Chapter XVI. Lulu's Protest.
 

Lulu's self-upbraidings were broken in upon by a gentle tap at her door, followed by Grace's voice saying in glad, eager tones, "Come, Lulu, mamma is going to read us some of her letter from papa. And you shall see mine too, if you want to."

"Yes, I'll be there in a minute," Lulu replied, jumping up, hastily folding her letter, slipping it into its envelope, and that into her pocket.

This done, she hurried into Violet's dressing-room and joined Max and Grace as listeners to the reading of her father's letter to his wife.

At its conclusion Max offered the one he had received, saying, "Now please read mine aloud, Mamma Vi; I'm sure you would all like to hear it."

"Mine too," Grace said, laying hers in Violet's lap.

When these had been read, both Max and Grace turned expectantly to Lulu.

"Mine is just a nice little talk meant only for me," she said.

"Then, dear, we won't ask to see it," Violet answered pleasantly; and the others seemed satisfied with the explanation.

"Of course papa hadn't heard about the school. I wonder what he would think of our being sent to it," remarked Lulu.

"I have no doubt he would approve of anything done for you by my mother and grandfather," Violet answered gently.

"When do we begin there?" asked Max.

"Next Monday. But you are to be taken over this afternoon for a preliminary examination, so that you may be assigned your places and lessons, and be all ready to set to work with the others on Monday morning."

"Will you go with us, Mamma Vi?" asked Lulu.

"No, dear; but mamma and grandpa will."

"I must go and tell Eva, so she will be ready," exclaimed Lulu, starting up and hurrying from the room.

Evelyn had wandered to a distant part of the grounds and seated herself upon a little grassy mound that encircled the roots of a great oak-tree.

With the sight of Lulu's joy at receiving a letter from her absent father a fresh sense of her own heavy bereavement had come over her, and her heart seemed breaking with its load of bitter sorrow; its intense longing for

"the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!"

She sat with her hands clasped in her lap, her eyes gazing far out over the bayou, while tears coursed freely down her cheeks and her bosom heaved with sobs.

It was her habit to go away and weep in solitude when calmness and cheerfulness seemed no longer within her power.

Presently a light step approached, but she did not hear it, and deemed herself still alone till some one sat down beside her and, passing an arm round her waist, tenderly kissed her forehead.

"Dear child," said her Aunt Elsie's sweet voice, "do not grieve so; think how blest he is--forever freed from all earth's cares and troubles, pains and sicknesses, and forever with the Lord he loved so well."

"Yes; oh, I am glad for him!" she cried; "but how, oh, how shall I ever learn to live without him?"

"By getting nearer to Him who has said, 'I will be a Father of the fatherless: I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'

"Dear child, Jesus loves you with a purer, deeper, stronger love than any earthly parent can feel for his child.

"And He will never suffer any trial to visit you which shall not be for your good; He will give you strength to bear all that He appoints, and when the work of grace is done will take you to be forever with Himself and the dear ones gone before."

"Yes, Aunt Elsie, thank you; it is very sweet and comforting to know and remember all that.

"And He has given me such a good home with you and uncle; and everybody is so kind to me, I ought to be happy; and I am most of the time, but now and then such a longing for papa comes over me that I am compelled to go away by myself and indulge my grief for a little. Do you think it is wrong to do so?"

"No, dear, Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, and did not rebuke the sisters for indulging their grief, so I cannot believe our kind heavenly Father would forbid us the relief of tears."

The conversation gradually drifted to other themes, and when Lulu joined them they were talking of the studies Evelyn should pursue at Oakdale.

Lulu made her communication; then she and Evelyn went into the house to dress for dinner and the drive which was to be taken immediately after.

Each rejoiced that they were to be together in this new experience, and they were greatly pleased when, having examined them in their studies, Professor Manton assigned them to the same classes and to adjoining desks.

They were pleased, too, with Oakdale. It had been a very fine place before the war, the residence of a family of wealth and standing; and though now in a measure fallen into decay, was still an attractive spot, not destitute of beauty.

The rooms appointed to study and recitation were of good size, airy, and well lighted; with a pleasant outlook--here upon lawn and lakelet, there on garden, shrubbery, or orange orchard.

"I think it is a beautiful place for a school," Lulu remarked as they were on their homeward way; "we shall enjoy wandering around the grounds, or sitting under the trees on the lawn, at recess."

"Or having a game of ball," said Max.

"Do you like Professor Manton, Eva?" asked Lulu, with a look of disgust as she mentioned his name.

"I don't know him yet," Evelyn replied, half smiling. "I intend to try to like him."

