The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"How poor are they that have not patience!" SHAKESPEARE.
The next morning's mail brought a letter from Isadore Keith to her cousin, Mrs. Elsie Travilla. It was dated "Viamede Parsonage," and written in a cheerful strain; for Isa was very happy in her married life.
She wrote rejoicingly of the prospect of seeing the Ion family at Viamede; the relatives of her husband who were now staying with them also urged an early arrival.
"We long to have you all here for the whole season," she said; "Molly and I are looking eagerly forward to your coming; and the old servants at the mansion beg for a Christmas with the family in the house. Cannot Ion spare you to Viamede this year at that season?
"I know your and uncle's kind hearts would make you both rejoice in adding to our happiness, and theirs also. And I have an additional inducement to offer. A fine school has been opened lately in the neighborhood, near enough to all our homes for our children to attend. Mine, of course, are still far too young, but I rejoice in the prospect for the future.
"It is both a boarding and day school, principally for girls of all ages from six or eight to eighteen or twenty; but they take a few boys, brothers of the girls who attend.
"A gentleman and his wife are the principals, two daughters assist, and there are French and music masters, etc. You will hear all about it when you come; but I am pretty certain you will find it a suitable school for all your numerous flock of children; and so uncle may take a rest from his labor of love, for such I know it has been."
The remainder of the letter was occupied with other matters not important to our story.
The greater part of the missive Elsie read aloud to the assembled family in the parlor, where they had gathered on leaving the breakfast-table; then turning to her father,
"Well, papa, what do you think of it?" she asked. "I am rejoiced at the prospect of seeing you left to take your ease, as you surely have a right to at your age."
"Am I actually growing so extremely old?" he asked with a comically rueful look. "Really, I had flattered myself that I was still a vigorous man, capable of a great deal of exertion."
"So you seem to be, Cousin Horace," said Mr. Keith, "and certainly you are quite youthful compared to Marcia and myself."
"Oh fie, Uncle Keith," laughed Zoe, "to insinuate that a lady is so very ancient!"
"But, my dear child, people often come, toward the close of life, to be proud of their age, and perhaps sometimes are tempted to make it appear greater than it is."
"When they get up in the hundreds, for instance?" Edward said half inquiringly.
"Yes," said Mr. Keith, with an amused smile; "though I must not be understood as acknowledging that either my wife or myself has yet arrived at that stage."
"But we hope you will live to reach it," Elsie said, with an affectionate glance from one to the other.
"Would you keep us so long from home, my sweet cousin?" Mrs. Keith asked, something in her placid face seeming to tell of longing desire to be near and like her Lord."
"Only for the sake of those to whom you are so dear, Aunt Marcia," Elsie answered, her eyes glistening.
"I shall keep them as long as ever I can," said Annis.
There was a moment's silence; then Edward asked, "Now what about Isa's request?"
"What do you say, Elsie?" Mr. Dinsmore queried, looking at his daughter.
"That I am quite satisfied to go at whatever time will best suit the others; particularly our guests and yourself, papa."
"What do you say, Marcia?" he inquired of his cousin.
"That I find it delightful here, and feel assured it will not be less so at Viamede; so am ready to go at once, or to stay longer, as you please."
Mrs. Dinsmore, Mr. Keith, and Annis expressed themselves in like manner.
"I think you would probably have pleasanter weather for travelling now than some weeks later in the season," remarked Edward; "and whatever else may be said of my opinion, it is at least disinterested, as I shall be the loser if you are influenced by it."
"Why, what do you mean, Ned?" asked Zoe, in surprise. "Are we not going too?"
"Not I, my dear; at least not for the winter: business requires my presence here. I hope, though, to be able to join you all for perhaps two or three weeks."
"Not me; for I shall not go till you do," she said with decision. "You know you couldn't spare me, don't you?"
"I know I should miss you sadly," he acknowledged, furtively passing his arm round her waist, for, as usual, they were seated side by side on a sofa; "but I know how you have been looking forward for months to this winter at Viamede, and I don't intend you shall miss it for my sake."
"But what have your intentions to do with it?" she asked, with a twinkle of fun in her eye and a saucy little toss of her pretty head.
"The question to be decided is what I intend; and I answer, 'Never to leave my husband, but to go when he goes and stay when he stays!' What do you say to that?"
"That I am blest with the dearest of little wives," he whispered close to her ear, and tightening his clasp of her waist.
They had nearly forgotten the presence of the others, who were too busy arranging the time for setting out upon their contemplated journey to notice this bit of by-play.
The children--Lulu included--were all in the room and listening with intense interest to the consultation of their elders.
At length it was settled that they would leave in a few days, and Rosie, Max, Grace, and Walter burst into exclamations of delight; but Lulu stole quietly and unobserved from the room and hurried to her own.
"Oh, I wonder," she sighed to herself as she shut the door and dropped into a chair, "if I am to go too! I wouldn't be left behind for anything; and as there is a school there that I can be sent to as a day-scholar, maybe Mamma Vi will coax to have me go; she's more likely to be in favor of taking me than anybody else--unless it's Grandma Elsie."
