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Elsie's Womanhood (Chapter22)

2006-09-07 20:27

  Chapter Twenty-Second.

  “Calm me, my God, and keep me calm While these hot breezes blow;Be like the night-dew's cooling balm Upon earth's fevered brow.”——H. BONAR.

  “Fear not; I will help thee.”——ISAIAH xiii. 13.

  “Dear old auntie! to think how hard at work for her country she is, while I sit idle here,” sighed Elsie, closing the letter after reading it aloud to the assembled family. “Mamma, papa, Edward, is there nothing we can do?”

  “We can do just what they are doing,” replied Rose with energy, “I wonder I had not thought of it before; shirts, stockings, lint, bandages, we can prepare them all; and send with them such fruits and delicacies as will carry from this far-off place. What say you, gentlemen?”

  “I think you can,” was the simultaneous reply; Mr. Travilla adding, “and we can help with the lint, and by running the sewing-machines. I'd be glad to add to the comfort of the poor fellows on both sides.”

  “And money is needed by their aid societies,” added Mr. Dinsmore.

  “And I can send that!” Elsie exclaimed joyously

  “Yes, we all can,” said her father.

  Several busy weeks followed, and a large box was packed and sent off.

  “If that arrives safely we will send another,” they said; for news had reached them that such supplies were sorely needed.

  “What! at it again, little wife?” queried Mr. Travilla, entering Elsie's boudoir the next morning, to find her delicate fingers busy with knitting-needles and coarse blue yarn.

  “Yes, sir,” she said, smiling up at him, “it seems a slight relief to my anxiety about my country, to be doing something, if it is only this.”

  “Ah! then I'll take lessons, if you, or Aunt Chloe there will teach me,” he returned, laughingly drawing up a chair and taking a seat by her side. “Mammy, can you supply another set of needles, and more yarn?”

  “Yes, massa;” and laying down the stocking she was at work upon, away she went in search of them.

  “Papa, see! so pitty!” cried a little voice; and “wee Elsie” was at his knee, with a diamond necklace in her hand.

  “Yes,” he said, gently taking it from her, “but rather too valuable a plaything for my little pet. How did she get hold of it, dearest?” he asked, turning to his wife.

  “Mamma say Elsie may. Please, papa, let Elsie have it,” pleaded the little one with quivering lip and fast-filling eyes.

  “I gave her leave to look over the contents of my jewel box; she is a very careful little body, and mammy and I are both on the watch:” answered mamma. “It is a great treat to her; and she takes up only one article at a time, examines it till satisfied, then lays it back exactly as she found it. So please, papa, may she go on?”

  “Yes, if mamma gave permission it is all right, darling,” he said, caressing the child and returning the necklace.

  “Tank oo, papa, mamma; Elsie be very tareful mamma's pitty sings,” she cried with a gleeful laugh, holding up her rosebud mouth for a kiss, first to one, then the other.

  “Let papa see where you put it, precious,” he said, following her as she tripped across the room and seated herself on a cushion in front of the box.

  “Dere, papa, dus where Elsie dot it,” she said, laying it carefully back in its proper place. “See, so many, many pitty sings in mamma's box.”

  “Yes,” he said, passing his eye thoughtfully from one to another of the brilliant collection of rings, brooches, chains, bracelets, and necklaces sparkling with gems——diamonds, rubies, amethysts, pearls, emeralds, and other precious stones. “Little wife, your jewels alone are worth what to very many would be a handsome fortune.”

  “Yes, Edward, and is it not really a pity to have so much locked up in them?”

  “No, it is a good investment; especially as things are at present.”

  “I could do very well without them; should never have bought them for myself: they are almost all your gifts and papa's, or his purchases.”

  Aunt Chloe had returned with the needles and yarn, and now Elsie began giving the lesson in knitting, both she and her pupil making very merry over it. Rose and Mr. Dinsmore presently joined them, and the latter, not to be outdone by his son-in-law, invited his wife to teach him.

  Horace was at his lessons, but Rosebud, or Rosie as she had gradually come to be called, soon followed her parents. She was a bright, merry little girl of six, very different from what her sister had been at that age; full of fun and frolicsome as a kitten, very fond of her father, liking to climb upon his knee to be petted and caressed, but clinging still more to her sweet, gentle mamma.

