Chapter Seventh
 
   "The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on."
                               --SHAKESPEARE, Richard III.

   "A blossom full of promise is life's joy,
    That never comes to fruit. Hope, for a time,
    Suns the young flow'ret in its gladsome light,
    And it looks flourishing--a little while--
    'Tis pass'd, we know not whither, but 'tis gone."
                                 --MISS LANDON.

It was Miss Day's custom to present to the parents of her pupils a monthly report of their conduct and recitations. The regular time for this had occurred once since Mr. Horace Dinsmore's return, when she, of course, handed Elsie's to him.

It was very satisfactory, for Elsie was a most diligent scholar, carrying her religious principles into that as well as everything else; and disposed as Miss Day was to find fault with her, she could seldom see any excuse for so doing, in either her conduct or recitations.

Mr. Dinsmore glanced over the report and handed it back, saying, "It is all very good; very satisfactory indeed. I am glad to see that she is industrious and well behaved, for I wish her to grow up an intelligent and amiable woman."

Elsie, who was standing near, heard the words, and they sent a glow of pleasure to her cheeks. She looked up eagerly; but her father turned and walked away without taking any notice of her, and the glow of happiness faded, and the soft eyes filled with tears of wounded feeling.

It was now time for a second report; but alas! the past month had been a most unfortunate one for the little girl; the weather was very warm, and she had felt languid and weak, and so much were her thoughts occupied with the longing desire to gain her father's love, so depressed were her spirits by her constant failure to do so, that she often found it impossible to give her mind to her lessons.

Arthur, too, during much of the time before and since the week of his imprisonment, had been more than usually annoying, shaking her chair and jogging her elbow so frequently when she was writing, that her copy-book presented by no means so good an appearance as usual; and never had Miss Day made out so poor a report for her. She carried it with much secret satisfaction to the little girl's father, and entered a long complaint of the child's idleness and inattention.

"Send her to me," he said, angrily. "She will find me in my own room."

Miss Day had left Elsie in the school-room putting her desk in order after the day's work, and she found her still there on her return.

"Elsie," said she, with a malicious smile, "your father wishes to see you immediately. He is in his room."

The child turned red and pale by turns, and trembled so violently that for a moment she was quite unable to move; for she guessed from Miss Day's countenance what was probably in store for her.

"I advise you to go at once," said that lady, "for no doubt the longer you wait the worse it will be for you."

At the same moment Mr. Dinsmore's voice was heard calling in a stern, angry tone, "Elsie!"

Making a violent effort to control her feelings, she started up and hastened to obey.

The door of his room stood open, and she walked in, asking in a trembling voice, "Did you call me, papa?"

"Yes," said he, "I did. Come here to me."

He was sitting with the copy-book and report in his hand, and there was much severity in both tone and look as he addressed her.

She obeyed instantly, but trembling violently, and with a face pale as death, and eyes filled with tears. She lifted them pleadingly to his face; and, touched by her evident terror and distress, he said in a tone somewhat less stern, "Can you tell me, Elsie, how it happens that your teacher brings me so bad a report of your conduct and lessons during the past month? She says you have been very idle; and the report tells the same story; and this copy-book presents a shameful appearance."

The child answered only by tears and sobs.

They seemed to irritate him.

"Elsie," he said, sternly, "when I ask a question, I require an answer, and that instantly."

"O papa!" she answered, pleadingly, "I couldn't study. I'm very sorry--I'll try to do better--only don't be very angry with me, dear papa."

"I am angry with you; very angry, indeed," said he in the same severe tone, "and very strongly inclined to punish you. You couldn't study, eh? What reason can you assign, pray? Were you not well?"

"I don't know, sir," sobbed the little girl.

"You don't know? Very well, then, I think you could not be very ill without knowing it, and so you seem to have no excuse at all to offer? However, I will not inflict any punishment upon you this time, as you seem to be really sorry, and have promised to do better; but beware how you let me see such a report as this, or hear such complaints of idleness again, unless you wish to be severely punished; and I warn you that unless your next copy-book presents a better appearance than this, I certainly shall punish you.

"There are a number of pages here that look quite well," he continued, turning over the leaves; "that shows what you can do, if you choose; now there is an old saying, 'A bird that can sing, and won't sing, must be made to sing.' Hush!" as Elsie seemed about to speak; "not a word. You may go now." And throwing himself back in his easy-chair, he took up a newspaper and began to read.

