Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"How terrible is passion!"
The summer passed quickly and pleasantly to our friends of Ion and Fairview. The plans they had made for themselves before leaving home were carried out, with, perhaps, some slight variations.
Lulu had her greatly desired visit to Cliff Cottage, and enjoyed it nearly as much as she had hoped to; a good deal less than she would if she could have quite forgotten her past misconduct, and its impending consequences.
As matters stood, she could seldom entirely banish the thought that the time was daily drawing nearer when her father's sentence would be carried out, to her sad exclusion from the pleasant family circle of which she had now been so long a member.
She experienced the truth of the saying, that blessings brighten as they take their flight, and would have given much to undo the past, so that she might prove herself worthy of a continuance of those she had rated so far below their real value, that, in spite of her father's repeated warnings, she had wantonly thrown them away.
She kept her promise to Violet, and strove earnestly to deserve a repeal of her sentence, though her hope of gaining it was very faint. All summer long she had exercised sufficient control over her temper to avoid any outbursts of passion, and generally had behaved quite amiably.
By the 1st of October the two families were again at home at Ion and Fairview, pursuing the even tenor of their way, Lulu with them, as of old, no new home having yet been found for her. No one had cared to make much effort in that direction. It was just as well, Mr. Dinsmore, Elsie his daughter, and Violet thought, simply to let things take their course till her father should return, and take matters into his own hands.
There was no certainty when that would be: his letters still alluded to his coming that fall as merely a possibility.
But Lulu had been so amiable and docile for months past, that no one was in haste to be rid of her presence. Even Rosie was quite friendly with her, had ceased to tease and vex her; and mutual forbearance had given each a better opinion of the other than she had formerly entertained.
But Lulu grew self-confident, and began to relax her vigilance: it was so long since her temper had got decidedly the better of her, that she thought it conquered, or so nearly so that she need not be continually on the watch against it.
Rosie had brought home with her a new pet,--a beautiful puppy as mischievous as he was handsome.
Unfortunately it happened again and again that something belonging to Lulu attracted his attention, and was seriously damaged or totally destroyed by his teeth and claws. He chewed up a pair of kid gloves belonging to her; and it did not mend matters that Rosie laughed as though it were a good joke, and then told her it was her own fault for not putting them in their proper place when she took them off: he tore her garden-hat into shreds; he upset her inkstand; tumbled over her work-basket, tangling the spools of sewing-silk and cotton; jumped upon her with muddy paws, soiling a new dress and handsome sash; and at last capped the climax by defacing a book of engravings, belonging to Mr. Dinsmore, which she had carelessly left in his way.
Then her anger burst forth, and she kicked the dog till his howls brought Rosie running to the rescue.
"How dare you, Lulu Raymond!" she exclaimed, with flashing eyes, as she gathered Trip in her arms, and soothed him with caresses. "I'll not allow my pet to be so ill used in my own mother's house!"
"He deserves a great deal more than I gave him," retorted Lulu, quivering with passion; "and if you don't want him hurt, you'll have to keep him out of mischief. Just look what he has done to this book!"
"One of grandpa's handsome volumes of engravings!" cried Rosie, aghast. "But who left it lying there?"
"Then you are the one to blame, and not my poor little Trip, who, of course, knew no better. How is he to tell that books are not meant for gnawing quite as much as bones?"
"What is the matter, children?" asked Mr. Dinsmore, stepping out upon the veranda where the little scene was enacting. "It surprises me to hear such loud and angry tones."
For a moment each girlish head drooped in silence, hot blushes dyeing their cheeks; then Lulu, lifting hers, said, "I'm very sorry, grandpa Dinsmore. I oughtn't to have brought this book out here; but it wouldn't have come to any harm if it hadn't been for that troublesome dog, that's as full of mischief as he can be. I don't believe it was more than five minutes that I left the book lying there on the settee; and when I ran back to get it, and put it away in its place, he had torn out a leaf, and nibbled and soiled the cover, as you see.
