Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"When we see the flower seeds wafted, From the nurturing mother tree, Tell we can, wherever planted, What the harvesting will be; Never from the blasting thistle, Was there gathered golden grain, Thus the seal the child receiveth, From its mother will remain." --MRS. HALE.
For once Mrs. Gibson had the grace to feel a passing emotion of gratitude to this kind benefactor, and shame that she herself had been so ready with fault-finding instead of thanks.
As for Sally, she was completely overcome, and dropping into a chair, hid her face and cried heartily.
"Come, don't be a fool," her mother said at last; "there's too much to be done to waste time in crying, and besides you'll hurt your eyes."
Sally rose hastily, removed the traces of her tears, and began setting the table for their morning meal.
"How soon are you going?" her mother asked at its conclusion.
"Just as soon as I can get the things cleared away and the dishes washed; if you think you can spare me."
"Of course I can. I feel well enough this morning to help myself to anything I'm likely to want."
There was still half an hour to spare before breakfast when, after a round of five or six miles on their ponies, Philip and Elsie reached the Crags.
"What shall you do with yours?" asked Philip, remarking upon that fact.
"Read," she answered, looking back at him with a smile as she tripped lightly up the stairs.
Dinah was in waiting to smooth her hair and help her change the pretty riding hat and habit for a dress better suited to the house; then Elsie, left alone, seated herself by a window with her Bible in her hand.
For a moment her eyes rested upon the blue distant mountains, softly outlined against the deeper blue of the sky, watched the cloud shadows floating over the nearer hills and valleys here richly wooded, there covered with fields of waving grain her ear the while drinking in with delight many a sweet rural sound, the songs of birds, the distant lowing of cattle, and bleating of sheep--her heart swelling with ardent love and thankfulness to him who had given her so much to enjoy.
Dinah had left the door open, that the fresh air might course freely through the room, and Gertrude coming, some minutes later, in search of her friend, stood watching Elsie for a little unperceived.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed at length, "how many times a day do you pore over that book?"
Elsie looked up with a smile as sweet as the morning, "I am allowed to read it as often as I please."
"Allowed? not compelled? not ordered?"
"No, only I must have a text ready for mamma every morning."
"Getting one ready for to-morrow?"
"No, just reading. I had time for only a verse or two before my ride."
"Well, that would be plenty for me. I can read it, too, as often as I like, but a chapter or two on Sunday, generally does me for all the week. There's the bell; come let's go down."
Vi met them at the door of the breakfast-room. "Oh, Elsie, did you have a pleasant ride? Is Sally Gibson coming soon?"
"I don't know; mamma said I need not wait for an answer."
There was time for no more, and Vi must put a restraint upon herself, repressing excitement and curiosity for the present, as mamma expected her children to be very quiet and unobtrusive at table when away from home.
Vi was delighted when just as they were leaving the table, a servant announced that a young person who called herself Miss Gibson, was asking for Miss Travilla; for Vi never liked waiting, and was always eager to carry out immediately any plan that had been set on foot.
Mrs. Gibson was not troubled with any delicacy of feeling about asking for what she wanted, and had made out a list of things to be provided for herself and Sally, which the girl was ashamed to show; so extravagant seemed its demands.
When urged by her benefactress, she mentioned a few of the most necessary articles, modestly adding that the generous gift Mrs. Travilla had already bestowed, ought to be sufficient to supply all else that might be required.
Elsie, seating herself at her writing desk and taking out pen, ink and paper, looked smilingly into the eager faces of her two little girls.
"What do you think about it, dears?"
"Oh, they must have more things; a good many more, and we want to help pay for them with our money."
"You see, Miss Sally, they will be sadly disappointed if you refuse to accept their gifts," Elsie said. "Now I'm going to make out a list and you must all help me, lest something should be forgotten. Mrs. Ross has kindly offered us the use of her carriage, and we will drive to the nearest town and see what we can find there, the rest we will order from New York."
The list was made out amid much innocent jesting and merry laughter of both mother and children,--Sally a deeply interested and delighted spectator of their pleasing intercourse--the mother so sweet, gentle and affectionate, the children so respectful and loving to her, so kind and considerate to each other.
In fact, the girl was so occupied in watching them, that she was not aware till Mrs. Travilla read it over aloud, that this new list was longer and more extravagant than the one she had suppressed.
"Oh, it is too much, Mrs. Travilla!" she cried, the tears starting to her eyes.
"My dear child," returned Elsie, playfully, "I'm a wilful woman and will have my own way. Come, the carriage is in waiting and we must go."
The shopping expedition was quite a frolic for the children, and a great treat to poor, overworked Sally. "She looks so shabby; I'd be ashamed to go with her to the stores or anywhere, or to have her ride in the carriage with me," Gertrude had said to Vi as the little girls were having their hats put on; but Vi answered indignantly, "She's clean and tidy, and she isn't vulgar or rude, and I do believe she's good; and mamma says dress and riches don't make the person."
