Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"War, war, war! Misery, murder, and crime; Crime, murder, and woe."
The Travillas accompanied Miss Stanhope on her return to Lansdale, and were there to assist at the reception of Harry and his bride. After that, a few weeks were spent by them with Mr. and Mrs. Ross.
They then returned to Elmgrove, where, detained, partly by business matters, partly by Harold's condition and his earnest wish to have them all near him to the last, they lingered until September.
Harold "went home," early in that month, dying as calmly and quietly as "fades a summer cloud away," or "sinks the gale when storms are o'er."
He was buried with military honors, and the friends returned to the house, sorely to miss, indeed, the wasted form, and wan, yet patient, cheerful face, and the loved voice, ever ready with words of consolation and hope; but while weeping over their own present bereavement, rejoicing in his joy and the assurance of a blessed reunion in a better land, when they, too, should be able to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course: I have kept the faith."
It was a melancholy satisfaction to Rose that she had been with him almost constantly during the last three months of his life; her husband had not hurried her; but now both they, and Mr. Travilla and Elsie, felt that the time had come when they should hasten their return to their own homes.
They set out the next week; not a gay party, but filled with a subdued, quiet cheerfulness. Some of their dear ones, but lately journeying with them towards the Celestial City, had reached the gates and entered in; but they were following after, and would overtake them at length; and, though the way might be at times rough and stony to their weary feet, the path compassed by foes both wily and strong, yet there was with them One mightier than all the hosts of hell, and who had promised never to leave nor forsake. "In all these things they should be more than conquerors, through Him that loved them."
After entering Virginia, they saw all along the route the sad ravages of the war, and their hearts sent up earnest petitions that those waste places might speedily be restored, and their dear native land never again be visited with that fearful scourge.
The scenes grew more saddening as they neared their journey's end, and could recognize, in the ruined houses and plantations, the wrecks of the former happy homes of friends and neighbors.
They all went directly to the Oaks, where the Travillas were to find a home until Ion could be made again comfortably habitable. It was late in the afternoon of a cloudy, showery day that they found themselves actually rolling quietly along the broad winding drive that led through the grounds to the noble mansion they had left more than five years before.
Even here there were sad signs of neglect: the grounds had forgotten their former neat and trim appearance, and the house needed paint and some slight repairs. But this was all; and they felt it a cause for thankfulness that things were no worse.
A group of relatives and retainers were gathered in the veranda to greet them; an aged, white-haired man the central figure, around him three ladies in deep mourning, a one-armed gentleman, and a crowd of children of both sexes and all ages, from the babe in arms to the youth of sixteen; while in the rear could be seen Mrs. Murray's portly figure, and strong, sensible Scotch face, beaming with pleasure, relieved by a background of dusky faces, lighted up with joy and expectation.
Mr. Dinsmore alighted first, gave his hand to his wife, and leaving young Horace to attend to Rosebud, hastened to meet his father.
The old man tottered forward and fell upon his neck, weeping bitterly. "My son, my boa, my only one now; I have lost all--everything--wife, sons, home; all swept away, nothing left to my old age but you."
"Yes, that's it always," sneered a sharp voice near at hand; "daughters count for nothing; grandchildren are equally valuable. Sons, houses, and lands are the only possessions worth having."
"Enna, how can you!" exclaimed Mrs. Howard.
But neither father nor brother seemed to hear, or heed the unkind, unfilial remark. The old man was sobbing on his son's shoulder; he soothing him as tenderly as ever he had soothed wife or daughter.
"My home is yours as long as you choose to make it so, my dear father; and Roselands shall be restored, and your old age crowned with the love and reverence of children and children's children."
Hastily recovering himself, the old gentleman released his son, gave an affectionate greeting to Rose, and catching sight of young Horace, now a handsome youth of nineteen, embraced him, exclaiming, "Ah, yes, here is another son for me! one of whom I may well be proud. Rosie, too, grown to a great girl! Glad to see you, dear." But the first carriage had moved on; the second had come up and discharged its living freight, and Mr. Travilla, with Vi in his arms, Elsie leading her eldest daughter and son, had stepped upon the veranda, followed by Dinah with the babe.
"Dear grandpa," Mrs. Travilla said, in tender, tremulous tones, dropping her children's hands to put her arms about his neck, as he turned from Rosebud to her, "my poor, dear grandpa, we will all try to comfort you, and make your old age bright and happy. See, here are your great-grandchildren ready to rise up and call you blessed."
