Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
O love! thou sternly dost thy power maintain, And wilt not bear a rival in thy reign. --DRYDEN.
It was the middle of the forenoon, and Elsie in her own pretty little sitting room was busied with her books; so deep in study indeed, that she never noticed a slight girlish figure as it glided in at the glass doors opening upon the lawn, to-day set wide to admit the air coming fresh and cool with a faint odor of the far-off sea, pleasantly mingling with that of the flowers in the garden, on the other side of the house.
"Buried alive in her books! Dear me! what a perfect paragon of industry you are," cried the intruder in a lively tone. "I wish you would imbue me with some of your love of study."
"Why, Lucy Carrington! how did you get here?" and Elsie pushed her books away, rose hastily and greeted her friend with an affectionate embrace.
"How? I came in through yonder door, miss; after riding my pony from Ashlands to the front entrance of this mansion," replied Lucy, courtesying low in mock reverence. "I hope your ladyship will excuse the liberty I have taken in venturing uninvited into your sanctum."
"Provided your repentance is deep and sincere," returned Elsie in the same jesting tone.
"Certainly, I solemnly pledge myself never to do it again till the next time."
"Sit down, won't you?" and Elsie pushed forward a low rocking chair. "It's so pleasant to see you. But if I had thought about it at all I should have supposed you were at home, and as busy over books and lessons as I."
"No; my respected governess, Miss Warren, not feeling very well, has taken a week's holiday, and left me to do the same. Fancy my afflicted state at the thought of laying aside my beloved books for seven or eight whole days."
"You poor creature! how I pity you," said Elsie, laughing; "suppose you stay here and share the instructions of my tutor; I have no doubt I could persuade him to receive you as a pupil."
"Horrors! I'm much obliged, very much, but I should die of fright the first time I had to recite. There, I declare I'm growing poetical, talking in rhyme all the time."
"Let mammy take your hat and scarf," said Elsie. "You'll stay and spend the day with me, won't you?"
"Thank you, no; I came to carry you off to Ashlands to spend a week. Will you come?"
"I should like to, dearly well, if papa gives permission."
"Well, run and ask him."
"I can't; unfortunately he is out, and not expected to return till tea-time."
"Oh, pshaw! how provoking! But can't your mamma give permission just as well?"
"If it were only for a day she might, but I know she would say the question of a longer visit must be referred to papa."
"Dear me! I wouldn't be you for something. Why, I never ask leave of anybody when I want to pay a visit anywhere in the neighborhood. I tell mamma I'm going, and that's all-sufficient. I don't see how you stand being ordered about and controlled so."
"If you'll believe me," said Elsie, laughing a gay, sweet, silvery laugh, "I really enjoy being controlled by papa. It saves me a deal of trouble and responsibility in the way of deciding for myself; and then I love him so dearly that I almost always feel it my greatest pleasure to do whatever pleases him."
"And he always was so strict with you."
"Yes, he is strict; but oh, so kind."
"But that's just because you're so good; he'd have an awful time ruling me. I'd be in a chronic state of disgrace and punishment; and he obliged to be so constantly improving me and frowning sternly upon my delinquencies that he'd never be able to don a smile of approval or slip in a word of praise edgewise."
"Indeed you're not half so bad as you pretend," said Elsie, laughing again; "nor I half so good as you seem determined to believe me."
"No, I've no doubt that you're an arch hypocrite, and we shall find out one of these days that you are really worse than any of the rest of us. But now I must finish my errand and go, for I know you're longing to be at those books. Do you get a ferruling every time you miss a word?--and enjoy the pain because it pleases papa to inflict it?"
"Oh, Lucy, how can you be so ridiculous?" and a quick, vivid blush mounted to Elsie's very hair.
"I beg your pardon, Elsie, dear, I had no business to say such a thing," cried Lucy, springing up to throw her arms round her friend and kiss her warmly; "but of course it was nothing but the merest nonsense. I know well enough your papa never does anything of the kind."
"No; if my lessons are not well prepared they have to be learned over again, that is all; and if I see that papa is displeased with me, I assure you it is punishment enough."
"Do you think he'll let you accept my invitation?"
"I don't know, indeed, Lucy. I think he will hardly like to have me give up my studies for that length of time, and in fact I hardly like to do so myself."
