Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
'Twas the doubt that thou wert false, That wrung my heart with pain; But now I know thy perfidy, I shall be well again. --BRYANT.
Elsie submitted without a murmur to her father's requirements and restrictions; but though there was nothing else to remind her that she had been for one sad day in disgrace with him--his manner toward her having again all the old tender fondness--she did not fully recover her spirits, but, spite of her struggles to be cheerful and hopeful, seemed often depressed, and grew pale and thin day by day.
Her father noticed it with deep concern and anxiety. "Something must be done," he said one day to his wife; "the child is drooping strangely, and I fear will lose her health. I must try what change will do for her. What do you say to a year in Europe?"
"For all of us?"
"Yes, for you and me and our two children."
"It might be very pleasant, and Elsie has never been."
"No; I have always meant to take her, but found home so enjoyable that I have put it off from year to year."
Elsie entered the room as he spoke.
"Come here, daughter," he said, making room for her on the sofa by his side. "I was just saying to mamma that I think of taking you all to Europe for a year. How should you like that?"
"Oh, very much, papa!" she answered, looking up brightly; "I should so enjoy seeing all the places you have told me of,--all the scenes of your adventures when you travelled there before."
"Then I think we will go. Shall we not, mamma?"
"Yes; but I must pay a visit home first, and do some preparatory shopping in Philadelphia. Can we go on in time to spend some weeks there before sailing?"
"You might, my dear; but I shall have to stay behind to arrange matters here; which will take some time, in contemplation of so lengthened an absence from the estate."
"Then I suppose we must have a temporary separation," said Rose, in a jesting tone; "I had better take the children and go home at once, so that Elsie and I can be getting through our shopping, etc., while you are busy here."
"No, Rose; you may go, and take Horace with you, if you like; but Elsie must stay with me. I cannot trust her even with you!"
"Oh, papa!" And the sweet face flushed crimson, the soft eyes filled with tears.
"I think you misunderstand me, daughter," he said kindly; "I do not mean that I fear you would fail in obedience to my commands or my wishes; but that I must keep you under my protection. Besides, I cannot possibly spare all my treasures--wife, son, and daughter--at once. Would you wish to go and leave me quite alone?"
"Oh no, no, indeed, you dear, dearest father!" she cried, putting her arm round his neck, and gazing in his face with eyes beaming with joy and love.
"Yours is the better plan, I believe, my dear," said Rose. "I would rather not have you left alone, and I think I could do what is necessary for Elsie, in the way of shopping and ordering dresses made, if she likes to trust me."
So it was arranged; three days after this conversation Mrs. Dinsmore left for Philadelphia, taking little Horace with her, and a fortnight later Mr. Dinsmore followed with Elsie.
Dearly as the young girl loved Rose and her little brother, it had yet been an intense pleasure to her to have her father all to herself, and be everything to him for those two weeks; and she was almost sorry to have them come to an end.
It was late at night when they reached the City of Brotherly Love. Mr. Allison's residence was several miles distant from the depot, but his carriage was there in waiting for them.
"Are the family all well, Davis?" inquired Mr. Dinsmore, addressing the coachman, as he placed Elsie in the vehicle.
"All well, sir; Mrs. Dinsmore and the little boy too."
"Ah, I am thankful for that. You may drive on at once. My man John will call a hack and follow us with Aunt Chloe and the baggage."
"Did you give John the checks, papa?" asked Elsie as he took his seat by her side, and Davis shut the carriage door.
"Yes. How weary you look, my poor child! There, lean on me," and he put his arm about her and made her lay her head on his shoulder.
They drove on rapidly, passing through several comparatively silent and deserted streets, then suddenly the horses slackened their pace, a bright light shone in at the carriage window and the hum of many voices and sound of many feet attracted the attention of the travellers.
Elsie started and raised her head, asking, "What is it, papa?"
"We are passing a theatre, and it seems the play is just over, judging by the crowds that are pouring from its doors."
Davis reined in his horses to avoid running over those who were crossing the street, and Elsie, glancing from the window, caught sight of a face she knew only too well. Its owner was in the act of stepping from the door of the theatre, and staggered as he did so--would have fallen to the ground had he not been held up by his companion, a gaudily dressed, brazen-faced woman, whose character there was no mistaking.
"Ha, ha, Tom!" she cried, with a loud and boisterous laugh, "I saved you from a downfall that time; which I'll be bound is more than that Southern heiress of yours would have done."
