Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley
"If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a Delight, the Holy of the Lord, Honorable, and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words." --Isaiah Iviii. 13. "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye." --Acts iv. 19.
Quite a number of guests had dined at Roselands. They were nearly all gentlemen, and were now collected in the drawing-room, laughing, jesting, talking politics, and conversing with each other and the ladies upon various worldly topics, apparently quite forgetful that it was the Lord's day, which He has commanded to be kept holy in thought and word, as well as deed.
"May I ask what you are in search of, Mr. Eversham?" inquired Adelaide, as she noticed one of the guests glance around the room with a rather disappointed air.
"Yes, Miss Adelaide; I was looking for little Miss Elsie. Travilla has given me so very glowing an account of her precocious musical talent, that I have conceived a great desire to hear her play and sing."
"Do you hear that, Horace?" asked Adelaide, turning to her brother.
"Yes, and I shall be most happy to gratify you, Eversham," replied the young father, with a proud smile.
He crossed the room to summon a servant, but as he placed his hand upon the bell-rope, Mrs. Dinsmore arrested his movement.
"Stay, Horace," she said; "you had better not send for her."
"May I be permitted to ask why, madam?" he inquired in a tone of mingled surprise and annoyance.
"Because she will not sing," answered the lady, coolly.
"Pardon me, madam, but I think she will, if I bid her to do it," he said with flashing eyes.
"No, she will not," persisted Mrs. Dinsmore, in the same cold, quiet tone; "she will tell you she is wiser than her father, and that it would be a sin to obey him in this. Believe me, she will most assuredly defy your authority; so you had better take my advice and let her alone--thus sparing yourself the mortification of exhibiting before your guests your inability to govern your child."
Mr. Dinsmore bit his lip with vexation.
"Thank you," he said, haughtily, "but I prefer convincing you that that inability lies wholly in your own imagination; and I am quite at a loss to understand upon what you found your opinion, as Elsie has never yet made the very slightest resistance to my authority."
He had given the bell-rope a vigorous pull while speaking, and a servant now appearing in answer to the summons, he sent him with a message to Elsie, requiring her presence in the drawing-room.
Then turning away from his step-mother, who looked after him with a gleam of triumph in her eye, he joined the group of gentlemen already gathered about the piano, where Adelaide had just taken her seat and begun a brilliant overture.
Yet, outwardly calm and self-satisfied as his demeanor may have been, Horace Dinsmore was even now regretting the step he had just taken; for remembering Elsie's conscientious scruples regarding the observance of the Sabbath--which he had for the moment forgotten--he foresaw that there would be a struggle, probably a severe one; and though, having always found her docile and yielding, he felt no doubt of the final result, he would willingly have avoided the contest, could he have done so without a sacrifice of pride; but, as he said to himself, with a slight sigh, he had now gone too far to retreat; and then he had all along felt that this struggle must come some time, and perhaps it was as well now as at any other.
Elsie was alone in her own room, spending the Sabbath afternoon in her usual manner, when the servant came to say that her papa wished to see her in the drawing-room. The little girl was a good deal alarmed at the summons, for the thought instantly flashed upon her, "He is going to bid me play and sing, or do something else which it is not right to do on the Sabbath day."
But remembering that he never had done so, she hoped he might not now; yet ere she obeyed the call she knelt down for a moment, and prayed earnestly for strength to do right, however difficult it might be.
"Come here, daughter," her father said as she entered the room. He spoke in his usual pleasant, affectionate tone, yet Elsie started, trembled, and turned pale; for catching sight of the group at the piano, and her Aunt Adelaide just vacating the music-stool, she at once perceived what was in store for her.
"Here, Elsie," said her father, selecting a song which she had learned during their absence, and sang remarkably well, "I wish you to sing this for my friends; they are anxious to hear it."
"Will not to-morrow do, papa?" she asked in a low, tremulous tone.
