Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Nursed by the virtues she hath been From childhood's hour." --HALLECK. "Count all th' advantage prosperous vice attains, 'Tis but what virtue flies from and disdains; And grant the bad what happiness they would, One they must want--which is to pass for good." --POPE.
Mrs. Travilla was sitting on the veranda of the hotel, reading a letter her husband had handed her at the tea-table, when Violet came rushing toward her in wild affright.
"Mamma, mamma, something's wrong! something's happened! Herbie just came running up from the beach, calling for the life boat, and papa and Eddie have gone back with him running as fast as they can. Oh, I'm afraid Harold or Rosie has fallen into the water!" she added bursting into hysterical weeping.
Her mother rose hastily, thrusting the letter into her pocket, pale but calm.
"Daughter dear, we will not meet trouble half way. I do not think it could be they; for they are not disobedient or venturesome. But come." And together they hurried toward the beach.
In a moment they perceived that their fears were groundless, for they could see their dear ones coming to meet them.
Violet's tears were changed to laughter as Harold gave a humorous account of "Cousin Ronald's sell," as he called it, and the latter's praise of the boy's bravery and readiness to respond to the cry for help, brought proud, happy smiles to the lips and eyes of both mother and sisters.
Elsie had joined them; Mrs. Ross, too, and a handsome, richly dressed, middle-aged lady, whom she introduced as her friend, Mrs. Faude, from Kentucky.
They, as Lucy afterward told Elsie, had made acquaintance the year before at Saratoga, and were glad to meet again.
Mrs. Faude was much taken with Elsie and her daughters, pleased, indeed, with the whole family, and from that time forward sought their society very frequently.
Elsie found her an entertaining companion, polished in manners, refined, intelligent, highly educated and witty; but a mere worldling, caring for the pleasures and rewards of this life only.
She was a wealthy widow with but one child, a grown up son, of whom she talked a great deal.
"Clarence Augustus" was evidently, in his mother's eyes, the perfection of manly beauty and grace, a great genius, and indeed everything that could be desired.
"He is still single," she one day said significantly to the younger Elsie, "though I know plenty of lovely girls, desirable matches in every way, who would have been delighted with the offer of his hand. Yes, my dear, I am quite sure of it," she added, seeing a slight smile of incredulity on the young girl's face; "only wait till you have seen him. He will be here to-morrow."
Elsie was quite willing to wait, and no dreams of Mrs. Faude's idol disturbed either her sleeping or waking hours.
Clarence Augustus made his appearance duly the next day at the dinner table; a really handsome man, if regular features and fine coloring be all that is necessary to constitute good looks; but his face wore an expression of self-satisfaction and contempt for others, which was not attractive to our Ion friends.
But it soon became evident to them, that to most of the other ladies in the house, he was an object of admiration.
His mother seized an early opportunity to introduce him to the Misses Travilla, coming upon them as they stood talking together upon the veranda.
But they merely bowed and withdrew, having, fortunately, an engagement to drive, at that hour, with their parents and cousins, along the beach.
"What do you think of him?" asked Violet, when they had reached their room.
"He has good features, and a polished address."
"Yes; but do you like his looks?"
"No; I do not desire his acquaintance."
"Nor I; he's not the sort that papa and grandpa would wish us to know."
"No; so let us keep out of his way."
"But without seeming to do so?"
"Oh, yes; as far as we can. We don't wish to hurt his feelings or his mother's."
They carried out their plan of avoidance, and so skilfully that neither mother nor son was quite sure it was intended. In fact, it was difficult for them to believe that any girl could wish to shun the attentions of a young man so attractive in every way as was Clarence Augustus Faude.
"I should like you to marry one of those girls," the mother said to her son, chatting alone with him in her own room; "you could not do better, for they are beautiful, highly educated and accomplished, and will have large fortunes."
"Which?" he added sententiously, and with a smile that seemed to say, he was conscious that he had only to take his choice.
"I don't care; there's hardly a pin to choose between them."
"Just my opinion. Well, I think I shall go for the brown eyes; as you tell me the other is not yet out, and I hear the father refuses, on that plea, to allow any one to pay his addresses--though, between you and me, Mrs. F., I fancy he might make an exception in my favor."
"It would not surprise me, Clarence Augustus," she responded, regarding him with a proud, fond smile, "I fancy he must be aware that there's no better match in the Union. But you have no time to lose, they may leave here any day."
"True, but what's to hinder us from following? However, I will take your advice, and lose no time. Let me borrow your writing desk for a moment. I'll ask her to drive with me this morning, and while we're out secure her company for the boating party that's to come off to-morrow."
A few moments later the younger Elsie came into her mother's room with a note written in a manly hand, on delicately perfumed and tinted French paper.
"What shall I do about it, mamma?" she asked. "Will you answer it for me. Of course you know I do not wish to accept."
"I will, daughter," Mrs. Travilla said, "though if he were such a man as I could receive into my family on friendly terms, I should prefer to have you answer it yourself."
Mr. Faude's very handsome carriage and horses were at the door, a liveried servant holding the reins, while the gentleman himself waited in the parlor for the coming of the young lady, who, he doubted not, would be well pleased to accept his invitation. He was not kept waiting long; had, indeed, scarcely seated himself and taken up the morning paper, when Mr. Travilla's Ben appeared with a note, presented it in grave silence, and with a respectful bow, withdrew.
