Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley
"I never saw an eye so bright, And yet so soft as hers; It sometimes swam in liquid light, And sometimes swam in tears; It seemed a beauty set apart For softness and for sighs." --MRS. WELBY.
The school-room at Roselands was a very pleasant apartment; the ceiling, it is true, was somewhat lower than in the more modern portion of the building, for the wing in which it was situated dated back to the old-fashioned days prior to the Revolution, while the larger part of the mansion had not stood more than twenty or thirty years; but the effect was relieved by windows reaching from floor to ceiling, and opening on a veranda which overlooked a lovely flower-garden, beyond which were fields and woods and hills. The view from the veranda was very beautiful, and the room itself looked most inviting, with its neat matting, its windows draped with snow-white muslin, its comfortable chairs, and pretty rosewood desks.
Within this pleasant apartment sat Miss Day with her pupils, six in number. She was giving a lesson to Enna, the youngest, the spoiled darling of the family, the pet and plaything of both father and mother. It was always a trying task to both teacher and scholar, for Enna was very wilful, and her teacher's patience by no means inexhaustible.
"There!" exclaimed Miss Day, shutting the book and giving it an impatient toss on to the desk; "go, for I might as well try to teach old Bruno. I presume he would learn about as fast."
And Enna walked away with a pout on her pretty face, muttering that she would "tell mamma."
"Young ladies and gentlemen," said Miss Day, looking at her watch, "I shall leave you to your studies for an hour; at the end of which time I shall return to hear your recitations, when those who have attended properly to their duties will be permitted to ride out with me to visit the fair."
"Oh! that will be jolly!" exclaimed Arthur, a bright-eyed, mischief-loving boy of ten.
"Hush!" said Miss Day sternly; "let me hear no more such exclamations; and remember that you will not go unless your lessons are thoroughly learned. Louise and Lora," addressing two young girls of the respective ages of twelve and fourteen, "that French exercise must be perfect, and your English lessons as well. Elsie," to a little girl of eight, sitting alone at a desk near one of the windows, and bending over a slate with an appearance of great industry, "every figure of that example must be correct, your geography lesson recited perfectly, and a page in your copybook written without a blot."
"Yes, ma'am," said the child meekly, raising a pair of large soft eyes of the darkest hazel for an instant to her teacher's face, and then dropping them again upon her slate.
"And see that none of you leave the room until I return," continued the governess. "Walter, if you miss one word of that spelling, you will have to stay at home and learn it over."
"Unless mamma interferes, as she will be pretty sure to do," muttered Arthur, as the door closed on Miss Day, and her retreating footsteps were heard passing down the hall.
For about ten minutes after her departure, all was quiet in the school-room, each seemingly completely absorbed in study. But at the end of that time Arthur sprang up, and flinging his book across the room, exclaimed, "There! I know my lesson; and if I didn't, I shouldn't study another bit for old Day, or Night either."
"Do be quiet, Arthur," said his sister Louise; "I can't study in such a racket."
Arthur stole on tiptoe across the room, and coming up behind Elsie, tickled the back of her neck with a feather.
She started, saying in a pleading tone, "Please, Arthur, don't."
"It pleases me to do," he said, repeating the experiment.
Elsie changed her position, saying in the same gentle, persuasive tone, "O Arthur! please let me alone, or I never shall be able to do this example."
"What! all this time on one example! you ought to be ashamed. Why, I could have done it half a dozen times over."
"I have been over and over it," replied the little girl in a tone of despondency, "and still there are two figures that will not come right."
"How do you know they are not right, little puss?" shaking her curls as he spoke.
"Oh! please, Arthur, don't pull my hair. I have the answer--that's the way I know."
"Well, then, why don't you just set the figures down. I would."
"Oh! no, indeed; that would not be honest."
"Pooh! nonsense! nobody would be the wiser, nor the poorer."
