Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
"The shaken tree grows firmer at the roots; So love grows firmer for some blasts of doubt."
It was two years or more since the Oaks had suffered the temporary loss of its master and mistress, yet they had not returned; they still lingered on foreign shores, and Mrs. Murray, who had been left at the head of household affairs, looked in vain for news of their home-coming.
She now and then received a short business letter from Mr. Dinsmore or of directions from Rose; or a longer one from the latter or Elsie, giving entertaining bits of travel, etc.; and occasionally Adelaide would ride over from Roselands and delight the old housekeeper's heart by reading aloud a lively gossipy epistle one or the other had addressed to her.
How charmed and interested were both reader and listener; especially when they came upon one of Rose's graphic accounts of their presentation at court--in London, Paris, Vienna, or St. Petersburg--wherein she gave a minute description of Elsie's dress and appearance, and dwelt with motherly pride and delight upon the admiration everywhere accorded to the beauty and sweetness of the lovely American heiress.
It was a great gratification to Adelaide's pride in her niece to learn that more than one coronet had been laid at her feet; yet she was not sorry to hear that they had been rejected with the gentle firmness which she knew Elsie was capable of exercising.
"But what more could the bairn or her father desire? would he keep the sweet lassie single a' her days, Miss Dinsmore?" asked Mrs. Murray when Adelaide told her this.
"No," was the smiling rejoinder; "I know he would be very loath to resign her; but this is Elsie's own doing. She says the man for whom she would be willing to give up her native land must be very dear indeed, that her hand shall never be given without her heart, and that it still belongs more to her father than to any one else."
"Ah, that is well, Miss Adelaide. I hae been sorely troubled aboot my sweet bairn. I never breathed the thoct to ither mortal ear, but when they cam hame frae that summer in the North, she was na the blythe young thing she had been; and there was that in the wistfu' and hungered look o' her sweet een--when she turned them whiles upon her father--that made me think some ane he didna approve had won the innocent young heart."
"Ah, well, Mrs. Murray, whatever may have been amiss then, is all over now. My sister writes me that Elsie seems very happy, and as devotedly attached to her father as ever, insisting that no one ever can be so dear to her as he."
Mrs. Dinsmore's last letter was dated Naples, and there they still lingered.
One bright spring day they were out sight-seeing, and had wandered into a picture-gallery which they had visited once or twice before. Rose had her husband's arm. Elsie held her little brother's hand in hers.
"Sister," said the child, "look at those ladies and gentlemen. They are English, aren't they?"
"Yes; I think so," Elsie answered, following the direction of his glance; "a party of English tourists. No, one of the gentlemen looks like an American."
"That one nearest this way? I can only see his side face, but I think he is the handsomest. Don't you?"
"Yes; and he has a fine form too, an easy, graceful carriage, and polished manners," she added, as at that moment he stooped to pick up a handkerchief, dropped by one of the ladies of his party, and presented it to its owner.
Elsie was partial to her own countrymen, and unaccountably to herself, felt an unusual interest in this one. She watched him furtively, wondering who he was, and thinking that in appearance and manners he compared very favorably with the counts, lords, and dukes who in the past two years had so frequently hovered about her, and hung upon her smiles.
But her father called her attention to something in the painting he and Rose were examining, and when she turned to look again for the stranger and his companions, she perceived that they were gone.
"Papa," she asked, "did you notice that party of tourists?"
"Not particularly. What about them?"
"I am quite certain one of the gentlemen was an American; and I half fancied there was something familiar in his air and manner."
"Ah! I wish you had spoken of it while he was here, that I might have made sure whether he were an old acquaintance. But come," he added, taking out his watch, "it is time for us to return home."
The Dinsmores were occupying an old palace, the property of a noble family whose decayed fortunes compelled the renting of their ancestral home. In the afternoon of the day of their visit to the picture-gallery Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter were seated in its spacious saloon, she beside a window overlooking the street, he at a little distance from her, and near to a table covered with books, magazines, and newspapers. That day had brought him a heavy mail from America, and he was examining the New York and Philadelphia dailies with keen interest.
Elsie was evidently paying no heed to what might be passing in the street. A bit of fancy work gave employment to her fingers, while her thoughts were busy with the contents of a letter received from her Aunt Adelaide that morning.
