Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Great minds, like heaven, are pleased in doing good, Though the ungrateful subjects of their favors Are barren in return." --ROWE.
The short winter day was closing in. At Ion, five eager, expectant little faces were looking out upon the avenue, where slowly and softly, tiny snowflakes were falling, the only moving thing within range of their vision.
"Oh, dear, what does keep papa and mamma so long!" cried Vi, impatiently; "it seems most like a year since they started."
"Oh, no, Vi, not half a day yet!"
"I don't mean it is, Eddie, but it does seem like it to me. Elsie, do you think anything's happened?"
"One of the horses may have lost a shoe," Elsie said, trying to be very cheerful, and putting her arm round Violet as she spoke. "I remember that happened once a good while ago. But if mamma were here, don't you know what she would say, little sister?"
"Yes; 'don't fret; don't meet trouble half way, but trust in God, our Father, who loves us so dearly, that he will never let any real harm come to us.'"
"I think our mamma is very wise," remarked Eddie; "so very much wiser than Aunt Lucy, who gets frightened at every little thing."
"Oh, Eddie dear, would mamma or papa like that?" said Elsie softly.
"Well, it's true," he said reddening.
But they've both told us that unkind remarks should not be made even if true: unless it is quite necessary."
"Oh, why don't papa and mamma come?" "Oh, I wis dey would! I so tired watchin' for 'em!" burst out Harold and Herbert, nearly ready to cry.
"Look! look!" cried the others in chorus, "they are coming, the carriage is just turning in at the gate!"
But it was growing so dark now, and the tiny flakes were coming down so thick and fast, that none of them were quite sure the carriage was their own, until it drew up before the door, and two dear familiar forms alighted and came up the veranda steps.
They were greeted with as joyous a welcome as if they had been absent for weeks or months, and returned the sweet caresses as lovingly as they were bestowed, smiling tenderly upon each darling of their hearts.
But almost instantly little Elsie perceived something unusual in the sweet, fair face she loved so dearly, and was wont to study with such fond, tender scrutiny.
"Mamma, dear mamma, what is wrong?" she asked.
"A sad accident, daughter," Elsie answered, her voice faltering with emotion, "poor grandpa and Aunt Enna have been badly hurt."
"Our dear grandpa, mamma?" they all asked, lips and voices tremulous with grief.
"No, darlings, not my own dear father," the mother answered, with a heart full of gratitude that it was not he, "but our poor old grandfather who lives at Roselands."
"My dear little wife, you are too much overcome to talk any more just now," Mr. Travilla said, wheeling an easy-chair to the fire, seating her in it, and removing her hat and cloak, with all the tender gallantry of the days when he wooed and won his bride; "let me tell it." He took a seat near her side, lifted "bit Herbie" to his knee, and with the others gathered close about him, briefly told how the accident had happened, and that he and their mother had met a messenger coming to acquaint them with the disaster, and summon them to Roselands; then gave the children some idea of the present situation of their injured relations.
When he had finished, and his young hearers had expressed their sorrow and sympathy for the sufferers, a moment of silence ensued, broken by little Elsie.
"Mamma, who will take care of them?"
"God," said Herbert, "won't he, papa?"
"But I mean who will nurse them while they are sick," said Elsie.
"My father will take care of grandpa," Mrs. Travilla answered, "Uncle Horace and papa helping when needed."
"And Aunt Enna, mamma?"
"Well, daughter, who do you think should nurse her? Aunt Louise is away, Aunt Lora sick herself, grandma at Ashlands with Aunt Sophie and her sick children."
"Oh, mamma, it won't have to be you, will it?" the child asked almost imploringly.
"Oh, mamma, no; how could we do without you?" chimed in the others, Herbert adding tearfully, "Mamma stay wis us; we tan't do wisout you."
They left their father to cluster about and cling to her, with caresses and entreaties.
"My darlings," she said, returning their endearments, "can you not feel willing to spare your mother for a little while to poor, suffering Aunt Enna?"
"Mamma, they have plenty of servants"
"Yes, Vi, but she is so very ill that we cannot hope she will get well without more careful, tender nursing than any servant would give her."
"Mamma, it will be very hard to do without you."
"And very hard for me to stay away from my dear children; but what does the Bible say? Seek your own pleasure and profit, and let others take care of themselves?"
"Oh, mamma, no! 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'"
"'Do good to them that hate you,'" quoted Eddie in an undertone.
"But we were not speaking of enemies, my son," his mother said in surprise.
"I think Aunt Enna is your enemy, mamma; I think she hates you," he said, with flashing eyes, "for I've many a time heard her say very hateful things to you. Mamma, don't look so sorry at me; how can I help being angry at people that say unkind things to you?"
