The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave." LONGFELLOW.
It was a lovely summer morning, glorious with sunlight, sweet with the fragrance of flowers and the songs of birds.
The view from the bay-window of the library of Crag Cottage, the residence of Mr. George Leland, architect and artist, was very fine, embracing, as it did, some of the most magnificent scenery on the banks of the Hudson.
The house stood very high, and from that window one might look north and south over wooded mountain, hill and valley, or east upon the majestic river and its farther shore.
The nearer view was of well-kept, though not extensive, grounds; a flower-garden and lawn with a winding carriage-way leading up the hill by a gradual ascent.
It was a pleasant place to sit even on a sunny summer morning, for a tall tree partially shaded the window without greatly obstructing the view, and it was there the master of the house was usually to be found, at this time of day, with Evelyn, his only child, close at his side.
They were there now, seated at a table covered with books and papers, he busied in drawing plans for a building, she equally so with her lessons.
But presently, at the sound of a deep sigh from her father, she glanced hastily up at him.
He had dropped his pencil and was leaning back against the cushions of his easy-chair, with a face so wan and weary that she started up in alarm, and springing to his side, exclaimed, "Dear papa, I am sure you are not well! Do stop working, and lie down on the sofa. And won't you let me tell Patrick to go for the doctor when he has taken mamma to Riverside?"
"Yes, Evelyn, I think you may," he answered in low feeble tones, and with a sad sort of smile, gently pressing the hand she had laid in his, as he spoke. "It will do no harm for me to see Dr. Taylor, even should it do no good."
"What is that? send for the doctor? Are you ill, Eric?" asked a lady who had entered the room just in time to catch his last sentence.
"I am feeling unusually languid, Laura," he replied; "yet not much more so than I did yesterday. Perhaps it is only the heat."
"The heat!" she echoed; "why, it is a delightful day! warm, to be sure, but not oppressively so."
"Not to you or me, perhaps, mamma," remarked Evelyn, "but we are well and strong, and poor papa is not."
"A holiday would do you good, Eric," the lady said, addressing her husband; "come, change your mind and go with me to Riverside."
"My dear," he said, "I should like to go to gratify you, but really I feel quite unequal to the exertion."
"You need make none," she said; "you need only to sit quietly under the trees on the lawn; and I think you will find amusement in watching the crowd, while the fresh air, change of scene, and rest from the work you will not let alone when at home, will certainly be of great benefit to you."
He shook his head in dissent. "I should have to talk and to listen; in short, to make myself agreeable. I have no right to inflict my companionship on Mrs. Ross's guests on any other condition; and all that would be a greater exertion than I feel fit to undertake."
"There was a time when you were willing to make a little exertion for my sake," she returned in a piqued tone, "but wives are not to expect the attention freely bestowed upon a sweetheart, and so I must go alone as usual."
"Mamma, what a shame for you to talk so to poor papa!" exclaimed Evelyn indignantly. "You know--"
"Hush, hush, Evelyn," said her father in a gently reproving tone, "be respectful to your mother, always."
"Yes, sir," returned the child, with a loving look into his eyes. Then to her mother, "I beg your pardon, mamma, I did not mean to be rude; but--" with a scrutinizing glance at the richly attired figure before her.
"Well?" laughingly interrogated the lady, as the child paused with a slight look of embarrassment and a heightened color.
"Nothing, mamma, only--"
"Something your correct taste disapproves about my attire?"
"Yes, mamma; your dress is very handsome; quite rich and gay enough for a ball-room; but--wouldn't a simpler, plainer one be more suitable for a lawn-party?"
"Well, really!" was the laughing rejoinder; "the idea of such a chit as you venturing to criticise her mother's taste in dress! You spoil her, Eric; making so much of her and allowing her to have and express an opinion on any and every subject. There, I must be going; I see Patrick is at the door with the carriage. So good-by, and don't overwork yourself, Eric."
"Mamma," Evelyn called after her, "Patrick is to go for the doctor, you know."
"Oh, yes; I'll tell him," Mrs. Leland answered, and the next moment the carriage was whirling away down the drive.
