A sequel to "ELSIE'S GIRLHOOD"
By MARTHA FINLEY
Complete Authorized Edition
Published by arrangement with Dodd, Mead and Company
A Burt Book BLUE RIBBON BOOKS, Inc.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by
DODD & MEAD
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
BY MARTHA FINLEY
BY CHARLES B. FINLEY
The call for a sequel to "Elsie's Girlhood" having become too loud and importunate to be resisted, the pleasant task of writing it was undertaken.
Dates compelled the bringing in of the late war: and it has been the earnest desire and effort of the author to so treat the subject as to wound the feelings of none; to be as impartial as if writing history; and, by drawing a true, though alas, but faint picture, of the great losses and sufferings on both sides, to make the very thought of a renewal of the awful strife utterly abhorrent to every lover of humanity, and especially of this, our own dear native land.
Are we not one people: speaking the same language; worshipping the one true and living God; having a common history, a common ancestry; and united by the tenderest ties of blood? And is not this great grand, glorious old Union—known and respected all over the world—our common country, our joy and pride? O! let us forget all bitterness, and live henceforth in love, harmony, and mutual helpfulness.
For all I know of the Teche country I am indebted to Mr. Edward King's "Old and New Louisiana"; for facts and dates in regard to the war, and in large measure for Mr. Dinsmore's views as to its causes, etc., principally to Headley's "History of the Great Rebellion."
The description of Andersonville, and the life led by the prisoners there, was supplied by one who shared it for six months. An effort was made to obtain a sketch of a Northern prison also, but without success.
Yet what need to balance accounts in respect to these matters? The unnatural strife is over, and we are again one united people.
"Oh! there is one affection which no stain Of earth can ever darken;—when two find, The softer and the manlier, that a chain Of kindred taste has fastened mind to mind." —PERCIVAL'S POEMS.
In one of the cool green alleys at the Oaks, Rose and Adelaide Dinsmore were pacing slowly to and fro, each with an arm about the other's waist, in girlish fashion, while they conversed together in low, confidential tones.
At a little distance to one side, the young son and heir had thrown himself prone upon the grass in the shade of a magnificent oak, story-book in hand. Much interested he seemed in his book, yet occasionally his eye would wander from its fascinating pages to watch, with pride and delight, the tiny Rosebud steady herself against a tree, then run with eager, tottering steps and a crow of delight into her nurse's outstretched arms, to be hugged, kissed, praised, and coaxed to try it over again.
As Rose and Adelaide turned at one end of the alley, Mr. Horace Dinsmore entered it at the other. Hurriedly approaching the little toddler, he stooped and held out his hands, saying, in tender, half-tremulous tones, "Come, darling, come to papa."
She ran into his arms, crying, "Papa," in her sweet baby voice, and catching her up, he covered her face with kisses; then, holding her clasped fondly to his breast, walked on towards his wife and sister.
"What is it, Horace?" asked Rose anxiously, as they neared each other; for she saw that his face was pale and troubled.
"I bring you strange tidings, my Rose," he answered low and sadly, as she laid her hand upon his arm with an affectionate look up into his face.
Hers grew pale. "Bad news from home?" she almost gasped.
"No, no; I've had no word from our absent relatives or friends, and I'm not sure I ought to call it bad news either; though I cannot yet think of it with equanimity, it has come upon me so suddenly."
"What?" asked both ladies in a breath; "don't keep us in suspense."
"It has been going on for years—on his part—I can see it now—but, blind fool that I was, I never suspected it till to-day, when it came upon me like a thunderbolt."
"Travilla; after years of patient waiting he has won her at last—our darling—and—and I've given her to him."
Both ladies stood dumb with astonishment, while young Horace, who had come running up in time to catch the last words, cried out with vehemence, "Papa! what! give our Elsie away? how could you? how can we ever do without her? But she shan't go, for she belongs to me too, and I'll never give consent!"
Mr. Dinsmore and the ladies smiled faintly.
"They seemed to think mine quite sufficient, Horace," replied his father, "and I'm afraid will hardly consider it necessary to ask yours."
"But, papa, we can't spare her—you know we can't—and why should you go and give her away to Mr. Travilla or anybody?"
"My son, had I refused, it would have caused her great unhappiness."
"Then she ought to be ashamed to go and love Mr. Travilla better than you and all of us."
"I was never more astonished in my life!" cried Adelaide.
"Nor I," said Rose. "And he's a great deal too old for her."
"That is an objection," replied her husband, "but if not insuperable to her, need not be to us."
"Think of your intimate friend addressing you as father!" laughed Adelaide; "it's really too ridiculous."
"That need not be—is not an inevitable consequence of the match," smiled Mr. Dinsmore, softly caressing the little one clinging about his neck.
Still conversing on the same subject, the minds of all being full of it to the exclusion of every other, they moved on as if by common consent towards the house.
"Do you think it can be possible that she is really and truly in love with him?" queried Rose; "a man so much older than herself, and so intimate in the family since her early childhood."
"Judge for yourself, my dear," said Mr. Dinsmore, as a turn in the path brought them within a few yards of the lovers, who were moving slowly in their direction so that the two parties must meet in another moment.
One glance at the beaming faces, the rich color coming and going in Elsie's cheek, the soft, glad light in her sweet brown eyes, was a sufficient reply to Rose's question. She looked at her husband with a satisfied smile, which he returned.
But little Horace, leaving his father's side, rushed up to Elsie, and catching her hand in his, cried, "I'll never give my consent! and you belong to me. Mr. Travilla, you can't have her."
To the child's surprise Elsie only blushed and smiled, while Mr. Travilla, without the slightest appearance of alarm or vexation, said, "Ah, my dear boy, you may just as well; for she is willing to be mine and your papa has given her to me."
But the others had come up, and inquiring looks, smiles and kindly greetings were exchanged.
"Mr. Travilla," said Rose, half playfully but with a tear trembling in her eye, "you have stolen a march upon us, and I can hardly forgive you just yet."
"I regret that exceedingly, my dear madam," he answered, with a smile that belied his words. "But Miss Adelaide, you will still stand my friend?"
"I don't know," she answered demurely; "there's only one serious objection in my mind (if Elsie is satisfied); that I don't quite fancy having a nephew some years older than myself."
"Ah! well, I shall be quite willing to be considered a brother-in-law."
"Company to dinner!" shouted Horace. "I see a carriage; don't you, papa?"
"It is your Uncle Edward's," said Mr. Travilla.
"Yes," said Adelaide, "Lora and her tribe are in it, no doubt; and probably Mrs. Bowles too (Carrie Howard you know, Elsie). They have been late in calling."
"Some good reason for it, and they are none the less welcome," remarked Rose, quickening her pace.
The one party reached the house just as the other two had fairly alighted, and a scene of joyous greeting ensued.
"You dear child! how good of you to come back to us again, and single too," exclaimed Mrs. Bowles, clasping Elsie in a warm embrace; "I'd almost given it up, and expected by every mail to hear you had become Lady or Countess this, or Duchess that."
Elsie smiled and blushed, and meeting the eye of her betrothed fixed for an instant upon her with an expression of unutterable content, thankfulness, love and pride, smiled and blushed again.
Carrie caught the look and its effect upon her friend, and almost breathless with astonishment, took the first opportunity, after all were seated in the drawing-room, to prefer a whispered request to be taken to Elsie's own private apartment for a moment, to see that her hair and dress were in proper order.
They had come to spend the day, and bonnets and shawls had already been carried away by the servants in attendance.
"Now girls, don't run off for an interminable chat by yourselves," said Mrs. Howard, as the two rose and crossed the room together.
"No, Aunt Lora, we'll not stay long," said Elsie; "for I want to improve every moment of your visit, in renewing my acquaintance with you and my young cousins."
"Your family has grown, Lora," remarked her brother.
"Yes, rather faster than yours," she said, looking round with pride upon her little group of four boys, and a girl yet in her nurse's arms. "Go and speak to your uncle, Ned, Walter, Horace, and Arthur. You see I have given you a namesake; and this little pet we call Rose Louise, for her two aunties. Yours is Rose, too! and what a darling! and how little Horace has grown!"
"Elsie, it can't be possible!" cried Carrie, the instant they found themselves alone.
"What can't?" and Elsie's blush and smile were charming.
"That you and Mr. Travilla are lovers! I saw it in your faces; but, 'tis too absurd! Why, he's your father's friend, and nearly as old."
"All the wiser and better for that, Carrie, dear. But he is young in heart, and far from looking old, I think. I have grown so sick of your silly, brainless fops, who expect women neither to talk sense nor understand it."
"Ah, I dare say! and Mr. Travilla is the most sensible and polished of men—always excepting my own spouse, of course. And you won't be taken away from us; so I give my consent."
Elsie's only answer was a mirthful, amused look.
