Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"I'll not chide thee; Let shame come when it will, I do not call it." --SHAKESPEARE.
"I never saw such a likeness in my life!" said Mrs. Gibson looking after the phaeton as it drove away; "she's the very image of her mother. I could just have believed it was the very little Elsie Dinsmore I used to teach more than twenty years ago."
"She's lovely!" exclaimed Sally with enthusiasm. "Mother, did you see what a pretty watch she had?"
"Yes," gloomily; "some folks seem to have nothing but prosperity, and others nothing but poverty and losses and crosses. They're as rich as Croesus and we have hardly enough to keep us from starving."
"Better times may come," said Sally, trying to speak hopefully, "Tom may reform and go to work. I do think, mother, if you'd try to----"
"Hush! I'm a great deal better to him than he deserves."
It was some moments before Sally spoke again, then it was only to ask, "Will you have your dinner now, mother?"
"No; there's nothing in the house but bread and potatoes, and I couldn't swallow either. Dear me what a table they used to set at Roselands! enough to tempt the appetite of an epicure."
"I must rest my eyes a little. I can't see any longer," said the girl, laying down her work and going to the door.
"It's just dreadful," sighed her mother, "but don't get out of heart; these people will help us and it is possible some skilful oculist may understand your case and be able to help you."
The girl's eyes were fixed upon the distant mountain-tops where, through a rift in the clouds the sun shone suddenly out for a moment. "'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help,'" she murmured softly to herself. Then from a full heart went up a strong cry, "O God, my Father, save me, I beseech thee, from this bitter trial that I so dread! Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Oh, help me to be content with whatsoever thou shalt send!"
"Sally, you're standing there a long time." It was the mother's querulous voice again.
The girl turned toward her, answering in a patient tone. "Yes, mother, it rests my eyes to look at the sky and the mountains or any distant object."
"You'd better get yourself something to eat. It must be six or eight hours at least since breakfast."
An hour later Sally, again busied with her sewing, by the window, lifted her head at the sound of wheels and exclaimed in a low tone, "There is the same carriage again! It has stopped and a lady is getting out of it."
But turning her head she perceived that her mother, who was now lying on the bed, had fallen asleep. Dropping her work, she stepped quickly to the door in time to prevent a rap.
She recognized the lady at once from her likeness to her namesake daughter, and holding out her hand with a joyful admiring smile said, "Mrs. Travilla, is it not? Thank you for coming. I am so glad, and mother will be so delighted to see you; but she is sleeping just now."
She had spoken softly, and Elsie answered in the same subdued tone, as she took the offered hand, then stepped in and sat down in a chair the girl hastened to set for her, "That is well; we must not wake her."
A long talk followed in which Elsie by her ready tact and sweet sympathy, free from the slightest approach to patronage, drew from the girl the story of their sorrows, privations and fears for the future.
Her mother had been gradually failing for some time, though she really did not know what was the nature of the disease. For a while they had contrived by their united efforts to make the two ends meet, but now that all depended upon her, with her poor sight, it was no longer possible.
"How are your eyes affected?" asked Elsie.
"The sight is dim; I can scarcely see to set my stitches: I have great difficulty in threading a needle: I always had. I could never read fine print, never read through a long sentence without shutting my eyes for an instant or looking off the book. It has always been an effort to see, and now I am forced to use my eyes so constantly they grow worse and pain me very much. At times a mist comes over them so that I cannot see at all until I rest them a little. Indeed I often seem to be going blind and I'm afraid I shall," she added, with a tremble in her tones, a tear rolling down her cheek. But she hastily wiped it away.
"My poor child, I hope not," Elsie said, laying a hand softly on hers; "there have been wonderful cures of diseased eyes. You must go to an oculist."
"The expense would be far beyond our means."
"You must let me assume that. No, don't shake your head. I have abundant means. The Lord has given me far more of this world's goods than I ought to use for myself or my family and I know it is because he would have me be his almoner."
The girl wept for joy and thankfulness.
"Oh, how kind you are!" she cried. "I believe the Lord sent you and that my sight will be spared; for I have prayed so that it might;--that he would send me help somehow. But mother, how can she do without me?"
"I will see that she has medical advice, nursing, everything she needs."
Sally tried to speak her thanks but tears and sobs came instead.
The sound woke Mrs. Gibson. "Elsie Dinsmore!" she cried in feeble but excited tones, with difficulty raising herself to a sitting posture. "I should have known you anywhere."
