Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"His house she enters, there to be a light Shining within, when all without is night; A guardian angel o'er his life presiding, Doubling his pleasure, and his cares dividing." --ROGERS' HUMAN LIFE.
At the set time our friends turned their faces homeward, leaving their loving dependents of Viamede all drowned in tears. In the six weeks of their stay, "Massa" an' "Missus" had become very dear to those warm, childlike hearts.
Elsie could not refrain from letting fall some bright sympathetic drops, though the next moment her heart bounded with joy at the thought of home and father. The yearning to hear again the tones of his loved voice, to feel the clasp of his arm and the touch of his lip upon brow and cheek and lip, increased with every hour of the rapid journey.
Its last stage was taken in the Ion family carriage, which was found waiting for them at the depot.
Elsie was hiding in her own breast a longing desire to go first to the Oaks, chiding herself for the wish, since her husband was doubtless fully as anxious to see his mother, and wondering why she had not thought of asking for a gathering of both families at the one place or the other.
They had left the noisy city far behind, and were bowling smoothly along a very pleasant part of the road, bordered with greensward and shaded on either side by noble forest trees; she with her mind filled with these musings, sitting silent and pensive, gazing dreamily from the window.
Suddenly her eyes encountered a well-known noble form, seated on a beautiful spirited horse, which he was holding in with a strong and resolute hand.
"Papa!" she exclaimed, with a joyous, ringing cry; and instantly he had dismounted, his servant taking Selim's bridle-reins, the carriage had stopped, and springing out she was in his arms.
"My dear father, I was so hungry to see you," she said, almost crying for joy. "How good of you to come to meet us, and so much nicer here than in the crowded depot."
"Good of me," he answered, with a happy laugh. "Of course, as I was in no haste to have my darling in my arms. Ah, Travilla, my old friend, I am very glad to see your pleasant face again." And he shook hands warmly. "Many thanks to you (and to a higher power)," he added reverently, "for bringing her safely back to me. She seems to have been well taken care of; plump and bright and rosy."
"I have been, papa; even you could not be more tender and careful of me than--my husband is."
Her father smiled at the shy, half-hesitating way in which the last word slipped from the rich red lips, and the tender, loving light in the soft eyes as they met the fond, admiring gaze of Travilla's.
"No repentance on either side yet, I see," he said laughingly. "Travilla, your mother is in excellent health and spirits; but impatient to embrace both son and daughter, she bade me say. We all take tea by invitation at Ion to-day; that is, we of the Oaks, including Aunt Wealthy and Miss King."
"Oh, how nice! how kind!" cried Elsie.
"And to-morrow you are all to be at the Oaks!" added her father. "Now shall I ride beside your carriage? or take a seat in it with you?"
"The latter, by all means," answered Travilla, Elsie's sparkling eyes saying the same, even more emphatically.
"Take Selim home, and see that both he and the family carriage are at Ion by nine this evening," was Mr. Dinsmore's order to his servant.
"Ah, papa! so early!" Elsie interposed, in a tone that was half reproach, half entreaty.
"We must not keep you up late after your journey, my child," he answered, following her into the carriage, Mr. Travilla stepping in after.
"The seats are meant for three; let me sit between you, please," requested Elsie.
"But are you not afraid of crushing your dress?" asked her father jocosely, making room for her by his side.
"Not I," she answered gayly, slipping into her chosen place with a light, joyous laugh, and giving a hand to each. "Now I'm the happiest woman in the world."
"As you deserve to be," whispered her husband, clasping tight the hand he held.
"Oh, you flatterer!" she returned. "Papa, did you miss me?"
"Every day, every hour. Did I not tell you so in my letters? And you? did you think often of me?"
"Oftener than I can tell."
"I have been wondering," he said, looking gravely into her eyes, "why you both so carefully avoided the slightest allusion to that most exciting episode of your stay at Viamede."
Elsie blushed. "We did not wish to make you uneasy, papa."
"Of course, you must have seen a newspaper account?" observed Mr. Travilla.
"Yes; and now suppose you let me hear your report. Did the villain's shot graze Elsie's forehead and carry a tress of her beautiful hair?"
"No, no, it was only a lock of her unworthy husband's hair--a much slighter loss," Travilla said, laughing. "But perhaps the reporter would justify his misrepresentation on the plea that man and wife are one."
"Possibly. And did your shot shatter the bone in the rascal's arm?"
"No; Dr. Balis told me the ball glanced from the bone, passed under the nerve and severed the humeral artery."
"It's a wonder he didn't bleed to death."
"Yes; but it seems he had sufficient knowledge and presence of mind to improvise a tourniquet with his handkerchief and a stick."
