Chapter XIX.
 
  Oh, what a feeble fort's a woman's heart,
  Betrayed by nature, and besieged by art.

  --FANE'S "LOVE IN THE DARK."

"Dear child, what shall I do without you?" sighed Miss Stanhope, clasping Elsie in her arms, and holding her in a long, tender embrace; for the time of parting had come. "Horace, will you bring her to see me again?"

"Yes, aunt, if she wants to come. But don't ask me to leave her again."

"Well, if you can't stay with me, or trust her yourself, let Mr. Vanilla come and stand guard over us both. I'd be happy, sir, at any time when you can make it convenient for me to see you here, with Horace and the child, or without them."

"Thank you, Miss Stanhope; and mother and I would be delighted to see you at Ion."

"Come, Elsie, we must go; the carriage is waiting and the train nearly due," said Mr. Dinsmore. "Good-bye, Aunt Wealthy. Daughter, put down your veil."

Egerton was at the depot, but could get neither a word with Elsie, nor so much as a sight of her face. Her veil was not once lifted, and her father never left her side for a moment. Mr. Travilla bought the tickets, and Simon attended to the checking of the baggage. Then the train came thundering up, and the fair girl was hurried into it, Mr. Travilla, on one side, and her father on the other, effectually preventing any near approach to her person on the part of the baffled and disappointed fortune-hunter.

He walked back to his boarding-house, cursing his ill luck and Messrs. Dinsmore and Travilla, and gave notice to his landlady that his room would become vacant the next morning.

As the train sped onward, again Elsie laid her head down upon her father's shoulder and wept silently behind her veil. Her feelings had been wrought up to a high pitch of excitement in the struggle to be perfectly submissive and obedient, and now the overstrained nerves claimed this relief. And love's young dream, the first, and sweetest, was over and gone. She could never hope to see again the man she still fondly imagined to be good and noble, and with a heart full of deep, passionate love for her.

Her father understood and sympathized with it all. He passed his arm about her waist, drew her closer to him, and taking her hand in his, held it in a warm, loving clasp.

How it soothed and comforted her. She could never be very wretched while thus tenderly loved, and cherished.

And, arrived at her journey's end, there were mamma and little brother to rejoice over her return, as at the recovery of a long-lost, precious treasure.

"You shall never go away again," said the little fellow, hugging her tight. "When a boy has only one sister, he can't spare her to other folks, can he, papa?"

"No, son," answered Mr. Dinsmore, patting his rosy cheek, and softly stroking Elsie's hair, "and it is just the same with a man who has but one daughter"."

"You don't look bright and merry, as you did when you went away," said the child, bending a gaze of keen, loving scrutiny upon the sweet face, paler, sadder, and more heavy-eyed than he had ever seen it before.

"Sister is tired with her journey," said mamma tenderly; "we won't tease her to-night."

"Yes," said her father, "she must go early to bed, and have a long night's rest."

"Yes, papa, and then she'll be all right to-morrow, won't she? But, mamma, I wasn't teasing her, not a bit; was I, Elsie? And if anybody's been making her sorry, I'll kill him. 'Cause she's my sister, and I've got to take care of her."

"But suppose papa was the one who had made her sorry; what then?" asked Mr. Dinsmore.

"But you wouldn't, papa," said the boy, shaking his head with an incredulous smile. "You love her too much a great deal; you'd never make her sorry unless she'd be naughty; and she's never one bit naughty,--always minds you and mamma the minute you speak."

"That's true, my son; I do love her far too well ever to grieve her if it can be helped. She shall never know a pang a father's love and care can save her from." And again his hand rested caressingly on Elsie's head.

She caught it in both of hers and laying her cheek lovingly against it, looked up at him with tears trembling in her eyes. "I know it, papa," she murmured. "I know you love your foolish little daughter very dearly; almost as dearly as she loves you."

"Almost, darling? If there were any gauge by which to measure love, I know not whose would be found the greatest."

Mr. Dinsmore and his father-in-law had taken adjoining cottages for the summer, and though "the season" was so nearly over that the hotels and boarding-houses were but thinly populated and would soon close, the two families intended remaining another month. So this was in some sort a home-coming to Elsie.

After tea the Allisons flocked in to bid her welcome. All seemed glad of her coming, Richard, Harold, and Sophy especially so. They were full of plans for giving her pleasure, and crowding the greatest possible amount of enjoyment into the four or five weeks of their expected sojourn on the island.

