Chapter X. Lulu's Sentence.
 

Pending Capt. Raymond's verdict in regard to Lulu, life at Ion fell into the old grooves, for her as well as the other members of the family.

Studies were taken up again by all the children, including Evelyn Leland, where they had been dropped; Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter giving instruction, and hearing recitations, as formerly.

This interval of waiting lasted for over two months, a longer period of silence on the part of the husband and father than usual; but, as they learned afterward, letters had been delayed in both going and coming.

Capt. Raymond, in his good ship, far out on the ocean, was wearying for news from home, when his pressing want was most opportunely supplied by a passing vessel.

She had a heavy mail for the man-of-war, and a generous share of it fell to her commander.

He was soon seated in the privacy of his own cabin, with Violet's letter open in his hand. It was sure to receive his attention before that of any other correspondent.

With a swelling heart he read of the sore trial she had been passing through, in the severe illness of Gracie and the babe. Deeply he regretted not having been there to lighten her burdens with his sympathy and help in the nursing; and though, at the time of writing, she was able to report that the little sufferers were considered out of danger, he could not repress a fear, amid his thankfulness, that there might be a relapse, or the dread disease might leave behind it, as it so often does, some lasting ill effect.

He lingered over the letter, re-reading passages here and there, but at length laid it aside, and gave his attention to others bearing the same post-mark.

There was a short one from Max, which stirred his heart with fatherly love and pride in his boy; that came next after Violet's: then he opened Lulu's bulky packet.

He sighed deeply as he laid it down after a careful perusal, during which his face had grown stern and troubled, and, rising, paced the cabin to and fro, his hands in his pockets, his head bowed on his breast, which again and again heaved with a deep-drawn sigh.

"What I am to do with that child, I do not know," he groaned within himself. "If I could make a home for her, and have her constantly with me, I might perhaps be able to train her up aright, and help her to learn the hard lesson how to rule her own spirit.

"I could not do that, however, without resigning from the service; and that would be giving up my only means of earning a livelihood for her as well as the others and myself. That is not to be thought of: nor could I forsake the service without heartfelt regret, were I a millionnaire."

The captain was a man of prayer. Some moments were spent on his knees, asking guidance and help for himself, and a change of heart for his wayward little daughter; then, again seating himself at his writing-table, he opened yet another letter, one whose superscription he recognized as that of a business agent in one of our far Western States.

His face lighted up as he read, and a text flashed across his mind: "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."

That sheet of paper was the bearer of most strange, unlooked-for tidings: a tract of wild land, bought by him for a trifle years before, and long considered of little or no value, had suddenly become--by the discovery that it contained rich mineral deposits, and the consequent opening of mines, and laying out of a town upon it--worth many thousands, perhaps millions of money.

And he--Capt. Raymond--was the undisputed owner of it all,--of wealth beyond his wildest dreams. He could scarce believe it: it seemed impossible. Yet it was undoubtedly true; and a bright vision of a lovely home, with wife and children about him, rose up before his mind's eye, and filled him with joy and gratitude to the Giver of all good.

He would send in his resignation, and realize the vision at the earliest possible moment.

But stay! could he now, in the prime of life, forsake the service for which he had been educated, and to which he had already given many of his best years? Could he be content to bid a final farewell to the glorious old ocean so long his home, so beautiful and lovable in its varied moods, and settle down upon the unchanging land, quite reconciled to its sameness? Would he not find in himself an insatiable longing to be again upon the ever restless sea, treading once more the deck of his gallant ship, monarch of her little world, director of all her movements?

It was not a question to be decided in a moment; it required time for thought; a careful consideration of seemingly conflicting duties; a careful balancing of inclinations and interests, and for seeking counsel of his best, his almighty and all-wise, Friend.

At Ion, as the summer heats approached, the question was mooted, "Where shall we spend the next two or three months?" After some discussion, it was decided that all should go North to Cape May for a time: afterward they would break up into smaller parties, and scatter to different points of interest, as they might fancy.

Lester and Elsie Leland would spend a portion of the season at Cliff Cottage,--Evelyn's old home,--taking her and Lulu with them.

Edward and Zoe, too, and probably some of the others, would visit there.

All necessary arrangements had been made, and they were to start the next day, when at last letters were received from Capt. Raymond.

Lulu's heart beat very fast at sight of them. She had been full of delight at the prospect of her Northern trip, especially the visit to be paid with Evelyn to her former home; the latter having in their private talks dwelt much upon its many attractions, and the life she had led there in the sweet companionship of her beloved father.

