ELSIE'S KITH AND KIN
"O married love! each heart shall own; Where two congenial souls unite, Thy golden chains inlaid with down, Thy lamp with heaven's own splendor bright." LANGHORNE.
"There, there, little woman! light of my eyes, and core of my heart! if you don't stop this pretty soon, I very much fear I shall be compelled to join you," Edward Travilla said, between a laugh and a sigh, drawing Zoe closer to him, laying her head against his breast, and kissing her tenderly on lip and cheek and brow. "I shall begin to think you already regret having staid behind with me."
"No, no, no!" she cried, dashing away her tears, then putting her arms about his neck, and returning his caresses with ardor of affection. "Dear Ned, you know you're more than all the rest of the world to your silly little wife. But it seems lonely just at first, to have them all gone at once, especially mamma; and to think we'll not see her again for months! I do believe you'd cry yourself, if you were a girl."
"Altogether likely," he said, laughing, and giving her another hug; "but, being a man, it wouldn't do at all to allow my feelings to overcome me in that manner. Besides, with my darling little wife still left me, I'd be an ungrateful wretch to repine at the absence of other dear ones."
"What a neat little speech, Ned!" she exclaimed, lifting her head to look up into his face, and laughing through her tears—for her eyes had filled again. "Well, you know I can't help feeling a little lonely and sad just at first; but, for all that, I wouldn't for the world be anywhere else than here in your arms:" and with a sigh of content and thankfulness, she let her pretty head drop upon his breast again.
"My darling! may it ever be to you the happiest place on earth! God helping me, I shall always try to make it so," he said, with a sudden change to gravity, and in low, moved tones.
"My dear, dear husband!" she murmured, clinging closer to him.
Then, wiping her eyes, "I sha'n't cry any more; for, if I'm not the happiest woman in the world, I ought to be. And what a nice time we shall have together, dear Ned! each wholly devoted to the other all winter long. I have it all planned out: while you are out about the plantation in the mornings, I'll attend to my housekeeping and my studies; and in the afternoons and evenings,—after I've recited,—we can write our letters, or entertain ourselves and each other with music or books; you can read to me while I work, you know."
"Yes: a book is twice as enjoyable read in that way—sharing the pleasure with you," he said, softly stroking her hair, and smiling down into her eyes.
"Especially if it is a good story, or a bit of lovely poetry," she added.
"Yes," he said: "we'll have both those in turn, and some solid reading besides."
"I don't like solid reading," she returned, with a charming pout.
"One may cultivate a taste for it, I think," he answered pleasantly.
"But you can't cultivate what you haven't got," she objected.
"True enough," he said, laughing. "Well, then, we'll try to get a little first, and cultivate it carefully afterward. I must go now, love," he added, releasing her: "the men need some directions from me, in regard to their work."
"And the women some from me," said Zoe. "Oh! you needn't laugh, Ned," shaking her finger at him, as he turned in the doorway to give her an amused glance: "perhaps some of these days you'll find out that I am really an accomplished housewife, capable of giving orders and directions too."
"No doubt, my dear; for I am already proud of you in that capacity," he said, throwing her a smiling kiss, then hurrying away.
Zoe summoned Aunt Dicey, the housekeeper, gave her orders for the day, and the needed supplies from pantry and storeroom, they went to the sewing-room, to give some directions to Christine and Alma.
She lingered there for a little, trying on a morning-dress they were making for her, then repaired to her boudoir, intent upon beginning her studies, which had been rather neglected of late, in the excitement of the preparations for the departure of the greater part of the family for a winter at Viamede.
But she had scarcely taken out her books, when the sound of wheels on the avenue attracted her attention; and glancing from the window, she saw the Roselands carriage draw up at the front entrance, and Ella Conly alight from it, and run up the veranda steps.
"There, I'll not do much studying to-day, I'm afraid," said Zoe, half aloud; "for, even if it's only a call she has come for, she'll not leave under an hour."
She hastily replaced the books in the drawer from which she had taken them,—for she had a feeling, only half acknowledged even to herself, of repugnance to having Ella know of her studies,—Ella, who had graduated from boarding-school, and evidently felt herself thoroughly educated,—and hurried down to meet and welcome her guest.
"I told Cal and Art, I thought you'd be sure to feel dreadfully lonely to-day, after seeing everybody but Ned start off on a long journey, and so I'd come and spend the day with you," said Ella, when the two had exchanged kisses, and inquiries after each other's health.
"It was very kind and thoughtful in you," returned Zoe, leading the way into the parlor usually occupied by the family, where an open wood fire blazed cheerily on the hearth.
"Take this easy-chair, won't you?" she said, wheeling it a little nearer the grate; "and Dinah shall carry away your wraps when it suits you to doff them. I wish cousins Cal and Art would invite themselves to dine with us too."
"Art's very busy just now," said Ella: "there's a good deal of sickness, and I don't believe he's spent a whole night at home for the last week or more."
"Dear me! I wouldn't be a doctor for any thing, nor a doctor's wife!" exclaimed Zoe.
"Well, I don't know: there's something to be said on both sides of that question," laughed Ella. "I can tell you, Art would make a mighty good husband; and it's very handy, in ease of sickness, to have the doctor in the house."
"Yes; but, according to your account, he's generally somewhere else than in his own house," returned Zoe playfully.
Ella laughed. "Yes," she said, "doctors do have a hard life; but, if you say so to Art, he always says he has never regretted having chosen the medical profession, because it affords so many opportunities for doing good. It's plain he makes that the business of his life. I'm proud of Art. I don't believe there's a better man anywhere. I was sick last summer, and you wouldn't believe how kindly he nursed me."
"You can't tell me any thing about him that I should think too good to believe," said Zoe. "He's our family doctor, you remember; and, of course, we are all attached to him on that account, as well as because of the relationship."
"Yes, to be sure. There, Dinah, you may carry away my hat and cloak," Ella said, divesting herself of them as she spoke, "but leave the satchel. I brought my fancy-work, Zoe: one has to be industrious now, as Christmas is coming. I decided to embroider a pair of slippers for each of my three brothers. Walter does not expect to get home; so I made his first, as they had to travel so far. I'm nearly done with Art's, and then I have Cal's to do."
"Oh, how pretty!" exclaimed Zoe, examining the work: "and that's a new stitch; won't you teach it to me?"
"Yes, indeed, with pleasure. And I want you to teach me how to crochet that lace I saw you making the other day. I thought it so pretty."
The two spent a pleasant morning chatting together over their fancy-work, saying nothing very wise, perhaps, but neither did they say any thing harmful: an innocent jest now and again, something—usually laudatory—about some member of the family connection, and remarks and directions about their work, formed the staple of their talk.
"Oh! how did it come that you and Ned staid behind when all the rest went to Viamede for the winter?" asked Ella.
"Business kept my husband, and love for him and his society kept me," returned Zoe, with a look and smile that altogether belied any suspicion Ella might have had that she was fretting over the disappointment.
"Didn't you want to go?"
"Yes, indeed, if Edward could have gone with me; but any place with him is better than any other without him."
"Well, I don't believe I should have been willing to stay behind, even in your place. I've always had a longing to spend a winter there visiting my sister Isa, and my cousins Elsie and Molly. Cal and Art say, perhaps one or both of them may go on to spend two or three weeks this winter; and in that case I shall go along."
"Perhaps we may go at the same time, and what a nice party we will make!" said Zoe. "There," glancing from the window, "I see my husband coming, and I want to run out and speak to him. Will you excuse me a moment?" and scarcely waiting for a reply, she ran gayly away.
Meeting Edward on the threshold, "I have no lessons to recite this time," she said; "but you are not to scold, because I've been prevented from studying by company. Ella is spending the day with me."
"Ah! I hope you have had a pleasant time together—not too much troubled by fear of a lecture from the old tyrant who bears your lessons," he said laughingly, as he bent his head to press a kiss of ardent affection upon the rosy lips she held up to him.
"No," she laughed in return: "I'm not a bit afraid of him."
Zoe had feared the hours when Edward was unavoidably absent from her side would be very lonely now while the other members of the Ion family were away; but she did not find it so; her studies, and the work of making various pretty things for Christmas gifts, keeping her very busy.
And, when he was with her, time flew on very rapid wings. She had grown quite industrious, and generally plied her needle in the evenings while he read or talked to her. But occasionally he would take the embroidery, or whatever it was, out of her hands, and toss it aside, saying she was trying her eyes by such constant use; and, besides, he wanted her undivided attention.
And she would resign herself to her fate, nothing loath to be drawn close to his side, or to a seat upon his knee, to be petted and caressed like a child, which, indeed, he persisted in calling her.
This was when they were alone: but very frequently they had company to spend the day, afternoon, or evening; for Ion had always been noted for its hospitality; and scarcely a week passed in which they did not pay a visit to the Oaks, the Laurels, the Pines, or Roselands.
Also a brisk correspondence was carried on with the absent members of the family. And Zoe's housekeeping cares and duties were just enough to be an agreeable variety in her occupations: every day, too, when the weather permitted, she walked or rode out with her husband.
And so the time passed quite delightfully for the first two months after the departure of the Viamede party.
It was a disappointment that Edward found himself too busy to make the hoped-for trip to Viamede at Christmas-time; yet Zoe did not fret over it, and really enjoyed the holidays extremely, giving and receiving numerous handsome presents, and, with Edward's assistance, making it a merry and happy time for the servants and other dependants, as well as for the relatives and friends still in the neighborhood.
The necessary shopping, with Edward to help her, and the packing and sending off of the Christmas-boxes to Viamede, to the college-boys,—Herbert and Harold,—and numerous other relatives and friends far and near, Zoe thought altogether the most delightful business she had ever taken in hand.
A very merry, happy little woman she was through all those weeks and months, Edward as devoted as any lover, and as gay and light-hearted as herself.
"Zoe, darling," Edward said one day at dinner, "I must drive over into our little village of Union—by the way, do you know that we have more than a hundred towns of that name in these United States?"
"No, I did not know, or suspect, that we had nearly so many," she interrupted, laughing: "no wonder letters go astray when people are not particular to give the names of both county and State. But what were you going to say about driving over there?"