"But if you'll please not be angry, I'll save up all my pocket-money till I can buy you another copy."
"That would take a good while, child," Mr. Dinsmore answered. "It is a great pity you were so careless. But I'll not scold you, since you are so penitent, and so ready to make all the amends in your power. Rosie, you really must try to restrain the mischievous propensities of your pet."
"I do, grandpa," she said, flashing an angry glance at Lulu; "but I can't keep him in sight every minute; and, if people will leave things in his way, I think they are more to blame than he is if he spoils them."
"Tut, tut! don't speak to me in that manner," said her grandfather. "If your dog continues to damage valuable property, he shall be sent away."
Rosie made no reply, but colored deeply as she turned and walked away with her pet in her arms.
"Now, Lulu," said Mr. Dinsmore, not unkindly, "remember that in future you are not to bring a valuable book such as this, out here. If you want to look at them, do so in the library."
"Yes, sir, I will. I'm very sorry about that; but if you'll tell me, please, how much it would cost to buy another just like it, I'll write to papa, and I know he will pay for it."
"I thought you proposed to pay for it yourself," remarked Mr. Dinsmore grimly.
"Yes, sir; but I don't wish to keep you waiting; papa wouldn't wish it. He sends his children pocket-money every once in a while, and I'd ask him to keep back what he considered my share till it would count up to as much as the price of the book."
"Well, child, that is honorable and right," Mr. Dinsmore said in a pleasanter tone; "but I think we will let the matter rest now till your father comes, which I trust will be before a very great while."
Rosie, knowing that her grandfather was quite capable of carrying out his threat, lacking neither the ability nor the will to do so, curtailed the liberty of her pet, and exerted herself to keep him out of mischief.
Still, he occasionally came in Lulu's way, and when he did was very apt to receive a blow or kick.
He had a fashion of catching at her skirts with his teeth, and giving them a jerk, which was very exasperating to her--all the more so, that Rosie evidently enjoyed seeing him do it.
A stop would have been put to the "fun" if the older people of the family had happened to be aware of what was going on; but the dog always seemed to seize the opportunity when none of them were by, and Lulu scorned to tell tales.
One morning, about a week after the accident to the book, Lulu, coming down a little before the ringing of the breakfast-bell, found Max on the veranda.
"Don't you want to take a ride with me after breakfast, Lu?" he asked. "Mamma Vi says I can have her pony; and, as Rosie doesn't care to go, of course you can ride hers."
"How do you know Rosie doesn't want to ride?" asked Lulu.
"Because I heard her tell her mother she didn't; that she meant to drive over to Roselands with grandpa Dinsmore instead; that he had told her he expected to go there to see Cal about some business matter, and would take her with him. So you see, her pony won't be wanted; and grandma Elsie has often said we could have it whenever it wasn't in use or tired, and of course it must be quite fresh this morning."
"Then I'll go," said Lulu with satisfaction; for she was extremely fond of riding, especially when her steed was Rosie's pretty, easy-going pony, Gyp.
So Max ordered the two ponies to be in readiness; and, as soon as breakfast was over, Lulu hastened to her room to prepare for her ride.
But in the mean time Mr. Dinsmore had told Rosie he had, for some reason, changed his plans, and should wait till afternoon to make his call at Roselands.
Then Rosie, glancing from the window, and seeing her pony at the door, ready saddled and bridled, suddenly decided to take a ride, ran to her room, donned riding hat and habit, and was down again a little in advance of Lulu.
Max, who was on the veranda, waiting for his sister, felt rather dismayed at sight of Rosie, as she came tripping out in riding-attire.
"O Rosie! excuse me," he said. "I heard you say you were going to drive to Roselands with your grandpa, and so, as I was sure you wouldn't be wanting your pony, I ordered him saddled for Lu."
"That happened very well, because he is here now all ready for me," returned Rosie, laughing, as she vaulted into the saddle, hardly giving Max a chance to help her. "Lu can have him another time. Come, will you go with me?"
