Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
The human heart! 'tis a thing that lives In the light of many a shrine; And the gem of its own pure feelings gives Too oft on brows that are false to shine; It has many a cloud of care and woe To shadow o'er its springs, And the One above alone may know The changing tune of its thousand strings. --MRS. L.P. SMITH.
Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dinsmore were most anxious to promote Elsie's happiness, and in order to that to win her to forgetfulness of her unworthy suitor. Being Christians they did not take her to the ball-room, the Opera, or the theater (nor would she have consented to go had they proposed it), but they provided for her every sort of suitable amusement within their reach. She was allowed to entertain as much company and to pay as many visits to neighbors and friends as she pleased.
But a constant round of gayety was not to her taste; she loved quiet home pleasures and intellectual pursuits far better. And of these also she might take her fill, nor lack for sympathizing companionship; both parents, but especially her father, being of like mind with herself. They enjoyed many a book together, and she chose to pursue several studies with him.
And thus the weeks and months glided away not unhappily, though at times she would be possessed with a restless longing for news from Egerton, and for the love that was denied her; then her eyes would occasionally meet her father's with the old wistful, pleading look that he found so hard to resist.
He well understood their mute petition; yet it was one he could not grant. But he would take her in his arms, and giving her the fondest, tenderest caresses, would say, in a moved tone, "My darling, don't look at me in that way; it almost breaks my heart. Ah, if you could only be satisfied with your father's love!"
"I will try, papa," was her usual answer, "and oh, your love is very sweet and precious!"
Such a little scene, occurring one morning in Elsie's boudoir, was interrupted by Chloe coming in to say that Miss Carrington had called to see her young mistress and was waiting in the drawing-room.
"Show her in here, mammy," Elsie said, disengaging herself from her father's arms, and smoothing out her dress. "She used to come here in the old times without waiting for an invitation."
The Carringtons had not been able quite to forgive the rejection of Herbert's suit, and since his death there had been a slight coolness between the two families, and the girls had seen much less of each other than in earlier days; their intercourse being confined to an occasional exchange of formal calls, except when they met at the house of some common acquaintance or friend. Still they were mutually attached, and of late had resumed much of their old warmth of manner toward each other.
"Ah, this seems like going back to the dear old times again," Lucy said when their greetings were over, and sending an admiring glance about the luxuriously furnished apartment as she spoke. "I always thought this the most charming of rooms, Elsie, but how many lovely things,--perfect gems of art,--you have added to it since I saw it last."
"Papa's gifts to his spoiled darling, most of them," answered Elsie, with a loving look and smile directed to him.
"Petted, but not spoiled," he said, returning the smile.
"No, indeed, I should think not," said Lucy. "Mamma says she is the most perfectly obedient, affectionate daughter she ever saw, and I can't tell you how often I have heard her wish I was more like her."
"Ah," said Elsie, "I think Mrs. Carrington has always looked at me through rose-colored spectacles."
After a little more chat Lucy told her errand. Her parents and herself, indeed the whole family, she said, had greatly regretted the falling off of their former intimacy and strongly desired to renew it; and she had come to beg Elsie to go home with her and spend a week at Ashlands in the old familiar way.
Elsie's eye brightened, and her cheek flushed. "Dear Lucy, how kind!" she exclaimed; then turned inquiringly to her father.
"Yes, it is very kind," he said. "Use your own pleasure, daughter. I think perhaps the change might do you good."
"Thanks, papa, then I shall go. Lucy, I accept your invitation with pleasure."
They were soon on their way, cantering briskly along side by side, Lucy in gay, almost wild spirits, and Elsie's depression rapidly vanishing beneath the combined influence of the bracing air and exercise, the brilliant sunshine, and her friend's lively sallies.
Arrived at Ashlands, she found herself received and welcomed with all the old warmth of affection. Mrs. Carrington folded her to her heart and wept over her. "My poor boy!" she whispered; "it seems almost to bring him back again to have you with us once more. But I will not mourn," she added, wiping her eyes; "for our loss has been his great gain."
