Chapter I.
"O married love! each heart shall own;
  Where two congenial souls unite,
Thy golden chains inlaid with down,
  Thy lamp with heaven's own splendor bright."

"There, there, little woman! light of my eyes, and core of my heart! if you don't stop this pretty soon, I very much fear I shall be compelled to join you," Edward Travilla said, between a laugh and a sigh, drawing Zoe closer to him, laying her head against his breast, and kissing her tenderly on lip and cheek and brow. "I shall begin to think you already regret having staid behind with me."

"No, no, no!" she cried, dashing away her tears, then putting her arms about his neck, and returning his caresses with ardor of affection. "Dear Ned, you know you're more than all the rest of the world to your silly little wife. But it seems lonely just at first, to have them all gone at once, especially mamma; and to think we'll not see her again for months! I do believe you'd cry yourself, if you were a girl."

"Altogether likely," he said, laughing, and giving her another hug; "but, being a man, it wouldn't do at all to allow my feelings to overcome me in that manner. Besides, with my darling little wife still left me, I'd be an ungrateful wretch to repine at the absence of other dear ones."

"What a neat little speech, Ned!" she exclaimed, lifting her head to look up into his face, and laughing through her tears--for her eyes had filled again. "Well, you know I can't help feeling a little lonely and sad just at first; but, for all that, I wouldn't for the world be anywhere else than here in your arms:" and with a sigh of content and thankfulness, she let her pretty head drop upon his breast again.

"My darling! may it ever be to you the happiest place on earth! God helping me, I shall always try to make it so," he said, with a sudden change to gravity, and in low, moved tones.

"My dear, dear husband!" she murmured, clinging closer to him.

Then, wiping her eyes, "I sha'n't cry any more; for, if I'm not the happiest woman in the world, I ought to be. And what a nice time we shall have together, dear Ned! each wholly devoted to the other all winter long. I have it all planned out: while you are out about the plantation in the mornings, I'll attend to my housekeeping and my studies; and in the afternoons and evenings,--after I've recited,--we can write our letters, or entertain ourselves and each other with music or books; you can read to me while I work, you know."

"Yes: a book is twice as enjoyable read in that way--sharing the pleasure with you," he said, softly stroking her hair, and smiling down into her eyes.

"Especially if it is a good story, or a bit of lovely poetry," she added.

"Yes," he said: "we'll have both those in turn, and some solid reading besides."

"I don't like solid reading," she returned, with a charming pout.

"One may cultivate a taste for it, I think," he answered pleasantly.

"But you can't cultivate what you haven't got," she objected.

"True enough," he said, laughing. "Well, then, we'll try to get a little first, and cultivate it carefully afterward. I must go now, love," he added, releasing her: "the men need some directions from me, in regard to their work."

"And the women some from me," said Zoe. "Oh! you needn't laugh, Ned," shaking her finger at him, as he turned in the doorway to give her an amused glance: "perhaps some of these days you'll find out that I am really an accomplished housewife, capable of giving orders and directions too."

"No doubt, my dear; for I am already proud of you in that capacity," he said, throwing her a smiling kiss, then hurrying away.

Zoe summoned Aunt Dicey, the housekeeper, gave her orders for the day, and the needed supplies from pantry and storeroom, they went to the sewing-room, to give some directions to Christine and Alma.

She lingered there for a little, trying on a morning-dress they were making for her, then repaired to her boudoir, intent upon beginning her studies, which had been rather neglected of late, in the excitement of the preparations for the departure of the greater part of the family for a winter at Viamede.

But she had scarcely taken out her books, when the sound of wheels on the avenue attracted her attention; and glancing from the window, she saw the Roselands carriage draw up at the front entrance, and Ella Conly alight from it, and run up the veranda steps.

"There, I'll not do much studying to-day, I'm afraid," said Zoe, half aloud; "for, even if it's only a call she has come for, she'll not leave under an hour."

She hastily replaced the books in the drawer from which she had taken them,--for she had a feeling, only half acknowledged even to herself, of repugnance to having Ella know of her studies,--Ella, who had graduated from boarding-school, and evidently felt herself thoroughly educated,--and hurried down to meet and welcome her guest.

"I told Cal and Art, I thought you'd be sure to feel dreadfully lonely to-day, after seeing everybody but Ned start off on a long journey, and so I'd come and spend the day with you," said Ella, when the two had exchanged kisses, and inquiries after each other's health.

"It was very kind and thoughtful in you," returned Zoe, leading the way into the parlor usually occupied by the family, where an open wood fire blazed cheerily on the hearth.

