Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"The dread of evil is the worst of ill."
On leaving the breakfast-room, Violet hastened back to the nursery; but the captain, calling Max and Grace into her boudoir, said, as he took the little girl on his knee, and motioned Max to sit by his side,--
"I have some news for you, my children: can you guess what it is?"
"Something good, I hope, papa," said Max: "you look as if it was."
"I am very much pleased with my share of it," the captain said, smiling; "and I shall know presently, I presume, what you two think of yours. What would you like it to be, Gracie?"
"That my papa was never, never going away any more," she answered promptly, lifting loving eyes to his face.
"There couldn't be better news than that," remarked Max; "but," with a profound sigh, "of course it can't be that."
"Ah! don't be quite so sure, young man," laughed his father.
"Papa, you don't mean to say that that is it?" queried Max breathlessly.
"I do: I have resigned from the navy, and hope soon to have a home ready for my wife and children, and to live in it with them as long as it shall please God to spare our lives."
Tears of joy actually came into the boy's eyes; while Gracie threw her arms round their father's neck, and half smothered him with kisses.
"O papa, papa!" she cried, "I'm so glad, I don't know what to do! I'm the happiest girl in the world!--or should be, if only the dear baby was well," she added, with springing tears.
"Yes," he sighed: "we cannot feel other than sad, while she is suffering and in danger. But she is a trifle better this morning, and we will hope the improvement may continue till she is entirely restored."
"She's such a darling!" said Max; "just the brightest, cutest baby that ever was seen! Mamma Vi has taught her to know your photograph; and, whenever she sees it, she says, 'Papa,' as plainly as I can. She calls me too, and Lu. Oh! I don't know how Lulu could"--He broke off, without finishing his sentence.
"Lu didn't do it on purpose," sobbed Gracie, pulling out her handkerchief to wipe her eyes.
"No," sighed the captain: "I am quite sure she had no intention of harming her little sister, yet she is responsible for it as the consequence of indulging in a fit of rage; she feels that: and I hope the distress of mind she is now suffering because of the dreadful deed she has done in her passion, will be such a lesson to her, that she will learn to rule her own spirit in future."
"Oh, I do hope so!" said Grace. "Papa, does Lulu know your good news?"
"No. I have not told her yet; and I intend to keep her in ignorance of it for some days, as part of her deserved punishment. I do not want her to have any thing to divert her mind from the consideration of the great sin and danger of such indulgence of temper."
"You haven't quit loving her, papa? you won't?" Grace said, half entreatingly, half inquiringly.
"No, daughter, oh, no!" he replied with emotion. "I don't know what would ever make me quit loving any one of my dear children."
He drew her closer, and kissed her fondly as he spoke.
"I am very glad of that, papa," said Max feelingly; "for though I do mean to be always a good son to you, if I ever should do any thing very, very bad, I'd not be afraid to confess it to you. I could stand punishment, you know; but I don't think I could bear to have you give up being fond of me."
A warm pressure of the lad's hand was the captain's only reply at first; but presently he said, "I trust you will always be perfectly open with me, my dear boy. You don't think, do you, that you could have a better--more disinterested--earthly friend than your father?"
"No, sir! oh, no, indeed!"
"Then make me your confidant," his father said, with a smile and look that spoke volumes of fatherly pride and affection; "let me into all your secrets. Now that I am to be with you constantly, I shall take a deeper interest than ever in all that concerns you,--if that be possible,--in your studies, your sports, your thoughts and feelings. You may always be sure of my sympathy, and such help as I can give in every right and wise undertaking."
"I'll do that, papa!" Max exclaimed with a sudden, glad, lighting-up of the face. "Why, it'll be as good as having the brother I've often wished for!" he added with a pleased laugh; "better, in some ways, anyhow; for you'll be so much wiser than any boy, and keep me out of scrapes with your good advice."
"Papa," queried Grace, with a little bashful hesitation, "mayn't I have you for my friend too?"
"Yes, indeed, my darling little girl!" he answered with a hug and kiss. "I should like to be quite as intimate with you as I hope to be with Max."
"With Lulu too?" she asked.
"Yes; with every one of my children."
Max had averted his face to hide his amusement at his little sister's question in regard to her father's friendship for herself, for the timid, sensitive little girl could hardly bear to be laughed at; but now he turned to his father again with the query,--
"Papa, where are we going to live?"
"I don't know yet, Max," the captain answered; "but I hope to be able to buy or build somewhere in this neighborhood, as I should be loath to take your mamma far away from her mother,--myself either, for that matter; and I presume you would all prefer to live near these kind friends?"
"I am sure I should," said Max. "But, papa,"--he paused, coloring, and casting down his eyes.
"Well, my boy, what is it? don't be afraid to talk freely to your intimate friend," his father said in a kindly tone, and laying a hand affectionately on the lad's shoulder.
"Please don't think me impertinent, papa," Max said, coloring still more, "but I was just going to ask how you could live without your pay; as I have heard you say it was nearly all you had."
