Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley
"He that pursues an act that is attended With doubtful issues, for the means, had need Of policy and force to make it speed." --T. NABB's Unfortunate Mother. "Joy never feasts so high, As when the first course is of misery." --SUCKLING's Aglaura.
It was Friday, and the next morning was the when the reports were to be presented. School had closed, and all but Elsie had already left the room; but she was carefully arranging the books, writing and drawing materials, etc., in her desk, for she was very neat and orderly in her habits.
When she had quite finished her work she took up her report-book, and glanced over it. As her eye rested for an instant upon the one bad mark, she sighed a little, and murmured to herself, "I am so sorry; I wish papa knew how little I really deserved it. I don't know why I never can get the courage to tell him."
Then, laying it aside, she opened her copy-book and turned over the leaves with unalloyed pleasure, for not one of its pages was defaced by a single blot, and from beginning to end it gave evidence of painstaking carefulness and decided improvement.
"Ah! surely this will please dear papa!" she exclaimed, half aloud. "How good Aunt Adelaide was to sit here with me!"
Then, putting it carefully in its place, she closed and locked the desk, and carrying the key to her room, laid it on the mantel, where she was in the habit of keeping it.
Now it so happened that afternoon that Arthur, who had made himself sick by over-indulgence in sweetmeats, and had in consequence been lounging about the house doing nothing for the last day or two, remained at home while all the rest of the family were out, walking, riding, or visiting.
He was not usually very fond of reading, but while lying on the lounge in the nursery, very much in want of some amusement, it suddenly occurred to him that he would like to look at a book he had seen Elsie reading that morning.
To be sure the book belonged to her, and she was not there to be consulted as to her willingness to lend it; but that made no difference to Arthur, who had very little respect for the rights of property, excepting where his own were concerned.
Elsie, he knew, was out, and Chloe in the kitchen; so, feeling certain there would be no one to interfere with him, he went directly to the little girl's room to look for the book. He soon found it lying on the mantel; but the desk-key lay right beside it, and as he caught sight of that he gave a half scream of delight, for he guessed at once to what lock it belonged, and felt that he now could accomplish the revenge he had plotted ever since the affair of the watch.
He put out his hand to take it, but drew it back again, and stood for a moment balancing in his mind the chances of detection.
He could deface Elsie's copy-book, but Adelaide could testify to the little girl's carefulness and the neatness of her work up to that very day, for she had been in the school-room that morning during the writing hour. But then Adelaide had just left home to pay a visit to a friend living at some distance, and would not return for several weeks, so there was little danger from that quarter. Miss Day, to be sure, knew the appearance of Elsie's book quite as well, but there was still less danger of her interference, and he was pretty certain no one else knew.
So he decided to run the risk, and laying down the book he took the key, went to the door, looked carefully up and down the hall to make sure of not being seen by any of the servants, and having satisfied himself on that point, hurried to the school-room, unlocked Elsie's desk, took out her copy-book, and dipping a pen in the ink, proceeded deliberately to blot nearly every page in it; on some he made a large blot, on others a small one, and on some two or three; and also scribbled between the lines and on the margin, so as completely to deface poor Elsie's work.
But to do Arthur justice, though he knew his brother would be pretty sure to be very angry with Elsie, he did not know of the threatened punishment. He stopped once or twice as he thought he heard a footstep, and shut down the lid until it had passed, when he raised it again and went on with his wicked work. It did not take long, however, and he soon replaced the copy-book in the precise spot in which he had found it, wiped the pen, and put it carefully back in its place, relocked the desk, hurried back to Elsie's room, put the key just where he had found it, and taking the book, returned to the nursery without having met any one.
He threw himself down on a couch and tried to read, but in vain; he could not fix his attention upon the page--could think of nothing but the mischief he had done, and its probable consequences; and now, when it was too late, he more than half repented; yet as to confessing and thus saving Elsie from unmerited blame, he did not for a single moment entertain the thought. But at length it suddenly occurred to him that if it became known that he had been into Elsie's room to get the book he might be suspected; and he started up with the intention of replacing it. But he found that it was too late; she had already returned, for he heard her voice in the hall; so he lay down again, and kept the book until she came in search of it.
He looked very guilty as the little girl came in, but not seeming to notice it, she merely said, "I am looking for my book. I thought perhaps some one might have brought it in here. Oh! you have it, Arthur! well, keep it, if you wish; I can read it just as well another time."
"Here, take it," said he roughly, pushing it toward her; "I don't want it; 'tisn't a bit pretty."
"I think it is very interesting, and you are quite welcome to read it if you wish," she answered mildly; "but if you don't care to, I will take it."
"Young ladies and gentlemen," said the governess, as they were about closing their exercises the next morning, "this is the regular day for the reports, and they are all made out. Miss Elsie, here is yours; bring your copy-book, and carry both to your papa."