"It will be moonlight next week," said Sophy; "and we'll have some delightful drives and walks along the beach. The sea does look so lovely by moonlight."

"And we'll have such fun bathing in the mornings," remarked Harold. "You'll go in with us to-morrow, won't you, Elsie?"

"No," said Mr. Dinsmore, speaking for his daughter; "she must be here two or three days before she goes into the water. It will be altogether better for her health."

Elise looked at him inquiringly.

"You get in the air enough of the salt water for the first few days," he said. "Your system should become used to that before you take more."

"Yes, that is what some of the doctors here, and the oldest inhabitants, tell us," remarked Mr. Allison, "and I believe it is the better plan."

"And in the meantime we can take some rides and drives,--down to Diamond Beach, over to the light-house, and elsewhere," said Edward Allison, his brother Richard adding, "and do a little fishing and boating."

Mr. Dinsmore was watching his daughter. She was making an effort to be interested in the conversation, but looking worn, weary, and sad.

"You are greatly fatigued, my child," he said. "We will excuse you and let you retire at once."

She was very glad to avail herself of the permission.

Rose followed her to her room, a pleasant, breezy apartment, opening on a veranda, and looking out upon the sea, whose dark waves, here and there tipped with foam, could be dimly seen rolling and tossing beneath the light of the stars and of a young moon that hung like a golden crescent just above the horizon.

Elsie walked to the window and looked out. "How I love the sea," she said, sighing, "but, mamma, to-night it makes me think of a text--'All Thy waves and Thy billows have gone over me.'"

"It is not so bad as that, I hope, dear," said Rose, folding her tenderly in her arms; "think how we all love you, especially your father. I don't know how we could any of us do without you, darling. I can't tell you how sadly we have missed you this summer."

"Mamma, I do feel it to be very, very sweet to be so loved and cared for. I could not tell you how dear you and my little brother are to me, and as for papa--sometimes I am more than half afraid I make an idol of him; and yet--oh, mamma," she murmured, hiding her face in Rose's bosom, "why is it that I can no longer be in love with the loves that so fully satisfied me?"

"'Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' It is part of woman's curse that she must ever crave that sort of love, often yielding to her craving, to her own terrible undoing. Be patient, darling, and try to trust both your heavenly and your earthly father. You know that no trial can come to you without your heavenly Father's will, and that He means this for your good. Look to Him and he will help you to bear it, and send relief in His own good time and way. You know He tells us it is through much tribulation we enter the kingdom of God; and that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 'If ye be without chastisements, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and no sons!"

"Ah, yes, mamma; better the hardest of earthly trials, than to be left out of the number of his adopted children. And this seems to be really my only one, while my cup of blessings is full to overflowing. I fear I am very wicked to feel so sad."

"Let us sit down on this couch while we talk; you are too tired to stand," said Rose, drawing her away from the window to a softly-cushioned lounge. "I do not think you can help grieving, darling, though I agree with you that it is your duty to try to be cheerful, as well as patient and submissive; and I trust you will find it easier as the days and weeks move on. You are very young, and have plenty of time to wait; indeed, if all had gone right, you know your papa would not have allowed you to marry for several years yet."

"You know all, mamma?"

"Yes, dear; papa told me; for you know you are my darling daughter too, and I have a very deep interest in all that concerns you."

A tender caress accompanied the words, and was returned with equal ardor.

"Thank you, best and kindest of mothers; I should never want anything kept from you."

"Your father tells me you have behaved beautifully, though you evidently felt it very hard to be separated so entirely and at once fr--"

"Yes, mamma," and Elsie's lip quivered, and her eyes filled, "and oh, I can't believe he is the wicked man papa thinks him. From the first he seemed to be a perfect gentleman, educated, polished, and refined; and afterward he became--at least so I thought from the conversations we had together--truly converted, and a very earnest, devoted Christian. He told me he had been, at one time, a little wild, but surely he ought not to be condemned for that, after he had repented and reformed."

"No, dear; and your father would agree with you in that. But he believes you have been deceived in the man's character; and don't you think, daughter, that he is wiser than yourself, and more capable of finding out the truth about the matter?"

"I know papa is far wiser than I, but, oh, my heart will not believe what they say of--of him!" she cried with sudden, almost passionate vehemence.