  Mr. Travilla and she were the best of friends; she was devotedly attached to her sister, and considered it “very nice and funny,” that she was aunt to wee Elsie and baby Eddie.

  “Oh,” she cried, the moment she came into the room, “what is wee Elsie doing? Mamma, may I, too?”

  “May you what?” asked Rose.

  “Why, what is the child doing? playing with your jewels, Elsie?” asked Mr. Dinsmore in a tone of surprise, noticing for the first time what was the employment of his little granddaughter.

  “Yes, papa; but she is very careful, and I am watching her.”

  “I should not allow it, if she were my child. No, Rosie, you may not; you are not a careful little girl.”

  Rosie was beginning to pout, but catching the stern look in her father's eye, quickly gave it up, her face clearing as if by magic.

  “Papa,” Elsie asked in a low tone, “do you wish me to take away those costly playthings from my little girl?”

  “My dear daughter,” he said, smiling tenderly upon her, “I have neither the right nor the wish to interfere with you and your children; especially when your husband approves of your management. I only fear you may suffer loss. How easy a valuable ring may slip through the little fingers and roll away into some crevice where it would never be found.”

  “I'm afraid it is rather hazardous,” she acknowledged. “Mammy, sit close to Elsie and keep a careful watch, lest she should drop something.”

  “I begin to think there's truth in the old saw, 'It's hard to teach old dogs new tricks,'” remarked Mr. Travilla, with a comically rueful face. “I've a mind to give it up. What do you say, Dinsmore?”

  “That you wouldn't make a good soldier, if you are so easily conquered, Travilla.”

  “Oh, fighting's another thing, but I'll persevere as long as you do; unless I find I'm wearying my teacher.”

  “Perhaps you would learn faster with a better teacher,” said Elsie, “I'm sure the fault is not in the scholar; because I know he's bright and talented.”

  “Ah! then I shall try harder than ever, to save your reputation; but take a recess now, for here comes my boy, reaching out his arms to papa. Bring him here Dinah. Papa's own boy, he looks beautiful and as bright as the day.”

  “Mamma thinks he's a very handsome mixture of papa and grandpa,” Elsie said, leaning over to caress the babe, now crowing in his father's arms.

  “I'm afraid he inherits too much of his grandpa's temper,” remarked Mr. Dinsmore, but with a glance of loving pride bestowed upon the beautiful babe.

  “I, for one, have no objection, provided he learns to control it as well,” said Mr. Travilla; “he will make the finer character.”

  Little Elsie had grown weary of her play.

  “Put box way now, mammy,” she said, getting up from her cushion; “wee Elsie don't want any more. Mamma take; Elsie so tired.”

  The baby voice sounded weak and languid, and tottering to her mother's side, she almost fell into her lap.

  “Oh, my baby! my precious darling, what is it?” cried Elsie, catching her up in her arms. “Papa! Edward! she is dying!”

  For the face had suddenly lost all its color; the eyes were rolled upward, the tiny fists tightly clenched, and the little limbs had grown stiff and rigid on the mother's lap.

  Mr. Travilla hastily set down the babe, laid turned to look at his little girl, his face full of alarm and distress.

  Mr. Dinsmore sprang to his daughter's side, and meeting her look of agony, said soothingly, “No, dearest, it is a spasm, she will soon be over it.”

  “Yes; don't be so terrified, dear child,” said Rose, dropping her work and hurrying to Elsie's assistance; “they are not unusual with children; I have seen both May and Daisy have them. Quick, Aunt Chloe! a cloth dipped in spirits of turpentine, to lay over the stomach and bowels, and another to put between her shoulders. It is the best thing we can do till we get a doctor here. But, ah, see! it is already passing away.”

  That was true; the muscles were beginning to relax, and in another moment the eyes resumed their natural appearance, the hands were no longer clenched, and a low plaintive, “Mamma,” came from the little lips.

  “Mamma is here, darling,” Elsie said, amid her fast-dropping tears, covering the little wan face with kisses, as she held it to her bosom.

  “Thank God! she is still ours!” exclaimed the father, almost under his breath; then, a little louder, “Elsie, dear wife, I shall go at once for Dr. Channing, an English physician who has been highly recommended to me.”

  “Do, dear husband, and urge him to come at once,” she answered, in a tone full of anxiety.

  He left the room, returning with the physician within half an hour, to find the little girl asleep on her mother's breast.

