gasped for breath, as he leaned toward him, and whispered, "It is he--my son."
At the same instant the young man's face grew deadly pale, he started up with a wild, ringing cry, "I am ruined!" drew a pistol from his breast, and placed the muzzle to his mouth.
But Mr. Travilla, springing forward, struck it from his hand ere he could pull the trigger.
A scene of much excitement and confusion followed, in the midst of which young Beresford was led away by his father and Travilla.
A week later the latter gentleman reached Lansdale, arriving there in the early morning train. He put up at its principal hotel, and having refreshed himself by a few hours' sleep, a bath, and breakfast, inquired the way to Miss Stanhope's.
Elsie was just coming down the front stairway, as he appeared before the open door, and was about to ring for admittance.
"Oh, Mr. Travilla, my dear old friend! who would have expected to see you here?" she cried, in delighted surprise, as she bounded forward to meet him, with both hands extended in joyous greeting.
He took them in his, and kissed her first on one cheek, then on the other. "Still fresh and blooming as a rose, and with the same happy light in the sweet brown eyes," he said, gazing fondly into their tender depths.
"And you are the same old flatterer," she answered gayly, a rich color mantling her cheek. "Come in and sit down. But oh, tell me when did you see papa last? and mamma, and little Horace? Ah! the sight of you makes me homesick for them."
"I left them at Cape May, about a fortnight since, all well and happy, but missing you very much. I think papa will hardly be able to do without his darling much longer."
"Nor his darling without him. Oh, dear! sometimes I get to wanting him so badly that I feel as if I should have to write to him to come for me at once. But excuse me while I go and call Aunt Wealthy."
"Not yet; let us have a little chat together first."
Of course, after so long a separation, such old and tried friends would find a great deal to say to each other. The time slipped away very fast, and half an hour afterward Mr. Egerton, coming in without ringing--a liberty he sometimes took of late--found them seated close together on the sofa, talking earnestly, Elsie with her hand in that of her friend, and a face even brighter and happier than its wont.
Mr. Travilla had one of those faces that often seem to come to a stand-still as regards age, and to scarcely know any change for many years. He was at this time thirty-four, but would have passed readily for twenty-fire. Egerton thought him no more than that, and at once took him for a successful rival.
"Excuse me, Miss Dinsmore," he said, bowing stiffly, "I should have waited to ring, but--"
"Oh, never mind, Mr. Egerton," she said; "let me introduce you to my old friend, Mr. Travilla--"
But she stopped in astonishment and dismay. Mr. Travilla had risen, and the two stood confronting each other like mortal foes.
Mr. Travilla was the first to speak. "I have met you before, sir!" he said with stern indignation.
"Indeed! that must be a mistake, sir, for upon my word and honor I never set eyes on you before."
"Your honor! the honor of a sharper, a black-leg, a ----"
"Sir, do you mean to insult me? by what right do you apply such epithets to me? Pray where did you ever meet me?"
"In a gambling-hell in Cincinnati; the time, one week ago to-night; the occasion, the playing of a game of cards between young Beresford and yourself in which you were the winner--by what knavery you best know--the stakes so heavy that, on perceiving that he had lost, the young man cried out that he was ruined, and in his mad despair attempted self-destruction. It is quite possible that you may not have observed me in the crowd that gathered about your wretched victim; but I can never forget the face of the man who had wrought his ruin."
Egerton's countenance expressed the utmost astonishment and incredulity. "I have not been in Cincinnati for two months," he averred, "and all I know of that affair I have learned from the daily papers. But I shall not stay here to be insulted by you, sir. Good-afternoon, Miss Dinsmore. I hope to be allowed an early opportunity to explain this, and to be able to do so to your entire satisfaction."
He bowed and withdrew, hastening from the house with the rapid step of one who is filled with a just indignation.
Mr. Travilla turned to Elsie. She was sitting there on the sofa, with her hands clasped in her lap, and a look of terror and anguish on her face, from which every trace of color had fled.
His own grew almost as pale, and his voice shook, as again sitting down beside her, and laying his hand on hers, he said, "My poor child! can it be possible that you care for that wretch?"
"Oh, don't!" she whispered hoarsely and turning away her face; "I cannot believe it; there must be some dreadful mistake."
Then, recovering her composure by a mighty effort, she rose and introduced her aunt, who entered the room at that moment.
Mr. Travilla sat for some time conversing with her, Elsie joining in occasionally, but with a tone and manner from which all the brightness and vivacity had fled; then he went away, declining a pressing invitation to stay to dinner, but promising to be there to tea.
The moment he was gone Miss Stanhope was busied in beating up her cushions, and Elsie flew to her room, where she walked back and forth in a state of great agitation. But the dinner-bell rang, and composing herself as well as she could, she went down. Her cheeks were burning, and she seemed unnaturally gay, but ate very little as her aunt noticed with concern.
