Chapter II.
 
                          "There comes
Forever something between us and what
We deem our happiness."

BYRON'S SARDANAPALUS.

It was quite late when the young party returned, and the next day all were dull, and more than one peevish and fretful; so that Elsie, on whom fell, almost entirely, the burden of entertaining them, had quite a trying time.

She noticed at breakfast that Arthur seemed in an uncommonly bad humor, preserving a sullen and dogged silence, excepting once when a sly whisper from Harry Carrington drew from him an exclamation of fierce anger that almost frightened the children, but only made Harry laugh.

Presently after, as they were about dispersing, Arthur came to her side and whispered that he had something to say to her in private.

Elsie started and looked extremely annoyed, but said at once that he might come to her room, and that there they could be quite alone, as mammy would be down-stairs getting her breakfast.

She led the way and Arthur followed. He glanced hastily around on entering and then locked the door and stood with his back against it.

Elsie became very pale.

"You needn't be afraid" he said, sneeringly, "I'm not going to hurt you!"

"What do you want, Arthur? tell me quickly, please, because I must soon go to papa, and I have a lesson to look over first," she said, mildly.

"I want you to lend me some money," he replied, speaking in a rapid and determined manner; "I know you've got some, for I saw your purse the other day, and it hadn't less than five dollars in it, I'm sure, and that's just the sum I want."

"What do you want it for, Arthur?" she asked in a troubled voice.

"That's none of your business," he answered, fiercely. "I want the money; I must have it, and I'll pay it back next month, and that's all you need to know."

"No, Arthur," she said gently, but very firmly, "unless you tell me all about it, I cannot lend you a single cent, because papa has forbidden me to do so, and I cannot disobey him."

"Nonsense! that's nothing but an excuse because you don't choose to do me a favor," returned the boy angrily; "you weren't so particular about obeying last summer when he made you sit all the afternoon at the piano, because you didn't choose to play what he told you to."

"That was because it would have been breaking God's command; but this is very different," replied Elsie, mildly.

"Well, if you must know," said he, fiercely, "I want it to pay a debt; I've been owing Dick Percival a dollar or so for several weeks, and last night he won from me again, and he said if I didn't pay up he'd report me to papa, or Horace, and get the money from them; and I got off only by promising to let him have the full amount to-day; but my pocket money's all gone, and I can't get anything out of mamma, because she told me the last time I went to her, that she couldn't give me any more without papa finding out all about it. So you see there is nobody to help me but you, Elsie, for there's never any use in asking my sisters; they never have a cent to spare! Now be a good, obliging girl; come and let me have the money."

"Oh! Arthur, you've been gambling; how could you do so?" she exclaimed with a horrified look. "It is so very wicked! you'll go to ruin, Arthur, if you keep on in such bad ways; do go to grandpa and tell him all about it, and promise never to do so again, and I am sure he will forgive you, and pay your debts, and then you will feel a great deal happier."

"Tell papa, indeed; never! I'd die first! Elsie, you must lend me the money," he said, seizing her by the wrist.

"Let go of me, Arthur," she said, trying to free herself from his grasp. "You are stronger than I am, but you know if you hurt me, papa will be sure to find it out."

He threw her hand from him with a violence that made her stagger, and catch at the furniture to save herself from falling.

"Will you give me the money then?" he asked angrily.

"If I should do so, I would have to put it down in my expense book, and tell papa all about it, because he does not allow me to spend one cent without telling him just what it went for; and that would be much worse for you, Arthur, than to go and confess it yourself--a great deal worse, I am sure."

"You could manage it well enough, if you wanted to," said he, sullenly; "it would be an easy matter to add a few yards to the flannel, and a few pounds to the tobacco that you bought so much of for the old servants. Just give me your book, and I'll fix it in a minute, and he'll never find it out."

"Arthur!" she exclaimed, "I could never do such a wicked thing! I would not deceive papa so for any money; and even if I did he would be sure to find it out."

Some one tried the door.

Arthur put his hand on the lock; then, turning toward Elsie again, for an instant, shook his fist in her face, muttering, with an oath, that he would be revenged, and make her sorry for her refusal to the last day of her life. He then opened the door and went out, leaving poor Elsie pale, and trembling like a leaf.

The person, whoever it was, that had tried the door had gone away again, and Elsie had a few moments alone to recover herself, before Chloe came to tell her that her father could not have her with him that morning, as a gentleman had called on business.

And much as Elsie had always enjoyed that hour, she was almost glad of the respite, so fearful was she that her papa would see that something had agitated her, and insist upon knowing what it was. She was very much troubled that she had been made the repository of such a secret, and fearful that she ought to tell her father or grandfather, because it seemed so very important that Arthur should be stopped in his evil courses. But remembering that he had said that her assistance was his only hope for escaping detection, she at length decided that she need not speak about the matter to any one.

