Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." --Psalm xxiii. 4. "'Tis but the cruel artifice of fate, Thus to refine and vary on our woes, To raise us from despair and give us hopes, Only to plunge us in the gulf again, And make us doubly wretched." --TRAP's Abramuh.
It was Sabbath morning, and Elsie, ready dressed for church, stood in the portico waiting for her father to come down and lift her into the carriage, in which Adelaide, Louisa, and Enna were already seated.
The coachman was in his seat, and the horses, a pair of young and fiery steeds purchased by Mr. Dinsmore only a few days before, were impatiently stamping and tossing their heads, requiring quite an exertion of strength to hold them in.
"I don't exactly like the actions of those horses, Ajax," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, as he came out putting on his gloves; "I did not intend to have them put in harness to-day. Why did you not give us the old bays?"
"Kase, Marster Horace, ole Kate she's got a lame foot, an' ole marster he says dese youngsters is got to be used some time or nuther, an' I reckoned I mout jis as well use 'em to-day."
"Do you feel quite sure of being able to hold them in?" asked his master, glancing uneasily first at the horses and then at Elsie.
"Ki! marster, dis here chile ben able to hold in a'most anything," exclaimed the negro, exhibiting a double row of dazzlingly white teeth; "an' besides, I'se drove dese here hosses twice 'fore now, an' dey went splendid. Hold 'em in! Yes, sah, easy as nuffin."
"Elsie," said her father, still looking a little uneasy, in spite of Ajax's boasting, "I think it would be just as well for you to stay at home."
Elsie made no reply in words, but her answering look spoke such intense disappointment, such earnest entreaty, that, saying, "Ah! well, I suppose there is no real danger; and since you seem so anxious to go, I will not compel you to stay at home," he lifted her into the carriage, and seating himself beside her, ordered the coachman to drive on as carefully as he could.
"Elsie, change seats with me," said Enna; "I want to sit beside Brother Horace."
"No," replied Mr. Dinsmore, laying his hand on his little daughter's shoulder, "Elsie's place is by me, and she shall sit nowhere else."
"Do you think we are in any danger of being run away with?" asked Adelaide, a little anxiously as she observed him glancing once or twice out of the window, and was at the same time sensible that their motion was unusually rapid.
"The horses are young and fiery, but Ajax is an excellent driver," he replied, evasively; adding, "You may be sure that if I had thought the danger very great I would have left Elsie at home."
They reached the church without accident, but on their return the horses took fright while going down a hill, and rushed along at a furious rate, which threatened every instant to upset the carriage.
Elsie thought they were going very fast, but did not know that there was real danger until her father suddenly lifted her from her seat, and placing her between his knees, held her tightly, as though he feared she would be snatched from his grasp.
Elsie looked up into his face. It was deadly pale, and his eyes were fixed upon her with an expression of anguish.
"Dear papa," she whispered, "God will take care of us."
"I would give all I am worth to have you safe at home," he answered hoarsely, pressing her closer and closer to him.
O! even in that moment of fearful peril, when death seemed just at hand, those words, and the affectionate clasp of her father's arm, sent a thrill of intense joy to the love-famished heart of the little girl.
But destruction seemed inevitable. Lora was leaning back, half fainting with terror; Adelaide scarcely less alarmed, while Enna clung to her, sobbing most bitterly.
Elsie alone preserved a cheerful serenity. She had built her house upon the rock, and knew that it would stand. Her destiny was in her Heavenly Father's hands, and she was content to leave it there. Even death had no terrors to the simple, unquestioning faith of the little child who had put her trust in Jesus.
But they were not to perish thus; for at that moment a powerful negro, who was walking along the road, hearing an unusual sound, turned about, caught sight of the vehicle coming toward him at such a rapid rate, and instantly comprehending the peril of the travellers, planted himself in the middle of the road, and, at the risk of life and limb, caught the horses by the bridle--the sudden and unexpected check throwing them upon their haunches, and bringing the carriage to an instant stand-still.
"Thank God, we are saved! That fellow shall be well rewarded for his brave deed," exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore, throwing open the carriage door.