"I must see a gentleman on business, who will be there to meet the five-o'clock train, and leave on it; and, in order to be certain of seeing him, I must be there at least fifteen or twenty minutes before it is due. Shall I have the pleasure of my wife's company in the carriage? I have ordered it to be at the door by fifteen or twenty minutes past four, which will give us plenty of time, as it is an easy matter to drive from here to Union in ten minutes."
"Thank you," she said. "I accept the invitation with pleasure, and promise to be ready at the minute."
"You are the best little woman about that," he returned, with an appreciative look and smile. "I don't remember that you have ever yet kept me waiting, when told beforehand at what time I intended to start."
"Of course not," she said, with a pleased laugh; "because I was afraid, if I did, I shouldn't be invited so often: and I'm always so glad to go with you."
"Not gladder than I am to have you," he said, with a very lover-like glance and smile. "I always enjoy your society, and am always proud to show my friends and acquaintances what a dear little wife I have. I dare say I'm looked upon as a very fortunate fellow in that respect, and sometimes envied on account of having drawn such a prize in the matrimonial lottery."
They had left the table while he spoke, and with the last words he passed his arm round her waist.
"Dear me, Ned, what a gallant speech!" she said, flushing with delight; "you deserve a reward:" and she held up her face for a kiss.
"I am overpaid," he said, when he had bestowed it.
"In spite of the coin being such as you have a right to help yourself to whenever you will?" she returned with a merry laugh. "O Ned, my lover-husband!" she added, laying her head on his breast, "I am so happy in belonging to you, and I can never love you enough for all your goodness to me!"
"Darling, are you not equally good and loving to me?" he asked in tender tones, and holding her close.
"But I owe every thing to you," she responded with emotion. "If you had not come to my aid when my dear father was taken from me, what would have become of me, a mere child, without a near relative in the world, alone and destitute in a foreign land?"
"But I loved you, dearest. I sought my own happiness, as well as yours, in asking you to be my wife. So you need never feel burdened by the idea that you are under any special obligation to me, to whom you are the very sunshine of life."
"Dear Ned, how very kind in you to say so," she responded, gazing with ardent affection into his eyes; "but it isn't burdensome to be under obligation to you, any more than it is a trial to be ruled by you," she added, with playful tenderness; "and I love to think of all your goodness to me."
It was five minutes past four by Zoe's watch, and she just about to go to her dressing-room to put on her hat and cloak, when visitors were announced,—some ladies who always made a lengthened call at Ion; so she at once resigned herself to the loss of her anticipated drive with her husband.
"O Ned!" she whispered in a hasty, vexed aside, "you'll have to go alone."
"Yes, dear," he returned; "but I'll try to get back in time to take you a drive in the other direction."
They stepped forward, and greeted their guests with hospitable cordiality.
They were friends whose visits were prized and enjoyed, though their coming just at this time was causing Zoe a real disappointment. However, Edward's promise of a drive with him at a later hour so far made amends for it, that she could truthfully express pleasure in seeing her guests.
Edward chatted with them for a few moments, then, excusing himself on the plea of business that could not be deferred, left them to be entertained by Zoe, while he entered his waiting carriage, and went on his way to the village, where he expected to meet his business acquaintance.
"The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness."—SHAKSPEARE.
Edward had met and held his desired interview with his business acquaintance, seen him aboard his train, and was standing watching it as it steamed away and disappeared in the distance, when a feminine voice, close at hand, suddenly accosted him.
"O Mr. Travilla! how are you? I consider myself very fortunate in finding you here."
He turned toward the speaker, and was not too greatly pleased at sight of her.
"Ah! good-evening, Miss Deane," he said, taking her offered hand, and speaking with gentlemanly courtesy. "In what can I be of service to you?"
"By inviting me to Ion to spend the night," she returned laughingly. "I've missed my train, and was quite in despair at the thought of staying alone over night in one of the miserable little hotels of this miserable little village. So I was delighted to see your carriage standing there, and you yourself beside it; for, knowing you to be one of the most hospitable of men, I am sure you will be moved to pity, and take me home with you."
Edward's heart sank at thought of Zoe, but, seeing no way out of the dilemma, "Certainly," he said, and helped his self-invited guest to a seat in his carriage, placed himself by her side, and bade the coachman drive on to Ion.
"Now, really, this is very good in you, Mr. Travilla," remarked Miss Deane: "there is no place I like better to visit than Ion, and I begin to think it was rather a fortunate mishap—missing my train."
"Very unfortunate for me, I fear," sighed Edward to himself. "The loss of her drive will be a great disappointment to Zoe, and the sight of such a guest far from making it up to her. I am thankful the visit is to be for only a night."
Aloud he said, "I fear you will find it less pleasant than on former occasions,—in fact, rather lonely; as all the family are absent—spending the winter at Viamede, my mother's Louisiana plantation—except my wife and myself."
"Ah! but your wife is a charming little girl,—I never can think of her as a woman, you know,—and you are a host in yourself," returned the lady laughingly.
Zoe's callers had left; and she, having donned hat and cloak, not to keep her husband a single moment, was at the window watching for his coming, when the carriage came driving up the avenue, and drew up at the door.
She hurried out, expecting to find no one there but himself, and to be at once handed to a seat in the vehicle, and the next minute be speeding away with him, enjoying her drive all the more for the little disappointment that had preceded it.
What, then, was her chagrin to see a visitor handed out, and that visitor the woman for whom she had conceived the most violent antipathy!
"Miss Deane, my dear," Edward said, with an entreating look at Zoe, which she did not see, her eyes being at that instant fixed upon the face of her uninvited and unwelcome guest.
"How do you do, my dear Mrs. Travilla? I hope you are glad to see me?" laughed the intruder, holding out a delicately gloved hand, "your husband has played the Good Samaritan to me to-night—saving me from having to stay in one of those wretched little hotels in the village till two o'clock to-morrow morning."
"I am in usual health, thank you. Will you walk in?" returned Zoe in a freezing tone, and utterly ignoring the offered hand. "Will you step into the parlor? or would you prefer being shown to your room first?"
"The latter, if you please," Miss Deane answered sweetly, apparently quite unaware that Zoe's manner was in the least ungracious.
"Dinah," said Zoe, to a maid-in-waiting, "show Miss Deane to the room she occupied on her last visit. Carry up her satchel, and see that she has every thing she wants."
Having given the order, Zoe stepped out to the veranda where Edward still was, having staid behind to give directions in regard to the horses.
"Zoe, love, I am very sorry," he said, as the man turned his horses' heads, and drove away toward the stables.
"O Edward! how could you?" she exclaimed reproachfully, tears of disappointment and vexation springing to her eyes.
"Darling, I really could not help it," he replied soothingly, drawing her to him with a caress, and went on to tell exactly what had occurred.
"She is not a real lady," said Zoe, "or she never would have done a thing like that."
"I agree with you, love," he said; "but I was sorry your reception of her was so extremely ungracious and cold."
"Would you have had me play the hypocrite, Ned?" she asked indignantly.
"No, Zoe, I should be very far from approving of that," he answered gravely: "but while it was right and truthful not to express pleasure which you did not feel, at her coming, you might, on the other hand, have avoided absolute rudeness; you might have shaken hands with her, and asked after her health and that of her father's family."
"I treated her as well as she deserved; and it does not make her any the more welcome to me, that she has already been the means of drawing down upon me a reproof from my husband's lips," Zoe said in tremulous tones, and turning away from him with her eyes full of tears.
"My words were hardly intended as that, little wife," Edward responded in a kindly tone, following her into the hall, catching her in his arms, and imprinting a kiss on her ruby lips.
"And I wanted my drive with you so badly," she murmured, half hiding her face on his breast; "but she has robbed us of that, and—O Ned! is she to come between us again, and make us quarrel, and be so dreadfully unhappy?" Her voice was full of tears and sobs before she had ended.
"No, no; I could not endure that any more than you," he said with emotion, and clasping her very close: "and it is only for to-night you will have to bear the annoyance of her presence; she is to leave in the morning."
"Is she? that is some comfort. I hope somebody will come in for the evening, and share with us the infliction of her society," Zoe said, concluding with a forlorn attempt at a laugh.
"Won't you take off that very becoming hat and cloak, Mrs. Travilla, and spend the evening?" asked Edward playfully.
"Thank you. I believe I will, if you will accompany me to the dressing-room," she returned, with a smiling look up into his face.
"That I will with pleasure," he said, "provided you will reward me with some assistance with my toilet."
"Such as brushing your hair, and tying your cravat? Yes, sir, I will: it's a bargain."
And so, laughing and chatting, they went up to their own private apartments.
Halt an hour later they came down again together, to find Miss Deane in the parlor, seated by a window overlooking the avenue.
"There's a carriage just drawing up before your front entrance," she remarked: "the Roselands family carriage, I think it is."
Zoe gave her husband a bright, pleased look. It seemed her wish for an addition to their party for the evening had been granted.
The next moment the room-door was thrown, open, and Dr. Conly and Miss Ella were announced.
They were cordially welcomed, asked to tea, and staid the evening, greatly relieving Zoe in the matter of entertaining her unwelcome guest, who devoted herself to the doctor, and left Edward to his wife and cousin, a condition of things decidedly agreeable to Zoe.
A little after nine the Roselands carriage was announced; and the doctor and Ella took their departure, Edward and Zoe accompanying them to the outer door.
The sky was black with clouds, and the wind roaring through the trees on the lawn.
"We are going to have a heavy storm. I think," remarked Arthur, glancing upward: "there is not a star to be seen, and the wind blows almost a gale. I hope no patient of mine will want the doctor very badly to-night," he added with a slight laugh. "Step in out of the wind, cousin Zoe, or you may be the very one to send for me."
Doing as directed, "No, indeed," she said: "I'm sure I couldn't have the heart to call anybody up out of a warm bed to face such a cutting wind as this."
"No, no; never hesitate when there is a real necessity," he returned, speaking from his seat in the carriage, where he had already taken his place beside his sister, whom Edward had handed in. "Good-night, and hurry in, both of you, for my sake if not for your own."
