The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"Who knows the joys of friendship--The trust, security, and mutual tenderness, The double joys, where each is glad for both?" ROWE.
Max Raymond was racing about Miss Stanhope's grounds with the dog that had given his sister Lulu so great a fright the first night of their stay in Lansdale. Up one walk and down another they went, the boy whistling, laughing, capering about, the dog bounding after, catching up with his playfellow and leaping upon him, now on this side and now on that; then presently finding himself shaken off and distanced in the race; but only for a moment; the next he was at the boy's side again or close at his heels.
"Max! Max!" called an eager child's voice, and Lulu came running down the path leading directly from the house.
"Well, what is it, Lu?" asked the lad, standing still to look and listen. "Down, Nero, down! be quiet, sir!"
"Oh, I have something to tell you," replied Lulu, half breathlessly, as she hurried toward him. "That letter you brought Grandma Elsie from the post-office this morning was from Aunt Elsie; and they are at home by this time--she wrote just as they were ready to start--and Evelyn Leland is with them; she's to make her home at Fairview."
"Well, and what of it? what do I care about it? or you either?"
"Dear me, Max, you might care! I hope she may prove a nice friend for me; not a bit like Rosie, who has always despised and disliked me."
"I don't think Rosie does anything of the kind, Lulu," said Max, patting Nero's head; "she may not be very fond of you, and certainly does not admire your behavior at times, but I don't believe it amounts to dislike."
"I do, then," returned Lulu, a touch of anger in her tones. "Anyhow, I'd dearly love to have a real friend near my own age; and Aunt Elsie says Evelyn is only a little older than I am."
"Well, I hope you won't be disappointed. If she was a boy I'd be as glad of her coming, or his coming, as you are."
"Oh, Maxie, I wish, for your sake, she was a boy!" cried Lulu in her impulsive way, stepping closer and putting her arm about his neck. "How selfish in me to forget that you have no companion at all at Ion!"
"I have," returned Max; "I have you, you know, and you're right good company when you are in a good humor."
"And I'm not often in any other with you, Maxie; now am I?" she said coaxingly.
"No, sis, that's true enough, and I do believe I couldn't get along half so well without you. I'm glad for your sake that this--what's-her-name?--is coming."
"Her name is Evelyn. Oh, Max, I feel so sorry for her!"
"Because her father's dead, and they were so very, very fond of each other; so Aunt Elsie wrote."
"Rosie's father's dead too; and she and all of them were very fond of him."
"Yes; but it's a good while now since he died, and she's had time to get over it so far that she seems hardly ever to think of him; while it is only a few weeks since Evelyn lost hers; and Rosie has her nice, kind mother with her, while Evelyn's is away in Europe, and like enough isn't half so nice as Grandma Elsie anyhow. Oh, Max, I feel most heart-broken every time papa goes away, even though I expect to see him back again some day; and think how dreadful to have your father gone never to come back!"
"Yes, it would be awful!" said Max. "I'd rather lose ten years off my own life. But, Lu, if you really love papa so dearly, how can you behave toward him as you do sometimes--causing him so much distress of mind? I've seen such a grieved, troubled look on his face, when he thought nobody was watching him, and you were in one of your naughty moods."
"Oh, Max, don't!" Lulu said in a choking voice, as she turned and walked away, hot tears in her eyes.
Max ran after her. "Come, Lu, don't take it so hard; I didn't mean to be cruel."
"But you were! Go away! you've got me into one of my moods, as you call it, and I'd better be let alone," she returned almost fiercely, jerking herself loose--for he had caught a fold of her dress in his hand--and rushing away to the farther end of the grounds, where she threw herself on a rustic seat panting with excitement and the rapidity of her flight.
But the gust of passion died down almost as speedily as it had arisen; she could never be angry very long with Max, her dear, only brother; and now her thoughts turned remorsefully upon the conduct he had condemned. It was no news to her that she had more than once caused her father much anxiety and grief of heart, nor was it a new thing for her to be repentant and remorseful on account of her unfilial behavior.
"Oh, why can't I be as good as Max and Gracie?" she said to herself, covering her face with her hands and sighing heavily. "I wish papa was here so I could tell him again how sorry I am, and how dearly I do love him though I am so often naughty. I am glad I did tell him, and that he forgave me and told me he loved me just as well as any other of his children. How good in him to say that! I wonder if Evelyn Leland ever behaved badly to her father. If she ever was naughty to him, how sorry she must feel about it now!"