"What rooms were you occupying?" asked Mr. Dinsmore. "Come, just tell me the whole story as if I had heard nothing of it before."
Travilla complied, occasionally appealing to Elsie to assist his memory; and they had hardly done with the subject when the carriage turned into the avenue at Ion.
"My darling, welcome to your home," said Travilla low and tenderly, lifting the little gloved hand to his lips.
An involuntary sigh escaped from Mr. Dinsmore's breast.
"Thank you, my friend," Elsie replied to her husband, the tone and the look saying far more than the words. Then turning to her father, "And to-morrow, papa, you will welcome me to the other of my two dear homes."
"I hope so, daughter; sunlight is not more welcome than you will always be."
What joyous greetings now awaited our travelers. Elsie had hardly stepped from the carriage ere she found herself in Mrs. Travilla's arms, the old lady rejoicing over her as the most precious treasure Providence could have sent her.
Then came Rose, with her tender, motherly embrace, and joyous "Elsie, dearest, how glad I am to have you with us again."
"Oh, but you've missed us sadly!" said Aunt Wealthy, taking her turn; "the house seemed half gone at the Oaks. Didn't it, Horace?"
"Yes; the absence of our eldest daughter made a very wide gap in the family circle," answered Mr. Dinsmore.
And "Yes, indeed!" cried Horace junior, thinking himself addressed. "I don't believe I could have done without her at all if she hadn't written me those nice little letters."
"Don't you thank me for bringing her back then, my little brother?" asked Mr. Travilla, holding out his hand to the child.
"Yes, indeed, Brother Edward. Papa says I may call you that, as you asked me to; and I'll give you another hug as I did that night, if you'll let me."
"That I will, my boy!" And opening wide his arms he took the lad into a warm embrace, which was returned as heartily as given.
"Now, Elsie, it's my turn to have a hug and kiss from you," Horace said, as Mr. Travilla released him; "everybody's had a turn but me. Miss King and Rosebud and all."
Elsie had the little one in her arms, caressing it fondly.
"Yes, my dear little brother," she said, giving Rosebud to her mammy, "you shall have as hard a hug as I can give, and as many kisses as you want. I love you dearly, dearly, and am as glad to see you as you could wish me to be."
"Are you much fatigued, Elsie dear?" asked Rose, when the greetings were over, even to the kindly shake of the hand and pleasant word to each of the assembled servants.
"Oh, no, mamma, we have traveled but little at night, and last night I had nine hours of sound, refreshing sleep."
"That was right," her father said, with an approving glance at Travilla.
Mrs. Travilla led the way to a suite of beautiful apartments prepared for the bride.
Elsie's taste had been consulted in all the refitting and refurnishing, and the whole effect was charming. This was, however, her first sight of the rooms since the changes had been begun.
The communicating doors were thrown wide, giving a view of the whole suite at once, from the spot where Elsie stood between Mr. Travilla and his mother. She gazed for a moment, then turned to her husband a face sparkling with delight.
"Does it satisfy you, my little wife?" he asked, in tones that spoke intense enjoyment of her pleasure.
"Fully, in every way; but especially as an evidence of my husband's love," she answered, suffering him to throw an arm about her and fold her to his heart.
There had been words of welcome and a recognition of the younger lady as now mistress of the mansion, trembling on the mother's tongue, but she now stole quietly away and left them to each other.
In half an hour the two rejoined their guests, "somewhat improved in appearance," as Mr. Travilla laughingly said he hoped they would be found.
"You are indeed," said Aunt Wealthy, "a lily or a rose couldn't look lovelier than Elsie does in that pure white, and with the beautiful flowers in her hair. I like her habit of wearing natural flowers in her hair."
"And I," said her husband, "they seem to me to have been made for her adornment."
"And your money-hoon's over, Elsie; how odd it seems to think you've been so long married. And did you get through the money-hoon without a quarrel? But of course you did."
Elsie, who had for a moment looked slightly puzzled by the new word, now answered with a smile of comprehension, "Oh, yes, auntie; surely we should be a sad couple if even the honeymoon were disturbed by a disagreement. But Edward and I never mean to quarrel."
Mr. Dinsmore turned in his chair, and gave his daughter a glance of mingled surprise and disapprobation.
"There, papa, I knew you would think me disrespectful," she exclaimed with a deep blush; "but he insisted, indeed ordered me, and you know I have promised to obey."
"It is quite true," assented Mr. Travilla, coloring in his turn; "but I told her it was the only order I ever meant to give her."
"Better not make rash promises," said Mr. Dinsmore, laughing; "these wives are sometimes inclined to take advantage of them."
"Treason! treason!" cried Rose, lifting her hands; "to think you'd say that before me!
