Grandmother Elsie by Martha Finley
"Here love his golden shafts employs, here lights His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings." --Rowly.
It was Saturday evening. Edward Travilla, travelling leisurely through France, had stopped in a village not many miles from Paris, to spend the Sabbath.
Having taken his supper and afterward a stroll through the village, he retired to his room to read and answer a budget of letters just received from America.
The first he opened was from his mother. It told of Violet's approaching marriage and urged his immediate return that he might be present at the ceremony.
"We are all longing to see you," she wrote, "your mother more, I believe, than any one else. If you have not had enough of Europe yet, my dear boy, you can go back again soon, if you wish, perhaps taking some of us with you. And Vi will be sorely disappointed if you are not present on the occasion so important to her."
"I must certainly go," he mused, laying down the letter. "I should not like to miss it. Vi will be as lovely a bride as Elsie was. I have never been able to decide which of the two is the more beautiful; but I wonder that she is allowed to marry so young--just nineteen! I should have had her wait a year or two at least."
There was a step in the hall without, a rap on the door.
"Come in," Edward said, and Ben appeared.
"Marse Ed'ard, dey tells me dars a 'Merican gentleman bery sick in de room cross de hall hyar; gwine ter die, I reckon."
"Indeed!" Edward said with concern. "I should be glad to be of assistance to him. Is he quite alone, Ben? I mean has he no friends with him?"
"I b'lieves dar's a lady long wid him, Marse Ed'ard, but I mos'ly has to guess 'bout de half ob what dese Frenchers say."
"You don't know the name, Ben?"
"No, sah, couldn't make it out de way dey dispronounces it. But I understands, sah, dat dese folks--meanin' de sick gentleman and de lady--and we's de only 'Mericans in de town."
"Then here, Ben, take my card to the lady and ask if I can be of service to them. Say that I am a countryman of theirs and shall be most happy to do anything in my power."
Ben came back the next moment with a face full of grave concern. "Marse Ed'ard," he said, "it's Mistah Love and Miss Zoe."
"Is it possible!" cried Edward, starting up. "And is he really so very ill?"
"Berry sick, Marse Ed'ard, looks like he's dyin' sho nuff."
"Oh, dreadful! And no one with him but his daughter?"
"Dat's all, sah. De young lady come to de do', and when I give her de card, she look at it and den at me an' say, 'O Ben! I thought we hadn't a friend in all dis country! and papa so very sick! Please tell Mr. Travilla we'll be glad to see him.'"
Edward went to them at once, bidding Ben remain near at hand lest he should be needed to do some errand.
The Loves had remained in Rome for a few weeks after Elsie's marriage, during which Edward had met them frequently, his liking for the father and admiration of the daughter's beauty and sprightliness increasing with every interview.
He had found Mr. Love a sensible, well-informed Christian gentleman. The daughter was a mere child--only fifteen--extremely pretty and engaging, but evidently too much petted and indulged, her father's spoiled darling.
Edward knew that she was an only child and motherless, and was much shocked and grieved to hear that she was likely to lose her only remaining parent.
Zoe herself opened the door in answer to his gentle rap.
"O Mr. Travilla!" she said, giving him both hands in her joy at seeing a friendly face in this hour of sore distress, but with tears streaming down her cheeks, "I am so glad you have come! Papa is so sick, and I don't know what to do, or where to turn."
"My poor child! we must hope for the best," Edward said, pressing the little hands compassionately in his. "You must call upon me for help and let me do whatever I can for you and your poor father, just as if I were his son and your brother."
"Oh, thank you! you are very kind. Will you come now and speak to him?" and she led the way to the bedside.
"Travilla!" the sick man exclaimed, feebly holding out his hand. "Thank God for sending you here!"
Edward took the offered hand in his, saying with an effort to steady his tones, "I am glad indeed to be here, sir, if you can make use of me, but very sorry to see you so ill."
The hand he held was cold and clammy, and death had plainly set his seal upon the pale face on the pillow.
"Shall I send Ben for a physician?" Edward asked.
"Thank you. I have had one; he will be here again presently, but can do little for me," the sick man answered, speaking slowly and with frequent pauses. "Zoe, my darling, go into the next room for a moment, dear. I would be alone with Mr. Travilla for a little while."
The weeping girl obeyed at once, her father following her with eyes that were full of anguish.
