Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Envy is but the smoke of low estate, Ascending still against the fortunate." --BROOKE.
It was dark and raining a little when the carriage turned into the avenue at Ion; but the whole front of the house was ablaze with lights, the hall door stood wide open, and a double line of servants in holiday attire, each sooty face dressed in smiles, stood waiting to welcome the weary travelers home.
There were many hearty shakings and kissings of hands; many fervent ejaculations: "God bless you, Massa and Missus!" "Tank de Lord you's got home again, honey. We's been pinin' for you darlin's and for de sight of de new baby," and with the last words the voices were lowered at a sign from Aunt Chloe, in whose arms the little Lily lay sleeping sweetly.
There was some fretting among the weary little ones, but mamma and nurses were kind and gentle, and a good supper and bed soon cured all their troubles for that night.
Little Elsie was roused from her slumbers by a gentle shake, and starting up in bed, found the sun shining and Vi standing by her side with eager, excited face.
"Come, come to the window!" she cried. "It does seem as if I must be dreaming; it wasn't there before, I'm sure."
"What?" asked Elsie, springing out upon the floor and hurrying after Vi to the window from which she had witnessed the burning of the schoolhouse.
"There!" said Violet, pointing with her finger, "there! can you see it too?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Elsie, clasping her hands in a sort of ecstasy of delight, "oh, aren't papa and mamma good? How did they ever come to think of it! and how could they get it done while they were away?"
"Grandpa, Uncle Horace and Cal," suggested Vi. "Oh, aren't you glad? Aren't you glad, Elsie?"
"I should think so! and the boat is ever so pretty. Let's hurry and get dressed and go down and see it closer."
Rowing and sailing upon the bayou and lakelet had been the children's greatest pleasure at Viamede, their greatest regret in leaving it. Knowing this, their ever indulgent parents had prepared a pleasant surprise for them, causing a small tract of barren land on the Ion estate to be turned into an artificial lake. It was this, shining in the golden beams of the morning sun, and a beautiful boat moored to the hither shore, that had called forth from the lips of the little girls those exclamations of almost incredulous wonder and delight.
"Yes; I'll ring for Dinah," cried Vi, skipping across the room and putting out her hand to lay hold of the bell pull.
"Wait, Vi, our prayers first, you know," said Elsie.
"Oh, yes! I do want to thank God for being so good to us; the pretty lake and boat and all."
"Dear kind parents, safe journey home, too, and oh more things than we can count," added Elsie, as they knelt down side by side.
This duty performed with no irreverent haste, the maid was summoned and a careful toilet made in season to afford them time for a walk before mamma would be ready to see them.
They found their father in the lower veranda talking with the overseer, while Solon stood waiting with Beppo's bridle in his hand, the horse pawing the ground with impatience.
Eddie was there, too, caressing Bruno who seemed as glad to be at home again as any of the rest. Uttering a joyous bark he left his young master and bounded to meet the little girls.
Mr. Travilla turned at the sound and with a kind fatherly smile, held out his hands.
"O papa," they cried running to him, "how good of you to have it made for us!"
"Good-morning, my darlings," he said, giving and receiving caresses, "but what are you talking about?"
"Why the lake, papa; the lake and the boat."
"Lake?" exclaimed Eddie, "why where?"
"Oh, you couldn't see it from your windows," said Elsie. "Papa, papa, may we go now and look at it?"
"Yes," he said, taking a hand of each. "Larkin, I'll see you again after breakfast. Come, Eddie, my son, you too, and Bruno."
A brisk five minutes' walk brought them to the shore of the lake, a tiny one, scarce a quarter of a mile in circumference, not very deep and the water so clear that the pebbly bottom could be distinctly seen; gold and silver fish, too, gliding hither and thither; while a pretty, gayly painted row-boat lying at the water's edge, rocked gently in the morning breeze.
Eddie hailed the scene with a shout of delight; the little girls danced about gleefully, Vi clapping her hands and asking eagerly if they might get into the boat.
Papa looked at his watch, "Yes, there will be time for a row; one trip around the lake. Step in, all of you, and I will take the oars."
Vi was quite ready and Eddie gallantly handed her in, then turned and offered his hand to Elsie. She demurred. "But mamma! shouldn't we have mamma with us the first time?" and she looked up inquiringly into her father's face.
