Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
O lady! there be many things That seem right fair above; But sure not one among them all Is half so sweet as love;-- Let us not pay our vows alone, But join two altars into one. --O. W. HOLMES Here still is the smile that no cloud can o'ercast, And the heart, and the hand, all thy own to the last. --MOORE.
Mr. Horace Dinsmore was quite remarkable for his conversational powers, and Rose, who had always heretofore found him a most entertaining companion, wondered greatly at his silence on this particular evening. She waited in vain for him to start some topic of conversation, but as he did not seem disposed to do so, she at length made the attempt herself, and tried one subject after another. Finding, however, that she was answered only in monosyllables, she too grew silent and embarrassed, and heartily wished for the relief of Elsie's presence.
She had proposed summoning the child to accompany them as usual, but Mr. Dinsmore replied that she had already had sufficient exercise, and he would prefer having her remain at home.
They had walked some distance, and coming to a rustic seat where they had often rested, they sat down. The moon was shining softly down upon them, and all nature seemed hushed and still. For some moments neither of them spoke, but at length Mr. Dinsmore broke the silence.
"Miss Allison," he said, in his deep, rich tones, "I would like to tell you a story, if you will do me the favor to listen."
It would have been quite impossible for Rose to tell why her heart beat so fast at this very commonplace remark, but so it was; and she could scarcely steady her voice to reply, "I always find your stories interesting, Mr. Dinsmore."
He began at once.
"Somewhere between ten and eleven years ago, a wild, reckless boy of seventeen, very much spoiled by the indulgence of a fond, doting father, who loved and petted him as the only son of his departed mother, was spending a few months in one of our large Southern cities, where he met, and soon fell desperately in love with, a beautiful orphan heiress, some two years his junior.
"The boy was of too ardent a temperament, and too madly in love, to brook for a moment the thought of waiting until parents and guardians should consider them of suitable age to marry, in addition to which he had good reason to fear that his father, with whom family pride was a ruling passion, would entirely refuse his consent upon learning that the father of the young lady had begun life as a poor, uneducated boy, and worked his way up to wealth and position by dint of hard labor and incessant application to business.
"The boy, it is true, was almost as proud himself, but it was not until the arrows of the boy-god had entered into his heart too deeply to be extracted, that he learned the story of his charmer's antecedents. Yet I doubt if the result would have been different had he been abundantly forewarned; for oh, Miss Rose, if ever an angel walked the earth in human form it was she!--so gentle, so good, so beautiful!"
He heaved a deep sigh, paused a moment, and then went on:
"Well, Miss Rose, as you have probably surmised, they were privately married. If that sweet girl had a fault, it was that she was too yielding to those she loved, and she did love her young husband with all the warmth of her young guileless heart; for she had neither parents nor kinsfolk, and he was the one object around which her affections might cling. They were all the world to each other, and for a few short months they were very happy.
"But it could not last; the marriage was discovered--her guardian and the young man's father were both furious, and they were torn asunder; she carried away to a distant plantation, and he sent North to attend college.
"They were well-nigh distracted, but cherished the hope that when they should reach their majority and come into possession of their property, which was now unfortunately entirely in the hands of their guardians, they would be reunited.
"But--it is the old story--their letters were intercepted, and the first news the young husband received of his wife was that she had died a few days after giving birth to a little daughter."
Again Mr. Dinsmore paused, then continued:
"It was a terrible stroke! For months, reason seemed almost ready to desert her throne; but time does wonders, and in the course of years it did much to heal his wounds. You would perhaps suppose that he would at once--or at least as soon as he was his own master--have sought out his child, and lavished upon it the wealth of his affections: but no; he had conceived almost an aversion to it; for he looked upon it as the cause--innocent, it is true--but still the cause of his wife's death. He did not know till long years afterwards that her heart was broken by the false story of his desertion and subsequent death. Her guardian was a hard, cruel man, though faithful in his care of her property.
"With him the child remained until she was about four years old when a change was made necessary by his death, and she, with her faithful nurse, was received into her paternal grandfather's family until her father, who had then gone abroad, should return. But my story is growing very long, and you will be weary of listening. I will try to be as brief as possible.
"The little girl, under the care of her nurse and the faithful instructions of a pious old Scotchwoman--who had come over with the child's maternal grandparents, and followed the fortunes of the daughter and granddaughter, always living as housekeeper in the families where they resided--had grown to be a sweet, engaging child, inheriting her mother's beauty and gentleness. She had also her mother's craving for affection, and was constantly looking and longing for the return of her unknown father, which was delayed from time to time until she was nearly eight years of age.
"At last he came; but ah, what a bitter disappointment awaited the poor child! His mind had been poisoned against her, and instead of the love and tenderness she had a right to expect, he met her with coldness--almost with aversion. Poor little one! she was nearly heartbroken, and for a time scarcely dared venture into her father's presence. She was gentle, submissive, and patient; he cold, haughty, and stern. But she would love him, in spite of his sternness, and at length she succeeded in winning her way to his affections, and he learned to love her with passionate tenderness.