"No, but it would be just like telling a lie. But I can never get it right while you are bothering me so," said Elsie, laying her slate aside in despair. Then taking out her geography, she began studying most diligently. But Arthur continued his persecutions-- tickling her, pulling her hair, twitching the book out of her hand, and talking almost incessantly, making remarks, and asking questions; till at last Elsie said, as if just ready to cry, "Indeed, Arthur, if you don't let me alone, I shall never be able to get my lessons."
"Go away then; take your book out on the veranda, and learn your lessons there," said Louise. "I'll call you when Miss Day comes."
"Oh! no, Louise, I cannot do that, because it would be disobedience," replied Elsie, taking out her writing materials.
Arthur stood over her criticising every letter she made, and finally jogged her elbow in such a way as to cause her to drop all the ink in her pen upon the paper, making quite a large blot.
"Oh!" cried the little girl, bursting into tears, "now I shall lose my ride, for Miss Day will not let me go; and I was so anxious to see all those beautiful flowers."
Arthur, who was really not very vicious, felt some compunction when he saw the mischief he had done. "Never mind, Elsie," said he. "I can fix it yet. Just let me tear out this page, and you can begin again on the next, and I'll not bother you. I'll make these two figures come right too," he added, taking up her slate.
"Thank you, Arthur," said the little girl, smiling through her tears; "you are very kind, but it would not be honest to do either, and I had rather stay at home than be deceitful."
"Very well, miss," said he, tossing his head, and walking away, "since you won't let me help you, it is all your own fault if you have to stay at home."
"Elsie," exclaimed Louise, "I have no patience with you! such ridiculous scruples as you are always raising. I shall not pity you one bit, if you are obliged to stay at home."
Elsie made no reply, but, brushing away a tear, bent over her writing, taking great pains with every letter, though saying sadly to herself all the time, "It's of no use, for that great ugly blot will spoil it all."
She finished her page, and, excepting the unfortunate blot, it all looked very neat indeed, showing plainly that it had been written with great care. She then took up her slate and patiently went over and over every figure of the troublesome example, trying to discover where her mistake had been. But much time had been lost through Arthur's teasing, and her mind was so disturbed by the accident to her writing that she tried in vain to fix it upon the business in hand; and before the two troublesome figures had been made right, the hour was past and Miss Day returned.
"Oh!" thought Elsie, "if she will only hear the others first, I may be able to get this and the geography ready yet; and perhaps, if Arthur will be generous enough to tell her about the blot, she may excuse me for it."
But it was a vain hope. Miss Day had no sooner seated herself at her desk, than she called, "Elsie, come here and say that lesson; and bring your copybook and slate, that I may examine your work."
Elsie tremblingly obeyed.
The lesson, though a difficult one, was very tolerably recited; for Elsie, knowing Arthur's propensity for teasing, had studied it in her own room before school hours. But Miss Day handed back the book with a frown, saying, "I told you the recitation must be perfect, and it was not."
She was always more severe with Elsie than with any other of her pupils. The reason the reader will probably be able to divine ere long.
"There are two incorrect figures in this example," said she, laying down the slate, after glancing over its contents. Then taking up the copy-book, she exclaimed, "Careless, disobedient child! did I not caution you to be careful not to blot your book! There will be no ride for you this morning. You have failed in everything. Go to your seat. Make that example right, and do the next; learn your geography lesson over, and write another page in your copy-book; and, mind, if there is a blot on it, you will get no dinner."
Weeping and sobbing, Elsie took up her books and obeyed.
During this scene Arthur stood at his desk pretending to study, but glancing every now and then at Elsie, with a conscience evidently ill at ease. She cast an imploring glance at him, as she returned to her seat; but he turned away his head, muttering, "It's all her own fault, for she wouldn't let me help her."
As he looked up again, he caught his sister Lora's eyes fixed on him with an expression of scorn and contempt. He colored violently, and dropped his eyes upon his book.
