Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"Oh, gentle Romeo, If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully. Or if thou think'st I'm too quickly won, I'll frown and be perverse, and say thee nay, So thou wilt woo; but else not for the world." --SHAKESPEARE.
One lovely morning in the ensuing spring, the younger Elsie wandered out alone into the grounds, and sauntering aimlessly along with a book in her hand, at length found herself standing on the shore of the lakelet.
It was a lovely spot, for the limpid waters reflected grassy banks sprinkled here and there with the wild violet, and shaded by beautiful trees.
A gentle breeze just ruffled the glassy surface of the pond, and rustic seats invited to rest. It seemed just the place and time for a reverie, and Elsie, with scarce a glance about her, sat down to that enjoyment. It was only of late that she had formed the habit, but it was growing upon her.
She sat for some time buried in thought, her cheek upon her hand, her eyes upon the ground, and smiles and blushes chasing each other over the fair sweet face.
The dip of an oar, followed instantly by a discordant laugh and a shrill voice asking, "What are you sittin' there for so still and quiet? Wouldn't you like to get in here with me!" caused her to start and spring to her feet with a cry of dismay.
About an hour before a little, oddly dressed woman, with grey hair hanging over her shoulders, a large doll in one arm and a sun umbrella in the other hand, might have been seen stealing along the road that led from Roselands to Ion, keeping close to the hedge that separated it from the fields, and now and then glancing over her shoulder as if fearing or expecting pursuit.
She kept up a constant gabble, now talking to herself, now to the doll, hugging and kissing it with a great show of affection.
"Got away safe this time, didn't we, Grizzy? And we're not going back in a hurry, are we, dear? We've had enough of being penned up in that old house this ever so long; and now we'll have a day in the woods, a picnic all to ourselves. Hark! what was that? did I hear wheels?" pausing a moment to listen. "No, they haven't found us out yet, Grizzy, so we'll walk on."
Reaching the gate leading into the avenue at Ion, she stood a moment peering in between the bars.
"Seems to me I've been here before; must have been a good while ago. Guess I won't go up to the house; they might catch me and send me back. But let us go in, Griselda, and look about. Yonder's a garden full of flowers. We'll pick what we want and nobody'll know it."
Putting down her umbrella and pushing the gate open just far enough to enable her to slip through, she stole cautiously in, crossed the avenue and the lawn, and entered the garden unobserved.
She wandered here and there about it, plucking remorselessly whatever seized her fancy, till she had an immense bouquet of the choicest blossoms.
At length leaving the garden she made a circuit through the shrubbery, and finally came out upon the shore of the little lake.
"Oh, this is nice!" she said. "Did I ever see this before? It's cool and shady here; we'll sit down and rest ourselves under one of these trees, Grizzy." Then catching sight of a pretty row-boat, moored to the shore, "No, we'll jump into this boat and take a ride!" and springing nimbly in, she laid the doll down on one of the seats, the bouquet beside it, saying, "I'm tired carrying you, Griselda, so you just lie there and rest," then quickly loosing the little craft from its moorings, and taking up the oars, pushed off into the deep water.
She laid down the oars presently, and amused herself with the flowers, picking them to pieces and scattering the petals in the water, leaning over the side of the boat, talking to the fishes, and bidding them eat what she gave them, "for it was good, much better and daintier than bread crumbs."
The breeze came from the direction to take her farther from the shore, and soon wafted her out to the middle of the lake, but she went on with her new diversion, taking no note of her whereabouts.
It was just about this time that Elsie reached the spot and sat down to her day dreams.
Enna, for she it was who occupied the boat, did not see her niece at first, but after a little, growing weary of her sport with the flowers, she threw them from her, took up an oar again, and glancing toward the land, as she dipped it in the water, her eye fell upon the graceful white-robed figure seated there underneath the trees, and she instantly called out to her as we have related.
Elsie was much alarmed; concerned for the safety of the poor lunatic. There was no knowing what mad freak might seize her at any moment; no one was within call, and that being the only boat there, there was no way of reaching her until she should return to the shore of her own accord; if indeed, she was capable of managing the boat so as to reach the land if she desired to do so.
Elsie did not lose her presence of mind, and she thought very rapidly. The breeze was wafting the boat farther from her, but nearer to the opposite shore; if let alone it would arrive there in the course of time, and Enna she perceived did not know how to propel it with the oars.
"Will you come?" she was asking again, "will you take a ride in this pretty boat with me?"
"I'll run round to the other side," Elsie called in reply. "I wouldn't bother with those great heavy oars, if I were you; just let them lie in the bottom of the boat, while you sit still and rest, and the wind will carry it to the land."
"All right!" Enna answered, laying them down. "Now you hurry up."
