Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite." --PROVERBS xxiii. 2.
The happy day came, full soon to the fathers and mothers, at long last to the eager expectant children.
Old Mr. Dinsmore had accepted a pressing invitation from his granddaughter and her husband, to join the party, and with the addition of servants it was a large one.
As they were in no haste, and the confinement of a railroad car would be very irksome to the younger children, it had been decided to make the journey by water.
It was late in the afternoon of an unusually warm, bright November day that they found themselves comfortably established on board a fine steamer bound for New Orleans.
There were no sad leave-takings to mar their pleasure, the children were in wild spirits, and all seemed cheerful and happy as they sat or stood upon the deck watching the receding shore as the vessel steamed out of the harbor.
At length the land had quite disappeared; nothing could be seen but the sky overhead and a vast expanse of water all around, and the passengers found leisure to turn their attention upon each other.
"There are some nice looking people on board," remarked Mr. Travilla, in an undertone, to his wife.
"Beside ourselves," added Cousin Ronald, laughing.
"Yes," she answered; "that little group yonder: a young minister and his wife and child, I suppose. And what a dear little fellow he is just about the age of our Harold, I should judge."
"Yes, mamma," chimed in the last named young gentleman, "he's a nice little boy. May I go speak to him? May I, papa?"
Permission was given and the next moment the two stood close together each gazing admiringly into the other's face.
"Papa," remarked the little stranger, looking up at his father, "I very much wish I had a face like this little boy's."
"Do you, son?" was the smiling rejoinder. "He certainly looks like a very nice little boy. Suppose you and he shake hands, Frank."
"Yes, sir," said the child, holding out a small, plump hand, "What's your name, little boy?"
"Harold Travilla, and yours is Fank?"
"Yes, Frank Daly. Don't you like this nice big boat?"
"Yes I do. Won't you come wis me and speak to my mamma and papa?"
Frank looked inquiringly at his father.
"Yes, you may go if you wish," returned the latter, and the two started off hand in hand.
"Mamma, see! isn't he a dear little boy?" asked Harold, leading his new friend up before her with an air of proud ownership.
"Yes indeed," she said, bending down to kiss Frank and stroke his hair.
"I think he's a good boy, 'cause he didn't come till his papa told him to," continued Harold.
"A very good way to judge of a boy," said Cousin Ronald.
"His name is Fank," said Harold. "Fank, that's Cousin Ronald, and this is papa, and this is grandpa," and so on, leading him from one to another till he had introduced him to the whole party, not even omitting Baby Herbert and mammy.
Then Frank's papa came for him, saying the air was growing very cool, and it was time to go in.
Our friends were of the same opinion and all repaired to the ladies' saloon, where, through the children, they and the Dalys soon made acquaintance.
Mr. Daly was a minister going South for the winter for the sake of his own and his wife's health.
Cousin Ronald took Frank on his knee and asked, "What are you going to do, my little fellow, when you get to be a man."
"Preach the gospel, sir."
"Ah ha, ah ha! um h'm, um h'm! and what will you say?"
"I'll tell the people we'll sing the twenty-third piece of ham. How will that sound?"
"Rather comical, I think, my man. Are ye no afraid the folk might laugh?"
"No sir: they don't laugh when papa says it."
"Ah ha, ah ha! um h'm!"
Mr. Daly smiled. "I never knew before," said he, "that my boy intended to follow my profession."
The ladies were weary, and retired to their state rooms shortly after tea, but the gentlemen sought the open air again and paced the deck for some time.
"Have a cigar, sir?" asked Mr. Lilburn, addressing Mr. Daly.
"Thank you, no; I don't smoke."
"Ah ha! um h'm! In that you seem to be of one mind with my friends here, the Dinsmores and Travilla," remarked Lilburn, lighting one for himself and placing it between his lips. "I wonder now if you know what you miss by your abstinence?"
"Well, sir, as to that, I know what some of my friends and acquaintance would have missed if they had abstained from the use of the weed. One would have missed a terrible dyspepsia that laid him in his grave in the prime of life; another cancer of the lip which did the same by him after years of horrible suffering."
"Ah ha! um h'm! ah ha! But surely those were rare cases?"
"I think not very."
