Martha Finley.

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responsible for their vices."

"I endorse that sentiment," said Arthur, coming in from an adjoining room;
"it would be a great restraint upon men's vicious inclinations, if they
knew that indulgence in vice would shut them out of ladies' society."

"A truce to the subject. I'm tired of it," said Virginia. "Is it decided,
mamma, that we take passage in the steamer with the Travillas?"

"Yes; and now let us turn our attention to the much more agreeable topic
of dress; there are a good many questions to settle in regard to it; - what
we must have, what can be got here, and what after we reach Philadelphia."

"And how one dollar can be made to do the work of two," added Virginia;
"for there are loads and loads of things I must have in order to make a
respectable appearance at the watering-places."

"And we have just two weeks in which to make our arrangements," added her
mother.




CHAPTER TWENTY-SECOND.

"Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
Remember to have heard."
- SHAKESPEARE.


Early in the morning of a perfect June day, our numerous party arrived at
the wharf where lay the steamer that was to carry them to Philadelphia.

The embarkation was made without accident. Molly had had a nervous dread
of her share in it, but under her uncle's careful supervision, was
conveyed safely on board.

The weather was very warm, the sea perfectly calm, but as they steamed out
of the harbor a pleasant breeze sprang up, and the voyage began most
prosperously.

There were a hundred lady passengers, and not more than a dozen gentlemen;
but to Virginia's delight, one of these last was a gay dashing young army
officer, with whom she had a slight acquaintance.

He caught sight of her directly, hastened to greet her, and they were soon
promenading the deck together, engaged in an evident flirtation.

Mr. Dinsmore, seated at some little distance with his daughter and her
children about him, watched his niece's proceedings with a deepening
frown. He was not pleased with either her conduct or her companion.

At length, rising and approaching his sister, "Do you know that young man,
Louise?" he asked.

"Not intimately," she returned, bridling. "He is Captain Brice of the
army."

"Do you know his character?"

"I have heard that he belongs to a good family, and I can see that he is a
gentleman. I hope you are satisfied."

"No, I am not, Louise. He is a wild, reckless fellow, fond of drink,
gambles - - "

"And what of it?" she interrupted. "I don't suppose he's going to teach
Virginia to do either."

"He is no fit associate for her or for any lady. Will you interpose your
authority - - "

"No, I won't; I'm not going to insult a gentleman, and I'm satisfied that
Virginia has sense enough to take care of herself."

"Waving the question whether a man of his character is a gentleman, let me
remark that it is not necessary to insult him in order to put a stop to
this. You can call your daughter to your side, keep her with you, take an
early opportunity to inform her of the man's reputation, and bid her
discourage his attentions. If you do not interfere," he added in his
determined way, "I shall take the matter into my own hands."

"Isadore," said Mrs. Conly, "go and tell your sister I wish to speak to
her."

Virginia was extremely vexed at the summons, but obeyed it promptly.

"What can mamma want? I was having such a splendid time," she said
pettishly to her sister, when they were out of the captain's hearing.

"It is more Uncle Horace than mamma."

Virginia reddened. She knew her uncle's opinions, and she was not entirely
ignorant of the reputation borne by Captain Brice.

She feigned ignorance however, listened with apparent surprise to her
uncle's account of him and promised sweetly to treat him with the most
distant politeness in future.

Mr. Dinsmore saw through her, but what more could he do, except keep a
strict watch over both.

The captain, forsaken by Virginia, sauntered about the deck and presently
approaching an elderly lady who sat somewhat apart from the rest, lifted
his cap with a smiling "How do you do, Mrs. Noyes?" and taking an empty
chair by her side entered into a desultory conversation.

"By the by," he said, "what an attractive family group is that over
yonder," with a slight motion of the head in the direction of the
Travillas. "The mother is my beau-ideal of a lovely matron, in appearance
at least - I have not the happiness of her acquaintance - and the daughters
are models of beauty and grace. They are from your neighborhood, I
believe?"

"Yes; I have a calling acquaintance with Mrs. Travilla. She was a great
heiress; has peculiar notions, rather puritanical; but is extremely
agreeable for all that."

"Could you give me an introduction?"

She shook her head. "I must beg you to excuse me."

"But why?"

