Chapter IX.
 
"Heaven oft in mercy smites, e'en when the blow
Severest is."

JOANNA BAILLIE'S ORRA.

"The heart knoweth his own bitterness."

PROV. 14:10.

But only a few days after Mrs. Travilla's visit, an event occurred, which, by exciting Elsie's sympathy for the sorrows of another, and thus preventing her from dwelling so constantly upon her own, was of great benefit to her.

Adelaide received a letter bringing tidings of the death of one who had been very dear to her. The blow was very sudden--entirely unexpected--and the poor girl was overwhelmed with grief, made all the harder to endure by the want of sympathy in her family.

Her parents had indeed given their consent to the contemplated union, but because the gentleman, though honorable, intelligent, educated and talented, was neither rich nor high-born, they had never very heartily approved of the connection, and were evidently rather relieved than afflicted by his death.

Elsie was the only one who really felt deeply for her aunt; and her silent, unobtrusive sympathy was very grateful.

The little girl seemed almost to forget her own sorrows, for the time, in trying to relieve those of her bereaved aunt. Elsie knew--and this made her sympathy far deeper and more heartfelt--that Adelaide had no consolation in her sore distress, but such miserable comfort as may be found in the things of earth. She had no compassionate Saviour to whom to carry her sorrows, but must bear them all alone; and while Elsie was permitted to walk in the light of his countenance, and to her ear there ever came the soft whispers of his love--"Fear not: thou art mine"--"I have loved thee with an everlasting love"--"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," to Adelaide all was darkness and silence.

At first Elsie's sympathy was shown in various little kind offices; sitting for hours beside her aunt's couch, gently fanning her, handing her a drink of cold water, bringing her sweet-scented flowers, and anticipating every want. But at last she ventured to speak.

"Dear Aunt Adelaide," she whispered, "I am so sorry for you. I wish I knew how to comfort you."

"Oh, Elsie!" sobbed the mourner, "there is no comfort for me, I have lost my dearest treasure--my all--and no one cares."

"Dear Aunt Adelaide," replied the child timidly, "it is true I am only a little girl, but I do care very much for your grief; and surely your papa and mamma are very sorry for you."

Adelaide shook her head mournfully. "They are more glad than sorry," she said, bursting into tears.

"Well, dear aunty," said Elsie softly, "there is One who does feel for you, and who is able to comfort you if you will only go to him. One who loved you so well that he died to save you."

"No, no, Elsie! not me! He cannot care for me! He cannot love me, or he would never have taken away my Ernest," she sobbed.

"Dear Aunt Adelaide," said Elsie's low, sweet voice, "we cannot always tell what is best for us, and will make us happiest in the end.

"I remember once when I was a very little child, I was walking with mammy in a part of my guardian's grounds where we seldom went. I was running on before her, and I found a bush with some most beautiful red berries; they looked delicious, and I hastily gathered some, and was just putting them to my mouth when mammy, seeing what I was about, suddenly sprang forward, snatched them out of my hand, threw them on the ground, and tramped upon them; and then tearing up the bushes treated them in the same manner, while I stood by crying and calling her a naughty, cross mammy, to take my nice berries from me."

"Well," asked Adelaide, as the little girl paused in her narrative, "what do you mean by your story? You haven't finished it, but, of course, the berries were poisonous."

"Yes," said Elsie; "and mammy was wiser than I, and knew that what I so earnestly coveted would do me great injury."

"And now for the application," said Adelaide, interrupting her; "you mean that just as mammy was wiser than you, and took your treasure from you in kindness, so God is wise and kind in taking mine from me; but ah! Elsie, the analogy will not hold good; for my good, wise, kind Ernest could never have harmed me as the poisonous berries would you. No, no, no, he always did me good!" she cried with a passionate burst of grief.

Elsie waited until she grew calm again, and then said gently, "The Bible says, dear aunty, that God 'does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men.' Perhaps he saw that you loved your friend too well, and would never give your heart to Jesus unless he took him away, and so you could only live with him for a little while in this world. But now he has taken him to heaven, I hope--for Lora told me Mr. St. Clair was a Christian--and if you will only come to Jesus and take him for your Saviour, you can look forward to spending a happy eternity there with your friend.

"So, dear Aunt Adelaide, may we not believe that God, who is infinitely wise, and good, and kind, has sent you this great sorrow in love and compassion?"

Adelaide's only answer was a gentle pressure of the little hand she held, accompanied by a flood of tears. But after that she seemed to love Elsie better than, she ever had before, and to want her always by her side, often asking her to read a chapter in the Bible, a request with which the little girl always complied most gladly.

Adelaide was very silent, burying her thoughts almost entirely in her own bosom; but it was evident that the blessed teachings of the holy book were not altogether lost upon her, for the extreme violence of her grief gradually abated, and the expression of her countenance, though still sad, became gentle and patient.

And could Elsie thus minister consolation to another, and yet find no lessening of her own burden of sorrow? Assuredly not.

She could not repeat to her aunt the many sweet and precious promises of God's holy word, without having them brought home to her own heart with renewed power; she could not preach Jesus to another without finding him still nearer and dearer to her own soul; and though there were yet times when she was almost overwhelmed with grief, she could truly say that the "consolations of God were not small with her." There was often a weary, weary aching at her heart--such an unutterable longing for her father's love and favor as would send her weeping to her knees to plead long and earnestly that this trial might be removed; yet she well knew who had sent it, and was satisfied that it was one of the "all things which shall work together for good to them that love God," and she was at length enabled to say in reference to it: "Thy will, not mine, be done," and to bear her cross with patient submission.