"Miss Day," said Lora, indignantly, "I see Arthur does not mean to speak, and as I cannot bear to see such injustice, I must tell you that it is all his fault that Elsie has failed in her lessons; for she tried her very best, but he teased her incessantly, and also jogged her elbow and made her spill the ink on her book; and to her credit she was too honorable to tear out the leaf from her copy-book, or to let him make her example right; both which he very generously proposed doing after causing all the mischief."
"Is this so, Arthur?" asked Miss Day, angrily.
The boy hung his head, but made no reply.
"Very well, then," said Miss Day, "you too must stay at home."
"Surely," said Lora, in surprise, "you will not keep Elsie, since I have shown you that she was not to blame."
"Miss Lora," replied her teacher, haughtily, "I wish you to understand that I am not to be dictated to by my pupils."
Lora bit her lip, but said nothing, and Miss Day went on hearing the lessons without further remark.
In the meantime the little Elsie sat at her desk, striving to conquer the feelings of anger and indignation that were swelling in her breast; for Elsie, though she possessed much of "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit," was not yet perfect, and often had a fierce contest with her naturally quick temper. Yet it was seldom, very seldom that word or tone or look betrayed the existence of such feelings; and it was a common remark in the family that Elsie had no spirit.
The recitations were scarcely finished when the door opened and a lady entered dressed for a ride.
"Not through yet, Miss Day?" she asked.
"Yes, madam, we are just done," replied the teacher, closing the French grammar and handing it to Louise.
"Well, I hope your pupils have all done their duty this morning, and are ready to accompany us to the fair," said Mrs. Dinsmore. "But what is the matter with Elsie?"
"She has failed in all her exercises, and therefore has been told that she must remain at home," replied Miss Day with heightened color and in a tone of anger; "and as Miss Lora tells me that Master Arthur was partly the cause, I have forbidden him also to accompany us."
"Excuse me, Miss Day, for correcting you," said Lora, a little indignantly; "but I did not say partly, for I am sure it was entirely his fault."
"Hush, hush, Lora," said her mother, a little impatiently; "how can you be sure of any such thing; Miss Day, I must beg of you to excuse Arthur this once, for I have quite set my heart on taking him along. He is fond of mischief, I know, but he is only a child, and you must not be too hard upon him."
"Very well, madam," replied the governess stiffly, "you have of course the best right to control your own children."
Mrs. Dinsmore turned to leave the room.
"Mamma," asked Lora, "is not Elsie to be allowed to go too?"
"Elsie is not my child, and I have nothing to say about it. Miss Day, who knows all the circumstances, is much better able than I to judge whether or no she is deserving of punishment," replied Mrs. Dinsmore, sailing out of the room.
"You will let her go, Miss Day?" said Lora, inquiringly.
"Miss Lora," replied Miss Day, angrily, "I have already told you I was not to be dictated to. I have said Elsie must remain at home, and I shall not break my word."
"Such injustice!" muttered Lora, turning away.
"Lora," said Louise, impatiently, "why need you concern yourself with Elsie's affairs? for my part, I have no pity for her, so full as she is of nonsensical scruples."
Miss Day crossed the room to where Elsie was sitting leaning her head upon the desk, struggling hard to keep down the feelings of anger and indignation aroused by the unjust treatment she had received.
"Did I not order you to learn that lesson over?" said the governess, "and why are you sitting here idling?"
Elsie dared not speak lest her anger should show itself in words; so merely raised her head, and hastily brushing away her tears, opened the book. But Miss Day, who was irritated by Mrs. Dinsmore's interference, and also by the consciousness that she was acting unjustly, seemed determined to vent her displeasure upon her innocent victim.
"Why do you not speak?" she exclaimed, seizing Elsie by the arm and shaking her violently. "Answer me this instant. Why have you been idling all the morning?"
"I have not," replied the child hastily, stung to the quick by her unjust violence. "I have tried hard to do my duty, and you are punishing me when I don't deserve it at all."
"How dare you? there! take that for your impertinence," said Miss Day, giving her a box on the ear.