For an instant Max hesitated. He did not like to refuse Rosie's request, as she was not allowed to go alone outside the grounds, yet was equally averse to seem to desert Lu.
"But," he thought, "she's sure to be in a passion when she finds this out, and I can't bear to see it."
So he sprang upon his waiting steed; and as Lulu, ready dressed for her ride, and eager to take it, stepped out upon the veranda, she just caught a glimpse of the two horses and their riders disappearing down the avenue.
She turned white with anger at the sight, and stamped her foot in fury, exclaiming between her clinched teeth, "It's the meanest trick I ever saw!"
There were several servants standing near, one of them little Elsie's nurse, an old negress, Aunt Dinah, who, having lived in the family for more than twenty years, felt herself privileged to speak her mind upon occasion, particularly to its younger members.
"Now, Miss Lu," she said, "dat's not de propah way fo' you to talk 'bout dis t'ing; kase dat pony b'longs to Miss Rosie, an' co'se she hab de right to ride him befo' anybody else."
"You've no call to put in your word, and I'm not going to be lectured and reproved by a servant!" retorted Lulu passionately; and turning quickly away, she strode to the head of the short flight of steps leading down into the avenue, and stood there leaning against a pillar, with her back toward the other occupants of the veranda. Her left arm was round the pillar, and in her right hand she held her little riding-whip.
She was angry at Dinah, furiously angry at Rosie; and when the next minute something--Rosie's dog, she supposed--tugged at her skirts, she gave a vicious backward kick without turning her head.
Instantly a sound of something falling, accompanied by a faint, frightened little cry, and chorus of shrieks of dismay from older voices flashed upon her the terrible knowledge that she had sent her baby sister rolling down the steps to the hard gravel-walk below.
She clutched at her pillar, almost losing consciousness for one brief moment, in her dreadful fright.
Violet's agonized cry, as she came rushing from the open doorway, "My baby! oh, my baby! she's killed!" roused her: and she saw Dinah pick up the little creature from the ground, and place it in its mother's arms, where it lay limp and white, like a dead thing, without sense or motion; the whole household, young and old, black and white, gathering round in wild excitement and grief.
No one so much as glanced at her, or seemed to think of her at all: their attention was wholly occupied with the injured little one.
She shuddered as she caught a glimpse of its deathlike face, then put her hand over her eyes to shut out the fearful sight. She felt as if she were turning to stone with a sense of the awful thing she had done in her mad passion; then suddenly seized with an overwhelming desire to hide herself from all these eyes, that would presently be gazing accusingly and threateningly at her, she hurried away to her own room, and shut and locked herself in.
Her riding-whip was still in her hand. She tossed it on to the window-sill, tore off her gloves, hat, and habit, and threw them aside, then, dropping on her knees beside the bed, buried her face in the clothes, sobbing wildly, "Oh, I've killed my little sister! my own dear little baby sister! What shall I do? what shall I do?"
Moments passed that seemed like hours: faint sounds came up from below. She heard steps and voices, and, "Was that mamma Vi crying,--crying as if her heart would break? saying over and over again, 'My baby's dead! my baby's dead! killed by her sister, her cruel, passionate sister!' Would they come and take her (Lulu) to jail? Would they try her for murder, and hang her? Oh! then papa's heart would break, losing two of his children in such dreadful ways.
"Oh! wouldn't it break anyhow when he heard what she had done,--when he knew the baby was dead, and that she had killed it, even if she should not be sent to prison, and tried for murder?"
At length some one tried the door; and a little, sobbing voice said, "Lulu, please let me in."
She rose, staggered to the door, and unlocked it. "Is it only you, Gracie?" she asked in a terrified whisper, opening it just far enough to admit the little slender figure.
"Yes: there's nobody else here," said the child. "I came to tell you the baby isn't dead; but the doctor has come, and, I believe, he doesn't feel sure she won't die. O Lu! how could you?" she asked with a burst of sobs.
"O Gracie! I didn't do it on purpose! how could you think so? I mean, I didn't know it was the baby: I thought it was that hateful dog."
