Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
"All your attempts Shall fall on me like brittle shafts on armor."
Lucy came into Elsie's room early the next morning to show her birthday gifts, of which she had received one or more from every member of her family. They consisted of articles of jewelry, toilet ornaments, and handsomely-bound books.
They learned on meeting Herbert at breakfast that he had fared quite as well as his sister. Elsie slipped a valuable ring on Lucy's finger and laid a gold pencil-case beside Herbert's plate.
"Oh, charming! a thousand thanks, mon ami!" cried Lucy, her eyes sparkling with pleasure.
"Thank you, I shall value it most highly; especially for the giver's sake," said Herbert, examining his with a pleased look, then turning to her with a blush and joyous smile, "I am so much better this morning that I am going out for a drive. Won't you and Lucy give me the added pleasure of your company?"
"Thank you, I can answer for myself that I'll be very happy to do so."
"I, too," said Lucy. "It's a lovely morning for a ride. We'll make up a party and go, but we must be home again in good season; for Carrie and Enna promised to come to dinner. So I'm glad we finished the book yesterday, though we were all so sorry to part from little Ellen."
They turned out quite a strong party; Herbert and the ladies filling up the family carriage, while Harry on horseback, and John and Archie each mounted upon a pony, accompanied it, now riding alongside, now speeding on ahead, or perchance dropping behind for a time as suited their fancy.
They travelled some miles, and alighting in a beautiful grove, partook of a delicate lunch they had brought with them. Then, while Herbert rested upon the grass the others wandered hither and thither until it was time to return. They reached home just in season to receive their expected guests.
Carrie Howard was growing up very pretty and graceful; womanly in her ways, yet quite unassuming in manner, frank and sweet in disposition, she was a general favorite with old and young, and could already boast of several suitors for her hand.
Enna Dinsmore, now in her fourteenth year, though by some considered even prettier, was far less pleasing--pert, forward, and conceited as she had been in her early childhood; she was tall for her age, and with her perfect self-possession and grown-up air and manner, might be easily mistaken for seventeen. She had already more worldly wisdom than her sweet, fair niece would ever be able to attain, and was, in her own estimation at least, a very stylish and fashionable young lady. She assumed very superior airs toward Elsie when her brother Horace was not by, reproving, exhorting, or directing her; and was very proud of being usually taken by strangers for the elder of the two. Some day she would not think that a feather in her cap.
Elsie had lost none of the childlike simplicity of five years ago; it still showed itself in the sweet, gentle countenance, the quiet graceful carriage, equally removed from forwardness on the one hand, and timid self-consciousness on the other. She did not consider herself a personage of importance, yet was not troubled by her supposed insignificance; in fact seldom thought of self at all, so engaged was she in adding to the happiness of others.
The four girls were gathered in Lucy's room. She had been showing her birthday presents to Carrie and Enna.
"How do you like this style of arranging the hair, girls?" asked the latter, standing before a mirror, smoothing and patting, and pulling out her puffs and braids. "It's the newest thing out. Isabel Carleton just brought it from New York. I saw her with hers dressed so, and sent Delia over to learn how."
Delia was Miss Enna's maid, and had been brought along to Ashlands that she might dress her young lady's hair in this new style for the party.
"It's pretty," said Lucy. "I think I'll have Minerva dress mine so for to-night, and see how it becomes me."
"Delia can show her how," said Enna. "Don't you like it, Carrie?"
"Pretty well, but if you'll excuse me for saying so, it strikes me as rather grown up for a young lady of thirteen," answered Carrie in a good-naturedly bantering tone.
Enna colored and looked vexed. "I'm nearly fourteen," she replied with a slight toss of the head; "and I overheard Mrs. Carleton saying to mamma the other day, that with my height and finished manners I might pass anywhere for seventeen."
"Perhaps so; of course, knowing your age, I can't judge so well how it would strike a stranger."
"I see you have gone back to the old childish way of arranging your hair. What's that for?" asked Enna, turning to Elsie; "I should think it was about time you were beginning to be a little womanly in something."
"Yes, but not in dress or the arrangement of my hair. So papa says, and of course I know he is right."
"He would not let you have it up in a comb?"
"No," Elsie answered with a quiet smile.
"Why do you smile? Did he say anything funny when you showed yourself that day?"
"Oh, Elsie, have you tried putting up your hair?" asked Carrie; while Lucy exclaimed, "Try it again to-night, Elsie, I should like to see how you would look."
