A SEQUEL TO "ELSIE'S WIDOWHOOD"
By MARTHA FINLEY
COMPLETE AUTHORIZED EDITION
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."—Shakespeare
Published by arrangement with Dodd, Mead and Company
A.L. BURT COMPANY
New York Chicago
1882, BY DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
1910, BY CHARLES B. FINLEY
"Every state, Allotted to the race of man below, Is in proportion, doom'd to taste some sorrow." —Rowe.
The Ion family were at home again after their summer on the New Jersey coast.
It was a delightful morning early in October: the dew-drops on the still green grass of the neatly kept lawn sparkled in the rays of the newly risen sun; the bright waters of the lakelet also, as, ruffled by the breeze, they broke gently about the prow of the pretty row-boat moored to the little wharf; the gardens were gay with bright-hued flowers, the trees gorgeous in their autumnal dress.
But though doors and windows were open, the gardener and his assistants at work in the grounds, there seemed a strange quiet about the place: when the men spoke to each other it was in subdued tones; there was no sound—as in other days—of little feet running hither and thither, nor of childish prattle or laughter.
Two horses stood ready saddled and bridled before the principal entrance to the mansion, and Mr. Horace Dinsmore was pacing the veranda to and fro with slow, meditative step, while Bruno, crouching beside the door, followed his movements with wistful, questioning eyes, doubtless wondering what had become of his accustomed merry, romping play-mates.
A light step came down the hall, and a lady in riding hat and habit stepped from the open doorway, stooped for an instant to touch the dog's head caressingly with a "Poor Bruno! do you miss your playfellows?" then glided quickly toward Mr. Dinsmore, who received her with open arms and tenderest caress.
Then holding her off and scrutinizing the sweet, fair face with keen, searching eye, "You are looking better and brighter than I dared to hope, my darling," he said. "Did you get some sleep?"
"Yes, papa, thank you, several hours. And you? did you rest well?"
"Yes, daughter. How are the children?"
"No worse, Arthur says; perhaps a trifle better. He, Elsie and Mammy are with them now, and 'Mamma' can be spared for a short ride with her father," she said, smiling lovingly into the eyes that were gazing with the tenderest fatherly affection upon her.
"That is right; you need the air and exercise sorely; a few more days of such close confinement and assiduous nursing would, I very much fear, tell seriously upon your health."
He led her to the side of her steed and assisted her into the saddle as he spoke, then vaulted into his own with the agility of youth.
"But where are Vi and her brothers?" Elsie asked, sending an inquiring glance from side to side.
"I sent them on in advance. I wanted you quite to myself this once," he answered, as they turned and rode at a brisk canter down the avenue.
"And I shall enjoy having my dear father all to myself for once," she rejoined, with a touch of old-time gayety in look and tone. "Ah! papa, never a day passes, I think I might almost say never an hour, in which I do not thank God for sparing you to me; you who have loved and cherished me so long and so tenderly."
"My own dear child!" he said in reply, "you and your love are among the greatest blessings of my life."
As they rode on side by side they talked of the youngest two of her children—Rose and Walter—both quite ill with measles; of her sister's family, where also there was sickness among the little ones, and whither Mrs. Dinsmore had gone to assist in the nursing of her grandchildren; of the recent death of Enna at Magnolia Hall, the home of her daughter Molly; and of the anxiety of the younger Elsie because of a much longer silence than usual on the part of her absent betrothed.
She greatly feared that some evil had befallen him, and had not been able to hide her distress from these two—the mother and grandfather who loved her so—though making most earnest, unselfish efforts to conceal it from all, especially her mother, whose tender heart was ever ready to bleed for another's woe, and who had already griefs and anxieties enough of her own.
They spoke of her with tenderest compassion, and affectionate pride in her loveliness of person and character, and her brave endurance of her trial.
Enna's death could hardly be felt as a personal loss by either, but they sympathized deeply in the grief of her old father, with whom her faults seemed to be buried in her grave, while he cherished a lively remembrance of all that had ever given him pleasure in her looks, words, or ways.
He was growing old and feeble, and felt this, the death of his youngest child, a very heavy blow.
"My poor old father! I fear we shall not have him with us much longer," Mr. Dinsmore remarked with emotion.
Elsie's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "Dear old grandpa!" she murmured. "But, dear papa, be comforted! he may live for years yet, and should it please God to take him, we know that our loss will be his infinite gain."
"Yes; would that we had the same assurance in regard to all his children and grandchildren."
Silence fell between them for some minutes.
Elsie knew that her father, when making that last remark, was thinking more particularly of his half sister, Mrs. Conly, and her daughter Virginia.
The two had gone to a fashionable watering-place to spend the last fortnight of their summer's sojourn at the North, and ere it expired Virginia had contracted a hasty marriage with a man of reputed wealth, whom she met there for the first time.
The match was made with the full consent and approval of her mother—who, on rejoining the Dinsmores and Travillas, boasted much of "Virginia's brilliant position and prospects"—but without the knowledge of any other relative. No opportunity of making inquiries about the character or real circumstances of the stranger to whom she committed the happiness of her life, was afforded by Virginia to grandfather, uncle or brothers.
Of late Mrs. Conly had ceased to boast of the match—scarcely mentioned Virginia's name; and Mr. Dinsmore had learned from Calhoun and Arthur that Virginia's letters were no longer shown to any one, and seemed to irritate and depress their mother so unmistakably that they feared more and more there was something very much amiss with their sister; yet the mother steadily evaded all inquiries on the subject.
Mr. Dinsmore presently told all this to his daughter, adding that he very much feared Virginia had made an utter wreck of her earthly happiness.
"Poor Virgie!" sighed Elsie. "Ah! if only she had been blest with such a father as mine!" turning upon him a look of grateful love.
"Or such a mother as my granddaughters have," added Mr. Dinsmore, smiling into the soft, sweet eyes.
"What blessings my darlings are! how good and lovable in spite of my failures in right training and example," she said in sincere humility.
"Those failures and mistakes have been very few, I think," was his reply; "you have tried very earnestly and prayerfully to train them up in the way they should go. And God is faithful to his promises—your children do not depart from the right way; they do arise and call you blessed."
"Papa," she said, in moved tones, after a moment's silence, "we must not forget how much is due to the training, the example, and the prayers of their father."
"No, daughter; and we can always plead in their behalf the precious promises to the seed of the righteous. 'I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.' 'A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children.'"
"Yes, father, how often have those promises been my comfort and support as the inheritance of both my children and myself; inherited by me from both you and my sainted mother and her pious ancestors."
"And from mine; for my mother was a devoted Christian and came of a long line of God-fearing men and women. But I see nothing yet of Edward and his party; they must have taken another road."
"Yes, sir; and shall we not turn now? I ought not to be long away from my poor sick darlings."
"I think it would be well to return by the other road; we shall reach it in a moment, and our ride will be lengthened by but a half mile or so."
She acquiesced in his decision, as was her custom.
On the homeward way, as they neared the cross-road leading to the city, they saw a boy on horseback coming at a hard gallop down it in their direction.
On catching sight of them he held aloft what looked like a letter, waving it about his head in evident desire to attract their attention; then as he reached their road he halted and waited for them to come up.
"Mr. Dinsmore, from the Oaks or Ion, isn't it?" he queried, lifting his cap and bowing to the lady and her escort as they reined in their steeds close at hand.
"A telegram for you, sir."
Mr. Dinsmore took the missive, tore it open and glanced at the contents, then, handing it to Elsie, paid the boy and dismissed him.
"Oh, my poor darling!" she exclaimed, her tears dropping upon the paper. "Father, what shall we do? tell her at once? Perhaps that would be best."
"Yes; I think it is her right. But of course it must be done as gently as possible. Dear daughter, do not grieve too sorely for her; try to trust her as well as yourself in your heavenly Father's hands."
"I will, papa, I will! but oh my heart bleeds for her!"
"Will you break the news to her? or shall I?"
"My kindest of fathers! you would if possible spare me every trial, bear all my burdens. But perhaps the dear child may suffer less in hearing the sad news from her mother's lips, as, in her place, I could bear it better from yours than from any other."
"Unselfish as ever, my darling," he said, "but I believe you are right—that the blow will be somewhat softened to Elsie coming to her through the medium of her tender and dearly loved mother."
"I think, papa," Mrs. Travilla said, checking her horse to a walk as they entered the avenue at Ion, "I shall reserve my communication until my poor child has had her breakfast."
He expressed approval of her decision, adding interrogatively, "You will breakfast with the family this morning?"
"Yes, sir; if I find all going well in the sick-room."
A servant was in waiting to lead the horses away to the stable. Violet, Edward, Harold and Herbert, just returned from their ride, were on the veranda.
Edward hastened to assist his mother to alight, and all gathered about her and their grandfather with morning greetings spoken in cheerful but subdued tones; no one forgetting for a moment the illness of the little pet brother and sister, but all inquiring anxiously how they and "Mamma" had passed the night, and what was cousin Arthur's report of their condition this morning.
"No worse, my dears; and we will hope that they may soon be decidedly better," the mother answered, returning their greetings with affectionate warmth and smiling sweetly upon them. "But you must let me go at once to the sick-room, and if all is well I shall be down presently to breakfast with grandpa and you."
That announcement was heard with the greater pleasure because her loved face had seldom been seen at the table for some days past.
The face was bright and hopeful as she spoke, but an unwonted expression of sadness and anxiety came over it as she turned quickly away and went swiftly through the spacious entrance hall and up the broad stairway.
