Chapter IV.
 
"Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy."
    Exod. 10:6.

"We ought to obey God rather than men."
    Acts 5:29.

"Dear papa, are you sick?" It was Elsie's sweet voice that asked the question in a tone of alarm. She had just finished her morning lessons, and coming into her father's room, had found him lying on the sofa, looking flushed and feverish.

"Yes, daughter," he said, "I have a severe headache, and some fever, I think. But don't be alarmed, my pet, 'tis nothing at all serious," he added in a more cheerful tone, taking both her little hands in his, and gazing fondly into the beautiful dark eyes, now filled with tears.

"You will let me be your little nurse, my own dear papa, will you not?" she asked coaxingly. "May I bring some cool water and bathe your head?"

"Yes, darling, you may," he said, releasing her hands.

Elsie stole softly out of the room, but was back again almost in a moment, followed by Chloe, bearing a pitcher of ice-water.

"Now, mammy, please bring a basin and napkin from the dressing-room," she said, in a low tone, as the old nurse set down her burden. "And then you may darken the room a little. And shall I not tell her to send Jim or Jack for the doctor, papa?"

"It is hardly necessary, darling," he replied, with a faint smile.

"Oh! please, papa, my own dear, darling papa, do let me!" she entreated. "You know it cannot do any harm, and may do a great deal of good."

"Ah! well, child, do as you like," he replied with a weary sigh; "but the doctor will, no doubt, think me very foolish to be so easily frightened."

"Then, papa, I will tell him it was I, not you, who were frightened, and that you sent for him to please your silly little daughter," Elsie said, fondly laying her cheek to his, while he passed his arm around her, and pressed her to his side.

"Here are de tings, darlin'," said Chloe, setting down the basin, and filling it from the pitcher.

"That is right, you good old mammy. Now close the blinds, and then you may go and tell Jim to saddle a horse and ride after the doctor immediately."

Chloe left the room, and Elsie brought another pillow for her father, smoothed his hair, bathed his forehead, and then, drawing a low chair to the side of the sofa, sat down and fanned him gently and regularly.

"Why!" said he, in a gratified tone, "you are as nice a little nurse as anybody need ask for; you move about so gently, and seem to know just the right thing to do. How did you learn?"

"I have had bad headaches so often myself, papa, that I have found out what one wants at such times," replied the little girl, coloring with pleasure.

He closed his eyes and seemed to be sleeping, and Elsie almost held her breath, lest she should disturb him. But presently the dinner-bell rang, and, opening them again, he said, "Go down, my daughter, and get your dinner."

"I am not hungry, papa," she replied. "Please let me stay and wait on you. Won't you have something to eat?"

"No, my dear, I have no desire for food; and you see, Chloe is coming to take care of me; so I wish you to go down at once," he said in his decided tone, and Elsie instantly rose to obey.

"You may come back if you choose when you have eaten your dinner," he added kindly. "I love to have you here."

"Thank you, papa, I will," she answered, with a brightened countenance, as she left the room. She was soon in her place again by his side. He was sleeping--and taking the fan from Chloe's hand without speaking, she motioned her away, and resuming her seat, sat for an hour or more, fanning him in perfect silence.

The physician had come while the family were at dinner, and leaving some medicine, had gone again, saying he was in haste to visit another patient; and assuring Elsie, whom he met in the hall as he was going out, that he did not think her papa was going to be very ill. This assurance had comforted her very much, and she felt quite happy while sitting there watching her father's slumbers.

At length he opened his eyes, and smiling fondly on her, asked: "Does not my little girl want some play this afternoon? Your little hand must surely be very tired wielding that fan;" and taking it from her, he drew her head down to his breast and stroked her hair caressingly.

"No, my own papa, I would much rather stay with you, if you will let me," she answered eagerly.

"I am afraid I ought to be very determined, and send you out to take some exercise," he replied, playfully running his fingers through her curls; "but it is too pleasant to have you here, so you may stay if you like."

"Oh, thank you, dear papa! and will you let me wait on you? What can I do for you now?"

"You may bring that book that lies on the table there, and read to me. You need not learn any lessons for to-morrow, for I intend to keep you with me."

The next day, and the next, and for many succeeding ones, Mr. Dinsmore was quite too ill to leave his bed, and during all this time Elsie was his constant companion by day--except for an hour every afternoon, when he compelled her to go out and take some exercise in the open air--and she would have sat by his side at night, also, but he would by no means permit it.

"No, Elsie," he replied to her repeated entreaties, "you must go to bed every night at your usual hour, and stay there until your accustomed hour for rising. I will not have you deprived of your rest unless I am actually dying."

