Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Beware the bowl! though rich and bright, Its rubies flash upon the sight, An adder coils its depths beneath, Whose lure is woe, whose sting is death." --STREET.
Mrs. Ross had found a nurse for Mrs. Gibson and a seamstress to help with the sewing; a good many of the needed garments were ordered from New York ready made, and in a few days the invalid was comfortably established in the seaside cottage recommended by Dr. Morton.
In another week, Sally found herself in possession of a wardrobe that more than satisfied her modest desires. She called at the Crags in her new traveling dress, to say good-bye, looking very neat and lady-like; happy too, in spite of anxiety in regard to her sight.
Not used to the world, timid and retiring, she had felt a good deal of nervous apprehension about taking the journey alone; but business called Mr. Ross to Philadelphia, and he offered to take charge of her and see her safe in the quiet boarding-place already secured for her by Mrs. Edward Allison, to whom Elsie had written on her behalf.
Adelaide had never felt either love or respect for the ill-tempered governess of her younger brothers and sisters, but readily undertook to do a kindness for her child.
"Have you the doctor's address?" Mr. Ross asked, when taking leave of the girl in her new quarters.
"Yes, sir; Mrs. Travilla gave it to me on a card, and I have it safe. A letter of introduction too, from Dr. Morton. He says he is not personally acquainted with Dr. Thomson, but knows him well by reputation, and if anybody can help me he can."
"That is encouraging, and I hope you will have no difficulty in finding the place. It is in the next street and only a few squares from here."
Sally thought she could find it readily; Mrs. Travilla had given her very careful directions about the streets and numbers in Philadelphia; besides, she could inquire if she were at a loss.
When Mr. Ross returned home, he brought some one with him at sight of whom the Ion children uttered a joyous cry, and who stepping from the carriage, caught their mother in his arms and held her to his heart, as if he meant never to let her go.
"Papa! papa!" cried the children, "we did not know you were coming; mamma did not tell us. Mamma, did you know?"
"Yes, mamma had known; they saw it in her smiling eyes; and now they knew why it was that she had watched and listened so eagerly for the coming of the carriage; even more so than Aunt Lucy, who was expecting Uncle Philip, and who was very fond of him too. But then he had left her only the other day, and mamma and papa had been parted for weeks."
Mr. Travilla had rented a furnished cottage at Cape May and come to take them all there. The doctors thought that would be best for Lily now.
The young folks were greatly pleased, and ready to start at once; they had enjoyed their visit to the Crags, but had missed papa sadly, and now they would have him with them all the time, grandpa and the whole family from the Oaks, too; for they were occupying an adjoining cottage. And the delicious salt sea breeze, oh, how pleasant it would be!
Mrs. Ross was sorry to part with her guests, had hoped to keep her friend with her all summer, but a good deal comforted in her disappointment, by the knowledge that her mother, Sophie and her children would soon take their places.
As for young Philip he was greatly vexed and chagrined. "It is really too bad!" he said seeking little Elsie out, and taking a seat by her side.
She was on the porch at some little distance from the others, and busied in turning over the pages of a new book her papa had brought her.
"What is too bad, Phil?" she asked, closing it, and giving her full attention to him.
"That you must be hurried away so soon. I've hardly been at home two weeks, and we hadn't seen each other before for two years."
"Well a fortnight is a good while. And you will soon have your cousins here--Herbert, Meta----"
"Herbert!" he interrupted impatiently, "who cares for him? and Meta, prying, meddling, tell-tale Meta's worse than nobody. But there! don't look so shocked, as if I had said an awfully wicked thing. I really don't hate her at all, though she got me into trouble more than once with grandma and Aunt Sophie that winter we spent at Ashlands. Ah, a bright thought strikes me!"
"Indeed! may I have the benefit of it?" asked the little girl, smiling archly.
"That you may. It is that you might as well stay on another week, or as long as you will."
"Thank you, but you must remember the doctor says we should go at once, on baby's account."
"I know that, but I was speaking only of you personally. Baby doesn't need you, and papa could take you to your father and mother after a while."
"Let them all go and leave me behind? Oh, Phil, I couldn't think of such a thing!"
The Travillas had been occupying their seaside cottage for two weeks, when a letter came from Sally Gibson; the first she had written them, though she had been notified at once of their change of address, told that they would be glad to hear how she was and what Dr. Thomson thought of her case, and a cordial invitation given her to come to them to rest and recruit as soon as she was ready to leave her physician.
Elsie's face grew very bright as she read.
"What does she say?" asked her husband.
