Elsie at Nantucket by Martha Finley
"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."--Prov. 29: 15.
Lulu hated suspense; it seemed to her worse than the worst certainty; so when they had gone a few steps farther she said, hesitating and blushing very deeply, "Papa, if you are going to punish me as--as I--said I 'most wished you would, please don't let Mamma Vi or anybody know it, and--"
"Certainly not; it shall be a secret between our two selves," he said as she broke off without finishing her sentence; "if we can manage it," he added a little doubtfully.
"They all go down to the beach every evening, you know, papa," she suggested in a timid, half-hesitating way, and trembling as she spoke.
"Yes, that would give us a chance; but I have not said positively that I intend to punish you in that way."
"No, sir; but--oh, do please say certainly that you will or you won't."
The look he gave her as she raised her eyes half fearfully to his face was very kind and affectionate, though grave and judicial. "I am not angry with you," he said, "in the sense of being in a passion or out of patience--not in the least; but I feel it to be my duty to do all I possibly can to help you to be a better child, and noticing, as I have said, for the last two or three days what a wilful, wicked temper you were indulging, I have been considering very seriously whether I ought not to try the very remedy you have yourself suggested, and I am afraid I ought indeed. Do you still think, as you told me a while ago, that this sort of punishment might be a help to you in trying to be good?"
Lulu hesitated a moment, then said impetuously, and as if determined to own the truth though it were to pass sentence upon herself, "Yes, papa, honestly I do; though I don't want you to do it one bit. But," she added, "I sha'n't love you any less if you whip me ever so hard, because I shall know you don't like to do it, and wouldn't except for the reason you've given."
"No, indeed, I should not," he said; "but you are to stay behind to-night when the others go to the beach."
"Yes, papa, I will," she answered submissively, but with a perceptible tremble in her voice.
Grace and Max were coming to meet them, so there was no opportunity to talk any more on the subject, and she walked on in silence by her father's side, trying hard to act and look as if nothing was amiss with her, clinging fast to the hand in which he had taken hers, while Grace took possession of the other.
"You ought to have three hands, papa," laughed Max a little ruefully.
"Four," corrected Grace; "for some day little Elsie will be wanting one."
"I shall have to manage it by taking you in turn," the captain said, looking down upon them with a fatherly smile.
Violet and some of the other members of their party were still seated where they had left them on the benches under the awning just out of reach of the waves, and thither the captain and his children bent their steps.
Sitting down by his wife's side, he drew Grace to his knee and Lulu close to his other side, keeping an arm round each while chatting pleasantly with his family and friends.
Lulu was very silent, constantly asking herself, and with no little uneasiness, what he really intended to do with her when, according to his direction, she should stay behind with him after tea while the others returned to the beach.
One thing she was determined on--that she would if possible obey the order without attracting any one's notice. Everybody must have seen how badly she had been behaving, but the thought of that was not half so galling to her pride as the danger of suspicion being aroused that punishment had been meted out to her on account of it.
Max watched her curiously, and took an opportunity, on their return to the house, to say privately to her, "I'm glad you've turned over a new leaf, Lu, and begun to behave decently to papa; I've wondered over and over again in the last few days that he didn't take you in hand in a way to convince you that he wasn't to be trifled with. It's my opinion that if you'd been a boy you'd have got a trouncing long before this."
"Indeed!" she cried, with an angry toss of her head; "I'm glad I'm not a boy if I couldn't be one without using such vulgar words."
"Oh, that isn't such a very bad word," returned Max, laughing; "but I can tell you, from sad experience, that the thing is bad enough sometimes; I'd be quaking in my shoes if I thought papa had any reason to consider me deserving of one."
"I don't see what you mean by talking so to me," exclaimed Lulu, passionately; "but I think you are a Pharisee--making yourself out so much better than I am!"
The call to supper interrupted them just there, and perhaps saved them from a down-right quarrel.
Lulu had no appetite for the meal, and it seemed to her that the others would never have done eating; then that they lingered unusually long about the house before starting for their accustomed evening rendezvous--the beach; for she was on thorns all the time.
At last some one made a move, and catching a look from her father which she alone saw or understood, she slipped unobserved into her bedroom and waited there with a fast beating heart.
