Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"The brave man is not he who feels no fear, For that were stupid and irrational; But he whose soul its fear subdues, And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from." --BAILLIE.
The Travillas returned home to Ion in November and took up with new zest the old and loved routine of study, work and play.
Elsie was no longer a schoolgirl, but still devoted some hours of each day to the cultivation of her mind and the keeping up of her accomplishments; also pursued her art studies with renewed ardor under the tuition of Lester Leland, who, his health requiring during the winter, a warmer climate than that of his northern home, had come at the urgent request of his relatives, to spend the season at Fairview.
Elsie had a number of gentlemen friends, some of whom she highly esteemed, but Lester's society was preferred to that of any other.
Malcom Lilburn had grown very jealous of Lester, and found it difficult indeed to refrain from telling his love, but had gone away without breathing a word of it to any one.
Not to Scotland, however; he and his father were traveling through the West, visiting the principal points of interest, and had partly promised to take Ion in their way as they returned; which would probably not be before spring.
Mr. and Mrs. Travilla were not exempt from the cares and trials incident to our fallen state, but no happier parents could be found; they were already reaping as they had sowed; indeed it seemed to them that they had been reaping all the way along, so sweet was the return of affection from the little clinging, helpless ones, the care of whom had been no less a pleasure than a sacred, God-given duty; but with each passing year the harvest grew richer and more abundant; the eldest three had become very companionable and the intercourse between the two Elsies was more like that of sisters, than of mother and daughter; the young girl loved her mother's society above that of any other of her sex, and "mamma" was still, as she had ever been, her most intimate friend and confidante.
And was it not wise? who so tender, faithful and prudent a guide and counsellor as the mother to whom she was dearer than life.
It was the same with the others also--both sons and daughters; and they were scarcely less open with their wisely indulgent father.
Life was not at all sunshine; the children had their faults which would occasionally show themselves; but the parents, conscious of their own imperfections, were patient and forbearing. They were sometimes tried with sickness too, but it was borne with cheerful resignation; and no one could say what the future held in store for any of them; but God reigned, the God whom they had chosen as their portion, and their inheritance forever, and they left all with him, striving to obey the command to be without carefulness.
The winter passed quietly, almost without incident save one.
Eddie had been spending the afternoon with his cousins at Pinegrove (some of them were lads near his own age, and fine, intelligent, good boys), had stayed to tea and was riding home alone, except that he had an attendant in the person of a young negro boy, who rode some yards in his rear.
It was already dark when they started, but the stars shone down from a clear sky, although a keen, cold wind blew from the north.
Part of the way lay through a wood, in the midst of which stood a hut occupied by a family by the name of Smith, belonging to the class known as "poor whites"; shiftless, lazy, and consequently very poor indeed, they were. Many efforts had been put forth in their behalf, by the families of the Oaks and Ion, and by others also, but thus far with small results, for it is no easy matter to effectually help those who will not try to help themselves.
As Eddie entered the wood, he thought he smelt smoke, and presently a sudden turn in the road brought into view the dwelling of the Smiths all wrapped in flames.
Putting spurs to his horse, at the sight, Eddie flew along the road shouting at the top of his lungs, "Fire! fire! fire!" Jim, his attendant, following his example.
But there was no one within hearing, save the Smiths themselves.
The head of the family, half stupefied with rum, stood leaning against the fence, his hands in the pockets of his ragged coat, a pipe in his mouth, gazing in a dazed sort of way upon the work of destruction; while the wife and children ran hither and thither, screaming and wringing their hands with never a thought of an attempt to extinguish the flames or save any of their few poor possessions.
"Sam Smith," shouted Eddie, reining in his horse close to the individual addressed, "why don't you drop that old pipe, take your hands out of your pockets, and go to work to put out the fire!"
"Eh!" cried Sam, turning slowly round so as to face his interlocutor, "why--I--I--I couldn't do nothin'; it's bound to go--that house is; don't you see how the wind's a blowin'? Well, 'tain't much 'count nohow, and I wouldn't care, on'y she says she's left the baby in there; so she does."
"The baby?" and almost before the words had left his lips, Eddie had cleared the rough rail fence at a bound, and was rushing toward the burning house.
How the flames crackled and roared, seeming like demons greedily devouring all that came in their way.
"That horse blanket, Jim! bring it here quick, quick!" he shouted back to his servant. Then to the half-crazed woman, "Where is your baby? where did you leave it?"
