Chapter X.
 
"In this wild world the fondest and the best
Are the most tried, most troubled, and distress'd."

CRABBE.

It was about a week after this that Elsie's grandfather handed her a letter directed to her in her father's handwriting, and the little girl rushed away to her room with it, her heart beating wildly between hope and fear. Her hand trembled so that she could scarcely tear it open, and her eyes were so dimmed with tears that it was some moments before she could read a line.

It was kind, yes, even affectionate, and in some parts tender. But ah! it has brought no comfort to the little girl! else why does she finish with a burst of tears and sobs, and sinking upon her knees, hide her face in her hands, crying with a bitter, wailing cry, "Oh, papa! papa! papa!"

He told her of the estate he had purchased, and the improvements he had been making; of a suite of rooms he had had prepared and furnished expressly for her, close to his own apartments--and of the pleasant home he hoped they would have there together, promising to dispense with a governess and teach her himself, for that he knew she would greatly prefer.

He drew a bright picture of the peaceful, happy life they might lead; but finished by telling her that the condition was entire, unconditional submission on her part, and the alternative a boarding-school, at a distance from home and friends.

He had, on separating her from her nurse, forbidden her to hold any communication with her, or even to ride in the direction of the Oaks--as his estate was called--and Elsie had scrupulously obeyed him; but now he bade her go and see the lovely home and beautiful apartments he had prepared for her, and judge for herself of the happiness she might enjoy there--loved, and caressed, and taught by him--and then decide.

"If she were ready to give up her wilfulness," he wrote, "she might answer him immediately; and he would then return and their new home should receive them, and their new life begin at once. But if she were still inclined to be stubborn and rebellious, she must take a month to consider, ere he would receive her reply."

Ah! to little Elsie it was a most enchanting picture he had drawn. To live in her father's house--his own home and hers--to be his constant and loved companion--to exchange Miss Day's teaching for his--to walk, to ride, to sit with him--in a word, to live in the sunshine of his love--oh, it would be paradise upon earth!

And then the alternative! Oh, how dreadful seemed to the shrinking, sensitive child, the very thought of being sent away amongst entire strangers, who could not be expected to care for her, or love her; who would have no sympathy with her highest hopes and desires, and instead of assisting her to walk in the narrow way, would strive to turn her feet aside into the paths of worldly conformity and sin: for, alas! she well knew it was only to the care of such persons her father would be likely to commit her, wishing, as he did, to root out of her mind what he was pleased to call the "narrow prejudices of her unfortunate early training." Poor child! she shrank from it in terror and dismay.

But should she choose that which her poor, hungry heart so yearned for--the home with her father--she must pledge herself to take as her rule of faith and practice, not God's holy word, which had hitherto been her guide-book, but her father's wishes and commands, which she well knew would often be entirely opposed to its teachings.

It was indeed a hard choice; but Elsie could not hesitate where the path of duty was so plain. She seemed to hear a voice saying to her: "This is the way, walk ye in it." "We ought to obey God rather than men."

"Ah!" she murmured, "I cannot do this great wickedness and sin against God, for if my earthly father's frown is so dreadful, so very hard to bear, how much worse would be my heavenly Father's? But, oh, that boarding-school! How can I ever endure its trials and temptations? I am so weak and sinful! Ah! if papa would but spare me this trial--if he would only let me stay at home--but he will not--for he has said I must go, and never breaks his word;" and again her tears fell fast, but she dashed them away and took up her Bible.

It opened at the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah, and her eye fell upon these words: "For the Lord God will help me: therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."

Ah! here was comfort. "The Lord God will help me!" she repeated; and bowing her face over the holy book she gave thanks for the precious promise, and earnestly, tearfully pleaded that it might be fulfilled unto her.

Then rising from her knees, she bathed her eyes and rang for Fanny to prepare her for her ride. It was the usual hour for it, her horse was already at the door, and very soon the little girl might have been seen galloping up the road towards the Oaks, quite alone, excepting that Jim, her constant attendant, rode some yards in the rear.

It was a pleasant summer morning; there had been just rain enough the night before to cool the air and lay the dust, and everything was looking fresh and beautiful--and had the little Elsie's heart been as light and free from care as would have seemed natural to one of her age, she would no doubt have enjoyed her ride extremely. It was but a short one, and the place well known to her, for she had often passed it, though she had never yet been in the grounds.