Yet Elsie lingered; her heart so yearned for one word or look of sympathy and love; she so longed to throw herself into his arms and tell him how dearly, how very dearly she loved him; she did so hunger and thirst for one fond caress--ah! how could she go away without it now, when for the very first time she found herself alone with him in his own room, where she had never ventured before, but where she had often been in her brightest dreams.

And so she lingered, trembling, hoping, fearing; but presently he looked up with a cold "Why do you stand there? I gave you permission to go; go at once." And with a sinking heart she turned away and sought the solitude of her own room, there to weep, and mourn, and pray that she might one day possess the love she so pined for, and bitterly to reproach herself for having by the failures of the past month put it farther from her.

And soon a thought came to her which added greatly to her distress. If Arthur continued his persecutions, how could she make the next copy-book more presentable? and in case it were not, her father had said positively that he would punish her; and oh! how could she bear punishment from him, when a word or look of displeasure almost broke her heart?

Miss Day seldom remained in the school-room during the whole of the writing hour, and sometimes the older girls were also absent, so that Arthur had ample opportunity to indulge his mischievous propensities; for Elsie was above the meanness of telling tales, and had she not been, Arthur was so great a favorite with his mother that she would have brought a great deal of trouble upon herself by so doing.

She therefore saw no escape from the dreaded punishment, unless she could persuade the perverse boy to cease his annoyances; and of that there was little hope.

But she carried her trouble to her Heavenly Father, and asked Him to help her. She was still on her knees, pouring out her sobs and prayers, when some one knocked at the door.

She rose and opened it to find her Aunt Adelaide standing there.

"Elsie," she said, "I am writing to Miss Rose; have you any word to send? You may write a little note, if you choose, and I will enclose it in my letter. But what is the matter, child?" she suddenly exclaimed, kindly taking the little girl's hand in hers.

With many tears and sobs Elsie told her the whole story, not omitting her papa's threat, and her fear that she could not, on account of Arthur's persecutions, avoid incurring the punishment.

Adelaide's sympathies were enlisted, and she drew the sobbing child to her side, saying, as she pressed a kiss on her cheek, "Never mind, Elsie, I will take my book or needle-work to the school-room every day, and sit there during the writing hour. But why don't you tell your papa about it?"

"Because I don't like to tell tales, Aunt Adelaide, and it would make your mamma so angry with me; and besides, I can't tell papa anything."

"Ah, I understand! and no wonder; he is strangely stern to the poor child. I mean to give him a good talking to," murmured Adelaide, more as if thinking aloud than talking to Elsie.

Then, kissing the little girl again, she rose hastily and left the room, with the intention of seeking her brother; but he had gone out; and when he returned he brought several gentlemen with him, and she had no opportunity until the desire to interfere in the matter had passed from her mind.

"And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." The promise had been fulfilled to Elsie, and help had been sent her in her trouble.

When her Aunt Adelaide left her, Elsie--first carefully locking the door to guard against a surprise visit from Enna--went to her bureau, and unlocking a drawer, took out a purse she was knitting for her father, to replace the one she had given to Miss Allison.

She had commenced it before his return, and having spent upon it nearly every spare moment since, when she could feel secure from intrusion, she now had it nearly completed. Ah! many a silent tear had fallen as she worked, and many a sigh over disappointed hopes had been woven into its bright meshes of gold and blue.

But now she had been much comforted and encouraged by her aunt's sympathy and kind promise of assistance, and, though there were still traces of tears upon it, the little face looked quite bright and cheerful again as she settled herself in her little sewing chair, and began her work.

The small white fingers moved right briskly, the bright shining needles glancing in and out, while the thoughts, quite as busy, ran on something in this fashion: "Ah! I am so sorry I have done so badly the past month; no wonder papa was vexed with me. I don't believe I ever had such a bad report before. What has come over me? It seems as if I can't study, and must have a holiday. I wonder if it is all laziness? I'm afraid it is, and that I ought to be punished. I wish I could shake it off, and feel industrious as I used to. I will try very hard to do better this month, and perhaps I can. It is only one month, and then June will be over, and Miss Day is going North to spend July and August, and maybe September, and so we shall have a long holiday. Surely I can stand it one month more; it will soon be over, though it does seem a long time, and besides, this month we are not to study so many hours, because it is so warm; and there's to be no school on Saturdays; none to-morrow, so that I can finish this. Ah! I wonder if papa will be pleased?" and she sighed deeply. "I'm afraid it will be a long, long time before he will be pleased with me again. I have displeased him twice this week--first about the bird, and now this bad report, and that shameful copy-book. But oh! I will try so hard next month, and dear Aunt Adelaide will keep Arthur from troubling me, and I'm determined my copy-book shall look neat, and not have a single blot in it.

