Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Let us go back again mother, Oh, take me home to die."
"And so, Isa, my uncle's predictions that your popish teachers would violate their promise not to meddle with your faith, have proved only too true," said Calhoun Conly, stepping forward, as Mr. Daly finished his last quotation from the Scriptures.
In the heat of their discussion, neither the minister nor Isadore had noticed his entrance, but he had been standing there, an interested listener, long enough to learn the sad fact of his sister's perversion.
"They only did their duty, and I shall not have them blamed for it," she said, haughtily.
"They richly deserve blame, and you cannot prevent it from being given them," he answered firmly, and with flashing eyes. "I have come, by my mother's request, to take you and Virginia home, inviting Miss Reed to accompany us."
"I am ready," said Isadore, rising, the others doing likewise.
"But you will stay to tea?" Violet said. "Cal, you are not in too great haste for that?"
"I'm afraid I am, little cousin," he answered with a smile of acknowledgment of her hospitality. "I must meet a gentleman on business, half an hour from now."
Vi expressed her regrets, and ran after the girls, who had already left the room to prepare for their drive.
They seemed in haste to get away.
"We've had enough of Mr. Daly's prosing about religion," said Virginia.
"I'm sick of it," chimed in Miss Reed, "what difference does it make what you believe, if you're only sincere and live right?"
"'With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,'" said Violet; "and 'the just shall live by faith.'"
"You're an apt pupil," sneered Virginia.
"It is mamma's doing that my memory is stored with texts," returned the child, reddening.
Isadore was silent and gloomy, and took leave of her young cousin so coldly, as to quite sadden her sensitive spirit.
Violet had enjoyed being made much of by Isa, who was a beautiful and brilliant young lady, and this sudden change in her manner was far from pleasant. Still the pain it gave her was greatly overbalanced by the relief of having her perplexities removed, her doubts set at rest.
Standing on the veranda, she watched the carriage as it rolled away down the avenue, then hailed with delight a horseman who came galloping up, alighted and giving the bridle to Solon, turned to her with open arms, and a smile that proclaimed him the bearer of good tidings, before he uttered a word.
"Grandpa," she cried, springing to his embrace, "Oh, is Lily better?"
"Yes," he said, caressing her, then turning to greet Rosie and the boys, who had come running at the sound of his voice. "I have had a letter from your mother, in which she says the dear invalid seems decidedly better."
"Oh, joy! joy!" cried the children, Rosie hugging and kissing her grandfather, the boys capering about in a transport of gladness.
"And will they come home soon, grandpa?" asked Eddie.
"Nothing is said about that, I presume they will linger at the North till the weather begins to grow too cool for Lily," Mr. Dinsmore answered, shaking hands with Mr. Daly, who, hearing his voice on the veranda, stepped out to inquire for news of the absent ones.
While they talked together, Vi ran away in search of Aunt Chloe.
She found her on the back veranda, enjoying a chat with Aunt Dicey and Uncle Joe.
"Oh, mammy, good news! good news!" Vi cried, half breathless with haste and happiness; "grandpa had a letter from mamma, and our darling Lily is better, much better."
"Bress de Lord!" ejaculated her listeners in chorus.
"Bress his holy name, I hope de chile am gwine to discover her health agin," added Uncle Joe. "I'se been a prayin' pow'ful strong for her."
"'Spect der is been more'n you at dat business, Uncle Joe;" remarked Aunt Dicey, "'spect I knows one ole niggah dat didn't fail to disremember de little darlin' at de throne ob grace."
"De bressed lamb!" murmured Aunt Chloe, dropping a tear on Violet's golden curls as she clasped her to her breast, "she's de Lord's own, and he'll take de bes' care of her; in dis world and in de nex'; be sho' ob dat, honey. Ise mighty glad for her and my dear missus; and for you too Miss Wi'let. You's been frettin' yo' heart out 'bout Miss Lily."
"I've been very anxious about her, mammy; and something else has been troubling me too, but it's all right now," Violet answered with a glad look, then releasing herself, ran back to her grandfather.
