Elsie's Motherhood by Martha Finley
"O, what a state is guilt! how wild! how wretched!" --HAVARD.
The war had wrought many changes in the neighborhood where our friends resided; some who had been reared in the lap of luxury were now in absolute want, having sacrificed almost their last dollar in the cause of secession; to which also in numerous instances, the husbands, sons and brothers had fallen victims.
Though through the clemency of the Government there had been no executions for treason, no confiscation of property, many plantations had changed hands because of the inability of the original owners to work them, for lack of means to pay the laborers.
Elsie's tender sympathies were strongly enlisted for these old friends and acquaintances, and their necessities often relieved by her bounty when they little guessed whence help had come. Her favors were doubled by the delicate kindness of the manner of their bestowal.
The ability to give largely was the greatest pleasure her wealth afforded her, and one in which she indulged to the extent of disposing yearly in that way, of the whole surplus of her ample income; not waiting to be importuned, but constantly seeking out worthy objects upon whom to bestow that of which she truly considered herself but a steward who must one day render a strict account unto her Lord.
It was she who had repaired the ravages of war in Springbrook, the residence of Mr. Wood, her pastor; she who, when the Fosters of Fairview, a plantation adjoining Ion, had been compelled to sell it, had bought a neat cottage in the vicinity and given them the use of it at a merely nominal rent. And in any another like deed had she done; always with the entire approval of her husband, who was scarcely less generous than herself.
The purchaser of Fairview was a Mr. Leland, a northern man who had been an officer in the Union army. Pleased with the southern climate and the appearance of that section of country, he felt inclined to settle there and assist in the development of its resources; he therefore returned some time after the conclusion of peace, bought this place, and removed his family thither.
They were people of refinement and culture, quiet and peaceable, steady attendants upon Mr. Wood's ministry, and in every way conducted themselves as good citizens.
Yet they were not popular: the Fosters, particularly Wilkins, the only son, hated them as their supplanters, and saw with bitter envy the rapid improvement of Fairview under Mr. Leland's careful cultivation. It was no fault of his that they had been compelled to part with it, and he had paid a fair price: but envy and jealousy are ever unreasonable; and their mildest term of reproach in speaking of him was "carpet-bagger."
Others found fault with Mr. Leland as paying too liberal wages to the negroes (including Mr. Horace Dinsmore and Mr. Travilla in the same charge), and hated him for his outspoken loyalty to the Government; for though he showed no disposition to seek for office or meddle in any way with the politics of others, he made no secret of his views when occasion seemed to call for their expression. It was not a prudent course under existing circumstances, but accorded well with the frank and fearless nature of the man.
Messrs. Dinsmore and Travilla, themselves strong Unionists, though the latter was more discreet in the utterance of his sentiments, found in him a kindred spirit. Rose and Elsie were equally pleased with Mrs. Leland, and pitying her loneliness, called frequently, inviting a return of their visits, until now the three families had become tolerably intimate.
This state of things was extremely displeasing to Louise and Enna; scarcely less so to their father; but the others, convinced that they were in the path of duty in thus extending kindness and sympathy to deserving strangers, who were also "of the household of faith," were not to be deterred by remonstrances or vituperation. "Scalawags"--a term of reproach applied by the Democrats of the South to the Republicans, who were natives of that section--was what Enna called her brother, his son-in-law and daughter, when out of hearing of her father, who though vexed at their notice of the Lelands, was too strongly attached to his only remaining son, and too sensible of the kindness he had received at the hands of Mr. Travilla and Elsie, to permit anything of that sort.
The Lelands had several young children, well-bred and of good principles, and it angered Louise and Enna that Elsie evidently preferred them to their own rude, deceitful, spoiled offspring as companions and playmates for her little ones.
Elsie and her husband were very desirous to live on good terms with these near relatives, but not to the extent of sacrificing their children's morals; therefore did not encourage a close intimacy with their Roselands cousins; yet ever treated them politely and kindly, and made a valuable present to each on every return of his or her birthday, and on Christmas; always managing to select something specially desired by the recipient of the favor.
Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore pursued a similar course; Rosie was allowed to be as intimate as she chose at Ion, and with her Aunt Sophie's children, but never visited Roselands except with her parents or sister; nor were the Roseland cousins ever invited to make a lengthened stay at the Oaks.
One afternoon, several weeks subsequent to the events related in the last chapter, Mary and Archie Leland came over to Ion to spend an hour with their young friends.
The weather was delightful, and the children preferred playing out of doors; the girls took their dolls to a summer-house in the garden, while with kite, ball and marbles, the boys repaired to the avenue.
