Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Ah! who can say, however fair his view, Through what sad scenes his path may lie?"
Mrs. Conly adhered to her resolve in regard to the education of her daughters, and about the middle of September left with them and her younger children for a visit to Mrs. Delaford, at whose house the wardrobes of the two girls were to be made ready for their first school year at the convent chosen by their aunt.
Arthur went with them as their escort. A week later the rest of the Roselands party returned home, and early in October the Oaks and Ion rejoiced in the return of their families.
Baby Lily had been so benefited by the trip that Elsie felt warranted in resuming her loved employment as acting governess to her older children.
They fell into the old round of duties and pleasures, as loving and happy a family as one might wish to see; a striking and most pleasant contrast to the one at Roselands, that of Enna and her offspring--where the mother fretted and scolded, and the children, following her example were continually at war with one another.
Only between Dick and Molly there was peace and love. The poor girl led a weary life pinned to her couch or chair, wholly dependent upon others for the means of locomotion and for anything that was not within reach of her hand.
She had not yet learned submission under her trial, and her mother was far from being an assistance in bearing it. Molly was greatly depressed in spirits, and her mother's scolding and fretting were often almost beyond endurance.
Her younger brother and sister thought it a trouble to wait on her and usually kept out of her way, but Dick, when present, was her faithful slave; always ready to lift and carry her, or to bring her anything she wanted. But much of Dick's time was necessarily occupied with his studies, and in going to and from his school, which was two or three miles distant.
He was very thoughtful for her comfort, and it was through his suggestion, that their grandfather directed that one of the pleasantest rooms in the house, overlooking the avenue, so that all the coming and going could be seen from its windows, should be appropriated to Molly's use.
There Dick would seat her each morning, before starting for school, in an invalid's easy-chair presented to her by her Cousin Elsie, and there he would be pretty sure to find her on his return, unless, as occasionally happened, their grandfather, Uncle Horace, Mr. Travilla, or some one of the relatives, had taken her out for a drive.
One afternoon about the last of November, Molly, weary of sewing and reading, weary inexpressibly weary, of her confinement and enforced quietude, was gazing longingly down the avenue, wishing that some one would come to take her out for an airing, when the door opened and her mother came in dressed for the open air, in hat, cloak and furs.
"I want you to button my glove, Molly," she said, holding out her wrist, "Rachel's so busy on my new silk, and you have nothing to do. What a fortunate child you are to be able to take your ease all the time."
"My ease!" cried Molly bitterly, "I'd be gladder than words can tell to change places with you for awhile."
"Humph! you don't know what you're wishing; the way I have to worry over my sewing for four besides myself, is enough to try the patience of a saint. By the way, it's high time you began to make yourself useful in that line. With practice, you might soon learn to accomplish a great deal, having nothing to do but stick at it from morning to night."
Molly was in the act of buttoning the second glove. Tears sprang to her eyes at this evidence of her mother's heartlessness, and one bright drop fell on Enna's wrist.
"There you have stained my glove!" she exclaimed angrily. "What a baby you are! will you never have done with this continued crying?"
"It seems to be very easy for you to bear my troubles, mother," returned poor Molly, raising her head proudly, and dashing away the tears, "I will try to learn to bear them too, and never again appeal to my mother for sympathy."
"You get enough of that from Dick, he cares ten times as much for you as he does for me--his own mother."
At that moment Betty came running in. "Mother, the carriage is at the door, and grandpa's ready. Molly, grandpa says he'll take you too, if you want to go."
Molly's face brightened, but before she could speak, Enna answered for her. "No, she can't; there isn't time to get her ready."
Mrs. Johnson hurried from the room, Betty following close at her heels, and Molly was left alone in her grief and weariness.
She watched the carriage as it rolled down the avenue, then turning from the window, indulged in a hearty cry.
At length, exhausted by her emotion, she laid her head back and fell asleep in her chair.
How long she had slept she did not know; some unusual noise down-stairs woke her, and the next moment Betty rushed in screaming, "Oh, Molly, Molly, mother and grandfather's killed; both of 'em! Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
For an instant Molly seemed stunned, she scarcely comprehended Betty's words, then as the child repeated, "They're killed! they're both killed; the horses ran away and threw 'em out," she too uttered a cry of anguish, and grasping the arms of her chair, made desperate efforts to rise; but all in vain, and with a groan she sank back, and covering her face with her hands, shed the bitterest tears her impotence had ever yet cost her.