In a few moments she reached the gate, and Jim having dismounted and opened it for her, she rode leisurely up a broad, gravelled carriage-way, which wound about through the grounds, giving the traveller a number of beautiful views ere he reached the house, a large building of dark-gray stone, which stood so far back, and was so entirely hidden by trees and shrubbery, as to be quite invisible from the highway. Now the road was shaded on either hand by large trees, their branches almost meeting overhead, and anon, an opening in their ranks afforded a glimpse of some charming little valley, some sequestered nook amongst the hills, some grassy meadow, or field of golden wheat, or a far-off view of the sea.

"Oh, how lovely!" murmured the little girl, dropping the reins on her horse's neck and gazing about her with eyes now sparkling with pleasure, now dimmed with tears; for, alas! these lovely scenes were not for her; at least not now, and it might be, never; and her heart was very sad.

At length she reached the house. Chloe met her at the door, and clasped her to her bosom with tears of joy and thankfulness.

"Bless de Lord for his goodness in sendin' my chile back to her ole mammy again," she said; "I'se so glad, darlin', so berry glad!"

And as she spoke she drew the little girl into a pleasant room, fitted up with books and pictures, couches and easy-chairs and tables, with every convenience for writing, drawing, etc.

"Dis am Massa Horace's study," she said, in answer to the eager, inquiring glance Elsie sent round the room, while she removed her hat and habit, and seated her in one of the softly-cushioned chairs; "an' de next room is your own little sittin' room, an' jes de prettiest ever was seen, your ole mammy tinks; and now dat she's got her chile back again she'll be as happy as de day am long."

"Oh, mammy," sobbed the child, "I am not to stay."

Chloe's look of delight changed to one of blank dismay.

"But you are comin' soon, darlin'?" she said inquiringly. "I tink Massa Horace 'tends to be here 'fore long, sartain, kase he's had de whole house fixed up so fine; an' I'se sure he never take so much trouble, an' spend such loads ob money fixin' up such pretty rooms for you, ef he didn't love you dearly, an' 'tend to have you here 'long with himself."

Elsie shook her head sorrowfully. "No, mammy, he says not unless I give up my wilfulness, and promise to do exactly as he bids me; and if I will not do that, I am to be sent away to boarding-school."

The last words came with a great sob, as she flung herself into Chloe's outstretched arms, and hid her face on her bosom.

"Poor darlin'! poor little pet!" murmured the nurse, hugging her tight, while her own tears fell in great drops on the golden curls. "I thought your troubles were all over. I s'posed Massa Horace had found out you wasn't bad after all, an' was comin' right home to live with you in dis beautiful place. But dere, don't, don't you go for to break your little heart 'bout it, dear; I'se sure de good Lord make um all come right in de end."

Elsie made no reply, and for a little while they mingled their tears in silence. Then she raised her head, and gently releasing herself from Chloe's embrace, said, "Now, mammy, I must go all about and see everything, for that was papa's command."

Chloe silently led the way through halls, parlors, drawing-room, library, dining, sitting and bed-rooms, servants' apartments, kitchen, pantry, and all; then out into the grounds, visiting in turn vegetable and flower gardens, lawn, hot-houses and grapery; and finally, bringing the little girl back to her papa's study, she led her from there into his bed-room and dressing-room, and then to her own apartments, which she had reserved to the last. These were three--bed-room, sitting-room, and dressing-room--all beautifully furnished with every comfort and convenience.

Elsie had gazed on all with a yearning heart, and eyes constantly swimming in tears. "Ah! mammy," she exclaimed more than once, "what a lovely, lovely home! how happy we might be here!"

The sight of her father's rooms and her own affected her the most, and the tears fell fast as she passed slowly from one to another. Her own little sitting-room was the last; and here sinking down in an easy-chair, she gazed about her silently and tearfully. On one side the windows looked out upon a beautiful flower-garden, while beyond were hills and woods; on the other, glass doors opened out upon a grassy lawn, shaded by large trees, and beyond, far away in the distance, rolled the blue sea; all around her she saw the evidences of a father's thoughtful love; a beautiful piano, a harp, a small work-table, well furnished with every requisite; books, drawing materials--everything to give pleasure and employment; while luxurious couches and easy-chairs invited to rest and repose. Several rare pictures, too, adorned the walls.

Elsie was very fond of paintings, and when she had gazed her fill upon the lovely landscape without, she turned from one of these to another with interest and pleasure; but one was covered, and she was in the act of raising her hand to draw aside the curtain, when her nurse stopped her, saying, "Not now, darlin', try de piano first."

She opened the instrument as she spoke, and Elsie, running her fingers over the keys, remarked that it was the sweetest-toned she had ever heard.

Chloe begged her to play, urging her request on the plea that it was so very long since she had heard her, and she might not have another opportunity soon.

