Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"By sports like these are all their cares beguil'd, The sports of children satisfy the child." --GOLDSMITH.
"Good! good!" cried the children. "Oh, delightful! But where are we going?"
"To the grove adjacent to the schoolhouse," replied the governess. "We could not find a lovelier spot, and its proximity to the mansion renders it most eligible."
"'Proximity, eligible, adjacent;' what do you mean by those words, Miss Fisk?" asked Gertrude, a little contemptuously.
"I desire you to consult one of our standard lexicographers. You will then be far more likely to retain the definitions in your memory," returned the governess, ignoring the tone of her pupil.
Gertrude shrugged her shoulders, with impatience, muttering audibly, "I wish you'd talk like other people, and not like a dictionary."
"You quarrel with my phraseology, because you do not understand it," observed Miss Fisk, nonchalantly, "which is very irrational, since were I never to employ, in conversing with you, words beyond your comprehension, you would lose the advantage of being induced to increase your stock of information by a search for their meaning."
"If that's what you do it for, you may as well give it up at once," returned Gertrude, "for I don't care enough about your meaning to take half that trouble."
"Miss Gertrude, permit me to remark that you are lacking in respect to your instructress," returned Miss Fisk, reddening.
"Do you mean that it is convenient, because of being so near this house, Miss Fisk?" asked Eddie respectfully.
"Yes, convenient and safe; on which account both Mrs. Travilla and Mrs. Ross stipulated that our picnic for to-day should be held there."
"Well, let's go right away," said Gertrude, jumping up and pushing back her chair.
"Immediately, Miss Ross," corrected the governess. "Right away is exceedingly inelegant."
"How tiresome!" muttered Gertrude. Then aloud to Violet, as the governess left the room, "I say, Vi, does your mamma reprove you for saying right away?"
"I don't remember that I ever said it. Mamma----"
"Said it?" interrupted Gertrude, with a twinkle of fun in her eye, "why don't you say 'used the expression'? my dear," mimicking Miss Fisk's tones, "you should never condescend to make use of a sixpenny word, when a fifty cent one would express your sentiments fully as correctly, or perchance even more so."
Vi could not help joining in the laugh with which Gertrude concluded, though feeling rather ashamed of herself, as she seemed to see the grave look of disapproval mamma would have given her if present.
"Oh, Gertrude," she said, "we oughtn't to----"
"Yes, we ought," returned Gertrude, as they ran out of the room together; "mamma always laughs when I take off old finikin Fisk. She wouldn't have me talk like her for the world. Would your mamma wish you to?"
"No, but she never says----"
"Right away? No, of course not; she says 'immediately' or 'at once' or something that sounds nice. Well, so will I when I'm grown up."
Miss Fisk was on the porch taking an observation of the weather, the children crowding about her, and clamoring to be allowed to set out immediately for the grove. The day was fine, and there seemed every indication that it would continue so.
"Yes," said the governess, "you may request your maids to see that you are suitably arrayed for the occasion, and as promptly as possible, and we will repair to the appointed place; taking our departure hence in precisely thirty minutes."
The children were ready and impatiently waiting, when Miss Fisk came down from her room, "suitably arrayed for the occasion."
They set out at once, the whole party in high good humor, the boys carrying their balls, marbles, and fishing rods, the girls their dolls and a set of toy dishes, to play tea-party with. Miss Fisk had a bit of fancy work and a book, and two servants brought up the rear with camp-chairs, an afghan and rugs to make a couch for the little ones when they should grow sleepy. Luncheon was in course of preparation by the cook, and was to be sent by the time the young picnickers were likely to feel an appetite for it.
The boys took the lead, bounding on some distance ahead, with Ranger in their midst. They were in no mood just then for sitting still, so depositing their fishing tackle in the schoolhouse, went roving about in search of more active amusement than that of catching trout.
"That'll be good fun when we want to sit down and rest," said Eddie.
"Oh, I see a bird's nest, and I'm going to have it!" exclaimed Archie, beginning to climb a tree.
"Oh don't," cried Harold, "mamma says it's very cruel and wicked to rob the poor little birds."
"Pooh! you're a baby!" answered Archie, half breathlessly, pulling himself up higher and yet higher. "There, I'll have it in a minute," reaching out his hand to lay hold of the branch that held the nest.
Ranger was barking loudly at the foot of the tree, Harry and Eddie were calling to Archie to "Take care!" and he hardly knew how it was himself, but he missed the branch, lost his hold of the tree, and fell, lighting upon Ranger's back.
The boy gave a scream, the dog a yelp, and the rest of the party came running to ask what was the matter.