"God bless you, child!" he said, in quivering tones, embracing her with more affection than ever before. "And this," laying his hand on wee Elsie's head, "is yourself as you were at the same age."
"I'm very sorry for you, dear old grandpa; mamma has told me all about it," the little girl softly whispered, putting her small arms about his neck as he stooped to give her a kiss.
"Me too," Eddie put in, offering his hand and lips.
"That's right; good boy; good children. How are you, Travilla? You've come back to find ruin and desolation where you left beauty and prosperity;" and the aged voice shook with emotion.
Mr. Travilla had a kindly, hearty hand-shake, and gentle sympathizing words for him, then presented Vi and Baby Harold.
Meanwhile the greetings were being exchanged by the others. Lora met her brother, and both Rose and Elsie, with the warm affection of earlier days, mingled with grief for the losses and sorrows that had befallen since they parted.
Mr. Howard, too, was cordial in his greeting, but Louise and Enna met them with coldness and disdain, albeit they were mere pensioners upon Horace's bounty, self-invited guests in his house.
Louise gave the tips of her fingers to each, in sullen silence, while Enna drew back from the offered hands, muttering, "A set of Yankees come to spy out the nakedness of the land; don't give a hand to them, children."
"As you like," Mr. Dinsmore answered indifferently, stepping past her to speak to Mrs. Murray and the servants; "you know I will do a brother's part by my widowed sisters all the same."
"For shame, Enna!" said Lora; "you are here in Horace's house, and neither he nor the others ever took part against us."
"I don't care, it was nearly as bad to stay away and give no help," muttered the offender, giving Elsie a look of scorn and aversion.
"Be quiet, will you, Madam Johnson," said her old father; "it would be no more than right if Horace should turn you out of the house. Elsie," seeing tears coursing the cheeks of the latter, "don't distress yourself, child; she's not worth minding."
"That is quite true, little wife," said Mr. Travilla; "and though you have felt for her sorrows, do not let her unkindness wound you."
Elsie wiped away her tears, but only waiting to speak to Mrs. Murray and the servants, retired immediately to the privacy of her own apartments, Mr. Travilla accompanying her with their children and attendants.
Wearied with her journey, and already saddened by the desolations of the country over which they had passed, this cold, and even insulting reception from the aunts--over whose bereavements she had wept in tender sympathy--cut her to the quick.
"Oh, Edward, how can they behave so to papa and mamma in their own house!" she said, sitting down upon a sofa in her boudoir and laying aside her hat, while her eyes again overflowed; "dear papa and mamma, who are always so kind!"
"And you, too, dearest," he said, placing himself by her side and putting an arm about her. "It is shameful conduct, but do not allow it to trouble you."
"I will try not to mind it, but let me cry; I shall get over it the sooner. I never thought to feel so uncomfortable in my father's house. Ah, if Ion were only ready for us!" she sighed.
"I am glad that your home must be with me for the present, daughter, if you can only enjoy it," said her father, who, still ever watchful over her happiness, had followed to soothe and comfort her. "It grieves me that your feelings should have been so wounded," he added, seating himself on the other side, and taking her hand in his.
"Thank you, dear papa; it is for you and mamma, even more than myself, that I feel hurt."
"Then never mind it, dearest. Enna has already coolly told me that she and Louise have settled themselves in the west wing, with their children and servants; where they purpose to maintain a separate establishment, having no desire to associate with any of us; though I, of course, am to supply their table at my own expense, as well as whatever else is needed," he added, with a slight laugh of mingled amusement and vexation.
"Considering it a great privilege to be permitted to do so, I presume," Mr. Travilla remarked, a little sarcastically.
"Of course; for cool impudence Enna certainly exceeds every other person of my acquaintance."
"You must let us share the privilege."
"Thanks; but we will talk of that at another time. I know you and Elsie have dreaded the bad influence of Enna's spoiled children upon yours; and I, too, have feared it for them, and for Rosebud; but there is to be no communication between theirs and ours; Louise's one set, and Enna's two, keeping to their own side of the building and grounds, and ours not intruding upon them. Enna had it all arranged, and simply made the announcement to me, probably with little idea of the relief she was affording."
