Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded, A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded. --BYRON.
Elsie was nearly twelve when her little brother was born. During the next three years she led a life of quiet happiness, unmarked by any striking event. There were no changes in the little family at the Oaks but such as time must bring to all. Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore perhaps looked a trifle older than when they married, Elsie was budding into womanhood as fair and sweet a flower as ever was seen, and the baby had grown into a healthy romping boy.
At Roselands, on the contrary, there had been many and important changes. Louise and Lora were both married; the former to a resident of another State, who had taken her to his distant home; the latter to Edward Howard, an older brother of Elsie's friend Carrie. They had not left the neighborhood, but were residing with his parents.
For the last two or three years Arthur Dinsmore had spent his vacations at home; he was doing so now, having just completed his freshman year at Princeton. On his return Walter was to accompany him and begin his college career.
Miss Day left soon after Lora's marriage and no effort had been made to fill her place, Adelaide having undertaken to act as governess to Enna, now the only remaining occupant of the school-room.
Taking advantage of an unusually cool breezy afternoon, Elsie rode over to Tinegrove, Mr. Howard's plantation--to make a call. She found the family at home and was urged to stay to tea; but declined, saying she could not without permission, and had not asked it.
"You will at least take off your hat," said Carrie.
"No, thank you," Elsie answered, "it is not worth while, as I must go so soon. If you will excuse me, I can talk quite as well with it on."
They had not met for several weeks and found a good deal to say to each other. At length Elsie drew out her watch.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, "I have overstayed my time! I had no idea it was so late--you have been so entertaining; but I must go now." And she rose hastily to take leave.
"Nonsense!" said her Aunt Lora in whose boudoir they were sitting, "there is no such great hurry, I am sure. You'll get home long before dark."
"Yes, and might just as well stay another five or ten minutes. I wish you would; for I have ever so much to say to you," urged Carrie.
"It would be very pleasant, thank you, but indeed I must not. See how the shadows are lengthening, and papa does not at all like to have me out after sunset unless he is with me."
"He always was overcareful of you, erring on the right side, I suppose, if that be an allowable expression," laughed Lora, as she and Carrie followed Elsie to the door to see her mount her horse.
The adieus were quickly spoken and the young girl, just touching the whip to the sleek side of her pony, set off at a gallop, closely followed by her faithful attendant Jim.
Several miles of rather a lonely road lay between them and home, and no time was to be lost, if they would reach the Oaks while the sun was still above the horizon.
They were hardly more than half a mile from the entrance to the grounds, when Elsie caught sight of a well-known form slowly moving down the road a few paces ahead of them. It was Arthur, and she soon perceived that it was his intention to intercept her; he stopped, turning his face toward her, sprang forward as she came up, and seized her bridle.
"Stay a moment, Elsie," he said, "I want to speak to you."
"Then come on to the Oaks, and let us talk there; please do, for I am in a hurry."
"No, I prefer to say my say where I am. I'll not detain you long. You keep out of earshot, Jim. I want to borrow a little money, Elsie; a trifle of fifty dollars or so. Can you accommodate me?"
"Not without papa's knowledge, Arthur. So I hope you do not wish to conceal the matter from him."
"I do. I see no reason why he should know all my private affairs. Can't you raise that much without applying to him? Isn't your allowance very large now?"
"Fifty dollars a month, Arthur, but subject to the same conditions as of old. I must account to papa for every cent."
"Haven't you more than that in hand now?"
"Yes, but what do you want it for?"
"That's neither your business nor his; let me have it for two weeks, I'll pay it back then, and in the meantime he need know nothing about it."
"I cannot; I never have any concealments from papa, and I must give in my account in less than a week."
"Nonsense! You are and always were the most disobliging creature alive!" returned Arthur with an oath.
"Oh, Arthur, how can you say such wicked words," she said, recoiling from him with a shudder. "And you quite misjudge me. I would be glad to do anything for you that is right. If you will let me tell papa your wish, and he gives consent, you shall have the money at once. Now please let me go. The sun has set and I shall be so late that papa will be anxious and much displeased."
"Who cares if he is!" he answered roughly, still retaining his hold upon her bridle, and compelling her to listen while he continued to urge his request; enforcing it with arguments and threats.
They were alike vain, she steadfastly refused to grant it except on the conditions she had named, and which he determinately rejected--and insisted being left free to pursue her homeward way.
