“Elva Seeking Her Fortune,” by “Sophie May” (Rebecca Clarke) (from Robert Merry’s Museum, 1865)
“Chapter 1: The Red Farm-House” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1865; pp. 18-21)
In a rural town not far from Boston there once stood an old red cottage between two hills. Some one said that “red houses blush for the men who painted them;” but Farmer Newell’s neat dwelling had no reason to be ashamed. It was too venerable and old-fashioned for criticism; and, besides, it looked somehow all the cosier for its bright, warm color.
Mr. Newell’s father had lived there before him. Everybody in town had heard of old “Grandpa Newell,” the white-haired soldier, who, long ago, planted the thrifty orchard, built the close stone wall around it, and dug the deep well in the northeast corner of the back yard. The excellent Daniel, who now owned the premises, took a worthy pride in his parent’s memory, and was in the habit of saying, with much emphasis:
“Well, if I am only half as good a man as my father was before me, I guess I shan’t come to the gallows right away!”
No one could contradict this very moderate speech. Not much danger, indeed, that any of the Newell family would be brought within sight of the gallows; for a steadier, “likelier” race did not exist in all Yankee-land.
Daniel Newell’s wife was a cheerful, bustling woman, who knew how to scold a little, but whose scoldings were rather pleasant than otherwise, like the lively little breezes which stir the air and purify it. If her disposition was not exactly sweet, it was, at any rate, “a pleasant sour.”
At the beginning of our story, this red cottage between the hills contained just four inhabitants. Daniel Newell, his wife, their son Perley, and Abner Hackett, “the hired man,” who was treated in all respects like one of the family.
There had once been a sweet little girl christened Elvira, and called “Elva,” toddling about the house, doing all manner of cunning mischief; but she was gone now. She had been like an “Elf of Light,” of which we read in Northern mythology; but her sunshine had gone out, leaving a great darkness.
Farmer Newell missed the tiny feet which had been so swift in running to meet him, and the rosy face which had been pressed so lovingly to his rough cheek.
Abner, the active worker, who hardly ever spent an idle moment, out of doors or in, now tried to keep busier than ever, in order to stifle his tender regrets for the pretty child, so “full of funnyisms,” who had been in the habit of creeping into his arms every evening, and asking him either to “tickle her creep mouse,” or to tell her “a ’tory.”
Parley, a boy of six summers, also mourned for little Elva, though after the fitful manner of childhood, with loud wailing, and sudden gusts of tears which were soon dried.
But the poor mother! Only mothers can guess what an aching there was at her heart! She went about the house very much as usual, brushing down cobwebs as briskly as ever, careful housewife that she was! turn-
ing cheeses, “working over” the yellow butter, getting “boiled dinners,” and blowing the tin horn with all the force of her breath.
But for all this, she took scanty pleasure in her work, now there was no longer a “little hindering thing” to tread upon the skirt of her dress, or tip over her pans of shelled beans.
She had not forgotten to utter an occasional joke; and sometimes her sad face lighted up with a smile, but you could always fancy there was a tear just behind it.
Elva had left this beautiful world in summer, in the “amiable month of June,” when the roses were ill full bloom. Now it was December, the first “ice-month,” and already winter seemed to have set in, in good earnest.
The days were growing shorter. It was as if they had been pulled out like India-rubber all summer, and now were drawing up again. In the middle of the afternoon the sleepy sun began to drop down the sky as if pulled by a leaden weight. The December sun looks chilly to sad hearts. Abner grimly remarked that “it had turned a cold shoulder upon the world.”
Yet it was really the beginning of a sharp New England winter, and the Newells were ready for it.
The “Baldwins,” “Pearmains,” “None-suches, Seek-no-furthers,” and “Sops-o-’wine” were stowed away all sound and fragrant in their bins; also the cooking apples, that is, all which had not been “hung, and drawn, and quartered.”
The cider-barrels were filled, and lay quietly down cellar, waiting to be tapped. Yellow strips of pumpkin decorated the ceiling, suspended from long poles. Paper-bags of dried sage, and summer-savory, and spearmint, hung here and there on nails. The cooking-stove had been drawn farther into the floor, and its black pipe elbowed its way quite across the room.
In short, everything in Farmer Newell’s kitchen reminded you of winter; even the smell of carrots, pumpkins, and potatoes boiling together in a confused mass in the “arch-kettle” to form a choice stew for the hogs.
“ ’Pears to me it seems to be setting in for a long, cold season,” said Mr. Newell, coming in from the post-office, taking the “comforter” off his neck, and then rubbing his red hands before the crackling fire in the sitting-room.
His wife sighed, and did a very rare thing—dropped a stitch in her blue knitting-work.
“It fairly makes me shiver when I think how lonesome the house will be all winter, day and night!” murmured she. “Daniel, I don’t get used to it, and what’s more, I can’t!”
“I’ll tell you what it is, wife,” said Mr. Newell, hanging up his cap in the front-entry as he spoke, “it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to take an orphan child to bring up, to say nothing of its being an act of charity, Betsey.”
The good man had made the same speech a hundred times before; but for all that it now seemed to make a marked impression upon Mrs. Newell, who suddenly rolled up her knitting-work, clasped her hands together in her lap, and exclaimed, with energy:
“Well, we’ve thought about it, and talked about it, and now I believe I’ll stop talking and go to doing. What if I go to the orphan asylum to-morrow, Daniel, and look round?”
“It won’t do a mite of harm, not a mite,” replied Mr. Newell, unfolding his newspaper and snuffing the candle.
“And if I find a child I think I can love, you’re willing for me to take her, are you, Daniel? because I want to start with a fair understanding.”
“Willing for you to take her? Certain sure I am, Betsey,” responded her husband from the depths of the “Boston Traveler.”
Now this is how it happened that Mrs. Newell, having fairly made up her mind, paid a visit next day to the orphan asylum.
And moreover, on account of this visit, it chances that a poor little girl becomes the heroine of our story.
A homeless, forsaken little orphan was “Tiny,” only a little while before Christmas. Until the happy day, when Mrs. Newell went to “look round,” the child’s only shelter was the asylum, and her only mother the overtasked matron.
No one knew anything of Tiny’s parents. When the desolate little creature was brought to the home for orphans, her great, wondering eyes were stupid with morphia-dreams. Her baby-cries had been hushed by poisonous opiates, till there was nothing left of the child but a sleepy little morsel of skin and bones. Instead of healthy blood, cold, blue ink seemed to run in her veins, and her wasted form bore marks of cruel blows.
Few could look at Tiny without tears, and you may know that large-hearted Mrs. Newell took the wretched baby in her arms and wept over her as one weeps over the grave of a dead darling.
“Who abused her so inhumanly?” asked the kind lady in a tone as if she had said, “Who killed her?”
The matron replied that nothing was known of the foundling, except that she had been brought by a rough-looking woman, not her mother.
Mrs. Newell, who in spite of her brisk, bustling ways would not knowingly brush the down from a butterfly’s wing, was shocked by Tiny’s bruises. At the same time she felt drawn toward the child by an irresistible attraction. A vague something about her, she could not tell what, reminded her of Elva.
“Can she live?” she asked; “will she ever be like other children?”
The matron presumed she might “come out of it,” but did not know, and evidently considered it a question of small importance.
Mrs. Newell shuddered. “I wonder what my husband would say,” thought she, “if I should adopt this child; she is just about Elva’s age and somehow, though I can’t tell why, my heart really yearns for her.”
It was passing strange to the business-like matron that Mrs. Newell should overlook scores of pretty little ones, who were frolicking about the rooms, and make choice of the very child most lacking in the dimpled beauty and cunning ways of babyhood. Poor little outcast! Her new friend meant that she should know what comfort there is in nice food, and natural sleep, and motherly love; that she should feel the warmth of home, and be thawed from the untimely frost which had nipped her tender life in the bud.
So the little one, quite unconscious of her good fortune, was wrapped in a warm cloak, driven in a sleigh by Abner, and at last set down at Mr. Newell’s door as carefully as a package of glass.
Abner looked as if he considered his mistress a little insane; Mr. Newell scratched his head, and said, “It beats all!” and little Perley touched the new arrival as curiously as if it
had been an animated clothes-pin, saying, “Look, mamma, it can step!”
The miserable child was clothed at once in decent, prettily trimmed garments, which had once been worn by a far different child.
Whatever Mr. Newell might have thought of his wife’s choice, he was careful to say nothing. The orphan was forthwith adopted as the daughter of the house, and having no real name of her own, was christened “Elva”—not Elvira—in memory of the angel-child who had taken wings the June before.
The new Elva was no plaything for anybody at first. Her foster-father could not coax her, even by tempting displays of candy, to sit on his knee. She was afraid of Abner’s whiskers, and hid behind the door if he did but whistle to her. She fled from little Perley as if he had been a roaring lion.
The truth was, she had been so cruelly treated, that her frightened wits could not be quieted at once. The tender care Mr. Newell was obliged to exercise had a good effect upon that excellent woman; it gave her plenty to think about and to do.
Elva was like a timid chicken fearing every moment to be pounced upon by some murderous hawk. If her new mother chanced to raise her hand suddenly, the little creature quivered, expecting a blow. As Abner very justly remarked, “She kept everybody at arm’s length.”
But in time her brain was swept clear of its opium cobwebs, and then she fairly grasped the idea that there lived a few people in the world—a choice few—who did not desire to “shake her to pieces.” She learned to say “mamma” with a loving accent, and to lisp a little prayer to the heavenly Father, whose name she had never heard before coming to her new home.
Happy little Elva! The roses, which had long ago been frightened out of her cheeks, began to bloom freshly, and with them appeared a pair of dancing dimples. Then her closely shingled hair grew and rolled itself into blonde ringlets, her eyes shone out clear of the clouds which had dulled them, and Elva was almost beautiful.
“She begins to look like folks,” said Abner, enraptured.
“Isn’t she my own sister now?” asked Perley; “because I wish she was!”
Having now introduced little Elva to our readers, we will, in future chapters, relate what befell her.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 2: Four and Twelve” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, February 1865; pp. 33-37)
Mrs. Newell had reason every hour in the day to be thankful that a kind Providence had thrown the little orphan under her protection. Elva was as impulsive as the vane on the dove-house; prone to bitter tears, and dancing smiles, and wild fancies; but, withal, such a confiding, affectionate little creature, that she crept at once into the empty place in her foster-mother’s heart.
“It’s more than I could have believed, said Mrs. Jenkins, who came to Mrs. Newell’s regularly four times a year to take tea; “I’ve said to the neighbors often, I never would have thought, when you took that little scrimped-up baby, that you could have doctored her up and made a decent child of her. It took you to do it, Mrs. Newell! Come here, little one, and tell me what your name is?”
“Elva Newell; and I’m four years old and a quarter, ma’am,” lisped the child, twisting a corner of her apron and dropping her head a little to one side.
“Very well, my dear; and now, who is your mother? and where did you live before you came here, Elva?”
“Oh, mamma is my mother! Mamma bought me. She went to the store and said to the man: ‘I want to buy a little girl, sir. You got any little girls with black eyes and shiny black hair, all straight?’ And he said, ‘No, ma’am, he hadn’t.’ But there was a little girl on the top-shelf, all wrapped up in a buffalo, and that was me. And I didn’t have anything but blue eyes and white hair. So my mamma bought me—and that’s all.”
Mrs. Jenkins wiped away a smile with her thimble finger, and looked at her hostess inquiringly. Mrs. Newell returned the glance by a twinkle of the eye which seemed to say, “You see for yourself what a cunning little thing she is.”
But no such remark escaped her lips. She merely said, in a brisk tone between scolding and laughing, “We don’t think the child means to tell fibs, Mrs. Jenkins, but I’m sorry to say she has a way of making up very queer stories in her head. Elva, darling, take your fingers out of your mouth.”
The little girl obeyed, fixing on Mrs. Newell her large dreamy blue eyes, full of astonishment; for she evidently supposed she had been giving a truthful account of her origin.
Mrs. Jenkins, much amused, went on with her questions. “Do you know your letters, dear?”
“Yes’m,” replied the child, her face beaming with delight; “I learned ’em on my pewter plate, ’fore I could eat!”
“Of all things! Then why do they send you to school? If you know so much, and don’t have to study any, I’m afraid you whisper and play when the teacher don’t see you.”
“Oh, ho!” exclaimed Miss Elva, laughing in high glee. “You thought I was a naughty girl to school, didn’t you? But I’m as good as a lady! The teacher pins me to her dress, and lets me walk all over the floor—everywhere she walks!”
This convincing proof of her own good behavior little Elva told with much enthusiasm, pursing up her pretty lips which looked like “snips of scarlet.” But her mother suddenly remembering that children should be seen and not heard, advised her talkative little daughter to keep quiet; and for the space of two minutes Elva sat staring straight into the fireplace, which was filled with branches of feathery asparagus, or over the mantle at the two black profiles of her father and mother.
Great was the child’s wonder respecting those profiles; she thought Mr. and Mrs. Newell must have changed very much, or that the artist had made a strange mistake in their complexions.
Then Elva ran to take a peep at her pretty self in the large looking-glass, whose gilt frame surrounded it like a halo. By-and- by, as her mother and Mrs. Jenkins fell into a butter-and-cheese conversation, which she thought very wise and very stupid, she ran out of doors to find Perley and the dog Nimrod, and have a frolic.
“There’s a regular fly-away, you’d better believe,” said Mrs. Newell as the last flutter of pink calico disappeared behind the lilac bushes. The words were tart enough, but spoken with a fond smile, reminding you of a sweetly acid stick of lemon-candy.
“She imagines all sorts of strange things,” continued the good lady. “Sometimes she calls herself Esther for a day at a time, and won’t answer to any other name, and wants a crown, just as queen Esther had, in the Bible.”
“How you talk!” said Mrs. Jenkins, drawing out her needle with a jerk of surprise.
“She made up that story about my buying her at a store, and has told it over so many times that she really believes it. Why, Mrs. Jenkins, she is so full of her fancies, that I have to be very careful how I speak of sickness before her; for what does she do but imagine she feels all the pains and aches in her own little body! Strange as it may seem, I’ve actually known that child to turn pale and faint, and cry with the side-ache when she has heard about Mrs. Taylor’s sufferings with that cambric needle, you know.”
“You don’t say so, Mrs. Newell! What a curious child!”
“She is indeed a strange compound, Mrs. Jenkins, I do assure you. She needs a steady hand. It will be my aim to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but I shall need much wisdom from above.”
“We shall all need it,” said Mrs. Jenkins, sighing as she thought of her large family of boys.
At the early hour of five, tea was prepared; not a minute too soon for panting little Elva, who rushed into the house like a frightened pet lamb, pursued by boisterous Perley in the character of a roaring lion.
“Children!” said Mrs. Newell, severely, “sober down in a minute!”
The children at once proceeded to “sober down” by washing their faces and rubbing them on the roller-towel, which, though of spotless purity, was harsh to the touch, being made of that kind of “crash” which is not at all softened by age.
