Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"Bring flowers, fresh flowers for the bride to wear; They were born to blush in her shining hair; She's leaving the home of her childhood's mirth; She hath bid farewell to her father's hearth; Her place is now by another's side; Bring flowers for the locks of the fair young bride." --MRS. HEMANS.
A fair October day is waning, and as the shadows deepen and the stars shine out here and there in the darkening sky, the grounds at the Oaks glitter with colored lamps, swinging from the branches of the trees that shade the long green alleys, and dependent from arches wreathed with flowers. In doors and out everything wears a festive look; almost the whole house is thrown open to the guests who will presently come thronging to it from nearly every plantation for miles around.
The grand wedding has been talked of, prepared for, and looked forward to for months past, and few, if any, favored with an invitation, will willingly stay away.
The spacious entrance hall is brilliantly lighted, and on either hand wide-open doors give admission to long suites of richly, tastefully furnished rooms, beautiful with rare statuary, paintings, articles of vertu, and flowers scattered everywhere, in bouquets, wreaths, festoons, filling the air with their delicious fragrance.
These apartments, waiting for the guests, are almost entirely deserted; but in Elsie's dressing-room a bevy of gay young girls, in white tarletan and with flowers in their elaborately dressed hair, are laughing and chatting merrily, and now and then offering a suggestion to Aunt Chloe and Dinah, whose busy hands are arranging their young mistress for her bridal.
"Lovely!" "Charming!" "Perfect!" the girls exclaim in delighted, admiring chorus, as the tirewomen having completed their labors, Elsie stands before them in a dress of the richest white satin, with an overskirt of point lace, a veil of the same, enveloping her slender figure like an airy cloud, or morning mist, reaching from the freshly gathered orange blossoms wreathed in the shining hair to the tiny white satin slipper just peeping from beneath the rich folds of the dress. Flowers are her only ornament to-night, and truly she needs no other.
"Perfect! nothing superfluous, nothing wanting," says Lottie King.
Rose, looking almost like a young girl herself, so sweet and fair in her beautiful evening dress, came in at that instant to see if all was right in the bride's attire. Her eyes grew misty while she gazed, her heart swelling with a strange mixture of emotions: love, joy, pride, and a touch of sadness at the thought of the partial loss that night was to bring to her beloved husband and herself.
"Am I all right, mamma?" asked Elsie.
"I can see nothing amiss," Rose answered, with a slight tremble in her voice. "My darling, I never saw you so wondrously sweet and fair," she whispered, adjusting a fold of the drapery. "You are very happy?"
"Very, mamma dear; yet a trifle sad too. But that is a secret between you and me. How beautiful you are to-night."
"Ah, dear child, quite ready, and the loveliest bride that ever I saw, from the sole of your head to the crown of your foot," said a silvery voice, as a quaint little figure came softly in and stood at Mrs. Dinsmore's side--"no, I mean from the crown of your foot to the sole of your head. Ah, funerals are almost as sad as weddings. I don't know how people can ever feel like dancing at them."
"Well, auntie dear, there'll be no dancing at mine," said Elsie, smiling slightly.
"I must go and be ready to receive our guests," said Rose, hearing the rumble of carriage wheels. "Elsie, dear child," she whispered, "keep calm. You can have no doubts or fears in putting your future in----"
"No, no, mamma, not the slightest," and the fair face grew radiant.
As Rose passed out at one door, Miss Stanhope following, with a parting injunction to the bride not to grow frightened or nervous, Mr. Dinsmore entered by another.
He stood a moment silently gazing upon his lovely daughter; then a slight motion of his hand sent all others from the room, the bridesmaids passing into the boudoir, where the groom and his attendants were already assembled, the tirewomen vanishing by a door on the opposite side.
"My darling!" murmured the father, in low, half tremulous accents, putting his arm about the slender waist, "my beautiful darling! how can I give you to another?" and again and again his lips were pressed to hers in long, passionate kisses.
"Papa, please don't make me cry," she pleaded, the soft eyes lifted to his, filled almost to overflowing.
