Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"He who loves not his country can love nothing." --BYRON. "There were sad hearts in a darken'd home, When the brave had left their bower; But the strength of prayer and sacrifice Was with them in that hour." --MRS. HEMANS.
The sea voyage had done much for the health of both ladies, and the soft Italian air carried on the cure. Mr. Dinsmore, too, had recovered his usual strength, for the first time since his attack of fever.
There was no lack of good society at their command; good both socially and intellectually. American, English, Italian, French, etc.; many former friends and acquaintances and others desiring to be introduced by these; but none of our party felt disposed at that time to mix much with the outside world.
Elsie's deep mourning was for her sufficient excuse for declining all invitations; while Rose could plead her still precarious state of health.
She wore no outward badge of mourning for Mrs. Travilla, but felt deep and sincere grief at her loss; for the two had been intimate and dear friends for many years, the wide disparity in age making their intercourse and affection much like that of mother and daughter.
The condition of political affairs in their own country was another thing that caused our friends to feel more exclusive and somewhat reluctant to mingle with those of other nationalities. Every mail brought them letters and papers from both North and South, and from their distant standpoint they watched with deep interest and anxiety the course of events fraught with such momentous consequences to their native land.
Neither Mr. Dinsmore nor Mr. Travilla had ever been a politician; but both they and their wives were dear lovers of their country, by which they meant the whole Union. The three who were natives of the South acknowledged that that section was dearer to them than any other, but that the whole was nearer and dearer than any part; while Rose said "she knew no difference; it was all her own beloved native land, to her mind one and indivisible."
They led a cheerful, quiet life in their Italian home, devoting themselves to each other and their children; Mr. Dinsmore acting the part of tutor to young Horace, as he had done to Elsie.
Her little ones were the pets and playthings of the entire household, while she and their father found the sweetest joy in caring for them and watching over and assisting the development of their natures, mental, moral, and physical. Their children would never be left to the care and training of servants, however faithful and devoted.
Nor would those of Mr. Dinsmore and Rose. In the esteem of these wise, Christian parents the God-given charge of their own offspring took undoubted precedence of the claims of society.
Thus placidly passed the summer and autumn, the monotony of their secluded life relieved by the enjoyment of literary pursuits, and varied by walks, rides, drives, and an occasional sail, in bright, still weather, over the waters of the lovely bay.
Elsie entered the drawing-room one morning, with the little daughter in her arms. The child was beautiful as a cherub, the mother sweet and fair as ever, nor a day older in appearance than while yet a girl in her father's house.
She found him sole occupant of the room, pacing to and fro with downcast eyes and troubled countenance. But looking up quickly at the sound of her footsteps he came hastily towards her.
"Come to grandpa," he said, holding out his hands to the little one; then as he took her in his arms, "My dear daughter, if I had any authority over you now----"
"Papa," she interrupted, blushing deeply, while the quick tears sprang to her eyes, "you hurt me! Please don't speak so. I am as ready now as ever to obey your slightest behest."
"Then, my darling, don't carry this child. You are not strong, and I fear will do yourself an injury. She can walk very well now, and if necessary to have her carried, call upon me, her father, or one of the servants; Aunt Chloe, Uncle Joe, Dinah, one or another is almost sure to be at hand."
"I will try to follow out your wishes, papa. Edward has said the same thing to me, and no doubt you are right; but it is so sweet to have her in my arms, and so hard to refuse when she asks to be taken up."
"You mustn't ask mamma to carry you," Mr. Dinsmore said to the child, caressing her tenderly as he spoke; "poor mamma is not strong, and you will make her sick."
They had seated themselves side by side upon a sofa. The little one turned a piteous look upon her mother, and with a quivering lip and fast-filling eyes, said, "Mamma sick? Elsie tiss her, make her well?"
"No, my precious pet, mother isn't sick; so don't cry," Elsie answered, receiving the offered kiss, as the babe left her grandfather's knee and crept to her; then the soft little hands patted her on the cheeks and the chubby arms clung about her neck.
But catching sight, through the open window, of her father coming up the garden walk, wee Elsie hastily let go her hold, slid to the floor and ran to meet him.
Mr. Dinsmore seemed again lost in gloomy thought.