"Oh, but I am glad to see you back!" Carrie ran on. "It seems an age since you went away."
"Thank you. And your husband? what is he like?"
"I was never good at description, but he is a fine specimen of a Kentucky planter, and very fond of his wife. By the way, you must blame me that Edward and Lora were so late in welcoming you home. I arrived only yesterday morning, quite fatigued with my journey, and begged them to wait till to-day, and bring me with them."
"That was right. We have not seen Enna yet, or Arthur. Grandpa and Mrs. Dinsmore and Walter called yesterday. But there is the dinner-bell. Let me conduct you to the dining-room."
They were just in time to sit down with the others.
Elsie quickly perceived by her Aunt Lora's look and manner, that she, too, had heard the news, but no remark was make on the subject till the ladies had retired to the drawing-room, leaving the gentlemen to the enjoyment of their after-dinner cigars.
Then Mrs. Howard, facing round upon her niece as they entered the room, exclaimed, "Elsie, you naughty child! are you not ashamed of yourself?"
"On account of what, auntie?"
"Such unconscious innocence!" cried Lora, throwing up the white and jeweled hands she had rested lightly for an instant upon the young girl's shoulder, while gazing steadily into the smiling, blushing, sparkling face. "You haven't been planning and promising to give Adelaide and me a nephew older than ourselves? I tell you, miss, I refuse my consent. Why, it's absurd! the very idea! I used to think him almost an elderly gentleman when you were a chit of eight or nine."
"I remember having had some such idea myself; but he must have been growing young since then," returned Elsie, demurely.
"He seems to have been standing still (waiting for you, I suppose); but I never was more astonished in my life!" said Lora, dropping into a chair.
"It has been a genuine surprise to us all," remarked Rose.
"To me as much as anyone, mamma," said Elsie. "I—had thought he was engaged to you, Aunt Adie."
"To me, child!"
"Why, my dear, I surely told you about her engagement to my brother Edward?" exclaimed Adelaide and Rose simultaneously.
"You tried, mamma, and it was all my own fault that I did not hear the whole truth. And, Aunt Adie, I cannot understand how he could ever fancy me, while he might have hoped there was a possibility of winning you."
"'Twould have been a much more suitable match," said Lora. "Though I'd have preferred the one in contemplation, except that in the other case, she would not be carried quite away from us. But suppose we proceed to business. We should have a double wedding, I think."
"Oh, don't talk of it yet," said Rose, with a slight tremble in her voice, and looking at Elsie's flushed, conscious face with eyes full of unshed tears. "Adelaide's is to be within the next two months, and—we cannot give up Elsie so suddenly."
"Of course not," said Adelaide; "and I should have serious objections to being used as a foil to Elsie's youth and beauty."
The Howards and Mr. Travilla stayed to tea, and shortly before that meal the party was increased by the arrival of Walter Dinsmore and Mrs. Dick Percival.
Enna had lost flesh and color; and long indulgence of a fretful, peevish temper had drawn down the corners of her mouth, lined her forehead, and left its ugly pencilings here and there over the once pretty face, so that it already began to look old and care-worn. She was very gayly dressed, in the height of the fashion, and rather overloaded with jewelry; but powder and rouge could not altogether conceal the ravages of discontent and passion. She was conscious of the fact, and inwardly dwelt with mortification and chagrin upon the contrast presented by her own faded face to that of Elsie, so fair and blooming, so almost childish in its sweet purity and innocence of expression.
"So you are single yet," Enna said, with a covert sneer; "and not likely to marry either, so far as I've been able to learn. They'll soon begin to call you an old maid."
"Will they?" said Mr. Dinsmore, with a laugh in which all present joined, Enna herself excepted; "well, if she is a fair specimen of that much-abused class, they are far more attractive than is generally supposed."
"You needn't laugh," said Enna; "I was four years younger than she is now, when I married. I wasn't going to wait till they began to call me an old maid."
"To bear that reproach is not the worst calamity that can befall a woman," replied Mr. Dinsmore gravely; then changed the subject by a kind inquiry in regard to Arthur.
"Slowly and steadily improving," answered Walter. "The doctors are now satisfied that he is not permanently crippled, though he still uses a crutch."
"Mutual love, the crown of all our bliss." —MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
After a half hour of waiting for her son's return, Mrs. Travilla sat down to her lonely cup of tea. There was no lack of delicacies on the table, and in all Edward's taste had been consulted. To make him comfortable and happy was, next to serving her God, the great aim and object of his mother's life; and, in a less degree, of that of every servant in the house. They had all been born and brought up at Ion, and had all these years known him as the kindest, most reasonable and considerate of masters.
"Wish Massa Edard come. Dese waffles jes' prime to-night, an' he so fond ob dem," remarked a pretty mulatto girl, handing a plate of them to her mistress.
"Yes, Prilla, he expected to be at home, but is probably taking tea at the Oaks or Roselands." And the old lady supped her tea and ate her waffles with a serene, happy face, now and then lighted up by a pleased smile which her attendant handmaiden was at a loss to interpret.
Having finished her meal, Mrs. Travilla threw a shawl about her shoulders and stepped out upon the veranda; then, tempted by the beauty of the night, walked down the avenue to meet her son or see if there were any signs of his approach.
She had not gone half the distance ere the sound of horses' hoofs reached her ear—distant at first but coming rapidly nearer, till a lady and gentleman drew rein at the gate, while the servant who had been riding in the rear dismounted and threw it open.
They came dashing up, but paused and drew rein again at sight of the old lady standing there under the trees.
"Mother," cried her son, springing from the saddle, "you were not alarmed? anxious? surely."
"No, no, Edward, but glad to see you and Elsie! my dear child, this is very kind."
"Not at all, dear Mrs. Travilla; it is so lovely an evening for a ride; or walk either," she added, giving her hand to her escort and springing lightly to the ground.
Mr. Travilla put the hand into that of his mother. "Take her to your heart, mother; she is mine—ours!" he said, in low tones tremulous with joy.
The old lady folded the slight girlish form to her breast for a moment, with a silence more eloquent than words.
"Thank God! thank God!" she murmured at length. "He has given me my heart's desire;" and mingled caresses and tears fell upon Elsie's face. "For many years I have loved you as my own child, and now I am to have you. How bright our home will be, Edward. But we are darkening another. Her father; can he—has he——"
"He has given her to me," answered the son quickly, "and she has—we have given ourselves to each other. Let me give an arm to each of you and we will go into the house."
* * * * *
The veranda at the Oaks was deserted, and the house very quiet, though lights still shone here and there, as Mr. Travilla and Elsie rode up and dismounted on their return from Ion.
A servant rose from the grass, where he had been lying at his ease; came forward and led away his young mistress's pony, while the lover bade her a tender good-night, sprang into the saddle again, and presently disappeared, lost to view amid the trees and the windings of the road, though the sound of horse's hoofs still came faintly to Elsie's ear as she stood intently listening, a sweet smile irradiating every feature.
Absorbed in her own thoughts, and in the effort to catch those fast-retreating sounds, she did not hear a step approaching from behind; but an arm encircled her waist, and a low-breathed "My darling" woke her from her reverie.
She looked up, her eyes beaming with affection; "Papa; I am rather late, am I not?"
"Not very. Hark! the clock is but just striking ten. Come, let us sit down here for a little. We have hardly had a chat together to-day." He sighed slightly as he drew her closer to him.
"No, papa dear, there has been so much company," she answered, laying her head on his shoulder. "And——"
"And what?" as she paused. "Your father used to know all that concerned you one way or the other. Is he to be shut out from your confidence now? Ah, I think he must have been for some time past."
"I could not tell you that, papa," she murmured, blushing visibly in the moonlight. "Indeed, I hardly knew it myself till——"
"The night of Sophie's wedding."
"Ah!" he said, musingly; "but I cannot get over my surprise; he is your senior by so many years, and you have known him from childhood and looked upon him as a sort of uncle. I wonder at your choice."
"But you don't object, papa?"
"No, if I must give you away—and I've always known that would come some time—I would rather it should be to him than any one else, for I can never doubt that he will be tender and true to my precious one, when she leaves her father's home for his."
"Papa, papa, don't speak of it," she cried, winding her arms about his neck, "I can't bear to think of it; that our home will no longer be the same, that I can't come to you every night and be folded to your heart as I have been ever since I was a little girl."
"Well, dearest," he said, after a moment, in which he held her very close and caressed her with exceeding tenderness, "we shall not be far apart or miss passing some time together many days of the year. And you are not in haste to leave me?"
"Oh, no, no! why should I be? Please keep me a little while yet."
"I intend to: it will take at least a year to get used to the thought of doing without you, and so long Travilla must be content to wait. Nor can we give you up wholly even then; your suite of rooms shall still be yours, and you must come now and then and occupy them for days or weeks at a time.