He grew furious, and at length with a shocking oath released her bridle, but at the same instant struck her pony a severe blow upon his haunches, with a stout stick he held in his hand.
The terrified animal, smarting with the pain, started aside, reared and plunged in a way that would have unseated a less skilful rider, and had nearly thrown Elsie from the saddle: then darted off at the top of its speed; but fortunately turned in at the gate held open by Jim, who had ridden on ahead and dismounted for that purpose.
"Whoa, you Glossy! whoa dere!" he cried, springing to the head of the excited animal, and catching its bridle in his powerful grasp.
"Just lead her for a little, Jim," said Elsie "There, there! my poor pretty Glossy, be quiet now. It was too cruel to serve you so; but it shan't happen again if your mistress can help it," she added in a voice tremulous with sympathy and indignation, patting and stroking her pony caressingly as she spoke.
Jim obeyed, walking on at a brisk pace, leading Glossy with his right hand, and keeping the bridle of the other horse over his left arm.
"I'll walk the rest of the way, Jim," said Elsie presently, "just stop her and let me get down. There," springing lightly to the ground, "you may lead them both to the stable now."
She hurried forward along the broad, gravelled winding carriage road that led to the house. The next turn brought her face to face with her father.
"What, Elsie! alone and on foot at this late hour?" he said in a tone of mingled surprise and reproof.
"I have been riding, papa, and only a moment since dismounted and let Jim lead the horses down the other road to the stables."
"Ah, but how did you come to be so late?" he asked, drawing her hand within his arm and leading her onward.
"I have been to Tinegrove, sir, and Aunt Lora, Carrie, and I found so much to say to each other, that the time slipped away before I knew it."
"It must not happen again, Elsie."
"I do not mean it shall, papa, and I am very sorry."
"Then I excuse you this once, daughter; it is not often you give me occasion to reprove you."
"Thank you, papa," she said with a grateful, loving look. "Did you come out in search of me?"
"Yes, your mamma and I had begun to grow anxious lest some accident had befallen you. Our little daughter is such a precious treasure that we must needs watch over her very carefully," he added in a tone that was half playful, half tender, while he pressed the little gloved hand in his, and his eyes rested upon the sweet fair face with an expression of proud fatherly affection.
Her answering look was full of filial reverence and love. "Dear papa, it is so nice to be so loved and cared for; so sweet to hear such words from your lips. I do believe I'm the very happiest girl in the land." She had already almost forgotten Arthur and his rudeness and brutality.
"And I the happiest father," he said with a pleased smile. "Ah, here comes mamma to meet as with little Horace."
The child ran forward with a glad shout to meet his sister, Rose met her with loving words and a fond caress; one might have thought from their joyous welcome, that she was returning after an absence of weeks or months instead of hours. Letting go her father's arm as they stepped upon the piazza Elsie began a romping play with her little brother, but at a gentle reminder from her mamma that the tea bell would soon ring, ran away to her own apartments to have her riding habit changed for something more suitable for the drawing room.
Chloe was in waiting and her skilful hands made rapid work, putting the last touches to her nursling's dress just as the summons to the supper table was given.
Mr. Dinsmore was quite as fastidious as in former days in regard to the neatness and tastefulness of Elsie's attire.
"Will I do, papa?" she asked, presenting herself before him, looking very sweet and fair in a simple white dress with blue sash and ribbons.
"Yes," he said with a satisfied smile, "I see nothing amiss with dress, hair, or face."
"Nor do I," said Rose, leading the way to the supper room, "Aunt Chloe is an accomplished; tirewoman. But come, let us sit down to our meal and have it over."
On their return to the drawing room they, found Mr. Travilla comfortably ensconced in an easy chair, reading the evening paper. He was an almost daily visitor at the Oaks, and seldom came without some little gift for one or both of his friend's children. It was for Elsie to-night. When the usual greetings had been exchanged, he turned to her, saying, "I have brought you a treat. Can you guess what it is?"
"Ah, there must be something of the Yankee about you," he answered, laughing. "Yes, it is a book in two volumes; just published and a most delightful, charming story," he went on, drawing them from his pockets, and handing them to her as he spoke.
"Oh, thank you, sir!" she cried with eager gratitude, "I'm so glad, if--if only papa will allow me to read it. May I, papa?"
