Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"Anger resteth in the bosom of fools."--ECCLES. vii. 9.
"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."--PROV. xxii. 15.
"He seems to feel terribly about it, poor man!" remarked Zoe with a backward glance at the retreating form of Capt. Raymond, as he left them and pursued his way to the house.
"Yes, and no wonder," said Edward. "Not for worlds would I be the father of such a child as Lulu!"
"Nor I her mother," said Zoe. "So I'm glad it was you I got for a husband instead of Capt. Raymond."
"Only for that reason?" he queried, facing round upon her in mock astonishment and wrath.
"Oh, of course!" she returned, laughing, then sobering down with a sudden recollection of the sorrow in the house. "But, O Ned! how heartless we are to be joking and laughing when poor Vi and the captain are in such distress!"
"I'm afraid you are right," he assented with a sigh. "Yet I am quite sure we both feel deeply for them, and are personally grieved for the injury to our darling little niece."
"Yes, indeed! the pretty pet that she is!" returned Zoe, wiping her eyes.
Gracie was on the veranda looking for her father, and, catching sight of him in the avenue, ran to meet him.
"How is baby now? Can you tell me?" he asked, taking her hand, and stooping to give her a kiss.
"Just the same, I suppose, papa," she said. "Oh, it's very hard to see it suffer so! isn't it, papa?"
He nodded a silent assent.
"Papa," she asked, lifting her tearful eyes to his face with a pleading look, "have you seen Lulu yet?"
"O papa! do go now! It must be so hard for her to wait so long to see you, when you've just come home."
"I doubt if she wants to see me," he said, with some sternness of look and tone.
"O dear papa! don't punish her very hard. She didn't hurt the baby on purpose."
"I shall try to do what is best for her, my little girl, though I very much doubt if that is exemption from punishment," he said with an involuntary sigh. "But if she is in haste to see me," he added, "there is nothing, so far as I am aware, to prevent her from coming to me."
"But she's afraid, papa, because she has been so very, very naughty."
"In that case, is it not kinder for me to keep away from her?"
"O papa! you know she always wants things--bad things--over."
"The bad thing she has brought upon the poor baby will not be over very soon," he said sternly. "I must go now to it and your mamma."
He did so; and sharing Violet's deep grief and anxiety, and perceiving that his very presence was a comfort and support to her, he remained at her side for hours.
Hours, that to Lulu seemed like weeks or months. Alone in her room, in an agony of remorse and fear, she waited and watched and listened for her father's coming, longing for, and yet dreading it, more than words could express.
"What would his anger be like?" she asked herself. "What terrible punishment would he inflict? Would he ever love her again, especially if the baby should die?
"Perhaps he would send her away to some very far-off place, and never, never come near her any more."
Naturally of a very impatient temperament, suspense and passive waiting were well-nigh intolerable to her. By turns she walked the floor, fell on her knees by the bedside, and buried her face in a pillow, or threw herself into a chair by table or window, and hid it on her folded arms.
"Oh! would this long day, this dreadful, dreadful waiting for--what? ever come to an end?" she asked herself over and over again.
Yet, when at last the expected step drew near, she shuddered, trembled, and turned pale with affright, and, starting to her feet, looked this way and that with a wild impulse to flee: then, as the door opened, she dropped into her chair again, and covered her face with her shaking hands.
She heard the door close: the step drew nearer, nearer, and stopped close at her side. She dared not look up, but felt her father's eyes gazing sternly upon her.
"Miserable child!" he said at length, "do you know what your terrible temper has wrought?--that in your mad passion you have nearly or quite killed your little sister? that, even should she live, she may be a life-long sufferer, in consequence of your fiendish act?"
"O papa, don't!" she pleaded in broken accents, cowering and shrinking as if he had struck her a deadly blow.
"You deserve it," he said: "indeed, I could not possibly inflict a worse punishment than your conduct merits. But what is the use of punishing you? nothing reforms you! I am in despair of you! You seem determined to make yourself a curse to me instead of the blessing I once esteemed you. What am I to do with you? Will you compel me to cage or chain you up like a wild beast, lest you do some one a fatal injury?"
A cry of pain was her only answer, and he turned and left the room.
"Oh!" she moaned, "it's worse than if he had beaten me half to death! he thinks I'm too bad, even to be punished; because nothing will make me good: he says I'm a curse to him, so he must hate me; though he used to love me dearly, and I loved him so too! I suppose everybody hates me now, and always will. I wish I was dead and out of their way. But, oh! no, I don't; for I'm not fit to die. Oh! what shall I do? I wish it was I that was hurt instead of the baby. I'd like to go away and hide from everybody that knows me; then I shouldn't be a curse and trouble to papa or any of them."
