Read Chapter Third of Elsie's Motherhood, free online book, by Martha Finley, on

“Delightful task! to rear the tender thought,
To teach the young idea how to shoot,
To pour the fresh instruction o’er the mind,
To breathe the enlivening spirit and to fix
The generous purpose in the glowing breast!”

The Ion little folks were allowed an extra nap the next morning, their parents wisely considering plenty of sleep necessary to the healthful development of their mental and physical powers.  They themselves, however, felt no necessity for a like indulgence, their guests having departed in season to admit of their retiring at the usual hour, and were early in the saddle, keenly enjoying a brisk canter of several miles before breakfast.

On their return Elsie went to the nursery, Mr. Travilla to the field where his men were at work.  Half an hour later they and their children met at the breakfast table.

Solon came in for orders.

“You may leave Beppo saddled, Solon,” said Mr. Travilla, “and have Prince and Princess at the door also, immediately after prayers.”

The last named were a pair of pretty little grey ponies belonging respectively to Eddie and his sister Elsie.  They were gentle and well trained for both saddle and harness.

Nearly every day the children rode them, one on each side of their father, mounted on Beppo, his beautiful bay; and occasionally they drove behind them in the phaeton with their mother or some older person; and one or the other of the children would often be allowed to hold the reins when on a straight and level road; for their father wished them to learn to both ride and drive with ease and skill.

Little Elsie’s great ambition was “to be like mamma” in the ease and grace with which she sat her horse, as well as in every thing else; while Eddie was equally anxious to copy his father.

Violet and Harold ran out to the veranda to watch them mount and ride away.

“Papa,” said Vi, “shall we, too, have ponies and ride with you, when we’re as big as Elsie and Eddie?”

“I intend you shall, little daughter, and if you and Harold will be here with your hats on, all ready to start at once when we come back, I will give you each a short ride before the ponies are put away.”

“Oh, thank you, papa! we’ll be sure to be ready,” they answered, and ran in to their mother to tell her of papa’s kind promise, and to have their hats put on.

Elsie, who was in the sitting-room with Herbert on her lap, rejoiced in their joy, and bade Dinah prepare them at once for their ride.

“Bress dere little hearts! dey grows hansomer ebery day,” exclaimed an elderly negress, who had just come in with a basket on her arm.

“Don’t say such things before them, Aunt Sally,” said her mistress in a tone of gentle reproof, “their young hearts are only too ready to be puffed up with vanity and pride.  Now what is your report from the quarter.”

“Well, missus, dere’s lots ob miseries down dere dis mornin’; olé Lize she’s took wid a misery in her side; an’ Uncle Jack, he got um in his head; olé Aunt Delie’s got de misery in de joints wid de rheumatiz, an’ olé Uncle Mose he’s ‘plainin ob de misery in his back; can’t stan’ up straight no how:  an’ Hannah’s baby got a mighty bad cold, can’t hardly draw its breff; ‘twas took dat way in de night; an’ Silvy’s boy tore his foot on a nail.”

“Quite a list,” said Elsie.  And giving her babe to Aunt Chloe, she selected a key from a bright bunch lying in a little basket, held by a small dusky maid at her side, unlocked a closet door and looked over her medical store.  “Here’s a plaster for Uncle Mose to put on his back, and one for Lize’s side,” she said, handing each article in turn to Aunt Sally, who bestowed it in her basket.  “This small bottle has some drops that will do Uncle Jack’s head good; and this larger one is for Aunt Delia.  Tell her to rub her joints with it.  There is medicine for the baby, and Hannah must give it a warm bath.  If it is not better directly we must send for the doctor.  Now, here is a box of salve, excellent for cuts, burns and bruises; spread some on a bit of rag, and tie it on Silvy’s boy’s foot.  There, I think that is all.  I’ll be down after a while, to see how they are all doing,” and with some added directions concerning the use of each remedy, Aunt Sally was dismissed.

Then Aunt Dicey, the housekeeper, came for her orders for the day, and such supplies from pantry and storehouse as were needed in carrying them out.

