Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." --PROVERBS xxix. 15.
Lucy, too, had a talk with her children, in which she begged them quite pathetically, not to disgrace her before the expected guests, Mr. Dinsmore especially, who was so very strict in his ideas of how children ought to be brought up, and how they should behave.
They promised readily enough to "behave splendidly" and for a few days did so astonishingly well that, as she laughingly said, "she began to grow frightened lest they were becoming too good to live."
But she need not have been alarmed; the reaction was not long in coming and was sufficient to relieve all apprehension that they were in immediate danger from an overplus of goodness.
It began on the morning after Mr. Dinsmore's departure. Gertrude was late to breakfast, and when reproved by her mother answered in a manner so disrespectful as to quite astonish the young Travillas. They expected to see her banished at once from the table and the room; but her mother only looked grave and said in a tone of displeasure, "Gertrude, I cannot have you speak to me in that way--Don't do it again."
"I don't care; you needn't scold so about every little trifle then," muttered the delinquent in an undertone, pulling the dish of meat toward her, helping herself and spilling the gravy on the clean tablecloth.
Mrs. Ross did not seem to hear, she was spreading a piece of bread with the sweetest and freshest of butter, for Sophie.
"I don't want it, I want waffles!" screamed the child, snatching up the bread the instant it was laid on her plate, and dashing it on to the carpet.
"You are not well this morning, dear, and mamma thinks waffles might make her darling worse," said Lucy in a soothing tone. "Come now be a good baby, and eat the bread. Shall mamma spread another piece?"
"No, no, naughty mamma! I'll jus' frow it on the floor if you do," cried the child, bursting into angry sobs.
"Shall mamma have some toast made for her?" (coaxingly).
"No, no! waffles! and butter on waffles, and 'lasses on butter, and sugar on 'lasses!"
The mother laughed. It seemed to irritate the child still further; and she screamed louder than ever, slid down from her chair and stamped her foot with rage.
Mrs. Ross was deeply mortified at the exhibition. "Pick her up and carry her to the nursery," she said to a servant.
Sophie kicked and struggled, but the girl,--a strong and determined one--carried her away by main force.
"I'm dreadfully ashamed of her, Elsie," Lucy said, turning to her friend; "but she's a nervous little creature and we must try to excuse her."
"A few hearty slaps would reverse the nervous currents and do her an immense amount of good, Mrs. Ross," remarked the governess in her slow, precise way.
"Slaps, Miss Fisk," returned Lucy reddening, "I don't approve of corporal punishment, as I have told you more than once. I was never whipped, and I don't intend that any of my children shall be."
"Most assuredly not, madam; but I was recommending it not as a punishment for disobedience or ill temper, but simply as a remedial agent. I have never experienced anything of the kind myself, Mrs. Ross, but have heard it remarked that nervousness occasions greater suffering than what is generally understood by the term pain; therefore I suggested it as I should the amputation of a diseased member when necessary in order to preserve life."
"Permit me to remark," returned Lucy, "that unmasked advice is seldom acceptable, and now a truce to discussion, if you please. My dear Elsie," turning to Mrs. Travilla, "I beg you to excuse our ill-manners. It strikes me that none of us are behaving quite as we ought this morning. Hal and Archie, what's wrong between you now?" For the two boys, seated side by side, were scowling at each other, and muttering angrily half under their breath.
"Why, ma, he went and took the very piece of meat I just said I was going to have," whimpered Archie, digging his fists into his eyes.
"Well, I don't care," retorted Harry, "I'd as good a right as you, and I was ready first."
"Give him a part of it, can't you?" said his mother.
"'Tain't more'n I want myself."
"I won't have it after it's been on his plate," exclaimed both together.
"Boys, I'm ashamed of you!" said Lucy, "I wish your father were here to keep you straight. You don't dare behave so before him. I'm sure your little friends would never act so. Don't you see how your naughtiness astonishes them? Vi, would you talk to your mamma as my children do to me?"
The large blue eyes opened wide upon the questioner in half incredulous, reproachful surprise, then turned upon the beautiful, gentle face of Mrs. Travilla with an expression of ardent affection mingled with admiration and respect. "O Aunt Lucy! could you b'lieve I'd do that to my mamma?"
The very thought of so wounding that tender mother heart was evidently so full of pain to the little one, that Elsie could not refrain from responding to the appeal, "Mamma knows you would not, darling."
"Oh, no, mamma, 'cause I love you!" cried the child, the young face growing bright with smiles.