"Would there be any thing in papa's letter to prevent the carrying out of the cherished plans?" Lulu asked herself as, in fear and trembling, she watched Violet opening with eager fingers the packet handed her at the breakfast-table.

Max and Gracie, too, looked on with interest quite equal to Lulu's; but in their case there was only joyous expectancy unmingled with dread.

"There is something for each of us, as usual," Violet said presently, with a smiling glance from one to another,--"Max, Lulu, Gracie, and myself."

Lulu received hers,--only a folded slip of paper,--and, asking to be excused, stole away to the privacy of her own room to read it.

"MY DEAR LITTLE DAUGHTER [it ran],--The story of your misconduct has given a very sad heart to the father who loves you so dearly. I forgive you, my child, but can no longer let you remain at Ion to be a trouble and torment to our kind friends there. I shall remove you elsewhere as soon as I can settle upon a suitable place. In the mean time, if you are truly sorry for the past, you will, I am sure, earnestly strive to be patient, submissive and obedient to those who have you in charge.

"Your loving father,

"L. RAYMOND."

The paper fell from Lulu's hand, and fluttered to the floor, as she folded her arms upon the sill of the window beside which she had seated herself, and rested her head upon them.

"And that's all; just that I am to go away, nobody knows where; to be separated from Max and Gracie and every one else that I care for: and when papa comes home, maybe he won't visit me at all; or, if he does, it will be for only a little bit, because, of course, he will want to spend most of his leave where the others are. Oh, dear! oh, dear! I wish I'd been good! I wish I'd been born sweet-tempered and patient, like Gracie. I wonder if papa will ever, ever let me come back!

"But perhaps grandpa Dinsmore and grandma Elsie will never invite me again. I wouldn't in their place, I'm sure."

The captain's letter to his wife made the same announcement of his intentions in regard to Lulu; adding, that, for the present he would have her disposed of as should seem best to them--Mr. Dinsmore, his daughter, and Violet herself--upon consultation together; he had entire confidence, he said, in their wisdom and their kind feeling toward his wayward, troublesome, yet still beloved child; so that he could trust her to their tender mercies without hesitation.

He went on to say (and, ah, with what a smile of exultation and delight those words were penned!), that "there was a possibility that he might be with them again in the fall, long enough to find a suitable home for Lulu; and, in the mean time, would they kindly seize any opportunity that presented itself, to make inquiries in regard to such a place?"

Violet read that portion of his letter aloud to her mother and grandfather, then asked if they saw in it any thing necessitating a change in their plans for the summer.

They did not, and were glad for Lulu's sake that it was so.

Lulu, in the solitude of her room, was anxiously considering the same question, and presently went with it to her mamma, taking her father's note in her hand.

Finding Violet alone in her dressing-room, giving the captain's missive another perusal, "Mamma Vi," she said, "what--what does papa tell you about me?" She spoke hesitatingly, her head drooping, her cheeks hot with blushes. "I mean, what does he say is to be done with me?"

Violet pitied the child from the bottom of her heart. "I wish, dear," she said, "that I could tell you he consented to mamma's request to let us try you here a little longer; but--doesn't he say something about it in his note to you?"

"Yes, mamma Vi," Lulu answered chokingly: "he says he can't let me stay here any longer, to be such a trouble and torment to you all, and will put me somewhere else as soon as he can find a suitable place; but he doesn't say what is to be done with me just now."

"No, dear: he leaves that to us,--grandpa, mamma, and me,--and we have decided that no change in the arrangements for the summer need be made."

"O mamma Vi! how good and kind you all are!" cried Lulu, in a burst of irrestrainable gratitude; and her tears began to fall.

Violet was quite moved by the child's emotion. "You have been a dear good girl of late, and we feel glad to take you with us," she said, drawing her to her side, and giving her an affectionate kiss. "Your father says there is a possibility that he may be at home with us again for a while, in the fall; he expects to settle you somewhere then: but if you continue to be so good, perhaps he may relent, and allow you still to have a home with us. I am quite sure that such a child as you have been for the last two or three months, would be heartily welcome to us all."

"It's ever so good in you to say that, mamma Vi," returned the little girl, furtively wiping her eyes; "and I'm determined to try with all my might. I'd want to do it to please papa, even if I knew there wasn't one bit of hope of his letting me stay. I don't think there is much, because, if he decides a thing positively, he's very apt to stick to it."

"Yes, I know; but he will doubtless take into account that circumstances alter cases," Violet answered lightly, and with a pleasant smile. "And at all events, you may be quite sure that whatever small influence I may possess will be exerted in your behalf."

