Elsie's Womanhood, Book 4: A grown-up Elsie meets her wealthy Aunt Stanhope-and another relative with more diabolical plans. Can faith find the truth before dreams are shattered?
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By Martha Finley
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1875 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC
All rights reserved.
Oh! There is one affection
which no stain
Of earth can ever darken;—when two find,
The softer and the manlier, that a chain
Of kindred taste has fastened mind to mind.
In one of the cool, green alleys at the Oaks, Rose and Adelaide Dinsmore were pacing slowly to and fro, each with an arm about the other's waist, in girlish fashion, while they conversed together in low, confidential tones.
At a little distance to one side, the young son and heir had thrown himself prone upon the grass in the shade of a magnificent oak, storybook in hand. Much interested he seemed in his book, yet occasionally his eye would wander from its fascinating pages to watch, with pride and delight, the tiny Rosebud steady herself against the tree, then run with eager, tottering steps and a crow of delight into her nurse's outstretched arms, to be hugged, kissed, praised, and coaxed to try it over again.
As Rose and Adelaide turned at one end of the alley, Mr. Horace Dinsmore entered it at the other. Hurriedly approaching the little toddler, he stooped and held out his hands, saying, in tender, half-tremulous tones, "Come, my darling, come to your papa."
She ran into his arms, crying, "Papa," in her sweet baby voice, and catching her up, he covered her face with kisses; then, holding her clasped fondly to himself, he walked on toward his wife and sister.
"What is it, Horace?" asked Rose anxiously, as they neared each other, for she saw that his face was pale and troubled.
"I bring you strange tidings, my dear Rose," he answered low and sadly, as she laid her hand upon his arm with an affectionate look up into his face.
Hers grew pale. "Bad news from home?" she almost gasped.
"No, no; I have had no word from any of our absent relatives or friends, and I'm not sure I ought to call it bad news either, though I cannot yet think of it with any amount of equanimity, it has come upon me so suddenly."
"What?" asked both ladies in a breath; "don't keep us in suspense."
"It has been going on for years—on his part—I can see it now—but, blind fool that I was, I never suspected it till today, when it came upon me quite like a thunderbolt."
"Travilla. After years of patient waiting he has won her at last—our darling—and—and I've given her to him."
Both ladies stood dumb with astonishment, while young Horace, who had come running up in time to catch the last words, cried out with vehemence, "Papa! What! Give our Elsie away? How could you? How can we ever do without her? But she shan't go, for she belongs to me too, and I'll never give consent!"
Mr. Dinsmore and the ladies smiled faintly.
"They seemed to think mine quite sufficient, Horace," replied his father, "and I'm afraid will hardly consider it necessary to ask yours."
"But, papa, we can't spare her—you know we can't—and why should you go and give her away to Mr. Travilla or anybody?"
"My son, had I refused, it would have caused her great unhappiness."
"Then she ought to be ashamed to go and love Mr. Travilla better than you and all of us."
"I've never been more astonished in my life!" cried Adelaide.
"Nor I," said Rose. "And he's a great deal too old for her."
"That is an objection," replied her husband, "but if not insuperable to her, need not be to us."
"Think of your intimate friend addressing you as father!" laughed Adelaide. "It is really ridiculous, if you think about it."
"That need not be—is not an inevitable consequence of the match," smiled Mr. Dinsmore, softly caressing the little one clinging about his neck.
Still conversing on the same subject, the minds of all being full of it to the exclusion of every other, they moved on as if by common consent toward the house.
"Do you think it can be possible that she is really and truly in love with him?" queried Rose. "A man so much older than herself, and so intimate in the family since her early childhood."
"Judge for yourself, my dear," said Mr. Dinsmore, as a turn in the path brought them within a few yards of the lovers, who were moving slowly in their direction so that the two parties must meet in another moment.
One glance at the beaming faces, the rich color coming and going in Elsie's cheek, the soft, glad light in her sweet hazel eyes, was a sufficient reply to Rose's question. She looked at her husband with a satisfied smile, which he returned.
But little Horace, leaving her father's side, rushed up to Elsie, and catching her hand in his, cried, "I'll never give my consent! And you belong to me. Mr. Travilla, you can't have her."
To the child's surprise Elsie only blushed and smiled, while Mr. Travilla, without the slightest appearance of alarm or vexation, said, "Ah, my dear boy, you may just as well; for she is willing to be mine and your papa has given her to me."
But the others had come up, and inquiring looks, smiles, and kindly greetings were exchanged.
"Mr. Travilla," said Rose, half playfully but with a tear trembling in her eye, "you have stolen a march upon us, and I can hardly forgive you just yet for taking her from us."
"I regret that exceedingly, my dear madam," he answered, with a smile that belied his words. "But Miss Adelaide, you will still stand my friend?"
