Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." --Luke vi, 87.
Calhoun Conly was much perturbed by the occurrences of the evening. He was fond of his cousin Elsie and her children, and very sorry, for both her sake and theirs, that they had suffered this fright; he greatly respected and liked Mr. Travilla too, and would fain have stood well in his esteem; he had hoped that he did; and also with his Uncle Horace,--he had been so kindly treated, especially of late, at both Ion and the Oaks; but now this unfortunate episode had placed him in a false position, and he could hardly expect to be again trusted or believed in.
Such were his cogitations as he sat alone in the veranda, after the Ion carriage had driven away. "What shall I do?" he asked himself, "what shall I do to recover their good opinion?"
Just then Walter appeared before him, looking crestfallen and angry.
"I say, Cal, it's bad enough for you to have thrashed me as you did, without bringing mother and Aunt Enna, and maybe grandfather too, down on me about those wretched masks and things; so give 'em up and let Dick and me put 'em back before they get home."
"Of course put them back as fast as you can; pity you hadn't let them alone," said Calhoun, rising and with a quick step leading the way toward the nursery, "and," he added, "we must see what we can do to keep the young ones from blabbing; else putting them back will help your case very little."
"Oh we'll never be able to do that!" exclaimed Walter, despairingly, "one or another of 'em is sure to let it out directly. And there come the folks now," as the rolling of wheels was heard in the avenue. "It's of no use; they'll know all about it in five minutes."
"Yes, sir, you and Dick have got yourselves into a fine box, beside all the trouble you've made for other people," said Calhoun angrily. Then laying his hand on Walter's arm as he perceived that he was meditating flight, "No, sir, stay and face the music like a man; don't add cowardice to all the rest of it."
They heard the clatter of little feet running through the house and out upon the veranda, the carriage draw up before the door, then the voices of the children pouring out the story of their fright, and the punishment of its authors, and the answering tones of their grandfather and the ladies; Mr. Dinsmore's expressing surprise and indignation, Enna's full of passion, and Mrs. Conly's of cold displeasure.
"Let go o' me! they're coming this way," cried Walter, trying to wrench himself free.
But the inexorable Calhoun only tightened his grasp and dragged him on to the nursery.
Dick was there trying to pick the lock of the closet door with his pocket knife.
"What are you about, sir? No more mischief to-day, if you please," exclaimed Calhoun, seizing him with the free hand, the other having enough to do to hold Walter.
"Give me that key then," cried Dick, vainly struggling to shake off his cousin's strong grip.
The words were hardly on the boy's tongue, when the door was thrown open, and Mr. Dinsmore and his daughters entered hastily, followed by the whole crowd of younger children.
"Give you the key indeed! I'd like to know how you got hold of mine, and how you dared to make use of it as you have, you young villain! There, take that, and that and that! Hold him fast, Cal, till I give him a little of what he deserves," cried Mrs. Johnson, rushing upon her son, in a towering passion, and cuffing him right and left with all her strength.
"Let me alone!" he roared; "'taint fair; old Travilla's half killed me already."
"I'm glad of it! You ought to be half killed, and you won't get any sympathy from me, I can tell you."
"And you had a share in it too, Walter?" Mrs. Conly was saying in freezing tones. "If you think he deserves any more than you gave him, Cal, you have my full permission to repeat the dose."
"Where is the cause of all this unseemly disturbance?" demanded Mr. Dinsmore severely. "Calhoun, if you have the key of that closet and those wretched disguises are there, produce them at once."
The young man obeyed, while Enna, holding Dick fast, turned a half frightened look upon her sister; to which the latter, standing with her arms folded and her back braced against the wall, replied with one of cold, haughty indifference.
Calhoun drew out the obnoxious articles and held them up to view, a flush of mortification upon his face.
The children screamed and ran.
"Be quiet! they can't hurt you," said the grandfather, stamping his foot; then turning to Calhoun, "Ku Klux--your property and Arthur's, I presume, you are members doubtless?" and he glanced from one to the other of his older grandsons in mingled anger and scorn; Arthur having just entered the room to ascertain the cause of the unusual commotion.