During the remainder of the short visit at Lansdale, and all through the homeward journey, Lulu's thoughts often turned upon Evelyn, and she had scarcely alighted from the carriage on their arrival at Ion before she sent a sweeping glance around the welcoming group on the veranda, in eager search of the young stranger.
Yes, there she was, a little slender girl in deep mourning, standing slightly apart from the embracing, rejoicing relatives. She was not decidedly pretty, but graceful and refined in appearance, with an earnest, intelligent countenance and very fine eyes. She seemed quite free from self-consciousness and wholly taken up with the interest of the scenes being enacted before her.
"How many of them there are! and how they love one another! how nice it is!" she was thinking within herself, when the two Elsies, releasing each other from a long, tender embrace, turned toward her, the older one saying, half inquiringly, "And this is Evelyn?"
"Yes, mamma. Eva, this is my dear mother," said Mrs. Leland.
Mrs. Travilla took the little girl in her arms, kissed her affectionately, and bade her welcome to Ion, adding, "And if you like you may call me Grandma Elsie, as the others do."
"Thank you, ma'am," Evelyn answered, coloring with pleasure; "but it seems hardly appropriate, for you look not very much older than Aunt Elsie; and she is young to be my aunt."
"That's right, Eva," Mrs. Leland said, with a pleased laugh; "I for one have never approved of mamma being called so by any one older than my baby-boy."
Mrs. Travilla's attention was claimed by some one else at that moment, and Lester, taking Evelyn by the hand, led her up to Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore. She was introduced to the others in turn, every one greeting her with the utmost kindness. Rosie gave her a hasty kiss, but Lulu embraced her with warmth, saying, "I am sure I shall love you, and I hope you will love me a little in return."
"I'll try; it wouldn't be fair to let it be all on one side," Evelyn answered with a shy, sweet smile, as she returned the hug and kiss as heartily as they were given.
Lulu was delighted.
After supper, while the older people were chatting busily among themselves, she drew Evelyn into a distant corner and told her how glad she was of her coming, because she wanted a girl-friend near her own age and found Rosie uncongenial and indifferent toward her.
"She will probably be the same to me," said Evelyn; "she has so many of her very own dear ones about her, you know, that it cannot be expected that she will feel much interest in strangers like you and me. But," frankly, "I think I should love you best anyhow."
"How nice in you!" said Lulu, her eyes sparkling; "but I'm afraid you won't when you know me better, for I'm not a bit good; I get into terrible passions when anybody imposes on me or my brother or sister; and I sometimes disobey and break rules."
"You are very honest, at all events," remarked Evelyn pleasantly; "and perhaps I shall not like you any the less for having some faults. You see, if you were perfect, the contrast between you and myself would be most unpleasant to me."
"How correctly and like a grown-up person you speak!" said Lulu, regarding her new friend with affectionate admiration.
Evelyn's eyes filled. "It is because papa made me his constant companion and took the greatest pains with me," she said, in tones tremulous with emotion. "We were almost always alone together, for I never had a brother or sister to share the love he lavished upon me."
"I'm so, so sorry for you!" said Lulu, slipping an arm round Evelyn's waist. "I think I know a little how you feel, for my papa is with us only once in a while for a few days or weeks, and when he goes away again it nearly breaks my heart."
"But you can hope he may come back again."
"Yes; and I have Max and Gracie; so I am much better off than you."
"And such a sweet, pretty mamma," supplemented Evelyn, sending an admiring glance across the room to where Violet sat chatting with her sister Elsie.
"But you have your own mother, and that's a great deal better," returned Lulu. "Mamma Vi is very beautiful and sweet, and very kind to Max and Gracie and me, but a step-mother can't be like your own."
"I suppose not quite," Evelyn said with a sigh; "but I have no idea when I shall see mine again."
"We are situated a good deal alike," remarked Lulu, reflectively. "My father and your mother are far away in this world, and your father and my mother are gone to heaven."
"Yes. Oh, don't you sometimes want to go to them there?"
"I'm not good enough--not fit in any way; and I believe I'd rather stay here--at least while papa does," Lulu said, with some hesitation.
"I hope he may be spared to you for many, many years," said Evelyn, gently; "at least till you are quite grown up, and perhaps have a family of children of your own."
"Were you ever so naughty that your father told you you gave him a great deal of trouble and heartache?" asked Lulu in a tremulous voice and with starting tears.
"Oh no; no, indeed!" exclaimed Eva, in surprise. "How could I, or any one, with such a father as mine?"
"No father could be better or kinder than mine," said Lulu, twinkling away a tear; "and yet I have been so passionate and disobedient that he has told me that several times."