"Hold on! It may require an answer," Mr. Faude called after him.
"No, sah; Mrs. Travilla say dere's no answer," returned Ben, looking back for an instant from the doorway, then vanishing through it.
"All right!" muttered Clarence Augustus, opening the missive and glancing over the contents; an angry flush suffusing his face, as he read.
"What is it? She hasn't declined, surely?" Mrs. Faude asked in an undertone, close at his side.
"Just that; it's from the mother; thanks me for the invitation, but respectfully declines; not even vouchsafing a shadow of an excuse. What can it mean?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. But if they knew you had serious intentions--it might make a difference."
"Possibly. I'll soon bring it to the proof."
He rose and went out in search of Mr. Travilla, found him alone, and at once asked his permission to pay his addresses to Elsie.
The request was courteously, but decidedly and firmly refused.
"May I ask why?" queried the young man in anger and astonishment.
"Because, sir, it would not be agreeable to either my daughter herself, to her mother or to me."
"Then I must say, sir, that you are all three hard to please. But pray, sir, what is the objection?"
"Do you insist upon knowing?"
"I do, sir."
"Then let me answer your query with another. Would you pay your addresses to a young woman--however wealthy, beautiful or high-born--whose moral character was not better, whose life had been no purer than your own?"
"Of course not!" exclaimed Faude, coloring violently, "but who expects----"
"I do, sir; I expect the husbands of my daughters to be as pure and stainless as my sons' wives."
"I'm as good as the rest, sir. You'll not find one young fellow in five hundred who has sowed fewer wild oats than I."
"I fear that may be true enough, but it does not alter my decision," returned Mr. Travilla, intimating by a bow and a slight wave of the hand, that he considered the interview at an end.
Faude withdrew in anger, but with an intensified desire to secure the coveted prize; the more difficult of acquisition, the more desirable it seemed.
He persuaded his mother to become his advocate with Mrs. Travilla.
She at first flatly refused, but at length yielded to his entreaties, and undertook the difficult, and to her haughty spirit, humiliating mission.
Requesting a private interview with Elsie, she told her of the wishes of Clarence Augustus, and plead his cause with all the eloquence of which she was mistress.
"My boy would make your daughter a good husband," she said, "and indeed, I think any woman might feel highly honored by the offer of his hand. I do not understand how it is, Mrs. Travilla, that a lady of your sense fails to see that."
"I appreciate your feelings, my dear Mrs. Faude," said Elsie gently. "I am a mother too, you know, and have sons of my own."
"Yes, and what possible objection can you have to mine? Excuse my saying it, but the one your husband advanced, seems to me simply absurd."
"Nevertheless it is the only one; except that our child's heart is not enlisted; but either alone would be insuperable."
"She hardly knows him yet, and could not fail to learn to love him if she did. Be persuaded my dear Mrs. Travilla, to give him a chance to try. It is never well to be hasty, especially in declining a good offer, and this, let me tell you, is such an one as you will not meet with every day, lovely and attractive in every way, as your daughters are.
"Ours is an old, aristocratic family; none better to be found in our state, or in the Union; we have wealth too, and I flatter myself that Clarence Augustus is as handsome a man as you would find anywhere; amiable in disposition also, and would, as I said before, make an excellent husband. Will you not undertake his cause?"
"Believe me, it is painful to me to refuse, but I could not, in conscience."
"But why not?"
"Simply for the reason my husband gave. We both consider moral purity more essential than anything else in those we admit to even friendly intercourse with our children; especially our daughters."
"My son is not a bad man, Mrs. Travilla, very far from it!" Mrs. Faude exclaimed, in the tone of one who considers herself grossly insulted.
"Not, I am sure, as the world looks upon these things," said Elsie, "but the Bible is our standard; and guided by its teachings we desire above all things else, purity of heart and life in those who seek the friendship of our children; and very especially in those who are to become their partners for life, and the future fathers or mothers of their offspring, should it please God to give them any."
"That is certainly looking far ahead," returned Mrs. Faude, with a polite sneer.
"Not farther than is our duty, since after marriage it is too late to consider, to any profit, what kind of parent our already irrevocably chosen partner for life will probably make."
"Well, well, every one to her taste!" said Mrs. Faude, rising to go, "but had I a daughter, I should infinitely prefer for her husband, such a young man as my Clarence Augustus to such as that poor artist who is so attentive to Miss Travilla.
"Good-morning. I am sure I may trust you not to blazon this matter abroad?"
"You certainly may, Mrs. Faude," Elsie returned with sweet and gentle courtesy, "and believe me, it has been very painful to me to speak words that have given pain to you."
"What is it, little wife?" Mr. Travilla asked, coming in a moment after Mrs. Faude's departure and finding Elsie alone and seemingly sunk in a painful reverie.
She repeated what had just passed, adding, "I am very glad now that we decided to return to Philadelphia to-morrow. I could see that Mrs. Faude was deeply offended, and it would be unpleasant to both of us to remain longer in the same house; but as she and her son go with the boating party to-day, and we leave early in the morning, we are not likely to encounter each other again."
"Yes, it is all for the best," he said. "But I wish I could have shielded you from this trial."