Elsie obeyed, not without some trembling, yet hoping, as there was but one bad mark in the report and the copy-book showed such evident marks of care and painstaking, her papa would not be very seriously displeased.
It being the last day of the term, the exercises of the morning had varied somewhat from the usual routine, and the writing hour had been entirely omitted; thus it happened that Elsie had not opened her copy-book, and was in consequence still in ignorance of its sadly altered appearance.
She found her father in his room. He took the report first from her hand, and glancing over it, said with a slight frown, "I see you have one very bad mark for recitation; but as there is only one, and the others are remarkably good, I will excuse it."
Then taking the copy-book and opening it, much to Elsie's surprise and alarm he gave her a glance of great displeasure, turned rapidly over the leaves, then laying it down, said in his sternest tones, "I see I shall have to keep my promise, Elsie."
"What, papa?" she asked, turning pale with terror.
"What!" said he! "do you ask me what? Did I not tell you positively that I would punish you if your copy-book this month did not present a better appearance than it did last?"
"O papa! does it not? I tried so very hard; and there are no blots in it."
"No blots?" said he; "what do you call these?" and he turned over the leaves again, holding the book so that she could see them, and showing that almost every one was blotted in several places.
Elsie gazed at them in unfeigned astonishment; then looking up into his face, she said earnestly but fearfully, "Papa, I did not do it."
"Who did, then?" he asked.
"Indeed, papa, I do not know," she replied.
"I must inquire into this business," he said, rising, "and if it is not your fault you shall not be punished; but if I find you have been telling me a falsehood, Elsie, I shall punish you much more severely than if you had not denied your fault."
And taking her by the hand as he spoke, he led her back to the school-room.
"Miss Day," said he, showing the book, "Elsie says these blots are not her work; can you tell me whose they are?"
"Miss Elsie generally tells the truth, sir," replied Miss Day, sarcastically, "but I must say that in this instance I think she has failed, as her desk has a good lock, and she herself keeps the key."
"Elsie," he asked, turning to her, "is this so?"
"And have you ever left your desk unlocked, or the key lying about?"
"No, papa. I am quite certain I have not," she answered unhesitatingly, though her voice trembled, and she grey very pale.
"Very well, then, I am quite certain you have told me a falsehood, since it is evident this must have been your work. Elsie, I can forgive anything but falsehood, but that I never will forgive. Come with me. I shall teach you to speak the truth to me at least, if to no one else," and taking her hand again, he led, or rather dragged, her from the room, for he was terribly angry, his face fairly pale with passion.
Lora came in while he was speaking and, certain that Elsie would never be caught in a falsehood, her eye quickly sought Arthur's desk.
He was sitting there with a very guilty countenance.
She hastily crossed the room, and speaking in a low tone, said, "Arthur, you have had a hand in this business I very well know; now confess it quickly, or Horace will half kill Elsie."
"You don't know anything about it," said he doggedly.
"Yes, I do," she answered; "and if you do not speak out at once, I shall save Elsie, and find means to prove your guilt afterwards; so you had much better confess."
"Go away," he exclaimed angrily, "I have nothing to confess."
Seeing it was useless to try to move him, Lora turned away and hurried to Horace's room, which, in her haste, she entered without knocking, he having fortunately neglected to fasten the door. She was just in time; he had a small riding whip in his hand, and Elsie stood beside him pale as death, too much frightened even to cry, and trembling so that she could scarcely stand.
He turned an angry glance on his sister as she entered; but taking no notice of it, she exclaimed eagerly, "Horace, don't punish Elsie, for I am certain she is innocent."
He laid down the whip asking, "How do you know it? what proof have you? I shall be very glad to be convinced," he added, his countenance relaxing somewhat in its stern and angry expression.
"In the first place," replied his sister, "there is Elsie's established character for truthfulness--in all the time she has been with us, we have ever found her perfectly truthful in word and deed. And then, Horace, what motive could she have had for spoiling her book, knowing as she did that certain punishment would follow? Besides, I am sure Arthur is at the bottom of this, for though he will not acknowledge, he does not deny it. Ah! yes, and now I recollect, I saw and examined Elsie's book only yesterday, and it was then quite free from blots."
A great change had come over her brother's countenance while she was speaking.
"Thank you, Lora," he said, cordially, as soon as she had done, "you have quite convinced me, and saved me from punishing Elsie as unjustly as severely. That last assurance I consider quite sufficient of itself to establish her innocence."
Lora turned and went out feeling very happy, and as she closed the door, Elsie's papa took her in his arms, saying in loving, tender tones, "My poor little daughter! my own darling child! I have been cruelly unjust to you, have I not?"