"I am not at all offended at the inquiry," was the kindly reply. "The intimacy and confidences are not to be all on one side, my boy.
"I am quite willing you should know that am able now to do without the pay, some land belonging to me in the Far West having so risen in value as to afford me sufficient means for the proper support of my family, and education of my children."
"Oh, that is good!" cried Max, clapping his hands in delight. "And if it is used up by the time I'm grown and educated, I hope I'll be able to take care of you, and provide for you as you do now for me."
"Thank you, my dear boy," the captain said with feeling; "the day may come when you will be the stay and staff of my old age; but, however that may be, you may be sure that nothing can add more to your father's happiness than seeing you growing up to honorable and Christian manhood."
"Yes, sir: it's what I want to do." Then, a little anxiously, after a moment's thought, "Am I to be sent away to school, sir?"
"I have not quite decided that question, and your wishes will have great weight with me in making the decision. I shall keep Lulu at home, and educate her myself,--act as her tutor, I mean,--and if my boy would like to become my pupil also"--
"O papa! indeed, indeed I should!" exclaimed Max joyfully, as his father paused, looking smilingly at him; "and I'll try hard to do you credit as my teacher as well as my father."
"Then we will make the trial," said the captain. "If it should not prove a success, there will be time enough after that to try a school."
"What about me, papa?" asked Grace wistfully, feeling as if she were being overlooked in the arrangements.
"You, too, shall say lessons to papa," he answered with tender look and tone. "Shall you like that?"
"Ever so much!" she exclaimed, lifting glad, shining eyes to his face.
"Now you may go back to your play," he said, gently putting her off his knee. "I must go to your mamma and our poor, suffering baby."
He went; but the children lingered a while where they were, talking over this wonderfully good news.
"Now," said Max, "if Lu had only controlled her temper yesterday, what a happy family we'd be!"
"Yes," sighed Grace; "how I do wish she had! Oh, I'm so sorry for her, that she doesn't know this about papa going to stay with us all the time! 'Sides, she's 'specting to be sent away somewhere; and how dreadfully she must feel! Papa's punishing her very hard, and very long; but of course he knows best, and he loves her."
"Yes, I'm sure he does," assented Max: "so he won't give her any more punishment than he thinks she needs. It'll be a fine thing for her, and all the rest of us too, if this hard lesson teaches her never to get into a passion again."
Capt. Raymond had intended going to Lulu early in the day; but anxiety about the babe, and sympathy with Violet, kept him with them till late in the afternoon.
When at last he did go to his prisoner, he found her feverish with anxiety and fear for the consequences of her mad act of the day before.
She had been longing for his coming, moving restlessly about the room, feeling that she could not endure the suspense another moment; had at length thrown herself into a chair beside the window, and, as was her wont in times of over-wrought feeling, buried her face on her folded arms, laid on the window-sill.
She started up wildly at the sound of his step and the opening of the door.
"Papa," she cried breathlessly, "O papa! what--what have you come to tell me? Is--is the baby"--
"She is living, but far from out of danger," he said, regarding her with a very grave, stern expression; but it softened as he marked the anguish in her face.
He sat down, and drew her to his knee, putting his arm about her waist, and with the other hand clasping one of hers.
He was startled to feel how hot and dry it was.
"My child!" he exclaimed, "you are not well."
She dropped her head on his shoulder, and burst into a passion of tears and sobs. "Papa, papa! what shall I do if baby dies? Oh! I would do or bear any thing in the world to make her well."
"I don't doubt it, daughter," he said; "but a bitter lesson we all have to learn is, that we cannot undo the evil deeds we have done. Oh! let this dreadful occurrence be a warning to you to keep a tight rein upon your quick temper."
"Oh! I do mean to, indeed I do," she sobbed; "but that won't cure the dear baby's hurt. Papa, all day long I have been asking God to forgive me. Do you think he will?"
"I am sure that he has already done so, if you have asked with your heart, and for Jesus' sake. But we will ask him again for that, and to give you strength to fight against your evil nature as you never have fought, and to conquer."
"And to make the baby well, papa," she added sobbingly, as he knelt with her.
"Yes," he said.
When they had risen from their knees, he bade her get her hat and coat, saying, "You need fresh air and exercise. I will take you for a walk."
"I'd like to go, papa," she said; "but"--
"I--I'm afraid of--of meeting some of the family; and--and I don't want to see any of them."
"Perhaps we shall not meet them," he said; "and, if we do, you need not look toward them; and they will not speak to you. Put on your hat and coat at once: we have no time to lose."
She obeyed; and presently they were walking down the avenue, not having met any one on their way out of the house.
The captain moved on in silence, seemingly absorbed in sad thought, and hardly conscious that Lulu was by his side.
She glanced wistfully up into his grave, stern face two or three times, then said humbly, pleadingly, "Papa, please may I put my hand in yours?"
"Certainly," he said, looking down at her very kindly, as he took her hand, and held it in a warm, affectionate clasp. "Child, you have not lost your father's love. You are very dear to me, in spite of all your naughtiness."