Elva had not yet learned to be ashamed of her high-chair. She sat next her mother, with Abner on her left, for the table was round. Mr. Newell asked a short and heartfelt blessing upon the excellent food set before them; and all the while Elva and Perley kept their hands folded, and their eyes fixed on their plates, like well-bred children.
Mrs. Newell poured the tea, as she did everything else, in an energetic, lively manner, which was really refreshing. She always wore her front hair rolled in the shape of the letter O, and fastened on each side of her temples by shell side combs.
“I like to have company,” said Elva confidentially to Abner after tea, “for then we have damson ’serves in a glass dish, and oh, such nice custards, all freckled with nutmeg!”
After Mrs. Jenkins had gone home, Elva sat in her father’s lap asking him the most delightfully foolish questions, which he answered at random with scarcely a smile; though at heart he was laughing plentifully, and blessing the sweet little prattler who made so much sweet music in the house. After coquetting with her father for a while, Elva went to Abner, who called her “Miss Yellowlocks,” and asked her what had happened during the day.
“Perley’s been a plaguin’ me! He called me everything. He said I was all the naughty girls, and all the homely girls—he did!”
“Bad Perley! I shall have to talk to him!”
“Yes, sir,” replied little Puss, with a demure sweep of the eyelashes, “I whipped him!”
Then everybody smiled, and noisy Perley clapped his raspberry-stained
hands and whistled with great gusto; for it was well known that Elva had a way of “whipping” her stout brother with playful little love-pats, hardly powerful enough to brush the dew off a rose-leaf.
Then, after much petting, the family consented to part with Elva for the night. She knelt by her mother’s side and repeated her evening prayer, and so ended one of her happy days.
Surely nothing could be brighter and cheerier than the poor orphan’s little childhood. What does she remember of cruel blows, and still more cruel doses of anise-seed and paregoric? What does she know about orphan asylums, and hungry, homeless children?
It would be a pleasure to linger with Elva through her sunny days of baby-houses and dirt-pies; but we must hasten to have her grow older. We have said good-night to the happy young creature of four; and now let us bid good-morning to the little maiden of twelve.
The same golden-haired Elva, but grown almost out of our knowledge—she is rather tall for her age. Her fair face is a little freckled. Ah! Elva, that is because you do not always remember your sun-bonnet. But what are a few freckles more or less on a gentle frank face! Elva is very “handy,” her mother says. Summer and winter she is an early riser, always wakened betimes by the high-toned but pleasant voice of that active house-wife, Mrs. Newell.
She was feeding her fowls one morning, standing at the barn-door, gazing far away at the soft sky and the clouds of smoke curling up from the village chimneys, while her hens, turkeys and geese pecked away at their breakfast quite unheeded.
There had been a remarkable event at the farm-house, and Elva’s thoughts were running upon it. “A baby, a live little girl,” said she to herself; “isn’t it splendid? I wish, though, the nurse wouldn’t be so cross! What if baby is little! Just as if I should drop her, or break her like a china teacup! Oh! such a darling, with her little bobbing head and her soft cheeks! What makes Mrs. Piper say I shall kiss the blood through? It’s just to plague me, and I don’t believe a word of it, so there, Mrs. Piper!
“It makes me so ashamed when the girls come in to look at the baby, to have that woman sit and shake her head just like a tiger, and say, ‘Elva, don’t you touch the child! I’ll show her to the children myself!’ As if I hadn’t half sense!”
Here a speckled hen flew at a white chicken in the most savage manner, but received not a word of rebuke from Elva, who stood shelling corn, her large eyes fixed upon vacancy.
“What did that spiteful woman mean by saying, ‘Now, Miss Elva, your nose is out of joint!’ ” continued the little girl, unconsciously touching her nasal organ to make sure it kept its usual position. “I don’t see as there’s anything the matter with my nose; but I can guess what she means, or I have an inkling, as Abner says. She thinks nobody will take any notice of me now there’s a baby in the house! Just as if my darling mother can’t love two as well as one—three as well as two, I mean. I don’t believe a word of it, so there, Mrs. Piper.
“I’m going to make my new sister a present. Let’s see, what will I get? I shall have money enough to buy almost anything, for mother says I may have all she gets for my sage and summer-savory and camomile. Let’s see.”
“Hullo, Elf,” cried Perley, suddenly appearing and scattering the feathered assembly in all directions. “Oh, my stars! What do you suppose you are doing, you crazy thing? You’re feeding those everlasting chickens with my pop-corn!”
“Why, so I am!” cried Elva, in great consternation; “will it hurt them, think!”
“Hurt ’em, think?” echoed Perley, laughing. “No, nor even pound-cake wouldn’t, as I know of, nor custard pudding. Oh, what a girl!”
Perley stooped to pick up what Elva had dropped.
“Four cobs, miss; and ’twas just the jolliest pop-corn we ever had in the house! How shall I pay you for such doings? I’m going to toss you up to the moon, miss—do you hear?”
“Don’t, don’t—I didn’t mean to,” screamed Elva, as Perley seized her in his strong arms, and playfully flung her into a bundle of hay as if she had been a wisp of straw.
“Now tell me,” said he, pinioning her shoulders, “What was it Abner said to you last night out in the kitchen, all so solemn? Tell me, and I’ll let you up.”
“Shan’t tell,” said Elva, laughing gleefully.
“Then keep it to yourself—who cares?” said Perley, trying to appear indifferent, but evidently in a fever of curiosity.
“Well, I do keep it to myself, and always did, and always shall,” said Elva, dextrously freeing one arm and pinching her brother’s ear.
“But I shouldn’t have known it was a secret at all if you hadn’t looked so amazing important,” returned Perley. “Poh, that’s the way you girls keep things to yourselves. You’re wanting to tell, now, I’ll bet you are. You wish I’d tease you a while first. Oh, I know you!”
“How dreadfully he feels!” said Elva, mockingly. “Poor little Perley! But he’ll know all about it one of these days, so he need not cry. Everybody knows boys can’t keep secrets. Abner wanted to tell my poor little brother, but he didn’t dare! Don’t cry, honey, you’ll know all about it by-and-by.”
“When shall I know, Elva?”
“Oh, in about six weeks if you’re a dear, patient boy and don’t die of curiosity,” said roguish Elva, tossing her curls with an air of great importance.
“Come now, Elf, behave! We’ll make believe it’s a great secret between you and Abner, just to please you, but I know better. Is it sober or funny? Does it make you feel glad or sorry? Say, before I let you up.”
“Oh, some glad and some sorry,” said Elva, the ready tears springing to her eyes. “I could cry a river of tears; and then, again, it makes me laugh right out, Perley.”
“You’re always laughing and crying at once,” said her brother, with an ungallant grimace.
“But don’t you ask me one more question, brother. Why, I wouldn’t break my word to that darling Abner for anything—not for all the stars if they were gold and going to drop right into my lap; now you know I wouldn’t, Perley.”
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 3: Wendeline” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1865; pp. 67-70)
About six weeks had passed. The baby was beginning to feel more at home in this odd world of ours, and lay in her nice blanket wrinkling up her wise face, to the great amusement of Elva and Perley, who rejoiced in the departure of the obnoxious Mrs. Piper.
“Oh, mother!” said Elva, skipping from the cradle to the fireplace and back again, “I’ve done with playing forever! You never go to the back door again and call out, ‘Where’s my little runaway? Come, wash your dishes!’ It won’t be out of doors that you’ll go to look for me. It will be in the sitting-room, or wherever darling baby is!”
Mrs. Newell laughed. “There! there! don’t kiss the baby so hard! Don’t you see you’ll set her to crying? How long, think, before she’ll get to be an old story?”
“Well, well, dear, I’m not scolding. Bring me the gray goose- wing, Elva. But children are generally children, to the best of my observation. You think now you’ll be a wonderful sight of help. Well, I’m sure I hope you will, Elva, for a baby never makes the work of a family any lighter, that’s certain.”
“But pleasanter, mother—a great deal pleasanter,” exclaimed Elva, kneeling by the cradle and pressing her cheek close to her little sister’s velvet face; “I can spring out of bed in the morning now and never mind it. Precious, cunning, darling baby, you make us all so happy, don’t you know? Don’t you see, you little lump of love, it’s you that makes us love to work?”
There was a soft tearful light in Mrs. Newell’s eyes as her daughter spoke; but she went on in her matter-of-fact way:
“You understand just how it is, Elva. It isn’t my way to like to have hired help. To be sure, we shall be obliged to get Cynthia Ross during haying; but otherwise than that, we can get along alone, if we are so disposed, and take things to advantage.”
“Oh, mother! seems to me I could learn to cook! Don’t you know those biscuits I made once! They’d have been real good if I hadn’t put in cream of tartar instead of soda!”
“Pretty likely,” replied Mrs. Newell, drily; “and the meat you baked last week would have been nice if it hadn’t burned to a chip. Time enough yet to learn to cook, my child. But you do make yourself useful in other ways, and I’ll give you full credit for it.”
Elva blushed with delight. It was not her mother’s habit to praise her very much.
“I am afraid I shall have to call upon you rather more than usual this
summer, Elva; you shan’t be kept out of school, though, a single day, unless it’s on account of sickness. I won’t interfere with your studies.”
“I knew you wouldn’t,” said Elva, confidently. “You know I haven’t been absent yet, and missed.”
“Glad of that, my child; but hurry and comb your hair, or you’ll get a tardy mark, as sure as you’re alive. Study as hard as you can to-day, for you know you’ll be dismissed this afternoon before three.”
Elva and her mother exchanged glances of much significance.
“Here are the flowers, mother,” said Elva, as she came back to give the baby another kiss before starting. “Don’t let them fade. Only to think that Perley don’t know yet! Oh, the teasings and pinchings he’s given me to make me tell! He won’t say after this that I can’t keep a secret.”
Elva walked to school with a shining face, her red, blue, and yellow dinner-basket swinging on her arm. The white school-house glared like a snow-drift in the sun. She reached it in excellent season, for it lacked a quarter of nine.
A few of the older girls—Samantha Piper, Margaret Hilton, and Louisa Flint—were seated on a grassy knoll under the large maple, discussing some interesting topic.
“How d’ye do, Elf? Seems to me you’re dressed up! Have you seen the new scholar?”
“No—what’s her name? How does she look?”
“Her name is Wendeline Gilman, and she looks out of her eyes,” was Samantha Piper’s curt reply.
“Looks as proud as Lucifer,” said Margaret Hilton, “and that’s the truth of it, if it was the last word I was to speak.”
“She dresses so beautifully, only in horrid taste, though,” said Louisa Flint, looking sorrowfully at the skirt of her own faded calico. “We all saw her walking out with her father last night, Elf. Nobody knows whether she has any mother or not. They have a housekeeper to take care of things.”
“Oh, it’s the people who have bought that beautiful stone house, is it?” cried Elva, eagerly.
“Yes,” said Samantha, quoting from her mother, “and if they don’t feel their consequence, I’m mistaken! But Wendeline is going to town-school, though.”
“Dear me! who wants her?” exclaimed Margaret. “Hush! here she comes, as big as life!”
Elva, turning suddenly, saw approaching the fair young stranger. Most certainly Wendeline Gilman made a striking appearance. She was dressed in a lilac-colored barege heavily bedecked with ribbons and flounces. From her pocket peeped a scented handkerchief edged with deep lace, and to shade her pink silk bonnet, she bore aloft a blue parasol.
At such an imposing spectacle the girls looked quite overwhelmed. No one had the presence of mind to bid the new arrival “Good-morning.” But as Miss Wendeline sailed along, a dead branch of sweet-brier, which had been lying in wait, seized the skirt of her dress, and Elva kindly hastened to prevent the delicate flounce from being torn.
“Thank you, miss,” said the pretty stranger, with queenly condescension.
The girls looked and listened spellbound. There was an aristocratic, distinguished air about the new scholar which overawed them in spite of the disgust they had affected to feel.
“Dear me! I wish I could be so genteel!” sighed Samantha Piper; all to herself, however.
“She makes me think of the titled ladies I’ve read of,” thought Elva, quite enchanted. “She never will say anything to me; we shall never get acquainted.”
Wendeline occupied one of the back seats alone. The unpainted backed bench had suddenly become a throne. Elva, uneasily conscious of the piercing black eyes which might be looking at her back hair, wondered whether it curled well, and whether the new scholar liked curls, and was glad she had worn her spotted delaine this day of all days. It was so odd to think of a little girl who was rich and could buy everything she pleased. Surely Wendeline was to be envied!
During this rush of new thoughts, Elva forgot to exult over her secret which was being kept from Perley, and was almost startled by a knock on the door, at a quarter before three, followed by the summons, “Perley and Elva Newell wanted!”
Perley looked a little astonished, but Elva reassured him by a very wise smile, which was meant to imply, “This is only what I have been expecting, my dear.”
Near the door-stone stood Farmer Newell and the gray horse and chaise.
“Jump in, children! It isn’t every day you’re invited to a wedding.”
“A wedding! Whose? Where?”
“Guess, Mr. Perley,” cried Elva, exultingly; “guess, and then tell me who can keep a secret, sir.”
“Oh, ho! Abner’s! Abner the fair—no, Susan the fair, and Abner the brave! Poh! I knew that, or I guessed at it! So that’s why you wore your speckled dress? Feel all so grand, don’t you, Elf?”
“Grand!” In an old delaine! Elva remembered the delicate beauty of Wendeline’s lilac dress with a pang.
“You needn’t think yourself all creation, Elf Newell—I knew about Abner’s going to see Susan Nutting before ever you did.”
“There—there, that will do, children,” said Mr. Newell, mildly.
It was a mile from the school-house to Farmer Newell’s. To Perley’s impatient spirit the gray horse seemed “as slow as stand- still.”
Arrived at home, the children rushed into the house out of breath. There, in the parlor, sat Susan Nutting, as lovely as a June pink. At the center-table stood Abner, handling the last year’s “Gift Book” as cautiously as if it had been a loaded gun, looking all the while so supremely delighted, yet so wretchedly bashful, that Elva hardly knew whether to speak to him or not. The parlor looked very tidy, as it always did; with its gay striped carpet, its white curtains, its framed pictures of Washington and the “Deathbed of Wesley,” its nosegays in a pitcher, a tumbler, and a glass sugar-bowl cover.
Elva darted forward to kiss the baby.
“Well, my dear,” said her mother, “haven’t you a word to say? You’ve not forgotten this young lady?”
“This is my little girl,” said Abner, taking Elva by the hand and leading her up to the bride-elect. This is Miss— Miss—this is Susan.”
Miss Nutting, who seemed far more at ease than Abner, kissed the little girl affectionately, and said she “grew astonishingly.”
Perley, who had hastened to don his Sunday suit, now entered the parlor, looking shy, pleased, and sulky by turns. He did not relish the idea of losing Abner, nor was it very flat-
tering to the boy’s vanity that he should be the only one kept in ignorance of these arrangements.