"I don't know," she answered demurely. "There's only one serious objection in my mind, if Elsie is satisfied: that I don't quite fancy having a nephew some years older than myself."
"Ah, well! I shall be quite willing to be considered a brother-in-law."
"Company to dinner!" shouted Horace. "I see a carriage; don't you, papa?"
"It is your Uncle Edward's," said Mr. Travilla.
"Yes," said Adelaide, "Lora and her tribe are in it, no doubt; and probably Mrs. Bowles too—Carry Howard you know, Elsie. They have been late in calling."
"Some good reason for it, and they are none the less welcome," remarked Rose, quickening her pace.
The one party reached the house just as the other two had fairly alighted, and a scene of joyous greeting ensued.
"You dear child! How good of you to come back to us again, and single too," exclaimed Mrs. Bowles, clasping Elsie in a warm embrace. "I'd almost given it up, and expected by every mail to hear you had become Lady or Countess this, or Duchess that."
Elsie smiled and blushed, and meeting the eye of her betrothed fixed for an instant upon her with an expression of unutterable content, thankfulness, love and pride, smiled and blushed again.
Carry caught the look and its effect upon her friend, and almost breathless with astonishment, took the first opportunity, after all were seated in the drawing room, to prefer a whispered request to be taken to Elsie's own private apartment for a moment, to see that her hair and dress were in proper order.
They had come to spend the day, and bonnets and shawls had already been carried away by the servant in attendance.
"Now girls, don't run off for an interminable chat by yourselves," said Mrs. Howard, as the two rose and crossed the room together.
"No, Aunt Lora, we'll not stay long," said Elsie; "for I want to improve every moment of your visit, in renewing my acquaintance with you and my young cousins."
"Your family has really grown, Lora," remarked her brother.
"Yes, rather faster than yours," she said, looking round with pride upon her little group of four boys, and a girl yet in her nurse's arms. "Go and speak to your uncle—Ned, Walter, Horace, and Arthur. You see I have given you a namesake, and this little darling we call Rose Louise, for her two aunties. Yours is Rose, too! And what a darling! And how little Horace has grown!"
"Elsie, it simply can't be possible!" cried Carry, the instant they found themselves alone.
"What can't?" and Elsie's blush and smile were charming indeed.
"That you and Mr. Travilla are lovers! I saw it in your faces; but, 'tis too absurd! Why, he's your father's friend, and nearly as old."
"All the wiser and better for that, Carry, dear. But he is young in heart, and far from looking old, I think. I have grown so sick of silly, brainless fops, who expect women neither to talk any kind of sense nor understand it."
"Ah, I daresay! And Mr. Travilla is the most sensible and polished of men—always excepting my own spouse, of course. And you won't be taken away from us; so I give my consent."
Elsie's only answer was a mirthful, amused look.
"Oh, but I am glad to see you back!" Carry ran on. "It seems an age since you went away."
"Thank you. And your husband? What is he like?"
"I was never good at description, but he is a fine specimen of a Kentucky planter, and very fond of his wife. By the way, you must blame me that Edward and Lora were so late in welcoming you home. I arrived only yesterday morning, quite fatigued with my journey, and begged them to wait till today, and bring me with them."
"That was right. We have not seen Enna yet, or Arthur. Grandpa and Mrs. Dinsmore and Walter called yesterday. But there is the dinner bell. Let me conduct you to the dining room."
They were just in time to sit down with the others.
Elsie quickly perceived by her Aunt Lora's look and manner, that she, as well, had heard the news, but no remark was make on the subject until the ladies had retired to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen to the enjoyment of their after-dinner cigars.
Then Mrs. Howard, facing round upon her niece as they entered the room, exclaimed, "Elsie, you naughty child! Are you not ashamed of yourself?"
"On account of what, auntie?"
"Such unconscious innocence!" cried Lora, throwing up the white and jeweled hands she had rested lightly for an instant upon the young girl's shoulder, while gazing steadily into the smiling, blushing, sparkling face. "You haven't been planning and promising to give Adelaide and me a nephew older than ourselves? I tell you, miss, I refuse my consent. Why, it's absurd! The very idea! I used to think him almost an elderly gentleman when you were a child of eight or nine."
"I remember having had some such idea myself, but he must have been growing young since then," returned Elsie, demurely.
"He seems to have been standing still—waiting for you, I suppose—but I never was more surprised in my life!" said Lora, dropping into a chair.
"It has been a genuine surprise to us all," remarked Rose.
"To me as much as anyone, mamma," said Elsie. "I—had—I really thought he was engaged to you, Aunt Adie."
"To me, child!"
"Why, my dear, I surely told you about her engagement to my brother Edward?" exclaimed Adelaide and Rose simultaneously.
