Grandmother Elsie by Martha Finley
"O gloriously upon the deep The gallant vessel rides, And she is mistress of the winds, And mistress of the tides." --Miss Landon.
Meanwhile Edward had taken his sister on board the steamer, and she, greatly exhausted by grief, anxiety, and fatigue, had at once retired to her berth.
Edward also was weary and in need of sleep, so presently went to his state-room, leaving Ben to attend to the luggage and watch for Mrs. Conly's arrival.
Faithful Ben waited patiently about for a couple of hours, then began to grow uneasy lest Mrs. Conly should not arrive in season. Another hour passed, and he reluctantly roused his young master to ask what could be done.
"What's wanted?" Edward asked, waked by Ben's loud rap on the state-room door.
"Miss Louise she hasn't come yet, Marse Ed'ard," he said, "and de steamah'll be startin' fo' long. I don' know whar to go to look her up, so please excuse me for rousin' ye, sah."
"Hasn't come yet, do you say, Ben? and the vessel about to sail?" exclaimed Edward in dismay, springing from his berth to open the door. "Why, yes," looking at his watch, "there's barely half an hour left, and I don't see what we can do."
"No time now fo' me to go an' hunt up Miss Louise, Marse Ed'ard? Ise berry sorry, sah, dat I didn't come soonah to ax you 'bout it, but I didn't like to 'sturb you," said Ben, looking much distressed.
"Never mind, Ben," Edward answered kindly, "you couldn't have gone for her, because she gave me no address, and I have not the least idea where to send for her."
"Den what am to be done, sah?"
"We will have to sail without her. I could not think of asking my sister to wait for the next steamer," Edward said, more as if thinking aloud than talking to Ben.
The latter bowed respectfully and withdrew, but only to come hurrying back the next moment with a telegram from Virginia.
"Mother taken suddenly ill. Remains with me. Send luggage to No. ---- street."
This news of his aunt's illness caused Edward regret not wholly unmingled with satisfaction in the thought of being spared her companionship on the voyage and afterward.
He read the message aloud to Ben. "You see it would have done no good if we could have gone for her," he remarked. "But go, make haste to have the baggage sent ashore to the address given here."
Elsie's state-room adjoined her brother's. She too had been roused by Ben's knock and overheard a part of what passed between him and his young master. Dinah also was listening.
"What dat dey say, Miss Elsie?" she queried in a startled tone, "Miss Louise sick?"
"I think that was what Master Edward said; but go to his door, Dinah, and ask."
Edward came himself with his answer and bringing a second telegram; this time from their grandfather, saying the children were decidedly better, all the rest of the family well.
"Oh, what good news!" exclaimed Elsie. "But poor Aunt Louise! I wish we knew her exact condition. Do you not think it must have been a sudden seizure?"
"Yes, of either illness or desire to remain behind. Don't let it worry you, sister dear. You have already quite enough of anxiety to endure."
"No," she said, with a sweet, patient smile, "I am trying not to be anxious or troubled about anything, but to obey the sweet command, 'casting all your care upon Him.'"
"'For He careth for you,'" added Edward, completing the quotation. "It is, as you say, a sweet command, most restful to those who obey it. Have you slept?"
"Yes, I have had a long and very refreshing nap; still I have not recovered from my fatigue, and shall not leave my state-room for some time yet."
"Let me send in your supper," he said. "I hope it will refresh you still more, and that after it you may feel equal to a turn on deck with me. It will be moonlight, and if you wrap up well you will not find the air more than bracingly keen."
"Thank you," she said. "It is altogether likely I shall find the exercise of a short promenade rather restful than otherwise, after being so long cramped up in the cars. You are a dear, good brother to me, Ned," she added, laying her hand affectionately on his arm as he sat on the edge of the berth close by her side. "But how strange it seems that we two are starting off on this long voyage alone!"
"I'm so proud to be trusted to take care of you, Elsie," he returned, bending over her and tenderly smoothing her luxuriant hair. "I used to look up to you years ago, but now----"
"You look down on me?" she interrupted sportively. "No great feat, Master Ned, while I lie here."