"You don't think the majority of those who use it feel any ill effects?"
"I do indeed; though probably comparatively few are aware that tobacco is the cause of their ailments."
"Doubtless that is the case," remarked Mr. Dinsmore. "I was a moderate smoker for years before I discovered that I was undermining my constitution by the indulgence; at length, however, I became convinced of that fact, and gave it up at once: for that reason and for the sake of the example to my boy here, who has been willing to profit by his father's experience, and abstain altogether."
"I have never used the weed in any way," said Horace, Jr.
"And I," remarked Travilla, "abandoned its use about the same time that Dinsmore did, and for the same reasons. By the way, I met with a very strong article on the subject, lately, which I cut out and placed in my pocket-book."
"Ah ha! um h'm! suppose you give us the benefit of it," suggested Lilburn good naturally, "I'm open to conviction."
"With all my heart, if you will step into the gentlemen's cabin where there's a light."
He led the way, the others all following, and taking out a slip of paper read from it in a distinct tone, loud enough to be heard by those about him, without disturbing the other passengers.
"'One drop of nicotine--extract of tobacco--placed on the tongue of a dog, will kill him in a minute; the hundredth part of a grain picked under the skin of a man's arm, will produce nausea and fainting. That which blackens old tobacco pipes is empyreumatic oil, a grain of which would kill a man in a few seconds.
"'The half dozen cigars which most smokers use a day, contain six or seven grains--enough, if concentrated and absorbed, to kill three men, and a pound of tobacco, according to its quality, contains from one-quarter to one and a quarter ounces.
"'Is it strange, then that smokers and chewers have a thousand ailments? that German physicians attribute one half of the deaths among the young men of that country to tobacco? that the French Polytechnic Institute had to prohibit its use on account of its effects on the mind? that men grow dyspeptic, hypochondriac, insane, delirious from its use?
"'One of the direct effects of tobacco is to weaken the heart. Notice the multitude of sudden deaths and see how many are smokers and chewers. In a small country town seven of these 'mysterious providences' occurred within the circuit of a mile, all directly traceable to tobacco; and any physician, on a few moments' reflection, can match this fact by his own observation.
"'And then such powerful acids produce intense irritation and thirst--thirst which water does not quench. Hence a resort to cider and beer. The more this thirst is fed, the more insatiate it becomes, and more fiery drink is needed.
"'Out of seven hundred convicts examined at the New York state prison, six hundred were confined for crimes committed under the influence of liquor, and five hundred said they had been led to drink by the use of tobacco."[G]
[Footnote G: J.E. Vose, in the "Family Christian Almanac," for 1876.]
"Ah ha, ah ha! um h'm! ah ha! that's strongly put," remarked Mr. Lilburn, reflectively. "I'm afraid I'll have to give it up. What say you, sir?" turning to Mr. Daly, "has a man a right to a choice in such a matter as this? a right to injure his body--to say nothing of the mind--by a self-indulgence the pleasure of which seems to him to overbalance the possible or probable suffering it may cause?"
"No, sir; 'What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God's.'"
"Right, sir, I was thinking of those words of the apostle, and also of these other, 'If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.'
"We certainly have no right to injure our bodies either by neglect or self-indulgence. 'Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?' and again, 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.'"
"It must require a good deal of resolution for one who has become fond of the indulgence to give it up," remarked Mr. Daly.
"No doubt, no doubt," returned Mr. Lilburn, "but, 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.'"
There was a pause broken by young Horace, who had been watching a group of men gathered about a table at the further end of the room.
"They are gambling yonder, and I'm afraid that young fellow is being badly fleeced by that middle aged man opposite."
The eyes of the whole party were at once turned in that direction.
"I'm afraid you're right, Horace," said Mr. Travilla, recalling with an inward shudder, the scene he had witnessed in a gambling hell many years ago, in which the son of his friend Beresford so nearly lost his life. "What can be done to save him? some effort must be made!" and he started up as if with the intention of approaching the players.
"Stay a moment," exclaimed Lilburn in an undertone, and laying a detaining hand upon Travilla's arm, but with his gaze intently fixed upon the older gamester. "Ah ha! um h'm! that fellow is certainly cheating. I saw him slip a card from his coat sleeve."