"'Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive,'" repeated Edward in low tones, tremulous with deep sympathy.
How this scene brought back that other, but a year and a half ago, when his own father lay wrestling with the king of terrors!
"Yes, yes, precious promise! for she will soon be that, my poor darling!" groaned the sufferer. "That I must leave her alone in the world, without one near relative, alone in a strange land, penniless too, oh this is the bitterness of death!"
"I will be a friend to her, sir," Edward said with emotion, "and so I am sure will my mother and grandfather when they learn her sad story. Tell me your wishes in regard to her, and I will do my best to see them carried out."
As briefly as possible, for his strength was waning, Mr. Love made Edward acquainted with the state of his affairs. He had retired from business the previous year with a comfortable competence, and being somewhat out of health, had undertaken a European tour with the hope of benefit, if not entire recovery.
The improvement had been very decided for a time, but within the last few days distressing news had reached him from America; news of the failure, through the extensive peculation of one of its officers, of a bank in which the bulk of his savings had been invested.
He had other property, but as the law made each stockholder liable for double the amount of his stock, that too was swallowed up and he thus utterly ruined.
The terrible shock of the disaster had so increased his malady that it had become mortal; he was too utterly prostrated to rally from it, and knew that his hours on earth were numbered.
He had a little ready money with him, enough he thought to pay his funeral expenses and Zoe's passage back to her native land, but such a mere child as she was, always used to depending upon him to see to all their affairs, she would not know how to manage, and would probably be robbed of the little she had. And even if she should arrive safely in her own country, what was to become of her then? Without means, no one upon whom she had any claim for assistance, and too young and ignorant to do anything to earn her own living.
Edward was deeply moved by the sad recital. "My dear Mr. Love," he said, "make yourself quite easy about Miss Zoe. I will attend to all these matters about which you have spoken. I am about to return home myself, and will be her companion and protector on the voyage. Nor shall she want for friends or any needed assistance after we arrive."
"God bless you! you have lifted a heavy load from my heart!" faltered the dying father, with a look of deep gratitude. "You are young, sir, but I can trust you fully. There are few older men whom I would as willingly trust."
"And you can die in peace, trusting in the Saviour of sinners?"
"Yes; He is all my hope, all my trust."
"I have been told there is a Protestant minister in the village. Shall I send Ben for him?"
"Yes, thank you; I should be glad to see him, though I feel that he or any man could be of little assistance to me now, if the work of repentance and faith had been left for this hour."
Edward went to the door, called Ben and sent him on the errand, then coming back to the bedside, "Mr. Love," he said, flushing and speaking with some little hesitation, "will you give your daughter to me if she is willing?"
"Give her to you?" the sick man asked as if not fully comprehending.
"Yes, sir; give her to me to wife, and I will cherish her to life's end."
There was a flash of joy in the dying eyes, quickly succeeded by one of hesitation and doubt. "Is it love or compassion only that moves you to this most generous offer?" he asked.
"It is both," Edward said. "I have admired and felt strongly attracted to her from the first day of our acquaintance, though I did not recognize it as love until now. We are both so young that I should not have spoken yet but for the peculiar circumstances in which we are placed; but I truly, dearly love the sweet girl and earnestly desire to be given the right to protect, provide for and cherish her as my dearest earthly treasure so long as we both shall live."
"But your friends, your relatives?"
"I think my mother would not object, if she knew all. But I am of age, so have an undoubted right to act for myself even in so vitally important a matter."
"Then if my darling loves you, let me see you united before I die."
At this moment the door of the adjoining room opened and Zoe's voice was heard in imploring, tearful accents: "Mayn't I come back now? O papa, I cannot stay away from you any longer!"
Edward hastened to her, and taking both her hands in his, "Dear Miss Zoe," he said, "I love you, I feel for you, I want to make you my very own, if you can love me in return, that I may have the right to take care of you. Will you be my dear little wife? will you marry me now, to-night, that your father may be present and feel that he will not leave you alone and unprotected?"
She looked up at him in utter surprise, then seeing the love and pity in his face, burst into a passion of grief.
"Leave me! papa going to leave me!" she cried. "Oh, no, no! I cannot bear it! He must, he will be better soon! O Mr. Travilla, say that he will!"
"No, my darling!" replied a quivering voice from the bed, "I shall not live to see the morning light, and if you love Mr. Travilla tell him so and let me see you married before I die."