It brought ill news. Arthur had been seriously injured by a railroad accident and, it was feared, was crippled for life. But that was not all. Dick Percival--whom Enna had married nearly two years before--had now become utterly bankrupt, having wasted his patrimony in rioting and drunkenness, losing large sums at the gaming-table; and his young wife, left homeless and destitute, had been compelled to return to her father's house with her infant son.
Mr. Dinsmore uttered a slight exclamation.
"What is it, papa?" asked Elsie, lifting her eyes to meet his fixed upon her with an expression of mingled gratitude and tenderness.
"Come here," he said, and as she obeyed he drew her to his knee, passing his arm about her waist, and, holding the paper before her, pointed to a short paragraph which had just caught his eye.
She read it at a glance; her face flushed, then paled; she put her arm about his neck, and laid her cheek to his, while tears trembled in the sweet eyes, as soft and beautiful as ever.
For a moment neither spoke; then she murmured in low, quivering tones the same words that had fallen from her lips two years ago,--"Thank God for a father's protecting love and care!"
"Thank Him that I have my daughter safe in my arms," he said, tightening his clasp about her slender waist. "Ah, my own precious child, how could I ever have borne to see you sacrificed to that wretch!"
They had just learned that Tom Jackson had been tried for manslaughter and for forgery, found guilty on both charges, and sentenced to the State's Prison for a long term of years.
They were quiet again for a little; then Elsie said, "Papa, I want to ask you something."
"Well, daughter, say on."
"I have been thinking how sad it must be for poor Enna to find herself so destitute, and that I should like to settle something upon her--say ten or twenty thousand dollars, if I may--"
"My dear child," he said with a smile, "I have no control over you now as regards the disposal of your property. Do you forget that you passed your majority three weeks ago?"
"No, papa, I have not forgotten; but I don't mean ever to do anything of importance without your approval. So please make up your mind that I'm always to be your own little girl; never more than eighteen or twenty to you. Now won't you answer my question about Enna?"
"I think it would be quite as well, or better, to defer any such action for the present. It won't hurt Enna to be made to feel poor and dependent for a time; she needs the lesson; and her parents will not allow her to suffer privation of any sort. Ah, here comes mamma in walking attire. We are going out for perhaps an hour; leaving house, servants, and the little ones in your charge. Horace, be careful to do just as your sister tells you."
"Yes, papa, I will," answered the child, who had come in with his mother, and had a book in his hand. "Will you help me with my lesson, Elsie, and hear me say it when it is learned?"
"Yes, that I will. Here's a stool for you close by my side," she said, going back to her seat by the window.
"Good-bye, dears, we won't be gone long." said Rose, taking her husband's arm.
Elsie and Horace watched them till they had passed out of sight far down the street, then returned to their employments; her thoughts now going back, not to Roselands, but to Lansdale, Ashlands, and Philadelphia; memory and imagination bringing vividly before her each scene of her past life in which Egerton had borne a part. Did any of the old love come back? No, for he was not the man who had won her esteem and affection; and even while sending up a silent petition for his final conversion, she shuddered at the thought of her past danger, and was filled with gratitude to God and her father at the remembrance of her narrow escape.
Her brother's voice recalled her from her musings. "Look, sister," he exclaimed, glancing from the window, "there is the very same gentleman we saw this morning! and see, he's crossing the street! I do believe he's coming here."
Elsie looked, recognized the stranger, and perceived, with a slight emotion of surprise and pleasure, that he was approaching their door. That he was her countryman, and perhaps direct from her dear native land, was sufficient to make him a welcome visitor.
The next moment John threw open the door of the saloon and announced, "A gentleman from America!"
"One who brings no letter of introduction; yet hopes for an audience of you, fair lady," he said, coming forward with smiling countenance and outstretched hand.
"Mr. Travilla! can it be possible!" she cried, starting up in joyful astonishment, and hastening to bid him welcome.
"You are not sorry to see me then, my little friend?" he said, taking her offered hand and pressing it in both of his.
"Sorry, my dear sir! what a question! Were you not always a most welcome guest in my father's house? and if welcome at home, much more so here in a foreign land."
Mr. Travilla looked into the sweet face, more beautiful than ever, and longed to treat her with the affectionate freedom of former days, yet refrained; the gentle dignity of her manner seeming to forbid it, pleased and cordial as was her greeting.
