"Why, what is this?" exclaimed Mr. Travilla in alarm, "is it Elsie? can she have been in the water? Oh, my child, my darling!"
Instantly he was down upon the grass by her side, assisting Lester's efforts to restore her to consciousness.
For a moment she engrossed the attention of all, to the utter exclusion from their thoughts of poor Enna, for whom none of them entertained any great amount of affection.
"She lives! her heart beats! she will soon recover!" Arthur said presently, "see, a faint color is coming into her cheek. Run, Pomp, bring blankets and more help; they must be carried at once to the house."
He turned to his aunt, leaving Mr. Travilla and Lester to attend to Elsie.
Enna seemed gone; he could not be sure that life was not extinct. Perhaps it were better so, but he would not give up till every possible effort had been made to restore her.
Both ladies were speedily conveyed to the house, Elsie, already conscious, committed to the care of her mother and Aunt Chloe, while Arthur, Dr. Barton and others, used every exertion for Enna's resuscitation. They were at length successful in fanning to a flame the feeble spark of life that yet remained, but fever supervened, and for weeks afterward she was very ill.
Elsie kept her bed for a day, then took her place in the family again, looking quite herself except a slight paleness. No; a close observer might have detected another change; a sweet glad light in the beautiful brown eyes that was not there before; full of peaceful content and quiet happiness as her young life had been.
Lester's words of passionate love had reached the ear that seemed closed to all earthly sounds; they were heard as in a dream, but afterward recalled with a full apprehension of their reality and of all they meant to her and to him.
Months ago she had read the same sweet story in his eyes, but how sweeter far it was to have heard it from his lips.
She had sometimes wondered that he held his peace so long, and again had doubted the language of his looks, but now those doubts were set at rest, and their next interview was anticipated with a strange flutter of the heart, a longing for, yet half shrinking from the words he might have to speak.
But the day passed and he did not come; another and another, and no word from him. How strange! he was still her preceptor in her art studies; did he not know that she was well enough to resume them? If not, was it not his place to inquire?
Perhaps he was ill. Oh, had he risked his health, perhaps his life in saving hers? She did not ask; her lips refused to speak his name, and would nobody tell her?
At last she overheard her father saying to Eddie, "What has become of Lester Leland? It strikes me as a little ungallant that he has not been in to inquire after the health of your aunt and sister."
"He has gone away," Eddie answered, "he left the morning after the accident."
"Gone away," echoed Elsie's sinking heart. "Gone away, and so suddenly! what could it mean?" She stole away to her own room to indulge, for a brief space, in the luxury of tears, then, with a woman's instinctive pride, carefully removed their traces, and rejoined the family with a face all wreathed in smiles.
"Love is not to be reasoned down or lost, In high ambition, or a thirst for greatness; 'Tis second life, it grows into the soul, Warms ev'ry vein, and beats in ev'ry pulse; I feel it here; my resolution melts." —ADDISON.
Enna lay at the point of death for weeks. Mrs. Travilla was her devoted nurse, scarcely leaving her day or night, and only snatching a few hours of rest occasionally, on a couch in an adjoining room whence she could be summoned at a moment's notice.
Mr. Travilla at length remonstrated, "My darling, this is too much, you are risking your own life and health, which are far more valuable than hers."
"O Edward," she answered, the tears shining in her eyes, "I must save her if I can. I am praying, praying that reason may come back and her life be spared till she has learned to know him, whom to know aright is life eternal."
"My precious, unselfish little wife!" he said, embracing her with emotion, "I believe your petition will be granted; that the Master will give you this soul for your hire, saying to you as to one of old, 'According to your faith be it unto you.'
"But, dearest," he added, "you must allow others to share your labor, others upon whom she certainly has a nearer claim. Where is Mrs. Conly?"
"Aunt Louise says she has no talent for nursing," Elsie answered with a half smile, "and that Prilla, mammy and Dinah are quite capable and I am very foolish to take the work off their hands."
"And I am partly of her opinion," he responded playfully; then more seriously, "will you not, for my sake and for your children's, spare yourself a little."
"And for your father's," added Mr. Dinsmore, whose quiet step as he entered the room, they had not heard.
Elsie turned to him with both hands extended, a smile on her lips, a tear in her eye, "My dear father, how are you?"
"Quite well, daughter," he said, taking the hands and kissing the rich red lips, as beautiful and as sweet now, as in her childhood or youth, "but troubled and anxious about you. Are you determined to be quite obstinate in this thing?"
"No," she said, "I hope not; but what is it that you and my husband would have me do?"
"Take your regular rest at night," answered the one, the other adding, "And go out for a little air and exercise every day."
Arthur, coming in at that moment, from his morning visit to his patient, who lay in the next room, joined his entreaties to theirs, and upon his assurance that Enna was improving, Elsie consented to do as they desired.
