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By Martha Finley
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1872 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC
All rights reserved.
It is a busy, talking world.
"I think I shall enjoy the fortnight we are to spend here, papa. It seems such a very pleasant place," Elsie remarked, in a tone of great satisfaction.
"I am glad you are pleased with it, daughter," returned Mr. Dinsmore, opening the morning paper, which John had just brought up.
They—Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie, Rose and Edward Allison—were occupying very comfortable quarters in a large hotel at one of our fashionable watering places. A bedroom for each, and a private parlor for the joint use of the party, had been secured in advance, and late the night before they had arrived and taken possession.
It was now early in the morning. Elsie and her papa were in his room, which was in the second story and opened upon a veranda, shaded by tall trees, and overlooking a large grassy yard at the side of the building. Beyond were green fields, woods, and hills.
"Papa," said Elsie, gazing longingly upon them, as she stood by the open window, "can't we take a little walk?"
"When Miss Rose is ready to go with us."
"May I run to her door and ask if she is? And if she isn't, may I wait for her out here on the veranda?"
She skipped away, but was back again almost immediately. "Papa, what do you think about this? It's just too bad!"
"What is too bad, daughter? I think I never before saw so cross a look on my little girl's face," he said, peering at her over the top of his newspaper. "Come here, and tell me what it is all about."
She obeyed, hanging her head and blushing. "I think I have some reason to be cross, papa," she said. "I thought we were going to have such a delightful time here, and now it is all spoiled. You could never guess who has the rooms just opposite ours, on the other side of the hall."
"Why, papa, did you know she was here?"
"I knew she was in the house, because I saw her name in the hotel book last night when I went to register ours."
"And it just spoils all our pleasure."
"I hope not, daughter. I think she will hardly annoy you when you are close at my side, and that is pretty much all the time, isn't it?"
"Yes, papa, and I'll stick closer than ever to you if that will make her let me alone," she cried, with a merry laugh, putting her arm round his neck and kissing him two or three times.
"Ah, now I have my own little girl again," he said, drawing her to his knee and returning her caresses with interest. "But there, I hear Miss Rose's step in the hall. Run to mammy and have your hat put on."
Miss Stevens' presence proved scarcely less annoying to Elsie than the child had anticipated. She tried to keep out of the lady's way, but it was quite impossible. She could scarcely step out on the veranda, go into the parlor, or take a turn in the garden by herself, but in a moment Miss Stevens was at her side fawning upon and flattering her. She was telling her how sweet and pretty and amiable she was, how dearly she loved her, and how much she thought of her papa too. She would say he was so handsome and so good; everybody admired him and thought him such a fine-looking gentleman, so polished in his manners, so agreeable and most entertaining in conversation.
Then she would press all sorts of dainties upon the little girl in such a way that it was next to impossible to decline them, and occasionally even went so far as to suggest improvements, or rather alterations, in her dress, which she said was just entirely too plain.
"You ought to have more flounces on your skirts, my dear," she remarked one day. "Skirts flounced to the waist are so very pretty and dressy, and you would look sweet in them, but I notice you don't wear them at all. Do ask your papa to let you get a new dress and have it made so. I am sure he would consent, for anyone can see that he is very fond of you. He doesn't think of it—we can't expect gentlemen to notice such little matters. You ought to have a mamma to attend to such things for you. Ah, if you were my child, I would dress you sweetly, you dear little thing!"
"Thank you, ma'am, I daresay you mean to be very kind," replied Elsie, trying not to look annoyed, "but I don't want a mamma, since my own dear mother has gone to heaven. Papa is enough for me, and I like the way he dresses me. He always buys my dresses himself and says how they are to be made. The dressmaker wanted to put more flounces on, but papa didn't want them and neither did I. He says he doesn't like to see little girls loaded with finery, and that my clothes shall be of the best material and nicely made, but neat and simple."
"Oh, yes, I know your dress is not cheap. I didn't mean that at all. It is quite expensive enough, and some of your white dresses are beautifully worked—but I would like a little more ornament. You wear so little jewelry, and your father could afford to cover you with it if he chose. A pair of gold bracelets, like mine for instance, would be very pretty, and look charming on your lovely white arms. Those pearl ones you wear sometimes are very handsome—anyone could tell that they are the real thing—but you ought to have gold ones too, with clasps set with diamonds. Couldn't you persuade your papa to buy some for you?"
"Indeed, Miss Stevens, I don't want them! I don't want anything but what papa chooses to buy for me of his own accord. Ah! There is Miss Rose looking for me. I must go." And the little girl, glad of an excuse to get away, ran joyfully to her friend who had come to the veranda, where she and Miss Stevens had been standing, to tell her that they were going out to walk, and her papa wished to take her along.
