Chapter Fourteenth
 
                  "You play the spaniel,
    And think with wagging of your tongue to win me."
                           --SHAKESPEARE's Henry Eighth.

   "These delights, if thou canst give,
    Mirth, with thee I mean to live."
                                 --MILTON's L'Allegro.

The young party at Roselands had now grown so large--several additions having been made to it on Monday afternoon and evening-- that a separate table was ordered to be spread for them in the nursery, where they took their meals together; Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper, taking the head of the table, for the double purpose of keeping them in order, and seeing that their wants were well supplied.

Elsie came in to breakfast, from a brisk walk with her papa, looking fresh and rosy, and bright as the morning; quite different from some of the little guests, who had been up far beyond their usual hours the night before, and, having just left their beds, had come down pale and languid in looks, and in some instances showing peevish and fretful tempers, very trying to the patience of their attendants.

"O Elsie!" exclaimed Carry Howard, as the little girl took her place at the table, "we were all so sorry that you had to leave us so soon last night; we had lots of fun after you left. I think your papa might have let you stay up a little longer; but he has promised that tonight--as we are to have the Christmas-tree, and ever so much will be going on--you shall stay up till half-past nine, if you like. Aren't you glad? I'm sure I am."

"Yes, papa is very kind, and I know I feel much better for going to bed early last night," said Elsie, cheerfully.

"Yes, indeed," remarked Mrs. Brown, "late hours and rich food are very bad for little folks, and I notice that Miss Elsie has grown a deal stronger and healthier-looking since her papa came home; he takes such good care of her."

"Indeed he does," said Elsie heartily, thanking Mrs. Brown with one of her sweetest smiles.

"What are we going to do to-day, Elsie?" asked Caroline.

"Whatever you all prefer," said Elsie. "If you like I will practice that duet with you the first hour after breakfast, or do anything else you wish; but the second hour I must spend with papa, and after that I have nothing to do but entertain my company all day."

"Do you do lessons in holidays?" asked Mary Leslie, a merry, fun- loving child, about Elsie's own age, who considered lessons an intolerable bore, and had some vague idea that they must have been invented for the sole purpose of tormenting children. Her blue eyes opened wide with astonishment when Elsie quietly replied that her papa had kindly arranged to give her an hour every morning, because he knew it would be so much pleasanter for her than spending the whole day in play.

Elsie did keenly enjoy that quiet hour spent in studying and reciting to her father, sitting on a low stool at his feet, or perhaps oftener on his knee, with his arm around her waist.

She had an eager and growing thirst for knowledge, and was an apt scholar, whom any one with the least love for the profession might have delighted in teaching; and Mr. Dinsmore, a thorough scholar himself, and loving knowledge for its own sake--loving also his little pupil with all a father's fond, yearning affection-- delighted in his task.

When Elsie left her father she found that the Carringtons had just arrived. She and Lucy had not seen each other since the week the latter had spent at Roselands early in the summer, and both felt pleased to meet.

Mrs. Carrington gave Elsie a warm embrace, remarking that she had grown, and was looking extremely well; better than she had ever seen her. But no one was more delighted to meet Elsie than Herbert, and she was very glad to learn that his health was gradually improving. He was not, however, at all strong, even yet, and his mother thought it best for him to lie down and rest a little after his ride. She promised to sit by him, and the two little girls went in search of the rest of the young folks.

Several of the older boys had gone out walking or riding, but the younger ones, and all the little girls, were gathered in a little back parlor, where, by Adelaide's care and forethought, a variety of story-books, toys, and games, had been provided for their amusement. Elsie's entrance was hailed with delight, for she was a general favorite.

"Oh! Elsie, can't you tell us what to play?" cried Mary Leslie; "I'm so tired," and she yawned wearily.

"Here are some dissected maps, Mary," replied Elsie, opening a drawer; "would you not like them?"

"No, indeed, thank you; they are too much like lessons."

"Here are blocks; will you build houses?"

"Oh! I am too big for that; they are very nice for little children."

"Will you play jack-stones? here are some smooth pebbles."

"Yes, if you and Carry, and Lucy, will play with me."

"Agreed!" said the others, "let's have a game."

