- PART SECOND.
- CHAPTER VIII. ELSIE'S DESPERATE RESOLVE.
|<< chapter 7||< chapter 1||chapter 9 >||chapter conclusion >>|
ELSIE'S DESPERATE RESOLVE.
THE touch of the chilly night-air recalled Elsie to consciousness. It was quite dark, and she felt a secret terror, lest, her absence being noticed, the elder might come to seek her, and thus get a clue to her knowledge. The terror nerved her to return.
Fortunately, the women had not all retired, and they were too wearied and busy to notice her looks. The elder had not returned. A fire was burning upon the hearth. Elsie crouched over it, hoping its warmth would dissipate the chill that numbed her; but the material warmth and light made her still more sensitive to the horror of the future.
Soon she heard the elder's footsteps. Shrinking from the sight of him, Elsie ran to her room, and tried to forget her troubles in sleep, but her secret frightened away slumber. Her mind was busy trying to form some plan of escape; but the more she thought over the means of getting away, the more difficult became the problem. The mountains had no caves, the | | 182 plain offered no hiding place-not even a tree whose branches could shelter her.
Should she slip away in the night, and walk on winged feet? Yet she would soon be discovered and brought back to her fate.
How she longed for these pathless forests of which she had read! With what delight would she have flown to their darkest depths,--deterred by no fear of bear, wolf, or panther enemies, far less terrible to her imagination than the human foes from whom she longed to flee.
Heart and brain ached and throbbed, in the vain effort to devise some means of escape. Nothing but self-destruction; and from this the young, glowing, vitality shrank. A fitful sleep at last overcame her; but it brought dreams more appalling than the reality. Menacing shadows surrounded her. She walked in a land of filmy terrors, where every sound was a death-knell to hope.
Just before dropping to sleep, a moonbeam had shown to her the web of a small spider. It was a pretty-white spider, nor doubt a-great belle in spider-land, and endowed by vulgar superstition with the power of bringing it good-luck. Elsie had begged its life of her mother and watched over it with jealous care.
Now her dreams metamorphosed the harmless creature into a frightful monster. It grew lager, larger. Its head took on a human form--the elder's form. Yes, he it was with his cruel smile, changed into a gigantic spider ready to devour her. Roused by the horror of the dream, she awoke. The dawn was gently stealing in upon the night, bringing hope | | 183 and courage to the despairing child. The buoyancy of youth asserted itself: it whispered to Elsie an idea that brought a smile to her lips and brightness to her eyes. It was a strange idea, possible only to a girl reared in Mormondom. But it seemed to Elsie a solution of all her difficulties. She hugged it delightedly. Not only was the idea exceedingly unique,--it was impossible of realization in the existing circumstances. But youth ignores the impossible; and Elsie was young, ignorant, and desperate. As soon as the light permitted, the girl left the house, and quickly sought her favorite retreat, so that she could have a little talk with the new idea.
This retreat was a narrow ravine, the bed of the mountain torrent that nearer the settlement formed the Cascades. It was the home of the larkspur, the columbine, the mountain pink, the delicate lily, and host of other mountain beauties.
Here Elsie used to come to study under Brother Menly, who took delight in teaching this eager mind. Brother Menly was not an educated man in the usual sense of the term, but he loved to converse with the great minds of the past and present, who, thanks to printing, are ever ready to talk with us. He lent his books to Elsie. Perhaps they were not the best calculated to give her contentment, but they certainly gave her thoughts. They pictured that world of which she knew so little; and opened up a realm of enchantment to the unsophisticated child, whose conceptions, derived solely from books, were very visionary.
If Rasselas, in the Happy Valley, surrounded by all that was lovely, still sighed for the world beyond, | | 184 how natural it was that Elsie, surrounded by misery and ugliness, should yearn for that wonderful world shut out from her by those giant mountains.
"Ah!" sighed Elsie, "that I were a bird, how quickly would I scale those dizzy heights."