But they lingered a moment till the carriage turned, and drove swiftly down the avenue.
"I am so glad they came," remarked Zoe, as Edward shut the door and locked it for the night.
"Yes," he said: "they added a good deal to the pleasure of the evening. As we couldn't be alone together, three guests were more acceptable than one."
"Decidedly; and that one was delighted, I'm sure, to have an opportunity to exercise her conversational gifts for the benefit of a single man instead of a married one."
"Zoe, love, don't allow yourself to grow bitter and sarcastic," Edward said, turning toward her, laying a hand lightly, affectionately, upon her shoulder, and gazing down into her eyes with a look of grave concern.
She colored under it, and turned away with a pout that almost spoiled the beauty of her fair face. She was more than ever impatient to be rid of their self-invited guest.
"She always sets Ned to scolding me," was the bitter thought in her heart as she went slowly back to the parlor, where they had left Miss Deane, Edward following, sighing inwardly at the change in his darling always wrought by that unwelcome presence in the house.
"How the wind roars down the chimney!" Miss Deane remarked as her host and hostess re-entered the room, where she was comfortably seated in an easy-chair beside the glowing grate. "I fear to-morrow will prove a stormy day; but in that case I shall feel all the more delighted with my comfortable quarters here,—all the more grateful to you, Mr. Travilla, for saving me from a long detention in one of those miserable little country taverns, where I should have died of ennui."
"You seem kindly disposed, my dear madam, to make a great deal of a small service," returned Edward gallantly.
But Zoe said not a word. She stood gazing into the fire, apparently lost in thought; but the color deepened on her cheek, and a slight frown contracted her brows.
Presently she turned to her guest, saying courteously, "You must be weary with your journey, Miss Deane: would you like to retire?"
"Thank you, I should," was the reply; and thereupon the good-nights were said, and they sought their respective rooms.
"You are not displeased with me, dear?" Zoe asked, lifting her eyes inquiringly to her husband's face as she stood before their dressing-room fire with his arm about her waist: "you are looking so very grave."
"No, dearest, I am not disposed to find fault with you," he said, softly caressing her hair and cheek with his disengaged hand; "though I should be glad if you could be a trifle more cordial to our uninvited guest."
"It's my nature to act just as I feel; and, if there's a creature on earth I thoroughly detest, it is she!" returned the child-wife with almost passionate vehemence. "I know she hates me,—for all her purring manner and sweet tones and words,—and that she likes nothing better than to make trouble between my husband and me."
"My dear child, you really must try not to be so uncharitable and suspicious," Edward said in a slightly reproving tone. "I do not perceive any such designs or any hypocrisy in her conduct toward you."
"No: men are as blind as a bat in their intercourse with such women; never can see through their designs; always take them to be as sweet and amiable as they pretend to be. It takes a woman to understand her own sex."
"Maybe so," he said soothingly; "but we will leave the disagreeable subject for to-night at least, shall we not?"
"Yes; and, oh, I do hope the weather to-morrow will not be such as to afford her an excuse for prolonging her stay!"
"I hope not, indeed, love," he responded; "but let us resolve, that, if it does, we will try to bear the infliction patiently, and give our self-invited guest no right to accuse us of a lack of hospitality toward her. Let us not forget or disobey the Bible injunction, to 'use hospitality one to another without grudging.'"
"I'll try not to. I'll be as good to her as I can, without feeling that I am acting insincerely."
"And that is all I ask, love. Your perfect freedom from any thing approaching to deceit is one of your greatest charms, in your husband's eyes," he said, tenderly caressing her. "It would, I am sure, be quite impossible for me to love a wife in whose absolute truth and sincerity I had not entire confidence."
"And you do love me, your foolish, faulty little wife?" she said, in a tone that was a mixture of assertion and inquiry, while her lovely eyes gazed searchingly into his.
"Dearly, dearly, my sweet!" he said, smiling fondly down upon her. "And now to bed, lest these bright eyes and rosy cheeks should lose something of their brilliance and beauty."
"Suppose they should," she said, turning slightly pale, as with sudden pain. "O Ned! if I live, I must some day grow old and gray and wrinkled, my eyes dim and sunken: shall you love me then, darling?"
"Better than ever, love," he whispered, holding her closer to his heart; "for how long we shall have lived and loved together! We shall have come to be as one indeed, each with hardly a thought or feeling unshared by the other."
"One woman reads another's character, without the tedious trouble of deciphering."—JONSON.
Zoe's sleep that night was profound and refreshing, and she woke in perfect health and vigor of body and mind; but the first sound that smote upon her ear—the dashing of sleet against the window-pane—sent a pang of disappointment and dismay to her heart.
She sprang from her bed, and, running to the window, drew aside the curtain, and looked out.
"O Ned!" she groaned, "the ground is covered with sleet and snow,—about a foot deep, I should think,—and just hear how the wind shrieks and howls round the house!"
"Well, love," he answered in a cheery tone, "we are well sheltered, and supplied with all needful things for comfort and enjoyment."
"And one that will destroy every bit of my enjoyment in any or all the others," she sighed; "but," eagerly and half hopefully, "do you think it is quite certain to be too bad for her to go?"
"Quite, I am afraid. If she should offer to go," he added mischievously, "we will not be more urgent against it than politeness demands, and, if she persists, will not refuse the use of the close carriage as far as the depot."
"She offer to go!" exclaimed Zoe scornfully: "you may depend, she'll stay as long as she has the least vestige of an excuse for doing so."
"Oh, now, little woman! don't begin the day with being quite so hard and uncharitable," Edward said, half seriously, half laughingly.
Zoe was not far wrong in her estimate of her guest. Miss Deane was both insincere and a thoroughly selfish person, caring nothing for the comfort or happiness of others. She had perceived Zoe's antipathy from the first day of their acquaintance, and took a revengeful, malicious delight in tormenting her; and she had sufficient penetration to see that the most effectual way to accomplish her end was through Edward. The young wife's ardent and jealous affection for her husband was very evident; plainly, it was pain to her to see him show Miss Deane the slightest attention, or seem interested in any thing she did or said; therefore the intruder put forth every effort to interest him, and monopolize his attention, and at the same time contrived to draw out into exhibition the most unamiable traits in Zoe's character, doing it so adroitly that Edward did not perceive her agency in the matter, and thought Zoe alone to blame. To him Miss Deane's behavior appeared unexceptionable, her manner most polite and courteous, Zoe's just the reverse.
It was so through all that day and week; for the storm continued, and the uninvited guest never so much as hinted at a wish to leave the shelter of their hospitable roof.
Zoe began each day with heroic resolve to be patient and forbearing, sweet-tempered and polite, toward her tormentor, and ended it with a deep sense of humiliating failure, and of having lost something of the high esteem and admiration in which her almost idolized husband had been wont to hold her.
Feeling that, more or less of change in her manner toward him was inevitable; less sure than formerly of his entire approval and ardent affection, a certain timidity and hesitation crept into her manner of approaching him, even when they were quite alone together; she grew sad, silent, and reserved: and he, thinking her sullen and jealous without reason, ceased to lavish endearments upon her, and, more than that, half unconsciously allowed both his looks and tones to express disapprobation and reproof.
That almost broke Zoe's heart; but she strove to hide her wounds from him, and especially from her tormentor.
The storm kept Edward in the house: at another time that would have been a joy to Zoe, but now it only added to her troubles, affording constant opportunity to the wily foe to carry out her evil designs.
On the evening of the second day from the setting in of the storm, Miss Deane challenged Edward to a game of chess. He accepted at once, and with an air of quiet satisfaction brought out the board, and placed the men.
He was fond of the game; but Zoe had never fancied it, and he had played but seldom since their marriage.
Miss Deane was a more than ordinarily skilful player, and so was he; indeed, so well matched were they, that neither found it an easy matter to checkmate the other: and that first game proved a long one,—so long that Zoe, who had watched its progress with some interest in the beginning, eager to see Edward win, at length grew so weary as to find it difficult to keep her eyes open, or refrain from yawning.
But Edward, usually so tenderly careful of her, took no notice,—indeed, as she said bitterly to herself, seemed to have forgotten her existence.
Still, it was with a thrill of delight that she at length perceived that he had come off victorious.
Miss Deane took her defeat with very good grace, and smilingly challenged him to another contest.
"Rather late, isn't it?" he said with a glance at the clock, whose hands pointed to half-past eleven. "Suppose we sign a truce until to-morrow?"
"Certainly: that will be decidedly best," she promptly replied, following the direction of his glance. "I feel so fresh, and have enjoyed myself so much, that I had no idea of the hour, and am quite ashamed of having kept my youthful hostess up so late," she added, looking sweetly at Zoe. "Very young people need a large amount of sleep, and can't keep up health and strength without it."
"You are most kind," said Zoe, a touch of sarcasm in her tones: "it must be a very sympathetic nature that has enabled you to remember so long how young people feel."
A twinkle of fun shone in Edward's eyes at that.
Miss Deane colored furiously, bade a hasty good-night, and departed to her own room.
"That was a rather hard thrust, my dear," remarked Edward, laughing, as he led the way into their dressing-room; "not quite polite, I'm afraid."
"I don't care if it wasn't!" said Zoe. "She is always twitting me on my extreme youth."
"Sour grapes," he said lightly: "she will never see twenty-five again, and would give a great deal for your youth. And since you are exactly the age to suit me, why should you care a fig for her sneers?"
"I don't, when I seem to suit you in all respects," returned Zoe with tears in her voice.
Her back was toward him; but he caught sight of her face in a mirror, and saw that tears were also glistening in her eyes.
Putting his arm round her waist, and drawing her to him, "I don't want a piece of perfection for my wife," he said; "she would be decidedly too great a contrast to her husband: and I have never yet seen the woman or girl I should be willing to take in exchange for the one belonging to me. And I'm very sure such a one doesn't exist."
"How good in you to say it!" she said, clinging about his neck, and lifting to his, eyes shining with joy and love. "O Ned! we were so happy by ourselves!"
"So we were," he assented, "and so we may hope to be again very soon."
"Not so very, I'm afraid," she answered with a rueful shake of the head; "for just hark how it is storming still!"