"Now don't be throwing her up to me again, Bet," he answered thickly, reeling along so close to our travellers that they caught the scent of his breath; "I tell you again she can't hold a candle to you, and I never cared for her; it was the money I was after."
Mr. Dinsmore saw a deadly pallor suddenly overspread his daughter's face; for a single instant her eyes sought his with an expression of mute despairing agony that wrung his heart; then all was darkness as again the carriage rolled rapidly onward.
"My poor, poor darling!" he murmured, drawing her close to him and folding his arms about her as if he would shield her from every danger and evil, while hers crept around his neck and her head dropped upon his breast.
The carriage rattled on over the rough stones. Elsie clung with death-like grasp to her father, shudder after shudder shaking her whole frame, in utter silence at first, but at length, as they came upon a smoother road and moved with less noise and jolting, "Papa," she whispered, "oh, what a fearful, fearful fate you have saved me from! Thank God for a father's protecting love and care!"
"Thank Him that I have my darling safe." he responded in a deeply moved tone, and caressing her with exceeding tenderness.
In another moment they had stopped before Mr. Allison's door, which was thrown wide open almost on the instant; for Rose and Edward were up, waiting and listening for their coming.
"Come at last! glad to see you!" cried the latter, springing down the steps to greet his brother-in-law as he alighted. Then, as Mr. Dinsmore turned, lifted his daughter from the carriage, and half carried her into the house, "But what's the matter? Elsie ill? hurt? have you had an accident?"
Rose stood waiting in the hall. "My dear husband!" she exclaimed in a tone of mingled affection, surprise, and alarm. "What is it? what is wrong with our darling? Come this way, into the sitting-room, and lay her on the sofa."
"She has received a heavy blow, Rose, but I think--I hope it will turn out for her good in the end," he said low and tremulously, as he laid her down.
She seemed in a half-fainting condition, and Edward rushed away in search of restoratives.
Rose asked no more questions at the time, nor did her husband give any further information, but in silence, broken only now and then by a subdued whisper, they both devoted their energies to Elsie's restoration.
"Shall I go for a doctor?" asked Edward.
"No, thank you. I think she will be better presently," answered Mr. Dinsmore.
"I am better now," murmured Elsie feebly. "Papa, if you will help me up to bed, I shall do very well."
"Can't you eat something first?" asked Rose, "I have a nice little supper set out in the next room for papa and you."
Elsie shook her head, and sighed, "I don't think I could, mamma; I am not at all hungry."
"I want you to try, though," said her father; "it is some hours now since you tasted food, and I think you need it," and lifting her tenderly in his arms he carried her into the supper-room, where he seated her at the table in an easy-chair which Edward hastily wheeled up for her use.
To please her father she made a determined effort, and succeeded in swallowing a few mouthfuls. After that he helped her to her room and left her in the care of Rose and Chloe.
Having seen with her own eyes, and heard with her own ears, Elsie could no longer doubt the utter unworthiness of Egerton, or his identity with Tom Jackson; of whose vices and crimes she had heard from both her father and Walter, with whom she still kept up a correspondence. She loved him no longer; nay, she had never loved him; her affection had been bestowed upon the man she believed him to be, not the man that he was. But now the scales had fallen from her eyes, she saw him in all his hideous moral deformity, and shrank with horror and loathing from the recollection that his arm had once encircled her waist, his lip touched her cheek. She could now appreciate her father's feelings of anger and indignation on learning that she had permitted such liberties, and felt more deeply humbled and penitent on account of it than ever before.
She slept little that night, and did not leave her room for several days. The sudden shock had quite unnerved her; but the cause of her illness remained a secret between herself and her parents, who watched over her with the tenderest solicitude, and spared no effort to cheer and comfort her. She seemed at this time to shrink from all companionship but theirs, although she and her mamma's younger brothers and sisters had always entertained a warm friendship for each other.
On the fourth day after their arrival her father took her out for a drive, and returning left her resting on the sofa in her dressing-room, while he and Rose went for a short walk.
The door-bell rang, and presently Chloe came up with a very smiling face to ask if "Marse Walter" might come in.
"Walter?" cried Elsie, starting up. "Yes, indeed!"
She had scarcely spoken the words before he was there beside her, shaking hands, and kissing her, saying with a gay boyish laugh, "I suppose your uncle has a right?"
"Yes, certainly; though I don't know when, he ever claimed it before. But oh, how glad I am to gee you! and how you've grown and improved. Sit down, do. There's an easy-chair.
"Excuse my not getting up; papa bade me lie and rest for an hour."
"Thanks, yes; and I know you always obey orders. And so you're on the sick list? what's the matter?"
