The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"What's done we partly may compute, But know not what's resisted." BURNS.
Poor little Grace was sorely distressed over her sister's misconduct and the consequent displeasure of Mr. Dinsmore.
On being dismissed from the schoolroom she went directly to her mamma's apartments. She knew she would be alone there, as Violet had gone out driving, and shutting herself in, she indulged in a hearty cry.
She was aware of the danger that Lulu would be sent away, and could not bear the thought of separation from her--the only sister she had except the baby.
Their mutual love was very strong; and Lulu was ever ready to act as Grace's champion, did anyone show the slightest disposition to impose upon or ill-treat her; and it was seldom indeed that she herself was anything but the kindest of the kind to her.
Finding her young step-mother ever ready with sympathy--and help, too, where that was possible--Grace had long since formed the habit of carrying to her all her little troubles and vexations, and also all her joys.
She longed to open her heart now to "mamma," but Mr. Dinsmore's parting injunction as he dismissed his pupils for the day seemed to forbid it. Grace felt that even that partial relief was denied her.
But Violet came suddenly upon her, and surprised her in the midst of her tears.
"Why, my darling, what is the matter?" she asked in a tone full of concern, taking the little girl in her arms as she spoke.
"Oh, mamma, it's--But I mustn't tell you, 'cause Grandpa Dinsmore said we were not to mention it unless it was quite necessary."
"But surely you may tell your mamma anything that distresses you so! Is it that Grandpa Dinsmore is displeased?"
"Not with me, mamma."
"Then with Max or Lulu?"
"Mamma, I think I may tell you a little," Grace replied, with some hesitation. "It's with Lulu; but I can't say what for. But, oh, mamma, if Grandpa Dinsmore won't teach Lu any more will she have to go away to boarding-school?"
"I hope not, dearie; I think not if she will be content to take me for her teacher," Violet said, with a half-suppressed sigh, for she felt that she might be pledging herself to a most trying work; Lulu would dare much more in the way of disregarding her authority than that of her grandfather.
But she was rewarded by Grace's glad exclamation, "Oh, mamma, how good you are! I hope Lulu would never be naughty to you. How could she if you save her from being sent away?"
"I think Lulu wants to be good," Violet said gently; "but she finds her naturally quick temper very hard to govern."
"But she always grows sorry very soon," Grace remarked in a deprecating tone.
"Yes, dear, so she does. She is a dear child, as her father says, and one cannot help loving her in spite of her faults."
"Thank you, darling mamma, for saying that!" Grace exclaimed, throwing her arms round Violet's neck and kissing her cheek. "May I tell Lulu that you will teach her if Grandpa Dinsmore will not?"
"No, Gracie," Violet answered, with grave look and tone; "it will do her good, I think, to fear for a while that she may lose the privileges she enjoys here by not valuing them enough to make good use of them, or by indulging in improper behavior toward those whom her father has placed over her, and who are in every way worthy of her respect and obedience."
"Yes, mamma," Grace responded submissively.
"Where is Lulu?" Violet asked.
"I don't know, mamma. Oh yes, I see her coming up the avenue," she corrected herself, as she glanced from a window. "She's been taking a walk, I s'pose."
Presently they heard Lulu enter her own room, shut the door, lock and bolt it, as if determined to secure herself from intrusion. But Grace hastened to join her, passing through the door that opened from Violet's apartments.
Lulu, who was taking off her hat, turned sharply round with an angry frown on her brow. But it vanished at sight of the intruder.
"Oh, it's only you, is it, Gracie?" she said in a slightly relieved tone. "But what's the matter? What have you been crying about?"
"You, Lulu; oh, I'm so sorry for you!" Grace answered, with a sob, running to her sister and putting her arms round her neck.
"Well, you needn't be; I don't care," Lulu said defiantly, and with a little stamp of her foot. "No, not if all the old tyrants in the world were angry with me!"
"Oh, Lu, don't talk so!" entreated Grace; "and you do care if papa is displeased? Our own dear papa who loves us so dearly?"
"Yes," acknowledged Lulu, in a more quiet and subdued tone. "Oh, Gracie, why wasn't I made good like you?"
"Don't you remember the Bible verse we learned the other day?" queried Grace. "'There is none good; no, not one.'"
"Then Grandpa Dinsmore isn't good himself, and ought to have more patience with me," remarked Lulu. "But don't you fret about it, Gracie; there's no need."