"Ah, captain, do you not know that you have the reputation of being a
naughty man? not very; but then, as I have told you, the mother is very
strict and puritanical in her ideas; the father is the same, and I should
only offend them without doing you any good; the girls would not dare, or
even so much as wish to look at or speak to you."

Growing red and angry, the captain stammered out something about being no
worse than ninetenths of the rest of the world.

"Very true, no doubt," she said; "and please understand that you are not
tabooed by me. I'm not so strict. But perhaps," she added laughing, "it
may be because I've no daughters to be endangered by young fellows who are
as handsome and fascinating as they are naughty." He bowed his
acknowledgments, then, as a noble looking young man was seen to approach
the group with the manner of one on a familiar footing inquired, "Who is
that fellow that seems so much at home with them?"

"His name is Leland; Lester Leland. He's a nephew of the Leland who bought
Fairview from the Fosters some years ago. He's an artist and poor - the
nephew - he had to work his own way in the world; has to yet for that
matter. I should wonder at the notice the Travillas take of him, only that
I've heard he's one of the good sort. Then besides you know he may make a
great reputation some day."

"A pious fortune-hunter, I presume," sneered Brice, rising to give his
seat to a lady; then with a bow he turned and walked away.

Mr. Dinsmore was taking his grandsons over the vessel, showing them the
engine and explaining its complicated machinery.

Edward, who had quite a mechanical turn, seemed to understand it nearly as
well as his grandfather, and Harold and Herbert, bright, intelligent boys
of ten and twelve, looked and examined with much interest, asking sensible
questions and listening attentively to the replies.

They were active, manly little fellows, not fool-hardy or inclined to
mischief; nor was their mother of the over-anxious kind; she could trust
them, and when the tour of inspection with their grandpa was finished,
they were allowed to roam about by themselves.

Captain Brice took advantage of this to make acquaintance with them, and
win their hearts by thrilling stories of buffalo hunts and encounters with
wolves, grizzly bears and Indians, in which he invariably figured as
conquering hero.

He thought to make them stepping stones to an acquaintance with their
sisters, and congratulated himself on his success when, on being summoned
to return to their mother, they asked eagerly if he would not tell them
more to-morrow.

"Just try me, my fine fellows," he answered, laughing.

"Mamma, what do you want with us?" they asked, running up to her. "A
gentleman was telling us such nice stories."

"I think the call to supper will come very soon," she said, "and I want
you to smooth your hair and wash your hands. Dinah will take you to your
state-room and see that you have what you need."

"I'm afraid we're going to have a gust," remarked Isadore as the lads
hurried away to do their mother's bidding; "see how the clouds are
gathering yonder in the northwest."

"A thunder-storm at sea; how romantic!" said Virginia; "'twill be
something to talk about all our lives."

"Silly child!" said her mother, "to hear you talk, one would think there
was no such thing as danger."

"Pshaw, mamma! we're hardly out of sight of land - our own shores," she
retorted.

"That would but increase our danger if the storm were coming from the
opposite direction," said her uncle; "but fortunately, it is from a
quarter to drive us out to sea."

"Do you think it will be a gust, grandpa?" asked Violet, a little
anxiously.

"I fear so; the heat has become so oppressive, the breeze has entirely
died down, and the clouds look threatening; but, my child, do not fear;
our Father, God, rules upon the sea as well as the land; the stormy wind
fulfilling his word."

The storm came up rapidly, bursting on them in its fury before they had
left the tea-table; the lightning's flash and the crash and roll of the
thunder followed in quick succession; the stentorian voices of the
officers of the vessel, shouting their orders to the crew, the heavy hasty
tramp of the men's feet, the whistling of the wind through the rigging,
the creaking of the cordage, the booming of the sea, mingling with the
terrific thunder claps and the down-pouring of the rain, combined in an
uproar fit to cause the stoutest heart to quake.

Faces grew pale with fear; the women and children huddled together in
frightened groups; the men looked anxiously at each other, and between the
thunder peals, spoke in low tones of the danger of being driven out to
sea, and asked each other of the captain's skill, on what part of the
coast they were, and whether the vessel were strong enough to outride the
tempest, should it continue long.