"Now, daughter, good-night. Come to me to-morrow morning in my study, soon after breakfast, I have something more of importance to say to you."
"I shall obey, and without fear," she answered gayly, "though I remember once being quite frightened at a similar order; but that was when I was a silly little girl and didn't know how dearly my own papa loved me."
"And when he was strangely stern to his own little child," he answered, with another tender caress.
"So fair that had you beauty's picture took, It must like her, or not like beauty look." —ALLEYN'S HENRY VII.
Elsie paused at the half-open door of her father's private room.
Mr. Dinsmore, like most men, was fond of light and air; through the wide open windows the morning breeze stole softly in, laden with sweets from garden and lawn, and the rich carpet of oak and green was flecked with gold where the sunbeams came shimmering down between the fluttering leaves of a beautiful vine that had festooned itself about the one looking to the east.
Mr. Dinsmore was seated at his desk with a pile of papers before him—legal documents in appearance; he would open one, glance over its contents, lay it aside, and take up another only to treat it in like manner.
Elsie stood but a moment watching him with loving, admiring eyes, then gliding noiselessly across the floor, dropped gracefully at his feet and laying her folded hands upon his knee looked up into his face with an arch, sweet smile.
"Mon pere, I have come for my lecture, or whatever you have laid up in store for me," she announced with mock gravity and a slight tremble of pretended fear in her voice.
Dropping the paper he held, and passing one hand caressingly over her shining hair, "My darling, how very, very lovely you are!" he said, the words bursting spontaneously from his lips; "there is no flaw in your beauty, and your face beams with happiness."
"Papa turned flatterer!" she cried, springing up and allowing him to draw her to his knee.
"I'm waiting for the lecture," she said presently, "you know I always like to have disagreeable things over as soon as possible."
"Who told you there was to be a lecture?"
"What have you been doing that you feel entitles you to one?"
"I don't remember."
"Nor I either. So let us to business. Here, take this chair beside me. Do you know how much you are worth?"
"Not precisely, sir," she answered demurely, taking the chair and folding her hands pensively in her lap; "but very little, I presume, since you have given me away for nothing."
"By no means," he said, with a slight smile of amusement at her unwonted mood. "It was for your own happiness, which is no trifle in my esteem. But you belong to me still."
She looked at him with glistening eyes. "Thank you, dearest papa; yes, I do belong to you and always shall. Please excuse my wilful misunderstanding of your query. I do not know how much money and other property I own, but have an idea it is a million more or less."
"My dear child!—it is fully three times that."
"Papa! is it indeed?"
"Yes, it was about a million at the time of your Grandfather Grayson's death, and has increased very much during your mamma's minority and yours; which you know has been a very long one. You own several stores and a dwelling house in New Orleans, a fine plantation with between two and three hundred negroes, and I have invested largely for you in stocks of various kinds both in your own country and in England. I wish you to examine all the papers, certificates of stock, bonds, deeds, mortgages, and so forth."
"Oh, papa!" she cried, lifting her hands in dismay, "what a task. Please excuse me. You know all about it, and is not that sufficient?"
"No, the property is yours; I have been only your steward, and must now render up an account to you for the way in which I have handled your property."
"You render an account to me, my own dear father," she said low and tremulously, while her face flushed crimson; "I cannot bear to hear you speak so. I am fully satisfied, and very, very thankful for all your kind care of it and of me."
He regarded her with a smile of mingled tenderness and amusement, while softly patting and stroking the small white hand laid lovingly upon his.
"Could I—could any father—do less for his own beloved child?" he asked.
"Not you, I know, papa. But may I ask you a question?"
"As many as you like."
"How much are you worth? Ah! you needn't look so quizzical. I mean how much do you own in money, land, etc.?"
"Something less than a million; I cannot tell you the exact number of dollars and cents."
"Hardly a third as much as I! It doesn't seem right. Papa, take half of mine."
"That wouldn't balance the scales either," he said laughingly; "and besides, Mr. Travilla has now some right to be consulted."
"Papa, I could never love him again, if he should object to my giving you all but a few hundred thousands."
"He would not. He says he will never touch a cent of your property; it must be settled entirely upon yourself, and subject to your control. And that is quite right; for he, too, is wealthy."
"Papa, I don't think I deserve so much; I don't want the care of so much. I do wish you would be so good as to take half for your own, and continue to manage the other half for me as you think best."
"What you deserve is not the question just now. This is one of the talents which God has given you, and I think you ought, at least for the present, to keep the principal and decide for yourself what shall be done with the interest. You are old enough now to do so, and I hope do not wish to shirk the responsibility, since God, in His good providence, has laid it upon you."
He spoke very gravely and Elsie's face reflected the expression of his.
"No, I do not wish it now, papa," she said, in a low, sweet voice. "I will undertake it, asking Him for wisdom and grace to do it aright."
They were busy for the next hour or two over the papers.
"There!" cried Elsie, at length, "we have examined the last one, and I think I understand it all pretty thoroughly."
"I think you do. And now another thing; ought you not to go and see for yourself your property in Louisiana?"
Elsie assented, on condition that he would take her.
"Certainly, my dear child, can you suppose I would ever think of permitting you to go alone?"
"Thank you, papa. And if poor mammy objects this time, she may take her choice of going or staying; but go I must, and see how my poor people are faring at Viamede. I have dim, dreamy recollections of it as a kind of earthly paradise. Papa, do you know why mammy has always been so distressed whenever I talked of going there?"
"Painful associations, no doubt. Poor creature! it was there her husband—an unruly negro belonging to a neighboring planter—was sold away from her, and there she lost her children, one by accidental drowning, the others by some epidemic disease. Your own mother, too, died there, and Chloe I think never loved one of her own children better."
"No, I'm sure not. But she never told me of her husband and children, and I thought she had never had any. And now, papa, that we are done with business for the present, I have a request to make."
"Well, daughter, what is it?"
"That you will permit me to renew my old intimacy with Lucy Carrington; or at least to call on her. You remember she was not well enough to be at the wedding; she is here at Ashlands with her baby. Mr. and Mrs. Carrington called here yesterday while you were out, and both urged me not to be ceremonious with Lucy, as she is hardly well enough to make calls and is longing to see me."
"And what answer did you give them?" he asked with some curiosity.
"That I should do so if possible; that meant if I could obtain your permission, papa."
"You have it. Lucy is in some sort taken into the family now, and you are safely engaged; to say nothing of your mature years," he added laughingly, as she seated herself on his knee again and thanked him with a hug and kiss.
"You dear good papa!"
"Some girls of your age, heiresses in their own right, would merely have said, 'I'm going,' never asking permission."
"Ah, but I like to be ruled by you. So please don't give it up. Now about Enna?"
"If I had any authority in the matter, I should say, you shall not give her a cent. She doesn't deserve it from you or any one."
"Then I shall wait till you change your mind."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head. "Ah! my little girl, you don't realize how much some one else's opinions will soon weigh with you," he answered, putting an arm about her and looking with fatherly delight into the sweet face.
"Ah, papa!" she cried, laying her cheek to his, "please don't talk so; it hurts me."
"Then, dearest, I shall not say it again, though indeed I was not reproaching you; it is right, very right, that husband and wife should be more than all the world beside to each other."
Elsie's cheek crimsoned. "It has not come to that yet, father dear," she murmured, half averting her blushing face; "and—I don't know which of you I love best—or how I could ever do without either: the love differs in kind rather than in degree."
He drew her closer. "Thank you, my darling; what more could I ask or desire?" A slight tap on the door and Mrs. Dinsmore looked in. "Any admittance?" she asked playfully.
"Always to my wife," answered her husband, releasing Elsie and rising to hand Rose a chair.
"Thanks, my dear, but I haven't time to sit down," she said. "Here is a note of invitation for us all to spend the day at Roselands. Shall we go?"
"Certainly, if it suits you, Rose," replied Mr. Dinsmore; "and Elsie;" he added, "will you go, daughter?"
"If you wish it, papa," she answered cheerfully; yet there was a slight reluctance in her tone.
He gave her a kind, fond look. "You are your own mistress, and can accept or decline as your judgment and wishes dictate."
"But you would rather have me go, papa?"
"I would, because it would seem more kind and courteous. But what is the objection in your mind? Perhaps it could be removed."
"I wanted so much to see Lucy this morning," Elsie answered with a blush; "but to-morrow will do."
"But both might be accomplished if mamma and Adelaide like to have Caesar drive them and the little ones over to Roselands. Then you and I will mount our horses and away to Ashlands for a call, leaving there in good time to join the dinner party at Roselands. How will that do?"
"Oh, bravely, you dear darling papa! always contriving for my enjoyment."
Mr. Dinsmore followed his wife from the room. "'Twill be an early return of Carrington's call," he said, "but I have a little business with him."