Tender memories of Herbert, associated with nearly every room in the house, saddened and subdued Elsie's spirit for a time, yet helped to banish thoughts of Egerton from her mind.
But Lucy had a great deal to tell her, and in listening to these girlish confidences, Herbert was again half forgotten. Lucy too had spent the past summer in the North, and had there "met her fate." She was engaged, the course of true love seemed to be running smoothly, and they expected to marry in a year.
Elsie listened with interest, sympathizing warmly in her friend's happiness; but Lucy, who was watching her keenly, noticed a shade of deep sadness steal over her face.
"Now I have told you all my secrets," she said, "won't you treat me as generously, by trusting me with yours?"
"If I had as happy a tale to tell," replied Elsie, the tears filling her eyes.
"You poor dear, what is wrong? Is it that papa refuses his consent."
Elsie nodded; her heart was too full for speech.
"What a shame!" cried Lucy. "Does he really mean to keep you single all your life? is he quite determined to make an old maid of you?"
"No, oh, no! but he does not believe my friend to be a good man. There seems to be some sad mistake, and I cannot blame papa; because if Mr. Egerton really was what he thinks him, it would be folly and sin for me to have anything to do with him; and indeed I could not give either hand or heart to one so vile,--a profane swearer, gambler, drunkard, and rake."
"Oh, my, no!" and Lucy looked quite horrified; "but you don't believe him such a villain?"
"No; on the contrary I think him a truly converted man. I believe he was a little wild at one time; for he told me he had been; but I believe, too, that he has truly repented, and therefore ought to be forgiven."
"Then I wouldn't give him up if I were you, father or no father," remarked Lucy, with spirit.
"But, Lucy, there is the command, 'Children, obey your parents.'"
"But you are not a child."
"Hardly more, not of age for more than two years."
"Well, when you are of age, surely you will consider a lover's claims before those of a father."
"No," Elsie answered low and sadly. "I shall never marry without papa's consent. I love him far too dearly to grieve him so; and it would be running too fearful a risk."
"Then you have resigned your lover entirely?"
"Unless he can some day succeed in convincing papa that he is not so unworthy."
"Well, you are a model of filial piety! and deserve to be happy, and I am ever so sorry for you," cried Lucy, clasping her in her arms, and kissing her affectionately.
"Thank you, dear," Elsie said, "but oh, I cannot bear to have my father blamed. Believing as he does, how could he do otherwise than forbid all intercourse between us? And he is so very, very kind, so tenderly affectionate to me. Ah, I could never do without his dear love!"
After this, the two had frequent talks together on the same subject, and though Lucy did not find any fault with Mr. Dinsmore, she yet pleaded Egerton's cause, urging that it seemed very unfair in Elsie to condemn him unheard, very hard not to allow him even so much as a parting word.
"I had no choice," Elsie said again and again, in a voice full of tears; "it was papa's command, and I could do nothing but obey. Oh, Lucy, it was very, very hard for me, too! and yet my father was doing only his duty, if his judgment of Mr. Egerton's character was correct."
One afternoon, when Elsie had been at Ashlands four or five days, Lucy came flying into her room; "Oh, I'm so glad to find you dressed! You see I'm in the midst of my toilet, and Scip has just brought up word that a gentleman is in the parlor asking for the young ladies--Miss Dinsmore and Miss Carrington. Would you mind going down alone and entertaining him till I come? do, there's a dear."
"Who is he?"
"Scip didn't seem to have quite understood the name; but it must be some one we both know, and if you don't mind going, it would be a relief to my nerves to know that he's not sitting there with nothing to do but count the minutes, and think, 'What an immense time it takes Miss Carrington to dress. She must be very anxious to make a good impression upon me.' For you see men are so conceited, they are always imagining we're laying ourselves out to secure their admiration."
"I will go down then," Elsie answered, smiling, "and do what I can to keep him from thinking any such unworthy thoughts of you. But please follow me as soon as you can."
