Rest At Last
For five Years had Elsie Dale been gathered to her husband's great, warm heart; for five years had her head nightly rested upon his broad breast; for five years had his loving arms enfolded her; for five years had he shielded her from every care and sorrow from which a devoted husband could shield an almost idolized wife.
Five years! and each year had passed to them like a swift-gliding bark down a rapid current, so noiselessly by, so rapidly, they could scarcely believe it going till they found it gone. They were so happy in the present, they took no note of time, and, thought not but many such happy years were in store for them; thought not but that they had a long life before them. But a time of sorrow came. The strong man, the happy husband and fond father, was stricken with disease, and when the physician came he sat silently by the patient's bedside, shook his head mournfully and all but Elsie understood him well. Yet hope in her heart was so strong she had never thought that he could die; that her idol could be taken from her, and she would not, could not, believe it then. It could not be, she thought, for she could not have it so ; God would not be so cruel as to take him from her, for she could not live without him, and there were scores that death might take, for whom not one would weep. Thus wildly, hopefully, ran her thoughts as she bent over her husband hour after hour watching his every breath, catching his every whisper. Reason said: Other husbands die, why not yours? But self would immediately reply: Other husbands do not love as mine loves, their wives do not love as I love, for they live on the same without theirs. I could not without mine. My strong love alone shall hold him here. I cannot, will not let him go.
Ah ! dear, loving Elsie soon learned there was a higher will than hers. The husband's great love for his wife and child, and theirs as great for him, could not hold him here. The Father called and he went, Elsie not realizing it was to be so till she felt the icy breath as his life went out in that last fond kiss, upon her lips. But, oh! the agony of that moment when hope was crushed when she knew that prayers and cries to save him were all in vain-when she realized that he was gone and that no human power could warm that clay to life again.
All that long dreary night she watched by that lifeless form for her friends knew it was not long she could have even that privilege, and she begged so earnestly, so piteously, to be left alone with her dead husband that they granted her request and she watched alone beside him, lavishing every caress she was wont to bestow, upon that cold, unanswering face, till the tide of intense sorrow so completely chilled her, that she had no more tears to give, and there were left no outward signs of the sore bleeding heart that could not be comforted. She would at times chafe his cold hands with hers, almost as cold, and again she would smooth the dark locks of hair back from his broad, high brow, kissing it as she was wont to do when he could return the caress. Just as day was breaking, the lone watcher knelt beside the dead, exhausted; her head sank lower and lower till it rested on the breast where for five years it had been so tenderly pillowed, and she fell into a deep slumber; then they gently bore her to her room and left her there, still dreaming of him who was more than life to her. Ah! if she could have slept on forever; for, oh! that sad, that wretched awakening; God only knew the desolation of that heart. How dark seemed the world, how dark life! only one hope and that was so far away the hope of lying in the grave beside him. She prayed so earnestly for death, for she could not live when they should take him away, for even his clay cold form was a comfort to her then. Poor Elsie! she had yet to learn that death does not come at our bidding, yet to learn that God knew better than she what she could endure.
"Mamma, I want to go see papa! mamma, I guess papa get well pretty soon," lisped a sweet baby voice from the crib beside her.
Elsie had been so absorbed in her own grief that she had scarcely thought of her little two year old boy, who would hereafter call in vain for papa."
The child went on talking of its father, while every word went like daggers to the stricken mother's heart. She could not reply to his little questions of "papa," but only stroked his head in silence, while her heart seemed breaking with its weight of woe.
At last the little one, wondering that it received no replies, looked up into the mother's face and said: "Mamma, I guess I go see papa, you don't love Charlie any more."
Then the mother caught him to her breast and held him there, so close, as if she feared that he, too, might be taken from her. Then the heart fountains were opened, and tears, like rain, fell over the child, relieving, for a time, her own heart. She did not ask again for death, but that God, for the sake of this little one, who had lost as much as she, would spare her life and give her patience and strength to bear this great bereavement, and wisdom to bring up her child. No matter how dark life might be to her, for his sake she prayed to live. She did live, though for weeks her life hung on a slender thread; for when they closed the coffin lid for the last time over that dear, cold face, a wail of piercing sorrow rent the stillness of the room, and the world grew dark. She had fainted! and all that followed for several weeks was to her a blank. When consciousness again returned, the trying ordeal through which she had passed seemed like a frightful dream; but with returning strength came a recollection of all that had passed, not with such stunning force as it came at first, but with a subdued grief, tempered by a Higher Power, to which she meekly bowed and tried to say: "Thy will be done."