He slackened his pace, for he saw she was finding it difficult to keep up with him; and his attention was again attracted to the heat of her hand.
"You are not well, perhaps not able to walk?" he said inquiringly, and in tenderly solicitous accents.
"It is pleasant to be out in the air, papa," she answered; "but it tires me a good deal more than usual."
"We will not go far, then," he said; "and, if your strength gives out before we get back to the house, I will carry you."
They were in the road now, some distance beyond the avenue-gates; and at this moment a number of horsemen came in sight, approaching from the direction opposite to that they were taking.
Perceiving them, Lulu uttered a sharp cry of terror, and shrank behind her father, though still clinging to his hand.
"What is it, daughter?" he asked in surprise: "what do you fear?"
"O papa, papa!" she sobbed, "are they coming to take me and put me in prison? Oh, don't let them have me!"
"Don't be frightened," he said soothingly. "Don't you see it is only some men who have been out hunting, and are going home with their game?"
"Oh! is that all?" she gasped, the color coming back to her face, which had grown deadly pale. "I thought it was the sheriff coming to put me in jail for hurting the baby. Will they do it, papa? Oh! you won't let them, will you?" she cried entreatingly.
"I could not protect you from the law," he said, in a moved tone; "but I think there is no danger that it will interfere. You did not hurt your sister intentionally, and she is still living. You are very young too; and, doubtless, everybody will think your punishment should be left to me, your father."
She was trembling like a leaf.
He turned aside to a fallen tree, sat down on it, and took her in his arms. She dropped her head on his shoulder, panting like a hunted thing.
"These two days have been too much for you," he said pityingly. "And that fear has tormented you all the time?"
"Yes, papa: oh, I thought I might have to be hung if baby died, and--it was--so--dreadful--to think I'd killed her--even if they didn't do any thing to me for it," she sobbed.
"Yes; very, very dreadful; perhaps more so to me--the father of you both--than to any one else," he groaned.
"Papa, I'm heart-broken about it," she sobbed "Oh, if I only could undo it!"
He was silent for a moment; then he said, "I know you are suffering very much from remorse; this is a bitter lesson to you; let it be a lasting one. I can relieve you of the fear of punishment from the law of the land; there is no danger of that now: but, if you do not lay this lesson to heart, there may come a time when that danger will be real; for there is no knowing what awful deed such an ungovernable temper as yours may lead you to commit.
"But don't despair: you can conquer it by determination, constant watchfulness, and the help from on high which will be given in answer to earnest prayer."
"Then it shall be conquered!" she cried vehemently. "I will fight it with all my might. And you will help me, papa, all you can, won't you, by watching me, and warning me when you see I'm beginning to get angry, and punishing me for the least little bit of a passion? But oh, I forget that you can't stay with me, or take me with you!" she cried with a fresh burst of sobs and tears. "Must you go back to your ship soon?"
"Not very soon," he said; "and I gladly promise to help you all I can in every way. I can do it with my prayers, even when not close beside you. But, my child, the struggle must be your own; all I can do will be of no avail unless you fight the battle yourself with all your strength.
"We will go home now," he added, rising, and taking her hand in his.
But they had gone only a few steps when he stooped, and took her in his arms, saying. "You are not able to walk. I shall carry you."
"But I am so heavy, papa," she objected.
"No, darling: I can carry you very easily," he said. "There, put your arm round my neck, and lay your head on my shoulder."
The pet name from his lips sent a thrill of joy to her heart; and it was very pleasant, very restful, to feel herself infolded in his strong arms.
He carried her carefully, tenderly along, holding her close, as something precious that he began to fear might slip from his grasp. She had always been a strong, healthy child, and heretofore he had scarcely thought of sickness in connection with her; but now he was alarmed at her state.
"Are you in pain, daughter?" he asked.
"Only a headache, papa; I suppose because I've cried so much."
"I think I must have the doctor see you."
"Oh, no, no, papa! please don't," she sobbed. "I don't want to see him or anybody."
"Then we will wait a little; perhaps you will be all right again by to-morrow."
He did not set her down till they had almost reached the house; and he took her in his arms again at the foot of the stairway, and carried her to her room, where he sat down with her on his knee.
"Papa, aren't you very tired, carrying such a big, heavy girl?" she asked, looking regretfully into his face.
"No; very little," he answered, taking off her hat, and laying his cool hand on her forehead. "Your head is very hot. I'll take off your coat, and lay you on the bed; and I want you to stay there for the rest of the day; go to sleep if you can."
"I will, papa," she answered submissively; then as he laid her down, and turned to leave her, "Oh, I wish you could stay with me!" she cried, clinging to him.
"I cannot now, daughter," he said, smoothing her hair caressingly. "I must go back to your mamma and the baby. But I will come in again to bid you good-night, and see that you are as comfortable as I can make you. Can you eat some supper?"
"I don't know, papa," she answered doubtfully.
"Well, I will send you some; and you can eat it, or not, as you feel inclined."