"Oh, I'm glad! I couldn't b'lieve it, though some of them do!" exclaimed Gracie in a tone of relief.
Then, with a fresh burst of tears and sobs, "But she's dreadfully hurt, the dear little thing! I heard the doctor tell grandpa Dinsmore he was afraid she'd never get over it; but he mustn't let mamma know yet, 'cause maybe she might."
Lulu paced the room, wringing her hands and sobbing like one distracted.
"O Gracie!" she cried, "I'd like to beat myself black and blue! I just hope papa will come home and do it, because I ought to be made to suffer ever so much for hurting the baby so."
"O Lu, no!" cried Gracie, aghast at the very idea. "It wouldn't do the baby any good. Oh, I hope papa won't whip you!"
"But he will! I know he will; and he ought to," returned Lulu vehemently. "Oh, hark!"
She stood still, listening intently, Grace doing the same. They had seemed to hear a familiar step that they had not heard for many a long month; yes, there it was again: and with a low cry of joy, Grace bounded to the door, threw it open, but closed it quickly behind her, and sprang into her father's arms.
"My darling, my precious little daughter!" he said, clasping her close, and showering kisses on her face. "Where is every one? you are the first I have seen, and--why, how you have been crying! What is wrong?"
"O papa! the baby--the baby's most killed," she sobbed. "Come, I'll take you to her and mamma!"
Fairly stunned by the sudden dreadful announcement, he silently submitted himself to her guidance, and suffered her to lead him into the nursery, where Violet sat in a low chair with the apparently dying babe on her lap, her mother, grandfather and his wife, and the doctor, grouped about her.
No one noticed his entrance, so intent were they all upon the little sufferer; but just as he gained her side, Violet looked up, and recognized him with a low cry of mingled joy and grief.
"O Levis, my husband! Thank God that you have come in time--to see her alive."
He bent down and kissed the sweet, tremulous lips, his features working with emotion, "My wife, my dear love, what--what is this? what ails our little one?" he asked in anguished accents, turning his eyes upon the waxen baby face; and, bending still lower, he softly touched his lips to its forehead.
No one replied to his question; and gazing with close scrutiny at the child, "She has been hurt?" he said, half in assertion, half inquiringly.
"Yes, captain," said Dr. Conly: "she has had a fall,--a very severe one for so young and tender a creature."
"How did it happen?" he asked, in tones of mingled grief and sternness.
No one answered; and after waiting a moment, he repeated the question, addressing it directly to his wife.
"Oh, do not ask me, love!" she said entreatingly, and he reluctantly yielded to her request; but light began to dawn upon him, sending an added pang to his heart; suddenly he remembered Lulu's former jealousy of the baby, her displeasure at its birth; and with a thrill of horror, he asked himself if this could be her work.
He glanced about the room in search of her and Max.
Neither was there.
He passed noiselessly into the next room, then into the one beyond,--his wife's boudoir,--and there found his son.
Max sat gazing abstractedly from a window, his eyes showing traces of tears.
Turning his head as the captain entered, he started up with a joyful but subdued cry, "Papa!" then threw himself with bitter sobbing into the arms outstretched to receive him.
"My boy, my dear boy!" the captain said, in moved tones. "What is this dreadful thing that has happened? Can you tell me how your baby sister came to get so sad a fall?"
"I didn't see it, papa: I was out riding at the time."
"But you have heard about it from those who did see it?"
"Yes, sir," the lad answered reluctantly; "but--please, papa, don't ask me what they said."
"Was Lulu at home at the time?"
"Would she be able to tell me all about it, do you think?"
"I haven't seen her, papa, since I came in," Max answered evasively.
The captain sighed. His suspicions had deepened to almost certainty.
"Where is she?" he asked, releasing Max from his embrace, and turning to leave the room.
"I do not know, papa," answered Max.
"Where was the baby when she fell? can you tell me that?" asked his father.
"On the veranda, sir: so the servants told me."
"Which of them saw it?"
