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   Chapter 15 No.15

Elsie at Home By Martha Finley Characters: 27609

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Lucilla was in bed but not asleep. She had retired to her room when the guests went to theirs, and without a formal good-night to her father, trusting to his coming to her there for a few moment's chat, as he almost always did. But he had not come, and she felt sorely disappointed. It was a beautiful, luxuriously furnished room, this bed chamber of hers-the view from its windows, a lovely one of carefully kept grounds, cultivated fields, woods, and streams; all looking their loveliest just now as seen by the silver light of the moon, which shone in upon her through rich lace curtains, gently wafted to and fro by the summer breeze as it came in laden with the sweet scent of flowers from the garden below.

"What a sweet, lovely home I have! Oh, how much to be thankful for! good health, kind friends, and such a dear father!" she said half aloud; "but I want a good-night kiss and a word or two of fatherly affection, and it does seem as if I can't go to sleep without it. Oh, dear! can it be that he is displeased with me about anything? I am not conscious of having done anything he would disapprove."

"Nor have you, so far as I know, daughter mine," said a pleasant voice close at her side, while a hand was laid tenderly on her head.

"Oh, papa!" she cried joyously, starting up to a sitting posture as she spoke. "I did not know you were there-did not hear you come in; but I am so glad you have come!"

"Are you?" he asked, seating himself on the side of the bed and drawing her into his arms. "Well, daughter, it is only for a moment, to bid you good-night, as usual, and see that you are in need of nothing. Tell me, are all your wants supplied?"

"Yes, sir; now that I have my father here to give me his good-night kiss and blessing. Ah! papa dear, I do not know how I could ever live away from you again. I am so glad you no longer have to go sailing away over the ocean, leaving your children behind."

"I am glad of it, too," he returned, "but I sometimes fear that the day may come when my dear eldest daughter will want to leave me for a home with someone else."

"Indeed, father dear, you need not have the slightest fear of that," she said, laying her head against his breast with a low, happy laugh. "I am sure there isn't in the wide world any other man whom I could love half so well as I do you. I am just as glad to belong to you now as ever I was."

"And don't want me to give you away?"

"No, no, indeed!" she cried with energy. "Oh, papa! you surely are not thinking of such a thing? You have said, over and over again, that you would not,-at least not for years yet,-even if I wanted you to."

"And I say the same now; so don't be wanting me to," he returned in jesting tone, and laying her down upon her pillow as he spoke. "Now go to sleep at once, that you may be ready to rise at your usual early hour and join your father in the morning stroll about the grounds. 'The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace,'" he added in tender, solemn tones, his hand resting upon her head as he spoke.

Then, with a good-night kiss upon her lips, he left her, and contented and happy she speedily passed into the land of dreams.

The captain, passing through Grace's room to his own, paused for a moment at her bedside, bent over her, and kissed the sweet lips; but she slept on, unconscious of the caress.

He found Violet still awake, repeated to her his little talk with Lucilla, and added, with evident satisfaction, "I feel convinced that, as yet, no one has made any impression upon her heart, that I, her father, still hold the fort there."

"Yes; I have hardly a doubt of it," returned Violet; "and it may be many a long day before she is deluded into thinking there is any other man who begins to compare to him; something that I have known for years was not the case," she concluded with a happy laugh.

The sun was hardly above the horizon when Lucilla awoke; but she sprang up hastily, with the thought that her father would soon be out in the grounds, and she wanted to be with him. There would be a great deal to attend to in preparation for their expected guests, and perhaps she could be of some assistance; at all events she would like to see all that was going on, and give her opinion on any doubtful subject.

So she lost no time about attending to the duties of the hour and place, spending a little time upon her knees, asking for the watchful care of her Heavenly Father through all the day, that she might be kept from folly and sin, and have strength and wisdom to do every duty and meet every trial, and beseeching his blessing upon all her dear ones, not forgetting the dear brother so far away from home and kindred. Then she made a rapid but careful toilet, and hastened, with light, swift footsteps, down the broad stairway and out upon the veranda, where she found her father in consultation with Christine, the housekeeper.

Blithe good-mornings were exchanged, Christine went back into the house, and father and daughter walked out together into the grounds.

Preparations were going on for the entertainment of the expected guests, old and young, and Lucilla was not only permitted, but invited to give her opinion in regard to them all, and any suggestions that might occur to her; which she did frankly and fully, and with the result that more than one of them was adopted; for her father wished to please her and had great confidence in her opinion of such matters. There were croquet and tennis grounds, swings in the shade of the trees in the grove; inviting-looking seats there, and in other suitable places; there were shaded walks and winding paths through the woods; indeed, every sort of arrangement for recreation and pleasure that could be thought of and prepared for in the allotted space.