"You're always sorry when I'm in trouble, and I can't help feeling so when you are," said Grace.
Violet was dressing for dinner, thinking sadly the while upon what she had just learned from Grace.
"How it would trouble her father if he should hear it!" she said to herself. "I hope grandpa will not consider it necessary to report her conduct to him. Of course, according to his requirements she should tell him herself, but I presume she will hardly have the courage to refrain from making her behavior appear less reprehensible than it actually was."
She questioned with herself whether to speak to Lulu on the subject of her misconduct, but decided not to do so at present, unless something should occur to lead to it naturally.
Her toilet completed, she went down to the parlor, and there found her grandfather alone.
He looked up with a welcoming smile; Violet had always been a particular favorite with him.
"The first down, little cricket," he said, using an old-time pet name, and pausing in his walk (for he was pacing the floor) to gallantly hand her to a seat on a sofa; then placing himself by her side, "How extremely youthful you look, my pet! Who would take you for a matron?"
"To tell you a secret, grandpa," she said, with a merry look, "I feel quite young still when the children are not by; and not always very old even when they are with me. By the way, how have they behaved themselves today?"
A grave, slightly annoyed look came over his face as she asked the question.
"Max and Gracie as well as any one could desire," he said; "but Lulu--really, Vi, if she were my own child, I should try the virtue of a rod with her."
Violet's face reflected the gravity of his, while she gave vent to an audible sigh.
Mr. Dinsmore went on to describe Lulu's behavior on that and several other days, then wound up with the question, "What do you think her father would have me do with her?"
"I suppose he would say send her to a boarding-school; but, grandpa, I am very loath to see that done. At the same time I cannot bear to have you annoyed with her ill-conduct, and I am thinking of attempting the task of teaching her myself."
Mr. Dinsmore shook his head. "I cannot have you annoyed with her, my little Vi; no more, at least, than you necessarily must be, occupying the relationship that you do. But we will take the matter into consideration, getting your grandma and mother to aid us with their advice."
"And we won't tell her father the whole unpleasant truth, will we, grandpa?" Violet said, half inquiringly, half entreatingly.
"You shall tell him just what you please; I shall not trouble him in regard to the matter," Mr. Dinsmore answered in his kindliest tone.
The entrance of Mrs. Keith and Annis put an end to the conversation, and presently dinner was announced.
Lulu went to the dining-room in some trepidation, not knowing what treatment to expect from Mr. Dinsmore, or others who might have learned the story of her misconduct.
But there seemed no change in the manner of any of the grown people, except Mr. Dinsmore, who simply ignored her existence altogether, apparently was unaware of her presence, never looking at or speaking to her.
He had privately given instructions beforehand to one of the servants to attend to Miss Lulu's wants at the table, seeing that her plate was supplied with whatever viands she desired; and it was done so quietly that no one noticed anything unusual in the conduct of the meal.
Still Lulu was uncomfortably conscious of being in disgrace, and seized the first opportunity to slip quietly away to her own room.
She took up the story-book--still unfinished--which had got her into this trouble, but could not feel the interest she had before; an uneasy conscience prevented.
Laying it aside, she sat for some moments with her elbow on the window-sill, her cheek in her hand, her eyes gazing upon vacancy. She was thinking of what Max had said about the duty of confession to her father.
"I wish I didn't have to," she sighed to herself; "I wish papa hadn't said I must write out every day what I've been doing and send the diary to him. I think it's hard; it's bad enough to have to confess my wrong-doing to him when he's at home. It's just as well he isn't, though, for I know he'd punish me if he was. Maybe he will when he comes again, but it's likely to be such a long while first that I think I'm pretty safe as far as that is concerned. Oh, it does provoke me so that he will make me obey these people! I'm determined I'll do exactly as I please when I'm grown up!
"But if I'm sent off to boarding-school I'll have to obey the teachers there, or have a fight and be expelled--which would be a great disgrace and 'most break papa's heart, I do believe--and they would very likely be more disagreeable than even Grandpa Dinsmore; not half so nice and kind as Grandma Elsie, I'm perfectly certain. Oh dear, if I only were grown up! But I'm not, and I have to write the story of to-day to papa. I'll make it short."
Opening her writing-desk, she took therefrom pen, ink, and paper, and, after a moment's cogitation, began.