"Papa, dear, what is it? What troubles you so?" asked Elsie, moving closer to him, and leaning affectionately on his shoulder, while the soft eyes sought his with a wistful, anxious expression.
He put his arm about her, and just touching her cheek with his lips, heaved a deep sigh. "The papers bring us bad news. Lincoln is elected."
"Ah well, let us not borrow trouble, papa; perhaps he may prove a pretty good president after all."
"Just what I think," remarked Mr. Travilla, who had come in with his little girl in his arms at the moment of Mr. Dinsmore's announcement, and seated himself on his wife's other side; "let us wait and see. All may go right with our country yet."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head sadly. "I wish I could think so, but in the past history of all republics whenever section has arrayed itself against section the result has been either a peaceful separation, or civil war; nor can we hope to be an exception to the rule."
"I should mourn over either," said Elsie, "I cannot bear to contemplate the dismemberment of our great, glorious old Union. Foreign nations would never respect either portion as they do the undivided whole."
"No; and I can't believe either section can be so mad as to go that length," remarked her husband, fondling his baby daughter as he spoke. "The North, of course, does not desire a separation; but if the South goes, will be pretty sure to let her go peaceably."
"I doubt it, Travilla; and even if a peaceable separation should be allowed at first, so many causes of contention would result (such as the control of the navigation of the Mississippi, the refusal of the North to restore runaway negroes, etc., etc.), that it would soon come to blows."
"Horace, you frighten me," said Rose, who had come in while they were talking.
The color faded from Elsie's cheek, and a shudder ran over her, as she turned eagerly to hear her husband reply.
"Why cross the bridge before we come to it, Dinsmore?" he answered cheerily, meeting his wife's anxious look with one so fond and free from care, that her heart grew light; "surely there'll be no fighting where there is no yoke of oppression to cast off. There can be no effect without a cause."
"The accursed lust of power on the part of a few selfish, unprincipled men, may invent a cause, and for the carrying out of their own ambitious schemes, they may lead the people to believe and act upon it. No one proposes to interfere with our institution where it already exists--even the Republican party has emphatically denied any such intention--yet the hue and cry has been raised that slavery will be abolished by the incoming administration, arms put into the hands of the blacks, and a servile insurrection will bring untold horrors to the hearths and homes of the South."
"Oh, dreadful, dreadful!" cried Rose.
"But, my dear, there is really no such danger: the men (unscrupulous politicians) do not believe it themselves; but they want power, and as they could never succeed in getting the masses to rebel to compass their selfish ends, they have invented this falsehood and are deceiving the people with it."
"Don't put all the blame on the one side, Dinsmore," said Mr. Travilla.
"No; that would be very unfair. The framers of our constitution looked to gradual emancipation to rid us of this blot on our escutcheon, this palpable inconsistency between our conduct and our political creed.
"It did so in a number of States, and probably would ere this in all, but for the fierce attacks of a few ultra-abolitionists, who were more zealous to pull the mote out of their brother's eye than the beam out of their own, and so exasperated the Southern people by their wholesale abuse and denunciations, that all thought of emancipation was given up.
"It is human nature to cling the tighter to anything another attempts to force from you; even though you may have felt ready enough to give it up of your own free will."
"Very true," said Travilla, "and Garrison and his crew would have been at better work repenting of their own sins, than denouncing those of their neighbors."
"But, papa, you don't think it can come to war, a civil war, in our dear country? the best land the sun shines on; and where there is none of the oppression that makes a wise man mad!"
"I fear it, daughter, I greatly fear it; but we will cast this care, as well as all others, upon Him who 'doeth according to His will, in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.'"
What a winter of uncertainty and gloom to Americans, both at home and abroad, was that of 1860-'61. Each mail brought to our anxious friends in Naples news calculated to depress them more and more in view of the calamities that seemed to await their loved land.
State after State was seceding and seizing upon United States property within its limits--forts, arsenals, navy-yards, custom-houses, mints, ships, armories, and military stores--while the government at Washington remained inactive, doubtless fearing to precipitate the civil strife.
Still Mr. Travilla, Rose, and Elsie, like many lovers of the Union, both North and South, clung to the hope that war might yet be averted.