"Yes, yes, of course!" cried the others making haste to step ashore again, "we want dear mamma with us the very first time."
Papa smiled approval. "Then we will go back," he said, "and after breakfast, if mamma is willing, we will all come and take a row together; the boat is large enough to carry us all at once."
Mamma's consent was readily obtained, for to please her children was her great delight. So shortly after breakfast they all repaired to the lake and rowed round and across it several times, a merry, happy party.
At Roselands the family were gathered about the breakfast table and the principal topic of conversation was the return of the party from Viamede. Calhoun had been to the Oaks the previous evening and learned of their safe arrival.
"We must all go this morning and call upon them," said Mr. Dinsmore.
"We'll divide our forces," said Cal, laughing. "Suppose grandpa, mother and Aunt Enna, go first to the Oaks; and we younger ones to Ion?"
"Very well," replied the old gentleman, "I shall spend an hour with my son, then ride over to see Elsie and her little flock. How many of you young folks want to go to Ion in the first division?"
"I!" "And I!" "And I!" cried one and another.
"But you can't go all at once," returned their grandfather, looking around upon them with an amused smile; "the carriage is roomy, but really you are too many for it. Besides wouldn't there be some danger of overwhelming your cousins?"
"Well, I'm going, let who will stay at home," observed Molly Percival with cool decision. "The boys can ride, I mean Cal, and Art, and Dick and Wal; they all have ponies and the two carriages will hold the rest of us if we crowd a little."
"I'm not going to be bothered with Bob or Betty," said her mother; "they may go with you, or wait till another time."
"Then they'll wait," remarked Isadore Conly, "for I shall wear my best silk suit, and I have no notion of having it tumbled."
"Last year's suit is quite good enough for the occasion," said her mother, "they're only cousins."
"But rich ones, that can afford to dress, and I'll not go a step if I have to look shabby."
"Nor I," chimed in her sister. "So mamma you may as well resign yourself to the situation. It's no good finding fault or objecting," she added with a laugh.
"Take your own way, then," returned her mother indifferently, "but remember there'll be no more new dresses this season."
"Dear me, why aren't we as rich as the Travillas?" pouted Isadore. "I do think things are very unequally divided in this world."
"Never mind; the wheel of fortune often takes a turn," said her mother. "You may have money left you some day (some of your father's relations are still rich), and you may make a grand match."
"How long will it take you girls to don your finery?" ask Cal, pulling out his watch. "We'd better start as soon as we can: the sun will be getting hot."
"I'm done," said Molly, jumping up, "and I'll be ready by the time the carriage can be brought to the door. Come Isa and Virgy, you've eaten enough. Cousin Elsie will be sure to treat us to something good." And she ran gayly from the room.
Molly, just turned thirteen, and already as tall as her mother, was a bright, lively girl, full of fun and frolic. She was not a beauty, but had a clear complexion and fine dark eyes, and good humor and intelligence lent a charm to her face that made it more than ordinarily attractive.
Dick had always been fond of her, and was beginning to take a brotherly pride in her good looks and intellectual gifts.
Enna's feelings toward her were divided between motherly pride and affection on the one hand, and on the other the dread of being made to appear old by the side of so tall a daughter; a dread that made her jealous of Dick also.
The Conly girls, too, were growing fast, giving promise of fair, graceful womanhood, Isadore particularly of great beauty; which her mother fondly hoped would be the means of securing her a wealthy husband; for Mrs. Conly's affections were wholly set upon the things of this life; by her and her sister Enna, wealth and beauty were esteemed the highest good, and their children were trained in accordance with that view; the moral atmosphere of the house being very different from that of Ion, where the lives and conversation of the parents were such as to leave no doubt in the minds of their children, that to them the things of time and sense were as nothing in comparison with those of eternity.
Enna followed her daughter into the dressing-room they used in common.
"Wear the very best you have, Molly," she said, "I don't want you to be looked down upon as a poor relation, or to have it said that the Conlys dress better than my children."
"I'm sure they don't," said Molly, ringing for the maid, "though they'd like to if they could, and are always jealous when grandpa makes me a present."