Elsie was about to make a still more angry reply; but she restrained herself, and turning to her book, tried to study, though the hot, blinding tears came so thick and fast that she could not see a letter.
"De carriage am waiting, ladies, an' missus in a hurry," said a servant, opening the door; and Miss Day hastily quitted the room, followed by Louise and Lora; and Elsie was left alone.
She laid down the geography, and opening her desk, took out a small pocket Bible, which bore the marks of frequent use. She turned over the leaves as though seeking for some particular passage; at length she found it, and wiping away the blinding tears, she read these words in a low, murmuring tone:
"For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps."
"Oh! I have not done it. I did not take it patiently. I am afraid I am not following in His steps," she cried, bursting into an agony of tears and sobs.
"My dear little girl, what is the matter?" asked a kind voice, and a soft hand was gently laid on her shoulder.
The child looked up hastily. "O Miss Allison!" she said, "is it you? I thought I was quite alone."
"And so you were, my dear, until this moment" replied the lady, drawing up a chair, and sitting down close beside her. "I was on the veranda, and hearing sobs, came in to see if I could be of any assistance. You look very much distressed; will you not tell me the cause of your sorrow?"
Elsie answered only by a fresh burst of tears.
"They have all gone to the fair and left you at home alone; perhaps to learn a lesson you have failed in reciting?" said the lady, inquiringly.
"Yes, ma'am," said the child; "but that is not the worst;" and her tears fell faster, as she laid the little Bible on the desk, and pointed with her finger to the words she had been reading. "Oh!" she sobbed, "I--I did not do it; I did not bear it patiently. I was treated unjustly, and punished when I was not to blame, and I grew angry. Oh! I'm afraid I shall never be like Jesus! never, never."
The child's distress seemed very great, and Miss Allison was extremely surprised. She was a visitor who had been in the house only a few days, and, herself a devoted Christian, had been greatly pained by the utter disregard of the family in which she was sojourning for the teachings of God's word. Rose Allison was from the North, and Mr. Dinsmore, the proprietor of Roselands, was an old friend of her father, to whom he had been paying a visit, and finding Rose in delicate health, he had prevailed upon her parents to allow her to spend the winter months with his family in the more congenial clime of their Southern home.
"My poor child," she said, passing her arm around the little one's waist, "my poor little Elsie! that is your name, is it not?"
"Yes, ma'am; Elsie Dinsmore," replied the little girl.
"Well, Elsie, let me read you another verse from this blessed book. Here it is: 'The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.' And here again: 'If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous.' Dear Elsie, 'if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.'"
"Yes, ma'am," said the child; "I have asked Him to forgive me, and I know He has; but I am so sorry, oh! so sorry that I have grieved and displeased Him; for, O Miss Allison! I do love Jesus, and want to be like Him always."
"Yes, dear child, we must grieve for our sins when we remember that they helped to slay the Lord. But I am very, very glad to learn that you love Jesus, and are striving to do His will. I love Him too, and we will love one another; for you know He says, 'By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,'" said Miss Allison, stroking the little girl's hair, and kissing her tenderly.
"Will you love me? Oh! how glad I am," exclaimed the child joyfully; "I have nobody to love me but poor old mammy."
"And who is mammy?" asked the lady.
"My dear old nurse, who has always taken care of me. Have you not seen her, ma'am?"
"Perhaps I may. I have seen a number of nice old colored women about here since I came. But, Elsie, will you tell me who taught you about Jesus, and how long you have loved Him?"
"Ever since I can remember," replied the little girl earnestly; "and it was dear old mammy who first told me how He suffered and died on the cross for us." Her eyes filled with tears and her voice quivered with emotion. "She used to talk to me about it just as soon as I could understand anything," she continued; "and then she would tell me that my own dear mamma loved Jesus, and had gone to be with Him in heaven; and how, when she was dying, she put me --a little, wee baby, I was then not quite a week old--into her arms, and said, 'Mammy, take my dear little baby and love her, and take care of her just as you did of me; and O mammy! be sure that you teach her to love God.' Would you like to see my mamma, Miss Allison?"
