Chapter XXII. Skies Brighten.

"Oh, Grandpa Dinsmore!" cried Lulu, with a burst of sobs and tears, "do you think it's true that--that papa's ship is lost?"

"I hope it is not," he said, "such reports have often proved false. So do not grieve too much over it: it is never wise to break our hearts over possibilities."

"But I know you and Max cannot help feeling anxious about both your father and your little sisters; and that being the case, I do not think you can study to any profit; and as the term has so nearly expired, I shall, if you wish it, take you away from here at once.

"Not to Viamede, of course, but to Magnolia Hall, Mr. and Mrs. Embury having sent you a warm invitation to make their house your home for the present. What do you say to my proposition?"

"Oh, Grandpa Dinsmore, how nice and kind is Cousin Molly and her husband!" exclaimed Lulu. "I shall be, oh, so glad to go away from, here, especially to such a lovely home as theirs."

"Very well, then," he said with a smile, "go and gather up your belongings, while I settle matters with Professor Manton; then I will drive you both over to Magnolia Hall, for Max is included in the invitation."

Lulu needed no second bidding, but started up at once to obey.

"I'll go with you, sis, and help you pack, if you like," said Max. The offer was accepted gladly; and as Mr. Dinsmore's business with the professor would take him to the house, all three walked thither together.

An hour later the children had bidden a final good-by to Oakdale, and were on their way to Magnolia Hall.

Arrived there, they received a warm welcome, and Lulu was greatly pleased to find Evelyn a guest also, and that they were to share the same room.

"Oh, Eva!" she cried, "I'm delighted that you are here; but I thought you were staying at the parsonage."

"So I was," Evelyn said, "and Rosie was here; but we have exchanged; she and Walter have gone to visit Cousin Isa, while you, Max, and I let Cousin Molly entertain us in her turn. I find it delightful at both places."

"But oh, Lu, how you have been crying! Is it about the sick little sisters?"

"Partly," Lulu answered, hardly able to speak for emotion, "for they are still in great danger; but oh, much worse than that! they say--that--that it's feared papa's ship is lost with--all on board. Oh, Eva, I've been so disobedient to my father for months past, and now--I'm afraid I'll never, never see him again!"

Before she had finished her sentence, Evelyn's arms were around her, holding her close, while she wept with her.

"I can feel for you, dear," she sobbed, "for I know only too well how dreadful it is to be fatherless; but it is only a report, which may be false. Do try to hope for the best. We will both pray for your dear father, if he is still living; and for the little ones, that they may get well."

After her long trial of the privations to be endured at Oakdale Academy, Lulu greatly enjoyed the comforts and luxuries of Magnolia Hall; yet the suspense in regard to her father and little sisters was very hard to bear.

For two days longer there was no relief from that, but on the morning of the third, Max came bounding in on his return from Viamede, where he had been to make his usual inquiries about Grace and the baby, his face glowing with happiness.

"Oh, Lulu, good, good news!" he cried, tossing up his cap and capering about in the exuberance of his joy; "the children are considered out of danger if well taken care of--and we know they'll be that; and papa's ship has been heard from, all well on board; and we'll see him again, I do believe; perhaps before a great while!"

Lulu wept for joy. "Oh, I am so glad, so happy!" she sobbed; "but oh, how I do want to see papa! the children too. Can't I go to them now, Max?"

"No, not yet; they wouldn't let me go into the wing where they are. I mean the doctors wouldn't; because the danger of contagion is not over, and won't be for a week or more."

"So long to wait?" she sighed.

"Yes," Max said, "but we ought to wait very patiently, now that we have had such glorious news. And perhaps there'll be letters from papa by to-morrow."

His hope was fulfilled: the next morning's mail brought letters from Captain Raymond to his wife and each of his children--the baby, of course, excepted.

Max handed Lulu hers.

She almost snatched it from him in her joy and eagerness, and hurried with it to her room, where she could be quite alone at this hour, Evelyn being at school; for she was finishing out the term, not having the same reason for leaving before its close that Max and Lulu had.

But now that she held the precious, longed-for missive in her hand, Lulu could scarce find courage to open and read it; because she had good reason to expect a severe reprimand from the father, whom, in spite of their mutual love, she had been persistently disobeying for the last three months. She would have given much to recall that past, and feel herself deserving of his commendation and such words of tender fatherly affection as he had often addressed to her by both tongue and pen.

At last she tore open the envelope, spread out the sheet, and with burning cheeks and fast beating heart, read:

"My dear little daughter; my heart misgives me that there is something very much amiss with you. Not sickness, for your mamma, Max, and Gracie all make casual mention of you, and say directly that you are well; yet I have not seen a stroke of your pen for three months or more.

"Your little letters, so full of 'love to papa,' have been very sweet to me, so that I am loath to have them discontinued; but in addition to that, daughter, I have, as you know, directed you to constantly report to me your progress in your studies, your conduct, etc., and in failing to do so you have been guilty of positive disobedience. What excuse have you to offer for such disregard of your father's commands?

"I cannot think there is any that will at all exonerate you from blame. Now I bid you write at once, giving me as full and detailed a report of the past three months as you possibly can.

"My child, I love you very dearly; there is never a day, I believe never a waking hour, in which my heart does not go out in love to my darling Lulu, and send up a petition to a throne of grace on her behalf. I think there is no sacrifice I would not willingly make for the good of any one of my dear children, and my requirements are all meant to promote their welfare and happiness in this world and the next.

"My child, my dear, dear child, your father's heart bleeds for you when he thinks what a hard battle you have to fight with the evil nature inherited from him!

"But the battle must be fought, the victory won, if you would reach heaven at last.

"'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.'

"You have a strong will, my Lulu: make good use of it by determining that you will in spite of every hindrance, fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life; that you will win the victory over your besetting sins, and come off more than conqueror through Him that loved us.