The caller had the drawing-room to himself, and as Elsie entered was standing at the centre-table with his back toward her. As she drew near, he turned abruptly, caught her hand in his, threw his arm about her waist, and kissed her passionately, crying in a low tone of rapturous delight, "My darling, I have you at last! Oh, how I have suffered from this cruel separation."
It was Egerton, and for a few moments she forgot everything else, in her glad surprise at the unexpected meeting.
He drew her to a sofa, and still keeping his arm about her, poured out a torrent of fond loverlike words, mingled with tender reproaches that she had given him up so easily, and protestations of his innocence of the vices and crimes laid to his charge.
At first Elsie flushed rosy red, and a sweet light of love and joy shone in the soft eyes, half veiled by their heavy, drooping lashes; but as he went on her cheek grew deathly pale, and she struggled to free herself from his embrace.
"Let me go!" she cried, in an agitated tone of earnest entreaty, "I must, indeed I must! I can't stay--I ought not; I should not have come in, or allowed you to speak to, or touch me. Papa has forbidden all intercourse between us, and he will be so angry." And she burst into tears.
"Then don't go back to him; stay with me, and give me a right to protect you from his anger. I can't bear to see you weep, and if you will be mine--my own little wife, you shall never have cause to shed another tear," he said, drawing her closer to him and kissing them away.
"No, no, I cannot, I cannot! You must let me go; indeed you must!" she cried, shrinking from the touch of his lip upon her cheek, and averting her face, "I am doing wrong, very wrong to stay, here!"
"No, I shall hold you fast for a few blissful moments at least;" he answered, tightening his grasp and repeating his caresses, as she struggled the harder to be free. "You cannot be so cruel as to refuse to hear my defence."
"Oh, I cannot stay another moment--I must not hear another word, for every instant that I linger I am guilty of a fresh act of disobedience to papa. I shall be compelled to call for help it you do not loose your hold."
He took his arm from her waist, but still held fast to her hand. "No, don't do that," he said; "think what a talk it would make. I shall detain you but a moment, and surely you may as well stay that much longer; 'in for a penny, in for a pound,' you know. Oh, Elsie, can't you give me a little hope."
"If you can gain papa's approval, not otherwise."
"But when you come of age."
"I shall never marry without my father's consent."
"Surely you carry your ideas of obedience too far. You owe a duty to yourself and to me, as well as to your father. Excuse my plainness, but in the course of nature we shall both outlive him, and is it right to sacrifice the happiness of our two lives because he has unfortunately imbibed a prejudice against me?"
"I could expect no blessing upon a union entered into in direct opposition to my father's wishes and commands," she answered with sad and gentle firmness.
"That's a hard kind of obedience; and I don't think it would answer to put in practice in all cases," he said bitterly.
"Perhaps not; I do not attempt to decide for others; but I am convinced of my own duty; and know too that I should be wretched indeed, if I had to live under papa's frown. And oh, how I am disobeying him now! I must go this instant! Release my hand, Mr. Egerton." And she tried with all her strength to wrench it free.
"No, no, not yet," he said entreatingly. "I have not given you half the proofs of my innocence that I can bring forward; do me the simple justice to stay and hear them."
She made no reply but half yielded, ceasing her struggles for a moment. She had no strength to free her hand from his grasp, and could not bear to call others upon the scene. Trembling with agitation and eagerness, she waited for his promised proofs; but instead he only poured forth a continuous stream of protestations, expostulations and entreaties.
"Mr. Egerton, I must, I must go," she repeated; "this is nothing to the purpose, and I cannot stay to hear it."
A step was heard approaching; he hastily drew her toward him, touched his lips again to her cheek, released her, and she darted from the room by one door, as Lucy entered by another.
"Where is she? gone? what's the matter? wasn't she pleased to see you? wouldn't she stay?"
Lucy looked into the disappointed, angry, chagrined face of Egerton, and in her surprise and vexation piled question upon question without giving him time to answer.