Elsie recovered not only to find herself a widow and feel the utter loneliness of the widow's lot, but to learn that she was homeless and penniless. The firm of Baker & Co. of New Orleans had failed, and with it went her property, not leaving even the home so endeared to her by her husband's life, so consecrated by his death. Winter, stern and gloomy, was approaching. Her child must be provided for, must be made comfortable; as for herself, she cared but little, she could live any way or any how while she must, it mattered but little how or where, but her child must be cared for; for his sake she must exert herself, and where should she go? and what should she do? were questions she asked herself over and over again, but without receiving any answer. They had lived so isolated, so within themselves, had made so few acquaintances, she knew not to whom to apply for advice. All around her seemed so intent upon their own affairs, her sensitive nature shrank from intruding her sorrows and cares upon their notice. The busy world moved the same, the people sang and laughed the same, though her heart seemed to be breaking with its weight of trouble. She knew not what to do or which way to turn. Oh, then how she longed to hold communion with the spirit of the departed one, to receive one word of counsel, one word of advice, from him in this hour of her utmost need. Oh, she thought, if she could but for one moment lean her head upon that breast as in other days, and rest her aching heart, her weary brain, it would be all she would ask while here. Then again and again she would cry in bitter anguish, "Oh, how wretched is this sad, sad yearning for something we know cannot come; this feeling of utter loneliness. Oh God! when other husbands die, weep other hearts the same? No, no! they cannot. The world could not contain so much misery! " Ah yes, Elsie Dale, the same. You were selfish in your love, you are now selfish in your grief. In your day of prosperity and happiness you saw not the bleeding hearts around you ; those situated as you were, see not yours now. This is life, and probably as it should be; for what a wretched world this would be if we felt other's sorrows as we feel our own. God has wisely ordered that each heart must bear its own burden of woe.
There lived in Cleveland a cousin of Mr. Dale, whose daughter had every year since Elsie's marriage spent the gayer part of the season with them. Sarah Monroe was selfish, proud and arrogant. She had no higher aim in life than to move in the wealthiest circles of society, and keep pace with the fashions of the day. Elsie had never felt that her own and Sarah's tastes were at all congenial, yet she always gave her a warm welcome and ever exerted herself to make her happy. She and her husband often sacrificed their own personal comfort and happiness, to gratify her selfish love of fashionable amusements, frequently attending parties and other places of fashionable diversion to please her, when they would much rather have spent the time at home by themselves.
Mr. and Mrs. Dale had frequently been urged not only by Sarah but by Mr. and Mrs. Monroe to visit them. This they had never done, because they had been so happy at home, that they had felt no desire to go outside of their own little family circle to seek for pleasure. Now, in this hour of her great need, Elsie turned to Monroe as the only friend and relative to whom she could look for aid. She concluded to visit them and stay until she could decide upon some definite arrangements for the future, and accordingly wrote them to that effect. The reply came from Mr. Monroe, kindly urging her to come, and generously offering herself and child a home; but Elsie thought the few words added by Mrs. Monroe and Sarah seemed studied and cold-then again she thought she was doing them injustice to harbor such a thought, and would attribute the seeming coldness to her own gloomy feelings. But when she arrived at Mr. Mon-roe's, she saw but too plainly that she was not mistaken in regard to the letter. Mr. Monroe received her very kindly, but from Sarah she did not receive that warm welcome with which she and Mr. Dale had ever greeted her, while Mrs. Monroe's manner was so cold and dignified it was hardly respectful ; and that night when she retired, nearly exhausted with the journey, she sobbed herself to sleep, thinking she and her child were unwelcome guests.
Elsie awoke the next morning considerably refreshed, for her sleeping dreams were sweeter than her waking ones. The voices that reached her from the sitting-room told that the family were already assembled, and, remembering she had heard Sarah speak of her mother's habit of early breakfasting, she made a hasty toilet, and descended to meet the family just as breakfast was announced.
"Perhaps our breakfast hour is rather early for you, Mrs. Dale; if so, we could have it a little later, could we not, Mary?'" said Mr. Monroe.
Elsie was asking them to make no difference in their family arrangements on her account, when Mrs. Monroe said, in answer to her husband's question:
"We shall breakfast at the usual hour." Then turning to Elsie, she continued:] "I have always followed Dr. Franklin's rules for rising. Don't you think his rules in regard to sleep are excellent? "
Elsie, thus appealed to, answered as she thought right; not realizing that she would differ from her questioner, she said: "Franklin's rules are, no doubt, good for many; but I consider myself a better judge of the quantity of sleep I require than he could have been."
" That is my opinion," said Mr. Monroe.
"And mine is," said Mrs. Monroe, very curtly, " that Dr. Franklin was a wiser person than either you or I."
"Admitted," said Mr. Monroe, "and if he were now living, he and I might differ as much constitutionally as we should mentally."
Just then the voice of Charley was heard crying for mamma; and Elsie, knowing the child would be frightened at waking in a strange place and not finding her near, immediately went to her room, though Mrs. Monroe strongly insisted upon sending the servant girl.
Elsie found her little boy crouched at the foot of the bed, and the servant girl, already there, threatening the child with punishment if he would not go down with her.