Betty had run away again, and she was all alone. Oh, how hard it was for her to be chained there in such an agony of doubt and distress! She forcibly restrained her groans and sobs, and listened intently.
The Conlys, except Cal, were still at the North; the house seemed strangely quiet, only now and then a stealthy step or a murmur of voices and occasionally a half smothered cry from Bob or Betty.
A horseman came dashing furiously up the avenue. It was her uncle, Mr. Horace Dinsmore. He threw himself from the saddle and hurried into the house, and the next minute two more followed at the same headlong pace.
These were Cal and Dr. Barton, and they also dismounted in hot haste and disappeared from her sight beneath the veranda. Certainly something very dreadful had happened. Oh would nobody come to tell her!
The minutes dragged their slow length along seeming like hours. She lay back in her chair in an agony of suspense, the perspiration standing in cold drops on her brow.
But the sound of wheels roused her and looking out she saw the Oaks and Ion carriages drive up, young Horace and Rosie alight from the one, Mr. Travilla and Elsie from the other.
"Oh!" thought Molly, "Cousin Elsie will be sure to think of me directly and I shall not be left much longer in this horrible suspense."
Her confidence was not misplaced. Not many minutes had elapsed when her door was softly opened, a light step crossed the floor and a sweet fair face, full of tender compassion, bent over the grief-stricken girl.
Molly tried to speak; her tongue refused its office, but Elsie quickly answered the mute questioning of the wild, frightened, anguished eyes.
"There is life," she said, taking the cold hands in hers, "life in both; and 'while there is life there is hope.' Our dear old grandfather has a broken leg and arm and a few slight cuts and bruises, but is restored to consciousness now, and able to speak. Your poor mother has fared still worse, we fear, as the principal injury is to the head, but we will hope for the best in her case also."
Molly dropped her head on her cousin's shoulder while a burst of weeping brought partial relief to the overburdened heart.
Elsie clasped her arms about her and strove to soothe and comfort her with caresses and endearing words.
"If I could only nurse mother now," sobbed the girl, "how glad I'd be to do it. O cousin, it most breaks my heart now to think how I've vexed and worried her since--since this dreadful trouble came to me. I'd give anything never to have said a cross or disrespectful word to her. And now I can do nothing for her! nothing, nothing!" and she wrung her hands in grief and despair.
"Yes, dear child; there is one thing you can do," Elsie answered, weeping with her.
"What, what is that?" asked Molly, half incredulously, half hopefully, "what can I do chained here?"
"Pray for her, Molly, plead for her with him unto whom belong the issues from death; to him who has all power in heaven and in earth and who is able to save to the uttermost."
"No, no, even that I can't do," sobbed Molly, "I've never learned to pray, and he isn't my friend as he is yours and your children's!"
"Then first of all make him your friend; oh, he is so kind and merciful and loving. He says, 'Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' 'Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.'"
"Oh, if I only knew how!" sighed Molly, "nobody needs such a friend more than I. I'd give all the world to have him for mine."
"But you cannot buy his friendship--his salvation; it is 'without money and without price.' What is it to come to him? Just to take him at his word, give yourself to him and believe his promise that he will not cast you out."
There was a tap at the door and Rosie came in, put her arms round Molly, kissed her and wept with her.
Then young Horace followed and after that his father. Both seemed to feel very much for Molly and to be anxious to do everything in their power to help and comfort her.
Mr. Dinsmore was evidently in deep grief and soon withdrew, Elsie going with him. They stood together for a few minute in the hall.
"My dear father, how I feel for you!" Elsie said, laying her hand on his arm and looking up at him through gathering tears.
"Thank you, my child; your sympathy is always very sweet to me," he said. "And you have mine; for I know this trial touches you also though somewhat less nearly than myself."
"Is grandpa suffering much?" she asked.
"Very much; and at his age--but I will not anticipate sorrow; we know that the event is in the hands of him who doeth all things well. Ah, if he were only a Christian! And Enna! poor Enna!"
Sobs and cries coming from the nursery broke in upon the momentary silence that followed the exclamation.
