Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"My bride, My wife, my life. O we will walk this world Yok'd in all exercise of noble aim And so through those dark gates across the wild That no man knows." --TENNYSON'S PRINCESS.
Elsie's tears were falling fast, but an arm as strong and kind as her father's stole quietly about her, a hand as gentle and tender as a woman's drew the weary head to a resting-place on her husband's shoulder, smoothed back the hair from the heated brow, and wiped away the falling drops.
"My wife! my own precious little wife!"
How the word, the tone, thrilled her! her very heart leaped for joy through all the pain of parting from one scarcely less dear. "My husband," she murmured, low and shyly--it seemed so strange to call him that, so almost bold and forward--"my dear, kind friend, to be neither hurt nor angry at my foolish weeping."
"Not foolish, dear one, but perfectly natural and right. I understand it; I who know so well what your father has been to you these many years."
"Father and mother both."
"Yes; tutor, friend, companion, confidant, everything. I know, dear little wife, that you are sacrificing much for me, even though the separation will be but partial. And how I love you for it, and for all you are to me, God only knows."
The tears had ceased to flow; love, joy, and thankfulness were regaining their ascendancy in the heart of the youthful bride; she became again calmly, serenely happy.
The journey was accomplished without accident. They were favored with warm, bright days, clear, starlit nights; and on as lovely an afternoon as was ever known in that delicious clime, reached Viamede.
Great preparations had been made for their reception; banners were streaming, and flags flying from balconies and tree-tops. Mr. Mason met them at the pier with a face beaming with delight; Spriggs with a stiff bow. A gun was fired and a drum began to beat as they stepped ashore; two pretty mulatto girls scattered flowers in their path, and passing under a grand triumphal arch they presently found themselves between two long rows of smiling, bowing negroes, whose fervent ejaculations: "God bless our dear young missus an' her husband!" "God bless you, massa an' missus!" "Welcome home!" "Welcome to Viamede!" "We've not forgot you, Miss Elsie; you's as welcome as de daylight!" affected our tender-hearted heroine almost to tears.
She had a kind word for each, remembering all their names, and inquiring after their "miseries"; every one was permitted to take her small white hand, many of them kissing it with fervent affection. They were introduced to their "new master," too (that was what she called him), and shaken hands with by him in a cordial interested way that won their hearts at once.
Aunt Phillis was in her glory, serving up a feast the preparation of which had exhausted the united skill of both Aunt Sally and herself. Their efforts were duly appreciated and praised, the viands evidently greatly enjoyed, all to their intense delight.
Mr. Mason was invited to partake with the bride and groom, and assigned the seat of honor at Mr. Travilla's right hand. Elsie presided over the tea-urn with the same gentle dignity and grace as when her father occupied the chair at the opposite end of the table, now filled by her husband. Her traveling dress had been exchanged for one of simple white, and there were white flowers in her hair and at her throat. Very sweet and charming she looked, not only in the eyes of her husband, who seemed to find her fair face a perpetual feast, but in those of all others who saw her.
On leaving the table they repaired to the library, where Mr. Mason gave a report of the condition of the people and his work among them, also assuring Mrs. Travilla that Spriggs had carefully carried out her wishes, that the prospect for the crops was fine, and everything on the estate in excellent order.
She expressed her gratification, appealing to Mr. Travilla for his approval, which was cordially given; said she had brought a little gift for each of the people, and desired they should be sent up to the house about sunset the next evening to receive it.
The chaplain promised that her order should be attended to, then retired, leaving husband and wife alone together.
"All very satisfactory, my little friend, was it not?" said Mr. Travilla.
"Yes, sir, very. I'm so glad to have secured such a man as Mr. Mason to look after the welfare of these poor helpless creatures. And you like the house, Mr. Travilla, do you not?"
"Very much, so far as I have seen it. This is a beautiful room, and the dining-room pleased me equally well."
"Ah, I am eager to show you all!" she cried, rising quickly and laying her hand on the bell-rope.
"Stay, little wife, not to-night," he said, "you are too much fatigued."
She glided to the back of the easy chair in which he sat, and leaning over him, said laughingly, "I'm not conscious of being fatigued, but I have promised to obey and----"
"Hush, hush!" he said flushing, "I meant to have that left out; and did I not tell you you were to have your own way that night and ever after? You've already done enough of obeying to last you a lifetime. But please come round where I can see you better." Then, as she stepped to his side, he threw an arm about her and drew her to his knee.
"But it wasn't left out," she said, shyly returning his fond caress; "I promised and must keep my word."
"Ah, but if you can't, you can't; how will you obey when you get no orders?"
"So you don't mean to give me any?"
"No, indeed; I'm your husband, your friend, your protector, your lover, but not your master."
"Now, Mr. Travilla----"
"I asked you to call me Edward."
"But it seems so disrespectful."
"More so than to remind me of the disparity of our years? or than to disregard my earnest wish? Then I think I'll have to require the keeping of the promise in this one thing. Say Edward, little wife, and never again call me Mr. Travilla when we are alone."
