Chapter Thirteenth
 
   "An angel face! its sunny wealth of hair,
    In radiant ripples bathed the graceful throat
    And dimpled shoulders."
                                 --MRS. OSGOOD.

The cold gray light of a winter morning was stealing in through the half-closed blinds as Elsie awoke, and started up in bed, with the thought that this was the day on which several of her young guests were expected, and that her papa had promised her a walk with him before breakfast, if she were ready in time.

Aunt Chloe had already risen, and a bright fire was blazing and crackling on the hearth, which she was carefully sweeping up.

"Good morning, mammy," said the little girl. "Are you ready to dress me now?"

"What, you 'wake, darlin'?" cried the fond old creature, turning quickly round at the sound of her nursling's voice. "Better lie still, honey, till de room gets warm."

"I'll wait a little while, mammy," Elsie said, lying down again, "but I must get up soon; for I wouldn't miss my walk with papa for a great deal. Please throw the shutters wide open, and let the daylight in. I'm so glad it has come."

"Why, my bressed lamb, you didn't lie awake lookin' for de mornin', did you? You ain't sick, nor sufferin' any way?" exclaimed Chloe, in a tone of mingled concern and inquiry, as she hastily set down her broom, and came toward the bed, with a look of loving anxiety on her dark face.

"Oh, no, mammy! I slept nicely, and feel as well as can be," replied the little girl; "but I am glad to see this new day, because I hope it is going to be a very happy one. Carry Howard, and a good many of my little friends are coming, you know, and I think we will have a very pleasant time together."

"Your ole mammy hopes you will, darlin'," replied Chloe, heartily; "an' I'se glad 'nough to see you lookin' so bright an' well; but jes you lie still till it gets warm here. I'll open de shutters, an' fotch some more wood for de fire, an' clar up de room, an' by dat time I reckon you can get up."

Elsie waited patiently till Chloe pronounced the room warm enough, then sprang up with an eager haste, asking to be dressed as quickly as possible, that she might go to her papa.

"Don't you go for to worry yourself, darlin'; dere's plenty ob time," said Chloe, beginning her work with all speed, however; "de mistress had ordered de breakfast at nine, dese holiday times, to let de ladies an' gen'lemen take a mornin' nap if dey likes it."

"Oh, yes, mammy! and that reminds me that papa said I must eat a cracker or something before I take my walk, because he thinks it isn't good for people to exercise much on an entirely empty stomach," said Elsie. "Will you get me one when you have done my curls?"

"Yes, honey, dere's a paper full in de drawer yonder," replied Chloe, "an' I reckon you better eat two or three, or you'll be mighty hungry 'fore you gits your breakfast."

It still wanted a few minutes of eight o'clock when Elsie's gentle rap was heard at her papa's dressing-room door. He opened it, and stooping to give her a good-morning kiss, said, with a pleased smile, "How bright and well my darling looks! Had you a good night's rest?"

"Oh, yes, papa! I never waked once till it began to be light," she replied; "and now I'm all ready for our walk."

"In good season, too," he said. "Well, we will start presently; but take off your hat and come and sit on my knee a little while first; breakfast will be late this morning, and we need not hurry. Did you get something to eat?" he asked, as he seated himself by the fire and drew her to his side.

"Yes, papa, I ate a cracker, and I think I will not get very hungry before nine o'clock; and I'm very glad we have so much time for our walk," she replied, as she took her place on his knee. "Shall we not start soon?"

"Presently," he said, stroking her hair; "but it will not hurt you to get well warmed first, for it is a sharp morning."

"You are very careful of me, dear papa," she said, laying her head on his breast, "and oh! it is so nice to have a papa to love me and take care of me."

"And it is so nice to have a dear little daughter to love and to take care of," he answered, pressing her closer to him.

The house was still very quiet, no one seeming to be astir but the servants, as Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie went down the stairs and passed out through the hall.

"O papa! it is going to be such a nice day, and I feel so happy!" Elsie gayly exclaimed, as they started down the avenue.

"Do you, daughter?" he said, regarding her with an expression of intense yearning affection; "I wish I could make you always as gay and happy as you are at this moment. But alas! it cannot be, my darling," he added with a sigh.

"I know that, papa," she said with sudden gravity, "'for man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble,' the Bible says; but I don't feel frightened at that, because it tells me, besides, that Jesus loves me, oh, so dearly! and will never leave nor forsake me; and that He has all power in heaven and in earth, and will never let anything happen to me but what shall do me good. O papa, it is such a happy thing to have the dear Lord Jesus for your friend!"

