Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"To each his sufferings: all are men Condemn'd alike to groan; The tender for another's pain, The unfeeling for his own." --GRAY.
The weather was delightful: because of Phil's return the children were excused altogether from lessons and nearly every day was taken up with picnics, riding, driving and boating excursions up and down the river.
They were never allowed to go alone on the water or behind any horse but "Old Nan," an old slow moving creature that Phil said "could not be persuaded or forced out of a quiet even trot that was little better than a walk, for five consecutive minutes."
The mothers were generally of the party;--Lily continuing so much better that Elsie could leave her, without anxiety, in the faithful care of her old mammy--and always one or two trusty servants were taken along.
One day Philip got permission to take old Nan and the phaeton and drive out with the two older girls, Gertrude and Elsie.
They were gone several hours and on their return, while still some miles from home were overtaken by a heavy shower, from which they took refuge in a small log-house standing a few yards back from the road.
It was a rude structure built in a wild spot among the rocks and trees, and evidently the abode of pinching poverty; but everything was clean and neat, and the occupants, an elderly woman reclining in a high-backed wooden rocking-chair with her feet propped up on a rude bench, and a young girl who sat sewing by a window overlooking the road, wore an air of refinement, and spoke English more correctly and with a purer accent than sometimes is heard in the abodes of wealth and fashion.
The door stood wide open and the moment Philip drew rein, the girl at the window called to them to come in out of the wet, and directed the lad to shelter his horse and phaeton underneath a shed at the side of the house.
Gertrude ran lightly in with a laugh and jest, Elsie following close at her heels.
The girl rose and setting out two unpainted wooden chairs, invited them to be seated, remarking as she resumed her work, that the shower had come up very suddenly, but she hoped they were not wet.
"Not enough to hurt us," said Gertrude.
"Hardly at all, thank you," I said Elsie. "I hope our mammas will not be alarmed about us, Gerty."
"I don't think they need be so long as there's no thunder and lightning," answered Gertrude. "Ah, see how it is pouring over yonder on the mountain, Elsie!"
The pale face of the woman in the rocking-chair, evidently an invalid, had grown still paler and her features worked with emotion.
"Child! child!" she cried, fixing her wild eyes on Elsie, "who--who are you?"
"They're the young ladies from the Crags, mother," said the girl soothingly.
"I know that, Sally," she answered peevishly, "but one's a visitor, and the other one called her Elsie, she's just the age and very image of--child, what is your family name?"
"Travilla, madam," the little girl replied, with a look of surprise.
"Oh, you're her daughter; yes, of course I might have known it. And so she married him, her father's friend and so many years older."
The words were spoken as if to herself and she finished with a deep drawn sigh.
This woman had loved Travilla--all unsuspected by him, for he was not a conceited man--and there had been a time when she would have almost given her hopes of heaven for a return of her affection.
"Is it my mother you mean? did you know her when she was a little girl?" asked Elsie, rising and drawing near the woman's chair.
"Yes; if she was Elsie Dinsmore, and lived at Roselands--how many years ago? let me see; it was a good many; long before I was married to John Gibson."
"That was mamma's name and that was where she lived; with her grandpa, while her papa was away in Europe so many years," returned the little Elsie; then asked with eager interest, "But how did you happen to know her? did you live near Roselands?"
"I lived there; but I was a person of no consequence; only a poor governess," remarked the woman in a bitter tone; an expression of angry discontent settling down upon her features.
"Are you Miss Day?" asked Elsie, retreating a step or two with a look as if she had seen a serpent.
Her mother had seldom mentioned Miss Day to her, but from her Aunts Adelaide and Lora she had heard of her many acts of cruelty and injustice to the little motherless girl committed to her care.
"I was Miss Day; I'm Mrs. Gibson now. I was a little hard on your mother sometimes, as I see you've been told; but I'd a great deal to bear; for they were a proud, haughty family--those Dinsmores. I was not treated as one of themselves, but as a sort of upper servant, though a lady by birth, breeding and education," the woman remarked, her tone growing more and more bitter as she proceeded.
"But was it right? was it just and generous to vent your anger upon a poor little innocent girl who had no mother and no father there to defend her?" asked the child, her soft eyes rilling with tears.
"Well maybe not; but it's the way people generally do. Your mother was a good little thing, provokingly good sometimes; pretty too, and heiress, they said, to an immense fortune. Is she rich still? or did she lose it all by the war?"
"She did not lose it all, I know," said Elsie, "but how rich she is I do not know; mamma and papa seldom talk of any but the true riches."
"Just like her, for all the world!" muttered the woman. Then aloud and sneeringly, "Pray what do you mean by the true riches?"
"Those which can never be taken from us; treasure laid up in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and thieves break not through to steal."
The sweet child voice ceased and silence reigned in the room for a moment, while the splashing of the rain upon the roof could be distinctly heard.
Mrs. Gibson was the first to speak again. "Well I'd like to have that kind, but I'd like wonderfully well to try the other a while first."
