The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
"Farewell; God knows when we shall meet again." SHAKSPEARE.
Laura said no more about breaking the will, but her manner toward Lester and Elsie was so cold and repellant that they were not sorry that she shut herself up in her own room during the greater part of each day while they and she remained at Crag Cottage.
Had they consulted only their own inclination, they would have taken their own departure immediately after seeing Eric laid in his grave; but Lester's duties as executor and guardian made it necessary for them to stay on for some weeks.
The cottage was a part of Evelyn's portion of the estate, but Laura was given the right to make it her home so long as she remained Eric's widow.
Laura knew this, having read the will, but as that instrument made no mention of Eric's desire that his daughter should reside with her guardian, she was not aware of that fact; and feeling well nigh certain that it would rouse her anger and opposition, Lester dreaded making the disclosure.
But while perplexing himself with the question how best to approach her on the subject, he found among his brother's papers, a sealed letter addressed to her.
Calling Evelyn, he put it into her hand, bidding her carry it to her mother.
Half an hour later the little girl was again at his side, asking in tearful tones, "Uncle Lester, must mamma and I be separated?"
He was in the library, seated before a table, and seemed very busy over a pile of papers laid thereon; but pushing back his chair, he threw his arm round her waist and drew her to his knee.
"No, my dear child, not necessarily," he said, softly caressing her hair and cheek; "your mother will be made welcome at Fairview if she sees fit to go with us."
"But she wants to stay here and keep me with her; and it's my home, you know, the dear home where everything reminds me of--papa, Will you let me stay?"
"Do you really wish it, Evelyn? do you not desire to carry out the dying wishes of the father you loved so dearly?"
"Yes, uncle," she said, the tears stealing down her cheeks, "but--perhaps he wouldn't care now, and mamma is so sorely distressed at the thought of separation; and--and it hurts me too; for she is my mother, and I have no father now--or brother, or sister."
"You must let me be a father to you, my poor, dear child," he said in moved tones, and drawing her closer; "I will do my utmost to fill his place to you, and I hope you will come to me always with your troubles and perplexities, feeling the same assurance of finding sympathy and help that you did in carrying them to him."
"Oh, thank you!" she responded. "I think you are a dear, kind uncle, and very much like papa; you remind me of him very often in your looks, and words and ways."
"I am glad to hear you say so," he answered. "I had a great admiration for that dear brother, and for his sake as well as her own, I am very fond of his little daughter. And now about this question. I shall not compel your obedience to your father's wishes--at least not for the present--but shall leave the decision to your own heart and conscience. Take a day or two to think over the matter, and then let me hear your decision.
"In the meantime, if you can persuade your mamma to go with us to Fairview, that will make it all smooth and easy for you."
"Thank you, dear uncle," she said, as he released her and turned to his work again, "I will go now and try what I can do to induce mamma to accept your kind invitation. And please excuse me for interrupting you when you were so busy."
"I am never too busy to attend to you, Evelyn," he returned in a kindly tone; "come freely to me whenever you will."
Crossing the hall, Evelyn noticed the carriage of an intimate friend of her mother drawn up before the entrance.
"Mrs. Lang must be calling on mamma," she said to herself; and pausing near the half-open parlor door, she saw them sitting side by side on a sofa, conversing in earnest, through subdued tones.
The call proved a long one. Evelyn waited with what patience she might, vainly trying to interest herself in a book; her thoughts much too full of her own near future to admit of her doing so.
At last Mrs. Lang took her departure, and Evelyn, following her mother into her bedroom, gave a detailed account of her late interview with her uncle.
"Mamma dear, you will go with us, will you not?" she concluded persuasively.
"No, I shall not!" was the angry rejoinder. "Spend weeks and months in a dull country place, with no more enlivening society than that of your uncle and aunt? indeed, no! You will have to choose between them and me; if you love them better than you do your own mother, elect, by all means, to forsake me and go with them."
"Mamma," remonstrated poor Evelyn, tears of wounded feeling in her eyes, "it is not a question of loving you or them best, but of obeying my father's dying wish."
For a moment Mrs. Leland seemed to be silently musing; then she said, "I withdraw my request, Evelyn. I have decided upon new plans for myself, and should prefer to have you go with your uncle. You needn't look hurt, child; I'm sure it is what you have seemed to desire."
"Mamma," said the little girl, going up to her, standing by the side of her easy-chair, and gazing down beseechingly into her eyes, "why will you persist in speaking so doubtfully of my love for you? It hurts me, mamma; it almost breaks my heart; especially now that you are all I have left."
"Well there, you need not fret; of course I know you must have some natural affection for your mother," returned Laura carelessly.
"Here, sit down on this stool at my feet, and you shall hear about my change of plans.
"Mrs. Lang called to tell me they are going to Europe--will sail in a fortnight--and to ask me to accompany them; and I have accepted the invitation. You were included in it also, but I shall have less care if I leave you behind; and though I have always intended that you should have the trip some day, I think it much the wiser plan to defer it for a few years till you are old enough to appreciate and make the best use of all its advantages.
"Beside, your uncle being your guardian, his consent would have to be gained, and I have no mind to stoop to ask it."
"Mamma, I am satisfied to stay," said Evelyn; "I should be very loath to add to your cares, or lessen in any way your enjoyment."
It was with no slight feeling of relief that Lester and Elsie heard of this new determination on the part of their sister-in-law; for her behavior toward them thus far had been such as to make her presence in their home anything but desirable.
With an aching heart Evelyn watched and aided in the preparations for her mother's departure, which would take place some weeks earlier than her own and that of her uncle and aunt.
