Chapter XI.
 
"In vain she seeks to close her weary eyes,
Those eyes still swim incessantly in tears--
Hope in her cheerless bosom fading dies,
Distracted by a thousand cruel fears,
While banish'd from his love forever she appears."

MRS. TIGHE'S PSYCHE.

When thus alone the little Elsie fell upon her knees, weeping and sobbing. "Oh!" she groaned, "I cannot, cannot bear it!"

Then she thought of the agony in the garden, and that bitter cry, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" followed by the submissive prayer, "If this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will, not mine be done."

She opened her Bible and read of his sufferings, so meekly and patiently borne, without a single murmur or complaint; borne by One who was free from all stain of sin; born not for himself, but for others; sufferings to which her own were not for a moment to be compared; and then she prayed that she might bear the image of Jesus; that like him she might be enabled to yield a perfect submission to her heavenly Father's will, and to endure with patience and meekness whatever trial he might see fit to appoint her.

Elsie was far from well, and for many long hours after she had sought her pillow she lay tossing restlessly from side to side in mental and physical pain, her temples throbbing, and her heart aching with its intense longing for the love that now seemed farther from her than ever. And thought--troubled, anxious, distracting thought--was busy in her brain; all the stories of martyrs and captive nuns which she had ever read--all the descriptions of the horrible tortures inflicted by Rome upon her wretched victims, came vividly to her recollection, and when at length she fell asleep, it was but to wake again, trembling with fright from a dream that she was in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

Then again she slept, but only to dream of new horrors which seemed terribly real even when she awoke; and thus, between sleeping and waking, the hours dragged slowly along, until at last the day dawned, after what had seemed to the little girl the longest night she had ever known.

Her maid came in at the usual hour, and was surprised and alarmed to find her young mistress still in bed, with cheeks burning and eyes sparkling with fever, and talking in a wild, incoherent manner.

Rushing out of the room, Fanny hastened in search of Miss Adelaide, who, she had long since discovered, was the only one of the family that cared for Elsie; and in a few moments the young aunt was standing at the bedside, looking with tearful eyes at the little sufferer.

"Oh, Miss Adelaide!" whispered the girl, "I tink she's berry sick; shan't we send for de doctah?"

"Yes, tell Jim to go for him immediately, and to stop on his way back and tell Aunt Chloe that she is wanted here just as soon as she can possibly come," replied Adelaide quickly, and then she set herself to work to make the child as comfortable as possible, remaining beside her until Chloe came to take her place, which was in less than an hour after she had received the summons, and just as the breakfast-bell rang at Roselands.

"So Elsie has taken a fever, and there is no knowing what it is, or whether it is contagious or not," remarked Mrs. Dinsmore. "It is really fortunate that we were just going away for our summer trip. I shall take all the children now, and we will start this very day; what a good thing it is that Elsie has kept her room so constantly of late! Can you pack in time for the afternoon train, Adelaide?"

"I shall not go now, mamma," replied Adelaide quietly.

"Why not?" asked her mother in a tone of surprise.

"Because I prefer to stay with Elsie."

"What absurd folly!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinsmore. "Aunt Chloe will do everything that is necessary, and you don't know to what infection you may be exposing yourself."

"I don't think there is any danger, mamma; and if Elsie should be very ill Aunt Chloe will need assistance; and I am not willing to leave Horace's child to the care of servants. Elsie has been a great comfort to me in my sorrow," she added, with tears in her eyes, "and I will not forsake her now; and you know, mamma, it is no self-denial, for I have no heart for gayety. I would much rather stay."

"Certainly; stay if you like," answered her father, speaking for the first time. "I do not imagine that Elsie's disease is contagious; she has doubtless worried herself sick, and it would not look well to the neighbors for us all to run away and leave the child so ill. Ah! there is the doctor, and we will have his opinion," he exclaimed, as through the half-open door he caught a glimpse of the family physician descending the stairs. "Ask him in to breakfast, Pomp. Good-morning, doctor! how do you find your patient?"

"I think her quite a sick child, sir, though of the precise nature of her disease I am not yet able to form a decided opinion," replied the physician, accepting the offered seat at the table.

