The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"Let come what will, I mean to bear it out." SHAKESPEARE.
"The hour for your music-lesson has arrived, Miss Raymond," announced Miss Manton.
Rosie and Evelyn both looked entreatingly at Lulu; but scarcely raising her eyes, she simply said, "I shall not take it to-day, Miss Diana."
"Very well; you will have to abide the consequences of your refusal," returned Miss Diana severely.
"Is it so very dreadful to live in this house with you?" queried saucy Lulu.
"What do you mean by that impertinent question?" asked Miss Diana, facing round angrily upon her.
"I only wanted to know in time," said Lulu. "What you said just now sounded as if you thought so; for that is the consequence I'll have to abide if I continue to refuse to take my music-lessons."
"It shall be about as unpleasant as I can well make it, in return for your impudence," was the furious rejoinder. "Also, you will remain in your seat during recess to-day."
"Oh, Lulu," whispered Evelyn at the first opportunity, "it was not prudent to say what you did to Miss Diana; she will have it in her power to make your life here very uncomfortable."
"Yes," Lulu said with indifference, "I expect to have to pay for the pleasure of speaking my mind; but if she makes me uncomfortable, I'll manage to make her so too."
As the hour drew near when the school would be dismissed for the day, a servant came in with a message. She said a few words in a low tone to Miss Diana, who at once turned to Lulu, saying,
"You are wanted in the parlor, Miss Raymond."
The child's heart beat fast as she rose and obeyed the summons, but quieted when, on entering the parlor, she found Elsie and Violet its sole occupants. They had always been gentle and kind to her, and she loved without fearing them.
They made a place for her on the sofa between them, and taking her hand in a kind clasp, Elsie said, "We have come to take you home, dear child, if you are now ready to be good and obedient."
"I didn't take the lesson, Grandma Elsie, and I don't intend ever to do it as long as I live," Lulu answered in even, steady tones. "It was very kind in you and Mamma Vi to come for me, but I shall have to stay here till Grandpa Dinsmore gives up asking such an unreasonable thing of me."
"Then, Violet," Elsie said, "nothing remains for us but to see that she has comfortable accommodations, and leave her here."
At this moment Mrs. Manton came hurrying in with profuse apologies for not having come sooner, but through the negligence of the servant she had been until this moment kept in ignorance of their arrival.
"No, you must not blame the servant," Elsie said; "she acted by my directions. We wished to see this little girl alone for a few minutes, and not to disturb you; knowing that you are busy with your pupils at this hour of the day."
"Ah! then perhaps I am intruding;" and Mrs. Manton drew herself up with dignity.
"Oh no, not at all," Elsie returned pleasantly; "our private interview with the child is at an end. She is now to be placed here as a boarder--as you may perhaps know; and, if you please, we would like to see the room she is to occupy."
"Certainly, Mrs. Travilla. She can have her choice of several--or you the choice for her," Mrs. Manton replied, graciously leading the way as she spoke.
"You would like to come too?" Elsie said inquiringly, holding out a hand to Lulu.
"Yes, ma'am, thank you," Lulu answered, slipping hers into it.
They were shown several large rooms, intended and furnished for from four to six occupants each; two others of somewhat smaller size, which Mrs. Manton called double rooms; and one little one over the hall, which she said Lulu could have to herself, if she liked that better than sharing a larger one with a schoolmate.
To Lulu's eyes it looked uninviting enough: so small, furnished with only one window, a single bed, one chair, bureau and wash-stand of very plain, cheap material, somewhat the worse for wear, and just a strip or two of carpet both faded and worn.
"I think this will hardly do," Violet said gently. "Have you nothing better to offer, Mrs. Manton?"
"No room that the young girl can have to herself," was the cold, half-offended reply. "Excuse me for saying so, but I think it is quite good enough for so obstinate and rebellious a child as I have understood she is."
"I am quite of your opinion, Mrs. Manton," said a familiar voice behind them; and turning, they perceived that they had been joined by Mr. Dinsmore, with Professor Manton bringing up the rear.
Lulu was growing very red and angry.
"But she is my husband's child, grandpa," urged Violet.
"And I am quite certain he would say she deserved nothing better while she continues obstinate in her rebellion against lawful authority," he answered.
Lulu flashed an angry glance at him.
"It is no matter," she said; "papa will set things right when he comes. And, Mamma Vi, don't be troubled about it; I shall tell him it was no fault of yours."
"No," Mr. Dinsmore said, smiling grimly. "I shall not share the responsibility; my shoulders are quite broad enough to bear it all."
Violet drew Lulu aside when they had all gone down stairs again, and with her arm about her waist pleaded tenderly, affectionately, with her to give up her rebellion and go home with them.
"We will start in a few minutes now," she said; "and oh, dear child, I don't want to leave you behind. I shall grieve very much to think of you all alone in that miserable little room. Does it not seem a poor place after those you have had at Ion and Viamede?"
"Yes, Mamma Vi, I have an idea that it's a good deal like a prison-cell; but what do I care for that? I'd despise myself if I could give up just for that."