"I can hardly hope to hear that you have not been again in sad trouble and disgrace through the indulgence of your wilful, passionate temper, and you will dislike very much to confess it all to me; you will be sorry to pain me by the story of your wrong-doing; and certainly it will give me much pain: yet I am more than willing to bear that for my dear child's sake; and as I have given you the order to tell me all, to refrain from so doing would be but a fresh act of disobedience.

"How glad I am to know that my little daughter is open and honest as the day! I repeat, write at once, a full report, to your loving father, LEVIS RAYMOND."

"Oh," cried Lulu, speaking aloud in the excitement of feeling, "I do wish papa wouldn't make me confess everything to him! I think it's dreadfully hard! And what's the use when it hurts him so to hear it?

"And I'm sure it hurts me to tell it. I'll have to, though, and I won't keep anything back, though I'm terribly afraid he'll write that I must be sent away to some boarding-school, so that Grandpa Dinsmore won't be bothered with me any more. Oh dear! if papa could only come home, I'd rather take the hardest whipping he could give me, for though that's dreadful while it lasts, it's soon over. But he can't come now; they wouldn't think of letting him come home again so soon; so he can't punish me in that way; and I wouldn't take it from anybody else," she added, with hotly flushing cheeks and flashing eyes; "and I don't believe he'd let anybody else do it."

She turned to his letter and gave it a second reading.

"How kind and loving papa is!" she said to herself, penitent tears springing to her eyes, "It's plain he hasn't been told a word about my badness--by Grandpa Dinsmore or Mamma Vi, or anybody else. That was good in them.

"But now I must tell it all myself; he says for me to do it at once, and I won't go on disobeying him by waiting; besides, I may as well have it over."

Her writing-desk stood on a table near at hand, and opening it, she set to work without delay.

She began with a truthful report of her efforts to escape becoming one of Signor Foresti's pupils and its failure; giving verbatim the conversations on the subject in which she had taken part; then described with equal faithfulness all that had passed between the signor and herself on the day of their collision, and all that followed in the school-room and at Viamede.

She told of the fortnight in which all her time at home had to be spent in the confinement of her own room, then of the long weeks passed as a boarding-scholar at Oakdale Academy, describing her bedroom there, the sort of meals served in the dining-room, the rules that she found so irksome, and the treatment received at the hands of teachers and fellow-boarders; repeating as she went along every conversation that she felt belonged to the confession required of her.

But the long story was not all told in that one day; it took several; for Lulu was too young and inexperienced in composition and penmanship to make very rapid work of it.

Evelyn was taken into her confidence, Capt. Raymond's letter read to her, then parts of the confession as it progressed from day to day, till she had heard the whole.

"Do you think I have told papa everything I ought, Eva?" Lulu asked when she had finished reading aloud the last page of her report.

"Yes; I can't see that you've kept back a single thing: I'm sure your father is right in saying that you are open and honest as the day! And Oh, Lulu! what a nice, good father he must be! I don't wonder his children all love him so dearly, or that you and Max were so distressed when that bad news came."

"No," Lulu said, hastily brushing away a tear, "but I am sure you must wonder how I can ever be disobedient to such a dear father; and I often wonder too, and just hate myself for it.

"Now my report is ready; I'm glad it's done; it seems an immense load off my mind; but I must write a little note to go with it."

"Of course you must," said Evelyn; "and I'll run away and talk to Cousin Molly while you do it."

She hastened from the room, and Lulu's pen was again set to work.

"My own dear, dear papa, I have your letter--such a nice, kind one to be written to such a bad, disobedient girl: it came last Wednesday, and this is Saturday; for though I did obey you about the report, by beginning at once to write it, I had to make it so long that I couldn't finish it till now.

"I have tried to tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,' and Eva thinks I have succeeded.

"Papa, I am really and truly sorry for having been so disobedient and obstinate; passionate, too; but I'm always being naughty and then sorry, then naughty again.

"I don't see how you can keep on loving such a bad child; but oh, I'm so glad you do! Though it makes me sorrier than ever, and oh, so ashamed! I know I deserve punishment at your hands, and I have no doubt you would inflict it if you were here. I'm afraid you will say I must be sent away to a boarding-school; but oh, dear papa, please don't. I do intend to be good, and not give any trouble to Grandpa Dinsmore or any of the rest. I think I was the first part of the winter, and would have been all the time if they hadn't forced me to take lessons of that horrid man.

"Papa, I've always thought you wouldn't have said I must go back to him after he struck me. Would you? And don't you think Grandpa Dinsmore was very hard on me to say I must? I don't think anybody but my father has any right to punish me in that way, and I don't believe you would say he had.

"Dear papa, won't you please write soon again and say that you forgive me?"

But we will not give the whole of Lulu's letter to her father. She had something to say of her own and Max's distress over the report that his vessel was supposed to be lost, of the sickness of the dear little sisters, the pleasant time she was having at Magnolia Hall, etc.

The letter and report together made quite a bulky package; Mr. Embury--not being in the secret of the report--laughed when he saw it, remarking that "she must be a famous letter-writer for so young a one." Lulu rejoiced when it was fairly on its way to her father, yet could not altogether banish a feeling of anxiety in regard to the nature of the reply he would send her.

Grace and Baby Elsie improved steadily till they were quite well and past the danger of a relapse.

All the members of the Viamede family gathered there again as soon as the physicians pronounced it entirely safe to do so; and a week or two later, when the little ones seemed quite strong enough for the journey, they all set out on their return to Ion, where they arrived in safety and health; received a joyful welcome from Edward, Zoe, other relatives and friends gathered for the occasion, the servants and numerous dependants, and found their own hearts filled with gladness in the consciousness of being again in their best-loved home.