She had a trying time that day, endeavoring to keep the children amused; and her ingenuity and patience were taxed to the utmost to think of stories and games that would please them all.

It was still early in the afternoon when she seemed to have got quite to the end of her list. She was trying to amuse Enna's set, while her three companions and Herbert were taking care of themselves. They had sat down on the floor, and were playing jack-stones.

"Let us play jack-stones, too," said Flora. "I don't know how; but Elsie, you can teach me, can't you?"

"No, Flora, I cannot indeed, for papa says I must not play that game, because he does not like to have me sit down on the floor," replied Elsie. "We must try to think of something else."

"We needn't sit on the floor, need we? Couldn't we play it on the table?" asked Flora.

"I don't know; perhaps we could; but papa said I mustn't play it," replied Elsie, shaking her head doubtfully.

"But maybe he'd let you, if we don't sit on the floor," persisted the little girl.

Several other little ones joined their entreaties to Flora's, and at length Elsie said, "Well, I will go and ask papa; perhaps he may let me, if I tell him we are not going to sit on the floor."

She went to his dressing-room, but he was not there. Next she tried the library, and was more successful; he was in an easy chair by the fire, reading.

But now that she had found him, Elsie, remembering how often he had told her never to ask a second time to do what he had once forbidden, was more than half afraid to prefer her request, and very much inclined to go back without doing so.

But as she stood a moment irresolute, he looked up from his book, and seeing who it was, smiled and held out his hand.

She went to him then, and said timidly, "Papa, some of the little ones want me to play jack-stones, to teach them how; may I, if we don't sit on the floor?"

"Elsie," he replied, in a tone of great displeasure, "it was only the other day that I positively forbade you to play that game, and, after all that I have said to you about not asking a second time, it surprises me very much that you would dare to do it. Go to my dressing-room, and shut yourself into the closet there."

Elsie burst into tears, as she turned to obey, then, hesitatingly, asked, "May I go down first, papa, and tell the children that I can't come to play with them?"

"Elsie!" he exclaimed, in his sternest tone; and not daring to utter another word, trembling and weeping, she hastened from the room, and shut herself up as he had bidden her.

The closet was large, and there was a stool she could sit on; but when she had shut the door, it was both dark and cold. It was a dismal place to be in, and poor Elsie wondered how long she would have to stay there.

It seemed a long, long time; so long that she began to think it must be night, and to fear that perhaps her papa had forgotten all about having sent her there, or that he considered her so very naughty as to deserve to stay there all night.

But at last she heard his step, and then he opened the door and called, "Elsie!"

"Yes, papa, I am here," she replied in a trembling voice, full of tears.

"Come to me," he said; and then, as he took her hand, "Why, how cold you are, child," he exclaimed; "I am really sorry you have been so long in that dismal place. I did not intend to punish you so severely, and should not have kept you there more than half an hour, at the very longest; but company came in, and I quite forgot you."

While speaking thus he had led her up to the fire and sat down with her on his knee. "My poor darling!" he said, "these little hands are very cold, let papa rub them; and are your feet cold too?"

"Yes sir," she replied, and he pulled off her shoes and stockings, and moving his chair closer to the fire, held her feet out toward the blaze, and rubbed them in his warm hands.

"You have been crying a good deal," he said, looking keenly into her face.

"Yes, papa," she replied, dropping her face on his breast and bursting into tears; "I thought you were going to leave me there all night."

"Did you? and were you afraid?"

"No, papa, not afraid, because I know you would be sleeping in the next room; and besides, God could take care of me as well in the closet as anywhere else. Is it getting night, papa, or morning?"

"It is beginning to grow dark," he said. "But tell me why you cried, if you were not afraid."

"Partly because I was uncomfortable, papa, but more because I was sorry I had been naughty, and displeased you, and afraid that I can never learn to be good."

"It is very strange," he remarked, "that you cannot learn not to ask to do what I have forbidden. I shall have to punish you every time you do it; for you must learn that no means no, and that you are never to coax or tease after papa has once said it. I love my little girl very dearly, and want to do all I can to make her happy, but I must have her entirely submissive and obedient to me. But stop crying now," he added, wiping her eyes with his handkerchief. "Kiss me, and tell me you are going to be a good girl, and I will forgive you this time."

"I will try, papa," she said, holding up her face for the kiss; "and I would not have asked to play that, but the children begged me so, and I thought you only said I mustn't, because you didn't want me to sit on the floor; and we were going to try it on the table."

"Did I give that reason?" he asked gravely.

"No, papa," she replied, hanging her head.

"Then you had no right to think so. That was one reason, but not the only one. I have heard it said that that play enlarges the knuckles, and I don't choose to have these little hands of mine robbed of their beauty," he added, playfully raising them to his lips.