"No, no, I must not," he said, hastily taking out his handkerchief and wiping away the tears before they fell. "It is shamefully selfish in me to come and disturb your mind thus just now."
"No, papa, no, no; I will not have you say that. Thank you for coming. It would have hurt me had you stayed away. But you would not have things different now if you could? have no desire to."
"No, daughter, no; yet, unreasonable as it is, the thought will come, bringing sadness with it, that to-night you resign my name, and my house ceases to be your only home."
"Papa, I shall never resign the name dear to me because inherited from you: I shall only add to it; your house shall always be one of my dear homes, and I shall be your own, own daughter, your own child, as truly as I ever have been. Is it not so?"
"Yes, yes, my precious little comforter."
"And you are not going to give me away--ah, papa, I could never bear that any more than you; you are taking a partner in the concern," she added with playful tenderness, smiling archly through gathering tears.
Again he wiped them hastily away. "Did ever father have such a dear daughter?" he said, gazing fondly down into the sweet face. "I ought to be the happiest of men. I believe I am----"
"Except one," exclaimed a joyous voice, at sound of which Elsie's eyes brightened and the color deepened on her cheek. "May I come in?"
"Yes, Travilla," said Mr. Dinsmore; "you have now an equal right with me."
Travilla thought his was superior, or would be after the ceremony, but generously refrained from saying so. And had Mr. Dinsmore been questioned on the subject, he could not have asserted that it had ever occurred to him that Mr. Allison had an equal right with himself in Rose. But few people are entirely consistent.
Mr. Travilla drew near the two, still standing together, and regarded his bride with a countenance beaming with love and delight. The sweet eyes sought his questioningly, and meeting his ardent gaze the beautiful face sparkled all over with smiles and blushes.
"Does my toilet please you, my friend?" she asked. "And you, papa?"
"The general effect is charming," said Mr. Travilla; "but," he added, in low, tender tones saying far more than the words, "I've been able to see nothing else for the dear face that is always that to me."
"I can see no flaw in face or attire," Mr. Dinsmore said, taking a more critical survey; "you are altogether pleasing in your doting father's eyes, my darling. But you must not stand any longer. You will need all your strength for your journey." And he would have led her to a sofa.
But she gently declined. "Ah, I am much too fine to sit down just now, my dear, kind father, I should crush my lace badly. So please let me stand. I am not conscious of weariness."
He yielded, saying with a smile, "That would be a pity; for it is very beautiful. And surely you ought to be allowed your own way to-night if ever."
"To-night and ever after," whispered the happy groom in the ear of his bride.
A loving, trustful look was her only answer.
A continued rolling of wheels without, and buzz of voices coming from veranda, hall, and reception rooms, could now be heard.
"The house must be filling fast," said Mr. Dinsmore, "and as host I should be present to receive and welcome my guests, Travilla," and his voice trembled slightly, as he took Elsie's right hand and held it for a moment closely clasped in his; "I do not fear to trust you with what to me is a greater treasure than all the gold of California. Cherish my darling as the apple of your eye; I know you will."
He bent down for another silent caress, laid the hand in that of his friend, and left the room.
"And you do not fear to trust me, my little friend?" Travilla's tones, too, were tremulous with deep feeling.
"I have not the shadow of a fear," she answered, her eyes meeting his with an earnest, childlike confidence.
"Bless you for those words, dearest," he said; "God helping me you never shall have cause to regret them."
A door opened, and a handsome, dark eyed boy, a miniature likeness of his father, came hurrying in. "Elsie! Papa said I might come and see how beautiful you are!" he cried, as if resolutely mastering some strong emotion, "but I'm not to say anything to make you cry. I'm not to hug you hard and spoil your dress. Oh, but you do look like an angel, only without the wings. Mr. Travilla, you'll be good, good to her, won't you?" and the voice almost broke down.
"I will, indeed, Horace; you may be sure of that. And you needn't feel as if you are losing her, she'll be back again in a few weeks, please God."
