Elsie's Kith and Kin by Martha Finley
"Here are a few of the unpleasantest words that ever blotted paper."
Edward and Zoe now began to look forward to the return of the family as a desirable event not very far in the future. They had been extremely happy in each other during almost the whole time of separation from the rest; but now they were hungering for a sight of "mamma's sweet face," and would by no means object to a glimpse of those of grandparents, sisters, and children.
At length a letter was received, fixing the date of the intended departure from Viamede, and stating by what train the party would probably reach the neighboring village of Union, where carriages must be in readiness to receive and convey them to Ion.
And now Edward and Zoe began counting the days: the little matron put on more housewifely airs than was her wont, and was in great glee over her preparations for a grand reception and welcoming feast to the loved travellers.
She insisted on much cleaning and renovating, and on the day of the arrival robbed the green-houses and conservatories for the adornment of the house, the table, and her own person.
Edward laughingly asserted that he was almost, if not quite, as much under her orders at that time as when left in her charge by the doctor, and could have no peace but in showing himself entirely submissive, and ready to carry out all her schemes and wishes.
Fairview also was getting ready to receive its master and mistress; but the indoor preparations there were overseen by Mrs. Lacey of the Laurels,--Edward's aunt Rose.
It was the last of April: lovely spring weather had come, and the head gardeners and their subordinates of both places found much to do in making all trim and neat against the expected arrival of the respective owners; and of these matters Edward took a general oversight.
He and Zoe were up earlier than their wont on the morning of the long-looked-for day, wandering about the gardens before breakfast.
"How lovely every thing looks!" exclaimed Zoe, in delight. "I am sure mamma will be greatly pleased, and praise you to your heart's content, Cuff," she added, turning to the gardener at work near by.
"Ya'as, Miss Zoe," he answered, with a broad grin of satisfaction; "dat's what I'se been a workin' for, an' spects to hab sho', kase Miss Elsie, she doan' nebber grudge nuffin' in de way ob praise nor ob wages, when yo's done yo' bes', ob co'se; an' dis chile done do dat, sho's yo' bawn."
"Yes, I'm sure you have, Cuff," said Edward kindly: "the flowers look very flourishing; there's not a dead leaf or a weed to be seen anywhere; the walks are clean and smooth as a floor; nothing amiss anywhere, so far as I can perceive."
They moved on, walking slowly, and inspecting carefully as they went, yet finding nothing to mar their satisfaction.
They had reached the front of the house, and were about to go in, when a boy on horseback came cantering up the avenue, and handed a telegram to Edward.
Tearing it hastily open, "From grandpa," he said. "Ah! they will be here by the next train!"
"Half a day sooner than they or we expected," cried Zoe, half joyfully, half in dismay, struck with a momentary fear that her preparations could not be quite complete in season.
Edward hastened to re-assure her. "Altogether, good news, isn't it?" he said. "We can be quite ready, I am sure, and will escape some hours of waiting; while they will gain time for rest and refreshment before the arrival of the family party who are to gather here from the Oaks, Roselands, the Laurels, and the Pines."
"Oh, yes, yes! it is ever so nice! and I'm as glad as I can be," she cried rapturously. "Now let us make haste to get our breakfast, and then attend to the finishing touches needed by the house and our own persons."
"Stay," said Edward, detaining her as she was starting up the steps into the veranda. "We should send word to Fairview, but it will be time enough after breakfast. Suppose we ride over there immediately upon leaving the table, and carry the news ourselves? The air and exercise will do you good."
"It would be very nice," she returned meditatively; "but I'm afraid I shall hardly have time."
"Yes, you will," he said. "You can give your orders, and let Christine and Aunt Dicey see them carried out."
"But I want my taste consulted in the arrangement of the flowers," she objected.
"Plenty of time for that after we get back," he said. "And I want your help in deciding whether every thing is exactly as it should be in the grounds at Fairview. Shall I order the horses?"
"Yes. I'll go, of course, if you wish it, and enjoy it greatly, I know."
They were very gay over their breakfast and during their ride; for they were young, healthy, happy in each other; the morning air was delicious, and not a cloud was to be perceived in either the natural sky above their heads, or in that of their future; all was bright and joyous, and they seemed to have naught to do with sorrow or care, or any of the evils that oppressed the hearts and darkened the lives of many of their fellow-creatures.
Their tidings were received with joy by the retainers at Fairview, nearly every thing being in readiness for the reception of its master and mistress.
Edward and Zoe had agreed that it was not at all necessary to inform the expected guests of the evening of the change in the hour for the arrival of the home-coming party they intended to welcome.
