Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"After the storm, a calm; after the rain, sunlight."
As Capt. Raymond passed through the hall on which Lulu's room opened, a little girl, dressed in deep mourning, rose from the broad, low sill of the front window, where she had been sitting waiting for the last few minutes, and came forward to meet him. She was a rather delicate-looking, sweet-faced child, with large dark eyes, full of intelligence.
"Capt. Raymond?" she said inquiringly, and with a timid look up into his face.
"Yes," he said, holding out his hand to her with a fatherly smile: "and you, I suppose, are my Lulu's little friend, Evelyn Leland?"
"Yes, sir: we--uncle Lester, aunt Elsie, little Ned, and I--have been away visiting at some distance, and did not hear of--of the baby's bad fall till we came home this afternoon. We are all so sorry, so very sorry! Aunt Elsie is with aunt Vi now; and I--oh! please, sir, may I go to Lulu?"
"My dear little girl, I should like to say yes, for your sake,--and Lulu's too,--but for the present I think best not to allow her to see any one," he said in a kindly tone, and affectionately pressing the little hand she had put into his. "But," seeing the disappointment in her face, "I entirely approve of the intimacy, and hope it will be kept up; for I think it has been of benefit to Lulu."
"Thank you, sir," she returned, coloring with pleasure. "But Lulu told me you had quite determined to send her away from here: I hope you will reconsider, and--let her stay," with a very coaxing look up into his face.
He smiled. "Can you keep a secret?" he asked,--"one from Lulu only, and that for but a few days?"
"Try me, sir," she answered brightly.
"I will. I have left the navy, and expect to settle down in this neighborhood. In that case, you and Lulu will not be separated; for my strongest reason for the change was, that I might have her constantly with me, and train her up as I think she should be trained; as perhaps no one but her father can train her."
Evelyn's face had grown very bright. "Oh, how delighted, how happy Lu will be when she hears it!" she exclaimed; "for, do you know, sir, she thinks there is nobody in the world to compare to her father?"
Those words brought a glad look into his face for the moment.
"Yes," he said, "she is a warm-hearted, affectionate child; a dear child, in spite of her quick temper."
A door had opened and closed: a step was coming down the hall, and a cheerful voice in his rear said, "Captain, I have good news for you: there has been a great, a really wonderful change for the better in the last hour; the child will live, and I hope, I believe, entirely recover from the injuries caused by her fall."
Before the doctor's sentence was finished, the captain had turned, and caught his hand in a vice-like grasp: his eyes filled, his breast heaved with emotions too big for utterance; he shook the hand warmly, dropped it, and, without a word, hurried into the nursery.
He found nearly the whole family gathered there, every face full of a great gladness.
The doctor, however, following him in, speedily cleared the room of all but two or three: only the two Elsies, besides himself and the parents, were left.
Violet looked up at her husband as he entered, with a face so bright and joyous that it recalled the days of their honeymoon.
"Oh, how happy I am! how good God has been to us!" she whispered, as he bent down to kiss her: "our darling is spared to us! See how sweetly she is sleeping!"
"Yes," he returned, in the same low tone, his features working with emotion: "and what double reason for joy and gratitude have I--the father of both the injurer and the injured!"
"Forgive me that I have felt a little hard to Lulu. I can and do forgive her now," she said, her sweet eyes looking penitently into his.
"Darling," he returned with emotion, "I have nothing to forgive, but shall be very glad if you can find any love in your heart, after this, for my wayward child, little as she merits it."
Then, without waiting for a reply, he turned to Mrs. Leland with a brotherly greeting, not having seen her before since his arrival at Ion.
"Vi has told me the glad tidings you brought her yesterday," she said, as he held her hand in his; "and I can't tell you how delighted we all are to know that you have come to stay among us."
"And now I can rejoice in that to the full, my dear, dear husband," Violet said, dropping her head on his shoulder as he sat down by her side, and put his arm about her.
For a little while they all sat silently watching the sleeping babe; then Arthur glanced at the clock, and, with a low-toned promise to be back in an hour, rose, and left the room.
"Excuse me for a little, dear," the captain said to Violet, and softly followed Arthur out to the hall.
"Can you spare me a moment?" he asked.
"Yes, full five of them, if necessary," was the jovial reply.
Arthur's heart was so light in consequence of the improvement in his young patient, that a jest came readily to his lips.
"Thank you," returned the captain warmly, then went on to describe Lulu's condition, and ask what should be done for her.
"Relieve her mind as speedily as possible with the good news of the certainty of the baby's recovery, and, if you choose, the other glad tidings you brought us yesterday," Arthur answered. "The mental strain of the past two days has evidently been too much for her: she must have suffered greatly from grief, remorse, and terror. Relief from those will be the best medicine she could have, and probably work a speedy cure. Good-evening."