"But not to live at home any more!" he cried impetuously. "No, no, I wasn't to say that, I----"
"Come here and kiss me, my dear little brother," Elsie said tenderly; "and you shall hug me, too, as hard as you like, before I go."
He was not slow to accept the invitation, and evidently had a hard struggle with himself, to refrain from giving the forbidden hug.
"You may hug me instead, Horace, if you like," said Mr. Travilla; "you know we're very fond of each other, and are going to be brothers now."
"Yes, that I will, for I do like you ever so much," cried the boy, springing into the arms held out to him, and receiving and returning a warm embrace, while the sister looked on with eyes glistening with pleasure.
"Now, in a few minutes I'll become your brother Edward; and that's what I want you to call me in future. Will you do it?"
"Yes, sir; if papa doesn't forbid me."
A light tap at the door leading into the boudoir, and Walter put in his head. "The company, the clergy-man, and the hour have come. Are the bride and groom ready?"
Releasing the child, Mr. Travilla drew Elsie's hand within his arm. For an instant he bent his eyes with earnest, questioning gaze upon her face. It wore an expression that touched him to the heart, so perfectly trustful, so calmly, peacefully happy, yet with a deep tender solemnity mingling with and subduing her joy. The soft eyes were misty with unshed tears as she lifted them to his.
"It is for life," she whispered; "and I am but young and foolish; shall you never regret?"
"Never, never; unless you grow weary of your choice."
The answering smile was very sweet and confiding. "I have not chosen lightly, and do not fear because it is for life," was its unspoken language.
And truly it was no hasty, ill-considered step she was taking, but one that had been calmly, thoughtfully pondered in many an hour of solitude and communion with that unseen Friend whom from earliest youth she had acknowledged in all her ways, and who had, according to His promise, directed her paths. There was no excitement, no nervous tremor, about her then or during the short ceremony that made them no more twain but one flesh. So absorbed was she in the importance and solemnity of the act she was performing, that little room was left for thought of anything else--her personal appearance, or the hundreds of pairs of eyes fixed upon her; even her father's presence, and the emotions swelling in his breast were for the time forgotten. Many marked the rapt expression of her face, and the clear and distinct though low tones of the sweet voice as she pledged herself to "love, honor, and obey." Mr. Travilla's promise "to love, honor, and cherish to life's end," was given no less earnestly and emphatically.
The deed was done; and relatives and friends gathered about them with kindly salutations and good wishes.
Mr. Dinsmore was the first to salute the bride. "God bless and keep you, my daughter," were his tenderly whispered words.
"Dear, dear papa," was all she said in response, but her eyes spoke volumes. "I am yours still, your very own, and glad it is so," they said.
Then came Rose with her tender, silent caress, half-sorrowful, half-joyful, and Mrs. Travilla with her altogether joyous salutation, "My dear daughter, may your cup of happiness be ever filled to overflowing;" while Mr. Dinsmore to hide his emotion turned jocosely to Travilla with a hearty shake of the hand, and "I wish you joy, my son."
"Thank you, father," returned the groom gravely, but with a twinkle of merriment in his eye.
Aunt Wealthy, standing close by awaiting her turn to greet the bride, shook her head at her nephew. "Ah, you are quite too old for that, Horace. Mr. Vanilla, I wish you joy; but what am I to call you now?"
"Edward, if you please, Aunt Wealthy."
"Ah, yes, that will do nicely; it's a good name--so easily forgotten. Elsie, dearie, you went through it brave as a lion. May you never wish you'd lived your lane like your auld auntie."
"As if single blessedness could ever be real blessedness!" sneered Enna, coming up just in time to catch the last words.
"Our feelings change as we grow older," returned Miss Stanhope, in her gentle, refined tones, "and we come to look upon quiet and freedom from care as very desirable things."
"And I venture to say that old age is not likely to find Mrs. Percival so happy and contented as is my dear old maiden aunt," remarked Mr. Dinsmore.
"Yet we will hope it may, papa," said Elsie, receiving Enna's salutation with kindly warmth.