"You tried, mamma, and it was all my own fault that I did not hear the whole truth. And, Aunt Adie, I cannot understand how he could ever fancy me, while he might have hoped there was a possibility of winning you."
"'Twould have been a much more suitable match," said Lora. "Though I'd have preferred the one in contemplation, except that in the other case, she would not be carried quite away from us. But suppose we proceed to business. We should have a double wedding, I think."
"Oh, don't talk of it yet," said Rose, with a slight tremble in her voice, and looking at Elsie's flushed, conscious face with eyes full of unshed tears. "Adelaide's is to be within the next two months, and—we cannot give up Elsie so suddenly."
"Of course not," said Adelaide; "and I should have serious objections to being used as a foil to Elsie's youth and beauty."
The Howards and Mr. Travilla all stayed to tea, and shortly before that meal the party was increased by the arrival of Walter Dinsmore and Mrs. Dick Percival.
Enna had lost both flesh and color, and a long indulgence of a fretful, peevish temper had drawn down the corners of her mouth, lined her forehead, and left its ugly penciling here and there over the once pretty face, so that it already began to look old and care-worn. She was very brightly dressed, in the height of the fashion, and rather overloaded with jewelry, but powder and rouge could not altogether conceal the ravages of discontent and passion. She was conscious of the fact, and inwardly dwelt with mortification and chagrin upon the contrast presented by her own faded face to that of Elsie, so fair and blooming, so almost childish in its sweet purity and innocence of expression.
"So you are single yet," Enna said, with a covert sneer, "and not likely to marry either, so far as I've been able to learn. They'll soon begin to call you an old maid."
"Will they?" said Mr. Dinsmore, with a laugh in which all present joined, Enna herself excepted. "Well, if she is a fair specimen of that much-abused class, they are certainly more attractive than is usually supposed."
"You needn't laugh," said Enna. "I was four years younger than she is now, when I married. I wasn't going to wait till they began to call me an old maid, certainly not."
"To bear that reproach is not the worst calamity that can befall a woman," replied Mr. Dinsmore gravely; then changed the subject by a kind inquiry in regard to Arthur.
"Slowly and steadily improving," answered Walter. "The doctors are now quite satisfied that he is not to be permanently crippled, although he still uses a crutch."CHAPTER 2
Mutual love, the crown of all our bliss.
—Milton's Paradise Lost
After a half-hour of waiting for her son's return, Mrs. Travilla sat down to her lonely cup of tea. There was no lack of delicacies on the table, and in all Edward's taste had been consulted. To make him comfortable and happy was, next to serving her God, the great aim and object of his mother's life; and, in a less degree, of that of every servant in the house. They had all been born and brought up at Ion, and had all these years known him as the kindest, most reasonable and considerate of masters.
"Wish Massa Edward come. Dese waffles jes' prime tonight, an' he so fond ob dem," remarked a pretty mulatto girl, handing a plate of them to her mistress.
"Yes, Prilla, he expected to be at home, but is probably taking tea at the Oaks or Roselands." And the old lady supped her tea and ate her waffles with a serene, happy face, now and then lighted up by a pleased smile that her attendant handmaiden was at a loss to interpret.
Having finished her meal, Mrs. Travilla threw a shawl about her shoulders and stepped out upon the veranda; then, tempted by the beauty of the night, walked down the avenue to meet her son or see if there were any signs of his approach.
She had not gone half the distance ere the sound of horses' hoofs reached her ear—distant at first but coming rapidly nearer, till a lady and gentleman drew rein at the gate, while the servant who had been riding in the rear dismounted and threw it open.
They came dashing up, but paused and drew rein again at sight of the old lady standing there under the trees.
"Mother," cried her son, springing from the saddle, "you were not alarmed? Anxious, surely?"
"No, no, Edward, but glad to see you—and Elsie! My dear child, this is very kind."
"Not at all, dear Mrs. Travilla; it is so lovely an evening for a ride—or walk either," she added, giving her hand to her escort and springing lightly to the ground.
Mr. Travilla put the hand into that of his mother.
"Take her to your heart, mother; she is mine—ours!" he said, in low tones tremulous with joy.
The old lady folded the slight girlish form to herself for a moment, with a silence more eloquent than words.
"Thank God! Oh, thank God!" she murmured at length. "He has given me my heart's desire." And mingled caresses and tears fell upon Elsie's face. "For many years I have loved you as my own child, and now I am to have you. How bright our home will be, Edward. But we are darkening another. Her father; can he—has he—?"
"He has given her to me," answered the son quickly, "and she has—we have given ourselves to each other. Let me give an arm to each of you and we will go into the house."
The veranda at the Oaks was deserted, and the house very quiet, though lights still shone here and there, as Mr. Travilla and Elsie rode up and dismounted on their return from Ion.
Excerpted from Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley. Copyright © 1875 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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