"I haven't been a good girl to-day," she wrote; "I was so interested in a story-book that I neglected to learn my Latin lesson; so I failed in the recitation, and Grandpa Dinsmore was very cross and disagreeable about it. He says I answered him disrespectfully and as punishment I sha'n't go into the schoolroom or recite to him again for a week.
"There," glancing over what she had written, "I hope papa will never question me closely about it; and I think he won't; it'll be such an old story by the time we meet again."
The week of her banishment from the schoolroom was an uncomfortable one to Lulu, though she was given no reason to consider herself a martyr. She was allowed a share in all the home pleasures, all her wants were as carefully attended to as usual, she received no harsh words or unkind looks; yet somehow could never rid herself of the consciousness that she was in disgrace. Very little notice was taken of her by any of the family except her brother and sister; she came and went about the house as she pleased,--never venturing into the schoolroom, however,--but when she joined the family circle no one seemed to be aware of her presence; they talked among themselves, but did not address or even look at her.
This treatment was galling to her, and she began to spend almost all of her time in "the boy's work-room," at her favorite employment of fret-sawing.
Max was generally at work there also out of school-hours, but during those hours she had always been alone till one morning Mrs. Leland, happening to want something from a closet in the work-room, came unexpectedly upon her.
It was a surprise to both; for Evelyn had kept her friend's counsel, and no one at Ion had let Elsie or any one else indeed into the secret of Lulu's ill-conduct and consequent disgrace.
"You here, Lu?" she exclaimed on entering the room. "I heard you saw as I came up the stairway, and wondered who could be busy here at this hour when the young folks are all supposed to be in the schoolroom.
"What lovely work you are doing!" she went on, drawing near to examine it. "I presume you have been extremely good and studious, and so have been rewarded with leave of absence at this unusual hour; and you are certainly making good use of your holiday.
"You are wonderfully expert at this for a child of your age. Perhaps one of these days you will develop into so great a genius as to make us all proud of your acquaintance."
Lulu's cheeks burned.
"You are very kind to praise my work so, Aunt Elsie," she said. "Do you really think this basket is handsome--I mean without making allowance for my age?"
"I certainly do; I think it deserves all I have said of it, if not more. How pleased your father will be when he hears what a good, industrious, and painstaking little girl he has for his eldest daughter!"
Lulu did not speak for a moment. She was fighting a battle with herself; conscience on the one hand and love of approbation on the other were having a great struggle within her breast. She valued Mrs. Leland's good opinion and was loath to lose it.
But she was worthy of her father's glad encomium, "However many and serious her faults may be, she is at least honest and truthful," and could not accept praise which she knew was wholly undeserved.
"You mistake, Aunt Elsie," she said with an effort, hanging her head in shame, while her cheek flushed hotly; "I am not here for being good, but for being naughty--missing my lesson and answering Grandpa Dinsmore impertinently when he reproved me for it."
"I grieve to hear it, my dear child," Elsie returned in a truly sorrowful tone. "I had hoped you were getting quite the better of your temper and inclination to defy lawful authority. But do not be discouraged from trying again to conquer your faults. Every one of us has an evil nature and many spiritual foes to fight against; yet if we fight manfully, looking to Jesus for help and strength, we shall assuredly gain the victory at last; coming off more than conquerors through Him who loved us and died to save us from sin and death."
"You can never think well of me again, Aunt Elsie?" Lulu said, half in assertion, half inquiringly.
"I certainly hope to, Lulu," was the kind reply "Your honest avowal is greatly to your credit; I see that you are above the meanness of falsehood and taking undeserved praise; that seems to me a very hopeful sign, deeply ungrateful as was your conduct toward my dear, good grandfather, who has been so kind to you and yours. Do you not think it so yourself, now that your passion has had time to cool?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Lulu, again hanging her head and blushing. "I don't mean to behave so any more."
Then after a moment's silence, "Aunt Elsie, I don't believe anybody has any idea how hard it is for me to be good."
"Don't you think other people find it hard, too, my poor child?" Elsie asked gently. "They also have evil natures."
"I'm sure," said Lulu, "that Max and Grace don't have half as hard work to be patient and sweet-tempered as I do. I often wish I'd been made good like Grace; and I don't see why I wasn't. And there's Rosie; she doesn't ever seem to want to be wilful, or tempted at all to get into a passion."
