Chapter VII.
  How many pleasant faces shed their light on every side.


"Remember it is for only one week; you must be back again next Wednesday by ten o'clock; I can't spare you an hour longer," Mr. Dinsmore said, as the next morning, shortly after breakfast, he assisted his daughter to mount her pony.

"Ten o'clock at night, papa?" asked Elsie in a gay, jesting tone, as she settled herself in the saddle, and took a little gold-mounted riding whip from his hand.

"No, ten A.M., precisely."

"But what if it should be storming, sir?"

"Then come as soon as the storm is over."

"Yes, sir; and may I come sooner if I get homesick?"

"Just as soon as you please. Now, good-bye, my darling. Don't go into any danger. I know I need not remind you to do nothing your father would disapprove."

"I hope not, papa," she said, with a loving look into the eyes that were gazing so fondly upon her. Then kissing her hand to him and her mamma and little Horace, who stood on the veranda to see her off, she turned her horse's head and cantered merrily away, taking the road to Ashlands on passing out at the gate.

It was a bright, breezy morning, and her heart felt so light and gay that a snatch of glad song rose to her lips. She warbled a few bird-like notes, then fell to humming softly to herself.

At a little distance down the road a light wagon was rumbling along, driven by one of the man-servants from the Oaks, and carrying Aunt Chloe and her young mistress' trunks.

"Come, Jim," said Elsie, glancing over her shoulder at her attendant satellite, "we must pass them. Glossy and I are in haste to-day. Ah, mammy, are you enjoying your ride?" she called to her old nurse as she cantered swiftly by.

"Yes, dat I is, honey!" returned the old woman. Then sending a loving, admiring look after the retreating form so full of symmetry and grace, "My bressed chile!" she murmured, "you's beautiful as de mornin', your ole mammy tinks, an' sweet as de finest rose in de garden; bright an' happy as de day am long, too."

"De beautifullest in all de country, an' de finest," chimed in her charioteer.

The young people at Ashlands were all out on the veranda enjoying the fresh morning air--Herbert lying on a lounge with a book in his hand; Harry and Lucy seated on opposite sides of a small round table and deep in a game of chess; two little fellows of six and eight--John and Archie by name--were spinning a top.

"There she is! I had almost given her up; for I didn't believe that old father of hers would let her come," cried Lucy, catching sight of Glossy and her rider just entering the avenue; and she sprang up in such haste as to upset half the men upon the board.

"Hollo! see what you've done!" exclaimed Harry. "Why, it's Elsie, sure enough!" and he hastily followed in the wake of his sister, who had already flown to meet and welcome her friend; while Herbert started up to a sitting posture, and looked enviously after them.

"Archie, John," he called, "one of you please be good enough to hand me my crutch and cane. Dear me, what a thing it is to be a cripple!"

"I'll get 'em, Herbie, this minute! Don't you try to step without 'em," said Archie, jumping up to hand them.

But Elsie had already alighted from her horse with Harry's assistance, and shaken hands with him, returned Lucy's rapturous embrace as warmly as it was given, and stepped upon the veranda with her before Herbert was fairly upon his feet. As she caught sight of him she hurried forward, her sweet face full of tender pity.

"Oh, don't try to come to meet me, Herbert," she said, holding out her little gloved hand; "I know your poor limb is worse than usual, and you, must not exert yourself for an old friend like me."

"Ah," he said, taking the offered hand, and looking at its owner with a glad light in his eyes, "How like you that is, Elsie! You always were more thoughtful of others than any one else I ever knew. Yes, my limb is pretty bad just now; but the doctor thinks he'll conquer the disease yet; at least so far as to relieve me of the pain I suffer."

"I hope so, indeed. How patiently you have borne it all these long years," she answered with earnest sympathy of tone and look.

"So he has; he deserves the greatest amount of credit for it," said Lucy, as John and Archie in turn claimed Elsie's attention for a moment. "But come now, let me take you to mamma and grandma, and then to your own room. Aunt Chloe and your luggage will be along presently, I suppose."