"Oh, this is dreadful! I'm afraid we shall all go to the bottom, if it
keeps on much longer," Mrs. Conly was saying to her niece, when there came
a crash as if the very sky were falling; as if it had come down upon them;
a shock that threw some from their seats, while others caught at the
furniture to save themselves; the vessel shivered from stem to stern,
seemed to stand still for an instant, then rushed on again.

"It struck! we're lost!" cried a number of voices, while many women and
children screamed, and some fainted.

"Courage, my friends!" cried Mr. Dinsmore in loud clear tones, that could
be distinctly heard by all, above the storm. "All is not lost that is in
danger; and the 'Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither
his ear heavy that it cannot hear.'"

"Yes, it is time to pray," said an excited, answering voice; "the
lightning has struck and shivered the mast; and look how it has run along
over our heads and down yon mirror; as you may see by the melting of the
glass. It has doubtless continued on to the hold, and set fire to the
cotton stored there," the speaker - a thin, nervous looking man, who was
pushing his way through the throng - added in a whisper close to Mr.
Dinsmore's ear.

"Be quiet, will you!" said the latter sternly; "these helpless women and
children are sufficiently frightened already."

"Yes, yes and I don't want to scare 'em unnecessarily; but we'd better be
prepared for the worst."

Elsie had overheard the whispers and her cheek paled, a look of keen
distress coming into her face as she glanced from one to another of her
loved ones, dearer far than her own life.

But she showed no other sign of agitation; her heart sent up one swift cry
to him to whom "all power is given in heaven and in earth," and faith and
love triumphed over fear. His love to her was infinite nor was there any
limit to his power. She would trust him that all would be well whether in
life or death.

"'Even the wind and the sea obey him,'" she whispered to Violet, who was
asking with pale trembling lips, "Mamma, mamma, what will become of us?"

"But mamma they say the vessel is loaded with cotton, and that the
lightning has probably set it on fire."

"Still, my darling, he is able to take care of us; 'it is nothing with him
to help whether with many or with them that have no power;' he is the Lord
our God."

Her father had come to her side. "Daughter, my dear, dear daughter!" he
said with emotion, taking her in his arms as was his wont in her early
years.

"O grandpa, take care of mamma, whatever becomes of us!" exclaimed Elsie
and Vi together.

"No, no!" she said, "save my children and never mind me."

"Mamma, you must be our first care!" said Eddie hoarsely.

"Your sisters, my son, and your brothers. Leave me to the last," she
answered firmly.

"We will hope to save you all," Mr. Dinsmore said, trying to speak
cheerfully; "but, my child, if you perish, I perish with you."

"Horace, is it true? is it true that the vessel is on fire?" gasped Mrs.
Conly, clutching his arm and staring him in the face with eyes wild with
terror.

"Try to calm yourself, Louise," he said kindly. "We do not know certainly
yet, though there is reason to fear it may be so."

"Horrible!" she cried, wringing her hands. "I can't die! I've never made
any preparations for death. Oh save me, Horace, if you can! No, no save my
girls, my poor dear girls, and never mind me."

"Louise, my poor sister," he said, deeply moved, "we will not despair yet
of all being saved; but try to prepare for the worst, turn _now_ to him
who has said, Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth."

Virginia had thrown herself upon a sofa, in strong hysterics, and Isadore
stood over her with smelling salts and fan.

Mrs. Conly hurried back to them with tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Oh what is to be done?" she sighed, taking the fan from Isa's hand. "If
Cal and Art were but here to look after us! Your uncle has his hands full
with his daughter and her children."

"Mamma let us ask God for help; he and he only can give it," whispered
Isadore.

"Yes, yes, ask him! you know how and he will hear you. Virgy, my child,
try to calm yourself."

Isa knelt by her sister's side; there were many on their knees crying for
succor in this hour of terrible danger.

The storm was abating, the rain had nearly ceased to fall, and the wind to
lash the waves into fury; the flashes of lightning were fewer and fainter
and the heavy claps of thunder had given place to distant mutterings; they
would not be wrecked by the fury of the tempest, yet alas, there still
remained the more fearful danger of devouring fire.

It was a night of terror; no one thought of retiring, and few but young
children closed an eye.

