Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace." --POPE.
The winter and spring passed very quietly at Ion. At Roselands there was more gayety, the girls going out frequently, and receiving a good deal of company at home.
Virginia was seldom at Ion, but Isadore spent an hour there almost every day pursuing the investigation proposed by her Cousin Elsie.
She was an honest and earnest inquirer after truth, and at length acknowledged herself entirely convinced of the errors into which she had been led, entirely restored to the evangelical faith; and more than that, she became a sincere and devoted Christian; much to the disgust and chagrin of her worldly-minded mother and Aunt Delaford, who would have been far better pleased to see her a mere butterfly of fashion, as were her sister and most of her younger friends.
But to her brother Arthur, and at both the Oaks and Ion, the change in Isa was a source of deep joy and thankfulness.
Also it was the means of leading Calhoun, who had long been halting between two opinions, to come out decidedly upon the Lord's side.
Old Mr. Dinsmore had become quite infirm, and Cal now took entire charge of the plantation. Arthur was busy in his profession, and Walter was at West Point preparing to enter the army.
Herbert and Meta Carrington were at the North; the one attending college, the other at boarding-school. Old Mrs. Carrington was still living; making her home at Ashlands; and through her, the Rosses were frequently heard from.
They were still enjoying a large measure of worldly prosperity, Mr. Ross being a very successful merchant. He had taken his son Philip into partnership a year ago, and Lucy's letter spoke much of the lad as delighting his father and herself, by his business ability and shrewdness.
They had their city residence, as well as their country seat. Gertrude had made her debut into fashionable society in the fall, and spent a very gay winter, and the occasional letters she wrote to the younger Elsie, were filled with descriptions of the balls, parties, operas and theatricals she attended, the splendors of her own attire, and the elegant dresses worn by others.
It may be that at another time Elsie, so unaccustomed to worldly pleasures, would have found these subjects interesting from their very novelty; but now while the parting from Lily was so recent, when her happy death had brought the glories of heaven so near, how frivolous they seemed.
They had more attraction for excitable, excitement-loving Violet; yet even she, interested for the moment, presently forgot them again, as something reminded her of the dear little sister, who was not lost but gone before to the better land.
Vi had a warm, loving heart; no one could be fonder of home, parents, brothers and sisters than she, but as spring drew on, she began to have a restless longing for change of scene and employment. She had been growing fast, and felt weak and languid.
Both she and Elsie had attained their full height, Vi being a trifle the taller of the two; they grew daily in beauty and grace, and were not more lovely in person than in character and mind.
They were as open as the day with their gentle, tender mother, and their fond, proud father--proud of his lovely wife, and his sons and daughters, whose equals he truly believed were not to be found anywhere throughout the whole length and breadth of the land. So Vi was not slow in telling of her desire for change.
It was on a lovely evening in May, when the whole family were gathered in the veranda, serenely happy in each other's society, the babe in his mother's arms, Rosie on her father's knee, the others grouped about them, doing nothing but enjoy the rest and quiet after a busy day with books and work.
Molly in her wheeled chair, was there in their midst, feeling herself quite one of them and looking as contented and even blithesome as any of the rest. She was feeling very glad over her success in a second literary venture, thinking of Dick too, and how delightful it would be if she could only talk it all over with him.
He had told her in his last letter that she was making him proud of her, and what a thrill of delight the words had given her.
"Papa and mamma!" exclaimed Violet, breaking a pause in the conversation, "home is very dear and sweet, and yet--I'm afraid I ought to be ashamed to say it, but I do want to go away somewhere for awhile, to the seashore I think; that is if we can all go and be together."
"I see no objection if all would like it," her father said, with an indulgent smile. "What do you say to the plan, little wife?"
"I echo my husband's sentiments as a good wife should," she answered with something of the sportiveness of other days.
"And we echo yours, mother," said Edward. "Do we not?" appealing to the others.
"Oh yes, yes!" they cried, "a summer at the seashore, by all means."
"In a cottage home of our own; shall it not be, papa?" added Elsie.
"Your mamma decides all such questions," was his smiling rejoinder.
"I approve the suggestion. It is far preferable to hotel life," she said. "Molly, my child, you are the only one who has not spoken."
Molly's bright face had clouded a little. "I want you all to go and enjoy yourselves," she said, "though I shall miss you sadly."
"Miss us! do you then intend to decline going along?"
Molly colored and hesitated; "I'm such a troublesome piece of furniture to move," she said half jestingly, bravely trying to cover up the real pain that came with the thought.
"That is nothing," said Mr. Travilla, so gently and tenderly that happy, grateful tears sprang to her eyes; "you go, of course, with the rest of us; unless there is some more insuperable objection--such as a disinclination on your part, and even that should, perhaps, be overruled; for the change would do you good."
"O Molly you will not think of staying behind?"
"We should miss you sadly," said Elsie and Vi.
"And if you go you'll see Dick," suggested Eddie.
Molly's heart bounded at the thought. "Oh," she said, her eyes sparkling, "how delightful that would be! and since you are all so kind, I'll be glad, very glad to go."
"Here comes grandpa's carriage. I'm so glad!" exclaimed Herbert, the first to spy it as it turned in at the avenue gate. "Now I hope they'll say they'll all go too."