She had seen less than usual of him for several weeks past, and wanted an opportunity to pour out all her heart to him.
He had gone up to Molly's sitting-room, and she followed him thither.
With Rosie on his knee, Harold and Herbert standing on either side, and Eddie sitting near, he was chatting gayly with his crippled niece, who was as bright and cheery as any of the group, all of whom were full of joy over the glad tidings he had brought.
"Grandpa," said Vi, joining them, "it seems a good while since you were here for more than a short call. Won't you stay now for the rest of the day?"
"Yes, and I propose that we drive down to the lake, Molly and all, and have a row. I think it would do you all good. The weather is delightful."
The motion was carried by acclamation, Molly's maid was summoned, Eddie went down to order the carriage, and the rest scattered to prepare for the expedition.
It was a lovely October day, the air balmy, the woods gorgeous in their richly colored autumn robes; gold, scarlet and crimson, russet and green mingled in gay profusion; the slanting beams of the descending sun fell athwart the lakelet, like a broad band of shimmering gold, and here and there lent an added glory to the trees. The boat glided swiftly over the rippling waters, now in sunshine, now in shadow, and the children hushed their merry clatter, silenced by the beauty and stillness of the scene.
Tea was waiting when they returned, and on leaving the table the younger ones bade good-night, and went away with Vi to be put to bed.
She had a story or some pleasant talk for them every night; doing her best to fill mamma's place.
Vi was glad to find her grandpa alone in the library when she came down again.
"Come, sit on my knee, as your dear mamma used to do at your age," he said, "and tell me what you have been doing these past weeks while I have seen so little of you."
"It is so nice," she said as she took the offered seat, and he passed his arm about her, "so nice to have a grandpa to pet me; especially when I've no father or mother at home to do it."
"So we are mutually satisfied," he said. "Now what have you to tell me? any questions to ask? any doubts or perplexities to be cleared away?"
"Grandpa, has anybody been telling you anything?" she asked.
"No, nothing about you."
"Then I'll just tell you all." And she gave him a history of Isadore's efforts to pervert her, and their effect upon her; also of the conversation of that afternoon, in which Mr. Daly had answered the questions of Isadore, that had most perplexed and troubled her.
Mr. Dinsmore was grieved and distressed by Isa's defection from the evangelical faith, and indignant at her attempt to lead Vi astray also.
"Are you fully satisfied now on all the points?" he asked.
"There are one or two things I should like to ask you about, grandpa," she said. "Isa thinks a convent life so beautiful and holy, so shut out from the world, with all its cares and wickedness, she says; so quiet and peaceful, so full of devotion and the self-denial the Lord Jesus taught when he said, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'
"Do you think leaving one's dear home and father and mother, and brothers and sisters to be shut up for life with strangers, in a convent, was the cross he meant, grandpa?"
"No, I am perfectly sure it was not; the Bible teaches us to do our duty in the place where God puts us; it recognizes the family relationships; teaches the reciprocal duties of kinsmen, parents and children, husbands and wives, but has not a word to say to monks or nuns.
"It bids us take up the cross God lays upon us, and not one of our own invention; nor did one of the holy men and women it tells of live the life of an anchorite. Nor can peace and freedom from temptation and sin be found in a convent any more than elsewhere; because we carry our evil natures with us wherever we go."
"No; peace and happiness are to be found only in being 'followers of God as dear children,' doing our duty in that station in life where he has placed us; our motive love to him; leading us to desire above all things to live to his honor and glory."
Violet sat with downcast eyes, her face full of earnest thought. She was silent for a moment after Mr. Dinsmore had ceased speaking, then lifting her head and turning to him with a relieved look, "Thank you, grandpa," she said. "I am fully satisfied on that point. Now, there is just one more. Isa says the divisions among Protestants show that the Bible is not a book for common people to read for themselves. They cannot understand it right; if they did they would all believe alike."
Mr. Dinsmore smiled. "Who is to explain it?" he asked.
"Oh, Isa says that is for the priests to do; and they and the people must accept the decisions of the church."