She lifted her head, and looked about her. It was growing dusk. Quick as a flash came the thought that now was her time; now, while almost everybody was so taken up with the critical condition of the injured little one; now, before the servants had lighted the lamps in rooms and halls.
She would slip down a back stairway, out into the grounds, and away, she cared not whither.
Always impulsive, and now full of mental distress, she did not pause a moment to consider, but, snatching up a hat and coat lying conveniently at hand, stole noiselessly from the room, putting them on as she went.
She gained a side-door without meeting any one; and the grounds seemed deserted as she passed round the house and entered the avenue, down which she ran with swift footsteps, after one hasty glance around to make sure that she was not seen.
She reached the great gates, pushed them open, stepped out, letting them swing to after her, and started on a run down the road.
But the next instant some one had caught her: a hand was on her shoulder, and a stern, astonished voice cried, "Lulu! is it possible this can be you? What are you doing out here in the public road alone, and in the darkness of evening? Where were you going?"
"I--I--don't want--to tell you, papa," she faltered.
"Where were you going?" he repeated, in a tone that said an answer he would have, and that at once.
"Nowhere--anywhere to get away from this place, where everybody hates me!" she replied sullenly, trying to wrench herself free. "Please let me go, and I'll never come back to trouble you any more."
He made no reply to that, but simply took her band in a firm grasp, and led her back to the house, back to her own room, where he shut himself in with her, locking the door on the inside.
Then he dropped her hand, and began pacing the floor to and fro, seemingly in deep and troubled thought, his arms folded, his head bowed upon his breast.
A servant had brought in a light during Lulu's absence; and now, looking timidly up at her father, she saw his face for the first time since they had bidden each other farewell a year before. It struck her as not only very pale, stern, and grief-stricken, but very much older and more deeply lined than she remembered it: she did not know that the change had been wrought almost entirely in the last few hours, yet recognized it with a pang nevertheless.
"Papa is growing old," she thought: "are there gray hairs in his head, I wonder?" Then there came dimly to her recollection some Bible words about bringing a father's gray hairs down with sorrow to the grave. "Was her misconduct killing her father?" She burst into an agony of sobs and tears at the thought.
He lifted his head, and looked at her gravely, and with mingled sternness and compassion.
"Take off that hat and coat, get your night-dress, and make yourself ready for bed," he commanded, then, stepping to the table, sat down, drew the lamp nearer, opened her Bible, lying there, and slowly turned over the leaves as if in search of some particular passage, while she moved slowly about the room, tremblingly and tearfully obeying his order.
"Shall I get into bed, papa?" she asked tremulously, when she had finished.
"No, not yet. Come here."
She went and stood at his side, with drooping head and fast-beating heart, her eyes on the carpet, for she dared not look in his face.
He seemed to have found the passage he sought; and, keeping the book open with his left hand, he turned to her as she stood at his right.
"Lucilla," he said, and his accents were not stern, though very grave and sad, "you cannot have forgotten that I have repeatedly and positively forbidden you to go wandering alone about unfrequented streets and roads, even in broad daylight; yet you attempted to do that very thing to-night in the darkness, which, of course, makes it much worse."
"Yes, papa; but I--I didn't mean ever to come back."
"You were running away?"
"Yes, sir: I--I thought you would be glad to get rid of me," she sobbed.
He did not speak again for a moment; and when he did, it was in moved tones.
"Supposing I did desire to be rid of you,--which is very far from being the case,--I should have no right to let you go; for you are my own child, whom God has given to me to take care of, provide for, and train up for his service. You and I belong to each other as parent and child: you have no right to run away from my care and authority, and I have none to let you do so. In fact, I feel compelled to punish the attempt quite severely, lest there should be a repetition of it."
"Oh, don't, papa!" she sobbed. "I'll never do it again."
"It was an act of daring, wilful disobedience," he said, "and I must punish you for it. Also, for the fury of passion indulged in this morning. Read this, and this, aloud," he added, pointing to the open page; and she obeyed, reading faltering, sobbingly,--
"'Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.' ... 'Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.'"
"You see, my child, that my orders are too plain to be misunderstood," he said, when she had finished; "and they must be obeyed, however unwelcome to me or to you."
"Yes, papa; and--and I--I--'most want you to whip me for hurting the baby so. I suppose nobody believes I'm sorry, but I am. I could beat myself for it, though I didn't know it was the baby pulling at my skirt. I thought it was Rosie's dog."
"It is not exactly for hurting the baby," he said; "if you had done that by accident, I should never think of punishing you for it: but for the fury of passion that betrayed you into doing it, I must punish you very severely.