"I am sure you have a great deal, mamma Vi; and I thank you very much for that promise," Lulu said, turning to go.

But at that instant a quick, boyish step sounded in the hall without; and Max's voice at the door asked, "Mamma Vi, may I come in?"

"Yes," she said; and in he rushed, with a face full of excitement. "Lu, I've been looking everywhere for you!" he cried. "What do you think? just see that!" and he held up a bit of paper, waving it triumphantly in the air, while he capered round the room in an ecstasy of delight.

"What is it?" asked Lulu. "Nothing but a strip of paper, as far as I can see."

"That's because you haven't had a chance to examine it," he said, laughing with pleasure. "It's a check with papa's name to it, and it's good for fifty dollars. Now, do you wonder I'm delighted?"

"No, not if it's yours. Did he give it to you?"

"Half of it; the other half's to be divided between you and Gracie; and it's just for pocket-money for this summer."

"Oh, that is nice!" exclaimed Violet. "I am very glad for you all."

Lulu looked astounded for an instant; then the tears welled up into her eyes as she said falteringly, "I--don't deserve it; and--I thought papa was so vexed with me, I should never have expected he'd give me a single cent."

"He's just a splendid father, that's what he is!" cried Max, with another bound of exultant delight. "He says that if we go to the mountains, and grandpa thinks I can be trusted with a gun, I'm to have one of the best that can be bought; and, if I'm a splendid boy all the time, when he comes home I shall have a fine pony of my own."

Then sobering down, "I'm afraid, though, that he can't afford all that; and I shall tell him so, and that I don't want him to spend too much of his hard-earned pay on his only son."

"Good boy!" Violet said with an approving smile; "but I know it gives your father far more pleasure to lay out money for his children than to spend it on himself."

Still, she wondered within herself, for a moment, if her husband had in some way become a little richer than he was when last he described his circumstances to her. Had he had a legacy from some lately deceased relative or friend? (surely no one could be more deserving of such remembrance) or an increase of pay? But no, he would surely have told her if either of those things had happened; and with that thought, the subject was dismissed from her mind.

He had not told her of his good fortune--the sudden, unexpected change in his circumstances: he wanted to keep it secret till he could see the shining of her eyes, the lighting up of her face, as she learned that their long separations were a thing of the past; that in future they would have a home of their own, and be as constantly together as Lester and Elsie, Edward and Zoe.

But his mind was full of plans for making her and his children happy by means of his newly acquired wealth, and he had not been able to refrain from some attempt to do so at once.

"I don't want papa to waste his money on me, either," Lulu said. "I'd rather never have any pocket-money than have him do without a single thing to give it to me."

"Dear child, I know you would," Violet said. "But take what he has sent, and be happy with it; that is what he desires you to do; and I think you need have no fear that he will want for any thing because of having sent it to you."

"Let me see that, won't you, Maxie?" Lulu asked, following her brother from the room.

He handed her the check, and she examined it curiously.

"It has your name on it," she remarked.

"Yes: it is drawn payable to me," returned Max, assuming an air of importance.

"But," said Lulu, still examining it critically, "how can you turn it into money?"

"Oh! I know all about that," laughed Max. "Papa explained it to me the last time he was at home: I just write my name on the back of that, and take it to a bank, and they'll give me the fifty dollars."

"And then you'll keep half, and divide the other half between Gracie and me. That will be twelve dollars and fifty cents for each of us, won't it?"

"No, it isn't to be divided equally: papa says you are to have fifteen dollars, and Gracie ten,--because you are older than she is, you know."

"But she's better, and deserves more than I," said Lulu. "Anyway, she shall have half, if she wants it."

"No, she doesn't," said Max. "I told her about it; and she thinks ten dollars, to do just what she pleases with, is a great fortune."

"When will you get it, Max?"

"What,--the money? Not till after we go North. Grandpa Dinsmore says it will be best to wait till then, as we won't care to spend any of it here. O Lu!--you are going along, I suppose?--what does papa say about--about what you told him in your last letter?"

"You may read for yourself, Max," replied Lulu, putting the note into his hand.

She watched his face while he read, and knew by its expression that he was sorry for her, even before he said so, as he handed it back.

"But perhaps papa may change his mind, if you keep on being as good as you have been ever since you left that school," he added. "But you haven't told me yet whether you are still to go North with us, or not."

"Yes: mamma Vi says I am. She says papa says in his letter to her, that they may do what they think best with me for the present: and they will take me along. It's good in them, isn't it?"

To that Max gave a hearty assent. "They are the kindest people in the world," he said.