But ah! there was many a bitter struggle, first! She had many sad and lonely hours; and there were times when the yearning of the poor little heart for her father's presence, and her father's love, was almost more than weak human nature could endure.

Sometimes she would walk her room, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly.

"Oh, papa! papa!" she would exclaim, again and again, "how can I bear it? how can I bear it? will you never, never come back? will you never, never love me again?"

And then would come up the memory of his words on that sad, sad day, when he left her--"Whenever my little daughter writes to me the words I have so vainly endeavored to induce her to speak, that very day, if possible, I will start for home"--and the thought that it was in her power to recall him at any time; it was but to write a few words and send them to him, and soon he would be with her--he would take her to his heart again, and this terrible trial would be over.

The temptation was fearfully strong; the struggle often long and terrible; and this fierce battle had to be fought again and again, and once the victory had wellnigh been lost.

She had struggled long; again and again had she resolved that she would not, could not, dare not yield! but vainly she strove to put away the sense of that weary, aching void in her heart--that longing, yearning desire for her father's love.

"I cannot bear it! oh, I cannot bear it!" she exclaimed, at length; and seizing a pen, she wrote hastily, and with trembling fingers, while the hot, blinding tears dropped thick and fast upon the paper--"Papa, come back! oh, come to me, and I will be and do all you ask, all you require."

But the pen dropped from her fingers, and she bowed her face upon her clasped hands with a cry of bitter anguish.

"How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" The words darted through her mind like a flash of lightning, and then the words of Jesus seemed to come to her ear in solemn tones: "He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me!"

"What have I done?" she cried. "Has it come to this, that I must choose between my father and my Saviour? and can I give up the love of Jesus? oh, never, never!--

'Jesus, I my cross have taken All to leave and follow thee.'"

she repeated, half aloud, with clasped hands, and an upward glance of her tearful eyes. Then, tearing into fragments what she had just written, she fell on her knees and prayed earnestly for pardon, and for strength to resist temptation, and to be "faithful unto death," that she might "receive the crown of life."

When Elsie rapped at her aunt's dressing-room door the next morning, no answer was returned, and after waiting a moment, she softly opened it, and entered, expecting to find her aunt sleeping. But no, though extended upon a couch, Adelaide was not sleeping, but lay with her face buried in the pillows, sobbing violently.

Elsie's eyes filled with tears, and softly approaching the mourner, she attempted to soothe her grief with words of gentle, loving sympathy.

"Oh! Elsie, you cannot feel for me; it is impossible!" exclaimed her aunt passionately. "You have never known sorrow to be compared to mine! You have never loved, and lost--you have known none but mere childish griefs."

"'The heart knoweth his own bitterness!'" thought Elsie, silent tears stealing down her cheeks, and her breast heaving with emotion.

"Dear Aunt Adelaide," she said in tremulous tones, "I think I can feel for you. Have I not known some sorrow? Is it nothing that I have pined all my life long for a mother's love? nothing to have been separated from the dear nurse, who had almost supplied her place? Oh, Aunt Adelaide!" she continued, with a burst of uncontrollable anguish, "is it nothing, nothing to be separated from my beloved father, my dear, only parent, whom I love better than my life--to be refused even a parting caress--to live month after month, and year after year under his frown--and to fear that his love may be lost to me forever? Oh! papa, papa, will you never, never love me again?" she cried, sinking on her knees, and covering her face with her hands, while the tears trickled fast between the slender fingers.

Her aunt's presence was for the moment entirely forgotten, and she was alone with her bitter grief.

Adelaide looked at her with a good deal of surprise. She had never before seen her give way to such a burst of sorrow, for Elsie was usually calm in the presence of others.

"Poor child!" she said, drawing the little girl towards her, and gently pushing back the hair from her forehead, "I should not have said that; you have your own troubles, I know; hard enough to bear, too. I think Horace is really cruel, and if I were you, Elsie, I would just give up loving him entirely, and never care for his absence or his displeasure."

"Oh, Aunt Adelaide! not love my own dear papa? I must love him! I could not help it if I would--no, not even if he were going to kill me; and please don't blame him; he does not mean to be cruel. But oh! if he would only love me!" sobbed the little girl.

"I am sure he does, Elsie, if that is any comfort; here is a letter from him; he speaks of you in the postscript; you may take it to your room and read it, if you like," replied her aunt, putting a letter into Elsie's hand. "Go now, child, and see if you can extract any comfort from it."

Elsie replied with a gush of tears and a kiss of thanks, for her little heart was much too full for speech. Clasping the precious letter tightly in her hand, she hastened to her own room and locked herself in. Then drawing it from the envelope, she kissed the well-known characters again and again, dashing away the blinding tears ere she could see to read.

It was short; merely a letter of condolence to Adelaide, expressing a brother's sympathy in her sorrow; but the postscript sent one ray of joy to the little sad heart of his daughter.

"Is Elsie well? I cannot altogether banish a feeling of anxiety regarding her health, for she was looking pale and thin when I left home. I trust to you, my dear sister, to send immediately for a physician, and also to write at once should she show any symptoms of disease. Remember she is my only and darling child--very near and dear to me still, in spite of the sad estrangement between us."

"Ah! then papa has not forgotten me! he does love me still--he calls me his darling child," murmured the little girl, dropping her tears upon the paper. "Oh, how glad, how glad I am! surely he will come back to me some day;" and she felt that she would be very willing to be sick if that would hasten his return.