"I shudder to think what you may come to, if I let you go on indulging your fiery, ungovernable temper: yes, and to think what it has already brought you to," he added, with a heavy sigh.
"You can never enter heaven unless you gain the victory over that, as well as every other sin: and, my daughter, there are but two places to choose from as our eternal home,--heaven and hell; and I must use every effort to deliver your soul from going to that last--dreadful place!"
He rose, stepped to the window where her little riding-whip still lay, came back to her; and for the next few minutes she forgot mental distress in sharp, physical pain, as the stinging, though not heavy, blows fell thick and fast on her thinly covered back and shoulders.
She writhed and sobbed under them, but neither screamed, nor pleaded for mercy.
When he had finished, he sat down again, and drew the weeping, writhing child in between his knees, put his arm about her in tender, fatherly fashion, and made her lay her head on his shoulder; but he said not a word. Perhaps his heart was too full for speech.
Presently Lulu's arm crept round his neck. "Papa," she sobbed, "I--I do love you, and I--I'm glad you wouldn't let me run away,--and that you try to save me from losing my soul. But oh, I can't be good! I wish, I wish I could!" she ended, with a bitter, despairing cry.
He was much moved.
"We will kneel down, and ask God to help you, my poor, dear child," he said.
He did so, making her kneel beside him, while, with his arm still about her, he poured out a prayer so earnest and tender, so exactly describing her feelings and her needs, that she could join in it with all her heart. He prayed like one talking to his Father and Friend, who he knew was both able and willing to do great things for him and his.
When they had risen from their knees, she lifted her eyes to his face with a timid, pleading look.
He understood the mute petition, and, sitting down again, drew her to his knee, and kissed her several times with grave tenderness.
"I wanted a kiss so badly, papa," she said. "You know, it is a whole year since I had one; and you never came home before without giving me one just as soon as we met."
"No; but I never before had so little reason to bestow a caress on you," he said. "When I heard of your deed of this morning, I felt that I ought not to show you any mark of favor, at least not until I had given you the punishment you so richly deserved. Do you not think I was right?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, hanging her head, and blushing deeply.
"I will put you in your bed now, and leave you for to-night," he said. "I must go back to my little suffering baby and her almost heart-broken mother."
He led her to the bed, and lifted her into it as he spoke.
"Papa, can't I have a piece of bread?" she asked humbly. "I'm so hungry!"
"Hungry!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Had you no supper?"
"No, sir, nor dinner either. I haven't had a bite to eat since breakfast."
"Strange!" he said; "but I suppose you were forgotten in the excitement and anxiety every one in the house has felt ever since the baby's sad fall. And they may have felt it unnecessary to bring any thing to you, as you were quite able to go to the dining-room for it."
"I couldn't bear to, papa," she said, with tears of shame and grief; "and, indeed, I wasn't hungry till a little while ago; but now I feel faint and sick for something to eat."
"You shall have it," he replied, and went hastily from the room, to return in a few minutes, bringing a bowl of milk and a plentiful supply of bread and butter.
He set them on the table, and bade her come and eat.
"Papa, you are very kind to me, ever so much kinder than I deserve," she said tremulously, as she made haste to obey the order. "I think some fathers would say I must go hungry for to-night."
"I have already punished you in what I consider a better way, because it could not injure your health," he said; "while going a long time without food would be almost sure to do so. It is not my intention ever to punish my children in a way to do them injury. Present pain is all I am at all willing to inflict, and that only for their good."
"Yes, papa, I know that," she said with a sob, setting down her bowl of milk to wipe her eyes; "so, when you punish me, it doesn't make me quit loving you."
"If I did not love you, if you were not my own dear child," he said, laying his hand on her head as he stood by her side, "I don't think I could be at the trouble and pain of disciplining you as I have to-night. But eat your supper: I can't stay with you much longer, and I want to see you in bed before I go."
As she laid her head on her pillow again, there was a flash of lightning, followed instantly by a .crash of thunder and a heavy downpour of rain.
"Do you hear that?" he asked. "Now, suppose I had let you go when I caught you trying to run away, how would you feel, alone out of doors, in the darkness and storm, no shelter, no home, no friends, no father to take care of you, and provide for your wants?"
"O papa! it would be very, very dreadful!" she sobbed, putting her arm round his neck as he bent over her. "I'm very glad you brought me back, even to punish me so severely; and I don't think I'll ever want to run away again."
"I trust not," he said, kissing her good-night; "and you must not leave this room till I give you permission. I intend that you shall spend some days in solitude,--except when I see fit to come to you,--that you may have plenty of time and opportunity to think over your sinful conduct and its dire consequences."