He turned to Horace and shook hands with him, remarking that he had grown very much.
"I am very glad to see you, sir," said the boy.
"You have not forgotten me then?"
"Ah, no, indeed; and I can't think how it was that sister and I did not know you yesterday in the picture-gallery; though we knew you were an American!"
"Ah, were you there? How blind I must have been!" and he turned to Elsie again.
"We were there for but a few minutes before your party left; and quite at the other end of that long gallery," she said. "But I am surprised that I failed to recognize you, even at that distance. But I had no thought of your being in the country. How delighted papa will be to see you. He has often spoken of the old times when you and he travelled over Europe together, and wished that you were with him on this trip. He and mamma have gone out, but will be in presently."
Elsie had many inquiries to make in regard to the health and welfare of relatives and friends, and the old family servants at the Oaks; Mr. Travilla numerous questions to ask concerning all that she had seen and done since leaving America. But in the midst of it all she exclaimed, "Ah, you must see our little Frenchwoman! such a darling as she is!"
"I'll ring the bell, sister," said Horace, seeing her glance toward it.
John appeared in answer, was ordered to tell the nurse to bring the baby, and a neatly dressed middle-aged woman presently entered the room, carrying a lovely infant a little more than a year old.
"See, is she not a darling?" said Elsie, taking it in her arms. "She has mamma's own sweet pretty blue eyes, and is named for her. Our Rosebud we call her. Papa gave her the name, and he says she is as much like her mother as I am like mine. You don't know, Mr. Travilla, how glad I was when she came to us; it was something so new and delightful to have a sister of my own. Ah, I love her dearly, and she returns my affection. There, see her lay her little head down on my shoulder."
Mr. Travilla admired and caressed the little creature, coaxed her to come to him for a moment, and the nurse carried her away.
"When do you return home, Elsie?" he asked.
"In the fall. Mr. and Mrs. Perris, mamma's grandparents, have their golden wedding in October. Sophy expects to be married at the same time, and of course we wish to be present on the occasion. We have yet to visit Turin, Venice, and Munich. After seeing these places we intend to spend the rest of the summer in Switzerland, sailing for America some time in September. Ah, here are papa and mamma!" she added as the two entered the room together.
"Travilla! what favorable wind blew you here?" cried Mr. Dinsmore, shaking his friend's hand, in almost boyish delight.
"A westerly one, I believe," answered Travilla, laughing and shaking hands with Rose, who looked scarcely less pleased than her husband. "They think at Roselands and the Oaks that your year is a very long one, or that you have lost your reckoning, and were anxious to send a messenger to assist you in recovering it; so I volunteered my services."
"Ah, that was kind! but to be able to do so to advantage you will need to take up your abode with us for the present, and to make one of our party when we start again upon our travels."
"Of course you will," added Rose; "we always consider you one of the family; a sort of brother to us and uncle to the children."
"Thank you, you are most kind," he said, a slight flush suffusing his cheek for an instant, while his eyes involuntarily sought Elsie's face with a wistful, longing look.
Her father turned laughingly to her. "Is this your stranger of the picture-gallery? ah, are you not ashamed of failing to recognize so old a friend?"
"Yes, papa, but I did not catch sight of his full face, and he was at quite a distance, and I never thinking of the possibility that he could be anywhere out of America."
"And time makes changes in us all--is fast turning me into a quiet middle-aged man."
"You are very kind to furnish another excuse for my stupidity," said Elsie, smiling, "but I really cannot see that you have changed in the least since I saw you last."
"And no stranger would ever think of pronouncing you over thirty," added Rose.
"Ah, you flatter me, fair ladies," returned Mr. Travilla, smiling and shaking his head.
"No, I can vouch for the truthfulness and honesty of both," said Mr. Dinsmore.
Mr. Travilla did not hesitate to accept his friend's invitation, knowing that it was honestly given, and feeling that he could not decline it without doing violence to his own inclination. He made one of their party during the rest of their stay in Europe and on the voyage to America.
His presence was most welcome to all; he saw no reason to doubt that, and yet Elsie's manner sometimes saddened and depressed him. Not that there was ever in it anything approaching to coolness, but it lacked the old delightful familiarity, instead of which there was now a quiet reserve, a gentle dignity, that kept him at a distance, and while increasing his admiration for the fair girl, made him sigh for the old childish days when she was scarcely under more constraint with him than with her father.