"Oh, you must come. You can practise on my piano every day for an hour or two, if you like. We'll learn some duets. And you can bring your sketch-book and carry it along when we walk or ride, as we shall every day. And we might read some improving books together,--you and Herbert, and I. He is worse again, poor fellow! so that some days he hardly leaves his couch even to limp across the room, and it's partly to cheer him up that we want you to come. There's nothing puts him into better spirits than a sight of your face."
"You don't expect other company?"
"No, except on our birthday; but then we're going to have a little party, just of our own set,--we boys and girls that have grown up--or are growing up--together, as one may say. Oh, yes, I want to have Carrie Howard, Mary Leslie, and Enna stay a day or two after the party. Now coax your papa hard, for we must have you," she added, rising to go.
"That would be a sure way to make him say no," said Elsie, smiling; "he never allows me to coax or tease; at least, not after he has once answered my request."
"Then don't think of it. Good-bye. No, don't waste time in coming to see me off, but go back to your books like a good child. I mean to have a little chat with your mamma before I go."
Elsie returned to her lessons with redoubled energy. She was longing to become more intimately acquainted with Ellen Montgomery, but resolutely denied herself even so much as a peep at the pages of the fascinating story-book until her allotted tasks should be faithfully performed.
These, with her regular daily exercise in the open air, filled up the morning; there was a half hour before, and another after dinner, which she could call her own; then two hours for needlework, music, and drawing, and she was free to employ herself as she would till bed-time.
That was very apt to be in reading, and if the weather was fine she usually carried her book to an arbor at some distance from the house. It was reached by a long shaded walk that led to it from the lawn, on which the glass doors of her pretty boudoir opened. It was a cool, breezy, quiet spot, on a terraced hillside, commanding a lovely view of vale, river, and woodland, and from being so constantly frequented by our heroine, had come to be called by her name,--"Elsie's Arbor." Arthur, well acquainted with these tastes and habits, sought, and found her here on the afternoon of this day--found her so deeply absorbed in Miss Warner's sweet story that she was not aware of his approach--so full of sympathy for little Ellen that her tears were dropping upon the page as she read.
"What, crying, eh?" he said with a sneer, as he seated himself by her side, and rudely pulled one of her curls, very much as he had been used to do years ago. "Well, I needn't be surprised, for you always were the greatest baby I ever saw."
"Please let my hair alone, Arthur; you are not very polite in either speech or action," she answered, brushing away her tears and moving a little farther from him.
"It's not worth while to waste politeness on you. What's that you're reading?"
"A new book Mr. Travilla gave me."
"Has no name, eh?"
"Yes, 'Wide, Wide World.'"
"Some namby-pamby girl's story, I s'pose, since you're allowed to read it; or are you doing it on the sly?"
"No, I never do such things, and hope I never shall; papa gave me permission."
"Oh; ah! then I haven't got you in my power: wish I had."
"Because I might turn it to good account. I know you are as afraid as death of Horace."
"No, I am not!" dried Elsie indignantly, rich color rushing all over her fair face and neck; "for I know that he loves me dearly and if I had been disobeying or deceiving him I would far sooner throw myself on his mercy than on yours."
"You would, eh? How mad you are; your face is as red as a beet. A pretty sort of Christian you are, aren't you?"
"I am not perfect, Arthur; but you mustn't judge of religion by me."
"I shall, though. Don't you wish I'd go away?" he added teasingly, again snatching at her curls.
But she eluded his grasp, and rising, stood before him with an air of gentle dignity. "Yes," she said, "since you ask me, I'll own that I do. I don't know why it is that, though your manners are polished when you choose to make them so, you are always rude and ungentlemanly to me when you find me alone. So I shall be very glad if you'll just go away and leave me to solitude and the enjoyment of my book."
"I'll do so when I get ready; not a minute sooner. But you can get rid of me just as soon as you like. I see you take. Yes, I want that money I asked you for yesterday, and I am bound to have it."
"Arthur, my answer must be just the same that it was then; I can give you no other."
"You're the meanest girl alive! To my certain knowledge you are worth at least a million and a half, and yet you refuse to lend me the pitiful sum of fifty dollars."
"Arthur, you know I have no choice in the matter. Papa has forbidden me to lend you money without his knowledge and consent, and I cannot disobey him."
"When did he forbid you?"
"A long while ago; and though he has said nothing about it lately, he has told me again and again that his commands are always binding until he revokes them."
"Fifteen years old, and not allowed to do as you please even with your pocket money!" he said contemptuously. "Do you expect to be in leading-strings all your life?"
"I shall of course have control of my own money matters on coming of age; but I expect to obey my father as long as we both live," she answered, with gentle but firm decision.
