Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"The low reeds bent by the streamlet's side, And hills to the thunder peal replied; The lightning burst on its fearful way While the heavens were lit in its red array." --WILLIS GAYLORD CLARK. "Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge Accurs'd, and in a cursed hour he hies." --MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
They were alone that evening, and retired earlier than usual. They had been quietly sleeping for some time when Elsie was wakened by a sudden gust of wind that swept round the house, rattling doors and windows; then followed the roll and crash of thunder, peal on peal, accompanied with vivid flashes of lightning.
Elsie was not timid in regard to thunder and lightning; she knew so well that they were entirely under the control of her Father, without whom not a hair of her head could perish; she lay listening to the war of the elements, thinking of the words of the Psalmist, "The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound; Thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of Thy thunder was in the heaven; the lightnings lightened the world, the earth trembled and shook."
But another sound startled her. Surely she heard some stealthy step on the veranda upon which the windows of the room opened (long windows reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling), and then a hand at work with the fastenings of the shutters of the one farthest from the bed.
Her husband lay sleeping by her side. She half raised herself in the bed, put her lips to his ear, and shaking him slightly, whispered, "Edward, some one is trying to get in at the window!"
He was wide-awake in an instant, raised himself and while listening intently took a loaded revolver from under his pillow and cocked it ready for use.
"Lie down, darling," he whispered; "it will be safer, and should the villain get in, this will soon settle him, I think."
"Don't kill him, if you can save yourself without," she answered, in the same low tone and with a shudder.
"No; if I could see, I should aim for his right arm."
A moment of silent waiting, the slight sound of the burglar's tool faintly heard amid the noise of the storm, then the shutter flew open, a man stepped in; at that instant a vivid flash of lightning showed the three to each other, and the men fired simultaneously.
A heavy, rolling crash of thunder followed close upon the sharp crack of the revolvers; the robber's pistol fell with a loud thump upon the floor and he turned and fled along the veranda, this time moving with more haste than caution. They distinctly heard the flying footsteps.
"I must have hit him," said Mr. Travilla, "Dearest, you are not hurt?"
"No, no; but you?"
"Have escaped also, thank God," he added, with earnest solemnity.
Elsie, springing to the bell-rope, sent peal after peal resounding through the house. "He must be pursued, if possible!" she cried; "for oh, Edward, your life is in danger as long as he is at large. You recognized him?"
"Yes, Tom Jackson; I thought him safe in prison at the North; but probably he has been bailed out; perhaps by one of his own gang; for so are the ends of justice often defeated."
He was hurrying on his clothes as he spoke. Elsie had hastily donned dressing-gown and slippers, and now struck a light.
Steps and voices were heard in the hall without, while Aunt Chloe coming in from the other side, asked in tones tremulous with affright, "What's de matter? what's de matter, darlin'? is you hurted?"
"No, mammy; but there was a burglar here a moment since," said Elsie. "He and Mr. Travilla fired at each other, and he must be pursued instantly. Send Uncle Joe to rouse Mr. Spriggs and the boys, and go after him with all speed."
Meantime Mr. Mason was knocking at the door opening into the hall, asking what was wrong and offering his services; a number of negro men's voices adding, "Massa and missus, we's all heyah and ready to fight for ye."
Mr. Travilla opened the door, briefly explained what had happened, and repeated Elsie's order for an immediate and hot pursuit.
"I myself will head it," he was adding, when she interposed.
"No, no, no, my husband, surely you will not think of it; he may kill you yet. Or he might return from another direction, and what could I do with only the women to help me? Oh, Edward, don't go! don't leave me!" And she clung to him trembling and with tears in the soft, entreating eyes.
"No, dearest, you are right. I will stay here to protect you, and Spriggs may lead the boys," he answered, throwing an arm about her. "I think I wounded the fellow," he added to Mr. Mason. "Here, Aunt Chloe, bring the light nearer."
Yes, there lay a heavy revolver, and beside it a pool of blood on the carpet where the villain had stood; and there was a bloody trail all along the veranda where he had run, and on the railing and pillar by which he had swung himself to the ground; indeed, they could track him by it for some distance over the lawn, where the trees kept the ground partially dry; but beyond that the rain coming down in sheets, had helped the fugitive by washing away the telltale stains.