"Take this easy-chair, won't you?" she said, wheeling it a little nearer the grate; "and Dinah shall carry away your wraps when it suits you to doff them. I wish cousins Cal and Art would invite themselves to dine with us too."

"Art's very busy just now," said Ella: "there's a good deal of sickness, and I don't believe he's spent a whole night at home for the last week or more."

"Dear me! I wouldn't be a doctor for any thing, nor a doctor's wife!" exclaimed Zoe.

"Well, I don't know: there's something to be said on both sides of that question," laughed Ella. "I can tell you, Art would make a mighty good husband; and it's very handy, in ease of sickness, to have the doctor in the house."

"Yes; but, according to your account, he's generally somewhere else than in his own house," returned Zoe playfully.

Ella laughed. "Yes," she said, "doctors do have a hard life; but, if you say so to Art, he always says he has never regretted having chosen the medical profession, because it affords so many opportunities for doing good. It's plain he makes that the business of his life. I'm proud of Art. I don't believe there's a better man anywhere. I was sick last summer, and you wouldn't believe how kindly he nursed me."

"You can't tell me any thing about him that I should think too good to believe," said Zoe. "He's our family doctor, you remember; and, of course, we are all attached to him on that account, as well as because of the relationship."

"Yes, to be sure. There, Dinah, you may carry away my hat and cloak," Ella said, divesting herself of them as she spoke, "but leave the satchel. I brought my fancy-work, Zoe: one has to be industrious now, as Christmas is coming. I decided to embroider a pair of slippers for each of my three brothers. Walter does not expect to get home; so I made his first, as they had to travel so far. I'm nearly done with Art's, and then I have Cal's to do."

"Oh, how pretty!" exclaimed Zoe, examining the work: "and that's a new stitch; won't you teach it to me?"

"Yes, indeed, with pleasure. And I want you to teach me how to crochet that lace I saw you making the other day. I thought it so pretty."

The two spent a pleasant morning chatting together over their fancy-work, saying nothing very wise, perhaps, but neither did they say any thing harmful: an innocent jest now and again, something--usually laudatory--about some member of the family connection, and remarks and directions about their work, formed the staple of their talk.

"Oh! how did it come that you and Ned staid behind when all the rest went to Viamede for the winter?" asked Ella.

"Business kept my husband, and love for him and his society kept me," returned Zoe, with a look and smile that altogether belied any suspicion Ella might have had that she was fretting over the disappointment.

"Didn't you want to go?"

"Yes, indeed, if Edward could have gone with me; but any place with him is better than any other without him."

"Well, I don't believe I should have been willing to stay behind, even in your place. I've always had a longing to spend a winter there visiting my sister Isa, and my cousins Elsie and Molly. Cal and Art say, perhaps one or both of them may go on to spend two or three weeks this winter; and in that case I shall go along."

"Perhaps we may go at the same time, and what a nice party we will make!" said Zoe. "There," glancing from the window, "I see my husband coming, and I want to run out and speak to him. Will you excuse me a moment?" and scarcely waiting for a reply, she ran gayly away.

Meeting Edward on the threshold, "I have no lessons to recite this time," she said; "but you are not to scold, because I've been prevented from studying by company. Ella is spending the day with me."

"Ah! I hope you have had a pleasant time together--not too much troubled by fear of a lecture from the old tyrant who bears your lessons," he said laughingly, as he bent his head to press a kiss of ardent affection upon the rosy lips she held up to him.

"No," she laughed in return: "I'm not a bit afraid of him."

Zoe had feared the hours when Edward was unavoidably absent from her side would be very lonely now while the other members of the Ion family were away; but she did not find it so; her studies, and the work of making various pretty things for Christmas gifts, keeping her very busy.

And, when he was with her, time flew on very rapid wings. She had grown quite industrious, and generally plied her needle in the evenings while he read or talked to her. But occasionally he would take the embroidery, or whatever it was, out of her hands, and toss it aside, saying she was trying her eyes by such constant use; and, besides, he wanted her undivided attention.

And she would resign herself to her fate, nothing loath to be drawn close to his side, or to a seat upon his knee, to be petted and caressed like a child, which, indeed, he persisted in calling her.

This was when they were alone: but very frequently they had company to spend the day, afternoon, or evening; for Ion had always been noted for its hospitality; and scarcely a week passed in which they did not pay a visit to the Oaks, the Laurels, the Pines, or Roselands.