Elsie went in to get her hat, and Miss Stevens came toward Rose, saying, "I think I heard you say you were going to walk, and I believe, if you don't forbid me, I shall do myself the fine pleasure of accompanying you. I have just been waiting for pleasant company. I will be ready in one moment." And before Rose could recover from her complete astonishment sufficiently to reply, Miss Stevens had disappeared through the hall door.
Elsie was out again in a moment, just as the two gentlemen had joined Rose, who excited their utmost surprise and disgust by a repetition of Miss Stevens' speech to her.
Mr. Dinsmore looked excessively annoyed, and Edward pshawed, and wished her "at the bottom of the sea."
"No, brother," said Rose, smiling, "you don't wish any such thing. On the contrary, you would be the very first to fly to the rescue if you saw her in danger of drowning."
But before there was time for anything more to be said Miss Stevens had returned, and walking straight up to Mr. Dinsmore, she put her arm through his. She said with a little laugh in what was meant to be a very coy expression, "You see I don't stand upon ceremony with old friends, Mr. Dinsmore. It isn't my way."
"No, Miss Stevens, I think it never was," he replied, offering the other arm to Rose.
She was going to decline it on the plea that the path was too narrow for three, but something in his look made her change her mind and accept, and they moved on, while Elsie, almost ready to cry with vexation, fell behind with Edward Allison for an escort.
Edward tried to entertain his young companion, but was too much provoked at the turn things had taken to make himself very agreeable to anyone. It was quite an uncomfortable walk—no one seeming to enjoy it but Miss Stevens, who laughed and talked incessantly; addressing nearly all her conversation to Mr. Dinsmore, he answering her with studied politeness, but nothing more.
Miss Stevens had, from the first, conceived a great antipathy to Rose, whom she considered a dangerous rival, and generally avoided, excepting when Mr. Dinsmore was with her. But she always interrupted a tête-à-tête between them when it was in her power to do so without being guilty of very great rudeness. This, and the covert sneers with which she often addressed Miss Allison, had not escaped Mr. Dinsmore's notice, and it frequently cost him quite an effort to treat Miss Stevens with the respectful politeness which he considered due to her gender and to the daughter of one of his father's oldest friends.
"Was it not too provoking, papa?" exclaimed Elsie, as she followed him into his room on their return from their walk.
"What, my dear?"
"Why, papa, I thought we were going to have such a nice time and she just spoiled it all."
"She? Who, daughter?"
"Why, papa, surely you know I mean that silly Miss Stevens!"
"Then why did you not mention her name, instead of speaking of her as she? That does not sound respectful in a child of your age, and I wish my little girl always to be respectful to those older than herself. I thought I heard you the other day mention some gentleman's name without the prefix of Mr., and I intended to reprove you for it at the time. Don't do it again."
"No, sir, I won't," Elsie answered with a blush. "But, papa," she added the next moment, "Miss Stevens does that constantly."
"That makes no difference, my daughter," he said gravely. "Miss Stevens is the very last person I would have you take for your model. The less you resemble her in dress, manners, or anything else, the better. If you wish to copy anyone let it be Miss Allison, for she is a perfect lady in every respect."
Elsie looked very much pleased. "Yes, indeed, papa," she said, "I should be glad if I could be just like Miss Rose, she is always kind and gentle to everybody, even the servants, whom Miss Stevens orders about so crossly."
"What, papa?" she asked, blushing again, for his tone was reproving.
"Come here and sit on my knee. I want to talk to you. I'm afraid my little daughter is growing censorious," he said, with a very grave look as he drew her to his side. "You forget that we ought not to speak of other people's faults."
"I will try not to do it any more, papa," she replied, the tears springing to her eyes, "but you don't know how very annoying Miss Stevens is. I have been near telling her several times that I did wish she would let me alone."
"No, daughter, don't do that. You must behave in a lady-like manner whether she does or not. We must expect annoyances in this world, my child, and must try to bear them with patience, remembering that God sends the little trials as well as the great, and that He has commanded us to 'let patience have her perfect work.' I fear it is a lack of the spirit of forgiveness that makes it so difficult for us to bear these trifling vexations with equanimity. And you must remember too, dear, that the Bible bids us be courteous, and teaches us to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated."
"I think you always remember the command to be courteous, papa," she said, looking into his face affectionately. "I was wondering all the time how you could be so very polite to Miss Stevens, for I was quite sure you would rather not have had her along. And then, what right had she to take your arm without being asked?" and Elsie's face flushed with indignation.