This was said in the determined tone that always silenced Elsie at once, and she submitted to his decision without another word, feeling very thankful that he kept her so constantly at his side through the day. She proved herself the best and most attentive of nurses, seeming to understand his wishes intuitively, and moving about so gently and quietly--never hurried, never impatient, never weary of attending to his wants. His eyes followed with fond delight her little figure as it flitted noiselessly about the room, now here, now there, arranging everything for his comfort; and often, as she returned to her station at his side, he would draw her down to him, and stroke her hair, or pat her cheek, or kiss the rosy lips, calling her by every fond, endearing name--rose-bud--his pet--his bird--his darling.

It was she who bathed his head with her cool, soft hands, in his paroxysms of fever, smoothed his hair, shook up his pillows, gave him his medicines, fanned him, and read or sang to him, in her clear sweet tones.

He was scarcely considered in danger, but his sickness was tedious, and would have seemed far more so without the companionship of his little daughter. Every day seemed to draw the ties of affection more closely between them; yet, fond as he was of her, he ever made her feel that his will was always to be law to her; and while he required nothing contrary to her conscience, she submitted without a murmur, both because she loved him so well that it was a pleasure to obey him, and also because she knew it was her duty to do so.

But, alas! duty was not always to be so easy and pleasant.

It was Sabbath morning. All the family had gone to church, excepting Elsie, who, as usual, sat by her papa's bedside. She had her Bible in her hand, and was reading aloud.

"There, Elsie, that will do now," he said, as she finished her chapter. "Go and get the book you were reading to me yesterday. I wish to hear the rest of it this morning."

Poor little Elsie! she rose to her feet, but stood irresolute. Her heart beat fast, her color came and went by turns, and her eyes filled with tears.

The book her father bade her read to him was simply a fictitious moral tale, without a particle of religious truth in it, and, Elsie's conscience told her, entirely unfit for Sabbath reading.

"Elsie!" exclaimed her father, in a tone of mingled reproof and surprise, "did you hear me?"

"Yes, papa," she murmured, in a low tone.

"Then go at once and get the book, as I bid you; it lies yonder on the dressing-table."

Elsie moved slowly across the room, her father looking after her somewhat impatiently.

"Come, Elsie, make haste," he said, as she laid her hand upon the book. "I think I never saw you move so slowly,"

Without replying she took it up and returned to the bedside. Then, as he caught sight of her face, and saw that her cheeks were pale and wet with tears, he exclaimed, "What, crying, Elsie! what ails you, my daughter? Are you ill, darling?"

His tone was one of tender solicitude, and accompanied with a caress, as he took her hand and drew her towards him.

"Oh, papa!" she sobbed, laying her head on the pillow beside him, "please do not ask me to read that book to-day."

He did not reply for a moment, and when he did, Elsie was startled by the change in his tone; it was so exceedingly stern and severe.

"Elsie," he said, "I do not ask you to read that book, I command you to do it, and what is more, I intend to be obeyed. Sit down at once and begin, and let me have no more of this perverseness."

"Dear papa," she answered in low, pleading, trembling tones, "I do not, indeed, I do not want to be perverse and disobedient, but I cannot break the Sabbath-day. Please, papa, let me finish it to-morrow."

"Elsie!" said he, in a tone a little less severe, but quite as determined, "I see that you think that because you gained your point in relation to that song that you will always be allowed to do as you like in such matters; but you are mistaken; I am determined to be obeyed this time. I would not by any means bid you do anything I considered wrong, but I can see no harm whatever in reading that book to-day; and certainly I, who have lived so much longer, am far more capable of judging in these matters than a little girl of your age. Why, my daughter, I have seen ministers reading worse books than that on the Sabbath."

"But, papa," she replied timidly, "you know the Bible says: 'They measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise;' and are we not just to do whatever God commands, without stopping to ask what other people do or say? for don't even the best people very often do wrong?"

"Very well; find me a text that says you are not to read such a book as this on the Sabbath, and I will let you wait until to-morrow."

Elsie hesitated. "I cannot find one that says just that, papa," she said, "but there is one that says we are not to think our own thoughts, nor speak our own words on the Sabbath; and does not that mean worldly thoughts and words? and is not that book full of such things, and only of such?"

"Nonsense!" he exclaimed, impatiently, "let me hear no more of such stuff! you are entirely too young and childish to attempt to reason on such subjects. Your place is simply to obey; are you going to do it?"

"Oh, papa!" she murmured, almost under her breath, "I cannot."

"Elsie," said he, in a tone of great anger, "I should certainly be greatly tempted to whip you into submission, had I the strength to do it."