Our little party reached Philadelphia a fortnight before the golden wedding. They found the handsome city residence of the Allisons occupied by the family, and full of the pleasant stir and bustle of preparation for the eventful day which was to witness the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Ferris, and the marriage of their granddaughter.
Sophy, while paying a visit to Rose in her Southern home, had won the heart of Harry Carrington, and they had been engaged a year or more. Harry had once indulged in a secret penchant for Elsie; but now he would not have exchanged his merry, blue-eyed Sophy for her, or for any other lady in the land.
The young couple were married at church, very early in the evening, Elsie acting as first bridesmaid. Returning to the house the bridal party were ushered into the drawing-room, which they found richly ornamented with evergreens and flowers. In the centre rose a pyramid of rare and beautiful blossoms, filling the air with their delicious perfume. Above that was a wide arch of evergreens bearing the monograms of Mr. and Mrs. Ferris, placed between the dates of their marriage and of this anniversary.
The old bride and groom sat together beneath the arch on one side of the pyramid, while the newly-married pair took up a similar position, upon the other.
Only the family and near connections were present for the first half hour. The eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Ferris made a short address, thanking his aged parents for their unselfish love and devotion to their offspring, and exhorting the youthful bride and groom to follow in their footsteps. Upon the conclusion of this little speech, gifts were presented by children and grandchildren, and letters of congratulation, in both poetry and prose, from absent friends were read.
After this the doors were thrown open to the invited guests, and for the remainder of the evening the house was thronged with the elite of the city, and with friends and acquaintances from other parts of the country.
Among the latter were Adelaide and Walter Dinsmore, and Mr. Travilla and his mother. The last named was seated in the corner of a sofa, her son standing by her side.
He heard a low-breathed sigh, noted the quivering of her lip and the gathering tears in the gentle eyes, as she turned them upon the gray-haired bride and groom, and he knew that her thoughts were with the early dead, the husband and father whose image he could scarcely recall. His heart swelled with tender pitying, protecting love, as he thought of her long, lonely widowhood, and of all that she had been and still was to him.
But her gaze wandered to the pair standing just upon the threshold of married life; and smiling up at him, "They are a handsome couple," she said; "how proud and happy Harry looks! Ah, Edward, when will your turn come?"
He shook his head with a rather melancholy smile.
"It is your own fault, I am sure," she continued in a playful tone; "there are plenty of pretty girls and charming young widows who would like well to be mistress of Ion, and I am growing old, and sometimes feel that I would be glad to resign the sceptre to younger hands."
He gave her a glance of affectionate concern. "I shall look for a housekeeper immediately. I ought to have thought of it before."
"No, no, it is a daughter I want," she returned still playfully. "I have often wondered how it has come to pass that my warm-hearted boy seems so perfectly invulnerable to Cupid's darts."
"All seeming, mother," he answered lightly, but with a wistful yearning look in his eyes which were fixed upon a little group on the farther side of the room; "to tell you a secret," and he bent down, that the low-breathed words might catch her ear alone, "I have been hopelessly in love for many years."
She started with surprise,--for there was the ring of deep, earnest feeling beneath the jesting tone--then following the direction of his glance, and perceiving that the group upon which it rested was composed of Adelaide and Elsie Dinsmore, with some half dozen gentlemen who had gathered about them, she looked greatly pleased.
"And why hopeless?" she asked.
"Ah, the evidences of indifference are so patent that I cannot hope she will ever learn to care for me."
"And pray what may they be?"
"Constraint and reserve, where formerly there was much warmth and cordiality of manner."
"You foolish boy! if that be all, you may take heart. I would not ask for better symptoms. And remember the old proverb--'Faint heart never won fair lady.' You do not fear that she still clings to the old love?"
"No, ah no!"
"I never saw Adelaide look better than she does to-night," was Mrs. Travilla's next remark; "what a queenly presence, and noble face she has, and how very lovely our little Elsie is! She seems to have gained every womanly grace without losing a particle of her sweet childish simplicity and freshness."