"Do you have to show your balance in hand when you give in your account?"
"No; do you suppose papa cannot trust my word?" she answered, somewhat indignantly.
"Then you could manage it just as easily as not. There's no occasion for him to know whether your balance in hand is at that moment in your possession or mine; as I told you before, I only want to borrow it for two weeks. Come, let me have it. If you don't, the day will come when you'll wish you had."
She repeated her refusal; he grew very angry and abusive, and at length went so far as to strike her.
A quick step sounded on the gravel walk, a strong grasp was laid on Arthur's arm, he felt himself suddenly jerked aside and flung upon his knees, while a perfect rain of stinging, smarting blows descended rapidly upon his back and shoulders.
"There, you unmitigated scoundrel, you mean, miserable caitiff; lay your hand upon her again if you dare!" cried Mr. Travilla, finishing the castigation by applying the toe of his boot to Arthur's nether parts with a force that sent him reeling some distance down the walk, to fall with a heavy thud upon the ground.
The lad rose, white with rage, and shook his fist at his antagonist. "I'll strike her when I please," he said with an oath, "and not be called to account by you for it either; she's my niece, and nothing to you."
"I'll defend her nevertheless, and see to it that you come to grief if you attempt to harm her in any way whatever. Did he hurt you much, my child?" And Mr. Travilla's tone changed to one of tender concern as he turned and addressed Elsie, who had sunk pale and trembling upon the rustic seat where Arthur had found her.
"No, sir, but I fear you have hurt him a good deal, in your kind zeal for my defence," she answered, looking after Arthur, as he limped away down the path.
"I have broken my cane, that is the worst of it," said her protector coolly, looking regretfully down at the fragment he still held in his hand.
"You must have struck very hard, and oh, Mr. Travilla, what if he should take it into his head to challenge you?" and Elsie turned pale with terror.
"Never fear; he is too arrant a coward for that; he knows I am a good shot, and that, as the challenged party, I would have the, right to the choice of weapons."
"But you wouldn't fight, Mr. Travilla? you do not approve of duelling?"
"So, no indeed, Elsie; both the laws of God and of the land are against it, and I could not engage in it either as a good citizen or a Christian."
"Oh, I am so glad of that, and that you came to my rescue; for I was really growing frightened, Arthur seemed in such a fury with me."
"What was it about?"
Elsie explained, then asked how he had happened to come to her aid.
"I had learned from the servants that your father and mother were both out, so came here in search of you," he said. "As I drew near I saw that Arthur was with you, and not wishing to overhear your talk, I waited at a little distance up there on the bank, watching you through the trees. I perceived at once that he was in a towering passion, and fearing he would ill-treat you in some way, I held myself in readiness to come to your rescue; and when I saw him strike you, such a fury suddenly came over me that I could not possibly refrain from thrashing him for it."
"Mr. Travilla, you will not tell papa?" she said entreatingly.
"My child, I am inclined to think he ought to hear of it."
"Oh, why need he? It would make him very angry with Arthur."
"Which Arthur richly deserves. I think your father should know, in order that he may take measures for your protection. Still, if you promise not to ride or walk out alone until Arthur has left the neighborhood, it shall be as you wish. But you must try to recover your composure, or your papa will be sure to ask the cause of your agitation. You are trembling very much, and the color has quite forsaken your cheeks."
"I'll try," She said, making a great effort to control herself, "and I give you the promise."
"This is a very pleasant place to sit with book or work," he remarked, "but I would advise you not even to come here alone again till Arthur has gone."
"Thank you, sir, I think I shall follow your advice. It will be only a few weeks now till he and Walter both go North to college."
"I see you hate your book with you," he said, taking it up from the seat where it lay. "How do you like it?"
"Oh, so much! How I pity poor Ellen for having such a father, so different from my dear papa; and because she had to be separated from her mamma, whom she loved so dearly. I can't read about her troubles without crying, Mr. Travilla."
"Shall I tell you a secret," he said, smiling; "I shed some tear's over it myself." Then he went on talking with her about the different characters of the story, thus helping her to recover her composure by turning her thoughts from herself and Arthur.
When, half an hour later, a servant came to summon her to the house, with the announcement that her father had returned and was ready to hear her recitations, all signs of agitation had disappeared; she had ceased to tremble, and her fair face was as sweet, bright, and rosy as its wont.
She rose instantly on hearing the summons. "You'll excuse me, I know, Mr. Travilla. But will you not go in with me? We are always glad to have you with us. I have no need to tell you that, I am sure."