"Is it anything contagious?" inquired Mrs. Dinsmore anxiously.

"I cannot yet say certainly, madam, but I think not."

"Shall we send for Horace? that is, would you advise it?" asked Mr. Dinsmore hesitatingly.

"Oh, no," was the reply; "not until we have had more time to judge whether she is likely to be very ill; it may prove but a slight attack."

"I shall write this very day," was Adelaide's mental resolve, though she said nothing.

Mrs. Dinsmore hurried her preparations, and the middle of the afternoon found Adelaide and Elsie sole occupants of the house, with the exception of the servants. Adelaide watched the carriage as it rolled away, and then, with feelings of sadness and desolation, and a mind filled with anxious forebodings, returned to her station at Elsie's bedside.

The child was tossing about, moaning, and talking incoherently, and Adelaide sighed deeply at the thought that this was perhaps but the beginning of a long and serious illness, while she was painfully conscious of her own inexperience and want of skill in nursing.

"Oh!" she exclaimed half aloud, "if I only had some kind, experienced friend to advise and assist me, what a blessed relief it would be!"

There was a sound of carriage-wheels on the gravel walk below, and hastily turning to Chloe, she said, "Go down and tell them I must be excused. I cannot see visitors while my little niece is so very ill."

Chloe went, but returned almost immediately, followed by Mrs. Travilla.

With a half-smothered exclamation of delight, Adelaide threw herself into the kind, motherly arms extended to receive her, and burst into tears. Mrs. Travilla let them have their way for a moment, while she stroked her hair caressingly, and murmured a few soothing words. Then she said, softly, "Edward called at the gate this morning, and learned all about it; and I knew you were but young, and would feel lonely and anxious, and I love the dear child as if she were my own, and so I have come to stay and help you nurse her, if you will let me."

"Let you! dear Mrs. Travilla; I can never repay your kindness."

Mrs. Travilla only smiled, and pressed the hand she held; and then quietly laying aside her bonnet and shawl, took up her post at the bedside, with the air of one quite at home, and intending to be useful.

"It is such an inexpressible relief to see you sitting there," whispered Adelaide. "You don't know what a load you have taken off my mind."

But before Mrs. Travilla could reply, Elsie started up in the bed, with a wild outcry: "Oh, don't, papa! don't send me there! They will kill me! they will torture me! Oh, let me stay at home with you, and I will be very good."

Mrs. Travilla spoke soothingly to her, and persuaded her to lie down again.

Elsie looked at her quite rationally, and holding out her hand, with a faint smile, said: "Thank you, Mrs. Travilla; you are very kind to come to see me; I am very sick; my head hurts me so;" and she put her hand up to it, while again her eyes rolled wildly, and she shrieked out, "Oh, Aunt Adelaide! save me! save me! don't let them take me away to that dreadful place! Must I go now? to-day?" she asked in piteous accents. "Oh! I don't want to go!" and she clung shuddering to her aunt, who was bending over her, with eyes swimming in tears.

"No, darling, no," she said, "no one shall take you away; nobody shall hurt you." Then in answer to Mrs. Travilla's inquiring look, she explained, speaking in an undertone: "He had decided to place her in a convent, to complete her education. I told her of it last night," she added mournfully, "as he requested, and I very much fear that the fright and terror she suffered on that account have helped to bring on this attack."

"Poor, dear, precious lamb!" sighed Chloe, who stood at the foot of the bed, gazing sadly at her nursling, and wiping away tear after tear, as they chased each other down her sable cheek. "I wish Massa Horace could see her now. I'se sure he nebber say such cruel tings no more."

"He ought surely to be here! You have sent for him, Adelaide?" Mrs. Travilla said inquiringly. "She is very ill, and it is of great importance that her mind should be set at rest, if indeed it can be done at present."

"I wrote this morning," Adelaide said, "and I shall write every day until he comes."

Elsie caught the words, and turning with an eager look to her aunt, she again spoke quite rationally, "Are you writing to papa, Aunt Adelaide?" she asked. "Oh! beg him to come home soon, very soon; tell him I want to see him once more. Oh, Aunt Adelaide, he will kiss me when I am dying, won't he? Oh, say you think he will."

