Holidays at Roselands by Martha Finley
"Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter, ere long, back on itself recoils." MILTON'S PARADISE LOST. "Tis easier for the generous to forgive, Than for offence to ask it." THOMSON'S EDMUND AND ELEONORA.
The last day of the old year had come; the afternoon was bright and warm for the season, and the little folks at Roselands were unanimously in favor of a long walk. They set out soon after dinner, all in high good humor except Arthur, who was moody and silent, occasionally casting an angry glance at Elsie, whom he had not yet forgiven for her refusal to lend him money; but no one seemed to notice it, and for some time nothing occurred to mar their enjoyment.
At length, some of the older ones, seeing that the sun was getting low, called to the others that it was time to return, and all turned their faces homeward, walking more soberly and silently along than at first, for they were beginning to feel somewhat fatigued.
They were climbing a steep hill. Elsie and Caroline Howard reached the top first, Arthur and Harry Carrington being but a few steps behind.
Elsie stooped to pick up a pebble, and Arthur, darting quickly past her, managed to give her a push that sent her rolling down the bank. She gave one frightened cry as she fell, and the next instant was lying pale and motionless at the bottom.
All was now terror and confusion among the children; the little ones, who all loved Elsie dearly, began to scream and cry. Harry, Lucy, Carry, and Mary, rushed down the path again as fast as they could, and were soon standing pale and breathless beside the still form of their little companion. Carry was the only one who seemed to have any presence of mind. She sat down on the ground, and lifting Elsie's head, laid it on her lap, untied her bonnet-strings, and loosened her dress.
"Jim," she said to the black boy, who stood blubbering by her side, "run quickly for the doctor. And you, Harry Carrington, go for her father, as fast as you can. Lucy, crying so won't do any good. Haven't some of you a smelling-bottle about you?"
"Yes, yes, here, here! quick! quick! Oh, Carry, say she isn't dead!" cried Mary Leslie, diving into her pocket and bringing out a small bottle of smelling salts that some one had presented her as a Christmas gift.
"No, she is not dead, Mary; see, she is beginning to open her eyes," replied Carry, now bursting into tears herself.
But Elsie opened them only for an instant, moaned as if in great pain, and relapsed again into insensibility, so like death that Carry shuddered and trembled with fear.
They were not more than a quarter of a mile from the house, but it seemed almost an age to the anxious Carry before Mr. Dinsmore came; although it was in reality but a few moments, as Harry ran very fast, and Mr. Dinsmore sprang into the carriage--which was at the door, some of the party having just returned from a drive--the instant he heard the news, calling to Harry to accompany him, and bidding the coachman drive directly to the spot, with all speed.
The moment they were off he began questioning the boy closely as to the cause of the accident. Harry could not tell much about it. "She had fallen down the hill," he said, "but he did not see what made her fall."
"Was she much hurt?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, his voice trembling a little in spite of himself.
Harry "did not know, but feared she was pretty badly injured."
"Was she insensible?"
"Yes, she was when I left," Harry said.
Mr. Dinsmore leaned back in the carriage with a groan and did not speak again.
In another moment they had stopped, and flinging open the door, he sprang to the ground, and hurried toward the little group, who were still gathered about Elsie just as Harry had left them; some looking on with pale, frightened faces, others sobbing aloud. Walter was crying quite bitterly, and even Enna had the traces of tears on her cheeks. As for Arthur, he trembled and shuddered at the thought that he was perhaps already a murderer, and frightened and full of remorse, shrank behind the others as he saw his brother approach.
Elsie still lay with her head in Carry's lap.
Hastily pushing the others aside, Mr. Dinsmore stooped over her, sorrow and intense anxiety written in every line of his countenance.
Again Elsie opened her eyes, and smiled faintly as she saw him bending over her.
"My precious one," he murmured in a low, moved tone, as he gently lifted her in his arms; "are you much hurt? Are you in pain?"
"Yes, papa," she answered feebly.
"My ankle, papa; it pains me terribly; and I think I must have hit my head, it hurts me so."
"How did she come to fall?" he asked, looking round upon the little group.
No one replied.
"Please, papa, don't ask," she pleaded in a faint voice.
He gave her a loving, pitying look, but paid no other heed to her remonstrance.
"Who was near her?" he asked, glancing sternly around the little circle.
"Arthur," said several voices.
Arthur quailed beneath the terrible glance of his brother's eye, as he turned it upon him, exclaiming bitterly: "Yes, I understand it all, now! I believe you will never be satisfied until you have killed her."
"Dear papa, please take me home, and don't scold poor Arthur," pleaded Elsie's sweet, gentle voice; "I am not so very badly hurt, and I am sure he is very sorry for me."
"Yes, darling," he said, "I will take you home and will try to do so without hurting you;" and nothing could exceed the tenderness with which he bore her to the carriage, supported her in his arms during the short ride, and on their arrival carried her up to her room and laid her down upon a sofa.
Jim had brought the doctor, and Mr. Dinsmore immediately requested him to make a careful examination of the child's injuries.
He did so, and reported a badly sprained ankle, and a slight bruise on the head; nothing more.
"Are you quite sure, doctor, that her spine has sustained no injury?" asked the father anxiously, adding, "there is scarcely anything I should so dread for her as that."
"None whatever," replied the physician confidently, and Mr. Dinsmore looked greatly relieved.
"My back does not hurt me at all, papa; I don't think I struck it," Elsie said, looking up lovingly into his face.
"How did you happen to fall, my dear?" asked the doctor.
"If you please, sir, I would rather not tell," she replied, while the color rushed over her face, and then instantly faded away again, leaving her deathly pale. She was suffering great pain, but bearing it bravely.
The doctor was dressing the injured ankle, and her father sat by the sofa holding her hand.
"You need not, darling," he answered, kissing her cheek.
"Thank you, papa," she said, gratefully, then whispered, "Won't you stay with me till tea-time, if you are not busy?"
"Yes, daughter, and all the evening, too; perhaps all night."
She looked her happiness and thanks, and the doctor praised her patience and fortitude; and having given directions concerning the treatment of the wounded limb, bade his little patient good-night, saying he would call again in the morning.