No earthly eye saw that look, but the traces of tears on her mother's cheeks had not escaped Vi's keen observation.
"Grandpa," she said in low, tremulous tones, following him into the library, whither he went to await the summons to breakfast, "what has been distressing mamma so? is it that she is so anxious about Elsie and Walter? May I not know?"
Mr. Dinsmore paused a moment before he replied. "You shall know all about it, my dear child, before very long. Be satisfied for the present with the assurance that your mother's distress is for another's woe. You know what a tender, sympathetic heart she has. I cannot deny that our little ones are seriously ill, but their case is very far from hopeless."
"Within her heart was his image, Cloth'd in the beauty of love and youth, as last she beheld him, Only more beautiful made by his deathlike silence and absence." —Longfellow.
The sick ones ware sleeping quietly when the mother entered; the doctor had already breakfasted, and would assist Aunt Chloe and Dinah in watching beside them for the next hour, so the two Elsies—mother and daughter—went down together to the breakfast parlor.
They were a more silent party than usual at meal-time, for no one could forget the two absent members of the family, or that they were suffering upon beds of sickness; yet there was no gloom in any face or voice: their few words were spoken in cheerful tones, and each seemed unselfishly intent upon promoting the comfort and happiness of all the others; on the part of the children, especially of their grandfather and mother; each young heart was evidently full to overflowing of tenderest sympathy and love for her.
She had been closely confined to the sick-room for several days, so that it was a treat to have her with them at breakfast and at family worship, which followed directly upon the conclusion of the meal.
It surprised them a little that when the short service came to an end, she did not even then return at once to her sick little ones, but putting on a garden hat invited her eldest daughter to do likewise and come with her for a short stroll in the grounds.
"It will do us both good," she said as they stepped from the veranda upon the broad, gravelled walk, "the air is so sweet and pure at this early hour; and you have not been out in it at all, have you?"
"No, mamma; and what a treat it is to take it in your dear company," Elsie responded, gathering a lovely, sweet-scented flower and placing it in the bosom of her mother's dress.
"Thank you, love," Mrs. Travilla said; then went on to speak feelingly of the beauty and fragrance that surrounded them, and the unnumbered blessings of their lot in life.
"Mamma, you seem to have a heart always filled with love and gratitude to God, and never to be troubled with the least rebellious feeling, or any doubts or fears for the future," remarked Elsie, sighing slightly as she spoke.
"Have we any right or reason to indulge repining, doubts, or fears, when we know that all is ordered for us by One who loves us with an everlasting and infinite love, and who is all-wise and all-powerful? O my darling, no! Well may we say with the Psalmist, 'I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.' Oh what a blessed assurance! goodness and mercy while here in this world of trial—all things working together for our good, that so we may be brought at last safely to our desired haven—and then to be forever with the Lord!"
"Mamma, I have been so anxious and troubled about my little brother and sister, and about Lester, I needed the lesson you have just given me, and hope I shall profit by it."
"My dearest child, have faith in God; try to believe with all your heart that he will never send you or any of his children one unneeded pang. I am sure you could never think I—your tender mother—would give you the slightest pain except for your certain good; and what is my love for you compared to that of your Saviour? who died that you might live!"
"Mamma," cried the young girl, pausing in her walk, laying her hand on her mother's arm and looking searchingly into the sweet, compassionate face, while her own grew deathly pale, "what is it you are trying to prepare me for? O mamma!"
A rustic seat stood close at hand.
"Let us sit down here for a moment, dear daughter," Mrs. Travilla said, drawing Elsie to it with an arm about her waist. "You are right, my child—I have news for you. Oh, not the worst, dearest!" as Elsie seemed to gasp for breath. "Lester lives, but is very ill with typhoid fever."
"Mamma!" cried Elsie, starting to her feet, "I must go to him! go at once. O dearest mother, do not hinder me!" and she clasped her hands in piteous entreaty, the big tears rapidly chasing each other down her pale cheeks.
"If I could go with you," faltered the mother, "or your grandfather; but I can neither leave nor take my little ones, and he would never consent to leave me, or his poor old father, who seems just tottering on the verge of the grave."
"I know! I see! but, O mother, mother! how can I let him die all alone in a stranger land? Think if it had been you and my father!"
"What is your entreaty, daughter?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, coming up and laying his hand affectionately upon his grandchild's shoulder.
"To go to him—to Lester, grandpa. Oh, how can I stay away and leave him to die alone? to die for lack of the good nursing I could give him, perhaps to the saving of his life!"
"My poor child! my poor dear child!" he said, caressing her; "we will see what can be done in the way of finding a suitable escort, and if that can be obtained your mother will not, I think, withhold her consent."
He had been telling the news to the others, and Edward had followed him, anxious to express the sympathy for his sister with which his heart was full.
"An escort, grandpa?" he said. "Would mine be sufficient? Mamma, if you will permit me, I shall gladly go to Lester, either with or without Elsie."
"My dear boy!" was all his mother said, her tones tremulous with emotion, while his grandfather turned and regarded him with doubtful scrutiny.
"Oh, thank you, brother!" cried Elsie. "Mamma, surely you can trust me to him! Who loves me better? except yourself—and who would take such tender care of me?"
"Mamma, I would guard her with my life!" exclaimed Edward earnestly.
"My dear son, I do not doubt it," Mrs. Travilla answered, turning upon her father a half-inquiring, half-entreating look.
"If no older or more experienced person can be found."
He paused, and Elsie burst out: "O grandpa, dear grandpa, don't say that! There is no time to lose! no time to look for other escort!"
"That is true, my child; and we will not waste any time. Make your preparations as rapidly as you can, and if nothing better offers in the mean while, and your mother consents to Edward's proposition, you shall go with him—and Ben who travelled all over Europe with your father and myself—as your protectors."
She thanked him fervently through her tears, while her mother said, "Ah yes, that is a good thought, papa! Ben shall go with them."
"Better go now and at once select whatever you wish to take with you, and set some one to packing your trunks," he said. "Edward, do you do likewise, and I will examine the morning papers for information in regard to trains and the sailing of the next steamer. Daughter dear," to Mrs. Travilla, "you need give yourself no concern about any of these matters."
"No, I shall trust everything to you, my best of fathers, and go back at once to my sick darlings," she said, giving him a look of grateful love.
Then passing her arm affectionately about her daughter's waist, she drew her on toward the house, her father and son accompanying them.
She parted with Elsie at the door of the sick-room, embracing her tenderly and bidding her "'Be strong and of a good courage,' my darling, for 'the eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.'"
"Dearest mamma, what sweet words!" said the weeping girl. "Oh, how glad I am that God reigns! and that I know he will send to each of his children just what is best."
She turned away as the door closed upon her mother, and found Violet close at her side.
There was a silent affectionate embrace, and with their arms about each other they sought Elsie's dressing-room.
"Grandpa and Edward have told me," Violet said, "and you will let me help you, my poor dear sister? help in thinking and selecting what you will want to carry with you."
"Gladly, thankfully, for oh, I seem scarcely able to collect my thoughts! How can I leave mamma and all of you? and the darling little brother and sister so ill! and yet how can I stay away from Lester when he is sick and alone in a strange land, with not a friend to speak a cheering word, smooth his pillow, give his medicine, or see that he has proper food? O Vi, can I help going to him, even at the sacrifice of leaving all other near and dear ones?"
"I think our mother would have done it for papa," Violet answered, kissing Elsie's cheek.
Mr. Dinsmore having first seen Ben, and found him more than willing to go with the children of the master he had loved as his own soul, went to the library, looked over the papers, and had just found the information he sought, when the sound of horses' hoofs on the avenue drew his attention, and glancing from the window he saw the Roselands carriage drive up with his sister, Mrs. Conly, inside.
He hastened out to assist her to alight.
"Good-morning, Horace," she said. "Is my son Arthur here?"
"Yes, Louise, he has spent the last hour or more in attendance upon our sick little ones. Ah, here he is to speak for himself!" as the young doctor stepped from the open doorway. "But won't you come in?"
She demurred. "Is there any danger, Arthur?"
"Danger of what, mother?"
"You certainly understood me," she said half angrily; "danger of contagion, of course."
"None for you, surely, mother, and none you could carry home unless you came in personal contact with the sick children."
"I shall sit here for a moment, then," she said, stepping from the carriage and taking a chair upon the veranda. "How are they to-day?"
"The sick little ones? The disease has not yet reached its crisis."
"I hope they'll get safely over it: it's a good thing to have over. How soon can you be spared from here, Arthur?"
"Now, mother, if I am needed elsewhere, I shall not be needed here—at least am not likely to be—for some hours."
"Then I wish you'd come home directly to see what you can do for your grandfather. He doesn't seem at all well to-day."
"My father ill?" Mr. Dinsmore exclaimed in a tone of alarm and concern.
"It hardly amounts to that, I presume," Mrs. Conly answered coldly; "but he is not well; didn't eat a mouthful of breakfast."
"Grandpa, did you find what you wanted in the morning paper?" queried Edward, joining them at this moment. "Ah, Aunt Louise, how d'ye do?"
She nodded indifferently, listening with some curiosity for her brother's reply.
"Yes," he said; "and I think you should leave to-night; for by so doing you will reach New York in time to take the next steamer, if you meet with no great detention on the way. Do you think you can both be ready?"
"I certainly can, sir, and have no doubt Elsie will also."
"What is it? off to Europe?" asked Mrs. Conly in surprise. "What should call you two children there at this time?"