Just at that instant a little bird on a tree near the door poured forth his joy in a gush of glad melody, and Elsie, again running her fingers lightly over the keys, sang with touching sweetness and pathos--

"Ye banks an' braes o' bonny Doon, How can ye look sae bright an' fair? How can you sing, ye little bird, An' I sae weary, full of care?" etc.

The words seemed to come from her very heart, and her voice, though sweet and clear, was full of tears.

Chloe sobbed aloud, and Elsie, looking lovingly at her, said softly, "Don't, dear mammy! I will sing a better one;" and she played and sang--

"He doeth all things well."

Then rising, she closed the instrument, saying, "Now, mammy, let me see the picture."

Chloe then drew aside the curtain; and Elsie, with clasped hands and streaming eyes, stood for many minutes gazing upon a life-sized and speaking portrait of her father.

"Papa! papa!" she sobbed, "my own darling, precious papa! Oh! could you but know how dearly your little Elsie loves you!"

"Don't now, darlin'! don't take on so dreadful! It jes breaks your ole mammy's heart to see her chile so 'stressed," Chloe said, passing her arm around the little girl's waist, and laying her head on her bosom.

"Oh, mammy, will he ever smile on me again? Shall I ever live with him in this dear home?" sobbed the poor child. "Oh! it is hard, hard to give it all up--to have papa always displeased with me. Oh, mammy, there is such a weary aching at my heart--is it never to be satisfied?"

"My poor, poor chile! my poor little pet, I'se sure it'll all come right by-an'-by," replied Chloe soothingly, as soon as emotion would suffer her to speak. "You know it is de Lord that sends all our 'flictions, an' you must 'member de pretty words you was jes a singin', 'He doeth all things well.' He says, 'What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know here after.' De great God can change your father's heart, and 'cline him to 'spect your principles, and I do blieve he will do it."

Elsie sobbed out her dread of the boarding-school, with its loneliness and its temptations.

"Now don't you go for to be 'fraid of all dat, darlin'," replied her nurse. "Has you forgotten how it says in de good book, 'Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world'? an' if he is with you, who can hurt you? Jes nobody."

A text came to Elsie's mind: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" and lifting her head, she dashed away her tears.

"No," she said, "I will not be afraid; at least I will try not to be. 'The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?' But, oh! mammy, I must go now, and I feel as if I were saying farewell to you and this sweet home forever; as if I were never to live in these pretty rooms--never to see them again."

"Hush! hush, darlin'! 'tain't never best to borrow trouble, an' I'se sure you'll come back one ob dese days," replied Chloe, forcing herself to speak cheerfully, though her heart ached as she looked into the soft, hazel eyes, all dimmed with tears, and marked how thin and pale the dear little face had grown.

Elsie was passing around the room again, taking a farewell look at each picture and piece of furniture; then she stood a moment gazing out over the lawn, to the rolling sea beyond.

She was murmuring something to herself, and Chloe started as her ear faintly caught the words: "In my Father's house are many mansions."

"Mammy!" said the child, suddenly turning and taking her hand, "look yonder!" and she pointed with her finger. "Do you see that beautiful, tall tree that casts such a thick shade? I want to be buried right there, where papa can see my grave when he sits in here, and think that I am with him yet. When I am gone, mammy, you must tell him that I told you this. It would be so pleasant to be there--it is such a lovely spot, and the distant murmur of the sea seems like a lullaby to sing the weary one to rest." She added, dreamily, "I would like to lie down there now."

"Why, what you talkin' 'bout, Miss Elsie? My chile musn't say such tings!" exclaimed Chloe in great alarm. "Your ole mammy 'spects to die long 'nough 'fore you do. You's berry young, an? 'tain't worth while to begin talkin' 'bout dyin' yet."

Elsie smiled sadly.

"But you know, mammy," she said, "that death often comes to the youngest. Mamma died young, and so may I. I am afraid it isn't right, but sometimes I am so sad and weary that I cannot help longing very much to die, and go to be with her and with Jesus; for they would always love me, and I should never be lonely any more. Oh! mammy, mammy, must we part?--shall I ever see you again?" she cried, throwing herself into her nurse's arms.

"God bless an' keep you, darlin'!" Chloe said, folding her to her heart; "de good Lord take care ob my precious lamb, an' bring her back to her ole mammy again, 'fore long."

Elsie shut herself into her own room on her return to Roselands, and was not seen again that day by any one but her maid, until just at dusk Adelaide rapped softly at her door.