But naturally quiet and undemonstrative, she usually kept her feelings locked up within her own breast, and in consequence was sometimes accused by her mother of being cold-hearted and indifferent.
Yet, as the day of separation drew near, Laura grew more affectionate toward her child than she had ever been before.
That was joy to Evelyn, but made the parting more bitter when it came. Mother and child wept in each other's arms, and Evelyn whispered with a bursting sob, "O mamma, if you would only give it up and go with us!"
"Nonsense, child! it is quite too late for that now," returned Laura, giving her a last embrace and hurrying into the carriage which was to convey her to the depot; for she was to travel by rail to New York City, and there take the steamer for Europe.
Lester went with her to the city, to see her safe on board the vessel, leaving his wife and child behind. Elsie's tender heart was full of pity for Evelyn--robbed of both parents, and left lonely and forlorn.
"Dear child, be comforted," she said, embracing her tenderly, as the carriage disappeared from sight down the drive, "you have not departed from your best Friend. 'When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.'
"And be assured your uncle and I will do all in our power to make you happy. I am not old enough to be a mother to you, but let me be as an older sister.
"And I will share my dear mother with you," she added with a sweet, bright smile. "Everybody loves mamma, and she has a heart big enough to mother all the motherless children with whom she comes in contact."
"Thank you, dear Aunt Elsie," Evelyn responded, smiling through her tears, then hastily wiping them away; "I am sure I shall love your mamma and be very grateful if she will count me among her children while my own mamma is so far away. Sure too, that I shall be as happy with you and Uncle Lester as I could be anywhere without papa."
"I hope so, indeed," Elsie said; "and that you will find pleasant companions in the Ion young people. Both my sister Rose and Lulu Raymond must be near your age; you probably come in between them."
"And I suppose they are very nice girls?" remarked Evelyn, inquiringly."
"I think they are," said Elsie; "they have their faults like the rest of us, but many good qualities too."
Desirous to divert Evelyn's thoughts from her sorrows, Elsie went on to give a lively description of Ion, and a slight sketch of the character and appearance of each member of the family, doing full justice to every good trait and touching but lightly upon faults and failings. Evelyn proving an interested listener. Fairview and then Viamede came under a similar review, and Elsie told the story of her mother's birth and her infant years passed in that lovely spot. After that of her honeymoon and of the visits paid by the family in later days.
"What a very sweet lady your mamma must be, Aunt Elsie," Evelyn remarked in a pause in the narrative; "I am glad I shall see and know her."
"Yes, dear; you well may be," Elsie responded with a happy smile; "'none knew her but to love her,' none can live in her constant companionship without finding it one of the greatest blessings of their lives."
"I think you must resemble her, auntie," said Evelyn, with an affectionate, admiring look into Elsie's bright, sweet face."
"It is my desire to do so," she answered, flushing with pleasure. "My dear, precious mother! I could hardly bear to leave her, Eva, even for your uncle's sake."
"But I am very glad you did," quickly returned the little girl. "I am so glad to have you for my aunt."
"Thank you, dear," was the pleased rejoinder. "I have never regretted my choice, or felt ashamed of having gone all the way to Italy to join my sick and suffering betrothed and become his wife, that I might nurse him back to health."
"Oh, did you?" exclaimed Evelyn, looking full of interest and delight, "please tell me the whole story, won't you? I should so like to hear it."
Elsie willingly complied with the request, and it would be difficult to say which enjoyed the story most--she who told it, or she who listened.
"I think you were brave, and kind and good, Aunt Elsie," was Evelyn's comment when the tale was told.
"I had a strong motive--the saving of a life dearer to me than my own," Elsie responded, half absently, as if her thoughts were busy with the past.
Both were silent for a little, Evelyn gazing with mournful eyes upon the lovely grounds and beautiful scenery about her home.
"Aunt Elsie," she said at length, "do you know what is to be done with the house while mamma and I are away? If it should be left long unoccupied it will fall into decay, and the grounds become a wilderness of weeds."
"Your mother suggested having it rented just as it stands--ready furnished," replied Elsie; "but she feared--as do we also--that strangers might abuse the property; then, as I thought it over, it occurred to me that we might rent it ourselves for a summer residence; and when away from it, leave it in charge of Patrick and his wife, who have no children to do mischief, and who have lived so long in the family--so your mother told us--that their character for trustworthiness is well established."
"Yes, indeed it is!" said Evelyn; "and that seems to me the best plan that could possibly be devised except that--"
"Well dear, except what?" Elsie asked pleasantly, as the little girl paused without finishing her sentence.
"I fear it will be a great expense to you and Uncle," was the half-hesitating reply, "and that you will get but little good of it, being so far away nearly all the year."
"You are very thoughtful for one so young," said Elsie in surprise.
"It is because papa talked so much with me about his affairs, and the uses of money, the difficulty of earning and keeping it, and the best ways of economising. He said he wanted to teach me how to take care of myself, if ever I were left alone in the world."
"That was wise and kind," said Elsie; "and I think you must have paid good attention to his teachings. But about the expense we shall incur in making the proposed arrangement: there is a large family of us, and I do not doubt that we shall have help with both the use of the house and the paying of the rent."
"And your mamma is very rich I've heard." remarked Evelyn half inquiringly.
"Very rich and very generous," returned her aunt.
"Are we to leave soon? and to go directly to your home?" asked Evelyn.
"It will be probably several weeks before your uncle can get everything arranged, and then he wants to spend some time sketching the scenery about Lake George and among the Adirondacks," replied Elsie; "and we are to go with him. Shall you like it?"
"Oh, yes indeed!" Evelyn exclaimed, her face lighting up with pleasure, then with gathering tears and in low, tremulous tones, "Papa had promised to take me to both places some day," she said.