Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Let them die, Let them die now, thy children! so thy heart Shall wear their beautiful image all undimm'd Within it to the last." --MRS. HEMANS.
Lily seemed a little stronger in the morning, and the brothers and sisters were allowed to go in by turns and speak to her.
Violet chose to be the last, thinking that would, perhaps, secure a little longer interview.
Lily with mamma by her side, lay propped up with pillows--her eyes bright, a lovely color on her almost transparent cheek, her luxurious hair lying about her like heaps of shining gold, her red lips smiling a joyous welcome, as Vi stooped over her.
Could it be that she was dying?
"Oh, darling, you may get well even yet?" cried Vi, in tones tremulous with joy and hope.
Lily smiled, and stroked her sister's face lovingly with her little thin white hand.
Violet was startled by its scorching heat.
"You are burning up with fever!" she exclaimed, tears gushing from her eyes.
"Yes; but I shall soon be well," said the child clasping her sister close; "I'm going home to the happy land to be with Jesus, Vi; oh, don't you wish you were going too? Mamma I'm tired; please tell Vi my text."
"'And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity,'" the mother repeated in a low sweet voice.
"For Jesus' sake," softly added the dying one. "He has loved me and washed me from my sins in his own blood."
Vi fell on her knees by the bedside, and buried her face in the clothes, vainly trying to stifle her bursting sobs.
"Poor Vi," sighed Lily. "Mamma, comfort her."
Mamma drew the weeper to her bosom, and spoke tenderly to her of the loving Saviour and the home he has gone to prepare for his people.
"Our darling will be so safe and happy there," she said, "and she is glad to go, to rest in his bosom, and wait there for us, as, in his own good time, he shall call one after another to himself.
"'Tis there we'll meet, At Jesus' feet, When we meet to part no more.'"
Tears were coursing down the mother's cheeks as she spoke, but her manner was calm and quiet. To her, as to her child standing upon the very brink of Jordan, heaven seemed very near, very real, and while mourning that soon that beloved face and form would be seen no more on earth she rejoiced with joy unspeakable, for the blessedness that should be hers forever and forevermore.
There were no tears in Lily's eyes, "Mamma, I'm so happy," she said smiling. "Dear Vi, you must be glad for me and not cry so. I have no pain to-day; and I'll never have any more when I get home where the dear Saviour is. Mamma, please read about the beautiful city."
Elsie took up the Bible that lay beside the pillow, and opening at the Revelation, read its last two chapters--the twenty-first and twenty-second.
Lily lay intently listening, Violet's hand fast clasped in hers.
"Darling Vi," she whispered, "you love Jesus, don't you?"
Violet nodded assent: she could not speak.
"And you're willing to let him have me, aren't you, dear?"
"Yes, yes," but the tears fell fast, and "Oh, what shall I do without you?" she cried with a choking sob.
"It won't be long," said Lily. "Mamma says it will seem only a very little while when it is past."
Her voice sank with the last words, and she closed her eyes with a weary sigh.
"Go, dear daughter, go away for the present," the mother said to Violet, who instantly obeyed.
Lily lingered for several days, suffering little except from weakness, always patient and cheerful, talking so joyfully of "going home to Jesus," that death seemed robbed of all its gloom; for it was not of the grave they thought in connection with her, but of the glories of the upper sanctuary, the bliss of those who dwell forever with the Lord.
Father, brothers and sisters often gathered for a little while about her bed; for she dearly loved them all; but the mother scarcely left her day or night; the mother whose gentle teachings had guided her childish feet into the path that leads to God, whose ministry of love had made the short life bright and happy, spite of weakness and pain.
It was in the early morning that the end came.
She had been sleeping quietly for some hours, sleeping while darkness passed away till day had fully dawned and the east was flushing with crimson and gold.
Her mother sat by the bedside gazing with tender glistening eyes upon the little wan face, thinking how placid was its expression, what an almost unearthly beauty it wore, when suddenly the large azure eyes opened wide, gazing steadily into hers, while the sweetest smile played about the lips.
"Mamma, dear mamma, how good you've been to me! Jesus is here, he has come for me. I'm going now. Dear, darling mamma, kiss me good-bye."
"My darling! my darling!" Elsie cried, pressing a kiss of passionate love upon the sweet lips.
