Elsie's New Relations by Martha Finley
"There are that raise up strife and contention." --Hab. 1:3. "Only by pride cometh contention." --Prov. 13:10.
While Zoe was at Max's door, something took Edward to their rooms. He was there but a moment--just long enough to pick up the article he wanted--and hurrying down the hall again, caught the sound of her voice as he reached the head of the stairway.
For an instant he stood still, debating with himself whether to interfere or not; then deciding in the negative, passed on down the stairs more angry with her than ever.
She was defying riot only his authority, but also that of his grandfather and mother, and interfering with their management of the children committed to their care by their own father. Truly, he feared he had made a sad mistake in putting such a child into a woman's position, where she felt herself entitled to rights, for whose proper exercise she had not yet sufficient judgment or self-control.
As he entered the drawing-room, Miss Deane, who was seated at a table looking over a portfolio of drawings and engravings, called him to her side.
"You have visited these places, Mr. Travilla," she said, "and I want the benefit of your explanations, and your opinion whether the pictures are true to nature. They are European views, I see."
Of course he could not, without great rudeness, refuse to take a seat by her side and give her the information she requested.
So it happened that when Zoe came in presently after, her anger was intensely aroused by seeing her husband and Miss Deane seated at a distant table, apart from the rest of the occupants of the room, laughing and talking with their heads very close together over an engraving.
Edward lifted his just in time to catch her look of mingled amazement, scorn, and indignation. He flushed hotly, and remembering what he had just overheard up-stairs, and what had passed between them in the apple-orchard, gave her an angry glance in return.
She drew her slight, girlish figure up to its full height, and turning away, crossed the room toward a sofa where Mrs. Dinsmore and a bachelor gentleman of the neighborhood sat conversing together.
A sudden impulse seized her as Mr. Larned rose and took her hand in greeting, Mrs. Dinsmore being called from the room at the same moment by a servant, who said that some one was waiting in the hall to speak to her.
"I'll pay Edward back in his own coin," Zoe said to herself, and Mr. Larned was surprised at the great cordiality and winning sweetness of her manner as she took the vacated seat by his side, then at the spirit and vivacity with which she rattled away to him, now on this theme, now on that.
Excitement lent an unwonted glow to her cheek and brilliancy and sparkle to her always beautiful eyes.
Edward, watching her furtively, with darkening brow, thought he had never seen her so pretty and fascinating, and never had her low soft laugh, as now and again it reached his ear, sounded so silvery sweet and musical, yet it jarred on his nerves, and he would fain have stopped it.
He hoped momentarily that Mr. Larned would go, but he sat on and on the whole evening, Zoe entertaining him all the while.
Other members of the family came in, but though he rose to greet them, he immediately resumed his seat, and she kept hers, even in spite of the frowning looks her husband gave her from time to time, but which she feigned not to see.
At length, his mother perceiving with pain what was going on, managed to release him from Miss Deane, and he at once took a seat on his wife's other side, and joined in the talk.
Zoe had but little to say after that, and Mr. Larned presently took his departure.
That was a signal for the good-nights, and all scattered to their rooms.
Zoe's heart quaked as the door of her boudoir closed upon her, shutting her in alone with her irate husband.
She knew that he was angry, more angry with her than he had ever been before, and though in her thoughts she tried to put all the blame on him, conscience told her that she was by no means blameless.
He locked the door, then turned toward her. She glanced up at him half defiantly, half timidly. His look was very stern and cold.
She turned away with a pout and a slight shrug of her pretty shoulders.
"It seems your smiles are for Miss Deane, while your black looks are reserved for your wife," she said.
"I have no interest in Miss Deane," he replied; "it is nothing to me how she behaves, but my wife's conduct is a matter of vital importance; and let me tell you, Zoe, I will have no more such exhibitions as you made of yourself to-night with either Mr. Larned or any other man. I won't allow it. There are some things a man won't put up with. You must and shall show some respect to my wishes in regard to this."