So, Elsie having first set the little ones to building block- houses, supplied Harry Carrington--an older brother of Lucy's-- with a book, and two younger boys with dissected maps to arrange, the four girls sat down in a circle on the carpet and began their game.

For a few moments all went on smoothly; but soon angry and complaining words were heard coming from the corner where the house-building was going on. Elsie left her game to try to make peace.

"What is the matter, Flora, dear?" she asked soothingly of a little curly-headed girl, who was sobbing, and wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron.

"Enna took my blocks," sobbed the child.

"Oh! Enna, won't you give them back?" said Elsie, coaxingly; "you know Flora is a visitor, and we must be very polite to her."

"No, I won't," returned Enna, flatly; "she's got enough now."

"No, I haven't; I can't build a house with those," Flora said, with another sob.

Elsie stood a moment looking much perplexed; then, with a brightening face, exclaimed in her cheerful, pleasant way, "Well, never mind, Flora, dear, I will get you my doll. Will not that do quite as well?"--"Oh! yes, I'd rather have the doll, Elsie," the little weeper answered eagerly, smiling through her tears.

Elsie ran out of the room and was back again almost in a moment, with the doll in her arms.

"There, dear little Flora," she said, laying it gently on the child's lap, "please be careful of it for I have had it a long while, and prize it very much, because my guardian gave it to me when I was a very little girl, and he is dead now."

"I won't break it, Elsie, indeed I won't," replied Flora, confidently; and Elsie sat down to her game again.

A few moments afterward Mr. Horace Dinsmore passed through the room.

"Elsie," he said, as he caught sight of his little daughter, "go up to my dressing-room."

There was evidently displeasure and reproof in his tone, and, entirely unconscious of wrongdoing, Elsie looked up in surprise, asking, "Why, papa?"

"Because I bid you," he replied; and she silently obeyed, wondering greatly what she had done to displease her father.

Mr. Dinsmore passed out of one door while Elsie left by the other.

The three little girls looked inquiringly into each other's faces.

"What is the matter? what has Elsie done?" asked Carry in a whisper.

"I don't know; nothing I guess," replied Lucy, indignantly. "I do believe he's just the crossest man alive! When I was here last summer he was all the time scolding and punishing poor Elsie for just nothing at all."

"I think he must be very strict," said Carry; "but Elsie seems to love him very much."

"Strict! I guess he is!" exclaimed Mary; "why, only think, girls, he makes her do her lessons in the holidays!"

"I suspect she did not know her lesson, and has to learn it over," said Carry, shaking her head wisely; and that was the conclusion they all came to.

In the meantime, Elsie sat down alone in her banishment, and tried to think what she could have done to deserve it.

It was some time before she could form any idea of its cause; but at length it suddenly came to her recollection that once, several months before this, her father had found her sitting on the carpet, and had bade her get up immediately and sit on a chair or stool, saying, "Never let me see you sitting on the floor, Elsie, when there are plenty of seats at hand. I consider it a very unladylike and slovenly trick."

She covered her face with her hands, and sat thus for some moments, feeling very sorry for her forgetfulness and disobedience; very penitent on account of it; and then, kneeling down, she asked forgiveness of God.

A full hour she had been there alone, and the time had seemed very long, when at last the door opened and her father came in.

Elsie rose and came forward to meet him with the air of one who had offended and knew she was in disgrace; but putting one of her little hands in his, she looked up pleadingly into his face, asking, in a slightly tremulous tone, "Dear papa, are you angry with me?"

"I am always displeased when you disobey me, Elsie," he replied, very gravely, laying his other hand on her head.

"I am very sorry I was naughty, papa," she said, humbly, and casting down her eyes, "but I had quite forgotten that you had told me not to sit on the floor, and I could not think for a good while what it was that I had done wrong."

"Is that an excuse for disobedience, Elsie?" he asked in a tone of grave displeasure.

"No, sir; I did not mean it so, and I am very, very sorry; dear papa, please forgive me, and I will try never to forget again."

"I think you disobeyed in another matter," he said.

"Yes, sir, I know it was very naughty to ask why, but I think I will remember not to do it again. Dear papa, won't you forgive me?"

He sat down and took her on his knee.