She heard him say to Violet, "Don't wait for me, my love; I have a little matter to attend to here, and will follow you in the course of half an hour."
"Anything I can help you with?" Violet asked.
"Oh, no, thank you," he said, "I need no assistance."
"A business letter to write, I presume," she returned laughingly. "Well, don't make it too long, for I grudge every moment of your time."
With that she followed the others, and all was quiet except for the captain's measured tread, for he was slowly pacing the room to and fro.
Impatient, impetuous Lulu did not know how to endure the suspense; she seemed to herself like a criminal awaiting execution. Softly she opened the door and stepped out in front of her father, stopping him in his walk.
"Papa," she said, with pale, trembling lips, looking beseechingly up into his face, "whatever you are going to do to me, won't you please do it at once and let me have it over?"
He took her hand and, sitting down, drew her to his side, putting his arm around her.
"My little daughter," he said very gravely, but not unkindly, "my responsibility in regard to your training weighs very heavily on my mind; it is plain to me that you will make either a very good and useful woman, or one who will be a curse to herself and others; for you are too energetic and impulsive, too full of strong feeling to be lukewarm and indifferent in anything.
"You are forming your character now for time and for eternity, and I must do whatever lies in my power to help you to form it aright; for good and not for evil. You inherit a sinful nature from me, and have very strong passions which must be conquered or they will prove your ruin. I fear you do not see the great sinfulness of their indulgence, and that it may be that I am partly to blame for that in having passed too lightly over such exhibitions of them as have come under my notice: in short, that perhaps if I had been more justly severe with your faults you would have been more thoroughly convinced of their heinousness and striven harder and with greater success to conquer them.
"Therefore, after much thought and deliberation, and much prayer for guidance and direction, I have fully decided that I ought to punish you severely for the repeated acts of disobedience you have been guilty of in the last few days, and the constant exhibition of ill-temper.
"It pains me exceedingly to do it, but I must not consider my own feelings where my dear child's best interests are concerned."
"Is it because I asked you to do it, papa?" she inquired. "I never thought you would when I said it."
"No; I have been thinking seriously on the subject ever since you behaved so badly the day of the 'squantum,' and had very nearly decided the question just as I have fully decided it now. I know you are an honest child, even when the truth is against you; tell me, do you not yourself think that I am right?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, low and tremulously, after a moment's struggle with herself. "Oh, please do it at once, so it will be over soon!"
"I will," he said, rising and leading her into the inner room; "you shall not have the torture of anticipation a moment longer."
Though the punishment was severe beyond Lulu's worst anticipations, she bore it without outcry or entreaty, feeling that she richly deserved it, and determined that no one who might be within hearing should learn from any sound she uttered what was going on. Tears and now and then a half-suppressed sob were the only evidences of suffering that she allowed herself to give.
Her father was astonished at her fortitude, and more than ever convinced that she had in her the elements of a noble character.
The punishment over, he took her in his arms, laying her head against his breast. Both were silent, her tears falling like rain.
At length, with a heart-broken sob, "You hurt me terribly, papa," she said; "I didn't think you would ever want to hurt me so."
"I did not want to," he answered in moved tones; "it was sorely against my inclination, I cannot tell you how gladly I should have borne twice the pain for you if so I could have made you a good girl. I know you have sometimes troubled yourself with foolish fears that you had less than your fair share of my affection; but I have not a child that is nearer or dearer to me than you are, my darling. I love you very much."
"I'm so glad, papa; I 'most wonder you can," she sobbed; "and I love you dearly, dearly; I know I've not been acting like it lately, but I do, and just as much now as before. Oh, papa, you don't know how hard it is for me to be good!"
"I think I do," he said; "for I am naturally quite as bad as you are, having a violent temper, which would most certainly have been my ruin had I not been forced to learn to control it; indeed I fear it is from me you get your temper.
"I had a good Christian mother," he went on, "who was very faithful in her efforts to train her children up aright. My fits of passion gave her great concern and anxiety. I can see now how troubled and distressed she used to look.