Elsie's voice, in a low, tremulous tone, answered, "Come in," and Adelaide entered.

The little girl was just in the act of closing her writing-desk, and her aunt thought she had been weeping, but the light was so uncertain that she might have been mistaken.

"My poor darling!" she said in low, pitiful accents, as, passing her arm around the child's waist, she drew her down to a seat beside herself upon the sofa.

Elsie did not speak, but dropping her head upon Adelaide's shoulder, burst into tears.

"My poor child! don't cry so; better days will come," said her aunt soothingly, running her fingers through Elsie's soft curls.

"I know what has been the trial of to-day," she continued, still using the same gentle, caressing tone, "for I, too, had a letter from your papa, in which he told me what he had said to you. You have been to see your new home. I have seen it several times and think it very lovely, and some day I hope and expect you and your papa will be very happy there."

Elsie shook her head sorrowfully.

"Not now, I know," said Adelaide, "for I have no need to ask what your decision has been; but I am hoping and praying that God may work the same change in your father's views and feelings which has been lately wrought in mine; and then he will love you all the better for your steadfast determination to obey God rather than man."

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide! will it ever be?" sighed the poor child; "the time seems so very long! It is so dreadful to live without my papa's love!"

"He does love you, Elsie, and I really think he suffers nearly as much as you do; but he thinks he is right in what he requires of you, and he is so very determined, and so anxious to make a gay, fashionable woman of you--cure you of those absurd, puritanical notions, as he expresses it--that I fear he will never relent until his heart is changed; but God is able to do that."

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide!" said the little girl mournfully, "pray for me, that I may be enabled to wait patiently until that time shall come, and never permitted to indulge rebellious feelings towards papa."

Adelaide kissed her softly. "Poor child!" she whispered, "it is a hard trial; but try, dearest, to remember who sends it."

She was silent a moment; then said, reluctantly, "Elsie, your papa has entrusted me with a message to you, which I was to deliver after your visit to the Oaks, unless you had then come to the resolution to comply with his wishes, or rather, his commands."

She paused, and Elsie, trembling, and almost holding her breath, asked fearfully, "What is it, Aunt Adelaide?"

"Poor darling!" murmured Adelaide, clasping the little form more closely, and pressing her lips to the fair brow; "I wish I could save you from it. He says that if you continue obdurate, he has quite determined to send you to a convent to be educated."

As Adelaide made this announcement, she pitied the child from the bottom of her heart; for she knew that much of Elsie's reading had been on the subject of Popery and Papal institutions; that she had pored over histories of the terrible tortures of the Inquisition and stories of martyrs and captive nuns, until she had imbibed an intense horror and dread of everything connected with that form of error and superstition. Yet, knowing all this, Adelaide was hardly prepared for the effect of her communication.

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide!" almost shrieked the little girl, throwing her arms around her aunt's neck, and clinging to her, as if in mortal terror, "Save me! save me! Oh! tell papa I would rather he would kill me at once, than send me to such a place."

And she wept and sobbed, and wrung her hands in such grief and terror, that Adelaide grew absolutely frightened.

"They will not dare to hurt you, Elsie," she hastened to say.

"Oh, they will! they will!--they will try to make me go to mass, and pray to the Virgin, and bow to the crucifixes; and when I refuse, they will put me in a dungeon and torture me."

"Oh, no, child," replied Adelaide soothingly, "they will not dare to do so to you, because you will not be a nun, but only a boarder, and your papa would be sure to find it all out."

"No, no!" sobbed the little girl, "they will hide me from papa when he comes, and tell him that I want to take the veil, and refuse to see him; or else they will say that I am dead and buried. Oh, Aunt Adelaide, beg him not to put me there! I shall go crazy! I feel as if I were going crazy now!" and she put her hand to her head.

"Poor, poor child!" said Adelaide, weeping. "I wish it was in my power to help you. I would once have advised you to submit to all your father requires. I cannot do that now, but I will return some of your lessons to me. It is God, my poor darling, who sends you this trial, and he will give you strength according to your day. He will be with you, wherever you are, even should it be in a convent; for you know he says: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee;' and 'not a hair of your head shall fall to the ground without your Father.'"

"Yes, I know! I know!" Elsie answered, again pressing her hands to her head; "but I cannot think, and everything seems so dreadful."

Adelaide was much alarmed, for Elsie looked quite wild for a moment; but after staying with her for a considerable time, saying all she could to soothe and comfort her--reminding her that it would be some weeks ere the plan could be carried out, and that in that time something might occur to change her father's mind, she left her, though still in deep distress, apparently calm and composed.