"No, the girl's a fool!" he muttered angrily, and turning hastily from her, paced rapidly to and fro for a moment; then suddenly recollecting himself, "I beg pardon, Miss Carrington," he said, coming back to the sofa on which she sat regarding him with a perturbed, displeased countenance, "I--I forgot myself; but you will perhaps, know how to excuse an almost distracted lover."
"Really, sir," returned Lucy coolly, "your words just now did not sound very lover-like; and would rather lead one to suspect that possibly Mr. Dinsmore may be in the right."
He flushed hotly. "What can you mean, Miss Carrington?"
"That your love is for her fortune rather than for herself."
"Indeed you wrong me. I adore Miss Dinsmore, and would consider myself the happiest of mortals could I but secure her hand, even though she came to me penniless. But she has imbibed the most absurd, ridiculous ideas of filial duty and refuses to give me the smallest encouragement unless I can gain her father's consent and approval; which, seeing he has conceived a violent dislike to me, is a hopeless thing. Now can you not realize that the more ardent my love for her, the more frantically impatient I would feel under such treatment?"
"Perhaps so; men are so different from women; but nothing could ever make me apply such an epithet to the man I loved."
"Distracted with disappointed hopes, I was hardly a sane man at the moment, Miss Carrington," he said deprecatingly.
"The coveted interview has proved entirely unsatisfactory then?" she said in a tone of inquiry.
"Yes; and yet I am most thankful to have had sight and speech of her once more; truly grateful to you for bringing it about so cleverly. But--oh, Miss Carrington, could you be persuaded to assist me still further, you would lay me under lasting obligations!"
"Please explain yourself, sir," she answered coldly, moving farther from him, as he attempted to take her hand.
"Excuse me," he said. "I am not one inclined to take liberties with ladies; but I am hardly myself to-day; my overpowering emotion--my half distracted state of mind--"
Breaking off his sentence abruptly, and putting his hand to his head, "I believe I shall go mad if I have to resign all hope of winning the sweet, lovely Elsie," he exclaimed excitedly, "and I see only one way of doing it. If I could carry her off, and get her quite out of her father's reach, so that no fear of him need deter her from following the promptings of her own heart, I am sure I could induce her to consent to marry me at once. Miss Carrington, will you help me?"
"Never! If Elsie chooses to run away with you, and wants any assistance from me, she shall have it; but I will have nothing to do with kidnapping."
He urged, entreated, used every argument he could think of, but with no other effect than rousing Lucy's anger and indignation; "underhand dealings were not in her line," she told him, and finally--upon his intimating that what she had already done might be thought to come under that head--almost ordered him out of the house.
He went, and hurrying to her friend's room, she found her walking about it in a state of great agitation, and weeping bitterly.
"Oh, Lucy, how could you? how could you?" she cried, wringing her hands and sobbing in pitiable distress. "I had no thought of him when I went down; I did not know you knew him, or that he was in this part of the country at all. I was completely taken by surprise, and have disobeyed papa's most express commands, and he will never forgive me, never! No, not that either, but he will be very, very angry. Oh, what shall I do!"
"Oh, Elsie, dear, don't be so troubled! I am as sorry as I can be," said Lucy, with tears in her eyes. "I meant to do you a kindness; indeed I did; I thought it would be a joyful surprise to you.
"I met him last summer at Saratoga. He came there immediately from Lansdale, and somehow we found out directly that we both knew you, and that I was a near neighbor and very old friend of yours; and he told me the whole story of your love-affair, and quite enlisted me in his cause; he seemed so depressed and melancholy at your loss, and grieved so over the hasty way in which your father had separated you,--not even allowing a word of farewell.
"He told me he hoped and believed you were still faithful to him in your heart, but he could not get to see or speak to you, or hold any correspondence with you. And so I arranged this way of bringing you together."
"It was kindly meant, I have no doubt, Lucy, but oh, you don't know what you have done! I tremble at the very thought of papa's anger when he hears it; for I have done and permitted things he said he would not allow for thousands of dollars."