Still the greater part of her time was spent at Enna's bedside, and her family saw but little of her.
This was a trial to them all; but especially to the eldest, who was longing for "mamma's" dear society; she fully appreciated Molly's and Eddie's companionship, dearly loved that of her father, and esteemed Vi's as very sweet, but no one could fill her mother's place.
Probably not even to her would she have unburdened her heart, she could scarce bear to look into it herself, but the dear mother's very presence, though she might only sit in silence by her side, would be as balm to her troubled spirit.
She forced herself to be cheerful when with the others, and to take an interest in what interested them, but when left alone would drop her book or work and fall into a reverie, or wander out into the grounds, choosing the most quiet and secluded parts; often the shady banks of the lakelet, where she and Lester had passed many an hour together in days gone by.
She had gone there one morning, leaving the others at home busied with their lessons. Seated on a rustic bench, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes on the ground and a book lying unheeded in the grass at her feet, she was startled by a sound as of some heavy body falling from a height and crashing through the branches of a thick clump of trees on the other side of the lake.
She sprang up and stood looking and listening with a palpitating heart. She could see that a large branch had broken from a tall tree, and lay upon the ground and—yes, something else lay beside or on it, half concealed from her view by the green leaves and twigs; and—did she hear a groan?
Perhaps it was only fancy, but it might be that some one was lying there in pain and needing assistance.
Instantly she flew toward the spot, her heart beating wildly; she drew near, started back and caught at a young sapling for support; yes, there lay a motionless form among the fallen branches, that of a man, a gentleman, as she discerned by what she could see of his clothing; her heart told her the rest.
Another moment and she was kneeling at his side, gazing with unutterable anguish into the still white face.
"He is dead, the fall has killed him." She had no hope of anything else at the moment; there seemed no possibility of life in that rigid form and death-like face; and she made no effort to give assistance or to call for it. She was like one turned to stone by the sudden crushing blow. She loved and she had lost—that was all she knew.
But at length this stony grief gave place to a sharper anguish, a low cry burst from her lips, and hot scalding tears fell upon his face.
They brought him back to consciousness, and he heard her bitter sighs and moans; he knew she thought him dead and mourned as for one who was very dear.
He was in terrible pain, for he had fallen with his leg bent under him and it was badly broken; but a thrill of joy shot through his whole frame. For a moment more he was able to control himself and remain perfectly still, then his eyelids quivered, and a groan burst from him.
At the sound Elsie started to her feet, then bending over him, "You're hurt, Lester," she said, unconsciously addressing him for the first time by his Christian name; "what can I do for you?"
"Have me carried to Fairview," he said faintly; "my leg is broken and I cannot rise or help myself."
"Oh, what can I do," she cried, "how can I leave you alone in such pain? Ah!" as steps were heard approaching, "here is grandpa coming up in search of me."
She ran to meet him and told him what had happened.
He seemed much concerned. "Solon is here with the carriage," he said. "I was going to ask your company for a drive, but we will have him take Leland to Fairview first. Strange what could have taken him into that tree!"
That broken limb kept Lester Leland on his back for six long weeks.
His aunt nursed him with the utmost kindness, but could not refrain from teasing him about his accident, asking what took him into the tree, and how he came to fall, till at last, in sheer desperation, he told her the whole story of his love, his hopelessness on account of his poverty, his determination not to go back to Ion to be thanked by Elsie and her parents for saving her life, his inability to go or stay far away from her; and finally owned that he had climbed the tree simply that he might be able to watch her, himself unseen.
"Well, I must say you are a sensible young man!" laughed Mrs. Leland; "but it was very unromantic to be so heavy as to break the limb and fall."
"True enough!" he said, half-laughing, half-sighing, while a deep flush suffused his face.
"Well, what are you going to do next?"
"Go off to—Italy, I suppose."
"To try to make fame and money to lay at her feet."
"That is all very well, but I think——"
"It just struck me that I was about to give unasked advice, which is seldom relished by the recipient."
"Please go on. I should like to have it whether I make use of it or not."
"Well, I think the honest, straightforward, and therefore best course, would be to seek an interview with the parents of the young lady, tell them frankly your feelings toward her, your hopes and purposes, and leave it with them to say whether you shall go without speaking to her."
"They will take me for a fortune-hunter, I fear," he said, the color mounting to his very hair.
"I think not; but at all events, I should risk it. I do not pretend to know Elsie's feelings, but if she cares for you at all, it would be treating her very badly indeed, to go away without letting her know yours; unless her parents forbid it.
"There, I've said my say, and will not mention the subject again till you do, but leave you to consider my advice at your leisure."
Lester did so during the next week, which was the last of the six of enforced quietude, and the more he pondered it, the more convinced was he of the soundness of his aunt's advice, and at length he fully resolved to follow it.