"Usually she would shut me up in a room by myself until I had had time to cool down, then come to me, talk very seriously and kindly of the danger and sinfulness of such indulgence of temper, telling me there was no knowing what dreadful deed I might some day be led to commit in my fury, if I did not learn to rule my own spirit; and that therefore for my own sake she must punish me to teach me self-control. She would then chastise me, often quite severely, and leave me to myself again to reflect upon the matter. Thus she finally succeeded in so convincing me of the great guilt and danger of giving rein to my fiery temper and the necessity of gaining the mastery over it, that I fought hard to do so, and with God's help have, I think, gained the victory.
"It is the remembrance of all this, and how thankful I am to my mother now for her faithfulness, that has determined me to be equally faithful to my own dear little daughter, though unfortunately I lack the opportunity for the same constant watchfulness over my children."
"Oh, papa, if you only could be with us all the time!" she sighed. "But I never thought you had a temper. I've seen some people fly at their naughty children in a great passion and beat them hard; I should think if you had such a bad temper as you say, you'd have treated me so many a time."
"Very likely I should if your grandmother had not taught me to control it," he said; "you may thank her that you have as good a father as you have."
"I think I have the best in the world," she said, putting her arm round his neck; "and now that it's all over, papa, I'm glad you did punish me just so hard; for I don't feel half so mean, because it seems as if I have sort of paid for my naughtiness toward you."
"Yes, toward me; the account is settled between us; but remember that you cannot so atone for your sin against God; nothing but the blood of Christ can avail to blot out that account against you, and you must ask to be forgiven for His sake alone. We will kneel down and ask it now."
Violet glanced again and again toward the cottages on the bluff, wondering and a trifle impatient at her husband's long delay, but at length saw him approaching, leading Lulu by the hand.
There was unusual gravity, amounting almost to sternness, in his face, and Lulu's wore a more subdued expression than she had ever seen upon it, while traces of tears were evident upon her cheeks,
"He has been talking very seriously to her in regard to the ill-temper she has shown during the past few days," Violet said to herself. "Poor wayward child! I hope she will take the lesson to heart, and give him less trouble and anxiety in future."
He kept Lulu close at his side all the evening, and she seemed well content to stay there, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her waist, while she listened silently to the talk going on around her or to the booming of the waves upon the beach not many yards away.
When it was time for the children to retire, he took her and Grace to the house. At the door he bent down and kissed Grace good-night, saying, "I shall not wait to see you in your bed, but shall come in to look at you before I go to mine."
"May I have a kiss too, papa?" Lulu asked in a wishful, half-tremulous voice, as though a trifle uncertain whether her request would be granted.
"Yes, my dear little daughter, as many as you wish," he replied, taking her in his arms and bestowing them with hearty good-will and affection.
"I'm sorry--oh, very sorry for all my naughtiness, papa," she whispered in his ear while clinging about his neck.
"It is all forgiven now," he said, "and I trust will never be repeated."
Lulu was very good, submissive, and obedient during the remainder of her father's stay among them.
She was greatly distressed when, two weeks later, orders came for him to join his ship the following day. She clung to him with devoted, remorseful affection and distress in prospect of the impending separation, while he treated her with even more than his wonted kindness, drawing her often caressingly to his knee, and his voice taking on a very tender tone whenever he spoke to her.
It was in the evening he left them, for he was to drive over to Nantucket Town and pass the night there in order to take the early boat leaving for the mainland the next morning.
Mr. Dinsmore went with him, intending to go to Boston for a few days, perhaps on to New York also, then return to Siasconset.
Harold, Herbert, Bob, and Max set out that same evening for their camping ground; so that Mr. Edward Travilla was the only man of the party left to take care of the women and children.
However, they would all have felt safe enough in that very quiet spot, or anywhere on the island, without any such protection.
Lulu went to bed that night full of remorseful regret that through her own wilfulness she had lost many hours of her father's prized society, besides grieving and displeasing him.
Oh, if she could but go back and live the last few weeks over, how differently she would behave! She would not give him the least cause to be displeased with or troubled about her.
As often before, she felt a great disgust at herself, and a longing desire to be good and gentle like Gracie, who never seemed to have the slightest inclination to be quick-tempered or rebellious.