Mr. Dinsmore briefly stated the facts, giving the news of the morning, Elsie's wish, and Edward's offer to be her escort to Italy.
"If she were a daughter of mine, I should consider a female companion an absolute necessity," was Mrs. Conly's comment.
"She will take her maid of course," said Mr. Dinsmore and Edward, both speaking at once.
"Pooh! a maid! I mean a lady relative or friend. I said a companion, and that a maid could not be."
"I should be extremely glad if such could be found in the few hours that we have for our preparations," said her brother, "but I know of none; the Fairview family are absent, Violet is too young——"
"Of course," interrupted Mrs. Conly; "but there are other relatives. I would go myself if my means would warrant the expense."
"If you are in earnest, Louise, you need not hesitate for a moment on that score; it shall not cost you a penny," her brother said, looking at her in pleased but half-incredulous surprise.
"I was never more in earnest," she answered. "I don't think you give me much credit for affection for your grandchildren, yet I certainly care too much for the one in question to willingly see her undertake such a journey without the support of female companionship. And I can be spared from home if you and Arthur will look after father; I have no young child now, and Aunt Maria is fully capable of taking charge of all household matters. If you wish me to go you have only to say so and guarantee my expenses, and I shall go home, oversee the packing of my trunks, and be ready as soon as the young people are."
"Your offer is a most kind one, Louise, and I accept it even without waiting to consult with my daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said.
"Then I must go home at once, and set about my preparations immediately," she said, rising to take leave.
Arthur Conly as well as Edward Travilla had been a surprised but silent listener to the short dialogue.
"Can you spare your mother, Arthur?" his uncle asked.
"We must, sir, if it pleases her to go, and for the sake of my two sweet cousins—Elsie senior and Elsie junior—I willingly consent. You take the night train I understand?" turning to Edward.
"I shall see that my mother is at the depot in season;" and with that they took their departure, Mr. Dinsmore saying, as he bade them adieu, that he should ride over presently to see his father.
Turning toward Edward, he saw that the lad's eyes were following the Roselands' carriage down the avenue, his face wearing a rueful look.
"Grandpa," he said with a sigh, "I see no necessity for Aunt Louise's company, and, indeed, should very much prefer to be without it."
"You forget that you are speaking to your grandfather of his sister," Mr. Dinsmore answered, with a touch of sternness in his tone.
"I beg your pardon, sir," returned Edward. "She is so unlike you that I am apt to forget the relationship."
"I know you do not always find your aunt's company agreeable," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, "and I do not blame you on that account, yet I think it will be an advantage to you, and especially to your sister, to have with you a woman of her age and knowledge of the world. I wish I could go with you myself, but I cannot think of leaving either my old father or your mother in this time of trial."
"No, sir, oh no! Delightful as it would be to both of us for you to make one of our little party, we would not for the world deprive dear mamma of the support and comfort of your presence here; nor our dear old grandfather either."
"Filial ingratitude? Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand For lifting food to 't?" —Shaks. Lear.
"This is a very sudden resolve of yours, mother, isn't it?" Dr. Conly asked, as they drove through the great gates at Ion, into the highway.
"It is, Arthur, for I had not dreamed of such a wild scheme on the part of those two silly children until I heard of it from their grandfather's lips; nor could have believed he would sanction such folly. They ought to make Elsie stay where she is, and if young Leland dies it will but rid the family of a prospective plebeian alliance."
"Very possibly of the sweet girl also," was Arthur's grave response.
"Nonsense! it is only in novels that girls die of broken hearts."
"Granting that for argument's sake, it must be very hard to live with one."
"Well; it seems she is to be allowed to go, and my offer removes the most serious objection; yet I have no idea that the sacrifice on my part will be at all appreciated."
"Then why make it, mother? I can readily find a substitute; there is Mrs. Foster, whose health would be greatly benefited by a long sea voyage. She, I feel certain, would think it a great boon to be allowed this opportunity of going without expense and in the company of two young people of whom she is very fond. And you know, mother, that though poor now she was formerly wealthy, is a perfect lady, and her having been to Europe once or twice would make her all the more valuable companion to them."
"You are quite too late with your suggestion, Arthur," was the coldly spoken reply. "I have passed my word and shall not break it."
Her son gave her a look of keen scrutiny, then turned his face from her with a scarcely audible sigh. He read her motives and feelings far more clearly than she suspected.
The truth was she was weary of the dulness of home now that the shadow of bereavement was upon it, and the etiquette of mourning forbade her attendance upon public assemblages of whatever kind, except church, and did not allow even so much as a formal call upon strangers or acquaintance. The society of her now old, feeble, and depressed father was wearisome to her also.
Beside she had long had a hankering after a European tour, and this was too good an opportunity to let slip. Also it would give her a chance to see for herself what was the trouble with Virginia, whose letters of late had been of a very disquieting kind; full of reproaches and vague hints of unhappiness and disappointment in her new life.
There would probably be a few hours between their arrival in New York and the sailing of the steamer, in which she could call to see Virginia and learn with certainty exactly how she was situated.
Mrs. Travilla received the news of her aunt's offer with a gratitude which it by no means merited, and the younger Elsie, though not fond of her Aunt Louise's society, felt that her presence might prove a comfort and support when she and Edward should find themselves strangers in a foreign land.
The mother sought this dear eldest child with loving words of cheer and counsel whenever she could be spared from the sick-room, and Violet, Harold, and Herbert hung about her as a treasure soon to be snatched from them, each eager to render any assistance in his or her power.
The hour of parting came all too soon, and with many tears and embraces the young travellers were sent on their way.
The mother's last words to Elsie, as she held her close to her heart with many a tear and tender caress, were: "'Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them, for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee, he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.' To him, the God of your fathers, do I trust you, my precious child."
"You also, my dear, dear boy!" taking Edward's hand: "but rejoice in the thought that you are together, mutual helpers and comforters."
"Be sure to telegraph us from New York, Edward, again as soon as possible after landing on the other side, and a third time when you have seen Lester and can report his exact condition," was Mr. Dinsmore's parting injunction, as with a most affectionate farewell he left them in the sleeping-car.
Mrs. Conly had joined them at the depot, according to promise.
All three retired at once to their berths, and Elsie wept herself to sleep, thinking of the dear ones left behind; especially the mother who had so tenderly cherished her from her birth and the sick little ones who, she feared, might not be there to welcome her return. Thinking too of him to whom she was going, his probable suffering, and the dread possibility that at her journey's end she should find only his grave.
They reached New York in good season, having met with no accident or detention. The steamer would not leave for some hours, but it was Elsie's desire to go directly on board.
"I think that will be your best plan," said Mrs. Conly. "You can then settle yourself in your state-room at once; and while Dinah unpacks what you will need on the voyage, you can lie in your berth and rest. You are looking greatly fatigued."
"You will come with us, Aunt Louise, will you not?" both the young people asked.
"No, I must see Virginia. I shall have time for an hour's chat with her and yet to reach the vessel some time before the hour fixed for her sailing. Edward, you will see that my luggage is taken on board?"
"Certainly, aunt; but shall we not first drive to Virginia's residence and leave you there? And I return for you after seeing my sister and the luggage on board the steamer?"
"No, not at all!" she answered stiffly. "I am obliged for your offer, but where would be the use? You may tell Ben to call a hack for me. I'll have it wait at Virginia's door and drive me to the wharf when I am ready to go."
Edward, thinking he had never known her so considerate and kind, hastened to carry out her wishes, bidding Ben engage two hacks—one for Mrs. Conly and another for themselves.
Consideration for her nephew and niece had nothing to do with Mrs. Conly's plans and arrangements. If, as she greatly feared, Virginia were living in other than aristocratic style, she would not for the world have it known among the relatives who had heard her boasts in regard to Virgie's grand match; "so much better than Isa had been led into while under the care of her grandfather and uncle."
She had never before heard of the street mentioned in Virginia's last letter, and her heart misgave her as to its being one of the most fashionable for the abodes of the wealthy. The curiously scrutinizing look and odd smile of the hack-driver when she gave him the address did not tend to reassure her.
"Drive me there as quickly as you can," she ordered, drawing herself up and flashing an indignant glance at him. "I have no time to waste."
"Sure, mum, I'll do that same," he returned, touching his horses with the whip.
"Where are you taking me? What do you mean by bringing me into such a vile region as this?" she demanded presently, as the hack turned into a narrow and very dirty street.
"It's the shortest cut to the place ye said ye wanted to go till, mum," he answered shortly.
She sank back with a sigh and closed her eyes for a moment. She was very weary with her long journey and more depressed than she had ever been in her life before.
The drive seemed the longest and most unpleasant she had ever undertaken; she began to wish she had been content to sail for Europe without trying to find Virginia. But at last the vehicle stopped, the driver reached down from his seat and opened the door.
His passenger put out her head, glanced this way and that, scanned the house before her, and angrily demanded, "What are you stopping here for?"
"Bekase ye tould me to, mum; it's the place ye said ye wanted to come till."
Mrs. Conly looked at the number over the door, saw that it was the one she had given him, then in a voice she vainly tried to make coldly indifferent, inquired of some children who had gathered on the sidewalk to gaze in open-mouthed curiosity at her and the hack, if this were —— street.
The answer confirmed the driver's assertion, and she hastily alighted.
The house was a large tenement swarming with inhabitants, as was evidenced by the number of heads in nearly every front window, drawn thither by the unusual event of the stopping of a hack before the door of entrance. It stood wide open, giving a view of an unfurnished hall and stairway, both of which were in a very untidy condition.