"Dear mamma," they faintly whispered--and were still.
Kneeling by the bedside, Elsie gathered the little wasted form in her arms, pillowing the beautiful golden head upon her bosom, while again and again she kissed the pale brow, the cheeks, the lips; then laying it down gently she stood gazing upon it with unutterable love and mingled joy and anguish.
"It was well with the child," and no rebellious thought arose in her heart, but ah, what an aching void was there! how empty were her arms, though so many of her darlings were still spared to her.
A quiet step drew near, a strong arm was passed about her waist, and a kind hand drew her head to a resting-place on her husband's breast.
"Is it so?" he said in moved tones, gazing through a mist of tears upon the quiet face of the young sleeper. "Ah, darling, our precious lamb is safely folded at last. He has gathered her in his arms and is carrying her in his bosom."
There was no bitterness in the tears that were shed to the memory of little Lily; her short life had been so full of suffering, her passing away was so joyful that they must rejoice for her even while they wept for their own heavy loss.
They laid her body in the family burialground and mamma and the children went very often to scatter flowers upon the graves, reserving the fairest and sweetest for the little mound that looked so fresh and new.
"But she is not here," Rosie would say, "she's gone to the dear home above where Jesus is. And she's so happy. She'll never be sick any more because it says, 'Neither shall there be any more pain.'"
Lily was never spoken of as lost or as dead; she had only gone before to the happy land whither they all were journeying, and where they should find her again blooming and beautiful; they spoke of her often and with cheerfulness, though tears would sometimes fall at the thought that the separation must be so long.
Elsie was much worn out with the long nursing, which she would not resign to other hands, and, as Mr. and Mrs. Daly were well pleased to have it so arranged, they still retained their posts in the household.
But the children again enjoyed the pleasant evening talks, and the prized morning half hour with mamma. They might go to her at other times also, and it was not long before Vi found an opportunity to unburden her mind by a full account of all the doubts and perplexities that had so troubled her, and the manner in which they had been removed, to her great comfort and peace.
It was in the afternoon of the second day after the funeral, the two older girls being alone with their mother in her boudoir.
Elsie was startled at the thought of the peril her child had been in.
"I blame myself," she said, "that I have not guarded you more carefully against these fearful errors. We will now take up the subject together, my children and I, and study it thoroughly; and we will invite Isa and Virgy to join with us in our search after truth."
"Molly also, mamma, if she is willing," suggested her namesake daughter.
"Certainly; but I count her among my children. Ah, I have not seen her for several days! I fear she has been feeling neglected. I will go to her now," she added, rising from the couch on which she had been reclining. "And you may both go with me, if you wish."
Isa had been with Molly for the last half hour.
"I came on that unpleasant business of making a call of condolence," she announced on her entrance, "but they told me Cousin Elsie was lying down to rest and her girls were with her--Elsie and Vi--so not wishing to disturb them, I'll visit with you first, if you like."
"I'm glad to see you," Molly said. "Please be seated."
Isadore seemed strangely embarrassed and sat for some moments without speaking.
"What is the matter, Isa?" Molly asked at length.
"I think it was really unkind in mamma to send me on this errand; it was her place to come, but she said Cousin Elsie was so bound up in that child that she would be overwhelmed with grief, and she (mamma) would not know what to say; she always found it the most awkward thing in the world to try to console people under such afflictions."
"It will not be at all necessary," returned Molly dryly. "Cousin Elsie has all the consolation she needs. She came to me for a few moments the very day Lily died, and though I could see plainly that she had been weeping, her face was perfectly calm and peaceful; and she told me that her heart sang for joy when she thought of her darling's blessedness."
Isa looked very thoughtful.
"I wish I were sure of it," she said half unconsciously; "she was such a dear little thing."
"Sure of what?" cried Molly indignantly; "can you doubt for a moment that that child is in heaven?"
"If she had only been baptized into the true church. But there, don't look so angry! how can I help wishing it when I know it's the only way to be saved?"
"But you don't know it! you can't know it, because it isn't so. O Isadore, how could you turn Papist and then try to turn Violet?"