"'Forgive, and you shall be forgiven,'" she said gently. "'Do good and lend.' Can't you lend your mother for a few weeks, dears?"
"Weeks, mamma! oh, so long!" they cried. "How can we? who will take care of us, and hear our lessons and teach us to be good?"
"Dinah will wash and dress you, Elsie help you little ones to learn your lessons, and I think papa," looking at him, "will hear you recite."
"Yes," he said, smiling on them, "we will do our best, so that dear mamma may not be anxious and troubled about us in addition to all the care and anxiety for the suffering ones at Roselands."
"Yes, papa," they answered, returning his smile half tearfully; then questioned their mother as to when she must go, and whether they should see her at all while Aunt Enna was sick.
"I can wait only long enough to take supper with you, and have our talk together afterward," she said, "because I am needed at Roselands. Perhaps papa will bring you there sometimes to see me for a little while if you will be very quiet. And it may be only for a few days that I shall be wanted there; we cannot tell about that yet."
She spoke cheerfully, but it cost her an effort because of the grieved, troubled looks on the dear little faces.
"But baby, mamma!" cried Vi, "baby can't do without you!"
"No, dear, she and mammy will have to go with me."
They were not the usual merry party at the tea-table, and a good many tears were shed during the talk with mamma afterward.
They all consented to her going, but the parting with her, and the thought of doing without her for "so long" were the greatest trials they had ever known.
She saw all the younger ones in bed, kissed each one good-night, and reminding them that their heavenly Father was always with them, and that she would not be too far away to come at once to them if needed, she left them to their sleep.
Elsie followed her mother to her dressing-room, watched for every opportunity to assist in her preparations for her absence. They were not many, and with some parting injunctions to this little daughter and the servants, she announced herself ready to go.
Elsie clung to her with tears at the last, as they stood together in the lower hall waiting for the others.
"Mamma, what shall I do without you? I've never been away from you a whole day in all my life."
"No, dearest, but be my brave, helpful little girl. You must try to fill mother's place to the little ones. I shall not be far away, you know, and your dear father will be here nearly all the time. And don't forget, darling, that your best Friend is always with you."
"No, mamma," said the child, smiling through her tears; "it is so sweet to know that; and please don't trouble about us at home. I'll do my best for papa and the children."
"That is right, daughter, you are a very great comfort to me now and always," the mother said, with a last caress, as her husband joined her and gave her his arm to lead her to the carriage.
"Don't come out in the cold, daughter," he said, seeing the child about to follow.
Mammy had just come down with the sleeping babe in her arms, warmly wrapped up to shield her from the cold.
Elsie sprang to her side, lifted the veil that covered the little face, and softly touched her lips to the delicate cheek. "Good-bye, baby darling. Oh, mammy, we'll miss her sadly and you too."
"Don't fret, honey, 'spect we all be comin' back soon," Aunt Chloe whispered, readjusting the veil, and hurrying after her mistress.
Elsie flew to the window, and watched the carriage roll away down the avenue, till lost to sight in the darkness, tears trembling in her eyes, but a thrill of joy mingling with her grief: "it was so sweet to be a comfort and help to dear mamma."
She set herself to considering how she might be the same to her father and brothers and sister; what she could do now.
She remembered that her father was very fond of music and that her mother often played and sang for him in the evenings. He had said he would probably return in an hour, and going to the piano she spent the intervening time in the diligent practice of a new piece of music he had brought her a day or two before.
At sound of the carriage wheels she ran to meet him, her face bright with welcoming smiles.
"My little sunbeam," he said taking her in his arms; "you have been nothing but a comfort and blessing to your mother and me, since the day you were born."
"Dear papa, how kind in you to tell me that!" she said, her cheek flushing and her eyes glistening with pleasure.
He kept her with him till after her usual hour for retiring, listening to, and praising her music and talking with her quite as if she were fit to be a companion for him.
Both the injured ones were very ill for some weeks, but by means of competent medical advice and careful nursing, their lives were saved; yet neither recovered entirely from the effects of the accident. Mr. Dinsmore was feeble and ailing, and walked with a limp for the rest of his days, and Enna, though her bodily health was quite restored, rose from her bed with an impaired intellect, her memory gone, her reasoning powers scarcely equal to those of an ordinary child of five or six.
She did not recognize her children, or indeed any one; she had everything to relearn and went back to childish amusements, dolls, baby-houses and other toys.
The sight was inexpressibly painful to Dick and Molly, far worse than following her to her grave.