"It is strange how everything seems to lead your thoughts to Him," he said, giving her a wondering look.

"Yes, papa, it is because I love Him so," she answered, simply; and the father sighed as the thought arose, "Better than she loves me, even as she told me herself. Ah! I would I could be all--everything to her, as she is fast becoming to me. I cannot feel satisfied, and yet I believe few daughters love their fathers as well as she loves me;" and fondly pressing the little hand he held, he looked down upon her with beaming eyes.

She raised hers to his face with an expression of confiding affection; and, as though she had read his thoughts: "Yes, papa," she said, "I love you dearly, dearly, too; better than all the world besides."

Breakfast--always a plentiful and inviting meal at Roselands--was already upon the table when they returned, and they brought to it appetites sufficiently keen to make it very enjoyable.

Elsie spent the first hour after breakfast at the piano, practising, and the second in her papa's dressing-room, studying and reciting to him; then they took a long ride on horseback, and when they returned she found that quite a number of the expected guests had already arrived.

Among them was Caroline Howard, a favorite friend of Elsie's; a pretty, sweet-tempered little girl, about a year older than herself.

Caroline had been away paying a long visit to some friends in the North, and so the two little girls had not met for nearly a year, and of course they had a great deal to say to each other.

They chatted a few moments in the drawing-room, and then Elsie carried her friend off with her to her own room, that they might go on with their talk while she was getting dressed for dinner. Caroline had much to tell of her Northern relatives, and of all she had seen and heard, and Elsie of her new-found parent, and her happiness in being so loved and cared for; and so the little tongues ran very fast, neither of them feeling Chloe's presence any restraint. But she soon completed her task, and went out, leaving the two sitting on the sofa together, laughing and talking merrily while awaiting the summons to dinner, which they were to take that day along with their elders.

"How pretty your hair is, Elsie," said Caroline, winding the glossy ringlets around her finger. "I wish you'd give me one of these curls. I want to get a bracelet made for mamma, and she thinks so much of you, and your hair is such a lovely color, that I am sure she would be delighted with one made of it."

"A Christmas gift is it to be?" asked Elsie; "but how will you get it done in time? for you know day after to-morrow is Christmas."

"Yes, I know; but if I could get into the city this afternoon, I think I might get them to promise it by to-morrow night."

"Well, you shall have the curl, at any rate, if you will just take the scissors and help yourself, and poor mammy will have the fewer to curl the next time," Elsie answered, laughingly. "But mind," she added, as Caroline prepared to avail herself of the permission, "that you take it where it will not be missed."

"Of course I will; I don't want to spoil your beauty, though you are so much prettier than I," was Caroline's laughing rejoinder. "There," she cried, holding up the severed ringlet, "isn't it a beauty? but don't look scared, it will never be missed among so many; I don't even miss it myself, although I know it is gone."

"Well," Elsie said, shaking back her curls, "suppose we go down to the drawing-room now, and I will ask papa to take us to the city this afternoon; or, if he is too busy to go himself, to let Pomp or Ajax drive us in."

"I think it would be better fun to go alone, Elsie--don't you?" asked Caroline, with some hesitation; adding quickly: "Don't be vexed, but I must confess I am more than half afraid of your father."

"Oh! you wouldn't be, Carry, if you knew him," Elsie answered, in her eager way; "I was a little myself, at first, but now I love him so dearly, I never want to go anywhere without him."

They found Mr. Dinsmore in the drawing-room, where most of the guests and the older members of the family were assembled. He was conversing with a strange gentleman, and his little girl stood quietly at his side, patiently waiting until he should be ready to give her his attention. She had to wait some moments, for the gentlemen were discussing some political question, and were too much engaged to notice her.

But at length her father put his arm around her, and with a kind smile asked, "What is it, daughter?"

"Carry and I want to go to the city, this afternoon; won't you take us, papa?"

"I wish I could, my dear, but I have an engagement, which makes it quite impossible."

"Ah, I'm so sorry! but then, papa, we may have one of the carriages, and Pomp or Ajax to drive us, may we not?"

"No, daughter; I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am afraid you are too young to be trusted on such an expedition with only a servant. You must wait until to-morrow, when I can take you myself."

"But, papa, we want to go to-day. Oh! please do say yes; we want to go so very much, and I'm sure we could do very nicely by ourselves."