"Poor little Bob and Betty, I must go to them," Elsie said, gliding away in the direction of the sounds, while Mr. Dinsmore returned to the room where his father lay groaning with the pain of his wounds. Mr. Travilla, Calhoun and the doctor were with him, but he was asking for his son.
"Horace," he said, "can't you stay with me?"
"Yes, father, night and day while you want me."
"That's right! It's a good thing to have a good son. Dr. Barton, where are you going?"
"To your daughter, sir, Mrs. Johnson."
"Enna! is she much hurt?" asked the old man, starting up, but falling back instantly with almost a scream of pain.
"You must lie still, sir, indeed you must," said the doctor, coming back to the bed; "your life depends upon your keeping quiet and exciting yourself as little as possible."
"Yes, yes; but Enna?"
"Has no bones broken."
"Thank God for that! then she'll do. Go, doctor, but don't leave the house without seeing me again."
They were glad he was so easily satisfied, but knew he would not be if his mind were quite clear.
Dick had come home in strong excitement, rumors of the accident having met him on the way. The horses had taken fright at the sudden shriek of a locomotive, and the breaking of a defective bit had deprived the old gentleman of the power to control them. They ran madly down a steep embankment, wrecking the carriage and throwing both passengers out upon a bed of stones.
Pale and trembling the lad went straight to his mother's room where he found her lying moaning on the bed, recognizing no one, unconscious of anything that was going on about her.
He discovered that he loved her far more than he would have believed; he thought her dying, and his heart smote him, as memory recalled many a passionate, undutiful word he had spoken to her; often, it is true, under great provocation, but oh, what would he not now have given to recall them.
He had much ado to control his emotion sufficiently to ask the doctor what he thought of her case. He was somewhat comforted by the reply,
"The injury to the head is very serious, yet I by no means despair of her life."
"What can I do for her?" was the boy's next question in an imploring tone as though he would esteem it a boon to be permitted to do something for her relief.
"Nothing; we have plenty of help here, and you are too inexperienced for a nurse," Dr. Barton said, not unkindly. "But see to your sister Molly," he added. "Poor child! she will feel this sorely."
The admonition was quite superfluous; Dick was already hastening to her.
Another moment and she was weening out her sorrow and anxiety on his shoulder.
"O Dick," she sobbed, "I'm afraid I can never speak to her again, and--and my last words to her, just before she went, were a reproach. I said I'd never ask her for sympathy again; and now I never can. Oh isn't it dreadful, dreadful!" and she wept as if her very heart would break.
"Oh, don't, Molly!" he said hoarsely, pressing her closer to him and mingling his tears with hers, "who could blame you, you poor suffering thing! and I'm sure you must have been provoked to it. She hadn't been saying anything kind to you?"
Molly shook her head with a fresh burst of grief. "No, oh no! oh, if we'd parted like Cousin Elsie and her children always do!--with kind, loving words and caresses."
"But we're not that sort, you know," returned Dick with an awkward attempt at consolation, "and I'm worse than you, a great deal, for I've talked up to mother many a time and didn't have the same excuse."
There was sickness at Pinegrove. Mrs. Howard was slowly recovering from an attack of typhoid fever. This was why she had not hastened to Roselands to the assistance of her injured father and sister.
And Mrs. Rose Dinsmore was at Ashlands, helping Sophie nurse her children through the scarlet fever. And so, Mrs. Conly being still absent at the North, the burden of these new responsibilities must fall upon Mr. Horace Dinsmore and his children.
Mr. Dinsmore undertook the care of his father, Mr. Travilla and young Horace engaging to relieve him now and then, Elsie that of Enna; her children, except the baby, who with mammy must come to Roselands also, could do without her for a time. It would be hard for both her and them, she knew, but the lesson in self-denial for the sake of others, might prove more than a compensation; and Enna must not, in her critical state, be left to the care of servants.
Rosie volunteered to see that Molly was not neglected, and to exert herself for the poor girl's entertainment, and Bob and Betty were sent to the Oaks to be looked after by Mrs. Murray and their cousin Horace.
It would be no easy or agreeable task for the old lady, but she was sure not to object in view of the fact that quiet was essential to the recovery of the sufferers at Roselands.