Captain Raymond and his daughter walked about inspecting everything, until they had gone over the whole place, giving all needed directions to the workmen who were busied here and there with some alterations the captain had decided upon the previous day, then returned to the house, for it was nearing breakfast time.

They found Violet, Grace, and the two younger children on the veranda. Morning greetings were exchanged, then Lucilla hurried to her rooms to make some changes in her dress and was coming down again when the breakfast bell rang.

It was a cheerful, even merry, party that gathered about the table to partake of the meal, an excellent one; for the captain and Violet were most hospitable entertainers.

The talk ran principally upon the sports that would enliven and entertain the company during the day; suggestions from any and every one being in order; and, by the time the meal was concluded, all felt that they had every prospect of a most enjoyable holiday.

"The weather could not be more propitious than it is," remarked Captain Keith. "You began your enjoyment of it early, Miss Lu," turning to Lucilla. "I happened to be at my window and saw you and your father out in the grounds."

"Yes," she said, "papa and I usually do take a stroll about them before breakfast. He is always an early riser. I inherit the taste for it from him and, being in excellent health, can indulge it without injury."

"Which is something to be thankful for," he said with a smile.

"Yes, indeed!" she returned heartily. "Health and strength are the greatest of earthly blessings. I would not part with them for any amount of money."

"No; money cannot buy health and strength, though they may give one the ability to earn money. You, however, have a father able and willing to furnish all you may need of it."

"Yes," said the captain in his pleasant way, "but that daughter of mine likes to make herself useful to me, and does so to such an extent that I really think she earns all she gets."

"Oh, no, papa, not half!" exclaimed Lucilla, blushing with pleasure nevertheless. "And that reminds me that I have not asked about your mail this morning. Are there some letters to be answered on the typewriter?"

"I have been as forgetful as yourself, daughter," her father answered with a slight laugh. "Scip" (to a servant in waiting), "is the mail bag on the library table?"

"I think so, sah. Shall I fotch it hyar?"

"Yes; bring it here to me."

It was brought, opened, and found to contain letters for family and guests, besides newspapers and magazines.

They were speedily distributed to the owners, read,-some of them aloud,-and their contents talked over.

Then all adjourned to the library for the morning service of prayer, praise, and reading of the Scriptures, after which they scattered about the house and grounds.

Captain Raymond's share of the mail had included some business letters, and he called upon Lucilla to use her typewriter in preparing his replies, which she did promptly and cheerfully.

"Thank you, daughter," he said when they had finished, "you and your typewriter make my correspondence far less burdensome than it would be otherwise."

"I am so glad, papa! so glad that I can be of at least a little help to you," she said joyously. "It is such a privilege, and such a pleasure!"

"Dear child!" he said in response. Then, as the sound of wheels on the drive without came to their ears, "Ah! our guests are beginning to arrive, and we must go out and bid them welcome."

Several carriage loads were already there, and others quickly followed till, in a very short time, all the expected relatives were present.

Then mirth and jollity ruled the hour, all-old and young-seeming in gayest spirits and ready to join in any amusement that might be proposed. Mr. and Mrs. Croly were among the guests. She had gained so materially in health and strength that she was able-resting in an easy-chair upon the veranda-to watch the sports of the younger and healthier ones with interest and enjoyment; and to converse with one and another as they came in turn to chat with her for a time. At length, finding herself alone with Grandma Elsie for a while, she turned to her, saying in a sprightly way:

"I am getting so much better under the skilful treatment of Dr. Conly that I ventured on quite a drive this morning, and we went to look at a little place, some ten or more acres in extent, about which your son Doctor Harold was telling us yesterday. It is on the river bank, the lawn sloping down to the water, and it is hardly farther from Ion than this place. It is for sale. The house is small, but pretty, and could easily be added to, and so made as large as one might wish."

"Riverside is the name of the estate?" Mrs. Travilla said inquiringly.

"Yes; a pretty one we both-Mr. Croly and I-think, and we have about decided to buy it and enlarge and beautify the dwelling for our children,-our son and your daughter,-if you think that would please dear Rosie."

"I think it could not fail to do so," Mrs. Travilla replied, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "It will be a great pleasure to me to have our children so near, and I was thinking of making the purchase for them myself. It was only this morning I learned that the place was for sale."

"Ah!" laughed Mrs. Croly, "don't try to get ahead of us. We want the place ourselves, and it won't hurt the young folks to wait for it till we are gone; especially as we intend it to be as much a home for them immediately as if they were sole proprietors."