"Of course they are, and they manage to get more than their fair share, too," acquiesced the mother in a tone of irritation; "but do you see to it that they don't get ahead of you at Ion; remember Elsie is as rich as a Jew, and likes the credit of being generous, so keep on the right side of her, if you want handsome presents."
"I'm sure she is generous and doesn't give only for the credit of it," said Molly.
"Don't give me any impudence," returned her mother sharply. "Rachel," to the maid who just then came in in answer to the bell, "dress Miss Molly first, and be quick about it."
Enna superintended the business in person, and in a way that sorely tried the temper and nerves of both Molly and the maid; the child's sash must be tied and retied, her hat bent this way and that, her collar and brooch changed again and again, till she was ready to cry with impatience; and when at last she started for the door, she was called back, and Rachel ordered to change her slippers for gaiter boots.
"I don't want to wear them!" cried Molly, fairly stamping with impatience. "The heels are so high and narrow, I can't bear them."
"They're just the style and make your foot look beautiful," said her mother, "sit down and let Rachel put them on you."
"Grandpa says they're dangerous, and so does Dr. Barton, too," grumbled Molly.
"Put them on her, Rachel," commanded Enna. "Molly, behave yourself, or you'll stay at home."
The child submitted rather sullenly, muttering that she would be late.
Rachel was fastening the second boot, when Isadore and Virginia were heard running down the stairs, calling out that the carriage was at the door.
"There! I knew you'd make me too late!" cried Molly. "Oh, Rachel, do hurry!"
"Yes, Miss Molly, best I kin; dar dat's de las' button."
Up sprang Molly, and away in hot haste. She gained the landing, caught her heel in the carpet on the first step of the next flight, and a wild shriek rang through the house, accompanied by the sound of a heavy body tumbling and rolling down the stairs.
Echoing the scream, Enna rushed out into the upper hall.
Calhoun at the foot of the stairs, was picking Molly up.
"Is she hurt? Is she killed?" asked the mother, "Molly, Molly, how did you come to be so awkward?"
"I wasn't! it was those heels; I knew they'd throw me down some day!" cried the child in tones of mingled anger, fright and pain.
"H'm! you're not killed; haven't even had the temper knocked out of you," remarked Enna, going back to her dressing.
"Poor child, you must be hurt," said Calhoun, laying her gently on a sofa, "but no bones broken, I hope?"
"I--I don't know," sobbed Molly, "it's my back. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"Oh, Molly, are you much hurt? shall I go for the doctor?" asked Dick, coming to her side pale with fright. "Mac's right here at the door, ready saddled and bridled, and----"
"Go for the doctor?" interrupted Molly. "No, indeed! It's very good in you, Dick, but I don't want him; I am going to Ion with the rest of you. I'm ready now."
"You don't look much like it; you're as pale as a ghost," he said, Calhoun adding, "You'd better lie still for a while, Molly; Dick or I will take you over this evening, if you find yourself able to go then."
"Thank you, but I'm going now," she answered with decision, getting up and taking Dick's arm.
He helped her to the carriage, where Isadore, Virginia, and some of the younger ones sat waiting, and placed her in it.
She wiped away her tears and tried to smile, while answering the questions and condolences of the others, and the party moved on.
By the time Ion was reached, most of them had nearly forgotten Molly's accident, till Elsie remarked that she was looking pale, and asked if she were quite well.
That brought out the story of her fall.
Elsie heard it with grave concern but asked few questions as Molly seemed annoyed that the subject had been introduced. It was a habit of her mother's to scold her for awkwardness, and the child was sensitive on that point.
When the young people had left and the older members of the Roselands family called, Elsie seized a favorable opportunity to speak of Molly's pale looks and urge the importance of calling in a physician that if there were any reason to apprehend serious results from the fall, measures might be promptly taken to avert the danger.
"She can't have been seriously hurt," returned Enna coldly, "or she wouldn't have been ready to get into the carriage the next minute and ride over here."
"By the way," said her father, "I haven't heard what caused her fall."
"She's an awkward child, always tumbling about," returned Enna reddening.
"Especially since she wears those fashionable boots with the high narrow heels," he remarked. "Had she them on when she fell?"
Enna reluctantly admitted that such was the fact.
"I'll send them into town to-day, with orders that full half the heel shall be taken off," he said with angry decision.