Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"The lilies faintly to the roses yield, As on thy lovely cheek they struggling vie, And thoughts are in thy speaking eyes revealed, Pure as the fount the prophet's rod unseal'd." --HOFFMAN.
"Dr. Arthur lef' dis for you, Miss Wi'let," said one of the maids, meeting her young mistress on the veranda and handing her a note.
"Cousin Arthur? was he here?"
"Yes, miss. He axed for you, but hadn't no time to stop, not even to see po' Miss Molly. 'Spect somebody's mighty sick."
Arthur Conly had entered the medical profession, and for the last two years had been practicing in partnership with Dr. Barton.
Vi glanced over the note and hastened to Eddie, whom she found in the schoolroom, its only occupant at the moment.
"Here's a note from Isa, asking me to bring Rosie and come to Roselands for the rest of the day, after lessons are done. She thinks I must feel lonely. It is very kind, but what shall I do about it? Rosie would enjoy going, but would it be kind to you or the boys, or Molly?"
"I might take the boys over to the Oaks, but I don't know--oh, I think Molly would probably prefer solitude, as I happen to know that she has some writing to do. Well, what now?" seeing a hesitating, perplexed look on Vi's face.
"I cannot ask permission of papa or mamma."
"No, of course not; we must go to Mr. Daly for that now."
"I don't like it," she answered coloring; "it does seem as if nobody has the right to control us except our father and mother, and our grandparents."
"Only that they have given him the right for the present."
Mr. Daly came in at that instant, and Vi, placing the note in his hand, said "Will you please to look at this, sir, and tell me if I may accept the invitation?"
"I see no objection," he said, returning it with a kindly smile, "provided your lessons are well recited."
Mr. Daly was an excellent teacher, thoroughly prepared for his work by education, native talent for imparting the knowledge he possessed, love for the employment and for the young creatures entrusted to his care.
The liking was mutual, and study hours were soon voted only less enjoyable than when mamma was their loved instructress.
Molly occupied her place in the schoolroom as regularly as the others. It adjoined her apartments, and her wheeled chair required a very slight exertion of strength on the part of friend or servant to propel it from room to room.
Molly had already made herself a very thorough French and German scholar, and was hoping to turn her ability to translate to good account in the way of earning her own support; for there was no pauper instinct in the girl's noble nature, and able and willing as her cousin was to support her, she greatly preferred to earn her own living, though at the cost of much wearisome labor of hand and brain.
She was not of those who seem to forget that the command, "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work," is equally binding with that other, "In it (the seventh day) thou shalt not do any work," This lesson--that industry is commanded, idleness forbidden--was one which Elsie had ever been careful to instil into the minds of her children from their earliest infancy; nor was it enough, she taught them, that they should be doing something, they must be usefully employed, remembering that they were but stewards who must one day give an account to their Lord of all they had done with the talents entrusted to them.
"Is Dick well? was it a nice letter?" Violet asked, leaning over her cousin's chair when lessons were done.
"Oh very nice! he's well and doing famously, I must answer it this afternoon."
"Then you will not care for company?"
"Not particularly. Why?"
Vi told of her invitation.
"Go, by all means," said Molly. "You know Virgy has a friend with her, a Miss Reed. I want you to see her and tell me what she's like."
"I fear you'll have to see her yourself to find that out; I'm no portrait painter," Violet said with a smile as she ran lightly away to order the carriage and see to her own toilet and Rosie's.
They were simple enough; white dresses with blue sash and ribbons for Vi, ditto of pink for Rosie.
Miss Reed, dressed in a stiff silk and loaded with showy jewelry, sat in the drawing-room at Roselands in a bay-window overlooking the avenue. She was gazing eagerly toward its entrance, as though expecting some one.
"Yes, I've heard of the Travillas," she said in answer to a remark from Virginia Conly who stood by her side almost as showily attired as herself, "I've been told she was a great heiress."
"She was; and he was rich too; though I believe he lost a good deal during the war."
"They live splendidly, I suppose?"
"They've everything money can buy, but are nearly breaking their hearts just now, over one of their little girls who seems to have some incurable disease."
"Is that so? Well, they ought to have some trouble as well as other folks. I'm sorry though; for I'd set my heart on being invited there and seeing how they live."
"Oh they're all gone away except Vi and Rosie and the boys. But may be Vi will ask us there to dinner or tea. Ah here they come!"