Then, leaping to the ground, he lifted Elsie out, set her down, and gave his hand to his sisters one after the other.
They were almost at the entrance of the avenue, and all preferred to walk the short distance to the house rather than again trust themselves to the horses.
Mr. Dinsmore lingered a moment to speak to the man who had done them such good service, and to give some directions to the coachman; and then, taking the hand of his little girl, who had been waiting for him, he walked slowly on, neither of them speaking a word until they reached the house, when he stooped and kissed her cheek, asking very kindly if she had recovered from her fright.
"Yes, papa," she answered, in a quiet tone, "I knew that God would take care of us. Oh! wasn't He good to keep us all from being killed?"
"Yes," he said, very gravely. "Go now and let mammy get you ready for dinner."
As Elsie was sitting alone in her room that afternoon she was surprised by a visit from Lora; it being very seldom that the elder girls cared to enter her apartment.
Lora looked a little pale, and more grave and thoughtful than Elsie had ever seen her. For a while she sat in silence, then suddenly burst out, "Oh, Elsie! I can't help thinking all the time, what if we had been killed! where would we all be now? where would I have been? I believe you would have gone straight to heaven, Elsie; but I--oh! I should have been with the rich man the minister read about this morning, lifting up my eyes in torment."
And Lora covered her face with her hands and shuddered.
Presently she went on again. "I was terribly frightened, and so were the rest--all but you, Elsie; tell me, do--what kept you from being afraid?"
"I was thinking," said Elsie gently, turning over the leaves of her little Bible as she spoke, "of this sweet verse: 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;' and oh, Lora! it made me so happy to think that Jesus was there with me, and that if I were killed, I should only fall asleep, to wake up again in His arms; then how could I be afraid?"
"Ah! I would give anything to feel as you do," said Lora, sighing. "But tell me, Elsie, did you not feel afraid for the rest of us? I'm sure you must know that we are not Christians; we don't even pretend to be."
Elsie blushed and looked down.
"It all passed so quickly, you know, Lora, almost in a moment," she said, "so that I only had time to think of papa and myself; and I have prayed so much for him that I felt quite sure God would spare him until he should be prepared to die. It was very selfish, I know," she added with deep humility; "but it was only for a moment, and I can't tell you how thankful I was for all our spared lives."
"Don't look so--as if you had done something very wicked, Elsie," replied Lora, sighing again. "I'm sure we have given you little enough reason to care whatever becomes of us; but oh! Elsie, if you can only tell me how to be a Christian, I mean now to try very hard; indeed, I am determined never to rest until I am one."
"Oh, Lora, how glad I am!" cried Elsie, joyfully, "for I know that if you are really in earnest, you will succeed; for no one ever yet failed who tried aright. Jesus said, 'Every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.' Is not that encouraging? And listen to what God says here in this verse: 'Ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.' So you see, dear Lora, if you will only seek the Lord with your whole heart, you may be sure, quite sure of finding Him."
"Yes," said Lora, "but you have not answered my question; how am I to seek? that is, what means am I to use to get rid of my sins, and get a new heart? how make myself pleasing in the sight of God? what must I do to be saved?"
"That is the very question the jailer put to Paul, and he answered, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,'" replied Elsie, quickly turning to the chapter and pointing out the text with her finger, that Lora might see that she had quoted it correctly. "And in answer to your other question, 'How shall I get rid of my sins?' see here: 'In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanliness.' That is in Zechariah; then John tells us what that fountain is when he says, 'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin;' and again, 'Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.'"
"Yes, Elsie, but what must I do?" asked Lora, eagerly.
"Do, Lora? only believe" replied Elsie, in the same earnest tone. "Jesus has done and suffered all that is necessary; and now we have nothing at all to do but go to Him and be washed in that fountain; believe Him when He says, 'I give unto them eternal life;' just accept the gift, and trust and love Him; that is the whole of it, and it is so simple that even such a little girl as I can understand it."
"But surely, Elsie, I can, I must do something."
