Chapter XXI.
 
"Then all was jollity, Feasting and mirth, light wantonness and
laughter."

"It seems nice and warm here," remarked Lulu; "but," glancing about, "I don't see any fire."

Her father pointed to a register. "There is a cellar underneath, and a furnace in it," he said. "I thought that the safest way to heat these rooms for the use of very little people. I do not want to expose you to any danger of setting yourselves on fire."

"It's getting a little dark," remarked Grace.

"Yes," he said. "We will go in now. It is time for you to be dressed for the evening."

"Papa, who is to tell us what to wear,--you, or mamma Vi?" asked Lulu, as they pursued their way back to the house.

"You may wear your cream-colored cashmere with the cherry trimmings; Gracie, hers with the blue," he replied.

"That's just what I wanted you to say, papa! I like those dresses," remarked Lulu with satisfaction.

"That is well: and Gracie, of course, is pleased; for she never objects to any thing papa or mamma wishes her to do," he said, with a loving glance down into the little girl's face.

"'Course not, papa; 'cause I know you and mamma always know best," she said, her blue eyes smiling up into his.

"And I mean to try to be like her in that, papa," Lulu said with unwonted humility.

"I hope so: I have no fault to find with your behavior of late," he returned kindly.

They passed into the house, and in the hall met Christine and Alma.

"Ah! you have come, my good girls?" the captain said to them with a pleased look. "Jane," to the girl who had admitted them, "show them to their rooms."

Christine had come to assume her duties as housekeeper at Woodburn; Alma was to make her home there while still continuing to sew for the families at Ion and Fairview--an arrangement which suited the sisters admirably.

"Thanks, sir: it ees one grand place you haf here," said Christine. "We shall be very pleased to haf so nice a home."

"I hope it will prove a happy one to you both," he returned kindly. Then, as they followed Jane to the rear of the mansion,--

"Now, children," he said, "make haste with your dressing."

"Yes, sir," they replied, hurrying up the broad stairway with willing feet.

At its head they met Agnes, their mamma's maid.

"I'se to help yo' dress, Miss Lu and Miss Gracie," she said. "Miss Wi'let tole me so, and I'se laid out yo' things on yo' beds."

"What things? What dress for me?" asked Lulu sharply.

"De cream-colored cashmere, what Miss Wi'let corrected me to."

Lulu laughed. "Directed, you mean, Agnes. You may tie my sash when I'm ready. I can do all the rest myself," she said, passing on into her bedroom, while Grace skipped gayly into hers.

"Mamma's very good to send you, Agnes," she said; "and you may please dress me as fast as you can, 'cause papa told us to make haste."

Grace was a favorite with Agnes as with all the servants at Ion.

"Ya'as, I'll dress yo' up fine, Miss Gracie, and make yo' look putty as a pink," she said, beginning her task.

"Lots ob folks comin' to-night, honey, and grand doin's gwine on in de kitchen and de dinin'-room. Dere's a long table sot out in de bigges' dinin'-room, and heaps and heaps ob splendiferous china dishes, wid fruits and flowahs painted onto 'em, and silverware bright as de sun, and glass dishes dat sparkle like Miss Elsie's di'mon's; and in de kitchen dey's cookin' turkeys and chickens, and wild game ob warious kinds, and oysters in warious styles; 'sides all de pastry and cakes and fruits and ices, and--oh, I cayn't begin to tell yo' all de good things the captain has perwided! dere wasn't never nuffin' grander at Ion or Wiamede or de Oaks, or any ob de grand places belongin' to our fam'lies."

Grace was a highly interested listener.

"Oh," she said, "I want to see the table when it's all set and the good things on it! I wonder if papa will let me eat any of them."

"Maybe," said Agnes; "but you know, Miss Grace, yo's sickly,--leastways, not bery strong,--and de doctah doan' let you eat rich things."

"No," returned the little girl, sighing slightly, "but I do have a good many nice things; and I'd rather eat plain victuals than be weak and sick. Wouldn't you, Agnes?"

"Yaas, I reckon. Dere, you's done finished, Miss Gracie, and looks sweet as a rosebud."

"So she does," said Lulu, coming hurrying in from her room, arrayed in her pretty cashmere, and with a wide, rich sash-ribbon in her hand. "Now, Agnes, if you will please tie my sash, I'll be 'done finished' too."

"O Lu!" exclaimed Grace in loving admiration, "I'm sure you must look twice as sweet and pretty as I do."

Their father opened the door, and stepped in just in time to hear her words, and, glancing smilingly from one to the other, said, "To papa's eyes, both his dear little girls look sweet and lovable. Agnes, their appearance does you credit. Now, my darlings, we will go down to tea, for there is the bell."

"Have the folks come, papa?" asked Grace, putting her hand into his.

"No, daughter: they will probably not begin to come for an hour or so."

"Then, are we going to have two suppers?"

"Yes, one for ourselves--the children especially--at the usual hour, and a later one for the company. That last will be too late, and too heavy, for your weak digestion."

"But not for Max's and mine, will it, papa?" questioned Lulu.

"Yes, I fear so."