Mr. Dinsmore followed him to the door.
"That's a sweet child, Mr. Dinsmore," he remarked. "I don't know how any one could have the heart to injure her; but I think there has been foul play somewhere, and if she were mine I should certainly sift the matter to the bottom."
"That I shall, you may rest assured, sir; but tell me doctor, do you think her ankle very seriously injured?"
"Not permanently, I hope; indeed, I feel quite sure of it, if she is well taken care of, and not allowed to use it too soon; but these sprains are tedious things, and she will not be able to walk for some weeks. Good-night, sir; don't be too anxious, she will get over it in time, and you may be thankful it is nothing worse."
"I am, indeed, doctor," Mr. Dinsmore said, warmly grasping the hand the kind-hearted physician held out to him.
Everybody was asking what the doctor had said, and how much Elsie was injured, and Mr. Dinsmore stepped into the drawing-room a moment to answer their inquiries, and then hastened back to his child again.
She looked so glad to see him.
"My poor little pet," he said, pityingly, "you will have a sad New Year's Day, fastened down to your couch; but you shall have as much of my company as you wish."
"Shall I, papa?--then you will have to stay by me all day long."
"And so I will, dearest," he said, leaning fondly over her, and stroking back the hair from her forehead. "Are you in much pain now, darling?" he asked, as he noticed a slight contraction of her brow, and an almost deadly pallor around her mouth.
"Yes, papa, a good deal," she answered faintly; "and I feel so weak. Please take me in your arms, papa, I want to lay my head against you."
He raised her up gently, sat down on the end of the couch where her head had been, lifted her to his knee, and made Chloe place a pillow for the wounded limb to rest upon.
"There, darling, is that better?" he asked, soothingly, as she laid her head wearily down on his breast, and he folded his arms about her.
"Yes, papa; but, oh, it aches very much," she sighed.
"My poor little daughter! my poor little pet!" he said, in a deeply compassionate tone, "it is so hard to see you suffer; I would gladly take your pain and bear it for you if I could."
"Oh, no, dear papa, I would much rather bear it myself," she answered quickly.
The tea-bell rang, and Elsie half started up.
"Lie still, dearest," her father said. "I am in no hurry for my tea, so you shall have yours first, and I will hold you while you eat it. What will you have? You may ask for anything you want."
"I don't know, papa; whatever you please."
"Well, then, Aunt Chloe, go down and bring up whatever good things are there, and she can take her choice. Bring a cup of hot tea, too, I think it may do her good to-night."
"Thank you, dear papa, you are so kind," Elsie said, gratefully.
When the carriage had driven off with Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie, the rest of the young party at once turned their steps toward the house; Arthur skulking in the rear, and the others eagerly discussing the accident as they went.
"Arthur pushed her down, I am sure he did," said Lucy, positively. "I believe he hates her like poison, and he has been at her about something the several days past--I know it just by the way I've seen him look at her--yes, ever since the morning after the Carleton party. And now I remember I heard his voice talking angrily in her room that very morning. I went to get a book I had left in there, and when I tried the door it was locked, and I went away again directly."
"But what has that to do with Elsie's fall?" asked Mary Leslie.
"Why, don't you see that it shows there was some trouble between them, and that Arthur had a motive for pushing her down," returned Lucy, somewhat impatiently. "Really, Mary, you seem quite stupid sometimes."
Mary looked hurt.
"I don't know how any one could be so wicked and cruel; especially to such a dear, sweet little girl as Elsie," remarked Carry Howard.
"No, nor I," said Harry; "but the more I think about it the more certain I feel that Arthur did really push her down; for now I remember distinctly where she stood, and it seems to me she could not possibly have fallen of herself. Besides it was evident enough that Arthur felt guilty from the way he acted when Mr. Dinsmore came, and when he spoke to him. But perhaps he did not do it quite on purpose."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mary, "I do think I should be frightened to death if Mr. Dinsmore should look at me as he did at Arthur."
"Looks can't hurt," observed Harry, wisely; "but I wouldn't be in Arthur's shoes just now for considerable; because I'll venture to say Mr. Dinsmore will do something a good deal worse than look, before he is done with him."
When they reached the house Lucy went directly to her mamma's room. Herbert, who was more ailing than usual that day, lay on a sofa, while his mamma sat by his side, reading to him. They had not heard of the accident, and were quite startled by Lucy's excited manner.
"Oh, mamma!" she cried, jerking off her bonnet, and throwing herself down on a stool at her mother's feet, "we have had such a dreadful accident, or hardly an accident either, for I feel perfectly certain Arthur did it on purpose; and I just expect he'll kill her some day, the mean, wicked boy!" and she burst into tears. "If I were Mr. Dinsmore I'd have him put in jail, so I would," she sobbed.
"Lucy, my child, what are you talking about?" asked her mother with a look of mingled surprise and alarm, while Herbert started up asking, "Is it Elsie? Oh! Lucy, is she much hurt?"
"Yes," sobbed Lucy, "we all thought she was dead, it was so long before she spoke, or moved, or even opened her eyes."
Herbert was crying, too, now, as bitterly as his sister.
"But, Lucy dear," said her mother, wiping her eyes, "you haven't told us anything yet. Where did it happen? What did Arthur do? And where is poor little Elsie now?"
"Her papa brought her home, and Jim went for the doctor, and they're doing something with her now in her own room--for Pomp said Mr. Dinsmore carried her right up there! Oh I mamma, if you had seen him look at Arthur!"
"But what did Arthur do?" asked Herbert anxiously.
"He pushed her down that steep hill that you remember you were afraid to try to climb the other day; at least we all think he did."
"But surely, he did not do it intentionally," said Mrs. Carrington, "for why should he wish to harm such a sweet, gentle little creature as Elsie?"
"Oh! mamma," exclaimed Herbert, suddenly matching hold of her hand and he grew very pale, and almost gasped for breath.
"What is it, Herbert dear, what is it?" she asked in alarm; for he had fallen back on his pillow, and seemed almost ready to faint.