"There, she is gone!" said Evelyn. "Oh, papa, when I am a woman I shall not marry unless I feel that I can always be content to stay with my husband when he is not able to go with me."
"But business may prevent him very often when sickness does not, and you may grow very weary of staying always at home," he said, softly smoothing her hair, then bending to touch his lips to her smooth white forehead and smile into the large dark eyes lifted to his as she knelt at the side of his chair.
"No, no! not if he is as dear and kind as you are, papa. But no other man is, I think."
"Quite a mistake, my pet; the world surely contains many better men than your father."
"I should be exceedingly angry if any one else said that to me," she returned indignantly.
At that he drew her closer to him with a little pleased laugh. "We love each other very dearly, do we not, my darling?" he said; then sighed deeply.
"Indeed we do!" she answered, gazing anxiously up into his face. "How pale and ill you look, papa! do lie down and rest."
"Presently, when my work has progressed a little farther," he said, putting her gently aside, straightening himself and resuming his pencil.
Evelyn was beginning a remonstrance, but at the sound of wheels upon the drive sprang to the window, exclaiming, "Can mamma be coming back already? She has perhaps changed her mind about attending the party. No," as she caught sight of the vehicle, "it is the doctor. I'm glad."
"Go, receive him at the door, daughter, and show him in here," said Mr. Leland; "and as I desire a private interview, you may amuse yourself in the grounds while he stays."
"Yes, sir; and oh, I do hope he will be able to give you something that will make you well directly," the little girl replied, bestowing a look of loving anxiety upon her father, then hastening to obey his order.
She received the physician at the front entrance, with all the graceful courtesy of a refined lady, ushered him into the library, then putting on a garden-hat, wandered out into the grounds.
It was the month of roses, and they were to be found here in great variety and profusion; they bordered the walks, climbed the walls, and wreathed themselves about the pillars of the porches, filling the air with their rich fragrance, mingled with that of the honeysuckle, lilac, heliotrope, and mignonette.
Evelyn sauntered through the garden, pausing here and there to gather one and another of the most beautiful and sweet-scented of its floral treasures, arranging them in a bouquet for her father; then crossed the lawn to an artistic little summer-house built on the edge of the cliff, where it almost overhung the river.
The view from this spot was magnificent, extending for many miles and embracing some of the grandest scenery of that region; and to Evelyn and her father, both dear lovers of the beauties of nature, it was a favorite resort.
Seating herself upon a rustic bench, she passed some moments in absorbed, delighted contemplation of the scene so familiar, yet ever new.
The thought that anything worse than a passing illness threatened her beloved father had not yet entered her youthful mind, and she was serenely happy as she sat there waiting for the departure of the physician as the signal that she might return to him.
From her earliest recollection he had been father and mother both to her, Mrs. Leland's time being too fully occupied with her onerous duties to society to allow her to bestow much attention upon her child.
Had the husband and father taken a like view of his responsibilities, Evelyn would have been left almost entirely to the care of the servants; but to him the formation of his child's character, the cultivation of her mind and heart, was a duty that outweighed all social claims, and to which even business might to some extent be sacrificed.
Nor was it a duty only, but also a delight. And so well was she rewarding his efforts that he found her, at thirteen, more companionable than her mother had ever been; taking an enthusiastic interest in his professional work, and sharing his aspirations after perfection therein and recognition as one of the foremost architects of his day.
In her esteem he had already distanced all competitors; no one else could plan a house so well for comfort, convenience, and beauty combined. Also he was to her the very embodiment of all that was unselfish, good, and noble.
She thought, and truly, that her mother failed to appreciate him.
While Evelyn waited the doctor subjected his patient to a thorough examination, not only feeling his pulse, listening to the beating of his heart, sounding his lungs and looking at his tongue, but cross-questioning him closely, his face growing graver with every reply elicited.
"You have told me everything?" he inquired at length.
"Yes, I think so; every symptom that I can recall at this moment. And now, doctor, I want you to be equally frank with me; tell me exactly what you think of my case."