"Well, Edward, I will try to obey; and if I use the wrong word through forgetfulness you must please excuse it. But ah, I remember papa would say that was no excuse."
"But I shall not be so strict--unless you forget too often. I have sometimes thought my friend too hard with his tender-hearted, sensitive little daughter."
"Don't blame him--my dear, dear father!" she said, low and tremulously, her face growing grave and almost sad for the moment. "He was very strict, it is true, but none too strict in the matter of requiring prompt and implicit obedience, and oh, so kind, so loving, so tender, so sympathizing. I could, and did go to him with every little childish joy and sorrow, every trouble, vexation, and perplexity; always sure of sympathy, and help, too, if needed. Never once did he repulse me, or show himself an uninterested listener.
"He would take me on his knee, hear all I had to say, clasp me close to his heart, caress me, call me pet names, joy, sorrow with, or counsel me as the case required, and bid me always come freely to him so, assuring me that nothing which concerned me, one way or another, was too trivial to interest him, and he would be glad to know I had not a thought or feeling concealed from him. I doubt if even you, my friend, have ever known all that papa has been and is to me: father, mother, everything--but husband," she added with a blush and smile, as her eyes met the kindly, tender look in his.
"Ah, that is my blessed privilege," he whispered, drawing her closer to him. "My wife, my own precious little wife! God keep me from ever being less tender, loving, sympathizing to you than your father has been."
"I do not fear it, my husband. Oh, was ever woman so blessed with love as I! Daughter, and wife! they are the sweetest of all names when addressed to me by papa's lips and yours."
"I ought not to find fault with his training, seeing what credit you do it. However, you seemed to me as near perfection as possible before he began. Ah, my little friend, for how many years I loved you with scarcely a hope it would ever be returned in the way I wished. Indeed I can hardly yet believe fully in my own happiness," he concluded with a joyous laugh. The next day Elsie had the pleasure of showing her husband over the house first, and then the estate. Their life at Viamede, for the few weeks of their stay, seemed much like a repetition of her visit there the year before with her father. They took the same rides, walks and drives; glided over the clear waters of the bayou in the same boat; sought out each spot of beauty or interest he had shown her; were, if possible, even more constantly together, reading, writing, or engaged with music in library or drawing-room, seated side by side on veranda or lawn enjoying conversation, book or periodical; or, it might be, silently musing, hand in hand, by the soft moonlight that lent such a witchery to the lovely landscape. A pleasanter honeymoon could hardly have been devised.
In one thing, however, they were disappointed: they had hoped to be left entirely to each other; but it was impossible to conceal their presence at Viamede from the hospitable neighbors, and calls and invitations had to be received and returned. But, both being eminently fitted to shine in society, and each proud to display the other, this state of things did not, after all, so greatly interfere with their enjoyment.
In fact, so delightful did they find their life in that lovely country that they lingered week after week till nearly six had slipped away, and letters from home began to be urgent for their return. Mr. Dinsmore was wearying for his daughter, Mrs. Travilla for her son, and scarcely less for the daughter so long vainly hoped for.
Every day a servant was despatched to the nearest post-office with their mail, generally returning as full handed as he went. Mr. Dinsmore's letters were, as he had promised, daily, and never left unanswered. The old love was not, could not be forgotten in the new. Elsie was no less a daughter because she had become a wife; but Edward was always a sharer in her enjoyment, and she in his.
They were sitting on the veranda one morning when Uncle Ben rode up and handed the mail-box to his master. Mr. Travilla hastened to open it, gave Elsie her letters and began the perusal of his own.
A softly breathed sigh called his attention to her.
"What is it, little wife?" he asked; "your face is grave almost to sadness."
"I was thinking," she answered, with her eye still upon her father's letter open in her hand. "Papa says," and she read aloud from the sheet, "How long you are lingering in Viamede. When will you return? Tell Travilla I am longing for a sight of the dear face his eyes are feasting upon, and he must remember his promise not to part us.
"I am writing in your boudoir. I have been thinking of the time (it seems but yesterday) when I had you here a little girl, sitting on my knee reciting your lessons or listening with almost rapt attention to my remarks and explanations. Never before had tutor so dear, sweet, and interesting a scholar!"
"A fond father's partiality," she remarked, looking up with a smile and blush. "But never, I am sure, was such another tutor; his lucid explanations, intense interest in the subject and his pupil, apt illustrations, and fund of information constantly opened up to me, made my lessons a delight."
"He has made you wonderfully well informed and thorough," said her husband.
She colored with pleasure.
"Such words are very sweet, coming from your lips. You appreciate papa."
"Yes, indeed, and his daughter too, I hope," he answered, smiling fondly upon her. "Yes, your father and I have been like brothers since we were little fellows. It seems absurd to think of him in any other relation."
"But what about going home? isn't it time, as papa thinks?"
"That you shall decide, ma chere; our life here has been very delightful to me, and to you also, I hope."
"Very, if we had your mother and papa and mamma and the children here, I should like to stay all winter. But as it is I think we ought to return soon." He assented, and after a little more consultation they decided to go soon--not later than the middle of the next week, but the day was not set.