Her arm was around his neck, and both tone and look were very coaxing.

"My little daughter forgets that when papa says no, she is never to ask again."

Elsie blushed and hung her head. His manner was quite too grave and decided for her to venture another word.

"What is the matter? what does Elsie want?" asked Adelaide, who was standing near, and had overheard enough to have some idea of the trouble.

Mr. Dinsmore explained, and Adelaide at once offered to take charge of the little girls, saying that she intended shopping a little in the city herself that very afternoon.

"Thank you," said her brother, looking very much pleased; "that obviates the difficulty entirely. Elsie, you may go, if Mrs. Howard gives Caroline permission."

"Thank you, dear papa, thank you so very much," she answered gratefully, and then ran away to tell Carry of her success, and secure Mrs. Howard's permission, which was easily obtained.

Elsie had intended buying some little present for each of the house-servants, and had taken a great deal of pleasure in making out a list of such articles as she thought would be suitable; but, on examining her purse, she found to her dismay that she had already spent so much on the miniature, and various gifts intended for other members of the family, that there was very little left; and it was with a very sober, almost sorrowful face, that she came down to take her place in the carriage; it brightened instantly, though, as she caught sight of her father waiting to see her off.

"All ready, my darling?" he said, holding out his hand; "I think you will have a pleasant ride."

"Ah! yes, if you were only going too, papa," she answered regretfully.

"Quite impossible, my pet; but here is something to help you in your shopping; use it wisely;" and he put a twenty-dollar gold piece in her hand.

"Oh, thank you, papa! how good and kind you are to me!" she exclaimed, her whole face lighting up with pleasure; "now I can buy some things I wanted to get for mammy and the rest. But how could you know I wanted more money?"

He only smiled, lifted her up in his arms, and kissed her fondly; then, placing her in the carriage, said to the coachman, "Drive carefully, Ajax; you are carrying my greatest treasure."

"Nebber fear, marster; dese ole horses nebber tink ob running away," replied the negro, with a bow and a grin, as he touched his horses with the whip, and drove off.

It was growing quite dark when the carriage again drove up the avenue; and Mr. Horace Dinsmore, who was beginning to feel a little anxious, came out to receive them, and ask what had detained them so long.

"Long!" said Adelaide, in a tone of surprise, "you gentlemen really have no idea what an undertaking it is to shop. Why, I thought we got through in a wonderfully short time."

"O papa, I have bought such quantities of nice things," cried Elsie, springing into his arms.

"Such as tobacco pipes, red flannel, et cetera," remarked Adelaide, laughing.

"Indeed, Miss Adelaide!" exclaimed Carry, somewhat indignantly, "you forget the----"

But Elsie's little hand was suddenly placed over her mouth, and Carry laughed pleasantly, saying, "Ah! I forgot, I mustn't tell."

"Papa, papa," cried Elsie, catching hold of his hand, "do come with me to my room, and let me show you my purchases."

"I will, darling," he answered, pinching her cheek, "Here, Bill"-- to a servant--"carry these bundles to Miss Elsie's room."

Then, picking her up, he tossed her over his shoulder, and carried her up-stairs as easily as though she had been a baby, she clinging to him and laughing merrily.

"Why, papa, how strong you are," she said, as he set her down. "I believe you can carry me as easily as I can my doll."

"To be sure; you are my doll," said he, "and a very light burden for a man of my size and strength. But here come the bundles! what a number! no wonder you were late in getting home."

"Oh! yes, papa see! I want to show you!" and catching up one of them, she hastily tore it open, displaying a very gay handkerchief. "This is a turban for Aunt Phillis; and this is a pound of tobacco for old Uncle Jack, and a nice pipe, too. Look, mammy! won't he be pleased? And here's some flannel for poor old Aunt Dinah, who has the rheumatism; and that--oh! no, no, mammy! don't you open that! It's a nice shawl for her, papa," she whispered in his ear.

"Ah!" he said, smiling; "and which is my present? You had better point it out, lest I should stumble upon it and learn the secret too soon."

"There is none here for you, sir," she replied, looking up into his face with an arch smile. "I would give you the bundle you carried up-stairs, just now, but I'm afraid you would say that was not mine to give, because it belongs to you already."

"Indeed it does, and I feel richer in that possession than all the gold of California could make me," he said, pressing her to his heart.