Every preparation was made for taking to the water at a moment's warning;
those who had life preservers - and all our party were supplied with
them - brought them out and secured them to their persons; boats were made
ready to launch, and those who retained sufficient presence of mind and
forethought, selected, and kept close at hand, such valuables as it seemed
possible they might be able to carry about them.

The Travillas kept together, Mr. Dinsmore with them, and young Leland
also.

He was to them only an ordinary friend, but one of them he would have died
to save, and almost he would have done it for the others for her sake.

Poor Molly had never felt her helplessness more than now; fastened to her
chair as with bands of steel, there was less hope of escape for her than
for others.

Her thoughts flew to Dick in that first moment of terror, to Dick who
loved her better than any other earthly thing. Alas, he was far away; but
there was One near, her Elder Brother, who would never leave nor forsake
her. With that thought she grew calm and strong to wait and to endure.

But her uncle did not forget her; with his own hands he fastened a life
preserver about her.

"My poor helpless child," he said low and tenderly, "do not fear that you
will be forgotten should there be any chance for rescue."

"Thank you, dear, kind uncle," she said with tears in her eyes, "but leave
me to the last, my life is worth so much less than theirs," glancing
toward her cousins; "there would be only Dick to mourn its loss - - "

"No, no, Molly, we all love you!" he interrupted.

She smiled a little sadly, but went on, "and it would be more difficult to
save me than two others."

"Still, do not despair," he said, "I will not leave you to perish alone;
and I have hope that in the good providence of God, we shall all be
saved."

Gradually the screaming, sobbing, fainting, gave place to a dull
despairing waiting, waiting, with a trembling, sickening dread, for the
confirmation of their worst fears.

Rosie had fallen asleep upon a sofa with her head in her eldest sister's
lap, Vi on an ottoman beside them, tightly clasping a hand of each.

Elsie had her babe in her arms; he was sleeping sweetly, and laying her
head back, she closed her eyes while her thoughts flew to Ion, to the
husband and father who would perhaps learn to-morrow of the loss of all
his treasures.

Her heart bled for him, as she seemed to see him bowed down with
heart-breaking sorrow.

Then arose the question "what should the end bring to them - herself and
her beloved children?"

For herself she could say, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death; I will fear no evil; for thou art with me." Elsie, Vi and Eddie
she had good reasons to hope were true Christians; but Harold and
Herbert? - A pang shot through her heart. Good, obedient children though
they were, she yet knew not that they had ever experienced that new birth
without which none can enter heaven.

Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again,
he cannot see the kingdom of God."

"Mamma, what is it?" Eddie asked, seeing her glance anxiously from side to
side.

"Your brothers! I do not see them. Where are they?"

"They went into their state-room a moment since; - right here, you know.
Shall I call them?"

"Yes, yes; I must speak to them."

They came hand in hand, in answer to Eddie's summons.

Herbert's eyes were full of tears, not of terror or grief; there seemed a
new happy light in each boyish face.

"Mamma," whispered Harold, putting his arm round her neck, his lips to her
ear, "we went away to be alone, Herbie and I; we knew what made you look
so sorry at us; - because you were afraid we didn't love Jesus; but we do,
mamma, and we went away to give ourselves to him; and we mean to be his
always, whether we live or die."

Glad tears rolled down her cheeks as she silently embraced first one, then
the other.

And so slowly the night wore away, a reign of terror for hours, while
every moment they were watching with despairing hearts for the smell of
fire or the bursting out of flames from the hold; their fears gave way to
a faint hope as time passed on and the catastrophe was still delayed; a
hope that grew gradually stronger and brighter, till at last it was lost
in glad certainty.

The electricity, it appeared, had scattered over the iron of the
machinery, instead of running on down into the hold.

Some said, "What a lucky escape!" others, "What a kind providence."




CHAPTER TWENTY-THIRD.

"Sacred love is basely bought and sold;
Wives are grown traffic, marriage is a trade."
- RANDOLPH.


They came safely into port. A little crowd of eager, expectant friends
stood waiting on the wharf; among them a tall, dark-eyed young man, with a
bright, intellectual face, whom Molly, seated on the deck in the midst of
the family group, recognized with almost a cry of delight.

The instant a plank was thrown out, he sprang on board, and in another
moment she was in his arms, sobbing, "Oh, Dick, Dick. I thought I'd never
see you again!"