"Thank you," he said, "but I must return to Ion now. I shall walk to the house with you though, if you will permit me," he added, thinking that Arthur might be still lurking somewhere within the grounds.
She answered gayly that she would be very glad of his company. She had lost none of her old liking for her father's friend, and was wont to treat him with the easy and affectionate familiarity she might have used had he been her uncle.
They continued their talk till they had reached the lawn at the side of the house on which her apartments were; then he turned to bid her good-bye.
"I'm much obliged!" she said, taking his offered hand, and looking up brightly into his face.
"Welcome, fair lady; but am I to be dismissed without any reward for my poor services?"
"I have none to offer, sir knight, but you may help yourself if you choose," she said, laughing and blushing, for she knew very well what he meant.
He stooped and snatched a kiss from her ruby lips, then walked away sighing softly to himself, "Ah, little Elsie, if I were but ten years younger!"
She tripped across the lawn, and entering the open door of her boudoir, found herself in her father's arms. He had witnessed the little scene just enacted between Mr. Travilla and herself, had noticed something in his friend's look and manner that had never struck him before. He folded his child close to his heart for an instant then held her off a little, gazing fondly into her face.
"You are mine; you belong to me; no other earthly creature has the least shadow of a right or title in you; do you know that?"
"Yes, papa, and rejoice to know it," she murmured, putting her arms about his neck and laying her head against his breast.
"Ah!" he said, sighing, "you will not always be able to say that, I fear. One of these days you will--" He broke off abruptly, without finishing his sentence.
She looked up inquiringly into his face.
He answered her look with a smile and a tender caress. "I had better not put the nonsense into your head: it will get there soon enough without my help. Come now, let us have the lessons. I expect to find them well prepared, as usual."
"I hope so, papa," she answered, bringing her books and seating herself on a stool at his feet, he having taken possession of an easy-chair.
The recitations seemed a source of keen enjoyment to both; the one loving to impart, and the other to receive, knowledge.
Mr. Dinsmore gave the deserved meed of warm praise for the faithful preparation of each allotted task, prescribed those for the coming day, and the books were laid aside.
"Come here, daughter," he said, as she closed her desk upon them, "I have something to say to you."
"What is it, papa?" she asked, seating herself upon his knee. "How very grave you look." But there was not a touch of the old fear in her face or voice, as there had been none in his of the old sternness.
"Yes, for I am about to speak of a serious matter," he answered, gently smoothing back the clustering curls from her fair brow, while he looked earnestly into the soft brown eyes. "You have not been lending money to Arthur, Elsie?"
The abrupt, unexpected question startled her, and a crimson tide rushed over her face and neck; but she returned her father's gaze steadily: "No, papa; how could you think I would disobey so?"
"I did not, darling, and yet I felt that I must ask the question and repeat my warning, my command to you--never to do so without my knowledge and consent. Your grandfather and I are much troubled about the boy."
"I am so sorry, papa; I hope he has not been doing anything very bad."
"He seems to have sufficient cunning to hide many of his evil deeds," Mr. Dinsmore said, with a sigh; "yet enough has come to light to convince us that he is very likely to become a shame and disgrace to his family. We know that he is profane, and to some extent, at least, intemperate and a gambler. A sad, sad beginning for a boy of seventeen. And to furnish, him with money, Elsie, would be only to assist him in his downward course."
"Yes, papa, I see that. Poor grandpa, I'm so sorry for him! But, papa, God can change Arthur's heart, and make him all we could wish."
"Yes, daughter, and we will agree together to ask Him to do this great work, so impossible to any human power; shall we not?"
"Yes, papa." They were silent a moment; then she turned to him again, told of Lucy Carrington's call and its object, and asked if she might accept the invitation.
He considered a moment. "Yes," he said kindly, "you may if you wish. You quite deserve a holiday, and I think perhaps would really be the better of a week's rest from study. Go and enjoy yourself as much as you can, my darling."
"Thank you, you dearest, kindest, and best of papas," she said, giving him a hug and kiss. "But I think you look a little bit sorry. You would rather I should stay at home, if I could content myself to do so, and it would be a strange thing if I could not."
"No, my pet, I shall miss you, I know; the house always seems lonely without you; but I can spare you for a week, and would rather have you go, because I think the change will do you good. Besides, I am willing to lend my treasure for a few days to our friends at Ashlands. I would gladly do more than that, if I could, for that poor suffering Herbert."