"Yes, I'm very glad: it is a good plan; but don't hurry Elsie away. She and Lucy will want a long talk."
"I promise to be careful to obey orders," he answered, sportively. "Is that all?"
"Yes; only see that you don't stay too long, and keep the dinner waiting at Roselands."
"Mamma," asked Elsie, bringing up the rear as they entered the sitting-room, "can't you go, too—you and Aunt Adelaide? Four make as nice a party as two, and the babies can be driven over quite safely, with their mammies, to take care of them."
"No," said Rose, "I never accept such late invitations; I shall——"
"My dear," said her husband, "we would be very glad."
"No, no; the first arrangement is decidedly the best;" putting on an air of pretended pique.
"Babies! do you call me a baby?" cried young Horace, who had sprung to his feet with a flash of indignation in his great black eyes, "I'm nine years old, Elsie. Rosie there's the only baby belonging to this house. Do you think papa would let a baby have a pony like Gip? and a pistol of his own, too?"
Elsie put her arms round his neck, and gave him a kiss, "I beg ten thousand pardons."
"Elsie, my daughter, don't allow yourself to speak so extravagantly," interrupted her father.
"I will try not, papa," she answered. "I beg your pardon, Horace dear, and assure you I think you are quite a manly young man. Now I must prepare for my ride, papa. I shall be ready by the time the horses can be brought to the door."
"Papa," said Horace, as the door closed upon his sister, "may I ride Gip to-day?"
"If you promise me to keep close beside the carriage."
"Oh, papa, can't I ride on ahead a little, now and then, or fall a few paces behind if I wish?"
"No; you may do just what I have given permission for, and nothing else."
"Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, In ev'ry gesture, dignity and love." —MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
"But, Elsie, what of Mr. Travilla?" asked her father, as he handed her into the saddle.
"He will not be here till evening, sir," she answered, the rose on her cheek deepening slightly.
"Then I can have undisturbed possession for to-day at least," replied Mr. Dinsmore, mounting. "We couldn't have a lovelier day for a ride."
"Nor better company," added Elsie, archly, keeping her horse's head on a line with that of her father's larger Steed, as they followed the winding carriage road at a brisk canter.
"Why, you conceited little puss?" returned Mr. Dinsmore laughing.
Elsie blushed more deeply this time. "Why, papa, you are the company to-day, are you not? I wished to go, and you kindly arranged to accompany me."
"Ah! and that is how you look at it? Well, I recall my rebuke, and thank you for your—what shall I say—pretty compliment, or appreciation of my society?"
"Both, if you like. Oh, how nice it is to be at home again in our own dear native land."
"And what do you call your own dear native land?"
"What a strange question, papa! The great, grand old Union to be sure—North and South, East and West—is it not all mine? Have you not taught me so yourself?"
"Yes," he said musingly.
They rode on in silence for some minutes, and when he spoke again, it was upon a subject entirely foreign to the last.
"The place looks natural," he remarked, as they turned into the avenue leading to the fine old dwelling of the Carringtons.
"How kind, how very kind, to come so soon!" was Mrs. Carrington's cordial, joyful salutation. "Mr. Dinsmore, I owe you a thousand thanks for not only permitting your daughter to come, but bringing her yourself."
"You are very welcome, my dear madam," he answered courteously; "and, indeed, I should like to see Mrs. Rose myself, when she is well enough and feels that it will be agreeable to her."
A few moments' chat in the drawing-room, and Mr. Dinsmore drew out his watch. "How long a talk do you want with your friend to-day, Elsie?" he asked.
"Oh, just as long as I can be allowed, papa!" she cried, with much of the old childish eagerness.
"Then the sooner you begin, the better, I think, for we ought to be on our way to Roselands in an hour, or an hour and a quarter at the farthest."
Upon that the gentlemen retired to the library to talk over business matters, and Mrs. Carrington led the way for Elsie to Lucy's room. But pausing in the upper hall, she took the young girl in her arms, folding her in a close, loving embrace, and heaping upon her tearful, tender, silent caresses.
"My poor boy! my poor dear Herbert," she murmured at length, as she released her hold. "Darling, I can never forget that you might have been my daughter. But there—I will leave you. Lucy occupies her old rooms, and yonder is her door; you know the way."
"But come in with me, dear Mrs. Carrington," urged Elsie, the tears shining in her eyes.
"No, dear, not just yet. Lucy would prefer to see you quite alone at first, I know." And she glided away in the opposite direction.
A soft, cooing sound came to Elsie's ear, mingled with fondling words, in a negro voice, as she stood an instant waiting admittance. Lucy, a good deal paler and thinner than the Lucy of old, lay back in an easy chair, languidly turning the leaves of a new magazine.
"Open the door, mammy," she said, "I thought I heard a rap." Then at sight of Elsie, the magazine was hastily tossed aside, and with a cry of joy, "Oh, you darling! I thought I'd never see you again," she sprang forward, caught her friend in a close embrace, and wept upon her neck.
Elsie soothed her with caresses and words of endearment, and presently she calmed down, made her friend take a seat, and sinking back into her own, wiped away the tears still welling up in her eyes, and with a little hysterical laugh said, "Please don't look so concerned, or think I'm unhappy with my dear old Phil, or going to die, or any such nonsense: it's just my nerves; hateful, torturing things! I wish I'd never found out I had any."
"You poor dear, I'm so sorry for your lost health," said Elsie, exchanging her chair for a low ottoman at Lucy's feet, and taking the small thin hands in hers, stroking and patting them caressingly; "I know nerves won't be reasoned with, and that tears are often a great relief."
"And I've everything to make me happy," sobbed Lucy—"the best husband in the world, and the darlingest of babies, to say nothing of mamma and papa, and the rest, and really almost everything one could desire."
"Oh, the baby, yes!" cried Elsie, turning towards it with eager interest; "the sweet, pretty darling. May I take him a moment, Lucy?"
"Certainly, if he's not too heavy—bring him here, mammy. I remember your father would not allow you to lift or carry little Horace."
"Ah, but that was years ago! Ah, how lovely he is!" as the babe accepted her mute invitation to come to her. "You are rich indeed, with this treasure added to all your others. And you and your Phil don't quarrel yet?"
"No indeed! not the first cross word yet. Mamma calls us her turtle-doves: says we're always billing and cooing. Ah, Elsie, how beautiful you are! I've always thought you just as lovely as possible, yet there's an added something—I can't divine what—that increases even your peerless attractions."
"O Lucy, Lucy, still a flatterer!" laughed her friend.
"Yet you've come back to us single," Lucy went on, ignoring the interruption, "though we all know you had ever so many good offers. Pray, do you intend to remain single all your days?"
At that, Elsie's face dimpled all over with blushes and smiles.
Lucy signed to the nurse to take the babe, and as the woman walked away with it in her arms, turned eagerly to her friend.
"Now do tell me; for I'm sure you are not going to live single. Shall we have the pleasure of hailing you as duchess yet?"
"No, Lucy; I intend to marry; am actually engaged, but not to a foreigner."
"Dear me! I don't believe I could have resisted the title. That is," she added, hastily, "if I'd been heart-whole like you: but after seeing my Phil, of course I wouldn't give him up for all the nobles in Europe, Asia, and Africa. But do tell me who is the fortunate man?"
"Suppose you try your skill at guessing."
"Perfectly useless, never had any. It must be somebody I don't know."
"My good little woman, you know him well."
"Either of Harry's brothers-in-law? Richard? Harold?"
"No, no, no; you are wide of the mark! Could you suppose papa would ever consent to such a mixture of relationships? Why, it would make papa my brother and mamma's brother her son-in-law."
"So it would. Well, I give it up and beg of you to put a speedy end to my suspense."
Lucy bent her head to listen, and Elsie murmured the name low and softly, the rose deepening on her cheek as she spoke. For a moment Lucy seemed struck dumb with astonishment. Then, "Elsie!" she exclaimed, "I can't believe it; you are only jesting."
Elsie shook her head with a low, musical, happy laugh.
"He's splendid, I don't deny that; but then—only think—your father's most intimate friend from boyhood up; and almost as old."
"Some people seem like wine—to improve with age. But Mr. Travilla is not old to me now. He has been standing still, I believe, while I have grown up to him."
"And you really are in love with him?"
"He has all my heart, all the love I could give to any one, and I respect, honor, and trust him as I do no one else but my father."
"And that reminds me; I was so afraid your father would not let you come to see me. But—you are your own mistress now, of course."
"Papa tells me so sometimes," laughed Elsie, "and yet I know he would be greatly surprised should I take the liberty of doing anything he would not approve. I asked his permission to come, and he not only gave consent but brought me himself."
"That was good in him; but I hope he won't hurry you away. I want to hear about your European conquests, and have ever so much to say besides."