Her son assented with a slight sigh, and wandered off in their direction. But before he reached the little group, Elsie had taken Harold Allison's arm and was being led away toward the conservatory. Harold had a rare plant to show her, and was glad of the excuse to get her to himself for a few moments.
For the rest of the evening Mr. Travilla devoted himself to Adelaide, his mother looking on with beaming countenance, and thinking how gladly she would welcome the dear girl to her heart and home.
It was past twelve when the company dispersed. Harry and his bride having started an hour before upon their wedding tour.
"Get to bed as soon as you can, my dear child; you are looking sadly fatigued," Mr. Dinsmore said, putting his arm about his daughter as she came to him for her good-night kiss.
"I will, papa," she answered, clinging to him with more than her usual warmth of affection. "Dear papa, what could I ever do without you to love me?"
"My darling, if it please the Lord, may we be long spared to each other," he whispered, clasping her close. "Now, good-night, and may He bless you, and keep you, and ever cause his face to shine upon you."
Elsie turned away with eyes full of tears, and her pillow was bedewed with them ere she slept that night. But the morning found her apparently her own bright, sunny self again.
She was in her mamma's dressing-room soon after breakfast, chatting with her and Adelaide, Mr. Dinsmore sitting by with Rosebud on his knee. Of course they were discussing the wedding, how lovely the bride and her attendants looked, how handsome the groom, how tasteful and becoming was the dress of this lady and that, how attentive was Mr. Such-an-one to Miss So-and-so, etc., etc. Rose making a little jesting allusion to "the devotion of a certain gentleman to Adelaide;" and saying how delighted she was; nothing could please her better than for them to fancy each other; when in the midst of it all, a servant came up with a message. "Mr. Travilla was in the drawing-room asking for Miss Dinsmore,--Miss Adelaide."
She went down at once, and as the door closed upon her, Rose turned to her husband with the laughing remark, "It would be a splendid match! they seem just made for each other. I wonder they didn't find it out long ago, and I begin to quite set my heart upon it."
"Better not, my dear, lest they disappoint you, and allow me to advise you to let match-making alone; 'tis a dangerous business. Elsie, my child, you are looking pale this morning; late hours do not agree with you. I think I shall have to take to sending you to bed at nine o'clock again, when once I get you home."
"Won't ten be early enough, papa?" she answered with a faint smile, a vivid color suddenly suffusing her cheek.
"Well, we will see about it. But I can't have you looking so. Go and put on your hat and shawl, and I will take you and mamma out for an airing?"
"Looking so?" said Rose, with an arch glance at the glowing cheeks, as she stooped to take Rosebud in her arms, "she is not pale now."
"No, certainly not," he said. "Come back, daughter," for Elsie had risen to obey his order, and was moving toward the door, "come here and tell me what ails you?"
"I am quite well, papa, only a little tired from last night, I believe," she answered, as he took her hands in his and looked searchingly into her face.
"I hope that is all," he said a little anxiously. "You must lie down and try to get a nap when we return from our drive; and remember you must be in bed by ten o'clock to-night."
"I shall do just as my father bids me," she said, smiling up at him, "my dear father who is so kindly careful of me." Then as he let go her hands, she tripped lightly from the room.
Mr. Travilla had come on an errand from his mother; she begged Adelaide's advice and assistance in a little shopping.
Adelaide was at leisure, and at once donned bonnet and shawl and went with him to the Girard House, where the old lady awaited their coming, and the three spent the remainder of the morning in attending to Mrs. Travilla's purchases and visiting the Academy of Fine Arts. In driving down Chestnut street, the Dinsmores passed them on their way to the Academy.
Adelaide did not return to Mr. Allison's to dinner, but Mr. Travilla called presently after, to say that she had dined with his mother and himself at the hotel, and would not return until bed-time, as they were all going to hear Gough lecture that evening.
He was speaking to Mrs. Allison. Several of the family were in the room, Elsie among them. She was slipping quietly away, when he turned toward her, saying: "Would you not like to go with us, my little friend? I think you would find it entertaining, and we would be glad to have you."
"Thank you, sir, you are very kind, but a prior engagement compels me to decline," she answered, glancing smilingly at her father.
"She has not been looking well to-day, and I have ordered her to go early to bed to-night," Mr. Dinsmore said.
"Ah, that is right!" murmured Mr. Travilla, rising to take leave.