"But we are strong and healthy."

"And I wish to keep you so," he said pleasantly; "but you may rest assured that I shall not deny you any enjoyment I think it safe to grant you. Now sit down and be quiet till the blessing has been asked,"--for they had reached the dining-room, and found Violet and Max there waiting for them.

Lulu had overheard a good deal of the glowing account of the coming feast to which Agnes had treated Grace, and, when at liberty to speak again, asked, in a rather discontented tone, if she and Max were not to have any share in the good supper being prepared for the expected guests.

Instead of answering directly, the captain turned to his son, and asked, "Max, what do you think of this supper?"

"It's good enough for a king, sir," returned the lad heartily, glancing over the table as he spoke,--"the nicest of bread and butter, plenty of rich milk and cream, canned peaches and plums, and splendid gingerbread. Why, Lu, what more could you ask?"

Lulu only blushed and hung her head in reply.

"I think it is a meal to be thankful for," remarked Violet cheerily; "but, my dear, you will let them share in some of the lighter refreshments provided for the guests, won't you?"

"Yes, I intend they shall," replied her husband. "Even Gracie can, I think, eat some ice-cream with safety."

"Thank you, papa: I'll be satisfied with that, if you don't think it is best for me to have any thing else," Lulu said, recovering her spirits.

They had scarcely left the table when the guests began to arrive, those from Ion and Fairview coming first.

"Mamma, dearest mamma! welcome, a thousand times welcome, to our home!" exclaimed Violet, embracing her mother with ardent affection.

"I wish it were yours also, mother," the captain said: "there could be no more welcome inmate."

There were cordial, affectionate greetings for each of the others also: then, when outdoor garments had been laid aside, all were conducted over the house, to be shown the improvements already made, and told of those still in contemplation.

It was a great delight to Lulu and Grace to exhibit their pretty rooms to Evelyn and Rosie, and hear their expressions of surprise and admiration; and the pleasure was repeated several times, as the little folks from the Laurels, the Oaks, and the Pines arrived, and in succession went the same round.

"I am pleased with all I have seen, Vi; but this room is especially charming to me," grandma Elsie said, when Violet led her a second time into the nursery, the rest of the Ion party having passed on down to the parlors. "Baby should be a merry, happy child, if pleasant, cheerful surroundings can make her so."

"I trust she will, mamma," returned the young mother, leading the way to the dainty crib where the little one lay sweetly sleeping.

Elsie bent over the little form, gazing at the sweet baby face with eyes brimful of motherly love and tenderness.

"The lovely, precious darling!" she murmured softly. "I am so rejoiced, so thankful, to see her looking almost herself again!"

"As we are," said Violet, in low, tremulous tones. "Her father is extremely fond of her, mamma, as he is of all his children. I think he has no favorite among them, but loves each one devotedly."

"As I do mine," Elsie responded, a bright, sweet smile lighting up her face. "I love you, my Vi, and all your brothers and sisters, very dearly,--each with a love differing somewhat in kind from that given to the others, but not at all in intensity."

They lingered a moment longer, watching the young sleeper: then with a parting injunction to the nurse to be very careful of her, not leaving her alone for an instant, they went down-stairs again, and rejoined the rest of the company.

Everybody had come, the last party of children just descended from the inspection of the rooms of Max and his sisters.

"Now, have we seen positively every thing?" asked Rosie Travilla.

"Why, no!" cried Max, as with sudden recollection. Then hurrying to his father, who was talking on the other side of the room to Dr. Conly, and Mr. Horace Dinsmore of the Oaks, he stood waiting respectfully for an opportunity to speak.

The gentlemen paused in their conversations and the captain asked, "What is it, my son?"

"We haven't shown the workroom or the playroom, papa."

"Ah, sure enough! We must have them lighted first. Send Scipio out to put a lamp in each. Then the ladies' wraps will have to be brought down, for they would be in danger of taking cold going even that short distance without."

"I'll attend to it all, sir," Max rejoined with cheerful alacrity, and hastened away to do so.

In a few minutes all was in readiness.

Max, announcing the fact to his father, and the company in general, said dubiously, "I'm afraid we can't go all at once: the rooms aren't big enough to take in so many."

"So we will go in divisions," said Mr. Dinsmore. "There are thirty of us--not counting the Woodburn family proper: we will make five divisions, six in each, in addition to the guide and exhibiter. Does everybody consent?"

"Yes, yes," was heard on every side.

Then ensued a merry time forming the divisions, and deciding the order of precedence; for every one was in mirthful mood.

It was all settled at last. The visits of inspection were made: everybody agreed in praising all they saw, and congratulating Max and his sisters on the good fortune that had befallen them.

The rest of the evening passed off very pleasantly. The feast was enjoyed, every dish being pronounced a success: the Woodburn children were satisfied with the share of it allowed them,--all the more, perhaps, that a like care was exercised by the parents and guardians of the other young folks in respect to their indulgence of appetite.

Grace bade good-night, and went to her nest at nine o'clock, a cheerful, happy child; but, as the party broke up at ten, Max and Lulu were allowed to remain up to see them off.