"What splendid match horses! What an elegant carriage!" exclaimed Miss Reed, as a beautiful barouche, drawn by a pair of fine bays, came bowling up the avenue.
"Yes, they've come, it's the Ion carriage."
"But that's a young lady Pomp's handing out of it!" exclaimed Miss Reed the next moment, "and I thought you said it was only two children you expected."
"Yes, Vi's only thirteen," answered Virginia running to the door to meet her. "Vi, my dear, how good in you to come. How sweet you look!" kissing her. "Rosie too," bestowing a caress upon her also, "pink's so becoming to you, little pet, and blue equally so to Vi. This is my friend Miss Reed, Vi, I've been telling her about you."
Violet gave her hand, then drew back blushing and slightly disconcerted by the almost rude stare of the black eyes that seemed to be taking an inventory of her personal appearance and attire.
"Where is Isa?" she asked.
"Here, and very glad to see you, Vi," answered a silvery voice, and a tall, queenly looking girl of twenty, in rustling black silk and with roses in her hair and at her throat, took Violet's hands in hers and kissed her on both cheeks, then letting her go, saluted the little one in like manner.
"Why don't you do that to me? guess I like kisses as well as other folks, ha! ha!" cried a shrill voice, and a little withered up, faded woman with a large wax doll in her arms, came skipping into the room.
Her hair, plentifully sprinkled with grey, hung loosely about her neck, and she had bedizened herself with ribbons and faded artificial flowers of every hue.
"Well, Griselda," she continued, addressing the doll, which she dandled in her arms, regarding it with a look of fond admiration, "we don't care, do we, dear? We love and embrace one another, and that's enough."
"Oh, go back to your own room," said Virginia in a tone of annoyance, "we don't want you here."
"I'll go when I get ready, and not a minute sooner," was the rejoinder in a pettish tone. "Oh, here's visitors! what a pretty little girl! what's your name, little girl? Won't you come and play with me? I'll lend you Grimalkin, my other wax doll. She's a beauty; almost as pretty as Griselda. Now don't get mad at that, Grissy, dear," kissing the doll again and again.
Rose was frightened and clung to her sister, trying to hide behind her.
"It's Aunt Enna; she won't hurt you," whispered Vi; "she never hurts any one unless she is teased or worried into a passion."
"Won't she make me go with her! oh, don't let her, Vi."
"No, dear, you shall stay with me. And here is the nurse come to take her away," Violet answered, as the poor lunatic was led from the room by her attendant.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Miss Reed, who had not seen or heard of Enna before, turning to Virginia, "does she belong in the house? aren't you afraid of her?"
"Not at all; she is perfectly harmless. She is my mother's sister, and lost her reason some years ago, by an accidental injury to the head."
"I wonder you don't send her to an asylum."
"Perhaps it might be as well," returned Virginia indifferently, "but it's not my affair."
"Grandpa would never hear of such a thing!" said Isadore, indignantly.
"Mamma would not either, I am sure," said Violet. "Poor Aunt Enna! should she be sent away from all who love her, just because she is unfortunate?"
"Every one to their taste," remarked the visitor, shrugging her shoulders.
Vi inquired for her Aunt Louise and the younger members of the family, and was told that they and the grandfather were spending the day at Pinegrove.
"I was glad they decided to go to-day," said Isadore, seating Vi and herself comfortably on a sofa, then taking Rose on her lap and caressing her, "because I wanted you here, and to have you to myself. You see these two young ladies," glancing smilingly at her sister and guest, "are so fully taken up with each other, that for the most of the time I am quite detrop, and must look for entertainment elsewhere than in their society."
"Yes," said Virginia, with more candor than politeness, "Josie and I are all sufficient for each other; are we not, mon amie?"
"Very true, machere, yet I enjoy Isa's company, and am extremely delighted to have made the acquaintance of your charming cousin," remarked Miss Reed, with an insinuating bow directed to Violet.
"You do not know me yet," said Vi, modestly. "Though so tall, I am only a little girl and do not know enough to make an interesting companion for a young lady."
"Quite a mistake, Vi," said Isadore rising. "But there is the dinner-bell. Come let us try the soothing and exhilarating effect of food and drink upon our flagging spirits. We will not wait for Art; there's no knowing when he can leave his patients; and Cal's away on business."
On leaving the table, Isadore carried off her young cousins to her own apartments. Rose was persuaded to lie down and take a nap, while the older girls conversed together in an adjoining room.