He flushed hotly at his grandsire's words and look. "I, sir! I a Ku Klux?" he exclaimed in a hurt, indignant tone, "I a midnight assassin stealing upon my helpless victims under cover of darkness and a hideous disguise? No, sir. How could you think so ill of me? What have I done to deserve it?"
"Nothing, my boy; I take it all back," said the old gentleman, with a grim smile, "it is not like you--a quiet bookish lad, with nothing of the coward or the bully about you. But you, Calhoun?"
"I have no property in these, sir; and I should scorn to wear one, or to take part in the deeds you have spoken of."
"Right. I am no Republican, and was as strong for secession as any man in the South, but I am for open, fair fight with my own enemies or those of my country; no underhand dealings for me; no cowardly attacks in overwhelming numbers upon the weak and defenceless. But if these disguises are not yours, whose are they? and how came they here?"
"I must beg leave to decline answering that question, sir," replied Calhoun respectfully.
His mother and aunt exchanged glances.
"Ah!" exclaimed their father, turning to Enna, as with a sudden recollection, "I think I heard you claiming some property in these scarecrows speak out; are they yours?"
"No, sir; but I'm not ashamed to own that I helped to make them, and that if I were a man, I would wear one."
"You? you helped make them? and who, pray, helped you? Louise--"
"Yes, sir, Louise it was," replied Mrs. Conly drawing herself up to her full height, "and she is no more ashamed to own it, than is her sister. And if Calhoun was a dutiful son he would be more than willing to wear one."
"If you were a dutiful daughter, you would never have engaged in such business in my house without my knowledge and consent," retorted her father, "and I'll have no more of it, let me tell you, Madams Conly and Johnson; no aiding or abetting of these midnight raiders."
Then turning to a servant he ordered her to "take the hideous things into the yard and make a bonfire of them."
"No, no!" cried Enna. "Papa, do you understand that you are ordering the destruction of other men's property?"
"It makes no difference," he answered coolly, "they are forfeit by having been brought surreptitiously into my house. Carry them out, Fanny, do you hear? carry them out and burn them."
"And pray, sir, what am I to say to the owners when they claim their property?" asked Enna with flashing eyes.
"Refer them to me," replied her father leaving the room to see that his orders were duly executed.
Calhoun and Arthur had already slipped away. Dick was about to follow, but his mother again seized him by the arm, this time shaking him violently; she must have some one on whom to vent the rage that was consuming her.
"You--you bad, troublesome, wicked boy! I could shake the very life out of you!" she hissed through her shut teeth, suiting the action to the word. "A pretty mess you've made of it, you and Walter. Your birthday coming next week too; there'll be no presents from Ion for you, you may rest assured. I hoped Mr. Travilla would send you each a handsome suit, as he did last year; but of course you'll get nothing now."
"Well, I don't care," muttered Dick, "it's your fault for making the ugly things." And freeing himself by a sudden jerk, he darted from the room.
Children and servants had trooped after Mr. Dinsmore to witness the conflagration, and Dick's sudden exit left the ladies sole occupants of the apartment.
"I declare it's too bad! too provoking for endurance!" exclaimed Enna, bursting into a flood of angry tears.
"What's the use of taking it so hard?" returned her sister.
"You're a perfect iceberg," retorted Enna.
"That accounts for my not crying over our misfortune, I presume; my tears being all frozen up," returned Mrs. Conly with an exasperating smile. "Well there is comfort in all things: we may now congratulate ourselves that Foster and Boyd did not wait for these but supplied themselves elsewhere."
There was a difference of two years in the ages of Dick Percival and Walter Conly, but they were born on the same day of the same month, and their birthday would occur in less than a week.
"I say, Wal, what precious fools we've been," remarked Dick as the two were preparing to retire that night; "why didn't we remember how near it was to our birthday? Of course, as mother says, there'll be no presents from Ion this time."
"No, and I wish I'd never seen the hateful things," grumbled Walter, "but there's no use crying over spilt milk."
"No; and we'll pretend we don't care a cent. Mother sha'n't have the satisfaction of knowing that I do anyhow;" and Dick whistled a lively tune as he pulled off his boots and tossed them into a corner.
