Elsie's Womanhood by Martha Finley
"Sweet is the image of the brooding dove! Holy as heaven a mother's tender love! The love of many prayers, and many tears Which changes not with dim, declining years-- The only love which, on this teeming earth, Asks no return for passion's wayward birth." --MRS. NORTON'S DREAM. "Death is another life." --BAILEY.
No mortal tongue or pen can describe the new, deep fountain of love the birth of her child had opened in our Elsie's heart.
Already a devoted wife and daughter, she was the tenderest, most careful, most judicious of mothers; watching vigilantly over the welfare, physical, moral, and spiritual, of her precious charge.
Often she took it with her to her closet, or kneeling beside its cradle, sent up fervent petitions to Him who, while on earth, said, "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me," that He would receive her little one, and early make her a lamb of His fold.
And even before the child could comprehend, she began to tell it of that dear Saviour and His wondrous love; then, as soon as it could speak, she taught it to lisp a simple prayer to Him.
Little Elsie was almost the idol of her father and grandparents, who all looked upon her as a sort of second edition of her mother; more and more so as she grew in size, in beauty, and intelligence. Our Elsie seemed to find no cloud in her sky during that first year of her motherhood. "I thought I was as perfectly happy as possible in this world, before our darling came," she said to her husband one day, "but I am far happier now; for oh! such a well-spring of joy as she is!"
"I am sure I can echo and reecho your words," he answered, folding the child to his heart. "How rich I have grown in the last two years! My two Elsies, more precious than the wealth of the world! Sometime I'm half afraid I love you both with an idolatrous affection, and that God will take you from me." His voice trembled with the last words.
"I have had that fear also," she said, coming to his side and laying her hand on his arm; "but, Edward, if we put God first, we cannot love each other, nor this wee precious pet, too dearly."
"No, you are right, little wife. But we must not expect to continue always, or very long, so free from trial; for 'we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.' And 'many are the afflictions of the righteous.'"
"But the Lord delivereth him out of them all," she responded, finishing the quotation.
"Yes, dearest, I know that trials and troubles will come, but not of themselves, and what our Father sends, He will give us strength to bear. 'The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory.'"
This conversation was held when the little girl was about a year old.
Early in the following winter Elsie said to the dear old Mrs. Travilla, "Mother, I'm afraid you are not well. You are losing flesh and color, and do not seem so strong as usual. Mamma remarked it to me to-day, and asked what ailed you."
"I am doing very well, dear," the old lady answered with a placid smile, and in her own gentle, quiet tones.
"Mother, dear mother, something is wrong; you don't deny that you are ill!" and Elsie's tone was full of alarm and distress, as she hastily seated herself upon an ottoman beside Mrs. Travilla's easy chair, and earnestly scanned the aged face she loved so well. "We must have Dr. Barton here to see you. May I not send at once?"
"No, dearest, I have already consulted him, and he is doing all he can for my relief."
"But cannot cure you?"
The answer came after a moment's pause.
"No, dear; but I had hoped it would be much longer ere my cross cast its shadow over either your or Edward's path."
Elsie could not speak; she only took the pale hands in hers, and pressed them again and again to her quivering lips, while her eyes filled to overflowing.
"Dear daughter," said the calm, sweet voice, "do not grieve that I have got my summons home; for dearly, dearly as I love you all, I am often longing to see the face of my Beloved; of Him who hath redeemed me and washed me from my sins in His own precious blood."
Mr. Travilla from the next room had heard it all. Hurrying in, he knelt by her side and folded his arms about her. "Mother," he said, hoarsely, "oh, is it, can it be so? Are we to lose you?"
"No, my son; blessed be God, I shall not be lost, but only gone before; so don't be troubled and sorrowful when you see me suffer; remember that He loves me far better than you can, and will never give me one unneeded pang.
"Well may I bear joyfully all He sends; for your light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; and He has said, 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee: and through the floods, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.'"
"And He is faithful to His promises. But we will not let you die yet, my mother, if anything in the wide world can save you. There are more skilful physicians than Dr. Barton; we will consult them----"
"My son, the disease is one the whole profession agree in pronouncing incurable, and to travel would be torture. No, be content to let me die at home, with you and this beloved daughter to smooth my dying pillow, our wee precious pet to wile away the pain with her pretty baby ways, and my own pastor to comfort me with God's truth and sweet thoughts of heaven."
Elsie looked the question her trembling lips refused to utter.
"I shall not probably leave you soon," said the old lady. "It is a slow thing, the doctor tells me, it will take some time to run its course."