"Isn't it delightful to be at home again, after all those years in the convent?" queried Vi.
"I enjoy home, certainly," replied Isa, "yet I deeply regretted leaving the sisters; for you cannot think how good and kind they were to me. Shall I tell you about it? about my life there?"
"Oh, do! I should so like to hear it."
Isadore smiled at the eager tone, the bright interested look, and at once began a long and minute description of the events of her school-days at the nunnery, ending with a eulogy upon convent life in general, and the nuns who had been her educators, in particular. "They lived such holy, devoted lives, were so kind, so good, so self-denying."
Violet listened attentively, making no remark, but Isadore read disapproval more than once in her speaking countenance.
"I wish your mamma would send you and Elsie there to finish," remarked Isa, breaking the pause which followed the conclusion of her narrative. "Should you not like to go?"
"No, oh no, no!"
"Isa, I could never, never do some of those things you say they require--bow to images or pictures, or kneel before them, or join in prayers or hymns to the Virgin."
"I don't know how you could be so wicked as to refuse. She is the queen of Heaven and mother of God."
"Isa!" and Violet looked inexpressibly shocked.
"You can't deny it. Wasn't Jesus God?"
"Yes; he is God. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.'"
"Ah! and was not the Virgin Mary his mother?'"
Vi looked perplexed for a moment, then brightening, "Ah, I know now,'" she said, "Jesus was God and man both.'"
"And--mamma told me--Mary was the mother of his human nature only, and it is blasphemous to call her the mother of God; and to do her homage is idolatry."
"So I thought before I went to the convent," said Isadore, "but the sisters convinced me of my error. Vi, I should like to show you something. Can you keep a secret?"
"I have never had a secret from mamma; I do not wish to have any."
"But you can't tell her everything now while she's away, and this concerns no one but myself. I know I can trust to your honor," and taking Vi's hand, she opened a door and drew her into a large closet, lighted by a small circular window quite high up in the wall. The place was fitted up as an oratory, with a picture of the Virgin and child, and a crucifix, standing on a little table with a prayer-book and rosary beside it.
Vi had never seen such things, but she had heard of them and knew what they signified. Glancing from the picture to the crucifix, she started back in horror, and without a word hastily retreated to the dressing-room, where she dropped into a chair, pale, trembling and distressed.
"Isadore, Isadore!" she cried, clasping her hands, and lifting her troubled eyes to her cousin's face, "have you--have you become a papist?"
"I am a member of the one true church," returned her cousin coldly. "How bigoted you are, Violet. I could not have believed it of so sweet and gentle a young thing as you. I trust you will not consider it your duty to betray me to mamma?"
"Betray you? can you think I would? So Aunt Louise does not know? Oh, Isa, can you think it right to hide it from her--your own mother?"
"Yes; because I was directed to do so by my father confessor, and because my motive is a good one, and 'the end sanctifies the means.'"
"Isa, mamma has taught me, and the Bible says it too, that it is never right to do evil that good may come."
"Perhaps you and your mamma do not always understand the real meaning of what the Bible says. It must be that many people misunderstand it, else why are there so many denominations of Protestants, teaching opposite doctrines, and all professing to get them from the Bible?"
Violet in her extreme youth and want of information and ability to argue, was not prepared with an answer.
"Does Virgy know?" she asked.
"About my change of views and my oratory? Yes."
"And does she----"
"Virgy is altogether worldly, and cares nothing for religion of any kind."
Vi's face was full of distress; "Isa," she said, "may I ask you a question?"
"What is it?"
"When you pray, do you kneel before that--that----"
"Crucifix? sometimes, at others before the Virgin and child."
Vi shuddered. "O Isa, have you forgotten the second commandment? 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.'"
"I have not forgotten, but am content to do as the church directs," returned Isadore, coldly.
"Isa, didn't they promise Aunt Louise that they would not interfere with your religion?"
"And then broke their promise. How can you think they are good?"
"They did it to save my soul. Was not that a good and praiseworthy motive?"
"Yes; but if they thought it their duty to try to make you believe as they do, they should not have promised not to do so."
"But in that case I should never have been placed in the convent, and they would have had no opportunity to labor for my conversion."
Earnestly, constantly had Elsie endeavored to obey the command. "Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
Thus Violet's memory was stored with texts, and these words from Isaiah suggested themselves as a fit comment upon Isadore's last remark. "Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."