When it was time for the marriage service, Mrs. Newell said in behalf of tongue-tied Abner, that he had requested to have Elva for bridesmaid and Perley for groomsman. Perley’s face passed out of cloud in an instant.
The parties took their proper places, Perley at the bridegroom’s side and Elva at the left of the bride. Mr. Newell, who was a justice of the peace, now offered a short prayer, and then proceeded with the ceremony.
It was the first time Elva had ever been present at a wedding. She had supposed it would be very amusing, but somehow it made her think of a funeral. Instead of forgetting the proprieties of the occasion, as her mother had feared she would, in a fit of nervous laughing, she suddenly burst into tears.
“Just like Elf,” thought Perley, frowning with severe dignity. “She is sure to laugh or cry—one of the two.”
But poor Elva was not weeping without cause. A feeling of desolation swept over her at the thought of losing Abner, that partial judge who had always taken her part in her disputes with Perley, that excellent friend who had so often lightened her childish troubles.
Elva tried to think how pleasant it was that Abner had saved enough money to buy a nice farm, and was now going away to live upon it. She knew she ought to be glad for him, just as he would be glad for her in case somebody should give her a beautiful present. But instead of being glad, she was very, very sorry.
It was certainly strange, but in the midst of the child’s tears the image of Wendeline Gilman rose before her. What would such a rich and proud little girl think of her if she should know of her tender friendship for a hired man!
Abner might be sympathetic and kind, and make reels in bottles, and do various other interesting things, yet it could not be denied that his hands were horny, and that he was a hired man!
Not that Elva was for a moment ashamed of her liking for the excellent Abner. She only thought with humility how plain and countrified was Elva Newell, and how aristocratic and grand was the Miss Wendeline who had dazzled her that day.
Elva was suddenly recalled to herself by the distribution of the wedding-cake.
“Good-bye,” said she, clinging to Abner till the last moment, “I’m glad you’ve asked me to go and see you, and I certainly shall, if mother will let me.”
It seemed to Elva that this had been a day of wonders. And so it had indeed. She little knew, however, that her acquaintance with the new scholar would prove to her the most important event of all.
Sleeping that night with a slice of frosted cake under her pillow, her dreams were divided between tearful weddings and black-eyed Wendeline. She thought Wendeline was a queen, wielding a scepter which was, and yet was not, a brier branch; and wearing a pink bonnet, which had been magically converted into a crown. This royal lady led Elva wherever she pleased, through fire and flood, through bush and brier. It was not altogether the crown and scepter which seemed to control Elva—it was still more the wonderful eyes of the queen.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 4: Bosom Friends” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, April 1865; pp. 98-102)
Elva missed her loyal Abner unspeakably. In his place Mr. Newell hired a rough young man from the backwoods of Maine. It was now Perley’s turn to have a friend and champion.
Seth Furbish, with his whittling accomplishments, his string puzzles, his stories of logging-swamps and deer hunts, made himself very fascinating to the boy. As for Elva, Seth had an ungallant contempt for girls.
Just now Elva had plenty of occupation for her thoughts. Black-eyed romantic Wendeline was certainly making a sensation among the schoolgirls—she was so tall and straight and dignified, so romantic, so much like a young lady!
To be sure, the wise people said her stiff and haughty manners were sad to see in a little girl, and they pitied her because she had no mother to teach her better. Her schoolmates, too, called her stiff and haughty; but at the same time if she chanced to drop them a nod or a smile, they were very proud of it.
There seemed no end to her silk dresses. They were remodeled from old ones of her mother’s, though she never said so, and, indeed, was never known to mention her mother but once, and then she said in a mysterious undertone, which was in itself as good as a ghost story:
“Please, young misses, do not allude to my mother again! I am not at liberty to tell whether she is alive or dead! there is a dreadful mystery about it!”
After this, you may know that curiosity raged like wildfire. If there had been any possible means of uncovering this terrible secret, not a schoolgirl in Woodford but would have walked barefoot on thistles for the sake of ferreting it out!
The beautiful stone mansion of the Gilmans seemed to the children like a haunted castle. They took walks in its neighborhood, and looked at it with longing eyes, but no one would have dreamed of entering it.
Wendeline had now been at school for some weeks. Reserved to others, she seemed from the first to take an especial fancy to our little heroine, as, indeed, did every one who knew her.
It would be difficult to make my readers understand how much this preference gratified Elva. A humble chipmunk could hardly have felt more flattered by the patronage of an eagle. She came home one Saturday noon in a flutter: “Oh, mother! do you need me very much? If you do, say so truly and certainly; but if you don’t, are you willing I should go to Tanglewood to tea?”
“And where in the world is Tanglewood?” said Mrs. Newell, pausing with a dish of “minute pudding” in her hands.
“Oh, it’s Mr. Gilman’s new house!—don’t you know?”
It happened that overtasked Mrs. Newell had a week’s mending to do, and that the baby was unusually cross. She had been depending upon Elva’s help that afternoon; but seeing how eager the child was for the visit, she could not disappoint her.
“Where’s the little girl who never wanted to play any more?” said she with a tired smile. “Yes, go, child; but be sure not to stay out after eight. Remember your brindled cow.”
Elva was buoyantly happy when at the primitive hour of two she set out on her visit to Tanglewood. She wore an organdie muslin dashed with pink sprigs, a dress which she had formerly taken such pleasure in displaying, that her mother had often been obliged to caution her against the sin of vanity. But to-day the little girl looked at the same dress with contempt.
“I hope Wendeline won’t notice where the tuck is let down,” she thought; “I hope she’ll never mistrust this is the best dress I have in the world!”
Arrived at Tanglewood, she cautiously opened the iron gate and entered the yard with a throbbing heart. The trimly cut hedge, the ample gravel path, the evenly mown grass, the ornamental trees, stone lions, and urns impressed her anew with a sense of magnificence.
“No wonder Wendeline is proud,” thought silly Elva, drawing out the bell-pull so timidly, that the bell in the far-away kitchen only danced nervously, and did not find its tongue. Elva waited a long while, then tried again. At the third summons a servant appeared, as well dressed as Mrs. Newell herself. In a voice hardly above a whisper, Elva asked if Miss Wendeline was at home. The house-keeper replied that she was, and ushered the trembling little girl into the withdrawing-room, there to gaze about in a maze of awe and wonder, till at the end of half an hour Miss Wendeline appeared.
“Please excuse me—we were at dinner.”
“Dinner?” echoed poor Elva faintly.
“Yes; papa usually dines in the city, but Saturdays he comes home, on purpose to have my company.”
Elva was overwhelmed. She supposed late dinners must, for some unknown reason, be the quintessence of gentility.
“I’m so glad to see you,” added Wendeline with a sudden glow of hospitality. “Come, let’s go, and get introduced to my father, and then we’ll see my curiosities up stairs.”
Elva could scarcely conceal her bashful dread of meeting Mr. Gilman.
“Ah, it is Miss Elva! and how do you do, my dear?” said that gentleman, courteously rising as the girls entered his study. “So, Wendeline, this is your little favorite, is it? Well, really, I am not surprised at your fancy! Be as good friends as you like, my dear girls—as good friends as you like!”
This condescending little speech, accompanied as it was by a gentle patting of the child’s head, pleased and flattered Elva. She began to think there really must be something rather remarkable about a little girl whom great people, like the Gilmans, noticed so kindly.
“Oh, what a beautiful room!” cried she, when they entered Wendeline’s chamber. She had firmly resolved not to express surprise at any sight however wonderful, but now she could not help it. The marble-topped furniture, the damask curtains, small- figured tapestry carpet, handsome books and or-
naments were fit, she thought, for a palace. And this was but a chamber!
What would Wendeline think of the little bird’s nest of a sleeping-room occupied by Elva at home? Just one window in it, with old-fashioned panes of glass, two of them puttied! A coarse white curtain, whitewashed walls, yellow floor, rag rug, two broad shelves—one holding a wash-bowl and pitcher; the other loaded with borrowed books.
Oh, dear! she never more should take pride in tidying up that horrid old room! What had she been thinking of; not to know before that it was horrid!
As Elva admired Wendeline’s Chinese work-table, with its sewing implements of carved ivory, she was thinking with actual shame of the pleasure she had taken in her Indian work-basket, which only cost fifty cents—half of that paid in cold meat!
“What a goose I have been all my life! I guess Wendeline would toss up her head if I should tell her how I’ve enjoyed those two daubs of putty on my window! One of them I’ve named ‘Red Riding-Hood,’ and the other, ‘John Gilpin,’ and never wanted new panes set in, because those cracks have always been there, and look so natural!”
They came at last to a treasury of pictures, puzzles, and illustrated story-
books. If politeness had allowed, Elva would gladly have plunged at once into the very midst of the tempting feast.
“Do you have books at home, Elfie?”
“Oh, yes; ‘Juvenile Rollin,’ and ‘American Antiquities,’ and plenty of histories, you know. Then mother has Perley or me read aloud in ‘Saints’ Rest’ Sundays; and she takes the Zion’s Herald and Ladies Repository.”
“Dear me—how stupid! I’m glad nobody makes me poke over catechisms and questions, books and bibles.”
“Oh, but mother is so good!” said Elva, greatly shocked; “she insists upon my going to Sabbath-school and getting Scripture lessons; why, Wendeline, of course she does!”
“Dear me!” said her hostess, waiving the subject. “I have a whole library down stairs: anything you like you may carry home, and welcome. It would give my father pleasure to have me lend my books to you.”
“How happy you must be!” cried Elva, clapping her hands in an ecstasy. “You have a whole world of beautiful things! You do just as you please!”
“Not so happy as you may think,” sighed Wendeline, with an expression of face which was a very good imitation of despair; “you forget the painful secret about my mother! You, too, have a mystery hanging over you, Elva, and that is why I love you!”
“Love me! does she really love me—this rich girl?” thought Elva, her sweet face flushing with joy.
“Will we not be bosom friends?” said Wendeline, pressing her lips to Elva’s forehead.
“Oh, yes,” faltered Elva, feeling as if she were a crowned queen.
“The girls at our boarding-school used to pair off, two and two, and call each other ‘bright particulars,’ ‘sworn bosom friends,’ and sometimes they said ‘thee and thou.’ It is a serious thing, Elva. It’s almost equal to an engagement or marriage. Remember, before you pledge yourself; that it’s solemn and binding, Elva! You keep my secrets, and I keep yours, forever and ever!”
“I can keep secrets beautifully,” said Elva; “that is, I could, if I had any!”
“If you had any! Why, every body has secrets, dear. Have you given me your promise, Elva? are we bosom friends? thee-and-thou- friends?”
“Oh, certainly, of course.”
“Well, then, come sit on this tête-à-tête with me, and let us talk. Were you ever friends with any one before Elva?”
“Why, yes—Louisa Flint and I, ever since I can remember; but we never made any vows.”
“Louisa Flint! I mistrusted that! Strange, Elva! What can you see in that girl?”
“Oh, she’s very good, Wendeline; you don’t know how much care she takes of her little sisters.”
“Well, that may be; but she is commonplace, let me tell you. Elva, she hasn’t the refinement you have, by any means.”
“Why, I wonder if I have refinement?” thought Elva, secretly gratified.
“Do you know what was the first thing that struck me when I saw you, Elva? It was your beautiful hands—now I am telling the truth!”
“Why, they are as red as beets, Wendeline! I have to milk the brindle cow, weed the flower-beds, and lots of things.”
“Milk!” cried Wendeline, apparently ready to faint; but recovering, she added: “it’s the shape of your hands, Elva, the delicate taper of your fingers. See! they are like mine, only your thumbs are slenderer, if possible.”
“I’m glad,” said Elva, with innocent pleasure.
“Indeed you may be, for it’s the sure mark of a lady; coarse and stumpy fingers are always plebeian.”
Elva was silent. Her companion understood these matters, without doubt; still it was unpleasant for her to remember that her dear mother possessed what might be called stumpy fingers.
“As I was saying, Elva, your pretty hands and your peculiarly refined ways made me think you must be somebody in particular. I found out that you were not Farmer Newell’s daughter; that you were adopted from the asylum. Then what do you suppose came into my head like a flash? Will you promise never to tell while you breathe the breath of life?”
“Never, never!” cried Elva, with wide, luminous eyes.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 5: Wendeline’s Party” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, May 1865; pp. 131-134)
“There is some romance about your history, depend upon it,” continued Wendeline.
“Wendeline! Romance! Oh no; I was only a little abused baby; maybe Irish—I shouldn’t wonder in the least.”
“Irish!” exclaimed Wendeline with energy. “Never do you allow any one to hint such an awful thing, Elva! There’s no more Irish in you than there is in my little finger! You were a stolen child!”
“How can you think that, Wendeline? My dear mother Newell”—
“Don’t be absurd! Of course you weren’t stolen by your ‘dear mother Newell,’ as you call her, but by some witch of a woman—nobody knows who. Why, there was a girl at our boarding-school had the most romantic history, if I had ever heard the particulars.”
“Do try to remember a little of it,” cried Elva, in a fever of eagerness.
Wendeline, who had no scruples against drawing upon her imagination, proceeded to relate a thrilling story of a nobleman’s daughter, who having the misfortune to possess a sparkling gold necklace, was feloniously seized by a ferocious gipsy, carried off in a sack, and precipitated into fiery trials.
Elva listened enchanted. Nothing was too strange to believe. The hours flew. All too soon it was time for the visit to end. She started homeward, accompanied by her new friend, both of them loaded with books But to Elva’s secret relief Wendeline did not enter the farm-house.
“Why, mother, how tired you look!” said Elva, as the family were about assembling for evening prayers.
“Baby has been cross. I’ve needed you, Elva, and thought to myself I was almost sorry I let you go. I was afraid, too, you wouldn’t have as good a time as you expected. Did you feel much put by?”
Elva knew that her mother meant to say diffident; but how inelegant was her language compared with that of even Mr. Gilman’s housekeeper!
“Did you have silver forks to eat custards with, Elf?” cried Perley.
“Perley!” said his sister, severely, “don’t make believe that you’re a Hottentot.”
“He grows so countrified!” she thought. “One could see at a glance that we are not own brother and sister.”
Elva might have listened with profit to the wise words her father humbly read this evening:
“Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not
corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.”
But far from listening, bewildered Elva was dreaming of worldly glories, of honeyed flattery, of a so-called “bosom- friend,” who was teaching her to despise her true, tried benefactors.
From this time a change was begun in Elva, too slight to be noticed at first, for “the mother of mischief is no larger than a midge’s wing.” She was only a little more than ever inclined to be absent-minded, a little less willing to perform her household duties.
Seth, always observing and disagreeable, cried out when she roused herself to answer a question, “Why, good-morning, Elvy,” pretending she had just arrived from some far-away region.
Nothing wounds us like a home-thrust. “What if she did build air-castles? What if her thoughts did go wool-gathering? Was it any of Seth’s concerns?”