"Still her troubles were not over. She was sincerely pious, and conscientiously strict in many things which her father deemed of little importance; especially was this the case in regard to the observance of the Sabbath. He was a man of iron will, and she, though perfectly submissive in other respects, had the firmness of a martyr in resisting any interference with her conscience.
"Well, their wills came in collision. He required her to do what she considered a violation of God's law, although he could see no harm in it, and therefore considered her stubborn and disobedient. He was firm, but so was she. He tried persuasions, threats, punishments--all without effect. He banished her from his arms, from the family circle, deprived her of amusements, denied her to visitors, broke off her correspondence with a valued friend, sent away her nurse; and finding all these acts of severity ineffectual, he at length left her, telling her he would return only when she submitted; and even refusing her a parting caress, which she pleaded for with heart-breaking entreaties."
Mr. Dinsmore's voice trembled with emotion, but recovering himself, he went on:
"Don't think, Miss Allison, that all this time the father's heart was not bleeding; it was, at every pore; but he was determined to conquer, and mistook the child's motives and the source of her strength to resist his will.
"He had bought a beautiful estate; he caused the house to be handsomely fitted up and furnished, especially lavishing trouble and expense upon a suite of rooms for his little girl, and when all was completed, he wrote to her, bidding her go and see the lovely home he had prepared for her reception as soon as she would submit,--and presenting, as the only alternative, banishment to a boarding-school or convent until her education was finished. This was the one drop which made the cup overflow. The poor suffering child was prostrated by a brain fever which brought her to the very gates of death. Then the father's eyes were opened; he saw his folly and his sin, and repented in sackcloth and ashes; and God, in His great mercy, was pleased to spare him the terrible crushing blow which seemed to have already fallen;--for at one time they told him his child was dead. Oh, never, never can he forget the unutterable anguish of that moment!"
Mr. Dinsmore paused, unable to proceed. Rose had been weeping for some time. She well knew to whose story she was listening, and her gentle, loving heart was filled with pity for both him and for his child.
"I have but little more to tell," he resumed; "the child has at length entirely recovered her health; she is dearer to her father's heart than words can express, and is very happy in the knowledge that it is so, and that henceforward he will strive to assist her to walk in the narrow way, instead of endeavoring to lead her from it.
"Their home has been a very happy one; but it lacks one thing--the wife and mother's place is vacant; she who filled it once is gone--never to return!--but there is a sweet, gentle lady who has won the hearts of both father and daughter, and whom they would fain persuade to fill the void in their affections and their home.
"Miss Rose, dare I hope that you would venture to trust your happiness in the hands of a man who has proved himself capable of such cruelty?"
Rose did not speak, and he seemed to read in her silence and her averted face a rejection of his suit.
"Ah, you cannot love or trust me!" he exclaimed bitterly. "I was indeed a fool to hope it. Forgive me for troubling you; forgive my presumption in imagining for a moment that I might be able to win you. But oh, Rose, could you but guess how I love you--better than aught else upon earth save my precious child! and even as I love her better than life. I said that our home had been a happy one, but to me it can be so no longer if you refuse to share it with me!"
She turned her blushing face towards him for a single instant, and timidly placed her hand in his. The touch sent a thrill through her whole frame.
"And you will dare trust me?" he said in a low tone of intense joy. "Oh, Rose! I have not deserved such happiness as this! I am not worthy of one so pure and good. But I will do all that man can do to make your life bright and happy."
"Ah, Mr. Dinsmore! I am very unfit for the place you have asked me to fill," she murmured. "I am not old enough, or wise enough to be a mother to your little girl."
"I know you are young, dear Rose, but you are far from foolish," he said tenderly, "and my little girl is quite prepared to yield you a daughter's love and obedience; but I do not think she will be a care or trouble to you; I do not intend that she shall, but expect to take all that upon myself. Indeed, Rose, dearest, you shall never know any care or trouble that I can save you from. No words can tell how dear you are to me, and were it in my power I would shield you from every annoyance, and give you every joy that the human heart can know. I have loved you from the first day we met!--ah, I loved you even before that, for all your love and kindness to my darling child; but I scarcely dared hope that you could return my affection, or feel willing to trust your happiness to the keeping of one who had shown himself such a monster of cruelty in his treatment of his little gentle daughter. Are you not afraid of me, Rose?"
His arm was around her waist, and he was bending over her, gazing down into her face, and eagerly awaiting her answer.
Presently it came, in calm, gentle tones; "No, Horace; 'perfect love casteth out fear,' and I cannot judge you hardly for what may have been only a mistaken sense of duty, and has been so bitterly repented."
"Heaven bless you, dearest, for these words," he answered with emotion, "they have made me the happiest of men."
Horace Dinsmore wore upon his little finger a splendid diamond ring, which had attracted a good deal of attention, especially among the ladies; who admired it extremely, and of which Miss Stevens had hoped to be one day the happy and envied possessor. Taking Rose's small white hand in his again, he placed it upon her slender finger.
