Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
She is not sad, yet in her gaze appears Something that makes the gazer think of tears. --MRS. EMBURY.
The family at Roselands were gathered about the breakfast-table. A much smaller party than of yore, since Horace had taken Elsie and set up an establishment of his own, and the other sons were away at college and two daughters married; leaving only Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore, Adelaide and Enna to occupy the old home.
"I presume you have the lion's share as usual, papa," observed the last named, as her father opened the letter-bag which Pomp had just brought in.
"And who has a better right, Miss Malapert?" retorted the old gentleman. "Yes, here are several letters for me; but as there is one apiece for the rest of you, nobody need complain. Here, Pomp, hand this to your mistress. From Walter, I see."
"Yes," she answered, opening it, "and a few lines from Arthur too. I'm glad he's able to write again, poor fellow!"
"Yes," said Adelaide. "Rose says Horace has been up there and found him nearly recovered. She writes that they are coming home."
"When?" asked Enna.
"Why, to-day! the letter has been delayed," said her sister, looking at the date. "I shall ride over directly, to see that all is in order for them at the Oaks."
"There is no need," remarked her mother. "Rose will have written to Mrs. Murray."
"I presume so, still I shall go; it will be pleasant to be there to welcome them when they arrive."
"How fond you are of Rose," said Mrs. Dinsmore in a piqued tone; "you wouldn't do more for one of your own sisters, I believe, than for her."
"I wouldn't do less, mamma, and I am very fond of her; we are so perfectly congenial."
"And Elsie's a great pet of yours, too," said Enna sneeringly. "Well, I shall put off my call till to-morrow, when the trunks will have been unpacked, and I shall have a chance to see the fashions. Elsie will have loads of new things; it's perfectly absurd the way Horace heaps presents upon her, and pocket-money too. Such loads of jewelry as she has,--two or three gold watches, and everything else in proportion."
"He may as well; she can never spend the half of her income," remarked Mr. Dinsmore. "Unless she takes to gambling," he added, in a tone that seemed to say that his purse had suffered severely from some one's indulgence in that vice.
Mrs. Dinsmore winced, Enna looked vexed and annoyed, and Adelaide sad and troubled; but when she spoke it was in answer to Enna.
"Yes, Elsie will have a great many beautiful things to show us, of course; but, though she wears nothing outre, she has never been, and I think never will be a mirror of fashion. It would suit neither her own taste nor Horace's; and you know, fond of her as he is, he will never allow her to have a will of her own in dress or anything else. So it is well their tastes harmonize."
"I wouldn't be his child for all her money," said Enna.
"There would be some fighting if you were," said her father, laughing.
"I never could tell whether he tyrannized over Rose in the same style or not," observed Mrs. Dinsmore interrogatively.
"All I know about it is that they seem perfectly happy in each other," answered Adelaide; "but I don't suppose Horace considers a husband's authority by any means equal to a father's."
Something delayed Adelaide, and it was nearly two hours after they rose from the table ere she was fairly on her way to the Oaks.
"Why, they are here before me!" she exclaimed half aloud as she came in sight of the house.
There were piles of luggage upon the veranda, and the whole family, including all the house servants, were gathered round a large open trunk from which Mrs. Dinsmore and Elsie were dealing out gifts--dresses, aprons, bonnets, hats, gay handkerchiefs, etc., etc.; the darkies receiving them with a delight that was pleasant to see.
Mr. Dinsmore too was taking his part in the distribution, and as Adelaide rode up little Horace was in the act of throwing a gay shawl about the shoulders of his nurse, who caught him in her arms and hugged and kissed him over and over, calling him "honey," and "pet," and "you ole mammy's darlin' ole chil'!"
So much engaged were they all that no one perceived Adelaide's approach till she had reined in her horse close to the veranda, and throwing her bridle to her attendant, sprung lightly to the ground.
But then there was a shout of welcome from little Horace, followed instantly by joyous exclamations and embraces from the others.
"Dear me, what a long stay you made of it!" said Adelaide. "You can have no idea how I missed you all; even down to this little man," patting Horace's rosy cheek. "You look remarkably well, Rose; and the two Horaces also; but Elsie, I think, has grown a little pale, thin, and heavy-eyed. What ails you, child? Pining for your native air--no, home air--I presume. Is that it?"
"Hardly pining for it, auntie, but very glad to get back, nevertheless," Elsie answered, with a blush and a smile.
"And you are not pale now. But don't let me interrupt your pleasant employment. I wish I had been in time to see the whole of it."
"You are in season for your own gifts. Will you accept a trifle from me?" said her brother, putting a jewel-case into her hand.
"Coral! and what a beautiful shade!" she cried. "Thank you; they are just what I wanted."
"I thought they would contrast prettily with this, auntie," said Elsie, laying a dress-pattern of black silk upon her lap.