The Travillas staid a week longer in the city. During that time Adelaide went out with them, quite frequently, but Elsie saw scarcely anything of her old friend; which was, however, all her own fault, as she studiously avoided him; much to his grief and disturbance. He could not imagine what he had done to so completely estrange her from him.
Mr. Dinsmore felt in some haste to be at home again, but Mrs. Allison pleaded so hard for another week that he consented to delay. Adelaide and Walter went with the Travillas, and wanted to take Elsie with them, but he would not hear of such an arrangement; while she said very decidedly that she could not think of being separated from her father.
She seemed gay and happy when with the family, or alone with him or Rose; but coming upon her unexpectedly in her dressing-room, the day after the others had left, he found her in tears.
"Why, my darling, what can be the matter?" he asked, taking her in his arms.
"Nothing, papa," she said, hastily wiping away her tears and hiding her blushing face on his breast--"I--I believe I'm a little homesick."
"Ah, then, why did you not ask to go with the others?"
"And leave you? Ah, do you not know that my father is more--a great deal more than half of home to me?" she answered, hugging him close. "And you wouldn't have let me go?"
"No, indeed, not I; but I'm afraid I really ought to read you a lecture. I daresay you miss Sophy very much, but still there are young people enough left in the house to keep you from feeling very dull and lonely, I should think; and as you have all your dear ones about you, and expect to go home in a few days--"
"I ought to be cheerful and happy. I know it, papa," she said, as he paused, leaving his sentence unfinished, "and I'm afraid I'm very wicked and ungrateful. But please don't be vexed with me, and I will try to banish this feeling of depression."
"I fear you are not well," he said, turning her face to the light and examining it with keen scrutiny; "tell me, are you ill?"
"No, papa, I think not. Don't be troubled about me."
"I shall send for a doctor if this depression lasts," he said decidedly, "for I shall have to conclude that it must arise from some physical cause, since I know of no other; and it is so foreign to the nature of my sunny-tempered little girl."
He saw no more of it, though he watched her carefully.
Great was the rejoicing at the Oaks when at last the family returned. Adelaide was there to welcome them, and Elsie thought she had never seen her look so youthful, pretty, and happy, Chloe remarked upon it while preparing her young mistress for bed, adding that the report in the kitchen was that Miss Adelaide and Mr. Travilla were engaged, and would probably marry very soon.
Elsie made no remark, but her heart seemed to sink like lead in her bosom. "Why am I grieving so? what is there in this news to make me sorry?" she asked herself as she wetted her pillow with her tears. "I'm sure I'm very glad that dear Aunt Adie is so happy, and--and I used often to wish he was my uncle." Yet the tears would not cease their flow till she had wept herself to sleep.
But she seemed bright and gay as usual in the morning, and meeting her parents at the breakfast-table, thought they looked as though something had pleased them greatly.
It was Rose who told her the news, as an hour later they sauntered around the garden together, noting the changes which had taken place there in their absence.
"I have something to tell you, dear," Rose said, and Elsie shivered slightly, knowing what was coming; "something that pleases your father and me very much, and I think will make you glad too. Can you guess what it is?"
"About Aunt Adelaide, mamma?" Elsie stooped over a plant, thus concealing her face from view, and so controlled her voice that it betrayed no emotion. "Yet; I know; she is engaged."
"And you are pleased with the match, of course; I knew you would be. You used so often to wish that he was your uncle, and now he soon will be. Your papa and I are delighted; we think there could not have been a more suitable match for either."
"I am very glad for her--dear Aunt Adie--and for--for him too," Elsie said, her voice growing a little husky at the last.
But Rose was speaking to the gardener, and did not notice it, and Elsie wandered on, presently turned into the path leading to her arbor and seeking its welcome privacy, there relieved her full heart by a flood of tears.
Mr. Travilla called that day, but saw nothing of his "little friend," and in consequence went away very sorrowful, and pondering deeply the question what he could have done to alienate her affections so entirely from him.
The next day he came again, quite resolved to learn in what he had offended, and was overjoyed at hearing that she was alone in her favourite arbor.
He sought her there and found her in tears. She hastily wiped them away on perceiving his approach, but could not remove their traces.