"It is a great relief," said Elsie. "Aunt Lora's are better trained, and will not----"
"They do not remain with us; Pinegrove is still habitable, and they are here only for to-day to welcome us home."
Elsie's face lighted up with pleasure. "And we shall have our own dear home to ourselves, after all! Ah, how foolish I have been to so borrow trouble."
"I have shared the folly," her father said, smiling; "but let us be wiser for the future. They have already retired to their own quarters, and you will see no more of them for the present. My father remains with us."
Mrs. Howard was deeply mortified by the conduct of her sisters, but tried to excuse them to those whom they were treating with such rudeness and ingratitude.
"Louise and Enna are very bitter," she said, talking with Rose and Elsie in the drawing-room after tea; "but they have suffered much in the loss of their husbands and our brothers; to say nothing of property. Sherman's soldiers were very lawless--some of them, I mean; and they were not all Americans--and inflicted much injury. Enna was very rude and exasperating to the party who visited Roselands, and was roughly handled in consequence; robbed of her watch and all her jewelry and money.
"They treated our poor old father with great indignity also; dragged him down the steps of the veranda, took his watch, rifled his pockets, plundered the house, then set it on fire and burned it to the ground."
Her listeners wept as she went on to describe more minutely the scenes of violence at Roselands, Ashlands, Pinegrove, and other plantations and towns in the vicinity; among them the residences of the pastor and his venerable elder, whose visits were so comforting to Mrs. Travilla in her last sickness.
"They were Union men," Lora said, in conclusion, "spending their time and strength in self-denying efforts for the spiritual good of both whites and blacks, and had suffered much at the hands of the Confederates; yet were stripped of everything by Sherman's troops, threatened with instant death, and finally left to starve, actually being without food for several days."
"Dreadful!" exclaimed Rose. "I could not have believed any of our officers would allow such things. But war is very cruel, and gives opportunity to wicked, cruel men, on both sides to indulge their evil propensities and passions. Thank God, it is over at last; and oh, may He, in His great goodness and mercy, spare us a renewal, of it."
"I say amen to that!" responded Mrs. Howard earnestly. "My poor Ned! my brothers! my crippled husband! Oh, I sometimes think my heart will break!"
It was some minutes ere she could speak again, for weeping, and the others wept with her.
But resuming. "We were visited by both armies," she said, "and one did about as much mischief as the other; and between them there is but little left: they did not burn us out at Pinegrove, but stripped us very bare."
"Aunt Lora, dear Aunt Lora!" Elsie sobbed, embracing her with much tenderness; "we cannot restore the loved ones, but your damages shall be repaired."
"Ah, it will take a lifetime; we have no means left."
"You shall borrow of me without interest. With the exception of the failure of income from Viamede, I have lost nothing by the war but the negroes. My husband's losses are somewhat heavier. But our united income is still very large; so that I believe I can help you all, and I shall delight to do it, even should it involve the sale of most of my jewels."
"Dear child, you are very very kind," Lora said, deeply moved; "and it may be that Edward, proud as he is, will accept some assistance from you."
The next morning Mr. Dinsmore and Rose, Mr. Travilla and Elsie, mounted their horses directly after breakfast, and set out to view for themselves the desolations of Roselands and Ion, preparatory to considering what could be done to restore them to their former beauty.
Roselands lying nearest, received their attention first, but so greatly were the well-remembered landmarks changed, that on arriving, they could scarce believe themselves there.
Not one of the noble old trees, that had bordered the avenue and shaded the lawn, was left standing; many lay prostrate upon the ground, while others had been used for fuel. Of the house naught remained but a few feet of stone wall, some charred, blackened beams, and a heap of ashes. The gardens were a desert, the lawn was changed to a muddy field by the tramping of many feet, and furrowed with deep ruts where the artillery had passed and repassed; fences, hedge-rows, shrubbery--all had disappeared; and the fields, once cultivated with great care, were overgrown with weeds and nettles.
"We have lost our way! this cannot be the place!" cried Rose, as they reined in their horses on the precise spot where Arthur and Walter had taken their farewell look at home.
"Alas, alas, it is no other!" Mr. Travilla replied, in moved tones.
The hearts of Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie were too full for speech, and hot tears were coursing down the cheeks of the latter.
Mr. Dinsmore pressed forward, and the others followed, slowly picking their way through the ruins, grief swelling in their hearts at every step. Determined to know the worst, they made the circuit of the house and of the whole estate.