Elsie could scarce endure the anguish in her husband's face. Silently she placed herself by his side, her arm about his neck, and laid her cheek to his.
He drew her yet closer, the other arm still embracing his mother. "Are you suffering much, dearest mother?"
"Not more than He giveth me strength to bear; and His consolations are not small.
"My dear children, I have tried to hide this from you lest it should mar your happiness. Do not let it do so; it is no cause of regret to me. I have lived my three-score years and ten, and if by reason of strength they should be four-score, yet would their strength be labor and sorrow. I am deeply thankful that our Father has decreed to spare me the infirmities of extreme old age, by calling me home to that New Jerusalem where sin and sorrow, pain and feebleness, are unknown."
"But to see you suffer, mother!" groaned her son.
"Think on the dear Hand that sends the pain--so infinitely less than what He bore for me; that it is but for a moment; and of the weight of glory it is to work for me. Try, my dear children, to be entirely submissive to His will."
"We will, mother," they answered; "and to be cheerful for your sake."
A shadow had fallen upon the brightness of the hitherto happy home--a shadow of a great, coming sorrow--and the present grief of knowing that the dear mother, though ever patient, cheerful, resigned, was enduring almost constant and often very severe pain.
They watched over her with tenderest love and care, doing everything in their power to relieve, strengthen, comfort her; never giving way in her presence to the grief that often wrung their hearts.
Dearly as Mr. Travilla and Elsie had loved each other before, this community of sorrow drew them still closer together; as did their love for, and joy and pride in, their beautiful child.
The consolations of God were not small with any of our friends at Ion and the Oaks; yet was it a winter of trial to all.
For some weeks after the above conversation, Mr. Dinsmore and Rose called every day, and showed themselves sincere sympathizers; but young Horace and little Rosebud were taken with scarlet fever in its worst form, and the parents being much with them, did not venture to Ion for fear of carrying the infection to wee Elsie.
By God's blessing upon skilful medical advice and attention, and the best of nursing, the children were brought safely through the trying ordeal, the disease leaving no evil effects, as it so often does. But scarcely had they convalesced when Mr. Dinsmore fell ill of typhoid fever, though of a rather mild type.
Then as he began to go about again, Rose took to her bed with what proved to be a far more severe and lasting attack of the same disease; for weeks her life was in great jeopardy, and even after the danger was past, the improvement was so very slow that her husband was filled with anxiety for her.
Meanwhile the beloved invalid at Ion was slowly sinking to the grave. Nay, rather, as she would have it, journeying rapidly towards her heavenly home, "the land of the leal," the city which hath foundations, whose builder and Maker is God.
She suffered, but with a patience that never failed, a cheerfulness and joyful looking to the end, that made her sick-room a sort of little heaven below.
Her children were with her almost constantly through the day; but Mr. Travilla, watchful as ever over his idolized young wife, would not allow her to lose a night's rest, insisting on her retiring at the usual hour. Nor would he allow her ever to assist in lifting his mother, or any of the heavy nursing; she might smooth her pillows, give her medicines, order dainties prepared to tempt the failing appetite, and oversee the negro women, who were capable nurses, and one of whom was always at hand night and day, ready to do whatever was required.
Elsie dearly loved her mother-in-law, and felt it both a duty and delight to do all in her power for her comfort and consolation; but when she heard that her own beloved father was ill, she could not stay away from him, but made a daily visit to the Oaks and to his bedside. She was uniformly cheerful in his presence, but wept in secret because she was denied the privilege of nursing him in his illness.
Then her sorrow and anxiety for Rose were great, and all the more because, Mrs. Travilla being then at the worst, she could very seldom leave her for even the shortest call at the Oaks.
In the afternoon of a sweet bright Sabbath in March, a little group gathered in Mrs. Travilla's room. Her pastor was there: a man of large heart full of tender sympathy for the sick, the suffering, the bereaved, the poor, the distressed in mind, body, or estate; a man mighty in the Scriptures; with its warnings, its counsels, its assurances, its sweet and precious promises ever ready on his tongue; one who by much study of the Bible, accompanied by fervent prayer for the wisdom promised to him that asks it, had learned to wield wisely and with success "the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God." Like Noah he was a preacher of righteousness, and like Paul could say, "I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
He had brought with him one of his elders, a man of like spirit, gentle, kind, tender, ever ready to obey the command to "weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that do rejoice," a man silver-haired and growing feeble with age, yet so meek and lowly in heart, so earnest and childlike in his approaches to our Father, that he seemed on the very verge of heaven.
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Often had these two been in that sick-room, comforting the aged saint as she neared "the valley of the shadow of death."