"Can you, do you love me, dear little Zoe?" Edward asked in tenderest tones, passing his arm about her waist.
"Yes," she said half under her breath, with a quick glance up into his face, then hid her own on his breast, sobbing, "Oh, take care of me! for I'll be all alone in the wide world when dear papa is gone."
"I will," he said, pressing her closer, softly pushing back the fair hair from the white temple and touching his lips to it again and again. "God helping me, I will be to you a tender, true, and loving husband."
"Come here, Zoe, darling," her father said, "our time grows short;" and Edward led her to the bedside.
"O papa, papa!" she sobbed, falling on her knees and laying her wet cheek to his.
Edward, with heart and eyes full to overflowing, moved softly away to the farther side of the room, that in this last sad interview the constraint of even his presence might not be felt.
Low sobs and murmured words of tenderness and fatherly counsel reached his ear, and his heart went up in silent prayer for both the dying one and her just about to be so sorely bereaved.
Presently footsteps approached the door opening into the passage, a gentle tap followed, and he admitted the minister who had been sent for, beckoning Ben to come in also.
A few whispered words passed between Edward and the minister, then both drew near the bed.
A brief talk with the dying man, in which he professed himself ready and willing to depart, trusting in the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ, a short fervent prayer for him and his child, then Edward, leaning over the still kneeling, weeping Zoe, whispered, "Now, dearest!"
The tear-dimmed eyes looked up inquiringly.
"We are going to belong to each other, are we not?" he said very low and tenderly. "The minister is ready now to speak the words that will make us one for the rest of our lives."
Without speaking she rose, wiping away her tears, put her hand within his arm, and the ceremony began.
When it was over Edward took her in his arms, saying softly as he pressed his lips again and again to her forehead, her cheek, her lips, "My wife, my own dear little wife!"
"My child! my darling!" murmured the father, feebly reaching for her hand.
Edward took it and put it into his.
The dying fingers closed feebly over it. "Lord, I thank thee for this great mercy! 'Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.'"
The words came low and faintly from the lips already growing cold in death, a gasp for breath followed, and all was still, no sound in the room but Zoe's wild weeping, while with silent caresses Edward held her to his heart.
They laid him to rest in the nearest Protestant cemetery, for such had been his request.
In answer to a question from her young husband, Zoe said, "No, no. I shall not wear mourning! I detest it, and so did papa. He made me promise I would not wear it for him. I shall dress in white whenever it is suitable. That is if you like it," she added quickly. "Oh, I shall try to please you always, dear Edward, for you are all I have in the world, and so, so dear and good to me!" and her head went down upon his breast.
"My darling little wife!" he said, holding her close, "you are so dear and lovely in my eyes that I find you beautiful in everything you wear. Yet I am glad you do not care to assume that gloomy dress."
There was no time to be lost if they would catch the next steamer for America, which Edward felt it important to do; so within an hour after the funeral they were en route for Paris, and that night found them on board, beginning their homeward voyage.
Zoe in her deep grief shrank from contact with strangers and clung to her young husband. So they kept themselves much apart from their fellow-passengers. Edward devoting himself to Zoe, soothing her with fond endearing words and tender caresses, and every day their hearts were more closely knit together.
But she seemed half afraid to meet his kindred.
"What if they dislike and despise me!" she said. "O Edward, if they do, will you turn against me?"
"Never, my love, my darling! Have I not promised to love and cherish you to life's end? But if you knew my sweet mother, you would have no fear of her. She is a tender mother, and her kind heart is large enough to take you in among the rest of her children. You saw my sister Elsie in Rome--would you fear her?"
"Oh, no; she was so lovely and sweet!"
"But not more so than our mother; they are wonderfully alike, only mamma is, of course, some years the older. Yet I have often heard it remarked that she looks very little older than her eldest daughter."
He talked a great deal to her of the different members of the Ion family, trying to make her acquainted with them all and their manner of life, which he described minutely.
The picture he drew of mutual love and helpfulness between parents and children, brothers and sisters, was a charming one to Zoe, who had had a lonely, motherless childhood.
"Ah, what a happy life is before me, Edward!" she said, "if only they will let me be one of them! But whether they will or no, I shall have you to love me! You will always be my husband and I your own little wife!"
"Yes, darling, yes, indeed!" he answered, pressing the slight, girlish figure closer to his side.