"I wonder how I shall spend the vacation? Last summer I had such a delightful visit at Ashlands; and then they were here all the rest of the time. It was then poor Herbert had such a dreadful time with his hip. Ah! how thankful I ought to be that I am not lame, and have always been so healthy. But I'm afraid papa won't let me go there this summer, nor ask them to visit me, because he said he thought Lucy was not a suitable companion for me. I was very naughty when she was here, and I've been naughty a great many times since. Oh! dear, shall I never, never learn to be good? It seems to me I am naughty now much oftener than I used to be before papa came home. I'm afraid he will soon begin to punish me severely, as he threatened to-day. I wonder what he means?"

A crimson tide suddenly swept over the fair face and neck, and dropping her work, she covered her face with her hands. "Oh! he couldn't, couldn't mean that! how could I ever bear it! and yet if it would make me really good, I think I wouldn't mind the pain--but the shame and disgrace! oh! it would break my heart. I could never hold up my head again! Oh! can he mean that? But I must just try to be so very good that I will never deserve punishment, and then it will make no difference to me what he means." And with this consolatory reflection she took up her work again.

"Mammy, is papa in his room?" asked Elsie, the next afternoon, as she put the finishing touches to her work.

"No, darlin', Marster Horace he rode out wid de strange gentlemen more than an hour ago."

Elsie laid her needles away in her work-basket, and opening her writing-desk, selected a bit of note-paper, on which she wrote in her very best hand, "A present for my dear papa, from his little daughter Elsie!" This she carefully pinned to the purse, and then carried it to her papa's room, intending to leave it on his toilet-table.

Fearing that he might possibly have returned, she knocked gently at the door, but receiving no answer, opened it, and went in; but she had not gone more than half way across the room when she heard his voice behind her, asking, in a tone of mingled surprise and displeasure, "What are you doing here in my room, in my absence, Elsie?"

She started, and turned round, pale and trembling, and lifting her eyes pleadingly to his face, silently placed the purse in his hand.

He looked first at it, and then at her.

"I made it for you, dear papa," she said, in a low, tremulous tone; "do please take it."

"It is really very pretty," he said, examining it; "is it possible it is your work? I had no idea you had so much taste and skill. Thank you, daughter; I shall take it, and use it with a great deal of pleasure."

He took her hand as he spoke, and sitting down, lifted her to his knee, saying, "Elsie, my child, why do you always seem so afraid of me? I don't like it."

With a sudden impulse she threw her arms round his neck, and pressed her lips to his cheek; then dropping her head on his breast, she sobbed: "O papa! dear papa, I do love you so very dearly! will you not love me? O papa! love me a little. I know I've been naughty very often, but I will try to be good."

Then for the first time he folded her in his arms and kissed her tenderly, saying, in a moved tone, "I do love you, my darling, my own little daughter."

Oh! the words were sweeter to Elsie's ear than the most delicious music! her joy was too great for words, for anything but tears.

"Why do you cry so, my darling?" he asked, soothingly, stroking her hair, and kissing her again and again.

"O papa! because I am so happy, so very happy," she sobbed.

"Do you indeed care so very much for my love?" he asked; "then, my daughter, you must not tremble and turn pale whenever I speak to you, as though I were a cruel tyrant."

"O papa! I cannot help it, when you look and speak so sternly. I love you so dearly I cannot bear to have you angry with me; but I am not afraid of you now."

"That is right," he said, caressing her again. "But there is the tea-bell," he added, setting her down. "Go into the dressing-room there, and bathe your eyes, and then come to me."

She hastened to do his bidding, and then taking her hand he led her down and seated her in her usual place by his side.

There were visitors, and all his conversation was addressed to them and the older members of the family, but he now and then bestowed a kind look upon his little girl, and attended carefully to all her wants; and Elsie was very happy.