He hurried away, and the captain went at once to Lulu.
She was on the bed where he had left her, but, at the opening of the door, started up, and turned to him with a look of wild affright.
"Papa!" she cried breathlessly, "is--is the baby?--Oh, no! for how glad your face is!"
"Yes, baby is very much better; in fact, quite out of danger, the doctor thinks. And you? have you not slept?" he asked, bending over her in tender solicitude; for she had fallen back on her pillow, and was sobbing as if her heart would break, weeping for joy as she had before wept with sorrow, remorse, and penitence.
He lifted her from the bed, and sat down with her in his arms.
"Don't cry so, daughter, dear," he said soothingly, softly caressing her hair and cheek: "it will make your head ache still more."
"I can't help it, papa: I'm so glad, so very, very glad!" she sobbed; "so glad the dear baby will get well, and that I--I'm not a murderess. Papa, won't you thank God for me?"
"Yes," he said with emotion,--"for you and myself and all of us."
When they had risen from their knees, "Now I hope you can sleep a while, and afterward eat some supper," he said, lifting her, and gently laying her on the bed again.
"O papa! I wish you could stay with me a little longer," she cried, clinging to his hand.
"I cannot stay now, daughter," he said; "but I will come in again to bid you good-night."
He leaned over her, and kissed her several times. She threw her arm round his neck, and drew him down closer.
"Dear, dear papa!" she sobbed: "you are the best father in the world! and oh, I wish I was a better girl! Do you think I--I'm a curse to you now?"
"I think--I believe you are going to be a very great blessing to me, my own darling," he answered in tones tremulous with emotion. "I fear I was hard and cruel in what I said when I came to you that first time last night."
"No, papa, I deserved it every bit; but it 'most broke my heart, because I love you so. Oh, I do want to be a blessing to you, and I mean to try with all my might!"
"My dear little girl, my own little daughter, that is all I can ask," he said, repeating his caresses.
Then he covered her up with tender care, and left her, weary and exhausted with the mental suffering of the last two days, but with a heart singing for joy over his restored affection and the assurance of the baby's final recovery.
She expected to stay awake till he came again, but in less than five minutes was fast asleep.
The captain found Max and Gracie hovering near as he passed out into the hall.
"Papa," they said, coming hastily forward, "may we go in to see Lulu now?" Max adding, "I was too angry with her at first to want to see her, but I've got over that now." Grace: "And mayn't she know now that we're going to keep you always at home?" taking his hand in both of hers, and looking up coaxingly into his face.
"No, my dears, not to-night," he said: "she has cried herself sick--has a bad headache, and I want her to try to sleep it off."
"Poor Lu! she must have been feeling awfully all this time," Max said. "I wish I hadn't been so very angry with her."
"You look very happy--you two," their father said, smiling down at them.
"So do you, sir," returned Max; "and I'm so glad, for you've been looking heart-broken ever since you came home."
"Pretty much as I have felt," he sighed, patting Gracie's cheek as he spoke.
"We are just as happy as we can be, papa," she said; "only I"--
"Well?" he said inquiringly as she paused, leaving her sentence unfinished.
"I'm just hungry to sit on your knee a little while; but," ruefully, "I s'pose you haven't time."
"Come into the nursery with me, and you shall sit there as long as you like, and are willing to keep perfectly quiet, so as not to disturb baby."
"Oh! thank you, papa," she returned joyously, slipping her hand into his. "I'll be as quiet as a mouse."
"I hope my turn will come to-morrow," remarked Max. "I've a hundred questions I want to ask."
"As many as you like, my boy, when I have time to listen; though I don't promise to answer them all to your entire satisfaction," his father replied, as he passed on into the nursery, taking Grace with him.
Max went down-stairs, where he found Evelyn Leland sitting alone in one of the parlors, waiting till her aunt Elsie should be ready to go back to Fairview.
"Max," she said, as he came in, and took a seat at her side, "you have just the nicest kind of a father!"
"Yes, that's so!" he returned heartily: "there couldn't be a better one."
"I wish he would let me see Lu," Evelyn went on: "I was in hopes he would after the doctor had told him the baby was sure to get well."
"I think he would, but that Lu has cried herself sick, and he wants her to sleep off her headache. He refused to let Gracie and me in for that reason."
"Poor thing!" Evelyn exclaimed, tears springing to her eyes. "I should think it must have been almost enough to set her crazy. But how happy she will be when she hears that your father isn't going away again, and means to keep her at home with him."
"Yes, indeed; she'll go wild with joy; it's what all three of us have wanted to have happen more than any thing else we could think of.
"I've often envied boys that could live at home with their fathers; though," he added with a happy laugh, "I've said to myself many a time, that mine was enough nicer than theirs to make up for having to do without him so much of the time; at least, I'd never have been willing to swap fathers with one of 'em. No, indeed!"