"Dear papa, you thought I deserved it," she said, with a burst of tears and sobs, throwing her arms around his neck, and laying her head on his breast.
"Do you love me, Elsie, dearest?" he asked, folding her closer to his heart.
"Ah! so very, very much! better than all the world beside. O papa! if you would only love me." The last word was almost a sob.
"I do, my darling, my own precious child," he said, caressing her again and again. "I do love my little girl, although I may at times seem cold and stern; and I am more thankful than words can express that I have been saved from punishing her unjustly. I could never forgive myself if I had done it. I would rather have lost half I am worth; ah! I fear it would have turned all her love for me into hatred; and justly, too."
"No, papa, oh! no, no; nothing could ever do that!" and the little arms were clasped closer and closer about his neck, and the tears again fell like rain, as she timidly pressed her quivering lips to his cheek.
"There, there daughter! don't cry any more; we will try to forget all about it, and talk of something else," he said soothingly. "Elsie, dear, your Aunt Adelaide thinks perhaps you were not so very much to blame the other day; and now I want you to tell me all the circumstances; for though I should be very sorry to encourage you to find fault with your teacher, I am by no means willing to have you abused."
"Please, papa, don't ask me," she begged. "Aunt Lora was there, and she will tell you about it."
"No, Elsie," he said, very decidedly; "I want the story from you; and remember, I want every word that passed between you and Miss Day, as far as you can possibly recall it."
Seeing that he was determined, Elsie obeyed him, though with evident reluctance, and striving to put Miss Day's conduct in as favorable a light as consistent with truth, while she by no means extenuated her own; yet her father listened with feelings of strong indignation.
"Elsie," he said when she had done, "if I had known all this at the time, I should not have punished you at all. Why did you not tell me, my daughter, how you have been ill treated and provoked?"
"O papa! I could not; you know you did not ask me."
"I did ask you if it was true that you contradicted her, did I not?"
"Yes, papa, and it was true."
"You ought to have told me the whole story though; but I see how it was--I frightened you by my sternness. Well, daughter," he added, kissing her tenderly, "I shall endeavor to be less stern in future, and you must try to be less timid and more at your ease with me."
"I will, papa," she replied meekly; "but indeed I cannot help feeling frightened when you are angry with me."
Mr. Dinsmore sat there a long time with his little daughter on his knee, caressing her more tenderly than ever before; and Elsie was very happy, and talked more freely to him than she had ever done, telling him of her joys and her sorrows; how dearly she had loved Miss Allison--what happy hours they had spent together in studying the Bible and in prayer--how grieved she was when her friend went away--and how intensely she enjoyed the little letter now and then received from her; and he listened to it all, apparently both pleased and interested, encouraging her to go on by an occasional question or a word of assent or approval.
"What is this, Elsie?" he asked, taking hold of the chain she always wore around her neck, and drawing the miniature from her bosom.
But as he touched the spring the case flew open, revealing the sweet, girlish face, it needed not Elsie's low murmured "Mamma" to tell him who that lovely lady was.
He gazed upon it with emotion, carried back in memory to the time when for a few short months she had been his own most cherished treasure. Then, looking from it to his child, he murmured, "Yes, she is very like--the same features, the same expression, complexion, hair and all--will be the very counterpart of her if she lives."
"Dear papa, am I like mamma?" asked Elsie, who had caught a part of his words.
"Yes, darling, very much indeed, and I hope you will grow more so."
"You loved mamma?" she said inquiringly.
"Dearly, very dearly."
"O papa! tell me about her! do, dear papa," she pleaded eagerly.
"I have not much to tell," he said, sighing. "I knew her only for a few short months ere we were torn asunder, never to meet again on earth."
"But we may hope to meet her in heaven, dear papa," said Elsie softly, "for she loved Jesus, and if we love Him we shall go there too when we die. Do you love Jesus, papa?" she timidly inquired, for she had seen him do a number of things which she knew to be wrong--such as riding out for pleasure on the Sabbath, reading secular newspapers, and engaging in worldly conversation--and she greatly feared he did not.
But instead of answering her question, he asked, "Do you, Elsie?"
"Oh! yes, sir; very very much; even better than I love you, my own dear papa."
"How do you know?" he asked, looking keenly into her face.
"Just as I know that I love you, papa, or any one else," she replied, lifting her eyes to his face in evident surprise at the strangeness of the question.
"Ah, papa," she added in her own sweet, simple way, "I do so love to talk of Jesus; to tell Him all my troubles, and ask Him to forgive my sins and make me holy; and then it is so sweet to know that He loves me, and will always love me, even if no one else does."
He kissed her very gravely, and set her down, saying, "Go now, my daughter, and prepare for dinner; it is almost time for the bell."
"You are not displeased, papa?" she inquired, looking up anxiously into his face.
