The Two Elsies by Martha Finley
Chapter VII. Fairview and Ion.
It had been a cloudy afternoon and the rain began to fall as, shortly after sunset, the Lelands left the cars for the Fairview family carriage.
"A dismal home-coming for you, my love," remarked Lester, as the coachman closed the door on them and mounted to his perch again.
"Oh, no!" returned Elsie brightly, "the rain is needed, and we are well sheltered from it. Yet I fear it maybe dismal to Evelyn; but, my dear child, try to keep up your spirits; it does not always rain in this part of the country."
"Oh, no! of course not, auntie," said the little girl, with a low laugh of amusement; "and I should not want to live here if it did not rain sometimes."
"I should think not, indeed," said her uncle. "Well, Eva, we will hope the warmth of your welcome will atone to you for the inclemency of the weather."
"Yes," said Elsie, "we want you to feel that it is a home-coming to you as well as to us."
"Thank you both very much," murmured Evelyn, her voice a little broken with the thought of her orphaned condition; "I shall try to deserve your great kindness."
"We have done nothing yet to call for so strong an expression of gratitude, Eva," remarked her uncle in a lively tone.
In kitchen and dining-room at Fairview great preparations were going forward; in the one a table was laid, with the finest satin damask, glittering silver, cut-glass and china; in the other sounds and scents told of a coming "feast of fat things."
"Clar to goodness! ef it ain't a pourin' down like de clouds was a wantin' for to drownd Miss Elsie an' de rest!" exclaimed a young mulatto girl, coming in from a back veranda, whence she had been taking an observation of the weather; "an' its that dark, Aunt Kitty, yo' couldn't see yo' hand afo' yo' face."
"Hope Uncle Cuff keep de road and don't upset de kerridge," returned Aunt Kitty, the cook, opening her oven-door to glance at a fine young fowl browning beautifully there, and sending forth a most savory smell.
"He'd larf at de wery idear of upsettin' dat vehicle, he would, kase he tinks dar ain't nobody else knows de road ekal to hisself; but den 'taint always de folks what makes de biggest boastin' dat kin do de best; am it now, Lizzie?"
"No, I reckon 'taint, Aunt Kitty; but doan you be a prognosticatin' ob evil and skearin' folks out deir wits fo' de fac's am 'stablished."
"An' ain't gwine fo' to be 'stablished," put in another voice; "'spose de family been trabling roun' de worl' to come back an' git harm right afo' deir own do'? 'Co'se not."
"Hark! dere dey is dis bressed minit', I hear de soun' o' de wheels and de hosses' feet," exclaimed Aunt Kitty, slamming to her oven-door, laying down the spoon with which she had been basting her fowl, and hastily exchanging her dark cotton apron for a white one.
She brought up the rear of the train of servants gathering in the hall to welcome their master and mistress.
A glad welcome it was; for both Lester and Elsie were greatly beloved by their dependents; and Evelyn, too, came in for a share of the hand-shakings, the "God bless yous," and was assured again and again that she was welcome to Fairview.
"Well, Aunt Kitty, I suppose you have one of your excellent suppers ready for us hungry travelers?" remarked Mr. Leland interrogatively, as he divested himself of his duster.
"I'se done de wery bes' I knows, sah," she answered, dropping a courtesy and smiling all over her face. "Eberyting am done to a turn, an' I hopes you, sah, and de ladies mos' ready to eat afo' de tings get spoiled."
"We won't keep your supper waiting many minutes, Aunt Kitty," said her mistress pleasantly.
"Myra take the baby to the nursery. Evelyn, my dear, we will go up stairs and I will show you your room."
Reaching the second floor, Elsie led the way into a spacious, luxuriously-furnished apartment.
"This is your room, Eva," she said.
"It is just across the hall from your uncle's and mine; so I hope you will not feel lonely or timid. But if anything should alarm you at any time, come to our door and call to us."
"Thank you, dear Aunt Elsie. Such a beautiful room as it is!" exclaimed Evelyn. "How very kind you and Uncle Lester are to me!"
There was a little tremble of emotion in the child's voice as she spoke.
Elsie put her arms lovingly about her. "Dear child," she said, "how could we be otherwise? We want you to feel that this is truly your own home, and to be very happy in it."
"I could not be so happy with any one else as with you and uncle," returned the little girl, with a sigh to the memory of the father she had loved so well.
"And to-morrow you shall see what a sweet home this is," Elsie said, releasing her with a kiss.