If she had known of fairies, she would have invoked the queen and all her host to grant her request. Perhaps they did look kindly upon, for as she sighed the rocky sentinels lost their grimness, and appeared in dazzling splendor, crowned with the rays of the rising sun.
Elsie's heart beat with re-awakened courage. All was not yet lost. Heaven smiled upon her.
But it was a weary, weary world after all. Her friends, the flowers, had lost their charms. She scarcely glanced upon them, as she threw herself down upon her accustomed seat, and pondered over her new idea. Suddenly a voice aroused her. It was the voice of her old friend.
"My child, what brings you out so early? Why, are you ill?"
"No, but I wish I was ill--ill enough to die!"
"My little Elsie, do not talk that way; youth recoils from death."
"Well, I don't. I must die, or run away, which will be certain death, if you--"
Here Elsie stammered and blushed.
"How does this desperate resolve depend upon me?" said Brother Menly, with a forced attempt at gaiety. "You are going to die or run away if I--"
"Yes, I must do one or the other unless--" Here Elsie stopped; but she did not blush this time. With eyes and face pale and set she looked at Brother Men- | | 185 ly, and in a voice forced and unnatural finished the sentence: "Unless you marry me."
"I marry you!" exclaimed Brother Menly, in a tone that expressed a doubt of the child's sanity. "I marry you! What does it mean."
"It means," said Elsie, who was now desperate, "that I am in awful trouble. My step-father says he is going to marry me; and I would die rather. Yes, you may well stare. It is all true. I found it out last night. I heard them talking--the elder, and Brother Smith, who wants to make me No. 5. Oh! it nearly kills me. I hate them both; and I don't know where I could run to. I like you--you are so good, and I thought you might save me."
Here the girl broke down. She had been talking loud and fast, as though she were forcing herself to speak by some desperate effort. The tension gave way, and the burdened heart relieved itself in tears.
Brother Menly felt shocked and grieved. He seated himself by the side of the weeping child, and tenderly soothed her. Elsie did not shrink, for he touched her reverentially. To him she was sacred.
"My poor little wild blossom," sighed the gray-haired mentor, as he thought of the many victims he had seen sacrificed. But now it was his little Elsie; and the tears of this man, himself a martyr, mingled with those of the child victim.
When her grief had spent itself, Brother Menly questioned Elsie to find out more concerning Silvertung's designs.
"Elsie, my child, take courage; something tells me that this scheme will never be realized. Our Father in Heaven will watch over you, and save you from | | 186 this fate. I cannot say how it is to be done but I am confident of it, and that without my marrying you. Such an act would be a grievous wrong; a blight on your youth, a blot on my conscience. But of what am I talking? Don't you know, Elsie, that even if I would marry you I could not? The Church would not give you to me. According to the Church, my own dear, faithful wife is divorced from me."
"Forgive me," cried Elsie, "in my misery I had forgotten. Yes, they told me you are cut off from the Church. What is it for? What have you done? I'm sure it is nothing but good."
Brother Menly smiled at the child's earnestness.
"What else did they tell you?"
"That I was never to speak to you again, or I should be accursed. But let me be accursed. I will speak to you--yes, I will, even if they do keep me out of heaven. Anyway, you did right to leave this Church, which teaches such wicked things."
"Yes, it is not the Church I joined. That gave us liberty; this makes us slaves."
"And polygamy is wrong, isn't it?"
"That which brutalizes man cannot be right."
"You will go forth, now, and show the people their errors, expose all this wickedness, won't you?"
Alas, my child, that is impossible; they would not believe me. It is much easier to mislead people than to enlighten them. No, no, it is all over with me. I have been deceived, I may be deceived again. Let me not deceive others. You must leave me, my child. If anyone should find us talking, it would bring trouble to you. Cheer up, my poor child. | | 187 Trust in yourself, be true, and God will help you. Good-bye."
"Good-bye. But, I will see you again somehow; yes, I will," said Elsie, smiling. "I must run home now. Mother will want me."
Away she ran with a much lighter heart, although her offer of marriage had been refused.
|<< chapter 7||< chapter 1||chapter 9 >||chapter conclusion >>|