"Yes, God tells us to repent; and He says, 'Give me thine heart;' you can do that; you can love Jesus; at least He will enable you to, if you ask Him, and He will teach you to be sorry for your sins; the Bible says, 'He is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins;' and if you ask Him He will give them to you. It is true we cannot do anything good of ourselves; without the help of the Holy Spirit we can do nothing right, because we are so very wicked; but then we can always get that help if we ask for it. Jesus said, 'Your Heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than parents are to give good gifts unto their children. Oh, Lora! don't be afraid to ask for it; don't be afraid to come to Jesus, for He says, 'Him that cometh unto Me, I will in nowise cast out;' and He is such a precious Saviour, so kind and loving. But remember that you must come very humbly; feeling that you are a great sinner, and not worthy to be heard, and only hoping to be forgiven, because Jesus died. The Bible says, 'God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.'"
Lora lingered the greater part of the afternoon in Elsie's room, asking her questions, or listening to her while she read the Scriptures, or repeated some beautiful hymn, or spoke in her sweet, childish way, of her own peace and joy in believing in Jesus.
But at last Lora went to her own room, and Elsie had another quiet half-hour to herself before the tea-bell again called the family together.
Elsie answered the summons with a light heart--a heart that thrilled with a new and strange sense of happiness as she remembered her father's evident anxiety for her safety during their perilous ride, recalling each word and look, and feeling again, in imagination, the clasp of his arm about her waist.
"Ah! surely papa does love me," she murmured to herself over and over again; and when he met her at the table with a kind smile, and laying his hand caressingly on her head, asked in an affectionate tone, "How does my little daughter do this evening?" her cheeks flushed, and her eyes grew bright with happiness, and she longed to throw her arms around his neck, and tell him how very, very much she loved him.
But that was quite impossible at the table, and before all the family; so she merely raised her glad eyes to his face and answered, "I am very well, thank you, papa."
But, after all, this occurrence produced but little change in Elsie's condition; her father treated her a little more affectionately for a day or two, and then gradually returned to his ordinary stern, cold manner; indeed, before the week was out, she was again in sad disgrace.
She was walking alone in the garden one afternoon, when her attention was attracted by a slight fluttering noise which seemed to proceed from an arbor near by, and on hastily turning in to ascertain the cause, she found a tiny and beautiful humming-bird confined under a glass vase; in its struggles to escape it was fluttering and beating against the walls of its prison, thus producing the sound the little girl had heard in passing.
Elsie was very tender-hearted, and could never see any living creature in distress without feeling a strong desire to relieve its sufferings. She knew that Arthur was in the habit of torturing every little insect and bird that came in his way, and had often drawn his persecutions upon herself by interfering in behalf of the poor victim; and now the thought instantly flashed upon her that this was some of his work, and that he would return ere long to carry out his cruel purposes. Then at once arose the desire to release the little prisoner and save it further suffering, and without waiting to reflect a moment she raised the glass, and the bird was gone.
Then she began to think with a little tremor, how angry Arthur would be; but it was too late to think of that now, and, after all, she did not stand in very great dread of the consequences, especially as she felt nearly sure of her father's approval of what she had done, having several times heard him reprove Arthur for his cruel practices.
Not caring to meet Arthur then, however, she hastily retreated to the house, where she seated herself in the veranda with a book. It was a very warm afternoon, and that, being on the east side of the house and well protected by trees, shrubbery, and vines, was as cool a spot as could be found on the place.
Arthur, Walter and Enna sat on the floor playing jack-stones--a favorite game with them--and Louise was stretched full length on a settee, buried in the latest novel.
"Hush!" she said, as Walter gave a sudden shout at a successful toss Enna had just made; "can't you be quiet? Mamma is taking her afternoon nap, and you will disturb her; and, besides, I cannot read in such a noise."
Elsie wondered why Arthur did not go to see after his bird, but soon forgot all about it in the interest with which she was poring over the story of the "Swiss Family Robinson."
The jack-stone players were just finishing their game when they were all startled by the sudden appearance of Mr. Horace Dinsmore upon the scene, asking in a tone of great wrath who had been down in the garden and liberated the humming-bird he had been at such pains to catch, because it was one of a rare species, and he was anxious to add it to his collection of curiosities.