"Yes, they are coming up the avenue now."

Lucy led the way to a large pleasant, airy apartment in one of the wings of the building, where they found Mrs. Carrington busily occupied in cutting out garments for her servants, her parents Mr. and Mrs. Norris with her, the one reading a newspaper, the other knitting. All three gave the young guest a very warm welcome. She was evidently a great favorite with the whole family.

These greetings and the usual mutual inquiries in regard to the health of friends and relatives having been exchanged, Elsie was next carried off by Lucy to the room prepared for her special use during her stay at Ashlands. It also was large, airy, and cheerful, on the second floor--opening upon a veranda on one side, on the other into a similar apartment occupied by Lucy herself. Pine India matting, furniture of some kind of yellow grained wood, snowy counterpanes, curtains and toilet covers gave them both an air of coolness and simple elegance, while vases of fresh flowers upon the mantels shed around a slight but delicious perfume.

Of course the two girls were full of lively, innocent chat. In the midst of it Elsie exclaimed, "Oh, Lucy! I have just the loveliest book you ever read! a present from Mr. Travilla the other day, and I've brought it along. Papa had begun it, but he is so kind he insisted I should bring it with me; and so I did."

"Oh, I'm glad! we haven't had anything new in the story-book line for some time. Have you read it yourself?"

"Partly; but it is worth reading several times; and I thought we would enjoy it all together--one reading aloud."

"Oh, 'tis just the thing! I'm going to help mamma to-day with the sewing, and a nice book read aloud will make it quite enjoyable. We'll have you for reader, Elsie, if you are agreed."

"Suppose we take turns sewing and reading? I'd like to help your mamma, too."

"Thank you; well, we'll see. Herbert's a good reader, and I daresay will be glad to take his turn at it too. Ah, here comes your baggage and Aunt Chloe following it. Here, Bob and Jack," to the two stalwart black fellows who were carrying the trunk, "set it in this corner. How d'ye do, Aunt Chloe?"

"Berry well, tank you, missy," replied the old nurse, dropping a courtesy. "I'se berry glad to see you lookin' so bright dis here mornin'."

"Thank you. Now make yourself at home and take good care of your young mistress."

"Dat I will, missy; best I knows how. Trus' dis chile for dat."

Elsie's riding habit was quickly exchanged for a house dress, her hair made smooth and shining as its wont, and securing her book she returned with Lucy to the lower veranda, where they found Herbert still extended upon his sofa.

His face brightened at sight of Elsie. He had laid aside his book, and was at work with his knife upon a bit of soft pine wood. He whiled away many a tedious hour by fashioning in this manner little boxes, whistles, sets of baby-house furniture, etc., etc., for one and another of his small friends. Books, magazines, and newspapers filled up the larger portion of his time, but could not occupy it all, for, as he said, he must digest his mental food, and he liked to have employment for his fingers while doing so.

"Please be good enough to sit where I can look at you without too great an effort, won't you?" he said, smiling up into Elsie's face.

"Yes, if that will afford you any pleasure," she answered lightly, as Lucy beckoned to a colored girl, who stepped forward and placed a low rocking chair at the side of the couch.

"There, that is just right. I can have a full view of your face by merely raising my eyes," Herbert said with satisfaction, as Elsie seated herself in it. "What, you have brought a book?"

"Yes," and while Elsie went on to repeat the substance of what she had told Lucy, the latter slipped away to her mamma's room to make arrangements about the work, and ask if they would not all like to come and listen to the reading.

"Is it the kind of book to interest an old body like me?" asked Mrs. Norris.

"I don't know, grandma; but Elsie says Mr. Travilla and her papa were both delighted with it. Mr. Dinsmore, though, had not read the whole of it."