"Yes, daughter, I will," he said, in his usual kind, affectionate tone; "I am always ready to forgive my little girl when I see that she is sorry for a fault."

She held up her face for a kiss, which he gave.

"I wish I could always be good, papa," she said, "but I am naughty so often."

"No," said he, "I think you have been a very good girl for quite a long time. If you were as naughty as Arthur and Enna, I don't know what I should do with you; whip you every day, I suspect, until I made a better girl of you. Now you may go down to your mates; but remember, you are not to play jack-stones again."

It was now lunch-time, and Elsie found the children in the nursery engaged in eating.

Flora turned to her as she entered.

"Please, Elsie, don't be cross," she said coaxingly: "I am real sorry your doll's broken, but it wasn't my fault Enna would try to snatch it, and that made it fall and break its head."

Poor Elsie! this was quite a trial, and she could scarcely keep back the tears as, following Flora's glance, she saw her valued doll lying on the window-seat with its head broken entirely off. She said not a word, but, hastily crossing the room, took it up and gazed mournfully at it.

Kind Mrs. Brown, who had just finished helping her young charge all round, followed her to the window, "Never mind, dear," she said in her pleasant, cheery tone, patting Elsie's cheek and smoothing her hair "I've got some excellent glue, and I think I can stick it on again and make it almost as good as ever. So come, sit down and eat your lunch, and don't fret any more."

"Thank you, ma'am, you are very kind," Elsie said, trying to smile, as the kind-hearted old lady led her to the table and filled her plate with fruit and cakes.

"These cakes are very simple, not at all rich, my dear, but quite what your papa would approve of," she said, seeing the little girl look doubtfully at them.

"Doesn't your papa let you eat anything good, Elsie?" asked Mary Leslie across the table. "He must be cross."

"No, indeed, he is not, Mary, and he lets me eat everything that he thinks is good for me," Elsie answered with some warmth.

She was seated between Caroline Howard and Lucy Carrington.

"What did your papa send you away for, Elsie?" whispered the latter,

"Please don't ask me, Lucy," replied the little girl, blushing deeply. "Papa always has a good reason for what he does, and he is just the dearest, kindest, and best father that ever anybody had."

Elsie spoke in an eager, excited, almost angry manner, quite unusual with her, while the hot tears came into her eyes, for she knew very well what was Lucy's opinion of her father, and more than half suspected that she had been making some unkind remark about him to the others, and she was eager to remove any unfavorable impression they might have received.

"I am sure he must love you very dearly, Elsie," remarked Caroline, soothingly; "no one could help seeing that just by the way he looks at you."

Elsie answered her with a pleased and grateful look; and then changed the subject by proposing that they should all take a walk as soon as they had finished eating, as the day was fine, and there would be plenty of time before dinner.

The motion was carried without a dissenting voice, and in a few moments they all set out, a very merry party, full of fun and frolic. They had a very pleasant time, and returned barely in season to be dressed for dinner.

They dined by themselves in the nursery, but were afterward taken down to the drawing-room. Here Elsie found herself immediately seized upon by a young lady, dressed in very gay and fashionable style, whom she did not remember ever to have seen before, but who insisted on seating the little girl on the sofa by her side, and keeping her there a long while, loading her with caresses and flattery.

"My dear child," she said, "what lovely hair you have! so fine, and soft, and glossy; such a beautiful color, too, and curls so splendidly! Natural ringlets, I'm sure, are they not?"

"Yes, ma'am," Elsie answered, simply, wishing from the bottom of her heart that the lady would release her, and talk to some one else.

But the lady had no such intention.

"You are a very sweet little girl, I am sure, and I shall love you dearly," she said, kissing her several times. "Ah! I would give anything if I had such a clear fair complexion and such rosy cheeks. That makes you blush. Well, I like to see it; blushes are very becoming. Oh! you needn't pretend you don't know you're handsome; you're a perfect little beauty. Do tell me, where did you get such splendid eyes! But I needn't ask, for I have only to look at your father to see where they came from. Mr. Dinsmore"--to Elsie's papa, who just then came toward them--"you ought to be very proud of this child; she is the very image of yourself, and a perfect little beauty, too."