"I am sure of it, darling," replied Adelaide soothingly, as she bent down and kissed the little feverish cheek; "but we are not going to let you die yet."

"But will you ask papa? will you beg him to come?" pleaded the little voice still more eagerly.

"I will, I have, darling," replied the aunt; "and I doubt not that he will start for home immediately on receiving my letter."

Day after day the fever raged in Elsie's veins, and when at length it was subdued, it left her very weak indeed; but the doctor pronounced her free from disease, and said she only needed good nursing and nutritious diet to restore her to health; and Mrs. Travilla and Chloe, who had watched day and night by her couch with intense anxiety, wept for joy and thankfulness that their precious one was yet spared to them.

But alas! their hopes faded again, as day after day the little girl lay on her bed, weak and languid, making no progress toward recovery, but rather losing strength.

The doctor shook his head with a disappointed air, and drawing Adelaide aside, said, "I cannot understand it, Miss Dinsmore; has she any mental trouble? She seems to me like one who has some weight of care or sorrow pressing upon her, and sapping the very springs of life. She appears to have no desire to recover; she needs something to rouse her, and revive her love of life. Is there anything on her mind? If so, it must be removed, or she will certainly die."

"She is very anxious to see her father," said Adelaide, weeping. "Oh, how I wish he would come! I cannot imagine what keeps him. I have written again and again."

"I wish he was here, indeed," replied the doctor, with a look of great anxiety. "Miss Adelaide," he suddenly exclaimed, "if she were ten years older I should say she was dying of a broken heart, but she is so young the idea is absurd."

"You are right, doctor! it is nothing but that. Oh! how I wish Horace would come!" cried Adelaide, walking up and down the room, and wringing her hands. "Do you notice, doctor," she asked, stopping before him, "how she watches the opening of the door, and starts and trembles at every sound? It is killing her, for she is too weak to bear it. Oh! If Horace would only come, and set her mind at rest! He has been displeased with her, and threatened to send her to a convent, of which she has a great horror and dread--and she idolizes him; and so his anger and his threats have had this sad effect upon her, poor child!"

"Write again, Miss Adelaide, and tell him that her life depends upon his speedy return and a reconciliation with him. If he would not lose her he must at once relieve her of every fear and anxiety," said the physician, taking up his hat. "That is the medicine she needs, and the only one that will do her much good. Good-morning. I will be in again at noon."

And Adelaide, scarcely waiting to see him off, rushed away to her room to write to her brother exactly what he had told her, beseeching him, if he had any love for his child, to return immediately. The paper was all blistered with her tears, for they fell so fast it was with difficulty she could see to write.

"She has spoken from the first as though it were a settled thing that this sickness was to be her last; and now a great, a terrible dread is coming over me that she is right. Oh, Horace, will you not come and save her?"

Thus Adelaide closed her note; then sealing and despatching it, she returned to the bedside of her little niece.

Elsie lay quietly with her eyes closed, but there was an expression of pain upon her features. Mrs. Travilla sat beside her, holding one little hand in hers, and gazing with tearful eyes upon the little wan face she had learned to love so well.

Presently those beautiful eyes unclosed, and turned upon her with an expression of anguish that touched her to the very heart.

"What is it, darling--are you in pain?" she asked, leaning over her, and speaking in tones of the tenderest solicitude.

"Oh! Mrs. Travilla," moaned the little girl, "my sins--my sins--they are so many--so black. 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' God says it; and I--I am not holy--I am vile--oh, so vile, so sinful! Shall I ever see his face? how can I dare to venture into his presence!"

She spoke slowly, gaspingly--her voice sometimes sinking almost to a whisper; so that, but for the death-like stillness of the room, her words would scarcely have been audible.

Mrs. Travilla's tears were falling very fast, and it was a moment ere she could command her voice to reply.

"My precious, precious child," she said, "He is able to save to the uttermost. 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' He will wash you in that precious fountain opened for sin, and for all uncleanness. He will clothe you with the robe of his own righteousness, and present you faultless before the throne of God, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. He has said it, and shall it not come to pass, my darling? Yes, dear child, I am confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."