  “Ah, I hope she is not going to be very ill,” said the doctor, taking gentle hold of her tiny wrist. “She seems easy now, and her papa tells me the spasm was of very short duration.”

  She woke, apparently free from suffering, allowed her papa to take her, that mamma's weary arms might rest, and in the course of the afternoon even got down from his knee, and played about the room for a little while, but languidly, and was soon quite willing to be nursed again, “papa, grandpa, and Mamma Rose,” as she lovingly called her young and fair step-grandmother, taking turns in trying to relieve and amuse her.

  She was a most affectionate, unselfish little creature, and though longing to lay again her weary little head on mamma's breast, and feel the enfolding of mamma's dear arms, gave up without a murmur, when told that “poor mamma was tired with holding so big a girl for so long,” and quietly contented herself with the attention of the others.

  As the early evening hour which was the children's bed-time drew near, Elsie took her little girl again on her lap.

  “Mamma, pease talk to Elsie,” pleaded the sweet baby voice, while the curly head fell languidly upon her shoulder, and a tiny hand, hot and dry with fever, softly patted her cheek.

  “What about, darling?”

  “'Bout Jesus, mamma. Do He love little chillens? do he love wee Elsie?”

  The gentle voice that answered was full of tears. “Yes, darling, mamma and papa, and dear grandpa too, love you more than tongue can tell, but Jesus loves you better still.”

  “Mamma, may Elsie go dere?”

  “Where, my precious one?”

  “To Jesus, mamma; Elsie want to go see Jesus.”

  A sharp pang shot through the young mothers heart, and her arms tightened their clasp about the little form, while the hot tears chased each other adown her cheeks. One fell on the child's face.

  “What! mamma ky? Mamma don't want Elsie to go see Jesus? Den Elsie will stay wis mamma and papa. Don't ky, Elsie's mamma;” and feebly the little hand tried to wipe away her mother's tears.

  With a silent prayer for help to control her emotion, Elsie cleared her voice, and began in low, sweet tones the old, old story of Jesus and His love, His birth, His life, His death.

  “Mamma, Elsie do love Jesus!” were the earnest words that followed the close of the narrative. “Say prayer now, and go bed. Elsie feel sick. Mamma, stay wis Elsie?”

  “Yes, my precious one, mamma will stay close beside her darling as long as she wants her. You may say your little prayer kneeling in mamma's lap; and then she will sing you to sleep.”

  “Jesus like Elsie do dat way?”

  “Yes, darling, when she's sick.”

  Mamma's arms encircled and upheld the little form, the chubby hands were meekly folded, and the soft cheek rested against hers, while the few words of prayer faltered on the baby tongue.

  Then, the posture changed to a more restful one, the sweet voice still full of tears, and often trembling with emotion, sang the little one to sleep.

  Laying her gently in her crib, Elsie knelt beside it, sending up a petition with strong crying and tears; not that the young life might be spared, unless the will of God were so, but that she might be enabled to say, with all her heart, “Thy will be done.”

  Ere she had finished, her husband knelt beside her asking the same for her and himself.

  They rose up together, and folded to his heart, she wept out her sorrow upon his breast.

  “You are very weary, little wife,” he said tenderly, passing his hand caressingly over her hair and pressing his lips again and again to the heated brow.

  “It is rest to lay my head here,” she whispered.

  “But you must not stand;” and sitting down he drew her to the sofa, still keeping his arm about her waist. “Bear up, dear wife,” he said, “we will hope our precious darling is not very ill.”

  She told him of the child's words, and the sad foreboding that had entered her own heart.

  “While there is life there is hope, dearest,” he said, with assumed cheerfulness. “Let us not borrow trouble. Does He not say to us, as to the disciples of old, 'It is I, be not afraid'?”

  “Yes; and she is His; only lent to us for a season; and we dare not rebel should He see fit to recall His own,” she answered, amid her tears. “Oh, Edward, I am so glad we indulged her this morning in her wish to play with my jewels!”

  “Yes; she is the most precious of them all,” he said with emotion.

  Aunt Chloe, drawing near, respectfully suggested that it might be well to separate the children, in case the little girl's illness should prove to be contagious.

  “That is a wise thought, mammy,” said Elsie. “Is it not, Edward?”

  “Yes, wife; shall we take our little daughter to our own bedroom, and leave Eddie in possession of the nursery?”