"And these are to be worn at the same time, if it so pleases you," added Rose, presenting her with collar and undersleeves of point lace.
"Oh, Rose, how lovely! and even little Horace bringing auntie a gift!" as the child slipped something into her hand.
"It's only a card-case; but mamma said you'd like it, Aunt Adie."
"And I do; it's very pretty. And here's a hug and a kiss for the pet boy that remembered his old-maid auntie."
"Old maid, indeed! Adelaide, I'll not have you talking so," said Rose. "There's nothing old-maidish about you; not even age yet; a girl of twenty-six to be calling herself that! it's perfectly absurd. Isn't it, my dear?"
"I think so, indeed," replied Mr. Dinsmore. "Here, Jim, Cato, and the rest of you carry in these trunks and boxes, and let us have them unpacked and put out of sight."
"Oh, yes!" said Adelaide, "I want to see all the fine things you have brought, Rose. Mamma, Enna, and I are depending upon you and Elsie for the fashions."
"Yes, we had all our fall and winter dresses made up in Philadelphia; we prefer their styles to the New York; they don't go to such extremes, you know; and besides--hailing from the Quaker city as I do, it's natural I should be partial to her plainer ways--but we brought quantities of patterns from both places; knowing that nothing was likely to be too gay for Enna. We will let Elsie display hers first. I feel in a special hurry, dear, to show your aunt those elegant silks your papa and I helped you to select. I hope you will see them all on her, one of these days, Adelaide.
"That child's complexion is so perfect, that she can wear anything," she added in an aside, as they followed Elsie to her apartments; "there's a pale blue that she looks perfectly lovely in; a pearl-color too, and a delicate pink, and I don't know how many more. One might think we expected her to do nothing but attend parties the coming season."
Elsie seemed to take a lively interest in displaying her pretty things to her aunt, and in looking on for a little, while Rose did the same with hers; but at length, though the two older ladies were still turning over and discussing silks, satins, velvets, laces, ribbons, feathers, and flowers, her father noticed her sitting in the corner of a sofa, in an attitude of weariness and dejection, with a pale cheek, and a dreary, far-off look in her eyes that it pained him to see.
"You are very tired, daughter," he said, going to her side, and smoothing her glossy brown hair with tender caressing motion, as he spoke; "go and lie down for an hour or two. A nap would do you a great deal of good."
"I don't like to do so while Aunt Adie is here, papa," she said, looking up at him with a smile, and trying to seem fresh and bright.
"Never mind that; you can see her any day now. Come, you must take a rest." And drawing her hand within his arm, he led her to her boudoir and left her there, comfortably established upon a sofa.
"A hat trimmed in that style would be becoming to Elsie," remarked Adelaide, continuing the conversation with Rose, and turning to look at her niece as she spoke. "Why, she's not here."
"Papa took her away to make her lie down," said little Horace.
"Rose, does anything ail the child?" asked Adelaide, in an undertone.
"She does not seem to be out of health; but you know we are very careful of her; she is so dear and sweet, and has never looked very strong."
"But there is something wrong with her, is there not? she does not seem to me quite the gay, careless child she was when you went away. Horace," and she turned to him, as he re-entered the room, "may I not know about Elsie? You can hardly love her very much better than I do, I think."
"If that is so, you must love her very much indeed," he answered with a faint smile. "Yes, I will tell you." And he explained the matter; briefly at first, then more in detail, as she drew him on by questions and remarks.
Her sympathy for Elsie was deep and sincere; yet she thought her brother's course the only wise and kind one, and her indignation waxed hot against Arthur and Egerton.
"And Elsie still believes in the scoundrel?" she said inquiringly.
"Yes, her loving, trustful nature refuses to credit the proofs of his guilt, and only her sweet, conscientious submission to parental authority has saved her from becoming his victim."
"She is a very good, submissive, obedient child to you, Horace."
"I could not ask a better, Adelaide. I only wish it were in my power to make obedience always easy and pleasant to her, poor darling."
"I hope you have something for me there, my dear," Rose remarked to her husband at the breakfast-table the next morning, as he looked over the mail just brought in by his man John.
"Yes, there is one for you; from your mother, I think; and, Elsie, do you know the handwriting of this?"
"No, papa, it is quite strange to me," she answered, taking the letter he held out to her, and which bore her name and address on the back, and examining it critically.
"And the post-mark tells you nothing either?"
"No, sir; I cannot quite make it out, but it doesn't seem to be any place where I have a correspondent."
"Well, open it and see from whom it comes. But finish your breakfast first."
Elsie laid the letter down by her plate, and putting aside, for the present, her curiosity in regard to it, went on with her meal. "From whom can it have come?" she asked herself, while listening half absently to extracts from Mr. Allison's epistle; "not from him surely, the hand is so very unlike that of the one he sent me in Lansdale."
