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"But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." --2 COR. ix. 6.
All the children, Gertrude excepted, were gathered on the front porch, Vi with the dead bird in her hands, when the carriage drove up with the returning travelers.
There was a glad chorus of welcome, and most of the young faces were bright and happy. Elsie's troop had nothing but smiles, caresses and loving words for her, and tender, anxious inquiries about "Sister Elsie; if the tooth were out?" "if the dentist hurt her much?"
"It was hard to bear," she said, "but the doctor was very kind, and tried not to hurt her. And, oh, mamma had made her such a lovely present, for being brave and willing to have her tooth out." And she took a beautiful little gold watch and chain from her bosom, and held them up to their admiring gaze.
"Oh, I'm so glad, so glad! Dear mamma, how good of you!" cried Vi, without a touch of envy embracing first her sister, and then her mother.
Eddie and the two younger ones seemed equally pleased, and "sister Elsie" allowed each in turn to closely inspect, her treasure.
In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Ross had been busy bestowing caresses and small gifts upon their children, who received them with noisy glee mingled with some reproaches because they had been left at home.
"Come, come, no complaints," said their father; "I think you have fared well;--a holiday, a picnic, and these pretty presents. Where's Gertrude?"
"Sure enough, where is she?" asked Lucy, looking round from one to another.
"She's mad because you did not take her along," remarked Harry, "she says you didn't keep your promise."
"Dear me, I'd forgotten all about it!" exclaimed Mrs. Ross. "I should have taken her though, but there wasn't time to get her up and dressed."
"Gertrude! Gertrude!" called Mr. Ross, in tones of authority, "Gertrude, come here and show yourself."
At that the child came slowly out from the hall--whence she had been watching the scene through the crack behind the door--looking red and angry.
"What's the matter with you?" asked her father, with some displeasure in his tones.
"Nothing, I'm not crying."
"Nor pouting either, I suppose? What's it all about."
"Mamma promised to take me along the next time she went to the city."
"Perhaps she will the next time."
"But this was the next time, because she promised it when she went before and took Kate."
"Well, such promises are always conditional; she took no one this time (but me), and there was a good reason why."
Gertrude smiled slightly, then laughed outright, as she glanced up into his face, saying, "I thought it was you, papa, that took mamma."
"Oh! now, you begin to look something like the little girl I'm used to hearing called Gertrude Ross; the one I like to buy presents for; the other one that was here just a moment ago, gets nothing bought with my money."
"See here," said her mother, and with a cry of delight Gertrude sprang forward and caught from her hand a watch and chain very nearly the counterparts of those little Elsie was displaying to her sister and brothers.
"Oh, joy, joy!" she cried, dancing up and down, "thank you, mamma! Thank you, papa! I'd rather have this than a dozen visits to New York. See, Kate, isn't it a beauty?"
"Yes," returned her sister sullenly; "but I don't see why you should have a watch and I only this ring; you're hardly more than a year older than I am and not a bit better girl"
"Come, come, don't pout, Kitty," said her father, stroking her hair; "your time will come. Harry's and Archie's too, and even little Sophie's," he added, catching the household pet up in his arms, to give her a hug and kiss.
It was not until after tea that Mr. Ross missed his dog. "Where's Ranger?" he asked of one of the servants.
"Dade, sir, I don't know," she answered. "Sure he went to the picnic wid the rest of the childer, an' it's meself as hasn't seen him since."
"Harry," stepping out on the porch where the children, except the very little ones, who had already been sent up to bed, were sitting listlessly about, too weary with the day's sports to care for anymore active amusement, "where's Ranger?"
"Ranger?" cried Harry with a start, "why sure enough, I haven't seen him since he came home! and I don't think he came with us either."
"No, he didn't," said several young voices.
"I wonder where he can be," pursued Harry. "Shall I go and look for him, papa?"
Mr. Ross was about to say yes, when his eye fell upon the face of his youngest son who, he noticed, looked very red and somewhat troubled. "What do you know about it, Archie?" he asked; "can you tell us what has become of Ranger?"
"He behaved very bad indeed, papa," stammered the boy; "he killed a dear little bird and tried to bite Vi, and me too--and I sold him."
The truth was out and Archie heaved a sigh of relief.
"Sold him?" repeated his father in a tone of mingled surprise and displeasure.
"Yes, sir: to Jared Bates, for two cents. Here they are: I s'pose they belong to you," said the little fellow tugging at his pocket.
"For two cents!" exclaimed Mr. Ross laughing in spite of himself. "You'll never grow rich, my boy, making such bargains as that. But see here," he added, growing grave again, "whose dog was it?"
"I--I thought it was ours, papa."
"Ours? Yours to play with, but only mine to sell or give away. You'll have to go to Jared to-morrow, return his two cents, and tell him the dog is mine, and you sold what did not belong to you."
"Oh where's my bird?" cried Violet, reminded of it by this little episode. "I laid it down to look at Elsie's watch, and oh it's gone! Mamma, mamma, I'm so sorry!"
"I am too, dear, for your sake," the mother said, putting an arm about her and kissing the wet cheek, for the tears had begun to flow again. "Was it the bird Ranger killed?"
"Yes, mamma, I was going to ask you to get it stuffed for me."
"Some cat has got it, no doubt," said Mr. Ross. "But don't cry: it couldn't hurt it, you know, after it was dead."