At length came the news of the formation of the Confederacy: Davis's election as its president; then of the firing upon the Star of the West, an unarmed vessel bearing troops and supplies to Fort Sumter.
"Well, the first gun has been fired," said Mr. Dinsmore, with a sigh, as he laid down the paper from which he had been reading the account.
"But perhaps it may be the only one, papa," remarked Elsie hopefully.
"I wish it may," replied her father, rising and beginning to pace to and fro, as was his wont when excited or disturbed.
The next news from America was looked for with intense anxiety. It was delayed longer than usual; and at length a heavy mail came, consisting of letters and Capers of various dates from the twelfth to the twentieth of April, and bringing news of the most exciting character in the fall of Fort Sumter: the call of the president for seventy-five thousand troops to defend the capital, the seizure of the United States armory at Harper's Ferry by the Confederates; the attack on the Massachusetts troops while passing through Baltimore, and lastly the seizure of Norfolk Navy-yard.
Dinner was just over at the villa, the family still chatting over the dessert, children and all in an unusually merry mood, when this mail was brought in by a servant, and handed to Mr. Dinsmore.
He promptly distributed it, took up the paper of the earliest date, and glancing over the headings, exclaimed, with a groan, "It has come!"
"What?" queried the others, in excited chorus.
"War! My country! oh, my country! Fort Sumter has fallen after a terrific bombardment of thirty-six hours." And he proceeded to read aloud the account of the engagement, the others listening in almost breathless silence.
"And they have dared to fire upon the flag! the emblem of our nationality, the symbol of Revolutionary glory; to tear it down and trample it in the dust!" cried Mr. Travilla, pushing back his chair in unwonted excitement; "shameful, shameful!"
Tears were rolling down Elsie's cheeks, and Rose's eyes were full.
"Let us adjourn to the library and learn together all these papers and letters can tell us," said Mr. Dinsmore, rising. "'Twill be better so; we shall need the support of each other's sympathy."
He led the way and the rest followed.
The papers were examined first, by the gentlemen, now the one and now the other reading an article aloud, the excitement and distress of all increasing with each item of intelligence in regard to public affairs. Rose and Elsie opened their letters, and now and then, in the short pauses of the reading, cast a hasty glance at their contents.
Elsie's were from her Aunt Adelaide, Walter, and Enna. Rose's from her mother, Richard, May, and Sophie.
The last seemed written in a state of distraction.
"Rose, Rose, I think I shall go crazy! my husband and his brothers have enlisted in the Confederate army. They, Harry especially, are furious at the North and full of fight; and I know my brothers at home will enlist on the other side; and what if they should meet and kill each other! Oh, dear! oh, dear! my heart is like to break!
"And what is it all about? I can't see that anybody's oppressed; but when I tell Harry so, he just laughs and says, 'No, we're not going to wait till they have time to rivet our chains,' 'But,' I say, 'I've had neither sight nor sound of chains; wait at least till you hear their clank.' Then he laughs again, but says soothingly, 'Never mind, little wife; don't distress yourself; the North won't fight; or if they do try it, will soon give it up,' But I know they won't give up: they wouldn't be Americans if they did.
"Arthur and Walter Dinsmore were here yesterday, and Arthur is worse than Harry a great deal; actually told me he wouldn't hesitate to shoot down any or all of my brothers, if he met them in Federal uniform. Walter is almost silent on the subject, and has not yet enlisted. Arthur taunted him with being for the Union, and said if he was quite sure of it he'd shoot him, or help hang him to the nearest tree.
"Oh, Rose! pray, pray that this dreadful war may be averted!"
Rose felt almost stunned with horror as she read; but her tears fell fast as she hurriedly perused the contents of the other three, learning from them that Richard, Harold, and Fred had already enlisted, and Edward would do the same should the war continue long.
"My heart is torn in two!" she cried, looking piteously up in her husband's face, with the tears streaming down her own.
"What is it, my darling?" he asked, coming to her and taking her cold hands in his.
"Oh my country! my country! My brothers, too--and yours! they are pitted against each other--have enlisted in the opposing armies. Oh, Horace, Horace! what ever shall we do?"