"Mamma," he said with a shudder, "mamma, I believe I know. Oh! why didn't I speak before, and, perhaps, poor little Elsie might have been saved all this."
"Why, Herbert, what can you know about it?" she asked in extreme surprise.
"I will tell you, mama, as well as I can," he said, "and then you must tell me what I ought to do. You know, mamma, I went out to walk with the rest the afternoon after that party at Mr. Carleton's; for if you remember, I had stayed at home the night before, and gone to bed very early, and so I felt pretty well and able to walk. But Elsie was not with us. I don't know where she could have been; she always thinks of my lameness, and walks slowly when I am along, but this time they all walked so fast that I soon grew very tired, indeed, with trying to keep up. So I sat down on a log to rest. Well, mamma, I had not been there very long when I heard voices near me, on the other side of some bushes, that, I suppose, must have prevented them from seeing me. One voice was Arthur's, but the other I didn't know. I didn't want to be listening, but I was too tired to move on; so I whistled a little, to let them know I was there; they didn't seem to care, though, but went on talking quite loud, so loud that I could not help hearing almost every word; and so I soon learned that Arthur owed Dick Percival a gambling debt--a debt of honor, they called it--and had sent this other boy, whom Arthur called Bob, to try to collect it. He reminded Arthur that he had promised to pay that day, and said Dick must have it to pay some debts of his own.
"Arthur acknowledged that he had promised, expecting to borrow the money from somebody. I didn't hear the name, and it never struck me until this moment who it was; but it must have been Elsie, for I recollect he said she wouldn't lend him anything without telling Horace all about it, and that, you know, is Mr. Dinsmore's name; and I have found out that Arthur is very much afraid of him; almost more than of his father, I think.
"He talked very angrily, saying he knew that was only an excuse, because she didn't wish to do him a favor, and he'd pay her for it some day. Then they talked about the debt again, and finally the boy agreed that Dick would wait until New Year's Day, when Arthur said he would receive his monthly allowance, and so would certainly be able to pay it.
"Now, mamma," concluded Herbert, "what ought I to do? Do you think it is my duty to tell Arthur's father?"
"Yes, Herbert, I do," said Mrs. Carrington, "because it is very important that he should know of his son's evil courses, that he may put a stop to them; and besides, if Arthur should escape punishment this time, Elsie may be in danger from him again. I am sorry it happened to be you rather than some other person who overheard the conversation; but it cannot be helped, and we must do our duty always, even though we find it difficult and disagreeable, and feel afraid that our motives may be misconstrued."
Herbert drew a deep sigh.
"Well, mamma, must I go just now, to tell him?" he asked, looking pale and troubled.
Mrs. Carrington seemed to be considering the matter for a moment.
"No, my dear," she said; "I think we had better wait a little. Probably Mr. Dinsmore will make an investigation, and perhaps he may be able to get at the truth without your assistance; and if not, as the mischief is already done, it will be time enough for your story to-morrow."
Herbert looked a good deal relieved, and just then they were summoned to tea.
The elder Mr. Dinsmore had been out all the afternoon, and not returning until just as the bell rang for tea, heard nothing of Elsie's injury until after he had taken his seat at the table.
The children had all reported that Arthur had pushed her down, and thus the story was told to his father. The old gentleman was very angry, for he had a great contempt for such cowardly deeds; and said before all the guests that if it were so, Arthur should be severely punished.
Mr. Horace Dinsmore came down as the rest were about leaving the table.
"I should like to have a few moments' conversation with you, Horace, when you have finished your tea," his father said, lingering behind the others.
"It is just what I wish, sir," replied his son; "I will be with you directly. Shall I find you in the library?"
"Yes. I hope the child was not hurt, Horace?" he added, inquiringly, stepping back again just as he had reached the door.
"Pretty badly, I am afraid," said Mr. Dinsmore, gravely; "she is suffering a good deal."
Mr. Dinsmore was not long at the table, for he was anxious to get back to his child; yet his father, whom he found striding back and forth across the library, in a nervous, excited way, hailed him with the impatient exclamation, "Come at last, Horace, I thought you would never have done eating."
Then throwing himself into a chair, "Well, what is to be done about this bad business?" he asked. "Is it true that Arthur had a hand in it?"
"I have not a doubt of it myself, sir," replied his son. "They all agree that he was close to her when she fell, and neither he nor she denies that he pushed her; she only begs not to be forced to speak, and he says nothing.
"And now, father, I have fully made up my mind that either that boy must be sent away to school, or I must take Elsie and make a home for her elsewhere."
"Why, Horace! that is a sudden resolution, is it not?"
"No, father, not so much as it seems. I have suspected, for some time past, that Elsie had a good deal to bear from Arthur and Enna--to say nothing of an older person, to whom Enna is continually carrying tales. Elsie is too generous to tell tales, too meek and patient to complain, and so it has been only very gradually that I have learned how much of petulance, tyranny, and injustice she has had to endure from those from whom she certainly had a right to expect common kindness, if not affection.
"Yesterday afternoon she came to me in such a state of nervous excitement as convinced me that something had gone very much amiss with her, but what it was I did not know, for she seemed unwilling to tell, and I would not force her to do so.
"However, by putting a few questions to some of the little guests, I have since learned enough to fill me with indignation at the treatment to which my child has been subjected, even during the last two weeks; and now the occurrences of this afternoon have put the finishing stroke to all this, and I cannot any longer feel that my child is safe where Arthur is. It is a great mercy that she escaped being killed or crippled for life," and he dropped his face into his hands and shuddered.
"Don't, Horace, my son," his father said kindly, laying his hand on his shoulder. "I don't like to see you give way so. It is not worth while troubling ourselves about what might have been, and we will take measures to prevent such occurrences in the future.
"But you mustn't think of leaving us to set up a separate establishment, unless you are intending to marry again, and I don't believe you are."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head.
"Nothing of the kind," he said; "but I must protect my child; she has no one else to look to for protection, or sympathy, or love--my poor little one!--and it would be hard indeed if she could not have them from me."