Elsie was terribly frightened, and would have been glad at that moment to sink through the floor; she dropped her book in her lap, and clasping her hands over her beating heart, grew pale and red by turns, while she seemed choking with the vain effort to speak and acknowledge herself the culprit, as conscience told her she ought.
But her father was not looking at her; his eye was fixed on Arthur.
"I presume it was you, sir," he said very angrily, "and if so, you may prepare yourself for either a flogging or a return to your prison, for one or the other I am determined you shall have."
"I didn't do it, any such thing," replied the boy, fiercely.
"Of course you will deny it," said his brother, "but we all know that your word is good for nothing."
"Papa," said a trembling little voice, "Arthur did not do it; it was I."
"You," exclaimed her father, in a tone of mingled anger and astonishment, as he turned his flashing eye upon her, "you, Elsie! can it be possible that this is your doing?"
Elsie's book fell on the floor, and, covering her face with both hands, she burst into sobs and tears.
"Come here to me this instant," he said, seating himself on the settee, from which Louise had risen on his entrance. "Come here and tell me what you mean by meddling with my affairs in this way."
"Please, papa, please don't be so very angry with me," sobbed the little girl, as she rose and came forward in obedience to his command; "I didn't know it was your bird, and I didn't mean to be naughty."
"No, you never mean to be naughty, according to your own account," he said; "your badness is all accident; but nevertheless, I find you a very troublesome, mischievous child; it was only the other day you broke a valuable vase" (he forgot in his anger how little she had really been to blame for that), "and now you have caused me the loss of a rare specimen which I had spent a great deal of time and effort in procuring. Really, Elsie, I am sorely tempted to administer a very severe punishment"
Elsie caught at the arm of the settee for support.
"Tell me what you did it for; was it pure love of mischief?" asked her father, sternly, taking hold of her arm and holding her up by it.
"No, papa," she answered almost under her breath. "I was sorry for the little bird. I thought Arthur had put it there to torture it, and so I let it go. I did not mean to do wrong, papa, indeed I did not," and the tears fell faster and faster.
"Indeed," said he, "you had no business to meddle with it, let who would have put it there. Which hand did it?"
"This one, papa," sobbed the child, indicating her right hand.
He took it in his and held it a moment, while the little girl stood tremblingly awaiting what was to come next. He looked at the downcast, tearful face, the bosom heaving with sobs, and then at the little trembling hand he held, so soft, and white, and tender, and the sternness of his countenance relaxed somewhat; it seemed next to impossible to inflict pain upon anything so tender and helpless; and for a moment he was half inclined to kiss and forgive her. But no, he had been very much irritated at his loss, and the remembrance of it again aroused his anger, and well-nigh extinguished the little spark of love and compassion that had burned for a moment in his heart. She should be punished, though he would not inflict physical pain.
"See, Elsie," laughed Louise, maliciously, "he is feeling in his pocket for his knife. I suspect he intends to cut your hand off."
Elsie started, and the tearful eyes were raised to her father's face with a look half of terrified entreaty, half of confidence that such could not be his intention.
"Hush, Louise!" exclaimed her brother, sternly; "you know you are not speaking truly, and that I would as soon think of cutting off my own hand as my child's. You should never speak anything but truth, especially to children."
"I think it is well enough to frighten them a little sometimes, and I thought that was what you were going to do," replied Louise, looking somewhat mortified at the rebuke.
"No," said her brother, "that is a very bad plan, and one which I shall never adopt. Elsie will learn in time, if she does not know it now, that I never utter a threat which I do not intend to carry out, and never break my word."
He had drawn a handkerchief from his pocket while speaking.
"I shall tie this hand up, Elsie," he said, proceeding to do so; "those who do not use their hands aright must be deprived of the use of them. There! let me see if that will keep it out of mischief. I shall tie you up hand and foot before long, if you continue such mischievous pranks. Now go to your room, and stay there until tea-time."
