Elsie's New Relations by Martha Finley
"Her fancy followed him through foaming wares To distant shores." --Cowper.
Violet in her night-dress and with her beautiful hair unbound and hanging about her like a golden cloud, stood before her dressing-table, gazing through a mist of unshed tears upon a miniature which she held in her hand.
"Ah, where are you now, love?" she sighed half aloud.
Her mother's voice answered close at her side, in gentle, tender accents, "In God's keeping, my darling. He is the God of the sea as well as of the land."
"Yes, mamma, and his God as well as mine," Violet responded, looking up and smiling through her tears. "Ah, what comfort in both assurances, and in the precious promise, 'Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest.' It is his and it is mine."
"Yes, dearest. I feel for you in your loneliness," her mother said, putting her arms around her. "Elsie is very happy in her husband and baby, Edward in his wife; they need me but little, comparatively, but you and I must draw close together and be a comfort and support to each other; shall we not, my love?"
"Yes, indeed, dearest mamma. Oh, what a comfort and blessing you are to me, and always have been! And I am happier and less lonely for having my husband's children with me, especially my darling little Gracie. I feel that in caring for her and nursing her back to health I shall be adding to his happiness."
"As no doubt you will," her mother said. "It will be a pleasure to me to help you care for her, and the others also. Now, good-night, daughter; we both ought to be in bed."
Violet presently stretched herself beside the sleeping Gracie with a murmured word of endearment drew the child closer to her, and in another moment was sharing her slumbers.
When she awoke the sun was shining, and the first object her eyes rested upon was the little face by her side. The pallor and look of exhaustion it had worn the night before were quite gone, a faint tinge of pink had even stolen into the cheeks.
Violet noted the change with a feeling of relief and thankfulness, and raising herself upon her elbow, touched her lips lightly to the white forehead.
The child's eyes flew open and with a sweet engaging smile, she asked, "Have you been lying beside me all night, mamma?"
"Yes, Gracie. You have had a long sleep, dear; do you feel quite rested?"
"Yes, mamma, I feel very well. This is such a nice soft bed, and I like to sleep with you. May I always?"
"For all winter, I think, dear. I like to have your papa's baby girl by my side."
"I'm very much obliged to him for finding me such a sweet, pretty new mamma. I told him so one day," remarked the child innocently, putting an arm about Vi's neck.
"Did you?" Violet asked with an amused smile; "and what did he say?"
"Nothing; he just smiled and hugged me tight and kissed me ever so many times. Do you know what made him do that, mamma?"
"Because he likes to have us love one another. And so we will, won't we, dear?"
"Yes, indeed! Mamma, I feel a little hungry."
"I'm glad to hear it, for here comes Agnes with a glass of nice rich milk for you. And when you have drunk it she will wash and dress you. We will all have to hurry a little to be ready in good time for breakfast," she added, springing from the bed and beginning her toilet. "Grandpa Dinsmore never likes to have us late."
"Miss Rosie and Miss Lulu's up and dressed and gone into Miss Elsie's room, Miss Wilet," remarked Agnes, holding the tumbler she had brought to Gracie's lips.
"Ah, that is well," said Violet, with a pleased look. "Lulu has stolen a march on us, Gracie."
The week that followed their arrival at Ion was a delightful one to all, especially the children, who had scarce anything to do but enjoy themselves. The weather was all that could be desired, and they walked, rode, drove, boated, fished, and went nutting.
Mr. Dinsmore and Edward were every day more or less busied with the affairs of the plantation, but some one of the older people could always find time to be with the children, while Zoe never failed to make one of the party, and seemed almost as much a child as any of the younger ones.
Every nook on the plantation and in its neighborhood was explored, and visits were paid to Fairview, the Laurels, the Pines, the Oaks, Roselands and Ashlands; the dwellers at each place having first called upon the family at Ion.
Both Max and Lulu had long desired to learn to ride on horseback, and great was their delight on learning that now this wish could be gratified.
A pony was always at the service of each, and lessons in the art of sitting and managing it were given them, now by Mr. Dinsmore and now by Edward, who was a great admirer of his brother-in-law, Captain Raymond, had become much attached to him, and took a very kindly interest in his children.
Gracie was given a share in all the pleasures for which she was considered strong enough, and when not able to go with the others on their expeditions, was well entertained at home with toys and books filled with pictures and stories suited to her age.
Both Elsie and Violet watched over the little girl with true motherly love and care; she warmly returning the affection of both, but clinging especially to Violet, her "pretty new mamma."
Gracie was a docile little creature, and seemed very happy in her new life. She was deeply interested in the riding lessons of her brother and sister, and when, near the end of the week, Dr. Arthur, to whom she was becoming much attached, set her on the back of a Shetland pony and led it about the grounds for a few minutes, promising her longer rides as her strength increased, she was almost speechless with happiness.
With the second week lessons began for the children. Each task had its appointed hour, and they were required to be as systematic, punctual and well prepared for recitations as pupils in an ordinary school, but at the same time great care was taken that neither mind nor body should be overtaxed, and they enjoyed many liberties and indulgences which could not have been granted elsewhere than at home.
The mornings were spent by Rosie and Lulu in the school-room in study and recitation, under the supervision of either "Grandma Elsie" or "Mamma Vi."