"Of course not," said Evelyn. "And I'm so delighted that Lu and I are not to be separated! I can hardly wait to talk with her about it, and the good times we'll have together."
A nap and a nice supper had refreshed Lulu a good deal; but she felt weak and languid, and was lying on the bed again when her father returned to her room.
She looked up at him wistfully as he came and stood beside her, then her eyes filled with tears.
"What is it?" he asked, lifting her from the bed, seating himself, and drawing her into his arms: "what is your petition? for I read in your eyes that you have one to make."
"Papa, you won't send me away--very--soon, will you?" she pleaded in tremulous tones, her arm round his neck, her face hidden on his shoulder.
"Not till I go myself; then I shall take you with me."
"To a boarding-school?" she faltered.
"No: I'm going to put you in a private family."
Her face was still hidden, and she did not see the smile in his eyes.
"What kind of people are they, papa?" she asked with a deep-drawn sigh.
"Very nice people, I think: the wife and mother is a very lovely woman, and the four children--a boy and three girls--are, I presume, neither better nor worse than my own four. The gentleman, who will teach you himself, along with the others, and have the particular care and oversight of you, is perhaps rather stern and severe with any one who ventures to disobey his orders; but I am quite certain, that, if you are good and obedient, he will be very kind and indulgent, possibly a trifle more indulgent than he ought to be."
Lulu began to cry again. "I don't like men-teachers!" she sobbed. "I don't like a man to have any thing to do with me. Please, please don't send me there, papa!"
"You want me to relent, and let you stay on here if they will have you?"
"No, no, papa! I don't want to stay here! I don't want to see anybody here again, except Max and Gracie; because I'm so ashamed of--of what I've done. I couldn't look any of them in the face, for I know they must despise me."
"I am sure you are mistaken in that, my child," he said gravely. "But what is it you do desire?"
"To be with you, papa. Oh, if I could only go with you!"
"And leave Max and Gracie?"
"I'll have to leave them, anyhow, if you take me away from here; and, though I love them very much, I love you a great deal better."
"I'm afraid you would have a doleful time on shipboard, with no young companions, nobody to see or speak to but your father and the other officers."
"I wouldn't care for that, or any thing, if I could only be with you. Papa, you don't know how I love you!"
"Then, I'll take you with me when I leave here; and you need never live away from me any more, unless you choose."
"Papa," she cried, lifting her head to look up into his face, with glad, astonished eyes, "do you really mean it? May I go with you?"
He held her close, with a joyous laugh.
"Why, I understood you to say, a moment since, that you didn't want to be in the care of a man,--any man."
"But you know I didn't mean you, papa."
"But I am the gentleman I spoke of a little while ago, as the one in whose care I intended to put you."
"Papa," she said, with a bewildered look, "I don't understand."
Then he told her; and she was, as Max had foreseen, almost wild with delight.
"Oh!" she cried, "how nice, nice it will be to have a home of our very own, and our father with us all the time! Papa, I think I sha'n't sleep a wink to-night, I'm so glad."
"I trust it will not have that effect," he said, "I hesitated a little about telling you to-night, lest it might interfere with your rest; but you seemed so unhappy about your future prospects, that I felt I must relieve you of the fear of being sent away among strangers."
"You are so very good and kind to me, papa," she returned gratefully. "Where is our dear home to be?"
"I don't know, yet," he said. "I have not had time to look about in search of house or land; but I hope to be able to buy or build a house somewhere in this region, as near Ion as a pleasant location can be found."
"I hope you'll find a house ready built, papa," she said. "I shouldn't know how to wait for one to be built."
"Not if, by waiting, we should, in the end, have a much nicer, pleasanter one?"
She considered a moment. "Couldn't we rent a house to live in while we get our own built?"
"I think that plan might answer quite well," he said with a smile. "I had no idea you were such a business woman. Probably that is what we will do, for I am as anxious to get to housekeeping as even you can be."
"But, papa," she exclaimed, with a look as if struck by a sudden and not very pleasant thought, "may I--will you be vexed if I ask you something?"
"Suppose you find out by asking?"
"I--I hope you won't think it's impertinence, papa, I don't mean it for that," she said with hesitation, hanging her head, and blushing; "but--but--I hope it isn't mamma Vi's money we're to live on?"
He put his hand under her chin, and lifted her face, so that he could look down into her eyes; and she drew a long breath of relief as she perceived that he was smiling at her.
"No," he said. "You come honestly by your pride of independence. I would no more live on mamma Vi's money than you would."
"Oh, I'm so glad! But--then, how can you do without your pay, papa?"