"Does Mr. Henry Neuville live here?" Mrs. Conly asked, addressing the group of staring children.
"Dunno," said one. "Guess not," said another.
"Mebbe thems the grand folks as moved intill the second story front t'other week," observed a third. "I'll show ye the way, lady," and he rushed past her into the house and ran nimbly up the dirty stairs.
Mrs. Conly lifted her skirts and followed, her heart sinking like lead in her bosom. Could it be possible that Virginia had come to this?
Halting before the door of the front room on the second floor, the lad gave a thundering rap, then opened it, shouting, "Here's a old lady to see ye, Mrs. Novel; if that's yer name."
"What do you mean by rushing in on me in this rude way, you young rascal?" demanded a shrill female voice, which Mrs. Conly instantly recognized as that of her daughter. "Begone instantly! begone, I say!"
"Go, go!" Mrs. Conly said to the boy, in half smothered tones, putting a small coin into his hand; then staggering into the room she dropped into a chair, gasping for breath.
"Virginia, Virginia! can it be possible that I find you in such a place as this?" she cried, as the latter started up from a lounge on which she had been lying with a paper-covered novel in her hand.
Her hair was in crimping-pins, her dress most slatternly, and her surroundings were in keeping with her personal appearance.
"Mamma!" she exclaimed in utter astonishment and confusion. "How did you get here? how did you come? You should have sent me word. I have no way to accommodate you."
"Don't be alarmed, I have no intention of staying more than an hour. I start for Europe by to-day's steamer, with Elsie and Edward Travilla. Lester Leland's ill, dying I presume, and the silly love-sick girl must needs rush to the rescue."
"And why are you to go with her? why don't the mother and grandfather and the whole family accompany her, after their usual fashion of all keeping together?"
"Because Rosie and Walter are down with the measles; much too ill to travel."
"And you are going to Europe to enjoy yourself, while I must live here in a New York tenement house occupied by the very dregs of society, and as the wife of a drunkard, gambler, and rake; a man—or rather a brute—who lives by his wits, abuses me like the pickpocket that he is, half starves me, and expects me to do all the work, cooking, cleaning, and everything else, even to washing and ironing of the few clothes he hasn't pawned; me! a lady brought up to have servants to wait upon her at every turn!"
"O Virgie, Virgie! it can't be so bad as that!" cried her mother, clasping her hands in an agony of distress, and gazing piteously at her, the hot tears streaming down her face.
"I tell you it is that and worse! and all your fault, for you made the match! you hurried me into it lest grandpa, uncle, or brothers should interfere, find out that the man's morals were not good according to their high standard, and prevent me from marrying him."
"You were in as great haste and as much opposed to their interference as I, Virginia!" the mother retorted, drawing herself up in proud anger.
"Well, and what of that! you brought me up, and I was only following out the teachings you have given me from my cradle. I tell you it was your doing; but I must reap what you have sowed. I wish I was dead!" She flung her book from her as she spoke, turned and paced the room, her hands clenched, her eyes flashing, her teeth set hard.
She had not drawn near her mother, or given her one word of welcome or thanks for having turned aside from her journey to inquire into her welfare.
"'Oh, sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!'" exclaimed Mrs. Conly in anguished accents, rising as if to go, but instantly falling heavily to the floor.
Virginia rushed to her side, half frantic with terror.
"Oh, mother, mother, what is it? What have I done! what have I done! I know you're the best friend I have in the world!" she cried, stooping over her, loosening her bonnet-strings and dress, and trying vainly to lift her to the lounge, for she was a large, heavy woman and now in a state of utter insensibility, her face purple, her breathing stertorous.
The sound of her fall and Virginia's terrified shriek had brought the neighbors flocking upon the scene; some of the boldest opening the door and ushering themselves in without the ceremony of knocking.
"The lady's in a fit!" cried a woman, hurrying to Virginia's assistance; "you've druv her to distraction; you shouldn't a ben so abusive; I could hear ye clear into my room a scoldin' and accusin' of her of makin' your match fer ye."
"Run for a doctor, some of you!" cried Virginia, standing by the couch where, with the woman's help, she had laid her mother, and wringing her hands in helpless distress. "Oh, she'll die! she'll die! Mother, mother! I'm sorry I was so cruel! Oh, I take it all back. Oh, mother, speak to me!"
"'Tain't no use," said the woman, "she don't hear ye. An' if she did she couldn't speak. I've seen folks struck down with apoplexy afore."
"Oh, will she die? will she die?" groaned the wretched daughter, dropping on her knees beside the couch.
"Can't tell, mum; sometimes they die in a little bit, and sometimes they get purty well over it and live on for years. Here, let me put another pillar under her head, and some o' ye there run and fetch the coldest water that ever ye can git."
Some one had summoned a physician, and he presently came hurrying in. His first act was to send every one from the room except the patient and her two attendants.
With tears and sobs Virginia besought him to save her mother's life.
"I shall certainly do my best, madam," he said, "but very little can be done at present. What was the immediate cause of the attack?"
Virginia answered vaguely that her mother was fatigued with a long journey and had been worried and fretted.
"This is not her home?" glancing around the meanly furnished dirty room.
"No; neither she nor I have been accustomed to such surroundings," answered Virginia haughtily. "Can you not see that we are ladies? We are from the South, and mother has but just arrived. Oh, tell me, is she going to die?"
"Her recovery is doubtful. If she has other near relatives who care to see her alive, I advise you to summon them with all speed."
"Oh dear! oh dear! you must save her!" cried Virginia frantically, wringing her hands. "I can't have her die. They'll say I killed her! But every word I said was true; she did all in her power to make the match that has ruined my happiness and all my prospects for life."
"So you, her own daughter, have brought this on by cruel taunts and reproaches!" the physician said in a tone of mingled contempt and indignation. "I hope you feel that the least you can do now is to take the best possible care of her."
"How can I?" sobbed Virginia. "I've no money to pay a nurse or buy comforts for mother, and I know nothing about nursing or cooking for sick or well. I wasn't brought up to work."
A boy now came to the door with a message from the hackman; "he couldn't stay any longer if the lady wasn't going to the steamer, and he wanted his pay."
Virginia opened a small satchel that had dropped from her mother's hand, found her purse, paid the man his dues, and counting the remainder told the doctor there was enough to provide what would be needed for the patient until other relatives could be summoned, and that should be done at once by telegrams to be paid by the recipients.
The doctor approved, and kindly offered to attend to sending the messages for her.
"O gloriously upon the deep The gallant vessel rides, And she is mistress of the winds, And mistress of the tides." —Miss Landon.
Meanwhile Edward had taken his sister on board the steamer, and she, greatly exhausted by grief, anxiety, and fatigue, had at once retired to her berth.
Edward also was weary and in need of sleep, so presently went to his state-room, leaving Ben to attend to the luggage and watch for Mrs. Conly's arrival.
Faithful Ben waited patiently about for a couple of hours, then began to grow uneasy lest Mrs. Conly should not arrive in season. Another hour passed, and he reluctantly roused his young master to ask what could be done.
"What's wanted?" Edward asked, waked by Ben's loud rap on the state-room door.
"Miss Louise she hasn't come yet, Marse Ed'ard," he said, "and de steamah'll be startin' fo' long. I don' know whar to go to look her up, so please excuse me for rousin' ye, sah."
"Hasn't come yet, do you say, Ben? and the vessel about to sail?" exclaimed Edward in dismay, springing from his berth to open the door. "Why, yes," looking at his watch, "there's barely half an hour left, and I don't see what we can do."
"No time now fo' me to go an' hunt up Miss Louise, Marse Ed'ard? Ise berry sorry, sah, dat I didn't come soonah to ax you 'bout it, but I didn't like to 'sturb you," said Ben, looking much distressed.
"Never mind, Ben," Edward answered kindly, "you couldn't have gone for her, because she gave me no address, and I have not the least idea where to send for her."
"Den what am to be done, sah?"
"We will have to sail without her. I could not think of asking my sister to wait for the next steamer," Edward said, more as if thinking aloud than talking to Ben.
The latter bowed respectfully and withdrew, but only to come hurrying back the next moment with a telegram from Virginia.
"Mother taken suddenly ill. Remains with me. Send luggage to No. —— street."
This news of his aunt's illness caused Edward regret not wholly unmingled with satisfaction in the thought of being spared her companionship on the voyage and afterward.
He read the message aloud to Ben. "You see it would have done no good if we could have gone for her," he remarked. "But go, make haste to have the baggage sent ashore to the address given here."
Elsie's state-room adjoined her brother's. She too had been roused by Ben's knock and overheard a part of what passed between him and his young master. Dinah also was listening.
"What dat dey say, Miss Elsie?" she queried in a startled tone, "Miss Louise sick?"
"I think that was what Master Edward said; but go to his door, Dinah, and ask."
Edward came himself with his answer and bringing a second telegram; this time from their grandfather, saying the children were decidedly better, all the rest of the family well.
"Oh, what good news!" exclaimed Elsie. "But poor Aunt Louise! I wish we knew her exact condition. Do you not think it must have been a sudden seizure?"
"Yes, of either illness or desire to remain behind. Don't let it worry you, sister dear. You have already quite enough of anxiety to endure."
"No," she said, with a sweet, patient smile, "I am trying not to be anxious or troubled about anything, but to obey the sweet command, 'casting all your care upon Him.'"
