Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"I bless thee for kind looks and words Showered on my path like dew, For all the love in those deep eyes, A gladness ever new." --MRS. HEMANS.
A week had passed since Edward's accident; and he now exchanged his bed, during the day, for an easy-chair.
He and Zoe had just finished taking their breakfast together in her boudoir when a servant came in with the mail.
There were letters from Viamede,--one for Edward from his mother, one for Zoe from Betty Johnson.
Both brought the unwelcome tidings that little Grace Raymond and Violet's babe were very ill with scarlet-fever.
Edward read aloud his mother's announcement of the fact. "Yes," said Zoe. "Betty tells me the same thing. O Ned! how sorry I am for poor Vi! It would be hard enough for her if she had the captain with her, to help bear the burden and responsibility, and to share in her grief if they should die."
"Yes, it is hard for her; and I am glad she has mamma and grandpa and grandma with her. Mamma says Dick Percival is attending the children, and there is talk of telegraphing for Arthur.
"Ah," glancing from the window, "here he comes! He will perhaps bring us later news."
Arthur did so: the children were worse than at the date of the letters. He had just received his summons, and would obey it immediately, taking the next train; had called to tell them, and see how Edward was.
"Almost entirely recovered, tell my mother," Edward said, in reply to the query; "and you needn't go feeling any anxiety in regard to this one of your patients," he added playfully.
"I leave him in your care, Zoe," said Arthur; "and, if he does not do well, I shall hold you responsible."
"Then you must lay your commands upon him to obey my orders," she said, with a merry glance from one to the other.
"Would that be any thing new in his experience?" asked the doctor with mock gravity.
"It won't do to question us too closely," returned Zoe, coloring and laughing.
"She is a very good little wife, and tolerably obedient," laughed Edward. "Really, would you believe it? she told me once she actually enjoyed obeying--under certain circumstances; and so, I suppose, should I. Zoe, you mustn't be too hard on me."
"Oh! I intend to be very strict in seeing the doctor's orders carried out," she said; "and I expect to enjoy my brief authority immensely."
Dr. Conly took leave almost immediately, for he had no time to spare; and the reading of the letters was resumed.
Betty's was a long one, giving a full account, from her point of view, of the contest between Mr. Dinsmore and Lulu Raymond in regard to her refusal to take music-lessons of Signor Foresti after he had struck her. None of the family had mentioned the affair in their letters, even Rosie feeling that she had no warrant to do so; and the story was both new and interesting to Zoe.
Lulu had not yet submitted when Betty wrote, so the story as told in her letter left the little girl still in banishment at Oakdale Academy.
Zoe read the letter aloud to Edward.
"Lulu is certainly the most ungovernable child I have ever seen or heard of," he remarked, at its conclusion. "I often wonder at the patience and forbearance grandpa and mamma have shown toward her. In their place, I should have had her banished to a boarding-school long ago, one at a distance, too, so that she could not trouble me, even during holidays."
"So should I," said Zoe: "she hasn't the least shadow of a claim upon them."
"No: the captain feels that, and is duly grateful. It is evident, too, that Lulu's lack of gratitude, and her bad behavior, are extremely mortifying to him."
"But don't you think, Ned, it was rather hard to insist on her going back to that ill-tempered, abusive old music-teacher?"
"Yes," he acknowledged with some hesitation. "I rather wonder at grandpa."
"I wonder how it is going to end," said Zoe: "they are both so very determined, I should not like to stand in Lulu's shoes, nor yet in his."
A second letter from Betty, received a fort-night later, told how it had ended: though Betty, not being in Lulu's confidence as Evelyn was, knew nothing of Capt. Raymond's letter to his daughter, or of Lulu's confession in reply to it; so her story ended with the statement that Lulu had at last submitted, been restored to favor, and was at Magnolia Hall with Evelyn as a companion, all the children who were in health having been banished from Viamede to save them from the danger of catching the dreaded fever.
But to go back to the morning when the first instalment of her story was received.
"It must be a very anxious time for them,--the family at Viamede, I mean," remarked Edward musingly. "And poor, dear Vi is so young to have such burdens to bear. What a blessing that she has mamma with her!"