Elsie smiled faintly, then drew a deep sigh.

"Is it so very hard to give up jack-stones?" he asked.

"No, papa; I don't care anything about that, but I was just thinking how very naughty I must be growing; for you have had to punish me twice in one week; and then I have had such a hard day of it--it was so difficult to amuse the children. I think being up so late last night made them feel cross."

"Ah!" he said, in a sympathizing tone; "and had you all the burden of entertaining them? Where were Louise and Lora?"

"They are hardly ever with us, papa; we are too little to play with them, they say, and Enna won't do anything her little friends want her to, and"--she paused, and the color rushed over her face with the sudden thought--"I am afraid I am telling tales."

"And so they put upon you all the trouble of entertaining both your own company and theirs, eh? It is shameful! a downright imposition, and I shall not put up with it!" he exclaimed indignantly. "I shall speak to Lora and Louise, and tell them they must do their share of the work."

"Please, papa, don't," Elsie begged in a frightened tone. "I would a great deal rather just go on as we have been; they will be so vexed."

"And suppose they are! they shall not hurt you," he said, drawing her closer to him; "and they have no reason to be. I think the children will all want to go to bed early to-night," he added, "and then you can come here and sit by me while you copy your letter; shall you like that?"

"Very much, papa, thank you."

"Well, then we will put on the shoes and stockings again," he said pleasantly, "and then you must bathe your eyes, and go to your supper; and, as soon as the others retire, you may come back to me."

Elsie had to make haste, for the tea-bell rang almost immediately.

The others were just taking their places at the table when she entered the room, and thus, their attention being occupied with the business in hand, she escaped the battery of questions and looks of curiosity which she had feared.

Flora did turn round after a little, to ask: "Why didn't you come back, Elsie; wouldn't your papa let you play?" But Elsie's quiet "no" seemed to satisfy her, and she made no further remark about it.

As Mr. Dinsmore had expected, the children were all ready for bed directly after tea; and then Elsie went to him, and had another quiet evening, which she enjoyed so much that she thought it almost made up for all the troubles and trials of the day; for her father, feeling a little remorseful on account of her long imprisonment in the closet, was, if possible, even more than usually tender and affectionate in his manner toward her.

The next morning Mr. Dinsmore found an opportunity to remonstrate with his sisters on their neglect of the little guests, but did it in such a way that they had no idea that Elsie had been complaining of them--as, indeed, she had not--but supposed that he had himself noticed their remissness; and feeling somewhat ashamed of their want of politeness, they went into the children's room after breakfast, and exerted themselves for an hour or two, for the entertainment of the little ones. It was but a spasmodic effort, however, and they soon grew weary of the exertion, and again let the burden fall upon Elsie. She did the best she could, poor child, but these were tiresome and trying days from that until New Year's.

One afternoon Mr. Horace Dinsmore was sitting in his own room, buried in an interesting book, when the door opened and closed again very quietly, and his little girl stole softly to his side, and laying her head on his shoulder, stood there without uttering a word.

For hours she had been exerting herself to the utmost to amuse the young guests, her efforts thwarted again and again by the petulance and unreasonableness of Walter and Enna; she had also borne much teasing from Arthur, and fault-finding from Mrs. Dinsmore, to whom Enna was continually carrying tales, until, at length, no longer able to endure it, she had stolen away to her father to seek for comfort.

"My little girl is tired," he said, passing his arm affectionately around her, and pressing his lips on her forehead.

She burst into tears, and sobbed quite violently.

"Why, what is it, darling? what troubles my own sweet child?" he asked, in a tone of mingled surprise and alarm, as he hastily laid aside his book and drew her to his knee.

"Nothing, papa; at least, nothing very bad; I believe I am very silly," she replied, trying to smile through her tears.

"It must have been something, Elsie," he said, very gravely; "something quite serious, I think, to affect you so; tell me what it was, daughter."

"Please don't ask me, papa," she begged imploringly.

"I hate concealments, Elsie, and shall be very much displeased if you try them with me," he answered, almost sternly.

"Dear papa, don't be angry," she pleaded, in a tremulous tone; "I don't want to have any concealments from you, but you know I ought not to tell tales. You won't make me do it?"

"Is that it?" he said, kissing her. "No, I shall not ask you to tell tales, but I am not going to have you abused by anybody, and shall take care to find out from some one else who it is that annoys you."

"Oh, papa, please don't trouble yourself about it. I do not mind it at all, now."

"But I do," replied her father, "and I shall take care that you are not annoyed in the same way again."

The tears rose in Elsie's eyes again, and she reproached herself severely for allowing her father to see how troubled she had been; but she said not another word, for she well knew from his look and tone that it would be worse than useless.