"No, he has kindly promised me time for a long talk. Besides, I can ride over any day and supplement it with another."
Mr. Dinsmore was as good as his word; their chat had lasted more than an hour when his summons came, yet Lucy declared it had not been half long enough, and would not be satisfied to let Elsie go without a promise to come again very soon.
* * * * *
"Roselands, too, looks very natural, and very homelike," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, as they rode up its avenue.
"Yes, papa; and yet, do you know, it seems to me it has grown smaller and less grand since I lived here as a child."
"Ah! did you think it very grand then, daughter?" he asked, turning to her with a smile.
"I believe so, papa; but it is beautiful yet, even after all the fine places we have seen in our own country and Europe."
Adelaide met them at the door. "Just in time," she said, "for there is the dressing-bell. Your own old room, Elsie dear: you know the way and will find Aunt Chloe in waiting. Horace, you will make yourself at home of course."
It was strictly a family party, sociable and informal. Elsie had not met Arthur since their return, and at the first moment scarcely recognized him in the moustached and bewhiskered young man who rose and came forward, with a slight limp, to meet her as she entered the drawing-room.
"How do you do?" he said, holding out his right hand, while steadying himself with a cane held in the left. "I hope you're glad to get back to America?"
"Arthur, is it? Yes; thank you: and I'm very glad your injuries have proved less serious than was at first feared," she said, kindly meeting his advances half-way.
"Oh yes," he replied, with attempted nonchalance, "I shall be all right by and by."
Then retreating to the seat from which he had just risen, the corner of a sofa by the side of his sister Adelaide, his eye following Elsie as she crossed the room to pay her respects to her grandfather and others. "What on earth you call that girl little for, I can't imagine," he remarked in an undertone; "why she's quite above the average height; graceful as a young fawn, too; splendid figure, and actually the most beautiful face I ever saw. I don't wonder she turned the heads of lords and dukes on the other side of the water. But what do you call her little for?"
"I hardly know, Art; with me it's a term of endearment more than anything else, I believe," replied his sister; "but there is something in the expression of her face—something that has always been there, a sweet simplicity and innocence—that moves one to a sort of protecting love as to a little one who has not yet attained sufficient worldly wisdom to take care of herself."
Old Mr. Dinsmore greeted his lovely granddaughter almost affectionately, holding her hand in his for a moment, and looking from her to her father. "Really, she's a girl to be proud of, Horace," he said with a paternal smile. "But I've no need to tell you that."
"No, she is not bad looking," observed his wife with a slight sneer; "few girls would be in such elegant attire; but it surprises me to see that, with all her advantages and opportunities for improvement, she has not yet lost that baby expression she always had. She'll never be half the woman Enna is."
The days were past in which the lady mother had gloried in the fact that anywhere Enna would have been taken for the elder of the two; and now the contrast between her faded, fretful face and Elsie's fresh bloom was a sore trial to madam's love, and pride in her household pet.
But no one deemed it necessary to reply to the unpleasant remark. Elsie only smiled up into her father's face as he came forward and stood at her side, and meeting his look of loving content and pride in her, just as she was, and calling to mind how fully satisfied with her was another, whose loving approbation was no less precious, turned away with a half-breathed sigh of heartfelt happiness, finished her greetings, and, the dinner-bell ringing at that moment, accepted Walter's offered arm to the dining-room.
Arthur was more and more charmed with his niece as he noted the modest ease and grace of her manners, both at the table, and afterwards in the drawing-room; listened to her music—greatly improved under the instructions of some of the first masters of Europe—and her conversation with his father and others, in which she almost unconsciously revealed rich stores of varied information gathered from books, the discourse of the wise and learned met in her travels, and her own keen yet kindly observations of men and things. These, with the elegance of her diction, and the ready play of wit and fancy, made her a fascinating talker.
Contrary to Elsie's expectations, it was decided by the elders of the party that all should remain to tea.
As the others returned to the drawing-room on leaving the table, she stole out upon the moonlighted veranda. Gazing wistfully down the avenue, was she thinking of one probably even then on his way to the Oaks—thinking of him and his disappointment at not finding her here?
"It's a nice night, this," remarked Arthur's voice at her side, "I say, Elsie, suppose we bury the hatchet, you and I."
"I never had any enmity towards you, Arthur," she answered, still gazing straight before her.
"Well, it's odd if you hadn't; I gave you cause enough, as you did me by your niggardly refusal to lend me a small sum, on occasions when I was hard up. But I'm willing to let by-gones be by-gones, if you are."
"Certainly; I should be glad to forget all that has been unpleasant in the past."
"You have improved wonderfully since I saw you last: you were a pretty girl then, but now you are without exception the most superbly beautiful, graceful, accomplished, and intelligent woman I ever saw."
"I do not like flattery, Arthur," she answered, turning coldly away.
"Pooh! the truth's never flattery; I declare if we were not so nearly related, I'd marry you myself."
"You forget," she said, half scornfully, "that it takes two to make a bargain; three in this case; and two of us would never consent."
"Nonsense! I'd soon manage it by clever courting. A man can always get the woman he wants if he's only sufficiently determined."
"In that you are mistaken. But why broach so disagreeable a subject, since we are so nearly related that the very thought seems almost a sin and a crime?"
"And so you're going to throw yourself away on old Travilla?"
Elsie faced him with flashing eyes. "No; it will be no throwing away of myself, nor will I allow him to be spoken of in such disrespectful terms, in my presence."
"Humph!" laughed Arthur. "Well, I've found out how to make you angry, at all events. And I'm free to confess I don't like Travilla, or forgive him all old scores."
Elsie scarcely seemed to hear. A horse was coming at a quiet canter up the avenue. Both the steed and his rider wore a familiar aspect, and the young girl's heart gave a joyous bound as the latter dismounted, throwing the reins to a servant, and came up the steps into the veranda.
She glided towards him; there was an earnest, tender clasping of hands, a word or two of cordial greeting, and they passed into the house and entered the drawing room.
"Humph! not much sentiment there; act towards each other pretty much as they always have," said Arthur to himself, taking a cigar from his pocket and lighting it with a match. "I wonder now what's the attraction to her for an old codger like that," he added watching the smoke as it curled lazily up from the end of his Havana.
There was indeed nothing sentimental in the conduct of Mr. Travilla or Elsie: deep, true, heartfelt happiness there was on both sides, but calm and quiet, indulging in little demonstration, except when they were quite alone with each other. There was no secret made of the engagement, and it was soon known to all their friends and acquaintance. Mr. Travilla had always been in the habit of visiting the Oaks daily, and finding himself very much at home there; and he continued to come and go as formerly, all welcoming him with great cordiality, making him, if possible, more one of themselves than ever, while there was little change in Elsie's manner, except that all her late reserve had fled, and given place to the old ease and freedom, the sweet, affectionate confidences of earlier days.
Mr. Dinsmore's determination to delay the marriage for a year was decidedly a keen disappointment to the middle-aged lover, who had already endured so long and patient a waiting for his prize; yet so thankful and joyous was he that he had at last won her for his own, that, finding remonstrance and entreaties alike unavailing, he presently accepted the conditions with a very good grace, comforting himself with the certainty of the permanence of her love. Elsie had no coquettish arts, was simple-hearted, straightforward, and true, as in her childhood, and their confidence in each other was unbounded.
"Joy never feasts so high As when the first course is of misery." —SUCKLING.
Adelaide's marriage was fixed for Christmas eve, and Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie decided to take their trip to Louisiana at once, that they might be able to return in season for the wedding, at which Elsie was to be first bridesmaid.
It was Elsie herself who broke the news of her intended journey to her faithful old nurse, explaining why she felt it her duty to go, and kindly leaving to Chloe's own decision whether she would accompany her or not.
The dusky face grew very sad for a moment, tears springing to the dark eyes; but the voice was almost cheerful as she answered, "Yes, you's right, honey darlin' you's all right to go and see 'bout dem poor souls and let 'em see dere beau'ful young missus; and your ole mammy 'll go 'long too, for she neber could stay and let her chile run all dem risks on de boats an' cars an' she no dar to take care ob her."
"That's right, my own dear old mammy. I shall be glad to have you along, and hope you will find it pleasanter than you expect; but we must trust the Lord to take care of us all; for He only can prevent the accidents you fear."
"Yes, yes, honey, dat's de truff; an' we'll trust Him an' not be 'fraid, 'cause don't He say, 'Not a hair ob your head shall perish.'"
"'What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee,'" murmured Elsie, softly. "Ah, the joy, the peace, of knowing that His presence and His love will ever go with us everywhere; and that He has all power in heaven and in earth."
A week later, Mr. Dinsmore was showing his daughter the beauties of New Orleans, where they had arrived without accident or loss. They remained in the city long enough to attend thoroughly to the business which had called them there, and to see everything worth looking at.