"Yes," said Zoe. "And, oh! I hope the children will get well, they are such darlings, both Gracie and the baby. I feel very sorry they are so ill, and yet I can't help rejoicing that my dear husband is able to sit up again.
"Is that quite heartless in me?" she asked, laying her hand on one of his, which rested on the arm of his easy-chair; for she was seated in a low rocker, close at his side.
"I think not," he answered, smiling down into her eyes. "It will do them no good for us to make ourselves unhappy. We will sympathize with, and pray for, them, but at the same time be thankful and joyful because of all God's goodness to us and them. 'Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.' 'Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation.'"
"You have certainly obeyed that last injunction," remarked Zoe, looking at him with affectionate admiration; "so patient and cheerful as you have been ever since your injury! Many a man would have grumbled and growled from morning to night; while you have been so pleasant, it was a privilege to wait on you."
"Thank you," he said, laughing: "it is uncommonly good in you to say that, but I'm afraid you are rather uncharitable in your judgment of 'many men.'
"Mamma has not yet heard of my accident," he remarked presently, "and wonders over my long silence. I'll write to her now, if you will be so kind as to bring me my writing-desk."
"I'm doubtful about allowing such exertion," she said: "you are left under my orders, you remember, and I'm to be held responsible for your continued improvement."
"Nonsense! that wouldn't hurt me," he returned, with an amused smile; "and if you won't get the desk, I'll go after it myself."
"No, you mustn't: I sha'n't allow it," she said, knitting her brows, and trying to look stern.
"Then get it for me."
"Well," she said reflectively, "I suppose there'll have to be a compromise. I'll get the desk, if you'll let me act as your amanuensis."
"We'll consider that arrangement after you have brought it."
"No: you must agree to my proposition first."
"Why, what a little tyrant you are!" he laughed. "Well, I consent. Now will you please to bring the desk?"
"Yes," she said, jumping up, and crossing the room to where it stood; "and if you are very good, you may write a postscript with your own hand."
"I'll do it all with my own hand," he said as she returned to his side.
"Why, Ned!" she exclaimed in surprise, "I thought you were a man of your word!"
"And so I am, I trust," he said, smiling at her astonished look, then catching her right hand in his. "Is not this mine?" he asked: "did you not give it to me?--Let me see--nearly two years ago?"
"Yes, I did," she answered, laughing and blushing with pleasure and happiness: "you are right; it is yours. So you have every right to use it, and must do so."
"Ah!" he said, "'a wilful woman will have her way,' I see: there never was a truer saying. No, that won't do," as she seated herself with the desk on her lap: "put it on the table. I can't have you bending over to write on your lap, and so growing round-shouldered, especially in my service."
"Any thing to please you," she returned gayly, doing as he directed. "I suppose my right hand is not all of me that you lay claim to?"
"No, indeed! I claim you altogether, as my better and dearer half," he said, his tone changing from jest to earnest, and the light of love shining in his eyes.
She ran to him at that, put her arms round his neck, and laid her cheek to his. "No, Ned, I can't have you say that," she murmured, "you who are so good and wise, while I am such a silly and faulty thing, not at all worthy to be your wife. Whatever made you marry me?"
"Love," he answered, drawing her closer, and fondly caressing her hair and cheek,--"love that grows stronger and deeper with every day we live together, dearest."
"Dear Ned, my own dear husband!" she said, hugging him tighter. "Words could never tell how much I love you, or how I rejoice in your love for me: you are truly my other, my best, half, and I don't know how I could live without you."
"Our mutual love is a cause for great gratitude to God," he said reverently. "There are so many miserably unhappy couples, I feel that I can never be thankful enough for the little wife who suits me so entirely."
"You are my very greatest earthly blessing," she replied, lifting her head, and gazing into his face with eyes shining with joy and love; "and your words make me very, very happy. Now," releasing herself from his embrace, "it's time to attend to business, isn't it? I am ready to write if you will dictate." And she seated herself before the desk, and took up her pen.
It was not a lengthened epistle. He began with an acknowledgment of the receipt of his mother's letter, expressed his sympathy in the sorrow and suffering at Viamede, gave a brief account of his accident, consequent illness, and partial recovery, highly eulogizing Zoe as the best of wives and nurses.