"'For He careth for you,'" added Edward, completing the quotation. "It is, as you say, a sweet command, most restful to those who obey it. Have you slept?"
"Yes, I have had a long and very refreshing nap; still I have not recovered from my fatigue, and shall not leave my state-room for some time yet."
"Let me send in your supper," he said. "I hope it will refresh you still more, and that after it you may feel equal to a turn on deck with me. It will be moonlight, and if you wrap up well you will not find the air more than bracingly keen."
"Thank you," she said. "It is altogether likely I shall find the exercise of a short promenade rather restful than otherwise, after being so long cramped up in the cars. You are a dear, good brother to me, Ned," she added, laying her hand affectionately on his arm as he sat on the edge of the berth close by her side. "But how strange it seems that we two are starting off on this long voyage alone!"
"I'm so proud to be trusted to take care of you, Elsie," he returned, bending over her and tenderly smoothing her luxuriant hair. "I used to look up to you years ago, but now——"
"You look down on me?" she interrupted sportively. "No great feat, Master Ned, while I lie here."
"Nor when we stand side by side," he returned in the same tone, 'seeing I have grown to be a full head taller than you. But truth compels me to acknowledge that I am your superior in nothing else except physical strength."
"You might add knowledge of the world, you have had to rely on your own judgment so much oftener than I who have so seldom left mamma's side. Dear, dear mamma! Oh, Ned, how long will it be before I see her again?"
She wept as she spoke, and Edward felt for the moment strongly inclined to join her. But instead he tried to cheer her.
"We will hope Cousin Arthur may prescribe a sea voyage for grandpa and the children before long, and then we shall have the whole family joining us in Italy."
"How delightful that would be, Ned!" she said, smiling through her tears.
"And do you know," he went on gayly, "it is strongly impressed upon me that we shall find Lester convalescent, and by good nursing and our cheering companionship so help it on that we shall have him a well man in a few weeks."
"Ah, if it might be so!" she sighed. "'But He doeth all things well,' and oh how precious are His promises! 'As thy days thy strength shall be.' 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' 'When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.' And then that glorious assurance, 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.' Oh, Ned, our one great need is more and stronger faith!"
"Yes, the faith which worketh by love! Let me read you that eighth chapter of Romans. I do not know what could be more comforting," he said, taking a small Testament from his pocket.
"Thank you," she said when he had finished. "Ah, what could be sweeter than those concluding verses! 'For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!'"
"Elsie, I think if our mother had never done anything else for her children," remarked Edward earnestly, "they would owe her an eternal debt of gratitude for storing their minds as she has with the very words of inspiration."
"Yes, 'the entrance of Thy words giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple.' 'The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.'"
Ben came to the door. "Dey says dey's goin' to fotch up de anchor and start de wessel, Marse Ed'ard. Don't you and Miss Elsie want for to see it?"
"Yes, sister, do you not wish to see the last you may, for the present, of your dear native land?" queried Edward in a lively tone. "'Twill take but a moment to don hat and shawl, and I shall be proud to give you the support of my arm."
"Yes, I do," she said, rising with alacrity and hastily making the needful preparations.
Ben preceded them to the deck and found comfortable seats for them in the front rank of those who were there on the same errand.
Elsie's tears began to fall as she saw the shore receding.
"Oh," she murmured very low and sadly, leaning on her brother's shoulder and clinging more closely to him, "shall we ever return? ever see again the dear land of our birth and all our loved ones left behind?"
"There is every reason to hope so, dear sister," he whispered in return. "A voyage to Europe is not the great and perilous undertaking it used to be; and we are under the same protecting care here as on land. 'And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee, he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.'"
She looked her thanks. "'Fear not;' sweet command! I must, I will obey it. Oh, how true it is that in keeping His commands there is great reward! I am fully convinced that in the perfect keeping of them all perfect happiness would be found."
A gentleman standing near turned suddenly round. The tones of Elsie's voice had reached him, though very few of the words.
"Ah, I thought I could not be mistaken in that voice," he said delightedly, and offering his hand in cordial greeting. "How are you, Miss Elsie? and you, Ned? Really you are the last people I expected to meet here, though the very ones I should prefer above all others as compagnons de voyage."
It was Philip Ross, Jr.
Neither of those addressed had ever enjoyed his society, and they were too sincere and true to reciprocate his expressions of gratification at the unexpected meeting. They accepted his offered hand, made kind inquiries in regard to his health and that of the other members of the family, and asked if any of them were on board.
"No," he said, "it's merely a business trip that I take quite frequently. But ma and the girls are in Paris now, went last June and expect to stay for another six months or longer. You two aren't here alone, eh?"
"Yes," Edward said.
"You don't say so!" cried Philip, elevating his eyebrows. "Who'd ever have believed your careful mother—not to speak of your grandfather—would ever trust you so far from home by yourselves!"
"Mr. Ross," Edward said, reddening, "I shall reach my majority a few months hence, and have been considered worthy of trust by both mother and grandpa, for years past."
"Mamma did not show the slightest hesitation in committing me to his care," added Elsie in her sweet, gentle tones.
"Glad to hear it! didn't mean any insinuation that I didn't consider you worthy of all trust, Ned; only that Mrs. Travilla and the old governor have always been so awfully strict and particular."
Elsie, to whom the slang term was new, looked at the speaker with a slightly puzzled expression; but Edward, who fully understood it, drew himself up with offended dignity.
"Permit me to remark, Mr. Ross, that so disrespectful an allusion to my honored grandfather can never be other than extremely offensive to me, and to all his children and grandchildren."
"Beg your pardon, Nod, and yours, Miss Elsie" (he would have liked to drop the Miss, but something in her manner prevented him), "I call my own father the governor—behind his back you know—and meant no offence in applying the term to Mr. Dinsmore."
His apology was accepted, and the talk turned upon the various objects of interest within sight as they passed through the harbor.
When there was little more to see but sky and water, Elsie retired to her state-room, where she stayed until evening. Then Edward came for her, and they passed an hour very enjoyably in promenading the deck or sitting side by side, looking out upon the moonlit waters.
"I wish we hadn't happened upon Phil Ross," Edward remarked in an undertone far from hilarious. "I fear he will, according to custom, make himself very disagreeable to you."
"I have been thinking it over, Ned," she answered, "and have come to the conclusion that the better plan will be for you to take the first favorable opportunity to tell him of my engagement and what is the object of our journey."
"I presume such a course will be likely to save you a good deal of annoyance," Edward said; "and as we are old acquaintances, and he evidently full of a curiosity that will assuredly lead to his asking some questions, I think it will be no difficult matter to give him the information without seeming to thrust it upon him."
At that moment Philip came up and joined them, helping himself to a seat on Elsie's other side. He seemed to be, as of old, on the best of terms with himself and very graciously disposed toward Elsie.
He, too, had been thinking of the, to him, fortunate chance (Elsie would have called it providence) which had thrown them together where for some days they were likely to see much of each other. He had heard a report of her engagement, but refused to credit it. "She had always been fond of him and it wasn't likely she would throw herself away on somebody else." And now he had come to the decision to offer her his hand, heart, and fortune without delay. He was rich enough, and why should he keep her in suspense any longer?
He indulged in a few trivial commonplaces, then invited her to take a turn with him on the deck.
But she declined with thanks, "he must excuse her for she was greatly fatigued and must retire at once." And with a kindly "Good-night," she withdrew to her state-room, Edward again giving her the support of his arm.
Philip was literally struck dumb with surprise, and did not recover his speech until she was gone.
Edward returned presently, and as he resumed his seat by Philip's side the latter asked, "Is your sister out of health, Ned?"
"No; but we are just off a long and fatiguing journey; she was not at her best state either when we left home, because of care and nursing of the sick children. And in addition to all that she is enduring much grief and anxiety."
"May I ask on what account?"
"Yes; I have no objection to telling you the whole story, considering what old acquaintances we are, and the life-long friendship of our mothers. Lester Leland, Elsie's betrothed, is lying very ill in Rome, and we are making all haste to join him there."
"Her betrothed!" cried Philip, starting to his feet, "her betrothed did you say? why—why, I've always expected to marry her myself; thought it was an understood thing in both families, and——"
"I am sure I do not know upon what grounds you entertained such an idea," returned Edward in a tone of mingled indignation and disgust.
"Grounds, man! I'm sure it would seem the most natural thing in the world—each the eldest child of intimate and dear friends—and I have never made any secret of my preference for her——"
"Which amounts to nothing unless it had been reciprocated."
"Reciprocated! I've always thought it was, and delayed speaking out plainly only because I considered myself safe in waiting to grow a little richer."
"In which you were egregiously mistaken. Now let me assure you once for all, that Elsie never has and never will care for any man in that way but Lester Leland."
At that Philip turned and walked rapidly away. "I'd rather have lost all I'm worth!" he muttered to himself. "Yes; every cent of it. But as to her never caring for anybody else if that fellow was out o' the way, I don't believe it. And he may die; may be dead now. Well, if he is I'll keep a sharp look-out that nobody else gets ahead of me."
His self-love and self-conceit had received a pretty deep wound, his eyes were opened to the fact that Elsie avoided being alone with him, never appearing on deck without her brother, and he did not trouble her much during the remainder of the voyage, did not make his intended offer.
"I feel Of this dull sickness at my heart afraid And in my eyes the death sparks flash and fade And something seems to steal Over my bosom like a frozen hand." —Willis.