"I cannot hold out any hope of recovery," was the unwilling reply; "but there is little, if any, immediate danger."
"You but confirm my own impressions," said Mr. Leland quietly. "But I would have a clearer understanding of your verdict; do you mean that I may have years of invalidism before me, or that a few weeks or months must bring the end?"
"You really desire to know the worst, my dear sir?" returned the physician inquiringly, a look of deep sympathy on his kindly face.
"I do," was the calmly resolute reply; "let me know the worst and face it in the strength God gives to His children according to their day."
"Then, my dear sir, I will be plain with you; but bear in mind that I lay no claim to infallibility; I may err in judgment, but I see no reason to hope that your life on earth will be prolonged for more than three months at the farthest, and I much fear the end may come in less than half that time."
The doctor could not at first judge of the full effect of his words, for Mr. Leland sat with his face half hidden in his hand.
For a moment a deathlike stillness reigned in the room; then Dr. Taylor said, low and feelingly, "You are a Christian, my dear sir, and for you dying will be but going home to a brighter and better world."
"Yes," was the reply, "and your tidings would have no terrors for me were it not--for those who must be left behind; but oh, the parting from helpless dear ones for whom my care and protection seems so necessary!--that is the bitterness of death!"
"'Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in Me,'" quoted the physician in sympathizing tones.
"Yes, yes; thank God for that precious promise!" exclaimed Mr. Leland. "And you, doctor, for reminding me of it," he added, stretching out a hand to his kind comforter.
It was taken in a warm grasp and held for a moment while other of the many sweet and comforting promises of God's Word were recalled to the mind of the sufferer, to his great consolation.
"I would it were in my power," the doctor said at length, "to hold out to you any hope of restoration to health. I cannot do that, but will write you a prescription which will, I trust, by God's blessing, give relief to some of the most distressing symptoms."
"Even partial relief will be most welcome," sighed the patient. "Ah, if I can but find strength for promised work!"
"Better let it alone and take what rest and ease you can," was the parting advice of the physician.
"What a long, long visit the doctor is paying!" Evelyn had said to herself several times before her eyes were gladdened with the sight of his carriage rolling away down the drive.
"At last!" she cried, springing to her feet and hurrying back to the house.
She found her father lying on a sofa, his face very pale, his eyes closed.
She drew near on tiptoe, thinking he might have fallen asleep; but as she reached the side of his couch he opened his eyes, and taking her hand drew her down to his breast.
"My darling, my beloved child!" he whispered, putting his arm about her and holding her fast with tender caresses.
"What did the doctor say, papa?" she asked, nestling closer to him and laying her cheek to his. "Does he hope to make you well very soon?"
For a moment there was no reply, and Evelyn, startled at her father's silence, suddenly raised her head and gazed earnestly, inquiringly into his face.
He smiled, a little sadly, and gently smoothing her hair back from her forehead, "I was thinking," he said, "of a text in the psalm we read together this morning--'My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him.' He and He only can make me well, daughter."
"Then why send for the doctor, papa?"
"Because God works by means; it pleases Him so to do, though it would be no more difficult to Him to accomplish His designs without. He has provided remedies, and I think it is His will that we should use them, at the same time asking His blessing upon them, feeling that without it they will be of no avail."
"Then you are to have some medicine, I suppose?"
"Yes; and to be out a good deal in the open air."
"Oh, then, won't you come out to the summer-house and lie in the hammock there, with me close beside you to wait on you?"
"Presently; but I must write a letter first," he said, putting her gently aside and resuming his seat at the writing-table.
"Can't it wait till to-morrow, papa?" she asked. "You may feel stronger by then."
"It is to be only a few lines, to your Uncle Lester; and I want it to go by this afternoon's mail, that, if possible, it may reach Fairview before they have arranged their plans for the summer. I want them to come here to spend the hot months. Should you like it?"
"Yes, indeed, papa! I've always been fond of Uncle Lester, as you know, and I quite fell in love with Aunt Elsie and the baby when he brought them to see us on their return from Europe."