"Aunt Dinah, Agnes, Aunt Dicey,--nearly all the women, I believe, sir."
The captain mused a moment.
"Was Lulu there?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; and papa,--if you must know just how it happened,--I think she could tell you all about it as well as anybody else, or maybe better. And you know she always speaks the truth."
"Yes," the captain said, as if considering the suggestion: "however, I prefer to hear the story first from some one else."
He passed on through the upper hall and down the stairs, then on out to the veranda, where he found a group of servants--of whom Aunt Dicey was one--excitedly discussing the very occurrence he wished to inquire about.
They did not share the reluctance of Violet and Max, but answered his questions promptly, with a very full and detailed account of the affair.
They gave a graphic description of the rage Lulu was thrown into at the sight of Rosie galloping away on the pony she had expected to ride, repeated her angry retort in reply to Aunt Dinah's reproof, and told, without any extenuation of the hard facts, how the baby girl, escaping from her nurse's watchful care for a moment, had toddled along to her sister, caught at her skirts for support, and received a savage kick, that sent her down the steps to the gravel-walk below.
The captain heard the story with ever increasing, burning indignation. Lulu's act seemed the very wantonness of cruelty,--a most cowardly attack of a big, strong girl upon a tiny, helpless creature, who had an indisputable claim upon her tenderest protecting care.
By the time the story had come to an end, he was exceedingly angry with Lulu; he felt that in this instance it would be no painful task to him to chastise her with extreme severity; in fact, he dared not go to her at once, lest he should do her some injury; he had never yet punished a child in anger; he had often resolved that he never would, but would always wait till the feeling of love for the delinquent was uppermost in his heart, so that he could be entirely sure his motive was a desire for the reformation of the offender, and not the gratification of his own passion.
Feeling that he had a battle to fight with himself ere he dared venture to discipline his child, and that he must have solitude for it, he strode away down the avenue, turned into a part of the grounds but little frequented, and there paced back and forth, his arms folded on his breast, his head bent, his heart going up in silent prayer for strength to rule his own spirit, for patience and wisdom according to his need.
Then he strove to recall all that was lovable about his wayward little daughter, and to think of every possible excuse for the dreadful deed she had done, yet without being able to find any that deserved the name.
At length, feeling that the victory was at least partially won, and filled with anxiety about the baby, he began to retrace his steps toward the house.
In the avenue, he met Edward and Zoe, who greeted him with joyful surprise, not having before known of his arrival.
The expression of his countenance told them that he was already informed of the sad occurrence of the morning; and Edward said with heartfelt sympathy, "It is but a sad home-coming for you, captain, but let us try to hope for the best: it is possible the little darling has not received any lasting injury."
A silent pressure of the hand was the captain's only reply for the moment. He seemed too much overcome for speech.
"Such a darling as she is!" said Zoe; "the pet of the whole house, and just the loveliest little creature I ever saw."
"Did you--either of you--see her fall?" asked the captain huskily.
"Yes," said Zoe, "I did. Violet and I happened to be at the window of the little reception-room overlooking the veranda, and were watching the little creature as she toddled along, and"--But Zoe paused, suddenly remembering that her listener was the father of Lulu as well as of her poor little victim.
"Please go on," he said with emotion. "What was it that sent her down the steps?"
"Lulu was standing there," Zoe went on, hesitating, and coloring with embarrassment, "and I saw the baby-hands clutch at her skirts"--
Again she paused.
"And Lulu, giving the tender, toddling thing a savage kick, caused the dreadful catastrophe?" he groaned, turning away his face. "You need not have feared to tell me. I had already heard it from the servants who were eye-witnesses, and I only wanted further and undoubtedly reliable testimony."
"I think," said Edward, "that Lulu really had no idea what it was she was kicking at. I happened to be out in the grounds, and coming round the corner of the house just in time to catch her look of horror and despair as she half turned her head and saw the baby fall."
"Thank you," the captain said feelingly. "It is some relief to her unhappy father to learn of the least extenuating circumstance."