"Nor when we stand side by side," he returned in the same tone, 'seeing I have grown to be a full head taller than you. But truth compels me to acknowledge that I am your superior in nothing else except physical strength."
"You might add knowledge of the world, you have had to rely on your own judgment so much oftener than I who have so seldom left mamma's side. Dear, dear mamma! Oh, Ned, how long will it be before I see her again?"
She wept as she spoke, and Edward felt for the moment strongly inclined to join her. But instead he tried to cheer her.
"We will hope Cousin Arthur may prescribe a sea voyage for grandpa and the children before long, and then we shall have the whole family joining us in Italy."
"How delightful that would be, Ned!" she said, smiling through her tears.
"And do you know," he went on gayly, "it is strongly impressed upon me that we shall find Lester convalescent, and by good nursing and our cheering companionship so help it on that we shall have him a well man in a few weeks."
"Ah, if it might be so!" she sighed. "'But He doeth all things well,' and oh how precious are His promises! 'As thy days thy strength shall be.' 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' 'When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.' And then that glorious assurance, 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.' Oh, Ned, our one great need is more and stronger faith!"
"Yes, the faith which worketh by love! Let me read you that eighth chapter of Romans. I do not know what could be more comforting," he said, taking a small Testament from his pocket.
"Thank you," she said when he had finished. "Ah, what could be sweeter than those concluding verses! 'For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!'"
"Elsie, I think if our mother had never done anything else for her children," remarked Edward earnestly, "they would owe her an eternal debt of gratitude for storing their minds as she has with the very words of inspiration."
"Yes, 'the entrance of Thy words giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple.' 'The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.'"
Ben came to the door. "Dey says dey's goin' to fotch up de anchor and start de wessel, Marse Ed'ard. Don't you and Miss Elsie want for to see it?"
"Yes, sister, do you not wish to see the last you may, for the present, of your dear native land?" queried Edward in a lively tone. "'Twill take but a moment to don hat and shawl, and I shall be proud to give you the support of my arm."
"Yes, I do," she said, rising with alacrity and hastily making the needful preparations.
Ben preceded them to the deck and found comfortable seats for them in the front rank of those who were there on the same errand.
Elsie's tears began to fall as she saw the shore receding.
"Oh," she murmured very low and sadly, leaning on her brother's shoulder and clinging more closely to him, "shall we ever return? ever see again the dear land of our birth and all our loved ones left behind?"
"There is every reason to hope so, dear sister," he whispered in return. "A voyage to Europe is not the great and perilous undertaking it used to be; and we are under the same protecting care here as on land. 'And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee, he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.'"
She looked her thanks. "'Fear not;' sweet command! I must, I will obey it. Oh, how true it is that in keeping His commands there is great reward! I am fully convinced that in the perfect keeping of them all perfect happiness would be found."
A gentleman standing near turned suddenly round. The tones of Elsie's voice had reached him, though very few of the words.
"Ah, I thought I could not be mistaken in that voice," he said delightedly, and offering his hand in cordial greeting. "How are you, Miss Elsie? and you, Ned? Really you are the last people I expected to meet here, though the very ones I should prefer above all others as compagnons de voyage."
It was Philip Ross, Jr.
Neither of those addressed had ever enjoyed his society, and they were too sincere and true to reciprocate his expressions of gratification at the unexpected meeting. They accepted his offered hand, made kind inquiries in regard to his health and that of the other members of the family, and asked if any of them were on board.
"No," he said, "it's merely a business trip that I take quite frequently. But ma and the girls are in Paris now, went last June and expect to stay for another six months or longer. You two aren't here alone, eh?"
"Yes," Edward said.
"You don't say so!" cried Philip, elevating his eyebrows. "Who'd ever have believed your careful mother--not to speak of your grandfather--would ever trust you so far from home by yourselves!"
"Mr. Ross," Edward said, reddening, "I shall reach my majority a few months hence, and have been considered worthy of trust by both mother and grandpa, for years past."
"Mamma did not show the slightest hesitation in committing me to his care," added Elsie in her sweet, gentle tones.
"Glad to hear it! didn't mean any insinuation that I didn't consider you worthy of all trust, Ned; only that Mrs. Travilla and the old governor have always been so awfully strict and particular."
