Elsie at Nantucket by Martha Finley
"My Father's house on high, Home of my soul, how near At times to Faith's discerning eye Thy pearly gates appear."
Harold and his cousins had scarcely more than fully recovered from the effects of their almost drowning when Captain Raymond again received orders to join his ship, and it was decided that the time had come for all to leave the island.
Bob and Betty received letters from their brother and sister in Louisiana, giving them a cordial invitation to their homes, Dick proposing that Bob should study medicine with him, with a view to becoming his partner, and Molly giving Betty a cordial invitation from herself and husband to take up her residence at Magnolia Hall.
With the approval of their uncle and other relatives, these kind offers were promptly accepted.
Letters came about the same time from Lansdale, Ohio, inviting the Dinsmores, Travillas, and Raymonds to attend the celebration of Miss Stanhope's one hundredth birthday, which was now near at hand.
Mr. Harry Duncan wrote for her, saying that she had a great longing to see her nephews and nieces once more, and to make the acquaintance of Violet's husband and his children.
The captain could not go, but it was decided that all the others should. The necessary arrangements were quickly made, and the whole party left the island together, not without some regret and a resolution to return at some future day to enjoy its refreshing breezes and other delights during the hot season.
On reaching New York they parted with the captain, whose vessel lay in that harbor.
Bob and Betty left them farther on in the journey, and the remainder of the little company travelled on to Lansdale, arriving the day before the important occasion which called them there.
Mrs. Dinsmore's brother, Richard Allison, who, my readers may remember, had married Elsie's old friend, Lottie King, shortly after the close of the war of the rebellion, had taken up his abode in Lansdale years ago.
Both he and his sister May's husband, Harry Duncan, had prospered greatly. Each had a large, handsome dwelling adjacent to Miss Stanhope's cottage, in which she still kept house, having never yet seen the time when she could bring herself to give up the comfort of living in a home of her own.
She had attached and capable servants, and amid her multitude of nieces and grand-nieces, there was almost always one or more who was willing--nay, glad, to relieve her of the care and labor of housekeeping, taking pleasure in making life's pathway smooth and easy to the aged feet, and her last days bright and happy.
She still had possession of all her faculties, was very active for one of her age, and felt unabated interest in the welfare of kindred and friends. She had by no means outlived her usefulness or grown querulous with age, but was ever the same bright, cheerful, happy Christian that she had been in earlier years.
The birthday party was to be held under her own roof, and a numerous company of near and dear relatives were gathering there and at the houses of the Duncans and Allisons.
Richard and Lottie, Harry and May were at the depot to meet the train on which our travellers arrived.
It was an altogether joyous meeting, after years of separation.
The whole party repaired at once to Miss Stanhope's cottage, to greet and chat a little with her and others who had come before to the gathering; prominently among them Mr. and Mrs. Keith from Pleasant Plains, Indiana, with their daughters, Mrs. Landreth, Mrs. Ormsby, and Annis, who was still unmarried.
Very glad indeed were Mrs. Keith and Mr. Dinsmore, Rose and Mildred, Elsie and Annis to meet and renew the old intimacies of former days.
Time had wrought many changes since we first saw them together, more than thirty years ago. Mr. and Mrs. Keith were now old and infirm, yet bright and cheery, looking hopefully forward to that better country, that Celestial City, toward which they were fast hastening, and with no unwilling steps. Dr. and Mrs. Landreth and Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore had changed from youthful married couples into elderly people, while Elsie and Annis had left childhood far behind, and were now--the one a cheery, happy maiden lady, whom aged parents leaned upon as their stay and staff, brothers and sisters dearly loved, and nieces and nephews doated upon; the other a mother whom her children blessed for her faithful love and care, and delighted to honor.
This renewal of intercourse, and the reminiscences of early days which it called up, were very delightful to both.
The gathering of relatives and friends of course formed far too large a company for all to lodge in one house, but the three--Aunt Wealthy's and those of the Duncans and Allisons--accommodated them comfortably for the few days of their stay, or rather the nights, for during the day they were very apt to assemble in the parlors and porches of the cottage.