"I can tell better when I have examined it, my child," Mr. Dinsmore answered, taking one of the volumes from her hands and looking at the title on the back. "'The Wide, Wide World!' What sort of a book is it, Travilla?"
"A very good sort. I think. Just glance through it or read a few pages, and I'm pretty sure it will be sufficient to satisfy you of, not only its harmlessness, but that its perusal would be a benefit to almost any one."
Mr. Dinsmore did so, Elsie standing beside him, her hand upon his arm, and her eyes on his face--anxiously watching its changes of expression as he read. They grew more and more satisfactory; the book was evidently approving itself to his taste and judgment, and presently he returned it to her, saying, with a kind fatherly smile, "Yes, my child, you may read it. I have no doubt it deserves all the praise Mr. Travilla has given it."
"Oh, thank you, papa, I'm very glad," she answered joyously, "I am just hungry for a nice story." And seating herself near the light, she was soon lost to everything about her in the deep interest with which she was following Ellen Montgomery through her troubles and trials.
She was loath to lay the book aside when at the usual hour--a quarter before nine--the bell rang for prayers. She hardly heeded the summons till her papa laid his hand on her shoulder, saying, "Come, daughter, you must not be left behind."
She started up then, hastily closing the book, and followed the others to the dining room, where the servants were already assembled to take part in the family devotions.
Mr. Travilla went away immediately after and now it was Elsie's bed-time. Her father reminded her of it as, on coming back from seeing his friend to the door, he found her again poring over the book.
"Oh, papa, it is so interesting! could you let me finish this chapter?" she asked with a very entreating look up into his face as he stood at her side.
"I suppose I could if I should make a great effort," he answered laughingly. "Yes, you may, for once, but don't expect always to be allowed to do so."
"No, sir, oh, no. Thank you, sir."
"Well, have you come to a good stopping-place?" he asked, as she presently closed the book and put it aside with a slight sigh.
"No, sir, it is just as bad a one as the other. Papa, I wish I was grown up enough to read another hour before going to bed."
"I don't," he said, drawing her to a seat upon his knee, and passing his arm about her waist, "I'm not ready to part with my little girl yet."
"Wouldn't a fine young lady daughter be just as good or better?" she asked, giving him a hug.
"No, not now, some of these days I may think so."
"But mayn't I stay up and read till ten to-night?"
He shook his head. "Till half-past nine, then?"
"No, not even a till quarter past. Ah, it is that now," he added, consulting his watch.
"You must say good-night and go. Early hours and plenty of sleep for my little girl, that she may grow up to healthful, vigorous womanhood, capable of enjoying life and being very useful in the church and the world." He kissed her with grave tenderness as he spoke.
"Good-night then, you dear father," she said, returning the caress. "I know you would indulge me if you thought it for my good."
"Indeed I would, pet. Would it help to reconcile you to the denial of your wish to know that I shall be reading the book, and probably enjoying it as much as you would?"
"Ah yes, indeed, papa! it is a real pleasure to resign it to you," she answered with a look of delight. "It's just the nicest story! at least as far as I've read. Read it aloud to mamma, won't you?"
"Yes, if she wishes to hear it. Now away with you to your room and your bed."
Only waiting to bid her mamma an affectionate good-night, Elsie obeyed, leaving the room with a light step, and a cheerful, happy face.
"Dear unselfish child!" her father said, looking after her.
"She is that indeed," said Rose. "How happy, shall I be if Horace grows up to be as good and lovable."
Elsie was a fearless horsewoman, accustomed to the saddle from her very early years. Thus Arthur's wanton attack upon her pony had failed to give her nerves the severe shock it might have caused to those of most young girls of her age. Her feeling was more of excitement, and of indignation at the uncalled-for cruelty to a dumb animal, especially her own pet horse, than of fright at the danger to herself. But she well knew that the latter was what her father would think of first, and that he would be very angry with Arthur; therefore she had tried, and successfully, to control herself and suppress all signs of agitation on meeting him upon her return.
She felt glad now as the affair recurred to her recollection while preparing for the night's rest, that she had been able to do so. For a moment she questioned with herself whether she was quite right to have this concealment from her father, but quickly decided that she was. Had the wrong-doing been her own--that would have made it altogether another matter.
She was shocked at Arthur's wickedness, troubled and anxious about his future, but freely forgave his crime against her pony and herself, and mingled with her nightly petitions an earnest prayer for his conversion, and his welfare temporal and spiritual.