"So it would, Horace, certainly. I am afraid we have none of us treated the poor little thing quite as kindly as we might, but I really was not aware that she had been so much abused, and shall certainly speak to Mrs. Dinsmore about it. And Arthur shall be sent away to school, as you have suggested. It is what I have been wanting to do for some time, for he is getting quite beyond Miss Day; but his mother has always opposed it, and I have foolishly given up to her for peace sake. I set my foot down now, however, and he shall go. He deserves it richly, the young rascal! such a base, cowardly act as to attack a little girl, big, strong boy that he is! I'm ashamed of him. You, Horace, were a wild, headstrong fellow, but I never knew you do a mean or cowardly thing; you were always above it."
"I hope so, indeed, sir. But now, to go back to the present business, do you not think it would be well to call all the young people together and have a thorough investigation of this affair? I have promised Elsie that she shall not be forced to speak, but I hope we may be able to learn from the others all that we need to know."
"Yes, yes, Horace, we will do so at once!" replied his father, ringing the bell. "They must be all through with their tea by this time, and we will invite them into the drawing-room, and cross-question them until we get to the bottom of the whole thing."
A servant answered the bell, and received directions to request--on his master's behalf--all the guests, both old and young, as well as every member of the family, to give their attendance in the drawing-room for a few moments.
"Stay, father," said Horace, "possibly Arthur might be induced to confess, and so spare himself and us the pain of a public exposure; had we not better send for him first?"
His father assented, and the servant was ordered to go in search of Arthur, and bring him to the library.
Arthur had been expecting such a summons, and had quite made up his mind what to do.
"Confess!" he said to himself; "no, indeed, I'll not! nobody but Elsie knows that I did it, and she'll never tell; so I'll stick to it that it was only an accident."
He came in with a look of sullen, dogged determination on his countenance, and stood before his father and brother with folded arms, and an air of injured innocence. He was careful, however, not to meet his brother's eye.
"Arthur," began his father, sternly, "this is shameful, cowardly behavior, utterly unworthy of a son of mine--this unprovoked assault upon a defenceless little girl. It has always been considered a cowardly act to attack one weaker than ourselves."
"I didn't do it! she slipped and fell of herself," replied the boy fiercely, speaking through his clenched teeth.
"Arthur," said his brother, in a calm, firm tone, "the alternative before you is a frank and full confession here in private, or a disgraceful, public exposure in the drawing-room. You had better confess, for I have not the least doubt of your guilty because I well know that Elsie would have asserted your innocence, had she been able to do so with truth."
"She wouldn't; she hates me," muttered the boy; "yes, and I hate her, too," he added, almost under his breath. But his brother's quick ear caught the words.
"Yes," he answered, bitterly; "you have given full proof of that; but never, while I live, shall you have another opportunity to wreak your hellish rage upon her."
But threats and persuasions were alike powerless to move Arthur's stubborn will; for, trusting to their supposed inability to prove his guilt, he persisted in denying it; and at length, much against his inclination, was forced to accompany his father and brother to the drawing-room, where the entire household was already assembled.
There was a good deal of excitement and whispering together, especially amongst the younger portion of the assembly, and many conjectures as to the cause of their being thus called together; nearly all giving it as their decided opinion that Elsie's accident had something to do with it.
Herbert was looking pale and nervous, and kept very close to his mamma, Harry Carrington and Carrie Howard were grave and thoughtful, while Lucy and Mary seemed restless and excited, and the lesser ones full of curiosity and expectation. There was quite a little buzz all over the room as the two gentlemen and Arthur entered, but it died away instantly, and was succeeded by an almost death-like stillness, broken the next moment by the elder Mr. Dinsmore's voice, as he briefly stated his object in thus calling them together, and earnestly requested any one present who could throw the least light on the subject, to speak.
He paused, and there was a moment of profound silence.
"Who was nearest to Elsie when she fell?" he asked; "can any one tell me?"
"Arthur, sir," replied several voices.
"Who else was near her?" he asked. "Miss Carrie Howard, I have noticed that you and Elsie are usually together; can you tell me if she could have fallen of herself? Were you near enough to see?"
Carrie answered reluctantly: "Yes, sir; I had stepped from her side at the moment she stooped to pick up something, and feel quite certain that she was not near enough to the edge to have fallen of herself."
"Thank you for your frank reply. And now, Master Harry Carrington, I think I heard some one say you were quite close to Arthur at the time of Elsie's fall; can you tell me what he did to her? You will confer a great favor by answering with equal frankness."
"I would much rather have been excused from saying anything, sir," replied Harry, coloring and looking as if he wished himself a thousand miles away; "but since you request it, I will own that I was close to Arthur, and think he must have pushed Elsie in springing past her, but it may have been only an accident."
"I fear not," said the old gentleman, looking sternly at his son. "And now, does any one know that Elsie had vexed Arthur in any way, or that he had any unkind feelings toward her?"
"Yes, papa," Walter spoke up suddenly. "I heard Arthur, the other day, talking very crossly about Elsie, and threatening to pay her for something; but I didn't understand what."
Mr. Dinsmore's frown was growing darker, and Arthur began to tremble and turn pale. He darted a fierce glance at Walter, but the little fellow did not see it.
"Does any one know what Elsie had done?" was the next question.
No one spoke, and Herbert fidgeted and grew very pale. Mr. Horace Dinsmore noticed it, and begged him if he knew anything to tell it at once; and Herbert reluctantly repeated what he had already told his mother of the conversation in the woods; and as he concluded, Lora drew a note from her pocket, which she handed to her father, saying that she had picked it up in the school-room, from a pile of rubbish which Arthur had carelessly thrown out of his desk.
Mr. Dinsmore took it, glanced hastily over the contents, and with a groan, exclaimed: "Is it possible!--a gambler already! Arthur, has it really come to this?
"Go to your room, sir," he added, sternly, "there to remain in solitary confinement until arrangement can be made to send you to school at a distance from the home which shall be no longer polluted by your presence; for you are unworthy to mingle with the rest of the family."
Arthur obeyed in sullen silence, and his father, following, turned the key upon him, and left him to solitude and his own reflections.