"Perhaps, Lulu, she is as strongly tempted to some other sin as you are to wilfulness and passion, and perhaps falls before temptation as often. We cannot read each other's hearts; one cannot know how much another resists--can only see the failures and not the struggles to avoid them.
"But how comforting to know that God, our heavenly Father, sees and knows it all; that He pities our weakness and proneness to sin! How precious are His promises of help in time of trial, if we look to Him for it, at the same time using all our own strength in the struggle!"
"I never thought about different people having different temptations," remarked Lulu, thoughtfully. "Perhaps it isn't so much harder for me to do right than for others, after all."
"My grandfather is not unforgiving," Elsie remarked as she turned to go; "and I think if you show that you are really sorry for your wrong-doing, he will restore you to your former privileges."
Lulu went on with her work, but her thoughts were busy with that parting piece of advice, or rather the suggestion thrown out by Mrs. Leland.
Her pride strongly revolted against making any acknowledgment, and remembering that there was but one more day of her week left, she at length decided to await events and do the disagreeable duty only when she could no longer delay it without danger of banishment.
A remark she accidentally overheard from Rosie that afternoon made her more unwilling to apologize to Mr. Dinsmore; in fact, quite determined that she would do nothing of the kind.
Rosie was speaking to Zoe, as they entered the work-room together, and did not notice that Lulu was there reading in a deep window-seat, where she was partially concealed by a curtain.
"I think if Lulu is wise she will soon make it up with grandpa," she was saying; "for Christmas is not so very far off, and of course she will get nothing from him if she continues obstinate and rebellious."
Lulu did not wait to hear what Zoe might say in reply, but starting up in a fury of indignation, "I would have you to understand, Miss Rosie Travilla," she said, "that I am not the mercenary creature you appear to believe me. I would scorn to apologize in order to secure a gift from Mr. Dinsmore or anybody else; and if he gives me one, I shall not accept it."
"I really do not think you will have the opportunity to reject a gift from him," replied Rosie, with what seemed to Lulu exasperating coolness. "However, I sincerely regret having said anything to rouse that fearful temper of yours. I should not have spoken so had I known you were within earshot."
"No, I have no doubt that you say many a mean thing of me behind my back that you would be ashamed, or afraid, to say to my face."
Rosie laughed gleefully. "Do you think I am afraid of you?" she asked in a mirthful tone, putting a strong emphasis upon the last word.
"Come, come, girls," interposed Zoe, "you surely are not going to quarrel about nothing?"
"No; I have no quarrel with any one," replied Rosie, turning about and leaving the room with a quick, light step.
Lulu threw her book from her, upon the seat from which she had just risen.
"She insults me and then walks off saying she has no quarrel with anybody!" she exclaimed passionately, addressing Zoe, who had remained behind with the laudable desire to say something to Lulu which should be as oil upon the troubled water. "It's bad enough to be abused without being forgiven for it."
"So it is," said Zoe; "but I don't think Rosie meant any harm; I sincerely believe she wants you to make it up with grandpa for your own sake--that you may have a good time now and at Christmas."
"If I can't do it from a better motive than that, I won't do it at all," said Lulu. "Aunt Zoe, I hope you have a little better opinion of me than Rosie seems to have?"
"Yes, Lulu, I've always liked you. I think yours would be a splendid character if only you could learn to rule your own spirit, as the Bible says. I've heard my father say that those who were naturally high-tempered and wilful made the noblest men and women if they once thoroughly learned the lesson of self-control."
"I wish I could," said Lulu, dejectedly. "I'm always sorry for my failure when my passion is over, and think I will never indulge it again; but soon somebody does or says something very provoking, and before I have time to think of my good resolutions I'm in a passion and saying angry words in return."
"I am sorry for you," said Zoe; "I have temper enough of my own to be able to sympathize with you. But you will try to make your peace with grandpa, won't you?"
"No; I was intending to, if Rosie hadn't interfered, but I sha'n't now; because if I did he would think it was from that mean motive that Rosie suggested."
"Oh no; grandpa is too noble himself to suspect others of such meanness," asserted Zoe, defending him all the more warmly that she had sometimes talked a trifle hardly of him herself.
But she saw from Lulu's countenance that to undo Rosie's work was quite impossible, so presently gave up the attempt and left her to solitude and her book.