Elsie's New Relations by Martha Finley
"No day discolored with domestic strife, No jealousy, but mutual truth believ'd, Secure repose and kindness undeceiv'd." --Dryden.
They were a bright and cheery company in the other house. They had divided into groups. Mrs. Elsie Travilla sat in a low rocking-chair, between her father and his wife, with her little grandson on her lap. She doated on the babe, and was often to be seen with it in her arms. She was now calling her father's attention to its beauty, and talking of the time when its mother was an infant, her own precious darling.
On a sofa on the farther side of the room the two sisters, Elsie and Violet, sat side by side, cosily chatting of things past and present, while a little removed from them Lester, Edward and Zoe formed another group.
The two gentlemen were in animated conversation, to which Zoe was a silent and absorbed listener, especially when her husband spoke; eagerly drinking in every word that fell from his lips; her face glowing, her eyes sparkling with proud delight.
"Look at Zoe; Ned certainly has one devoted admirer," remarked Elsie, regarding her young sister-in-law with a pleased yet half-amused smile.
"Yes," said Violet, "he is a perfect oracle in her esteem; and I believe everything she does is right in his eyes; indeed, their mutual devotion is a pretty thing to see. They are scarcely ever apart."
"Don't you think your husband an oracle?" asked Elsie, with a quizzical look.
"So you have found that out already, have you?" laughed Violet. "Yes, I do, but then he is wiser than our Ned, you know. Tell me now, don't you admire him? don't you think him worthy of all honor?"
"I do, indeed, and am proud to have him for a brother-in-law," Elsie said with earnest sincerity; "but," she added with a smile, "I prefer Lester for a husband."
"Yes, of course, but Levis is the best of husbands--of fathers, too."
"Rather more strict and stern than ours was, is he not?"
"Yes, but not more so than necessary with a child of Lulu's peculiar disposition."
"Ah, Vi, I pity you for being a stepmother," Elsie said, with a compassionate look at her sister.
"You needn't," returned Violet quickly.
"Lulu is the only one of the three that gives me any anxiety or trouble, and to be Captain Raymond's wife more than compensates for that."
"I suppose so. And Gracie is a dear little thing."
"Yes, she's a darling. And Max is a noble fellow. I hope he will make just such a man as his father. Don't you think he resembles the captain in looks?"
"Yes, and I notice he is very chivalrous in his manner toward his young stepmother."
"Yes," Violet said, with a happy smile, "and more or less to all ladies; but especially those of this family. He is like his father in that. Zoe is, I think, a particular favorite with him."
Evidently Zoe had overheard the remark, for she turned in their direction with a bright look and smile; then springing up came quickly toward them, and taking possession of a low chair near at hand, "Was it Max you were talking of, Violet?" she said. "Yes, indeed, I am fond of him. I think he's a splendid boy. But what was wrong with him to-night?"
"Nothing, so far as I know," said Violet "Why do you think there was?"
"Because he was so unusually quiet; and then his father took him away so early. Ah, here comes the captain now," as the door opened and Captain Raymond entered; "so I'll go away and let you have him to yourself."
"You needn't," said Violet, but Zoe was already by Edward's side again.
Elsie, too, rose and went to her mother to ask if she were not weary of holding the babe.
Violet looked up a little anxiously into her husband's face as she made room for him on the sofa by her side. "Is anything wrong with the children, Levis?" she asked in an undertone.
"No, love," he said; "I took them away early that I might have a little serious talk with the older two. You know I shall not long be afforded the opportunity."
"But you look troubled," she said, in tenderly sympathizing accents. "May I not share your care or sorrow, whatever it is?"
"I would rather share only joys and blessings with you, dearest, and keep the cares and burdens to myself," he answered, smiling lovingly upon her, and pressing with affectionate warmth the little hand she had placed in his.
"No, I can't consent to that," she said. "I consider it one of my precious privileges to be allowed to share your burdens and anxieties. Won't you tell me what troubles you?"
"It is nothing new, little wife," he answered cheerfully; "but I am doubting whether I do right to give your mother and grandfather so troublesome a charge as Lulu. She is almost certain to be wilful and rebellious occasionally, if not oftener."
Mrs. Travilla had resigned the babe to its mother, and was now standing near the sofa where the captain and Violet sat.
"Mamma," said the latter, turning to her, "my husband is making himself miserable with the fear that Lulu will prove too troublesome to you and grandpa."
"Please do not, captain," Elsie said brightly, accepting the easy-chair he hastened to bring forward for her. "Why should I not have a little trouble as well as other people? Lulu is an attractive child to me, very bright and original, a little headstrong, perhaps, but I shall lay siege to her heart and try to rule her through her affections."
"I think that will be the better plan," he said, the look of care lifting from his brow; "she is a warm-hearted child, and more easily led than driven. But she is sometimes very impertinent, and I would by no means have her indulged in that. I wish you would promise me never to let it pass without punishment. She must be taught respect for authority and for her superiors."
Elsie's face had grown very grave while he was speaking. "What punishment do you prescribe?" she asked. "The child is yours."
"That should depend upon the heinousness of the offence," he replied. "I can only say, please treat her exactly as if she were your own."
Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore now joined them, and the question what studies the children should pursue during the coming winter was discussed and settled. Then the captain spoke of reading matter, asked advice in regard to suitable books and periodicals, and begged his friends to have a careful oversight of all the mental food of his children.
"You could not intrust that matter to a more wise and capable person than papa," Elsie said, with an affectionate, smiling look at her father. "I well remember how strict he was with me in my childhood; novels were coveted but forbidden sweets."