"You have not looked at that yet," her father said, seeing her take it up as they rose from the table. "You may do so now. I wish to know who the writer is. Don't read it till you have found that out," he added, leading her to a sofa in the next room, and making her sit down there, while he stood by her side.
She felt that his eye was upon her as she broke open the envelope and, taking the letter from it, glanced down the page, then in a little flutter of surprise and perplexity turned to the signature. Instantly her face flushed crimson, she trembled visibly, and her eyes were lifted pleadingly to his.
He frowned and held out his hand.
"Oh, papa, let me read it!" she murmured low and tremulously, her eyes still pleading more eloquently than her tongue.
"No," he said, and his look and gesture were imperative.
She silently put the letter into his hand, and turned away with a low sob.
"It is not worth one tear, or even an emotion of regret, my child," he said, sitting down beside her. "I shall send it back at once; unread, unless you prefer to have me read it first."
"Very well, then I shall not. But, Elsie, do you not see now that he is quite capable of imitating the handwriting of another?"
"Yes, papa; but that does not prove that he did in the case you refer to."
"And he has acted quite fairly and honestly in using that talent to elude my vigilance and tempt you to deception and disobedience, eh?"
"He is not perfect, papa, but I can't believe him as bad as you think."
"There are none so blind as those that won't see, Elsie; but, remember"--and his tone changed from one of great vexation to another sternly authoritative--"I will be obeyed in this thing."
"Yes, papa," she said, and rising, hastily left the room.
"Try to be very patient with her, dear," said Rose, who had been a silent, but deeply interested spectator of the little scene; "she suffers enough, poor child!"
"Yes, I know it, and my heart bleeds for her; yet she seems so wilfully blind to the strongest proofs of the fellow's abominable rascality that at times I feel as if I could hardly put up with it at all. The very pain of seeing her suffer so makes me out of all patience with her folly."
"Yes, I understand it, but do not be stern with her; she surely does not deserve it while she is so perfectly submissive to your will."
"No, she does not, poor darling," he said with a sigh. "But I must make haste to write some letters that ought to go by the next mail."
He left the room, and Mrs. Dinsmore, longing to comfort Elsie in her trouble, was about to go in search of her, when Mrs. Murray, who was still housekeeper at the Oaks, came to ask advice or direction about some household matters.
Their consultation lasted for half an hour or more, and in the meanwhile Mr. Dinsmore finished his correspondence and went himself to look for his daughter. She was in the act of opening her writing-desk as he entered the room.
"What are you doing, daughter?" he asked.
"I was about to write a letter to Sophy, papa."
"It would be too late for to-day's mail; so let it wait, and come with me for a little stroll into the grounds. Aunt Chloe, bring a garden hat and sunshade. You would like to go, daughter?"
"Yes, sir. Papa, you are not vexed with me? You don't think I want to be disobedient or wilful?" There were tears in her voice and traces of them on her cheeks.
"No, darling!" he said, drawing her to him, "and you did not in the least deserve to be spoken to in the stern tone that I used. But--can you understand it?--my very love for you makes me angry and impatient at your persistent love for that scoundrel."
"Papa, please don't!" she said in a low, pained tone, and turning away her face.
"Ah, you do not like to hear a word against him!" he sighed; "I can't bear to think it, and yet I fear you care more for him than for me, your own father, who almost idolizes you. Is it so?"
"Papa," she murmured, winding her arms about his neck, and laying her head on his breast, "if I may have but one of you, I could never hesitate for a moment to choose to cling here where I have been so long and tenderly cherished. I know what your love is,--I might be mistaken and deceived in another. And besides, God commands me to honor and obey you."
He held her close to his heart for a moment, as something too dear and precious ever to be given up to another, then drawing her hand within his arm, while Chloe placed the hat on her head, and gave her the parasol, he led her out into the grounds.
It pained him to notice the sadness of her countenance, sadder than he had seen it for many days, and he exerted himself to entertain her and divert her thoughts, calling her attention to some new plants and flowers, consulting her taste in regard to improvements he designed making, and conversing with her about a book they had been reading.
She understood his thoughtful kindness, was grateful for it, and did her best to be interested and cheerful.
"It is so nice to have you treat me as your companion and friend as well as your daughter, papa," she said, looking up at him with a smile.
"Your companionship is very dear and sweet to me, daughter," he answered. "But I think we had better go in now; the sun is growing hot."
"Oh, here you are!" cried a girlish voice as they turned into a shaded walk leading to the house. "I've been looking everywhere and am glad to have found you at last. Really, if a body didn't know your relationship, he or she might almost imagine you a pair of lovers."
"Don't be silly, Enna. How do you do?" said Mr. Dinsmore, shaking hands with her and giving her a brotherly kiss.