"I cannot say the same; you are much changed," Elsie said, going to the bedside and taking the thin feverish hand in hers.
"Yes, I've grown an old woman, while you are fresh and young; and no wonder, for your life has been all prosperity; mine nothing but trouble and trial from beginning to end."
"O, mother dear, we have had a great many mercies," said Sally; "and your life is not ended. I hope your good times are yet to come."
"Well, maybe so, if Mrs. Travilla can help us to the medical aid we need, and put us in the way of earning a good living afterward."
"I shall do my best for you in both respects," Elsie said kindly, accepting a chair Sally set for her near the bed.
"I knew you would; you were always generous," remarked her ci-devant governess; "prompt too in bestowing your favors. But it is easy to be generous with a large and well-filled purse."
"Very true," Elsie answered with a smile. "And now what can I do for you? Ah I had forgotten. Mrs. Ross, hearing you were ill, and knowing that to the sick something sent by a neighbor was often more relished than home food, however nice, put a basket of dainties into the phaeton."
Stepping to the door, she signed to the servant, who immediately brought in a hamper of provisions such as had not been seen under that roof for many months. Mrs. Gibson's eyes glistened at sight of a basket of fine fresh fruit and a bowl of delicious custard.
"I will go now and call again to-morrow," Elsie said, as the man carried away the empty hamper.
Grasping Sally's hand cordially in parting, she left something in it.
"Mother!" cried the girl, breathlessly, holding it up to view, "it's a check for a hundred dollars!"
"'Tisn't possible! let me see!" cried Mrs. Gibson laying down the spoon with which she was eating raspberries and custard, and holding out her hand for the check.
"Yes, so it is! what a godsend! I didn't think even she was so generous. But dear me, she's rolling in wealth, and it's no more to her, or even as much as ten cents would be to you or me."
"Oh, mother!" said Sally, reproachfully, "we have no claim on her; and if she has a good deal of money, she must have hundreds of calls for it."
"No claim on her? why people take care of old servants, and a governess ought to be considered of a good deal more account."
"Tom mustn't know about this, mother."
"No, indeed! the greater part of it would soon go for liquor or at the gambling table, if he did. Here give it to me, and I'll hide it under my pillow."
The saucer of berries was scarcely disposed of, before a second visitor arrived.
Dr. Morton was considered the most skilful practitioner in the neighborhood. Mrs. Travilla meeting him on the way in returning to the Crags, had begged him to take charge of Mrs. Gibson's case, and also to look at Sally's eyes; engaging to settle his bill herself.
On his way home he called at the Crags with his report. The mother, he said, was very much out of health, but not incurable; he had promised to send her some medicine. A month or two at the seashore would do her good; perhaps restore her entirely."
"Then she must go," said Elsie, "I will at once see what arrangements can be made. But now, what of the girl, doctor?"
"She seems in pretty good health."
"But her eyes?"
"The nerve is affected; there is no help for her."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Quite. I have paid a good deal of attention to the eye, and I assure you a case like hers is incurable."
"Then you decline to attempt to do anything for her?"
"I do, Mrs. Travilla, because there is absolutely nothing to be done."
"Poor girl, how sorry I am for her! blindness must be so terrible," Lucy remarked to her friend after the doctor had gone.
"Yes," Elsie answered thoughtfully, "but I do not give up hope for her yet."
"Dr. Morton is considered very skilful."
"Still he may be mistaken, and I shall not rest till I have made every effort to save her sight."
Little Elsie and her sister had already become deeply interested in poor Sally, and were laying plans to help her.
"What can we do, Elsie?" queried Vi, in an under tone, drawing her sister aside.
"She'll want clothes; she had on a very old faded calico dress."
"And not a bow or pin; just an old linen collar around her neck," remarked Gertrude, joining them; "and her dress was ever so old-fashioned and patched besides."
"Let's put our pocket money together, and buy her a new dress," proposed Vi.
"And make it for her," added Elsie; "it hurts her eyes to sew, and you know Dinah could fit it. Mamma had her taught the trade, and says she fits and sews very nicely."
"Oh, what's the use of giving our money?" exclaimed Gertrude, impatiently. "We want it ourselves, and your mamma has such loads and loads of money; hasn't she, Eddie?" turning to him, as he stood near.