"Good-morning," she said, rising and giving him her hand; but with the reserved manner that had now become habitual, instead of the pleasant ease and familiarity of earlier days; "were you looking for papa? I think he is somewhere on the plantation."
"No, my dear child, it was you I wished to see."
"Me, Mr. Travilla?" and she east down her eyes, while her cheek crimsoned; for he was looking straight into them with his, so wistful and tender, so fall of earnest, questioning, sorrowful entreaty, that she knew not how to meet their gaze.
"Yes, you, my little friend, for I can no longer endure this torturing anxiety. Will you not tell me, dear child, what I have done to hurt or grieve you so?"
"I--I'm not hurt or gri--you have always been most kind," she stammered, "most--But why should you think I--I was--"
The rest of the sentence was lost in a burst of tears, and covering her burning cheeks with her hands, she sank down upon the seat from which she had risen to greet him.
"My dear child, I did not mean to pain you so; do not weep, it breaks my heart to see it. I was far from intending to blame you, or complain of your treatment," he said in an agitated tone, and bending over her in tender concern. "I only wanted to understand my error in order that I might retrieve it, and be no longer deprived of your dear society. Oh, little Elsie, if you only knew how I love you; how I have loved you, and only you, all these years--as child and as woman--how I have waited and longed, hoping even against hope, that some day I might be able to win the priceless treasure of your young heart."
Intense, glad surprise made her drop her hands and look up at him. "But are you not--I--I thought--I understood--Aunt Adelaide--"
"Your Aunt Adelaide!" he cried, scarcely less astonished than herself, "can it be that you do not know--that you have not heard of her engagement to Edward Allison?"
A light broke upon Elsie at that question, and her face grew radiant with happiness; there was one flash of exceeding joy in the soft eyes that met his, and then they sought the ground.
"Oh, my darling, could you? is it--can it be--"
He took her in his arms, folded her close to his heart, calling her by every tender and endearing name, and she made no effort to escape, or to avoid his caresses; did nothing but hide her blushing face on his breast, and weep tears of deep joy and thankfulness.
It might have been half an hour or an hour afterward (they reckoned nothing of the flight of time) that Mr. Dinsmore, coming in search of his daughter, found them seated side by side, Mr. Travilla with his arm about Elsie's waist, and her hand in his. So absorbed were they in each other that they had not heard the approaching footsteps.
It was a state of affairs Mr. Dinsmore was far from expecting, and pausing upon the threshold, he stood spell-bound with astonishment. "Elsie!" he said at length.
Both started and looked up at the sound of his voice, and Mr. Travilla, still holding fast to his new-found treasure, said in tones tremulous with joy, "Will you give her to me, Dinsmore? she is willing now."
"Ah, is it so, Elsie, my darling?" faltered the father, opening his arms to receive her as she flew to him. "Is it so? have I lost the first place in my daughter's heart?" he repeated, straining her to his breast, and pressing his lips again and again to her fair brow.
"Dear papa, I never loved you better," she murmured, clinging more closely to him. "I shall never cease to be your own dear daughter; can never have any father but you--my own dear, dear papa. And you will not be left without a little girl to pet and fondle; darling Rosebud will fill my place."
"She has her own; but neither she nor any one else can ever fill yours, my darling," he answered with a quivering lip. "How can I--how can I give you up? my first-born, my Elsie's child and mine."
"You will give her to me, my friend?" repeated Travilla. "I will cherish her as the apple of my eye; I shall never take her away from you, you may see her every day. You love her tenderly, but she is dearer to me than my own soul."
"If you have won her heart, I cannot refuse you her hand. Say, Elsie, my daughter, is it so?"
"Yes, papa," she whispered, turning her blushing face away from his keen, searching gaze.
"I can hardly bear to do it. My precious one, I don't know how to resign you to another," he said in a voice low and tremulous with emotion, and holding her close to his heart; "but since it is your wish, I must. Take her, my friend, she is yours. But God do so to you, and more also, if ever you show her aught but love and tenderness."
He put her hand into Travilla's, and turned to go. But she clung to him with the other. "Yours too, papa," she said, looking up into his sad face with eyes that were full of tears, "always your own daughter who loves you better than life."
"Yes, darling, and who is as dearly loved in return," he said, stooping to press another kiss on the ruby lips. "Let us be happy, for we are not to part." Then walking quickly away, he left them alone together.