"Yes; but it may be all over by morning. How weary you look, love! Get to bed as fast as you can. You should not have waited for the conclusion of that long game, that, I know, did not interest you."
"I was interested for your sake," she said, "and so glad to see you win."
"Wife-like," he returned with a smile, adding, "It was a very close game, and you needn't be surprised to see me beaten in the next battle."
"I'm afraid she will stay for that, even if the storm is over," sighed Zoe. "Dear me! I don't see how anybody can have the face to stay where she is self-invited, and must know she isn't a welcome guest to the lady of the house. I'd go through any storm rather than prolong a visit under such circumstances."
"You would never have put yourself in such a position," Edward said. "But I wish you could manage to treat her with a little more cordiality. I should feel more comfortable. I could not avoid bringing her here, as you know; nor can I send her away in such inclement weather, or, indeed, at all, till she offers to go; and your want of courtesy toward her—to put it mildly—is a constant mortification to me."
"Why don't you say at once that you are ashamed of me?" she exclaimed, tears starting to her eyes again, as with a determined effort she freed herself from his grasp, and moved away to the farther side of the room.
"I am usually very proud of you," he answered in a quiet tone; "but this woman seems to exert a strangely malign influence over you."
To that, Zoe made no response; she could not trust herself to speak; so prepared for bed, and laid herself down there in silence, wiped away a tear or two, and presently fell asleep.
Morning brought no abatement of the storm, and consequently no relief to Zoe from the annoyance of Miss Deane's presence in the house.
On waking, she found that Edward had risen before her; she heard him moving about in the dressing-room; then he came to the door, looked in, and, seeing her eyes open, said, "Ah, so you are awake! I hope you slept well? I'm sorry for your sake that it is still storming."
"Yes, I slept soundly, thank you; and as for the storm, I'll just have to try to bear with it and its consequences as patiently as possible," she sighed.
"A wise resolve, my dear. I hope you will try to carry it out." he returned. "Now I must run away, and leave you to make your toilet, as I have some little matters to attend to before breakfast."
She made no reply; and he passed out of the room, and down the stairs.
"Poor little woman!" he said to himself: "she looks depressed, though usually she is so bright and cheery. I hope, from my heart, Miss Deane may never darken these doors again."
Zoe was feeling quite out of spirits over the prospect of another day to be spent in society so distasteful: she lay for a moment contemplating it ruefully.
"The worst of it is, that she manages to make me appear so unamiable and unattractive in my husband's eyes," she sighed to herself. "But I'll foil her efforts," she added, between her shut teeth, springing up, and beginning her toilet as she spoke: "he likes to have me bright and cheery, and well and becomingly dressed, and so I will be."
She made haste to arrange her hair in the style he considered most becoming, and to don the morning-dress he most admired.
As she put the finishing touches to her attire, she thought she heard his step on the stairs, and ran out eagerly to meet him, and claim a morning kiss.
But the bright, joyous expression of her face suddenly changed to one of anger and chagrin as she caught the sound of his and Miss Deane's voices in the hall below, and, looking over the balustrade, saw them go into the library together.
"She begins early! It's a pity if I can't have my own husband to myself even before breakfast," Zoe muttered, stepping back into the dressing-room.
Her first impulse was to remain where she was; the second, to go down at once, and join them.
She hastened to do so, but, before she reached the foot of the stairway, the breakfast-bell rang; and, instead of going into the library, she passed on directly to the dining-room, and, as the other two entered a moment later, gave Miss Deane a cold "Good-morning," and Edward a half reproachful, half pleading look, which he, however, returned with one so kind and re-assuring that she immediately recovered her spirits, and was able to do the honors of the table with ease and grace.
Coming upon her in that room alone, an hour later, just as she had dismissed Aunt Dicey with her orders for the day, "Little wife," he said, bending down to give her the coveted caress, "I owe you an explanation."
"No, Ned, dear, I don't ask it of you: I know it is all right," she answered, flushing with happiness, and her eyes smiling up into his.
"Still, I think it best to explain," he said. "I had finished attending to the little matters I spoke of,—writing a note, and giving some directions to Uncle Ben,—and was on my way back to our apartments, when Miss Deane met me on the stairway, and asked if I would go into the library with her, and help her to look up a certain passage in one of Shakspeare's plays, which she wished to quote in a letter she was writing. She was anxious to have it perfectly correct, she said, and would be extremely obliged for my assistance in finding it."
"And you could not in politeness refuse. I know that, Ned, and please don't think me jealous."
"I know, dear, that you try not to be; and it shall be my care to avoid giving you the least occasion. And I do again earnestly assure you, you need have no fear that the first place in my heart will not always be yours."
"I don't fear it," she said; "and yet,—O Ned! it is misery to me to have to share your society with that woman, even for a day or two!"
"I don't know how I can help you out of it," he said, after a moment's consideration, "unless by shutting myself up alone,—to attend to correspondence or something,—and leaving you to entertain her by yourself. Shall I do that?"
"Oh, no! unless you much prefer it. I think it would set me wild to have her whole attention concentrated upon me," Zoe answered with an uneasy laugh.
So they went together to the parlor, where Miss Deane sat waiting for them, or rather for Edward.
She had the chess-board out, the men placed, and at once challenged him to a renewal of last night's contest.
He accepted, of course; and they played without intermission till lunch-time, Zoe sitting by, for the most part silent, and wishing Miss Deane miles away from Ion.
This proved a worse day to her than either of the preceding ones. Miss Deane succeeded several times in rousing her to an exhibition of temper that very much mortified and displeased Edward; and his manner, when they retired that night to their private apartments, was many degrees colder than it had been in the morning. He considered himself forbearing in refraining from remark to Zoe on her behavior; while she said to herself, she would rather he would scold her, and have done with it, than keep on looking like a thunder-cloud, and not speaking at all. He was not more disgusted with her conduct than she was herself, and she would own it in a minute if he would but say a kind word to open the way.
But he did not; and they made their preparations for the night and sought their pillows in uncomfortable silence, Zoe wetting hers with tears before she slept.
"Forbear sharp speeches to her. She's a lady So tender of rebukes, that words are strokes, And strokes death to her."—SHAKSPEARE.
As we have said, the storm lasted for a week; and all that time Edward and Zoe were slowly drifting farther and farther apart.
But at last the clouds broke and the sun shone out cheerily. It was about the middle of the forenoon when this occurred.
"Oh," cried Miss Deane, "do see the sun! Now I shall no longer need to encroach upon your hospitality, my kind entertainers. I can go home by this afternoon's train, if you, Mr. Travilla, will be so very good as to take or send me to the depot."
"The Ion carriage is quite at your service," he returned politely.
"Thanks," she said; "then I'll just run up to my room, and do my bit of packing."
She hurried out to the hall, then the front door was heard to open; and the next minute a piercing shriek brought master, mistress, and servants running out to the veranda to inquire the cause.
Miss Deane lay there groaning, and crying out "that she had sprained her ankle terribly; she had slipped on a bit of ice, and fallen; and oh! when now would she be able to go home?"
The question found an echo in Zoe's heart, and she groaned inwardly at the thought of having this most unwelcome guest fastened upon her for weeks longer.
Yet she pitied her pain, and was anxious to do what she could for her relief. She hastened to the medicine-closet in search of remedies; while Edward and Uncle Ben gently lifted the sufferer, carried her in, and laid her on the sofa.
Also a messenger was at once despatched for Dr. Conly. Zoe stationed herself at a front window of the drawing-room to watch for his coming. Presently Edward came to her side. "Zoe," he said, "can't you go to Miss Deane?"
"What for?" she asked, without turning her head to look at him.
"To show your kind feeling."
"I'm not sure that I have any."
"Zoe! I am shocked! She is in great pain."
"She has plenty of helpers about her,—Christine, Aunt Dicey, and a servant-maid or two,—who will do all they can to relieve her. If I could do any thing more, I would; but I can't, and should only be in the way. You forget what a mere child you have always considered me, and that I have had no experience in nursing."
"It isn't nursing, I am asking you to give her, but a little kindly sympathy."
A carriage was coming swiftly up the avenue.
"There's the doctor," said Zoe. "You'd better consult with him about his patient; and, if he thinks my presence in her room will hasten her recovery, she shall have all I can give her of it, that we may get her out of the house as soon as possible."
"Zoe! I had no idea you could be so heartless," he said, with much displeasure, as he turned and left the room.
Zoe remained where she was, shedding some tears of mingled anger and grief, then hastily endeavoring to remove their traces; for Arthur would be sure to step into the parlor, to see her before leaving, if it were but for a moment.
She had barely recovered her composure when he came in, having found his patient not in need of a lengthened visit.
His face was bright, his tone cheery and kind, as he bade her good-morning, and asked after her health.
"I'm very well, thank you," she said, giving him her hand. "Is Miss Deane's accident a very bad one?"
"It is a severe sprain," he said: "she will not be able to bear her weight upon that ankle for six weeks." Then seeing Zoe's look of dismay, shrewdly guessing at the cause, he hastened to add, "But she might be sent home in an ambulance a few days hence, without the least injury."
Zoe looked greatly relieved, Edward scarcely less so.
"I can't understand how she came to fall," remarked Arthur reflectively.
"Nor I," said Zoe. "Wouldn't it be well for you to advise her never to set foot on that dangerous veranda again?"
Arthur smiled. "That would be a waste of breath," he said, "while Ion is so delightful a place to visit."
"How are they all at Viamede?" he asked, turning to Edward.
"Quite well at last accounts, thank you," Edward replied, adding, with a slight sigh, "I wish they were here,—my mother at least, if none of the others."
Zoe colored violently. "Cousin Arthur, do you think I am needed in your patient's room?" she asked.
"Only to cheer and amuse her with your pleasant society," he answered.
"She would find neither pleasure nor amusement in my society," said Zoe; "and hers is most distasteful to me."
"That's a pity," said Arthur, with a look of concern. "Suppose I lend you Ella for a few days? She, I think, would rather enjoy taking the entertainment of your guest off your hands."
"Oh, thank you!" said Zoe, brightening; "that would be a relief: and, besides, I should enjoy Ella myself, between times, and after Miss Deane goes home."