"Orders, you'd better say," she muttered.
"Well, then, orders, if you prefer it."
She was very angry, and withal a good deal frightened.
"Exhibitions indeed!" she cried, sinking into a chair, for she was trembling from head to foot. "What did I do? Why had you any more right to laugh and talk with another woman than I with another man?"
"Laughing and talking may be well enough; but it was more than that; you were actually flirting."
"You call it that just because you are jealous. And if I was, it was your fault--setting me the example by flirting with Miss Deane."
"I did nothing of the kind," he returned haughtily. "I sat beside her against my will, simply because she requested me to go over those sketches and engravings with her. I couldn't in common politeness refuse."
"Well, I didn't know that; and you needn't scold me for following your example."
"I tell you I did not set you the example; and I advise you to beware how you behave so again. Also how you interfere in the discipline grandpa and mamma see proper to use toward Max and his sisters, as you did to-night."
"So you have been acting the spy upon your wife!" she interrupted in scornful indignation.
"No; I overheard you quite accidentally. It is the second time you have done that thing, and I warn you to let it be the last."
"Indeed! Why don't you say at once that you'll beat me if I don't obey all your tyrannical orders?"
"Because it wouldn't be true; should I ever so far forget myself as to lift my hand against my wife, I could never again lay claim to the name of gentleman."
"Perhaps, then, you will lock me up?" she sneered.
"Possibly I may, if you make it necessary," he said coldly.
"Lock me up, indeed! I'd like to see you try it!" she cried, starting up with flashing eyes, and stamping her foot in a sort of fury of indignation.
Then rushing into the adjoining room, she tore off her ornaments and dress, pulled down her hair, her cheeks burning, her eyes hot and dry.
But by the time she had assumed her night-dress the first fury of passion had spent itself, and scalding tears were raining down her cheeks.
She threw herself on the bed, sobbing convulsively. "Oh, I never, never thought he would treat me so! and he wouldn't dare if papa was alive; but he knows I've nobody to defend me--nobody in the wide world, and he can abuse me as much as he pleases. But I think it's very mean for a big strong man to be cruel to a little weak woman."
Then as her anger cooled still more, "But I have done and said provoking things to-day as well as he," she acknowledged to herself. "I suppose if I'd been in his place I'd have got mad, too, and scolded and threatened my wife. Well, if he'd only come and kiss me and coax me a little, I'd say I was sorry and didn't intend to vex him, so any more."
She hushed her sobs and listened. She could hear him moving about in the dressing-room.
"Edward!" she called in soft, tremulous tones.
She waited a moment, then called a little louder, "Ned!"
There was no reply, and she turned over on her pillow, and cried herself to sleep.
When she woke all was darkness and silence.
She felt half frightened.
"Edward," she said softly, and put out her hand to feel for him.
He was not there. She sprang from the bed and groped her way into the dressing-room.
There the moon shone in, and by its light she perceived the form of her husband stretched upon a couch, while the sound of his breathing told her that he slept.
She crept back to her bed, and lay down upon it with such a sense of utter loneliness as she had never known before.
"Oh," she moaned to herself, "he hates me, he hates me! he wouldn't even lie down beside me! he will never love me any more."
She wept a long while, but at last fell into a profound sleep.
When she next awoke day had dawned, but it was earlier than their usual hour for rising.
The first object that met her gaze was Edward's untouched pillow, and the sight instantly brought back the events of the previous day and night.
Her first emotion was resentment toward her husband, but better thoughts succeeded. She loved him dearly, and for the sake of peace she would humble herself a little. She would go and wake him with a kiss, and say she was sorry to have vexed him, and if he'd only be kind and not order her, she wouldn't do so any more.
She slipped out of bed, stole noiselessly to the door of the dressing-room, and looked in.