"And they will enjoy it all the more for having their kind parents with them," was Mrs. Travilla's pleased response.

Then they fell to talking of alterations and additions to the dwelling, and plans for furnishing and decorating it and the grounds.

"I am very glad indeed that you and your husband have decided to settle in this neighbourhood," said Mrs. Travilla; "glad that we are to have the pleasure of your society, and that Rosie's married home will not be at a distance from that of her childhood. I have been very fortunate in being able thus far to keep all my children near me."

"Yes, I think so; and I do not wonder that they and you wish to keep together. I feel just so in regard to my one. Ah! who are those two ladies approaching on the driveway?"

"One I call mamma," Mrs. Travilla said with a smile; "she is my father's second wife, and has been my dear mother since I was a little girl of ten. The other is Aunt Adelaide, a half sister of my father, who married a brother of Mamma Rose-Mr. Edward Allison of Philadelphia."

"Ah, yes! I recognize Mrs. Dinsmore, now that they have drawn nearer, and Mrs. Allison as someone to whom I have been introduced; but I have met so many strangers in the last few days that I suppose I may be excused for not remembering her name and connection with you and our Rosie," she concluded with a smile, adding, "You will excuse me, I know, for claiming Rosie as mine as well as yours, because it is so sweet to me to have a daughter at long last."

"I am very glad you feel it so," Mrs. Travilla returned with a sweet, sympathising look and smile, "and I hope my Rosie will prove to you the sweet and lovable daughter that she has always been to me."

Just at that moment the other ladies joined them, and the four entered into a lively conversation, talking of Riverside and the improvements needed there, what a lovely home it would make for the Crolys, how pleasant it would be to have them so near, and how delightful for Rosie that thus she would escape the dreaded separation from her mother.

"Yes," said Mrs. Croly, "I cannot tell you how glad I was to learn of this beautiful place, so near to Ion, for sale; for I felt badly over the thought that we were robbing Mrs. Travilla of the companionship of so

sweet a daughter. Besides I am anxious to remain in this neighbourhood, that I may continue under the care of Dr. Conly; for he has helped me more than any other physician I ever tried."

That remark seemed gratifying to all three of her listeners, and Mrs. Dinsmore said: "We are glad to hear it; for Dr. Conly is dear to us all, as relative, friend, and physician."

"He has a lovely young wife," was Mrs. Croly's next remark; "and a darling baby boy of whom they are both very proud and fond."

"Yes," said Mrs. Travilla, "it does one good to see how happy they are in the possession of it and of each other. Arthur remained single for years; I think to provide, or assist in providing, for his mother, sisters, and younger brothers, but he seems to be reaping his reward now in having a wife who is a great comfort and blessing to him."

"She is that, indeed!" said Mrs. Allison emphatically. "Ah! speak of angels-here they come!" as Dr. Conly and his young wife were seen approaching, followed by a nurse carrying the infant.

In another minute they had joined the group on the veranda, where the doctor speedily ensconced his wife in an easy-chair, placed himself in another by her side, and taking the baby from the nurse, held it up with a look of fatherly pride, asking the older ladies, "Isn't this a pretty fine specimen of babyhood, considering that he is my son?"

"Yes, indeed!" laughed Mrs. Allison, "it is singular that so poor a specimen of manhood as my nephew, Arthur Conly, should have so fine a son. But he may have got his good looks from his mother; though I do not perceive that she has lost any."

"Now, Aunt Adelaide, after that you will do well to take care not to fall ill and get into the doctor's hands," laughed Marian.

"My dear," said the doctor, "can you suppose I object to having my wife praised? or my son, even at his father's expense?"

"No, I know you do not," she returned. "I verily believe you would sacrifice everything for him except his mother."

"Did he let you take part in any of the games?" asked Adelaide.

"Oh, I didn't ask to!" said Marian. "I have grown so lazy that I thought it more fun to watch the others."

"Captain Raymond and Violet seem to be enjoying tennis as much as any of the rest," remarked Mrs. Dinsmore, who was watching the game with keen interest.

"Yes," said Dr. Conly, "all-old and young-seem very happy and interested in their various sports; and I think are gaining health and strength from the vigorous exercise in this pure air."

Most of the company were engaged in games of one kind or another, but some few were wandering about in the alleys of the garden or wood, or sitting on the grass or some rustic bench, chatting sociably, as cousins and connections might be expected to do. Dr. Dick Percival and Maud Dinsmore were among the latter. They had had a game of tennis and were now refreshing themselves with a saunter through the wood.