  “Yes, I will never leave her while she is ill.”

  Weeks of anxious solicitude, of tenderest, most careful nursing, followed; for the little one was very ill, and for some time grew worse hour by hour. For days there was little hope that her life would be spared, and a solemn silence reigned through the house; even the romping, fun-loving Horace and Rosie, awe-struck into stillness, and often shedding tears——Horace in private, fearing to be considered unmanly, but Rosie openly and without any desire of concealment——at the thought that the darling of the house was about to pass away from earth.

  Rose was filled with grief, the father, and grandfather were almost heart-broken. But the mother! That first night she had scarcely closed an eye, but continually her heart was going up in earnest supplications for grace and strength to meet this sore trial with patience, calmness, and submission.

  And surely the prayer was heard and answered; day and night she was with her suffering little one, watching beside its crib, or holding it in her arms, soothing it with tender words of mother love, or singing, in low sweet tones, of Jesus and the happy land.

  Plenty of excellent nurses were at hand, more than willing to relieve her of her charge; but she would relinquish it to no one; except when compelled to take a little rest that her strength might not utterly fail her. Even then she refused to leave the room, but lay where the first plaintive cry, “Mamma,” would rouse her and bring her instantly to her darling's side.

  At times the big tears might be seen coursing down her cheek, as she gazed mournfully upon the baby face so changed from what it was; but voice and manner were quiet and composed.

  Her husband was almost constantly at her side, sharing the care, the grief and anxiety, and the nursing, so far as she would let him. Rose, too, and Mr. Dinsmore, were there every hour of the day, and often in the night, scarcely less anxious and grief-stricken than the parents, and Mr. Dinsmore especially, trembling for the life and health of the mother as well as the child.

  At length came a day when all knew and felt that wee Elsie was at the very brink of the grave, and the little thread of life might snap asunder at any moment.

  She lay on her pillow on her mother's lap, the limbs shrunken to half their former size, the face, but lately so beautiful with the bloom of health, grown wan and thin, with parched lips and half-closed, dreamy eyes.

  Mr. Travilla sat close beside them, with cup and spoon in hand, now and then moistening the dry lips. Chloe, who had stationed herself a little behind her mistress to be within call, was dropping great tears on the soldier's stocking in her hand.

  Mr. Dinsmore came softly in and stood by the little group, his features working with emotion. “My darling,” he murmured, “my precious daughter, may God comfort and sustain you.”

  “He does, papa,” she answered in low, calm tones, as she raised her head and lifted her mournful eyes to his face; “His consolations are not small in the trying hour.”

  “You can give her up?” he asked, in a choking voice, looking with anguish upon the wasted features of his almost idolized grandchild.

  “Yes, papa——if He sees fit to take her; 'twere but selfishness to want to keep her here. So safe, so happy will she be in Jesus' arms.”

  Mr. Travilla's frame shook with emotion, and Mr. Dinsmore was not less agitated; but the mother was still calm and resigned.

  No sound had come from those little lips for hours; but now there was a faintly murmured “Mamma!”

  “Yes, darling, mamma is here,” Elsie answered, softly pressing a kiss on the white brow; “what shall mamma do for her baby?”

  “Jesus loves wee Elsie?” and the dreamy eyes unclosed and looked up into the sweet pale face bent so lovingly over her. “Elsie so glad. Mamma sing 'Happy land.'”

  The young mother's heart was like to burst, but with a silent prayer for strength, she controlled herself and sang low and sweetly, and even as she sang a change came over the child, and it fell into a deep, calm, natural sleep that lasted for hours. All the time on the mother's lap, her eyes scarce moving from the dear little face; her breath almost suspended, lest that life-giving slumber should be broken.

  In vain husband and father in turn entreated to be allowed to relieve her.

  “No, oh no!” she whispered. “I cannot have her disturbed; it might cost her life.”

  This was the turning point in the disease, and from that time the little one began to amend. But very weak and frail, she was still in need of weeks of continued tender, careful nursing.

  “Mamma's lap” was the place preferred above all others; but patient and unselfish, she yielded without a murmur when invited to the arms of papa, grandpa, Rose, or nurse, and told that “dear mamma was tired and needed rest.”

  Elsie was indeed much reduced in health and strength; but love, joy, and thankfulness helped her to recuperate rapidly.

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