"There is first an apology for not answering sooner (her eyes were so full of belladonna that she could not see to put pen to paper, and she had no one to write for her), then a burst of joy and gratitude--to God, to the doctor and to me,--'success beyond anything she had dared to hope,' but she will be with us to-morrow, and tell us all about it."
"And she won't be blind, mamma?" queried Violet, joyously.
"No, dear; I think that she must mean that her eyes are cured, or her sight made good in some way."
"Oh, then, I'll just love that good doctor!" cried the child, clasping her hands in delight.
The next day brought Sally, but they scarcely recognized her, she had grown so plump and rosy, and there was so glad a light in the eyes that looked curiously at them through glasses clear as crystal.
Mrs. Travilla took her by both hands and kissed her.
"Welcome, Sally; I am glad to see you, but should scarcely have known you, had we met in a crowd;--you are looking so well and happy."
"And so I am, my dear kind friend," the girl answered with emotion; "and I can see! see to read fine print that is all a blur to me without these glasses; and all the pain is gone, the fear, the distress of body and mind. Oh, the Lord has been good, good to me! and the doctor so kind and interested! I shall be grateful to him and to you as long as I live!"
"Oh, did he make you those glasses? what did he do to you?" asked the eager, curious children. "Tell us all about it, please."
But mamma said, "No, she is too tired now; she must go to her room and lie down and rest till tea-time."
Little Elsie showed her the way, saw that nothing was wanting that could contribute to her comfort, then left her to her repose.
It was needed after all the excitement and the hot dusty ride in the cars; but she came down from it quite fresh, and as ready to pour out the whole story of the experiences of the past two weeks as the children could desire.
When tea was over, they clustered round her on the cool breezy veranda overlooking the restless murmuring sea, and by her invitation, questioned her to their heart's content.
"Is he a nice kind old man, like our doctor at Ion?" began little Harold.
"Quite as nice and kind I should think, but not very old."
"Did he hurt you very much?" asked Elsie, who had great sympathy for suffering, whether mental or physical.
"Oh, no, not at all! He said directly that the eyes were not diseased; the trouble was malformation and could be remedied by suitable glasses; and oh, how glad I was to hear it!"
"I thought mamma read from your letter that he put medicine in your eyes."
"Yes, belladonna, but that was only to make them sick, so that he could examine them thoroughly, and measure them for the glasses."
Turning to Mrs. Travilla, "He is very kind and pleasant to every one; so far as I could see making no difference between rich and poor, but deeply interested in each case in turn; always giving his undivided attention to the one he has in hand at the moment; putting his whole heart and mind into the work."
"Which is doubtless one great reason why he is so successful," remarked Mrs. Travilla, adding, "Remember that, my children; half-hearted work accomplishes little for this world or the next."
"Weren't you afraid the first time you went?" asked timid little Elsie.
"My heart beat pretty fast," said Sally smiling. "I am rather bashful you see, and worse than that, I was afraid the doctor would say like the others, that it was the nerve and I would have to go blind, or that some dreadful operation would be necessary; but after I had seen him and found out how kind and pleasant he was, and that I'd nothing painful or dangerous to go through, and might hope for good sight at last, I didn't mind going at all.
"It was a little tedious sitting there in the outer office among strangers with no one to speak to, and nothing to do for hours at a time, but that was nothing compared to what I was to gain by it."
Then the children wanted to know what the doctor measured eyes with, and how he did it, and Sally amused them very much by telling how she had to say her letters every day and look at the gaslight and tell what shape it was, etc., etc.
"The doctor told me," she said, addressing Mrs. Travilla, "that I would not like the glasses at first, hardly any one does; but I do, though not so well, I dare say, as I shall after a while when I get used to them."
Mrs. Gibson's health was improving so that she was in a fair way to recover and as she was well taken care of and did not need her daughter, Sally felt at liberty to stay with these kind friends and enjoy herself.
She resolved to put away care and anxiety for the future, and take the full benefit of her present advantages. Yet there was one trouble that would intrude itself and rob her of half her enjoyment. Tom, her only and dearly loved brother, was fast traveling the downward road, seeming wholly given up to the dominion of the love of strong drink and kindred vices.
It was long since she had seen or heard from him and she knew not where he was. He had been in the habit of leaving their poor home on the Hudson without deigning to give her or his mother any information as to whither he was bound or when he would return; sometimes coming back in a few hours, and again staying away for days, weeks or months.
One day Elsie saw Sally turn suddenly pale while glancing over the morning paper and there was keen distress in the eyes she lifted to hers as the paper fell from her nerveless hand.
"Poor child; what is it?" Elsie asked compassionately, going to her and taking the cold hand in hers, "anything that I can relieve or help you to bear?"