Elsie's plantation was in the Teche country, the very loveliest part of grand old Louisiana. In order that suitable preparations might be made for their reception, word had been sent that they might be expected on a certain day.
"We have allowed more time than necessary for this place," said Mr. Dinsmore to his daughter one evening on returning to their hotel, after seeing the last of the lions of the Crescent City; "we have two days to spare; what shall be done in them?"
"Let us go on to Viamede at once then, papa," replied Elsie, promptly. "I have been regretting that we sent notice of our coming. I doubt if it would not have been wiser to take them by surprise."
"There would not be the same preparations for your comfort," replied her father, taking a seat by her on the sofa, for they were in their own private parlor; "you may find unaired bed-linen and an empty larder, which, beside inconveniencing yourself, would sorely mortify and trouble Aunt Phillis and her right-hand woman, Sarah, the cook."
"I should be sorry you should have an inhospitable reception, papa, but fires are soon kindled and linen aired, and is not the pantry kept supplied with canned and preserved fruits? and are there not fresh fruits, vegetables, chickens, and eggs at hand for immediate use?"
"Yes, certainly; and we are not likely to suffer. We Will, then, leave here to-morrow, if you wish, taking the steamer for Berwick Bay. But why prefer to come upon them unexpectedly?"
Elsie smiled, and blushed slightly. "You know I never have any concealments from you, papa, and I will be frank about this," she said. "I don't think I apt to be suspicious, and yet the thought has come to me several times within the last few days, that the overseer has had every opportunity to abuse my poor people if he happens to be of a cruel disposition. And if he is ill-treating them I should like to catch him at it," she added, her eyes kindling, and the color deepening on her cheek.
"And what would you do in that case?" her lather asked, with a slight smile, drawing her close to him and touching his lips to the blooming cheek.
"Dismiss him, I suppose, papa; I don't know what else I could do to punish him or prevent further cruelties. I should not like to shoot him down," she added, laughingly; "and I doubt if I should have strength to flog him."
"Doubt?" laughed her father, "certainly you could not, single-handed; unless his politeness should lead him to refrain from any effort to defend himself; and I, it would seem, am not expected to have anything to do with the matter."
A deeper blush than before now suffused Elsie's fair cheek. "Forgive me, dear papa," she said, laying her head on his shoulder, and fondly stroking his face with her pretty white hand. "Please consider yourself master there as truly as at the Oaks, and as you have been for years; and understand that your daughter means to take no important step without your entire approval."
"No, I do not go there as master, but as your guest," he answered, half playfully, half tenderly.
"My guest? That seems pleasant indeed, papa; and yet I want you to be master too. But you will at least advise me?"
"To the best of my ability, my little girl."
"Thank you, my dear kind father. I have another reason for wishing to start to-morrow. I'm growing anxious and impatient to see my birthplace again: and," she added low and tenderly, "mamma's grave."
"Yes, we will visit it together for the first time; though I have stood there alone again and again, and her baby daughter used to be taken there frequently to scatter flowers over it and play beside it. Do you remember that?"
"Yes, sir, as an almost forgotten dream, as I do the house and grounds and some of the old servants who petted and humored me."
While father and daughter conversed thus together in the parlor, a dusky figure sat at a window in the adjoining bedroom, gazing out upon the moonlighted streets and watching the passers-by. But her thoughts, too, were straying to Viamede; fast-coming memories of earlier days, some all bright and joyous, others filled with the gloom and thick darkness of a terrible anguish, made her by turns long for and dread the arrival at her journey's end.
A light touch on her shoulder, and she turned to find her young mistress at her side.
"My poor old mammy, I bring you news you will be sorry to hear," said Elsie, seating herself upon the ample lap, and laying her arm across the broad shoulders.
"What dat, honey?"
"We start to-morrow for Viamede; papa has sent John to engage our passage on the steamer."
"Dat all, darlin'?" queried Chloe, with a sigh of relief, "if we's got to go, might's well go quick an' hab it ober."
"Well, I'm glad you take so sensible a view of it," remarked Elsie, relieved in her turn; "and I hope you will find much less pain and more pleasure than you expect in going back to the old home."
The next morning, as Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter sat upon the deck of the steamer, enjoying the sunlight, the breeze, and the dancing of the water, having cleared their port and gotten fairly out into the gulf, a startling incident occurred.
Chloe stood at a respectful distance, leaning over the side of the vessel, watching the play of the wheel and the rainbow in the spray that fell in showers at its every revolution. An old negro busied about the deck; drew near and addressed her:
"Well, auntie, you watchin' dat ole wheel dar? Fust time you trable on dis boat, eh?"
Chloe started at the sound of the voice, turned suddenly round and faced the speaker, her features working with emotion: one moment of earnest scrutiny on the part of both, and with a wild cry, "Aunt Chloe! my ole woman," "Uncle Joe! it can't be you," they rushed into each other's arms, and hung about each other's neck, weeping and sobbing like two children.
"Papa! what is it?" exclaimed Elsie, greatly surprised at the little scene.
"Her husband, no doubt: he's too old to be a son."
"Oh, how glad, how glad I am!" and Elsie started to her feet, her eyes full of tears, and her sweet face sparkling all over with sympathetic joy. "Papa, I shall buy him! they must never be parted again till death comes between."
A little crowd had already gathered about the excited couple, every one on deck hurrying to the spot, eager to learn the cause of the tumult of joy and grief into which the two seemed to have been so suddenly thrown.
Mr. Dinsmore rose, and giving his arm to Elsie, led her towards the throng, saying in answer to her last remark, "Better act through me, then, daughter, or you will probably be asked two or three prices."
"O papa, yes; please attend to it for me—only—only I must have him, for dear old mammy's sake, at whatever cost."
The crowd opened to the lady and gentleman as they drew near.
"My poor old mammy, what is it? whom have you found?" asked Elsie.
But Chloe was speechless with a joy so deep that it wore the aspect of an almost heart-breaking sorrow. She could only cling with choking sobs to her husband's arm. "What's all this fuss, Uncle Joe?" queried the captain. "Let go the old darkie; what's she to you?"
"My wife, sah, dat I ain't seed for twenty years, sah," replied the old man, trying to steady his trembling tones, obeying the order, but making no effort to shake off Chloe's clinging hold.
"Leave him for a little now, mammy dear; you shall never be parted again," whispered Elsie in her nurse's ear. "Come with me, and let papa talk to the captain."
Chloe obeyed, silently following her young mistress to the other side of the deck, but ever and anon turning her head to look back with wet eyes at the old wrinkled black face and white beard that to her were so dear, so charming. His eyes were following her with a look of longing, yearning affection, and involuntarily he stretched out his arms towards her.
"Off to your work, sir," ordered the captain, "and let's have no more of this nonsense."
Old Joe moved away with a patient sigh.
"The woman is your property, I presume, sir?" the captain remarked in a respectful tone, addressing Mr. Dinsmore.
"Yes, my daughter's, which amounts to the same thing," that gentleman replied in a tone of indifference; then changing the subject, made some inquiries about the speed and safety of the boat, the length of her trips, etc.
The captain answered pleasantly, showing pride in his vessel. Then they spoke of other things: the country, the crops, the weather.
"Sit down, mammy," said Elsie pityingly, as they reached the settee where she and her father had been sitting; "you are trembling so you can scarcely stand."
"O darlin', dat's true 'nuff, I'se mos' ready to drop," she said tremulously, coming down heavily upon a trunk that stood close at hand. "Oh, de good Lord hab bring me face to face wid my ole Uncle Joe; oh, I neber 'spected to see him no more in dis wicked world. But dey'll take 'im off again an' dis ole heart'll break," she added, with a bursting sob.
"No, no, mammy, you shall have him, if money can accomplish it."
"You buy 'im, darlin'? Oh, your ole mammy can neber t'ank you 'nuff!" and a low, happy laugh mingled with the choking sobs. "But dey'll ask heaps ob money."
"You shall have him, let the price be what it will," was Elsie's assurance. "See papa is bargaining with the captain now, for they look at Uncle Joe as they talk."
Chloe regarded them with eager interest; yes, they were looking at Uncle Joe, and evidently speaking of him.
"By the way," Mr. Dinsmore remarked carelessly, "does Uncle Joe belong to you? or is he merely a hired hand?"
"He's my property, sir."
"Would you like to sell?"
"I am not anxious; he's a good hand, faithful and honest: quite a religious character in fact," he concluded with a sneer; "overshoots the mark in prayin and psalm-singing. But do you want to buy?"
"Well yes; my daughter is fond of her old mammy, and for her sake would be willing to give a reasonable sum. What do you ask?"
"Make me an offer."
"Five hundred dollars."
"Five hundred? ridiculous! he's worth twice that."