"Oh, don't ever be so again; for if you do your poor heart will ache so terribly over it when he is taken away from you," Evelyn said with emotion, and pressing Lulu's hand affectionately in hers. "Oh, I can never be thankful enough," she went on, "that the day my dear father was called home he said to me, 'My darling, you have been nothing but a blessing and comfort to me since the day you were born.'"
"My father can never say that to me; I have already put it out of his power," thought Lulu to herself, with a great pain at her heart; and as soon as she found herself alone in her own room that night she wrote a little penitent note to him all blistered with tears.
Shortly after breakfast the next morning she went to "Grandma Elsie" with a request for permission to walk over to Fairview and spend an hour with Evelyn.
"You may, my dear, if you can get Max or some older person to walk with you," was Elsie's kind reply; "otherwise I will send you in the carriage, because it is not safe for you to walk that distance alone. I think you and Evelyn are going to be friends, and I am very glad of it," she added with a pleasant smile. "If she will come, you may bring her back with you to spend the day at Ion."
"Oh, thank you, Grandma Elsie; that will be so nice!" cried Lulu, joyously; then bounded away in search of her brother.
Max, having nothing else to do just then, readily consented to be her escort, and they set out at once.
"A brother is of some use sometimes, isn't he?" queried Max, complacently, as they walked briskly down the avenue together.
"Yes; and isn't a sister, too?" asked Lulu.
"Yes, indeed," he said; "you are almost always ready to do me a good turn, Lu. But, in fact, I'm taking this walk quite as much to please myself as you. It's a very pleasant one on a morning like this, and Uncle Lester and Aunt Elsie are pleasant folks to visit."
"I think they are," returned Lulu; "but I am going more to see Evelyn than anybody else. Oh, Max, I do hope, I do believe, it's going to be as I told you I wished."
"That we'll be intimate friends and very fond of each other. Weren't you pleased with her, Max? I was."
"She's nice-looking," he replied; "but that's all I can say till we've had time to get acquainted."
"I feel quite well acquainted with her now; we had such a nice long talk together last night," said Lulu.
Evelyn was strolling about the grounds at Fairview, and came to the gate to meet them. She shook hands with Max, kissed Lulu affectionately, and invited them into the house.
They settled themselves in the veranda, where Mrs. Leland presently joined them. Then Lulu gave "Grandma Elsie's" invitation.
"May I go, Aunt Elsie?" asked Evelyn.
"Certainly, dear, if you wish to," Mrs. Leland answered kindly. "Your uncle and I will drive over early in the evening and bring you home."
"By moonlight!" Evelyn said; "that will be very nice. Auntie, you and uncle are very good to me."
"Indeed, child," returned Elsie, smiling, "you may well believe it is no hardship for us to go to Ion on any errand; or with none save the desire to see mamma and the rest."
Evelyn and Lulu passed the greater part of the day alone together, every one else seemingly lacking either leisure or inclination to join them, and the friendship grew rapidly, as is usually the case when two little girls are thus thrown together.
Each gave a detailed history of her past life and found the other deeply interested in it. Then they talked of the present and of the near future.
"Are you to go to school?" asked Lulu.
"No," Evelyn said with a contented smile, "I am to study at home and come here to recite with you."
"Oh, how nice!" cried Lulu, her eyes sparkling with pleasure.
"Yes, I think it very kind in Aunt Elsie's mother and grandfather to offer to let me do so," said Evelyn. "I shall try very hard to be studious and well-behaved and give them no trouble."
Lulu's cheek flushed at that remark, and for a moment she sat silent and with downcast eyes; then she burst out in her impetuous way, "I wish I were like you, Eva--so good and grateful. I'm afraid you wouldn't care for me at all if you knew what a bad, ungrateful thing I am. I've given ever so much trouble to Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie, though they have done more for me--for Max and Gracie too--than they are going to do for you."
"I don't believe you're half so bad as you make yourself out to be," returned Eva, in a surprised tone. "And I'm sure you are sorry and will be ever so good and grateful in the future."
"I want to, but--there does seem to be no use in my trying to be sweet-tempered and all that," said Lulu, dejectedly; "I've got such a dreadful temper."
"Papa used to tell me God, our heavenly Father, would help me to conquer my faults, if I asked Him with all my heart," said Evelyn, softly; "that, in His great love and condescension, He noticed even a little child and its efforts to please Him and do His will."
"Yes, I know; my papa has told me the same thing ever so often; but most always the temptation comes so suddenly I don't seem to have time to ask for help, and"--hesitatingly--"sometimes I don't want it."