"Because my heavenly Father has prospered me, and given me money enough of my own (or, rather, lent it to me; for all we have belongs to him, and is only lent to us for a time) to provide all that is necessary for my family, and educate my children.
"Now we have had a long talk, which has, I trust, made my dear little girl much happier; and it is time for you to go to your bed for the night."
"I don't like to have you leave me," she said, clinging about his neck; "but you were very kind to stay so long. Won't you come soon in the morning?"
"You are not a prisoner any longer," he said, caressing her: "you are free to leave this room, and go where you choose about the house and grounds to-morrow."
"But I don't want to. O papa! I can't face them! Mayn't I stay in my room till you are ready to take me to our own home?"
"You will have to face them sometime," he said; "but we will see what can be done about it. Would you like to see Max and Gracie to-night?"
"Gracie, ever so much; but Max--I--I don't know how he feels toward me, papa."
"Very kindly. He has been asking permission to come in to see you; and Gracie has pleaded quite hard for it, and to have you forgiven, and told the good news."
"Gracie always is so dear and kind," she said tremulously; "and Maxie isn't often cross with me. Yes, papa, I should like to see them both."
"Your friend Evelyn was here this afternoon, asking permission to come in to see you, but is gone now. You may see her to-morrow, if you want to. Ah! I hear your brother and sister in the hall."
He opened the door, and called to them. They came bounding in, so full of delight over the pleasant prospect opening before them, as hardly to remember that Lulu had been in such dreadful disgrace.
"O Lu! has papa told you the good news?" they cried.
"And aren't you glad?"
"Yes; glad as glad can be. But, oh, I wish the home was ready to go into to-night!"
Her father laughed. "I think you were born in a hurry, Lulu," he said. "You are never willing to wait a minute for any thing.
"Well, I suppose you children would prefer to be left to yourselves for a while; so I will leave you. You may talk fifteen minutes together, but no longer; as it is your bedtime now, Gracie's at least."
"O papa! don't go!" they all exclaimed in a breath. "Please stay with us: we'd rather have you, a great deal rather!"
He could not resist their entreaties, so sat down, and drew his two little girls into his arms, while Max stationed himself close at his side.
"My dear children," he said, "you can hardly be happier in the prospect before us than your father is."
"Is mamma Vi glad?" asked Lulu.
"Yes; quite as much rejoiced, I think, as any of the rest of us."
"But doesn't she want me sent away to school or somewhere?" with a wistful, anxious gaze into his face. "Is she willing to have me in the new home, papa?"
"Yes, daughter, more than willing: she wants you to be under your father's constant care and watchfulness, hoping that so he may succeed in teaching you to control your temper."
"She's very good and forgiving," was Lulu's comment in a low and not unmoved tone.
"Papa, when will you begin to look for the new home?" asked Grace, affectionately stroking his cheek and whiskers with her small white hand.
"I have been looking at advertisements," he said; "and, now that baby is out of danger, I shall begin the search in earnest."
"Can we afford a big house, and handsome furniture, papa?" queried Lulu.
"And to keep carriage and riding horses?" asked Max.
"I hope my children have not been so thoroughly spoiled by living in the midst of wealth and luxury, that they could not content themselves with a moderately large house, and plain furniture?" he said gravely.
"I'd rather live that way with you, than have all the fine things, and you not with us, dear papa," Lulu said, putting her arm round his neck, and laying her cheek to his.
"And I," said Max and Grace.
"And I," he responded, smiling affectionately upon them, "would prefer such a home with my children about me, to earth's grandest palace without them. Millions of money could not buy one of my treasures!"
"Not me, papa?" whispered Lulu tremulously, with her lips close to his ear.
"No, dear child, not even you," he answered, pressing her closer to his side. "You are no less dear than the others."
"I deserve to be," she said with tears in her voice. "It would be just and right, papa, if you did not love me half so well as any of your other children."
She spoke aloud this time, as her father had.
"We all have our faults, Lu," remarked Max, "but papa loves us in spite of them."
"'God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,'" quoted the captain. "If God so loved me, while yet his enemy, a rebel against his rightful authority, I may well love my own children in spite of all their faults, even were those faults more and greater by far than they are."
"Then, papa, I think we should love you well enough to try very hard to get rid of them," returned Max.
"And the wonderful love of God for us should constrain us to hate and forsake all sin," said his father. "The Bible bids us to 'be followers of God as dear children.' And oh, how we should hate sin when we remember that it crucified our Lord!"
There was a momentary silence: then the children began talking joyfully again of the new home in prospect for them, and their hopes and wishes in regard to it.
Their father entered heartily into their pleasure, and encouraged them to express themselves freely, until the clock, striking nine, reminded him that more than the allotted time for the interview had passed. Then he bade them say good-night, and go to their beds, promising that they should have other opportunities for saying all they wished on the subject.