Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"You may as well Forbid the seas to obey the moon, As, or by oath, remove, or counsel, shake The fabric of her folly." --SHAKESPEARE.
Scarcely had the Gibsons departed when their places were more than filled by the unexpected arrival of a large party from Roselands, comprising old Mr. Dinsmore, with his daughter Mrs. Conly and her entire family, with the exception of Calhoun, who would follow shortly.
They were welcomed by their relatives with true southern hospitality and assured that the two cottages could readily be made to accommodate them all comfortably.
"What news of Molly?" was the first question after the greetings had been exchanged.
Mrs. Conly shook her head and sighed, "Hasn't been able to set her foot on the floor for weeks, and I don't believe she ever will. That's Dr. Pancoast's opinion, and he's good authority. 'Twas her condition that brought us North. We've left her and her mother at the Continental in Philadelphia.
"There's to be a consultation to-morrow of all the best surgeons in the city. Enna wanted me to stay with her till that was over, but I couldn't think of it with all these children fretting and worrying to get down here out of the heat. So I told her I'd leave Cal to take care of her and Molly.
"Dick's with them too. He's old enough to be useful now, and Molly clings to him far more than to her mother."
"Isn't it dreadful," said Virginia, "to think that that fall down-stairs has made her a cripple for life? though nobody thought she was much hurt at first."
"Poor child! how does she bear it?" asked her uncle.
"She doesn't know how to bear it at all," said Mrs. Conly; "she nearly cries her eyes out."
"No wonder," remarked the grandfather; "it's a terrible prospect she has before her, to say nothing of the present suffering. And her mother has no patience with her; pities herself instead of the child."
"No," said Mrs. Conly, "Enna was never known to have much patience with anybody or anything."
"But Dick's good to her," remarked Isadore.
"Yes," said Arthur, "it's really beautiful to see his devotion to her and how she clings to him. And it's doing the lad good;--making a man of him."
"Surely Enna must feel for her child!" Elsie said, thinking of her own darlings and how her very heart would be torn with anguish at the sight of one of them in so distressing a condition.
"Yes, of course, she cried bitterly over her when first the truth dawned upon her that Molly was really so dreadfully injured; but of course that couldn't last and she soon took to bewailing her own hard fate in having such a burden on her hands, a daughter who must always live single and could never be anything but a helpless invalid."
Elsie understood how it was; for had she not known Enna from a child? Her heart ached for Molly, and as she told her own little ones of their poor cousin's hopeless, helpless state, she mingled her tears with theirs.
"Mamma, won't you 'vite her to come here?" pleaded Harold.
"Yes, dear mamma, do," urged the others, "and let us all try to amuse and comfort her."
"If I do, my dears, you may be called upon at times to give up your pleasures for her. Do you think you will be willing to do so?"
At that the young faces grew very grave, and for a moment no one spoke. Quick, impulsive Violet was the first to answer.
"Yes, mamma, I'm willing; I do feel so sorry for her I'd do anything to help her bear her pain."
"Mamma," said Elsie, softly, "I'll ask Jesus to help me, and I'm sure he will."
"So am I, daughter; and I think Vi means to ask his help too?"
"Oh, yes, mamma, I do!"
"And I," "and I," "and I," responded the others.
So the invitation was sent, for Molly and her mother and brother to come and pay as long a visit as they would.
A letter came in a few days, accepting it and giving the sorrowful news that all the surgeons agreed in the opinion that the poor girl's spine had been so injured that she would never again have any use of her lower limbs.
It was Mrs Conly who brought the letter to her niece, it having come in one addressed to herself. She expressed strong sympathy for Molly, but was much taken up with the contents of another letter received by the same mail.
"I've just had a most generous offer from Mr. Conly's sister, Mrs. Delaford," she said to her niece. "She has no children of her own, is a widow and very wealthy, and she's very fond of my Isadore, who is her godchild and namesake. She offers now to clothe and educate her, with the view of making the child her heir; and also to pay for Virgy's tuition, if I will send them both to the convent where she was herself educated."
"Aunt Louise, you will not think of it surely?" cried Elsie, looking much disturbed.
"And why not, pray?" asked Mrs. Conly, drawing herself up, and speaking in a tone of mingled hauteur, pique and annoyance.
"You would not wish them to become Romanists?"
"No, of course not; but that need not follow."
"It is very apt to follow."
