Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"It is as if the night should shade noonday, Or that the sun was here, but forced away; And we were left, under that hemisphere, Where we must feel it dark for half a year." --BEN. JOHNSON.
Since the events recorded in our last chapter, six years have rolled their swift, though noiseless round, ere we look in upon our friends again; six years bringing such changes as they must;--growth and development to the very young, a richer maturity, a riper experience to those who had already attained to adult life, and to the aged, increasing infirmities, reminding them that their race is nearly run; it may be so with others; it must be so with them.
There have been gains and losses, sickness and other afflictions, but death has not yet entered any of their homes.
At Ion, the emerald, velvety lawn, the grand old trees, the sparkling lakelet, the flower gardens and conservatories gay with rich autumn hues, were looking their loveliest, in the light of a fair September morning.
The sun was scarcely an hour high, and except in the region of the kitchen and stables quiet reigned within and without the mansion; doors and windows stood wide open, and servants were busied here and there cleaning and setting in order for the day, but without noise or bustle. In the avenue before the front entrance, stood Solon with the pretty grey ponies, Prince and Princess, ready saddled and bridled, while on the veranda sat a tall, dark-eyed, handsome youth, a riding whip in one hand, the other gently stroking and patting the head of Bruno, as it rested on his knee; the dog receiving the caress with demonstrations of delight.
A light, springing step passed down the broad stairway, crossed the hall, and a slender fairy-like form appeared in the doorway. It was Violet, now thirteen, and already a woman in height; though the innocent childlike trust in the sweet fair face and azure eyes, told another tale.
"Good-morning, Eddie," she said. "I am sorry to have kept you waiting."
"Oh, good-morning," he cried, jumping up and turning toward her. "No need for apology, Vi, I've not been here over five minutes."
He handed her gallantly to the saddle, then mounted himself.
"Try to cheer up, little sister; one should not be sad such a lovely morning as this," he said, as they trotted down the avenue side by side.
"Oh, Eddie," she answered, with tears in her voice, "I do try, but I can't yet; it isn't like home without them."
"No; no indeed, Vi; how could it be? Mr. and Mrs. Daly are very kind, yet not in the least like our father and mother; but it would be impossible for any one to take their places in our hearts or home."
"The only way to feel at all reconciled, is to keep looking forward to the delight of seeing them return with our darling Lily well and strong," Vi said, struggling bravely with her tears; and Eddie answered, "I cannot help hoping that may be, in spite of all the discouraging things the doctors have said."
Lily, always frail and delicate, had drooped more and more during the past year, and only yesterday the parents had left with her for the North, intending to try the effect of different watering places, in the faint hope that the child might yet be restored to health, or her life at least be prolonged for a few years.
They had taken with them their eldest daughter, and infant son, and several servants.
Aunt Chloe and Uncle Joe were not of the party, increasing infirmities compelling them to stay behind.
The separation from her idolized mistress, cost the former many tears, but she was much comforted by Elsie's assurance, that to have her at home to watch over the children there, would be a great comfort and relief from anxiety on their account.
It had seemed to Mr. and Mrs. Travilla, a very kind Providence that had sent them an excellent tutor and housekeeper, in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. Daly, their former guests at Viamede.
Since the winter spent together there, an occasional correspondence had been kept up between the two families, and learning from it, that Mr. Daly was again in need of a change of climate, and that, just as they were casting about for some suitable persons to take charge of their house and children during their contemplated absence from home, Elsie suggested to her husband that the situations should be offered to him and his wife.
Mr. Travilla approved, the offer was made at once, and promptly and thankfully accepted.
Frank Daly, now a fine lad of eleven, was invited to come with his parents, and to share his father's instructions.
They had now been in the house for more than a week, and seemed eminently suited to the duties they had undertaken; yet home was sadly changed to the children, deprived for the first time in their lives of the parents whom they so dearly loved, and who so thoroughly understood and sympathized with them.
Eddie was growing very manly, was well advanced in his studies, easy and polished in manner, and Vi and the younger ones looked up to him with pride and respect, as the big brother who knew a great deal, and in papa's absence would be their leader and protector.
He, on his part was fond and proud of them all, but more especially of Elsie and Vi, who grew daily in beauty and grace.
"You can't think how sorely I have missed Elsie this morning," Vi said, breaking a slight pause in their talk, "and yet I am glad she went too, she will be such a comfort to mamma and Lily; and she promised me to write every day; which of course mamma could not find time to do."
"Yes; and her absence will give you an opportunity for practice in that line, and in being motherly to Rosie," Eddie said with a smile.
"To Herbie too," she answered; "we are to meet in mamma's dressing-room every morning just as usual, only it will be a strange half hour without mamma; but we will say our texts to each other, talk them over and read together."
"Yes, I promised mamma that I would be with you. Which way now?" he asked, as they came to the crossroads.