"If it only had a heaven to go to," sobbed Vi
"Perhaps it has," said the gentleman kindly. "I really don't think," turning to Mrs. Travilla, "that the Bible says anything to the contrary; it seems to me to simply leave the matter in doubt."
"I know," she answered thoughtfully, "that it is the generally accepted belief that there is no hereafter for the lower animals; yet it has occurred to me, too, that the Bible does not positively assert it; and some of the poor creatures have such a suffering life in this world that it makes my heart ache to think there is no other for them"
"Papa," asked Archie, "don't you think Ranger deserved to be sold for killing that bird and trying to bite Vi?"
"That's a question you should have propounded before selling him, that and another; 'May I sell him.'"
"I wish you'd let Phelim go and buy him back," remarked the boy, looking very uncomfortable at the thought of having to do the errand himself.
"No, sir," returned the father decidedly, "the mischief you have done you must undo yourself. Ah, Harry, go and ask if any letters came to-day."
"I asked," said Gertrude. "There was just one; from Phil," and she drew it from her pocket and handed it to her father.
"What does he say?" Mrs. Ross inquired when he had glanced over it.
"Not much, except that he's to be here to-morrow, and wants the carriage sent to the depot for him," he answered, handing it to her.
"Good!" said Gertrude, with much satisfaction. "We always have more fun when Phil's at home."
"Except when he picks a quarrel with you or some of us," remarked Harry.
"For shame, Hal!" said his mother. "The quarrels, if there are any, are as likely to be begun by you, as any one else."
Lucy was proud and fond of her first-born, and always ready to shield him from blame. He was in his mother's eyes as the king, who could do no wrong, but to others a spoiled child, a wilful, headstrong, domineering boy.
Yet he was not without his good qualities, brave, frank, affectionate, and generous to a fault, many hearts besides those of his doting parents were drawn to him in sincere affection; Elsie's among the rest; yet she dreaded exposing her little sons to Phil's influence; Edward especially as nearer Phil's age, and because, though much improved by good training, his natural disposition was very similar. But she had not seen Philip for two years, and hoped he might have changed for the better.
It seemed so at first. He was a bright, handsome youth, and came home in fine spirits, and with a manner full of affection for parents, brothers and sisters. She did not wonder at Lucy's fond pride in her eldest son.
"Phil," said his mother, following him into his room that night, "you have made a good impression, and I'm very anxious you shouldn't spoil it; so do try to keep on your good behavior while the Travillas stay."
"I intend to, Mrs. Ross," he returned, with a laugh. Elsie, little Elsie's been my little lady love since the first time my eyes lighted on her, and I know that if I want to secure the prize, I've got to keep on the right side of her father and mother."
Lucy laughed. "You are beginning early, Phil," she said. "I advise you not to say a word of your hopes in their hearing, for ten years to come."
"Trust me for managing the thing, ma," he returned, nodding his head wisely. "But do you s'pose now, they'd be so outrageously unreasonable as to expect a fellow to be quite perfect?" he queried, striking a match and lighting a cigar.
"Phil! Phil! throw that away!" she said, trying to snatch it from him.
He sprang nimbly aside, "No, you don't, ma! Why shouldn't I smoke as well as my father? Ministers smoke too, and lots of good people."
"But you're too young to begin yet, and I know your Aunt Elsie would be horrified. She'd think you a very fast boy and hurry away with her children, lest they should be contaminated by your bad example."
"Well," he answered, puffing away, "I'll not let her or them know I ever indulge. I'll only smoke up here and at night, and the smell will be all off my breath by morning."
"I wish you'd give it up entirely. Where did you ever learn it?"
"Comes natural; guess I inherited the taste. But nearly all the fellows at school do it--on the sly."
"Ah, Phil, I'm afraid you're a sad fellow!" Lucy said, shaking her head reprovingly; but he could see the smile shining in her fond, admiring eyes, and lurking about the corners of her mouth.
"Oh, come now, ma, I'm not so bad; not the worst fellow in the world. I wouldn't do a mean thing."
"No, of course not," she said, kissing him good-night, and leaving him with a parting, "Don't forget to say your prayers, Phil."
Mr. and Mrs. Ross were not Christian parents; careful and solicitous about the temporal welfare of their children, they gave little thought to their spiritual needs. Lucy taught them, in their infancy, to say their prayers before lying down to rest at night, as they grew older sent them to Sunday-school, took them to church on pleasant Sabbath mornings, when it was convenient, and she felt inclined to go herself, and provided each one with a copy of the Bible.
This was about the extent of the religious training they received; and it was strongly counteracted by the worldly atmosphere of their home, the worldly example set them by their parents, and the worldly maxims and precepts constantly instilled into their young minds.
From these, they learned to look upon the riches, honors and pleasures of earth as the things to be most earnestly coveted, most worthy of untiring efforts to secure.
Life at the Crags was a strange puzzle to the Ion children: no blessing asked at the table, no gathering of the family morning or evening for prayer or praise or the reading of God's word.
"Mamma, what does it mean?" they asked; "why doesn't Uncle Ross do as papa does?"
Elsie scarce knew how to answer them. "Don't let us talk about it, dears," she said: "but whatever others may do, let us serve God ourselves and seek his favor above everything else; for 'in his favor is life' and his loving kindness is better than life."
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