"Well, my child, it would take too much time to tell you just how impossible it is to find out what are the authoritative decisions of the Romish Church on more than one important point;--how one council would contradict another--one pope affirm what his predecessors had denied, and vice versa; councils contradict popes, and popes councils.
"As to the duty of studying the Bible for ourselves--we have the master's own command, 'Search the Scriptures,' which settles the question at once for all his obedient disciples. And no one who sets himself to the work humbly and teachably, looking to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment, will fail to find the path to heaven. 'The way-faring men, though fools shall not err therein.' Jesus said 'The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things.'
"And, my child, none of us is responsible for the interpretation that his neighbor puts upon God's word,--his letter addressed to us all; each of us must give account of himself to God."
Violet's doubts and perplexities had vanished like morning mist before the rising sun; her natural gayety of spirits returned, and she became again as was her wont, the sunshine of the house, full of life and hope, with a cheery word and sunny smile for every one, from Mr. Daly down to Rosie, and from Aunt Chloe to the youngest child at the quarter.
She had not been so happy since the departure of her parents.
Eddie, Molly and the younger ones, reflected in some measure her bright hopefulness, and the renewed ardor with which she pursued her studies, and for some days all went on prosperously at Ion.
Then came a change.
One evening, Vi, having seen Rosie in bed, and bade Harold and Herbert good-night also, returned to the schoolroom, where Eddie and their cousin were busied with their preparations for the morrow's recitations.
She had settled herself before her desk, and was taking out her books, when the sound of horses' hoofs coming swiftly up the avenue, caused her to spring up and run to the window.
"It is grandpa," she said. "He seldom comes so late, oh, Eddie!" and she dropped into a chair, her heart beating wildly.
"Don't be alarmed," Eddie said, rising and coming toward her, his own voice trembling with apprehension, "it may be good news again."
"Oh, do you think so? Can it be?" she asked.
"Surely, Vi, uncle would come as fast as possible if he had good news to bring," said Molly. "Perhaps it is that they are coming home; it is getting so late in the fall now, that I'm expecting every day to hear that."
"Let's go down to grandpa," said Vi, rising, while a faint color stole into her cheek, which had grown very pale at the thought that the little pet sister might be dead or dying. "No, no," as a step was heard on the stairs, "he is coming to us."
The door opened, and Mr. Dinsmore entered. One look into his grief-stricken face, and Violet threw herself into his arms, and wept upon his breast.
He soothed her with silent caresses; his heart almost too full for speech; but at length, "It is not the worst," he said in low, moved tones, "she lives, but has had a relapse, and they are bringing her home."
"Home to die!" echoed Violet's heart, and she clung about her grandfather's neck, weeping almost convulsively.
Tears coursed down Molly's cheeks also, and Eddie, hardly less overcome than his sister, asked tremulously, "How soon may we expect them, grandpa?"
"In about two days, I think; and my dear children, we must school ourselves to meet Lily with calmness and composure, lest we injure, by exciting and agitating her. We must be prepared to find her more feeble than when she went away, and much exhausted by the fatigue of the journey."
Worse than when she went away! and even then the doctors gave no hope! It was almost as if they already saw her lying lifeless before them.
They wept themselves to sleep that night, and in the morning it was as though death had already entered the house; a solemn stillness reigned in all its rooms, and the quiet tread, the sad, subdued tones, the oft falling tear, attested the warmth of affection in which the dear, dying child was held.
A parlor car was speeding southward; its occupants, a noble looking man, a lovely matron, a blooming, beautiful girl of seventeen, a rosy babe in his nurse's arms, and a pale, fragile, golden-haired, blue-eyed child of seven, lying now on a couch with her head in her mother's lap, now resting in her father's arms for a little.
She seemed the central figure of the group, all eyes turning ever and anon, upon her in tenderest solicitude, every ear attentive to her slightest plaint, every hand ready to minister to her wants.
She was very quiet, very patient, answering their anxious, questioning words and looks with many a sweet, affectionate smile or whisper of grateful appreciation of their ministry of love.
