Elsie's New Relations by Martha Finley
"O jealousy! thou merciless destroyer, More cruel than the grave! what ravages Does thy wild war make in the noblest bosoms!" --Mullet.
Edward stretched himself beside Zoe, but not to sleep for hours, for ever and anon she drew a sobbing breath that went to his very heart.
"Poor little thing!" he sighed, "I must have acted like a brute to grieve her so deeply, I should not have undertaken the care of a child who I knew had been spoiled by unlimited petting and indulgence, if I could not be more forbearing and tender with her. If, instead of a show of authority, I had tried reasoning and coaxing, doubtless the result would have been very different, and she would have been saved all this. I am ashamed of myself! Grandpa might possibly have acted so toward a wife, but my father never, I am sure."
He was really very fond of his little wife, loving her with a protecting love as something peculiarly his own, to be guided and moulded to suit his ideas and wishes, so that she might eventually become the perfectly congenial companion, capable of understanding and sympathizing in all his views and feelings, which he desired, but found that she was not yet.
He began to fear she might never attain to that; that perhaps his sudden marriage was a mistake that would ruin the happiness of both for life.
Tormented thus, he turned restlessly on his pillow with many a groan and sigh, nor closed an eye in sleep till long past midnight.
He was sleeping very soundly when, about sunrise, Zoe opened her eyes.
She lay still for a moment listening to his breathing, while memory recalled what had passed between them previous to her retiring.
"And there he lies and sleeps just as soundly as if he hadn't been playing the tyrant to the woman he promised to love and cherish to life's end," she said to herself, with a flash of anger and scorn in her eyes. "Well, I don't mean to be here when he wakes; I'll keep out of his way till he's had his breakfast; for they say men are always savage on an empty stomach."
She slipped cautiously out of the bed, stole quietly into the next room, made her toilet, arraying herself in riding habit and hat, went down-stairs, ordered her pony saddled and brought to the door, and was presently galloping away down the avenue.
Edward had requested her never to go alone, always to take a servant as an attendant, even if she had one of the children with her, and especially if she had not; but she disregarded his wishes in this instance, partly from a spirit of defiance, partly because she much preferred a solitary ride, and could not see that there was any danger in it.
It was a bright spring morning, the air just cold enough to be delightfully bracing; men were at work in the fields, orchards were full of bloom and fragrance, forest trees leafing out, and springing grass and flowers making the roadsides lovely.
Zoe's spirits rose with every mile she travelled, the perfume of flowers, the songs of birds, and all the sweet sights and sounds of nature that greeted eye, and ear, and every sense, filled her with joy. How could she, so young and full of life and health, be unhappy in so beautiful a world?
So keen was her enjoyment that she rode farther than she had intended. Time passed so quickly that, on looking at her watch, she was surprised to find that she would hardly be able, even at a gallop, to reach Ion by the breakfast hour.
She was a little disturbed at that, for everybody was expected to be punctual at meals. Grandpa Dinsmore was particular about it, and she did not wish to give Edward fresh cause for displeasure.
As she galloped swiftly up the avenue, she was surprised to see him pacing the veranda to and fro, watch in hand, while his horse stood near ready saddled and bridled.
As she drew rein close by the veranda steps, Edward hastily returned his watch to its fob, sprang forward, and lifted her from the saddle.
"Good-morning, little wife," he said with an affectionate kiss as he set her down, yet still keeping his arm about her. "I was not so kind as I might, or should have been last night, but you will not lay it up against your husband, love?"
"No, of course not, Ned," she returned, looking up into his face flushed and happy, that so loving an apology had been given her in place of the reproof she expected; "and you won't hate me because I was cross when you were?"
"Hate you, love! No, never! I shall love you as long as we both live. But I must say good-by. I am summoned away on important business, and shall have hardly time to catch the next train."
"You might have told me last night," she pouted, as with another kiss he took his arm from her waist and turned to leave her.
"I did not receive the summons till half an hour ago," he answered, hastily mounting his steed.
"When will you come back?" she asked.
"I hope to be with you by tea-time, this evening. Au revoir, darling."