In the meantime the riding party had returned, Harold and Violet had been treated to a ride about the grounds, the one in his father’s arms, Beppo stepping carefully as if he knew he carried a tender babe, the other on one of the ponies close at papa’s side and under his watchful eye.

It was a rosy merry group mamma found upon the veranda, chatting to each other and laughing gayly as they watched their father cantering down the avenue on his way to the fields to oversee the work going on there.

They did not hear their mother’s step till she was close at hand asking in her own sweet, gentle tones, “My darlings, had you a pleasant time?”

“O, yes, mamma, so nice!” and they gathered about her, eager to claim her ever ready sympathy, interested in their joys no less than their sorrows.

They had been taught to notice the beauties of nature the changing clouds, the bright autumn foliage, plants and flowers, insects, birds, stones; all the handiwork of God; and the elder ones now never returned from walk or ride without something to tell of what they had seen and enjoyed.

It was surprising how much they learned in this easy pleasant way, how much they gained almost imperceptibly in manners, correctness of speech, and general information, by this habit of their parents of keeping them always with themselves and patiently answering every proper question.  They were encouraged not only to observe, but to think, to reason, and to repeat what they had learned; thus fixing it more firmly in their minds.  They were not burdened with long tasks or many studies, but required to learn thoroughly such as were set them, and trained to a love for wholesome mental food; the books put into their hands being carefully chosen by their parents.

Though abundantly able to employ a governess, Elsie preferred teaching her darlings her self.  There was a large, airy room set apart for the purpose, and furnished with every suitable appliance, books, maps, globes, pictures, an orrery, a piano, etc., etc.  There were pretty rosewood desks and chairs, the floor was a mosaic of beautifully grained and polished woods, the walls, adorned with a few rare engravings, were of a delicate neutral tint, and tasteful curtains draped each window.

Thither mother and children now repaired, and spent two happy hours in giving and receiving instruction.

Harold had not yet quite mastered the alphabet.  His task was, of course, soon done, and he was permitted to betake himself to the nursery or elsewhere, with his mammy to take care of him; or if he chose to submit to the restraint of the school-room rather than leave mamma and the others, he might do so.

Violet could already read fluently, in any book suited to her years, and was learning to spell, write and sew.

Eddie was somewhat further advanced, and Elsie had begun arithmetic, history and geography; music, also, and drawing; for both of which she already shown decided talent.

School over, she had a half hour of rest, then went to the piano for an hour’s practice, her mamma sitting by to aid and encourage her.

Mr. Travilla came in, asking, “Where is Eddie?”

“Here, papa,” and the boy came running in with face all aglow with delight.  “O, are you going to teach me how to shoot?  I saw you coming with that pistol in your hand, and I’m so glad.”

“Yes,” his father answered, smiling at the eager face.  “You will not be anxious, little wife?” turning to her with a tender loving look.

“No, my husband; surely I can trust him with you, his own wise, careful, loving father;” she answered with a confiding smile.

“O papa, mayn’t I go along with you? and won’t you teach me too?” cried Violet, who was always ready for any excitement.

“Not to-day, daughter:  only Eddie and I are going now; but sometime I will teach you all.  It is well enough for even ladies to handle a pistol on occasion, and your mamma is quite a good shot.”

Vi looked disappointed but did not fret, pout, or ask a second time; for such things were not allowed in the family by either parent.

“Mamma’s good little girl,” the mother said, drawing her caressingly to her side, as Mr. Travilla and Eddie left the room.  “I am going to walk down to the quarter this afternoon and will take you and your brother and sister with me, if you care to go.”

“O, mamma, thank you! yes indeed, I do want to go,” cried the little one, her face growing bright as its wont.  “May we be there when the bell rings? ’cause I do like to see the dogs.”  And she clapped her tiny hands with a laugh like the chiming of silver bells.

Her sister laughed too, saying, “O, yes, mamma, do let us.”

The Ion negroes were paid liberal wages, and yet as kind and generously cared for as in the old days of slavery; even more so, for now Elsie might lawfully carry out her desire to educate and elevate them to a higher standard of intelligence and morality.