She looked surpassingly lovely at that moment, her cheeks burning, and her eyes sparkling with excitement; the dark, fur-trimmed pelisse, and the velvet hat and plumes, setting off to advantage the whiteness of her pure complexion and the glossy ringlets falling in rich masses on her shoulders.

"My own papa! I'm so glad I do belong to you," she said, throwing her arms around his neck, and laying her cheek to his for an instant. Then springing away, she added: "But I must show you the rest of the things; there are a good many more."

And she went on opening bundle after bundle, displaying their contents, and telling him for whom she intended them, until at last they had all been examined, and then she said, a little wearily, "Now, mammy, please put them all away until to-morrow. But first take off my things and get me ready to go downstairs."

"No, daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said in a gentle but firm tone; "you are not ready to have them put away until the price of each has been set down in your book."

"Oh! papa," she pleaded, "won't to-morrow do? I'm tired now, and isn't it almost tea-time?"

"No; never put off till to-morrow what may as well be done to-day. There is nearly an hour yet before tea, and I do not think it need fatigue you much."

Elsie's face clouded, and the slightest approach to a pout might have been perceived.

"I hope my little girl is not going to be naughty," he said, very gravely.

Her face brightened in an instant. "No, papa," she answered cheerfully, "I will be good, and do whatever you bid me."

"That is my own darling," said he, "and I will help you, and it will not take long."

He opened her writing-desk as he spoke, and took out her account- book.

"Oh! papa," she cried in a startled tone, springing forward and taking hold of his hand, "please, please don't look! you know you said I need not show you until after Christmas."

"No, I will not," he replied, smiling at her eagerness; "you shall put down the items in the book, while I write the labels, and Aunt Chloe pins them on. Will that do?"

"Oh! that's a nice plan, papa," she said gayly, as she threw off her hat and pelisse, and seating herself before the desk, took out her pen and ink.

Chloe put the hat and pelisse carefully away, brought a comb and brush, and smoothed her nursling's hair, and then began her share of the business on hand.

Half an hour's work finished it all, and Elsie wiped her pen, and laid it away, saying joyously, "Oh! I'm so glad it is all done."

"Papa knew best, after all, did he not?" asked her father, drawing her to him, and patting her cheek.

"Yes, papa," she said softly; "you always know best, and I am very sorry I was naughty."

He answered with a kiss, and, taking her hand, led her down to the drawing-room.

After tea the young people adjourned to the nursery, where they amused themselves with a variety of innocent games. Quite early in the evening, and greatly to Elsie's delight, her father joined them; and, though some of the young strangers were at first rather shy of him, they soon found that he could enter heartily into their sports, and before the time came to separate for the night, he had made himself very popular with nearly all.

Time flew fast, and Elsie was very much surprised when the clock struck eight. Half-past was her bedtime; and, as she now and then glanced up at the dial-plate, she thought the hands had never moved so fast. As it struck the half hour she drew near her father's side.

"Papa," she asked, "is the clock right?"

"Yes, my dear, it is," he replied, comparing it with his watch.

"And must I go to bed now?" she asked, half hoping for permission to stay up a little longer.

"Yes, daughter; keep to rules."

Elsie looked disappointed, and several little voices urged, "Oh, do let her stay up another hour, or at least till nine o'clock."

"No; I cannot often allow a departure from rules," he said kindly, but firmly; "and to-morrow night Elsie will find it harder to go to bed in season than to-night. Bid your little friends good- night, my dear, and go at once."

Elsie obeyed, readily and cheerfully. "You, too, papa," she said, coming to him last.

"No, darling," he answered, laying his hand caressingly on her head, and smiling approvingly on her; "I will come for my good- night kiss before you are asleep."

Elsie looked very glad, and went away feeling herself the happiest little girl in the land, in spite of the annoyance of being forced to leave the merry group in the nursery. She was just ready for bed when her papa came in, and, taking her in his arms, folded her to his heart, saying, "My own darling! my good, obedient little daughter!"

"Dear papa, I love you so much!" she replied, twining her arms around his neck, "I love you all the better for never letting me have my own way, but always making me obey and keep to rules."

"I don't doubt it, daughter," he said, "for I have often noticed that spoiled, petted children, usually have very little love for their parents, or indeed for any one but themselves. But I must put you in your bed, or you will be in danger of taking cold."

He laid her down, tucked the clothes snugly about her, and pressing one more kiss on the round, rosy cheek, left her to her slumbers.