This girl was a rare specimen of the Irish order, with short hair bristled around her face and matted at the back of her head. She had on an old fashioned spencer waist, the frill of which she might have taken to lengthen her skirt with a tattered garment which came several inches above her ankles and both so completely glazed with grease and dirt it would have been difficult to tell of what material they were made. When Mrs. Dale entered, the girl went out muttering, " The cross hateful thing, I'll take some of the ugliness out of him." Elsie saw her child was not angry but frightened and grieved. She took him in her arms and tried to soothe him, but, for a long time he only cried, murmuring brokenly, "Mamma, I don't want that naughty woman to get me,
I want to go home, to my nice home, where my good papa can find me when he comes back. Please, mamma, take me home and tell my good papa to come." Elsie finally succeeded in pacifying the child, but his words had touched a tender chord in her heart, and it was some time before she could control her own feelings sufficiently to again meet the family, and when she did the frown on Mrs. Monroe's brow told plainly that something had gone wrong; and Sarah said half audibly something about children being "such nuisances." Mr. Monroe was the only cheerful person in the room, but with a strong effort of the will, Elsie pressed back the starting tears and commenced a conversation with him, pretending for his sake not to have heard the ill-natured remark of his daughter.
Not a day passed but Elsie was made to feel by Mrs. Monroe and Sarah, that herself and child were unwelcome there. Mrs. Monroe frequently gave her long lectures in regard to the government of her boy, always finding fault with Elsie's management, and usually finishing by saying, "he will certainly be a spoiled child unless you train him differently," and Sarah could not endure the least noise from him.
Mr. Monroe sought in every way to make her feel at home and happy; and once, when she mentioned the subject of finding employment, instead of trespassing upon the hospitality of her friends, he seemed deeply grieved and begged she would never look upon the matter in that light again: "for," said he, "it is a duty I owe to the wife and child of my dear friend and relative, and I deem it a privilege to provide for them, a privilege which I sincerely hope they will not deny me." So she never again mentioned the subject, but determined, for his sake, to stay awhile longer and patiently endure Mrs. Monroe's fault-finding and Sarah's grumbling till it was more openly made manifest; for not once since the morning after her arrival had they shown any ill-nature toward her in Mr. Monroe's presence. Then, she secretly cherished the hope that some kind of business would present itself in which she could engage and become independent of his bounty without wounding his feelings or mortifying him by a knowledge of the truth.
There was a young man of prepossessing appearance who frequently called at Mr. Monroe's, and whose name Elsie afterward learned was Clayton. Whenever he came, if Elsie happened to be in the parlor, she immediately withdrew, as the women never seemed inclined to give her an introduction, nor even made any motion to detain her. This she thought nothing of at first, but when it was repeated time after time when this gentleman called, but never when any other entered, she could not fail to see that it was done purposely, and wondered why it was.
One afternoon Mr. Clayton came in, and Elsie, as usual, withdrew. But her little boy in rising from the carpet where he was sitting with his little basket full of toys, dropped the basket, scattering the playthings over the carpet. Elsie turned to tell the child to pick them up before he came, then passed on, leaving the door ajar that he might follow; but before she had passed out of hearing, she heard Mr. Clayton say, "Let me help you my little fellow, I think I can make your acquaintance if I cannot your mother's."
Mr. Clayton helped the child till the last toy was put in his tiny basket, then, taking him on his knee asked him many little questions, to which Charlie unhesitatingly replied.
When the child left the room he said to Sarah, who had hardly spoken during the time, " I love little children and it often affords me the greatest pleasure to talk with them. That, I think, is an uncommonly intelligent child. His mother is a widow, is she not? I noticed that she was dressed in mourning."
Sarah replied in the affirmative.
"That little boy must be a great comfort to her," he went on, "and it no doubt affords you much pleasure to have the little fellow here."
" I know his mother considers him a great blessing, but I should not if I were in her circumstances a widow, destitute, and dependent upon the bounty of others; and you are mistaken in thinking he brings any pleasure to me, on the contrary, I think it very unpleasant to be obliged to hear from morning till night, the clatter of his playthings or. the hum of his voice, as he goes around asking questions, or talking of his father, thus keeping one gloomy by constantly reminding them of the departed. In fact, I do not like children, and can hardly endure their presence."
This was said by Sarah very ill-naturedly, and it gave Mr. Clayton a better insight into her character than he had ever before had; but he felt interested in the widow, though he said to himself, it was only in the little boy; and while he was on the subject, he determined to know more of their history, and as Sarah had never before mentioned them and seemed to do it now reluctantly, he knew it would be by replying to questions only, that he would get it, so he said:
" Mrs. Dale is a relative of yours, I suppose?"
"Only by marriage ; her husband was a distant relative of father's. He was an excellent man, of high standing in society, and considered very wealthy, even up to the time of his death ; and no doubt was, and would have been now had he lived to have taken care of his property himself."
"Was she wronged by the administrators?" asked Mr. Clayton.