"I don't!" cried Lulu with vehemence; "he's too pompous and too--what is it?"

"Fawning," supplied Max. "I'm just certain he has heard that Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie are very rich, and I guess he thinks we are their own grandchildren."

"Perhaps it is just as well, if it will make him treat you all the better," remarked Rosie; "therefore I shall not enlighten him. I have formed the same opinion of him that you and Lulu have, Max."

"But don't let us judge him too hastily," said Evelyn. "Thinking ill of him will only make it hard to treat him with the respect we should while we are his pupils."

"Very sage advice, Miss Leland," laughed Rosie. "But seriously, I am sure you are quite right."

"So am I," said Max; "and I, for one, intend to try to behave and study exactly as if he were as worthy of respect as even Grandpa Dinsmore himself."

"I too," said Evelyn; "and as if all the teachers were."

"Very good resolutions," said Rosie; "so I adopt them for myself."

"Well," sighed Lulu, "resolutions don't seem to amount to much with me, but I haven't the least intention of misbehaving or wasting my time and opportunities."

She said it earnestly, really meaning every word of it.

The children would probably not have expressed themselves quite so freely in the presence of their elders; but they were alone in the carriage, Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter having prepared to take the trip on horseback.

Rosie, however, reported to her mother that part of the conversation relating to their intended good conduct, and so greatly rejoiced her heart, for she had been somewhat anxious in regard to the impression made upon the children--especially Lulu, who was a keen observer of character--by the professor, and its effect upon their behavior toward him. She had feared that Lulu, who never did anything by halves, would conceive a great contempt and dislike for the man, in which case there would be small hope of her conducting herself at all as she should while attending the school.

Mr. Dinsmore and Violet had shared her fears, and they had consulted together as to the measures it might be wise to take in hope of averting the unpleasant and trying occurrences which they dreaded.

"Do you think I should talk with her about it?" asked Violet. "Oh, if I only knew what it would be best to say!"

"Perhaps the less the better," her grandfather said, with a smile; "I should advise you not to prepare a set sermon, but to say nothing unless upon the spur of the moment, when something she does or says may lead naturally to it."

"No, do not let us disgust her with long lectures," said Elsie; "she is a child that will not endure a great deal in the way of reproof or admonition."

"But perhaps, papa, a few words from you, who are certainly much wiser than either Vi or myself, might have a good effect."

"No," he said, "because she respects you quite as much as she does me, and loves you far better. You are the one whose words will be most likely to benefit her."

"Then I will undertake it, asking for wisdom from above that I may do her good and not harm," Elsie replied in a low, earnest tone.

The task thus devolving upon her, she seized a favorable moment, when alone with Lulu, to remind her that she now had an opportunity to establish a character for diligence and good behavior, as she was taking a new start among strangers; while home friends were quite ready to believe that she had turned over a new leaf and would henceforth strive to be and to do just what would please her heavenly Father and the dear earthly one who loved her so fondly.

The words were accompanied by a tender caress; and Lulu, looking up brightly, lovingly into the kind face bending over her, impulsively threw her arms round Elsie's neck, saying, "Yes, indeed, dear Grandma Elsie, I do mean to try with all my might to be a good girl, and to learn all I possibly can.

"I am not at all sure of success, though," she added, her face clouding and her eyes seeking the floor.

"Dear child," Elsie said, "remember that the Lord says to us, 'In Me is thine help.' Look to Him for help and strength in every time of trial, and you will come off at last more than conqueror."

"How kind you are, Grandma Elsie!" Lulu said gratefully. "I think you do believe in me yet--believe that I do really want to be good; though I have failed so often."

"My dear little girl, I have not a doubt of it," was the kind response; and Lulu's heart grew light: the trustful words gave her renewed hope and courage for the fight with her besetting sins.

And she, and the others also, made a very fair beginning, winning golden opinions from their teachers.

Both Max and the girls found pleasant companions among their new schoolmates, while the principal of the institution was less disagreeable than they had at first esteemed him, though they all agreed among themselves that it would be quite impossible ever to feel any affection for him, his wife, or Miss Diana, with whom the little girls had most to do.

They all liked Miss Emily best, but Walter was the only one of their number belonging to her department, and she seldom came in contact with any of the others.

They all took lessons in French; and as Signor Foresti had the reputation of being a very fine music-teacher, it had been arranged that the three little girls should be numbered among his pupils. But the first day, Lulu, on coming home from school, went to Violet with a strong protest against being taught by him.