The words had scarcely passed his lips when a voice spoke apparently close at the villain's side.
"Ah ha, I zees you vell, how you runs de goat shleeve down mit de gards and sheats dat boor poy vat ish blay mit you. Yoh, sir, you ish von pig sheat!"
"How dare you, sir? who are you?" cried the rascal, starting up white with rage and turning to face his accuser.
"Who was it? where is that Dutch scoundrel that dared accuse me of cheating?" he cried, sending a fierce glance about the room.
"Vat ish dat you galls me? von Dutch scoundrel? you man mit de proken nose; I say it again: you ish von pig sheat."
This time the voice seemed to come from a stateroom behind the gambler. Towering with rage, he rushed to the door and tried to open it. Failing in that, he demanded admittance in loud angry tones, at the same time shaking the door violently, and kicking against it with a force that seemed likely to break in the panels.
There was an answering yell, a sound as of some one bouncing out of his berth upon the floor, the key turned hastily in the lock, the door was thrown wide open, and a little Frenchman appeared on its threshold in night attire, bowie knife and pistol in hand, and black eyes flashing with indignant anger.
"Sir, Monsieur, I vil know vat for is dis disturbance of mine slumbers?"
"Sir!" said the other, stepping back, instantly cooled down at sight of the weapons, "I beg pardon: was looking for a scoundrel of a Dutchman who has been abusing me, but I see he's not here."
"No sir, he is not here!" and the door was slammed violently to.
"Ha, ha! man mit de proken nose, you vake up de wrong bassenger. Ha, ha! I dells you again you ish von pig sheat!"
Now the voice came from the skylight overhead, apparently, and with a fierce imprecation the irate gamester rushed upon deck, and ran hither and thither in search of his tormentor.
His victim, who had been looking on during the little scene and listening to the mysterious voice in silent wide-eyed wonder and fear, now rose hastily, his face deathly pale, with trembling hands gathered up the money he had staked, and hurrying into his state room, locked himself in.
The remaining passengers looked at each other.
"What does it mean?" cried one.
"A ventriloquist aboard, of course," returned another. "Let's follow and see the fun."
"I wonder which of us it is!" remarked the first, looking hard at our party.
"I don't know, but come on. That fellow Nick Ward, is a noted blackleg and ruffian: had his nose broken in a fight and is sensitive on the subject; was cheating of course."
They passed out, our party close in their rear.
"Where's that Dutch villain?" Ward was screaming, following up his question with a volley of oaths.
"Who?" asked the mate, "I've seen none up here; though there are some in the steerage."
Down to the steerage flew the gambler without waiting to reply, and bounding into the midst of a group of German emigrants seated there, quietly smoking their pipes, angrily demanded which of them it was who had been on the upper deck just now, abusing him, and calling him a cheat, and a man with a broken nose.
They heard him in silence, with a cool, phlegmatic indifference most exasperating to one in his present mood.
Drawing his revolver, "Speak!" he shouted, "tell me which one it was, or I'll--I'll shoot every mother's son of you!"
His arms were suddenly pinioned from behind while a deep voice grunted, "You vill, vill you? I dinks not; you ish mine brisoner. Dere ish nopody here as did gall you names, and you vill put up dat leetle gun."
A man of giant size and herculean strength, had laid aside his pipe and slowly rising to his feet, seized the scoundrel in his powerful grasp.
"Let me go!" yelled Ward, making a desperate effort to free his arms.
"Ha, ha! man mit de proken nose, you ish vake up de wrong bassenger again," came mockingly from above. "It ish me as galls you von pig sheat; and I dells you it again."
"There, the villain's up on the deck now!" cried Ward, grinding his teeth in impotent rage. "Let go my arms I let go, I say, and I'll teach him a lesson."
"I dinks no; I dinks I deach you von lesson," returned his captor, not relaxing his grasp in the least.
But the captain's voice was heard asking in stern tones, "What's the cause of all this disturbance? what are you doing down here, Ward? I'll have no fighting aboard."
The German released his prisoner, and the latter slunk away with muttered threats and imprecations upon the head of his tormentor.