"Miss Stevens is pleased to flatter me," he said, bowing low; "but flattery is not good for either grown-up children or younger ones, and I must beg leave to decline the compliment, as I cannot see that Elsie bears the slightest resemblance to me or any of my family. She is very like her mother, though," he added, with a half sigh and a tender, loving glance at his little girl, "and that is just what I would have her. But I am forgetting my errand, Miss Stevens; I came to ask if you will ride this afternoon, as we are getting up a small party."

"Yes, thank you, I should like it dearly, it is such a lovely day. But how soon do you start?"

"As soon as the ladies can be ready. The horses will be at the door in a very few moments."

"Ah! then I must go and prepare," she said, rising and sailing out of the room.

Mr. Dinsmore took the seat she had vacated, and, passing his arm round his little girl, said to her in an undertone, "My little daughter must not be so foolish as to believe that people mean all they say to her; for some persons talk in a very thoughtless way, and, without perhaps intending to be exactly untruthful, say a great deal that they really do not mean. And I should be sorry, indeed, to see my little girl so spoiled by all this silly flattery as to grow up conceited and vain."

She looked at him with her own sweet innocent smile, free from the slightest touch of vanity.

"No, papa," she said, "I do not mind, when people say such things, because I know the Bible says, 'Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain;' and in another place, 'He that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet.' So I will try to keep away from that lady; shall I not, papa?"

"Whenever you can do so without rudeness, daughter;" and he moved away, thinking to himself, "How strangely the teachings of that book seem to preserve my child from every evil influence."

A sigh escaped him. There was lurking within his breast a vague consciousness that her father needed such a safeguard, but had it not.

Lucy, who was standing at the window, turned quickly round.

"Come, girls," she said, "let us run out and see them off; they're bringing up the horses. And see, there's Miss Adelaide in her riding-dress and cap; how pretty she looks! And there's that Miss Stevens coming out now; hateful thing! I can't bear her! Come, Elsie and Carry!"

And she ran out, Caroline and Elsie following. Elsie, however, went no further than the hall, where she stood still at the foot of the stairs.

"Come, Elsie," called the other two from the portico, "come out here."

"No," replied the little girl, "I cannot come without something round me. Papa says it is too cold for me to be out in the wind to-day with my neck and arms bare."

"Pooh! nonsense!" said Lucy, "'tain't a bit cold; do come now."

"No, Lucy, I must obey my father," Elsie answered in a very pleasant but no less decided tone.

Some one caught her round the waist and lifted her up.

"Oh! papa," she exclaimed, "I did not know you were there! I wish I was going too; I don't like to have you go without me."

"I wish you were, my pet; I always love to have you with me; but you know it wouldn't do; you have your little guests to entertain. Good-by, darling. Don't go out in the cold."

He kissed her, as he always did now, when leaving her even for an hour or two, and set her down.

The little girls watched until the last of the party had disappeared down the avenue, and then ran gayly up-stairs to Elsie's room, where they busied themselves until tea-time in various little preparations for the evening, such as dressing dolls, and tying up bundles of confectionery, etc., to be hung upon the Christmas-tree.

The children had all noticed that the doors of a parlor opening into the drawing-room had been closed since morning to all but a favored few, who passed in and out, with an air of mystery and importance, and generally laden with some odd-looking bundle when going in, which they invariably left behind on coming out again, and many a whispered consultation had been held as to what was probably going on in there. Elsie and Carry seemed to be in the secret, but only smiled and shook their heads wisely when questioned.

But at length tea being over, and all, both old and young, assembled as if by common consent in the drawing-room, it began to be whispered about that their curiosity was now on the point of being gratified.

All were immediately on the qui vive, and every face brightened with mirth and expectation; and when, a moment after, the doors were thrown open, there was a universal burst of applause.

A large Christmas-tree had been set up at the further end of the room, and, with its myriad of lighted tapers, and its load of toys and bonbons, interspersed with many a richer and more costly gift, made quite a display.

"Beautiful! beautiful!" cried the children, clapping their hands and dancing about with delight, while their elders, perhaps equally pleased, expressed their admiration after a more staid and sober fashion. When they thought their handiwork had been sufficiently admired, Mrs. Dinsmore and Adelaide approached the tree and began the pleasant task of distributing the gifts.