To-day they had come again on the same Christlike errand, and for the last time; for all could see that she stood on Jordan's very brink, its cold waters already creeping up about her feet.
Mr. Dinsmore, Mr. Travilla, and Elsie were present; also, a little withdrawn from the others, Aunt Chloe, Uncle Joe, and a few of the old house servants who were Christians. "The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all."
It was a sweetly solemn service, refreshing to the soul of each one there; most of all, perhaps, to that of her who would so soon be casting her crown at the Master's feet. "I am almost home," she said with brightening countenance, her low, sweet voice breaking the solemn stillness of the room; "I am entering the valley, but without fear, for Jesus is with me. I hear Him saying to me, 'Fear not; I have redeemed thee; thou art mine.'"
"He is all your hope and trust, dear friend, is He not?" asked her pastor.
"All, all; His blood and righteousness are all my hope. All my righteousnesses are as filthy rags; all my best services have need to be forgiven. I am vile; but His blood cleanseth from all sin; and He has washed me in it and made me mete for the inheritance of the saints in light."
"Dear sister," said the old elder, taking her hand in a last farewell, "good-bye for a short season; 'twill not be long till we meet before the throne. Do not fear to cross the river, for He will be with you, and will not let you sink."
"No; the everlasting arms are underneath and around me, and He will never leave nor forsake."
"'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,'" said the pastor, taking the feeble hand in his turn. "Fear not; you shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved us."
"Yes, the battle is fought, the victory is won; and I hear Him saying to me, 'Come up hither.' Oh! I shall be there very soon--a sinner saved by grace."
The pastor and elder withdrew, Mr. Travilla going with them to the door. Elsie brought a cordial and held it to her mother's lips, Mr. Dinsmore gently raising her head. "Thank you both," she said, with the courtesy for which she had ever been distinguished. Then, as Mr. Dinsmore settled her more comfortably on her pillows, and Elsie set aside the empty cup, "Horace, my friend, farewell till we meet in a better land. Elsie, darling," laying her pale thin hand on the bowed head, "you have been a dear, dear daughter to me, such a comfort, such a blessing! May the Lord reward you."
Elsie had much ado to control her feelings. Her father passed his arm about her waist and made her rest her head upon his shoulder.
"Mother, how are you now?" asked Mr. Travilla, coming in and taking his place on his wife's other side, close by the bed of the dying one.
"All is peace, peace, the sweetest peace, I have nothing to do but to die, I am in the river, but the Lord upholdeth me with His hand, and I have almost reached the farther shore."
She then asked for the babe, kissed and blessed it, and bade her son good-bye.
"Sing to me, children, the twenty-third psalm."
Controlling their emotion by a strong effort, that they might minister to her comfort, they sang; the three voices blending in sweet harmony.
"Thank you," she said again, as the last strain died away. "Hark! I hear sweeter, richer melody, the angels have come for me, Jesus is here. Lord Jesus receive my spirit."
There was an enraptured upward glance, an ecstatic smile, then the eyes closed and all was still; without a struggle or a groan the spirit had dropped its tenement of clay and sped away on its upward flight.
It was like a translation; a deep hush filled the room, while for a moment they seemed almost to see the "glory that dwelleth in Immanuel's land." They scarcely wept, their joy for her, the ransomed of the Lord, almost swallowing up their grief for themselves.
But soon Elsie began to tremble violently, shudder after shudder shaking her whole frame, and in sudden alarm her husband and father led her from the room.
"Oh. Elsie, my darling, my precious wife!" cried Travilla, in a tone of agony, as they laid her upon a sofa in her boudoir, "are you ill? are you in pain?"
"Give way, daughter, and let the tears come," said Mr. Dinsmore, tenderly bending over her and gently smoothing her hair; "it will do you good, bring relief to the overstrained nerves and full heart."
Even as he spoke the barriers which for so many hours had been steadily, firmly resisting the grief and anguish swelling in her breast, suddenly gave way, and tears poured out like a flood.
Her husband knelt by her side and drew her head to a resting-place on his breast, while her father, with one of her hands in his, softly repeated text after text speaking of the bliss of the blessed dead.
She grew calmer. "Don't be alarmed about me, dear Edward, dear papa," she said in her low sweet tones. "I don't think I am ill; and heavy as our loss is, dearest husband, how we must rejoice for her. Let me go and perform the last office of love for her--our precious mother; I am better; I am able."
"No, no, you are not; you must not," both answered in a breath. "Aunt Dinah and Aunt Chloe will do it all tenderly and lovingly as if she had been of their own flesh and blood," added Mr. Travilla, in trembling tones.