Sometimes she would beg to be lifted up for a moment that she might see the rising or setting sun, or gaze upon the autumnal glories of the woods, and as they drew near their journey's end she would ask, "Are we almost there, papa? shall I soon see my own sweet home, and dear brothers and sisters?"
At last the answer was, "Yes, my darling; in a few moments we shall leave the car for our own easy carriage, and one short stage will take us home to Ion."
Mr. Dinsmore, his son, and Arthur Conly met them at the station, and told how longingly their dear ones at home were looking for them.
The sun had set, and shadows began to creep over the landscape as the carriage stopped before the door and Lily was lifted out, borne into the house and gently laid upon her own little bed.
She was nearly fainting with fatigue and weakness, and dearly as the others were loved, father and mother had no eyes for any but her, no word of greeting, as the one bore her past, the other hastily followed, with the doctor and grandfather, to her room.
But Elsie and Vi were quickly locked in each other's arms, mingling their tears together, while Rosie and the boys gathered round, awaiting their turn.
"Oh!" sobbed Rosie, "mamma didn't speak to me; she didn't look at me; she doesn't love me any more; nor my papa either."
"Yes, they do, little pet," Elsie said, leaving Violet to embrace the little sister; "and sister Elsie loves you dearly, dearly. Harold and Herbert too; as well as our big oldest brother," smiling up at Eddie through her tears, as he stood by her side.
He bent down to kiss her sweet lips.
"Lily?" he said in a choking voice.
With a great effort Elsie controlled her emotion, and answered low and tremulously, "She is almost done with pain. She is very happy--no doubt, no fear, only gladness that soon she will be
'Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on his gentle breast'"
Eddie turned away with a broken sob. Vi uttered a low cry of anguish; and Rosie and the boys broke into a wail of sorrow.
Till that moment they had not given up hope that the dear one might even yet be restored.
In the sick-room the golden head lay on a snow white pillow, the blue eyes were closed, and the breath came pantingly from the pale, parted lips.
"Cousin Arthur" had his finger on the slender wrist, counting its pulsations, while father and grandfather stood looking on in anxious solicitude, and the mother bent over her fading flower, asking in tender whispered accents, "are you in pain, my darling?"
"No, mamma, only so tired; so tired!"
Only the mother's quick ear, placed close to the pale lips, could catch the low-breathed words.
The doctor administered a cordial, then a little nourishment was given, and the child fell asleep.
The mother sat watching her, lost to all else in the world. Arthur came to her side with a whispered word about her own need of rest and refreshment after her fatiguing journey.
"How long?" she asked in the same low tone, glancing first at the white face on the pillow, then at him.
"Some days, I hope; and she is likely now to sleep for hours. Let me take your place."
Elsie bent over the child, listening for a moment to her breathing, then accepting his offer, followed her husband and father from the room.
Rosie, waiting and watching in the hall without, sprang to her mother's embrace with a low, joyful cry, "Mamma, mamma! oh, you've been gone so long, so long! I thought you'd never come back."
"Mamma is very glad to be with you again," Elsie said, holding her close for a moment, then resigning her to her father, she sought the others, all near at hand, and waiting eagerly for a sight of her loved face, a word from her gentle lips.
They were all longing for one of the old confidential talks, Violet, perhaps, more than the others; but it could not be now, the mother could scarcely allow herself time for a little rest, ere she must return to her station by the side of the sick bed.
But Molly was not forgotten or neglected. Elsie went to her with kind inquiries, loving cheering words and a message from Dick, whom she had seen a few days before.
Molly sat thinking it over gratefully, after her cousin had left the room.
"How kind and thoughtful for others she is! how sweet and gentle, how patient and resigned. I will try to be more like her. How truly she obeys the command 'Be pitiful, be courteous.'
"But why should one so lovely, so devoted a Christian, be visited with so sore a trial? I can see why my trials were sent. I was so proud and worldly; and they were necessary to show me my need of Jesus; but she has loved and leaned upon him since she was a little child."