"Suppose we go and try it for a while then," said Mr. Morris, laying down his paper. "If our little Elsie is to be the reader, I for one am pretty sure to enjoy listening, her voice is so sweet-toned and her enunciation so clear and distinct."

"That's you, grandpa!" cried Lucy, clapping her hands in applause. "Yes, you'd better all come, Elsie is to be the reader at the start; she says she does not mind beginning the story over again."

Mrs. Carrington began gathering up her work, laying the garments already cut out in a large basket, which was then carried by her maid to the veranda. In a few moments Elsie had quite an audience gathered about her, ere long a deeply interested one; scissors or needle had now and again to be dropped to wipe away a falling tear, and the voice of the reader needed steadying more than once or twice. Then Herbert took his turn at the book, Elsie hers with the needle, Mrs. Carrington half reluctantly yielding to her urgent request to be allowed to assist them.

So the morning, and much of the afternoon also, passed most pleasantly, and not unprofitably either. A walk toward sundown, and afterward a delightful moonlight ride with Harry Carrington and Winthrop Lansing, the son of a neighboring planter, finished the day, and Elsie retired to her own room at her usual early hour. Lucy followed and kept her chatting quite a while, for which Elsie's tender conscience reproached her somewhat; yet she was not long in falling asleep after her head had once touched her pillow.

The next day was passed in a similar manner, still more time being given to the reading, as they were able to begin it earlier: yet the book was not finished; but on the morning of the next day, which was Friday, Lucy proposed that, if the plan was agreeable to Elsie, they should spend an hour or two in a new amusement; which was no other than going into the dominions of Aunt Viney, the cook, and assisting in beating eggs and making cake.

Elsie was charmed with the idea, and it was immediately carried out, to the great astonishment of Chloe, Aunt Viney, and all her sable tribe.

"Sho, Miss Lucy! what fo' you go for to fotch de company right yere into dis yere ole dirty kitchen?" cried Aunt Viney, dropping a hasty courtesy to Elsie, then hurrying hither and thither in the vain effort to set everything to rights in a moment of time. "Clar out o' yere, you, Han an' Scip," she cried, addressing two small urchins of dusky hue and driving them before her as she spoke, "dere aint no room yere fo' you, an' kitchens aint no place for darkies o' your size or sect. I'll fling de dishcloth at yo' brack faces ef yo' comes in agin fo' you sent for. I 'clare Miss Elsie, an' Miss Lucy, dose dirty niggahs make sich a muss in yere, dere aint a char fit for you to set down in," she continued, hastily cleaning two, and wiping them with her apron. "I'se glad to see you, ladies, but ef I'd knowed you was a-comin' dis kitchen shu'd had a cleanin' up fo' shuah."

"You see, Aunt Viney, you ought to keep it in order, and then you would be ready for visitors whenever they happened to come," said Lucy laughingly. "Why, you're really quite out of breath with whisking about so fast. We've come to help you."

The fat old negress, still panting from her unwonted exertions, straightened herself, pushed back her turban, and gazed in round-eyed wonder upon her young mistress.

"What! Missy help ole Aunt Viney wid dose lily-white hands? Oh, go 'long! you's jokin' dis time fo' shuah."

"No indeed; we want the fun of helping to make some of the cake for to-morrow. You know we want ever so many kinds to celebrate our two birthdays."

"Two birthdays, Miss Lucy? yo's and Massa Herbert's? Yes, dat's it; I don't disremember de day, but I do disremember de age."

"Sixteen; and now we're going to have a nice party to celebrate the day, and you must see that the refreshments are got up in your very best style."

"So I will, Miss Lucy, an' no 'casion for you and Miss Elsie to trouble yo' young heads 'bout de makin' ob de cakes an' jellies an' custards an' sich. Ole Aunt Viney can 'tend to it all."

"But we want the fun of it," persisted Lucy; "we want to try our hands at beating eggs, rolling sugar, sifting flour, etc., etc. I've got a grand new receipt book here, and we'll read out the recipes to you, and measure and weigh the materials, and you can do the mixing and baking."