"Did my little daughter think papa had quite forgotten his promise?" asked Mr. Horace Dinsmore, as again he stood by Elsie's couch.
"No, papa," she said, raising her eyes to his face with a grateful, loving look; "it seemed very long, but I knew you would come as soon as you could, for I know you never break your word."
Her confidence pleased him very much, and with a very gratified look he asked whether he should sit by her side or take her again upon his knee.
"Take me on your knee again, if you please, papa," she said, "and then will you read a little to me? I would like it so much."
"I will do anything that will give my little girl pleasure," he replied, as he once more lifted her gently, and placed her in the desired position.
"What shall the book be?" he asked; "one of the new ones I bought you the other day?"
"Not that, to-night; if you please, papa; I would rather hear a little from an old book," she answered, with a sweet smile lighting tip her little pale face; "won't you please read me the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah?"
"If you wish it, dearest; but I think something lively would be much better; more likely to cheer you up."
"No, dear papa; there is nothing cheers me up like the Bible, it is so sweet and comforting. I do so love to hear of Jesus, how he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows."
"You are a strange child," he said, "but you shall have whatever you want to-night. Hand me that Bible, Aunt Chloe, and set the light a little nearer."
Mr. Dinsmore was an uncommonly fine reader, and Elsie lay listening to that beautiful passage of Holy Writ, as one might listen to strains of the softest, sweetest music.
"Now, dear papa, the twenty-third of Luke, if you please," she said, when he had finished.
He turned to it, and read it without any remark.
As he closed the book and laid it aside, he saw that tears were trembling on the long, silken lashes that rested on the fair young cheek; for her eyes were closed, and but for those tell-tale drops he would have thought her sleeping.
"I feared it would make you sad, darling," he said, brushing them away, and kissing her fondly.
"No, dear papa, oh, no!" she answered, earnestly; "thank you very much for reading it; it has made me feel a great deal better."
"Why did you select those particular passages?" he asked, with some curiosity.
"Because, papa, they are all about Jesus, and tell how meekly and patiently he bore sorrow and suffering. Oh, papa, if I could only be like him! I am not much like him, but it makes it easier to forgive and to be patient, and kind, and gentle, when we read about him, how good he was, and how he forgave his murderers."
"You are thinking of Arthur," he said. "I shall find it very hard to forgive him; can you do so?"
"Yes, papa, I think I can. I have been praying for him, and have asked God to help me to forgive and love him."
"He has treated you very badly; I know all about it now."
And then, in answer to her surprised, inquiring look, he proceeded to give her an account of all that had taken place that evening in the library and drawing-room.
"And he hates me, papa," she said, mournfully, the tears filling her eyes; "why should he feel so? I have always tried to be kind to him."
"Yes, I know it," he replied, "you have often done him kindnesses, and I know of no other cause for his enmity, unless it is that you have sometimes been obliged to bear witness against him."
"Yes, papa, on several occasions when he was putting all the blame of his naughty deeds on little Walter, or poor Jim."
"You were perfectly right," he said, caressing her; "and he will not have another opportunity to vent his spite upon you, as he is to be sent away to boarding-school immediately."
"Oh, papa!" she exclaimed, "I am so sorry for him, poor fellow! It must be so dismal to go off alone among strangers. Dear papa, do ask grandpa to forgive him, just this once; and I don't believe he will ever behave so again."
"No, daughter, I shall not do anything of the kind," he answered, decidedly. "I think it will be for Arthur's own good to be sent away, where he will not have his mother to spoil him by indulgence; and besides, I cannot feel that you are safe while he is about the house, and I consider it my first duty to take care of you; therefore, I have insisted upon its that either he must be sent away, or you and I must go and make a home for ourselves somewhere else."
"Oh, papa, how delightful that would be, to have a home of our own!" she exclaimed eagerly; "will you do it some day?"
"Should you like it so much?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, papa, so very, very much! When will you do it, papa?"
"I don't know, darling; some day, if we both live; perhaps when you are old enough to be my housekeeper."
"But that will be such a long, long time to wait, papa," she said--the eager, joyous expression fading away from her face, and the pale, wearied look coming back again.
"Perhaps we will not wait for that, darling; I did not say that we would," he replied, in a soothing tone, as he passed his hand caressingly over her hair and cheek.
Then he added, a little mischievously, "I think, possibly, I might induce Miss Stevens to keep house for us. Shall I ask her?"
"Oh, papa, no; that would spoil it all," she said, with a blush and a look of surprise; "and besides, I'm sure Miss Stevens would feel insulted if anybody should ask her to go out as housekeeper."
"No, I think not, if I asked her," laughed Mr. Dinsmore; "but you need not be alarmed; I have no notion of doing it.
"Now, daughter, I shall bathe your ankle with that liniment again, and put you in bed, and you must try to go to sleep."
"My prayers first, papa, you know," she replied, making an effort to get down upon the floor.
But he held her fast.
"No, daughter, you are not able to kneel to-night," he said, "and therefore it is not required; the posture makes but little difference, since God looks not at it, but at your heart."
"I know that, papa, but I ought to kneel if I can; and if I may, I would much rather try."
"No, I shall not allow you to do so; it would not be right," he replied decidedly; "you may say them here, while I have you in my arms, or after I have put you in bed."
"Then I will say them in my bed, papa," she answered submissively.
She was very patient and quiet while her father and nurse dressed her ankle, and prepared her for bed, and when he had laid her in and covered her up, he sat down beside her and listened to the low, murmured words of her prayer.
"I think you prayed for me as well as for Arthur," he remarked when she had done; "what did you request for me?"
"I asked, as I always do, that you might love Jesus, papa, and be very happy, indeed, both in this world and the next."
"Thank you," he said, "but why are you so anxious that I should love him? It would not trouble me if you did not, so long as you loved and obeyed me."
A tear trickled down her cheek and fell upon the pillow as she answered, in a half tremulous tone: "Because I know, papa, that no one can go to heaven who does not love Jesus, nor ever be really happy anywhere, for the Bible says so. Papa, you always punish me when I am disobedient to you, and the Bible says God is our Father and will punish us if we do not obey him; and one of his commands is: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; and in another place it says: Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
He did not reply, and his countenance was almost stern in its deep gravity.