"No, darling, not at all," he replied, stroking her hair. "Shall I ride with my little girl this afternoon?"
"Oh papa! do you really mean it? I shall be so glad!" she exclaimed joyfully.
"Very well, then," he said, "it is settled. But go now; there is the bell. No, stay!" he added quickly, as she turned to obey; "think a moment and tell me where you put the key of your desk yesterday, for it must have been then the mischief was done. Had you it with you when you rode out?"
Suddenly Elsie's face flushed, and she exclaimed Eagerly, "Ah! I remember now! I left it on the mantelpiece, papa, and--"
But here she paused, as if sorry she had said so much.
"And what?" he asked.
"I think I had better not say it, papa! I'm afraid I ought not, for I don't really know anything, and it seems so wrong to suspect people."
"You need not express any suspicions," said her father; "I do not wish you to do so; but I must insist upon having all the facts you can furnish me with. Was Aunt Chloe in your room all the time you were away?"
"No, sir; she told me she went down to the kitchen directly after I left, and did not come up again until after I returned."
"Very well; do you know whether any one else entered the room during your absence?"
"I do not know, papa, but I think Arthur must have been in, because when I came home I found him reading a book which I had left lying on the mantel-piece," she answered in a low, reluctant tone.
"Ah, ha! that is just it! I see it all now," he exclaimed, with a satisfied nod. "There, that will do, Elsie; go now and make haste down to your dinner."
But Elsie lingered, and, in answer to a look of kind inquiry from her father, said coaxingly, "Please, papa, don't be very angry with him. I think he did not know how much I cared about my book."
"You are very forgiving, Elsie; but go, child, I shall not abuse him," Mr. Dinsmore answered, with an imperative gesture, and the little girl hurried from the room.
It happened that just at this time the elder Mr. Dinsmore and his wife were paying a visit to some friends in the city, and thus Elsie's papa had been left head of the house for the time. Arthur, knowing this to be the state of affairs, and that though his father was expected to return that evening, his mother would be absent for some days, was beginning to be a good deal fearful of the consequences of his misconduct, and not without reason, for his brother's wrath was now fully aroused, and he was determined that the boy should not on this occasion escape the penalty of his misdeeds.
Arthur was already in the dining-room when Mr. Dinsmore came down.
"Arthur," said he, "I wish you to step into the library a moment; I have something to say to you."
"I don't want to hear it," muttered the boy, with a dogged look, and standing perfectly still.
"I dare say not, sir; but that makes no difference," replied his brother. "Walk into the library at once."
Arthur returned a scowl of defiance, muttering almost under his breath, "I'll do as I please about that;" but cowed by his brother's determined look and manner, he slowly and reluctantly obeyed.
"Now, sir," said Mr. Dinsmore, when he had him fairly in the room, and had closed the door behind them, "I wish to know how you came to meddle with Elsie's copy-book."
"I didn't," was the angry rejoinder.
"Take care, sir; I know all about it," said Mr. Dinsmore, in a warning tone; "it is useless for you to deny it. Yesterday, while Elsie was out and Aunt Chloe in the kitchen, you went to her room, took the key of her desk from the mantel-piece where she had left it, went to the school-room and did the mischief, hoping to get her into trouble thereby, and then relocking the desk and returning the key to its proper place, thought you had escaped detection; and I was very near giving my poor, innocent little girl the whipping you so richly deserve."
Arthur looked up in astonishment.
"Who told you?" he asked; "nobody saw me;" then, catching himself, said hastily, "I tell you I didn't do it. I don't know anything about it."
"Will you dare to tell me such a falsehood as that again?" exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore, angrily, taking him by the collar and shaking him roughly.
"Let me alone now," whined the culprit. "I want my dinner, I say."
"You'll get no dinner to-day, I can tell you," replied his brother. "I am going to lock you into your bedroom, and keep you there until your father comes home; and then if he doesn't give you the flogging you deserve, I will; for I intend you shall have your deserts for once in your life. I know that all this is in revenge for Elsie's forced testimony in the affair of the watch, and I gave you fair warning then that I would see to it that any attempt to abuse my child should receive its just reward."
He took the boy by the arm as he spoke, to lead him from the room.
At first Arthur seemed disposed to resist; but soon, seeing how useless it was to contend against such odds, he resigned himself to his fate, saying sullenly, "You wouldn't treat me this way if mamma was at home."
"She is not, however, as it happens, though I can tell you that even she could not save you now," replied his brother, as he opened the bedroom door, and pushing him in, locked it upon him, and put the key in his pocket.
Mr. Horace Dinsmore had almost unbounded influence over his father, who was very proud of him; the old gentleman also utterly despised everything mean and underhanded, and upon being made acquainted by Horace with Arthur's misdemeanors he inflicted upon him as severe a punishment as any one could have desired.