"No, dear, not for that, but because it is right to do it."
"'Tisn't worth while for you to trouble yourself to urge me any more, Mamma Vi," Lulu said loftily; "I am as fully resolved as ever not to break my word."
"Then good-by," Violet said, with a sigh and a kiss. "You are not to be ill-treated--I settled that question with grandpa before we came; and if any one should attempt to ill-use you, let me know all about it at once."
Elsie, too, kissed Lulu in bidding her good-by; but Mr. Dinsmore simply took her hand,--given with evident reluctance,--and said he was sorry to be compelled to banish her from the family-circle; yet if she willed it so, restoration to the comforts and privileges of home would not be long delayed.
Lulu followed them out to the veranda, expecting to see the family-carriage there with the other children, including her sister Grace, but was sorely disappointed to perceive that it had already driven away.
A smaller one, which had brought Mr. Dinsmore and the ladies, was still there, and she saw them enter, and watched it drive away till it was lost to sight among the trees.
Then a sudden sense of almost utter loneliness came over her, and rushing away to a secluded part of the grounds, she gave vent to her feelings in a storm of tears and sobs.
But by its very violence it soon spent itself; in a few moments she became quite calm, did her best to remove the traces of her tears, and went back to the house, reaching it just as her trunk arrived.
It was carried at once to her room, and she followed to unpack and arrange her clothes in the drawers of the bureau and wash-stand.
There was no closet, and she found herself much cramped for room. It was very disheartening, for she loved neatness and order, and perceived that it would be no easy matter to maintain them here, where it was so difficult to find a place for everything and keep it there.
The supper-bell rang, but she delayed obeying the summons in order to finish the work in hand. She was hardly more than five minutes behind time, yet received a sharp reprimand from Professor Manton, and a black mark.
Of course she was angry and indignant, and plainly showed that she was; not mending matters in the least thereby.
In sullen displeasure she took the seat assigned her, and glancing over the table, was tempted to turn away in disgust.
The food provided was of the plainest, scant in quantity, inferior in quality, and neither well prepared nor daintily served; in all which it presented a striking contrast to the meals that Lulu had been accustomed to sit down to at Ion and Viamede.
She ate but little; in fact, homesickness had nearly destroyed her appetite.
"What a miserable supper!" she remarked to a school-mate, when they had gone from the dining-room and were gathered on the veranda for the short half-hour that intervened between the meal and the evening study-hour.
"It was quite as good as usual," was the rejoinder in a sneering tone. "What did you expect? Do you suppose the Mantons don't want to make anything off us as boarders?"
"I hadn't thought about that at all," Lulu said, with a look of surprise and perplexity. Then after a moment's cogitation, "I suppose they do want to make all they can out of us, and that would be the reason there was so little on the table; but would it have cost any more to have it cooked properly? The bread was both sour and heavy, and the butter so strong that I'd rather go without than eat it."
"Rancid butter is cheaper than sweet, both as costing less and going farther," answered her companion, "and good cooks are apt to be able to command higher wages than poor ones; also, like butter, bread goes farther if it is unpalatable."
"But it makes people sick?" Lulu said, half in assertion, half in inquiry.
"Of course; but the Mantons don't pay our doctor bills, or support us in invalidism if it comes to that."
The girl walked away, and Lulu stood leaning against a pillar, lost in thought, and feeling more homesick than ever.
The boarding-scholars were all some years older than herself, and did not seem to desire her companionship; in fact, they looked upon and treated her as one in disgrace, shunned her society, and almost ignored her existence.
The study-hour over, they gathered in groups, chatting together on such themes as school-girls find most interesting, one or another now and then looking askance at Lulu, who sat at a distance, lonely and forlorn, watching them and half-envying their apparent gayety and lightheartedness.
How she longed for Evelyn, Grace, Max; even Rosie and the grown up-people at Viamede!
It was a long evening to her; she thought the hands of the clock had never before moved so slowly.
At nine a bell called them all into Professor Manton's school-room, where he read a chapter from the Bible, and made a long prayer in a dull, monotonous tone, that set most of his hearers to nodding or indulging in half-suppressed gapes and yawns.
It struck Lulu as a very different service as conducted by him, from what she had been accustomed to under the lead of her father or Mr. Dinsmore. They had always shown by tone and manner that they esteemed it a solemn and a blessed thing to read the words of inspiration and draw near to God in prayer; while this man went through it as a mere matter of form, of no more interest than the calling of the roll at the opening of school.
The service was followed by a formal good-night, and the pupils scattered to their rooms.
"The bell will tap in half an hour, Miss Raymond, and at the first sound every light must be instantly extinguished," Miss Diana said harshly, as she gave Lulu her candle.
"But what if I have not finished undressing?" Lulu asked in dismay.
"Then you will be obliged to finish in the dark."
"There won't be time to write in my diary, and I'll have to say my prayers in the dark," Lulu said to herself as she hastened up the stairs and into her closet-like apartment.