"Oh, yes, he will, I know he will. Precious Jesus! my Saviour," murmured the little one, a smile of heavenly peace and joy overspreading her features; and, closing: her eyes, she seemed to sleep, while Adelaide, unable longer to control her feelings, stole softly from the room, to seek a place where she might weep without restraint.

An hour later Adelaide sat alone by the bedside, Mrs. Travilla having found it necessary to return to Ion for a few hours, while Chloe had gone down to the kitchen to see to the preparation of some new delicacy with which she hoped to tempt Elsie's failing appetite.

Adelaide had been sitting for some moments gazing sadly at the little pale, thin face, so fair, so sad, yet so full of meekness and resignation. Her eyes filled as she looked, and thought of all that they feared.

"Elsie, darling! precious little one," she murmured in low, tremulous tones, as she leant over the child in tender solicitude.

"Dear Aunt Adelaide, how kind you are to me," said the little girl, opening her eyes and looking up lovingly into her aunt's face.

There was a sound of carriage-wheels.

"Is it my papa?" asked Elsie, starting and trembling.

Adelaide sprang to the window. No, it was only a kind neighbor, come to inquire how the invalid was.

A look of keen disappointment passed over the expressive countenance of the little girl--the white lids drooped over the soft eyes, and large tears stole from beneath the long dark lashes, and rolled silently down her cheeks.

"He will not come in time," she whispered, as if talking to herself. "Oh, papa, I want to hear you say you forgive all my naughtiness. I want one kiss before I go. Oh, take me in your arms, papa, and press me to your heart, and say you love me yet!"

Adelaide could bear it no longer; the mournful, pleading tones went to her very heart. "Dear, dear child," she cried, bending over her with streaming eyes, "he does love you! I know it. You are the very idol of his heart; and you must not die. Oh, darling, live for his sake, and for mine. He will soon, be here, and then it will be all right; he will be so thankful that he has not lost you, that he will never allow you to be separated from him again."

"No, oh, no! he said he did not love a rebellious child," she sobbed; "he said he would never kiss me again until I submit; and you know I cannot do that; and oh, Aunt Adelaide, he never breaks his word!"

"Oh, Horace! Horace! will you never come? will you let her die? so young, so sweet, so fair!" wept Adelaide, wringing her hands.

But Elsie was speaking again, and she controlled herself to listen.

"Aunt Adelaide," she murmured, in low, feeble tones, "I am too weak to hold a pen; will you write something for me?"

"I will, darling; I will do anything I can for you," she replied.

Then turning to the maid, who had just entered the room: "Fanny," she said, "bring Miss Elsie's writing-desk here, and set it close to the bedside. Now you may take that waiter down-stairs, and you need not come in again until I ring for you."

Elsie had started and turned her head on the opening of the door, as she invariably did, looking longingly, eagerly toward it--then turned away again with a sigh of disappointment.

"Poor papa! poor, dear papa!" she murmured to herself; "he will be so lonely without his little daughter. My heart aches for you, my own papa."

"I am quite ready now, Elsie, dear. What do you wish me to write?" asked her aunt.

"Aunt Adelaide," said the little girl, looking earnestly at her, "do you know how much mamma was worth? how much money I would have if I lived to grow up?"

"No, dear," she replied, much surprised at the question, for even in health Elsie had never seemed to care for riches; "I cannot say exactly, but I know it is a great many thousands."

"And it will all be papa's when I am gone, I suppose. I am glad of that. But I would like to give some of it away, if I might. I know I have no right, because I am so young--papa has told me that several times--but I think he will like to do what I wish with a part of it; don't you think so, too, Aunt Adelaide?"

Adelaide nodded assent; she dared not trust herself to speak, for she began to comprehend that it was neither more nor less than the last will and testament of her little niece, which she was requesting her to write.

"Well, then, Aunt Adelaide," said the feeble little voice, "please write down that I want my dear papa to support one missionary to the heathen out of my money. Now say that I know he will take care of my poor old mammy as long as she lives, and I hope that, for his little Elsie's sake, he will be very, very kind to her, and give her everything she wants. And I want him to do something for Mrs. Murray, too. Mamma loved her, and so do I; for she was very kind to me always, and taught me about Jesus; and so I want papa to give her a certain sum every year; enough to keep her quite comfortable, for she is getting old, and I am afraid she is very poor."