"Well, dear, I don't think you could help it; and I'm so sorry for my share in it," said Lucy, putting her arms round her, and kissing her wet cheek. "But perhaps your father will not be so very angry with you after all; and at any rate you are too old to be whipped, so a scolding will be the worst you will be likely to get."
"He never did whip me, never struck me a blow in his life; but I would prefer the pain of a dozen whippings to what I expect," said Elsie, with a fresh burst of tears.
"What is that, you poor dear?" asked Lucy. "I can't imagine what he could do worse than beat you."
"He may put me away from his arms for weeks or months, and be cold, and stern, and distant to me, never giving me a caress or even so much as a kind word or look. Oh, if he should do that, how can I bear it!"
"Well, don't tell him anything about it. I wouldn't, and I don't see any reason why you should."
Elsie shook her head sorrowfully. "I must; I never conceal anything--any secret of my own--from him; and I should feel like a guilty thing, acting a lie, and could not look him in the face; and he would know from my very look and manner that something was wrong, and would question me, and make me tell him all. Lucy, I must go home at once."
"No, indeed, you must not. Why, you were to stay a week--two days longer than this; and if you were ready to start this minute, it would be quite dark before you could possibly reach the Oaks."
Elsie looked at her watch, and perceiving that her friend was right, gave up the idea of going that day, but said she must leave the next morning. To that Lucy again objected. "I can't bear to lose those two days of your promised visit," she said, "for if you are determined to tell your papa all about this, there's no knowing when he will allow you to come here again."
"Never, I fear," sighed Elsie.
"I haven't been able to help feeling a little hard to him on poor Herbert's account," Lucy went on, "and I believe that had something to do with my readiness to help Egerton to outwit him in obtaining an interview with you. But I'll never do anything of the kind again; so he needn't be afraid to let you come to see us."
She then told Elsie what had passed in the drawing-room between Egerton and herself--his request and her indignant refusal.
It helped to shake Elsie's confidence in the man, and made her still more remorseful in view of that day's disobedience; for she could not deceive herself into the belief that she had been altogether blameless. "As I said before, I can't bear the idea of losing you so soon," continued Lucy, "but there is still another reason why I must beg of you to stay till the set time of your leaving. Mamma knows nothing about this affair, and would be exceedingly displeased with me, if she should find it out; as of course she must, if you go to-morrow; as that would naturally call out an explanation. So, dear, do promise me that you will give up the idea."
Elsie hesitated, but not liking to bring Lucy into trouble, finally yielded to her urgent entreaties, and consented to stay.
All the enjoyment of her visit, however, was over; she felt it impossible to rest till her father knew all, shed many tears in secret, and had much ado to conceal the traces of them, and appear cheerful in the presence of the family.
But the two wretched days were over at last, and declining the urgent invitations of her friends to linger with them a little longer, she bade them an affectionate farewell, and set out for home.
Jim had been sent to escort her, another servant with the wagon for Chloe and the luggage. Struck with a sudden fear that she might meet or be overtaken by Egerton, Elsie ordered Jim to keep up close in the rear, then touching the whip to her horse, started off at a brisk canter. Her thoughts were full of the coming interview with her father, which she dreaded exceedingly, while at the same time she longed to have it over. She drew rein at the great gates leading into the grounds, and the servant dismounted and opened them.
"Jim," she asked, "is your master at home?"
"Dunno, Miss Elsie, but the missus am gone ober to Ion to spend the day, an lef' little Marse Horace at Roselands."
"Why, what's the matter, Jim?"
"De missus at Ion little bit sick, I b'lieve, Miss Elsie."
"And papa didn't go with them?"
"Yes, miss; but he comed right back again, and I 'spect he's in de house now."
"Dear papa! he came back to receive me," murmured Elsie to herself, as she rode on, and a scalding tear fell at the thought of how the loving look and fond caress with which he was sure to greet her, would be quickly exchanged for dark frowns, and stern, cold reproofs.