"So you've heard about it? I supposed you had," said Isadore coloring. "I suppose too, that Cousin Elsie is very angry with me, and that was why I thought it so unkind in mamma to send me in her place, making an excuse of a headache; not a bad enough one to prevent her coming, I'm sure."
"I don't know how Cousin Elsie feels about it, or even whether she has heard it," said Molly; "though I presume she has, as Vi never conceals anything from her."
"Well I've only done my duty and can't feel that I'm deserving of blame," said Isadore. "But such a time as I've had of it since my conversion became known in the family!"
"Your perversion, you should say," interrupted Molly. "Was Aunt Louise angry?"
"Very; but principally, I could see, because she knew grandpa and Uncle Horace would reproach her for sending me to the convent."
"And did they?"
"Yes, grandpa was furious, and of course uncle said, 'I told you so.' He has only reasoned with me, though he let me know he was very much displeased about Vi. Cal and Art, too, have undertaken to convince me of my errors, while Virginia sneers and asks why I could not be content to remain a Protestant; and altogether I've had a sweet time of it for the last two weeks."
"There's a tap at the door; will you please open it?" said Molly.
It was Mrs. Travilla, Elsie and Violet whom Isadore admitted. She recognized them with a deep blush and an embarrassed, deprecating air; for the thought instantly struck her that Vi had probably just been telling her mother what had occurred during her absence.
"Ah, Isa, I did not know you were here," her cousin said taking her hand. "I am pleased to see you."
The tone was gentle and kind and there was not a trace of displeasure in look or manner.
"Thank you, cousin," Isa said, trying to recover her composure. "I came to--mamma has a headache, and sent me----"
"Yes; never mind, I know all you would say," Elsie answered, tears trembling in her soft brown eyes, but a look of perfect peace and resignation on her sweet face; "you feel for my sorrow, and I thank you for your sympathy. But Isa, the consolations of God are not small with me, and I know that my little one is safe with him.
"Molly, my child, how are you to-day?"
"Very well, thank you," Molly answered, clinging to the hand that was offered her, and looking up with dewy eyes into the calm, beautiful face bending over her. "How kind you are to think of me at such a time as this. Ah cousin, it puzzles me to understand why afflictions should be sent to one who already seems almost an angel in goodness."
Elsie shook her head. "You cannot see my heart, Molly; and the Master knows just how many strokes of his chisel are needed to fashion the soul in his image; he will not make one too many. Besides should I grudge him one of the many darlings he has given me? or her the bliss he has taken her to? Ah no, no! his will be done with me and mine."
She sat down upon a sofa, and making room for Isa, who had been exchanging greetings with her younger cousins, invited her to a seat by her side.
"I want to talk with you," she said gently, "Vi has been telling me everything. Ah, do not think I have any reproaches for you, though nothing could have grieved me more than your success in what you attempted."
She then went on to give, in her own gentle, kindly way, good and sufficient reasons for her dread and hatred of--not Papists--but Popery, and concluded by inviting Isa to join with them in a thorough investigation of its arrogant claims.
Isa consented, won by her cousin's generous forbearance and affectionate interest in her welfare, and arrangements were made to begin the very next day.
Molly's writing desk stood open on the table by her side, and Violet's bright eyes catching sight of the address on a letter lying there, "Oh, cousin, have you heard?" she exclaimed, "and is it good news?"
"Yes," replied Molly, a flush of pride and pleasure mantling her cheek. "I should have told you at once, if--under ordinary circumstances;--but--" and her eyes filled as she turned them upon Mrs. Travilla.
"Dear child, I am interested now and always in all your pains and pleasures," responded the latter, "and shall heartily rejoice in any good that has come to you."
Then Molly, blushing and happy, explained that she had been using her spare time for months past, in making a translation of a French story, had offered it for publication, and, after weeks of anxious waiting, had that morning received a letter announcing its acceptance, and enclosing a check for a hundred dollars.
"My dear child, I am proud of you--of the energy, patience and perseverance you have shown," her cousin said warmly, and with a look of great gratification. "Success, so gained, must be very sweet, and I offer you my hearty congratulations."
The younger cousins added theirs, Elsie and Vi rejoicing as at a great good to themselves, and Isa expressing extreme surprise at the discovery that Molly had attained to so much knowledge, and possessed sufficient talent for such an undertaking.