He threw her a kiss and was gone, galloping so rapidly away that in a minute or two he was out of sight; all the more speedily to her because her eyes were blinded with tears as she stood motionless, gazing after him.
It was their first parting, and there came over her a feeling that, should he never come back, the world would be a desert, nothing left worth living for.
"Never mind, dear child, it is for only a few hours, if all goes well," said a kind sweet voice at her side.
"Yes, mamma, but--oh, I wish he never had to go away without me! And why couldn't I have gone with him this time?" she sobbed, beginning to feel herself quite aggrieved, though the idea of going with Edward had but just occurred to her.
"Well, dear, there really was not time to arrange that," Elsie said, embracing her with motherly affection. "But come now and get some breakfast. You must be hungry after your ride."
"Is Grandpa vexed because I was not here in season?" Zoe asked, following her mother-in-law on her way to the breakfast-room.
"He has not shown any vexation," Elsie answered lightly; "and you are not much behind time; they are all still at the table. Edward took his breakfast early in order to catch his train."
Zoe's apprehensions were relieved immediately on entering the breakfast-room, as Mr. Dinsmore and all the others greeted her with the usual pleasant "Good-morning."
Reconciled to her husband and smiled upon by all the rest of the family, she grew quite happy.
In saying she was not to be driven, but would do anything for love and coaxing, she had spoken truly; and now her great desire was to do something to please Edward.
She had been rather remiss in her studies of late, and though he had administered no reproof, she knew that he felt discouraged over it. She determined to surprise him on his return with carefully prepared lessons.
After giving due attention to them, she spent hours at the piano learning a song he admired and had lately bought for her, saying he thought it suited to her voice, and wanted to hear her play and sing it.
"What a dear, industrious little woman," Elsie said, meeting her in the hall as she left the music-room, and bestowing upon her a motherly smile and caress. "I know whom you are trying so hard to please, and if he does not show appreciation of your efforts, I shall think him unworthy of so good a little wife."
Zoe colored with pleasure. "O mamma," she said, "though I have been cross and wilful sometimes, I would do anything in the world to please my husband when he is loving and kind to me. But do you know, I can't bear to be driven. I won't; if anybody tries it with me, it just rouses all that is evil in me."
"Well, dear, I don't think any one in this house wants to drive you," Elsie said, repeating her caress, "not even your husband; though he is, perhaps, a trifle masterful by nature. You and he will need to take the two bears into your counsels," she added sportively.
"Two bears, mamma?" and Zoe looked up in surprise and perplexity.
"Yes, dear; bear and forbear, as the poet sings--
"'The kindest and the happiest pair Will find occasion to forbear, And something every day they live To pity and perhaps forgive.'"
Zoe went slowly up to her own rooms and sat down to meditate upon her mother-in-law's words.
"'Bear and forbear.' Well, when Edward reproves me as if he were my father instead of my husband, and talks about what he will and won't allow, I must bear with him, I suppose; and when I want to answer back that I'm my own mistress and not under his control, I must forbear and deny myself the pleasure. Hard for me to do, but then it isn't to be all on one side; and if he will only forbear lecturing me in the beginning, all will go right.
"I mean to tell him so. If he wants me to be very good, he should set me the example. Good! when he scolds me again, I'll just remind him that example is better than precept.
"No, I won't either; I'll forbear. Ned is good to me, and I don't want to provoke him. I mean to be a good little wife to him, and I know he wants to be the best of husbands to me.
"Oh, how kind and good he was to me when papa died, and I hadn't another friend in the world! how he took me to his heart and comforted and loved me! I must never make him wish he hadn't. I'll do everything I can to prove that I'm not ungrateful for all his love and kindness."
Tears sprang to her eyes, and she was seized with a longing desire for his presence, for an opportunity to pour out her love and gratitude, and have him clasp her to his heart with tenderest caresses, as was his wont.
She glanced at the clock. Oh joy! he might, he probably would, return in an hour or perhaps a trifle sooner.