Dr. Arthur Conly rode briskly up the avenue at Roselands, dismounted, throwing the bridle to a servant, and went up the steps into the veranda, whistling softly to himself.
"You seem in good spirits, Art," remarked Calhoun, who sat there with the morning paper in his hand. "I haven't heard you whistle before for—well I should say something like a fortnight."
"I am in good spirits, Cal, the Ion children are out of danger, and uncle has just had a telegram from Ned announcing the safe arrival of their party in New York in good season to take the steamer."
"I presume this tells the same story, though I can't think why it isn't directed to grandpa, or to me as the eldest son of the house," Calhoun said, handing an unopened telegram to his brother.
Arthur tore it hastily open, glanced at the contents and paled to the very lips.
"What is it?" cried Calhoun in alarm.
"Mother!" said Arthur huskily, putting the paper into his brother's outstretched hand. "She has been struck down with apoplexy. Cal, I must take the first train for New York. Look at the paper, see when it leaves. Thank God that those children are out of danger! But I must see whom I can get to take charge of them and my other patients during my absence."
Then calling to a servant he directed a fresh horse to be saddled and brought to the door with all speed, and hurrying into the house, summoned his old mammy and bade her pack a valise with such clothing as he would need on a journey to the North which might occupy a week or more.
"You are acting very promptly," Calhoun said, following him in to give the desired information in regard to the train.
"Yes, there's not a minute to lose, Cal."
Calhoun's face was full of grief and anxiety. "I think I should go, too, Art, if—if you think there's any probability of—finding her alive."
"It's impossible to tell. But we can hardly both be spared from home. It should be kept from grandpa as long as possible, and if he saw us both rushing off in the direction she has taken, he would know at once that something very serious had happened her."
"Yes, you are right, and for the first time I envy you your medical knowledge and skill. She's with Virginia, the message is sent by her," glancing again at the paper which he still held in his hand. "I'm glad of that—that she has at least one of her children with her, if——"
He paused and Arthur finished the sentence. "If she will be of any use or comfort to her, you were about to say? Well, we can only hope that so terrible an emergency has developed some hitherto unsuspected excellencies in Virginia's character."
A horse came galloping up the avenue. Calhoun glanced from the window.
"Another telegram!" he cried, and both brothers dashed out upon the veranda.
This was directed to Calhoun, sent from Philadelphia by their uncle Edward Allison. He and Adelaide would be with Mrs. Conly in two hours, telegraph at once in what condition they found her, and if practicable start with her immediately for her home.
The brothers consulted together, and Arthur decided to go on with his preparations, but delay setting out upon his journey until the coming of the promised message.
It came in due time, and from it they learned that their mother was already on her way home.
The sad tidings had now to be communicated to the other near relatives, but it was deemed best to keep them from the younger children and the feeble old father until the day when she might be expected to arrive.
As gently and tenderly as possible the old gentleman's son broke the news to him.
He was much overcome. "She will never get over it, I fear," he sighed, the tears coursing down his furrowed cheeks. "One bereavement is apt to tread closely upon the heels of another, and she will probably soon follow her sister. But oh if I only knew that she had been washed from her sins in the precious blood of Christ, that she had accepted His invitation, 'Come unto me,' so that death would be but falling asleep in Him, safe in His arms, safe on His gentle breast—I think I could let her go almost willingly, for my race is well nigh run, and it can hardly be long ere I too shall get my summons home."
"Dear father, if such be the will of God, may you be spared to us for many years yet," returned his son with emotion. "And Louise! We do not know her exact condition, but let us hope that God will in His great mercy give her yet more time—months or years—in which to prepare for eternity. We will cry earnestly for her, and in the name of Christ, to Him who hath said, 'I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,' but bids them 'Turn yourselves and live ye.'"
"Yes; and whose promise is, 'If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven!'"
Silence fell between them for a moment, then the old gentleman asked, "What arrangements have the boys made? She will hardly be able to drive home in a carriage."
"Oh no! they will meet her at the depot with an ambulance, and I shall be there with the carriage for Mr. Allison, Adelaide, and Virginia."
"Virginia is coming too?"
"We do not know certainly, but expect to see her with the others."
"I cannot say that I hope you will. I never saw a more useless person; she will be only in the way; and—I cannot banish a suspicion that she has brought this attack upon her poor mother. I strongly suspect that Virginia's match has turned out a very bad one, and that she has heaped reproaches upon her mother for the hand she had in bringing it about."
"I hope not!" his son exclaimed with energy; "for if so it must surely be the cause of life-long self-reproach to her. Will you go with us to the depot, father?"
"No, no, my son! let my first sight of my poor stricken child be where we will not be the gazing stock of an idle, curious crowd. I shall meet her here at my own door."
The train steamed into the depot, and Mrs. Allison, glancing from a window of the parlor-car, saw her brother and nephews standing near the track.
They saw her, too, and lifted their hats with a sad sort of smile. All felt that the invalid must be unable to sit up or her face also would have been in sight.
In another moment the train had come to a stand-still, and the next the three gentlemen were beside the couch on which Mrs. Conly lay.
She looked up at her sons with eyes full of intelligence, made an effort to speak, but in vain; and the big tears rolled down her cheeks.
They bent over her with hearts and eyes full to overflowing.
"Mother, dear mother, we are glad you have come to us alive," Calhoun said in low, tremulous tones.
"And we hope we shall soon have you much better," added Arthur.
"Yes," said Adelaide, "she is already better than when we first saw her in New York, but has not yet recovered her speech and can not help herself at all. One side seems to be quite paralyzed."
"We have an ambulance waiting," said Calhoun. "As soon as the crowd is out of the way it shall be brought close to the platform of this car and we will lift her into it."
Greetings were exchanged while they waited.
"Where is Virginia?" asked Mr. Dinsmore.
"She preferred to remain behind," replied Mrs. Allison in a low-toned aside, "and as she would have been of no use whatever, we did not urge her to come."
"It is just as well," was Mr. Dinsmore's comment.
Very tenderly and carefully the poor invalid was lifted and placed in the ambulance by her sons and brothers. The former accompanied her in it, while the latter, with Mrs. Allison, entered the Roselands family carriage, and drove thither considerably in advance of the more slowly moving ambulance.
"Has Virginia made a really good match?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, addressing his sister Adelaide.
"Good! it could hardly be worse!" she exclaimed. "Would you have believed it? we found them in a tenement-house, living most wretchedly."
"Is it possible! He was not wealthy then? Or has he lost his means since the marriage?"
"As far as I can learn," said Mr. Allison, "he has always lived by his wits; he is a professional gambler now."
"Dreadful! How does he treat his wife?"
"Very badly indeed, if we may credit her story. They live, as the saying is, like cat and dog, actually coming to blows at times. They are both bitterly disappointed, each having married the other merely for money; which neither had."
Mr. Dinsmore looked greatly concerned. "Virginia was never a favorite of mine," he remarked, "but I do not like to think of her as suffering from either poverty or the abusive treatment of a bad husband. Can nothing be done to better her condition?"
"I think not at present," said Adelaide; "she has made her bed and will have to lie in it. I don't believe the man would ever proceed to personal violence if she did not exasperate him with taunts and reproaches; with slaps, scratches, and hair pulling also, he says."
"O disgraceful!" exclaimed her uncle. "I have no pity for her if she is really guilty of such conduct."
"She told me herself that on one occasion she actually threw a cup of coffee in his face in return for his accusation that she and her mother had inveigled him into the marriage by pretences to wealth they did not possess. Poor Louise! I have no doubt her attack was brought on by the discovery of the great mistake she and Virginia had made, and reproaches heaped on her for her share in making the match."
"'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,'" sighed Mr. Dinsmore. "I presume Virginia was too proud to show herself here among relatives whose approval of the match had not been asked, and acquaintances who had heard of it as a splendid affair?"
"Your conjecture is entirely correct," said Adelaide. "She gave vent to her feelings on the subject in her mother's presence, supposing, I presume, as I did, that not being able to speak or move, she was also unable to hear or understand, but it was evident from the piteous expression her countenance assumed and the tears coursing down her cheeky that she did both."
"Poor Louise! she has a sad reaping—so far as that ungrateful, undutiful daughter is concerned; but Isa, Calhoun, and Arthur are of quite another stamp."
"Yes, indeed! she will surely find great comfort in them. I wish Isa was not so far away. But you have not told me how my dear old father is. How has he borne this shock?"
"It was a shock of course, especially to one so old and feeble; but I left him calmly staying himself upon his God."
They arrived at Roselands some time before the ambulance. They found the whole household, and also Mrs. Howard, her husband and sons, and Mrs. Travilla, gathered upon the veranda to receive them.
Lora stood by her father's side and Elsie too was very near, both full of loving care for him in this time of sore trial.
And Adelaide's first thought, first embrace, were for him. They wept a moment in each other's arms.
"Is she—is she alive?" he faltered.
"Yes, father, and we hope may get up again. Be comforted for her and for yourself; because 'He doeth all things well,' and 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.'"
"Yes, yes; and who can tell but this may be His appointed means for bringing her into the fold!"
There had been time for an exchange of greetings all around and a few comforting words to the younger Conlys, when the ambulance was seen entering the avenue.
With beating hearts and tearful eyes they watched its slow progress. Lying helpless and speechless in the shadow of death, Louise Conly seemed nearer and dearer than ever before to father, children, brothers and sisters.
The ambulance stopped close to the veranda steps, and the same strong, loving arms that had placed her in it now lifted her anew and bore her into the house, the others looking on in awed and tearful silence.