It was there Elsie and her younger children and Violet and hers took up their quarters, by invitation, for the time of the visit.
"But where is the captain, your husband?" inquired Aunt Wealthy of Violet on giving her a welcoming embrace. "I wanted particularly to see him, and he should not have neglected the invitation of a woman a hundred years old."
"Dear auntie, I assure you he did so only by compulsion; he would have come gladly if Uncle Sam had not ordered him off in another direction," Violet answered, with pretty playfulness of look and tone.
"Ah, then, we must excuse him. But you brought the children, I hope. I want to see them."
"Yes; this is his son," Violet said, motioning Max to approach; "and here are the little girls," drawing Lulu and Grace forward.
The old lady shook hands with and kissed them, saying, "It will be something for you to remember, dears, that you have seen a woman who has lived a hundred years in this world, and can testify that goodness and mercy have followed her all the days of her life. Trust in the Lord, my children, and you, even if you should live as long as I have, will be able to bear the same testimony that He is faithful to His promises.
"I say the same to you, too, Rosie and Walter, my Elsie's children," she added, turning to them with a tenderly affectionate look and smile.
They gazed upon her with awe for a moment; then Rosie said, "You don't look so very old, Aunt Wealthy; not older than some ladies of eighty that I've seen."
"Perhaps not older than I did when I was only eighty, my dear; but I am glad to know that I am a good deal nearer home now than I was then," Miss Stanhope responded, her face growing bright with joyous anticipation.
"Are you really glad to know you must die before very long?" asked Max, in wonder and surprise.
"Wouldn't it be strange if I were not?" she asked; "heaven is my home.
"'There my best friends, my kindred dwell, There God my Saviour reigns.'
"I live in daily, hourly longing expectation of the call."
"And yet you are not weary of life? you are happy here, are you not, dear Aunt Wealthy?" asked Mrs. Keith.
"Yes, Marcia; I am happy among my kind relatives and friends; and entirely willing to stay till the Master sees fit to call me home, for I know that His will is always best. Oh, the sweet peace and joy of trusting in Him and leaving all to His care and direction! Who that has experienced it could ever again want to choose for him or herself?"
"And you have been long in His service, Aunt Wealthy?" Mr. Dinsmore said, half in assertion, half inquiringly.
"Since I was ten years old, Horace; and that is ninety years; and let me bear testimony now, before you all, that I have ever found Him faithful to His promises, and His service growing constantly sweeter and sweeter. And so it shall be to all eternity. 'My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.'"
Then turning to Mrs. Keith, "How is it with you, Marcia?" she asked; "you have attained to your four-score years, and have been in the service since early childhood. What have you to say for your Master now?"
"Just what you have said, dear aunt; never have I had cause to repent of choosing His service; it has been a blessed service to me, full of joy and consolation--joy that even abounds more and more as I draw nearer and nearer to my journey's end.
"I know it is the same with my husband," she added, giving him a look of wifely affection; "and I doubt not with my cousins--Horace, Rose, Elsie--with all here present who have had experience as soldiers and servants of Jesus Christ."
"In that you are entirely right, Marcia," responded Mr. Dinsmore; "I can speak for myself, my wife, and daughter."
Both ladies gave an unqualified confirmation of his words, while their happy countenances testified to the truth of the assertion.
"And, Milly dear, you and your husband, your brothers and sisters, can all say the same," remarked Miss Stanhope, laying her withered hand affectionately upon Mrs. Landreth's arm as she sat in a low seat by her side.
"We can indeed," Mildred said, with feeling. "What blessed people we are! all knowing and loving the dear Master, and looking forward to an eternity of bliss together at His right hand."
The interview between the aged saint and her long-absent relatives was continued for a few moments more; then she dismissed them, with the remark that doubtless they would all like to retire to their rooms for a little, and she must take a short rest in order to be fresh for the evening, when she hoped they would all gather about her again.