At about the same time Elsie and her husband, seated alone together in their veranda, were conversing on the same subject. Mr. Travilla introduced it. They had been regretting the effect of the fright of the evening upon their children--Vi especially as the one predisposed to undue excitement of the brain--yet hoping it might not prove lasting.
Elsie had just returned from seeing them to bed. "I left them much calmed and comforted," she said, "by our little talk together of God's constant watch over us, His all-power and His protecting care and love; and by our prayer that He would have them in his keeping."
He pressed her hand in silence; then presently remarked, "The birthday of those boys is near at hand. They certainly deserve no remembrance from us; but how do you feel about it?"
"Just as my noble, generous husband does," she said, looking up into his face with a proud, fond smile.
"Ah! and how is that?"
"Like giving them a costlier and more acceptable present than ever before; thus 'heaping coals of fire upon their heads.'"
"And what shall it be?"
"Whatever you think they would prefer, and would not that be a pony a-piece?"
"No doubt of it; and I will try to procure two worth having, before the day comes round."
Talking with her little ones the next morning, Elsie told them of the near approach of the birthday of Dick and Walter, spoke of the duty of forgiveness and the return of good for evil, and asked who of them would like to make their cousins some nice present.
"I should, mamma," said little Elsie.
Eddie looked up into his mother's face, dropped his head, and blushing deeply muttered, "I'd rather flog them like papa and Cal did."
"So would I; they're naughty boys!" cried Vi, the tears starting to her eyes at the remembrance of the panic of fear their conduct had cost herself, brothers and sister.
Their mother explained that it was papa's duty to protect his children from injury, and that that was why he had flogged naughty Dick; but now he had forgiven him and was going to return good for evil, as the Bible bids us. "And you must forgive them too, dears, if you want God to forgive you," she concluded; "for Jesus says, 'If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'"
"I can't, mamma: I don't love them," said Eddie, stoutly.
"Ask God to help you, then, my son."
"But mamma, I can't ask him with my heart, 'cause I don't want to love them or forgive them."
"Can my boy do without God's forgiveness? without Jesus' love?" she asked, drawing him to her side. "You feel very unhappy when papa or mamma is offended with you, and can you bear your heavenly Father's frown?"
"Don't look so sorry, dear mamma: I love you ever so much," he said, putting his arms about her neck and kissing her again and again.
"I cannot be happy while my dear little son indulges such sinful feelings," she said, softly smoothing his hair, while a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Mamma, how can I help it?"
"Try to think kind thoughts of your cousins, do them all the kindness you can, and ask God to bless them, and to help you to love them. I want my little Vi to do so too," she added, turning to her.
"Mamma, I will; I don't 'tend to say cross things 'bout 'em any more," Violet answered impulsively; "and I'll give 'em the nicest present I can get with all my pocket-money."
"Mamma, must I give them presents?" asked Eddie.
"No, son, I do not say must; you shall decide for yourself whether you ought, and whether you will."
"Mamma, they made me hurt my dear father."
"No, Eddie, no one can make us do wrong; we choose for ourselves whether we will resist temptation or yield to it."
"Mamma, what shall we give," asked the little girls.
"Talk it over between yourselves, daughters, decide how much you are willing to spend on them, and what your cousins would probably like best. I want my children to think and choose for themselves, where it is proper that they should."
"But mamma, you will 'vise us."
"Yes, Vi, you may consult me, and shall have the benefit of my opinion."
The little girls held several private consultations during the day, and in the evening came with a report to their mother. Elsie was willing to appropriate five dollars to the purpose, Vi three, and the gifts were to be books, if mamma approved, and would help them select suitable ones.
"I think you have decided wisely," she said, "and as it is too warm for us to drive to the city, we will ask papa to order a variety sent out here, and he and I will help you in making a choice."
Eddie was standing by. Nothing had been said to him on the subject, since his morning talk with his mother, but all day he had been unusually quiet and thoughtful.
"Mamma," he now said, coming close to her side, "I've been trying to forgive them, and I'm going to buy two riding whips, one for Dick, and one for Wal; if you and papa like me to."
Her smile was very sweet and tender as she commended his choice, and told him his resolve had made her very happy.