"I admire this place-Woodburn," said Maud. "Captain Raymond has, I think, made a sort of earthly paradise of it; though for that matter one might say pretty much the same of The Oaks, Ion, and several of the other family estates."

"Yes; including those down in Louisiana," returned Dick-"Viamede, Magnolia Hall, and a few others. By the way, you have never been down there, have you?"

"No, never; but I am hoping that Cousin Elsie will invite me one of these days."

"Suppose you don't wait for that, but accept an invitation from me," suggested Dick, giving her a very lover-like look and smile.

"From you?" she exclaimed, her tone expressing surprise and a little bewilderment, "are you staying there?"

"At Viamede? No, not now. I have bought a plantation not very far from there, and am trying to make it equal in beauty to Viamede. It will, of course, take some time to accomplish that; but, to me, Torriswood seems even now a very winsome place. And if I had my cousin Maud installed there, as mistress, I should be one of the happiest of men."

"Oh! you want me to become your housekeeper?"

"Yes; housekeeper, homekeeper, heartkeeper-everything! Oh, Maud darling! can't you understand that I love you and want you for my wife, my best, nearest, and dearest friend, my heart's idol? I love you in a way that I never loved anyone else. Can't you love me in the same way-as something nearer and dearer than a mere cousin?"

Maud was blushing, trembling-wholly taken by surprise and hardly knowing whether to be glad or sorry. "Oh, Dick! how can you?" she stammered. "We are cousins, you know, and-and cousins ought not to-to marry. I have often heard Cousin Arthur say so."

"Not first cousins, nor second, but we are neither; we are far enough removed to be entirely safe so far as that is concerned. So dearest, you need not hesitate on that account, if you feel that you can love me well enough to be happy as my wife. Can you? If you cannot now, I may be able to teach you to by clever courting. But I need a wife-I do indeed; and I don't know how to wait. Don't make me wait. Can't you give me your love-at least a little of it?"

"Oh, Dick! do you really care so much for me and my love-really love me in that way?" she asked low and tremulously, her eyes full of happy tears. "I never thought of such a thing before; but-but I do believe I can-I do love you better than any other of my cousins; better than-than anybody else in the world."

"Ah! dearest, you have made me very, very happy," he said joyously; "happier than I ever was in my life before, and I shall go home far richer than I came."

As he spoke he drew her to a rustic seat in a nook so concealed by the trees and shrubbery and the winding of the path that they were entirely hidden from view, and, putting an arm about her he held her close with silent caresses that seemed very sweet to her; for she had been an orphan for years, and often hungry for love greater than that of brother or sister.

"Maud, dear," he said presently, "we have given ourselves to each other, and why should we delay the final step? I do not want to go back to my home alone; will you not go with me? It would make me the happiest of men."

"But-but you are going very soon, I understood-in a few days."

"Yes; it would hardly do for me to wait longer than that; but what is the use of waiting? We know each other now as thoroughly as we ever can till we live together as man and wife."

"But I should have no time to prepare my wardrobe--"

"It is good enough, and can be easily added to when you are Mrs. Percival," he said with a low, gleeful laugh. "I am ready to take you, my darling, if you were without a single change of raiment. I do not think you know it, dearest, but I am no longer the poor relation I used to be. I have had a large practise, worked hard, and made some very fortunate investments, so that I can truly say that I am a fairly wealthy man. Ah, do give yourself into my keeping at once. I am heartily tired of my lonely bachelor life, and it will be great joy to me if I can go back, not to it, but to that of a happy married man. How a dear little wife-such as my cousin Maud would make-would brighten and make cheery that lonely home. Can you find it in your heart to refuse me the favour I ask, sweet one?"

"I do not like to refuse you anything, dear Dick," she returned; "but it is all so sudden and unexpected; do let me have a little time to think it over and-and consult my friends and yours."

"Ah, well! I will try to wait patiently," he sighed; "wait, hoping you will grant my request."

"Oh, Dick, dear Dick! I really do feel like doing anything in the world that I can to make you happy. I will do whatever you wish, no matter what other people may say. Only," she added, as if with sudden recollection, "I suppose we must ask Uncle Dinsmore's consent."

"Yes; but I have no fear that it will be withheld. He and I are no strangers to each other; he is my uncle, too, you know, and was my guardian while I was young enough to need one. I think he will be pleased that we are going into partnership,-you and I,-and will agree with me that the sooner we begin the better."

"Provided that allows me time to get properly ready," she supplemented with an arch look and smile.