Mrs. Dinsmore, who had drawn near to listen, now looked at Horace with a meaning smile, which he affected not to see.
"Certainly not, Elsie," he said; "we want it now. You know it quite well enough without any more practice."
"I did not want to wait for that reason, papa," she replied in the same low, trembling tones, "but you know this is the holy Sabbath day."
"Well, my daughter, and what of that? I consider this song perfectly proper to be sung to-day, and that ought to satisfy you that you will not be doing wrong to sing it; remember what I said to you some weeks ago; and now sit down and sing it at once, without any more ado."
"O papa! I cannot sing it to-day; please let me wait until to-morrow."
"Elsie," he said in his sternest tones, "sit down to the piano instantly, and do as I bid you, and let me hear no more of this nonsense."
She sat down, but raising her pleading eyes, brimful of tears to his face, she repeated her refusal. "Dear papa, I cannot sing it to-day. I cannot break the Sabbath."
"Elsie, you must sing it," said he, placing the music before her. "I have told you that it will not be breaking the Sabbath, and that is sufficient; you must let me judge for you in these matters."
"Let her wait until to-morrow, Dinsmore; tomorrow will suit us quite as well," urged several of the gentlemen, while Adelaide good-naturedly said, "Let me play it, Horace; I have no such scruples, and presume I can do it nearly as well as Elsie."
"No," he replied, "when I give my child a command, it is to be obeyed; I have said she should play it, and play it she must; she is not to suppose that she may set up her opinion of right and wrong against mine."
Elsie sat with her little hands folded in her lap, the tears streaming from her downcast eyes over her pale cheeks. She was trembling, but though there was no stubbornness in her countenance, the expression meek and humble, she made no movement toward obeying her father's order.
There was a moment of silent waiting; then he said in his severest tone, "Elsie, you shall sit there till you obey me, though it should be until to-morrow morning."
"Yes, papa," she replied in a scarcely audible voice, and they all turned away and left her.
"You see now that you had better have taken my advice, Horace," remarked Mrs. Dinsmore, in a triumphant aside; "I knew very well how it would end."
"Excuse me," said he, "but it has not ended; and ere it does, I think she will learn that she has a stronger will than her own to deal with."
Elsie's position was a most uncomfortable one; her seat high and uneasy, and seeming to grow more and more so as the weary moments passed slowly away. No one came near her or seemed to notice her, yet she could hear them conversing in other parts of the room, and knew that they were sometimes looking at her, and, timid and bashful as she was, it seemed hard to bear. Then, too, her little heart was very sad as she thought of her father's displeasure, and feared that he would withdraw from her the affection which had been for the last few months the very sunshine of her life. Besides all this, the excitement of her feelings, and the close and sultry air--for it was a very warm day--had brought on a nervous headache. She leaned forward and rested her head against the instrument, feeling in momentary danger of falling from her seat.
Thus two long hours had passed when Mr. Travilla came to her side, and said in a compassionate tone, "I am really very sorry for you, my little friend; but I advise you to submit to your papa. I see you are getting very weary sitting there, and I warn you not to hope to conquer him. I have known him for years, and a more determined person I never saw. Had you not better sing the song? it will not take five minutes, and then your trouble will be all over."
Elsie raised her head, and answered gently, "Thank you for your sympathy, Mr. Travilla, you are very kind; but I could not do it, because Jesus says, 'He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me;' and I cannot disobey Him, even to please my own dear papa."
"But, Miss Elsie, why do you think it would be disobeying Him? Is there any verse in the Bible which says you must not sing songs on Sunday?"
"Mr. Travilla, it says the Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord; that we are not to think our own thoughts, nor speak our own words, nor do our own actions; but all the day must be spent in studying God's word, or worshipping and praising Him; and there is no praise in that song; not one word about God or heaven."
"That is very true, Elsie, but still it is such a very little thing, that I cannot think there would be much harm in it, or that God would be very angry with you for doing it."