"She's so sweet and dear!" murmured Lulu half aloud, and reaching out a hand to softly touch the little sister sleeping quietly by her side; "I should think papa would love her ten times better than me; but he says he doesn't, and he always tells the truth. I wish I'd been made like Gracie; but I'm ever so glad he can love me in spite of all my badness. Oh, I am determined to be good the next time he's at home, so that he will enjoy his visit more. It was a burning shame in me to spoil this one so; I'd like to beat you for it, Lulu Raymond, and I'm glad he didn't let you escape."
Violet and her mother were passing the night together, and lying side by side talked to each other in loving confidence of such things as lay nearest their hearts. Naturally Vi's thoughts were full of the husband from whom she had just parted--for how long?--it might be months or years.
"Mamma," she said, "the more I am with him and study his character, the more I honor and trust and love him. It is the one trial of my otherwise exceptionally happy life, that we must pass so much of our time apart, and that he has such a child as Lulu to mar his enjoyment of--"
"Oh, dear daughter," interrupted Elsie, "do not allow yourself to feel otherwise than very kindly toward your husband's child; Lulu has some very noble traits, and I trust you will try to think of them rather than of her faults, serious as they may seem to you."
"Yes, mamma, there are some things about her that are very lovable, and I really have a strong affection for her, even aside from the fact that she is his child; yet when she behaves in a way that distresses him I can hardly help wishing that she belonged to some one else.
"You surely must have noticed how badly she behaved for two or three days. He never spoke to me about it, tried not to let me see that it interfered with his enjoyment (for he knew that that would spoil mine), but for all that I knew his heart was often heavy over her misconduct.
"Yet she certainly does love her father. How she clung to him after she had heard that he must leave us so soon, with a remorseful affection, it seemed to me."
"Yes, and though she shed but few tears in parting from him, I could see that she was almost heart-broken. She is a strange child, but if she takes the right turn, will assuredly make a noble, useful woman."
"I hope so, mamma; and that will, I know, repay him for all his care and anxiety on her account. No father could be fonder of his children or more willing to do or endure anything for their sake. Of course I do not mean anything wrong; he would not do wrong himself or suffer wrong-doing in them; for his greatest desire is to see them truly good, real Christians. I hope my darling, as she grows older, will be altogether a comfort and blessing to him."
"As her mother has been to me, and always was to her father," Elsie responded in loving tones.
"Thank you, mamma," Violet said with emotion; "oh, if I had been an undutiful daughter and given pain and anxiety to my best of fathers, how my heart would ache at the remembrance, now that he is gone. And I feel deep pity for Lulu when I think what sorrow she is preparing for herself in case she outlives her father, as in the course of nature she is likely to do."
"Yes, poor child!" sighed Elsie; "and doubtless she is even now enduring the reproaches of conscience aggravated by the fear that she may not see her father very soon again.
"She and Gracie, to say nothing of my dear Vi, will be feeling lonely to-morrow, and Edward, Zoe, and I have planned various little excursions, by land and water, to give occupation to your thoughts and pleasantly while away the time."
"You are always so kind, dearest mamma," said Violet; "always thinking of others and planning for their enjoyment."
"Oh, how lonely it does seem without papa! our dear, dear papa!" was Gracie's waking exclamation. "I wish he could live at home all the time like other children's fathers do! When will he come again, Lulu?"
"I don't know, Gracie; I don't believe anybody knows," returned Lulu sorrowfully. "But you have no occasion to feel half as badly about it as I."
"Why not?" cried Grace, a little indignantly, even her gentle nature aroused at the apparent insinuation that he was more to Lulu than to herself; "you don't love him a bit better than I do."
"Maybe not; but Mamma Vi is more to you than she is to me; though that wasn't what I was thinking of. I was only thinking that you had been a good child to him all the time he has been at home, while I was so very, very naughty that--"
Lulu broke off suddenly and went on with, her dressing in silence.
"That what?" asked Grace.
"That I grieved him very much and spoiled half his pleasure," Lulu said in a choking voice. Then turning suddenly toward her sister, her face flushing hotly, her eyes full of tears, bitterly ashamed of what she was moved to tell, yet with a heart aching so for sympathy that she hardly knew how to keep it back, "Gracie, if I tell you something will you never, never, never breathe a single word of it to a living soul?"