When he began that, her pen ceased its movement, and was held suspended over the paper, while, blushing deeply, she turned to him with a remonstrance.
"Don't ask me to write that: I am ashamed to have mamma see it in my handwriting."
"Go on," he said: "she will know they are my words, and not yours."
"Well, I obey orders," she replied with a smile; "but I don't half like to do it."
"Then let me," he said. "If you will hold the desk on the arm of my chair for five minutes, and give me the pen, I can finish up the thing easily, and without the least danger of hurting my precious self."
She did as directed. "There, now lie back in your chair, and rest," she said, when he had finished his note, and signed his name. "You do look a little tired," she added, with an anxious glance at him as she returned the desk to the table.
"Nonsense! tired with that slight exertion!" he responded gayly. "You may read that over, and see if it wants any correction."
She did so, then, turning toward him with an arch smile, asked, "May I criticise?"
"I should be happy to have the benefit of your criticism," he said, laughing; "but don't make it too severe, please."
"Oh, no! I was only thinking that mamma, judging of her by myself, would not be half satisfied with such a bare statement of facts, and that I had better write a supplement, giving her more of the particulars."
"I highly approve the suggestion," he answered, "only stipulating that you shall not spend too much time over it, and shall read it to me when finished."
"I'm afraid it won't be worth your hearing."
"Let me judge of that. If not worth my hearing, can it be worth mamma's reading?"
"Perhaps so," she said with a blush; "because what I tell will be news to her, but not to you."
"Ah! I hadn't thought of that. But I shall want to hear it all the same, and take my turn at criticism."
"If you are not more severe than I was, I can stand it," she said. "And now please keep quiet till I am done."
He complied, lying back at his ease, and amusing himself with watching her, admiring the graceful pose of her figure, the pretty face bending over the paper, and the small, white, shapely hand that was gliding swiftly back and forth.
"Come," he said at last, "you are making quite too long a story of it."
"Mamma won't think so," she retorted, without looking up; "and you know you are not obliged to hear it."
"Ah! but that is not the objection; I want to hear every word of it: but I can't spare my companion and nurse so long."
She turned to him with a bright smile. "What can I do for you, dear? Just tell me. The letter can be finished afterward, you know."
"I want nothing but you," was the smiling rejoinder. "Finish your letter, and then come and sit close by my side.
"But no; you must take your accustomed exercise in the open air."
Considering a moment, "I think," he said, "I'll have you order the carriage for about the time you are likely to be done there, and we'll have a drive together."
She shook her head gravely. "You are not fit for any such exertion."
"Uncle Ben and Solon shall help me down the stairs and into the carriage, so there need be no exertion about it."
"I won't consent," she said. "The doctor left you in my charge; and his orders were, that you should keep quiet for the next few days."
"You prefer to go alone, do you?"
"Yes, rather than have you injured by going with me."
"Come here," he said; and, laying down her pen, she obeyed.
He took both her hands in his, and, gazing with mock gravity up into her face as she stood over him, "What a little tyrant you are developing into!" he remarked, knitting his brows. "Will you order the carriage, and take a drive in my company?"
"Then what will you do?"
"Go by myself, or stay at home with you, just as you bid me."
"What a remarkable mixture of tyranny and submission," he exclaimed, laughing, as he pulled her down to put his arm round her, and kiss her first on one cheek, then on the other. "I'll tell you what we'll do: you finish that letter, read it to me, and take the benefit of my able criticisms; then I'll try to get a nap while you take your drive or walk, whichever you prefer."
"That will do nicely," she said, returning his caresses; "if you will be pleased to let me go, I'll order the carriage, finish the letter in five minutes, hear the able criticisms, put my patient to bed, and be off for my drive."
"Do so," he said, releasing her.
From this time forward, till the children were considered out of danger, and Edward was able to go about and attend to his affairs as usual, there were daily letters and telegrams passing between Viamede and Ion. Then Dr. Conly came home, and almost immediately on his arrival drove over to Ion to see for himself if his patient there had entirely recovered, and to carry some messages and tokens of affection from the absent members of the family.