"I will," Elsie said, starting upon a run for the spot where she thought that the boat would be most likely to reach the shore.
She reached it first, and the boat being still several yards away floating upon very deep water, she watched it a moment anxiously.
Enna was sitting still in the bottom, hugging the doll to her bosom and singing a lullaby to it; but suddenly as Elsie stood waiting and watching in trembling suspense, she sprang up, tossed the doll from her, leaped over the side of the boat, and disappeared beneath the water.
Elsie tore off her sash, tied a pebble to one end, and as Enna rose to the surface, spluttering and struggling, threw it to her crying, "Catch hold and I will try to pull you out."
"Oh, don't! you will but sacrifice your own life!" cried a manly voice, in tones of almost agonized entreaty, and Lester Leland came dashing down the bank.
It was too late; Enna seized the ribbon with a jerk that threw Elsie also into the water, and they were struggling there together, both in imminent danger of drowning.
It was but an instant before Lester was there also; death with Elsie would be far preferable to life without her, and he would save or perish with her.
It was near being the last; would have been had not Bruno come to his aid, but with the good help of the faithful dog, he at length succeeded in rescuing both ladies, dragging them up the bank and laying them on the grass, both in a state of insensibility.
"Go to the house, Bruno, go and bring help," he said pantingly, for he was well-nigh overcome by his exertions, and the dog bounded away in the direction of the house.
"Lord, grant it may come speedily," ejaculated the young man, kneeling beside the apparently lifeless form of her he loved so well. "Oh, my darling, have those sweet eyes closed forever?" he cried in anguish, wiping the water from her face, and chafing her cold hands in his. "Elsie my love, my life, my all! oh! I would have died to save you!"
Enna had been missed almost immediately, and Calhoun, Arthur and several servants at once set out in different directions in search of her.
Arthur and Pomp got upon the right scent, followed her to Ion, and joined by Mr. Travilla, soon traced her through the garden and shrubbery down to the lake, coming upon the scene of the catastrophe, or rather of the rescue, but a moment after Bruno left.
"Why, what is this?" exclaimed Mr. Travilla in alarm, "is it Elsie? can she have been in the water? Oh, my child, my darling!"
Instantly he was down upon the grass by her side, assisting Lester's efforts to restore her to consciousness.
For a moment she engrossed the attention of all, to the utter exclusion from their thoughts of poor Enna, for whom none of them entertained any great amount of affection.
"She lives! her heart beats! she will soon recover!" Arthur said presently, "see, a faint color is coming into her cheek. Run, Pomp, bring blankets and more help; they must be carried at once to the house."
He turned to his aunt, leaving Mr. Travilla and Lester to attend to Elsie.
Enna seemed gone; he could not be sure that life was not extinct. Perhaps it were better so, but he would not give up till every possible effort had been made to restore her.
Both ladies were speedily conveyed to the house, Elsie, already conscious, committed to the care of her mother and Aunt Chloe, while Arthur, Dr. Barton and others, used every exertion for Enna's resuscitation. They were at length successful in fanning to a flame the feeble spark of life that yet remained, but fever supervened, and for weeks afterward she was very ill.
Elsie kept her bed for a day, then took her place in the family again, looking quite herself except a slight paleness. No; a close observer might have detected another change; a sweet glad light in the beautiful brown eyes that was not there before; full of peaceful content and quiet happiness as her young life had been.
Lester's words of passionate love had reached the ear that seemed closed to all earthly sounds; they were heard as in a dream, but afterward recalled with a full apprehension of their reality and of all they meant to her and to him.
Months ago she had read the same sweet story in his eyes, but how sweeter far it was to have heard it from his lips.
She had sometimes wondered that he held his peace so long, and again had doubted the language of his looks, but now those doubts were set at rest, and their next interview was anticipated with a strange flutter of the heart, a longing for, yet half shrinking from the words he might have to speak.
But the day passed and he did not come; another and another, and no word from him. How strange! he was still her preceptor in her art studies; did he not know that she was well enough to resume them? If not, was it not his place to inquire?
Perhaps he was ill. Oh, had he risked his health, perhaps his life in saving hers? She did not ask; her lips refused to speak his name, and would nobody tell her?
At last she overheard her father saying to Eddie, "What has become of Lester Leland? It strikes me as a little ungallant that he has not been in to inquire after the health of your aunt and sister."
"He has gone away," Eddie answered, "he left the morning after the accident."
"Gone away," echoed Elsie's sinking heart. "Gone away, and so suddenly! what could it mean?" She stole away to her own room to indulge, for a brief space, in the luxury of tears, then, with a woman's instinctive pride, carefully removed their traces, and rejoined the family with a face all wreathed in smiles.