"Yes," said Elsie, answering Carrie's query first. "Enna persuaded me one day to have mammy do it up in young-lady fashion. I liked it right well for a change, and that was just what mamma said when I went into the drawing-room and showed myself to her. But when papa came in, he looked at me with a comical sort of surprise in his face, and said. 'Come here; what have you been doing to yourself?' I went to him and he pulled out my comb, and ordered me off to mammy to have my hair arranged again in the usual way, saying, 'I'm not going to have you aping the woman already; don't alter the style of wearing your hair again, till I give you permission.'
"And you walked off as meek as Moses, and did his bidding," said Enna sarcastically. "No man shall ever rule me so. If papa should undertake to give me such an order, I'd just inform him that my hair was my own, and I should arrange it as suited my own fancy."
"I think you are making yourself out worse than you really are, Enna," said Elsie gravely. "I am sure you could never say anything so extremely impertinent as that to grandpa."
"Impertinent! Well, if you believe it necessary to be so very respectful, consistency should lead you to refrain from reproving your aunt."
"I did not exactly mean to reprove you, Enna, and you are younger than I."
"Nobody would think it," remarked Enna superciliously and with a second toss of her head, as she turned from the glass; "you are so extremely childish in every way, while, as mamma says, I grow more womanly in appearance and manner every day."
"Elsie's manners are quite perfect, I think," said Carrie; "and her hair is so beautiful, I don't believe any other style of arrangement could improve its appearance in the least."
"But it's so childish, so absurdly childish! just that great mass of ringlets hanging about her neck and shoulders. Come, Elsie, I want you to have it dressed in this new style for to-night."
"No, Enna, I am perfectly satisfied to wear it in this childish fashion; and if I were not, still I could not disobey papa."
Enna turned away with a contemptuous sniff, and Lucy proposed that they should go down to the drawing-room, and try some new music she had just received, until it should be time to dress for the evening.
Herbert lay on a sofa listening to their playing. "Lucy," he said in one of the pauses, "what amusements are we to have to-night?--anything beside the harp, piano, and conversation?"
"Dancing, of course. Cad's fiddle will provide as good music as any one need care for, and this room is large enough for all who will be here. Our party is not to be very large, you know."
"And Elsie, for one, is too pious to dance," sneered Enna.
Elsie colored, but remained silent.
"Oh! I did not think of that!" cried Lucy. "Elsie, do you really think it is a sinful amusement?"
"I think it wrong to go to balls; at least that it would be wrong for me, a professed Christian, Lucy."
"But this will not be a ball, and we'll have nothing but quiet country dances, or something of that sort, no waltzing or anything at all objectionable. What harm can there be in jumping about in that way more than in another?"
"None that I know of," answered Elsie, smiling. "And I certainly shall not object to others doing as they like, provided I am not asked to take part in it."
"But why not take part, if it is not wrong?" asked Harry, coming in from the veranda.
"Why, don't you know she never does anything without asking the permission of papa?" queried Enna tauntingly. "But where's the use of consulting her wishes in the matter, or urging her to take part in the wicked amusement?--she'll have to go to bed at nine o'clock, like any other well-trained child, and we'll have time enough for our dancing after that."
"Oh, Elsie, must you?--must you really leave us at that early hour? Why, that's entirely too bad!" cried the others in excited chorus.
"I shall stay up till ten," answered Elsie quietly, while a deep flush suffused her cheek.
"That is better, but we shall not know how to spare you even that soon," said Harry. "Couldn't you make it eleven?--that would not be so very late just for once."
"No, for she can't break her rules, or disobey orders. If she did, papa would be sure to find it out and punish her when she gets home."
"For shame, Enna! that's quite too bad!" cried Carrie and Lucy in a breath.
Elsie's color deepened, and there was a flash of anger and scorn in her eyes as she turned for an instant upon Enna. Then she replied firmly, though with a slight tremble of indignation in her tones: "I am not ashamed to own that I do find it both a duty and a pleasure to obey my father, whether he be present or absent. I have confidence, too, in both his wisdom and his love for me. He thinks early hours of great importance, especially to those who are young and growing, and therefore he made it a rule that I shall retire to my room and begin my preparations for bed by nine o'clock. But he gave me leave to stay up an hour later to-night, and I intend to do so."
"I think you are a very good girl, and feel just right about it," said Carrie.
"I wish he had said eleven, I think he might this once," remarked Lucy. "Why, don't you remember he let you stay up till ten Christmas Eve that time we all spent the holidays at Roselands, which was five years ago?"
"Yes," said Elsie, "but this is Saturday night, and as to-morrow is the Sabbath, I should not feel it to be right to stay up later, even if I had permission."