"O Mr. Travilla!" she said, looking up at him in great surprise, "surely you know that there is no such thing as a little sin; and don't you remember about the man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath day?"
"No; what was it?"
"God commanded that he should be stoned to death, and it was done. Would you not have thought that a very little thing, Mr. Travilla?"
"Yes, I believe I should," said he, turning away with a very grave face.
"Dinsmore," he said, going up to his friend; "I am sure that child is conscientious; had you not better give up to her in this instance?"
"Never, Travilla," he answered, with stern decision. "This is the first time she has rebelled against my authority, and if I let her conquer now, she will think she is always to have her own way. No; cost what it may, I must subdue her; she will have to learn that my will is law."
"Right, Horace," said the elder Mr. Dinsmore, approvingly, "let her understand from the first that you are to be master; it is always the best plan."
"Excuse me, Dinsmore," said Travilla; "but I must say that I think a parent has no right to coerce a child into doing violence to its conscience."
"Nonsense!" replied his friend, a little angrily. "Elsie is entirely too young to set up her opinion against mine; she must allow me to judge for her in these matters for some years to come."
Eversham, who had been casting uneasy glances at Elsie all the afternoon, now drawing his chair near to Adelaide, said to her in an undertone, "Miss Adelaide, I am deeply sorry for the mischief I have unwittingly caused, and if you can tell me how to repair it you will lay me under lasting obligations."
Adelaide shook her head. "There is no moving Horace when he has once set his foot down," she said; "and as to Elsie, I doubt whether any power on earth can make her do what she considers wrong."
"Poor little thing!" said Eversham, sighing; "where in the world did she get such odd notions?"
"Partly from a pious Scotch woman, who had a good deal to do with her in her infancy, and partly from studying the Bible, I believe. She is always at it."
"Indeed!" and he relapsed into thoughtful silence.
Another hour passed slowly away, and then the tea-bell rang.
"Elsie," asked her father, coming to her side, "are you ready to obey me now? if so, we will wait a moment to hear the song, and then you can go to your tea with us."
"Dear papa, I cannot break the Sabbath," she replied, in a low, gentle tone, without lifting her head.
"Very well then, I cannot break my word; you must sit there until you will submit; and until then you must fast. You are not only making yourself miserable by your disobedience and obstinacy, Elsie, but are mortifying and grieving me very much," he added in a subdued tone, that sent a sharp pang to the loving little heart, and caused some very bitter tears to fall, as he turned away and left her.
The evening passed wearily away to the little girl; the drawing- room was but dimly lighted, for the company had all deserted it to wander about the grounds, or sit in the portico enjoying the moonlight and the pleasant evening breeze, and the air indoors seemed insupportably close and sultry. At times Elsie could scarcely breathe, and she longed intensely to get out into the open air; every moment her seat grew more uncomfortable and the pain in her head more severe: her thoughts began to wander, she forgot where she was, everything became confused, and at length she lost all consciousness.
Several gentlemen, among whom were Mr. Horace Dinsmore and Mr. Travilla, were conversing together on the portico, when they were suddenly startled by a sound as of something falling.
Travilla, who was nearest the door, rushed into the drawing-room, followed by the others.
"A light! quick, quick, a light!" he cried, raising Elsie's insensible form in his arms; "the child has fainted."
One of the others, instantly snatching a lamp from a distant table, brought it near, and the increased light showed Elsie's little face, ghastly as that of a corpse, while a stream of blood was flowing from a wound in the temple, made by striking against some sharp corner of the furniture as she fell.
She was a pitiable sight indeed, with her fair face, her curls, and her white dress all dabbled in blood.
"Dinsmore, you're a brute!" exclaimed Travilla indignantly, as he placed her gently on a sofa.
Horace made no reply, but, with a face almost as pale as her own, bent over his little daughter in speechless alarm, while one of the guests, who happened to be a physician, hastily dressed the wound, and then applied restoratives.