"I want you all to feel at home and to enjoy yourselves as much as you can," she said, in conclusion. "Play about the grounds, children, whenever you like."
Her cottage stood between the houses of the Duncans and Allisons; the grounds of all three were extensive, highly cultivated, and adorned with beautiful trees, shrubbery, and flowers, and there were no separating fences or hedges, so that they seemed to form one large park or garden.
Rosie and Walter Travilla, and the young Raymonds were delighted with the permission to roam at will about these lovely grounds, and hastened to avail themselves of it as soon as the removal of the dust of travel and a change of attire rendered them fit.
They found a Dutch gardener busied here and there, and presently opened a conversation with him, quite winning his heart by unstinted praises of the beauty of his plants and flowers.
"It must be a great deal of work to keep those large gardens in such perfect order," remarked Rose.
"Dat it ish, miss," he said; "but I vorks pretty hard mineself, and my son Shakey, he gifs me von leetle lift ven he ton't pees too much in school."
"Do you live here?" asked little Grace.
"Here in dis garten? no, miss; I lifs oud boud t'ree mile in de country."
"That's a long walk for you, isn't it?" said Lulu.
"Nein; I don't valks, miss; ven I ish god dings to pring--abbles or botatoes or some dings else--I say to mine Shakey, 'Just hitch de harness on de horse and hang him to de stable door;' or if I got nodings to pring I tells de poy, 'Hitch him up a horseback;' den I comes in to mine vork and I tash! I don't hafs to valk--nod a shtep."
"How funny he talks," whispered Grace to Lulu; "I can hardly understand him."
"It's because he's Dutch," returned Lulu, in the same low tone. "But I can tell almost all he says. His son's name must be Jakey; the short for Jacob."
"What is your name?" asked Max.
"Hencle--Shon Hencle. I dinks you all pees come to see Miss Stanhope pe von huntred years olt; ishn't you?"
"Yes," said Rosie. "It seems very wonderful to think that she has lived so long."
The children, weary with their journey, were sent to bed early that night. Lulu and Grace found they were to sleep together in a small room opening into a larger one, where two beds had been placed for the time to meet the unusual demand for sleeping quarters. These were to be occupied by Grandma Elsie, Violet, Rosie, and Walter.
Timid little Grace heard, with great satisfaction, that all these were to be so near; and Lulu, though not at all cowardly, was well pleased with the arrangement. Yet she little thought how severely her courage was to be tested that night.
She and Grace had scarcely laid their heads upon their pillows ere they fell into profound slumber. Lulu did not know how long she had slept, but all was darkness and silence within and without the house, when something, she could not have told what, suddenly roused her completely.
She lay still, trying to recall the events of the past day and remember where she was; and just as she succeeded in doing so a strange sound, as of restless movements and the clanking of chains, came from beneath the bed.
Her heart seemed to stand still with fear; she had never before, in all her short life, felt so terrified and helpless.
"What can it be?" she asked herself. "An escaped criminal--a murderer--or a maniac from an insane asylum, I suppose; for who else would wear a clanking chain? and what can he want here but to kill Gracie and me? I suppose he got in the house before they shut the doors for the night, and hid under the bed till everybody should be fast asleep, meaning to begin then to murder and rob. Oh, I do wish I'd looked under the bed while all the gentlemen were about to catch him and keep him from hurting us! But now what shall I do? If I try to get out of the bed, he'll catch hold of my foot and kill me before anybody can come; and if I scream for help, he'll do the same. The best plan is to lie as quiet as I can, so he'll think I'm still asleep; for maybe he only means to rob, and not murder, if nobody wakes up to see what he's about and tell of him. Oh, I do hope Gracie won't wake! for she could never help screaming; and then he'd jump out and kill us both."
So with heroic courage she lay there, perfectly quiet and hardly moving a muscle for what seemed to her an age of suffering, every moment expecting the creature under the bed to spring out upon her, and in constant fear that Grace would awake and precipitate the calamity by a scream of affright.