"Atmospheric influences have often a great deal to do with these things; do you not find it so?" Elsie said, turning to her friend.
"Yes, I have noticed that!" Lucy said, catching gladly at the suggestion: "and the air is certainly unusually oppressive this morning. I feel nervous myself. I think we'll have a gust before night."
The last words were spoken in an undertone, but the quick ear of Gertrude caught them. "Then I shan't go to school," she announced decidedly.
"Nonsense," said her mother, "'twon't be here till afternoon; probably not till night, if at all."
"Now, ma, you're just saying that. Aunt Elsie, do you really think it won't come soon?"
Glancing through the open window at the mountains and the sky, Elsie answered that she saw no present indications of a storm; there was nothing to betoken it but the heat and closeness of the air.
"Are you afraid of thunder, Aunt Elsie?" asked Harry.
"Lightning, you silly boy," corrected Gertrude, "nobody's afraid of thunder."
"Yes, you are," he retorted. "You just ought to see, Ed, how scared she gets," and Harry laughed scornfully.
Gertrude was ready with an indignant retort, but her mother stopped her. "If you are really brave, Gertrude, you can have an excellent opportunity to show it when the storm comes." Then to Harry, "Let your sister alone, or I'll send you from the room."
The gust, a very severe one, came in the afternoon. Before it was fairly upon them, Lucy, herself pale with terror, had collected her children in a darkened room and seated them all on a feather-bed, where they remained during the storm, half stifled by the heat, the little ones clinging to their mother, hiding their heads in her lap and crying with fear.
Elsie and her children formed a different group; the mother the central figure here also, her darlings gathered closely about her, in her dressing-room--at a safe distance from the open windows--watching with awed delight, the bursting of the storm clouds over the mountain-tops, the play of the lightning, the sweep of the rain down from the heights into the valleys and river below, listening to the crash and roar of the thunder as it reverberated among the hills, one echo taking it up after another, and repeating it to the next, till it sounded like the explosions of many batteries of heavy artillery, now near at hand, now farther and farther away.
"Mamma, isn't it grand?" exclaimed Eddie, in one of the brief pauses in the wild uproar of the elements.
"Yes," she said, "the thunder of his power who can understand?"
"Is it God, mamma? does God make it?" asked little Herbert.
"Yes, dear; 'when he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries.'"
"We needn't be 'f'aid, mamma?"
"No, darling, no; for God is our Father; He loves us and will take care of us."
The storm was very violent while it lasted, but soon passed away; the sun shone out, and a beautiful rainbow spanned the eastern sky above the mountain-tops.
Elsie's children clapped their hands in ecstasy, and ran to call their little friends to enjoy the sight with them. Mrs. Ross followed, looking so pale and exhausted, that Elsie inquired with concern if she were ill.
"Oh, it was the storm!" she said, "wasn't it fearful? I was sure the house would be struck and some of us killed. Weren't you frightened?"
"No," Elsie said, with a kindly reassuring smile, "I presume my nerves are stronger than yours, and I am not naturally timid in regard to thunder and lightning. Besides, I know so well that he who guides and controls it is my Father and my Friend. Come, look at his bow of promise."
The children were in a group about the window, gazing and admiring.
"Let's ask mamma for the story of it," Vi was saying.
"The story of it?" repeated Archie Ross.
"Yes; don't you know? about Noah and the flood."
"I never heard it."
"Oh, Archie, it's in the Bible; grandma told it to us once," exclaimed his sister Gertrude.
"I didn't hear it, anyhow," persisted the boy, "do, Vi, coax Aunt Elsie to tell it."
The petition was readily granted. Mrs. Travilla was an inimitable story-teller, and Lucy, whose knowledge of Scripture history was but superficial, listened to the narrative with almost as much interest and pleasure as did the children.
"I would give anything for your talent for story-telling, Elsie," she said at its conclusion.
"Oh, another! another! Please tell us another?" cried a chorus of young voices.
Mrs. Travilla drew out her watch, and holding it up with a smile, "Not just now, my dears," she said, "see it is almost tea-time, and," she added playfully, "some of us have need to change our dresses and smooth our tangled tresses."
"That is true," said Lucy, rising hastily, "and I expect my husband home. I must send the carriage off at once to the depot; for the train is nearly due."
Thereupon a cry was raised among the Rosses as they flew after their mother, "I want to go for papa!" "and I!" "It's my turn, I say, and I will go!" "No, you shan't, for it's mine."