Elsie answered only by her tears and sobs.

There was silence for a moment, and then her father said: "Elsie, I expect from my daughter entire, unquestioning obedience, and until you are ready to render it, I shall cease to treat you as my child. I shall banish you from my presence, and my affections. This is the alternative I set before you. I will give you ten minutes to consider it. At the end of that time, if you are ready to obey me, well and good--if not, you will leave this room, not to enter it again until you are ready to acknowledge your fault, ask forgiveness, and promise implicit obedience in the future."

A low cry of utter despair broke from Elsie's lips, as she thus heard her sentence pronounced in tones of calm, stern determination; and, hiding her face on the bed, she sobbed convulsively.

Her father lifted his watch from a little stand by the bedside, and held it in his hand until the ten minutes expired.

"The time is up, Elsie," he said; "are you ready to obey me?"

"Oh, papa!" she sobbed, "I cannot do it."

"Very well, then," he said, coldly; "if neither your sense of duty, nor your affection for your sick father is strong enough to overcome your self-will, you know what you have to do. Leave the room at once, and send one of the servants to attend me. I will not have such a perverse, disobedient child in my presence."

She raised her head, and he was touched by the look of anguish on her face.

"My daughter," he said, drawing her to him, and pushing back the curls from her face, "this separation will be as painful to me as to you; yet I cannot yield my authority. I must have obedience from you. I ask again, will you obey me?"

He waited a moment for an answer; but Elsie's heart was too full for speech.

Pushing her from him, he said: "Go! remember, whenever you are ready to comply with the conditions, you may return; but not till then!"

Elsie seized his hand in both of hers, and covered it with kisses and tears; then, without a word, turned and left the room.

He looked after her with a sigh, muttering to himself, "She has a spice of my own obstinacy in her nature; but I think a few days' banishment from me will bring her round. I am punishing myself quite as much, however, for it will be terribly hard to do without her."

Elsie hastened to her own room, almost distracted with grief; the blow had been so sudden, so unexpected, so terrible; for she could see no end to her banishment; unless, indeed, a change should take place in her father's feelings, and of that she had very little hope.

Flinging herself upon a couch, she wept long and bitterly. Her grief was deep and despairing, but there was no anger in it; on the contrary, her heart was filled with intense love to her father, who, she doubted not, was acting from a mistaken sense of duty; and she could scarcely bear the thought that now she should no longer be permitted to wait upon him, and attend to his comfort. She had sent a servant to him, but a servant could ill supply a daughter's place, and her heart ached to think how he would miss her sympathy and love.

An hour passed slowly away; the family returned from church, and the bell rang for dinner. But Elsie heeded it not; she had no desire for food, and still lay sobbing on her couch, till Chloe came to ask why she did not go down.

The faithful creature was much surprised and distressed at the state in which she found her child, and raising her in her arms tenderly, inquired into the cause of her grief.

Elsie told her in a few words, and Chloe, without finding any fault with Mr. Dinsmore, strove to comfort the sorrowing child, assuring her of her own unalterable affection, and talking to her of the love of Jesus, who would help her to hear every trial, and in his own good time remove it.

Elsie grew calmer as she listened to her nurse's words; her sobs and tears gradually ceased, and at length she allowed Chloe to bathe her face, and smooth her disordered hair and dress; but she refused to eat, and lay on her couch all the afternoon, with a very sad little face, a sob now and then bursting from her bosom, and a tear trickling down her cheek. When the tea-bell rang, she reluctantly yielded to Chloe's persuasions, and went down. But it was a sad, uncomfortable meal to her, for she soon perceived, from the cold and averted looks of the whole family, that the cause of her banishment from her papa's room was known. Even her Aunt Adelaide, who was usually so kind, now seemed determined to take no notice of her, and before the meal was half over, Enna, frowning at her across the table, exclaimed in a loud, angry tone, "Naughty, bad girl! Brother Horace ought to whip you!"

"That he ought," added her grandfather, severely, "if he had the strength to do it; but he is not likely to gain it, while worried with such a perverse, disobedient child."

Elsie could not swallow another mouthful, for the choking sensation in her throat; and it cost her a hard struggle to keep back the tears that seemed determined to force their way down her cheek at Enna's unkind speech; but the concluding sentence of her grandfather's remark caused her to start and tremble with fear on her father's account; yet she could not command her voice sufficiently to speak and ask if he were worse.