Grace and Walter would be there also at the start, but their short and easy tasks having been attended to, they might stay and amuse themselves quietly, or if inclined for noisy sport, go to the nursery or play-room to enjoy it there.
Max conned his lessons alone in his own room, joining the others only when the hour arrived for reciting to Mr. Dinsmore, who took sole charge of his education, and of the two little girls, so far as concerned Latin and arithmetic. Rosie and Max were together in both these studies, but Lulu--because of being younger and not so far advanced--was alone in both, much to her dissatisfaction, for she was by no means desirous to have Mr. Dinsmore's attention concentrated upon herself for even a short space of time.
His keen dark eyes seemed to look her through and through, and though he had never shown her any sternness, she was quite sure he could and would if she gave him any occasion.
But for that there was no necessity, his requirements being always reasonable and only such as she was fully capable of meeting. She had a good mind, quick discernment and retentive memory, and she was quite resolved to be industrious and to keep her promise to her father to be a good girl in every way. Also her ambition was aroused to attempt to overtake her brother and Rosie.
She was moderately fond of study, but had a decided repugnance to plain sewing, therefore looked ill-pleased enough upon discovering that it was to be numbered among her daily tasks.
"I hate sewing!" she said with a scowl, "and when I'm old enough to do as I please, I'll never touch a needle and thread."
It was afternoon of their first school day, and the little girls had just repaired to the school-room in obedience to directions given them on their dismissal for the morning.
All the ladies of the family were there, gathered cosily about the fire and the table at which Grandma Elsie was busily cutting out garments that seemed to be intended for a child, yet were of coarser, heavier material than any of the family were accustomed to wearing.
"Perhaps you may change your mind by that time," she answered Lulu, with pleasant tone and smile; "and I hope you will find it more agreeable now than you expect. You are a kind-hearted little girl, I know, and when I tell you these clothes are for a little Indian girl who needs them sadly, I am quite sure you will be glad to help in making them."
Lulu's brow cleared. "Yes, ma'am," she said with a little hesitation, "if I could sew nicely, but I can't."
"The more need to learn then, dear. Mamma Vi is basting a seam for you, and will show you how to sew it."
"And when we all get started there'll be some nice story read aloud, won't there, mamma?" asked Rosie.
"Yes; your sister Elsie will be the reader to-day, and the book Scott's 'Lady of the Lake.'"
"Oh, how nice!" cried Rosie in delight; "it's such a lovely book, and sister Elsie's such a beautiful reader."
"In my little sister's opinion," laughed Mrs. Leland.
"And that of all present, I presume," said "Grandma Rose."
"I am fortunate in having so appreciative an audience," returned Elsie gayly.
Lulu had accepted a mute invitation to take a seat by Violet's side.
"Mamma Vi," she whispered with heightened color, "I can't sew as well as Gracie, and I'm ashamed to have anybody see my poor work."
"Never mind, dear, we won't show your first attempts, and you will find this coarse, soft muslin easy to learn on," Violet answered in the same low tone. "See, this is the way," taking a few stitches. "Your father told me he wanted his dear little girls to learn every womanly accomplishment, and I feel sure you will do your best to please him. Take pains, and you may be able to send him some specimen of your work as a Christmas gift. Would you not enjoy that?"
"Yes, ma'am, yes indeed!" returned the little girl, setting resolutely to work.
"Mamma," said Gracie, coming to Violet's other side, "mayn't I have some work, too? I like sewing better than Lulu does. Aunt Beulah taught me to overseam and to hem."
"Then you may help us, little girlie," Violet said, kissing the little fair cheek, "but must stop the minute you begin to feel fatigued; for I must not let papa's baby girl wear out her small strength."
Presently, all having been supplied with work, the reading began. Every one seemed able to listen with enjoyment except Lulu, who bent over her task with frowning face, making her needle go in and out with impatient pushes and jerks.
Violet watched the performance furtively for a few minutes, then gently taking the work from her, said in a pleasant undertone, "You are getting your stitches too long and too far apart, dear. We will take them out, and you shall try again."
"I can't do it right! I'll never succeed, if I try ever so hard!" muttered Lulu, impatiently.
"Oh, yes, you will," returned Violet with an encouraging smile. "Keep trying, and you will be surprised to find how easy it will grow."
The second attempt was quite an improvement upon the first, and under Violet's pleased look and warm praise Lulu's ruffled temper smoothed down, and the ugly frown left her face.
In the mean while Gracie was handling her needle with the quiet ease of one accustomed to its use, making tiny even stitches that quite surprised her new mamma.
With all her faults Lulu was incapable of envy or jealousy, especially toward her dearly loved brother and sister, and when at the close of the sewing hour Gracie's work was handed about from one to another, receiving hearty commendation, no one was better pleased than Lulu.
"Isn't it nice, Grandma Elsie?" she said, glancing at her little sister with a flush of pride in her skill, "a great deal better than I can do, though she's two years younger."
"It's only because I couldn't run about and play like Lulu, and so I just sat beside Aunt Beulah and learned to hem and back-stitch and run and overseam," said Gracie. "But Lulu can do everything else better than I can."
"And she will soon equal you in that, I trust," said Violet, with an affectionate glance from one to the other; "I am quite sure she will if she continues to try as she has done to-day. And it makes my heart rejoice to see how you love one another, dear children."
"I think everybody loves Gracie, because she's hardly ever naughty," said Lulu; "I wish I'd been made so."