He was not there, and the room was in great disorder, closet and wardrobe doors and bureau drawers open and things scattered here and there, as if he had made a hasty selection of garments, tossing aside such as he did not want.
As Zoe gazed about in wonder and surprise, the sound of wheels caught her ear.
She ran to a window overlooking a side entrance, and dropped on her knees before it to look and listen without danger of being seen.
There stood the family carriage. Edward was in the act of handing Miss Fleming into it; Miss Deane followed, and he stepped in after her, only pausing a moment with his foot upon the step to turn and answer a question from his mother.
"How long do you expect to be gone, Edward?" Elsie asked.
"Probably a week or ten days, mother," he replied. "Good-by," and in another instant the carriage rolled away.
Zoe felt stunned, bewildered, as she knelt there leaning her head against the window frame and watched it till it was out of sight.
"Gone!" she said aloud; "gone without one word of good-by to me, without telling me he was going, without saying he was sorry for his cruel words last night, and with Miss Deane. Oh, I know now that he hates me and will never, never love me again!"
Bitter, scalding tears streamed from her eyes. She rose presently and began mechanically picking up and putting away his clothes, then made her usual neat toilet, stopping every now and then to wipe away her tears, for she was crying all the time.
The breakfast bell rang at the accustomed hour, but she could not bear the thought of going down and showing her tear-swollen eyes at the table. Besides, she did not feel hungry; she thought she would never want to eat again.
After a little, opening the door in answer to a rap, she found Agnes standing there with a delightful breakfast on a silver waiter--hot coffee, delicate rolls and muffins, tender beefsteak, and omelet.
"Good-mornin', Miss Zoe," said the girl, walking in and setting her burden down on a stand. "Miss Elsie she tole me for to fotch up dis yere. She tink, Miss Elsie do, dat p'raps you'd rather eat yo' breakfus up yere dis mornin'."
"Yes, so I would, Agnes, though I'm not very hungry. Tell mamma she's very kind, and I'm much obliged."
"Ya'as, Miss Zoe," and Agnes courtesied and withdrew.
Zoe took a sip of the coffee, tasted the omelet, found a coming appetite, and went on to make a tolerably hearty meal, growing more cheerful and hopeful as she ate.
But grief overcame her again as she went about the solitary rooms; it seemed as if her husband's presence lingered everywhere, and yet as if he were dead and buried, and she never to see him more.
Not quite a year had elapsed since her father's death, and the scenes of that day and night and many succeeding ones came vividly before her; the utter forlornness of her condition, alone in a strange land with a dying parent, with no earthly comforter at hand, no friend or helper in all the wide world, and how Edward then flew to her assistance, how kindly he ministered to her dying father, how tenderly he took her in his arms, whispering words of love and sympathy, and asking her to become his wife and give him the right to protect and care for her.
And how he had lavished favors and endearments upon her all these months; how patiently he had borne with petulance and frequent disregard of his known wishes, nor ever once reminded her that she owed her home and every earthly blessing to him.
How he had sympathized with her in her bursts of grief for her father, soothing her with tenderest caresses and assurances of the bliss of the departed, and reminding her of the blessed hope of reunion in the better land.
After all this, she surely might have borne a little from him--a trifling neglect or reproof, a slight exertion of authority, especially as she could not deny that she was very young and foolish to be left to her own guidance.
And perhaps he had a right to claim her obedience, for she knew that she had promised to give it.
She found she loved him with a depth and passion she had not been aware of. But he had gone away without a good-by to her, in anger, and with Miss Deane. He would never have done that if there had been a spark of love left in his heart.
Where and how was he going to spend that week or ten days? At the house of Miss Deane's parents, sitting beside her, hearing her talk and enjoying it, though he knew his little wife at home must be breaking her heart because of his absence?
Was he doing this instead of carrying out his half threat of locking her up? Did he know that this was a punishment ten times worse?