Mr. Travilla had called frequently at Fairview, since his accident, always inquiring for him, sometimes coming up to his room, at others merely leaving kind messages from himself, wife and family, or some dainty to tempt the appetite of the invalid. Eddie had been there, too, on similar errands; but there was never a word from her whose lovely image was ever present to his imagination.
* * * * *
Enna was recovering; was now able to sit up and to walk about the room. There was partial restoration of reason also. Elsie's prayer had been granted, and though still feeble in intellect, Enna had sense enough to comprehend the plan of salvation, and seemed to have entered into the kingdom as a little child. She was gentle, patient and submissive; very different, indeed, from the Enna of old. Elsie rejoiced over her with joy akin to that of the angels "over one sinner that repenteth."
* * * * *
Elsie's children were full of content and happiness in having mamma again at leisure to bestow upon them her wonted care and attention; her husband also, in that he was no longer deprived of the large share of her sweet society, which for weeks past had been bestowed upon Enna.
"Let us have a quiet walk together, little wife," he said to her one lovely summer evening, as she joined him in the veranda on coming down from seeing her little ones safe in their nest; "suppose we call on the Lelands. Lester, I hear, is talking of going North soon, and I believe contemplates a trip to Europe."
"And I have never seen him yet to thank him for saving our darling's life; and Enna's too. Yes; let us go."
Lester and his aunt were alone in the drawing-room at Fairview, when their visitors were announced.
There seemed a slight air of embarrassment about the young man at the moment of their entrance; but it was quickly dispelled by the kindly warmth of their greeting.
The four chatted together for some time on indifferent topics; then Mrs. Lester found some excuse for leaving the room, and Mrs. Travilla seized the opportunity to pour out her thanks to Elsie's rescuer from a watery grave.
This made a favorable opening for Lester, and modestly disclaiming any right to credit for what he had done, he frankly told the parents all that was in his heart toward their daughter, why he had refrained from speaking before, and his purpose not to seek to win her until he could bring fame and fortune to lay at her feet.
He began in almost painful confusion, but something in the faces of his listeners reassured him; for they expressed neither surprise nor displeasure, though tears were trembling in the soft brown eyes of the mother.
Lester had concluded, and for a moment there was silence, then Mr. Travilla said—a slight huskiness in his voice, "Young man, I like your straightforward dealing; but do you know the worth of the prize you covet?"
"I know, sir, that her price is above rubies, and that I am not worthy of her."
"Well, Mr. Leland, we will let her be the judge of that," the father answered. "Shall we not, little wife?" turning to Elsie with a look that had in it all the admiring homage of the lover, as well as the tender devotion of the husband.
"Yes," she sighed, seeming already to feel the pang of parting with her child.
"Do you mean that I may speak now?" Lester asked, half-incredulous of his happiness.
"Yes," Mr. Travilla said; "though not willing to spare our child yet, we would not have you part in doubt of each other's feelings. And," he added with a kindly smile, "if you have won her heart, the want of wealth is not much against you. 'Worth makes the man.'"
They walked home together—Elsie and her husband—sauntering along arm in arm, by the silvery moonlight, like a pair of lovers.
There was something very lover-like in the gaze he bent upon the sweet, fair face at his side, almost sad in its quietness.
"What is it, little wife?" he asked.
"Ah, Edward, how can we spare her—our darling, our first-born?"
"Perhaps we shall not be called upon to do so; he may not have won her heart."
She shook her head with a faint smile.
"She has tried to hide it—dear innocent child! but I know the symptoms; I have not forgotten." And she looked up into his face, blushing and happy as in the days when he had wooed and won his bride.
"Yes, dearest; what a little while ago it seems! Ah, those were gladsome days to us; were they not?"
"Gladsome? Ah, yes! their memory is sweet to this hour. Yet I do not sigh for their return; I would not bring them back; a deeper, calmer blessedness is mine. My dear husband,
"'I bless thee for the noble heart, The tender and the true, Where mine hath found the happiest rest That e'er fond woman's knew; I bless thee, faithful friend and guide, For my own, my treasur'd share, In the mournful secrets of thy soul, In thy sorrow and thy care.'"
"Thank you, my darling," he said, lifting her hand to his lips, his eyes shining. "Yes;
"We have lived and loved together, Through many changing years, We have shared each other's sorrows, And we've wept each other's tears.
"Let us hope the future As the past has been, may be, I'll share with thee thy sorrows, And thou my joys with me."
THE MERRY LYNN SERIES
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* * * * *
MERILYN ENTERS BEECHWOLD MERILYN AT CAMP MEENAHGA MERILYN TESTS LOYALTY MERILYN'S NEW ADVENTURE MERILYN FORRESTER, CO-ED. THE "MERRY LYNN" MINE
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