"Oh, if I were a child again, I believe I should hope he would just whip me at once, and then forgive me, and it would be all over; but now--oh, dear! how long will his displeasure last?"
It was just as she had expected; he was on the veranda, watching for her coming--hastened forward, assisted her to alight, embraced her tenderly, then pushing aside her veil, looked searchingly into her face.
"What is the matter?" he asked, as her eyes met his for an instant with a beseeching, imploring glance, then fell beneath his gaze while her face flushed crimson.
She tried to answer him, but her tongue refused to do its office, there was a choking sensation in her throat and her lips quivered.
He led her into his private study, took off her hat and threw it aside, and seating her on a sofa, still keeping his arm about her--for she was trembling very much--asked again, "What is the matter? what has gone wrong with you, my daughter?"
His tone, his look, his manner were very gentle and tender; but that only increased her remorse and self-reproach.
"Papa, don't be so kind," she faltered; "I--I don't deserve it, for I have--disobeyed you."
"Is it possible! when? where? and how? Can it be that you have seen and spoken with that--scoundrel, Elsie?"
"Yes, papa." Her voice was very low and tremulous, her heart throbbed almost to suffocation, her bosom heaved tumultuously, and her color came and went with every breath.
He rose and paced hurriedly across the room two or three times, then coming back to her side, "Tell me all about it," he said sternly--"every action, every word spoken by either, as far as you can recall it."
She obeyed in the same low, tremulous tones in which she had answered him before, her voice now and then broken by a half-smothered sob, and her eyes never once meeting his, which she felt were fixed so severely upon her tearful, downcast face.
He cross-questioned her till he knew all that had passed nearly as well as if he had been present through the whole interview, his tones growing more and more stern and angry.
"And you dared to permit all that, Elsie?" he exclaimed when she had finished; "to allow that vile wretch to put his arm around you, hold your hand in his, for half an hour probably, and even to press his lips again and again to yours or to your cheek; and that after I had told you I would not have him take such a liberty with you for half I am worth; and--"
"Not to my lips, papa."
"Then it is not quite so bad as I thought, but bad enough certainly; and all this after I had positively forbidden you to even so much as exchange the slightest salutation with him. What am I to think of such high-handed rebellion?"
"Papa," she said beseechingly, "is not that too hard a word? I did not disobey deliberately--I don't think anything could have induced me to go into that room knowing that he was there. I was taken by surprise, and when he had got hold of my hand I tried in vain to get it free."
"Don't attempt to excuse yourself, Elsie. You could have escaped from him at once, by simply raising your voice and calling for assistance. I do not believe it would have been impossible to avoid even that first embrace; and it fairly makes my blood boil to think he succeeded in giving it to you. How dared you so disobey me as to submit to it?"
"Papa, at the moment I forgot everything but--but just that he was there."
The last words were spoken in a voice scarcely raised above a whisper, while her head drooped lower and lower and her cheek grew hot with shame.
"Did I ever take forgetfulness of my orders as any excuse of disobedience?" he asked in as stern a tone as he had ever used to her.
"No, papa; but oh, don't be very angry with me!"
"I am exceedingly displeased with you, Elsie! so much so that nothing but your sex saves you from a severe chastisement. And I cannot allow you to escape punishment. You must be taught that though no longer a mere child, you are not yet old enough to disobey me with impunity. Hush!" as she seemed about to speak, "I will not have a word of reply. Go to your own apartments and consider yourself confined to them till you hear further from me. Stay!" he added as she rose to obey, "when did all this occur?"
She told him in her low, tearful tones, her utterance half choked with sobs.
"Two days ago, and yet your confession has been delayed till now. Does that look like penitence for your fault?"
She explained why she had not returned home at once; but he refused to accept the excuse, and ordered her away as sternly as before.
She obeyed in silence, controlling her feelings by a great effort, until she had gained the privacy of her own apartments, then giving way to a fit of almost hysterical weeping. It was years since her father had been seriously displeased with her, and loving him with such intense affection, his anger and sternness nearly broke her heart.