She sprang up and began her toilet for the evening, paying close attention to his taste in the arrangement of her hair and the selection of her dress and ornaments.
"I want to look just as beautiful in his sight as I possibly can, that he may be pleased with me and love me better than ever," was the thought in her heart. "I am his own wife, and who has a better right to his love than I? Dear Ned! I hope we'll never quarrel, but always keep the two bears with us in our home."
Her labors completed, she turned herself about before the pier-glass, mentally pronounced her attire faultless from the knot of ribbon in her hair to the dainty boots on the shapely little feet, and her cheek flushed with pleasure as the mirror told her that face and form were even prettier than the dress and ornaments that formed a fit setting to their charms.
The hour was almost up. She glanced from the window to see if he were yet in sight.
He was not, but she wanted a walk, so would go to meet him; he would dismount at sight of her, and they would walk home together.
Tying on a garden hat and throwing a light shawl about her shoulders, she hastened down-stairs and out into the grounds.
She had walked more than half the length of the avenue, when she saw the family carriage turning in at the gates, Edward riding beside it.
The flutter of a veil from its window caused her to change her plans. He was not returning alone, but bringing lady visitors; therefore, she would not go to meet him.
And no one had told her visitors were expected. She felt aggrieved, and somehow, unreasonable as she knew it to be, she was angry at Edward's look of interest and pleasure as he leaned from the saddle in a listening attitude, as if hearkening to the talk of some one within the carriage.
Zoe had stepped behind a clump of bushes, whose leafy screen hid her from the view of the approaching party, while through its interstices she could see them very plainly.
As they drew nearer, she saw that the carriage contained two young, pretty, ladylike girls, one of whom was talking to Edward with much animation and earnestness, he listening with evident interest and amusement.
When the carriage had passed her, Zoe glided away through the shrubbery, gained the house by a circuitous route and a side entrance, and her own rooms by a back stairway.
She fully expected to find Edward there, but he was not.
"Where can he be?" she asked herself half aloud, then sat down and waited for him--not very patiently.
After some little time, which, to Zoe's impatience, seemed very long, she heard the opening and shutting of a door, then the voices of Mr. Dinsmore, his daughter, and Edward in conversation, as they came down the hall together.
"He has been to see his mother first," she pouted. "I think a man ought always to put his wife first." And turning her back to the door, she took up a book and made a pretence of being deeply interested in its perusal.
Edward's step, however, passed on into the dressing-room, and as she heard him moving about there, she grew more and more vexed. It seemed that he was in no great haste to greet her after this their first day's separation; he could put it off, not only for a visit to his mother in her private apartments, but also until he had gone through the somewhat lengthened duties of the toilet.
Well, she would show him that she, too, could wait--could be as cool and indifferent as himself. She assumed a graceful attitude in an easy-chair, her pretty little feet upon a velvet-cushioned stool, and with her book lying in her lap listened intently to every sound coming from the adjoining room.
At last she heard his step approach the door, then his hand upon the knob, when she instantly took up her book and fixed her eyes upon its open page, as though unconscious of everything but what was printed there, yet really not taking in the meaning of a single word.
Edward came in, came close to her side. Still she neither moved nor lifted her eyes. But she could not control her color, and he saw through her pretences.
He knelt down beside her chair, bent his head and looked up into her face with laughing eyes.
"What can it be that so interests my little wife that she does not even know that her husband has come home, after this their first day of separation? Have you no kiss of welcome for him, little woman?"
The book was thrust hastily aside, and in an instant her arms were about his neck, her lips pressed again and again to his.
"O Ned, I do love you!" she said softly, "but I began to think you didn't care for me--going to see mamma first, and then waiting to dress."
"Mamma and grandpa were concerned in the business that took me away to-day, and I owed them a prompt report upon it; yet I looked in here first for my wife, but couldn't find her; then I asked for her, and was told that she had been seen going out for a walk. So I thought I would dress and be ready for her when she came in."
"Was that it?" she asked, looking a little ashamed. "But," regarding him with critical eyes, "you'd better always let me help with your dressing; your cravat isn't tied nicely, and your hair doesn't look half so well as when I brush it for you."