"In there, in there on the bed, oh, oh, it's burnin' all up! I forgot it, an' I couldn't get back."
Eddie made one step backward, and ran his eye rapidly over the burning pile, calmly taking in the situation, considering whether the chances of success were sufficient to warrant the awful risk.
It was the work of an instant to do that, snatch the blanket from Jim, wrap it around his person, and plunge in among the flames, smoke, and falling firebrands, regardless of the boy's frightened protest, "Oh, Mr. Eddie don't; you'll be killed! you'll burn all up!"
He had looked into the cabin but a day or two before, and remembered in which corner stood the rude bed of the family, their only one. He groped his way to it, half suffocated by the heat and smoke, and in momentary dread of the falling in of the roof, reached it at last, and feeling about among the scanty coverings, laid hold of the child, which was either insensible or sound asleep.
Taking it in his young, strong arms, holding it underneath the blanket, which he drew closer about his person, he rushed back again, stepping from the door just as the roof fell in with a crash.
The woman snatched her babe, and its gallant rescuer fell fainting to the ground. A falling beam had grazed his head and struck him a heavy blow upon the shoulder.
With a cry Jim sprang forward, dragged his young master out of reach of the flying sparks, the overpowering heat, and suffocating smoke, and dropping, blubbering, down by his side, tried to loosen his cravat.
"Fetch some wattah!" he called, "quick dar, you ongrateful white trash! you gwine let young Marse Eddie die, when he done gone saved yo' baby from burnin' up?"
"Take the gourd and run to the spring Celestia Ann; quick, quick as you kin go," said the mother hugging up her rescued child, and wiping a tear from her eye with the corner of a very dirty apron.
"There ain't none," answered the child, "we uns ain't got nothin' left; it's all burnt up."
But a keen, fresh air was already reviving our hero.
"Take me home, Jim," he said faintly. "Stop that wagon," as one was heard rumbling down the road, still at some distance.
"Hollo dar! jes stop an' take a passenger aboard!" shouted Jim, springing to his feet and rushing into the road, waving his cap above his head.
"Hollo!" shouted back the other, "dat you Jim Yates? Burnin' down Smith's house. Dat's a plenepotentiary crime, dat is, sah!"
"Oh go 'long, you fool, Pete White!" retorted Jim, as the other drew rein close at his side, "you bet you don't catch dis niggah a burnin' no houses. Spect ole Smith set de fire goin' hisself wid dat ole pipe o' his'n!"
"An' it's clar burnt down to de ground," observed Pete, gazing with eager interest at the smouldering ruins. "What you s'pose dey's gwine to do for sheltah for dem po' chillen?"
"Dat ain't no concern ob mine," returned Jim indifferently. "Ise consarned 'bout getting young Marse Ed'ard safe home, an' don't care nuffin' for all de white trash in de country. Jes hitch yo' hoss an' help me lift him into de wagon."
"What's de mattah?" queried Pete, leisurely dismounting and slowly hitching his horse to a tree.
"Oh you hurry up, you ole darky!" returned Jim impatiently. "Mr. Ed'ard's lyin' dar in de cold; 'catch his diff if you's gwine to be all night 'bout gittin' to him."
"Ise got de rheumatiz, chile; ole folks can't turn roun' like young uns," returned Pete quickening his movements somewhat as he clambered over the fence and followed Jim to the spot where Eddie lay.
"Hurt, sah?" he asked.
"A little; I fear I can hardly sit my horse--for this faintness," Eddie answered, low and feebly. "Can you put me into your wagon and drive me to Ion?"
"Yes, sah; wid de greatest pleasah in life, sah. Mr. Travilla and de Ion ladies ben berry kind to me an' my ole woman and de chillen."
Mrs. Smith and her dirty ragged little troop had gathered round, still crying over their fright and their losses, curious too about the young gentleman who had saved the baby and was lying there on the ground so helpless.
"Are ye much hurt, Mr. Edward?" asked the woman. "Oh yer mother'll never forgive me fur lettin' ye risk yer life that away!"
"I don't think the injury is serious, Mrs. Smith, at least I hope not; and you were not to blame," he answered, "so make yourself easy. Now, Pete and Jim, give me an arm, each of you."
They helped him into the wagon and laid him down, putting the scorched horse blanket under his head for a pillow.
"Now drive a little carefully, Pete," he said, suppressing a groan, "and look out for the ruts, I'd rather not be jolted.