“Elva,” said her mother, “you are always read, read, reading— what is it now?”
“Oh, nothing but the ‘Arabian Nights’ Wendeline lent me, mother. I’ll hem my handkerchief just as soon as I finish about this roc’s egg.”
“Rock’s egg!” echoed her mother, laughing. “First time I ever heard of a rock’s laying eggs! Do they hatch into door-stones, Elva?”
“Well, well,” continued Mrs. Newell, to herself, “I don’t know but I ought to bear with the child. I never liked reading as she does but there’s a difference in children. I hope the time may come when she’ll settle down and like her needle better.”
She always asked from whose libraries the child borrowed such quantities of books, looked at the covers and saw that they were not yellow, and then she thought her duty was done. She never dreamed of the slow, sweet poison Elva was imbibing. She did not know that the excessive reading of fairy stories and second-class juveniles was fostering a listless, dreamy state of mind. No judicious little bird whispered in her ear that her daughter’s new friendship was a very pernicious thing.
“Oh,” mused Elva at school, “if I only had Aladdin’s lamp, I’d rub it, and the genius would pour my geography lesson into my head, map questions and all.”
But as the lamp and its genius happened to be out of reach, Elva’s lessons went into her head and out again, “threading my grandmother’s needle.” When Miss Colburn objected to such poor recitations, Elva thought, in a hazy way, “I wonder if she knows who it is she’s scolding at? I may be the daughter of a prince! Perhaps they will come for me one of these days in a coach with four white horses. I should hate to leave my dear father and mother Newell! I don’t know as I would go. I would take my money out of the bank and build a stone house like Mr. Gilman’s, only a great deal handsomer; and my father and mother Newell should live with me, and I’d have a room for Louisa Flint—oh, and Perley, and the baby, to be sure! And Wendeline would be proud to eat at my table! Then how all the people in town would bow and smile when they saw me and say: ‘This is the young heiress that was stolen away—Miss—Miss’ ”—
Miss Colburn, who had taught the summer school in District Number Three for five seasons, was sorry to see Elva sit with her book before her,
gazing into the land of dreams. She loved the amiable little girl, and one night walked home with her on purpose to say privately to Mrs. Newell:
“I feel disappointed in Elva. She is gentle and obedient, but I can’t arouse her ambition.”
The conscientious mother took the alarm. “I am afraid she has too much to do this summer,” said she.
And after this, Elva was told that her morning-tasks would be lightened; she need only milk the brindle cow and wash the breakfast-dishes.
“It would be a shame,” thought the good mother, “if I should put too much care upon a young and growing girl.”
But the more leisure Elva had, the more she dreamed. She dreamed while she rocked the baby, while she watered her flower-bed, while she walked to school. Her beautiful blue eyes were half the time as useless as two turquoise gems, for they were looking far away into the land of Maybe, a land that never was, and never will be.
A great event was about to occur—a juvenile party at Mr. Gilman’s. Now in this quiet little country town of Woodford, children sometimes had parties, but always of an afternoon; this was to be in the evening. Elva was taken into Wendeline’s confidence. The party, she said, was not so much for the entertainment of the school-girls, as to celebrate the arrival of her cousin, Edwin Preston. Her papa had said she might have music and dancing.
“But only two or three of us know how to dance!” said Elva.
“Oh, what little prigs! I never saw people so lacking in style as the Woodford girls,” exclaimed Miss Wendeline with a toss of the head.
So it seemed it would be folly to hire music. What little was needed, Wendeline could supply with her skillful fingers from her grand piano. As for refreshments and servants, these would be provided from Boston, regardless of expense. The wealthy Mr. Gilman, who was really depressed by the “mysterious trouble” before mentioned, seemed to have but one pleasure in life, and that was to gratify his fastidious young daughter.
Rearranging and adorning the parlor was a pleasant diversion for Wendeline and Elva. Already the schoolgirls envied Elva. Samantha Piper began to say ill-natured things: “Elfie Newell appears amazingly artless and modest, but she must have put herself forward, or else those rich Gilmans wouldn’t make of her so much.”
Louisa Flint looked rather down-hearted, but said nothing, when Maggie Hilton remarked: “Seems to me, some people are getting to feel pretty big!”
Thursday evening arrived, also cousin Edwin Preston, and the servants and refreshments from Boston. At seven, guests began to arrive at Tanglewood: honest, awkward Perley Newell, attired in his very best, looking as if he would consider it the greatest blessing in life to know what to do with his hands; small Benny Piper, his hair lustrous with sweet oil; overgrown Charlie Foster; and half a dozen aristocratic “Academy boys” from the upper end of the town. Of girls, twice as many as boys; Elva Newell, very tidy in her freshly starched organdie muslin, which, I grieve to say, she had sprinkled with tears; warm-hearted, but sarcastic Maggie Hilton; gentle Louisa Flint; and foremost of all, Samantha Piper, with flaming red bows in her hair, who
would not have greeted Elva with such an ill-natured smile if she had known that to her amiable pleadings she owed her invitation.
This party furnished an admirable opportunity for the city cousin to astonish people by his graceful bows and fine speeches; and no young miss of fourteen ever better enjoyed playing hostess than did queenly, smiling Wendeline, how gracious and patronising she was! How she sang as if she were drawing her last breath, her jeweled fingers all the while flying like mad! How the elegant supper, with its saccharine temples and frosted palaces, its colored bubbles and sparkles, dazzled everybody!
Happy Elva forgot her old dress, and considered herself a sharer in all the glories of the occasion. But if she had been a little intoxicated by the attentions of Wendeline and Edwin Preston, there was a severe mortification awaiting her.
Resting after a game, she and Louisa Flint chanced to be standing in the shade of a curtain.
“It seems like old times for us two to be together again,” said the affectionate Louisa, pressing her hand.
“Oh, Louisa,” said Elva, with a sudden pang, “aren’t we good friends? I’m sure I love you as well as ever I did.”
“Do you, Elfie? I’ve thought sometimes—that is to say, you know, since Miss Wendeline came”—
Just then the girls could not help hearing the voice of Edwin Preston near them, inquiring of some one, “What is the name of that beautiful girl with the curls? I forget what to call her, but she’s the star of the evening, upon my word.”
“You mean Elva Newell, I presume,” replied the up-town “Academy boy,” indifferently; “she lives at Farmer Newell’s—their bound girl, I believe.”
Elva felt as if the earth were spinning around. Far into the night those cruel words rang in her ears. The puttied cracks in the window, named “Red Riding Hood” and the “Wolf,” peeped out at her in the moonlight in a right impudent way, as if to say:
“You see what they think of you up town! Just what you might expect, miss! Farmer Newell’s little bound girl! Capital joke!”
“Isn’t it cruel?” sobbed Elva, “I can’t bear it! I’ll tell Wendeline as sure as ever it comes morning!”
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 6: Taking a Journey” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, June 1865; pp. 163-167)
Elva awoke next morning sore-hearted and sullen. Until this summer, she had been always buoyant. Looking at the world through rose-hued spectacles. Now she was often low-spirited—this morning more so than usual.
Three months ago, to hear herself spoken of as “Farmer Newell’s bound girl” would have been severe enough, but at this time it was peculiarly cutting, just as she had begun to rise in social importance, just as she was learning to look upon herself as a fore-ordained and natural lady.
No; the truth is, if Elva had heard this careless speech of the Academy boys before she had ever known Wendeline, she might have dropped a sudden tear of vexation, but would probably have smiled next minute, and gone with the story to her mother, and the whole family would have laughed together. But lately she was not inclined to make a confidante of her mother. And why not? Oh, because she had a bosom-friend!
Dear, bewildered little Elva, have you then a bosom-friend who is truer than your mother?
Everything jarred on Elva’s feelings this morning. It was Perley’s week to milk the brindled cow, called in the family the “children’s cow;” but the boy had contrived, the evening before, to break an ice-cream saucer at the party, and cut his hand with the fragments of porcelain. After Elva’s restless night she had risen late, and it seemed to her that she was overwhelmed with work and in danger of being tardy at school. Usually she had a long time to play with the baby and read in the morning; but now she could not steal so much as a peep at “The Romance of the Forest,” an old-fashioned novel which was just then turning her brain.
As she was putting on her “log-cabin” sun-bonnet and starting for school, her mother, who was churning, called out—
“Elva, child, you’ve forgotten to sift me some salt.”
The little girl flung down her bonnet with an ill grace.
“I’ll sift the salt, mother, of course I will; but it’s always the way! work! work! work! And I just believe nobody cares whether I get a tardy mark or not. They think I’m a bound girl, and who wonders!”
Mrs. Newell’s face expressed the utmost astonishment.
“Is it my little daughter who speaks in such a way to me?”
Elva hid her glowing face and was about to beg forgiveness for her hasty words, when unfortunately her mother added, in a brisk tone, “Put on your bonnet, Elva, and start for school. I did wrong to let you go to that new-fangled party last night. I might have known such late hours would make you cross.”
“Cross!” muttered poor Elva, as she hurried to school, looking at the wayside grass through her tears; “it’s just as Wendeline says; mother doesn’t understand me—I have such a sensitive disposition!”
That was it! Not cross, by any means, but sensitive!
“I sometimes think Wendeline is
right, and I ought to run away and seek my fortune!” continued Elva, spitefully, though by no means in earnest, “guess mother would be sorry then! guess she’d wish she’d let me go to the Academy and take drawing-lessons! guess Perley would have a long face for once in his life! And my dear father, it would just break his heart!”
By the time Elva reached the white school-house, she had the exquisite satisfaction of seeing the whole Newell family stricken with grief—in imagination. Quite consoled by the vivid picture she had drawn of her own importance, she entered the school-house and took her seat five minutes before the time.
Wendeline was not there, but had sent Elva a note, whose fine lady penmanship and subtile perfume were most charming. Louisa Flint, who shared Elva’s desk, turned her head to one side, with true delicacy, lest Elva should fancy she was peeping over her shoulder.
Here follows the note; but the reader must first understand that in their correspondence, which was almost daily, Elva and Wendeline did not use their own names, but fictitious, high- sounding titles.
“Adored Leonora, Countess of Fotheringay:
“We can not to-day have the pleasure of beholding each other’s countenances, for I am undisposed; but we may console ourselves by means of the magic pen. I have an ocean of things to say. It is such an age since I have seen you! Didn’t the party go off gloriously? Oh, you have no idea of what a splendid compliment I have for you!
“Have you finished that wonderful book, the ‘Romance of the Forest?’ and is it not a work of genius, and did it not thrill you to the heart? Oh, my dearest lady of Fotheringay, I hasten to tell thee some joyful news! Edwin Preston leaves to-morrow, but that is not the joyful part; he leaves behind him a black carpet-bag full of new romances, marvelous, wonderful, enchanting, soul- enthralling! Keep shady, Leonora, for you know your mother, though a good woman, has NO literary taste!
“But this is not all I have to say, dearest. I have obtained my papa’s consent to tell you a great secret. Come to-morrow night, beloved Leonora, come without fail. I am going to make you perfectly happy, transcendently delighted! I dreamed last night you were on a journey, seeking your fortune! And now adieu!
“And like some low and mournful spell,
To whisper but one word—farewell!
“Ever thine, tenderly, constantly,
“Cornelia, Princess of Tuscany.”
Few girls of fourteen could have put words together so well; but Wendeline had done nothing but read and write from babyhood.
This silly note threw Elva into a fever of excitement. She could hardly wait two days to learn the great secret which was to make her “transcendently happy.” The only reason why Wendeline wished her to wait so long was because she was an absurd and whimsical girl, and liked to excite Elva’s curiosity to the utmost.
“I don’t see what your mother is thinking of,” said Seth Furbish to Perley, as Elva started Saturday evening for Tanglewood. “She hadn’t ought to have let Elva go with that flaunting Tanglebush girl! I never
saw the beat of her furbelows and riggings. She’s got a crazy eye, you may see that plain enough. She’ll spile your little sister, or there’s no snakes in Georgia!”
Some danger of it, Seth, as the reader and myself see plainly; but let us be patient. Elva may learn a wholesome lesson which will do her good her life long.
She arrived at Tanglewood out of breath, but no longer overawed by the magnificence of the house and grounds, for by this time she had learned to consider herself an honored guest within those once awful walls. Wendeline received her with open arms. After the due amount of dilly-dallying, and charges of everlasting secrecy, the whole story was told in a few sentences.
Wendeline’s mother was insane! This was the shadow which hung over the Gilman family, and it was terrible indeed, as Elva declared with a face full of sympathy.
“I don’t remember when she was like other people,” said Wendeline, calmly; “but I suppose papa does. It was ever so long ago, when we lived in Maine. One day she took off her head-dress and threw it in the fire, and jumped up and danced right before the minister when he was praying. Then they sent her to the hospital at Augusta, and she’s there now. Two
or three times a year papa goes to see her. Sometimes he takes me. He is going now in a week or two, and I’ve teased him till he says you may go too. Only think!”
“Me! me! Why, my mother”—
“Oh, there’s so trouble about that, my dear Countess of Fotheringay; my father will pay your expenses!”
Elva’s eyes kindled. “There, now,” she thought, “if I only had something to wear—just the least thing in this world fit to wear!”
It would take too long to tell how it all came about; how at first Mrs Newell shook her head (with its fair locks rolled on each aide like the letter O), but afterward, finding that Elva’s heart was set upon the journey, relented with a sigh; how Mr. Newell mildly remarked that “if Betsey was willing, he had no objections;” how Perley whistled provokingly, calling Elva “Miss Dandeline Tangle’s waiting-maid,” and making himself otherwise disagreeable.
The important part of the matter was, that, after the sale of the June butter, Elva was provided with a pretty traveling-dress and hat, much more tasteful than Wendeline’s, only Elva did not know it; and the trio started from Woodford for Maine one August morning. School was closed for the summer. Who should be at the depot but Louisa Flint, holding her baby sister in her arms, and resolved to kiss Elva good-bye.
“Only a week, Louisa,” whispered Elva, and then I’ll be home.”
“I don’t know why,” murmured Louisa, “but it makes me feel dreadfully to see you go with that Gilman girl!”
Elva had scarcely before this been farther from home than Boston. As she leaned back in her cushioned seat, she thought of what a shame it was that she had never seen more of the world. “Almost in my teens, too! How nice it is to ride in the cars! Who knows but I may meet somebody who knew my father and mother in a foreign country! Oh, I feel somehow as if I had started out to seek my fortune.”
Mr. Gilman purchased for the two girls every variety of eatables and drinkables which could be obtained; and between the intervals of chatting with the gentleman passengers, he often patted Elva’s shoulder and called her a “nice little girl,” a “pleasant traveling companion,” etc. The truth was, Mr. Gilman was really pleased to see Wendeline made happy by the presence of a gentle little friend. He knew that his daughter was alone too much, and did not seem like other girls of her age. For this reason he had sent her to the district school, hoping she might form some acquaintances which would be pleasant and profitable for her. Her sudden fancy for Elva had always pleased him. He little suspected that this intimacy, though an advantage to Wendeline, was a serious misfortune to Elva.
