Chapter Eighteenth.
 
"Thus far our fortune keeps an onward course
And we are grac'd with wreaths of victory."

"Victory!" shouted Horace, Jr., waving his handkerchief about his head, "victory, and an end to the reign of terror! Hurrah for the brave troops of Uncle Sam that came so opportunely to the rescue! Come, let us sally forth to meet them. Elsie, unlock your stores and furnish the refreshments they have so well earned."

"They draw nearer!" cried Arthur, who had been listening intently. "Haste! they must be about entering the avenue. They will meet the raiders. Travilla, uncle, shall we make an opening here in our breastworks?"

"Yes," answered both in a breath, then, as if struck by a sudden thought, "No, no, let us reconnoitre first!" cried Mr. Dinsmore. "Horace, run up to the observatory, take a careful survey, and report as promptly as possible."

Horace bounded away, hardly waiting to hear the conclusion of the sentence.

"I counsel delay," said old Mr. Dinsmore who was peering through a loophole, "the troops have not entered the avenue, the Ku Klux may return; though I do not expect it after the severe repulse we have twice given them; but 'discretion is the better part of valor.'"

"Right, sir," said Mr. Lilburn, "let us give them no chance for a more successful onslaught."

"Oh, yes, do be careful!" cried the ladies, joining them, "don't tear down the least part of our defences yet."

"Have they really fled? Are you all unhurt?" asked Rose in trembling tones.

"Edward! papa!" faltered Elsie.

"Safe and sound," they both answered.

"Thank God! thank God!" she cried as her husband folded her in his arms, and her father took her hand in his, while with the other arm he embraced Rose.

"We have indeed cause for thankfulness," said Arthur, returning from a hurried circuit of the verandas, "not one on our side has received a scratch. But I have ordered the men to remain at their posts for the present."

Horace came rushing back. "I can not understand it! I see no sign of troops, though--"

"The darkness," suggested his mother.

"Hark! hark! the bugle call; they are charging on the Ku Klux!" exclaimed Arthur, as a silvery sound came floating on the night breeze.

"Oh they have come! they have come!" cried Rosie, clapping her hands and dancing up and down with delight. "Now our troubles are over and there will be no more of these dreadful raids." And in the exuberance of her joy she embraced first her mother, then her sister, and lastly threw herself into her father's arms.

"Ah I wish it were so," he said caressing her, "but I begin to fear that the sounds we have heard with so much relief and pleasure, were as unreal as Bruno's talking a while ago."

"Oh, was it you, Mr. Lilburn?" she cried in a tone of sore disappointment.

"Ah well, my bonnie lassie, the Ku Klux are gone at all events: let us be thankful for that," he answered.

"What, what does it all mean?" asked the two young men in a breath, "what strange deception has been practiced upon us?"

"My cousin is a ventriloquist," replied Elsie, "and has done us good service in using his talent to help in driving away the Ku Klux."

He instantly received a unanimous vote of thanks, and the young people began pouring out eager questions and remarks:

"Another time; my work is but half done! I must pursue!" he cried, hastily leaving them to seek an exit from the house.

Elsie hurried away to see if her little ones still slept. All did but little Elsie, and she was full of joy and thankfulness that her dear papa's cruel foes had been driven away.

"Ah, mamma, God has heard our prayers and helped us out of this great trouble!" she said, receiving and returning a tender embrace.

"Indeed he has, daughter, let us thank him for his goodness, and ever put our trust in him. Have you been long awake?"

"It was their dreadful screams that waked me, mamma. I couldn't help crying for one man; it seemed as if he must be in such an agony of pain. Uncle Joe says Aunt Dicey and the others threw boiling soap into his eyes, and all over his face and head. Mamma aren't you sorry for him?"

"Yes, indeed!" and the child felt a great tear fall on her head, resting on her mother's bosom, "poor, poor fellow! he finds the way of transgressors hard, as the Bible says it is. Now, darling, lie down again and try to sleep, I think the danger is all over for to-night."