"I think not, he is old—not far from seventy and will soon be past work and only a burden and expense. My offer is a good one."
"Make it seven hundred and I'll take it."
Mr. Dinsmore considered a moment. "That is too high," he said at length, "but for the sake of making two poor creatures happy, I will give it."
"Yes, a check on a New Orleans bank."
"Please walk down into the cabin then, sir, and we'll conclude the business at once."
In a few moments Mr. Dinsmore returned to his daughter's side, and placing the receipted bill of sale in her hands, asked, "Have I given too much?"
"Oh, no, papa, no indeed! I should have given a thousand without a moment's hesitation, if asked it—five, ten thousand, if need be, rather than have them parted again," she exclaimed, the bright tears shining in her eyes. "Mammy, my poor old mammy, Uncle Joe belongs to me now, and you can have him always with you as long as the Lord spares your lives."
"Now bress de Lord!" cried the old woman devoutly, raising her streaming eyes and clasped hands to heaven; "de good Lord dat hears de prayers ob His chilen's cryin' to Him when dere hearts is oberwhelmed!"
"Go break the news to Uncle Joe, mammy," said Elsie; "see, yonder he stands looking so eager and wistful."
Chloe hurried to his side, spoke a few rapid words; there was another long, clinging, tearful embrace, and they hastened to their master and mistress to pour out their thanks and blessings upon them, mingled with praises and fervent thanksgivings to the Giver of all good.
The joy and gratitude of the poor old couple were very sweet, very delightful to Elsie, and scarcely less so to her father.
"Mammy dear, I never saw you wear so happy a face," Elsie said, as Chloe returned to her after an hour or two spent in close conversation with her newly recovered spouse.
"Ah, honey, your ole mammy tinks she neber so glad in all her life!" cried the poor old creature, clasping her hands together in an ecstasy of joy and gratitude while the big tears shone in her eyes. "I'se got ole Uncle Joe back agin, an' he not de same, he bettah man, Christian man. He say, 'Aunt Chloe we uns trabble de same road now, honey: young Joe proud, angry, swearing drinkin' boy, your Ole Joe he lub de Lord an' try to sarve Him wid all he might. And de Lord good Massa. De debbil berry bad one.'"
"Dear mammy, I am very glad for you; I think nothing else could have made you so happy."
Chloe, weeping again for joy, went on to tell her young mistress that Uncle Joe had discovered a grandchild in New Orleans, Dinah by name, waiting-maid in a wealthy family.
"But how is that, mammy? Papa and I thought all your children died young."
"No, darlin', when Massa Grayson buy me in New Orleans, an' de odder gentleman buy Uncle Joe, we hab little girl four years ole, an' de ole missus keep her," sobbed Chloe, living over again the agony of the parting, "an' Dinah her chile."
"Mammy, if money will buy her, you shall have her, too," said Elsie earnestly.
The remainder of the short voyage was a happy time to the whole of our little party, Chloe, with her restored husband by her side, now looking forward to the visit to Viamede with almost unmingled pleasure.
As they passed up the bay, entered Teche Bayou and pressed on, threading their way through lake and lakelet, past plain and forest, plantation and swamp, Elsie exclaimed again and again at the beauty of the scenery. Cool shady dells carpeted with the rich growth of flowers, miles upon miles of lawns as smoothly shaven, as velvety green and as nobly shaded by magnificent oaks and magnolias, as any king's demesne; lordly villas peering through groves of orange trees, tall white, sugar-houses and the long rows of cabins of the laborers; united to form a panorama of surpassing loveliness.
"Is Viamede as lovely as that, papa?" Elsie would ask, as they steamed past one fine residence after another.
"Quite," he would reply with a smile, at length adding, "There is not a more beautiful or valuable estate in the country; as you may judge for yourself, for this is it."
"This, papa? Oh it is lovely, lovely! and everything in such perfect order," she cried delightedly as they swept on past a large sugar-house and an immense orange orchard, whose golden fruit and glossy leaves shone brightly in the slanting rays of the nearly setting sun, to a lawn as large, as thickly carpeted with smoothly shaven grass and many-hued flowers, and as finely shaded with giant oaks, graceful magnolias, and groves of orange trees, as any they had passed. The house—a grand old mansion with spacious rooms, wide cool halls and corridors—was now in full view, now half concealed by the trees and shrubbery.
The boat rounded to at a little pier opposite the dwelling, and in another moment our friends had landed, and leaving the servants to attend to the baggage were walking on towards the house.
"Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods? Draw near them then in being merciful, Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge." —SHAKESPEARE.
"Papa, it seems an earthly paradise," said Elsie, "and like a dream that I have seen all before."
"A dream that was a reality. And it is all your own, my darling," he answered with a proud, fond look into the bright animated face, keenly enjoying her pleasure.
"But what, what is going on there?" she asked, gazing intently in the direction of the negro quarter, where a large crowd of them, probably all belonging to the plantation, were assembled.
At that instant something rose in the air and descended again, and a wild shriek, a woman's wail of agony, rent the air.
Elsie flew over the ground as though she had been a winged creature, her father having to exert himself to keep pace with her. But the whip had descended again and again, another and another of those wild shrieks testifying to the sharpness of its sting, ere they were near enough to interfere.
So taken up with the excitement of the revolting scene were all present, that the landing and the approach of our friends had not been observed until Elsie, nearing the edge of the crowd, called out in a voice of authority, and indignation, "Stop! not another blow!"
The crowd parted, showing a middle-aged negress stripped to the waist and tied to a whipping post, writhing and sobbing with pain and terror, while a white man stood over her with a horse-whip in his uplifted hand, stayed in mid-air by the sudden appearance of those in authority over him.
"How dare you! how dare you!" cried Elsie, stamping her foot, and drawing a long, sobbing breath. "Take her down this instant."
"Mr. Spriggs, what is the meaning of this?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, in tones of calm displeasure; "did I not forbid all cruel punishment on this estate?"
"I've got to make 'em work; I'm bound they shall, and nothing but the whip'll do it with this lazy wretch," muttered Spriggs, dropping his whip and stepping back a little, while two stalwart fellows obeyed Elsie's order to take the woman down, a murmur at the same time running from lip to lip, "It's Marse Dinsmore, and our young missus."
Elsie shuddered and wept at sight of the bleeding back and shoulders. "Cover her up quickly, and take her away where she can lie down and rest," she said to the women who were crowding round to greet and welcome herself. "I will speak to you all afterwards, I'm glad to be here among you." Then leaning over the sufferer for an instant, with fast-dropping tears, "Be comforted," she said, in tones of gentle compassion, "you shall never have this to endure again."
"Come, daughter, speak to these eager people, and let us go into the house," said Mr. Dinsmore.
"Yes, papa, in one moment."
Drawing herself up to her full height, and flashing one look of scorn and indignation out of her dark eyes upon the crest-fallen Spriggs, she addressed him with the air of a queen. "You, sir, will meet me in the library at eight o'clock this evening."
Turning to the men, "Dig up that post, and split it into kindling-wood for the kitchen fire."
Her father, while shaking hands with the blacks, speaking a kindly word to each, regarded her with mingled curiosity and admiration; thoroughly acquainted with his child as he had believed himself to be, he now saw her in a new character.
She took his arm, and he felt that she was trembling very much. He supported her tenderly, while the women flocked about them, eagerly welcoming her to Viamede; kissing her hand, and declaring with tears in their eyes, that it was just their "dear dead young missus come back to them, like a beautiful white angel."
The first who claimed her attention, introduced herself as "Aunt Phillis de housekeepah. An' I'se got eberyting ready for you, honey; de beds is aired, de fires laid in de drawin'-room, an' library, an' sleepin' rooms, an' de pantry full ob the nicest tings dis chile an' ole Aunt Sally know how to cook; an' I sent Jack right to de house to start de fires de fust minute dese ole eyes catch sight ob massa an' young missus, an' knows dey heyah."
"My dear child, all this is quite too much for you," said Mr. Dinsmore, attempting to draw his daughter away.
"Just a moment, papa, please," she answered in a slightly unsteady voice; "let me speak to them all." He yielded, but cut short the garrulity of some who would have liked to mingle reminiscences of her baby-hood with their rejoicing over her return, telling them they must reserve such communication for a more suitable time, as their young mistress was faint and weary, and must have rest.
The appearance of Chloe and her recovered husband upon the scene, now created a diversion in their favor, and he presently succeeded in leading Elsie to the house.
A young mulatto girl followed them into the drawing-room, where a bright wood-fire was blazing on the hearth, asking if she should take Miss Elsie's things.
"Yes," Mr. Dinsmore said, removing his daughter's hat and shawl, and handing them to her.
She left the room; and taking Elsie in his arms, and gently laying her head upon his breast, "Let the tears have their way, darling," he said, "it will do you good."