Just then she heard footsteps coming up the stairs, through the hall, and into the adjoining room, and the voices of the three who were in her thoughts.
"What do you think about it, papa?" Elsie was saying. "I should be very glad to have the dear child enjoy all that the rest of us do; but it must not be at the cost of spoiling your enjoyment."
"I shall not allow it to do so," Mr. Dinsmore answered. "Lulu is a lovable child in spite of her very serious faults, and it would distress me to have her deprived of the delights of a winter at Viamede; which she has, I believe, been looking forward to with as great eagerness as any of the others, children or adults."
"I know she has; and, dear grandpa, I thank you very much for your kind willingness to take her with us," Violet responded feelingly; her mother adding,
"I also, papa; it would grieve me deeply to be compelled to leave her behind; especially as it must necessarily be in a boarding-school; Edward and Zoe being too young and inexperienced to take charge of her."
Lulu's first emotion on hearing all this was delight that she was to go; the next, gratitude to these kind friends, mingled with a deep sense of shame on account of her misconduct.
Impulsively she rose from her seat, hastened to the door of communication with the room where they were, and, pausing on the threshold, asked timidly, "Mamma Vi, may I come in?"
"Yes, Lulu," Violet answered with a kindly look and smile; and the little girl, stepping quickly to Mr. Dinsmore's side, addressed him, with eyes cast down and cheeks burning with blushes:
"I heard what you said just now, Grandpa Dinsmore, though I wasn't intending to be an eavesdropper, and I thank you very much for being so kind and forgiving to me when I've been so ungrateful and troublesome to you; and it makes me feel very sorry and ashamed, because of my bad behavior. Will you please forgive me? and I'll try to be a better girl in future," she added with an effort.
"Surely I will, my dear child," Mr. Dinsmore responded, taking her by the hand and drawing her to him, then bending down to kiss her cheek and stroke her hair caressingly. "So well assured am I that you are truly sorry, and desirous to do better, that I should say come back to the school-room to-morrow, if we were going on with lessons as usual; but as the time for setting out upon our journey to Viamede is so very near, I shall give no more lessons, after to-day, until we return."
"Ah," glancing at his watch, "I see I should be with my pupils now;" and with that he rose and left the room.
"Lulu, dear, you have made me quite happy," Elsie said, smiling affectionately upon the little girl.
"And me also," said Violet; "and I know your father would feel so too, if he were here."
"You are all so kind you make me feel very much ashamed of myself," murmured Lulu, blushing and casting down her eyes. "Mamma Vi, can I do anything to help you?"
"If you like to amuse baby for a few minutes, it will be a help to me," Violet answered; for she saw that just now it would give Lulu sincere pleasure to think herself of use. "Her mammy is eating her breakfast," Violet continued, "and I want to speak to Christine and Alma about some sewing they are doing for me."
"I'd like to, Mamma Vi," returned Lulu, holding out her hands to little Elsie, and delighted that her mute invitation was at once accepted; the sweet babe stretching out its chubby arms to her.
"I do think she is just as pretty and smart as she can be! Aren't you, you darling little pet?" she went on, hugging and kissing the little one with sisterly affection, while the young mother looked on with shining eyes.
It was a great relief to her that Lulu seemed to have entirely banished her former jealousy of her baby-sister; and that this pleasant state of affairs might continue, she was careful to make her errand to the sewing-room very short, lest Lulu should begin to find her task irksome.
Hastening back to her own apartments, she found Lulu still in high good-humor, laughing and romping with the babe, allowing it to pat her cheeks and pull her hair with perfect impunity.
"Mamma Vi," she said, "isn't she a darling?"
"I think so," replied Violet; "but I fear she is hurting you, for I know from experience that she can pull hair very hard."
"Oh," said Lulu, "I don't mind such a trifling hurt, as it amuses her."
Still she seemed quite ready to resign baby to her mother.
"What more can I do, Mamma Vi?" she asked.
"Don't you want to finish that pretty bracket you were at yesterday?" asked Violet.
"Yes, ma'am; unless there is something I can do to help you."
"Nothing at present, thank you, dear," Violet answered; and giving a parting kiss to the baby, Lulu hastened away to the work-room.
She toiled on industriously, much interested in her carving, cheerful and happy, but watching the clock on the mantel as the time drew near for Mr. Dinsmore's pupils to be dismissed from their tasks.
She had not seen Evelyn since early the day before, and was longing to have a talk with her, particularly about the delightful prospect of going to Viamede to spend some months there together; and when at last the sound of child voices and laughter, coming up from below, told her that lessons were over, she sprang up and ran hastily down the stairs, looking eagerly for her friend.
She did not see Evelyn, but met Rosie face to face.
They exchanged glances: Lulu's proud and disdainful, Rosie's merry and careless; insultingly, so Lulu thought, considering what had passed between them the previous day; and drawing herself up to her full height, she said, her eyes flashing with anger, "You owe me an apology!"
"Do I, indeed? Then I'm quite able to owe it," laughed Rosie, dancing away, but pausing presently to throw back a parting word over her shoulder: "I'm afraid that's a very bad debt, Miss Raymond; don't you wish you could collect it?"