"Mamma Vi," she said, "the girls in his class say he has a dreadful, dreadful temper, gets angry and abusive when they make the slightest mistake, and sometimes strikes them with a whalebone pointer he always has in his hand; that is, he snaps it on their fingers, and it hurts terribly. I shouldn't mind the pain so much; but it would just make me furious to be disgraced by a blow from anybody, especially a man--unless it were papa, who would have a right, of course," she added, with a vivid blush. "So, Mamma Vi, please save me from having him for my teacher."

Violet looked much perplexed and disturbed. "Lulu, dear, it doesn't rest with me to decide the matter, you know," she said, in a soothing, sympathetic tone; "if it did, I should at once say you need not. But I will speak to grandpa and mamma about it."

"Well, Mamma Vi, if I must try it, won't you tell him beforehand that he is never to strike me? If he does, I'll not be able to restrain myself and I'll strike him back; I just know I shall. And then we'll all be sorry I was forced to take lessons of him."

"Oh, Lulu, my dear child, I hope you would never do that!" cried Violet in distress. "How would your father feel? what would he say when he heard of it?"

"I don't know, Mamma Vi, but I don't believe he would allow that man to strike me; and I dare say he would think I served him right if I struck him back. However, I don't mean to be understood as having formed the deliberate purpose of doing so; only I feel that that's what I should do without waiting a second to think."

Violet thought it altogether likely, and after a moment's cogitation promised that the signor should be told that he could have Lulu for a pupil only with the distinct understanding that he was never, on any account, to give her a blow.

"And, Lulu, dear," she added entreatingly, "you will try not to furnish him the slightest excuse for punishing you, will you not?"

"Yes, Mamma Vi; but I do want to escape taking lessons of him, for fear we might fall out and have a fight," returned the little girl, laughing to keep from showing that she was almost ready to cry with vexation at the very idea of being compelled to become a pupil of the fiery little Italian.

He was a diminutive man of rather forbidding aspect.

"I fear that in that case you would get the worst of it," Violet remarked, with a faint smile.

"He is only a little man, Mamma Vi," Lulu said, shaking her head in dissent; "the professor would make two of him, I think,"

"And you are only a little girl, and men and boys are, as a rule, far stronger than women and girls," replied Violet. "But aside from that consideration it would be a dreadful thing for you to come to a collision; and I shall certainly do what I can to prevent it."

In pursuance of that end she presently went in search of her mother and grandfather.

She found them and Mrs. Dinsmore seated together on the lawn; the ladies busied with, their needlework, Mr. Dinsmore reading aloud.

As Violet approached, he paused, and laying the open book down on his knee, made room for her by his side.

"Don't let me interrupt you, grandpa," she said, accepting his mute invitation.

"Perhaps grandpa is ready to rest," remarked her mother; "he has been reading steadily for more than an hour."

"Yes; I am ready to hear what my little cricket has to say," he said, looking inquiringly at Violet.

"It will keep, grandpa," she answered lightly.

"No," he said, "let us have it now; I see something is causing you anxiety and you have come to ask counsel or help in some direction."

"Ah, grandpa," she responded, with a smile, "you were always good at reading faces;" then went on to repeat the conversation just held with Lulu.

"What do you say, grandpa, grandma, and mamma," she wound up, "shall we insist on her taking music-lessons of Signor Foresti?"

"Yes," said Mr. Dinsmore, with decision; "he is an uncommonly fine teacher, and it is desirable that she should enjoy, or rather profit by, his instructions; also it is high time she should become thoroughly convinced of the necessity of controlling that violent temper of hers. She needs to be taught submission to lawful authority too; and indulging her in this whim would, in my judgment, be likely to have the very opposite effect. What do you say, Rose and Elsie?"

"I presume you are right, Horace, as you usually are," replied his wife.

"I prefer to leave the question entirely to your decision, papa," said Elsie. "But shall we not yield to the child's wishes so far as to warn the man beforehand that he is never, upon any pretext, to give her a blow? I will not have him strike Rosie," she added with heightened color; "if he ventured such a thing I should take her immediately away."

Her father regarded her with an amused smile. "I have seldom seen you so excited, so nearly angry, as at that thought," he remarked. "But Rosie is not at all likely to give him any pretext for so doing; nor is Evelyn; they are both remarkably even-tempered and painstaking with their studies.

"However, I shall warn Signor Foresti in regard to his treatment of all three of the little girls sent by us to the school; telling him that if they are idle or wanting in docility and respect, he is simply to report them for discipline at home. Will that answer, Violet?"

"Nicely, thank you, grandpa," she said, with a sigh of relief.

Lulu looked but half satisfied when her mamma reported the result of her intercession with those higher in authority; but seeing there was nothing more to be gained, quietly submitted to the inevitable.