Everything was labelled, and each, as his or her name was called out, stepped forward to receive the present.

No one had been forgotten; each had something, and almost every one had several pretty presents. Mary Leslie and little Flora Arnott were made perfectly happy with wax dolls that could open and shut their eyes; Caroline Howard received a gold chain from her mamma, and a pretty pin from Elsie; Lucy, a set of coral ornaments, besides several smaller presents; and others were equally fortunate. All was mirth and hilarity; only one clouded face to be seen, and that belonged to Enna, who was pouting in a corner because Mary Leslie's doll was a little larger than hers.

Elsie had already received a pretty bracelet from her Aunt Adelaide, a needle-case from Lora, and several little gifts from her young guests, and was just beginning to wonder what had become of her papa's promised present, when she heard her name again, and Adelaide, turning to her with a pleased look, slipped a most beautiful diamond ring on her finger.

"From your papa," she said. "Go and thank him: it is well worth it."

Elsie sought him out where he stood alone in a corner, an amused spectator of the merry scene.

"See, papa," she said, holding up her hand. "I think it very beautiful; thank you, dear papa, thank you very much."

"Does it please you, my darling?" he asked, stooping to press a kiss on the little upturned face, so bright and happy.

"Yes, papa, I think it is lovely! the very prettiest ring I ever saw."

"Yet I think there is something else you would have liked better; is there not?" he asked, looking searchingly into her face.

"Dear papa, I like it very much; I would rather have it than anything else on the tree."

"Still you have not answered my question," he said, with a smile, as he sat down and drew her to his side, adding in a playful tone, "Come, I am not going to put up with any evasion; tell me truly if you would have preferred something else, and if so, what it is."

Elsie blushed and looked down; then raising her eyes, and seeing with what a tender, loving glance he was regarding her, she took courage to say, "Yes papa, there is one thing I would have liked better, and that is your miniature."

To her surprise he looked highly pleased at her reply, and giving her another kiss, said, "Well, darling, some day you shall have it."

"Mr. Horace Dinsmore," called Adelaide, taking some small, glittering object from the tree.

"Another present for me?" he asked, as Walter came running with it.

He had already received several, from his father and sisters, but none had seemed to give him half the pleasure that this did when he saw that it was labelled, "From his little daughter."

It was only a gold pencil. The miniature--with which the artist had succeeded so well that nothing could have been prettier except the original herself--she had reserved to be given in another way.

"Do you like it, papa?" she asked, her face glowing with delight to see how pleased he was.

"Yes, darling, very much; and I shall always think of my little girl when I use it."

"Keep it in your pocket, and use it every day, won't you, papa?"

"Yes, my pet, I will; but I thought you said you had no present for me?"

"Oh! no, no, papa; I said there was none for you amongst those bundles. I had bought this, but had given it to Aunt Adelaide to take care of, for fear you might happen to see it."

"Ah! that was it, eh?" and he laughed and stroked her hair.

"Here, Elsie, here is your bundle of candy," said Walter, running up to them again. "Everybody has one, and that is yours, Adelaide says."

He put it in her hand, and ran away again. Elsie looked up in her father's face inquiringly.

"No, darling," he said, taking the paper from her hand and examining its contents, "not to-night; to-morrow, after breakfast, you may eat the cream-candy and the rock, but none of the others; they are colored, and very unwholesome."

"Won't you eat some, papa?" she asked with winning sweetness.

"No, dearest," he said; "for though I, too, am fond of sweet things, I will not eat them while I refuse them to you."

"Do, papa," she urged, "it would give me pleasure to see you enjoying it."

"No, darling, I will wait until to-morrow, too."

"Then please keep it for me until to-morrow, papa, will you?"

"Yes," he said, putting it in his pocket; and then, as the gifts had all been distributed, and the little folks were in high glee, a variety of sports were commenced by them, in which some of their elders also took a part; and thus the hours sped away so rapidly that Elsie was very much surprised when her father called her to go to bed.

"Is it half-past nine already, papa?" she asked.

"It is ten, my dear child, and high time you were in bed," he said, smiling at her look of astonishment. "I hope you have enjoyed yourself."

"Oh! so much, papa. Good-night, and thank you for letting me stay up so long."