Her tender conscience pricked her sorely too, adding greatly to her distress by its reproaches on account of her disobedience and her delay in confessing it.
It came to her mind at length that her heavenly Father might be more tender and forbearing with her, more ready to forgive and restore to favor, than her earthly one. She remembered the sweet words, "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." She went to Him with her sin and sorrow, asking pardon for the past and help for the future. She asked, too, that the anger of her earthly parent might be turned away; that the Lord would dispose him to forgive and love her as before.
She rose from her knees with a heart, though still sad and sorrowful, yet lightened of more than half its load.
But the day was a very long one; with a mind so disturbed she could not settle to any employment, or find amusement in anything. She passed the time in wandering restlessly from room to room, starting and trembling as now and then she thought she heard her father's step or voice, then weeping afresh as she found that he did not come near her.
When the dinner-bell rang she hoped he would send, or come to her; but instead he sent her meal to her; such an one as was usual upon their table--both luxurious and abundant,--which comforted her with the hope that he was less displeased with her than at other times when he had allowed her little more than prison fare. But excitement and mental distress had brought on a severe headache; she had no appetite, and sent the food away almost untasted.
It was mild, beautiful weather in the early spring; such weather as makes one feel it a trial to be compelled to stay within doors, and Elsie longed for her favorite retreat in the grounds.
In the afternoon some ladies called; Mr. Dinsmore was out, and she dared not go to the drawing room without permission; but her headache furnished sufficient excuse for declining to see them, and they went away.
Shortly after, she heard her father's return. He had not been off the estate, or out of sight of the house; he was keeping guard over her, but still did not come near her.
Just at tea-time she again heard the sound of wheels; then her father's, mother's, and little brother's voices.
"Mamma and Horace have come home," she thought with a longing desire to run out and embrace them.
"Oh, papa, has sister come home?" she heard the child's voice ask in eager tones.
"Oh, then I must run into her room and kiss her!"
"No, you must not; stay here."
"But why mustn't I go to sister, papa?"
"Because I forbid it."
Every word of the short colloquy reached Elsie's ear, adding to her grief and dismay. Was she, then, to be separated from all the rest of the family? did her father fear that she would exert a bad influence over Horace, teaching him to be disobedient and wilful? How deeply humbled and ashamed she felt at the thought.
Rose gave her husband a look of surprised, anxious inquiry. "Is Elsie sick, dear?" she asked.
"No, Rose, but she is in disgrace with me," he answered in an undertone, as he led the way into the house.
"Horace, you astonish me! what can she have done to displease you?"
"Come in here; and I will tell you," he said, throwing open the door of his study.
Rose listened in silence, while he repeated to her the substance of Elsie's confession, mingled with expressions of his own anger and indignation.
"Poor child!" murmured Rose, as he concluded; "Horace, don't be hard with her; she must have suffered a great deal in these last three days."
"Yes," he answered in a moved tone; "when I think of that, I can scarcely refrain from going to her, taking her in my arms, and lavishing caresses and endearments upon her; but then comes the thought of her allowing that scoundrel to do the same, and I am ready almost to whip her for it." His face flushed hotly, and his dark eyes flashed as he spoke.
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Rose, half frightened at his vehemence, "you cannot mean it?"
"Rose," he said, pacing to and fro in increasing excitement, "the fellow is a vile wretch, whose very touch I esteem pollution to a sweet, fair, innocent young creature like my daughter. I told her so, and positively forbade her to so much as look at him, or permit him to see her face, if it could be avoided, or to recognize, or hold the slightest communication with him in any way. Yet in defiance of all this, she allows him to take her hand and hold it for, I don't know how long, put his arm around her waist and kiss her a number of times. Now what does such disobedience deserve?"
"Had she no excuse to offer?"
"Excuse? Yes, she did not disobey deliberately--was taken by surprise--forgot everything but that he was there."