Somewhat to our heroine’s surprise, no remarkable event occurred during the journey. She saw a sweet baby, whose cooing ways reminded her of her own wee sister, and give her a longing to take a peep at her pleasant home. A well-dressed gentlemen entered the cars at Haverhill, and after looking at Elva for some time, said, “My dear, are you traveling far?” This was when Mr. Gilman was at some distance, and Wendeline was abstractedly looking out of the window. For a moment Elva’s heart beat fast. Who knew but this stranger was in search of a stolen child? However,
upon her replying modestly that she was going to Augusta, the gentleman merely bowed with a smile, and gave her a handful of peanuts. And this was Elva’s nearest approach to an adventure! that is, if we except the spilling of some melon-juice and lemonade on her gloves. Arrived late in the evening at their journey’s end, both the girls were tired; and it must be confessed that Elva, as she slowly pursued her way up stairs at the “Stanley House,” was not a little homesick. What happened at Augusta will be recorded in another chapter.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 7: The Crazy Queen” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, July 1865; pp. 4-7)
Elva slept so soundly all night, that it was nearly two minutes next morning before she could remember where she was, and what it all meant. She was alone in bed. Wendeline was brushing her hair before the mirror. The curtains were closely drawn, and nothing could be seen from the windows; but it was by no means early, and from the noises in the street it was evident that the city of Augusta had been awake for some time.
“Here am I in the State of Maine,” thought Elva, closing her eyes again, the better to collect her thoughts; “I presume mother has dressed the baby long ago; Perley and Seth and father are at work in the fields. They all know that I have come on a journey with Wendeline, but not a living soul suspects that it is to see a crazy woman? Oh, it takes me to keep a secret!”
“I wonder,” thought Elva as she sprang out of bed, “I wonder how a crazy woman looks! I don’t like to tell Wendeline that I am afraid of her own mother; but there is one thing sure—I shall keep as far away from her, and all the other crazy people, as I can, for its my duty to be careful and not get killed!”
“Is it possible that you are actually awake, Elva Newell?” said Wendeline, loftily. “I have been very restless all night, but you’ve slept like a baby. It’s a mystery to me how anybody can sleep as you do!” Elva looked rather ashamed, but replied that she couldn’t help it, she had an odd habit of forgetting where she was the moment her head touched the pillow.
Wendeline looked down upon her friend with a pitying glance. It was so stupid for a girl not to lie awake and think! Wendeline was proud to know that she herself had a very active mind!
It was the first time Elva had ever breakfasted at a hotel, and she was careful to keep her eyes and ears open, lest she should do something awkward or countrified; for lately she had taken up the idea that to seem “countrified” was one of the worst of crimes. However, by dint of watching Wendeline, and imitating all she said and did, Elva managed her breakfast very well. She would have been greatly astonished if she would have overheard a little dialogue about this time.
“Who is that young miss in the striped silk dress?” said one lady to another.
“Her name is Gilman,” was the reply, “I took pains to ask the landlord, for her mincing manners amuse me very much. The little girl beside her appears quite modest and retiring.”
Ah, Elva, you never listened to your sensible mother’s assertion, that Wendeline is silly and conceited; you think your mother too plebeian to judge of elegant manners. But it happens that these two ladies say just as she does of Wendeline; and they must be real ladies too, for one wears a gold watch (only think of that, my dear!), and the other is the wife of the Governor.
At ten o’clock, Mr. Gilman, his daughter, and Elva started for the Insane Hospital on the opposite side of the river. Elva was surprised to find it so large a building.
“Why, Wendeline,” said she, privately, “it must hold legions of people? Is Maine a remarkably crazy State?”
The trio ascended a long flight of stone steps, and were received by a gentleman called the steward, and ushered into the superintendent’s private parlor.
Dr. Bates and his wife remembered Mr. Gilman very well. Mrs. Bates looked a little amused as Wendeline threw back her head and gazed down upon her with a patronizing air. Mrs. Bates was a small woman, and Wendeline was remarkably tall.
“Really your daughter has grown quite out of my recollection,” said the lady to Mr. Gilman.
“But I remember her perfectly,” said the doctor, extending his hand; “she has a pair of eyes that are not easily forgotten.”
Wendeline felt flattered by this speech; but her father sighed, for he knew very well that the shrewd physician was tracing a resemblance between Wendeline’s face and that of her mother.
Elva was now introduced to the doctor and his wife.
“I suppose you have nothing new to tell me concerning my patient’s condition,” said Mr. Gilman, gloomily.
“No, sir; she continues about the same. Once for two days and nights we were obliged to send her to the “cottage,” as you will remember; but that was very long ago, and she has never shown such violent symptoms since.”
“The cottage is the building where the very worst patients are confined,” said Wendeline to Elva in a tragic whisper; “they are dressed in sack-cloth and ashes, and sleep on straw.”
“Mrs. Gilman is at present in the second gallery, as I have informed you,” continued the doctor.
“We will go to see her now, if you will kindly accompany us,”said Mr. Gilman with forced cheerfulness.
They all went down stairs to the middle gallery, Elva clutching fast hold of Mrs. Bates’ hand in her terror.
But nothing very frightful appeared; merely a long hall, on each side of which was a row of little bedrooms, the door of each wide open, and displaying a bed draped in white, a cheerful window, a chair, and a little work-table. Nobody seemed to be raving or scolding very loud; all was tolerably quiet and orderly. Wendeline said it was much worse than this in the lower, but much better in the upper gallery.
One woman was walking the floor, wringing her hands and saying she was Lot’s wife, nobody must ask her to turn her head or she should certainly become a pillar of salt. Another woman, with short hair, was continually washing her face and coming out of her bedroom saying, “Good-morning, ladies.” Some of the patients were grim and sulky; others, again, were laughing with meaningless joy. For each and all the superintendent had a word and a smile. At last they came to Mrs. Gilman’s room, but she had fastened the door. The doctor knocked. No answer.
“Oh, but you will let me in, Mrs. Gilman!”
“Call me by my right name, sir; then I will see about it.”
“But what is your right name this morning, madam? you know you change it so often.”
“I am Queen Victoria at present, I would have you know; and when you address me by my title, I will open the door.”
“Fair Queen Victoria, please let me in,” said the doctor, quite willing to humor the poor woman’s whim, in the same way that he would have played a game with some little child.
Instantly the queen opened the door. Elva could hardly help laughing, for this woman’s appearance was decidedly droll. Her dress was rich and tasteful, but all over it she had pinned queer little images cut out of tissue paper. On her head shone a tinsel crown, and over her eyebrows was fastened a brown-paper shade. Of course she could only look straight down at the floor. “Ha!” cried she, in great displeasure, “you meant to cheat me, doctor! You did not tell me there was any one with, you; but I spy four pairs of feet besides your own! Avaunt! and to thy speed add wings.”
“But, Queen Victoria, you would like to see my wife?”
“Your wife, the angel! Oh, yes, doctor, let her come in, but send the rest away!”
“Do not be capricious, your Majesty,” pleaded the doctor, “take that ugly bandage from your eyes, and allow me to introduce to you Mr. Theodore Gilman, his daughter, and her friend, Miss Elva Newell.”
“Theodore Gilman! Where have I heard that name before?” said the crazy woman, rising and taking a few dancing steps; “it strikes me I knew a man once named Theodore Gilman. If I did, it was long ago, in some other world! Theodore Gilman, why, let me see, he had a black-eyed wife, and black-eyed beans they had for supper! What became of his wife? Stop your talking and let me think! Oh, she had a cold in her ears, and then she pricked her head full of holes like the top of a pepper-box, and then all her brains sprinkled out—ha! ha! ha!”
“Martha,” said Mr. Gilman, going up to his wife and taking her hand, “don’t you remember me, your own husband? Try to think a moment how you and I and our little Wendeline lived on the bank of the river in a beautiful house with a portico?”
“Wendeline,” echoed the wild woman dancing about with the utmost speed and airy lightness.
“Oh, yes, I know Wendeline, she was a black-eyed bean. Observe how I sit down. Is it not with queenly grace? Attitude is everything, as I have often told you, Mr. Theodore.”
Wendeline and Elva suppressed a laugh. It seemed to them very funny to watch the airy motions of this woman.
“I should be so sorry, though, if it was my mother,” thought Elva; “I should think Wendeline would feel worse than she seems to.”
The fact was, Wendeline was by this time pretty well accustomed to the misfortune of having an insane mother.
“I will tell you,” said Mrs. Gilman, “why I wear this paper across my forehead; it is because of the brilliancy of my eyes; they are like the eyes of a basilisk; and I thought to myself, ‘could I ever be forgiven if I should strike anybody dead?’ So I made believe I was sick, and when they brought me some gruel, I pasted on this bit of paper. Now my eyes can’t strike anybody dead; aren’t you going to thank me?”
Neither husband nor daughter could find the slightest satisfaction in talking with this crazed creature, and the interview was soon ended. Mr. Gilman had brought with him all the luxuries of the season—choice peaches, grapes, and apples; and these he left with the superintendent to be given to her when he saw fit.
“It’s always just so,” said Wendeline to Elva; “poor papa comes every little while, and keeps hoping that mother’s mind will wake up, but it never does, and I believe it never will. She thinks of nothing but dancing steps and attitudes, and you can’t make her think of anything else.”
“Is her mind gone?” said Elva, “or is it all snarled up?”
“ ‘Snarled up,’ I should think,” replied Wendeline.
Our travelers remained two days at Augusta, and on their return made a visit at Boston. Elva was in a maze of delight. Everything she saw was novel and charming. She wondered how the citizens could stay in their houses when there were so many things in the streets to be seen and admired.
“Indeed, my child,” said Mr. Gilman, smiling, “you must have been kept very closely at home if Boston is so new and wonderful to you.”
Elva thought of quiet little Woodford, the red farm-house, the poultry, sheep, and cattle with a yawn.
“Oh, Wendeline,” said she, as the cars were puffing along toward home, “I feel as if I had seen a little of the world; you don’t know how stupid it seems to think of Woodford! I’ve really made up my mind that I shall go and seek my fortune!”
“Wait a month till I’m off to boarding-school,” said Wendeline, jestingly.
Neither of the girls were fully in earnest; but the plan had been so often mentioned, that it was beginning to seem quite reasonable. It only needed some trifling event to bring affairs to a crisis.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 8: A Leap in the Dark” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1865; pp. 35-38)
Elva had been gone from home a week. When she returned, it seemed to her that some magical change had occurred. Was this really the same little red farm-house she had left? Why, how small it looked! how old-fashioned! The swelling green hill on either side, how dwarfish they looked! as if some one had been whittling them down with jack-knife. How she did “despise” those evergreen trees before the front windows! They made her think of people with hair falling into their eyes!
As for the inside of the house, it seemed to have changed even more than the outside. The ceiling was lower than ever; the furniture was cheap, and—well, in short, it was countrified.
Mr. Gilman’s carriage had brought home Elva and her trunk. The little girl was glad the coachman had wheeled about and was out of hearing before Perley cried out:
“Hullo, Elf, I s’pose ‘Dandeline Tangle’ has filled your head with lots of notions!” Yet the boy was really glad to see his sister.
“You don’t know how we’ve all missed you, Elvy,” said Mr. Newell, with a warm kiss.
“You may depend I’m glad to see you,” said her mother embracing her tenderly, “I hope you’ve had a good time, dear.”
“How de do?” said Seth coolly, not offering to shake hands.
“Not much like my good old Abner,” thought Elva, adding aloud, “where’s the baby? give her to me quick, quick!”
“You may look at her,” said Mrs. Newell with a proud smile, “but be sure not to wake her. She has learned something new since you went away, Elva! Guess what! She has found her hands!”
After all it was very pleasant to be at home again. The baby was certainly a captivating little creature; never were kinder parents; and as for Perley, he was very much like a butternut, rough outside, but sweet and wholesome at the kernel. Then who should drop in for a few moments but dear little Louisa Flint.
By the time supper was over Elva’s good-humor was thoroughly restored. She was but a child after all, and the yellow butter, amber honey, and cream biscuits went a long way toward reconciling her to her old-fashioned home.
When she went up stairs, her mother followed her into the little whitewashed chamber, and asked her if she had remembered during the past week to say her prayers every night, and to read a chapter in her pocket-bible?
Elva was obliged to confess that she had not always remembered, giving as an excuse that she had not always had time. She did not add that in her absence she had read three novels, two of which were horrid enough, as she told Wendeline, “to make your hair stand on end.”
After her mother left her, Elva sat for some time looking up at the stars and making good resolutions. “God has been very good to me,” thought she, “and I will begin from this night to be a better girl.” But when she had dropped her curtain and shut out
the solemn stars, her next act was to snuff her candle and fall to devouring an exciting story. Such a pity that there was no wise mind to direct the little girl’s reading! Wendeline was going away in October. Well for Elva if she had gone long ago, and taken along with her those pernicious books!
All Elva’s reading had tended to make her superstitious. A few days more and her young brain received an extra twist. She heard strange and wondrous things said of Spiritualism, which was at that time rather a new science. It was seldom mentioned in the Newell family, except when Mrs. Newell said, now and then:
“It’s something I don’t understand, and I don’t mean that I or any of my children shall meddle with it.”
However, Elva had nearly reached the point of not regarding her mother’s advice. What Wendeline said had far more weight with her; and Wendeline, who, in her turn, paid no heed to the opinions of her father, was quite wild upon the subject of “table-tippings.” As Wendeline thought, so thought Elva; therefore we must not wonder that the two girls started off one autumn evening in the strictest secrecy, to go to a “Spiritualist meeting.” They were accompanied, it is true, by Mr. Gilman’s housekeeper, Mrs. Price, who was aware that the children were going without their parents’ knowledge, but quieted her conscience by thinking it would be Wendeline’s last act of disobedience, for to-morrow would see the young miss on her way to Philadelphia.
Elva was sadly frightened at the strange phenomena, and clung to Mrs. Price during the whole evening. She had never before seen an enchanted table, a table which seemed to be out of its head and dancing about the room on all fours.
“Don’t be frightened,” said Wendeline, patronizingly, “it is only ‘charged with electricity,’ so my father says.”
But Elva was alarmed nevertheless, and firmly believed all the foolish things written or spoken by the medium. By-and-by, the poor child received what is called a “communication,” from some unknown aunt of hers in Connecticut, a certain Mrs. Harlow, who had been dead for six years. As no one present had ever seen or heard of this Mrs. Harlow, the medium had it in her power to make up any sort of a story to please herself.
“Oh, can this aunt tell what my real, true name is?” cried Elva, in great agitation.
To be sure she could tell that, and plenty more. Elva’s real name was Laura Belmont. Her parents were both living in a certain street in the upper end of Boston. They were “rolling in gold,” so the medium said, and had poured out money like water in the hope of finding their dear lost daughter Laura, who had been stolen away in her infancy by a cruel beggar-woman.
