Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"Liberty! Freedom! tyranny is dead! --Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets." --SHAKESPEARE'S JULIUS CAESAR.
The winter of 1861-'62 wore wearily away, the Great Republic still convulsed with all the horrors of the civil war; and the opening spring witnessed no abatement of the fearful strife.
Daring all these months nothing unusual had occurred in the family of our friends at Naples; but one lovely morning in April a sweet floweret blossomed among them; bringing joy and gladness to all hearts.
"Our little violet," Elsie said, smiling up at the happy face of her husband, as he bent over her and the babe. "She has come to us just as her namesakes in America are lifting their pretty heads among the grass."
"Thank you, darling," he answered, softly touching his lips to her cheek; "yes, we will give her my mother's name, and may she inherit her lovely disposition also."
"I should be so glad, dear mother's was as lovely a character as I ever knew."
"Our responsibilities are growing, love: three precious little ones now to train up for usefulness here and glory hereafter."
"Yes," she said, with grave yet happy face; "and who is sufficient for these things?"
"Our sufficiency is of God!"
"And He has promised wisdom to those who ask it. What a comfort. I should like to show this pretty one to Walter. Where is he now, I wonder, poor fellow?"
Ah, though she knew it not, he was then lying cold in death upon the bloody field of Shiloh.
There had been news now and then from their Northern friends and relatives. Richard Allison had recovered from his wound, and was again in the field. Edward was with the army also; Harold, too, and Philip Ross.
Lucy was, like many others who had strong ties in both sections and their armies, well-nigh distracted with grief and fear.
From their relatives in the South the last news received had been that of the death of Dick Percival, nor did any further news reach there until the next November. Then they heard that Enna had been married again to another Confederate officer, about a year after her first husband's death; that Walter had fallen at Shiloh, that Arthur was killed in the battle of Luka, and that his mother, hearing of it just as she was convalescing from an attack of fever, had a relapse and died a few days after.
Great was the grief of all for Walter; Mr. Dinsmore mourned very much for his father also, left thus almost alone in his declining years. No particulars were given in regard to the deaths of the two young men.
"Oh," cried Elsie, as she wept over Walter's loss, "what would I not give to know that he was ready for death! But surely we may rejoice in the hope that he was; since we have offered so much united prayer for him."
"Yes," returned her father, "for 'If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven'; and God's promises are all 'yea and amen in Christ Jesus.'"
"Papa," said Horace, "how can it be that good Christian men are fighting and killing each other?"
"It is a very strange thing, my son; yet undoubtedly true that there are many true Christians on both sides. They do not see alike, and each is defending what he believes a righteous cause."
"Listen all," said Mrs. Dinsmore, who was reading a letter from Daisy, her youngest sister.
"Richard is ill in the hospital at Washington, and May has gone on to nurse him. Dr. King, of Lansdale, Ohio, is there acting as volunteer surgeon, and has Lottie with him. She will be company for our May. Don't worry about Ritchie; May writes that he is getting better fast."
Rose smiled as she read the last sentence.
"What is it, mamma?" asked Elsie.
"Nothing much; only I was thinking how greatly Ritchie seemed to admire Miss King at the time of the wedding."
"Well, if he loses his heart I hope he will get another in exchange."
"Why, Sister Elsie, how could Uncle Ritchie lose his heart? did they shoot a hole so it might drop out?" queried Rosebud in wide-eyed wonder. "I hope the doctors will sew up the place quick 'fore it does fall out," she added, with a look of deep concern. "Poor, dear Uncle Wal is killed," she sobbed; "and Uncle Art too, and I don't want all my uncles to die or to be killed."
"We will ask God to take care of them, dear daughter," said Rose, caressing the little weeper, "and we know that He is able to do it."
* * * * *
One day in the following January--1863--the gentlemen went into the city for a few hours, leaving their wives and children at home. They returned with faces full of excitement.
"What news?" queried both ladies in a breath.
"Lincoln has issued an Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the blacks."
There was a momentary pause: then Rose said, "If it puts an end to this dreadful war, I shall not be sorry."
"Nor I," said Elsie.