An expression of pain crossed her features and the color faded from her cheek. "I have been ailing a little," she said, "but am better now. How is Arthur?"
"H'm! well enough physically, but--in horrible disgrace with papa. You've no idea, Elsie, to what an extent that Tom Jackson has fleeced him. He's over head and ears in debt, and my father's furious. He has put the whole matter into Horace's hands for settlement. Did he tell you about it?"
"No, he only said he expected to go to Princeton to-morrow to attend to some business. He would have gone sooner, but didn't like to leave me."
"Careful of you as ever! that's right. I say, Elsie, I think Horace has very sensible ideas about matters and things."
"Do you? I own I think so myself," she answered with a quiet smile.
"Yes; you see Arthur is in debt some thousands, a good share of it what they call debts of honor. Papa had some doubt as to whether they ought to be paid, and asked Horace what was his opinion. Adelaide wrote me the whole story, you see. Here, I'll give it to you in his exact words, as she reports them," he added, taking a letter from his pocket and reading aloud, "'Father, don't think of such a thing! Why, surely it would be encouraging gambling, which is a ruinous vice; and paying a man for robbing and cheating. I would, if necessary, part with the last cent to pay an honest debt; but a so-called debt of honor (of dishonor would be more correct) I would not pay if I had more money than I could find other uses for.' And I think he was right. Don't you?" concluded Walter.
"I think papa is always right."
"Yes? Well, I was afraid you didn't think he was in regard to that--fellow you met out in Lansdale; I've been wanting to see you to tell you what I know of the scoundrelism of Tom Jackson, and the proof that they are one and the same."
"Yes, I know, I--I believe it now, Walter, and--But don't let us speak of it again," she faltered, turning deathly pale and almost gasping for breath.
"I won't; I didn't know you'd mind; I--I'm very sorry," he stammered, looking anxious, and vexed with himself.
"Never mind; I shall soon learn not to care. Now tell me about Arthur. Will he stay and finish his course?"
"No; papa says his patience is worn out, and his purse can stand no more such drains as Arthur has put upon it two or three times already. So he is to leave and go home as soon as Horace has settled up his affairs."
"I hope to go on and to graduate in another year."
"Oh, Wal, I'm so glad! so thankful you have'nt followed in poor Arthur's footsteps."
"He wouldn't let me, Elsie; he actually wouldn't. I know I'm lacking in self-reliance and firmness, and if Aft had chosen to lead me wrong, I'm afraid he'd have succeeded. But he says, poor fellow! that it's enough for one to be a disgrace to the family, and has tried to keep me out of temptation. And you can't think how much my correspondence with you has helped to keep me straight. Your letters always did me so much good."
"Oh, thank you for telling me that!" she cried, with bright, glad tears glistening in her eyes.
"No, 'tis I that owe thanks to you," he said, looking down meditatively at the carpet and twirling his watch-key between his finger and thumb.
"Poor Art! this ought to have been his last year, and doubtless would if he had only kept out of bad company."
"Ah, Wal, I hope that you will never forget that 'evil communications corrupt good manners.'"
"I hope not, Elsie. I wish you could stay and attend our commencement. What do you say? Can't you? It comes off in about a fortnight."
"No, Wal. I'm longing to get away, and papa has engaged our passage in the next steamer. But perhaps we may return in time to see you graduate next year."
"What, in such haste to leave America! I'm afraid you're losing your patriotism," he said playfully.
"Ah, it is no want of love for my dear native land that makes me impatient to be gone!" she answered half sadly.
"And are you really to be gone a year?"
"So papa intends, but of course everything in this world is uncertain."
"I shall look anxiously for my European letters, and expect them to be very interesting."
"I'll do my best, Wal," she said languidly, "but I don't feel, just now, as if I could ever write anything worth reading."
"I think I never saw you so blue," he said in a lively, jesting tone. "I must tell you of the fun we fellows have, and if it doesn't make you wish yourself one of us--Well," and he launched out into an animated description of various practical jokes played off by the students upon their professors or on each other.
He succeeded at length in coaxing some of the old brightness into the sweet face, and Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore, mounting the stairs on their return from their walk, exchanged glances of delighted surprise at the sound of a silvery laugh which had not greeted their ears for days.
Walter received a hearty welcome from both. His visit, though necessarily short, was of real service to Elsie, doing much to rouse her out of herself and her grief; thus beginning the cure which time and change of scene--dulling the keen edge of sorrow and disappointment, and giving pleasant occupation to her thoughts--would at length carry on to completion.