"Why?" he said with a joyous laugh, "we've not been so long or so far
apart that you need have been in despair of that."

Then as he turned to exchange greetings with the others, his ear caught
the words, "We had an awful night, expecting every moment to see flames
bursting out from the hold."

"What, what does it mean?" he asked, grasping his uncle's hand, while his
cheek paled, and he glanced hastily from side to side.

"We have had a narrow escape," said Mr. Dinsmore.

The main facts were soon given, the details as they drove to their hotel,
and Dick rejoiced with trembling, as he learned how, almost, he had lost
these dear ones.

A few days were spent in Philadelphia, then Mr. Dinsmore and the Travillas
sought their seaside homes, Dick going with them.

Their coming was hailed with joy by Mrs. Dinsmore and her daughter Rose,
who had been occupying their cottage for a week or more.

The Conlys would linger some time longer in the city, laying in a stock of
finery for the summer campaign, then, joined by Mrs. Delaford, they too
would seek the seashore.

The cottages were quite out of the town, built facing the ocean, and as
near it as consistent with safety and comfort.

The children hailed the first whiff of the salt sea breeze with eager
delight, were down upon the beach within a few minutes of their arrival,
and until bedtime left it only long enough to take their tea, finishing
their day with a long moonlight drive along the shore.

They were given perfect liberty to enjoy themselves to the full; the only
restrictions being that they were not to go into danger, or out of sight
of the house, or to the water's edge unless accompanied by some older
member of the family or a trusty servant.

The next morning they were all out again for a ramble before breakfast,
and immediately after prayers Vi, Rosie, Harold and Herbert, with a man
servant in attendance, returned to the beach.

The girls were collecting shells and seaweed, the two boys skipping stones
on the water, Ben, the servant, watching the sport with keen interest, and
occasionally joining in it.

Absorbed in their amusements, none of them noticed the approach of a young
man in undress uniform.

He followed them for some moments in a careless way, as if he were but
casually strolling in the same direction, yet was watching with close
attention every movement of Vi's graceful figure.

She and Rosie were unconsciously widening the distance between their
brothers and themselves, not noticing that the boys had become stationary.

Perceiving this, and that they were now out of earshot, the stranger
quickened his pace, and coming up behind the lads, hailed them with, "So
here you are, my fine fellows! I'm pleased to meet you again!"

"Oh," exclaimed Herbert, looking round, "it's the gentleman that tells
such nice stories! Good-morning, sir. We're glad to see you, too."

"Yes, indeed," assented Harold offering his hand, which the stranger
grasped and shook heartily. "We're having a splendid time skipping stones.
Did you ever do it?"

"Many a time when I was a little chap like you, I used to be a famous
hand at it. Let's see if I can equal you now."

He was soon apparently as completely engrossed with the sport as any of
them, yet through it all was furtively watching Vi and Rosie as they
strolled slowly onward, now stooping to pick up a shell or pausing a
moment to gaze out over the wide expanse of waters, then sauntering on
again in careless, aimless fashion, thoroughly enjoying the entire freedom
from ordinary tasks and duties.

The boys knew nothing about their new companion except what they had seen
of him on board the vessel; their mother had not understood who was their
story-telling friend, and in the excitement of the storm and the hasty
visit to the city, he had been quite forgotten by all three. Nor were any
of the family aware of his vicinity; thus it happened that the lads had
not been warned against him.

Vi, however, had seen him with Virginia and knew from what passed directly
afterward between her grandfather and aunt (though she did not hear the
conversation) that the stranger was not one whom Mr. Dinsmore approved.

Not many minutes had passed before she looked back, and seeing that she
had left her brothers some distance behind, hastily began to retrace her
footsteps, Rosie with her.

The instant they turned to do so, the captain, addressing Harold, artfully
inquired, "Do you know that young lady?"

"I should think so! she's my own sister," said the boy proudly. "The
little one too."

"Pretty girls, both of them. Won't you introduce me?"

"Yes, I suppose so," returned the boy a little doubtfully, and taking a
more critical survey of his new acquaintance than he had thought necessary
before; "you - you're a gentleman and a good man, aren't you?"

"Don't I look like it?" laughed the captain. "Would you take me for a


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Online LibraryMartha FinleyElsie's children → online text (page 12 of 17)