There was, indeed, a very unfavorable change in Mr. Dinsmore, and he was really more alarmingly ill than he had been at all. Elsie's resistance to his authority had excited him so much as to bring on a return of his fever; her absence fretted him, too, for no one else seemed to understand quite as well how to wait upon him; and besides, he was not altogether satisfied with himself; not entirely sure that the course he had adopted was the right one. Could he only have got rid of all doubts of the righteousness and justice of the sentence he had pronounced upon her, it would have been a great relief. He was very proud, a man of indomitable will, and very jealous of his authority; and between these on the one hand, and his love for his child and desire for her presence, on the other, a fierce struggle had been raging in his breast all the afternoon.

As soon as she dared leave the table Elsie stole out into the garden, there to indulge her grief, unseen by any but the eye of God.

She paced up and down her favorite walk, weeping and sobbing bitterly. Presently her attention was attracted by the galloping of a horse down the avenue, and raising her head, she saw that it was the physician, returning from a visit to her father. It was not his usual hour for calling, and she at once conjectured that her father was worse. Her first impulse was to hasten to him, but instantly came the recollection that he had banished her from his presence, and sinking down upon a bank, she burst into a fresh paroxysm of grief. It was so hard--so very hard--to know that he was ill and suffering, and not to be permitted to go to him.

At length she could bear it no longer, and springing up she hurried into the house, and gliding softly up the stairs, stationed herself at her papa's door, determined to intercept some one passing in or out, and inquire how he was.

She had not been long there when her Aunt Adelaide came out, looking troubled and anxious.

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide," cried the child in a hoarse whisper, catching her by the dress, "dear Aunt Adelaide, do tell me, is papa worse?"

"Yes, Elsie," she replied coldly, attempting to pass on; "he is much worse."

The little girl burst into an agony of tears.

"You may well cry, Elsie," remarked her aunt severely, "for it is all your fault, and if you are left an orphan, you may thank your own perverseness and obstinacy for it."

Putting both hands over her face, with a low cry of anguish, Elsie fell forward in a deep swoon.

Adelaide caught her ere she had quite reached the floor, and hastily loosening her dress, looked anxiously around for help; but none was at hand, and she dared not call aloud lest she should alarm her brother. So laying her gently down on the carpet, she went in search of Chloe, whom she found, as she had expected, in Elsie's room. In a few hurried words Adelaide made her understand what had occurred, and that Elsie must be removed without the slightest noise or disturbance.

Another moment and Chloe was at her darling's side, and raising her gently in her strong arms, she bore her quickly to her room, and laying her on a couch, proceeded to apply restoratives, murmuring the while, in low, pitiful tones, "De dear, precious lamb! it mos' breaks your ole mammy's heart to see you dis way."

It was long ere consciousness returned; so long that Adelaide, who stood by, gazing sorrowfully at the little wan face, and reproaching herself for her cruelty, trembled and grew pale with apprehension.

But at last, with a weary sigh, Elsie opened her eyes, and looked up, with a sad, bewildered expression, into the dusky face bent so anxiously over her, and then, with a feeling of intense relief, Adelaide slipped away to her own room, leaving them alone together.

"What is it, mammy? Oh, I know! I remember! Oh, mammy, mammy! will my dear, precious papa die?" sobbed the poor little girl, throwing her arms around her nurse's neck.

"I hope not, darling" replied Chloe, soothingly. "Massa Horace am pretty sick, I know; but I tinks de good Lord spare him, if we pray."

"Oh, yes, yes, mammy, let us pray for him. Let us both pray very earnestly, and I am sure God will spare him, because he has promised to grant whatever two shall agree to ask."

They knelt down, and Chloe prayed in her broken way; and when she had finished, Elsie poured out such a prayer as comes only from a heart ready to break with its load of sorrow and care.

None but he who has tried it can tell what a blessed relief comes to those who thus "cast their care on Jesus." Elsie's burden was not less, but she no longer bore it alone; she had rolled it upon the Lord and he sustained her. She shed a few quiet tears after she had laid her head upon her pillow, but soon forgot all her sorrows in a deep, sweet sleep, that lasted until morning.

It was still early when she awoke and sprang up, with the intention of hastening, as usual, to her father's side; but alas! in another moment memory had recalled all the distressing events of the previous day, and, sinking back upon her pillow, she wept long and bitterly.

But at length she dried her tears, and, kneeling at the bedside, poured out her sorrows and supplications into the ear of her Saviour, and thus again grew calm and strong to endure.

As soon as she was dressed she went to her papa's door, hoping to see some one who could tell her how he was; but no one came, and she dared not venture in, and her intense anxiety had yet found no relief when the bell summoned the family to breakfast.

The same cold looks awaited her there as on the night before, and the poor child could scarcely eat, and was glad when the comfortless meal was over.