Grace, who was seated on the floor putting on her shoes and stockings, looked up at her sister in silent astonishment.
"Come, answer," exclaimed Lulu impetuously; "do you promise? I know if you make a promise you'll keep it. But I won't tell you without, for I wouldn't have Mamma Vi, or Max, or anybody else but you know, for all the world."
"Oh, Gracie, papa knows; it's a secret between him and me--only--only I have a right to tell you if I choose."
"I'm glad he knows, because I couldn't promise not to tell him if he asked me and said I must. Yes, I promise, Lulu. What is it?"
Lulu had finished her dressing, and dropping down on the carpet beside Grace she began, half averting her face and speaking in low, hurried tones. "You remember that morning we were all going to the 'squantum' I changed my dress and put on a white one, and because of that, and something I said to Max that papa overheard, he said I must stay at home; and he ordered me to take off that dress immediately. Well, I disobeyed him; I walked round the town in the dress before I took it off, and instead of staying at home I went in to bathe, and took a walk in the afternoon with Betty Johnson to Sankaty Lighthouse, and went up in the tower and outside too."
"Oh, Lulu!" cried Grace, "how could you dare to do so?"
"I did, anyway," said Lulu; "and you know I was very ill-tempered for two days afterward; so when papa knew it all he thought he ought to punish me, and he did."
"Oh, Grace! don't you know? can't you guess? It was when he and I stayed back while all the rest went to the beach, that evening after Betty's friend told of seeing me at Sankaty."
Grace drew a long breath. "Oh, Lu," she said pityingly, putting her arms lovingly about her sister, "I'm so sorry for you! How could you bear it? Did he hurt you very much?"
"Oh, yes, terribly; but I'm glad he did it (though I wouldn't for anything let anybody know it but you), because I'd feel so mean if I hadn't paid somehow for my badness. Papa was so good and kind to me--he always is--and I had been behaving so hatefully to him.
"And he wasn't in a bit of a passion with me. I believe, as he told me, he did hate to punish me, and only did it to help me to learn to conquer my temper."
"And to be obedient, too?"
"Yes; the punishment was for that too, he said. But now don't you think I have reason to feel worse about his going away just now than you?"
"Yes," admitted Grace; "I'd feel ever so badly if I'd done anything to make dear papa sad and troubled; and I think I should be frightened to death if he was going to whip me."
"No, you wouldn't," said Lulu, "for you would know papa wouldn't hurt you any more than he thought necessary for your own good. Now let me help you dress, for it must be near breakfast time."
"Oh, thank you; yes, I'll have to hurry. Do you love papa as well as ever, Lu?"
"Better," returned Lulu, emphatically; "it seems odd, but I do. I shouldn't though if I thought he took pleasure in beating me, or punishing me in any way."
"I don't b'lieve he likes to punish any of us," said Grace.
"I know he doesn't," said Lulu. "And it isn't any odder that I should love him in spite of his punishments, than that he should love me in spite of all my naughtiness. Yes, I do think, Gracie, we have the best father in the world."
"'Course we have," responded Grace; "but then we don't have him half the time; he's 'most always on his ship," she added tearfully.
"Are you ready for breakfast, dears?" asked a sweet voice at the door.
"Yes, Grandma Elsie," they answered, hastening to claim the good-morning kiss she was always ready to bestow.
Lulu's heartache had found some relief in her confidence to her sister, and she showed a pleasanter and more cheerful face at the table than Violet expected to see her wear.
It grew brighter still when she learned that they were all to have a long, delightful drive over the hills and moors, starting almost immediately upon the conclusion of the meal.
The weather was charming, everybody in most amiable mood, and spite of the pain of the recent parting from him whom they so dearly loved, that would occasionally make itself felt in the hearts of wife and children, the little trip was an enjoyable one to all.
Just as they drew up at the cottage door on their return, a blast of Captain Baxter's tin horn announced his arrival with the mail, and Edward, waiting only to assist the ladies and children to alight, hurried off to learn if they had any interest in the contents of the mailbag.