The meal was scarcely over, when a ring at the door-bell was followed by the sound of Mr. Egerton's voice asking for Miss Dinsmore.
"Ah!" said Miss Stanhope with an arch smile, "he does not ask this hour for me; knowing it's the time of my siesta."
Elsie found Egerton pacing the parlor floor to and fro. He took her hand, led her to the sofa, and sitting down by her side, began at once to defend himself against Mr. Travilla's charge. He told her he had never been guilty of gambling; he had "sowed some wild oats," years ago--getting slightly intoxicated on two or three occasions, and things of that sort--but it was all over and repented of; and surely she could not think it just and right that it should be brought up against him now.
As to Mr. Travilla's story--the only way he could account for the singular mistake was in the fact that he had a cousin who bore the same name as himself, and resembled him so closely that they had been frequently mistaken for each other. And that cousin, most unfortunately, especially on account of the likeness, did both drink and gamble. He was delighted by the look of relief that came over Elsie's face, as he told her this. She cared for him, then; yet her confidence had been shaken.
"Ah, you doubted me, then?" he said in a tone of sorrowful reproach.
"Oh! I could not bear to think it possible. I was sure there must be a mistake somewhere," she said with a beautiful smile.
"But you are quite satisfied now?"
Then he told her he loved her very dearly, better than his own soul; that he found he could not live without her; life would not be worth having, unless she would consent to share it with him. "Would she, oh! would she promise some day to be his own precious little wife?"
Elsie listened with downcast, blushing face, and soft eyes beaming with joy; for the events of that day had revealed to her the fact that this man had made himself master of her heart.
"Will you not give to me a word of hope?" pleaded Egerton.
"I--I cannot, must not, without my father's permission," she faltered, "and oh! he forbade me to listen to anything of the kind. I am too young he says."
"When was that?"
"Three years ago."
"Ah! but you are older now; and you will let me write and ask his consent? I may say that you are not quite indifferent to me?"
"Yes," she murmured, turning her sweet, blushing face away from his ardent gaze.
"Thank you, dearest, a thousand thanks!" he cried, pressing her hand in his. "And now may I ask who and what that Mr. Travilla is?"
She explained, winding up by saying that he was much like a second father to her.
"Father!" he exclaimed, "he doesn't look a day over twenty-five."
"He is about two years younger than papa and doesn't look any younger, I think," she answered with a smile. "But strangers are very apt to take papa for my brother."
Egerton left an hour before Mr. Travilla came, and that hour Elsie spent in her own room in a state of great excitement,--now full of the sweet joy of loving and being loved, now trembling with apprehension at the thought of the probable effect of Mr. Travilla's story upon her father. She was fully convinced of Egerton's truth and innocence; yet quite aware that his explanation might not prove so satisfactory to Mr. Dinsmore.
"Oh, papa, papa!" she murmured, as she paced restlessly to and fro, "how can I obey if you bid me give him up? And yet I must. I know it will be my duty, and that I must."
"What a color you hab in your cheeks, darlin'! an' how your eyes do shine. I'se 'fraid you's gettin' a fever," said Chloe, with an anxious, troubled gaze into her young lady's face, as she came in to dress her for the evening.
"Oh, no, mammy, I am perfectly well," Elsie answered with a slight laugh. Then seating herself before the glass, "Now do your best," she said gayly, "for we are to have company to tea. I doubt if you can guess whom?"
"Den 'spose my pet saves her ole mammy de trouble. 'Taint massa, for sure?"
"No, not quite so welcome a guest; but one you'll be delighted to see. Mr. Travilla."
"Ki, darlin'! he not here?"
"Yes, he came this morning. Ah! I knew you'd be delighted."
Elsie knew that it would require the very strongest proof to convince her father of the truth of Mr. Egerton's story, but hoped to find Mr. Travilla much more ready to give it credence. She was proportionably disappointed when, on hearing it from her, he scouted it as utterly unworthy of belief, or even examination.
"No, my child," he said, "the man's face is indelibly impressed upon my memory, and I can not be mistaken in his identity."
Elsie's face flushed crimson, and indignant tears sprang to her eyes and trembled in her voice as she answered, "I never knew you so uncharitable before, sir. I could not have believed it of my kind-hearted, generous old friend."
He gave her a very troubled, anxious look, as he replied, "Why should you take it so to heart, Elsie? Surely this man is nothing to you."
"He is to be some day, if papa will permit," she murmured, turning away her blushing face from his gaze.
Mr. Travilla uttered a groan, made two or three rapid turns across the room, and coming back to her side, laid his hand in an affectionate, fatherly manner upon her shoulder.
"My dear," he said with emotion, "I don't know when I have heard anything that distressed me so much; or that could give such pain and distress to your doting father."
"Mr. Travilla, you will not, you cannot be so unkind, so cruel, as to try to persuade papa to think as you do of--of Mr. Egerton?"
Her tone was half indignant, half imploring, and her eyes were lifted pleadingly to his face.