Elsie feared she had displeased him.
"Dear papa," she said, stretching out her little hand to him, "I am afraid I have said things to you that I ought not; are you angry with me?"
"No, daughter," he replied, as he bent down and kissed her cheek; "but you must not talk any more to-night. I want you to shut your eyes and go to sleep."
She threw her arm around his neck and returned his caress, saying, "Good-night, dear, dear papa; I do love you so much;" then turned away her face, shut her eyes, and in a few moments was sleeping sweetly.
The next morning quite a number of the little folks begged leave to go in after breakfast to see Elsie, and as she seemed much better--indeed, quite well, except that she could not put her foot to the floor--Mr. Dinsmore gave a ready consent.
They found Elsie dressed and lying upon a sofa, with the lame foot on a pillow. She seemed very glad to see them, looked as smiling and cheerful as if nothing ailed her; and to all their condolences replied that she did not mind it very much; she was doing nicely--papa and everybody else was so kind--and the doctor said he hoped she would be able to run about again in a few weeks.
They were all around her, talking and laughing in a very animated way, when Mr. Dinsmore came in, and going up to her couch, said, "Elsie, daughter, I have an errand to the city this morning; but, as I have promised to give you all you want of my company to-day, I will commission some one else to do it, if you are not willing to spare me for a couple of hours; do you think you could do without your papa that long? It shall be just as you say."
"You know I love dearly to have you by me, papa," she answered, smiling up into his face; "but I will be quite satisfied with whatever you do, because you always know best."
"Spoken like my own little girl," he said, patting her cheek. "Well, then I will leave these little folks to entertain you for a short time; and I think you will not be sorry, when I return, that you left it to me to do as I think best. Kiss papa good-bye, darling. Aunt Chloe, take good care of her, and don't let her be fatigued with company."
He turned to look at her again, as he reached the door, and Elsie gaily kissed her hand to him.
Before long, Chloe, seeing that her young charge was beginning to look weary, sent away all the little folks except Herbert, who, at Elsie's request, remained with her, and seated in her little rocking-chair, close by her side, did his best to amuse her and make her forget her pain, sometimes reading aloud to her, and sometimes stopping to talk.
Many an hour Elsie had spent by his couch of suffering, reading, talking or singing to him, and he rejoiced now in the opportunity afforded him to return some of her past kindness.
They had always been fond of each other's society, too, and the time passed so quickly and pleasantly that Mr. Dinsmore's return, only a very little sooner than he had promised, took them quite by surprise.
Herbert noticed that he had a bundle in his hand, and thinking it was probably some present for Elsie, and that they might like to be alone, slipped quietly away to his mamma's room.
"What is that, papa?" Elsie asked.
"A New Year's gift for my little girl," he answered, with a smile, as he laid it down by her side. "But I know you are tired lying there; so I will take you on my knee, and then you shall open it."
She looked quite as eager and interested as he could have wished, as he settled her comfortably on his knee, and laid the bundle in her lap. Her hands trembled with excitement and haste, as she untied the string, and with an exclamation of joyful surprise, brought to light a large and very beautiful wax doll.
"Oh, papa, how pretty!" she cried, in ecstasy. "And it is as large as a real, live baby, and has such a sweet, dear little face, and such pretty little hands, just like a real baby's--and the dearest little toes, too," she added, kissing them. "I love it already, the little dear! and how prettily it is dressed, too, like a little baby-girl."
He enjoyed her pleasure intensely.
"But you have not come to the bottom of your bundle yet," he said; "see here!" and he showed her quite a pile of remnants of beautiful lawns, muslins, silk, etc., which he had bought to be made up into clothing for the doll.
"I did not buy them ready made," he said, "because I thought you would enjoy making them yourself."
"Oh, how nice, papa. Yes, indeed, I shall enjoy it, and you are so very good and kind to me," she said, holding up her face for a kiss. "Now, with you beside me, and plenty to do making pretty things for this dear new dolly, I think I shall hardly mind at all having to stay in the house and keep still. I'll call her Rose, papa, mayn't I? for dear Miss Allison."
"Call it what you like, darling; it is all your own," he replied, laughing at the question.
"I'm its mother, ain't I?--and then you must be its grandfather!" she exclaimed, with a merry laugh, in which he joined her heartily.
"You ought to have some gray hairs, papa, like other grandfathers," she went on, running her fingers through his hair. "Do you know, papa, Carry Howard says she thinks it is so funny for me to have such a young father; she says you don't look a bit older than her brother Edward, who has just come home from college. How old are you, papa?"
"You are not quite nine, and I am just about eighteen years older; can you make that out now?"
"Twenty-seven," she answered, after a moment's thought; then, shaking her head a little, "that's pretty old, I think, after all. But I'm glad you haven't got gray hairs and wrinkles, like Carry's papa," she added, putting her arms around his neck, and laying her head down on his breast. "I think it is nice to have such a young, handsome father."
"I think it is very nice to have a dear little daughter to love me," he said, pressing her to his heart.
Elsie was eager to show her new doll to Carry and Lucy, and presently sent Chloe to invite them to pay her another visit.
"Bring Mary Leslie, too, mammy, if she will come; but be sure not to tell any of them what I have got," she said.
Chloe found them all three in the little back parlor, looking as if they did not know what to do with themselves, and Elsie's invitation was hailed with smiles and exclamations of delight.
They all admired the doll extremely, and Carry, who had a great taste for cutting and fitting, seized upon the pile of silks and muslins, exclaiming eagerly, that she should like no better fun than to help Elsie make some dresses.
"Oh, yes!" cried Lucy, "let us all help, for once in my life I'm tired to death of play, and I'd like to sit down quietly and work at these pretty things."
"I, too," said Mary, "if Elsie is willing to trust us not to spoil them,"
"Indeed, I'll not spoil them, Miss Mary; I've made more dolls' clothes than a few," remarked Carry, with a little toss of her head.