"Can't you set matters straight, then?" he asked, releasing her from the close embrace in which he had held her for the last few minutes.
"Yes; just keep still as you are, and I'll re-tie the cravat."
He held still, enjoying, as he always did, having her deft fingers at work about him, and gazing the while into the pretty face, with eyes full of loving admiration.
"There!" she said at length, leaning back a little to take in the full effect, "I don't believe that can be improved upon."
"Much obliged," he said, getting up from his knees. "Now, what next?"
"Your hair, of course," she answered, jumping up and leading the way into the dressing-room. "Sit down," arming herself with comb and brush, "you know I'm not tall enough to reach your head while you're standing up."
He obeyed, asking, "What have you been doing to-day?"
"What a question!" she returned, laughing; "of course, I'd take my pleasure when my lord and master was away."
"Don't call me that, dear," he said in a tone of gentle, half remorseful expostulation.
"Why not? doesn't the Bible say Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord?"
"But it doesn't say master, and besides, these are very different times."
"We seem to have changed sides on that subject," she said, with a merry little laugh, as she laid the brush away, and standing behind his chair, put her arms around his neck and laid her cheek to his.
He drew her round to a seat upon his knee. "Darling, I don't mean to play the tyrant, and am quite ashamed of some things I said last night."
"Then you won't say them any more, will you? I was really afraid you were turning into a horrid tyrant. Oh, you haven't told me who the visitors are who came in the carriage with you!"
"The daughter and niece of an old friend of my father's, Miss Fanny Deane and Miss Susie Fleming."
"How long are they likely to stay?"
"I don't know; probably two or three weeks."
"You asked what I'd been doing. Studying hard part of the time, that I might please this old tutor of mine," giving him another tug. "Will you be pleased to hear me recite now?"
"There would not be time before tea, dear," he said, consulting his watch; "so we will put it off till later in the evening. Come down to the drawing-room with me and let me introduce you to the ladies."
"Very well; but first tell me if my toilet satisfies you."
He gave her a scrutinizing glance. "Entirely; you are as lovely as a fairy," he said, with a proud, fond smile.
"Oh, you flatterer!" she returned with a pleased laugh, and slipping her hand into his.
"Your wife!" exclaimed both ladies when the introduction was over. "She looks so young!"
"So very young that I should have taken her for a school-girl," added Miss Deane, with a condescending smile that enraged Zoe.
"And I take you for an old maid of twenty-five," was her mental retort. "I dare say you'd be glad enough to be as young as I am, and to have such a handsome husband." But she merely made a demure little courtesy and withdrew to a seat beside her mother-in-law on the farther side of the room, her heightened color and flashing eyes alone telling how indignant she felt.
"Never mind, dear, you are growing older every day," Elsie said in a soothing undertone, "and are just the right age for Edward. We all think that, and I that you are a dear little daughter for me."
"Thank you, dear mamma," whispered Zoe. "I think it was very rude and unkind to liken me to a school-girl. I believe it was just because she envies me my youth and my husband."
"Perhaps so," Elsie said, with difficulty restraining a smile, "but we will try to be charitable and think the remark was not unkindly meant."
Edward took Miss Deane in to supper, which was presently announced. Zoe did not like that, as Elsie perceived with some concern.
The young lady had very fine conversational powers and was very fond of displaying them; she soon obtained and held the attention of all the older people at the table, and Zoe felt herself more and more aggrieved. Edward was positively careless of her wants, leaving her to be waited upon by the servants.
When they returned to the drawing-room he seated himself beside Miss Deane again, and the flow of talk recommenced, he continuing a delighted listener.
Zoe feigned not to notice or care, but it was a very transparent pretence. Edward had devoted himself so almost exclusively to her ever since their marriage, that she could scarce endure to have it otherwise.
She could not refrain from watching him furtively and trying to catch his every look, word and tone.
After a little she stole quietly from the room and went up to her own.
"He will miss me presently," she thought, "remember about the lessons, and come up to hear them, and I'll have him all to myself for at least a little while."