"As usual, thank you," she answered, turning from him to Elsie, whom she embraced with tolerable warmth, saying, "I'm really glad to have you here again. I missed you more than I would have believed. Now come in and show me all your pretty things. I'm dying to see them. Adelaide says you've brought home such quantities of lovely laces, silks, velvets, ribbons, flowers, feathers and what not, that one might imagine you'd nearly bought out the Philadelphia merchants."
"No, they had quite a stock still left," replied Elsie, smiling; "but, as mamma says, papa was very indulgent and liberal to us both; and I shall take pleasure in showing you his gifts."
"How do you like my present to Adelaide? asked Mr. Dinsmore.
"Oh, very much; but when my turn comes please remember I want amethysts."
"Ah, then I have been fortunate in my selection," he said, quite unsuspicious of the fact that Enna had instructed Elsie beforehand in regard to her wishes, should Horace intend making her a present. Elsie had quietly given the desired hint, but merely as though the idea had originated with herself.
The jewelry was highly approved, as also a rich violet silk from Rose, and a lace set from Elsie.
Adelaide had been intrusted with quite as rich gifts for her father and mother; nor had Lora been forgotten; Elsie had a handsome shawl for her, Mr. Dinsmore a beautiful pair of bracelets, and Rose a costly volume of engravings.
"Do you think Aunt Lora will be pleased?" asked Elsie.
"They're splendid! It must be mighty nice to have so much money to spend. But come now, show me what you got for yourselves."
She spent a long while, first in Rose's apartment, then in Elsie's, turning over and admiring the pretty things, discussing patterns, and styles of trimming, and what colors and modes would be becoming to her, trying on some of the dresses, laces, sacques, shawls, bonnets, and hats--without so much as saying by your leave, when the article in question belonged to her niece--that she might judge of the effect; several times repeating her remark that it must be delightful to have so much money, and that Elsie was exceedingly fortunate in being so enormously wealthy.
"Yes; it is something to be thankful for," Elsie said at length, "but, Enna, it is also a great responsibility. We are only stewards, you know, and sometimes I fear it is hardly right for me to spend so much in personal adornment."
"That wouldn't trouble me in the least; but why do you do it, if you are afraid it's wrong?"
"Papa does not think so; he says the manufacturers of these rich goods must live as well as others, and that for one with my income, it is no more extravagant to wear them than for one with half the means to wear goods only half as expensive."
"And I'm sure he's perfectly right; and of course you have no choice but to obey. Well, I presume I've seen everything now, and I'm actually weary with my labors," she added, throwing herself into an easy-chair. "You've grown a little pale, I think, and your eyes look as if you'd been crying. What ails you?"
"I am not at all ill," returned Elsie, flushing.
"I didn't say you were, but something's wrong with you, and you can't deny it; you don't seem as gay as you used to before you went away."
She paused, but receiving no reply, went on. "Come now, it isn't worth while to be so close-mouthed with me, Miss Dinsmore; for I happen to know pretty much all about it already. You've fallen in love with a man that your father thinks is a scamp and though you don't believe it, you've given him up, in obedience to orders, like the cowardly piece that you are. Dear me, before I'd be so afraid of my father!"
"No, you neither fear nor love your father as I do mine; but fear of papa has very little to do with it. I love him far too well to refuse to submit to him in this, and I fear God, who bids me obey and honor him. But, Enna, how did you learn all this?"
"Ah, that is my secret."
Elsie looked disturbed. "Won't you tell me?"
"Is it generally known in the family?"
"So far as I am aware, no one knows it but myself."
"Ah!" thought Elsie, "I did not believe Aunt Adelaide or Walter would tell her; but I wonder how she did find it out."
"I wouldn't give up the man I loved for anybody," Enna went on in a sneering tone. "I say parents have no business to interfere in such matters; and so I told papa quite plainly when he took it upon him to lecture me about receiving attentions from Dick Percival, and threatened to forbid him the house."
"You consider it wickedly disrespectful and rebellious no doubt, but I say I'm no longer a child, and so the text, 'Children obey your parents'--which I know is just on the end of your tongue--doesn't apply to me."
"The Bible doesn't say obey till you are of age, then do as you please. You are not seventeen yet, and Isaac was twenty when he submitted to be bound and laid upon the altar."
"Well, when I go to the altar, it shall be leaning on Dick's arm," said Enna, laughing. "I don't care if he is wild; I like him, and intend to marry him too."
"But are you not afraid?"
"Afraid of what?"
"That he will run through his property in a few years, and perhaps become an habitual drunkard and abusive to his wife."
"I mean to risk it anyhow," returned Enna sharply, "so it is not worth while for my friends to waste their breath in lecturing me on the subject."
"Oh, Enna! you can't expect a blessing, if you persist in being so undutiful; I think it would be well for you if your father were more like mine."
"Indeed! I wouldn't be your father's daughter for anything."
"And I am glad and thankful that I am."