"The meeting will be quite as early as anticipated," remarked Edward; "and it will do no harm for mamma and the others to have a chance to rest a little before seeing so many."
"They will enjoy themselves all the better, I'm sure," said Zoe.
They were cantering homeward as they talked. Arrived there, Zoe set to work at the pleasant task of adorning the house--"mamma's" boudoir in particular--with beautiful and sweet-scented flowers, and contrived to be delightfully busy in their arrangement till some little time after Edward had gone with the carriages to meet and bring home the travellers.
All came directly to Ion, except the Fairview family, who sought their own home first, but promised to be present at the evening festivities.
The journey had been taken leisurely; and no one seemed fatigued but the little convalescents, who were glad to be put immediately to bed.
"Mamma, dear, dearest mamma!" cried Zoe, as the two clasped each other in a close embrace. "I am so, so glad to see you!"
"Tired of housekeeping, little woman?" Elsie asked, with an arch look and smile.
"No, mamma, not that, though willing enough to resign my position to you," was the gay rejoinder. "But my delight is altogether because you are so dear and sweet, that everybody must be the happier for your presence."
"Dear child, I prize and fully return your affection," Elsie said in reply.
For each one, Zoe had a joyous and affectionate greeting, till it came to Lulu's turn.
At her she glanced doubtfully for an instant, then gave her a hearty kiss, saying to herself, "Though she did behave so badly, I'm sure she had a good deal of provocation."
Lulu had noted the momentary hesitation, and flushed hotly under it; but the kiss set all right, and she returned it as warmly as it was given.
"It seems nice to see you and uncle Edward again, aunt Zoe!" she said, "and nice to get back to Ion, though Viamede is so lovely."
"Yes," chimed in Rosie. "Viamede is almost an earthly paradise, but Ion is the homiest home of the two."
Lulu had been on her very best behavior ever since the termination of the controversy between Mr. Dinsmore and herself in regard to her tuition by Signor Foresti; and she had returned to Ion full of good resolutions, promising herself, that, if permitted to continue to live at Ion, she would henceforward be submissive, obedient, and very determined in her efforts to control her unruly temper.
But was she to be allowed to stay there? No objection had been raised by any of the family; but remembering her father's repeated warning, that, if she proved troublesome to these kind friends, he would feel compelled to take her away from Ion, and send her to a boarding-school, she awaited his decision with much secret apprehension.
It was quite too soon to look for a response to her confession, written from Magnolia Hall, or a letter from him to her mamma, grandma Elsie, or grandpa Dinsmore, giving his verdict in regard to her; and, at times, she found the suspense very hard to bear.
Thus far, Evelyn Leland had been the sole confidant of her doubts, fears, and anxieties on the subject; not even Max having been made acquainted with the contents of either her father's letter to her, or her reply to it.
She had managed to conceal her uneasiness from him, and also from grandma Elsie and Violet; the time and attention of both ladies being much occupied with the care of the little invalids.
But, on the evening of this day, Grace and baby Elsie were fast asleep, the one in bed, the other in her dainty crib, at an early hour; and Violet bethought her of Lulu in connection with the expected assembling of a large family party.
"I must see that the child is suitably attired," she said to herself, and, deferring her own toilet, went at once to the little girl's room.
She found her already dressed,--suitably and tastefully too,--and sitting by a window in an attitude of dejection, her elbow on the sill, her head on her hand; but she was not looking out; her eyes were downcast, and her countenance was sad.
"What is the matter, Lulu, dear?" Violet asked in gentle tones, as she drew near, and laid her soft white hand caressingly on the bowed head: "are you sorry to be at home again?"
"Ok, no, no, mamma Vi! it's not that. I should be very glad to get back, if I were only sure of being allowed to stay," Lulu answered, lifting her head, and hastily wiping a tear out of the corner of her eye. "But I--I'm dreadfully afraid papa will say I can't; that I must be sent away somewhere, because of having been so disobedient and obstinate."
"I hope not, dear," Violet said: "you have been so good ever since you gave up, and consented to do as grandpa wished."
"Thank you for saying that, mamma Vi. I have been trying with all my might,--asking God to help me too," she added low and reverentially; "but papa doesn't know that, and he has been very near banishing me two or three times before. Oh, I don't know how to wait to hear from him! I wish a letter would come!"
"It is almost too soon to hope for it yet, dear child; but I trust we may hear before very long," said Violet.
At that moment there came a little tap at the door; and the sweetest of voices asked, "Shall I come in?"