She remained at her father's, a capable and kind woman being provided to take constant charge of her, while Bob and Betty stayed on at the Oaks, their uncle and aunt bringing them up with all the care and kindness bestowed upon their own children; and Dick and Molly made their home at Ion.
The latter was removed thither as soon as the danger to her mother's life was past, the change being considered only temporary at the time; though afterward it was decided to make it permanent, in accordance with the kind and generous invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Travilla to her and her brother, and their offer to become responsible for the education and present support of both.
Little Elsie, bravely and earnestly striving to fill her mother's place in the household, making herself companionable to her father, helping Eddie, Vi and Harold with their lessons, comforting Herbie when his baby heart ached so sorely with its longing for mamma, and in all his little griefs and troubles, and settling the slight differences that would sometimes arise between the children or the servants, found Molly an additional burden; for she too must be cheered and consoled and was often fretful, unreasonable and exacting.
Still the little girl struggled on, now feebly and almost ready to despair, now with renewed hope and courage gathered from an interview with her earthly or her heavenly Father.
Mr. Travilla was very proud of the womanly way in which she acquitted herself at this time, her diligence, utter unselfishness, patience, and thoughtfulness for others, and did not withhold the meed of well earned praise; this with his advice and sympathy did much to enable her to persevere to the end.
But oh what relief and joy when at last the dear mother was restored to them and the unaccustomed burden lifted from the young shoulders!
It would have been impossible to say who rejoiced most heartily in the reunion, father, mother or children. But every heart leaped lightly, every face was bright with smiles.
Mrs. Travilla knew she was adding greatly to her cares, and to the annoyances and petty trials of every day life, in taking Dick and especially Molly into her family, but she realized it more and more as the months and years rolled on; both had been so spoiled by Enna's unwise and capricious treatment, that it was a difficult thing to control them; and poor Molly's sad affliction caused her frequent fits of depression which rendered her a burden to herself and to others; also she inherited to some extent, her mother's infirmities of temper, and her envy, jealousy and unreasonableness made her presence in the family a trial to her young cousins.
The mother had to teach patience, meekness and forbearance by precept and example, ever holding up as the grand motive, love to Jesus, and a desire to please and honor him.
Such constant sowing of the good seed, such patient, careful weeding out of the tares, such watchfulness and prayerfulness as Elsie bestowed upon the children God had given her, could not fail of their reward from him who has said, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"; and as the years rolled on she had the unspeakable joy of seeing her darlings one after another gathered into the fold of the Good Shepherd;--consecrating themselves in the dew of their youth to the service of him who had loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood.
She was scarcely less earnest and persistent in her efforts to promote the welfare, temporal and spiritual, of Molly and Dick. She far more than supplied the place of the mother now almost worse than lost to them.
They had always liked and respected her; they soon learned to love her dearly and grew happier and more lovable under the refining, elevating influence of her conduct and conversation.
She and her husband gave to both the best advantages for education that money could procure, aroused in them the desire, and stimulated them to earnest efforts to become useful members of society.
Elsie soon discovered that one grand element of Molly's depression was the thought that she was cut off from all the activities of life and doomed, by her sad affliction, to be a useless burden upon others.
"My poor dear child!" she said clasping the weeping girl in her arms, "that would be a sad fate indeed, but it need not be yours; there are many walks of usefulness still open to you; literature, several of the arts and sciences, music, painting, authorship; to say nothing of needle work both plain and fancy. The first thing will be a good education in the ordinary acceptation of the term--and that you can take as easily as one who has use of all her limbs. Books and masters shall be at your command, and when you have decided to what employment you will especially devote yourself, every facility shall be given you for perfecting yourself in it."
"O Cousin Elsie," cried the girl, her eyes shining, "do you think I could ever write books, or paint pictures? I mean such as would be really worth the doing; such as would make Dick proud of me and perhaps give me money to help him with; because you know the poor fellow must make his own way in the world."
"I scarcely know how to answer that question," Elsie said, smiling at her sudden enthusiasm, "but I do know that patience and perseverance will do wonders, and if you practice them faithfully, it will not surprise me to see you some day turn out a great author or artist.
"But don't fret because Dick has not a fortune to begin with. Our very noblest and most successful men have been those who had to win their way by dint of hard and determined struggling with early disadvantages. 'Young trees root the faster for shaking!'" she added with a smile.
"Oh then Dick will succeed, I know, dear, noble fellow!" cried Molly flushing with sisterly pride.
From that time she took heart and though there were occasional returns of despondency and gloom she strove to banish them and was upon the whole, brave, cheerful and energetic in carrying out the plans her cousin had suggested.