She followed Adelaide to Mr. Dinsmore's door, and begged her with tears and sobs to ask her papa to allow her to come to him, if it was only for one moment, just to look at him, and then go away again.

Adelaide was touched by her evident anxiety and distress, and said, almost kindly, as she laid her hand on the handle of the door, "Well, Elsie, I will ask him; but I have no idea that it will be of any use, unless you will give up your foolish obstinacy."

Elsie stood outside waiting with a beating heart, and though her aunt was really gone but a moment, it seemed a long time to her ere the door again opened.

She looked up eagerly, and read the answer in Adelaide's face, ere she heard the coldly spoken, stern message--

"Your papa says you very well know the conditions on which you will be admitted to his presence, and that they are as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians."

The tears gushed from Elsie's eyes, and she turned away with a gesture of despair.

"Elsie," said her aunt, "let me advise you to give up at once; for I am perfectly certain you never can conquer your father."

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide! that is not what I want," murmured the child, in low, broken accents.

But Adelaide went on without noticing the interruption--

"He is worse, and growing worse all the time, Elsie; his fever has been very high ever since yesterday afternoon--and we all know that it is nothing but your misconduct that has caused this relapse."

Elsie could bear no more, but rushing away to her own room, and locking herself in, she gave way without restraint to her feelings of distress and anguish.

Knowing that she was not expected in the school-room--as she had paid no attention to study since the beginning of her father's illness--she did not leave her room again until dinner-time.

She was on her way to the dining-room, when her Aunt Adelaide, passing her in the hall, caught hold of her, saying, "Elsie, your papa is so ill that the doctor trembles for his life; he says he is certain that he has something on his mind that is distressing him and causing this alarming change, and unless it is removed he fears he will never be any better. Elsie, you know what that something is."

Elsie stood as if turned to stone, while Adelaide, letting go her arm, moved quickly away, leaving her alone, stunned, bewildered, terrified by the suddenness of the dreadful announcement.

She could not think or reason; she could only press her hands to her temples, in the vain endeavor to still their wild throbbing; then, turning back to her own room again, she threw herself upon her knees, and, resting her head against the bed, gave vent to her over-wrought feelings in such groans of anguish as seldom come from the heart of one so young. At first she could neither weep nor pray; but at length tears came to her relief, and she poured out agonizing supplications "that her dear, dear papa might be spared, at least, until he had learned to love Jesus, and was fit to go to heaven."

She felt as though her heart would break at the very thought of being separated from him forever in this world, but even that was as nothing compared to the more terrible fear of not meeting him in another.

That was a long, sad afternoon to the poor child; the longest and saddest she had ever known. Chloe now and then brought her word how her father was, but no one else came near her to speak a word of comfort or hope. Towards evening they had given up almost all hope; he had ceased to recognize any one, and one after another, parents, brother, sisters, and servants, had been permitted to take a last look--all but little Elsie, his own and only child--the one nearest and dearest to him, and to whom he was all the world--she alone was forbidden to come. She had begged and plead, in tones that might have melted a heart of stone, to be permitted to see his face once more in life; but Mrs. Dinsmore, who had taken the direction of everything, said, "No, her father has forbidden it, and she shall not come unless she expresses her willingness to comply with his conditions."

Adelaide had then ventured a plea in her behalf, but the reply was: "I don't pity her at all; it is all her own doing."

"So much the harder is it for her to bear, I presume," urged Adelaide.

"There, Adelaide, that will do now! Let me hear no more about it," replied her lady mother, and there the matter dropped.

Poor little Elsie tried to be submissive and forgiving, but she could not help feeling it terribly hard and cruel, and almost more than she could bear, thus to be kept away from her sick and dying father.

It was long ere sleep visited her weary eyes that night; hour after hour she lay on her pillow, pouring out prayers and tears on his behalf, until at length, completely worn out with sorrow, she fell into a deep and heavy slumber, from which she waked to find the morning sun streaming in at the windows, and Chloe standing gazing down upon her with a very happy face.

She started up from her pillow, asking eagerly, "What is it, mammy? Oh! what is it? is my papa better?"

"Yes, darling Massa Horace much better dis mornin'; de doctor say 'he gwine git well now for sartin, if he don't git worse again.'"

"Oh, mammy! It seems too good to be true! Oh, how very, very good God has been to me!" cried the little girl, weeping for very joy.

For a moment, in the intensity of her happiness, she forgot that she was still in disgrace and banishment--forgot everything but the joyful fact that her father was spared to her. But, oh! she could not forget it long. The bitter recollection soon returned, to damp her joy and fill her with sad forebodings.