"Please tell Ella we will both be greatly obliged if she will come," Edward said.
"I'll do so," said Arthur, rising to go; "but I have a long drive to take, in another direction, before returning to Roselands. And you must remember," he added with a smile, "that I lend her for only a few days. Cal and I wouldn't know how to do without her very long."
With that, he took his departure, leaving Edward and Zoe alone together.
"I am sorry, Zoe, that you thought it necessary to let Arthur into the secret of the mutual dislike between Miss Deane and yourself," remarked Edward, in a grave, reproving tone.
Zoe colored angrily. "I don't care who knows it," she retorted, with a little toss of her head. "I did not think it necessary to let Arthur into the secret, as you call it (I don't consider it one), but neither did I see any objection to his knowing about it."
"Then, let me request you to say no more on the subject to any one," he said, with vexation.
"I sha'n't promise," she muttered, half under her breath. But he heard it.
"Very well, then, I forbid it; and you have promised to obey me."
"And you promised that it should always be love and coaxing," she said, in tones trembling with pain and passion. "I'll have to tell Ella something about it."
"Then, say only what is quite necessary," he returned, his tones softening.
Then, after a moment's silence, in which Zoe's face was turned from him so that he could not see its expression, "Won't you go now, and ask if Miss Deane is any easier? Surely, as her hostess, you should do so much."
"No, I won't! I'll do all I can to make her comfortable; I'll provide her with society more agreeable to her than mine; I'll see that she has interesting reading-matter, if she wants it; I'll do any thing and every thing I can, except that; but you needn't ask that of me."
"O Zoe! I had thought you would do a harder thing than that at my request," he said reproachfully.
Ignoring his remark, she went on, "I just believe she fell and hurt herself purposely, that she might have an excuse for prolonging her visit, and continuing to torment me."
"Zoe, Zoe, how shockingly uncharitable you are!" he exclaimed. "I could never have believed it of you! We are told, 'Charity thinketh no evil.' Do try not to judge so harshly."
He left the room; and Zoe indulged in a hearty cry, but hastily dried her eyes, and turned her back toward the door, as she heard his step approaching again.
He just looked in, saying, "Zoe, I am going to drive over to Roselands for Ella: will you go along?"
"No. I've been lectured enough for one day," was her ungracious rejoinder; and he closed the door, and went away.
He was dumb with astonishment and pain. "What has come over her?" he asked himself. "She has always before been so delighted to go any and every where with me. Have I been too ready to reprove her of late? I have thought myself rather forbearing, considering how much ill-temper she has shown. She has had provocation, to be sure; but it is high time she learned to exercise some self-control. Yet perhaps I should have been more sympathizing, more forbearing and affectionate."
He had stepped into his carriage, and was driving down the avenue. He passed through the great gates, and turned into the road, still thinking of Zoe, and mentally reviewing their behavior toward each other since the unfortunate day in which Miss Deane had crossed their threshold.
The conclusion he presently arrived at was, that he had not been altogether blameless; that, if his reproofs had been given in more loving fashion, they would have been received in a better spirit; that he had not been faithful to his promise always to try "love and coaxing" with the impulsive, sensitive child-wife, who, he doubted not, loved him with her whole heart; and, once convinced of that, he determined to say so on his return, and make it up with her.
True, it seemed to him that she ought to make the first advances toward an adjustment of their slight differences (quarrels they could scarcely be called; a slight coldness, a cessation of accustomed manifestations of conjugal affection, a few sharp or impatient words on each side), but he would be too generous to wait for that; he loved her dearly enough to sacrifice his pride to some extent; he could better afford that than the sight of her unhappiness.
In the mean time Zoe was bitterly repenting of the rebuff she had given him. He had hardly closed the door when she started up, and ran to it to call him back, apologize for her curt refusal to go with him, and ask if she might still accept his invitation. But it was too late: he was already beyond hearing.
She could not refrain from another cry, and was very angry with herself for her petulance. She regretted the loss of the drive, too, which would have been a real treat after the week of confinement to the house.
She had refused to comply with her husband's request that she would go to Miss Deane and ask how she was: now she repented, and went as soon as she had removed the traces of her tears.
"Ah! you have come at last!" was the salutation she received on entering the room where Miss Deane lay on a sofa, with the injured limb propped upon pillows. "I began to fear," sweetly, "that your delicate nerves had given way under the sight of my sufferings."
"My nerves are not delicate," returned Zoe coldly; "in fact, I never discovered that I had any; so please do not trouble yourself with anxiety on that account. I trust the applications have relieved you somewhat."
"Very little, thank you. I suppose it was hardly to be expected that they would take effect so soon. Ah, me!" she added with a profound sigh, "I fear I am tied to this couch for weeks."
"No; do not disturb yourself with that idea," said Zoe. "The doctor told me you could easily be taken home in a few days in an ambulance."
"I shall certainly avail myself of the first opportunity to do so," said Miss Deane, her eyes flashing with anger, "for I plainly perceive that I have worn out my welcome."
"No, not at all," said Zoe; "at least, not so far as I am concerned." Miss Deane looked her incredulity and surprise, and Zoe explained,—"I think I may as well be perfectly frank with you," she said. "You have not worn out your welcome with me, because I had none for you when you came. How could I, knowing that you invariably make trouble between my husband and myself?"
"Truly, a polite speech to make to a guest!" sniffled Miss Deane. "I hope you pride yourself on your very polished manners."
"I prefer truth and sincerity." said Zoe, "I shall do all I can to make you comfortable while you are here; and, if you choose to avoid the line of conduct I have objected to, we may learn to like each other. I very well know that you do not love me now."
"Since frankness is in fashion at this moment," was the contemptuous retort, "I will own that there is no love lost between us. Stay," as Zoe was about to leave the room, "let me give you a piece of disinterested advice. Learn to control your quick temper, and show yourself more amiable, or you may find one of these days, when it is too late, that you have lost your husband's heart."
At that, Zoe turned away, and went swiftly from the room. She was beyond speaking, her whole frame quivering from head to foot with the agitation of her feelings.
Lose the love of her idolized husband? That would be worse than death. But it should never be: he loved her dearly now (it could not be possible that these last few wretched days had robbed her quite of the devoted affection she had known beyond a doubt to be hers before); and she would tell him, as soon as he came in, how sorry she was for the conduct that had vexed him, and never, no, never again, would she do or say any thing to displease him, or lower herself in his estimation.
As she thought thus, hurrying down the hall, she caught the sound of wheels on the drive, and ran out, expecting to see him, as it was about time for his return from Roselands.
It was the Ion carriage she had heard, but only Ella Conly alighted from it.
They exchanged greetings, then Zoe asked half breathlessly, "Where's Edward?"
"Gone," Ella responded, moving on into the hall. "Come, let's go into the parlor, and sit down, and I'll tell you all I know about it. Why, Zoe," as she turned and caught sight of her companion's face, "you are as pale as death, and look ready to faint! There's nothing to be scared about, and you mustn't mind my nonsense."
"Oh, tell me! tell me quickly!" gasped Zoe, sinking into a chair, her hands clasped beseechingly, her eyes wild with terror: "what, what has happened?"
"Nothing, child, nothing, except that we met cousin Horace on our way here, and he carried Ned off to Union. They had to hurry to catch a train, in order to be in time for some business matter in the city, I didn't understand what: so Ned couldn't wait to write the least bit of a note to tell you about it; and he told me to explain every thing to you, and say you were not to fret or worry, not even if he shouldn't get home to-night; for he might not be able to finish up the business in time for even the last train that would bring him."
The color had come back to Zoe's cheek, but her countenance was still distressed; and as Ella concluded, two scalding tears rolled quickly down her face, and plashed upon the small white hands lying clasped in her lap.
"Dear me!" said Ella, "how fond you are of him!"
"Yes," said Zoe, with a not very successful effort to smile through her tears: "who wouldn't be, in my place? I owe every thing to Ned, and he pets and indulges me to the greatest extent. Besides, he is so good, noble, and true, that any woman might be proud to be his wife."
"Yes: I admit every word of it; but all that doesn't explain your tears," returned Ella, half sympathizingly, half teasingly. "Now, I should have supposed that anybody who could boast of such a piece of perfection for a husband would be very happy."
"But I—we've hardly ever been separated over night," stammered Zoe, blushing rosy red; "and—and—O Ella! I hadn't a chance to say good-by to him, and—and you know accidents so often happen"—
She broke down with a burst of tears and sobs that quite dismayed her cousin.
"Why, Zoe, I'm afraid you cannot be well," she said. "Come, cheer up, and don't borrow trouble."
"I'm afraid I'm very silly, and have been making you very uncomfortable," said Zoe, hastily wiping away her tears, "and it's a great shame; particularly, considering that you have kindly come on purpose to help me through with a disagreeable task.
"I'll show you to your room now, if you like," she added, rising, "and try to behave myself better during the rest of your visit."
"Apologies are quite uncalled for," returned Ella lightly, as they went up-stairs together. "I have always had a good time at Ion, and don't believe this is going to be an exception to the general rule. But do you know," lowering her voice a little, "I don't propose to spend nearly all my time with that hateful Miss Deane. I never could bear her."
"Then, how good it was in you to come!" exclaimed Zoe gratefully. "But I should never have asked it of you, if I had thought you disliked her as well as I."
They were now in the room Ella was to occupy, and she was taking off her hat and cloak. "Oh, never mind! I was delighted to come anyhow," she answered gayly, as she threw aside the latter garment, and took possession of an easy-chair beside the open fire. "To tell you a secret," she went on laughingly, "I like my cousins Ned and Zoe Travilla immensely, and am always glad of an excuse to pay them a visit. But that Miss Deane,—oh! she's just too sweet for any thing!" making a grimace expressive of disgust and aversion, "and a consummate, incorrigible flirt: any one of the male sex can be made to serve her turn, from a boy of sixteen to a man of seventy-five."
"I think you are correct about that," said Zoe. "And, do you know, she is forever making covert sneers at my youth; and it's perfectly exasperating to me."
"Sour grapes," laughed Ella. "I wouldn't let it vex me in the least: it's all to hide her envy of you, because you are really young, and married too. I know very well she's dreadfully afraid of being called an old maid."