"Now we must hasten to make ourselves ready for supper. A change of dress will not be necessary. There will be no company tonight, and your uncle would prefer seeing us in our traveling dresses to having his meal spoiled by waiting."
Evelyn went to sleep that night to the music of the dashing of the rain upon the windows, but woke next morning to find the sun shining brightly in a deep blue sky wherein soft, fleecy white clouds were floating.
She drew aside the window curtain to take a peep at the surroundings of her new home. Lawn, shrubbery, flower garden, while larger than those at Crag Cottage, were quite as well kept; neatness and order, beauty and fragrance made them so attractive that Evelyn was tempted to a stroll while waiting for the call to breakfast.
She stole softly down the stairs, thinking her aunt and uncle might be still sleeping, but found the latter on the veranda, pacing to and fro with meditative air.
"Ah, good morning, little maid!" he said in a kindly tone. "I hope you slept well and feel refreshed?"
"Yes, uncle, thank you," she returned. "Don't you enjoy being at home again after your long absence?"
"I do, indeed!" he answered; "there is no place like home, is there? This is your home, too, now, Eva."
"Yes, sir," a little sadly. "You and Aunt Elsie are home to me now, almost as papa used to be in the dear old days; and perhaps I shall learn to love Fairview as well as I do Crag Cottage. May I go into the garden, uncle?"
"Yes, I will take you with pleasure. Your shoes are thick I see," glancing down at them, "and that is well; for the walks may be a little damp."
He led her about, calling her attention to one and another rare plant or flower in garden and green-house, and gathering a bouquet of beautiful and fragrant blossoms for her, then one for his wife.
Elsie joined them on the veranda as they came in at the summons to breakfast, and Lester presented his flowers, claiming a kiss in return.
"Help yourself," she said laughingly; "and many thanks for your flowers. And now shall we go in to breakfast? we are a little late this morning."
"Ah, our mail is already here, I see," Lester remarked, as they entered the breakfast-room. "I will open the bag while you pour the coffee, my dear, hoping to find a letter for each of us."
"I think there should be one for me," remarked Evelyn, watching her uncle with wistful, longing eyes as he took out the letters and glanced over the addresses; "for I have heard but once from mamma since she went away."
"Twice now," her uncle said with a pleased smile, as he handed her the longed-for missive.
"You, too, hear from your mother this morning, my dear; and from several other friends. Here, Jane," to the servant girl in waiting, "hand these to your mistress."
"And here is a cup of coffee to reward you; mamma's letter alone is worth it," responded Elsie gaily, lifting the letters from the silver waiter on which they lay, and setting there, in their stead, a delicate china cup from whose steaming contents a delicious aroma greeted the nostrils.
"I must just peep into mamma's to see when we may expect them home," she added, breaking open its envelope; "the rest will keep till after breakfast."
"When was Aunt Wealthy's birthday?" queried her husband.
"Yesterday," she answered with her eyes on the letter. "Ah! Ned and Zoe start this morning for home. The rest will stay a week or so longer, and our cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Keith, and their daughter, Annis, will soon follow with the expectation of spending the winter as mamma's guests."
"Will you excuse me, Aunt Elsie, if I open my letter now just for a peep?" asked Evelyn with a slight shy smile.
"No, my dear, certainly not; as I never do the like myself, but always wait patiently till the meal is over," returned the young aunt with playful irony.
"Then I'll have to ask uncle or do it without permission," said Evelyn, blushing and laughing.
"Hark to the answer coming from the chicken yard," said her uncle facetiously, as the loud crow of a cock broke in upon their talk.
"I fail to catch your meaning, uncle," said Evelyn, with another blush and smile.
"Listen!" he answered, "he will speak again presently, and tell me if he doesn't say, 'Mistress rules here.' Some one has so interpreted it, and, I think, correctly.
"Oh," exclaimed Evelyn, laughing; "then, of course, it is of no use to appeal from auntie's decisions."
"No, even I generally do as I am bid," he remarked gravely.
"And I almost always," said Elsie. "Eva, would you like to drive over to Ion with me this morning?"
"Very much indeed, Aunt Elsie," was the prompt and pleased reply.
"Mamma wishes me to carry the news of the expected arrival of my brother and his wife, and to see that all is in order for their reception," Elsie went on.
"And am I to be entirely neglected in your invitation?" asked her husband, in a tone of deep pretended disappointment and chagrin.
"Your company will be most acceptable, Mr. Leland, if you will favor us with it," was the gay rejoinder. "Baby shall go, too; an airing will do him good; and beside, mammy will want to see him."