"Why not? it isn't Sunday till twelve," said Herbert.
"No, but I should be apt to oversleep myself, and be dull and drowsy in church next morning."
"Quite a saint!" muttered Enna, shrugging her shoulders and marching off to the other side of the room.
"Suppose we go and select some flowers for our hair," said Lucy, looking at her watch. "'Twill be tea-time presently, and we'll want to dress directly after."
"You always were such a dear good girl," whispered Carrie Howard, putting her arm about Elsie's waist as they left the room.
Enna was quite gorgeous that evening, in a bright-colored silk, trimmed with multitudinous flounces and many yards of ribbon and gimp. The young damsel had a decidedly gay taste, and glanced somewhat contemptuously at Elsie's dress of simple white, albeit 'twas of the finest India muslin and trimmed with costly lace. She wore her pearl necklace and bracelets, a broad sash of rich white ribbon; no other ornaments save a half-blown moss rosebud at her bosom, and another amid the glossy ringlets of her hair, their green leaves the only bit of color about her.
"You look like a bride," said Herbert, gazing admiringly upon her.
"Do I?" she answered smiling, as she turned and tripped lightly away; for Lucy was calling to her from the next room.
Herbert's eyes followed her with a wistful, longing look in them, and he sighed sadly to himself as she disappeared from his view.
Most of the guests came early; among them, Walter and Arthur Dinsmore; Elsie had not seen the latter since his encounter with Mr. Travilla. He gave her a sullen nod on entering the room, but took no further notice of her.
Chit-chat, promenading and the music of the piano and harp were the order of the evening for a time; then games were proposed, and "Consequences," "How do you like it?" and "Genteel lady, always genteel," afforded much amusement. Herbert could join in these, and did with much spirit. But dancing was a favorite pastime with the young people of the neighborhood, and the clock had hardly struck nine when Cadmus and his fiddle were summoned to their aid, chairs and tables were put out of the way, and sets began to form.
Elsie was in great request; the young gentlemen flocked about her, with urgent entreaties that she would join in the amusement, each claiming the honor of her hand in one or more sets, but she steadily declined.
A glad smile lighted up Herbert's countenance, as he saw one and another turn and walk away with a look of chagrin and disappointment.
"Since my misfortune compels me to act the part of a wallflower, I am selfish enough, I own, to rejoice in your decision to be one also," he said gleefully. "Will you take a seat with me on this sofa? I presume your conscience does not forbid you to watch the dancers?"
"No, not at all," she answered, accepting his invitation.
Elsie's eyes followed with eager interest the swiftly moving forms, but Herbert's were often turned admiringly upon her. At length he asked if she did not find the room rather warm and close, and proposed that they should go out upon the veranda. She gave a willing assent and they passed quietly out and sat down side by side on a rustic seat.
The full moon shone upon them from a beautiful blue sky, while a refreshing breeze, fragrant with the odor of flowers and pines, gently fanned their cheeks and played among the rich masses of Elsie's hair.
They found a good deal to talk about; they always did, for they were kindred spirits. Their chat was now grave, now gay--generally the latter; for Cad's music was inspiriting; but whatever the theme of their discourse, Herbert's eyes were constantly seeking the face of his companion.
"How beautiful you are, Elsie!" he exclaimed at length, in a tone of such earnest sincerity that it made her laugh, the words seemed to rush spontaneously from his lips. "You are always lovely, but to-night especially so."
"It's the moonlight, Herbert; there's a sort of witchery about it, that lends beauty to many an object which can boast none of itself."
"Ah, but broad daylight never robs you of yours; you always wear it wherever you are, and however dressed. You look like a bride to-night; I wish you were, and that I were the groom."
Elsie laughed again, this time more merrily than before. "Ah, what nonsense we are talking--we two children," she said. Then starting to her feet as the clock struck ten--"There, it is my bed-time, and I must bid you good-night, pleasant dreams, and a happy awaking."
"Oh, don't go yet!" he cried, but she was already gone, the skirt of her white dress just disappearing through the open hall door.
She encountered Mrs. Carrington at the foot of the stairs. "My dear child, you are not leaving us already?" she cried.
"Yes, madam; the clock has struck ten."
"Why, you are a second Cinderella."
"I hope not," replied Elsie, laughing. "See, my dress has not changed in the least, but is quite as fresh and nice as ever."
"Ah, true enough! there the resemblance fails entirely. But, my dear child, the refreshments are just coming in, and you must have your share. I had ordered them an hour earlier, but the servants were slow and dilatory, and then the dancing began. Come, can you not wait long enough to partake with us? Surely, ten o'clock is not late."