"I suspected as much," Zoe remarked. "But don't you think gentlemen are more apt to be pleased with her than ladies?"
"Yes: they don't see through her as her own sex do. And she is handsome, and certainly a brilliant talker. I'd give a good deal for conversational powers equal to hers."
"So would I," Zoe said, with an involuntary sigh.
Ella gave her a keen, inquiring look; and Zoe flushed hotly under it.
"Shall we go down now?" she asked. "It is nearly dinner-time; and we shall have to dine alone unless some one drops in unexpectedly," she added, as they left the room together, and passed down the stairs, arm in arm.
"If Arthur should, wouldn't it be a trial to Miss Deane to have to dine in her own room?" exclaimed Ella, with a gleeful laugh.
"Why, what do you mean?" asked Zoe, opening her eyes wide with surprise.
"That she would not have the slightest objection to becoming Mrs. Dr. Conly."
"But you don't think there's any danger?" queried Zoe, by no means pleased with the idea of having the lady in question made a member of the family connection.
"No, and I certainly hope not. It wouldn't be I that would want to call her sister," returned Ella emphatically.
"I should think Art had sufficient penetration to see through her," said Zoe. "But no; on second thoughts, I'm not so sure; for Ned will have it that it's more than half my imagination when I say she sneers at me."
"That's too bad," said Ella. "But Art is older than Ned by some years, and has probably had more opportunity to study character."
"Yes," replied Zoe, speaking with some hesitation, not liking to admit that any one was wiser than her husband, little as she was inclined to own herself in the wrong when he differed from her.
"Is there no constancy in earthly things? No happiness in us, but what must alter?"
Zoe drove over to the village in good season to meet the last train for that day, coming from the direction in which Edward had gone, ardently hoping he might be on board.
The carriage was brought to a stand-still near the depot; and she eagerly watched the arrival of the train, and scanned the little crowd of passengers who alighted from it.
But Edward was not among them, and now it was quite certain that she could not see him before another day.
Just as she reached that conclusion, a telegram was handed her:—
"Can't be home before to-morrow or next day. Will return as soon as possible. E. TRAVILLA."
To the girl-wife the message seemed but cold and formal. "So different from the way he talks to me when he is not vexed or displeased, as he hardly ever is," she whispered to herself with starting tears during the solitary drive back to Ion. "I know it's silly—telegrams can't be loving and kind: it wouldn't do, of course—but I can't help feeling as if he is angry with me, because there's not a bit of love in what he says. And, oh, dear! to think he may be away two nights, and I'm longing so to tell him how sorry I am for being so cross this morning, and before that, too, and to have him take me in his arms and kiss me, and say all is right between us, that I don't know how to wait a single minute!"
She reached home in a sad and tearful mood. Ella, however, proved so entertaining and mirth-provoking a companion, that the evening passed quickly, and by no means unpleasantly.
But when the two had retired to their respective apartments, Zoe felt very lonely, and said to herself that she would rather have Edward there, even silent and displeased, as he had been for several days past, than be without him.
Her last thought before falling asleep, and her first on awaking next morning, were of him.
"Oh, dear!" she sighed half aloud, as she opened her eyes, and glanced round the room, "what shall I do if he doesn't come to-day? I'll have to stand it, of course; but what does a woman do who has no husband?" And for the first time she began to feel some sympathy for Miss Deane, as a lonely maiden lady.
She thought a good deal about her unwelcome guest while attending to the duties of the toilet, and determined to treat her with all possible kindness during the remainder of her enforced stay at Ion. So, meeting, on her way to the breakfast-room, the old negress who had been given charge of Miss Deane through the night, she stopped her, and asked how her patient was.
"Jes' pow'ful cross dis hyar mawnin', Miss Zoe," was the reply, in a tone of disgust. "Dar isn't one ob de fambly dat would be makin' half de fuss ef dey'd sprained bofe dey's ankles. Doan ye go nigh her, honey, fear she bite yo' head off."
"Indeed I sha'n't, Aunt Phillis, if there's any danger of that," laughed Zoe. "But as she can't jump up and run after me, I think I shall be quite safe if I don't go within arm's-length of her sofa."
"She's pow'ful cross," repeated Aunt Phillis: "she done gone call dis chile up time an' again fru de night; an' when I ax her, 'Whar yo' misery at?' she say, 'In my ankle, ob c'ose, yo' ole fool you! Cayn't yo' hab nuff sense to change de dressin'?'"
"Who is that has been so polite and complimentary to you, Aunt Phillis?" cried a merry voice in their rear.
Ella was descending the stairway at whose foot they stood, as they perceived, on turning at the sound of her voice.
"Good-morning, cousin: how bright and well you are looking!" said Zoe.
"Just as I feel. And how are you, Mrs. Travilla? I trust you did not spend the night in crying over Ned's absence?" was the gay rejoinder.
"No, not nearly all of it," returned Zoe, catching her spirit of fun.
"Mawnin', Miss Ella," said the old nurse, dropping a courtesy. "'Twas de lady what sprain her foot yisteday I was talkin' bout to Miss Zoe."
"Ah! how is she?"
"I doan' t'ink she gwine die dis day, Miss Ella," laughed the nurse, "she so pow'ful cross; and dey do say folks is dat way when dey's gittin' bettah."
"Yes, I have always heard it was a hopeful sign, if not an agreeable one," Ella remarked, "Was that the breakfast-bell I heard just now?"
"Yes," said Zoe. "I hope you feel ready to do justice to your meal?"
As they seated themselves at the table, Zoe, glancing toward Edward's vacant chair, remarked, with a sigh, that it seemed very lonely to sit down without him.
"Well, now," said Ella, "I think it's quite nice to take a meal occasionally without the presence of anybody of the masculine gender."
"Perhaps that is because you have never been married," said Zoe.
"Perhaps so," returned her cousin, laughing; "yet I don't think that can be all that ails me, for I have heard married women express the same opinion quite frequently. What shall we do with ourselves to-day, Zoe? I've no notion of devoting myself exclusively to Miss Deane's entertainment, especially if she is really as cross as reported."
"No, indeed! I couldn't bear to let you, even if you were willing," replied Zoe with decision. "I consented to your taking my place in that, only because I supposed you found her agreeable; while to me she is any thing else."
"Suppose we call on her together, after a little, and let the length of our stay depend upon the enjoyment our presence seems to afford her," suggested Ella.
"Agreed," said Zoe. "Then I will supply her with plenty of reading-matter, which, as she professes to be so very intellectual, ought to entertain her far better than we can. Shall we ride after that?"
"Yes, and take a promenade on the verandas. We'll have to take our exercise in those ways, as the roads are not yet fit for walking."
"Yes," said Zoe; "but I hope that by afternoon they will be good enough for driving; as I mean to drive over to the depot to meet the late train, hoping to find Ned on it."
"Don't expect him till to-morrow," said Ella.
"Why not?" queried Zoe, looking as if she could hardly endure the thought.
"Because, in that case, your disappointment, if you have one, will be agreeable."
"Yes; but, on the other hand, I should lose all the enjoyment of looking forward through the whole day, to seeing him this evening. Following your plan, I shouldn't have half so happy a day as if I keep to my own."
"Ah! that's an entirely new view of the case," Ella said in her merry, laughing tones.
Miss Deane did not seem to enjoy their society, and they soon withdrew from her room; Zoe having done all in her power to provide her with every comfort and amusement available in her case.
"I'm glad that's over," sighed Zoe, when they were alone again. "And now for our ride, if you are ready, Ella. I ordered my pony for myself, and mamma's for you; and I see they are at the door."
"Then let us don our riding-habits, and be off at once," said Ella.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as they cantered down the avenue.
"To the village, if you like. I want to call at the post-office."
"In hopes of finding a note from Ned, I suppose. I don't believe there can be one there that would bring you later news than yesterday's telegram. But I have no objection to making sure, and would as soon ride in that direction as any other."
Nothing from Edward was found at the office; and the young wife seemed much disappointed, till Ella suggested that that looked as if he expected to be at home before night.
It was a cheering idea to Zoe: she brightened up at once, and in the afternoon drove over the same road, feeling almost certain Edward would be on the incoming train, due about the time she would reach the village, or rather at the time she had planned to be there. Ella, who had asked to accompany her, was slow with her dressing, taxing Zoe's patience pretty severely by thus causing ten minutes' detention.
"Come, now, don't be worried: it won't kill Ned to have to wait ten or fifteen minutes," she said laughingly, as she stepped into the carriage, and seated herself by Zoe's side.
"No, I dare say not," returned the latter, trying to speak with perfect pleasantness of tone and manner; "and he isn't one of the impatient ones, who can never bear to be kept waiting a minute, like myself," she added with a smile. "Now, Uncle Ben, drive pretty fast, so that we won't be so very far behind time."
"Fas' as I kin widout damagin' de hosses, Miss Zoe," answered the old coachman. "Marso Ed'ard allus tole me be keerful ob dem, and de roads am putty bad sence de big storm."
Zoe glanced at her watch as they entered the village. "Drive directly to the depot, Uncle Ben," she said. "It's fully fifteen minutes past the time for the train to be in."
"I ain't heard de whistle, Miss Zoe," he remarked, as he turned his horses' heads in the desired direction.
"No, nor have I," said Ella; "and we ought to have heard it fully five minutes before it got in. There may have been a detention. That is nothing very unusual," she hastened to add, as she saw that Zoe had suddenly grown very pale.
The carriage drew up before the door of the depot; and the girls leaned from its windows, sending eager, searching glances from side to side, and up and down the track.
No train was in sight, and the depot seemed strangely silent and deserted.
"Oh!" cried Zoe, "what can be the matter?"
"I suppose the train must have got in some time ago,—perhaps before we left Ion," replied Ella, in a re-assuring tone; "and all the passengers have dispersed to their homes, or wherever they were going."
"No, there could not have been time for all that," Zoe responded, in accents full of anxiety and alarm.
"Our watches may be much too slow," suggested Ella, trying to re-assure both herself and her cousin, yet trembling with apprehension as she spoke.