"No, because she had none appointed. It was like this," said Sarah, seeming to become more interested in the conversation:
" Mrs. Dale was an idolized and petted wife. Mr. Dale never troubled her with his affairs, and she was very willing not to be troubled with his cares so long as she had all her wants supplied and every wish gratified; so when he died she knew nothing of his business, and worried herself sick, as near as I can learn, over his death, just when her health and strength were the most needed. During her illness the firm with which her husband was connected, failed, and when she recovered and tried to help herself, it was too late; everything was gone, even to her household goods. Father, when he heard of her circumstances, said he felt it a duty he owed her husband to offer her a home here. Mother and I finally consented, though reluctantly, on account of the child. And now, we think she ought to consider our kindness and the trouble such a child must be to us, and be willing to let it go elsewhere, if we could find a good place for it: and we can, for Mr. Grayson, across the street, has taken a great fancy to the boy, and would gladly adopt him, as they have no children of their own, and would, doubtless, do well by him. But the other day mother merely mentioned the subject to her and she said she should keep her child while she lived, and broke forth into such a fit of weeping that it really gave me the hysterics. We, that is mother and I (for we have never said anything about it to father), think she ought to look to the child's interest as well as her own feelings, for she is entirely incapable of bringing up the child as he should be. She is altogether too mild and easy to govern a child of his spirit." This was all said more disparagingly than other-wise to Mrs. Dale; and Mr. Clayton could not fail to see it. He also noticed with what a heartless and indifferent manner she had spoken of the widow's grief when her story had well nigh brought tears to his own eyes, and he utterly despised the character of the woman before him. From his inmost soul he wished the bereaved woman might find a home among other and more sympathizing friends, and after a moment's pause he again asked :
"Has Mrs. Dale no relatives of her own?"
" Not any, I believe. She was left an orphan when very young, and from that time till her marriage, lived with a maiden aunt. This aunt, I understood, was very wealthy, but she died a few months after her niece was married, and bequeathed her whole property to charitable institutions, as she said, ` Mr. Dale, her only surviving relative, had enough without any from her.' Pity the old lady had not put it in trust for her, till a time of need," added Sarah, rather curtly.
Mr. Clayton had heard all he had asked for. He saw plainly enough how matters stood, and changing the topic of conversation, staid a little while longer, then went away, thinking more than he would have cared to own about the orphan widow. Her pale, sad face was before him in the street and in the counting-room. Some-times he almost wished he had not heard her history, then he would not have felt so deeply interested in her welfare, for his sympathy was touched, his feelings en-listed in her behalf, and he longed to see her placed above the dependent position she then occupied. He determined to become acquainted with her, and find, if he could, a situation for her somewhere, where she could maintain herself and child independently, without aid so grudgingly bestowed.
Two or three days after this, when Elsie and her little boy were alone in the parlor, Mr. Clayton came in, as he frequently did, without being announced. Elsie asked him to be seated and said, "Miss Monroe and her mother are out calling this afternoon, but will probably be in soon," and taking her boy by the hand, she was about leaving the room, when he said respectfully, but half familiarly, " I do not wish to be left alone, will you not remain till they return ? "
Thus invited, Elsie resumed her seat. Mr. Clayton called little Charlie to him and after seating him on his knee, entered very freely into conversation. Every one who loves children, knows how easy it is for older people to become acquainted through them; so Elsie and Mr. Clayton both thought then, for they were soon conversing on various subjects as much at ease as though they had known each other for months; and with their own conversation and Charlie's prattle thrown in at intervals, they felt that they were fast becoming friends. Thus an hour or more passed delightfully to Mr. Clayton, and very pleasantly to Mrs. Dale.
When Sarah entered the house, hearing voices in the parlor, she immediately entered without laying aside her cloak and hat. When she came in Elsie excused herself, and, with her little boy, who, at Sarah's entrance, had glided from Mr. Clayton's knee, left the room; but not before she had seen the frown on Sarah's brow, which she knew well enough she was the innocent' cause of; and Mr. Clayton could not fail to see that she was but ill-pleased to find him holding such an animated conversation with Mrs. Dale, and this, together with what he had on the previous call learned of her character and disposition, sank her very low in his esteem ; and he could not but draw a comparison between the pure hearted, noble minded Mrs. Dale and the young lady who could entertain such feelings of dislike and jealously toward her. Mr. Clayton's visit was not prolonged many minutes after Sarah's entrance, but he left even more deeply interested in the delicate stranger than he was before. He really wished he could take her to himself, pillow her weary head upon his breast and shield her from the rough blasts of adversity. He longed to take her from this home of dependence, which he knew must be so galling to her sensitive nature, place her above want, and soothe her troubled heart to rest ; and he secretly cherished the thought that this might all some time be.
As soon as Mr. Clayton left, Sarah, wishing to give vent to her angry feelings, burst into her mother's room exclaiming, I knew that hateful woman would be the death of me; I may as well give Mr. Clayton up, for I can never win him with that designing creature here. When I entered the parlor, there they sat, so perfectly at ease, and conversing as freely as though they had been acquainted all their lives. Oh! I feel so vexed at myself for giving him her history, as I did the other day, or even telling him who she was, but he quizzed it out of me or I never should. I saw, the moment he left, what a fool I had made of myself;" thus Sarah talked on, and together the mother and daughter planned how they could, by affronting Elsie, cause her to leave without Mr. Monroe's knowing any thing about it, for they very well knew it would be useless to go to him with their trouble.