"Nonsense! I should exact a promise that their faith would not be interfered with."
"But would that avail, since, 'No faith with heretics,' has been for centuries the motto of the 'infallible, unchangeable,' Church of Rome?"
"I think you are inclined to see danger where there is none," returned the aunt. "I would not for the world be as anxious and fussy about my children as you are about yours. Besides, I think it quite right to let their father's relatives do for them when they are both able and willing."
"But Aunt Louise----"
"There! don't let us talk any more about the matter to-day, if you please," interrupted Mrs. Conly, rising, "I must go now and prepare for my bath. I'll be in again this evening to see Enna and the others. They'll be down by the afternoon train. Good-morning."
And she sailed away, leaving Elsie sad and anxious for the future of her young cousins.
"What is it, daughter?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, coming in a moment later. "I have seldom seen you look so disturbed."
Her face brightened, as was its wont under her father's greeting, but, this time, only momentarily.
"I am troubled, papa," she said, making room for him on the sofa by her side. "Here is a note from Enna. The doctors give Molly no hope that she will ever walk again. One cannot help feeling very sad for her, poor child! and besides something Aunt Louise has been telling me, makes me anxious for Isadore and Virginia."
He was scarcely less concerned than she, when he heard what that was. "I shall talk to Louise," he said, "it would be the height of folly to expose her girls to such influences. It is true I once had some thoughts of sending you to a convent school, under the false impression that the accomplishments were more thoroughly taught there than in the Protestant seminaries; but with the light I have since gained upon the subject, I know that it would have been a fearful mistake."
"Dear papa," she said, putting her hand into his and looking at him with loving eyes, "I am so thankful to you that you did not; so thankful that you taught me yourself. The remembrance of the hours we spent together as teacher and pupil, has always been very sweet to me."
"To me also," he answered with a smile.
The expected guests arrived at the appointed time, Enna looking worn, faded and fretful, Dick sad and anxious, poor Molly, weary, exhausted, despairing; as if life had lost all brightness to her.
Her proud spirit rebelled against her helplessness, against the curious, even the pitying looks it attracted to her from strangers in the streets and public conveyances.
The transit from one vehicle to another was made in the strong arms of a stalwart negro whom they had brought with them from Roselands, Dick following closely to guard his sister from accident, and shield her as much as possible from observation, while Enna and Cal brought up the rear.
A room on the ground floor had been appropriated to Molly's use, and thither she was carried at once, and gently laid upon a couch. Instantly her cousin Elsie's arms were about her, her head pillowed upon the gentle breast, while tears of loving sympathy fell fast upon her poor pale face, mingled with tender caresses and whispered words of endearment.
It did the child good; the tears and sobs that came in response, relieved her aching heart of half its load. But it vexed Enna.
"What folly, Elsie!" she said, "don't you see how you're making the child cry? And I've been doing my best to get her to stop it; for of course it does no good, and only injures her eyes."
"Forgive me, dear child, if I have hurt you," Elsie said low and tenderly, as she laid Molly's head gently back against the pillows.
"You haven't! you've done me good!" cried the girl, flashing an indignant glance at Enna. "Oh, mother, if you treated me so, it wouldn't be half so hard to bear!"
"I've learned not to expect anything but ingratitude from my children," said Enna, coldly returning Elsie's kind greeting.
But Dick grasped his cousin's hand warmly, giving her a look of grateful affection, and accepted with delight her offered kiss.
"Now, I will leave you to rest," she said to Molly, "and when you feel like seeing your cousins, they will be glad to come in and speak to you. They are anxious to do all they can for your entertainment while you are here."
"Yes, but I want to see grandpa and Uncle Horace now, please; they just kissed me in the car, and that was all."
They came in at once, full of tender sympathy for the crippled, suffering child.
"They're so kind," sobbed Molly, as they left the room.
"Yes, you can appreciate everybody's kindness but your mother's," remarked Enna in a piqued tone, "and everybody can be sorry for you, but my feelings are lost sight of entirely."
"Oh, mother, don't!" sighed Molly. "I'm sure I've enough to bear without your reproaches. I'd appreciate you fast enough, if you were such a mother as Cousin Elsie."
"Or as Aunt Louise, why don't you say?" said Mrs. Conly, coming in, going up to the couch, and kissing her. "How d'ye do, Enna?"
"Yes, even you are sorrier for me than mother is, I do believe!" returned Molly, bursting into tears; "and if it was Isa or Virgy you'd be ever so good to her, and not scold her as mother does me."