But if he wasn't going to love her any more, if he was tired of her and wanted to be rid of her, how could she ever bear to stay and be a burden and constant annoyance to him?
Elsie, coming up a little later, found her in her boudoir crying very bitterly.
"Dear child, my dear little daughter," she said, taking her in her kind arms, "don't grieve so; a week or even ten days will soon roll round, and Edward will be with you again."
"O mamma, it is a long, long while!" she sobbed. "You know we've never been parted for a whole day since we were married, and he's all I have."
"Yes, dear, I know; and I felt sure you were crying up here and didn't want to show your tell-tale face at the table, so I sent your breakfast up. I hope you paid it proper attention--did not treat it with neglect?" she added sportively.
"It tasted very good, mamma, and you were very kind," Zoe said.
She longed to ask where and on what errand Edward had gone, but did not want to expose her ignorance of his plans.
"I did not know the ladies were going to-day," she remarked.
"It was very sudden," was the reply; "a telegram received this morning summoned them home because of the alarming illness of Miss Deane's father, and as Edward had business to attend to that would make it necessary for him to take a train leaving only an hour later than theirs, he thought it best to see them on their way as far as our city. He could not do more, as their destination and his lie in exactly opposite directions."
Though Edward had kept his own counsel, the kind mother had her suspicions, and was anxious to relieve Zoe's mind as far as lay in her power.
Zoe's brightening countenance and sigh of relief showed her that her efforts were not altogether in vain.
"I think Edward was sorry to leave his little wife for so long," she went on. "He committed her to my care. What will you do with yourself this morning, dear, while I am busy with the children in the school-room?"
"I don't know, mamma; perhaps learn some lessons. Edward would wish me to attend to my studies while he is away, and I want to please him."
"I haven't a doubt of that, dear. I know there is very strong love between you, and the knowledge makes me very happy."
"Mamma," said Zoe, "may I ask you a question?"
"Certainly, dear, as many as you please."
"Did you obey your husband?"
Elsie looked surprise, almost startled; the query seemed to throw new light on the state of affairs between Edward and his young wife; but she answered promptly in her own sweet, gentle tones. "My dear, I often wished he would only give me the opportunity; it would have been so great a pleasure to give up my wishes for one I loved so dearly."
"Then he never ordered you?"
"Yes, once--very soon after our marriage--he laid his commands upon me to cease calling him Mr. Travilla and say Edward," Elsie said, with a dreamy smile and a far-away look in her soft brown eyes.
"He was very much older than I, and knowing him from very early childhood, as a grown-up gentleman and my father's friend, I had been used to calling him Mr. Travilla, and could hardly feel it respectful to drop the title.
"The only other order he ever gave me was not to exert myself to lift my little Elsie before I had recovered my strength after her birth. He was very tenderly careful of his little wife, as he delighted to call her."
"I wish I had known him," said Zoe. "Is my husband much like him?"
"More in looks than disposition. I sometimes think he resembles my father more than his own in the latter regard.
"Yes," thought Zoe, "that's where he gets his disposition to domineer over me and order me about. I always knew Grandpa Dinsmore was of that sort."
Aloud she said, with a watery smile, "And my Edward has been very tenderly careful of me."
"And always will be, I trust," said his mother, smiling more cheerily. "If he does not prove so, he is less like my father than I think. Mamma will tell you, I am sure, that she has been the happiest of wives."
"I suppose it depends a good deal upon the two dispositions how a couple get on together," remarked Zoe, sagely. "But, mamma, do you think the man should always rule and have his way in everything?"
"I think a wife's best plan, if she desires to have her own way, is always to be or to seem ready to give up to her husband. Don't deny or oppose their claim to authority, and they are not likely to care to exert it."
"If I were only as wise and good as you, mamma!" murmured Zoe with a sigh.
"Ah, dear, I am not at all good; and as to the wisdom, I trust it will come to you with years; there is an old saying that we cannot expect to find gray heads on green shoulders."