To this end Mr. Travilla had added to the quarter a neat school-house, where the children received instruction in the rudiments during the day, the adults in the evening, from one of their own race whose advantages had been such as to qualify him for the work.  There, too, the master and mistress themselves held a Sunday school on Sabbath afternoons.

Aunt Sally, the nurse, also instructed the women in housewifely ways, and Dinah taught them sewing; Elsie encouraging and stimulating them to effort by bestowing prizes on the most diligent and proficient.

Eddie came in from his first lesson in the use of firearms, flushed and excited.

“Mamma, I did shoot,” he cried exultingly, “I shooted many times, and papa says I’ll make a good shot some day if I keep on trying.”

“Ah! did you hit the mark?”

“Not quite this time, mamma,” and the bright face clouded slightly.

“Not quite,” laughed Mr. Travilla, drawing his boy caressingly toward him.  “If you please, mamma, do not question us too closely; we expect to do better another time.  He really did fairly well considering his age and that it was his first lesson.”

“Papa,” asked Vi, climbing his knee, “were you ’fraid Eddie would shoot us if we went along?”

“I thought it safer to leave you at home.”

“Papa, mamma’s going to take us walking down to the quarter this afternoon; we’re to be there when the bell rings, so we can see those funny dogs.”

“Ah, then I think I shall meet you there and walk home with you.”

This announcement was received with a chorus of exclamations of delight; his loved companionship would double their enjoyment; it always did.

’Twas a pleasant, shady walk, not too long for the older children, and Harold’s mammy would carry him when he grew weary.  They called at the school-room, witnessed the closing exercises, then visited all the aged and ailing ones, Elsie inquiring tenderly concerning their “miseries,” speaking words of sympathy and consolation and giving additional advice; remedies too, and some little delicacies to whet the sickly appetites (these last being contained in a basket, carried by a servant).

As they left the last cabin, in the near vicinity of the post where hung the bell, which summoned the men to their meals, and gave notice of the hour for quitting work, they saw the ringer hurrying toward it.

“Oh, mamma, we’re just in time!” cried Vi, “how nice!”

“Yes,” said her sister, “mamma always knows how to make things come out right.”

Every negro family owned a cur, and at the first tap of the bell they always, with a united yelp, rushed for the spot, where they formed a ring round the post, each seated on his haunches and brushing the ground with his tail, with a rapid motion, from side to side, nose in the air, eyes fixed upon the bell, and throat sending out a prolonged howl so long as the ringing continued.  The din was deafening, and far from musical, but it was a comical sight, vastly enjoyed by the young Travillas, who saw it only occasionally.

Mr. and Mrs. Travilla were walking slowly homeward, the children and Bruno frolicking, jumping, dancing, running on before.  After a while the two little girls grew somewhat weary, and subsided into a soberer pace.

“Vi,” said Elsie, “Don’t you believe Aunt Delia might get better of those ‘miseries’ in her bones, if she had some nice new red flannel things to wear?”

“Yes; let’s buy her some,” and a pretty dimpled hand went into her pocket, and out came a dainty, silken purse, mamma’s gift on her last birthday, when she began to have a weekly allowance, like Elsie and Eddie.

“Yes, if mamma approves.”

“’Course we’ll ’sult mamma ’bout it first, and she’ll say yes; she always likes us to be kind and char char ”

“Charitable? yes, ‘specially to Jesus’ people, and I know Aunt Delia’s one of his.  How much money have you, Vi?”

“I don’t know; mamma or papa will count when we get home.”

“I have two dollars and fifty cents; maybe Eddie will give some if we haven’t enough.”

“Enough of what?” queried Eddie, over-hearing the last words as he and Bruno neared the others in their gambols.

Elsie explained, asking, “Would you like to help?”

“Yes, and I’m going to buy some ‘baccy’ as he calls it, for old Uncle Jack.”

Mamma was duly consulted, approved of their plans, took them the next day to the nearest village, let them select the goods themselves, then helped them to cut out and make the garments.  Eddie assisted by threading needles and sewing on buttons, saying “that would do for a boy because he had heard papa say he had sometimes sewed on a button for himself when he was away at college.”

To be sure the work might have been given to the seamstress, but it was the desire of these parents to train their little ones to give time and effort as well as money.