"Of course; for she looks upon him as a sort of great-grand child, does she not?" said Lester.
"Either that or great-great," returned Elsie lightly.
"Who is mammy?" asked Evelyn.
"Mamma's old nurse, who had the care of her from her birth--indeed, and of her mother also--and has nursed each one of us in turn. Of course, we are all devotedly attached to her and she to us. Aunt Chloe is what she is called by those who are not her nurslings."
"She must be very, very old, I should think," observed Evelyn.
"She is," said Elsie, and very infirm. No one knows her exact age, but she cannot be much, if any younger than Aunt Wealthy, who has just passed her hundredth birthday; and I believe her to be, in fact, somewhat older."
"How I should like to see her!" exclaimed Evelyn.
"I hope to give you that pleasure to-day," responded Elsie. "Until very recently she always accompanied mamma--no, I mistake; she staid behind once; it was when Lilly was taken North as a last hope of saving her dear life. Papa and mamma thought best to take me and the baby along, and to leave mammy behind in charge of the other children.
"This summer she was too feeble to leave Ion; so we shall find her there. In deep sorrow too, no doubt; for her old husband, Uncle Joe, died a few weeks since."
"Eva must hear their story one of these days," remarked Mr. Leland; "it is very interesting."
"Yes; and some of it very sad; that which occurred before mamma's visit to Viamede, after she had attained her majority. That visit was the dawn of brighter days to them. I will tell you the whole story, Eva, some time when we are sitting quietly together at our needlework, if you will remind me."
"For what hour will you have the carriage ordered, my dear?" Lester asked, as they left the table. "Ten, if you please," she answered. "I hope you will go with us?"
"I shall do so with pleasure," he said. "It is a lovely morning for a drive; the rain has laid the dust and the air is just cool enough to be bracing."
Evelyn was on the veranda, gazing about her with a thoughtful air.
"Well, lassie, what think you of Fairview?" asked her uncle, coming to her side.
"I like it," she answered emphatically. "Didn't something happen here, uncle, in the time of the Ku-Klux raids? I seem to have heard there did."
"Yes; a coffin, with a threatening notice attached, was laid at the gate yonder one night. My uncle owned, and lived on, the place at that time, and by reason of his northern birth and Republican sentiments, was obnoxious to the members of the klan."
"And it was he they were threatening?"
"Yes. They afterward attacked the place, wounded and drove him into the woods, but were held at bay and finally driven off by the gallant defence of her home made by my aunt, assisted by her son, then quite a young boy.
"But get Elsie to tell you the story; she can do it far better than I; especially as she was living at Ion at that time, and though a mere child, has still a vivid recollection of all the circumstances."
"Yes," Elsie said, "including the attacks upon Ion--first the quarter, when they burnt the schoolhouse, and afterward the mansion--and several sad scenes connected with them."
"How interesting to hear all about them from an eye-witness," exclaimed Evelyn. "I am eager to have you begin, Aunt Elsie."
"Perhaps I may be able to do so this evening," returned her aunt; "but now I must give my orders for the day, and then it will be time for our drive."
"What does your mamma say?" asked Lester of Evelyn, when Elsie had left them alone together.
"Not very much that I care for, uncle," sighed the little girl. "She's in good health, but very tired of foreign cookery; wishes she could have such a breakfast every morning as she has been accustomed to at home. Still she enjoys the sights, and thinks it may be a year, or longer, before she gets back. She describes some of the places, and paintings and statuary she has seen; but that part of the letter I have not read yet."
"Do you wish you were with her, Eva?" he asked, smoothing her hair as she stood by his side, and gazing down affectionately into her eyes.
"No, uncle; I should like to see mamma, of course, but at present I like this quiet home far better than going about among crowds of strange people."
He looked pleased. "I am glad you are content," he said.
Elsie was full of life and gayety as they set out upon their drive. Her husband remarked it with pleasure.
"Yes," she said lightly, "it is so nice to be going back to my old, childhood's home after so long an absence; to see mammy, too--dear old mammy! And yet it will hardly seem like home either, without mamma."
"No," he responded; "and it is quite delightful to look forward to having her there again in a week or two."
They had turned in at the great gates leading into the avenue, and presently Elsie, glancing eagerly toward the house, exclaimed with delight, "Ah, there is mammy on the veranda! watching for our coming, no doubt. She knew we were expected at Fairview yesterday, and that I would not be long in finding my way to Ion."