All was quiet again for some time, she lying there, straining her ears for a repetition of the dreaded sounds; then, as they came again louder than before, she had great difficulty in restraining herself from springing from the bed and shrieking aloud, in a paroxysm of panic terror.
But she did control herself, lay perfectly still, and allowed not the slightest sound to escape her lips.
That last clanking noise had awakened Elsie, and she too now lay wide awake, silent and still, while intently listening for a repetition of it. She hardly knew whence the sound had come, or what it was; but when repeated, as it was in a moment or two, she was satisfied that it issued from the room where Lulu and Grace were, and her conjectures in regard to its origin coincided with Lulu's.
She, too, was greatly alarmed, but did not lose her presence of mind. Hoping the little girls were still asleep, and judging from the silence that they were, she lay for a few minutes without moving, indeed scarcely breathing, while she tried to decide upon the wisest course to pursue, asking guidance and help from on high, as she always did in every emergency.
Her resolution was quickly taken; slipping softly out of bed, she stole noiselessly from the room and into another, on the opposite side of the hall, occupied by Edward and Zoe.
"Edward," she said, speaking in a whisper close to his ear, "wake, my son; I am in need of help."
"What is it, mother?" he asked, starting up.
"Softly," she whispered; "make no noise, but come with me. Somebody or something is in the room where Lulu and Gracie sleep. I distinctly heard the clanking of a chain."
"Mother!" he cried, but hardly above his breath, "an escaped lunatic, probably! Stay here and let me encounter him alone. I have loaded pistols--"
"Oh, don't use them if you can help it!" she cried.
"I shall not," he assured her, "unless it is absolutely necessary."
He snatched the weapons from beneath his pillow as he spoke, and went from the room, she closely following.
At the instant that they entered hers a low growl came from the inner room, and simultaneously they exclaimed, "A dog!"
"Somewhat less to be feared than a lunatic, unless he should be mad, which is not likely," added Edward, striking a light.
Lulu sprang up with a low cry of intense relief. "O Grandma Elsie, it's only a dog, and I thought it a crazy man or a wicked murderer!"
As she spoke the animal emerged from his hiding-place and walked into the outer room, dragging his chain after him.
Edward at once recognized him as a large mastiff Harry Duncan had shown him the previous afternoon.
"It's Mr. Duncan's dog," he said; "he must have broken his chain and come in unobserved before the house was closed for the night. Here, Nero, good fellow, this way! You've done mischief enough for one night, and we'll send you home."
He led the way to the outer door, the dog following quite peaceably, while Elsie, hearing sobs coming from the other room, hastened in to comfort and relieve the frightened children.
Grace still slept on in blessed unconsciousness; but she found Lulu crying hysterically, quite unable to continue her efforts at self-control, now that the necessity for it was past.
"Poor child!" Elsie said, folding her in her kind arms, "you have had a terrible fright, have you not?"
"Yes, Grandma Elsie; oh, I've been lying here so long, so long, thinking a murderer or crazy man was under the bed, just ready to jump out and kill Gracie and me!" she sobbed, clinging convulsively about Elsie's neck.
"And did not scream for help! What a brave little girl you are!"
"I wanted to, and, oh, I could hardly keep from it! But I thought if I did it would wake Gracie and scare her to death, and the man would be sure to jump out and kill us at once."
"Dear child," Elsie said, "you have shown yourself thoughtful, brave, and unselfish; how proud your father will be of his eldest daughter when he hears it!"
"O Grandma Elsie, do you think he will? How glad that would make me! It would pay for all the dreadful fright I have had," Lulu said, her tones tremulous with joy, as, but a moment ago, they had been with nervousness and fright.
"I am quite sure of it," Elsie answered, smoothing the little girl's hair with caressing hand, "quite sure; because I know he loves you very dearly, and that he admires such courage, unselfishness, and presence of mind as you have shown to-night."