For several minutes the tears came in floods. "Oh, papa," she sobbed, "to think that my people, my poor people, should be so served. It must never, never be again!"
"No," he said, "we will find means to prevent it. There, you feel better now, do you not?"
"Yes, sir. Papa dear, welcome, welcome to my house; the dearest guest that could come to it." And wiping away her tears, she lifted her loving eyes to his, a tender smile playing about the sweet lips.
"Save one," he answered half-playfully, passing his hand caressingly over her hair, and bending down to press his lips on brow, and cheeks, and mouth. "Is not that so?"
"No, my own dear father, save none," with a charming blush, but eyes looking steadily into his; "when he comes, it shall be as master, not guest. But now tell me, please, what can I do with this Spriggs? I should like to pay him a month's wages in advance, and start him off early to-morrow morning."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head gravely. "It would not do, my child. The sugar-making season will shortly begin; he understands the business thoroughly; we could not supply his place at a moment's notice, or probably in a number of months, and the whole crop would be lost. We must not be hasty or rash, but remember the Bible command, 'Let your moderation be known unto all men.' Nor should we allow ourselves to judge the man too hardly."
"Too hardly, papa! too hardly, when he has shown himself so cruel! But I beg pardon for interrupting you."
"Yes, too hardly, daughter. He is a New Englander, used to see every one about him working with steady, persevering industry, and the indolent, dawdling ways of the blacks, which we take as a matter of course, are exceedingly trying to him. I think he has been very faithful to your interests, and that probably his desire and determination to see them advanced to the utmost, led, more than anything else, to the act which seems to us so cruel."
"And could he suppose that I would have blood wrung from my poor people that a few more dollars might find their way into my purse?" she cried in indignant sorrow and anger. "Oh, papa, I am not so cruel, you know I am not."
"Yes, my darling, I know you have a very tender, loving heart."
"But what shall I do with Spriggs?"
"For to-night, express your sentiments and feelings on the subject as calmly and moderately as you can, and enjoin it upon him to act in accordance with them. Then we may consider at our leisure what further measures can be taken."
"Papa, you are so much wiser and better than I," she said, with loving admiration, "I'm afraid if you had not been here to advise me, I should have sent him away at once, with never a thought of crops or anything except securing my people from his cruelties."
"You should never allow yourself to act from mere impulse, except it be unquestionably a right one, and the case admitting of no time for deliberation. As to my superior wisdom," he added with a smile, "I have lived some years longer than you, and had more experience in the management of business matters."
"I am very sorry, my darling, that the pleasure of your return to the home of your infancy should be so marred. But you have scarcely taken a look yet at even this room. What do you think of it?"
She glanced about her with freshly aroused curiosity and interest. "Papa, it is just to my taste!"
The firelight gleamed upon rare old cabinets, gems of art in painting and statuary, and rich, massive, well-preserved, though old-fashioned sofas, chairs, tables, etc. But it was already growing dark, deep shadows were gathering in the more distant parts of the spacious apartment, and only near the fire could objects be distinctly seen. Elsie was about to ring for lights, when Sarah, the mulatto girl, appeared, bringing them, Chloe following close in the rear.
"Have you fires and lights in the library, the dining-room, and your master's rooms and mine?" inquired Elsie.
"De fires is lit, Miss Elsie."
"Then add the lights at once, and put them in all the principal rooms of the house. We will have an illumination in honor of our arrival, papa," she said, in a sprightly tone, turning to him with one of her sweetest smiles, "and besides, I want to see the whole house now."
"Are you not too much fatigued, daughter? and would it not be better to defer it till to-morrow?"
"I don't think I'm too tired, papa; but if you forbid me——"
"No, I don't forbid or even advise, if you are sure you feel equal to the exertion."
"Thank you, sir, I think I'll be better able to sleep if I've seen at least the most of it; old memories are troubling me, and I want to see how far they are correct You will go with me?"
"Certainly," he said, giving her his arm. "But while the servants are obeying your order in regard to the lights, let us examine these paintings more attentively. They will repay close scrutiny, for some of them are by the first masters. Your Grandfather Grayson seems to have been a man of cultivated taste, as well as great business talent."
"Yes, papa. What is it, mammy?"
"Does you want me, darlin'?"
"No, not now. Go and enjoy yourself with your husband and old friends."
Chloe expressed her grateful thanks, and withdrew.
Elsie found the paintings and statuary a study, and had scarcely finished her survey of the drawing-room and its treasures of art, when Aunt Phillis came to ask if they would have tea served up immediately.
Elsie looked at her father.
"Yes," he said; "you will feel stronger after eating, and it is about our usual time."
"Then let us have it, Aunt Phillis. How is that poor creature now?" asked her young mistress.
"Suse, honey? oh, she'll do well 'nuff; don't do her no harm to take some ob de lazy blood out. Massa Spriggs not so terrible cross, Miss Elsie; but he bound de work git done, an' Suse she mighty powerful lazy, jes' set in de sun an' do nuffin' from mornin' to night, ef nobody roun' to make her work."
"Ah, that is very bad; we must try to reform her in some way. But perhaps she's not well."
"Dunno, missus; she's always 'plaining ob de misery in her back, an' misery in her head; but don't ebery one hab a misery, some kind, most days? an' go on workin' all de same. No, missus, Suse she powerful lazy ole nigga."
With that Phillis retired, and shortly after, tea was announced as ready.
Elsie played the part of hostess to perfection, presiding over the tea-urn with ease and grace, and pressing upon her father the numerous dainties with which the table was loaded. She seemed to have recovered her spirits, and as she sat there gayly chatting—of the room, which pleased her as entirely as the other, and of her plans for usefulness and pleasure during her stay, he thought he had never seen her look happier or more beautiful.
"What rooms have you prepared for your mistress, Aunt Phillis?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, as they rose from the table.
"De same whar she was born, massa, an' whar her dear bressed ma stay when she livin' heyah."
A slight shadow stole over Elsie's bright face. "That was right," she said, low and softly. "I should prefer them to any others. But where are papa's rooms?"
"Jes' across de hall, Miss Elsie."
"That is a good arrangement," said Mr. Dinsmore. "Now, daughter, I think we should repair to the library. It is near the hour you appointed for Mr. Spriggs."
"Just as handsome, as tastefully, appropriately, and luxuriously furnished as the others," was Elsie's comment on the library. "I seem to see the same hand everywhere."
"Yes, and it is the same all over the house," replied her father. "The books here will delight you; for a private library it is a very fine one, containing many hundred volumes, as you may see at a glance; standard works on history, and the arts and sciences, biographies, travels, works of reference, the works of the best poets, novelists, etc."
"Ah, how we will enjoy them while here! But it seems a sad pity they should have lain on those shelves unused for so many years."
"Not entirely, my child; I have enjoyed them in my brief visits to the plantation, and have always allowed the overseer free access to them, on the single condition that they should be handled with care, and each returned promptly to its proper place when done with. But come, take this easy chair by this table; here are some fine engravings I want you to look at."
Elsie obeyed, but had scarcely seated herself when the door was thrown open and a servant's voice announced, "Massa Spriggs, Massa Dinsmore and Miss Elsie."
Spriggs, a tall, broad-shouldered, powerfully-built man, with dark hair and beard and a small, keen black eye, came forward with a bold free air and a "Good-even', miss, good-even', sir;" adding, as he helped himself to a seat without waiting for an invitation, "Well, here I am, and I s'pose you've somethin' to say or you wouldn't have appointed the meetin'."
"Yes, Mr. Spriggs," said Elsie, folding her pretty hands in her lap and looking steadily and coldly into his brazen face, "I have this to say; that I entirely disapprove of flogging, and will have none of it on the estate. I hope you understand me."
"That's plain English and easy understood, Miss Dinsmore, and Dinsmore, and of course you have a right to dictate in the matter; but I tell you what, these darkies o' yours are a dreadful lazy set, specially that Suse; and it's mighty hard for folks that's been used to seein' things done up spick and span and smart to put up with it."
"But some amount of patience with the natural slowness of the negro is a necessary trait in the character of an overseer who wishes to remain in my employ."
"Well, miss, I always calculate to do the very best I can by my employers, and when you come to look round the estate, I guess you'll find things in prime order; but I couldn't ha' done it without lettin' the darkies know they'd got to toe the mark right straight."
"They must attend to the work, of course, and if they won't do so willingly, must under compulsion; but there are milder measures than this brutal flogging."
"What do you prescribe, Miss Dinsmore?"
"Deprive them of some privilege, or lock them up on bread and water for a few days," Elsie answered; then turned an appealing look upon her father, who had as yet played the part of a mere listener.
"I have never allowed any flogging on my estate," he observed, addressing Spriggs, "and I cannot think it at all necessary."