It was late in the afternoon that he reached Ion, and he found Edward and Zoe sitting together in the parlor; she with a bit of embroidery in her hands, he reading aloud to her.
Arthur was very warmly welcomed by both.
"Cousin Arthur, I'm delighted to see you!" cried Zoe, giving him her hand.
"And I no less so," added Edward, offering his. "How did you leave them all at Viamede?"
"All in health, except, of course, the two little ones who have been so ill," he said, taking the chair Edward drew forward for him; "and them we consider out of danger, with the careful attention they are sure to have."
"How have mamma and Vi stood the anxiety and nursing?" asked Edward.
"Quite as well as could have been expected. They have lost a little in flesh and color, but will, I think, soon regain both, now that their anxiety is relieved.
"And you, Ned, are quite yourself again, I should say, from appearances?"
"Yes; and I desire to give all credit to the nurse in whose charge you left me," returned Edward, with a smiling glance at Zoe.
"As is but fair," said Arthur. "I discovered her capabilities before I left."
"She made the most of her delegated authority," remarked Edward gravely. "I was allowed no will of my own, till I had so entirely recovered from my injuries that she had no longer the shadow of an excuse for depriving me of my liberty."
"I thought it was a good lesson for him," retorted Zoe. "I've read somewhere that nobody is fit to rule who hasn't first learned to obey."
"Ah! but that I learned before I was a year old," said Edward, laughing.
"Nobody would have thought it, seeing the trouble I had to make you obey," said Zoe.
"Now, cousin Arthur, tell us all about Viamede, and what you did and saw there."
"It is a lovely place," he said. "I expected to be disappointed after the glowing accounts I had heard, but I feel like saying, 'The half has not been told me;'" and he plunged into an enthusiastic description of the mansion, its grounds, and the surrounding country.
"I was loath to leave it," he said in conclusion.
"And you make me more desirous to see it than ever," said Zoe.
"Oh, do tell us! had Capt. Raymond been heard from before you left? We have seen by the papers that the report of the loss of his vessel was untrue, and, of course, we were greatly relieved."
"Yes: letters came from him the day before I started for home. Fortunately, they had been able to keep the report from Vi and little Gracie; but May and Lulu had heard it, and were terribly distressed, I was told."
"They are very fond of their father," remarked Zoe.
"Yes, as they have good reason to be," said Arthur: "he is a noble fellow, and one of the best of husbands and fathers."
"Did you hear any thing in particular about Lulu?" Zoe asked.
"No, I think not," he said reflectively; "nothing but that she, May, and Evelyn Leland were staying, by invitation, at Magnolia Hall.
"Ah, yes! I remember now that Betty told me there had been some trouble between uncle Horace and Lulu in regard to her taking lessons of a music-teacher whom she greatly disliked; that, because of her obstinate refusal, he had banished her from Viamede, entering her as a boarder at the academy the children were all attending; but that her distress of mind over the illness of her little sisters, and the sad report about her father, had led her to submit."
"Much to Vi's relief, no doubt," remarked Edward. "Poor Vi! She is devotedly attached to her husband, but Lulu is a sore thorn in her side."
"I don't believe she has ever acknowledged as much, or could be induced to," said Zoe.
"No," assented Edward; "but it is evident to those who know her well, nevertheless. She tries hard to conceal the fact, and has wonderful patience with the wilful passionate child, really loving her for her father's sake."
"And for her own, too, if I mistake not," Arthur said. "There is something quite lovable about Lulu, in spite of her very serious faults."
"There is," said Edward. "I have felt it strongly myself at times. She is warm-hearted, energetic, very generous, and remarkably straight-forward, truthful, and honest."
Dr. Conly had risen, as if to take leave.
"Now, cousin Arthur," said Zoe, "please sit down again; for we cannot let you leave us till after tea."
Edward seconded the invitation.
"Thank you both," Arthur said, "but"--
"But--no buts," interrupted Zoe gayly. "I know you were about to plead haste; but there is the tea-bell now, so you will not be delayed; for you have to take time for your meals."
"Then I accept," he said, "rejoicing in the opportunity to spend a little longer time in your very pleasant society."