These kind words did much to turn Lulu's thoughts into a new channel and thus relieve the bad effects of her fright. But Elsie continued for some time longer her efforts to soothe her into calmness and forgetfulness, using tender, caressing words and endearments; then she left her, with an injunction to try to go immediately to sleep.
Lulu promised compliance, and, attempting it, succeeded far sooner than she had thought possible.
The whole occurrence seemed like a troubled dream when she awoke in the morning. It was a delicious day in early October, and as soon as dressed she went into the garden, where she found John Hencle already at work, industriously weeding and watering his plants and flowers.
"Goot-morning, mine leetle mees," he said, catching sight of her, "Was it so goot a night mit you?"
"No," she said, and went on to tell the story of her fright.
"Dot ish lige me," he remarked, phlegmatically, at the conclusion of her tale. "Von nighd I hears somedings what make me scare. I know notings what he ish; I shust hears a noise, an' I shumpt de bed out, and ran de shtairs down, and looked de window out, and it wasn't notings but a leetle tog going 'Bow wow.'"
"I don't think it was very much like my fright," remarked Lulu, in disgust; "it couldn't have been half so bad."
"Vell, maype not; but dat Nero ish a goot, kind tog; he bide dramps, but nefer dose nice leetle girl. Dis ish de great day when dose nice old lady pees von huntred years old. What you dinks? a fery long dime to live?"
"Yes; very long," returned Lulu, emphatically. "I wish I knew papa would live to be that old, for then he'd be at home with us almost forty years after he retires from the navy."
"Somebody ish call you, I dinks," said John, and at the same moment Grace's clear, bird-like voice came floating on the morning breeze, "Lulu, Lulu!" as her dainty little figure danced gayly down the garden path in search of her missing sister.
"Oh, there you are!" she exclaimed, catching sight of Lulu. "Come into Aunt Wealthy's house and see the pretty presents everybody has given her for her hundredth birthday. She hasn't seen them yet, but she is going to when she comes down to eat her breakfast."
"Oh, I'd like to see them!" exclaimed Lulu, and she and Grace tripped back to the house together, and on into the sitting-room, where, on a large table, the gifts were displayed.
They were many, and some of them costly, for the old lady was very dear to the hearts of these relatives, and they were able as well as willing to show their affection in this substantial way.
There were fine paintings and engravings to adorn her walls; fine china, and glittering cut glass, silver and gold ware for her tables; vases for her mantels; richly-bound and illustrated books, whose literary contents were worthy of the costly adornment, and various other things calculated to give her pleasure or add to her ease and comfort.
She was not anticipating any such demonstration of affection--not expecting such substantial evidences of the love and esteem in which she was held--and when brought face to face with them was almost overcome, so that tears of joy and gratitude streamed from her aged eyes,
They were soon wiped away, however, and she was again her own bright, cheery self, full of thought and care for others--the kindest and most genial of hostesses.
She took the head of the breakfast-table herself, and poured the coffee for her guests with her own hands, entertaining them the while with cheerful chat, and causing many a merry laugh with the old-time tripping of her tongue--a laugh in which she always joined with hearty relish.
"There is too much butter in this salt," she remarked. "It is some John Hencle brought in this morning. I must see him after breakfast and bid him caution his wife to use less."
But as they rose from the table John came in unsummoned, and carrying a fine large goose under each arm.
Bowing low: "I ish come to pring two gooses to de von hundredth birthday," he announced; "dey pees goot, peaceable pirds: I ish know dem for twenty years, and dey nefer makes no droubles."
A smile went round the little circle, but Miss Stanhope said, with a very pleased look, "Thank you, John; they shall be well fed, and I hope they will like their new quarters. How is Jake doing? I haven't seen him for some time."
"No; Shakey is go to school most days. I vants Shakey to knows somedings."
"Yes, indeed; I hope Jakey is going to have a good education. But what do you mean to do with him after he is done going to school?"
"Vy, I dinks I prings mine Shakey to town and hangs him on to Sheneral Shmicdt and makes a brinting-office out of him."