"Well, dear, that is perfectly natural, but try to be entirely submissive to your father, and wait patiently; and hopefully too," she added with a smile; "for if Mr. Egerton is really good, no doubt it will be proved in time, and then your father will at once remove his interdict. And if you are mistaken, you will one day discover it, and feel thankful, indeed, to your papa for taking just the course he has."

"There he is now!" Elsie said with a start, as Mr. Dinsmore's step was heard without, and Chloe opened the door in answer to his rap.

"What, Elsie disobeying orders, and mamma conniving at it!" he exclaimed in a tone that might mean either jest or serious reproof. "Did I not bid you go to bed at once, my daughter?"

"I thought it was only permission, papa, not command," she answered, lifting her eyes to his face, and moving to make room for him by her side. "And mamma has been saying such sweet, comforting things to me."

"Has she, darling? Bless her for it! I know you need comfort, my poor little pet," he said, taking the offered seat, and passing his arm round her waist. "But you need rest too, and ought not to stay up any longer."

"But surely papa knows I cannot go to bed without my good-night kiss when he is in the same house with me," she said, winding her arms about his neck.

"And didn't like to take it before folks? Well, that was right, but take it now. There, good-night. Now mamma and I will run away, and you must get into bed with all speed. No mistake about the command this time, and disobedience, if ventured on, will have to be punished," he said with playful tenderness, as he returned her embrace, and rose to leave the room.

"The dear child; my heart aches for her," he remarked to his wife, as they went out together, "and I find it almost impossible yet to forgive either that scoundrel Jackson or my brother Arthur."

"You have no lingering doubts as to the identity and utter unworthiness of the man?"

"Not one; and if I could only convince Elsie of his true character she would detest him as thoroughly as I do. If he had his deserts, he would be in the State's Prison; and to think of his daring to approach my child, and even aspire to her hand!"

Elsie lay all night in a profound slumber, and awoke at an early hour the next morning, feeling greatly refreshed and invigorated. The gentle murmur of old ocean came pleasantly to her ear, and sweetly in her mind arose the thought of Him whom even the winds and the sea obey; of His never failing love to her, and of the many great and precious promises of His word. She remembered how He had said, "Your Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things," and, content to bear the cross He had sent her, and leave her future in His hands, she rose to begin the new day more cheerful and hopeful than she had been since learning her father's decision in regard to Egerton.

Throwing on a dressing-gown over her night dress, she sat down before the open window with her Bible in her hand. She still loved, as of old, to spend the first hour of the day in the study of its pages, and in communion with Him whose word it is.

Chloe was just putting the finishing touches to her young lady's toilet when little Horace came running down the hall, and rapping on Elsie's door, called out, "Sister, papa says put on a short dress, and your walking shoes, and come take a stroll on the beach with us before breakfast."

"Yes, tell papa I will. I'll be down in five minutes."

She came down looking sweet and fresh as the morning; a smile on the full red lips, and a faint tinge of rose color on the cheeks that had been so pale the night before.

"Ah, you are something like yourself again," said Rose, greeting her with a motherly caress, as they met in the lower hall. "How nice it is to have you at home once more."

"Thank you, mamma, I am very glad to be here; and I had such a good restful sleep. How well you look."

"And feel too, I am thankful to be able to say. But there, your father is calling to you from the sitting-room."

Elsie hastened to obey the summons, and found him seated at his writing desk.

"Come here, daughter," he said, "and tell me if you obeyed orders last night."

"Yes, papa, I did."

"I am writing a few lines to Aunt Wealthy, to tell her of our safe arrival. Have you any message to send?" and laying down his pen he drew her to his knee.

"Only my love, papa, and--and that she must not be anxious about me, as she said that she should. That I am very safe and happy in the hands of my heavenly Father--and those of the kind earthly one He has given me," she added in a whisper, putting her arms about his neck, and looking in his face with eyes brimful of filial tenderness and love.

"That is right, my darling," he said, "and you shall never want for love while your father lives. How it rejoices my heart to see you looking so bright and well this morning."

"I feat I have not been yielding you the cheerful obedience I ought, papa," she murmured with tears in her eyes, "but I am resolved to try to do so in future; and have been asking help where I know it is to be obtained."

"I have no fault to find with you on that score, my dear child," he said tenderly, "but if you can be cheerful, it will be for your own happiness, as well as ours."

She kept her promise faithfully, and had her reward in much real enjoyment of the many pleasures provided for her.

Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore were still youthful in their feelings, and joined with great zest in the sports of the young people, going with them in all their excursions, taking an active part in all their pastimes, and contriving so many fresh entertainments, that during those few weeks life seemed like one long gala day.

Mr. Travilla was with them most of the time. He had tarried behind in Philadelphia, as Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter passed through, but followed them to Cape Island a few days later.

The whole party left the shore about the last of September, the Allisons returning to their city residence, Mr. Travilla to his Southern home, and the Dinsmores travelling through Pennsylvania and New York, from one romantic and picturesque spot to another; finishing up with two or three weeks in Philadelphia, during which Rose and Elsie were much occupied with their fall and winter shopping.

Mr. Dinsmore took this opportunity to pay another flying visit to his two young brothers. He found Arthur nearly recovered, and at once asked a full explanation of the affair of Tom Jackson, alias Bromly Egerton; his designs upon Elsie, and Arthur's participation in them.

"I know nothing about it," was the sullen rejoinder.

"You certainly were acquainted with Tom Jackson, and how, but through you, could he have gained any knowledge of Elsie and her whereabouts?"

"I don't deny that I've had some dealings with Jackson, but your Egerton I know nothing of whatever."

"You may as well speak the truth, sir; it will be much better for you in the end," said Mr. Dinsmore, sternly, his eyes flashing with indignant anger.

"And you may as well remember that it isn't Elsie you are dealing with. I'm not afraid of you."

"Perhaps not, but you may well fear Him who has said, 'a lying tongue is but for a moment.' How do you reconcile such an assertion as you have just made with the fact of your having that letter in your possession?"

"I say it's a cowardly piece of business for you to give the lie to a fellow that hasn't the strength to knock you down for it."

"You would hardly attempt that if you were in perfect health, Arthur."

"I would."

"You have not answered my question about the letter.

"I wrote it myself."

"A likely story; it is in a very different hand from yours."

"I can adopt that hand on occasion, as I'll prove to your satisfaction."

He opened his desk, wrote a sentence on a scrap of paper, and handed it to Mr. Dinsmore. The chirography was precisely that of the letter. While slowly convalescing, Arthur had prepared for this expected interview with Horace, by spending many a solitary hour in laboriously teaching himself to imitate Jackson's ordinary hand, in which most of the letters he had received from him were written. The sentence he had first penned was, "I did it merely for my own amusement, and to hoax Wal."

"I don't believe a word of it," said Mr. Dinsmore, looking sternly at him. "Arthur, you had better be frank and open with me. You will gain nothing by denying the hand you have had in this disgraceful business. You can hardly suppose me credulous enough to believe an assertion so perfectly absurd as this. I have no doubt that you sent that villain to Lansdale to try his arts upon Elsie; and for that you are richly deserving of my anger, and of any punishment it might be in my power to deal out to you.

"It has been no easy matter for me to forgive the suffering you have caused my child, Arthur; but I came here to-day with kind feelings and intentions. I hoped to find you penitent and ready to forsake your evil courses; and in that case, intended to help you to pay off your debts and begin anew, without paining father with the knowledge that his confidence in you has been again so shamefully abused. But I must say that your persistent denial of your complicity with that scoundrel Jackson does not look much like contrition, or intended amendment."

Arthur listened in sullen silence, though his rapidly changing color showed that he felt the cutting rebuke keenly. At one time he had resolved to confess everything, throw himself upon the mercy of his father and brother, and begin to lead an honest, upright life; but a threatening letter received that morning from Jackson had led him to change his purpose, and determine to close his lips for a time.

Mr. Dinsmore paused for a reply, but none came.

Walter looked at Arthur in surprise. "Come, Art, speak, why don't you?" he said. "Horace, don't look so stern and angry, I know he means to turn over a new leaf; for he told me so. And you will help him, won't you?"

"I ask no favors from a man who throws the lie in my teeth," muttered Arthur angrily.

"And I can give none to one who persists in denying his guilt," replied Mr. Dinsmore. "But, Arthur, I give you one more chance, and for our father's sake I hope you will avail yourself of it. If you go on as you have for the last three or four years, you will bring down his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. I presume you have put yourself in Jackson's power; but if you will now make a full and free confession to me, and promise amendment, I will help you to get rid of the rascal's claims upon you, and start afresh. Will you do it?"

"No, you've called me a liar, and what's the use of my telling you anything? you wouldn't believe it if I did."