"My poor child," he said, "I could not be so cruel to you as to leave him in ignorance of any of the facts; but I shall not attempt to bias his judgment; nor would it avail if I did. Your father is an independent thinker, and will make up his mind for himself."
"And against poor Bromly," thought Elsie, with an emotion of anguish, and something akin to rebellion rising in her heart.
Mr. Travilla read it all in her speaking countenance. "Do not fear your father's decision, my little friend." he said, sitting down beside her again, "he is very just, and you are as the apple of his eye. He will sift the matter thoroughly, and decide as he shall deem best for your happiness. Can you not trust his wisdom and his love?"
"I know he loves me very dearly, Mr. Travilla, but--he is only human, and may make a mistake."
"Then try to leave it all in the hands of your heavenly Father, who cannot err, who is infinite in wisdom, power, and in His love for you."
"I will try," she said with a quivering lip. "Now please talk to me of something else. Tell me of that young man. Did you say he shot himself?"
"Young Beresford, my friend's son? No, he was prevented." And he went on to tell of Rudolph's horror and remorse on account of that rash act, and of the excesses that led to it; also of the trembling hope his parents and friends were beginning to indulge that he was now truly penitent, and, clothed in his right mind, was sitting at the Saviour's feet.
Elsie listened with interest. They had had the parlor to themselves for an hour or more, Miss Stanhope having received an unexpected summons to the bedside of a sick neighbor.
She was with them at tea, and during most of the evening, but left them alone together for a moment just before Mr. Travilla took his leave, and he seized the opportunity to say to Elsie that he thought she ought to refrain from further intercourse with Egerton till she should learn her father's will in regard to the matter.
"I cannot promise--I will think of it," she said with a look of distress.
"You write frequently to your papa?"
"I know you would not wish to deceive him in the least. Will you tell him what I conceive to be the facts in regard to Mr. Egerton? or shall I?"
"I cannot, oh, I cannot!" she murmured, turning away her face.
"Then I shall spare you the painful task, by, doing it myself, my poor child. I shall write to-night."
She was silent, but he could see the tumultuous heaving of her breast, and the tears glistening on the heavy drooping lashes that swept her pale cheek. His heart bled for her, while his indignation waxed hot against the hypocritical scoundrel who, he feared, had succeeded only too well in wrecking her happiness.
She had described to him Egerton's character as he had made it appear to her, telling of their conversations on religious subjects, his supposed conversion, etc., etc.; thus unintentionally enabling Travilla to see clearly through the man's base designs. He silently resolved to stay in Lansdale and watch over her until her father's arrival.
"You ride out daily?" he inquired.
"May I be your escort to-morrow?"
She cast down her eyes, which she had lifted to his face for an instant, blushing painfully. It seemed an effort for her to reply, and the words came slowly, and with hesitation. "I--should be glad to have you, sir; you know I have always valued your society, but--Mr. Egerton always goes with us--Lottie King and me--of late; and--and I can hardly suppose either of you would now find the company of the other agreeable."
"No, Elsie; but what do you think your father would wish?"
"I know he would be glad to have me under your care, and if you don't mind the unpleasantness."
"My dear, I would cheerfully endure far more than that, to watch over your father's child. You will not let this unhappy circumstance turn you against your old friend? I could hardly bear that, little Elsie." And he drew her toward him caressingly.
"Oh, no, no! I don't think anything could do that; you've always been so good to me--almost a second father."
He released her hand with a slight involuntary sigh, as at that instant Miss Stanhope re-entered the room. The two were standing by the piano, Mr. Travilla having risen from one of the cushioned chairs to draw near to Elsie while talking to her. Miss Stanhope flew to the chair, caught up the cushion, shook it, laid it down again, and with two or three little loving pats restored it to its normal condition of perfect roundness. Mr. Travilla watched her with a surprised, puzzled look.
"Have I done any mischief, Elsie?" he asked in an undertone.
"Oh, no!" she answered with a faint smile, "it's only auntie's way."
Their visitor had gone, and Elsie turned to her aunt to say good-night.
"Something is wrong with you, child; can't you tell the trouble to your old auntie, and let her try to comfort you?" Miss Stanhope asked, putting an arm about the slender waist, and scanning the sweet face, usually so bright and rosy, now so pale and agitated, with a look of keen but loving scrutiny.
Then, in broken words, and with many a little half-sobbing sigh and one or two scalding tears, hastily brushed away, Elsie told the whole painful story, secure of warm sympathy from the kind heart to which she was so tenderly folded.
Miss Stanhope believed in Bromly Egerton almost as firmly as Elsie herself; what comfort there was in that! She believed too in the inspired assurances that "all things work together for good to them that love God," and that He is the hearer and answerer of prayer. She reminded her niece of them; bade her cast her burden on the Lord and leave it there, and cheered her with the hope that Bromly would be able to prove to her father that Mr. Travilla was entirely mistaken.