Elsie felt deeply, bitterly disgraced and humiliated as she turned to obey; and it needed not Arthur's triumphant chuckle nor the smirk of satisfaction on Enna's face to add to the keen suffering of her wounded spirit; this slight punishment was more to her than a severe chastisement would have been to many another child; for the very knowledge of her father's displeasure was enough at any time to cause great pain to her sensitive spirit and gentle, loving heart.
Walter, who was far more tender-hearted than either his brother or sister, felt touched by the sight of her distress, and ran after her to say, "Never mind, Elsie; I am ever so sorry for you, and I don't think you were the least bit naughty."
She thanked him with a grateful look, and a faint attempt to smile through her tears; then hurried on to her room, where she seated herself in a chair by the window, and laying her arms upon the sill, rested her head upon them, and while the bitter tears fell fast from her eyes she murmured half aloud, "Oh! why am I always so naughty? always doing something to displease my dear papa? how I wish I could be good, and make him love me! I am afraid he never will if I vex him so often."
Then an earnest, importunate prayer for help to do right, and wisdom to understand how to gain her father's love, went up from the almost despairing little heart to Him whose ear is ever open unto the cry of His suffering children. And thus between weeping, mourning, and praying, an hour passed slowly away, and the tea- bell rang.
Elsie started up, but sat down again, feeling that she would much rather do without her supper than show her tear-swollen eyes and tied-up hand at the table.
But she was not to be left to her choice in the matter, for presently there came a messenger bringing a peremptory command from her father "to come down immediately to her supper."
"Did you not hear the bell?" he asked, in his sternest tone, as she tremblingly took her seat at his side.
"Yes, sir," she answered, in a low, tremulous tone.
"Very well, then; remember that you are always to come down the moment the bell rings, unless you are directed otherwise, or are sick; and the next time you are so late, I shall send you away without your meal."
"I don't want any supper, papa," she said, humbly.
"Hush," he replied, severely; "I will have no pouting or sulking; you must just eat your supper and behave yourself. Stop this crying at once," he added, in an undertone, as he spread some preserves on a piece of bread and laid it on her plate, "or I shall take you away from the table, and if I do, you will be very sorry."
He watched her a moment while she made a violent effort to choke back her tears.
"What is your hand tied up for, Elsie?" asked her grandfather; "have you been hurt?"
Elsie's face flushed painfully, but she made no reply.
"You must speak when you are spoken to," said her father; "answer your grandfather's question at once."
"Papa tied it up, because I was naughty," replied the little girl, vainly striving to suppress a sob.
Her father made a movement as if about to lead her from the table.
"O papa! don't" she cried, in terror; "I will be good."
"Let me have no more crying, then," said he; "this is shameful behavior for a girl eight years old; it would be bad enough in a child of Enna's age." He took out his handkerchief and wiped her eyes. "Now," said he, "begin to eat your supper at once, and don't let me have to reprove you again."
Elsie tried to obey, but it seemed very difficult, indeed almost impossible, while she knew that her father was watching her closely, and felt that everybody else was looking at her and thinking, "What a naughty little girl you are!"
"Oh!" thought the poor child, "if papa would only quit looking at me, and the rest would forget all about me and eat their suppers, maybe I could keep from crying." Then she sent up a silent prayer for help, struggling hard to keep back the tears and sobs that were almost suffocating her, and taking up her slice of bread, tried to eat.
She was very thankful to her Aunt Adelaide for addressing a question to her papa just at that moment, thus taking his attention from her, and then adroitly setting them all to talking until the little girl had had time to recover her composure, at least in a measure.
"May I go to my room now, papa?" asked the timid little voice as they rose from the table.
"No," he said, taking her hand and leading her out to the veranda, where he settled himself in an easy-chair and lighted a cigar.
"Bring me that book that lies yonder on the settee," he commanded.
She brought it.
"Now," said he, "bring that stool and set yourself down here close at my knee, and let me see if I can keep you out of mischief for an hour or two."
"May I get a book to read, papa?" she asked timidly.
"No," said he shortly. "You may just do what I bid you, and nothing more nor less."
She sat down as he directed, with her face turned toward him, and tried to amuse herself with her own thoughts, and watching the expression of his countenance as he read on and on, turning leaf after leaf, too much interested in his book to take any further notice of her.