Lulu had taken an early opportunity to give the invitation for the next day to Evelyn, and it was joyfully accepted, "uncle Lester" giving ready permission.

"You'll come as soon as lessons are over at Ion, won't you?" asked Lulu in parting.

"Yes, you may be sure I'll come the first minute I can," Eva answered gayly. "I expect to have a lovely time with you in those beautiful rooms, and I've had a lovely time to-night. Good-by," giving her friend a hearty embrace.

"Well, children," the captain said at breakfast the next morning, "remember, I expect every one of you to be in the schoolroom at five minutes before nine, and to begin studying exactly at the hour."

"Every thing to be done with naval precision, I suppose," remarked Violet, giving him a bright half-saucy smile; "that being, I understand, about on a par with military."

"Yes," he said, smiling in return, "that is to be the rule in this house for every one but my wife: she is to follow her own sweet will in all things."

"Ah!" she responded gayly, "I fear you do not realize what a rash promise you are making; or, rather, how rash you are in according such a privilege."

"It is hardly that," he answered: "acknowledging a right, would be my way of expressing it."

They had left the table and the breakfast-room, and were alone at the moment, the children having scattered to their work or play.

"How good you are to me, my dear husband!" she said, looking up fondly into his face as they stood together before the parlor fire.

"Not a whit better than I ought to be, my darling," he responded, bending to kiss the sweet, upturned face. "I have taken you from a tender mother and a most luxurious home, and it must be my care to see that you lose nothing by the transplantation--sweet and delicate flower that you are!"

"In my place, Zoe would call you an old flatterer," she returned with a light laugh, but a tell-tale moisture gathering in her eyes.

"And what do you call me, my Violet?" he asked, putting his arm about her, and drawing her close to his side.

"The kindest, best, dearest of husbands, the noblest of men!"

"Ah, my dear! who is the flatterer now?" he laughed. "I'm afraid you and I might be accused of forming a mutual admiration society."

"Well, what if we do? isn't it the very best sort of a society for husband and wife to form? Levis, am I to have no duties in this house? none of the cares and labors that the mistress of an establishment is usually expected to assume?"

"You shall have no care of housekeeping that I can save you from," he said. "I undertake that, with Christine as my head assistant; though you, of course, are mistress, with the right to give orders and directions whenever you will--to housekeeper, servants, children, even to your husband if you see fit," he concluded with a humorous look and smile.

"The idea of my ordering you whom I have promised to obey," she returned merrily. "But I'm afraid you are going to spoil me. Am I to have nothing to do?"

"You are to do exactly what you please," he said: "the care and training of our little one, aside from all the assistance to be had from servants, will furnish you with no small amount of employment."

"But you will help me with that?"

"Certainly, love; I intend to be as good and faithful a father to her as I know how to be: but you are her mother, and will do a mother's part by her, I know. Then, there are wifely duties which you would not wish to delegate to any one else."

"No, never!" she cried. "O my dear husband! it is the greatest pleasure in life to do any thing I can to add to your comfort and happiness."

"I know it, sweet wife. Ah!" glancing at his watch, "I must tear myself away now from your dear society, and attend to the duties of employer and teacher. I have some directions to give both employees and children."

Grace ran and opened the schoolroom door at the sound of her father's approaching footsteps.

"See, papa," she said, "we are all here, waiting for you to come, and tell us what lessons to learn."

"Yes, you are good, punctual children," he replied, glancing at the pretty little clock on the mantel; "for it still wants five minutes to nine."

"Papa, I know what lessons to learn, of course," remarked Lulu; "but the others are waiting for you to tell them."

"Yes. I shall examine Max first," the captain said, seating himself at his writing-table. "Bring your books here, my son."

"Are you dreadfully frightened, Maxie? very afraid of your new teacher?" Lulu asked laughingly as her brother obeyed the order.

"I don't expect to faint with fright," he returned; "for I've a notion he's pretty fond of me."

"Of you and of all his pupils," the captain said. "Lulu, you may take out your books, and begin to study."

When the tasks had been assigned to each, "Now children," he said, "I am going to leave you for a while. I can do so without fear that you will take advantage of my absence to idle away your time; for I know that you are honorable and trustworthy, also obedient. I have seldom known any one of you to disobey an order from me."

"Thank you, papa," Max said, answering for both himself and sisters, and coloring with pleasure as he spoke. "We'll try to deserve your praise and your confidence. But are we to consider ourselves forbidden to speak at all to each other while you are gone?"

"No, not entirely; but do not engage in unnecessary talk, to the neglect of your studies."

So saying, he went out and left them.

Returning exactly at the expiration of the first hour for study, he found them all busily at work.

He commended their industry, and gave permission for five minutes' rest.

They were prompt to avail themselves of it, and gathered about him full of gleeful chat, the girls seating themselves one on each knee, Max standing close at his side.

School was a decided success that day, and neither teacher nor pupils saw any reason to regret the establishment of the new order of things.

Evelyn came soon after they were dismissed, spent the afternoon and evening, and, when she left, averred that it had been the most delightful visit she had ever paid.