"Who are those?" asked Archie, as looking up at the sound of approaching footsteps he saw two boys, a good deal older than themselves, coming leisurely toward them.
"My cousins, Wal Conly and Dick Percival," answered Eddie. "I wish they hadn't come, they always tease me so."
"Hilloa!" cried Dick, "what! Ed Travilla, you play with carpet-baggers, eh? fie on you! I wouldn't be seen with one."
"That's not polite, Dick. Archie's a good boy; mamma and papa says so; and I like him for a playfellow."
"You do? ah, that's because you're a scalawag."
"What your father is and your grandfather too."
"Then I don't care; I want to be just like my papa."
"But it isn't nice," put in Walter, laughing, "a scalawag's the meanest thing alive."
"Then you shall not call papa that, nor grandpa!" and the child's great dark eyes flashed with anger.
"Whew! I'd like to see you hinder me. Look here, Ed," and Dick pulled out a pistol, "what d'ye think o' that? don't you wish you had one? don't you wish you could shoot?"
"I can," returned Eddie, proudly, "papa's been teaching me, and he's given me a better pistol than that."
"Hey! a likely story!" cried the two tormentors, with an incredulous laugh. "Let's see it now?"
"It's in the house, but papa said I should never touch it 'cept when he gives it to me; not till I grow a big boy."
"Nonsense!" cried Dick, "if 'twas there, you'd bring it out fast enough. I sha'n't believe a word of the story until I see the pistol."
"I'll show you if I'm not telling the truth;" exclaimed Eddie, flushing hotly, and turning about as if to go into the house.
But Archie laid a hand on his arm, and speaking for the first time since the others had joined them, "Don't, Eddie," he said persuasively, "don't disobey your father; I know you'll be sorry for it afterwards."
"Hold your tongue, you young carpet-bagger," said Dick. "Run and get it, Ed."
"No, never mind about his pistol, he can't shoot," said Walter, mockingly. "If he can, let him take yours and prove it."
Eddie remembered well that his father had also forbidden him to touch firearms at all, except when with him; but the boy was naturally proud and wilful, and spite of all the careful training of his parents, these faults would occasionally show themselves.
He did not like to have his word doubted, he was eager to prove his skill, which he conceived to be far greater than it was, and as his cousins continued to twit and tease him, daring him to show what he could do, he was sorely tempted to disobey.
They were slowly walking on farther from the house as they talked, and finally when Dick said, "why, Ed, you couldn't hit that big tree yonder, I dare you to try it," at the same time offering him the pistol, the little fellow's sense of duty suddenly gave way, and snatching the weapon from Dick's hand, he fired, not allowing himself time, in his haste and passion, to take proper aim.
In their excitement and pre-occupation, none of the boys had noticed Mr. Travilla riding into the avenue a moment before, closely followed by his body servant Ben. Almost simultaneously with the report of the pistol the former tumbled from the saddle and fell heavily to the ground.
With a cry, "O, Mass Edard's killed!" Ben sprang from his horse and bent over the prostrate form, wringing his hands in fright and grief. He was his master's foster-brother and devotedly attached to him.
The fall, the cry, the snorting and running of the frightened horses, instantly told the boys what had happened, and Eddie threw himself on the ground screaming in an agony of grief and remorse, "O, I've killed my father, my dear, dear father! O, papa, papa! what shall I do? what shall I do?"
Mr. Leland coming in search of his children, the men passing the gate returning from their work, all heard and rushed to the spot. The blacks crowded about the scene of the accident, sobbing like children at the sight of their loved master and friend lying there apparently lifeless.
Mr. Leland, his features working with emotion, at once assumed the direction of affairs.
"Catch the horses," he said, "and you, Ben, mount the fleetest and fly for the doctor. And you," turning to another, "take the other and hurry to the Oaks for Mr. Dinsmore. Now the rest of you help me to carry your master to the house. I will lift his head, there gently, gently, my good fellows, I think he still breathes. But Mrs. Travilla!" he added, looking toward the dwelling, "all seems quiet there; they have not heard, I think, and she should be warned. I wish--"
"I will go, I will tell mamma," interrupted a quivering child voice at his side.
Little Elsie had pushed her way through the crowd and dropping on her knees on the grass was raining kisses and tears upon the pale, unconscious face.
"You? poor child!" Mr. Leland began in piteous tones; but she had already sprung to her feet and was flying toward the house with the fleetness of the wind.
