Chapter II.

"How sudden do our prospects vary here!"

It was the breakfast-hour at Fairview. The young husband and wife chatted pleasantly over their coffee, omelet and rolls, strawberries and cream, the principal subject of discourse being the expected trip to Nantucket in company with her mother, grandparents, and the rest of the family at Ion.

Lester and his Elsie had been there the previous evening, helping to celebrate the first anniversary of the marriage of Edward and Zoe, and had readily fallen in with the plans for the summer outing proposed by Captain Raymond.

"You will go with us, of course, Elsie?" their mother had said, several of the others eagerly echoing her words, and they had answered that they knew of nothing to hinder, and should be delighted to do so.

So that question seemed fully settled, and now their talk was of needful preparations and arrangements for so long an absence from home; of the anticipated pleasures of the voyage and the proposed lengthened sojourn upon Nantucket Island, including the sketching of the most attractive features of its scenery.

Young, healthy, in easy circumstances, entirely congenial in opinions and tastes, they were a very happy couple.

Lester was meeting with marked success in his chosen profession--had received only yesterday a large price for one of his paintings; and as Elsie and he were essentially one in all their interests, her joy was fully equal to his, if not greater.

In consequence they were unusually gay this morning, and life seemed very bright and beautiful before them.

They lingered over their meal, and were just leaving the table when a servant came in with the morning's mail.

There were several newspapers and magazines; only one letter.

"From Eric, dear old boy! I was intending to write to him to-day," remarked Lester, as he examined the superscription.

"How nice, then, that his came just in time for you to answer it in yours," said Elsie. "I'll leave you to the enjoyment of it while I give my orders for the day," she added, turning from him toward the rear of the house, as they left the breakfast-room together.

"Yes, my dear, and when you have a spare moment to bestow upon your unworthy husband, you will find him on the veranda," he answered lightly, bending his steps in that direction.

Only a few minutes had passed when she sought him there; but what a change had come over him! All his gayety had forsaken him, his face was pale, and his eyes, as he turned them upon her, were full of anguish.

"Oh Lester, my dear, dear husband! what is it?" she cried, hastening to him and laying a hand tenderly upon his shoulder.

"Read," he said hoarsely, holding out the open letter to her,--Eric's letter, whose sad tidings seemed for the time to have driven away all the joy and brightness of life.

Glancing down the page, Elsie read:

"My dear brother, will you come to me? I have sore need of you. For a year past I have felt my strength failing; for the last few months matters have grown worse, till my days and nights are filled with pain and unrest; and today I have learned that the time has come for me to set my house in order, for I am to 'die, and not live.' Nay, not so: I am to pass from the land of the dying to that blest world where death can never enter.

"My physician tells me it may possibly be three months ere I reach 'that bourne whence no traveller returns,' but that in all probability I shall arrive there in less than half that time.

"And there is much I would say to you, my brother; much in which I need your kind help. You will be coming North for the hot season; I would gladly have you, your sweet wife and baby-boy spend it here with us; and to me it seems that there are few pleasanter places than this little home-nest of ours high up on the rocky banks of the grand old Hudson River. We have pure air and magnificent scenery, and it will be most comforting to me to have your loved companionship as I go down into the valley of the shadow of death.

"Thank God, it is only the shadow, and I shall go down into it leaning on the strong arm of my beloved. Jesus will be with me to the very end.

"But I may be asking too much of my sweet sister Elsie; you and she have, perchance, formed other plans more congenial to your tastes and wishes. If so, let me not interfere with them; consider my request withdrawn. Yet, shall I not have at least a sight of your loved faces ere I go hence to return no more?

"Lovingly, ERIC."

Elsie could scarce see the signature from the fast-falling tears.

"The dear brother!" she sobbed. "But, oh, Lester, be comforted! His troubles and trials are almost over, the battle nearly ended, the victory well-nigh won; and we know he will come off more than conqueror through Him that loved him!"

"Yes, I know, I know it; but he has been a dear brother to me, and, oh, how can I learn to live without him!" he answered, in tones quivering with emotion.

"'Twill only be for a time, love, and then you will be restored to each other, never to part any more forever," Elsie said softly, with her arm about her husband's neck, while her tears mingled with his, and her sweet lips were pressed again and again to his cheek.

He folded her in a close embrace.

"My dear, sweet, precious comforter," he said, "I can never be unhappy while God spares me my wife."

"Nor I, while I have you, dearest," she responded, with an added caress. "And we will go to poor Eric instead of with mamma and the rest to Nantucket."

"My sweet one, I could not ask so great a sacrifice from you," he said.

"I can hardly feel it to be such when I think of your poor brother--our brother; for is he not mine also? We will go to him instead, and I know it will be with mamma's approval, grandpa's also. Ah, here they both come!" she exclaimed, in a tone of satisfaction, as the Ion family carriage was seen approaching through the avenue.

In another moment it had drawn up before the entrance, and Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter alighted. With the quick eye of affection the mother at once noted the sadness of her daughter's countenance, of Lester's also, and scarcely had she exchanged the morning greetings with them ere she inquired the cause.

Lester silently handed her Eric's open letter.

Tears trembled in the soft brown eyes as she read.

In compliance with a mute request from Lester, she passed it on to her father.

There was a moment of silence after Mr. Dinsmore had finished reading, then the elder Elsie said in low, sympathizing tones,

"My dears, you will go to him? Delightful as it would be to have you with us, I could not wish you to refuse such a request from one so near and dear."

"No, mamma dear, nor could we think of refusing," answered her daughter, quickly, glancing tenderly at her husband as she spoke, and receiving a grateful, loving look in return.

"Certainly not," said Mr. Dinsmore; "but I see no reason why you should not accompany us on our voyage, spend a few days at Nantucket, and then go on to New York. Do you, Lester?"

"No, sir; and if my little wife approves of that plan, we will adopt it,"

He turned inquiringly to her.

"I should like it very much," she said. "If you are quite sure it will not delay us too long," she added as an after-thought.

"No, scarcely at all, I think," returned Lester; "so we will consider that settled."

"Ah, I am glad that we shall not lose your company altogether," Mrs. Travilla said. "And do not despair for your brother, Lester, for many very sick people have recovered, even after being given up by the doctors. We know, too, that with God nothing is impossible, and that He is the hearer and answerer of prayer. We will unite our petitions in behalf of Eric, and if it shall be for God's glory and his good, he will be restored to health."

"Yes, mother; I have not a doubt of that," returned Mr. Leland, "nor of my dear brother's safety in any case. He is one who has lived the life of a Christian for years, and I am sure dying grace will be given him for dying time--whenever that shall come."

"And well may you be," said Mrs. Travilla, "for not one of all God's promises ever fails, and to each of His children He has said, 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be.'"

"If you want to answer your letter by return of mail, Lester, do not let us hinder you," said Mr. Dinsmore. "We are going to the village presently, and will mail it for you, if you like."

"Thank you; then I shall write at once," Lester replied, as he rose and left them.

"This change of plan will involve some change in your intended preparations, will it not, Elsie?" asked Mrs. Travilla.

"Not very much, mamma, as we are not likely to take part in any gayeties. I shall not need to have any new dresses made; indeed, I think I have already a full supply of everything necessary or desirable, in the way of dress, for both baby and myself."

"Then you will be ready for the trip as soon as any of us?" her grandfather said inquiringly.

"Yes, sir; I could pack to-day and start this evening if desired to do so," she answered with a smile.

"We will not put you to the test," he said, "but we hope to sail next Tuesday."