"What a forlorn bit of a place it is!" she grumbled half aloud; "oh, so different from my pretty rooms at Ion and Viamede! Oh dear, oh dear! I wish that horrid Signor Foresti was back in his own country. I'm glad he doesn't live in this house, so I'd have to see him every day; it's bad enough to have to stay here without that. But I don't mean to let Grandpa Dinsmore find out how bad his punishment is; no, nor to be conquered by it either."
She had set down her candle and was hurriedly making ready for bed.
On creeping in, having blown out her candle just as the signal sounded, she discovered a new reason for regretting her change of residence; she must sleep--if she could--on a hard pallet of straw, instead of the soft, springy mattress she had been accustomed to rest upon at home.
She uttered an exclamation of disgust and impatience, fidgeted about in the vain effort to find a comfortable spot, and sighed wearily over the hard hills and hollows.
How Mamma Vi and Grandma Elsie too would pity her! Probably they would say she must have a better bed, even if it had to be sent from Viamede.
But then Grandpa Dinsmore might put his veto upon that, saying, as he had that day in regard to the room, that it was quite as good as she deserved; and she would not give him the chance: she would put up with the hard bed, as well as with all the other disagreeables of the situation, nor give up in the very least about the music-lessons.
The situation seemed no brighter or cheerier the next morning; there was no one to give her a smile, a kiss, or so much as a pleasant word; breakfast was no improvement upon last night's supper; Mrs. Manton scolded all through the meal--at her husband, daughters, pupils, servants; the professor bore it meekly as regarded her, was captious and irritable toward every one else; Miss Diana looked glum, Miss Emily timid and ashamed.
The morning service in the schoolroom, that followed the meal, was very like a repetition of that of the previous evening, and Lulu withdrew from the room after it was over, feeling less respect and liking than ever for the principal of the institution.
To her great joy the Viamede carriage drove up a full half-hour earlier than usual; Grace alighted from it with the others, and running to her said, "O Lulu, I'm so glad to see you! And I may stay till school-time; mamma told me so. Grandma Elsie told Uncle Ben to bring us early, and wait here for me till you go into school."
"It's very kind in them," returned Lulu, hugging and kissing her little sister. "And I'm ever so delighted to see you all," she added to the others who had gathered round her.
"And we to see you," Evelyn said, embracing her.
"What kind of a time have you had?" asked Rosie and Max in a breath.
"About such as I anticipated," answered Lulu, nonchalantly. "Of course it's not like home; but I didn't expect that."
She afterward, under a promise of secrecy, let Evelyn more into her confidence; described her bed, the meals, telling that she had learned from one of the older boarders that those she had partaken of were of average quality; and the unpleasant manners of Professor Manton, his wife, and Miss Diana.
"O Lu, it is quite too bad that you should be exposed to such things!" said Evelyn. "Do give up to Grandpa Dinsmore and go home with us to-night!"
Lulu shook her head decidedly.
"Well then, at least let me tell your mamma, or Grandma Elsie about the hard bed, and they will surely see that a better one is provided for you."
But Lulu negatived that also. "I can stand it," she said, "and I wouldn't for a great deal let Grandpa Dinsmore know what a hard time I am having. He would triumph over me, and say it was just what I deserved."
So no complaint was made, and Evelyn was the only person at Viamede who had any idea of the many discomforts Lulu was enduring for self-will's sake.
Sunday morning came and Lulu made herself ready for church, all the time fearing that she would have to go with the Mantons and sit with them and their other boarding-scholars.
Great, then, was her joy on seeing Max drive up in a light two-seated carriage, Violet and Grace on the back seat, a vacant space on the front beside the young charioteer.
"Oh, they've come for me!" cried Lulu, half aloud, glancing from the window of her room. "How nice is Mamma Vi to do it!" and she flew down to the front door to greet them.
The professor was there before her, bowing, smirking, and asking in his most obsequious tones if Mrs. Raymond would be pleased to alight and walk into the parlor.
"Thank you, no," Violet said. "We have come merely to pick up Lulu and take her to church with us. Come, dear," to the little girl; "the professor will help you in, if you are quite ready to go."
"Yes, Mamma Vi," Lulu answered eagerly, and with the aid of the professor's hand quickly climbed to her place.
"Mamma Vi, you are very good," she said, as the carriage rolled on again.
"Yes, isn't she?" said Max. "She says she isn't at all afraid to trust me to drive her."
"No," said Violet, smiling affectionately on him; "you do great credit to Uncle Ben's teaching. I think your father would be much pleased with your proficiency."
"Were you expecting us, Lulu?" asked Grace.
"No, indeed! How should I, when nothing had been said about it? But oh, I was so glad to see you coming."
The children seemed happy in being together again and chatted cheerily, Violet occasionally joining in.
She had fully gained their respect and affection, yet they now never felt her presence the slightest damper upon their enjoyment of each other's society.
On their return, while yet at some little distance from the academy, Violet asked,
"Lulu, dear, do you find yourself quite comfortable and happy at Oakdale--so that you wish to continue there as a boarder?"
"I wish that rather than to go home again on Grandpa Dinsmore's conditions," Lulu said with a frown, and with that the subject was dropped.