Elva was in a state of awe and rapture, but so agitated that she forgot to ask the number of the street where Mr. Clarence Belmont might be found. Elva would not have slept alone that night if any one had promised her a handful of gold; so she staid at Mr. Gilman’s in spite of the prickings of conscience.
“Never mind if your mother should scold you, Elva Newell,” said Wendeline, with much spirit; “do you brave it out! She has no right to treat you as she does! She gives you no liberty at all! No wonder people call you a little bound girl!”
Next morning Wendeline started for Philadelphia, and Elva, after bidding her a tender adieu, and promising to love her forever, and write her endless letters, finally trudged home from the depot with swollen eyes, and heart heavy with guilt.
Her mother was just putting on the potatoes for dinner, to the evident annoyance of the baby, who was crying to be taken out of the cradle.
“Elva,” said Mrs. Newell, as her daughter slowly entered the house swinging her sun-bonnet by one string, “is this the way you obey your mother? Where have you been since last evening, and what have you to say for yourself?”
“I—I—staid and slept with Wendeline,” faltered Elva, growing angry as she recalled Wendeline’s words, “Your mother allows you no liberty at all. Do you brave it out if she scolds you, Elva.”
Mrs. Newell saw that her daughter was in a sullen mood.
“Elva,” said she, calmly, “you may go down cellar and bring up an apple-pie for dinner; but when you come back I hope I shall see you wearing a pleasanter face. I shall expect, too, that you will make me an apology for your conduct.”
“Apology,” muttered Elva between her teeth. As she slowly sauntered down stairs she heard Seth’s steps. He was coming into the kitchen after a pitcher of “sweetened water.”
“That Gilman girl has gone to Philadelphy,” Elva heard him say.
“So I suppose,” replied Mrs. Newell briskly, “and if there’s anybody thankful, it’s myself! If I hadn’t known the girl would soon be out of town, I should have put a stop to Elva’s going with her before now.”
“She’s enough to spoil half a dozen likely little girls,” responded Seth; adding, “I guess you needn’t put any ginger into that sweetened water this time, Mrs. Newell.” All that was said, Elva heard, and her wrath waxed fiercer.
“What did I come down cellar after?” thought she, when she had wandered from “swing-shelf” to “soap-room” for the space of five minutes. “Oh, it’s an apple-pie! But where in the world are the pies? Mother,” she screamed, “where did you put the pies?”
“Is that you, Elva Newell, down cellar yet? Want to know where the pies are, do you, child? Why, in the potato-bin, most likely! Look and see!”
This mild irony cut Elva to the quick. She trembled with indignation. There stood the pies on the swing-shelf in plain sight; but, instead of seeing them, she ran into the department of the cellar called the soap-room, and talked fiercely to the barrel of soft soap.
“Pretty talk, indeed?” so she said to the barrel, “but it was always so! Nobody understood her, nobody spared her feelings. Even the hired man was allowed to laugh at her. Oh, yes, no matter what was said to poor orphans! The more they were crushed the better! Wendeline Gilman might go to the moon if she wanted to, but Elva Newell couldn’t even stay at a neighbor’s over-night!”
“How long should she endure this treatment, which ‘lambs could not forgive—no, nor worms forget?’ Not another day! Many and many a time she had resolved to run away, and now she would do it! They would think she was dead; they would drag the rivers; their hearts would be torn with anguish. But all too late! She
would never come back again to be trampled upon, to be laughed at, and told to look for pies in the potato-bin!”
Having talked herself into a fever of rage, she rushed up stairs full of virtuous indignation, stole to her little chamber, and slammed the door.
With a swelling heart and whirling brain she proceeded to make her preparations for departure. She crushed her best dresses and shoes, her brushes and ruffles, in a mass into her carpet-bag, put on her Sunday shawl and bonnet, and then sat down to count over her money. She had been saving it for two years, little by little. Some pieces were gifts from Abner; some were savings from the price of sage and summer-savory. It amounted in all to twenty dollars, counting in a half-eagle lately given by Wendeline. Elva dropped the purse in her pocket and noiselessly crept down stairs. Her mother’s back was turned; she stealthily opened the front door and stepped out.
Elva, stop and think! No, she would not stop, she would not think! She would go and find her true father and mother! She would go forth into the world to seek her fortune!
Foolish Elva! We will watch you and see what comes of it!
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 9: Adventures” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, September 1865; pp. 67-70)
But it was not very easy for Elva to make her way out of the house unobserved. In the field, not far off, were her father, Seth and Perley, busy with the harvesting, and Seth had as many eyes in his head as a fly.
She stood in the front yard, under the shade of the evergreens, and reflected. She was going to Boston—she had fully resolved on that; but in order to reach the depot, she must pass by the men at work in the field.
“That never will do,” thought Elva, “for even though I should crouch down by the fence, Seth would be sure to see me and ask where I was going. Dear me! I must trudge round by the mill-brook, I suppose—as much as a mile out of the way.”
So, swinging her carpet-bag on her arm, Elva set forth, her heart throbbing high with resentment, hot tears blinding her eyes. The September sun forced its way through her parasol and beat fiercely upon her head. By the time the child reached the mill-brook, she was glad to rest. It was nearly noon; she was hungry, and longed for the nice dinner which was smoking on the table at home; but as that was not to be thought of; she drew from her carpet-bag a luncheon of turnovers and cheese, and ate very fast, sobbing and choking between the mouthfuls. It was strange that Elva should have had the forethought to bring the turnovers and cheese, and as it was the only sensible thing she did that day, I am glad to record it. After eating every crumb of her dinner, she threw away the brown paper and proceeded to wash her heated face in the book. How often she and Louisa Flint had gathered strawberries on this very spot! But that was summer before last—very long ago, as Elva reckoned time.
“I used to think, in those days,” sighed Elva, talking to herself, “that I was just as happy as anybody; I didn’t care any more what was going to happen to me than a little brown toad.”
Elva smoothed her hair and put on the traveling hat again.
“I might go right back home this minute and make believe I only ran off in play, but do you suppose I’d be such a goose! No, indeed; I’ll not be imposed upon any longer! I’ll be a heroine, like those we read of in books! They’ll think I’m dead, and I’m sure they’ll wear mourning! Oh, won’t mother feel bad when she thinks over all she’s said to me? I almost pity her, she’ll cry so! But it won’t do a speck of good! The next she knows of me I shall be dressed in silks and satins, and I’ll call her ‘Mrs. Newell,’ just as polite! I’ll be ever so dignified, but I won’t take any notice of the way she has treated me; I’ll show that I have a sweet disposition, and can bear everything like an angel.”
By this time Elva was sobbing again, and it became necessary for her to bathe her inflamed eyes once more. She suddenly heard a rustling in the grass. It proved to be only a grasshopper.
“But it might have been Seth,” thought the child. “They’ll have such a time hunting for me! I guess I’d better hurry off; the railroad is the last place where they’d think of looking.”
Elva reached the depot half an hour too soon. Great was her alarm to see two or three Woodford people step up to the office- window and buy tickets for Boston. “But I’ll brave it out; they can’t mistrust that I’m running away!
“A ticket for Boston, if you please,” said she, taking out her little bead-purse with shaking fingers.
No one looked surprised. Elva pocketed the ticket unmolested. After a tedious while the engine whistled. Elva took her seat on the sunny side of the car, holding her carpet-bag firmly in her lap. Another minute, and they were off.
As Elva looked out of the window at the swiftly-moving houses and fences, a pang of remorse and homesickness seized her. She almost wished to stop the cars and fly home to her mother. What was she doing? Where was she going? Oh, she knew very well where she was going—to Tremont Street, in Boston. Hadn’t she seen plenty of Tremont Street cars when she was in the city a few weeks ago, with the Gilmans? All one had to do was to take a car and stay in it till it stopped. Mr. Clarence Belmont lived somewhere in that direction, and of course any one of his neighbors would gladly point out the house to his lost daughter.
As Elva pursued these pleasant reflections, a dreamy smile wreathed her mouth, and her blue eyes looked straight before her into vacancy. The conductor said, “Ticket, miss,” twice before he attracted her attention, and then she started up with a little scream.
“Dear me! where did I put that ticket?” mused she, searching her pocket and drawing forth a heart-shaped cookie, which she offered to the impatient conductor, causing him to smile in spite of himself. Elva blushed with surprise and confusion, for how the cookie got into her pocket she was at a loss to imagine. But the conductor could not wait, and poor Elva was finally obliged to pay her fare a second time. It proved afterward that she had, in a fit of abstraction, slipped the missing ticket into her sleeve.
As the cars stopped at Boston, a man with bronzed face and reddish whiskers looked in at Elva’s window. It was Abner.
“What! you here, Elva?”
“Yes, it’s me,” stammered the little girl, taking the hand which her old friend held up to her.
“Who’s with you, child?”
“I’m all alone.”
“Alone! and how far are you going?”
“Just to Boston,” replied Elva, looking a little bewildered.
“Well, here you are in Boston now! Why don’t you leave the car?”
“The conductor didn’t say we’d got there,” said Elva, looking about in some surprise. It was plain that the little girl was not a very experienced traveler.
Abner laughed heartily.
“Come, hurry along, Miss Flutterbudget, and I’ll help you down the steps.”
Elva seized her precious carpet-bag and made all haste out of the car. Abner took her in his arms and set her down upon the platform.
“Bless your little heart! what’s all this?” said the good- natured man as he observed for the first time that her eyes were swollen and inflamed. “What have you been crying about, Elfie? Any thing happened at home? How are your mother and the baby?”
“All well,” replied Elva, dropping a little tear, she knew not why.
“Now look here, dear—can’t you tell me what’s the matter?” said Abner, in a sympathetic tone; “I always thought you and I were the best of friends.”
“Oh, yes, Abner—you’re about all the friend I have in the world,” cried the poor girl, fairly breaking down.
The bell rang. Another train was about leaving the depot.
“I must be off,” exclaimed Abner; “I’m bound for Worcester. Say one little word, Elva, just to give me an inkling what all this means.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” sobbed Elva, “only I’m—I’m going off to seek my fortune!”
There was no time for more words. With a lingering glance of surprise and inquiry, Abner was off, and in another minute the Worcester cars had left the depot.
“What does the child mean?” queried Abner, as he strained his eyes for a last look at the little figure; “there’s something strange about it. She never even smiled, and her face was as white as a snowdrift. “I’ll go to Farmer Newell’s the first chance I have, and inquire into the business.”
However, as Abner was traveling about, selling garden-seeds, it followed that he did not go to Woodford for a week. Meanwhile Elva’s trials were beginning. She stood now in the ladies’ room of the Boston depot.
“I don’t see what makes me cry when I don’t want to,” sighed she; “it spoils my eyes.” She looked about her, wondering if this could really be Boston, and no stores anywhere near! “Oh, I remember, when I was traveling with the Gilmans, the first thing we did was to take one of the horse-cars.”
Elva accordingly stepped upon the pavement, her carpet-bag still in hand, and followed some ladies into a car which was fast filling up. After some time the horses stopped. One by one the people passed out of the car till no one was left but our little heroine.
“Well, miss,” said the conductor, smiling, “do you think of riding any farther to-day.”
Elva paid her five cents, and took a hasty leave.
“I didn’t know,” said she, timidly, “but maybe you might be going to Tremont street.”
The conductor laughed, and told her she would soon see a Tremont car, if she would watch for it. Elva stood while a man led the horses around, and hitched them to the other end of the car.
“I wonder if it doesn’t make the poor creatures dizzy,” thought she, “to draw a carriage backward.”
She watched a few moments; but no Tremont car appearing, she concluded that it was probably best to walk on till she found one. After awhile she came to a tempting window full of cakes and sweetmeats. She looked in, and the words “Ice Cream” met her eye.
“Dear me!” thought she, in high glee, “I never had any ice cream but three times—once at Wendeline’s party, and twice when we were traveling.
If I don’t buy some now, ’twill be a pity, I declare!”
She entered the saloon, and seated herself with some dignity at one of the little marble tables, and rang the bell. A sweet- looking waiting-girl obeyed the summons, and brought Elva a strawberry-cream, also a piece of jelly-cake, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Nobody seems to mistrust that I have run away,” thought Elva, gaining confidence. The cream was delicious; while eating it, Elva felt quite well satisfied with herself, and concluded that she was a very wise little adventurer. But a saucer of cream comes to an end. Elva paid for hers, and then entered the street again to watch for a car. After wandering backward and forward for about an hour, she saw another tempting window. “Ice creams again—true as this world! Is it anybody’s business if I take some more?”
Somebody brushed against her as she entered the door. She looked up to see who it was, but the man was rapidly moving off. “People walk so fast in Boston,” thought Elva.
This proved to be the same saloon she had visited before, for she remembered the sweet-looking young lady.
“I’ll have a manilla cream this time,” said Elva, “and you may put a little lemon in it, too.” The young lady smiled. “I don’t know but you think it’s funny,” added Elva, blushing, “for me to be taking two ice creams; but you make them so very nice!”
After dispatching her “manilla” cream, Elva looked in her pocket for her purse. To her great dismay it was not to be found! She started up in a frenzy and went to the counter, where stood a young woman making change.
“What shall I do?” moaned the child; “it’s lost! it’s lost!”
“What’s lost?” inquired the girl, still counting change.
“My purse! my purse! with ’most twenty dollars in it!”
“Ah, indeed! it’s odd you’ve only just found it out!”
“Mayn’t I see the pretty lady?” pleaded Elva, “the one with a blue bow on her collar?—she’ll remember the purse, for she saw me take it out.”
The sharp-faced girl did not feel greatly flattered by Elva’s appeal to the “pretty lady,” but called for her in a shrill voice. Her name was Jane Townsend. When she heard Elva’s mournful story, she believed her at once, and pitied her with all her heart.
“Come with me,” said she, leading Elva into a private room; “tell me all about it, and how you happen to be wandering about all alone. I am sadly afraid some one has picked your pocket, my poor child!”
This was too true. The man who had brushed against Elva as she entered the confectioner’s was the thief.
“What shall I do? what will become of me?” sobbed Elva, throwing herself upon her new friend’s bosom in the abandonment of childish grief.
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 10: New Friends” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1865; pp. 107-110)
Jane Townsend removed Elva’s hat, and smoothed the child’s long golden curls.
“Pray tell me,” said she, “how you happened to be walking about the streets with so much money in your pocket? Did your mother send you out shopping?”
“Oh, no,” said Elva, “my mother knows nothing about it. She lives at Woodford. I have run away from home.”
“Is it possible!” exclaimed the young lady in surprise. “That is very strange! Here, sit down on this ottoman, my dear, and tell me how such a nice little girl happened to run away.”
Elva seated herself and made a great effort to dry her tears, that her voice might be clear and distinct. She thought herself the most wretched child that ever lived; still, was she not a heroine, just like young ladies in books? and was it not a glorious thing to be a heroine and carry a heart full of grief?