"Yes, missy, you' lily hands no' hab strength to stir, an' de fire spoil yo' buful 'plexions for shuah."

"I've brought mamma's keys," said Lucy; "come along with us to the store-room, Aunt Viney, and I'll deal out the sugar, spices, and whatever else you want."

"Yes, Miss Lucy; but 'deed I don't need no help. You's berry kind, but ole Viney kin do it all, an' she'll have eberything fus'-rate fo' de young gemmen an' ladies."

"But that isn't the thing, auntie; you don't seem to understand. Miss Elsie and I want the fun, and to learn to cook, too. Who knows but we may some day have to do our own work?"

"Bress de Lord, Miss Lucy, how you talk, honey!" cried the old negress, rolling up her eyes in horror at the thought.

"Take care; Miss Elsie will think you very wicked if you use such exclamations as that."

"Dat wrong, you t'ink, missy?" asked Aunt Viney, turning to the young visitor, who had gone with them to the store-room, and was assisting Lucy in the work of measuring and weighing the needed articles.

"I think it is," she answered gently; "we should be very careful not to use the sacred name lightly. To do so is to break the third commandment."

"Den, missy, dis ole gal won't neber do it no more."

Chloe had been an excellent cook in her young days, and had not forgotten or lost her former skill in the preparation of toothsome dainties. She, too, came with offers of assistance, and the four were soon deep in the mysteries of pastry, sweetmeats, and confections. Novelty gave it an especial charm to the young ladies, and they grew very merry and talkative, while their ignorance of the business in hand, the odd mistakes they fell into in consequence, and the comical questions they asked, gave much secret amusement to the two old servants.

"What's this pound cake to be mixed up in, Aunt Viney?" asked Lucy.

"In dis yere tin pan, missy."

"Is it clean?"

"Yes, missy, it's clean; but maybe 'taint suffishently clean, I'll wash it agin."

"How many kinds of cake shall we make?" asked Elsie.

"Every kind that Chloe and Aunt Viney can think of and know how to make well. Let me see--delicate cake, gold, silver and clove, fruitcake, sponge, and what else?"

"Mammy makes delicious jumbles."

"Will you make us some, Aunt Chloe?"

Chloe signified her readiness to do whatever was desired, and began at once to collect her implements.

"Got a rollin' pin, Aunt Viney?" she asked.

"Yes, to be shuah, a revoltin' roller, de very bes' kind. No, Miss Elsie, don' mix de eggs dat way, you spile 'em ef you mix de yaller all up wid de whites. An' Miss Lucy, butter an' sugar mus' be worked up togedder fus', till de butter resolve de sugah, 'fore we puts de udder gredinents in."

"Ah, I see we have a good deal to learn before we can hope to rival you as cooks, Aunt Viney," laughed Lucy.

"I spec' so, missy; you throw all de gredinents in togedder, an' tumble your flouah in all at once, an' you nebber get your cake nice an light."

They had nearly reached the end of their labors when sounds as of scuffling, mingled with loud boyish laughter, and cries of "That's it, Scip, hit him again! Pitch into him, Han, and pay him off well for it!" drew them all in haste to the window and door.

The two little darkies who had been ejected from the kitchen, were tussling in the yard, while their young masters, John and Archie, looked on, shaking with laughter, and clapping their hands in noisy glee.

"What's all this racket about?" asked Grandpa Norris, coming out upon the veranda, newspaper in hand, Herbert limping along by his side.

"The old feud between Roman and Carthaginian, sir," replied John.

"Why, what do you mean, child?"

"Hannah Ball waging a war on Skipio, you know, sir."

"History repeating itself, eh?" laughed Herbert.

"Ah, that's an old joke, Archie," said his grandfather. "And you're too big a rogue to set them at such work. Han and Scip, stop that at once."