Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"Of truth, he truly will all styles deserve Of wise, good, just; a man both soul and nerve." --SHIRLEY.
The story reached Mr. Travilla's ears that evening, and finding he could be spared from the sick-room, he hastened to the Oaks. His emotions were too big for utterance as he took his "little friend" in his arms and clasped her to his beating heart.
"God be thanked that you are safe!" he said at last. "Oh, my darling, my darling, what peril you have been in and how bravely you met it! You are the heroine of the hour," he added with a faint laugh, "all, old and young, male and female, black and white, are loud in praise of your wonderful firmness and courage. And, my darling, I fully agree with them, and exult in the thought that this brave lady is mine own."
He drew her closer as he spoke, and just touched his lips to the shining hair and the pure white forehead resting on his breast.
"Ah!" she murmured low and softly, a dewy light shining in her eyes, "why should they think it anything wonderful or strange that I felt little dread or fear at the prospect of a sudden transit from earth to heaven--a quick summons home to my Father's house on high, to be at once freed from sin and forever with the Lord? I have a great deal to live for, life looks very bright and sweet to me; yet but for you and papa, I think it would have mattered little to me had he carried out his threat."
"My little friend, it would have broken my heart: to lose you were worse than a thousand deaths."
They were alone in Elsie's boudoir, but when an hour had slipped rapidly away there came a message from Mr. Dinsmore to the effect that their company would be very acceptable in the library.
They repaired thither at once, and found him and Rose laying out plans for a summer trip. The matter was under discussion all the rest of the evening and for some days after, resulting finally in the getting up a large party of tourists, consisting of the entire families of the Oaks and Ion, with the addition of Harry and Sophie Carrington, and Lora with her husband and children; servants of course included.
They kept together for some time, visiting different points of interest in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York; spending several weeks at Cape May; where they were joined by the Allisons of Philadelphia; Mr. Edward and Adelaide among the rest, they having returned from Europe shortly before.
At length they separated, some going in one direction, some in another. Lora went to Louise, Rose to her father's, Mrs. and Mr. Travilla to friends in Cincinnati and its suburbs, and Elsie to pay a long-promised visit to Lucy in her married home, a beautiful country-seat on the banks of the Hudson. Her father saw her safely there, then left her for a fortnight; their fears in regard to Jackson having been allayed by the news that he had been again arrested for burglary, and Lucy and her husband promising to guard their precious charge with jealous care.
At the end of the fortnight Mr. Dinsmore returned for his daughter, and they went on together to Lansdale to visit Miss Stanhope.
Elsie had set her heart on having her dear old aunt spend the fall and winter with them in the "sunny South," and especially on her being present at the wedding; and Miss Stanhope, after much urging and many protestations that she was too old for such a journey, had at last yielded, and given her promise, on condition that her nephew and niece should come for her, and first spend a week or two in Lansdale. She entreated that Mr. Travilla and his mother might be of the party. "He was a great favorite of hers, and she was sure his mother must be a woman in a thousand."
They accepted the kindness as cordially as it was proffered; met the others at the nearest point of connection, and all arrived together.
It was not Lottie King who met them at the depot this time, but a fine-looking young man with black moustache and roguish dark eye, who introduced himself as Harry Duncan, Miss Stanhope's nephew.
"Almost a cousin! Shall we consider you quite one?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, warmly shaking the hand held out to him in cordial greeting.
"Thank you, I shall feel highly honored," the young man answered in a gratified tone, and with a glance of undisguised admiration and a respectful bow directed towards Elsie. Then turning with an almost reverential air and deeper bow to Mrs. Travilla, "And, madam, may I have the privilege of placing you alongside of my dear old aunt, and addressing you by the same title?"
"You may, indeed," was the smiling rejoinder. "And my son here, I suppose, will take his place with the others as cousin. No doubt we are all related, if we could only go back far enough in tracing out our genealogies."
"To Father Adam, for instance," remarked Mr. Travilla, laughingly.
"Or good old Noah, or even his son Japheth," rejoined Harry, leading the way to a family carriage sufficiently roomy to hold them all comfortably.
"Your checks, if you please, aunt and cousins; and Simon here will attend to your luggage. Servants' also."
Elsie turned her head to see a young colored man, bowing, scraping, and grinning from ear to ear, in whom she perceived a faint resemblance to the lad Simon of four years ago.
"You hain't forgot me, miss?" he said. "I'm still at de ole place wid Miss Wealthy."
She gave him a smile and a nod, dropping a gold dollar into his hand along with her checks; the gentlemen said, "How d'ye do," and were equally generous, and he went off chuckling.
As they drew near their destination, a quaint little figure could be seen standing at the gate in the shade of a maple tree, whose leaves of mingled green and scarlet, just touched by the September frosts, made a brilliant contrast to the sober hue of her dress.
"There she is! our dear old auntie!" cried Elsie with eager delight, that brought a flush of pleasure to Harry's face.