“I suppose you never mistrusted that I’m very, very unhappy,” began elva in a pathetic tone.
Jane Townsend remembered how joyfully Elva had eaten an ice-cream only a few minutes before; so she replied:
“Really, I did not notice that you looked sad, my child; but if you have any trouble worse than the loss of your purse, I am very sorry.”
“Oh, I don’t mind much about the money,” said Elva with a burst of disdain, “money is nothing at all when anybody has real trouble! Now I suppose you never had any real trouble, did you, Miss Townsend?”
“Never mind about that,” replied the young lady, a little amused; “let me hear your story, please.”
“Dear me, I don’t know how to begin,” said Elva, smoothing the skirt of her dress and feeling very important.
“In the first place, Miss Townsend, my name is Laura Belmont, though I am called Elva Newell! I am a gentleman’s daughter. My father always rolled in gold. He lives on Tremont Street, right here in this city, and his name is Mr. Clarence Belmont. Did you ever hear of him?” said she, suddenly interrupting herself. “No,” replied Miss Townsend, trying to recollect, “no, I never did.”
“Well,” continued Elva, slightly disappointed, “I didn’t know but you had, for he’s a great lawyer. My father and mother—”
“Oh,” said Miss Townsend, “I beg pardon, but I thought your parents lived at Woodford.”
“My foster parents,” replied Elva, with a little toss of the head. “I was going to tell you: One day, when I was a baby, a cruel beggar woman crept into the house on tiptoes and wrapped me up in her red cloak and carried me off. I cried as hard as I could, but she gave me a teaspoonful of laudanum and a teaspoonful of opium and paregoric, till it put me to sleep.”
Here Miss Townsend, being seized with a fit of coughing, was obliged to bury her face in her handkerchief.
“That was certainly a powerful
dose for a baby; but how can you remember it so well?”
“Oh, I don’t remember it at all! But my mother (that is, Mrs. Newell) has told me many a time that I was kept stupid with drugs all the while I was a baby. This wicked beggar woman took me to the orphan asylum and sold me, I suppose, for there they found me all black and blue, when I was three years old.”
“Who found you?—Mr. and Mrs. Belmont?”
“Oh, no; they were hunting me all over the wide world, but didn’t find me. It was Mrs. Newell who took me out of the asylum, and dressed me up in her little dead child’s clothes, and cured me of the opium and the whippings.”
“Very kind of her. How long did she let you stay with her?”
“How long? Oh, forever. She adopted me for her own child and named me Elva for the little Elvira.”
“Very noble and good of her,” said Miss Townsend, with emphasis. “Such a sickly baby must have made a deal of trouble.”
“Yes, she was pretty kind,” Elva reluctantly confessed. “She used to take care of me and pet me ever so much. Well, I don’t think she was so awful cross to me till after our baby was born. You see, ever since that, she has made me work, oh, so hard! I love the baby, but I have to got up in the morning and feed the chickens, grind the coffee, and set the table just as tight as I can spring. Then, every other week, there’s the brindled cow to milk, and, dear me, to strain, and the pans to wash. And there’s butter and cheese to make, and the baby to rock, and the floor. to sweep! If you never lived on a farm you don’t know!”
“Did you go to school?”
“Yes, to those little miserable district schools where you don’t have to pay! Wendeline said it’s a shame I can’t go the Academy and learn accomplishments.”
“Who is Wendeline?”
“Oh, she’s my bosom friend, and a lady. They live in a stone house with lions in the yard, and a housekeeper. Wendeline has gone this very day to Philadelphia, to boarding-school. She wanted me to go too; her father would have paid half the money, I guess; but my mother never would consent—she’s not a lady at all, she doesn’t know anything about music or French.”
“Is it possible? It must be hard for you to live with such an ignorant woman.”
“Yes, and it isn’t my duty. Wendeline has often begged me to run away, and to-day mother imposed upon me and insulted me till my heart just broke, and I said it’s the last time! I won’t bear any more!”
“There’s one thing rather odd,” interrupted Miss Townsend: “why don’t you live with your real father and mother?”
“Just what I’m going to do,” said Elva, with sparkling eyes; “why, I’m right on the way to them this day! They don’t know I’m coming. I never heard who they were, nor where they lived, till last night. But they’ve poured out money like water for the sake of finding me, the medium said.”
“Yes; I saw her at Mrs. Perkins’—I can’t stop to tell you about the table and all that, but it’s enough to make your hair stand on end!”
“And is this all you know of your parents, merely what a medium has told you?”
“Yes, that is all—but she is a very good medium.”
“Do you know,” said Miss Townsend, taking Elva’s hand, “I think your errand is a foolish one! As likely as any way, there is no Mr. Clarence Belmont in Boston.”
“But the spirit of my aunt certainly said so!”
Miss Townsend procured a City Directory. The desired name was not to be found within its pages.
“Now,” said Elva’s new friend, “here is proof positive. The story about Mr. Clarence Belmont is all a silly falsehood.”
It was some time before Elva would be convinced. “Oh, dear,” said she, with a fresh burst of tears, “I can’t bear it at all! I had thought it all over how they would look and what they would say. It just breaks my heart.”
Miss Townsend waited patiently till she supposed Elva’s broken heart was mended; then told her, very kindly, that the wisest thing she could do was to go directly home.
“But I have no money.”
“I will lend you some”
“But I don’t want to go!”
No; this romantic idea of seeking her fortune had been revolving in Elva’s mind for several weeks she could not easily give it up. Besides, though Mr. Clarence Belmont might not be her father, some one else was, and if she only lived in the “great world” she would be likely to meet him, or, at any rate, some other wonderful thing would certainly happen.
Miss Townsend reasoned with the little girl for some time, but to no purpose. Setting aside her ambition to be a great lady, Elva was too proud to return to Woodford. Her anger was not yet cooled; and she wished, if possible, to make the whole Newell family wretched.
“No, no,” persisted she, “I’ll never go back till I can wear silk dresses and be as great a lady as Wendeline.”
“I can’t help liking you, Elva,” said Miss Townsend, kissing the child, “but your brain is sadly whirled. How in the world are you to stay in Boston without any money?”
“Oh, I’d forgotten that! My purse! my purse! Haven’t you any mayors and policemen? How romantic it is! Doesn’t it make you think of the young ladies in stories who are robbed by the banditti?”
“It makes me think,” said Miss Townsend, laughing, “that you’d better go home with me and spend the night. After a good sleep, perhaps you’ll come to your senses.”
There was no other plan possible for Elva, so she was glad to accept the young lady’s hospitality. Miss Townsend lived with her mother on an obscure street up three flights of stairs. Mrs. Townsend was a benevolent, affectionate old lady. When her daughter had made known to her the particulars of Elva’s history, she smiled and said:
“Well, Jane, if we can not persuade the little girl to go home, we will do the next best thing—write to this Mrs. Newell and set her heart at rest. She will send for the child at once.”
So Jane, unknown to Elva, wrote a letter, which she directed to “Mrs. Daniel Newell, Woodford, Mass.”
It was well for our heroine that she had fallen among such kind friends. In all her waywardness an unseen Father was guiding her rash footsteps. Her sleep that night was full of troubled dreams. Her imaginary father, Mr. Belmont, patted her on
the head and called her his “dear daughter!” but next moment he proved to be a thief, and not long after, a big gray cloud. Then she dreamed that the baby was very sick, and that when she tried to take it, her mother frowned and ordered her away. It was not strange her dreams should be painful, for she bore a troubled conscience.
“It seems to me,” said she, next morning, “that I’ve heard wheels all night. When do the Boston people go to bed?”
There was a coal-grate in the room, but no fire; Elva wondered how a breakfast could be cooked, but asked no questions. Jane bustled about, aired the bell, and removed the pillows and coverlets from the sofa while Elva had slept. Then she built a tiny charcoal fire, and set over it the coffee-pot, in which she had put ground coffee and hot water from one of the pipes in the bathing-room. People in Boston have usually plenty of water, both cold and hot. Then she drew out a little table, and covered it with a cloth, putting on dishes from the closet, a pat of butter, a pitcher of milk, and some slices of beef. Afterward, she threw on her bonnet, and bade Elva to watch the coffee while she tripped down three flights of stairs and crossed the street to the baker’s. She purchased some hot rolls and a sheet of gingerbread, and was back again before the coffee had boiled. To Elva, the breakfast looked rather meager; still, it had the charm of novelty.
When it was over, Jane read a chapter in the Bible, and her good mother offered a prayer. These words occurred in the chapter, and Elva had an uneasy fancy that Jane read them with emphasis: “Be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.” It was strange, she thought, that Mrs, Townsend should make in her prayer such a feeling allusion to the prodigal son, asking God to give His wanderers a better state of mind.
As soon as Jane had made the bad, she started out again, leaving her mother to wash the dishes.
“What an easy time you have,” said Elva, “so little work to do!”
Jane might have replied that her daily labor was really beyond her strength.
“Where would you like to stay today—with mother or me?”
Elva concluded to go to the confectioner’s. Jane, in the midst of her cares, kept a watchful eye over the child, fearing that she might stray away; and at night took her home again.
Next morning, it was time to look for an answer from Mrs, Newell; but none came. Two or three days passed, and still no letter. Mrs. Townsend did not know what to think.
“Can it be, Jane, that the child is deceiving us?”
“Oh, no, mother—I can trust her open face. She is artless and truthful, I am sure.”
Elva, meanwhile, was growing uneasy. She knew she had no claim upon these kind but poor people. Whither should she go? Jane searched the newspapers for the advertisements: ‘Little girl wanted.’
“Elva,” said she, on Monday morning, “I believe I have found a place for you; that is, if you would like to be a nursery maid.”
Elva clapped her hands. “Surely,” thought she, “my fortunes have begun!”
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 11: A New Home” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1865; pp. 142-146)
The house where Elva was to seek a situation was on Springfield Street, not far from the place where the imaginary Clarence Belmont was supposed to reside. Elva’s heart beat high as she saw Tremont Street cars plodding up and down. In spite of the City Directory, she still had a lurking faith in Mr. Clarence Belmont.
Arrived at Mrs. Lincoln’s on Springfield Street, the servant ushered Miss Townsend and Elva into the back parlor, where the lady of the house was seated sewing. Back parlor, indeed! It seemed to Elva like a room in a castle. She looked around her upon the magnificent pictures and ornaments, rapidly deciding in her own mind that Wendeline Gilman’s house was not the most elegant one in the world after all.
“I think you may remember me, madam,” said Jane to Mrs. Lincoln, “I once did plain sewing in your family; my name is Jane Townsend.”
“Ah, yes, Jane, I recollect you very well,” said the lady smiling graciously; “I hope you would like some more sewing, for you did your work nicely, nicely, Jane!”
Jane explained that her visit was in behalf of her young friend, whom she now introduced as “Elva Newell, a little girl from the country.”
Mrs. Lincoln folded her white hands in her lap and looked keenly at Elva, who cast down her eyes and twisted the fingers of her gloves.
“Are you accustomed to children, my dear?”
“Oh, yes, ’m, I’ve taken a great deal of care of my little sister.”
“Where do you live, Elva?”
“In Woodford, ma’am.”
“Have you any references?”
Elva gazed at the lady in blank amusement, having no idea what a reference meant.
“No matter, my child. Are your parents in the city?”
Elva stammered out a guilty “No, ma’am.”
“Then how did you happen to come to Boston?”
The question was a natural one. Mrs. Lincoln had no idea of calling such warm blushes into Elva’s cheeks.
“I didn’t like to stay at home, ma’am.”
Mrs. Lincoln looked at Jane.
“Really, madam,” faltered Jane; but got no further.
“Elva,” said Mrs. Lincoln, reproachfully, “do you mean to say that you have run away?”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Elva, in great distress. Then, like Father Adam, she cast about for somebody who should bear part of the blame. “Wendeline was the one that teased me into it.” Here Elva stopped, for really she could think of nothing better to say; and more than that, her voice was choked by tears.
“I will tell you all I know about the child, ma’am,” said Jane, when she found that poor Elva’s tongue was tied in a hard knot, “I am one of the waiting-girls at Vinton’s, and last Wednesday this little girl came in and called for an ice-cream. I noticed her particularly at the time, and wondered if she was not from the country.”
At this remark Elva winced a little.
Jane went on. “By-and-by she returned, and it seems that somehow on the street she lost her purse, with quite an amount of money in it—so I asked her to go home with me, and there she has staid ever since.”
“Quite like you, Jane! You would divide your last morsel with a stranger.”
“I think,” continued Miss Townsend, “that the poor child has had her head filled with romantic stories. I should judge, too, that her associates have not been well chosen. She fancies that her foster-parents treat her cruelly; though I can’t see any ground for such a notion, ma’am, from anything she’s told me. But I do believe she’s well disposed, and if she could only get a good place”—
“Ah, yes, Jane, I understand the case. You must do something with the child, that’s certain. But excuse me if I say I do not care to take any little runaways for servants.”
Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was sweet, but the words were really a little cruel. Elva could not, by the strongest effort, keep back her tears.
“If I were in your place, Jane, I would persuade the child to go home. Indeed, it is your positive duty.”
“To tell the truth,” replied Jane, “after I had talked to her till I was tired, I wrote to her mother.”
This was the first knowledge Elva had ever had of the unanswered letter.
“Oh, Miss Townsend,” she sobbed, “you never told me!”
“No,” replied Jane, “I have been waiting to hear from your mother. I wrote to her on Wednesday night, but have received no answer yet. Do your parents live near the post-office?”
“Oh, yes, ’m, only half a mile, and father or Perley go every night.”
Elva was trembling violently. What Mrs. Lincoln had said about runaways was very humiliating; and now to learn that a letter bad been sent to Woodford, telling the whole story of her foolishness!—oh, it was dreadful! She had meant and tried to be a heroine; and it turned out that she was only a runaway! She had fancied her parents mourning her loss, and Perley tearing about the country wild with grief. How different was the reality! They were actually laughing at her! They wouldn’t even take notice of Jane Townsend’s letter! She could imagine Seth saying, “Let her alone till she gets ready to behave herself. Guess she’ll get sick of her bargain!”
Elva shed tears which had all the bitterness of gall and wormwood. The tables were turned. She had thought to cast off her parents, and now they had cast off her!
“Oh, Jane,” she wailed, as they found themselves on the street again, “where shall I go? what shall I do?”
“Dry your eyes, the first thing,” said Jane in as severe a tone as she could command. “I know of two more places where we can apply; but if you cry so, your face will not be presentable.”
“There, I’ve—I’ve—stopped, Miss Townsend; but my heart is broken, it is truly. Did you notice how that lady spoke of me as a servant? I didn’t know they called nursery-maids by that name!”
Jane laughed. “Well, my child, if you object to the name of servant, I don’t see what I can do for you; we need go no farther. Do you know I am taking half a day right out of my time for your sake?”
Heedless Elva had never thought of that.
“Listen to me, my dear, and start for home this very afternoon.”