"A printer, John? Well, that might be a very good thing if you don't need him to help you about the farm, or our grounds. I should think you would, though."
"Nein, nein," said John, shaking his head; "'tis not so long as I vants Shakey to makes mit me a fence; put I tash! Miss Stanhope, he say he ton't can know how to do it; and I says, 'I tash! Shakey, you peen goin' to school all your life, and you don't know de vay to makes a fence yet.'"
"Not so very strange," remarked Edward, with unmoved countenance, "for they don't teach fence-making in ordinary schools."
"Vell, den, de more's de bity," returned John, taking his departure. But turning back at the door to say to Miss Stanhope, "I vill put dose gooses in von safe place."
"Any place where they can do no mischief, John," she answered, good-humoredly.
"Now, Aunt Wealthy," said Annis, "what can we do to make this wonderful day pass most happily to you?"
"Whatever will be most enjoyable to my guests," was the smiling reply. "An old body like me can ask nothing better than to sit and look on and listen."
"Ah, but we would have you talk, too, auntie, when you don't find it wearisome!"
"What are you going to do with all your new treasures, Aunt Wealthy?" asked Edward; "don't you want your pictures hung and a place found for each vase and other household ornament?"
"Certainly," she said, with a pleased look, "and this is the very time, while I have you all here to give your opinions and advice."
"And help," added Edward, "if you will accept it. As I am tall and strong, I volunteer to hang the pictures after the place for each has been duly considered and decided upon."
His offer was promptly accepted, and the work entered upon in a spirit of fun and frolic, which made it enjoyable to all.
Whatever the others decided upon met with Miss Stanhope's approval; she watched their proceedings with keen interest, and was greatly delighted with the effect of their labors.
"My dears," she said, "you have made my house so beautiful! and whenever I look at these lovely things my thoughts will be full of the dear givers. I shall not be here long, but while I stay my happiness will be the greater because of your kindness,"
"And the remembrance of these words of yours, dear aunt, will add to ours," said Mr. Keith, with feeling.
"But old as you are, Aunt Wealthy," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, "it is quite possible that some of us may reach home before you. It matters little, however, as we are all travelling the same road to the same happy country, being children of one Father, servants of the same blessed Master."
"And He shall choose all our changes for us," she said, "calling each one home at such time as He sees best. Ah, it is sweet to leave all our interests in His dear hands, and have Him choose our inheritance for us!"
There was a pause in the conversation, while Miss Stanhope seemed lost in thought. Then Mrs. Keith remarked:
"You look weary, dear Aunt Wealthy; will you not lie down and rest for a little?"
"Yes," she said, "I shall take it as the privilege of age, leaving you all to entertain yourselves and each other for a time."
At that Mr. Dinsmore hastened to give her his arm and support her to her bedroom, his wife and Mrs. Keith following to see her comfortably established upon a couch, where they left her to take her rest.
The others scattered in various directions, as inclination dictated.
Elsie and Annis sought the grounds, and, taking possession of a rustic seat beneath a spreading tree, had a long, quiet talk, recalling incidents of other days, and exchanging mutual confidences.
"What changes we have passed through since our first acquaintance !" exclaimed Annis. "What careless, happy children we were then!"
"And what happy women we are now!" added Elsie, with a joyous smile.
"Yes; and you a grandmother! I hardly know how to believe it! You seem wonderfully young for that."
"Do I?" laughed Elsie. "I acknowledge that I feel young--that I have never yet been able to reason myself into feeling old."
"Don't try; keep young as long as ever you can," was Annis's advice.
"It is what you seem to be doing," said Elsie, sportively, and with an admiring look at her cousin. "Dear Annis, may I ask why it is you have never married? It must certainly have been your own fault."
"Really, I hardly know what reply to make to that last remark," returned Annis, in her sprightly way. "But I have not the slightest objection to answering your question. I will tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' I have had friends and admirers among the members of the other sex, but have never yet seen the man for love of whom I could for a moment think of leaving father and mother."