She was carried to her own room, laid upon the bed, and one by one they stood for an instant at her side with a kiss of welcome.
It was evident that she knew them all, though able to speak only with those sad, wistful eyes that gazed with new yearning affection into the faces of father and children.
But presently Arthur, by virtue of his medical authority, banished all from the room except Lora, Elsie, and a faithful and attached old negress who had lived all her days in the family and was a competent nurse.
"Then come the wild weather—come sleet or come snow, We will stand by each other, however it blow; Oppression and sickness, and sorrow and pain, Shall be to our true love as links to the chain." —Longfellow. (From the German.)
"Courage, sister dear!" whispered Edward Travilla, putting an arm tenderly about Elsie's waist as they found themselves at the very door of Lester Leland's studio.
Her face had grown very pale and she was trembling with agitation.
Still supporting her with his arm, Edward rapped gently upon the door, and at the same instant it was opened from within by the attending physician, who had just concluded his morning call upon his patient.
He was an Italian of gentlemanly appearance and intelligent countenance.
"Some friends of Signor Leland: from America?" he said in good English and with a polite bow.
"Yes. How is he?" Edward asked, stepping in and drawing his sister on with him.
"Sick, signor, very sick, but he will grow better now. I shall expect to see him up in a few weeks," the doctor answered with a significant glance and smile as he turned, with a second and still lower bow, to the sweet, fair maiden.
She did not see it, for her eyes were roving round the room—a disorderly and comfortless place enough, but garnished with some gems of art; an unfinished picture was on the easel; there were others with their faces to the wall; models, statues in various stages of completion, and the implements of painter and sculptor were scattered here and there; a screen, an old lounge, a few chairs, and a table littered with books, papers, and drawing materials, completed the furniture of the large, dreary apartment.
An open door gave a glimpse into an inner room, from which came a slight sound as of a restless movement, a sigh or groan.
Pointing to the chairs, the physician invited the strangers to be seated.
Edward put his sister in one and took possession of another close at her side.
"How soon can we see Mr. Leland?" he asked, putting his card into the doctor's hand.
"I will go and prepare Signor Leland for the interview," the doctor answered, and disappeared through the open doorway.
"Good news for you, signor!" they heard him say in a quiet tone.
"Ah! let me hear it," sighed a well-known voice. "'As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.'"
"You are right, signor, it comes from far-off America. A friend—a young signor has arrived, and asks to see you."
"Ah! his name?" exclaimed the sick man, with a tremor of gladness in his feeble tones.
"Here is his card."
"'Edward Travilla!'—ah what joy! Let me see him at once. 'Twill be like a breath of home air!"
Every word had reached the ears of the two in the studio.
"Go! go!" cried Elsie, scarcely above her breath, and Edward rose and went softly in.
"Not much talk now, signores," Elsie heard the doctor say.
"No; we'll be prudent," Edward said, grasping Lester's hand.
"So good! so kind! more than I dared hope! But how is she? my darling?" Elsie heard in feeble, faltering, yet eager accents.
"Well, very well, and longing to come here and nurse you back to health."
"Ah, a glimpse of her sweet face I think would bring me back from the borders of the grave! But I could not expect or ask such a sacrifice."
Elsie could wait no longer; she rose and glided with swift, almost noiseless steps to the bedside.
Edward made way for her. Lester looked up, caught sight of her, and a flash of exceeding joy lighted up his pale, emaciated features.
She dropped on her knees, laid her face on the pillow beside his, and their lips met in a long kiss.
"O love, love! how sweet, how kind, how dear in you!" he murmured.
"I have come to be your nurse," she said, with a lovely blush and smile, "come to stay with you always while God spares our lives."
Soon Edward went out and left them together. He had much to attend to, with Dinah and Ben for his helpers. Other and better apartments were speedily rented, cleaned, and comfortably, even elegantly furnished. Their mother had sent them off with full purses and carte blanche to draw upon her bankers for further supplies as they might be needed; and Edward knew it would be her desire to see Elsie and Lester surrounded by the luxuries to which she had been accustomed from her birth.
When night came the doctor pronounced his patient already wonderfully improved.
"But the signora must leave him to me and the nurse to night," he said; "she is fatigued with her long journey and must take her rest and sleep, or she too will be ill."
So Elsie took possession of the pleasant room which had been prepared for her, and casting on the Lord all care for herself and dear ones, and full of glad anticipations for the future, slept long and sweetly.
It was early morning when she woke. That day and several succeeding ones were spent at Lester's side in the gentle ministrations love teaches. There was little talk between them, for he was very weak, and love needs few words; but he slept much of the time with her hand in his, and waking gazed tenderly, joyously into the sweet face.
Happiness proved the best of medicines, and every hour brought a slight increase of strength, a change for the better in all the symptoms.
Meanwhile Edward and the two servants were busy with the laying in of needed supplies and the preparation of the suite of apartments which were to form the new home—Elsie giving a little oversight and direction.
At length their labors were completed, and she was called in to take a critical survey and point out any deficiency, if such there were.
She could find none. "My dear brother, how can I thank you enough?" she said, with a look of grateful affection.
"You are satisfied?"
"Oh, entirely! I only wish mamma and the rest could see how comfortable, tasteful, really beautiful you have made these rooms!"
"I am very glad our work pleases you. And the doctor tells me that under the combined influence of good nursing and unexpected happiness, Lester is gaining faster than he could have deemed possible. What is the time fixed upon for the ceremony which is to rob you of your patronymic, sister mine?"
"Add to it, you should say," she corrected, with a charming blush. "Noon of day after to-morrow is the hour. Edward, do you know that our good doctor is a Waldensian?"
"No, I did not, and am pleased to learn it; though I was satisfied that he was no Papist."
"Yes, he is one of that long-persecuted noble race, and will take you to see his pastor on our behalf. I have so greatly admired and loved the Waldenses that I really feel that to be married by one of their pastors will be some small compensation for—for being so far from home and—mamma. O Edward, if she were but here!"
Her tears were falling fast. He put his arm about her waist, her head dropped upon his shoulder and he smoothed her hair with caressing hand.
"It is hard for you," he said tenderly; "so different from what you and all of us have looked forward to. But you have been very brave, dear; and what a blessing that your coming is working such a cure for Lester!"
"Yes, oh yes! God is very good to me, His blessings are unnumbered!"
"It seems a sad sort of bridal for you," he said, "but I shall telegraph the hour to mamma immediately, and they will all be thinking of and praying for you."
"Oh, that is a comfort I had not thought of!" she exclaimed, with glad tears shining in her eyes. "What a blessing you are to me, brother dear!"
Lester was not able to leave his bed or likely to be for weeks, but that she might devote herself the more entirely to him Elsie had consented to be married at once.
She laid aside her mourning for the occasion, and Dinah helped her to array herself for her bridal in a very beautiful evening dress of some white material which had been worn but once before.
"Pity dars no time to get a new dress, Miss Elsie," remarked the handmaiden half regretfully. "Doe sho' nuff you couldn't look no sweeter and beautifuller dan you does in dis."
"I prefer this, Dinah, because they all—even dear, dear papa—have seen me in it," Elsie said, hastily wiping away a tear; "and I remember he said it became me well. Oh, I can see his proud, fond smile as he said it, and almost feel the touch of his lips; for he bent down and kissed me so tenderly."
"Miss Elsie, I jes b'lieves he's a lookin' at you now dis bressed minute, and ef de res' of dose dat lubs you is far away he'll be sho to stan' close side o' you when de ministah's a saying de words dat'll make you Massa Leland's wife."
"Ah, Dinah, what a sweet thought! and who shall say it may not be so!"
"Dar's Massa Edward!" exclaimed Dinah, as a quick, manly step was heard, followed by a light rap upon the door.
She hastened to open it "We's ready, Marse Ed'ard."
He did not seem to hear or heed her; his eyes were fastened upon his beautiful sister, more beautiful at this moment, he thought, than ever before.
"Elsie!" he cried. "Oh that mamma could see you! she herself could hardly have been a lovelier bride! yet these are wanted to complete your attire," opening a box he had brought, and taking therefrom a veil of exquisite texture and design and a wreath of orange blossoms.
"How kind and thoughtful, Edward!" she said, thanking him with a sweet though tearful smile; "but are they suitable for such a bridal as this?"
"Surely," he said. "Come, Dinah, and help me to arrange them."
Their labors finished, he stepped back a little to note the effect.
"O darling sister," he exclaimed, "never, I am sure, was there a lovelier bride! I wish the whole world could see you!"
"Our own little world at Ion is all I should ask for," she responded in tremulous tones.
"Yes, it must be very hard for you," he said; "especially not to have mamma here, you who have always clung to her so closely. Such a different wedding as it is from hers! But it's very romantic you know," he added jocosely, trying to raise her drooping spirits.
"Ah, I am forgetting a piece of news I have to tell I met an American gentleman and his daughter, the other day, fell into conversation with him, and learned that we have several common acquaintances I think we were mutually pleased, and I have asked him and his daughter in to the wedding; thinking it would not be unpleasant to you, and we should thus have two more witnesses."
"Perhaps it is best we should," she returned, in her sweet, gentle way, yet looking somewhat disturbed.
"I'm afraid I ought to have consulted you first," he said. "I'm sorry, but it is too late now His name is Love; his daughter—an extremely pretty girl by the way—he calls Zoe."
Ben now came to the door to say that all was in readiness—the minister, the doctor, and the other gentleman and a lady had arrived.