Everything now went on very pleasantly with our little friend for some days; she did not see a great deal of her father, as he was frequently away from home for a day or two, and, when he returned, generally brought a number of visitors with him; but whenever he did notice her it was very kindly, and she was gradually overcoming her fear of him, and constantly hoping that the time would soon come when he would have more leisure to bestow upon her. She was happy now, and with a mind at ease, was able to learn her lessons well; and as her Aunt Adelaide faithfully kept her promise, and thus freed her from Arthur's annoyances, she was enabled to do justice to her writing. She took great pains, her copy-book showed a marked improvement in her penmanship, and its pages had not yet been defaced by a single blot, so that she was looking forward with pleasing anticipations to the time when her report should again be presented to her father.

But, alas! one unfortunate morning it happened that Miss Day was in a very bad humor indeed--peevish, fretful, irritable, and unreasonable to the last degree; and, as usual, Elsie was the principal sufferer from her ill-humor. She found fault with everything the little girl did; scolded her, shook her, refused to explain the manner of working out a very difficult example, or to permit her to apply to any one else for assistance, and then punished her because it was done wrong; and when the child could no longer keep back her tears, called her a baby for crying, and a dunce for not understanding her arithmetic better.

All this Elsie bore meekly and patiently, not answering a word; but her meekness seemed only to provoke the governess the more; and finally, when Elsie came to recite her last lesson, she took pains to put her questions in the most perplexing form, and scarcely allowing the child an instant to begin her reply, answered them herself; then, throwing down the book, scolded her vehemently for her bad lesson, and marked it in her report as a complete failure.

Poor Elsie could bear no more, but bursting into tears and sobs, said: "Miss Day, I did know my lesson, every word of it, if you had asked the questions as usual, or had given me time to answer."

"I say that you did not know it; that it was a complete failure," replied Miss Day, angrily; "and you shall just sit down and learn it, every word, over."

"I do know it, if you will hear me right," said Elsie, indignantly, "and it is very unjust in you to mark it a failure."

"Impudence!" exclaimed Miss Day, furiously; "how dare you contradict me? I shall take you to your father."

And seizing her by the arm, she dragged her across the room, and opening the door, pushed her into the passage.

"Oh! don't, Miss Day," pleaded the little girl, turning toward her, pale and tearful, "don't tell papa."

"I will! so just walk along with you," was the angry rejoinder, as she pushed her before her to Mr. Dinsmore's door. It stood open, and he sat at his desk, writing.

"What is the matter?" he asked, looking up as they appeared before the door.

"Elsie has been very impertinent, sir," said Miss Day; "she not only accused me of injustice, but contradicted me flatly."

"Is it possible!" said he, frowning angrily. "Come here to me, Elsie, and tell me, is it true that you contradicted your teacher?"

"Yes, papa," sobbed the child.

"Very well, then, I shall certainly punish you, for I will never allow anything of the kind."

As he spoke he picked up a small ruler that lay before him, at the same time taking Elsie's hand as though he meant to use it on her.

"O papa!" she cried, in a tone of agonized entreaty.

But he laid it down again, saying: "No, I shall punish you by depriving you of your play this afternoon, and giving you only bread and water for your dinner. Sit down there," he added, pointing to a stool. Then, with a wave of his hand to the governess, "I think she will not be guilty of the like again, Miss Day."

The governess left the room, and Elsie sat down on her stool, crying and sobbing violently, while her father went on with his writing.

"Elsie," he said, presently, "cease that noise; I have had quite enough of it."

She struggled to suppress her sobs, but it was almost impossible, and she felt it a great relief when a moment later the dinner-bell rang, and her father left the room.

In a few moments a servant came in, carrying on a small waiter a tumbler of water, and a plate with a slice of bread on it.

"Dis am drefful poor fare, Miss Elsie," he said, setting it down beside her, "but Massa Horace he say it all you can hab; but if you say so, dis chile tell ole Phoebe to send up somethin' better fore Massa Horace gits through his dinner."

"Oh! no, thank you, Pompey; you're very kind, but I would not disobey or deceive papa," replied the little girl, earnestly; "and I am not at all hungry."

He lingered a moment, seeming loath to leave her to dine upon such fare.

"You had better go now, Pompey," she said gently; "I am afraid you will be wanted."

He turned and left the room, muttering something about "disagreeable, good-for-nothing Miss Day!"