"'Husband, husband, cease your strife No longer idly rove, sir; Tho' I am your wedded wife, Yet I am not your slave, sir.'"
There was a general laugh, in the midst of which the tea-bell rang.
"Come," said the elder Mrs. Travilla good-humoredly, "don't be setting a bad example to my children, Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore, but let us all adjourn amicably to the tea-room, and try the beneficial effect of meat and drink upon our tempers."
"That's a very severe reproof, coming from so mild a person as yourself, Mrs. Travilla," said Rose. "My dear, give your arm to Aunt Wealthy, or our hostess. The ladies being so largely in the majority, the younger ones should be left to take care of themselves; of course excepting our bride. Miss King, will you take my arm?"
"Sit here, my daughter," said Mrs. Travilla, indicating the seat before the tea-urn.
"Mother, I did not come here to turn you out of your rightful place," objected Elsie, blushing painfully.
"My dear child, it is your own place; as the wife of the master of the house, you are its mistress. And if you knew how I long to see you actually filling that position; how glad I am to resign the reigns to such hands as yours, you need not hesitate or hold back."
"Yes; take it, wife," said Mr. Travilla, in tender, reassuring tones, as he led her to the seat of honor; "I know my mother is sincere (she is never anything else), and she told me long ago, even before she knew who was to be her daughter, how glad she would be to resign the cares of mistress of the household." Elsie yielded, making no further objection, and presided with the same modest ease, dignity, and grace with which she had filled the like position at Viamede. The experience there had accustomed her to the duties of the place, and after the first moment she felt quite at home in it.
Mr. Dinsmore's carriage was announced at the early hour he had named. The conversation in the drawing-room had been general for a time, but now the company had divided themselves into groups; the two older married ladies and Aunt Wealthy forming one, Mr. Travilla and Miss King another, while Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter had sought out the privacy of a sofa, at a distance from the others, and were in the midst of one of the long, confidential chats they always enjoyed so much.
"Ah, papa, don't go yet," Elsie pleaded, "we're not half done our talk, and it's early."
"But the little folks should have been in their nests long before this," he said, taking out his watch.
"Then send them and their mammies home, and let the carriage return for you and the ladies; unless they wish to go now."
He looked at her smilingly. "You are not feeling the need of rest and sleep?"
"Not at all, papa; only the need of a longer chat with you."
"Then, since you had so good a rest last night, it shall be as you wish."
"Are you ready, my dear?" asked Rose, from the other side of the room.
"Not yet, wife; I shall stay half an hour longer, and if you ladies like to do the same we will send the carriage home with the children and their mammies, and let it return for you."
"What do you say, Aunt Wealthy and Miss Lottie?" inquired Mrs. Dinsmore.
"I prefer to stay and talk out my finish with Mrs. Travilla," said Miss Stanhope.
"I cast my vote on the same side," said Miss King. "But, my dear Mrs. Dinsmore, don't let us keep you."
"Thanks, no; but I, too, prefer another half hour in this pleasant company."
The half hour flew away on swift wings, to Elsie especially.
"But why leave us at all to-night, auntie and Lottie?" she asked, as the ladies began their preparations for departure. "You are to be my guests for the rest of the winter, are you not?" Then turning, with a quick vivid blush, to Mrs. Travilla, "Mother, am I transcending my rights?"
"My dearest daughter, no; did I not say you were henceforth mistress of this house?"
"Yes, from its master down to the very horses in the stable and dogs in the kennel," laughed Mr. Travilla, coming softly up and stealing an arm about his wife's waist.
"No, sir; I don't like to contradict you," retorted Elsie, coloring but looking lovingly into the eyes bent so fondly upon her, "but I am--nothing to you but your little wife;" and her voice sank almost to a whisper with the last word.
"Ah? Well, dear child, that's enough for me," he said, in the same low tone.
"But, Lottie," she remarked aloud, "you are tying on your hat. Won't you stay?"
"Not to-night, thank you, Mrs. Travilla," answered the gay girl in her merry, lively tones.
"You are to be at the Oaks to-morrow, and perhaps I--well, we can settle the time there."
"And you, auntie?"
"Why, dearie, I think you'd better get your housekeeping a little used to your ways first. And it's better for starting out that young folks should be alone."
Mr. Dinsmore had stepped into the hall for his hat, and while the other ladies were making their adieus to her new mother, Elsie stole softly after him.
"My good-night kiss, papa," she whispered, putting her arms about his neck.
"My dear darling! my precious, precious child! how glad I am to be able to give it to you once more, and to take my own from your own sweet lips," he said, clasping her closer. "God bless you and keep you, and ever cause His face to shine upon you."