"I am not at all afraid to trust you, Carry, nor the others either," Elsie hastened to say; "and shall be very glad of your assistance."
Work-boxes were now quickly produced, and scissors and thimbles set in motion.
Mr. Dinsmore withdrew to the other side of the room, and took up a book; thus relieving the little ladies from the constraint of his presence, while at the same time he could keep an eye upon Elsie, and see that she did not over-fatigue herself with company or work.
"What a nice time we have had," remarked Mary Leslie, folding up her work as the dinner-bell rang. "May we come back this afternoon, Elsie? I'd like to finish this apron, and I'm to go home to-morrow."
Mr. Dinsmore answered for his little girl, "When Elsie has had an hour to rest, Miss Mary, she will be glad to see you all again."
"Yes, do come, girls," Elsie added, "if you are not tired of work. I am sorry that you must go to-morrow, Mary. Carry and Lucy, you are not to leave us so soon, are you?"
"No," they both replied, "we stay till Saturday afternoon. And intend to make dolly two or three dresses before we go, if her mother will let us," Carry added, laughingly, as she put away her thimble and ran after the others.
All the guests left the next morning, excepting the Carringtons and Caroline Howard, and the house seemed very quiet--even in Elsie's room, where the little girls were sewing--while Harry and Herbert took turns in reading aloud; and in this way they passed the remainder of their visit very pleasantly, indeed.
Elsie felt her confinement more when Sabbath morning came, and she could not go to church, than she had at all before. Her father offered to stay at home with her, remarking that she must feel very lonely now that all her little mates were gone; but she begged him to go to church, saying that she could employ herself in reading while he was away, and that would keep her from being lonely, and then they could have all the afternoon and evening together. So he kissed her good-bye, and left her in Chloe's care.
She was sitting on his knee that evening; she had been singing hymns--he accompanying her sweet treble with his deep bass notes; then for a while she had talked to him in her own simple, childlike way, of what she had been reading in her Bible and the "Pilgrim's Progress," asking him a question now and then, which, with all his learning and worldly wisdom, he was scarcely as capable of answering as herself. But now she had been for some minutes sitting perfectly silent, her head resting upon his breast, and her eyes cast down, as if in deep thought,
He had been studying with some curiosity the expression of the little face, which was much graver than its wont, and at length he startled her from her reverie with the question, "What is my little girl thinking about?"
"I was thinking, papa, that if you will let me, I should like very much to give Arthur a nice present before he goes away. May I?"
"You may if you wish," he said, stroking her hair.
"Oh, thank you, papa," she answered joyously, "I was half afraid you would not let me; then, if you please, won't you, the next time you go to the city, buy the very handsomest pocket Bible you can find?--and then, if you will write his name and mine in it, and that it is a token of affection from me, I will be so much obliged to you, dear papa."
"I will do so, daughter, but I am afraid Arthur will not feel much gratitude to you for such a present."
"Perhaps he may like it pretty well, papa, if it is very handsomely bound," she said, rather doubtfully; "at any rate I should like to try. When does he go, papa?"
"Day after to-morrow, I believe."
"I wish he would come in for a few minutes to see me, and say good-bye; do you think he will, papa?"
"I am afraid not," replied her father, shaking his head; "however, I will ask him. But why do you wish to see him?"
"I want to tell him that I am not at all vexed or angry with him, and that I feel very sorry for him, because he is obliged to go away all alone amongst strangers, poor fellow!" she sighed.
"You need not waste any sympathy on him, my dear," said her father, "for I think he rather likes the idea of going off to school."
"Does he, papa? Why, how strange!" exclaimed the little girl, lost in astonishment.
As Mr. Dinsmore had predicted, Arthur utterly refused to go near Elsie; and, at first, seemed disposed to decline her gift; but at length, on Lora suggesting that he might require a Bible for some of his school exercises, he accepted it, as Elsie had thought he might, on account of the handsome binding.
Elsie was hurt and disappointed that he would not come to see her; she shed a few quiet tears over his refusal, because she thought it showed that he still disliked her, and then wrote him a little note, breathing forgiveness, sisterly affection, and regard for his welfare. But the note was not answered, and Arthur went away without showing any signs of sorrow for his unkind treatment of her; nor, indeed, for any of his bad conduct.
Miss Day had returned, and the rest of her pupils now resumed their studies; but Elsie was, of course, quite unable to attend in the school-room, as her ankle was not yet in a condition to be used in the least. Her father said nothing to her about lessons, but allowed her to amuse herself as she liked with reading, or working for the doll. She, however, was growing weary of play, and wanted to go back to her books.
"Papa," she said to him one morning, "I am quite well now, excepting my lameness, and you are with me a great deal every day, may I not learn my lessons and recite them to you?"
"Certainly, daughter, if you wish it," he replied, looking much pleased; "I shall consider it no trouble, but, on the contrary, a very great pleasure to teach you, if you learn your lessons well, as I am sure you will."
Elsie promised to be diligent, and from that day she went on with her studies as regularly as if she had been in school with the others.
She felt her confinement very much at times, and had a great longing for the time when she could again mount her pony, and take long rides and walks in the sweet fresh air; but she was not often lonely, for her papa managed to be with her a great deal, and she never cared for any other companion when he was by. Then, Mr. Travilla came in frequently to see her, and always brought a beautiful bouquet, or some fine fruit from his hot-house, or some other little nicety to tempt an invalid's appetite, or what she liked, even better still, a new book. Her aunts Adelaide and Lora, too, felt very kindly toward her, coming in occasionally to ask how she was, and to tell her what was going on in the house; and sometimes Walter brought his book to ask her to help him with his lessons, which she was always ready to do, and then he would sit and talk a while, telling her what had occurred in the school-room, or in their walks or rides, and expressing his regret on account of the accident that prevented her from joining them as usual.
Her doll, too, was a great source of amusement to her, and she valued it very highly, and was so extremely careful of it that she hardly felt willing to trust it out of her own hands, lest it should be broken. Especially was she annoyed when Enna, who was a very careless child, wished to take it; but it was a dangerous thing to refuse Enna's requests, except when Mr. Dinsmore was by, and so Elsie always endeavored to get the doll out of sight when she heard her coming.