He did not come, but at length Rosie looked in to say, "Won't you come down to the music-room, Zoe? Miss Fleming is going to play for us, and she is said to be quite a wonderful performer."
Zoe accepted the invitation; she was fond of music, and it wasn't Miss Fleming who had robbed her of Edward. Yet, when she saw him standing beside her, a rapt and delighted listener, and assiduously turning her music, she began to almost hate her, too.
The advent of these two strangers seemed to have rendered ineffectual all the efforts she had put forth that day to gratify her husband; of what use was it that she had so carefully prepared the lessons he would not trouble himself to hear? or that she had spent hours of patient practice at the piano in learning the song she was given no opportunity to play and sing?
But womanly pride was awaking within her, and she made a tolerably successful effort to control and hide her feelings.
When at length she found herself alone with Edward in their own apartments, she moved silently about making her preparations for retiring, seeming to have nothing to say.
He burst into enthusiastic praises of the talents of their guests--the conversational gift of the one, the musical genius of the other.
Zoe, standing before the mirror, brushing out her soft shining tresses, made no response.
"Why are you so silent, little woman?" Edward asked presently.
"Because I have nothing to say that you would want to hear."
"Nothing that I would want to hear? why, I am fond of the very sound of your voice. But what's the matter?" for he had come to her side, and perceived with surprise and concern that her eyes were full of tears.
"Oh, nothing! except that I'd looked forward to a delightful evening with my husband, after being parted from him all day, and didn't get it."
"My dear Zoe," he said, "I owe you an apology! I actually forgot all about those lessons."
"And me, too," she said bitterly. "My musical and conversational gifts sink into utter insignificance beside those of these newcomers."
"Jealousy is a very mean and wicked passion, Zoe; I don't like to see you indulging it," he said, turning away from her. "I am, of course, expected to pay some attention to my mother's guests, and you will have to put up with it."
"You are always right and I am always wrong," she said, half choking with indignation; "but if you are always to do as you please, I shall do as I please."
"In regard to what?" he asked coldly.
"Everything!" she answered in a defiant tone.
Edward strode angrily into the next room; but five minutes sufficed to subdue his passion, and in tender tones he called softly to his wife, "Zoe, love, will you please come here for a moment?"
She started with surprise at the kindness of his tones, her heart leaped for joy, and she ran to him, smiling through her tears.
He had seated himself in a large easy-chair. "Come, darling," he said, drawing her to a seat upon his knee. Then with his arm about her waist, "Zoe, love, we are husband and wife, whom nothing but death can ever separate. Let us be kind to one another, kind and forbearing, so that when one is taken the other will have no cause for self-reproach."
"O Ned, don't talk of that," she sobbed with her arms about his neck, her cheek laid to his. "I'm sure it would kill me to lose you. You are all I have in the wide world."
"So I am, you poor little dear," he said, softly smoothing her hair, "and I ought to be always kind to you. But, indeed, Zoe, you have no need to be jealous of any other woman. I may like to talk with them and listen to their music, but when I want some one to love and pet, my heart turns to my own little wife."
"It was very foolish!" she said, penitently, "but I did so want you to myself to-night, and I'd worked so busily all day learning the lessons and that song you brought me, thinking to please you."
"Did you, dear? well, it was too bad in me to neglect you so, and even to forget to give you this, which I bought expressly for my dear little wife, while in the city to-day."
He took her hand as he spoke, and slipped a ring upon her finger.
"O Ned, thank you!" she exclaimed, lifting to his a face full of delight. "It's very pretty, and so good in you to remember to bring me something."
"Then shall we kiss and be friends, and try not to quarrel any more?"
"Yes; oh yes!" she said, offering her lips.
"I must have that song to-morrow," he said, caressing her again and again.
"No, no! I can't think of singing before such a performer as Miss Fleming."
"But you are an early bird, and she and Miss Deane will probably be late. Can't you sing and play for me before they are down in the morning?"
"Well, perhaps," she answered coquettishly. "And the lessons? will you hear them, too, before breakfast?"
"If you wish it, dear."