Mr. Clayton was a man about thirty years of age of superior intelligence and an independent mind and in-dependent views of life. Being wealthy he moved in the first circles of society. At the age of twenty-four he married the bride of his choice, a beautiful and intelligent young lady, the daughter of one of the wealthiest citizens of the place, and one to whom he had been warmly attached ever since a child. Soon after his marriage he commenced by himself in the mercantile business in which he was prospered beyond his most ardent hopes; but he had been only two years married when death deprived him of the idol of his heart, yet she left in his arms a little boy to whom he clung with all a father's love, thanking God that this token of their affection was left to comfort him; but only a few weeks after, death claimed the little one also. Then was he left alone, indeed, and very wretched. After this double bereavement his health seemed failing so rapidly that at the earnest solicitation of friends, he went to Europe, hoping to find in change of scene a respite from his grief. But, though he spent two years abroad, the dear ones he had laid to rest in his native home were not forgotten. At the end of that time he returned and again resumed his business, knowing that the wound which his heart had received was one which time, alone, could heal. On his return he was greeted warmly by his former friends and was finally induced to again enter the social circle which his intellect and moral worth were so adapted to please; and many were the parties given, by designing mothers who had marriageable daughters, expressly for him. At these social gatherings he frequently met the Monroes and being warmly urged by Mr. Monroe, who had been an esteemed friend of his father, to visit them, he did so, thinking, at first, to while away a lonely hour; but the cordiality with which he was welcomed by the family, and by Sarah particularly, who tried in every way possible to make these visits agreeable, soon made him feel . that they contributed much to his own happiness, and before he was aware they were becoming very frequent, and he began to entertain feelings of regard for Sarah which he had every reason to believe were any thing but displeasing to her. Thus months passed till he met Mrs. Dale, and, as we have related, saw plainly the young lady's character. After this Mr. Clayton called at the Monroes the same as before, but with the secret hope of again meeting the woman in whom he had become so deeply interested. But Sarah and her mother had treated Elsie with so much rudeness, even throwing at her insinuations of having designs upon the heart of Mr. Clay-ton, that she seldom entered the parlor for fear she might meet him again, and again incur their displeasure; which, feeling her dependent situation, she had no desire to do. Thus two weeks passed, and one day seeing Mrs. Monroe and Sarah in the street he went immediately to the house thinking he surely would not be disappointed then in seeing Mrs. Dale. But upon entering the parlor he found not, as he had expected, the object of his visit, and ringing the bell he inquired for Mr. Monroe, determined to learn something of her by him, and was shown directly into the sitting room where to his happy surprise he met her. Mrs. Dale arose to leave but being requested by both gentlemen to remain she resumed her seat. Little Charlie who had been enjoying a romp with Mr. Monroe was taken to his former happy place on Mr. Clayton's knee and an hour or two passed very pleasantly to all. During their conversation Mr. Monroe had occasion to speak of the business qualifications of Mr. Clayton's father, and he remarked: " It was to Mr. Dale and him that I owe my early success in life. The former lent me means to start in business, the latter helped me to turn that means to the best account, and I have ever felt that I owed them both a debt of gratitude which I could never repay; but for their kind assistance I should probably now be struggling with poverty." When Mrs. Monroe and Sarah came in and found them there holding such a happy conversation together they could not conceal the displeasure they felt toward Elsie. Mr. Monroe recollecting an engagement he had at that hour, went out very soon after they came in, and Mr. Clayton seeing the state of their minds met them with a manner not only formal but very indifferent and soon left.
When Mr. Clayton was gone Mrs. Monroe and Sarah tried no longer to conceal the anger they felt toward Elsie; but the more deeply they could wound her feelings by their words the more satisfaction it seemed to give them. They contemptuously referred to her dependent situation, insultingly enumerated the many favors, as they were pleased to term them, they had bestowed upon her, and the many grievances they had patiently borne from her child. They plainly accused her of maneuvering to win the heart of Mr. Clayton, and finally threw at her bitter taunts of dishonoring the memory of her husband by "being in such haste to secure another," as they worded it.
Elsie's pride and indignation kept back the tears that welled up from an injured heart, while in their presence, but when she reached her own room she sank into a chair, weak, and trembling in every limb, from emotion. Then she wept long and bitterly, and finally when her agitation had subsided sufficiently to permit her to retire, she could not sleep. All the long dreary night she tossed restlessly upon her couch trying to form some plans for the future; but her thoughts wandered here and there, chasing each other round and round through her tired brain till she felt dizzy from excess of thinking. Sometimes wandering back to the beautiful "long ago" on, through the happy days of yore, to the black despair that followed; up to the dreary present, then out into the dim, dark future. But wherever she looked she saw no ray of light to guide her through the dreary darkness that then surrounded her. Yet at break of day she must do something, must decide upon some course to pursue, for that roof could not shelter her another night but where could she go, and what could she do? were questions she again tried in vain to answer.