He had his wish; the carriage contained Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore, their son and daughter, and it soon appeared that they had come to propose the very thing Herbert desired, viz., that adjacent cottages at the seashore should be engaged for the two families, and all spend the summer there together.
It was finally arranged that the Dinsmores should precede the others by two or three weeks, then Mr. Dinsmore return for his daughter and her family, and Mr. Travilla follow a little later in the season.
Also that the second party should make their journey by water; it would be easier for Molly, and newer to all than the land route which they had taken much oftener in going North.
"Dear me, how I wish we were rich!" exclaimed Virginia Conly when she heard of it the next morning at breakfast, from Cal, who had spent the evening at Ion. "I'd like nothing better than to go North for the summer; not to a dull, prosy life in a cottage though, but to some of the grand hotels where people dress splendidly and have hops and all sorts of gay times. If I had the means I'd go to the seashore for a few weeks, and then off to Saratoga for the rest of the season, Mamma, couldn't we manage it somehow? You ought to give Isa and me every advantage possible, if you want us to make good matches."
"I shouldn't need persuasion to gratify you, if I had the money, Virginia," she answered dryly, and with a significant glance at her father and sons.
There was no response from them; for none of them felt able to supply the coveted funds.
"I think it very likely Cousin Elsie will invite you to visit them," remarked Arthur at length, breaking the silence which had followed his mother's remark.
"I shall certainly accept if she does," said Isa; "for I should dearly like to spend the summer with her there."
"Making garments for the poor, reading good books and singing psalms and hymns," remarked Virginia with a contemptuous sniff.
"Very good employments, all of them," returned Arthur quietly, "though I feel safe in predicting that a good deal more time will be spent by the Travillas in bathing, riding, driving, boating and fishing. They are no ascetics, but the most cheerful, happy family I have ever come across."
"Yes, it's quite astonishing how easily they've taken the death of that child," said Mrs. Conly, ill-naturedly.
"Mother, how can you!" exclaimed Arthur, indignant at the insinuation.
"O mamma, no one could think for a moment it was from want of affection!" cried Isadore.
"I have not said so; but you didn't tell me, I suppose, how Molly assured you her cousin had no need of consolation?"
"Yes, mother, but it was that her grief was swallowed up in the realizing sense of the bliss of her dear departed child. Oh they all talk of her to this day with glad tears in their eyes,--sorrowing for themselves but rejoicing for her."
Elsie did give a cordial invitation to her aunt and the two girls to spend the summer with her and it was accepted at first, but declined afterward when a letter came from Mrs. Delaford, inviting them to join her in some weeks' sojourn, at her expense, first at Cape May and afterward at Saratoga.
It would be the gay life of dressing, dancing and flirting at great hotels, for which Virginia hungered, and was snatched at with great avidity by herself and her mother.
Isadore would have preferred to be with the Travillas, but Mrs. Conly would not hear of it.
"Aunt Delaford would be mortally offended. And then the idea of throwing away such a chance! Was Isa crazy? It would be well enough to accept Elsie's offer to pay their traveling expenses and provide each with a handsome outfit; but her cottage would be no place to spend the summer in, when they could do so much better; they would meet few gentlemen there; Elsie and Mr. Travilla were so absurdly particular as to whom they admitted to an acquaintance with their daughters; if there was the slightest suspicion against a man's moral character, he might as well wish for the moon as for the entree to their house; or so much as a bowing acquaintance with Elsie or Vi. It was really too absurd."
"But, mamma," expostulated Isadore, "surely you would not be willing that we should associate with any one who was not of irreproachable character?"
Mrs. Conly colored and looked annoyed.
"There is no use in being too particular, Isadore," she said, "one can't expect perfection; young men are very apt to be a little wild, and they often settle down afterward into very good husbands."
"Really, I don't think any the worse of a young fellow for sowing a few wild oats," remarked Virginia, with a toss of her head: "they're a great deal more interesting than your good young men."
"Such as Cal and Art," suggested Isa, smiling slightly. "Mamma, don't you wish they'd be a little wild?"
"Nonsense, Isadore! your brothers are just what I would have them! I don't prefer wild young men, but I hope I have sense enough not to expect everybody's sons to be as good as mine, and charity enough to overlook the imperfections of those who are not."
"Well, mamma," said Isadore with great seriousness, "I have talked this matter over with Cousin Elsie, and I think she takes the right view of it; that the rule should be as strict for men as for women; that the sin which makes a woman an outcast from decent society, should receive the same condemnation when committed by a man; that a woman should require as absolute moral purity in the man she marries, as men do in the women they choose for wives; and so long as we are content with anything less, so long as we smile on men whom we know to be immoral, we are in a measure responsible for their vices."
"I endorse that sentiment," said Arthur, coming in from an adjoining room; "it would be a great restraint upon men's vicious inclinations, if they knew that indulgence in vice would shut them out of ladies' society."
"A truce to the subject. I'm tired of it," said Virginia. "Is it decided, mamma, that we take passage in the steamer with the Travillas?"
"Yes; and now let us turn our attention to the much more agreeable topic of dress; there are a good many questions to settle in regard to it;--what we must have, what can be got here, and what after we reach Philadelphia."
"And how one dollar can be made to do the work of two," added Virginia; "for there are loads and loads of things I must have in order to make a respectable appearance at the watering-places."
"And we have just two weeks in which to make our arrangements," added her mother.