"How fortunate for them!" Elsie said, with earnest sincerity. "I know they must esteem it a great blessing that they have been able to keep one dear daughter in the old home."
"And I esteem myself blest indeed in having had my dear father and mother spared to me all these years," Annis said, with feeling. "What a privilege it is, Elsie, to be permitted to smooth, some of the roughnesses from their pathway now in their declining years; to make life even a trifle easier and happier than it might otherwise be to them--the dear parents who so tenderly watched over me in infancy and youth! I know you can appreciate it--you who love your father so devotedly.
"But Cousin Horace is still a comparatively young man, hale and hearty, and to all appearance likely to live many years, while my parents are aged and infirm, and I cannot hope to keep them long." Her voice was husky with emotion as she concluded.
"Dear Annis," Elsie said, pressing tenderly the hand she held in hers, "you are never to lose them. They may be called home before you, but the separation will be short and the reunion for eternity--an eternity of unspeakable joy, unclouded bliss at the right hand of Him whom you all love better than you love each other."
"That is true," Annis responded, struggling with her tears, "and there is very great comfort in the thought; yet one cannot help dreading the parting, and feeling that death is a thing to be feared for one's dear ones and one's self. Death is a terrible thing, Elsie."
"Not half so much so to me as it once was, dear cousin," Elsie said, in a tenderly sympathizing tone. "I have thought much lately on that sweet text, 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints;' and that other, 'He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied,' and the contemplation has shown me so much of the love of Jesus for the souls He has bought with His own precious blood and the joyful reception He gives them, as one by one they are gathered home, that it seems to me the death of a Christian should hardly bring sorrow to any heart. Oh, it has comforted me much in my separation from the dear husband of my youth, and made me at times look almost eagerly forward to the day when my dear Lord shall call me home and I shall see His face!"
"O Elsie," cried Annis, "I trust that day may be far distant, for many hearts would be like to break at parting with you! But there is consolation for the bereaved in the thoughts you suggest; and I shall try to cherish them and forget the gloom of the grave and the dread, for myself and for those I love, of the parting."
They were silent for a moment; then Elsie said, as if struck by a sudden thought, "Annis, why should not you and your father and mother go home with us and spend the fall and winter at Ion and Viamede?"
"I cannot think of anything more delightful!" exclaimed Annis, her face lighting up with pleasure; "and I believe it would be for their health to escape the winter in our severer climate, for they are both subject to colds and rheumatism at that season."
"Then you will persuade them?"
"If I can, Elsie. How kind in you to give the invitation!"
"Not at all, Annis; for in so doing I seek my own gratification as well as theirs and yours," Elsie answered, with earnest sincerity. "We purpose going from here to Ion, and from there to Viamede, perhaps two months later, to spend the remainder of the winter. And you and your father and mother will find plenty of room and a warm welcome in both places."
"I know it, Elsie," Annis said; "I know you would not say so if it were not entirely true, and I feel certain of a great deal of enjoyment in your loved society, if father and mother accept your kind invitation."
While these two conversed together thus in the grounds, a grand banquet was in course of preparation in Miss Stanhope's house, under the supervision of our old friends, May and Lottie. To it Elsie and Annis were presently summoned, in common with the other guests.
When the feasting was concluded, and all were again gathered in the parlors, Elsie renewed her invitation already made to Annis, this time addressing herself to Mr. and Mrs. Keith.
They heard it with evident pleasure, and after some consideration accepted.
Edward and Zoe returned to Ion the following day, Herbert and Harold leaving at the same time for college. The rest of the Travillas, the Dinsmores, and the Raymonds lingered a week or two longer with Miss Stanhope, who was very loath to part with them, Elsie in especial; then bade farewell, scarce expecting to see her again on earth, and turned their faces homeward, rejoicing in the promise of Mr. and Mrs. Keith that they and Annis would soon follow, should nothing happen to prevent.