Her father laughed a little. "And thus deprive my little girl of her rights," he said, softly kissing the glowing cheek. "Ah! I doubt if you would have been angry had it been Miss Rose," he added more than a little mischievously.
"Oh, papa, you know Miss Rose would never have done such a thing!" exclaimed the little girl.
"Ah, well, dear," he said in a soothing tone, "we won't talk any more about it. I acknowledge that I do not find Miss Stevens the most agreeable company in the world. But I must treat her politely, and show her a little attention sometimes, both because she is a lady and because her father once saved my father's life, for which I owe a debt of gratitude to him and his children."
"Did he, papa? I am sure it was very good of him, and I will try to like Miss Stevens for that. But won't you tell me about it?"
"It was when they were both quite young men," said Mr. Dinsmore, "before either of them was even married. They were skating together and my father broke through the ice, and would have been drowned, but for the courage and presence of mind of Mr. Stevens, who saved him only by very great exertion, and at the risk of his own life."
A few days after this, Elsie was playing on the veranda with several other little girls. "Do you think you shall like your new mamma, Elsie?" asked one of them in a careless tone, as she tied on an apron she had just been making for her doll, and turned it around to see how it fit.
"My new mamma!" exclaimed Elsie, with unfeigned astonishment, dropping the scissors with which she had been cutting paper dolls for some of the little ones. "What can you mean, Annie? I am not going to have any new mamma."
"Yes, indeed, but you are though," asserted Annie positively, "for I heard my mother say so only yesterday, and it must be so, for she said Miss Stevens told it herself."
"Miss Stevens! And what does she know about it? What has she to do with my papa's affairs?" asked Elsie indignantly, the color rushing over face, neck, and arms.
"Well, I should think she might know, when she is going to marry him," returned the other with a laugh.
"She isn't! It's false! My—" but Elsie shut her teeth hard and checked herself to keep down the emotion that was swelling in her heart.
"It's true, you may depend upon it," replied Annie. "Everybody in the house knows it, and they are all talking about what a splendid match Miss Stevens is going to make. And mamma was wondering if you knew it, and how you would like her, and papa said he thought Mr. Dinsmore wouldn't think much of her if he knew how she flirted and danced until he came, and now pretends not to approve of balls, just because he doesn't."
Elsie made no reply, but dropping scissors, paper, and everything, sprang up and ran swiftly along the veranda, through the hall, upstairs, and without pausing to take breath, rushed into her father's room, where he sat quietly reading.
"Why, Elsie, daughter, what is the matter?" he asked in a tone of surprise and concern, as he caught sight of her flushed and agitated face.
"Oh, papa, it's that hateful Miss Stevens. I can't bear her!" she cried, throwing herself upon his chest, and bursting into a fit of passionate weeping.
Mr. Dinsmore said nothing for a moment, but thinking tears would prove the best relief to her overwrought feelings, contented himself with simply stroking her hair in a soothing way, and once or twice pressing his lips gently to her forehead.
"You feel better now, dearest, do you not?" he asked presently, as she raised her head to wipe away her tears.
"Now tell me what it was all about."
"Miss Stevens does say such hateful things, papa!"
He laid his finger upon her lips. "Don't use that word again. It does not sound at all like my usually gentle, sweet-tempered little girl."
"I won't, papa," she murmured, blushing and hanging her head. Then hiding her face on his chest, she lay there for several minutes perfectly silent and still.
"What is my little girl thinking of?" he asked at long last.
"How everybody talks about you, papa. Last evening I was out on the veranda, and I heard John and Miss Stevens' maid, Phillis, talking together. It was moonlight, you know, papa," she went on, turning her face toward him again, "and they were out under the trees and John had his arm around her and he was kissing her, and telling her how pretty she was. And then they began talking about Miss Stevens and you, and John told Phillis that he reckoned you were going to marry her—"
"Who? Phillis?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, looking excessively amused.
"Oh, papa, no! You know I mean Miss Stevens," Elsie answered in a tone of annoyance.
"Well dear, and what of it all?" he asked in a soothing tone. "I don't think the silly nonsense of the servants need trouble you. John is a sad fellow, I know. He courts all the pretty girls wherever he goes. I shall have to read him a serious lecture on the subject. But it is very kind of you to be so deeply concerned for Phillis."
"Oh papa, don't!" she said, turning away her face. "Please don't tease me so. You know I don't care for Phillis or John, but that isn't all." And then she repeated what had passed between Annie and herself.
Excerpted from Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley. Copyright © 1872 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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