To be sure she might put out her child and go out to work as Sarah had suggested, and as Mrs. Monroe had said, "it would be no more than others similarly situated had done " but could she do it ? Could she be separated from her child, the last tie she had left to bind her to earth, all she had now to love, or to live for could she let him go away among strangers who would never teach him of his father, never mention her name to him? No! the very thought was agony! and she pressed her sleeping boy again and again to her breast saying, "Who would love my darling or care for him like his mother ? "
Morning dawned and found Elsie as undecided as evening had left her. Tired of trying to sleep, tired of thinking and with a dull, heavy pain in her head, as soon as any of the family were stirring, she dressed herself and throwing a shawl over her shoulders went out into the garden, hoping the keen morning air would revive her drooping spirits. As she was going down the walk she heard the sound of horses' hoofs approaching and she stepped behind a clump of shrubbery that she might not be observed, but she was too late. The rider was Mr. Clayton; he had already seen her and was reining in his steed to speak with her. She could do nothing but reply, though it was at first with some reluctance of mind that she did so, for she well knew how it would be looked upon by those who were already jealous, should they see them; but she felt the happy consciousness of knowing she was perfectly innocent of wishing to do aught to excite their jealousy, and when he alighted from his horse asking if he would be considered an intruder if he entered, she unhesitatingly told him he' would not. Elsie felt that Mr. Clayton was a man whom she could truly respect, and one who would befriend her now if he knew the trouble she was in, and she truly wished he were a married man that she might tell him of her circumstances and ask his advice. Perhaps he half read her thoughts for during their brief conversation he said, "Mrs. Dale, may I ask if you never thought of becoming an authoress? "
"Why, indeed I have not given the subject a thought for several years, but when I was a school-girl, I remember I did think that I might sometime become famous as a writer," replied Elsie with a smile at the thought of those golden dreams, "but I do not think I could write anything that would be accepted even by a country news-paper now," she added.
"But allow me to say I think it would do you good to try your skill in that direction, Mrs. Dale; some can forget sorrow better in that way than in any other. It surely would be some diversion from grief, and I would not be afraid to warrant your efforts success," said he in a brotherly manner, looking into her face where he saw too plainly the traces of grief. Elsie thanked him for his kind suggestion and after a few more words he mounted his horse and rode away, while she went into the house, feeling stronger in both body and mind than when she left it. Mr. Clayton was nothing to her but a friend, but he had awakened in her mind a new train of thoughts, had pointed her to a ray of light in the dark future which seemed every moment to grow brighter, and for this she felt truly grateful, for this she blessed him: but, if he had when she that morning met him even in that hour of her greatest need made her an offer of his hand, she would not have accepted it, not even to have saved herself and child from the almshouse her heart was too near the loved one she had laid beneath the sod. Sarah had intimated that she, herself, was engaged to Mr. Clayton; but Elsie, though she did not care on her own account, did not believe it, and sincerely hoped for his sake that it was not so, for she well knew he could never live happily with such a woman; and she could not but think his judgment was good enough to see it too.
As Elsie sat there alone by the bedside of her child watching its regular breathing, her heart went outward to the future, and she for a moment forgot her sorrow and rejoiced in the dream that was there presented. Yes! she would write. The more she thought of it the more she felt herself equal to the task. She could; there should be no such word as fail in her vocabulary, and it should bring her a home and food for herself and child. She cared not for fame since he could not be there to share it with her, though she thought the dazzling wreath would be indeed very beautiful if the dearly loved one could but gaze in admiration upon it too, and for a moment she imagined it was hers and that he was there to bind it on her brow, but she was awakened from her dream by the voice of her child saying, " Mamma, I want my papa to come back." This was the child's usual expression on first awakening and Elsie, though it opened anew the wound in her heart, could not chide him for it for the child's memory of his father seemed to be so much clearer in the morning than at any other time and she so much wished him to remember the dear one that had loved him so much that she rather encouraged him in it, than otherwise.
When Elsie entered the breakfast room she expected to again encounter the frowns of Mrs. Monroe and Sarah, but neither of them were present and she knew by the pleasant manner of Mr. Monroe as he excused them, that his wife had said nothing to him of what had passed the day before. At first she thought she would tell him and that she must go away and look for employment some-where by which to support herself independently; then she concluded not to wound his feelings by speaking of it, as she knew, too well, that he would object to her plan and it would be better to wait till she knew, herself, where she was going. After breakfast Elsie began making preparations to go out in search of a room where she could live alone and take in work, or a place where her labor would pay for the board of herself and child. But before she had started a letter was handed her by the servant. It proved to be from an old school-mate, and friend, who had been her dearest play-mate when a child, and urging her to come at once and live with them. Elsie Curtis and Nellie Wilder grew up to womanhood together almost as though they had lived in the same house; for their homes were but a few feet apart and scarcely a day passed, or even an hour of any day, with-out their being together or at least talking to each other. The girls loved each other with a true love that was not easily changed; and when Nellie, at an early age, married Herman Dean, a young mechanic of the village, some of the girls greeted her coldly, thinking she had married beneath her station and out of their "set," but not so with Elsie; their friendship was too true and of too long standing to be so easily sundered. When the young married couple decided to move to a small village in what was then termed the western wilds of Michigan, Elsie's grief was great, and she hardly knew how to get on without the company of her who had been for so many years her constant friend and companion. For several years the girls corresponded, often and regularly, but in time Elsie entered College and became absorbed in her studies, and in after years the increasing cares of Nellie's family caused letters to become less frequent then Elsie married, and each, with their own home affairs to look after, found enough to occupy their time so that for the past two years they had but seldom heard from each other, yet each thought of the other often and hoped sometime to meet again.