"How handsome my papa is!" thought the little girl, gazing with affectionate admiration into his face. And then she sighed, and tears trembled in her eyes again. She admired her father, and loved him, "oh! so dearly," as she often whispered to herself; but would she ever meet with anything like a return of her fond affection? There was an aching void in her heart which nothing else could fill; must it always be thus? was her craving for affection never to be satisfied? "O, papa! my own papa, will you never love me?" mourned the sad little heart. "Ah! if I could only be good always, perhaps he would; but I am so often naughty; --whenever he begins to be kind I am sure to do something to vex him, and then it is all over. Oh! I wish I could be good! I will try very, very hard. Ah! if I might climb on his knee now, and lay my head on his breast, and put my arms round his neck, and tell him how sorry I am that I have been naughty, and made him lose his bird; and how much--oh! how much I love him! But I know I never could tell him that --I don't know how to express it; no words could, I am sure. And if he would forgive me, and kiss me, and call me his dear little daughter. Oh! will he ever call me that? Or if I, might only stand beside him and lay my head on his shoulder, and he would put his arm around me, it would make me so happy."
An exclamation from Enna caused Elsie to turn her head, and suddenly springing to her feet, she exclaimed in an eager, excited way, "Papa, there is a carriage coming up the avenue--it must be visitors; please, please, papa, let me go to my room."
"Why?" he asked coolly, looking up from his book, "why do you wish to go?"
"Because I don't want to see them, papa," she said, hanging her head and blushing deeply; "I don't want them to see me."
"You are not usually afraid of visitors," he replied in the same cool tone.
"But they will see that my hand is tied up, and they will ask what is the matter. O papa! do, please do let me go quickly, before they get here," she pleaded in an agony of shame and haste.
"No," said he, "I shall not let you go, if it were only to punish you for getting off the seat where I bade you stay, without permission. You will have to learn that I am to be obeyed at all times, and under all circumstances. Sit down, and don't dare to move again until I give you leave."
Elsie sat down without another word, but two bitter, scalding tears rolled quickly down her burning cheeks.
"You needn't cry, Elsie," said her father; "it is only an old gentleman who comes to see your grandfather on business, and who, as he never notices children, will not be at all likely to ask any questions. I hope you will learn some day, Elsie, to save your tears until there is really some occasion for them."
The old gentleman had alighted while Mr. Dinsmore was speaking; Elsie saw that he was alone, and the relief was so great that for once she scarcely heeded her father's rebuke.
Another half-hour passed, and Mr. Dinsmore still sat reading, taking no notice of Elsie, who, afraid to speak or move, was growing very weary and sleepy. She longed to lay her head on her father's knee, but dared not venture to take such a liberty; but at length she was so completely overpowered by sleep as to do so unconsciously.
The sound of his voice pronouncing her name aroused her.
"You are tired and sleepy," said he; "if you would like to go to bed you may do so."
"Thank you, papa," she replied, rising to her feet.
"Well," he said, seeing her hesitate, "speak, if you have anything to say."
"I am very sorry I was naughty, papa. Will you please forgive me?" The words were spoken very low, and almost with a sob.
"Will you try not to meddle in future, and not to cry at the table, or pout and sulk when you are punished?" he asked in a cold, grave tone.
"Yes, sir, I will try to be a good girl always," said the humble little voice.
"Then I will forgive you," he replied, taking the handkerchief off her hand.
Still Elsie lingered. She felt as if she could not go without some little token of forgiveness and love, some slight caress.
He looked at her with an impatient "Well?" Then, in answer to her mute request, "No," he said, "I will not kiss you to-night; you have been entirely too naughty. Go to your room at once."
Aunt Chloe was absolutely frightened by the violence of her child's grief, as she rushed into the room and flung herself into her arms weeping and sobbing most vehemently.
"What's de matter, darlin'?" she asked in great alarm.
"O mammy, mammy!" sobbed the child, "papa wouldn't kiss me! he said I was too naughty. O mammy! will he ever love me now?"