"God reigns, dearest; let that comfort you and all of us," he said, in moved tones. "It is dreadful, dreadful! Brothers, friends, neighbors, with hearts full of hatred and ready to imbrue their hands in each other's blood and for what? That a few ambitious, selfish, unscrupulous men may retain and increase their power; for this they are ready to shed the blood of tens of thousands of their own countrymen, and bring utter ruin upon our beautiful, sunny South."
"Oh, papa, surely not!" cried Elsie; "these papers say the war cannot last more than three months."
"They forget that it will be American against American. If it is over in three years, 'twill be shorter than I expect."
Elsie was weeping, scarcely less distressed than Rose.
"We will, at least, hope for better things, little wife," her husband said, drawing her to him with caressing motion. "What do your letters say?"
"They are full of the war; it is the all-absorbing theme with them, as with us. Aunt Adelaide's is very sad. Her heart clings to the South, as ours do; yet, like us, she has a strong love for the old Union.
"And she's very found of her husband, who, she says, is very strong for the Government; and then, besides her distress at the thought that he will enlist, her heart is torn with anguish because her brothers and his are in the opposing armies.
"Oh, Edward! isn't it terrible? Civil war in our dear land! So many whom we love on both sides!"
There was a moment of sorrowful silence. Then her father asked, "What does Enna say?"
"She is very bitter, papa: speaks with great contempt of the North; exults over the fall of Fort Sumter and the seizure of United States property; glories in the war-spirit of Dick and Arthur, and sneers at poor Walter because he is silent and sad, and declines, for the present at least, to take any part in the strife. Grandpa, she says, and his mother, too, are almost ready to turn him out of the house; for they are as hot secessionists as can be found anywhere.
"I have a letter from Walter too, papa. He writes in a very melancholy strain; hints mildly at the treatment he receives at home; says he can't bear the idea of fighting against the old flag, and still less the old friends he has at the North, and wishes he was with us or anywhere out of the country, that he might escape being forced to take part in the quarrel."
"Poor fellow!" sighed Mr. Dinsmore. "Ah, I have a letter here from my father that I have not yet opened."
He took it from the table as he spoke. His face darkened as he read, the frown and stern expression reminding Elsie of some of the scenes in her early days; but he handed the missive to Rose, remarking, in a calm, quiet tone, "My father expects me to be as strong a secessionist as himself."
"But you're for the Union, papa, are you not?" asked Horace. "You'd never fire upon the Stars and Stripes--the dear old flag that protects us here?"
"No, my son. I love the dear South, which has always been my home, better far than any other of the sections; yet I love the whole better than a part."
"So do I!" exclaimed Rose warmly; "and if Pennsylvania, my own native State, should rebel against the general government, I'd say, 'Put her down with a strong hand'; and just so with any State or section, Eastern, Northern, Middle or Western. I've always been taught that my country is the Union; and I think that teaching has been general through the North."
"It is what my mother taught me, and what I have taught my children," said Mr. Dinsmore; "not to love the South or my native State less, but the Union more. I was very young when I lost my mother; but that, and some other of her teachings, I have never forgotten."
"There is, I believe, a strong love for the old Union throughout the whole South," remarked Mr. Travilla; "there would be no rebellion among the masses there, but for the deceptions practised upon them by their leaders and politicians; and it is they who have been whirling the States out of the Union, scarce allowing the people a voice in the matter."
"I don't wonder at the indignation of the North over the insult to the flag," said Elsie; "nor the furor for it that is sweeping over the land."
"I'd like to be there to help fling it to the breeze," cried Horace excitedly; "and to see how gay the streets must be with it flying everywhere. Yes, and I'd like to help fight. Papa, am I not old enough? mayn't I go?"
"No, foolish boy, you are much too young, not yet fourteen. And suppose you were old enough, would you wish to fight your uncles? kill one of them, perhaps? Uncle Walter, for instance?"
"Oh papa, no, no, no! I wouldn't for the world hurt one hair of dear Uncle Wal's head; no, not if he were the hottest kind of secessionist."
"Kill Uncle Wal! why Horace, how could you ever think of such a thing?" exclaimed Rosebud. "And mamma and sister Elsie, why are you both crying so?"