"I don't know," he answered; "she never told us she had; she never talks much about money, except to tell us it all belongs to God, who only lends it to us."
"And that we must give it to the poor and needy," said Vi.
"Because 'it is more blessed to give than to receive,'" added Elsie.
"Well, I know she has," persisted Gertrude, "for my mamma often says so, and I'm sure she knows."
"But even if she has, mamma's money is not ours, and it's a duty and a very great pleasure to give of our own."
"Every one to their taste, I haven't a bit more money than I want myself," said Gertrude, walking away with her chin in the air.
"Gerty," said Elsie, running after her, "don't be vexed; we weren't meaning to ask you for anything; but only talking about our own duty."
"Oh, I can take a hint as well as other folks," said Gertrude, tossing her head.
"What's it all about?" asked Kate, coming up to them; but they paid no heed to her, and she went to Vi for the desired information.
"Why, I'll help, of course I will," she said; "I guess I've got some money, I'll look after tea; there's the bell now."
Elsie seized an opportunity to petition her mother for a longer talk than usual in her dressing-room that evening, and the most of it was taken up in the discussion and arranging of plans for helping Mrs. Gibson and her daughter.
"What an unconscionable time you've been upstairs, Elsie," Philip remarked in a bantering tone, coming to her side as she and her mother returned to the drawing-room. "I've been dying to speak to you, as the girls say."
"All girls don't talk so, Phil."
"You don't, I know. Would you like a gallop before breakfast to-morrow morning?"
"Yes, indeed!" she answered, her eyes sparkling, "it's what I'm used to at home. Papa rides with us almost every morning."
"Will I do for an escort?"
"Oh, yes, if mamma consents. Gert will go too, won't she?"
"No, she prefers her morning nap."
Philip was a manly boy, the neighborhood a safe one, and the pony Elsie would ride, well-broken and not too spirited, so mamma's consent was readily given, with the proviso that they should not go before sunrise, or choose a lonely road.
"By the way," she added, "I should like you to do an errand for me at Mrs. Gibson's."
As Sally Gibson was sweeping the doorstep early the next morning, a couple of ponies dashed up to the gate, in whose riders she instantly recognized Elsie Travilla and Philip Ross.
"Hallo!" shouted the latter, "this young lady has something for you."
"Good-morning," Elsie said, reaching out a little gloved hand, as the girl drew near, "mamma bade me bring you this note, and ask how your mother is to-day."
"A little better, thank you; it has done her a world of good to--to have her mind so relieved, and the doctor's medicine seems to have helped her too. How very, very kind Mrs. Travilla is," she added, with tears in her eyes, "and Mrs. Ross. Won't you come in?"
"Not this morning, thank you," and away they galloped. Sally looking after them with admiring eyes, and a murmured exclamation, "How pretty and sweet she is!"
It was not an envious sigh that accompanied the words, but born of mingled emotions,--the half-formed thought, "Shall I ever know such pleasures. Alas, they are not for me!" quickly succeeded by another,--"Ah, that sweet child cannot live to maturity, and be always as happy and free from care, as now."
Her mother's shrill voice recalled her to herself, "Why do you stand there? What's that they gave you?"
"A note, mother. It's directed to me."
"Then make haste and read it."
"Shall I not give you your breakfast first?"
"No, no! do as I bid you."
So the girl read the missive aloud without delay.
It was from Mrs. Travilla, and stated that she had already written to engage a room for Mrs. Gibson in a cottage in a quiet little seaside town; a place recommended by Doctor Morton as very suitable; and that she would secure a competent nurse to go with her.
"Why can't she send you, too, instead of hiring a stranger to go with me?" here interrupted Mrs. Gibson, angrily.
"Wait, mother," said Sally in quivering tones, tears of joy and gratitude filling her eyes.
She dashed them away and read on.
"I have another plan for you. Doctor Morton told you his opinion,--that your case was hopeless. But do not despair; mistakes are often made even by the most skilful men. A friend of mine, whose trouble was very similar to yours--consulted a number of excellent oculists all of whom told her the nerve of her eye was affected and there was no help for it, she would certainly go blind; then as a last hope she went to Doctor Thomson of Philadelphia, who succeeded in giving her entire relief. If you are willing, I will send you to him. And now the first thing is to provide your mother and yourself each with a suitable outfit. Come up to the Crags as early this morning as you can, and we will make arrangements."