Evelyn, looking out also, perceived a bent and shriveled form, seated in an arm-chair, leaning forward, its two dusky hands clasping a stout cane, and its chin resting on the top.
As the carriage drew up before the entrance, the figure rose slowly and stiffly, and with the aid of the cane hobbled across the veranda to meet them.
"Bress de Lawd!" it cried, in accents tremulous with age and excitement, "it's one ob my chillens, sho' nuff; it's Miss Elsie!"
"Yes, mammy, it is I; and very glad I am to see you," responded Mrs. Leland, hurrying up the veranda steps and throwing Her arms about the feeble, trembling form.
"Poor old mammy," she said, tenderly; "you are not so strong as you used to be."
"No, darlin', yo' ole mammy's mos' at de brink ob de riber; de cold watahs ob Jordan soon be creepin' up roun' her ole feet."
"But you are not afraid, mammy?" Elsie said, tears trembling in her sweet, soft eyes, so like her mother's.
"No, chile, no; for Ise got fas' hold ob de Master's hand, and He holds me tight; de waves can't go ober my head, kase He bought me wid his own precious blood and I b'longs to Him; and He always takes care ob his own chillens."
"Yes, Aunt Chloe," Lester said, taking one withered hand in his, as Elsie withdrew herself from her embrace, and turned aside to wipe away a tear, "His purchased ones are safe for time and for eternity.
"'The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory.'"
"Dat's so, sah; grace to lib by, an' grace to die by, den glory wid Him in heaben! Ole Uncle Joe done 'speriencin' dat now; an' byme-by dis chile be wid him dar."
"Who dis?" she asked, catching sight of Evelyn standing by her side and regarding her with tearful eyes.
"My niece, Evelyn Leland, Aunt Chloe," answered Lester. "She has heard of you, and wanted to see you."
"God bless you, honey," Chloe said, taking the little girl's hand in her's, and regarding her with a look of kindly interest.
But the other servants had come flocking to the veranda as the news of the arrival passed from lip to lip; and now they crowded about Lester and Elsie eager to shake their hands and bid them welcome home again, mingling with their rejoicings and congratulations many inquiries about their loved mistress--her mother--and the other absent members of the family.
And here, as at Fairview, Evelyn received her full share of pleased attention.
Elsie delivered her mother's messages and directions, and taking Evelyn with her, went through the house to see that all was in order for the reception of her brother and his wife, then sat down in the veranda for a chat with "mammy" before returning to Fairview.
"Mammy, dear," she said interrogatively, "you are not grieving very much for Uncle Joe?"
"No, chile, no; he's in dat bressed land whar dah no mo' misery in de back, in de head, in any part ob de body; an' no mo' sin, no mo' sorrow, no mo' dyin', no mo' tears fallin' down the cheeks, no mo' trouble any kin'."
"But don't you miss him very much, Aunt Chloe?" asked Evelyn softly, her voice tremulous with the thought of her own beloved dead, and how sorely she felt his absence.
"Yes, chile, sho I does, but 'twont be for long; Ise so ole and weak, dat I knows Ise mos' dar, mos' dar!"
The black, wrinkled face uplifted to the sky, almost shone with glad expectancy, and the dim, sunken eyes grew bright for an instant with hope and joy.
Then turning them upon Evelyn, and, for the first time, taking note of her deep mourning, "Po' chile," she said, in tender, pitying tones, "yo's loss somebody dat yo' near kin?"
Evelyn nodded, her heart too full for speech, and Elsie said softly, "Her dear father has gone to be forever with the Lord, in the blessed, happy land you have been speaking of, mammy."
"Bressed, happy man!" ejaculated the aged saint, again lifting her face heavenward, "an' bressed happy chile dat has de great an' mighty God for her father; kase de good book say, He is de father of de fatherless."
A momentary hush fell upon the little group. Then Mr. Leland, who had been looking into the condition of field and garden, as his wife into that of the house, joined them and suggested that this would be a good time and place for the telling of the story Eva had been asking for; especially as, in Aunt Chloe, they had a second eye-witness.
Elsie explained to her what was wanted.
"Ah, chillens, dat was a terrible time," returned the old woman, sighing and shaking her head.
"Yes, mammy," assented Elsie; "you remember it well?"
"Deed I does, chile;" and rousing with the recollection into almost youthful excitement and energy, she plunged into the story, telling it in a graphic way that enchained her listeners, though to two of them it was not new, and one occasionally assisted her memory or supplied a missing link in the chain of circumstances.[A]
[Footnote A: For the details of this story, see "Elsie's Motherhood."]