Nothing could have come more opportunely to Elsie Dale than this welcome letter from her friend, and she was not long in deciding to accept the very cordial invitation, and once more gathering her child to her heart, she went forth to find another home where she hoped she would not be an intruder. This time Elsie was not disappointed, but was met with open arms by her friend and together they shed tears of joy and of sorrow joy at meeting each other again, and sorrow for the death which had made Elsie's life so dark and dreary. She had at last entered a haven of rest where true hearts were overflowing with love for each other and for those around them, a love and sympathy which showed itself not so much in noisy words as in little unselfish acts of kindness.
Mr. Dean, though a mechanic in humble circumstances, was a true Christian gentleman and gaining daily the confidence of those by whom he was surrounded. He was a man of but few words but one who thought for himself, and did what he thought was right without reference to the opinions of others. It mattered not to him that his neighbor lived finely or fared sumptuously, he envied no man his wealth or grandeur, but was con-tented and happy in his own comfortable home, and knew that the peace which comes from love and right-doing was of more worth than wealth: yet, he did not ignore riches and was laying by a small sum yearly which would in time place him above want, but he was content to labor for his daily bread, thankful that by so doing he could live comfortably and make a happy home for his loved ones. Mr. Dean knew that Elsie was without a home and in great sorrow which would have awakened his sympathies even if she had been a stranger, but, coming as she did, the dear, faithful, long loved friend of his beloved wife she was doubly welcome, and he tried in every way to make her feel at home and happy. Elsie had at last found a place of rest and it was so sweet to her worn, tired heart that she sometimes thought if she could only overcome that longing for the loved one to return she would be so happy. Though this humble cottage was not much like the costly edifice she had once called home or the beautifully furnished house she had just left, the spirit of benevolence, love and sympathy, dwelt richly there and made it a paradise on earth, as a true home really is. Elsie had been here but a short time when she learned that the sewing girl, who, also, assisted her friend in the general housework when needful, was compelled by sickness in her own home to leave, and Nellie was inquiring of a lady friend who called if she knew where she could find another to take her place. When the caller left Elsie urged Nellie to let her take the place of this sewing girl as by so doing she would feel more independent and thought that she could thus in a measure repay them for their many kindnesses to her and her child. At first Mr. and Mrs. Dean thought they could not accept Elsie's proposition and told her they wished her to consider their home hers, for she and Charlie were as welcome as their own children, and they really felt that it was a privilege to have them with them and that their home circle would not be complete without them. But Elsie pleaded for the place as a favor, assuring them that she could not be true to her own sense of justice unless she thought she could in part compensate them for their trouble, and it was because she prized the advantages of this lovely, well-ordered home so much that she asked this, that she might make it a lasting abiding place. When Mr. and Mrs. Dean saw how much Elsie wished it and that they would be doing injustice to her feelings to refuse her the situation they cheerfully acquiesced. Elsie entered upon her new duties with a cheerful spirit for she felt that now she could make herself useful, and had a right in this dear home nest. She completely won the hearts of the little ones as she moved around in her quiet way, mending a toy for one, bandaging a cut finger for another, soothing the baby to rest or attending to the many little wants that the mother with her many household cares had not time to look after. Elsie possessed that noble quality called gratitude, and it gave to her pale face a look of rare sweetness, and as she sat at her sewing telling the children fairy tales to keep them from getting into trouble themselves, and from troubling mamma, they almost thought her some angelic being, and even asked her at one time, if the angels, of which she had been telling them, didn't look like her, only dressed in white instead of black.
Here, too, in this happy home, Elsie began her life work, that which was suggested by Mr. Clayton the morning she left Mr. Monroe's, that of writing and sending her thoughts out into the world to lift up humanity and gladden others as they were treading the weary pathway of life. This work she enjoyed greatly, and wondered she had not taken it up before for she knew she had been called an easy writer in her college days and many of her articles had found a place in the leading papers of that time; but her married life had been so sweet, she did not care for anything but home and the idolized ones there. But now, the idol, at whose shrine she had worshiped, was crumbling to dust, and this new occupation took her mind into another channel; she had no time to brood over sorrow, she was too busy for sadness; this labor opened to her vision new hopes and new aspirations. Fresh, beautiful flowers bloomed all around her, and she gathered them to scatter broadcast over the earth that others might inhale their fragrance and enjoy their loveliness. She saw that her grief was, after all, but a selfish feeling, and by this work she was lifted above it into a purer, holier, atmosphere which brought joy and gladness to others and thus peace and happiness to herself.
Five years have passed since Elsie Dale entered the home of her friend Nellie Dean.
Her success as a writer had been great. From short stories for the little folks she had gone to longer ones for older people, but weaving into each the true lives of those she met, day by day, so that the charm of her sketches lay in the reader's thinking it was his own life or the life of some intimate friend the author was portraying.
Elsie was returning from New York, where she had been to transact business connected with the third volume of her publications, when, stepping into the crowded car, a gentleman arose and offered her a seat saying: Is not this Mrs. Dale?" "It is," Elsie replied, and after a moment's thinking and another glance into that manly intellectual face, she added: "Mr. Clayton! I am happy to meet you." Perhaps she would not have added the last sentence if she had not spoken impulsively or had known, as she did soon after, that he was not the husband of Sarah Monroe.