“Never,” said Elva, whose feelings had been sadly wounded by her mother’s indifference. “I’ll never go home! I’d sooner die!”
It must be confessed that Jane Townsend’s long-enduring patience was rather tried. It is not probable that when she first took it upon herself to befriend little Elva she had expected such a tedious task of it.
The second lady they visited had just obtained a nursery-maid. The third, a physician’s wife on Shawmut Avenue, catechised Elva severely, but finally consented to take her. Elva did not like the settled frown on this lady’s face; but as she must enter on her duties at once, she was forced to bid a hurried good-bye to the faithful Jane, who promised to come around and see her in a day or two.
Fortunately for Elva she had found a very disagreeable place. She needed severe discipline, and at Dr. French’s she was sure to find it. She really knew nothing about the care of children; but here she was expected to sooth and entertain two naughty little girls, aged five and seven, both of them suffering from hooping- cough and spoiled tempers. Not only this, but she must answer the door-bell and make herself generally useful. She had no time to read, no time to be absent-minded or indolent.
“Ellen,” said Mrs. French, who would not remember to call her Elva, “Ellen, take Miss Nettie in her little coach down to Dwight Street, No. 8. She is crying to see her auntie.”
“But, I don’t know the way to Dwight Street, ma’am.”
“My patience, Ellen, what do you know? Here you’ve been in the house a whole day, yet can’t go from the nursery to the kitchen without blundering.”
The second day of Elva’s weary servitude she was ordered to give Miss Nettie a spoonful of castor-oil. As a matter of course a fearful struggle ensued, during which the contents of the oil-bottle were poured in nearly equal parts upon the carpet and upon Elva’s dress. Owing to her own carelessness and the rude behavior of the children, a week had hardly passed before Elva’s few dresses were all untidy. Mrs. French, not reflecting that she was but a child, scolded her severely.
Never before had Elva known any real cause for unhappiness, her troubles had been purely imaginary; but now she began to weep in sober earnest. Her bright spirits deserted her. She was always tired, always discouraged. When she tried to laugh or sing, the sound was drowned in tears.
“Pretty doings, indeed,” said Mrs. French, “if she had employed a girl who only gave her children the blues! Such a moping simpleton never was seen!”
Elva began to think that her mother’s brisk scoldings were rather pleasant to remember.
“I used to think mother was cross, but she wasn’t; she’s no more like Mrs. French than honey is like vinegar, Miss Townsend.”
The poor child wrote a letter to Wendeline, pouring out all her griefs but as she gave Wendeline no clew to her address beyond the word “Boston,” no answer was received.
One little scene at Dr. French’s will show my readers what Elva had to bear. The cook had gone away on a tiff, and Mrs. French was busy in the kitchen.
Now, Ellen,” said she, as she
slowly insinuated a custard pie into the range-oven, “of all the provoking children you are the coolest! Cutting your finger this morning just at the time I needed you most! I verily believe you did it on purpose, Ellen, for our bread-knife is as dull as your wit! Hark! there’s the door-bell!”
Up stairs ran Elva to answer the summons, hastily seizing a towel on the way to stanch the blood oozing from her wound. She returned breathless, saying Mrs. Blair’s baby was in a fit, and where was Dr. French?
“I’m sure I’ve no idea,” replied Mrs. French, as she deliberately filled the tea-kettle. “He may be at Mrs. Bond’s, on Dwight Street, I see one of her little boys passing by the backyard, Ellen—run to the east door and ask him!”
High fences and paved yards were still mysteries to Elva.
“The east door, did you say? Oh, the baby’ll be dead and gone before I can ever remember that my right hand is east.”
But Elva in her hurry chanced to open the door indicated, much to her own surprise.
“Oh, are you a Bond boy? Is your name Bond? There’s a dear little baby over to Mrs. Blair’s, and it’s rolling up its eyes and throwing up its hands—so.”
But Elva’s speech was cut short by the appearance of Mrs. French, who asked the wondering boy if the doctor was at his mother’s house.
“Then,” said she, “run home as fast as ever you can and tell him he’s wanted at Mrs. Blair’s. Now, Ellen Newberry, you’ve lost a case for my husband, do you hear! Of course the Blair boy has gone for another physician. If your intellect isn’t entirely befogged, perhaps you hear my little Nettie crying. Then go up stairs and attend to her—that is, if you remember the way to the nursery!”
“Oh, dear, dear, dear—I wish I was dead,” muttered Elva, hiding her face in the stained towel.
“What’s that you say, Ellen Newberry?”
“My name is Elva Newell. I said I wished I was dead, and so I do,” retorted the child, goaded to desperation. “I can’t please you, Mrs. French, and I guess I’ll go home!”
“Indeed you’ll do no such thing, your impertinent chit! I never hire a girl for less than a month; and stupid as you are I’ll not give you up then, till I find somebody to take your place. Do you hear, Ellen Newberry?”
[To Be Continued.]
“Chapter 12: Conclusion” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1865; pp. 173-177)
Let us go back and take a little peep at Woodford, and see what good Mrs. Newell meant by leaving Jane Townsend’s letter unanswered. The truth was, she had not received it. It had lain all the while in the village post-office, where none of the Newells ever thought of going for letters. The two parts of the town were as distinct as two nations. “Woodford Corner” was the proper address; but this fact our heroine had not considered.
On the day of Elva’s flight, Mrs. Newell had taken up the dinner as usual, wondering every now and then why she had no help from Elva, and what the child could find to do down cellar. When she had made all ready, except peeling the potatoes, and had gone to the side-door and sounded the horn, she supposed that Elva would certainly appear.
“Come, child,” called she from the cellar-door, “what are you doing? You’ve been gone long enough to make an apple-pie.”
Receiving no answer, Mrs. Newell ran down stairs in some vexation. She peeped into the “soap-room,” into the “wood-cellar,” but no traces of Elva. Taking a pie from the “swing-shelf” she hastened up with it, thinking, very naturally, that the little girl was somewhere in the house, or, at any rate, within sound of the horn.
But dinner passed without her. “I’ve been up to her room, but she is not there,” said her mother; “she must know that dinner is ready. I am afraid she is off somewhere having a pout. Elva never had these sullen fits until Wendeline Gilman came. It is high time the two girls were separated. For my part, I am rejoiced to know that Wendeline is fairly gone.”
“Don’t be too hard on a motherless girl like Squire Gilman’s daughter; be charitable, Betsey,” said her husband, mildly.
Mrs. Newell washed the dinner dishes, spent ten minutes killing flies, and then rocked the little one to sleep. By that time she began in good earnest to wonder what had become of Elva. Was it possible she had gone to Louisa Flint’s without leave?
When Perley came in to replenish his jug of molasses and water, she bade him go directly to Mrs. Flint’s. He muttered something about “Elf’s being big enough to take care of herself,” but did the errand, and came back to report that no one at Mrs. Flint’s had seen Elva for two or three days, and he had left Louisa in a sad fidget lest she might be drowned.
After Perley had been sent to several houses on the like fruitless errand, the affair began to look serious.
“I’ll tell you my opinion,” said the oracular Seth at last, “and you may let it go for what it will fetch. Them girls was up till ’leven o’clock last night; for as I came home from Mrs.
Johonnet’s paring-bee, I seen a light through the trees there at Gilman’s. I’ll bet you a silver dollar Elvy’s gone to Philadelphy!”
This shrewd suggestion made Mrs. Newell “feel fairly faint.” She now searched her daughter’s room; and, as if to confirm Seth’s opinion, all the child’s best dresses were missing, as well as her little purse, and the carpet-bag which had been given her when she went to Augusta. Yes, it was but too evident that Elva had undertaken some kind of a journey.
“I don’t know as you can call her really accountable,” said Mrs. Newell’s particular friend, Mrs. Jenkins, “she has acted like a different child for several months. Why, I’ve often thought and said the influence that Gilman girl has over her is an awful thing.”
“I feel to reproach myself,” said excellent Mrs. Newell pacing the floor, “I haven’t done right, I haven’t done right.”
So far Mrs. Newell’s words were precisely what Elva had hoped they would be; she had wished her mother to reproach herself and think she had not done right. But the dear woman’s regret was not exactly of the kind Elva had anticipated. Mrs. Newell did not mourn at all over her little scoldings, her gentle fault-findings.
“I ought to have been more careful of her associates, Mrs. Jenkins! I have been too careless of these things, and you know evil communications corrupt good manners.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied her friend, glancing meaningly at the “Romance of the Forest” on Elva’s book-shelf. “But if the Lord should spare the child to come home again, you can be more watchful, Mrs. Newell.”
It was soon proved that Elva had purchased a ticket to Boston. Beyond that city no trace was to be found; but no one seemed to doubt for an instant that her final destination would be Philadelphia.
Mrs. Newell wrote a kind letter to her fugitive daughter, asking Mr. Gilman to post it, that it might be sure to reach her. In this letter she freely forgave Elva’s undutiful conduct, on condition of her returning home immediately.
In the course of a week a reply came from Wendeline, returning the money Mrs. Newell had sent, and declaring that Elva was not in Philadelphia, and had never spoken of going there.
If Wendeline had chosen, she might have told the little girl’s whereabouts and put an end to this suspense; at any rate she might have directed Mrs. Newell to inquire at Vinton’s in Boston; but she made it a point of honor not to betray her friend’s confidence.
When the Newells learned that Elva was not in Philadelphia, their astonishment and alarm were unbounded. They had rested quite easy in that belief; but now, what was to be done?
“You have often asked me, Mrs. Jenkins, if I loved Elva like my own child? I can answer you just at this time more decidedly than ever: I do. If we are to lose her now, it will be even harder for her father and me than the death of our little Elvira.”
Mr. Newell proposed to advertise at once in the newspapers. Perley was in favor of sending scouts in every direction. Suspicious Seth was still firm in his belief that she was in “Philadelphy,” in spite of Wendeline’s statement to the contrary. Seth had no faith in that “Gilman girl,” and rather prided himself upon his low opinion of human nature generally.
In the midst of this distress and in-
decision Abner arrived. He had seized the earliest opportunity to inquire into the mystery concerning his little favorite, and had little doubt that he should see her safe at home; at all events he supposed he should learn the particulars of her singular journey. But it proved that he knew more about the child than did any of the family. The strong man was well-nigh overwhelmed for a moment by the story he heard.
“It has been laboring on my mind ever since I left her at the Boston depot,” said he, “what she could mean by saying she was going to seek her fortune. I wish now I’d missed the train and found out! But I didn’t mistrust it was anything but some of her nonsense. Well, well, it’s high time the thing was looked into! I’m certain she’s in Boston, now I think of it more; and if I don’t search the city, my name is not Abner Hackett!”
Abner searched accordingly; so did Mr. Newell; but what did it avail, since no little bird directed them to Vinton’s, or to Elva’s retreat on Shawmut Avenue? They also advertised largely; but what is the use of advertising, unless the right people read them? So all attempts ended in failures, and four sad-looking people were seated one evening around the supper-table at Farmer Newell’s. I say four, for Abner was there, and Seth is not to be counted, since he could not be made to feel uneasy, and persisted in declaring that “Elvy would come up one of these days when all the fuss was over.”
Just as Seth was comforting the household with this stereotyped remark, a timid knock was heard at the back-door. It is clear enough to you and me whose little hand was at the latch. Perley answered the summons.
“Elf Newel!” he shouted, “what upon earth!”
The child lingered in the door-way, hesitating to enter. “But when she was yet a great way off, her father saw her, and had compassion on her, and fell on her neck and kissed her.”
“Oh, mother! oh, father!” she sobbed, clinging close to them, “can you, do you, forgive me?”
“Bless your little heart!” cried her overjoyed father, taking her up in his arms and carrying her into the house as if she had been a baby. “Here she is, Abner, welcome home! Here she is, Abner, safe and sound! Put your arms around his neck, Elvy, and give him a sound kissing, for you haven’t a better friend alive than Abner Hackett!”
This was a long speech for quiet Mr. Newell; but his wife had for once left all the talking to him; for her part she could do nothing but weep, kiss the newly-found daughter, and fall to weeping again. When Elva’s hat had been removed by Perley, her head was seen to be shorn of its glory, the golden curls. This savage clipping had been done by a Boston barber at the express command of merciless Mrs. French. But as yet no one was allowed to ask any questions; Abner sternly forbade it.
After the wondering baby had received its allotted share of rapturous embraces, a place was made for Elva at the table, Perley bringing a clean knife and fork and plate; for indeed Mrs. Newell in her ecstasy seemed to forget that it was not customary for people to eat with their fingers.
After tea, Elva, with many tears and self-upbraidings, related the story of her sad wanderings.
“Dear child,” ejaculated Mrs. Newell from time to time. “Poor Elvy,”
said her father and Abner. Even Perley, subdued as Elva had never seen him before, cried out now and then, “Too bad, Elf, by George!” But he never once alluded to the foolishness of “Dandeline Tangle.”
Not a word of reproach from any one, not even uncharitable Seth. After the story—which was a very long one with frequent interruptions—Mr. Newell offered a prayer of special thanksgiving. Elva kneeling with her hand in her mother’s, knew that she, too, was very thankful, and hoped she was thankful to her Father in heaven.
“Mother,” said she that night as they both sat in the little whitewashed chamber which Elva had so much longed to see, “I haven’t told you yet what made me run away: I wanted to find my true parents—I fancied I must have been born a lady.”
“My dear child, I never dreamed that you were not satisfied with your home, you know. I could have told you your parentage long ago, if you had only asked me; I took pains, some years since, to trace it out.”
“Oh, mother, mother,” gasped Elva with distended eyes.
“Your mother, Elva, was an honest washerwoman who came over from Wales with her husband about eleven years ago. On the passage your father died, and after a year of struggle and privation your mother died too, leaving you, a poor little orphan, among heartless strangers. That is the way
you happened to be left at the orphan asylum.”
The story was simple enough. Here was an end to the many colored romances which had turned Elva’s little head!
“Oh, mother!” cried she, clapping her hands and waltzing about the room, “I didn’t mistrust that my mother was a washerwoman. But I’m glad! I’m glad! I mean I’m glad I know! Now I shall never fret again about being a lady! I’ll build no more air- castles. I’ll try to be good—I tell you I’m tired of being wicked; if I can only behave so you’ll own me for your daughter, I’ll be satisfied, mother!”
There was really a wonderful change in Elva, and it lasted, too. She resumed her old duties with fresh zeal, feeling that she could hardly do enough for her excellent parents. Not a word of fault did she henceforth find with her lot. The remembrance of her Boston experience was enough to check all murmuring.
The half-crazed Wendeline did not return to Woodford for two years. Elva met her with politeness, but the time had passed when her romantic ideas could work any real harm on Elva. She had long ago taken up again her old friendship with sweet Louisa Flint. Many happy years have passed. Elva is now a noble woman, and universally acknowledged as a “real lady.” But you may be sure that only once in her life did she ever run away to seek her fortune.