"No, madam; not for another night of the week, but to-morrow's the Sabbath, you know, and if I should stay up late to-night I would be likely to find myself unfitted for its duties. Besides, papa bade me retire at this hour; and he does not approve of my eating at night; he thinks it is apt to cause dyspepsia."
"Ah, that is too bad! Well, I shall see that something is set away for you, and hope you will enjoy it to-morrow. Good-night, dear; I must hurry away now to see the rest of my guests, and will not detain you longer," she added, drawing the fair girl toward her and kissing her affectionately, then hastening away to the supper-room.
Elsie tripped up the stairs and entered her room. A lamp burned low on the toilet table, she went to it, turned up the wick, and as she did so a slight noise on the veranda without startled her. The windows reached to the floor and were wide open.
"Who's there?" she asked.
"I," was answered, in a rough, surly tone, and Arthur stepped in.
"Is it you?" she asked in surprise and indignation. "Why do you come here? it is not fit you should, especially at this hour."
"It is not fit you should set yourself up to reprove and instruct your uncle, I've come for that money you are going to lend me."
"I am not going to lend you any money."
"Give it then; that will be all the better for my pocket.
"I have none to give you either, Arthur; papa has positively forbidden me to supply you with money."
"How much have you here?"
"That is a question you have no right to ask."
"Well, I know you are never without a pretty good supply of the needful, and I'm needy. So hand it over without any more ado; otherwise I shall be very apt to help myself."
"No, you will not," she said, with dignity. "If you attempt to rob me, I shall call for assistance."
"And disgrace the family by giving the tattlers a precious bit of scandal to retail in regard to us."
"If you care for the family credit you will go away at once and leave me in peace."
"I will, eh? I'll go when I get what I came for, and not before."
Elsie moved toward the bell rope, but anticipating her intention, he stepped before it, saying with a jeering laugh, "No, you don't!"
"Arthur," she said, drawing herself up, and speaking with great firmness and dignity, "leave this room; I wish to be alone."
"Hoity-toity, Miss Dinsmore! do you suppose I'm to be ordered about by you? No, indeed! And I've an old score to pay off. One of these days I'll be revenged on you and old Travilla, too; nobody shall insult and abuse me with impunity. Now hand over that cash!"
"Leave this room!" she repeated.
"None of your ---- impudence!" he cried fiercely, catching her by the arm with a grasp that wrung from her a low, half-smothered cry of pain.
But footsteps and voices were heard on the stairs, and he hastily withdrew by the window through which he had entered.
Elsie pulled up her sleeve and looked at her arm. Each finger of Arthur's hand had left its mark. "Oh, how angry papa would be!" she murmured to herself, hastily drawing down her sleeve again as the door opened and Chloe came in, followed by another servant bearing a small silver waiter loaded with dainties.
"Missus tole me fetch 'em up with her compliments, an' hopes de young lady'll try to eat some," she said, setting it down on a table.
"Mrs. Carrington is very kind. Please return her my thanks, Minerva," said Elsie, making a strong effort to steady her voice.
The girl, taken up with the excitement of what was going on downstairs, failed to notice the slight tremble in its tones. But not so with Chloe. As the other hurried from the room, she took her nursling in her arms, and gazing into the sweet face with earnest, loving scrutiny; asked, "What de matter, darlin'? what hab resturbed you so, honey?"
"You mustn't leave me alone, to-night, mammy," Elsie whispered, clinging to her, and half hiding her face on her breast. "Don't go out of the room at all, unless it is to step on the veranda."
Chloe was much surprised, for Elsie had never been cowardly.
"'Deed I won't, darling" she answered, caressing the shining hair, and softly rounded cheek. "But what my bressed chile 'fraid of?"
"Mr. Arthur, mammy," Elsie answered scarcely above her breath. "He was in here a moment since, and if I were alone again he might come back."
"An' what Marse Arthur doin' yer dis time ob night, I like ter know?--what he want frightenin' my chile like dis?"
"Money, mammy, and papa has forbidden me to let him have any, because he makes a bad use of it." Elsie knew to whom she spoke. Chloe was no ordinary servant, and could be trusted.
"Dear, dear, it's drefful that Marse Arthur takes to dem bad ways! But don't go for to fret, honey; we'll 'gree together to ask de Lord to turn him to de right."
"Yes, mammy, you must help me to pray for him. But now I must get ready for bed; I have stayed up longer than papa said I might."
"Won't you take some of de 'freshments fust, honey?"
Elsie shook her head. "Eat what you want of them, mammy. I know I am better without."