"And you, Sim, ride on ahead and lead Prince. I want you to get in before us, ask for my father and tell him I've had an accident; am not seriously hurt, but want my mother prepared. She must not be alarmed by seeing me brought in unexpectedly, in this state."
His orders were obeyed, Jim reached Ion some ten minutes ahead of the wagon and gave due warning of its approach. He met his master in the avenue and told his story in a tolerably straightforward manner.
"Where is Mr. Edward now?" asked Mr. Travilla.
"De wagon's jes down de road dar a piece, sah; be here in 'bout five minutes, sah."
"Then off for the doctor, Jim, as fast as you can go. Here, give me Prince's bridle. Now don't let the grass grow under your horse's feet. Either Dr. Barton, or Dr. Arthur; it doesn't matter which; only get him here speedily." And vaulting into the saddle Mr. Travilla rode back to the house, dismounted, throwing the bridle to Solon, and went in.
Opening the door of the drawing-room where the family were gathered:
"Wife," he said cheerfully, "will you please step here a moment?"
She came at once and followed him down the hall, asking, "What is it, Edward?" for her heart misgave her that something was wrong.
"Not much, I hope, dearest," he said, turning and taking her in his arms. "Our boy, Eddie, has done a brave deed and suffered some injury by it, but nothing serious, I trust. He will be here in a moment."
He felt her cling to him with a convulsive grasp, he heard her quick coming breath, the whispered words, "Oh, my son! Dear Lord, help!" then, as the rumble of the wagon wheels was heard nearing the door, she put her hand in his, calm and quiet, and went forth with him to meet their wounded child.
His father helped him to alight, and supported him up the veranda steps.
"Don't be alarmed, mother, I'm not badly hurt," he said, but staggered as he spoke, and would have fallen but for his father's sustaining arm, and by the light from the open door, she saw his eyes close and a deadly pallor overspread his face.
"He's fainting!" she exclaimed, springing to his other side. "Oh, my boy, this is no trifle!"
Servants were already crowding about them, and Eddie was quickly borne to his room, laid upon the bed, and restoratives administered.
"Fire!" his mother said with a start and shudder, pointing to his singed locks, "oh, where has the child been?"
Her husband told her in a few words.
"And he has saved a life!" she cried with tears of mingled joy and grief, proud of her brave son, though her tender mother heart ached for his suffering. "Thank God for that, if--if he has not sacrificed his own."
The door opened and Arthur Conly came in.
Consciousness was returning to the lad, and looking up at his cousin as he bent over him, "Tell mother," he murmured, "that I'm not much hurt."
"I have to find that out, first," said Arthur. "Do you feel any burns, bruises? whereabouts are you injured, do you think?"
"Something--a falling beam, I suppose, grazed my head and struck me on the shoulder; I think, too, that my hands and face are scorched."
"Yes, your face is; and your hands--scorched? why they are badly burned! And your collar bone's broken. That's all, I believe; enough to satisfy you, I hope?"
"Quite," Eddie returned with a faint smile. "Don't cry, mother dear, you see it's nothing but what can be made right in a few days or weeks."
"Yes," she said, kissing him and smiling through her tears; "and oh, let us thank God that it is no worse!"
Eddie's adventure created quite a stir in the family and among outside relatives and friends, he was dubbed the hero of the hour, and attentions were lavished upon him without stint.
He bore his honors meekly. "Mother," he said privately to her, "I don't deserve all these encomiums and they make me ashamed; for I am not really brave. In fact I'm afraid I'm an arrant coward; for do you know I was afraid to rush in among those flames; but I could not bear the thought of leaving that poor baby to burn up, and you had taught me that it was right and noble to risk my own life to save another's."
"That was not cowardice, my dear boy," she said, her eyes shining, "but the truest courage. I think you deserve far more credit for bravery, than you would if you had rushed in impulsively without a thought of the real danger you were encountering."
"Praise is very sweet from the lips of those I love; especially my mother's," he responded, with a glad smile. "And what a nurse you are, mother mine! it pays to be ill when one can be so tended."
"That is when one is not very seriously ill, I suppose?" she said playfully, stroking his hair. "By the way, it will take longer to restore these damaged locks, than to repair any of the other injuries caused by your escapade."
"Never mind," he said, "they'll grow again in time. What has become of the Smiths?"
"Your father has found temporary shelter for them at the quarter, and is rebuilding their hut."
"I knew he would; it is just like him--always so kind, so generous."