All the afternoon the elders of the family remained together, talking over the news--they could scarce think or speak of anything else: very grave and sad all of them, the ladies now and then dropping a tear or two while each paper was carefully scanned again and again, lest some item on the all-absorbing subject might have been overlooked, and every letter that had any bearing upon it read and re-read till its contents had been fully digested.
May's gave a graphic account of the excitement in Philadelphia; the recruiting and drilling of troops, the making of flags, the constant, universal singing of patriotic songs, etc., then closed with the story of the sorrowful parting with the dear brothers who might never return from the battle-field.
It had been a bright, warm day, but at evening the sea breeze came in cool and fresh; thin clouds were scudding across the sky, hiding the stars and giving but a faint and fitful view of the young moon that hung, a bright crescent, amid their murky folds.
Mr. Dinsmore was pacing slowly to and fro upon an open colonnade overlooking the bay. He walked with bent head and folded arms, as one in painful thought.
A slight girlish figure came gliding towards him from the open doorway. "Papa, dear, dear papa," murmured a voice tremulous with emotion, "you are very sad to-night; would that your daughter could comfort you!"
He paused in his walk, took her in his arms and folded her close to his heart.
"Thank you, darling. Yes, I am sad, as we all are. Would that I could comfort you, and keep all sorrow from your life. Nay, that is not a right wish, for 'whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.' 'As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.'"
"Yes, papa, those words make me more than willing to bear trials. But oh, how dreadful, how dreadful, to know that our countrymen are already engaged in spilling each other's blood!"
"Yes, that is harrowing enough; but that it should be also our near and dear relations! Elsie, I am thinking of my young brothers: they are not Christians; nor is my poor old father. How can they bear the trials just at hand? How unfit they are to meet death, especially in the sudden, awful form in which it is like to meet those who seek the battle-field. Daughter, you must help me pray for them, pleading the promise, 'If two of you shall agree.'"
"I will, papa; and oh, I do feel deeply for them. Poor Walter and poor, poor grandpa. I think he loves you best of all his sons, papa; but it would be very terrible to him to have the others killed or maimed."
"Yes, it would indeed. Arthur is his mother's idol, and I dare say she now almost regrets that he has now so entirely recovered from his lameness as to be fit for the army."
He drew her to a seat. "The babies are in bed, I suppose?"
"Yes, papa; I left my darlings sleeping sweetly. I am trying to train them to regular habits and early hours, as you did me."
"That is right."
"Papa, it is so sweet to be a mother! to have my little Elsie in my lap, as I had but a few moments since, and feel the clasp of her arms about my neck, or the tiny hands patting and stroking my face, the sweet baby lips showering kisses all over it, while she coos and rejoices over me; Mamma! mamma, my mamma! Elsie's dear mamma! Elsie's own sweet pretty mamma.' Ah, though our hearts ache for the dear land of our birth, we still have many many blessings left."
"We have indeed."
Mr. Travilla, Rose, and Horace now joined them, and the last-named besieged his father with questions about the war and its causes; all of which were patiently answered to the best of Mr. Dinsmore's ability, Mr. Travilla now and then being appealed to for further information, or his opinion, while the ladies listened and occasionally put in a remark or a query.
From that day the mails from America were looked for with redoubled anxiety and eagerness: though the war news was always painful, whichever side had gained a victory or suffered defeat.
At first, papers and letters had been received from both North and South, giving them the advantage of hearing the report from each side; but soon the blockade shut off nearly all intercourse with the South, a mail from thence reaching them only occasionally, by means of some Confederate or foreign craft eluding the vigilance of the besieging squadron.
Early in June there came a letter from Miss Stanhope, addressed to Elsie. Like all received from America now, it dwelt almost exclusively upon matters connected with the fearful struggle just fairly begun between the sections. The old lady's heart seemed full of love for the South, yet she was strongly for the Union, and said she should be so if any other section or State rebelled.
Lansdale was full of excitement, flags flying everywhere; they had one streaming across from the top of the house, and another from a tree in the garden.
Harry had enlisted in response to the first call of troops, and was now away, fighting in Virginia; while she, praying night and day for his safety, was, with most of the ladies of the town, busy as a bee knitting stockings and making shirts for the men in the field, and preparing lint, bandages, and little dainties for the sick and wounded.