And as she spoke she drew from her bosom a miniature set in gold and diamonds, which she wore suspended by a gold chain around her neck, and put it in Rose's hand.
It was the likeness of a young and blooming girl, not more than fifteen or sixteen years of age. She was very beautiful, with a sweet, gentle, winning countenance, the same soft hazel eyes and golden brown curls that the little Elsie possessed; the same regular features, pure complexion, and sweet smile.
Miss Allison gazed at it a moment in silent admiration; then turning from it to the child with a puzzled expression, she said, "But, Elsie, I do not understand; are you not sister to Enna and the rest, and is not Mrs. Dinsmore own mother to them all?"
"Yes, ma'am, to all of them, but not to me nor my papa. Their brother Horace is my papa, and so they are all my aunts and uncles."
"Indeed," said the lady, musingly; "I thought you looked very unlike the rest. And your papa is away, is he not, Elsie?"
"Yes, ma'am; he is in Europe. He has been away almost ever since I was born, and I have never seen him. Oh! how I do wish he would come home! how I long to see him! Do you think he would love me, Miss Allison? Do you think he would take me on his knee and pet me, as grandpa does Enna?"
"I should think he would, dear; I don't know how he could help loving his own dear little girl," said the lady, again kissing the little rosy cheek. "But now," she added, rising, "I must go away and let you learn your lesson."
Then taking up the little Bible, and turning over the leaves, she asked, "Would you like to come to my room sometimes in the mornings and evenings, and read this book with me, Elsie?"
"Oh! yes, ma'am, dearly!" exclaimed the child, her eyes sparkling with pleasure.
"Come then this evening, if you like; and now goodbye for the present." And pressing another kiss on the child's cheek, she left her and went back to her own room, where she found her friend Adelaide Dinsmore, a young lady near her own age, and the eldest daughter of the family. Adelaide was seated on a sofa, busily employed with some fancy work.
"You see I am making myself quite at home," she said, looking up as Rose entered. "I cannot imagine where you have been all this time."
"Can you not? In the school-room, talking with little Elsie. Do you know, Adelaide, I thought she was your sister; but she tells me not."
"No, she is Horace's child. I supposed you knew; but if you do not, I may just as well tell you the whole story. Horace was a very wild boy, petted and spoiled, and always used to having his own way; and when he was about seventeen--quite a forward youth he was too--he must needs go to New Orleans to spend some months with a schoolmate; and there he met, and fell desperately in love with, a very beautiful girl a year or two younger than himself, an orphan and very wealthy. Fearing that objections would be made on the score of their youth, etc., etc., he persuaded her to consent to a private marriage, and they had been man and wife for some months before either her friends or his suspected it.
"Well, when it came at last to papa's ears, he was very angry, both on account of their extreme youth, and because, as Elsie Grayson's father had made all his money by trade, he did not consider her quite my brother's equal; so he called Horace home and sent him North to college. Then he studied law, and since that he has been traveling in foreign lands. But to return to his wife; it seems that her guardian was quite as much opposed to the match as papa; and the poor girl was made to believe that she should never see her husband again. All their letters were intercepted, and finally she was told that he was dead; so, as Aunt Chloe says, 'she grew thin and pale, and weak and melancholy,' and while the little Elsie was yet not quite a week old, she died. We never saw her; she died in her guardian's house, and there the little Elsie stayed in charge of Aunt Chloe, who was an old servant in the family, and had nursed her mother before her, and of the housekeeper, Mrs. Murray, a pious old Scotch woman, until about four years ago, when her guardian's death broke up the family, and then they came to us. Horace never comes home, and does not seem to care for his child, for he never mentions her in his letters, except when it is necessary in the way of business."
"She is a dear little thing," said Rose. "I am sure he could not help loving her, if he could only see her."