"This seals our compact, and makes you mine forever," he said, pressing the hand to his lips.
"With the consent of my parents," murmured Rose, a soft blush mantling her cheek.
Elsie was still in her papa's private parlor, for though it was long past her usual hour for retiring, she had not yet done so; her father having left a message with Chloe to the effect that she might, if she chose, stay up until his return.
Chloe had dropped asleep in her chair, and the little girl was trying to while away the time with a book. But she did not seem much interested in it, for every now and then she laid it down to run to the door and listen. Then sighing to herself, "They are not coming yet," she would go back and take it up again. But at last she started from her seat with an exclamation of delight that awoke Chloe; for this time there could be no doubt; she had heard his well-known step upon the stairs.
She moved quickly towards the door--stopped--hesitated, and stood still to the middle of the room.
But the door opened, and her father entered with Miss Rose upon his arm. One look at his radiant countenance, and Rose's blushing, happy face told the whole glad story. He held out his hand with a beaming smile, and Elsie sprang towards him.
"My darling," he said, stooping to give her a kiss, "I have brought you a mother."
Then taking Rose's hand, and placing one of Elsie's in it, while he held the other in a close, loving grasp, he added: "Rose, she is your daughter also. I give you a share in my choicest treasure."
Rose threw her arm around the little girl and kissed her tenderly, whispering: "Will you love me, Elsie, dearest? you know how dearly I love you."
"Indeed I will; I do love you very much, and I am very glad, dear, darling Miss Rose," Elsie replied, returning her caress.
Mr. Dinsmore was watching them with a heart swelling with joy and gratitude. He led Rose to a sofa, and seating himself by her side, drew Elsie in between his knees, and put an arm round each. "My two treasures," he said, looking affectionately from one to the other. "Rose, I feel myself the richest man in the Union."
Rose smiled, and Elsie laid her head on her father's shoulder with a happy sigh.
They sat a few moments thus, when Rose made a movement to go, remarking that it must be growing late. She felt a secret desire to be safe within the shelter of her own room before the return of the riding party should expose her to Miss Stevens' prying curiosity.
"It is not quite ten yet," said Mr. Dinsmore, looking at his watch.
"Late enough though, is it not?" she answered with a smile. "I think I must go. Good-night, dear little Elsie." She rose, and Mr. Dinsmore, gently drawing her hand within his arm, led her to her room, bidding her good-night at the door, and adding a whispered request that she would wait for him to conduct her down to the breakfast room in the morning.
"Must I go to bed now, papa?" asked Elsie, as he returned to the parlor again.
"Not yet," he said; "I want you." And, sitting down, he took her in his arms. "My darling, my dear little daughter!" he said; "were you very lonely this evening?"
"No, papa; not very, though I missed you and Miss Rose."
He was gazing down into her face; something in its expression seemed to strike him, and he suddenly turned her towards the light, and looking keenly at her, said, "You have been crying; what was the matter?"
Elsie's face flushed crimson, and the tears started to her eyes again. "Dear papa, don't be angry with me," she pleaded. "I couldn't help it; indeed I could not."
"I am not angry, darling; only pained that my little girl is not so happy as I expected. I hoped that your joy would be unclouded to-night, as mine has been; but will you not tell your father what troubles you, dearest?"
"I was looking at this, papa," she said, drawing her mother's miniature from her bosom, and putting it into his hand; "and mammy was telling me all about my own mamma again; and, papa, you know I love Miss Rose, and I am very glad she is coming to us, but it seems as if--as if--" She burst into a flood of tears, and hiding her face on his breast, sobbed out, "Oh, papa, I can't help feeling as though mamma--my own dear mamma--is farther away from us now; as if she is going to be forgotten."
There were tears in his eyes, too; but gently raising her head, he pushed back the curls from her forehead, and kissing her tenderly, said, in low, soothing tones, "No, darling; it is only a feeling, and will soon pass away. Your own dear mother--my early love--can never be forgotten by either of us. Nor would Rose wish it. There is room in my heart for both of them, and I do not love the memory of Elsie less because I have given a place in it to Rose."
There was a momentary silence; then she looked up, asking timidly, "You are not vexed with me, papa?"
"No, dearest; not at all; and I am very glad you have told me your feelings so freely," he said, folding her closer and closer to his heart. "I hope you will always come to me with your sorrows, and you need never fear that you will not find sympathy, and help too, as far as it is in my power to give it. Elsie, do you know that you are very like your mother?--the resemblance grows stronger every day; and it would be quite impossible for me to forget her with this living image always before me."
"Am I like her, papa? I am so glad!" exclaimed the little girl eagerly, her face lighting up with a joyous smile.
It seemed as though Mr. Dinsmore could hardly bear to part with his child that night; he held her a long time in his arms, but at last, with another tender caress, and a fervent blessing, he bade her good-night and sent her away.