One moment she paused in the spacious entrance hall, to recover her breath, calm her features, and remove the traces of her tears. "Mamma, mamma," she was saying to herself, "O Lord Jesus give me the right words to speak to her."
She hardly knew to which apartment to direct her steps, but "Hark! there was the sound of the piano and mamma's sweet voice singing a song papa had brought home only the other day, and that he liked. Ah would she ever sing again now that he--"
But no, not even in thought could she say that dreadful word; but she knew now that mamma was in the music room; and earnestly repeating her silent petition for help, she hurried thither.
The door was open; with swift, noiseless steps she gained her mother's side; passing an arm about her neck, and half averting her own pale, agitated face, "Mamma," she said in low, tremulous tones, "'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!' Mamma, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you! He will help you to bear--"
"My daughter, what is it?" asked the mother in a tone of forced calmness, a terrible pang shooting through her heart, "your father? Eddie? Vi?"--then starting up at a sound as of the feet of those who bore some heavy burden, she ran into the hail.
For a moment she stood as one transfixed with grief and horror.
"He breathes, he lives," Mr. Leland hastened to say.
Her lips moved but no words came from them. Silently motioning them to follow her, she led the way to his room and pointed to the bed. They laid him on it and at that instant consciousness returned.
"Dear wife, it is nothing," he faintly murmured, lifting his eyes to her face as she bent over him in speechless anguish.
She softly pressed her lips to his brow, her heart too full for utterance.
The words sent a thrill of gladness to the heart of little Elsie, who had crept in behind the men, and stood near the bed silently weeping; her father lived; and now Eddie's frantic screams seemed to ring in her ears (in her fear for her father she had scarcely noticed them before) and she must go and tell him the glad news. She was not needed here; mamma was not conscious of her presence, and she could do nothing for the dear injured father. She stole quietly from the room.
On the veranda she found Violet crying bitterly, while Mary Leland vainly tried to comfort her.
"Don't cry so, little sister," Elsie said, going to her and taking her in her arms in tender motherly fashion, "our dear papa is not killed; I saw him open his eyes, and heard him say to mamma, 'Dear wife, it is nothing.'"
Vi clung to her sister with a fresh burst of tears, but this time they were tears of joy. "O, I'm so glad! I thought I had no papa any more."
A few more soothing words and caresses and Elsie said, "Now I must go and tell poor Eddie. Do you know where he is?"
"Hark! don't you hear him crying way off in the grounds?" said Mary, "I think he's just where he was."
"O, yes, yes!" and Elsie hastened in the direction of the sounds.
She found him lying on the grass still crying in heart-broken accents, "Oh, I've killed my father, my dear, dear father! what shall I do! what shall I do!"
Dick and Walter were gone; like the guilty wretches they were, they had fled as soon as they saw what mischief they had caused. But Archie too kind-hearted and noble to forsake a friend in distress, was still there.
"You didn't mean to do it, Eddie," he was saying, as Elsie came within hearing.
"No, no," burst out the half distracted child, "I wouldn't hurt my dear papa one bit for all the world! but it was 'cause I disobeyed him. He told me never to touch firearms when he wasn't by to help me do it right. Oh, oh, oh, I didn't think I'd ever be such a wicked boy! I've killed my father, oh! oh!"
"No, Eddie, no, you haven't; papa opened his eyes and spoke to mamma," said his sister hurrying to his side.
"Did he? O Elsie, is he alive? Isn't he hurt much?" asked the child, ceasing his cries for the moment, and lifting his tear-swollen face to hers.
"I don't know, Eddie dear, but I hope not," she said, low and tremulously, the tears rolling fast down her own cheeks, while she took out her handkerchief and gently wiped them away from his.
He dropped his head again, with a bitter, wailing cry. "O, I'm afraid he is, and I shooted him! I shooted him!"
Fortunately Dr. Burton's residence was not far distant, and Ben urging Beppo to his utmost speed and finding the doctor at home, had him at Mr. Travilla's bedside in a wonderfully short space of time.
The doctor found the injury not nearly so great as he had feared: the ball had struck the side of the head and glanced off, making a mere scalp-wound, which, though causing insensibility for a time, would have no very serious or lasting consequences; the blood had been already sponged away, and the wound closed with sticking plaster.
But the fall had jarred the whole system and caused some bruises; so that altogether the patient was likely to have to keep his bed for some days, and the doctor said must be kept quiet and as free from excitement as possible.
Elsie, leaving Aunt Chloe at the bedside, followed the physician from the room.