"You must have been glad when you were old enough to read them, mamma," remarked Zoe, joining the circle.
"You read far too many, my little woman," said Mr. Dinsmore, pinching her rosy cheek. "If I were Edward, I should curtail the supply, and try to cultivate a taste for something better."
"But I'm a married woman and sha'n't submit to being treated like a child, grandpa," she said, with a little pout and a toss of her pretty head.
"Not even by me?" asked Edward, leaning down over her as he stood behind her chair.
"No, not even by you," she returned saucily, looking up into his face with laughing eyes. "I'm your wife, sir, not your child."
"Both, I should say," laughed Edward. "I remember that I was considered a mere child at your age. And whatever you are you belong to me, don't you?"
"Yes; and you to me just as much," she retorted, and at that there was a general laugh.
The captain had said nothing of the objectionable reading matter found in his children's hands that day, but when alone with Violet in their own room, he told her all about it, blaming himself severely for not having been so watchful over them as he ought, and expressing his distress over the discovery that Max had sometimes been guilty of profanity.
"I do not know whether it has become a habit with him," he said, "but, my dear, I beg of you to watch him closely when I am away, and if he is ever known to offend in that way, see that he is properly punished."
"But how, Levis?" she asked, with a troubled look. "I don't know what I can do but talk seriously to him about the wickedness of it."
"I hope you will do that, my dear. I have no doubt it would have an excellent effect, for he loves and admires you greatly. But let him be punished by being separated, for at least a week, from the rest of the family, as unworthy to associate with them."
"Oh, that would be very hard, very humiliating for a proud, sensitive, affectionate boy like Max!" she exclaimed. "May we not be a little more lenient toward him?" and she looked up pleadingly into her husband's face.
"No," he said with decision; "but I strongly hope there will be no occasion for such punishment, as he seems sincerely penitent and quite determined not to offend in that way again. I really think my boy wants to do right, but he is a heedless, thoughtless fellow, often going wrong from mere carelessness and forgetfulness. But he must be taught to think and to remember."
"I wish he could have his father's constant care and control," sighed Violet.
"I wish he could indeed!" responded the captain; "but principally because I fear he will prove a care and trouble to your grandfather and mother, who, I am inclined to think, are more capable than I of giving him proper training. I shall go away feeling easier in regard to my children's welfare than I ever have before since they lost their mother."
"I am very glad of that, Levis," Violet said, her eyes shining with pleasure, "and I do believe they will have a happy life at Ion."
"It will certainly be their own fault if they do not," he replied.
* * * * *
Rose Travilla was somewhat less amiable in disposition than her mother and older sisters, and had been much disgusted with Lulu's exhibition of temper that evening.
Talking with her mother afterward in her dressing-room, "Mamma," she said, "I wish you hadn't offered to let Lulu Raymond live with us at Ion. I don't at all like the way she behaves, and I wish you and grandpa would tell her father to send her off to boarding-school."
"That is an unkind wish, Rose," said her mother. "Perhaps if you had had the same treatment Lulu has been subjected to since her mother's death, you might have shown as bad a temper as hers. Haven't you some pity for the little girl, when you reflect that she is motherless?"
"I don't think she could have a sweeter mother than our Vi," was the unexpected rejoinder. "But she doesn't appreciate her in the least," Rose went on, "but seems always on the watch against any effort on Vi's part to control her."
"She seems to be naturally impatient of control by whomsoever exerted," Mrs. Travilla said, "but we will hope to see her improve in that respect, and you must set her a good example, Rose.
"And I want you to think how sad it would be for her to be parted from the brother and sister she loves so dearly and sent away alone to boarding-school. I shall never forget how alarmed and distressed I was when your grandpa threatened me with one."
"Did he, mamma?" asked Rosie, opening her eyes very wide with surprise.
"Yes, he was very much displeased with me at the time," her mother said with a sigh. "But we will not talk about it; the recollection is very painful to me."
"No, mamma; but I cannot get over my astonishment, for I thought you were never naughty, even when you were a little child."
"Quite a mistake, Rosie; I had my naughty times as well as other children," Mrs. Travilla said, smiling at Rosie's bewildered look. "But now I want you to promise me, my child, that you will be kind and forbearing toward poor little motherless Lulu."
"Well, mamma, to please you I will; but I hope she won't try me too much by impertinence to you or Violet. I don't think I can stand it if she does.
"Try to win her love, Rosie, and then you may be able to influence her strongly for good."
"I don't know how to begin, mamma."
"Force your thoughts to dwell on the good points in her character, and think compassionately of the respects in which she is less fortunate than yourself, and you will soon find a feeling of love toward her springing up in your heart; and love begets love. Do her some kindness, daughter, and that will help you to love her and to gain her love."
"Well, mamma, I shall try if only to please you. But do tell me, did grandpa punish you very severely when you were naughty?"
"His punishment was seldom anything more severe than the gentle rebuke, 'I am not pleased with you,' but I think I felt it more than many a child would a whipping; I did so dearly love my father that his displeasure was terrible to me."
"Yes, I know you and he love each other dearly yet, and he often says you were a very good, conscientious little girl."
"But to return to Lulu," said Mrs. Travilla, "I had thought she would be a nice companion for you, and until this evening I have not seen her show any naughty temper since the first week she was here."
"No, mamma, she has been quite well-behaved, I believe, and perhaps she will prove a pleasant companion. I am sorry for her, too, because she hasn't a dear, wise, kind mother like mine," Rosie added, putting her arms about her mother's neck, "and because the father, I am sure she loves very much, must soon go away and leave her."