Elsie shuddering and turning pale and faint at the horrible sight, ordered an immediate and thorough cleansing of both carpet and veranda.
"Dere's hot water in de kitchen," said Aunt Phillis. "You, Sal an' Bet, hurry up yah wid a big basin full, an' soap an' sand an' house-cloths. Glad 'nuff dat massa shot dat ole debbil, but Miss Elsie's house not to be defiled wid his dirty blood."
"Cold watah fust, Aunt Phillis," interposed Chloe, "cold watah fust to take out blood-stain, den de hot after dat."
"Mammy knows; do as she directs," said Elsie, hastily retreating into her dressing-room.
"My darling, this has been too much for you," her husband said tenderly, helping her to lie down on a sofa.
Chloe came hurrying in with a tumbler of cold water in one hand, a bottle of smelling salts in the other, her dusky face full of concern.
Mr. Travilla took the articles from her. "That is right, but I will attend to your mistress," he said in a kindly tone; "and do you go and prepare a bed for her in one of the rooms on the other side of the hall."
"It is hardly worth while, dear," said Elsie; "I don't think I can sleep again to-night."
"Yet perhaps you may; it is only two o'clock," he said, as the timepiece on the mantle struck the hour, "and at least you may rest a little better than you could here."
"And perhaps you may sleep. Yes, mammy, get the bed ready as soon as you can."
"My darling, how pale you are!" Mr. Travilla said with concern, as he knelt by her side, applying the restoratives. "Do not be alarmed; I am quite sure the man's right arm is disabled, and therefore the danger is past, for the present at least."
She put her arm about his neck and relieved her full heart with a burst of tears. "Pray, praise," she whispered; "oh, thank the Lord for your narrow escape; the ball must have passed very near your head; I heard it whiz over mine and strike the opposite wall."
"Yes, it just grazed my hair and carried away a lock, I think. Yes, let us thank the Lord." And he poured out a short but fervent thanksgiving, to every word of which her heart said "Amen!"
"Yes, there is a lock gone, sure enough," she said, stroking his hair caressingly as he bent over her. "Ah, if we had not lingered so long here, this would not have happened."
"Not here, but elsewhere perhaps."
"That is true, and no doubt all has been ordered for the best."
Aunt Chloe presently returned, with the announcement that the bed was ready; and they retired for the second time, leaving the house in the care of Uncle Joe and the women servants.
It was some time before Elsie could compose herself to sleep, but near daybreak she fell into a deep slumber that lasted until long past the usual breakfast hour. Mr. Travilla slept late also, while the vigilant Aunts Chloe and Phillis and Uncle Joe took care that no noise should be made, no intruder allowed access to their vicinity to disturb them.
The first news that greeted them on leaving their room, was of the failure of the pursuit after the burglar. He had managed to elude the search, and to their chagrin Spriggs and his party had been obliged to return empty-handed. The servants were the first to tell the tale, then Spriggs came in with a fuller report.
"The scoundrel!" he growled; "how he contrived to do it I can't tell. If we'd had hounds, he couldn't. We've none on the place, but if you say so, I'll borrow----"
"No, no! Mr. Travilla, you will not allow it" cried Elsie, turning an entreating look upon him.
"No, Spriggs, the man must be greatly weakened by the loss of blood, and, unable to defend himself, might be torn to pieces by them before you could prevent it."
"Small loss to the rest of the world if he was," grumbled the overseer.
"Yes, but I wouldn't have him die such a death as that; or hurried into eternity without a moment for repentance."
"But might it not be well to have another search?" suggested Elsie. "He had better be given up to justice, even for his own good, than die in the woods of weakness and starvation."
"Hands are all so busy with the sugar-cane just now, ma'am, that I don't see how they could be spared," answered Spriggs. "And tell you what, ma'am"--as if struck with a sudden thought--"the rascal must have a confederate that's helped him off."
"Most likely," said Mr. Travilla. "Indeed, I think it must be so. And you need give yourself no further anxiety about him, my dear."