Elsie felt no disposition to eat; and when her father returned, half an hour afterward, the bread and water were still untouched.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked in a stern, angry tone; "why have you not eaten what I sent you?"

"I am not hungry, papa," she said humbly.

"Don't tell me that," he replied, "it is nothing but stubbornness; and I shall not allow you to show such a temper. Take up that bread this moment and eat it. You shall eat every crumb of the bread and drink every drop of the water."

She obeyed him instantly, breaking off a bit of bread and putting it in her mouth, while he stood watching her with an air of stern, cold determination; but when she attempted to swallow, it seemed utterly impossible.

"I cannot, papa," she said, "it chokes me."

"You must," he replied; "I am going to be obeyed. Take a drink of water, and that will wash it down."

It was a hard task, but seeing that there was no escape, she struggled to obey, and at length every crumb of bread and drop of water had disappeared.

"Now, Elsie," said her father, in a tone of great severity, "never dare to show me such a temper as this again; you will not escape so easily next time; remember I am to be obeyed always; and when I send you anything to eat, you are to eat it."

It had not been temper at all, and his unjust severity almost broke her heart; but she could not say one word in her own defence.

He looked at her a moment as she sat there trembling and weeping; then saying, "I forbid you to leave this room without my permission; don't venture to disobey me, Elsie; sit where you are until I return," he turned to go.

"Papa," she asked, pleadingly, "may I have my books, to learn my lessons for to-morrow."

"Certainly," he said; "I will send a servant with them."

"And my Bible too, please, papa."

"Yes, yes," he answered impatiently, as he went out and shut the door.

Jim was just bringing up Elsie's horse, as Mr. Dinsmore passed through the hall, and he stepped out to order it back to the stable, saying that Miss Elsie was not going to ride.

"What is the trouble with Elsie?" asked his sister Adelaide, as he returned to the drawing-room and seated himself beside her.

"She has been impertinent to her governess, and I have confined her to my room for the rest of the day," he replied, rather shortly.

"Are you sure, Horace, that Elsie was so much to blame?" asked his sister, speaking in a tone too low to reach any ear but his. "I am certain, from what Lora tells me, that Miss Day is often cruelly unjust to her; more so than to any other of her pupils."

He looked at her with a good deal of surprise.

"Are you not mistaken?" he asked.

"No! it is a positive fact that she does at times really abuse her."

"Indeed! I shall certainly not allow that" he said, coloring with anger.

"But in this instance, Adelaide," he added thoughtfully, "I think you must be mistaken, for Elsie acknowledged that she had been impertinent. I did not condemn her unheard, stern and severe as you think me."

"If she was, Horace, believe me it must have been only after great provocation, and her acknowledgment of it is no proof at all, to my mind; for Elsie is so humble, she would think she must have been guilty of impertinence if Miss Day accused her of it."

"Surely not, Adelaide; she is by no means wanting in sense," he replied, in a tone of incredulity, not unmixed with annoyance.

Then he sat thinking a moment, half inclined to go to his child and inquire more particularly into the circumstances, but soon relinquished the idea, saying to himself, "No; if she does not choose to be frank with me, and say what she can in her own defence, she deserves to suffer; and besides, she showed such stubbornness about eating that bread."

He was very proud, and did not like to acknowledge even to himself that he had punished his child unjustly--much less to her; and it was not until near tea-time that he returned to his room, entering so softly that Elsie did not hear him.

She was sitting just where he had left her, bending over her Bible, an expression of sadness and deep humility on the sweet little face, so young and fair and innocent. She did not seem aware of his presence until he was close beside her, when, looking up with a start, she said in a voice full of tears, "Dear papa, I am very sorry for all my naughtiness; will you please forgive me?"

"Yes," he said, "certainly I will, if you are really sorry;" and stooping, he kissed her coldly, saying, "Now go to your room, and let Chloe dress you for tea."

She rose at once, gathered up her books, and went out.

The little heart was very sad; for her father's manner was so cold she feared he would never love her again. And she was particularly distressed by the bad mark given her for recitation that day, because she knew the time was now drawing very near when her report must be handed in to her papa; and the delight with which she had hitherto looked forward to receiving his well-merited approbation, was now changed to fear, and dread of his displeasure; yet she knew she had not deserved the bad mark, and again and again she determined that she would tell her father all about it; but his manner had now become so cold and stern that she could not summon up courage to do so, but put it off from day to day, until it was too late.