"Tom!" and Sally burst into almost hysterical weeping.
He had been arrested in Philadelphia for drunkenness and disorderly conduct, fined and sent to prison till the amount should be paid.
Elsie did her best to comfort the poor sister, who was in an agony of shame and grief. "Oh," she sobbed, "he is such a dear fellow if only he could let drink alone! but it's been his ruin, his ruin! He must feel so disgraced that all his self-respect is gone and he'll never hold up his head again or have the heart to try to do better."
"Don't despair, poor child!" said Elsie, "he has not fallen too far for the grace of God to reclaim him; 'Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.'"
"And oh, I cry day and night to him for my poor Tom, so weak, so beset with temptations!" exclaimed the girl, "and will he not hear me at last?"
"He will if you ask in faith pleading the merits of his Son," returned her friend in moved tones.
"He must be saved!" Mr. Travilla said with energy, when Elsie repeated to him this conversation with Sally. "I shall take the next train for Philadelphia and try to find him."
Tom was found, his fine paid, his release procured, his rags exchanged for neat gentlemanly attire, hope of better things for this world and the next set before him, and with self-respect and manhood partially restored by all this and the kindly considerate, brotherly manner of his benefactor, he was persuaded to go with the latter to share with Sally for a few weeks, the hospitality of that pleasant seaside home.
He seemed scarcely able to lift his eyes from the ground as Mr. Travilla led him into the veranda where the whole family were gathered eagerly awaiting their coming; but in a moment Sally's arms were round his neck, her kisses and tears warm on his cheek, as she sobbed out in excess of joy, "O Tom, dear Tom, I'm so glad to see you!"
Then Mrs. Travilla's soft white hand grasped his in cordial greeting, and her low sweet voice bade him welcome; and the children echoed her words, apparently with no other thought of him than that he was Sally's brother and it was perfectly natural he should be there with her.
So he was soon at ease among them; but felt very humble, kept close by Sally and used his eyes and ears far more than his tongue.
His kind entertainers exerted themselves to keep him out of the way of temptation and help him to conquer the thirst for intoxicating drink, Mrs. Travilla giving Sally carte blanche to go into the kitchen and prepare him a cup of strong coffee whenever she would.
"Sally," he said to his sister, one evening when they sat alone together on the veranda, "what a place this is to be in! It's like a little heaven below; there is so much of peace and love; the moral atmosphere is so sweet and pure: I feel as though I had no business here, such a fallen wretch as I am!" he concluded with a groan, hiding his face in his hands.
"Don't, Tom, dear Tom!" she whispered, putting her arms about his neck and laying her head on his shoulder. "You've given up that dreadful habit? you're never going back to it?"
"I don't want to! God knows I don't!" he cried as in an agony of fear, "but that awful thirst--you don't know what it is! and I--I'm weak as water. Oh if there was none of the accursed thing on the face of the earth, I might hope for salvation! Sally, I'm afraid of myself, of the demon that is in me!"
"O, Tom, fly to Jesus!" she said, clinging to him. "He says, 'In me is thine help.' 'Fear not; I will help thee,' and he never yet turned a deaf ear to any poor sinner that cried to him for help. Cast yourself wholly on him and he will give you strength; for 'every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.'"
There was a moment of silence, in which Sally's heart was going up in earnest prayer for him; then Mr. Travilla joined them and addressing Tom said, "My wife and I have been talking about your future; indeed Sally's also; for we suppose you would like to keep together."
"That we should," they said.
"Well, how would you like to emigrate to Kansas and begin life anew; away from all old associates? I need not add that if you decide to go the means shall not be wanting."
"Thank you, sir; you have been the best of friends to us both, and to our mother, you and Mrs. Travilla," said Tom, with emotion: "and this is just what Sally and I have been wishing we could do. I understand something of farming and should like to take up a claim out there in some good location where land is given to those who will settle on it. And if you, sir, can conveniently advance the few hundred dollars we shall need to carry us there and give us a fair start, I shall gladly and thankfully accept it as a loan; hoping to be able to return it in a year or two."
This was the arrangement made and preparations to carry it out were immediately set on foot. In a few days the brother and sister bade good-bye to their kind entertainers, their mother, now nearly recovered, joined them in Philadelphia, and the three together turned their faces westward.
In bidding adieu to Elsie, Sally whispered with tears of joy the good news that Tom was trusting in a strength mightier than his own, and so, as years rolled on, these friends were not surprised to hear of his steadfast adherence to the practice of total abstinence from all intoxicating drinks, and his growing prosperity.