"I have written all that, Elsie; is there anything more?" asked Adelaide, scarcely able to command her voice.

"Yes, if you please," replied the little girl; and she went on to name every member of the family, from her grandfather down--servants included--setting apart some little gift for each; most of them things already in her possession, though some few were to be bought, if her papa was willing. Even Miss Day was not forgotten, and to her Elsie bequeathed a valuable ring. To her Aunt Adelaide she gave her papa's miniature, a lock of her own hair, and a small Testament.

"Are you really willing to part with your papa's picture, Elsie, dear?" asked Adelaide. "I thought you valued it very highly."

"I cannot take it with me, dear Aunt Adelaide," was the quiet reply, "and he will not want it himself, and I believe you love him better than any one else. Oh, Aunt Adelaide, comfort my poor papa when I am gone, and he is left all alone!" she exclaimed, the big tears chasing each other down her cheeks. "It is so sad to be alone, with nobody to love you; my poor, poor papa! I am all he has."

"You have given nothing to him, Elsie," said Adelaide, wiping away her tears, and glancing over what she had just written.

"Yes, there is a little packet in my desk directed to him. Please give him that, and my dear, precious little Bible. I can't part with it yet, but when I am gone."

She then mentioned that she had pointed out to her nurse the spot where she wished to be buried, and added that she did not want any monument, but just a plain white stone with her name and age, and a text of Scripture.

"That is all, and thank you very much, dear auntie," she said, when Adelaide had finished writing down her directions; "now, please put the pen in my fingers and hold the paper here, and I think I can sign my name."

She did so quite legibly, although her hand trembled with weakness; and then, at her request, the paper was folded, sealed, and placed in her desk, to be given after her death to her father, along with the packet.

It was evidently a great relief to Elsie to get these things off her mind, yet talking so long had exhausted all her little strength, and Adelaide, much alarmed at the death-like pallor of her countenance, and the sinking of her voice, now insisted that she should lie quiet and try to sleep.

Elsie made an effort to obey, but her fever was returning, and she was growing very restless again.

"I cannot, Aunt Adelaide," she said at length, "and I want to tell you a little more to say to papa, for I may not be able again. I am afraid he will not come until I am gone, and he will be so sorry; my poor, poor papa! Tell him that I loved him to the very last; that I longed to ask him to forgive me for all the naughty, rebellious feelings I have ever had towards him. Twice, since he has been displeased with me, I have rebelled in my heart--once when he refused to give me Miss Allison's letter, and again when he sent mammy away; it was only for a few moments each time; but it was very wicked, and I am very sorry."

Sobs choked her utterance.

"Poor darling!" said Adelaide, crying bitterly. "I don't think an angel could have borne it better, and I know he will reproach himself for his cruelty to you."

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide, don't say that; don't let him reproach himself, but say all you can to comfort him. I am his child--he had a right--and he only wanted to make me good--and I needed it all, or God would not have permitted it."

"Oh, Elsie, darling, I cannot give you up! you must not die!" sobbed Adelaide, bending over her, her tears falling fast on Elsie's bright curls. "It is too hard to see you die so young, and with so much to live for."

"It is very sweet to go home so soon," murmured the soft, low voice of the little one, "so sweet to go and live with Jesus, and be free from sin forever!"

Adelaide made no reply, and for a moment her bitter sobbing was the only sound that broke the stillness of the room.

"Don't cry so, dear auntie," Elsie said faintly. "I am very happy--only I want to see my father." She added something incoherently, and Adelaide perceived, with excessive alarm, that her mind was again beginning to wander.

She hastily summoned a servant and despatched a message to the physician, urging him to come immediately, as there was an alarming change in his patient.

Never in all her life had Adelaide suffered such anxiety and distress as during the next half-hour, which she and the faithful Chloe spent by the bedside, watching the restless tossings of the little sufferer, whose fever and delirium seemed to increase every moment. Jim had not been able to find the doctor, and Mrs. Travilla was staying away longer than she had intended.