"To the Oaks. I want to see grandpa. A caress, or even a word or smile from him, would do me good this morning."
"He may not be up."
"But I think he will; you know he likes to keep early hours."
Mr. Dinsmore was up and pacing the veranda thoughtfully to and fro, as the young riders came in sight.
He welcomed them with a smile, and lifting Vi from her pony, held her close to his heart as something very dear and precious.
"My darling," he said, "your face is sad this morning; and no wonder. Yet cheer up, we will hope to see our dear travelers at home again in a few weeks, our poor fading flower restored to bloom and beauty."
He made them sit down and regale themselves with some fine fresh oranges, which he summoned a servant to bring; their grandma, aunt and uncle joined them presently and they were urged to stay to breakfast, but declined. "The little ones must not be left alone this first morning without papa and mamma."
On their return Rosie, a merry, healthy, romping child of five, with a rich creamy complexion, dark hair and eyes, forming a strong contrast to Vi's blonde beauty, came bounding to meet them.
"O, Vi, I've been wanting you! you'll have to be mamma to us now, you know, till our real own mamma comes back. And, Eddie, you'll have to be the papa. Won't he, Vi? Come, let's all go to mamma's dress-room; my verse is ready."
"What is your text, Rosie?" Violet asked when they had reached the room, sitting down and drawing the child to her side.
"Take me on your lap like mamma does and I'll say it."
"Now then," Vi said, complying with the request.
"'When my father and my mother forsake me then the Lord will take me up.'"
"Who taught you that, pet?" asked Vi, with a slight tremble in her low sweet tones.
"Cousin Molly. I was crying for mamma and papa and she called me in there and told me I mustn't cry, 'cause Jesus loves me and will never, never go away from me."
"That's like my text," said Herbert. "Mamma gave it to me for to-day. 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'"
"And mine," said Harold, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,'"
"'This God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death,'" repeated Vi feelingly.
"That's a nice one," said Rosie.
"Yes," said Eddie, "and this is a nice one for us to remember just now in connection with the dear ones on their journey, and for ourselves when we go away. Yes, now, and at all times. 'Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land.'"
"Isn't the Bible the sweetest book!" exclaimed Vi, "the Book of books; it has a comforting word for everybody and every time of need."
The breakfast bell rang.
"Oh, dear!" cried Rosie clinging to Violet, her bosom heaving with sobs, "how can we go to the table and eat without papa and mamma!"
"Don't cry, little pet, don't cry; you know they want us to be cheerful and make it pleasant for Mr. and Mrs. Daly," the others said, and with a great effort the child swallowed her sobs; then wiping away her tears, suffered Vi to lead her down to the breakfast room.
Mrs. Daly met them there with a smiling face, and kind motherly greeting. Mr. Daly had a pleasant word for each, and talked so entertainingly all through the meal, that they had scarcely time for sad or lonely thoughts.
Family worship followed immediately after breakfast, as was the custom of the house. Mr. Daly's prayer was short, comforting them all, and simple enough for even little Rose to understand.
There was still time for a walk before school, but first Vi went to Molly to ask how she was, and to carry her a letter from Dick which had come by the morning mail.
Dick was in Philadelphia studying medicine. He and Molly corresponded regularly and she knew no greater treat than a letter from him. Vi was glad she could carry it to her this morning, it was so great a pleasure to be the bearer of anything so welcome.
There were no pleasanter or better furnished rooms in the house than those appropriated to the use of the poor, dependent crippled cousin. Molly herself tastefully and becomingly dressed, blooming, bright and cheerful, sat in an invalid chair by the open window. She was reading, and so absorbed in her book that she did not hear the light step of her young relative.
Vi paused in the doorway a moment, thinking what a pretty picture Molly made--with her intellectual countenance, clear complexion, rosy cheeks, bright eyes and glossy braids--framed in by the vine-wreathed window.
Molly looked up, and laying aside her book, "Ah, Vi, this is kind!" she said. "Come in, do; I'm ever so glad to see you."
"And what of this?" asked Vi, holding up the letter.
"Oh, delightful! dear old fellow, to write so soon. I was not expecting it till to-morrow."
"I knew you'd be glad," Vi said, putting it into her hand, "and now I'll just kiss you good-morning and run away, that you may enjoy it fully before lesson time."
Rosie's voice was summoning Vi. The children were in the veranda ready for their morning walk, waiting only for "Sister Vi."
"Let's go to the Oaks," said Rosie, slipping her hand into Vi's; "it's a nice shady walk, and I like to throw pebbles into the water. But I'll feed the fishes first. See what a bag full of crumbs mammy has given me."
Violet was very patient and indulgent toward the little pet sister, yet obliged to cut short her sport with the pebbles and the fishes, because the hour for lessons drew near.