Lulu's face crimsoned with anger, and she was opening her lips for a cutting retort, when Evelyn, who had just stepped out of the schoolroom, where she had lingered a moment to arrange the contents of her desk, hastily threw an arm round her waist and drew her away.
"Don't mind what Rosie says; it's not worth caring for," she whispered. "She's full of her fun, don't you see? and doesn't mean any harm. Come, let us go up to the work-room and have a good talk."
Lulu yielded in silence, struggling hard to be mistress of herself.
Evelyn tried to help her. "Oh, Lulu, is it not delightful that we are to go so soon to that lovely Viamede?" she asked as the work-room door closed behind them.
"Yes; if only one could leave temper and tormenting people behind!" sighed Lulu. "Oh, Eva, Rosie is so tormenting! I'd be glad to be friends with her, but she won't let me."
"It is trying," Evelyn admitted. "But you know, Lu," she went on, "that we must expect troubles and trials in this world; that they are sent or permitted for our good; for strength grows by exercise, and if there is nothing to try our patience, how can it grow?"
"I have none to begin with," said Lulu.
"Oh, that's a mistake," said Evelyn; "you have great patience with your work yonder, and deserve a great deal of credit for it. I do think you have much more of that kind of patience than Rosie has. But let us talk of something else."
They talked of Viamede, each telling the other what she had heard of its beauties; of Magnolia Hall, too; of Molly, Isa, and the other relatives of the Dinsmores who were living in that region of country.
It so happened that Rosie's mother, passing through the hall below at the moment, overheard her mocking words to Lulu.
"Rosie," she called, and the little girl perceived a grieved tone in the sweet voice, "come here, daughter."
"Yes, mamma, dear, what is it?" Rosie asked lightly, descending the stair.
"Come into my dressing-room; I want to talk to you." Then, when they were seated, "What was that I overheard you saying to Lulu just now?"
Rosie repeated her words in a careless tone.
"I desire an explanation," her mother said gently, but very gravely. "What was the debt, and who owes it?"
"I, mamma, if anybody. Lulu had just said that I owed her an apology; and I had answered that if so, I was quite able to owe it."
"What had you done or said that she should think herself entitled to an apology?"
Rosie replied with a truthful account of the scene of the day before in the boy's work-room, excusing her part of it by an allusion to "Lulu's fearful temper."
"Are you quite sure, Rosie, that when you rouse it by exasperating remarks you do not share the sin?" asked her mother with a grieved, troubled look.
"No, mamma, I'm afraid I do," acknowledged Rosie, frankly.
"Satan is called the tempter," Elsie went on, "and I fear that you are doing his work when you wilfully tempt another to sin."
"Oh, mamma," cried Rosie, looking shocked, "I never thought of that. I don't want to be his servant, doing his work; I will try never to tempt any one to wrong-doing again."
"I am glad to hear you say that," said her mother. "And now that you are conscious of having harmed Lulu, are you not willing to do what lies in your power to repair the mischief--to pay the debt she thinks you owe her?"
Rosie's head drooped and her cheeks crimsoned. "Mamma, you are asking a hard thing of me," she said in a low, unwilling tone. "If you order me, of course I know I must obey; but I'd rather do almost anything else than apologize to Lulu."
"I wish you to do it of your own free will and from sense of duty, not because my commands are laid upon you," Elsie answered. "Is it not the noblest course of action I am urging upon you? Is it any less mean to refuse to meet such an obligation than a moneyed one?--a thing of which I am sure you would be heartily ashamed to be guilty."
"Certainly I should, mamma; one might as well steal as refuse to pay what one honestly owes; unless it be entirely out of one's power."
"You are speaking of pecuniary obligations. Now apply the same rule to this other: you have taken something from Lulu's peace of mind (a possession more valuable than money), and can you refuse an honest endeavor to restore it?"
"Mamma, you have a most convincing way of putting things," Rosie said, between a smile and a sigh. "I will do as you wish, and try not to repeat the offence which calls for so humiliating a reparation."
So saying, she rose and left the room, anxious to have the disagreeable duty over as soon as possible.
Rightly conjecturing Lulu's whereabouts, she went directly to the work-room and found her and Evelyn chatting there together.
They seemed to be enjoying themselves, but a frown suddenly darkened Lulu's brow as she turned her head at the opening of the door and saw who was there.
"Excuse the interruption, girls," Rosie said pleasantly. "I only want to say a few words and then I will go. Lulu, I have come to pay that debt. Mamma has convinced me that I have done very wrong in teasing you, and ought to apologize. I therefore ask your pardon for any and every unpleasant word I have ever addressed to you."
Before Rosie had fairly finished what she had to say, warm-hearted, impulsive Lulu had risen to her feet, run hastily to her and thrown her arms round her neck.
"Oh, Rosie," she cried, "I've been just too hateful for anything! I ought to be able to stand a little teasing, and you needn't apologize for vexing such a quick-tempered piece as I am."
"Yes, I should," returned Rosie. "Mamma has shown me that I have been greatly to blame. But I trust we shall be good friends after this."
"So do I," said Lulu.