Edward gave his arm to his sister and led her into the room, to which Lester had been carried a few moments before, and where he lay on a luxurious couch, propped up with pillows into a half-sitting posture.
A touch of color came into his pale cheeks, and his eyes shone with love and joy as they rested upon his lovely bride, as Edward led her to the side of his couch.
Dinah and Ben followed, taking their places near the door and watching the proceedings with interest and sympathy.
The minister stood up, the doctor, the stranger guests, the nurse also, and the ceremony began.
Elsie's eyes were full of tears, but her sweet low tones were distinct and clear as she took the marriage vows.
So were Lester's; his voice seemed stronger than it had been for weeks, and when he took the small white-gloved hand in his, the grasp was firm as well as tender.
"One kiss, my love, my wife!" he pleaded when the ceremony was ended.
A soft blush suffused the fair face and neck, but the request was granted; she bent over him and for an instant their lips met.
Then Edward embraced her with brotherly affection and good wishes. He grasped Lester's hand in cordial greeting, then turned and introduced his new-made friends to the bride and groom.
A table loaded with delicacies stood in an adjoining room, and thither the brother and sister and their guests now repaired, while for a short season the invalid was left to quietness and repose that he might recover from the unwonted excitement and fatigue.
"Therein he them fall fair did entertain, Not with such forged shows as fitter been For courting fools, that courtesies would faine, But with entire affection plain." —Spenser's "Fairy Queen."
One bright morning in November the Ion family were gathered about the breakfast-table. Rosie and Walter were there for the first time since their severe illness, a trifle pale and thin still, but nearly in usual health, and very glad to be permitted to take their old places at the table.
Mrs. Dinsmore had returned from her sojourn at the Laurels, the home of her daughter Rose; the grandchildren there, whom she had been nursing, having also recovered their health; and so the places of the eldest son and daughter of the house were the only vacant ones.
Both Elsie and Edward were sorely missed, especially by the mother and Violet.
"It seems time we had letters again from our absentees, papa," Mrs. Travilla remarked as she poured the coffee. "We have had none since the telegram giving the hour for the wedding."
"No, but perhaps we may hear this morning—the mail has not come yet."
"Yes, grandpa; here comes Solon with it," said Harold, glancing from the window.
In a few moments the man came in bringing the mail-bag, which he handed to Mr. Dinsmore.
All looked on with interest, the younger ones in eager expectation, while their grandfather opened it and examined the contents.
"Yes, daughter, there is a letter from each of them, both directed to you," he said, glancing over the addresses on several letters which he now held in his hand. "Here, Tom," to the servant in waiting, "take these to your mistress. Don't read them to the neglecting of your breakfast," he added with a smile, again addressing Mrs. Travilla.
"No, sir; they will keep," she answered, returning the smile; "and you shall all share the pleasure of their perusal with me after prayers. Doubtless they give the particulars we all want so much to learn."
They all gathered round her at the appointed time. She held the letters open in her hand, having already given them a cursory examination lest there should be some little confidence intended for none but "mother's" eye.
"Papa," she said, looking up half tearfully, half smilingly at him as he stood at her side, "the deed is indeed done, and another claims my first-born darling as his own."
"You have not lost her, Elsie dearest, but have gained a son; and I trust we shall have them both with us ere long," he responded, bending down to touch his lips to the brow still as smooth and fair as in the days of her girlhood.
"Poor dear Elsie! how she must have missed and longed for you, dearest mamma!" Violet sighed, kneeling close to her mother's chair and putting her arms around her.
"What is it? all about Elsie's wedding?" asked Herbert. "Please let us hear it, mamma. The telegram told nothing but the hour when it was to be, and I was so surprised, for I never understood that that was what she went away for."
"Nor I," said Harold; "though I suppose it was very stupid in us not to understand."
"Who did get married with my sister Elsie, mamma?" asked little Walter.
"Mr. Leland, my son."
"But I thought he was most dead," remarked Rosie in surprise.
"He has been very ill," her mother said, "but is improving fast, though not yet able to sit up."
Rosie, opening her eyes wide in astonishment, was beginning another question when Harold stopped her.
"Wait, Rosie, don't you see mamma is going to read the letters? They will tell us all about it, I presume."
"I shall read Edward's first, it gives a very minute account of what they have done since he wrote us last, just after their arrival in Rome," the mother said. "He is a good boy to take the trouble to tell us everything in detail; is he not, papa?"
"Yes," Mr. Dinsmore assented, seating himself by her side and taking Rosie upon one knee, Walter on the other; "and so good a mother richly deserves good, thoughtful sons and daughters, ever ready to do all in their power to promote her happiness, or afford her pleasure. Does she not, children?"
"Yes, grandpa, indeed she does!" they replied in chorus.
Her sweet soft eyes glistened with happy tears as she sent a loving glance round the little circle; then all becoming perfectly quiet and attentive, she began to read.
Edward's first item of news was that the marriage had just taken place; the next that Lester's health was steadily improving. Then came a description of the rooms they were occupying; both as they were when first seen by Elsie and himself and as they had become under his renovating and improving hands.
After that he drew a vivid picture of Elsie's appearance in her bridal robes, told who were present at the ceremony, who performed it, how the several actors acquitted themselves, and what refreshments were served after it was over.
He said he thought happiness was working a rapid cure with Lester, and that from all he could see and hear, his success as both painter and sculptor was already assured.
Elsie's themes were the same, but she had much to say of Edward's kind thoughtfulness, his energy and helpfulness; "the best and kindest of brothers," she called him, and as she read the words the mother's eyes shone with love and pride in her eldest son.
But her voice trembled, and the tears had to be wiped away once and again when she came to that part of the letter in which Elsie told of her feelings as she robed herself for her bridal with none to assist but Dinah; how sad was her heart, dearly as she loved Lester, and how full of longing for home and mother and all the dear ones so far away; then of the comfort she found in the idea that possibly the dear departed father might be near her in spirit.
"Was it wrong, mamma," she asked, "to think he might perhaps be allowed to be a ministering spirit to me in my loneliness? and to find pleasure in the thought?"
"Mamma, what do you think about it?" asked Herbert.
"I do not know that we have any warrant for the idea in the Scriptures," she answered; "it seems to be one of the things that is not revealed; yet I see no harm in taking comfort in the thought that it may be so. My poor lonely darling! I am glad she had that consolation. Ah, papa, what a different wedding from mine!"
"Yes," he said, "and from what we thought hers would be. But I trust she will never see cause to regret the step she has taken. Lester is worth saving even at the sacrifice she has made."
His daughter looked at him with glistening eyes. "Thank you, papa, that is a good thought, and consoles me greatly for both our darling and ourselves."
She went on with the reading of the letter; there were but a few more sentences; then, while the others discussed its contents, Violet stole quietly from the room, unobserved as she thought. But in that she was mistaken. Her mother's eyes followed her with a look of love and sympathy.
"Dear child!" she said in a low aside to her father, "she misses Elsie sorely; I sometimes think almost more than I do, they were so inseparable and so strongly attached."
Vi's heart was very full, for Elsie's marriage, though far, far from being so great a sorrow as the death of their father, seemed in some respects even more the breaking up of a life that had been very sweet.
She sought the studio she and Elsie had shared together (how lonely and deserted it seemed!) and there gave vent to her feelings in a burst of tears.
"O Elsie, darling! we were so happy together! such dear friends! with never a disagreement, hardly a thought unshared! And now I am alone! all alone!"
She had unconsciously spoken aloud. A soft sweet voice echoed the last word.
"Alone! ah, my darling, no! not while your mother lives. You and I must cling the closer together, Vi dearest," the voice went on, while two loving arms enfolded her and a gentle kiss was imprinted upon cheek and brow.
"Dearest mamma!" cried Violet, returning the caress, "forgive me that I should indulge in such grief while you are left me—you and your dear love, the greatest of earthly treasures."
"Yes, dear child, your grief is very natural. These changes, though not unmixed calamities, are one of the hard conditions of life in this lower world, dear daughter; but we must not let them mar our peace and happiness; let us rejoice over the blessings that are left, rather than weep for those that are gone."
"I will, mamma," Violet said, wiping away her tears. "Ah, how much I still have to rejoice in and be thankful for!"
"Yes, dear, we both have! and not the least the love of Him who has said, 'Lo, I am with you alway.' Oh the joy, the bliss of knowing that nothing can ever part us from Him! And then to know, too, that some day we shall all be together in His immediate presence, beholding His face and bearing His image!"
Neither spoke again for some moments, then the mother said, "Vi, dearest, there is nothing more conducive to cheerfulness at such a time as this than being fully employed. So I ask you to take charge of Rosie and Walter for a few hours. They are not yet well enough for tasks or for out door sports, but need to be amused. And your grandpa and grandma want me to drive with them to the Laurels and Roselands."
"Yes, do go, mamma, and try to enjoy yourself. You have seen so little of Aunt Adelaide since she came, or of Aunt Rosie, since the sickness began with her children and ours. Thank you for your trust, I shall do my best," Violet said with cheerful alacrity. "Ah, the recovery of the darlings is one of the many mercies we have to be thankful for!"
"Yes, Vi, and my heart is full of joy and gratitude to the Great Physician."
At Roselands Mrs. Conly still lay helpless on her couch, her condition having changed very slightly for the better; she could now at times, with great effort, speak a word or two, but friends and physicians had scarcely a hope of any further improvement; she might live on thus for years, or another stroke might at any moment bring the end.