Archie picked himself up, looking quite crestfallen, and the fright of the others was turned to laughter, as they discovered that he had received no damage beyond a slight scratch on his hand and a rent in his jacket.
Miss Fisk, making him promise not to repeat the experiment, went back to her seat under the trees and the book she had brought from the house for her own enjoyment.
The morning passed without any further incident worth recording, the children amusing themselves with various quiet plays, the girls keeping house, each under her own particular tree, and exchanging visits; the boys catching trout, which they sent to the house to be cooked for dinner. They wanted to make a fire and cook them themselves, but Miss Fisk wisely forbade it.
She would have had the meal served in the schoolhouse, but yielded to the clamor for an out-door repast. Several desks were brought out into the shade of the trees, a dainty table-cloth spread over them and the party presently sat down to a delightful collation, to which they brought keen appetites.
Ranger had disappeared. They missed him as they were leaving the table.
"Where can he have gone?" Harry was saying, when Vi cried out, "Oh yonder he is! and he has a dear little bird in his mouth! Oh you wicked, cruel dog!" And running to him she tried to take it from him.
Be dropped it and snapped at her, Eddie jerking her back just in time to save her from his teeth, while Archie, who was very fond of Vi, struck the dog a blow with a stick, crying furiously, "You just do that again, sir, and I'll kill you!"
Ranger then flew at him, but the boy avoided the attack by jumping nimbly behind a tree.
The other children were screaming with fright, and a catastrophe appeared imminent, but one of the maids came running with some tempting morsels for Ranger which appeased his wrath, and the danger was averted.
Ranger's attention being absorbed with the satisfying of his appetite, the children now looked about for the bird. It was not quite dead, but soon breathed its last in Vi's lap with her tears dropping fast upon it.
"Oh don't, Vi!" said Archie, "I can't bear to see you feel so sorry. And the bird isn't being hurt now, you know; 'twon't ever be hurt any more; will it, Ed?"
"No," said Harry, "we might as well let the dog have it."
"No, no!" said Eddie, "it would just encourage him to catch another."
"So it would," said Gertrude, "let's make a grand funeral and bury it at the foot of a tree. If we only knew now which one it used to live on."
The motion was about to be carried by acclamation, but Vi entered a decided protest. "No, no, I want to keep it."
"But you can't, Vi," remonstrated Eddie, "dead things have to be buried, you know."
"Not the skin and feathers, Eddie; they do stuff them sometimes and I'll ask mamma to let me have this one done."
"Oh what's the use?" expostulated Gertrude; "it's only a common robin."
"But I love it; the poor dear little thing! and mamma will let me, I know she will," returned Vi, wiping away her tears as though comforted by the very thought.
The other children wandered off to their play leaving her sitting where she was, on a fallen tree, fondling the bird; but Archie soon came back and seated himself by her side.
"Such a pity; isn't it?" he said, "I hate that Ranger, don't you, Vi?"
"No-o I hope not, Archie," she answered doubtfully: "folks kill birds to eat them and may be 'tain't any worse for dogs," she added, with a fresh burst of tears. "Poor little birdie; and may be there are some young ones in the nest that have no mamma now to feed or care for them."
"That old Ranger! and he snapped at you too. Here he comes again. I'll kill him!" cried the boy, with vehemence. "Oh no, I know what I'll do! Here Ranger! here Ranger!" and starting up he rushed away in a direction to take him farther from the schoolhouse and the rest of his party.
He had spied in the distance a farmer's boy, a lad of fourteen, with whom he had some slight acquaintance. "Hallo, Jared Bates!" he shouted.
"Well, what's wantin'?" and Jared stood still, drawing the lash of his carter's whip slowly between his fingers. "Hurry up now, for I've got to go back to my team. Whose dog's that?" as Ranger came running up and saluted him with a sharp, "Bow, wow, wow!"
"Ours," said Archie, "and I'm mad at him 'cause he killed a bird and tried to bite Vi Travilla, when she went to take it from him."
"Like enough," returned Jared, grinning. "But what about it?"
"I thought may be you'd like to have him."
"So I would, what'll you sell him for?"
"I hain't got but two."
"Haven't you, Jared? truly, now?"
"No, nary red, 'cept them," and diving into his pantaloons' pocket, Jared produced a handful of odds and ends--a broken knife, a plug of tobacco, some rusty nails, a bit of twine, etc.,--from which he picked out two nickels. "There, them's um, and they's all I got in the world," he said gravely, passing them over to Archie.
"Well, it's very cheap," observed the latter, pocketing the cash, "but you can have him. Good-bye," and away he ran back to the spot where he had left Vi.
"You're a green 'un!" laughed Jared, looking after him; then whistling to the dog to follow, he went on his way.