Elsie looked at the thin, sallow face with its hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, and wished mamma were there to talk of Jesus to this poor woman, who surely had but little time to prepare for another world.
"Is your mother at the Crags?" asked Mrs. Gibson turning to her again.
Elsie answered in the affirmative, adding that they had been there for some time and would probably remain a week or two longer.
"Do you think she would be willing to come here to see me?" was the next question, almost eagerly put.
"Mamma is very kind and I am sure she will come if you wish to see her," answered the child.
"Then tell her I do; tell her I, her old governess, am sick and poor and in great trouble."
Tears rolled down her cheeks and for a moment her eyes rested upon her daughter's face with an expression of keen anguish. "She's going blind," she whispered in Elsie's ear, drawing the child toward her, and nodding in the direction of Sally, stitching away at the window.
"Blind! oh how dreadful!" exclaimed the little girl in low moved tones, the tears springing to her eyes. "I wish she could go to Doctor Thomson."
"Doctor Thomson! who is he?"
"An oculist: he lives in Philadelphia. A friend of mamma's had something growing over her eyes so that she was nearly blind, and he cut it off and she can see now as well as anybody."
"I don't think that is the trouble with Sally's; though of course I can't tell. But she's always had poor sight, and now that she has to support the family with her needle, her eyes are nearly worn out."
Sally had been for several minutes making vain attempts to thread a needle.
Elsie sprang to her side with a kindly, eager, "Let me do it, won't you?"
It was done in a trice and the girl thanked her with lips and eyes.
"It often takes me full five or ten minutes," she said, "and sometimes I have to get mother to do it for me."
"What a pity! it must be a great hindrance to your work."
"Yes, indeed, and my eyes ache so that I can seldom sew or read for more than an hour or two at a time. Ah, I'm afraid I'm going to lose my sight altogether."
The tone was inexpressibly mournful, and Elsie's eyes filled again.
"Don't fret about it," she said, "I think--I hope you can be cured."
The rain had nearly ceased, and Philip, saying the worst was over, and they were in danger of being late at dinner, hurried the girls into the phaeton.
"What was that woman whispering to you?" asked Gertrude, as soon as they were fairly off.
Elsie looked uncomfortable. "It was something I was to tell mamma," she replied.
"But what is it?"
"I'm afraid she wanted to keep it a secret from you, Gerty, or she would have spoken out loud."
"I think you're very mean and disobliging," retorted Gertrude, beginning to pout.
"No, she isn't," said Philip pompously, "she's honorable, and one of the few females who can keep a secret. But I overheard it, Elsie, and feel pretty sure that the reason she whispered it, was to keep the poor girl from hearing. It's very natural she shouldn't want her to know she's afraid her sight's leaving her."
"Oh, yes; I suppose that was it!" returned Elsie. "But you were very wise to think of it, Phil."
"Don't flatter him," said Gertrude; "he thinks a great deal too much of himself, already."
Dinner was just ready when they reached home, and their mammas were on the porch looking for them.
"So there you are at last! what detained you so long?" said Mrs. Ross.
"Went further than we intended; and then the rain, you know," said Philip.
"And, oh, we had an adventure!" cried the girls, and hastened to tell it.
Mrs. Travilla had not forgotten her old governess, and though no pleasant recollection of her lingered in her memory, neither was there any dislike or revengeful feeling there. She heard of her sorrows with commiseration and rejoiced in the ability to alleviate them.
"That Mrs. Gibson!" exclaimed Lucy, "I've seen her many a time at the door or window, in driving past, and have often thought there was something familiar in her face, but never dreamed who she was. That hateful Miss Day! as I used to call her; Elsie, I wouldn't do a thing for her, if I were you. Why she treated you with absolute cruelty."
"She was sometimes unjust and unkind," said Mrs. Travilla, smiling at her friend's vehemence, "but probably my sensitiveness, timidity and stupidity, were often very trying."
"No such thing!--if you will excuse me for contradicting you--everybody that knew you then, would testify that you were the sweetest, dearest, most patient, industrious little thing that ever was made."
Elsie laughed and shook her head, "Ah, Lucy, you always flattered me; never were jealous even when I was held up to you as a pattern an evidence that yours was a remarkably sweet disposition. Now, tell me, please, if you know anything about these Gibsons?"
"Not much; they came to that hut years ago, evidently very poor, and quite as evidently--so report says--having seen better days. The husband and father drank deeply, and the wife earned a scanty support for the family by sewing and knitting; that is about all I know of them, except that several of their children died of scarlet fever within a few days of each other, soon after they came to the neighborhood, and that a year ago last winter, the man, coming home very drunk, fell into a snow-drift, and next day was found frozen to death. I was told at that time they had only two children--a son who was following in his father's footsteps, and this daughter."
"Poor woman!" sighed Elsie, "she is sorely tried and afflicted. I must go to her at once."
"Do, mamma, and get a doctor for her," said little Elsie; "she looked so sick and miserable."
Mrs. Ross offered her carriage, and the shower having cooled the air, Elsie went, shortly after the conclusion of the meal.