It was some time ere consciousness returned, and the father trembled with the agonizing fear that the gentle spirit had taken its flight.
But at length the soft eyes unclosed, and gazing with a troubled look into his face, bent so anxiously over her, she asked, "Dear papa, are you angry with me?"
"No, darling," he replied in tones made tremulous with emotion, "not at all."
"What was it?" she asked in a bewildered way; "what did I do? what has happened?"
"Never mind, daughter," he said, "you have been ill; but you are better now, so don't think any more about it."
"She had better be put to bed at once," said the physician.
"There is blood on my dress," cried Elsie, in a startled tone; "where did it come from?"
"You fell and hurt your head," replied her father, raising her gently in his arms; "but don't talk any more now."
"Oh! I remember," she moaned, an expression of keen distress coming over her face; "papa--"
"Hush! hush! not a word more; we will let the past go," he said, kissing her lips. "I shall carry you to your room now, and see you put to bed."
He held her on his knee, her head resting on his shoulder, while Chloe prepared her for rest.
"Are you hungry, daughter?" he asked.
"No, papa; I only want to go to sleep."
"There, Aunt Chloe, that will do," he said, as the old nurse tied on the child's night-cap; and raising her again in his arms, he carried her to the bed and was about to place her on it.
"Oh papa! my prayers first, you know," she cried eagerly.
"Never mind them to-night," said he, "you are not able."
"Please let me, dear papa," she pleaded; "I cannot go to sleep without"
Yielding to her entreaties, he placed her on her knees, and stood beside her, listening to her murmured petitions, in which he more than once heard his own name coupled with a request that he might be made to love Jesus.
When she had finished, he again raised her in his arms, kissed her tenderly several times, and then laid her carefully on the bed, saying, as he did so, "Why did you ask, Elsie, that I might love Jesus?"
"Because, papa, I do so want you to love Him; it would make you so happy; and besides, you cannot go to heaven without it; the Bible says so."
"Does it? and what makes you think I don't love Him?"
"Dear papa, please don't be angry," she pleaded, tearfully, "but you know Jesus says, 'He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me.'"
He stooped over her. "Good night, daughter," he said.
"Dear, dear papa," she cried, throwing her arm round his neck, and drawing down his face close to hers, "I do love you so very, very much!"
"Better than anybody else?" he asked
"No, papa, I love Jesus best; you next."
He kissed her again, and with a half sigh turned away and left the room. He was not entirely pleased; not quite willing that she should love even her Saviour better than himself.
Elsie was very weary, and was soon asleep. She waked the next morning feeling nearly as well as usual, and after she had had her bath and been dressed by Chloe's careful hands, the curls being arranged to conceal the plaster that covered the wound on her temple, there was nothing in her appearance, except a slight paleness, to remind her friends of the last night's accident.
She was sitting reading her morning chapter when her father came in, and taking a seat by her side, lifted her to his knee, saying, as he caressed her tenderly, "My little daughter is looking pretty well this morning; how does she feel?"
"Quite well, thank you, papa," she replied, looking up into his face with a sweet, loving smile.
He raised the curls to look at the wounded temple; then, as he dropped them again, he said, with a shudder, "Elsie, do you know that you were very near being killed last night?"
"No, papa, was I?" she asked with an awe-struck countenance.
"Yes, the doctor says if that wound had been made half an inch nearer your eye--I should have been childless."
His voice trembled almost too much for utterance as he finished his sentence, and he strained her to his heart with a deep sigh of thankfulness for her escape.
Elsie was very quiet for some moments, and the little face was almost sad in its deep thoughtfulness.
"What are you thinking of, darling?" he asked.
She raised her eyes to his face and he saw that they were brimful of tears.
"O papa!" she said, dropping her head on his breast while the bright drops fell like rain down her cheeks, "would you have been so very sorry?"
"Sorry, darling! do you not know that you are more precious to me than all my wealth, all my friends and relatives put together? Yes, I would rather part with everything else than lose this one little girl," he said, kissing her again and again.