But at length she came, and, though evidently grieved and concerned at the change in Elsie, her quiet, collected manner calmed and soothed Adelaide.

"Oh, Mrs. Travilla," she whispered, "do you think she will die?"

"We will not give up hope yet, my dear," replied the old lady, trying to speak cheerfully; "but my greatest comfort, just at present, is the sure knowledge that she is prepared for any event. No one can doubt that she is a lamb of the Saviour's fold, and if he is about to gather her into his bosom--" She paused, overcome by emotion, then added in a tremulous tone, "It will be a sad thing to us, no doubt, but to her--dear little one--a blessed, blessed change."

"I cannot bear the thought," sobbed Adelaide, "but I have scarcely any hope now, because--" and then she told Mrs. Travilla what they had been doing in her absence.

"Don't let that discourage you, my dear," replied her friend soothingly. "I have no faith in presentiments, and while there is life there is hope."

Dr. Barton, the physician, came in at that moment, looked at his young patient, felt her pulse, and shook his head sorrowfully.

Adelaide watched his face with the deepest anxiety.

He passed his hand over Elsie's beautiful curls.

"It seems a sad pity," he remarked in a low tone to her aunt, "but they will have to be sacrificed; they must be cut off immediately, and her head shaved."

Adelaide shuddered and trembled. "Is there any hope, doctor?" she faltered almost under her breath.

"There is life yet, Miss Adelaide," he said, "and we must use all the means within our reach; but I wish her father was here. Have you heard nothing yet?"

"No, nothing, nothing!" she answered, in a tone of keen distress; then hastily left the room to give the necessary orders for carrying out the doctor's directions.

"No, no, you must not! Papa will not allow it--he will be very angry--he will punish me if you cut off my curls!" and Elsie's little hand was raised in a feeble attempt to push away the remorseless scissors that were severing the bright locks from her head.

"No, darling, he will not be displeased, because it is quite necessary to make you well." said Mrs. Travilla in her gentle, soothing tones; "and your papa would bid us do it, if he were here."

"No, no, don't cut it off. I will not, I cannot be a nun! Oh, papa, save me! save me!" she shrieked.

"Dear child, you are safe at home, with none but friends around you."

It was Mrs. Travilla's gentle voice again, and for a moment the child seemed calmed; but only for a moment; another wild fancy possessed her brain, and she cried out wildly, "Don't! don't!--take it away! I will not bow down to images! No, no, I will not." Then, with a bitter, wailing cry, that went to the heart of every one who heard it: "Oh, papa, don't be angry! I will be good! Oh, I am all alone, nobody to love me."

"Elsie, darling, we are all here, and we love you dearly, dearly," said Adelaide in quivering tones, while her scalding tears fell like rain upon the little hand she had taken in hers.

"My papa--I want my papa; but he said he would never kiss me till I submit;" the tone was low and plaintive, and the large mournful eyes were fixed upon Adelaide's face.

Then suddenly her gaze was directed upward, a bright smile overspread her features, and she exclaimed in joyous accents, "Yes, mamma, yes; I am coming! I will go with you!"

Adelaide turned away and went weeping from the room, unable to bear any more.

"Oh, Horace! Horace, what have you done!" she sobbed, as she walked up and down the hall, wringing her hands.

The doctor came out, but she was too much absorbed in her grief to notice him. He went to her, however, and took her hand.

"Miss Adelaide," he said kindly, "it is true your little niece is very ill, but we will not give up all hope yet. It is possible her father's presence may do something, and surely he will be here ere long. But try to calm yourself, my dear young lady, and hope for the best, or I fear I shall have another patient on my hands. I will stay with the little girl myself to-night, and I wish I could prevail upon you to lie down and take some rest, for I see you need it sadly. Have you had your tea?"

Adelaide shook her head. "I could not eat," she said sadly.

"You ought at least to try; it would do you good," he urged.

"No, you will not? well, then, you will lie down; indeed, you must; you will certainly be ill."

Adelaide looked the question she dared not ask.

"No," he said, "there's no immediate danger, and if there should be any important change I will call you."

And, reassured on that point, she yielded to his persuasions and went to bed.