"No, it isn't possible that they and all the timepieces in the house could be so far from correct," said Zoe despairingly.
"Dar doan' 'pear to be nobody 'bout dis hyar depot," remarked Uncle Ben reflectively; "but I reckon dar's somebody comin' to 'splain de mattah. Wha's de 'casion ob dis mos' onusual state ob t'ings?" he added, as a woman, who been watching the carriage and its occupants, the open door of a neighboring house, came miming in their direction.
"What de mattah, Aunt Rhoda?" he queried, as she reached the side of the vehicle, almost breathless with excitement and exertion.
"Why, Uncle Ben, dar—dar's been a accident to de kyars, dey say, an' dey's all broke up, and de folks roun' here is all"—
"Where? where?" exclaimed Ella, while Zoe sank back against the cushions, quite unable to speak for the moment.
"Dunno, Miss," was the reply; "but," pointing up the road, "it's out dat way, 'bout a mile, I reckon. Yo see, de kyars was a comin' fas' dis way, and 'nudder ole injine whiskin' 'long dat way, and dey bofe comes togedder wid a big crash, breakin' de kyars, and de injines bofe of em, till dey's good for nuffin' but kin'lin' wood; and de folks what's ridin' in de kyars is all broke up too, dey says; and de doctahs and body"—
"Edward!" gasped Zoe. "Drive us there, Uncle Ben, drive with all your might! O Edward, my husband, my husband!" and she burst into hysterical weeping.
Ella threw her arms about her. "Don't, dear Zoe, oh, don't cry so! He may not be hurt. He may not have been on that train at all."
Ben had already turned and whipped up his horses, and now they dashed along the road at a furious rate.
Zoe dropped her head on Ella's shoulder, answering only with tears and sobs and moans, till the carriage came to a sudden stand-still.
"We's got dar, Miss Zoe," said Uncle Ben, in a subdued tone full of grief and sympathy.
She lifted her head; and her eye instantly fell upon a little group, scarcely a yard distant, consisting of several men, among whom she recognized Dr. Conly, gathered about an apparently insensible form lying on the ground.
Ella and Ben saw it too. She suddenly caught the reins from his hands: he sprang from the carriage, and, lifting Zoe in his strong arms as if she had been but a child, set her on her feet, and supported her to the side of the prostrate man; the little crowd respectfully making way for her, at the words spoken by Ben in a voice half choked with emotion, "Hit's Marse Ed'ard's wife, gen'lemen."
It was Edward lying there motionless, and with a face like that of a corpse.
With an agonized cry, Zoe dropped on her knees at his side, and pressed her lips passionately to his.
There was no response, no movement, not the quiver of an eyelid; and she lifted her grief-stricken face to that of the doctor, with a look of anguished inquiry in the beautiful eyes fit to move a heart of stone.
"I do not despair of him yet, dear cousin Zoe," Arthur said in a low, moved tone. "I lave found no external injury, and it may be that he is only stunned."
The words had scarcely left his lips when Edward drew a sighing breath, and opened his eyes, glancing up into Zoe's face bending over Mm in deepest, tenderest solicitude.
"Ah, love! is it you?" he murmured faintly, and with a smile. "Where am I? What has happened?"
"O Ned! dear, dear Ned! I thought you were killed!" she sobbed, covering his face with kisses and tears.
"There has been an accident, and you got a blow that stunned you," answered the doctor; "but I think you are all right now, or will be soon."
"An accident!" Edward repeated, with a bewildered look, and putting his hand to his head. "What was it?"
"A collision on the railroad," Arthur said. "There is an ambulance here: I think I will put you in it, and have you taken home at once. 'Tis only a few miles, and not a rough road."
"Yes, yes: home is much the best place," he sighed, again putting his hand to his head.
"Are you in pain?" asked Arthur.
"Not much, but I feel strangely confused. I should like to be taken home as soon as possible. But not to the neglect of any one who may have been more seriously hurt than I," he added, feebly raising his head to look about him.
"There are none such," Arthur answered. "You perhaps remember that the cars were nearly empty of passengers: no lives were lost and no one, I think, worse hurt than yourself."
"And I?" returned Edward, in a tone of inquiry.
"Have escaped without any broken bones, and I trust will be all right in a few days."
"O Ned! how glad I am it is no worse!" sobbed Zoe, clinging to his hand, while the tears rolled fast down her cheeks.
"Yes, little wife," he said, gazing lovingly into her eyes.
"There, I positively forbid any more talking," said Arthur, with a mixture of authority and playfulness. "Here is the ambulance. Help me to lift him in, men," to the by-standers. "And you, cousin Zoe, get into your carriage, and drive on behind it, or ahead if you choose."
"Can't I ride in the ambulance beside him?" she asked, almost imploringly.
"No, no: you will both be more comfortable In doing as I have directed."
"Then, please go with him yourself," she entreated.
"I shall do so, certainly," he answered, motioning her away, then stooping to assist the others in lifting the injured man.
Zoe would not stir till she had seen Edward put into the ambulance, and made as comfortable for his ride home as circumstances would permit. Then, as the vehicle moved slowly off, she hurried to her carriage.
Ben helped her in, sprang into his own seat, and, as he took the reins from Ella, Zoe gave the order, "Home now, Uncle Ben, keeping as close behind the ambulance as you can."
"Oh, don't, Zoe! you oughtn't to!" expostulated Ella, perceiving that her cousin was crying violently behind her veil. "I don't think Ned is very badly hurt. Didn't you hear Arthur say so?"
"He only expressed such a hope: he didn't say certainly," sobbed Zoe. "And when people are in danger, doctors always try to hide it from their friends."
"Arthur is perfectly truthful," asserted Ella, with some warmth. "He may keep his opinions to himself at times, but he never builds people up with false hopes. So cheer up, coz," she added, squeezing Zoe's hand affectionately.
"I know that what you say of cousin Arthur is all true," sobbed Zoe; "but I could see he had fears as well as hopes: and—and—Ned doesn't seem a bit like himself; he has such a dazed look, as if not quite in his right mind."
"But he knew you and Art; and it is to be expected that a man would feel dazed after such a shock as he must have had."
"Yes, of course. Oh, I'm afraid he's dreadfully, dreadfully hurt, and will never get over it!"
"Still," returned Ella, "try to hope for the best. Don't you think that is the wiser plan always?"
"I suppose so," said Zoe, laughing and crying hysterically; "but I can't be wise to-night; indeed, I never can."
"And, if division come, it soon is past, Too sharp, too strange an agony to last." MRS. NORTON.
Christine and Aunt Phillis, who had been left in charge of Miss Deane, had had a sore trial of patience in waiting upon her, humoring her whims, listening to her fretting and complaints, and trying to soothe and entertain her. She was extremely irritable, and seemed determined not to be pleased with any thing they could do for her.
"Where is your mistress?" she asked at length. "Pretty manners she has, to leave a suffering guest to the sole care of servants."
"Yes, Miss, Ise alluz t'ought Miss Zoe hab pretty manners and a pretty face," replied Aunt Phillis; "but dere is ladies what habn't none, an' doan' git pleased wid nuffin' nor nobody, an eayn't stan' no misery nowhars 'bout deirselves, but jes' keep frettin' and concessantly displainin' 'bout dis t'ing and dat, like dey hasn't got nuffin' to be thankful for."
"Impudence!" muttered Miss Deane, her eyes flashing angrily. Then bidding her attendants be quiet, she settled herself for a nap.
She was waked by a slight bustle in the house, accompanied by sounds as if a number of men were carrying a heavy burden through the entrance-hall, and up the wide stairway leading to the second story.
"What's the matter? What's going on? Has any thing happened?" she asked, starting up to a sitting posture.
Christine had risen to her feet, pale and trembling, and stood listening intently.
"I must go and see," she said, and hurried from the room, Aunt Phillis shambling after her in haste and trepidation.
"Stay!" cried Miss Deane: "don't leave me alone. What are you thinking of?"
But they were already out of hearing. "I was never so shamefully treated anywhere as I am here," muttered the angry lady, sinking back upon her pillows. "I'll leave this house to-morrow, if it is a possible thing, and never darken its doors again."
Listening again, she thought she heard sounds of grief, sobbing and wailing, groans and sighs.
She was by no means deficient in curiosity, and it was exceedingly trying to be compelled to lie there in doubt and suspense.
The time seemed very much longer than it really was before Aunt Phillis came back, sobbing, and wiping her eyes on her apron.
"What is the matter?" asked Miss Deane impatiently.
"Dere's—dere's been a awful commission on de railroad," sobbed Aunt Phillis; "and Marse Ed'ard's 'most killed."
"Oh, dreadful!" cried Miss Deane. "Have they sent for his mother?"
Aunt Phillis only shook her head doubtfully, and burst into fresh and louder sobs.
"Most killed! Dear me!" sighed the lady. "And he was so young and handsome! It will quite break his mother's heart, I suppose. But she'll get over it. It takes a vast deal of grief to kill."
"P'raps Marse Ed'ard ain't gwine ter die," said the old nurse, checking her sobs. "Dey does say Doctah Arthur kin 'most raise de dead."
"Well, I'm sure I hope Mr. Travilla won't die," responded Miss Deane, "or prove to be permanently injured in any way.—Ah, Christine!" as the latter re-entered the room: "what is all this story about a railroad accident? Is Mr. Travilla killed?"
"No, no, he not killed," replied Christine, in her broken English. "How bad hurt, I not know to say; but not killed."
Meantime Edward had been taken to his room, and put comfortably to bed; while Zoe, seated in her boudoir, waited anxiously for the doctor's report of his condition.
Ella was with her, and now and then tried to speak a comforting word, which Zoe scarcely seemed to hear. She sat with her hands clasped in her lap, listening intently to catch every sound from the room where her injured husband lay. She looked pale and anxious, and occasionally a tear would roll quickly down her cheek.
At last the door opened, and Arthur stepped softly across the room to her side.
"Cheer up, little cousin," he said kindly. "Edward seems to be doing very well; and if you will be a good, quiet little woman, you may go and sit by his side."
"Oh, thank you! I'll try," she said, starting up at once. "But mayn't I talk to him at all?"