And that seemed to be the feeling of all; Elsie, too, had purposely dressed herself and her children as plainly as possible; so that Sally, though at first painfully conscious of the deficiencies in her attire, soon forgot all about them, and gave herself up to the thorough enjoyment of the pleasures provided for her.
She felt that it would be very ungrateful did she not share the hearty rejoicing of the children over "her pretty things" as they eagerly selected and paid for them with their own pocket money, seeming fully to realize the truth of the Master's declaration, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Vi would have had the making of the new dresses begun at once, wanting Sally to return with them to the Crags, and let Dinah fit her immediately, but was overruled by her mamma.
"No, my dear, Sally must go home to her sick mother now, and Dinah shall go to them after dinner."
"But mamma, I want to begin my part. You know you said I could hem nicely, and might do some on the ruffles or something."
"Yes, daughter, and so you shall, but must rest awhile first."
Violet had often to be held back in starting upon some new enterprise, and afterward encouraged or compelled to persevere, while Elsie was more deliberate at first, more steadfast in carrying out what she had once undertaken. Each had what the other lacked, both were very winsome and lovable, and they were extremely fond of one another; scarcely less so of their brothers and the darling baby sister.
"When may I begin, mamma?" asked Vi, somewhat impatiently.
"After breakfast to-morrow morning you may spend an hour at your needle."
"Only an hour, mamma? It would take all summer at that rate."
"Ah, what a doleful countenance, daughter mine!" Elsie said laughingly, as she bent down and kissed the rosy cheek. "You must remember that my two little girls are not to carry the heavy end of this, and the sewing will be done in good season without overworking them. I could not permit that; I must see to it that they have plenty of time for rest and for healthful play. I appoint you one hour a day, and shall allow you to spend one more, if you wish, but that must be all."
Violet had been trained to cheerful acquiescence in the decisions of her parents, and now put it in practice, yet wished very much that mamma would let her work all day for Sally, till her outfit was ready; she was sure she should not tire of it; but she soon learned anew the lessons she had learned a hundred times before--that mamma knew best.
The first day she would have been willing to sew a little longer after the second hour's task was done; the next, two hours were fully sufficient to satisfy her appetite for work: on the third, it was a weariness before the end of the first hour; on the fourth, she would have been glad to beg off entirely, but her mother said firmly, "No, dear; one hour's work is not too much for you, and you know I allowed you to undertake it only on condition that you would persevere to the end."
"Yes, mamma, but I am very tired, and I think I'll never undertake anything again," and with a little sigh the child seated herself and began her task.
Mamma smiled sympathizingly, softly smoothed the golden curls, and said in her own gentle voice, "Let us not be weary in well-doing'! Do you remember the rest of it?"
"Yes, mamma, 'for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.' And you told us to faint was to get tired and stop. But mamma, what shall I reap by keeping on with this?"
"A much needed lesson in perseverance, for one thing, I hope my little daughter, and for another the promise given in the forty-first Psalm, 'Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth; and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.'
"How would you like to hear a story while you sit here sewing by my side?"
"Oh, ever so much, mamma! A story! a story!" And all the little flock clustered about mamma's chair, for they dearly loved her stories.
This was an old favorite, but the narrator added some new characters and new scenes, spinning it out, yet keeping up the interest, till it and the hour came to an end very nearly together.
Then the children, finding that was to be all for the present, scattered to their play.
Mrs. Ross had come in a few minutes before, and signing to her friend to proceed, had joined the group of listeners.
"Dear me, Elsie, how can you take so much trouble with your children?" she said. "You seem to be always training and teaching them in the sweetest, gentlest way; and of course they're good and obedient. I'm sure I love mine dearly, but I could never have the patience to do all you do."
"My dear friend, how can I do less, when so much of their future welfare, for time and for eternity, depends upon my faithfulness?"
"Yes," said Lucy slowly, "but the mystery to me is, how you can keep that in mind all the time, and how you can contrive always to do the right thing?"
"I wish I did, but it is not so; I make many mistakes."
"I don't see it. You do wonderfully well anyhow, and I want to know how you manage it."
"I devote most of my time and thoughts to it; I try to study the character of each child, and above all, I pray a great deal for wisdom and for God's blessing on my efforts; not always on my knees, for it is a blessed truth, that we may lift our hearts to him at any time and in any place. Oh, Lucy," she exclaimed with tearful earnestness, "if I can but train my children for God and heaven, what a happy woman shall I be I the longing desire of my heart for them is that expressed in the stanza of Watts's Cradle Hymn:
'Mayst them live to know and fear him, Trust and love him all thy days, Then go dwell forever near him, See his face and sing his praise!'"