"Dear, dear papa! how glad I am that you love me so much!" she replied; and then relapsed into silence.
He watched her changing countenance for some time, then asked, "What is it, darling?"
"I was just thinking," she said, "whether I was ready to go to heaven, and I believe I was; for I know that I love Jesus; and then I was thinking how glad mamma would have been to see me; don't you think she would, papa?"
"I can't spare you to her yet," he replied with emotion, "and I think she loves me too well to wish it."
As Miss Day had not yet returned, Elsie's time was still pretty much at her own disposal, excepting when her papa gave her something to do; so, after breakfast, finding that he was engaged with some one in the library, she took her Bible, and seeking out a shady retreat in the garden, sat down to read.
The Bible was ever the book of books to her, and this morning the solemn, tender feelings naturally caused by the discovery of her recent narrow escape from sudden death made it even more than usually touching and beautiful in her eyes. She had been alone in the arbor for some time, when, hearing a step at her side, she looked up, showing a face all wet with tears.
It was Mr. Travilla who stood beside her.
"In tears, little Elsie! Pray, what may the book be that effects you so?" he asked, sitting down by her side and taking it from her hand. "The Bible, I declare!" he exclaimed in surprise. "What can there be in it that you find so affecting?"
"O Mr. Travilla!" said the little girl, "does it not make your heart ache to read how the Jews abused our dear, dear Saviour? and then to think that it was all because of our sins," she sobbed.
He looked half distressed, half puzzled; it seemed a new idea to him.
"Really, my little Elsie," he said, "you are quite original in your ideas, I suppose I ought to feel unhappy about these things, but indeed the truth is, I have never thought much about them."
"Then you don't love Jesus," she answered, mournfully. "Ah! Mr. Travilla, how sorry I am."
"Why, Elsie, what difference can it make to you whether I love Him or not?"
"Because, Mr. Travilla, the Bible says, 'If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha,' accursed from God. Oh! sir, think how dreadful! You cannot be saved unless you love Jesus, and believe on Him. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' That is what God says in his word."
She spoke with deep solemnity, the tears trembling in her eyes. He was touched, but for a while sat perfectly silent.
Then he said, with an effort to speak lightly. "Ah, well, my little friend, I certainly intend to repent and believe before I die, but there is time enough yet."
"Mr. Travilla," she said, laying her hand on his arm and looking earnestly into his face, "how do you know that there is time enough yet? don't put it off, I beg of you."
She paused a moment; then asked, "Do you know, Mr. Travilla, how near I came to being killed last night?"
"Well, suppose I had been killed, and had not loved Jesus; where would I be now?"
He put his arm round her, and giving her a kiss, said, "I don't think you would have been in any very bad place, Elsie; a sweet, amiable little girl, who has never harmed any one, would surely not fare very badly in another world."
She shook her head very gravely.
"Ah! Mr. Travilla, you forget the anathema, maranatha; if I had not loved Jesus, and had my sins washed away in His blood, I could not have been saved."
Just at this moment a servant came to tell Elsie that her papa wanted her in the drawing-room, and Mr. Travilla, taking her hand, led her into the house.
They found the company again grouped about the piano, listening to Adelaide's music.
Elsie went directly to her father and stood by his side, putting her hand in his with a gesture of confiding affection.
He smiled down at her, and kept fast hold of it until his sister had risen from the instrument, when putting Elsie in her place, he said, "Now, my daughter, let us have that song."
"Yes, papa," she replied, beginning the prelude at once, "I will do my very best."
And so she did. The song was both well played and well sung, and her father looked proud and happy as the gentlemen expressed their pleasure and asked for another and another.
Thus the clouds which had so suddenly obscured little Elsie's sky, seemed to have vanished as speedily as they had arisen.
Her father again treated her with all his wonted affection, and there even seemed to be a depth of tenderness in his love which it had not known before, for he could not forget how nearly he had lost her.