"Oh, yes, mamma!"
"Yes, grandma Elsie!" answered the two addressed.
"I thought our little girl might like some help with her toilet for the evening," Elsie said, advancing into the room. "But--is any thing wrong? I think you are looking troubled and unhappy, Lulu."
Violet explained the cause; and Elsie said, very kindly, "I don't want you sent away, Lulu, dear. No one could desire a better behaved child than you have been of late; and I have written to your father to tell him so, and ask that you may stay with us still. So cheer up, and hope for the best, little girl," she added, with a smile and an affectionate kiss.
Lulu had risen, and was standing by Elsie's side. As the latter bent down to bestow the caress, her arms were thrown impulsively about her neck with a glad, grateful exclamation, "O grandma Elsie! how good you are to me! I don't know how you could want to keep me here, when I've been so bad and troublesome so many times."
"I trust you have been so for the very last time, dear child," Elsie responded. "Think how it will rejoice your father's heart if he learns that you have at length conquered in the fight with your naturally quick, wilful temper, which has been the cause of so much distress to both him and yourself."
"I do think of it very often, grandma Elsie," Lulu returned, with a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of her heart. "And I do want to please papa, and make him happy: but,--oh, dear! when something happens to make me angry, I forget all about it and my good resolutions till it's too late; the first thing I know, I've been acting like a fury, and disgracing myself and him."
"Yet don't be discouraged, or ever give up the fight," Elsie said. "Persevere, using all your own strength, and asking help from on high, and you will come off conqueror at last."
About the same time that this little scene was enacting at Ion, Elsie Leland, passing the door of Evelyn's room, thought she heard a low sob coming from within.
She paused and listened. The sound was repeated, and she tapped lightly on the door. There was no answer; and opening it, she stole softly in.
Evelyn sat in an easy-chair at the farther side of the room, her face hidden in her hands, an open letter lying in her lap.
"My poor child! Is it bad news?" Elsie asked, going up to the little girl, and touching her hair caressingly.
"It is heart-breaking to me, aunt Elsie; but read and judge for yourself," Evelyn replied, in a voice choking with sobs; and taking up the letter, she put it into her aunt's hand.
Elsie gave it a hasty perusal, then, tossing it indignantly aside, took the young weeper in her arms, bestowing upon her tender caresses and soothing words.
"It is hard, very hard for you, dear, I know; it would be for me in your place; but we must just try to make the best of it."
"Yes," sobbed Evelyn; "but I could hardly feel more fully orphaned if my mother were dead. And papa has not been gone a year. Oh, how could she! how could she! You see, aunt Elsie, she talks of my joining her as soon as I am my own mistress; but how can I ever think of it now?"
"We--your uncle and I--would be very loath to give you up, darling; and, if you can only be content, I think you may always have a happy home here, with us," Elsie said, with another tender caress.
"Dear auntie, you and uncle have made it a very happy home to me," returned Evelyn gratefully, wiping away her tears as she spoke, and forcing a rather sad sort of smile. "I should be as sorry to leave it as you could possibly be to have me do so."
Evelyn was of a very quiet temperament, rarely indulging in bursts of emotion of any kind; and Elsie soon succeeded in restoring her to calmness, though her eyes still showed traces of tears; and her expressive features again wore the look of gentle sadness that was their wont in the first weeks of her sojourn at Fairview, but which had gradually changed to one of cheerfulness and content.
"Now, Eva, dear, it is time we were getting ready for our drive to Ion," Elsie said. "Shall I help you change your dress?"
"I--I think, if you will excuse me, auntie," Evelyn returned, with hesitation, "I should prefer to stay at home. I'm scarcely in the mood for merry-making."
"Of course, you shall do just as you like, dear child," was the kindly response; "but it is only to be a family party, and you need not be mixed up with any fun or frolic,--I don't suppose there will be any thing of the kind going on,--and you will probably enjoy a private chat with your bosom-friend, Lulu. You know, there are plenty of corners where you can get together by yourselves. I think you would find it lonely staying here, and Lulu would not half enjoy her evening without you."
"You are right, auntie: I will go," Evelyn answered, more cheerfully than she had spoken since reading her letter. "I will dress at once, but shall not need any help except advice about what I shall wear."
Elsie gave it, and, saying the carriage would be at the door in half an hour, went back to her own apartments, to attend to the proper adornment of her own pretty person.
Soon after her little talk with grandma Elsie and mamma Vi, Lulu, still unable to banish the anxiety which made her restless and uneasy, wandered out into the shrubbery, where she presently met Max.