Miss Stanhope's greetings were characteristic. "Elsie! my darling! I have you again after all these years! Mrs. Vanilla too! how kind! but you tell me your face is always that. Horace, nephew, this is good of you! And Mr. Torville, I'm as glad as the rest to see you. Come in, come in, all of you, and make yourselves at home."
"Does Mrs. Schilling still live opposite to you, Aunt Wealthy?" asked Elsie as they sat about the tea-table an hour later.
"Yes, dearie; though she's lost all commercial value," laughed the old lady; "she's taken a second wife at last; not Mr. Was though, but a newcomer, Mr. Smearer."
"Dauber, auntie," corrected Harry, gravely.
"Well, well, child, the meaning's about the same," returned Miss Stanhope, laughing afresh at her own mistake, "and I'd as soon be the other as one."
"Mrs. Dauber wouldn't though," said Harry. "I noticed her face grow as red as a beet the other day when you called her Mrs. Smearer."
"She didn't mind being Mrs. Sixpence, I think," said Elsie.
"Oh yes, she did; it nettled her a good deal at first, but she finally got used to it; after finding out how innocent auntie was, and how apt to miscall other names."
"But I thought she would never be content with anybody but Mr. Wert."
"Well, she lost all hope there, and dropped him at once as soon as Dauber made his appearance."
Mr. Dinsmore inquired about the Kings. Elsie had done so in a private chat with her aunt, held in her room directly after their arrival.
"The doctor's as busy as ever, killing people all round the country; he's very successful at it," replied Miss Stanhope; "I've the utmost confidence in his skill."
"You are a warm friend of his, I know, aunt," said Mr. Dinsmore, smiling, "but I would advise you not to try to assist his reputation among strangers."
"Why not, nephew?"
"Lest they should take your words literally, auntie."
"Ah, yes, I must be careful how I use my stumbling tongue," she answered with a good-humored smile. "I ought to have always by, somebody to correct my blunders. I've asked Harry to do me that kindness, and he often does."
"It is quite unnecessary with us; for we all know what you intend to say," remarked Mrs. Travilla, courteously.
"Thank you, dear madam," said Miss Stanhope; "I am not at all sensitive about it, fortunately, as my nephew knows, and my blunders afford as much amusement to any one else as to me; when I'm made aware of them."
"Nettie King is married, papa," said Elsie.
"Ah! Lottie also?"
"No, she's at home and will be in, with her father and mother, this evening," said Aunt Wealthy. "I've been matching to make a hope between her and Harry, but find it's quite useless."
"No, we're the best of friends, but don't care to be anything more," remarked the young gentleman, coloring and laughing.
"No," said Mr. Travilla, "it is said by some one that two people with hair and eyes of the same color should beware of choosing each other as partners for life."
"And I believe it," returned Harry. "Lottie and I are too much alike in disposition. I must look for a blue-eyed, fair-haired maiden, whose mental and moral characteristics will supply the deficiencies in mine."
"Gray eyes and brown; that will do very well, won't it?" said the old lady absently, glancing from Elsie to Mr. Travilla and back again.
Both smiled, and Elsie cast down her eyes with a lovely blush, while Mr. Travilla answered cheerily, "We think so, Miss Stanhope."
"Call me Aunt Wealthy; almost everybody does, and you might as well begin now as any time."
"Thank you, I shall avail myself of the privilege in future."
The weather was warm for the time of year, and on leaving the table the whole party repaired to the front porch, where Harry quickly provided every one with a seat.
"That is a beautiful maple yonder," remarked Mr. Travilla.
"Yes, sir," returned Harry; "we have a row of them all along the front of the lot; and as Mrs. Dauber says, they are 'perfectly gordeous' in the fall."
"The maple is my favorite among the shade leaves," remarked Miss Stanhope, joining in the talk, "from the time it trees out in the spring till the bare become branches in the fall. Through this month and next they're a perpetual feast to the eye."
"Aunt, how did you decide in regard to that investment you wrote to consult me about?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, turning to her.
"Oh, I concluded to put in a few hundreds, as you thought it safe, on the principle of not having all my baskets in one egg."
"Small baskets they would have to be, auntie," Harry remarked quietly.
"Yes, my eggs are not so many, but quite enough for an old lady like me."
As the evening shadows crept over the landscape the air began to be chilly, and our friends adjourned to the parlor.
Here all was just as when Elsie last saw it; neat as wax, everything in place, and each feather-stuffed cushion beaten up and carefully smoothed to the state of perfect roundness in which Miss Stanhope's soul delighted.
Mrs. Travilla, who had heard descriptions of the room and its appointments from both her son and Elsie, looked about her with interest: upon the old portraits, the cabinet of curiosities, and the wonderful sampler worked by Miss Wealthy's grandmother. She examined with curiosity the rich embroidery of the chair cushions, but preferred a seat upon the sofa.
"Dr. and Mrs. King and Miss Lottie!" announced Simon's voice from the doorway, and the three entered.