"Oh! yes, she is well enough, and I often feel sorry for the lonely little thing, but the truth is, I believe we are a little jealous of her; she is so extremely beautiful, and heiress to such an immense fortune. Mamma often frets, and says that one of these days she will quite eclipse her younger daughters."
"But then," said Rose, "she is almost as near; her own grand- daughter."
"No, she is not so very near," replied Adelaide, "for Horace is not mamma's son. He was seven or eight years old when she married papa, and I think she was never particularly fond of him."
"Ah! yes," thought Rose, "that explains it. Poor little Elsie! No wonder you pine for your father's love, and grieve over the loss of the mother you never knew!"
"She is an odd child," said Adelaide; "I don't understand her; she is so meek and patient she will fairly let you trample upon her. It provokes papa. He says she is no Dinsmore, or she would know how to stand up for her own rights; and yet she has a temper, I know, for once in a great while it shows itself for an instant-- only an instant, though, and at very long intervals--and then she grieves over it for days, as though she had committed some great crime; while the rest of us think nothing of getting angry half a dozen times in a day. And then she is forever poring over that little Bible of hers; what she sees so attractive in it I'm sure I cannot tell, for I must say I find it the dullest of dull books."
"Do you," said Rose; "how strange! I had rather give up all other books than that one. 'Thy testimonies have I taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart,' 'How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.'"
"Do you really love it so, Rose?" asked Adelaide, lifting her eyes to her friend's face with an expression of astonishment; "do tell me why?"
"For its exceeding great and precious promises Adelaide; for its holy teachings; for its offers of peace and pardon and eternal life. I am a sinner, Adelaide, lost, ruined, helpless, hopeless, and the Bible brings me the glad news of salvation offered as a free, unmerited gift; it tells me that Jesus died to save sinners --just such sinners as I. I find that I have a heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and the blessed Bible tells me how that heart can be renewed, and where I can obtain that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. I find myself utterly unable to keep God's holy law, and it tells me of One who has kept it for me. I find that I deserve the wrath and curse of a justly offended God, and it tells me of Him who was made a curse for me. I find that all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and it offers me the beautiful, spotless robe of Christ's perfect righteousness. Yes, it tells me that God can be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus."
Rose spoke these words with deep emotion, then suddenly clasping her hands and raising her eyes, she exclaimed, "'Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!'"
For a moment there was silence. Then Adelaide spoke:
"Rose," said she, "you talk as if you were a great sinner; but I don't believe it; it is only your humility that makes you think so. Why, what have you ever done? Had you been a thief, a murderer, or guilty of any other great crime, I could see the propriety of your using such language with regard to yourself; but for a refined, intelligent, amiable young lady, excuse me for saying it, dear Rose, but such language seems to me simply absurd."
"Man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord pondereth the heart," said Rose, gently. "No, dear Adelaide, you are mistaken; for I can truly say 'mine iniquities have gone over my head as a cloud, and my transgressions as a thick cloud.' Every duty has been stained with sin, every motive impure, every thought unholy. From my earliest existence, God has required the undivided love of my whole heart, soul, strength, and mind; and so far from yielding it, I live at enmity with Him, and rebellion against His government, until within the last two years. For seventeen years He has showered blessings upon me, giving me life, health, strength, friends, and all that was necessary for happiness; and for fifteen of those years I returned Him nothing but ingratitude and rebellion. For fifteen years I rejected His offers of pardon and reconciliation, turned my back upon the Saviour of sinners, and resisted all the strivings of God's Holy Spirit, and will you say that I am not a great sinner?" Her voice quivered, and her eyes were full of tears.
"Dear Rose," said Adelaide, putting her arm around her friend and kissing her cheek affectionately, "don't think of these things; religion is too gloomy for one so young as you."
"Gloomy, dear Adelaide!" replied Rose, returning the embrace; "I never knew what true happiness was until I found Jesus. My sins often make me sad, but religion, never.
"'Oft I walk beneath the cloud, Dark as midnight's gloomy shroud; But when fear is at the height, Jesus comes, and all is light.'"