Elsie, to whom the slang term was new, looked at the speaker with a slightly puzzled expression; but Edward, who fully understood it, drew himself up with offended dignity.
"Permit me to remark, Mr. Ross, that so disrespectful an allusion to my honored grandfather can never be other than extremely offensive to me, and to all his children and grandchildren."
"Beg your pardon, Nod, and yours, Miss Elsie" (he would have liked to drop the Miss, but something in her manner prevented him), "I call my own father the governor--behind his back you know--and meant no offence in applying the term to Mr. Dinsmore."
His apology was accepted, and the talk turned upon the various objects of interest within sight as they passed through the harbor.
When there was little more to see but sky and water, Elsie retired to her state-room, where she stayed until evening. Then Edward came for her, and they passed an hour very enjoyably in promenading the deck or sitting side by side, looking out upon the moonlit waters.
"I wish we hadn't happened upon Phil Ross," Edward remarked in an undertone far from hilarious. "I fear he will, according to custom, make himself very disagreeable to you."
"I have been thinking it over, Ned," she answered, "and have come to the conclusion that the better plan will be for you to take the first favorable opportunity to tell him of my engagement and what is the object of our journey."
"I presume such a course will be likely to save you a good deal of annoyance," Edward said; "and as we are old acquaintances, and he evidently full of a curiosity that will assuredly lead to his asking some questions, I think it will be no difficult matter to give him the information without seeming to thrust it upon him."
At that moment Philip came up and joined them, helping himself to a seat on Elsie's other side. He seemed to be, as of old, on the best of terms with himself and very graciously disposed toward Elsie.
He, too, had been thinking of the, to him, fortunate chance (Elsie would have called it providence) which had thrown them together where for some days they were likely to see much of each other. He had heard a report of her engagement, but refused to credit it. "She had always been fond of him and it wasn't likely she would throw herself away on somebody else." And now he had come to the decision to offer her his hand, heart, and fortune without delay. He was rich enough, and why should he keep her in suspense any longer?
He indulged in a few trivial commonplaces, then invited her to take a turn with him on the deck.
But she declined with thanks, "he must excuse her for she was greatly fatigued and must retire at once." And with a kindly "Good-night," she withdrew to her state-room, Edward again giving her the support of his arm.
Philip was literally struck dumb with surprise, and did not recover his speech until she was gone.
Edward returned presently, and as he resumed his seat by Philip's side the latter asked, "Is your sister out of health, Ned?"
"No; but we are just off a long and fatiguing journey; she was not at her best state either when we left home, because of care and nursing of the sick children. And in addition to all that she is enduring much grief and anxiety."
"May I ask on what account?"
"Yes; I have no objection to telling you the whole story, considering what old acquaintances we are, and the life-long friendship of our mothers. Lester Leland, Elsie's betrothed, is lying very ill in Rome, and we are making all haste to join him there."
"Her betrothed!" cried Philip, starting to his feet, "her betrothed did you say? why--why, I've always expected to marry her myself; thought it was an understood thing in both families, and----"
"I am sure I do not know upon what grounds you entertained such an idea," returned Edward in a tone of mingled indignation and disgust.
"Grounds, man! I'm sure it would seem the most natural thing in the world--each the eldest child of intimate and dear friends--and I have never made any secret of my preference for her----"
"Which amounts to nothing unless it had been reciprocated."
"Reciprocated! I've always thought it was, and delayed speaking out plainly only because I considered myself safe in waiting to grow a little richer."
"In which you were egregiously mistaken. Now let me assure you once for all, that Elsie never has and never will care for any man in that way but Lester Leland."
At that Philip turned and walked rapidly away. "I'd rather have lost all I'm worth!" he muttered to himself. "Yes; every cent of it. But as to her never caring for anybody else if that fellow was out o' the way, I don't believe it. And he may die; may be dead now. Well, if he is I'll keep a sharp look-out that nobody else gets ahead of me."
His self-love and self-conceit had received a pretty deep wound, his eyes were opened to the fact that Elsie avoided being alone with him, never appearing on deck without her brother, and he did not trouble her much during the remainder of the voyage, did not make his intended offer.