"Can it ever be restored?" Elsie asked at length, amid her tears.
"The house may be rebuilt in a few months, and fields and gardens cleared of weeds, and made to resume something of the old look," Mr. Dinsmore answered; "but the trees were the growth of years, and this generation will not see their places filled with their like."
They pursued their way to Ion in almost unbroken silence. Here the fields presented the same appearance of neglect; lawn and gardens were a wild, but scarcely a tree had fallen, and though the house had been pillaged, furniture destroyed, windows broken, and floors torn up, a few rooms were still habitable; and here they found several of the house-servants, who hailed their coming with demonstrations of delight.
They had lived on the products of the orchard and grapery, and by cultivating a small patch of ground and keeping a few fowls.
Elsie assumed an air of cheerfulness, for her husband's sake; rejoiced that the trees had been spared, that the family burial-place had escaped desecration, and talked gayly of the pleasure of repairing damages, and making improvements till Ion should not have a rival for beauty the country round.
Her efforts were appreciated, and met fully half-way, by her loving spouse.
The four, taking possession of the rustic seat on the top of a little knoll, where the huge branches of a giant oak protected them from the sun, took a lengthened survey of the house and grounds, and held a consultation in regard to ways and means.
Returning to the Oaks, the gentlemen went to the library, where old Mr. Dinsmore was sitting alone, and reported to him the result of the morning conference. Roselands was to be rebuilt as fast as men and materials could be procured, Elsie furnishing the means--a very large sum of money, of which he was to have the use, free of interest, for a long term of years, or during his natural life.
Mr. Horace Dinsmore knew his father would never take it as a gift, and indeed, it cost him a hard struggle to bring his pride down to the acceptance of it as offered. But he consented at last, and as the other two retired, begged that Elsie would come to him for a moment.
She came in so quietly that he was not aware of her presence. He sat in the corner of a sofa, his white head bowed upon his knees, and his aged frame shaking with sobs.
Kneeling at his side, she put her arms about him, whispering, "Grandpa, my poor, dear grandpa, be comforted; for we all love and honor you."
"Child! child! I have not deserved this at your hands," he sobbed. "I turned from you when you came to my house, a little, desolate motherless one, claiming my affection."
"But that was many years ago, dear grandpa, and we will 'let the dead past bury its dead,' You will not deny me the great pleasure of helping to repair the desolations of war in the dear home of my childhood? You will take it as help sent by Him whose steward I am?"
He clasped her close, and his kisses and tears were warm upon her cheek, as he murmured, in low, broken tones, "God bless you, child! I can refuse you nothing. You shall do as you will."
At last, Elsie had won her way to her stern grandfather's heart; and henceforth she was dear to him as ever one of his children had been.
* * * * *
It is a sweet October morning in the year 1867. Ion, restored to more than its pristine loveliness, lies basking in the beams of the newly risen sun; a tender mist, gray in the distance, rose-colored and golden where the rays of light strike it more directly, enveloping the landscape; the trees decked in holiday attire--green, russet, orange, and scarlet.
The children are romping with each other and their nurses, in the avenue; with the exception of wee Elsie, now a fair, gentle girl of nine, who occupies a rustic seat a little apart from the rest. She has a Bible in her hand, and the sweet young face is bent earnestly, lovingly, over the holy book.
On the veranda stands the mother, watching her darlings with eyes that grow misty with glad tears, while her heart sends up its joyous thanksgiving to Him who had been the Guide of her youth and the stay and staff of maturer years.
A step approaches, and her husband's arm encircles her waist, while, as she turns her head, his kindly gray eyes gaze into the depths of her soft hazel ones, with a love stronger than life--or than death.
"Do you know, little wife, what day this is?"
She answered with a bright, glad smile; then her head dropped upon his shoulder.
"Yes, my husband; ten years ago to-day I committed my happiness to your keeping, and never for one moment have I regretted the step."
"Bless you, darling, for the word! How great are the mercies of God to me! Yonder is our first-born. I see you as you were when first I met and coveted you; and here you stand by my side, the true wife who has been for ten years the joy and light of my heart and home. Wife, I love you better to-day than ever before, and if it be the will of God, may we yet have five times ten years to live together in love and harmony."
"We shall!" she answered earnestly; "eternity is ours, and death itself can part us but for a little while."