Both that night and the next day there was much speculation among the passengers in regard to the occurrence; but our friends kept their own counsel, and the children, cautioned not to divulge Cousin Ronald's secret, guarded it carefully, for all had been trained to obedience, and besides were anxious not to lose the fun he made for them.
Mr. Lilburn and Mr. Daly each at a different time, sought out the young man, Ward's intended victim, and tried to influence him for good.
He thought he had been rescued by the interposition of some supernatural agency, and solemnly declared his fixed determination never again to approach a gaming table, and throughout the voyage adhered to his resolution, spite of every influence Ward could bring to bear upon him to break it.
Yet there was gambling again the second night, between Ward and several others of his profession.
They kept it up till after midnight. Then Mr. Lilburn, waking from his first sleep, in a stateroom near by, thought he would break it up once more.
A deep stillness reigned in the cabin: it would seem that every one on board the vessel, except themselves and the watch on deck, was wrapped in profound slumber.
An intense voiceless excitement possessed the players, for the game was a close one, and the stakes were very heavy. They bent eagerly over the board, each watching with feverish anxiety his companion's movements, each casting, now and again, a gloating eye upon the heap of gold and greenbacks that lay between them, and at times half stretching out his hand to clutch it.
A deep groan startled them and they sprang to their feet, pale and trembling with sudden terror, each holding his breath and straining his ear to catch a repetition of the dread sound.
But all was silent, and after a moment of anxious waiting, they sat down to their game again; trying to conceal and shake off their fears with a forced, unnatural laugh.
But scarcely had they taken the cards into their hands when a second groan, deeper, louder and more prolonged than the first, again started them to their feet.
"I tell you this is growing serious," whispered one in a shaking voice, his very lips white with fear.
"It came from under the table," gasped Ward, "look what's there."
"Both together then," and simultaneously they bent down and peered into the space underneath the board.
There was nothing there.
"What can it have been?" they asked each other.
"Oh, nonsense! what fools we are! of course somebody's ill in one of the state-rooms." And they resumed their game for the second time.
But a voice full of unutterable anguish, came from beneath their feet, "'Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame," and in mortal terror they sprang up, dashed down their cards and fled, not even waiting to gather up the "filthy lucre" for which they wore selling their souls.
It was the last game of cards for that trip.
The captain coming in shortly after the sudden flight of the gamblers, took charge of the money, and the next day restored it to the owners.
To Elsie's observant eyes it presently became evident that the Dalys were in very straitened circumstances. They made no complaint, but with her warm sympathy and delicate tact, she soon drew from the wife all the information she needed to convince her that here was a case that called for the pecuniary assistance Providence had put it in her power to give.
She consulted with her husband, and the result was a warm invitation to the Dalys to spend the winter at Viamede, where they would have all the benefit of the mild climate, congenial society, use of the library, horses, etc., and be at no expense.
"Oh how kind, how very kind!" Mrs. Daly said with tears of joy and gratitude, "we have hardly known how we should meet the most necessary expenses of this trip, but have been trying to cast our care upon the Lord, asking him to provide. And how wonderfully he has answered our petitions. But--it seems too much, too much for you to do for strangers."
"Strangers, my dear friend!" Elsie answered, pressing her hand affectionately, "art we not sisters in Christ? 'Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.' 'Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.'
"We feel, my husband and I, that we are only the stewards of his bounty; and that because he has said, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,' it is the greatest privilege and delight to do anything for his people."
Mr. Travilla had already expressed the same sentiments to Mr. Daly, and so the poor minister and his wife accepted the invitation with glad and thankful hearts, and Harold and Frank learned with delight that they were to live together for what to their infant minds seemed an almost interminable length of time.
The passage to New Orleans was made without accident or detention.
As our party left the vessel a voice was heard from the hold, crying in dolorous accents, and a rich Irish brogue, "Och captin dear, help me out, help me out! I've got fast betwane these boxes here, bad cess to 'em! an' can't hilp mesilf at all, at all!"
"Help you out, you passage thief!" roared the captain in return, "yes I'll help you out with a vengeance, and put you into the hands of the police."
"Ah ha! um h'm ah ha, you'll have to catch him first," remarked Mr. Lilburn with a quiet smile; stepping from the plank to the wharf as he spoke.
"Ah, cousin, you are incorrigible!" said Elsie, laughingly.