But the list of relatives, near connections, and intimate friends, is too long for particular mention of each. All the Dinsmores were there, both married and single; also most of the Allisons. Harold had not come with the others, nor had he either accepted or rejected the invitation.
On first raising her eyes upon the conclusion of the ceremony, had Elsie really seen, far back in the shadow of the doorway, a face white, rigid, hopeless with misery as his when last they met and parted? She could not tell; for if really there, it vanished instantly.
"Did Harold come?" she asked of Richard when he came to salute the bride and groom.
"I think not; I haven't seen him, I can't think what's come over the lad to be so neglectful of his privileges."
Harry Duncan was there, too, hanging upon the smiles of merry, saucy, blue-eyed May Allison; while her brother Richard seemed equally enamored with the brunette beauty and sprightliness of Lottie King.
Stiffness and constraint found no place among the guests, after the event of the evening was over.
In the great dining-room a sumptuous banquet was laid; and thither, after a time, guests and entertainers repaired.
The table sparkled with cut-glass, rare and costly china, and solid silver and gold plate. Every delicacy from far and near was to be found upon it; nothing wanting that the most fastidious could desire, or the most lavish expenditure furnish. Lovely, fragrant flowers were there also in the utmost profusion, decorating the board, festooning the windows and doorways, in bouquets upon the mantels and antique stands, scattered here and there through the apartment, filling the air with their perfume; while a distant and unseen band discoursed sweetest music in soft, delicious strains.
The weather was warmer far than at that season in our northern clime, the outside air balmy and delightful, and through the wide-open doors and windows glimpses might be caught of the beautiful grounds, lighted here and there by a star-like lamp shining out among the foliage. Silent and deserted they had been all the earlier part of the evening, but now group after group, as they left the bountiful board, wandered into their green alleys and gay parterres; low, musical tones, light laughter, and merry jests floating out upon the quiet night air and waking the echoes of the hills.
But the bride retired to her own apartments, where white satin, veil, and orange blossoms, were quickly exchanged for an elegant traveling dress, scarcely less becoming to her rare beauty.
She reappeared in the library, which had not been thrown open to the guests, but where the relations and bridesmaids were gathered for the final good-bye.
Mr. Dinsmore's family carriage, roomy, easy-rolling, and softly cushioned, stood at the door upon the drive, its spirited gray horses pawing the ground with impatience to be gone. It would carry the bride and groom--and a less pretentious vehicle their servants--in two hours to the seaport where they were to take the steamer for New Orleans; for their honeymoon was to be spent at Viamede, Elsie still adhering to the plan of a year ago.
Her adieus were gayly given to one and another, beginning with those least dear; very very affectionately to Mrs. Travilla, Aunt Wealthy, Rose, and the little Horace (the sleeping Rosebud had already been softly kissed in her crib).
Her idolized father only remained; and now all her gayety forsook her, all her calmness gave way, and clinging about his neck, "Papa, papa, oh papa!" she cried, with a burst of tears and sobs.
"Holy and pure are the drops that fall, When the young bride goes from her father's hall; She goes unto love yet untried and new-- She parts from love which hath still been true."
It was his turn now to comfort her. "Darling daughter," he said, caressing her with exceeding tenderness, "we do not part for long. Should it please God to spare our lives, I shall have my precious one in my arms in a few short weeks. Meantime we can have a little talk on paper every day. Shall we not?"
"Yes, yes, dear, dear, precious father."
Mr. Travilla stood by with a face full of compassionate tenderness. Putting one hand into her father's, Elsie turned, gave him the other, and together they led her to the carriage and placed her in it. There was a hearty, lingering hand-shaking between the two gentlemen. Mr. Travilla took his seat by Elsie's side, and amid a chorus of good-byes they were whirled rapidly away.
"Cheer up, my dear," said Rose, leaning affectionately on her husband's arm; "it is altogether addition and not subtraction; you have not lost a daughter but gained a son."
"These rooms tell a different tale," he answered with a sigh. "How desolate they seem. But this is no time for the indulgence of sadness. We must return to our guests, and see that all goes merry as a marriage bell with them till the last has taken his departure."