"I've been all round the place," he said; "and I tell you, Lu, it's in prime order: every thing's as neat as a pin. Don't the grounds look lovely, even after Viamede?"
"Yes," she sighed, glancing round from side to side with a melancholy expression of countenance quite unusual with her.
"What's the matter, sis?" he asked with some surprise: "I hope you're not sick?"
"No, I'm perfectly well," she answered; "but, the prettier the place looks, the sorrier I feel to think I may have to go away and leave it."
"Who says you are to go away?" he demanded,--"not grandma Elsie, or mamma Vi either, I am sure, for they're both too kind; and, in fact, I don't believe anybody here wants to send you off."
"Maybe not," she said, "but I'll have to go if papa says so; and, O Max! I'm so afraid he will, because of--all that--all the trouble between grandpa Dinsmore and me about the music-lessons."
"I didn't suppose papa had been told about it?" he remarked, half inquiringly.
"Yes," she said: "I confessed every bit of it to him in that letter I wrote at Magnolia Hall."
"Bully for you!" cried Max heartily. "I knew you'd own up at last, like a brick, as you are."
"O Max! you forget that mamma Vi does not approve of slang," she said. "But I don't deserve a bit of praise for confessing, because I had to. Papa wrote to me that he was sure I'd been misbehaving,--though nobody had told him a single word about it,--and that I must write at once, and tell him every thing."
"Well, I'm glad you did; and I hope he won't be hard on you, Lu. Still, I wouldn't like to be in your place, for papa can be quite severe when he thinks it necessary. I wouldn't fret, though," he added in a consolatory tone, "because there's no use trying to cross the bridge before you come to it, 'specially when you mayn't come at all."
"That's quite true, but it's a great deal easier to preach than to practise," she said. "Maxie, would you be sorry to have me sent away?" she asked, her voice taking on a beseeching tone.
"Why, of course I should," he said. "We've gone through a good deal together, and you know we've always been rather fond of each other, considering that we're brother and sister," he added laughingly. "Ah, here comes Eva!" and he lifted his hat with a profound bow as a turn in the walk brought them face to face with her.
"O Eva! I'm so glad you've come early!" exclaimed Lulu.
"I too," said Max; "but, if you have any secrets for each other's private ear, I'll be off."
"Your company is always agreeable, Max," Evelyn said with a faint smile, "and I should be sorry to drive you away."
"Thanks," he said; "but I'll have to go, for I hear grandpa Dinsmore calling me."
He hastened to obey the call; and the two girls, each putting an arm about the other's waist, paced to and fro along the gravel-walk.
"How is Fairview looking?" asked Lulu.
"Lovely: it couldn't be in better order, and there are a great many flowers in bloom. One might say just the same of Ion."
"Yes: it is even prettier than Fairview, I have always thought. But that's a sweet place too and aunt Elsie and uncle Lester are delightful to live with. I only wish I was as sure as you are of such a sweet home."
"Don't worry, Lu. I hope your father will let you stay on here," Evelyn said in an affectionate tone; "but, indeed, I don't think you have any reason to envy me."
She ended with so profound a sigh, that Lulu turned a surprised, inquiring look upon her, asking, "Have you had any bad news, Eva? I know you have been looking anxiously for a letter from your mother."
"Yes, it has come: I found it waiting for me at Fairview, and"--She paused for a moment, her heart too full for speech.
"And it was bad news? Oh, I am so sorry!" said Lulu. "I hope it wasn't that she wants you to go away from here--unless I have to go too, and we can be together somewhere."
"No, it was not that--not now. Mamma knows that, because of the way papa made his will, I must stay with uncle Lester till I come of age. She talks of my going to her then; but I cannot,--oh, I never can! for,--Lulu, she's married again, to an Italian count; and it is not a year since my dear, dear father was taken from us."
Evelyn's voice was tremulous with pain, and she ended with a burst of bitter weeping.
"Oh, how could she!" exclaimed Lulu. "I don't wonder you feel so about it, Eva. A horrid Italian too!" she added, thinking of Signor Foresti. "I'd never call him father!"
"Indeed, I've no idea of doing that," Eva said indignantly. "I only hope he may never cross my path; and so I--feel as if my mother is lost to me. You are far better off than I, Lulu: you have your own dear father still living, and aunt Vi is so lovely and sweet."
"Yes, I am better off than you," Lulu acknowledged emphatically; "and if I hadn't such a bad temper, always getting me into trouble, I'd be a girl to be envied."