"Why, I'm just worn out and worried half to death about that girl," said Enna, in answer to her sister's query. "She'll never walk a step again--all the doctors say that." At these words Molly was almost convulsed with sobs, but Enna went on relentlessly. "And when they asked her how it happened, she up and told them her high-heeled shoes threw her down, and that she didn't want to wear them, but I made her do it."
"And so you did, and I only told it because one of the doctors asked if I didn't know they were dangerous; and when I said yes, he wanted to know how I came to be so foolish as to wear them."
"And then he lectured me," Enna went on, "as if it was all my fault, when of course it was her own carelessness; for if it wasn't, why haven't some of the rest of us fallen down. Accidents happen when nobody's to blame."
"I came near falling the other day, myself," said Mrs. Conly, "and I'll never wear a high, narrow heel again, nor let one of my girls do so. Now I'm going out. You two ought to take a nap; Molly especially, poor child! I'm very sorry for you; but don't cry any more now. It will only hurt your eyes."
Mrs. Conly was to stay to tea and spend the evening. Stepping into the parlor she found all the adult members of the family there.
"I want to have a talk with you, Louise," her brother said, seating her comfortably on a sofa and drawing up a chair beside her.
"And I think I know what about," she returned with heightened color, glancing toward Elsie, "but let me tell you beforehand, Horace, that you may as well spare yourself the trouble. I have already accepted Mrs. Delaford's offer."
"Louise! how could you be so hasty in so important a matter?"
"Permit me to answer that question with another," she retorted, drawing herself up haughtily, "what right have you to call me to an account for so doing?"
"Only the right of an older brother to take a fraternal interest in your welfare and that of his nieces."
"What is it, mother?" asked Calhoun.
She told him in a few words, and he turned to his uncle with the query why he so seriously objected to her acceptance of what seemed so favorable an offer.
"Because I think it would be putting in great jeopardy the welfare of your sisters, temporal and spiritual"
"What nonsense, Horace!" exclaimed Mrs. Conly angrily. "Of course I shall expressly stipulate that their faith is not to be interfered with."
"And just as much of course the promise will be given and systematically broken without the slightest compunction; because in the creed of Rome the end sanctifies the means and no end is esteemed higher or holier than that of adding members to her communion."
"Well," said Louise, "I must say you judge them hardly. I'm sure there are at least some pious ones among them and of course they wouldn't lie."
"You forget that the more pious they are, the more obedient they will be to the teachings of their church, and when she tells them it is a pious act to be false to their word or oath, for her advancement, or to burn, kill and destroy, or to break any other commandment of the decalogue, they will obey believing that thus they do God service.
"Really the folly and credulity of Protestant parents who commit their children to the care of those who teach and put in practice, too, these two maxims, so utterly destructive of all truth and honesty, all confidence between man and man--'The end sanctifies the means,' and 'No faith with heretics,'--is to me perfectly astounding."
"So you consider me a fool," said Mrs. Conly, bridling, "thanks for the compliment."
"It is you who make the application, Louise," he answered. "I had no thought of doing so, and still hope you will prove your wisdom by reconsidering and letting Mrs. Delaford know that you revoke your decision."
"Indeed I shall not; I consider that I have no right to throw away Isadore's fortune."
"Have you then a greater right to imperil her soul's salvation?" he asked with solemn earnestness.
"Pshaw! what a serious thing you make of it," she exclaimed, yet with an uneasy and troubled look.
"Uncle!" cried Calhoun in surprise, "do you not think there have been and are some real Christians in the Romish Church?"
"No doubt of it, Cal; some who, spite of her idolatrous teachings, worship God alone and put their trust solely in the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ. Yet who can fail to see in the picture of Babylon the Great so graphically drawn in Revelation, a faithful portraiture of Rome? And the command is, 'Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partaker of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.'"
Mr. Dinsmore paused, but no one seeming to have anything to say in reply, went on to give his sister a number of instances which had come to his knowledge, of the perversion of Protestant girls while being educated in convents.
"Well," she said at last, "I'm not going to draw back now, but I shall be on the watch and if they do begin to tamper with my girls' faith I'll remove them at once. There now I hope you are satisfied!"
"Not quite, Louise," he said, "they are accomplished proselyters and may have the foundations completely and irremediably undermined ere you suspect that they have begun."