"Well, my dear," and Rose's hand was laid affectionately on his arm, while a tender smile played about her mouth, and her sweet blue eyes looked fondly into his. "You know how it is with lovers, if you will only look back a very few years. I think there were times when you and I forgot that there was anybody in the wide world but just our two selves."
A smile, a tender caress, a few very lover-like words, and resuming his gravity and seriousness, Mr. Dinsmore went on: "But you forget the odious character of the man. If I had objected to him from mere prejudice or whim, it would have been a very different thing."
"But you know Elsie does not believe--"
"She ought to believe what her father tells her," he interrupted hotly; "but believe or not, she must and shall obey me; and if she does not I shall punish her."
"And to do that, you need only look coldly on her, and refrain from giving her caresses and endearing words. Such treatment from her dearly loved father would of itself be sufficient, very soon, to crush her tender, sensitive spirit."
His face softened, the frown left his brow, and the angry fire his eye. "My poor darling!" he murmured, with a sigh, his thoughts going back to a time of estrangement between them long years ago. "Yes, Rose, you are right; she is a very tender, delicate, sensitive plant, and it behooves her father to be exceeding gentle and forbearing with her."
"Then you will forgive her, and take her to your heart again?"
"Yes--if she is penitent;--and tell her that she owes it to her mother's intercession; for I had intended to make her feel herself in disgrace for days or weeks."
Chloe was at that moment carrying a large silver waiter, filled with delicacies, into the apartments of her young mistress. "Now, darlin', do try to eat to please your ole mammy," she said coaxingly, as she set it down before her. "I'se taken lots ob pains to fix up dese tings dat my pet chile so fond ob."
Elsie's only answer was a sad sort of smile; but for the sake of the loving heart that had prompted the careful preparation of the tempting meal--the loving eyes that watched her as she ate, she tried to do her best.
Only half satisfied with the result, Chloe bore the waiter away again, while Elsie seated herself in a large easy-chair that was drawn up close to the glass doors opening upon the lawn and laying her head back upon its cushions, turned her eyes toward the outer world, looking longingly upon the shaded alleys and gay parterres, the lawn with its velvet carpet of emerald green, where a fountain cast up its cool showers of spray, and long shadows slept, alternating with brilliant patches of ruddy light from the slowly sinking sun.
She sighed deeply, and her eyes filled with tears. "How long should she be forbidden to wander there at her own sweet will?"
A soft, cool hand was gently laid upon her aching brow, and looking up she saw her father standing by her side. She had not heard his approach, for his slippered feet made no noise in passing over the rich velvet carpet.
His face was grave, but no longer stern or angry. "Does your head ache, daughter?" he asked almost tenderly.
"Yes, papa; but not half so badly as my heart does," she answered, a tear rolling quickly down her cheek. "I am so sorry for my disobedience. Oh, papa, will you forgive me?" And her eyes sought his with the imploring look he ever found it well-nigh impossible to resist.
"Yes, I will--I do," he said, stooping to press a kiss upon the quivering lips. "I had thought I ought to keep you in disgrace some time longer, but your mamma has pleaded for you, and for her sake--and for the sake of a time, long ago, when I caused my little girl much undeserved suffering," he added, his tones growing tremulous with emotion, "I forgive and receive you back into favor at once."
She threw her arm about his neck, and as he drew her to his breast, laid her head down there, weeping tears of joy and thankfulness. "Dear, kind mamma! and you too, best and dearest of fathers! I don't deserve it," she sobbed. "I am afraid I ought to be punished for such disobedience."
"I think you have been," he said pityingly, "the last three days can hardly have been very happy ones to you."
"No, papa; very, very wretched."
"My poor child! Ah, I must take better care of my precious one in future. I shall allow you to go nowhere without either your mother or myself to guard and protect you. Also, I shall break off your intimacy with Lucy Carrington; she is henceforth to be to you a mere speaking acquaintance; come, now we will take a little stroll through the grounds. The cool air will, I hope, do your head good."