"What preparation do you need?" he asked. "I am more than willing to take you just as you are. You look perfectly charming in that dress, and, for a wedding dress, the one you wore as bridesmaid to Cousin Rosie seems to me entirely suitable. Indeed, my darling, you look bewitchingly pretty in any and every thing you put on."

"Oh, you flatterer!" she laughed. "I can't expect other people to see with your eyes; but, after all, the principal thing is to please you. That will be my business for the rest of my life, I suppose," she added, giving him a look of ardent affection.

"And mine to please you, dearest. Shall we not follow Rosie's good example in making no secret of our engagement; at least so far as our own people here assembled are concerned? Will you let me take you back to the house now and introduce you there as my promised wife?"

"Do just as you please about it, Cousin Dick," she said. "You are older and wiser than I."

"I certainly am older," he said laughingly as they rose, and he gave her his arm; "but if I am wiser in some respects, you doubtless are in some others. Perhaps we will find out all about that when we get to housekeeping together."

Mr. Dinsmore had joined the group on the veranda. Mr. Lilburn and Annis, Captain Raymond and Violet were there, too, and some others of the married people, among them Mr. Horace Dinsmore, Jr., of The Oaks, and his wife, as Dick and Maud came up the steps together. He led her directly to his uncle.

"We have come for your blessing, sir, Cousin Maud and I," he said in clear, distinct tones. "Will you give her to me? She is willing that you should, and I promise to do all in my power to provide for her and make her happy."

"Why, children, this is a surprise-but a pleasant one," exclaimed Mr. Dinsmore. "Yes, I give you my blessing and wish you many happy years together."

Then the others crowded about with exclamations of surprise and pleasure, congratulations, good wishes, and questions. "How long had they been lovers?" "Did they expect to marry very soon?"

"Yes, almost immediately," Dick answered to that last. "What was there to wait for? They were old enough to know their own minds, he was well able to support a wife, and had a home ready for her. It needed some improvements to be sure, but they could be made all the better with Maud there to give her opinion and advice."

"But she must have time to prepare her trousseau," said young Mrs. Dinsmore.

"I have just been coaxing her out of that notion," laughed Dick, regarding his promised wife with admiring eyes. "I want her, and the wedding finery can be attended to somewhat later. I don't think anything could be prettier or more becoming than the dress she wore at Cousin Rosie's wedding, and why can't she be married in that?"

"Why, it would do, I suppose!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinsmore. "It is very pretty and becoming, and, with a bridal veil added, would make a suitable and handsome wedding dress."

"A wedding dress? Who is going to be married now?" cried a girlish voice, and Sydney and Walter were seen coming up the steps. All turned at the sound of her voice, and Dick answered:

"Your sister and I, Cousin Syd. Are you willing to take me for a brother?"

"You!" she exclaimed, "you, Cousin Dick? Why, I never dreamed of such a thing! But I have no objection; no, not the least in the world-except that you'll be taking my sister away from me; I don't like that at all."

"No, Coz, that is altogether a mistake," Dick hastened to say. "I don't want to separate you and Maud, and you have only to come along with us to escape that. You will find plenty of room and a warm welcome at Torriswood."

"Thank you," she said; "but it's so sudden I can't realise it at all yet. When did you make up your minds to get married?"

"Half an hour ago, perhaps; I forgot to look at my watch to take exact note of the time."

"Oh! is that the way you do when you are taking note of a patient's pulse, or the time for administering a dose of medicine?"

But Dick was saved the trouble of replying, as relatives, older and younger, came crowding up to learn what was going on.

Chester and Frank were as much surprised as Sydney had been, but by no means displeased. They liked Dick as a cousin and had no objection to accepting him as a brother-in-law. The newly affianced had no frowns or objections to meet; everybody seemed pleased and interested, and the only queries were as to when and where the marriage should take place.

"It should be at The Oaks, of course," said young Mr. Dinsmore. "That is her home, and has been for years."

"And it was there mamma was married," said Violet, "and Maud might stand in the very same place."

"Yes, I should be glad to have her do so," said Mrs. Travilla; "and she and Dick need ask nothing more than that their marriage may prove as happy a one as mine."

"Yes, Cousin Elsie, I agree with you in that," said Maud. "I will be married at The Oaks, if Dick is satisfied to have it so."

"Entirely," he said; "and now it remains only to fix upon the day and hour."

That question seemed more difficult to settle than the other; but Dick finally had his way, and the morning of the day on which he was to start for the far South was fixed upon as the time for the ceremony. The other relatives from a distance would delay their departure long enough to be present, the older Mr. Cyril Keith was chosen as the officiating minister, and everyone seemed satisfied with all the arrangements.

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