But one unfortunate afternoon Enna came in quite unexpectedly, just as Elsie finished dressing it in a new suit, which she had completed only a few moments before.
"Oh, Elsie, how pretty it looks!" she cried. "Do let me take it on my lap a little while. I won't hurt it a bit."
Elsie reluctantly consented, begging her to be very careful, "because, Enna," she said, "you know if you should let it fall, it would certainly be broken."
"You needn't be afraid," replied Enna, pettishly, "I guess I can take care of a doll as well as you."
She drew up Elsie's little rocking-chair, as she spoke, and taking the doll from her, sat down with it in her arms.
Elsie watched nervously every movement she made, in momentary dread of a catastrophe.
They were alone in the room, Chloe having gone down to the kitchen on some errand.
For a few moments Enna was content to hold the doll quietly in her arms, rocking backwards and forwards, singing to it; but ere long she laid it down on her lap, and began fastening and unfastening its clothes, pulling off its shoes and stockings to look at its feet--dropping them on the floor, and stooping to pick them up again, at the same time holding the doll in such a careless manner that Elsie expected every instant to see it scattered in fragments on the floor.
In vain she remonstrated with Enna, and begged her to be more careful; it only vexed her and made her more reckless; and at length Elsie sprang from her couch and caught the doll, just in time to save it, but in so doing gave her ankle a terrible wrench.
She almost fainted with the pain, and Enna, frightened at her pale face, jumped up and ran out of the room, leaving her alone.
She had hardly strength to get back on to her couch; and when her father came in, a moment after, he found her holding her ankle in both hands, while the tears forced from her by the pain were streaming down over her pale cheeks.
"Why, my poor darling, what is it?" he exclaimed, in a tone of mingled surprise and alarm.
"Oh, papa," she sobbed, "Enna was going to let my doll fall, and I jumped to catch it, and hurt my ankle."
"And what did you do it for?" he said angrily. "I would rather have bought you a dozen such dolls than have had your ankle hurt again. It may cripple you for life, yet, if you are not more careful."
"Oh, papa, please don't scold me, please don't be so angry with me," she sobbed. "I didn't have a minute to think, and I won't do it again."
He made no reply, but busied himself in doing what he could to relieve her pain; and Chloe coming in at that moment, he reproved her sharply for leaving the child alone.
The old nurse took it very meekly, far more disturbed at seeing how her child was suffering than she could have been by the severest rebuke administered to herself. She silently assisted Mr. Dinsmore in his efforts to relieve her; and at length, as Elsie's tears ceased to flow, and the color began to come back to her cheeks, she asked, in a tone full of loving sympathy, "Is you better now, darlin'?"
"Yes, mammy, thank you; the pain is nearly all gone now," Elsie answered gently; and then the soft eyes were raised pleadingly to her father's face.
"I'm not angry with you, daughter," he replied, drawing her head down to his breast, and kissing her tenderly. "It was only my great love for my little girl that made me feel so vexed that she should have been hurt in trying to save a paltry toy."
After this Mr. Dinsmore gave orders that Enna should never be permitted to enter Elsie's room in his absence, and thus she was saved all further annoyance of that kind; and Chloe was careful never to leave her alone again until she was quite well, and able to run about. That, however, was not for several weeks longer, for this second injury had retarded her recovery a good deal; and she began to grow very weary, indeed, of her long confinement. At length, though, she was able to walk about her room a little, and her father had several times taken her out in the carriage, to get the fresh air, as he said.
It was Saturday afternoon. Elsie was sitting on her sofa, quietly working, while her nurse sat on the other side of the room, knitting busily, as usual.
"Oh, mammy!" exclaimed the little girl, with sigh, "it is such a long, long time since I have been to church. How I wish papa would let me go to-morrow! Do you think he would, if I should ask him?"
"Dunno, darlin'! I'se 'fraid not," replied the old woman, shaking her head doubtfully. "Massa Horace berry careful ob you, an' dat ankle not well yet."
"Oh! but, mammy, I wouldn't need to walk, excepting just across the church, for you know papa could carry me down to the carriage," said the little girl eagerly.
Mr. Dinsmore came in soon afterwards, and, greeting his little girl affectionately, sat down beside her, and, taking a newspaper from his pocket, began to read.
"Papa, mayn't I sit on your knee?" she asked softly, as he paused in his reading to turn his paper.
He smiled, and without speaking lifted her to the desired position, then went on reading.
She waited patiently until there was another slight pause; then asked in her most coaxing tone, "Papa, may I go to church to-morrow?"
"No," he said, decidedly, and she dared not say another word; but she was sadly disappointed, and the tears sprang to her eyes, and presently one rolled down and fell upon her lap.
He saw it, and giving her a glance of mingled surprise and displeasure, put her back upon the sofa again, and returned to his paper.
She burst into sobs and tears at that, and laying her head down upon the cushion, cried bitterly.
Her father took no notice for a little while; then said, very gravely, "Elsie, if you are crying because I have put you off my knee, that is not the way to get back again. I must have cheerful submission from my little girl, and it was precisely because you were crying that I put you down."
"Please take me again, papa, and I won't cry any more," she answered, wiping her eyes.
He took her in his arms again, and she nestled close to him, and laid her head down on his breast with a sigh of satisfaction.
"You must learn not to cry when I do not see fit to acquiesce in your wishes, my daughter," he said, stroking her hair. "I do not think you quite well enough yet to go to church; and to-morrow bids fair to be a stormy day. But I hope by next Sabbath you may be able to go."
Elsie tried to submit cheerfully to her father's decision, but she looked forward very anxiously all the week to the next Sabbath. When it came, to her great delight, she was permitted to attend church, and the next morning she took her place in the school-room again.
She was far from enjoying the change from her father's instruction to Miss Day's; yet Arthur's absence rendered her situation far more comfortable than it had formerly been, and she still continued several studies with her father, and spent many happy hours with him every day. And thus everything moved on quite smoothly with the little girl during the remainder of the winter.