"Not much to-night," was the reply; "not more than seems absolutely necessary; and you must be particularly careful not to say any thing that would have the least tendency to excite him."
"Oh, then he must be very, very ill,—terribly injured!" she cried, with a burst of tears and sobs.
"That does not necessarily follow," Arthur said, taking her hand, and holding it in a kindly pressure. "But you must be more composed, or," playfully, "I shall be compelled to exert my authority so far as to forbid you to go to him."
"Oh, no, no! don't do that!" she cried pleadingly. "I'll be calm and quiet; indeed, indeed I will."
"That's right," he said. "I think I may venture to try you."
"But won't you please tell me just how much you think he is hurt?" she pleaded, clinging to his hand, and looking up beseechingly into his face.
"My dear little cousin," he said in a tenderly sympathizing tone, "I wish to do all in my power to relieve your anxiety, but am as yet in some doubt myself as to the extent of his injuries. He is a good deal shaken and bruised; but, as I have said before, there are no broken bones; and, unless there should be some internal injury which I have not yet discovered, he is likely to recover entirely in a few days or weeks."
"But you are not sure? Oh! how could I ever bear it if he should"—she broke off with a burst of violent weeping.
He led her to a seat, for she seemed hardly able to stand: her whole frame was shaking with emotion.
"Try not to meet trouble half way, little cousin," he said gently. "'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' and 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be.' It is God's promise to all who put their trust in him, and cannot fail; all his promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus."
"Yes, I know," she said, making a strong effort to control herself. "And you do hope Ned will soon be well?"
"I certainly do," he responded in cheerful accents. "And now, if you will wipe away your tears, and promise to be very good and quiet, I will take you to him. He was asking for you when I left the room."
She gave the desired promise, and he led her to the bedside.
"I have brought you your wife, Ned," he said in a quiet tone, "and mean to leave her with you for a while; but you are to be a good boy, and not indulge in much chatter with her."
"We'll be good: I'll answer for her, and myself too," Edward returned, with a tenderly affectionate smile up into Zoe's face, as she bent over him, and touched her lips to his forehead.
She dared not trust herself to speak, but silently put her hand in his, dropped on her knees by the bedside, and laid her pretty head on the pillow on which his rested.
"My own darling!" he murmured, softly pressing the hand he held: "my own precious little wife!"
Once more Arthur enjoined quiet, then went out, and left them alone together.
He paid a professional visit to Miss Deane, satisfied her curiosity in regard to Edward's injuries, and learned with pleasure that she was quite resolved to go home the next morning.
"Of course Mrs. Travilla should give all her attention to her husband now," she remarked; "and I shall be only in the way. One disabled person is quite enough to have in a house at one time. So if you, doctor, will be so kind as to have the ambulance sent out for me directly after breakfast, I'll be much obliged."
"I will do so," he said. "The journey will do you no harm, and you will probably be better cared for and happier in your own home than here, under the circumstances."
Zoe's poor heart was longing to pour itself out into her husband's ear in words of contrition, penitence, and love; and only the fear of injuring him enabled her to restrain her feelings, and remain calm and quiet, kneeling there close by his side, with her hand in his. She couldn't rest till she told him how very, very sorry she was for the petulance of the past few days, and especially for the cold rejection of his invitation to accompany him on his drive to Roselands, how firmly resolved never again to give him like cause to be displeased with her, and how dearly she loved him.
But she must refrain, from fear of exciting him: she must wait till all danger from that was past.
It was hard; yet there was strong consolation in the certainty that his dear love was still hers. She read it in his eyes, as they gazed fondly into hers; felt it in the tender pressure of his hand; heard it in the tones of his voice, as he called her his "darling, his own precious little wife."
Yet she was tormented with the fear that his accident had affected his mind and memory for the time, so that he had forgotten the unkindness of the morning; and that, when returning health and vigor should recall the facts to his remembrance, he would again treat her with the coldness and displeasure merited by her behavior.
"But," she comforted herself, "if he does, it will not last long: he is sure to forgive and love me as soon as I tell him how sorry I am."
She did not want to leave him to take either food or rest; but Arthur insisted that she should go down to tea, and later to bed, leaving Edward in his care; and she finally yielded to his persuasions, and exertion of medical authority.
She objected that it was quite useless to go to bed; she was positively sure she could not sleep a wink: but her head had scarcely touched the pillow before she fell into a profound slumber, for she was quite worn out with anxiety and grief.
It was broad daylight when she woke. The events of yesterday flashed instantly upon her mind; and she sprang from her bed and began dressing in haste.
She must learn as speedily as possible how Edward was; not worse, surely, for Arthur had promised faithfully to call her at once if there should be any unfavorable change during the night. Still, a light tap at the door made her start, and turn pale; and she opened it with a trembling hand.
Ella stood there with a bright, smiling countenance. "Good-morning, coz," she said gayly. "I bring you good news,—two pieces of it. Ned is almost himself again; Arthur is entirely satisfied that there is no serious injury,—internal or otherwise; and Miss Deane has already set out for her home, leaving me to give you her adieus. Now are you not happy?"
"Indeed, indeed I am!" cried Zoe, dancing about the room in ecstasy, her eyes shining, and her cheeks flushing with joy.
"May I go to him at once?" she asked, stopping short, with an eager, questioning look.
"Yes. Art says you may, and Ned is asking for you. How fond he is of you, Zoe! though, I think, no fonder than you are of him."
"I don't deserve it," responded Zoe, with unwonted humility, answering the first part of the remark.
"I don't see but you do," said Ella. "Can I help you with your dressing? I know you are in a hurry to get to him."
"Thank you. I don't think you can, but I'll be done in five minutes."
Edward lay watching for her coming, listening for the sound of her light footsteps, and, as she opened the door, looked up, and greeted her with a tenderly affectionate smile.
"O Ned! dear, dear Ned!" she cried, hastening to the bedside; "how like yourself you look again!"
"And feel, too, love," he said, drawing her down till their lips met in a long kiss.
Arthur had stepped out on her entrance, and they were quite alone together.
"God has been very good to us, darling, in sparing us to each other," Edward said, in low, moved tones.
"Oh, yes, yes!" she sobbed. "And I didn't deserve it; for I was so cross to you day before yesterday, when you asked me to go with you: and I'd been cross for days before that. Can you, will you, forgive me, dear Ned?"
"I have not been blameless, and we will exchange forgiveness," he said, drawing her closer, till her head rested against his breast.
"It is so good in you to say that," she sobbed. "Oh, if you had been killed, as I thought for one minute you were, I could never have had an hour of peace or comfort in this world! Those unkind words would have been the last I ever spoke to you; and I should never have been able to forget them, or the sad look that your face must have worn as you turned away. I didn't see it, for I had rudely turned my back to you; but I could imagine it: for I knew you must have been hurt, and grieved too."
"So I was, little wife," he said tenderly, and passing his hand caressingly over her hair and cheek: "but a few moments' honest retrospect showed me that I was not blameless, had not been as forbearing and affectionate in my treatment of my darling little wife, for the past few days, as I ought to have been; and I resolved to tell her so, on the first opportunity."
"O Ned! I don't deserve such a kind, loving husband!" she sighed; "and you ought to have a great deal better wife."
"I am entirely satisfied with the one I have," lifting her hand to his lips. "There isn't a woman in the world I would exchange her for."
"But I often do and say things you don't approve," she murmured, with a regretful sigh.
"Yes; but have I not told you more than once, that I do not want a piece of perfection for my wife, lest there should be far too strong a contrast between her and myself?"
"But there wouldn't be," she asserted. "I don't believe there's another man in all the world quite so dear and good as my husband."
"Sweet flattery from your lips," he returned laughingly. "Now, dearest, go and eat your breakfast. I have had mine."
"Ned, do you know our tormentor is gone?" she asked, lifting her head, and looking into his eyes, with a glad light in her own.
"Yes, and am much relieved to know it," he replied. "And, dearest, she shall never come again, if I can prevent it."
"Tell me the old, old story."
"My dear Zoe! what a happy face!" was Ella's pleased exclamation, as the two met in the breakfast-room.
"Very bright, indeed!" said Arthur, who had come in with Zoe, smiling kindly upon her as he spoke.
"Because it reflects the light and joy in my heart," she returned. "Wouldn't it be strange if I were not happy in knowing that my husband is not seriously hurt? Oh, we have been so happy together, that I have often feared it could not last!"
"There seems every reasonable prospect that it will," Arthur said, as they seated themselves at the table. "You are both young and healthy, your tastes are congenial, and you have enough of this world's goods to enable you to live free from carking cares and exhausting labors."
Zoe was in so great haste to return to Edward, that she could scarce refrain from eating her breakfast more rapidly than was consistent with either politeness toward her guests or a due regard for her own health: but she tried to restrain her impatience; and Arthur, who perceived and sympathized with it, exerted himself for her entertainment, telling amusing anecdotes, and making mirth-provoking remarks.
Ella, perceiving his designs, joined in, in the same strain. Zoe presently entered into their mood, and they seemed, as in fact they were, a light-hearted and happy little breakfast party; both Arthur and Ella feeling greatly relieved by the favorable change in their cousin, not for Zoe's sake alone, but also because of their own affection for him.
Edward no longer needed Arthur as nurse: indeed, Zoe claimed the right to a monopoly of the, to her, sweet task of waiting upon him, and attending to all his wants. So Arthur resigned in that capacity, but was to continue his visits as physician.
He and Ella returned to Roselands shortly after leaving the breakfast-table; and Zoe, in joyous, tender mood, took her place by her husband's bedside.
He welcomed her with a loving smile, taking her hand in his, and carrying it to his lips.
"Arthur has condemned me to lie here for a full week," he said. "It would seem a weary while in the prospect, but for the thought of having, through it all, the sweet companionship of my darling little wife."
"Dear Ned, how good in you to say so!" she murmured, kneeling beside the bed, and laying her cheek to his. "I don't believe there's another creature in the world that thinks my society of much account."
"If you are right in that, which I very much doubt," he said with a smile of incredulity, "it only shows their want of taste, and makes no difference to us, does it, love, since we are all the world to each other?"