"You need give yourself no anxiety, my dear Mrs. Travilla," he said cheerily, taking her hand in his for a moment, in his kind fatherly way--for he was an old man now, and had known her from her early childhood--"the injuries are not at all serious, and there is no reason why your husband should not be about again in a week or so. But how did it happen? What hand fired the shot?"
"Indeed I do not know, have not asked," she answered, with an emotion of surprise at herself for the omission. "It seems strange I should not, but I was so taken up with grief and fear for him, and anxiety to relieve his suffering that I had room for no other thought. Can you tell us, sir?" turning to Mr. Leland, who was standing near.
"I--did not see the shot," he replied with some hesitation.
"But you know; tell me, I beg of you."
"It was an accident, madam, entirely an accident: there can be no question about that."
"But tell me all you know," she entreated, growing very pale. "I see you fear to wound me, but it were far better I should know the whole truth."
"I suppose your little son must have been playing with a pistol," he answered, with evident reluctance. "I heard him screaming, 'O, I've killed my father, my dear, dear father!'"
"Eddie!" she groaned, staggering back against the wall, and putting her hand over her eyes.
"My dear madam!" "My dear Mrs. Travilla," the gentlemen exclaimed simultaneously, "do not let it distress you so, since it must have been the merest accident, and the consequences are not so serious as they might have been."
"But he was disobeying his father, and has nearly taken his life," she moaned low and tremulously, the big tears coursing down her cheeks. "Oh, my son, my son!"
The gentlemen looked uneasily at each other, scarcely knowing what consolation to offer; but a well known step approached, hastily, yet with caution, and the next instant Elsie was clasped in her father's arms.
"My darling, my poor darling!" he said with emotion, as she laid her head on his breast, with a burst of almost hysterical weeping.
He caressed her silently. How could he ask the question trembling on his lips? what meant this bitter weeping? His eye sought that of the physician, who promptly answered the unspoken query with the same cheering report he had just given her.
Mr. Dinsmore was intensely relieved. "Thank God that it is no worse!" he said in low, reverent tones. "Elsie, daughter, cheer up, he will soon be well again."
Mr. Leland, taking leave, offered to return and watch by the sick bed that night; but Mr. Dinsmore, while joining Elsie in cordial thanks, claimed it as his privilege.
"Ah, well, don't hesitate to call upon me whenever I can be of use," said Mr. Leland, and with a kindly "Good evening," he and the doctor retired, Mr. Dinsmore seeing them to the door.
Returning, he found Elsie still in the parlor where he had left her.
She was speaking to a servant, "Go, Prilla, look for the children, and bring them in. It is getting late for them to be out."
The girl went, and Elsie saying to her father that Prilla had brought word that Mr. Travilla was now sleeping, begged him to sit down and talk with her for a moment. The tears fell fast as she spoke. It was long since he had seen her so moved.
"Dear daughter, why distress yourself thus?" he said, folding her in his arms, and drawing her head to a resting place upon his breast; "your husband's injuries are not very serious. Dr. Burton is not one to deceive us with false hopes."
"No, papa, oh, how thankful I am to know he is not in danger; but--oh, papa, papa! to think that Eddie did it! that my own son should have so nearly taken his father's life! I grow sick with horror at the very thought!"
"Yet it must have been the merest accident, the child almost idolizes his father."
"I had thought so, but he must have been disobeying that father's positive command else this could not have happened. I could never have believed my son could be so disobedient, and it breaks my heart to think of it all."
"The best of us do not always resist temptation successfully, and doubtless in this case it has been very strong. And he is bitterly repenting; I heard him crying somewhere in the grounds as I rode up the avenue, but could not then take time to go to him, not knowing how much you and Travilla might be needing my assistance."
"My poor boy; he does love his father," she said, wiping her eyes.
"There can be no question about that, and this will be a life-long lesson to him."
"Papa, you always bring me comfort," she said gratefully. "And you will stay with us to-night?"
"Yes; I could not leave you at such a time. I shall send a note to Rose, to relieve her anxiety in regard to Edward's accident, and let her know that she need not expect me home till morning. Well, Prilla," as the girl reappeared, "what is it? why have you not brought the children as your mistress directed?"
"Please, sah, Massa Dinsmore, Mars Eddie won't come; he jes' lie on de ground an' scream an' cry, 'O, I've killed my fader, my dear, dear fader,' an Miss Elsie she comfortin' an' coaxin', an' pleadin', but he won't pay no pretention to nobody."
Elsie wept anew. "My poor child! my poor little son! what am I to do with him?"
"I will go to him; trust him to me," Mr. Dinsmore said, leaving the room with a quick firm step.