"Where have you been hiding all these long years?" asked Mr. Clayton, "for I have tried in vain to find you. Did Mr. Monroe's family know where you were? They said they did not, for I have often inquired." "I wrote them soon after I went to Dayton," said Elsie, "but if they did not receive the letter it is quite probable they did not remember where I was going as I left quite suddenly, and have never written again, thinking if they wished to hear from me they would answer; but if I have been uncharitable in thus thinking I am sorry, and will make amends if you will take my address to them with the request that they write me."
This Mr. Clayton promised to do, and after many inquiries about Charlie and the place where she lived the conversation took a literary turn; and while discussing different books her own works were spoken of by Mr. Clay-ton in such a way that she knew he did not once dream of her being their author. He asked if she had read "Leah," which was "Theo's" latest work, and when she answered in the affirmative and asked how he liked it, his quotations were so perfect and his praise of the book so great that she felt her face crimson and turned it from him fearing she might betray her secret; but he was so absorbed in his subject he did not notice her embarrassment and went on saying: " If `Theo' is writing for fame her object is gained, for that is one of the books that will live, and thousands, many years hence, will bless the author of that work; and I must tell you that I saw in 'Leah' a character that reminded me much of you, and in many things her life resembled yours I thought" then he noticed the blushes in Elsie's face but misinterpreted their cause while she was ready to cry with perplexity for in the volume of which he was speaking she had put much of her own life but the cars stopped, Mr. Clayton was at his journey's end, and with a hasty good bye he was gone. It all happened (their meeting) so strangely and passed so quickly that it seemed like a dream to Elsie, and she wondered if it would ever happen again. As Elsie had received no reply to her letter to Mrs. Monroe, she had not heard from the family and was really glad to know how they were, for she highly esteemed Mr. Monroe and retained no ill feelings toward his wife and daughter; and to make matters pleasant the morning she left, and account to all for her hasty departure, she told Mrs. Monroe that she had received a letter from a dear friend in Michigan who wished her to come to her at once; and so the good byes were said as though all had been right; and now, Elsie was glad to throw the mantle of charity over the unanswered letter and believe that it was never received and that they had forgotten the name of the place where she went as they had told Mr. Clayton. But Mr. Clayton never quite believed it and always thought Mrs. Monroe kept the letter to herself fearing that he would visit Mrs. Dale if he knew where she had gone. Elsie arrived safely at home, and a few days after, a lette: came from Mr. Clayton which was the beginning of a happy correspondence.
The little wing of a building which Elsie called "Grace Cottage" stands as it did when she entered it over five years ago, but attached to it is a building of much larger dimensions; this, and the little orchard back of the house, is owned by Nellie Dean. It was a present from Elsie. This evening the house is brilliantly lighted and in the spacious parlors is assembled a very select company, the first in intellect and culture that the town affords. It is a wedding occasion and Elsie Dale and Henry Clayton are the happy couple. Though neither have forgotten their former companions they are happy to-night in each other's love; and, perhaps, their love is truer, holier, for their hearts having been drawn so closely to the other world.
The past five years have been years of toil to Elsie; but the labor was self-imposed and she worked on cheer-fully;. though sleepless nights and weary days have been many, she has had her reward. Her books have been gladly received and have attracted the attention, of the wise and the good throughout the land; they have entered the homes of the poor and lowly and brought to the inmates sweet words of hope and cheer. They have brought to herself both wealth and fame, and for these she is truly thankful, not for her own sake so much as for the dear friends who so kindly sheltered and cared for her in her desolate loneliness. But few who read her thrilling stories knew that they would never have blessed the world if their author had not drank the cup of sorrow to its dregs, and felt the weight of poverty's cruel hand.
Mr. Clayton took his wife to his beautiful city home, only a few rods from the Monroe's, which had been tastefully and elegantly fitted up for her reception. Mrs. Monroe, and her daughter who was still unmarried, were the first to call.
Elsie had managed to keep the secret of her author-ship from her husband till after their marriage. One day as they were talking of authors and their writings he touched again upon "Theo's" works and said he must purchase her last book and they would read it together. Elsie left the room and returning in a moment presented to her husband a beautifully bound volume of the book they were speaking of. He glanced at the title page and said: "Theo is my favorite author." "I know she is," said Elsie with a look and tone that he knew meant something, as she blushingly hid her face on his shoulder. He raised her head and held it in both hands and taking one long deep look into her eyes, said: "Elsie, did you write this book?" Then he clasped her to his heart and held her there in one long, loving embrace, while thoughts too deep for utterance surged over his soul, but finally said: "Dear, worn, tired heart, rest at last, rest here, and may you find it the sweetest rest this side of Heaven."
( Originally Published 1887 )
Sunny Side Sketches For Young & Old:
The Beggar Boy
The Drunkard's Home
Intoxicants In The Home
Out In The Storm
Grandmother's Letter Box
Rest At Last
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