The birthday found Dick and Walter in sullen, discontented mood, spite of their resolve not to care for the loss of all prospect of gifts in honor of the anniversary.
"What's the use of getting up?" growled Dick, "it's an awful bore, the way we've been sent to Coventry ever since we got into that scrape with the young ones. I've a great mind to lie a-bed and pretend sick; just to scare mother and pay her off for her crossness."
"Maybe you might get sick in earnest," suggested Walter. "I'm going to get up anyhow," and he tumbled out upon the floor, "for it's too hot to lie in bed. Hark! there's Pomp coming up the stairs to call us now. Why, what's all that, Pomp?" as the servant rapped, then pushing open the door, handed in a number of brown paper parcels.
"Dunno, Mars Wal," replied the man grinning from ear to ear; "somethin' from Ion, an de rest's down stairs; one for each ob you."
"One what?" queried Dick, starting up and with one bound placing himself at Walter's side.
"Birthday present, sahs. Wish you many happy returns, Mars Wal and Mars Dick, an' hope you'll neber wear no mo' Ku Klux doins."
But the lads were too busily engaged in opening the parcels and examining their contents, to hear or heed his words.
"Two riding whips--splendid ones--and four books!" exclaimed Walter; "and here's a note."
"Here let me read it," said Dick. "I declare, Wal, I'm positively ashamed to have them send me anything after the way I've behaved."
"I too. But what do they say?"
"It's from Travilla and Cousin Elsie," said Dick turning to the signature. "I'll read it out."
He did so. It was very kind and pleasant, made no allusion to their wrong doing, but congratulated them on the return of the day, begged their acceptance of the accompanying gifts, stating from whom each came, the largest a joint present from themselves; and closed with an invitation to spend the day at Ion.
"I'm more ashamed than ever, aren't you, Wal?" Dick said, his face flushing hotly as he laid the note down.
"Yes, never felt so mean in my life. To think of that little Ed sending us these splendid whips, and the little girls these pretty books. I 'most wish they hadn't."
"But where's 'the larger gift' they say is 'a joint present from themselves'?"
"Oh that must be what Pomp called the rest left down stairs. Come, let's hurry and get down there to see what it is."
Toilet duties were attended to in hot haste and in a wonderfully short time the two were on the front veranda in eager quest of the mysterious present.
Each boyish heart gave a wild bound of delight as their eyes fell upon a group in the avenue, just before the entrance;--two beautiful ponies, ready saddled and bridled, in charge of an Ion servant; old Mr. Dinsmore, Calhoun and Arthur standing near examining and commenting upon them with evident admiration.
"O, what beauties!" cried Dick, bounding into the midst of the group. "Whose are they, Uncle Joe?"
"Well, sah," answered the old negro, pulling off his hat and bowing first to one, then to the other, "dey's sent heyah, by Massa Travilla and Miss Elsie, for two boys 'bout de size o' you, dat don' neber mean to frighten young chillen no mo'."
The lads hung their heads in silence, the blush of shame on their cheeks.
"Do you answer the description?" asked Calhoun, a touch of scorn in his tones.
"Yes; for we'll never do it again," said Walter. "But it's too much: they're too kind!" and he fairly broke down, and turned away his head to hide the tears that would come into his eyes.
"That's a fact!" assented Dick, nearly as much moved.
"You don't deserve it," said their grandfather, severely, "and I'm much inclined to send them back, with a request that if they're offered you again it shall not be till a year of good conduct on your part has atoned for the past."
"O, grandpa, you couldn't be so hard, so very hard!" cried Dick imploringly, stroking and patting the pony nearest to him, "they're such beauties."
"I should think you'd be ashamed to accept such gifts after the way you've behaved," said Arthur.
"So we are; but wouldn't it be worse to send 'em back? Awful rude, I should say." And Dick turned a half saucy, half beseeching look upon his grandfather.
The old gentleman smiled in spite of himself, and consented, in consideration of the boys' penitence for the past, and fair promises for the future, to allow them to accept the generous gifts.
Uncle Joe explained which was for Dick, and which for Walter, and springing into their saddles, they were off like a shot, their grandfather calling after them to be back in ten minutes if they wanted any breakfast.