Lively, cordial greetings followed, especially on the part of the two young girls. Mrs. Travilla was introduced, and all settled themselves for a chat; Lottie and Elsie, of course, managing to find seats side by side.
"You dearest girl, you have only changed by growing more beautiful than ever," cried Lottie, squeezing Elsie's hand which she still held, and gazing admiringly into her face.
Elsie laughed low and musically.
"Precisely what I was thinking of you, Lottie. It must be your own fault that you are still single. But we won't waste time in flattering each other, when we have so much to say that is better worth while."
"No, surely; Aunt Wealthy has told me of your engagement."
"That was right; it is no secret, and should not be from you if it were from others. Lottie, I want you to be one of my bridesmaids. We're going to carry Aunt Wealthy off to spend the winter with us, and I shall not be content unless I can do the same by you.'
"A winter in the 'sunny South!' and with you; how delightful! you dear, kind creature, to think of it, and to ask me. Ah, if I only could!"
"I think you can; though of course I know your father and mother must be consulted; and if you come, you will grant my request?"
"Yes, yes indeed! gladly."
Aunt Chloe, always making herself useful wherever she went, was passing around the room with a pile of plates, Phillis following with cakes and confections, while Simon brought in a waiter with saucers and spoons, and two large moulds of ice cream.
"Will you help the cream, Harry?" said Miss Stanhope. "There are two kinds, you see, travilla and melon. Ask Mrs. Vanilla which she'll have; or if she'll take both."
"Mrs. Travilla, may I have the pleasure of helping you to ice cream?" he asked. "There are two kinds, vanilla and lemon. Let me give you both."
"If you please," she answered, with a slightly amused look; for though Aunt Wealthy had spoken in an undertone, the words had reached her ear.
"Which will you have, dearies?" said the old lady, drawing near the young girls' corner, "travilla cream or melon?"
"Lemon for me, if you please, Aunt Wealthy," replied Lottie.
"And I will take Travilla," Elsie said, low and mischievously, and with a merry twinkle in her eye.
"But you have no cake! your plate is quite empty and useless," exclaimed the aunt. "Horace," turning towards her nephew, who was chatting with the doctor at the other side of the room, "some of this cake is very plain; you don't object to Elsie eating a little of it?"
"She is quite grown up now, aunt, and can judge for herself in such matters," he answered smiling, then turned to finish what he had been saying to the doctor.
"You will have some then, dear, won't you?" Miss Stanhope inquired in her most coaxing tone.
"A very small slice of this sponge cake, if you please, auntie."
"How young Mr. Travilla looks," remarked Lottie, "younger I think, than he did four years ago. Happiness, I presume; it's said to have that effect. I believe I was vexed when I first heard you were engaged to him, because I thought he was too old; but really he doesn't look so; a man should be considerably older than his wife, that she may find it easier to look up to him; and he know the better how to take care of her."
"I would not have him a day younger, except that he would like to be nearer my age, or different in any way from what he is," Elsie said, her eyes involuntarily turning in Mr. Travilla's direction.
They met the ardent gaze of his. Both smiled, and rising he crossed the room and joined them. They had a half hour of lively chat together, then Mrs. King rose to take leave.
Mr. Travilla moved away to speak to the doctor, and Lottie seized the opportunity to whisper to her friend, "He's just splendid, Elsie! I don't wonder you look so happy, or that he secured your hand and heart after they had been refused to dukes and lords. You see Aunt Wealthy has been telling me all about your conquests in Europe," she added, in answer to Elsie's look of surprise.
"I am, indeed, very happy, Lottie," Elsie replied in the same low tone; "I know Mr. Travilla so thoroughly, and have not more perfect confidence in papa's goodness and love to me, than in his. It is a very restful thing to have such a friend."
Dr. King's circumstances had greatly improved in the last four years, so that he was quite able to give Lottie the pleasure of accepting Elsie's invitation, and at once gave his cordial consent. Mrs. King at first objected that the two weeks of our friends' intended stay in Lansdale would not give sufficient time for the necessary additions to Lottie's wardrobe; but this difficulty was overcome by a suggestion from Elsie. She would spend two or three weeks in Philadelphia, attending to the purchasing and making up of her trousseau, she said, and Lottie's dresses could be bought and made at the same time and place.
The two weeks allotted to Lansdale of course passed very rapidly; especially to Harry, to whom the society of these new-found relatives was a great pleasure, and who on their departure would be left behind, with only Phillis for his housekeeper.
The latter received so many charges from Aunt Wealthy in regard to careful attention to "Mr. Harry's" health and comfort, that at length she grew indignant, and protested that she loved "Mr. Harry as if he was her own child--didn't she nuss him when he was a little feller? and there was no 'casion for missus to worry an' fret as if she was leavin' him to a stranger."
It was not for want of a cordial invitation to both the Oaks and Ion that Harry was left behind; but business required his presence at home, and he could only promise himself a week's holiday at the time of the wedding.