Also a brisk correspondence was carried on with the absent members of the family. And Zoe's housekeeping cares and duties were just enough to be an agreeable variety in her occupations: every day, too, when the weather permitted, she walked or rode out with her husband.

And so the time passed quite delightfully for the first two months after the departure of the Viamede party.

It was a disappointment that Edward found himself too busy to make the hoped-for trip to Viamede at Christmas-time; yet Zoe did not fret over it, and really enjoyed the holidays extremely, giving and receiving numerous handsome presents, and, with Edward's assistance, making it a merry and happy time for the servants and other dependants, as well as for the relatives and friends still in the neighborhood.

The necessary shopping, with Edward to help her, and the packing and sending off of the Christmas-boxes to Viamede, to the college-boys,--Herbert and Harold,--and numerous other relatives and friends far and near, Zoe thought altogether the most delightful business she had ever taken in hand.

A very merry, happy little woman she was through all those weeks and months, Edward as devoted as any lover, and as gay and light-hearted as herself.

"Zoe, darling," Edward said one day at dinner, "I must drive over into our little village of Union--by the way, do you know that we have more than a hundred towns of that name in these United States?"

"No, I did not know, or suspect, that we had nearly so many," she interrupted, laughing: "no wonder letters go astray when people are not particular to give the names of both county and State. But what were you going to say about driving over there?"

"I must see a gentleman on business, who will be there to meet the five-o'clock train, and leave on it; and, in order to be certain of seeing him, I must be there at least fifteen or twenty minutes before it is due. Shall I have the pleasure of my wife's company in the carriage? I have ordered it to be at the door by fifteen or twenty minutes past four, which will give us plenty of time, as it is an easy matter to drive from here to Union in ten minutes."

"Thank you," she said. "I accept the invitation with pleasure, and promise to be ready at the minute."

"You are the best little woman about that," he returned, with an appreciative look and smile. "I don't remember that you have ever yet kept me waiting, when told beforehand at what time I intended to start."

"Of course not," she said, with a pleased laugh; "because I was afraid, if I did, I shouldn't be invited so often: and I'm always so glad to go with you."

"Not gladder than I am to have you," he said, with a very lover-like glance and smile. "I always enjoy your society, and am always proud to show my friends and acquaintances what a dear little wife I have. I dare say I'm looked upon as a very fortunate fellow in that respect, and sometimes envied on account of having drawn such a prize in the matrimonial lottery."

They had left the table while he spoke, and with the last words he passed his arm round her waist.

"Dear me, Ned, what a gallant speech!" she said, flushing with delight; "you deserve a reward:" and she held up her face for a kiss.

"I am overpaid," he said, when he had bestowed it.

"In spite of the coin being such as you have a right to help yourself to whenever you will?" she returned with a merry laugh. "O Ned, my lover-husband!" she added, laying her head on his breast, "I am so happy in belonging to you, and I can never love you enough for all your goodness to me!"

"Darling, are you not equally good and loving to me?" he asked in tender tones, and holding her close.

"But I owe every thing to you," she responded with emotion. "If you had not come to my aid when my dear father was taken from me, what would have become of me, a mere child, without a near relative in the world, alone and destitute in a foreign land?"

"But I loved you, dearest. I sought my own happiness, as well as yours, in asking you to be my wife. So you need never feel burdened by the idea that you are under any special obligation to me, to whom you are the very sunshine of life."

"Dear Ned, how very kind in you to say so," she responded, gazing with ardent affection into his eyes; "but it isn't burdensome to be under obligation to you, any more than it is a trial to be ruled by you," she added, with playful tenderness; "and I love to think of all your goodness to me."

It was five minutes past four by Zoe's watch, and she just about to go to her dressing-room to put on her hat and cloak, when visitors were announced,--some ladies who always made a lengthened call at Ion; so she at once resigned herself to the loss of her anticipated drive with her husband.

"O Ned!" she whispered in a hasty, vexed aside, "you'll have to go alone."

"Yes, dear," he returned; "but I'll try to get back in time to take you a drive in the other direction."

They stepped forward, and greeted their guests with hospitable cordiality.

They were friends whose visits were prized and enjoyed, though their coming just at this time was causing Zoe a real disappointment. However, Edward's promise of a drive with him at a later hour so far made amends for it, that she could truthfully express pleasure in seeing her guests.

Edward chatted with them for a few moments, then, excusing himself on the plea of business that could not be deferred, left them to be entertained by Zoe, while he entered his waiting carriage, and went on his way to the village, where he expected to meet his business acquaintance.