"Perhaps you don't reflect that it takes a good deal out of our pockets," remarked her father. "Several hundred thousand from yours."
"Yes, papa, I know; but we will not be very poor. I alone have enough left to keep us all comfortably. If I were only sure it would add to the happiness of my poor people, I should rejoice over it. But I am sorely troubled to know what has, or will become of them. It is more than two years now, since we have heard a word from Viamede."
"It is very likely we shall find nothing but ruins on all our plantations--Viamede, the Oaks, Ion, and Roselands," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, pacing to and fro with an anxious and disturbed countenance.
"Let us hope for the best," Mr. Travilla responded cheerfully; "the land will still be there, perhaps the houses too; the negroes will work for wages, and gradually we may be able to restore our homes to what they were."
"And if the war stops now, we shall probably find them still in pretty good condition," said Elsie.
"No," her father said, "the war is not at an end, or likely to be for a long time to come; but we will wait in patience and hope, daughter, and not grieve over losses that perhaps may bring great happiness to others."
"Are we poor now, papa?" asked Horace anxiously.
"No, son; your sister is still very wealthy, and we all have comfortable incomes."
"It did me good to see Uncle Joe's delight over the news," Mr. Travilla smilingly remarked to his wife.
"Ah, you told him then?" she returned, with a keen interest and pleasure.
"Yes, and it threw him into a transport of joy. 'Ki! massa,' he said, 'neber tink to heyah sich news as dat! neber spects dis chile lib to bee freedom come;' then sobering down, 'but, massa, we's been a prayin' for it; we's been crying to the good Lord like the chillen ob Israel when dey's in de house ob bondage; tousands an' tousands ob us cry day an' night, an' de Lord heyah, an' now de answer hab come. Bress de Lord! Bress His holy name foreber an' eber.'
"'And what will you do with your liberty, Uncle Joe?' I asked; then he looked half frightened. 'Massa, you ain't gwine to send us off? we lub you an' Miss Elsie an' de chillen, an' we's gettin' mos' too ole to start out new for ourselves.'"
"Well, dear, I hope you assured him that he had nothing to fear on that score."
"Certainly; I told him they were free to go or stay as they liked, and as long as they were with, or near us, we would see that they were made comfortable. Then he repeated, with great earnestness, that he loved us all, and could never forget what you had done in restoring him to his wife, and making them both so comfortable and happy."
"Yes, I think they have been happy with us; and probably it was the bitter remembrance of the sufferings of his earlier life that made freedom seem so precious a boon to him."
Going into the nursery half an hour later, Elsie was grieved and surprised to find Chloe sitting by the crib of the sleeping babe, crying and sobbing as if her very heart would break, her head bowed upon her knees, and the sobs half-smothered, lest they should disturb the child.
"Why, mammy dear, what is the matter?" she asked, going to her and laying a hand tenderly on her shoulder.
Chloe slid to her knees, and taking the soft white hand in both of hers, covered it with kisses and tears, while her whole frame shook with her bitter weeping.
"Mammy, dear mammy, what is it?" Elsie asked in real alarm, quite forgetting for the moment the news of the morning, which indeed she could never have expected to cause such distress.
"Dis chile don't want no freedom," sobbed the poor old creature at length, "she lubs to b'long to her darlin' young missis: Uncle Joe he sing an' jump an' praise de Lord, 'cause freedom come, but your ole mammy don't want no freedom; she can't go for to leave you, Miss Elsie, her bressed darlin' chile dat she been done take care ob ever since she born."
"Mammy dear, you shall never leave me except of your own free will," Elsie answered, in tender soothing tones. "Come, get up, and don't cry any more. Why, it would come as near breaking my heart as yours, if we had to part. What could I or my babies ever do without our old mammy to look after our comfort!"
"Bress your heart, honey, you'se allus good an' kind to your ole mammy," Chloe said, checking her sobs and wiping away her tears, as she slowly rose to her feet; "de Lord bress you an' keep you. Now let your mammy gib you one good hug, like when you little chile."
"And many times since," said Elsie, smiling sweetly into the tear-swollen eyes of her faithful old nurse, and not only submitting to, but returning the embrace.