Returning she met her husband in the hall, "I have been to tell Leland the good news!" he said; "he is very happy over it. And now, dear wife, go to bed and sleep, if you can; you are looking very weary, and I think need fear no further disturbance. Your grandfather, Mrs. Dinsmore and Rosie have yielded to our persuasions and retired."

"And you and papa?"

"Can easily stand the loss of one night's sleep, but may perhaps get an hour or so of repose upon the sofas. But we will keep a constant watch till sunrise. Arthur and Horace are going up to the observatory again, while the rest of us will pace the veranda by turns."

Morning found the Ion mansion wearing much the appearance of a recently besieged fortress. How many of the Klan had lost their lives it was impossible to tell, but probably only a small number, as the aim of the party of defense had been, by mutual agreement, to disable and not to slay; but it was thought the assailants had suffered a sufficiently severe punishment to deter them from a renewal of the attack. Also Mr. Lilburn's pursuit keeping up the delusion that troops were at hand, had greatly frightened and demoralized them. So the barricades were presently taken down, and gradually the dwelling and its surroundings resumed their usual aspect of neatness, order, and elegance.

All the friends remained to breakfast, but their presence did not exclude the children from the table.

While the guests were being helped, there was a momentary silence broken by a faint squeal that seemed to come from under Eddie's plate.

"Mousie at de table!" cried Harold; then "Oh me dot a bird!" as the notes of a canary came from underneath his plate.

"Pick up your plates and let us see the mouse and the bird," said their papa, smiling.

They obeyed.

"Ah, I knew there was nothing there," said Eddie, laughing and looking at Cousin Ronald, while Harold gazing at the table-cloth in disappointed surprise, cried, "Ah it's gone! it must have flewed away."

Calhoun Conly, knowing nothing, but suspecting a great deal, and full of anxiety, repaired to Ion directly after breakfast. Blood-stains on the ground without and within the gate, and here and there along the avenue as he rode up to the house, confirmed his surmise that his friends had been attacked by the Ku Klux the previous night. He found them all in the library talking the matter over.

"Ah, sir! like a brave man and a true friend, you come when the fight is over," was his grandfather's sarcastic greeting.

"It was my misfortune, sir, to be unable in this instance, to follow my inclination," returned the young man, coloring to the very roots of his hair with mortification. "But"--glancing around the circle--"heaven be thanked that I find you all unhurt," he added with a sigh that told that a great load had been taken from his heart. "May I hear the story? I see the men are tearing down a breastwork and I suppose the attacking party must have been a large one."

"Not too large, however, for us to beat back and defeat without your assistance," growled his grandfather.

"Ah, grandpa, he would have helped if he could," said Mrs. Travilla. "Sit down, Cal, we are very glad to see you."

His uncle and Travilla joined in the assurance, but Horace and Arthur regarded him rather coldly, and "Cousin Ronald" thought he deserved some slight punishment.

As he attempted to take the offered seat, "Squeal! squeal! squeal!" came from his coat pocket, causing him to start and redden again, with renewed embarrassment.

"O Cousin Cal! has you dot a wee little piggie in your pocket? Let me see him," cried Harold, running up and trying to get a peep at it; then starting back with a cry of alarm, at a sudden loud barking, as of an infuriated dog, at Calhoun's heels.

Bruno came bounding in with an answering bark; Calhoun thrusting his hand into his pocket with purpose to summarily eject the pig, and at the same time wheeling about to confront his canine antagonist, looked utterly confounded at finding none there, while to add to his confusion and perplexity, a bee seemed to be circling round his head, now buzzing at one ear, now at the other.

He tried to dodge it, he put up his hand to drive it away, then wheeled about a second time, as the furious bark was renewed in his rear but turned pale and looked absolutely frightened at the discovery that the dog was still invisible; then reddened again at perceiving that everybody was laughing.

His cousin Elsie was trying to explain, but could not make herself heard above the furious barking. She looked imploringly at Mr. Lilburn, and it ceased on the instant.

Calhoun dropped into a chair and glanced inquiringly from one to another.

His uncle answered him in a single word, "Ventriloquism."

"Sold!" exclaimed the youth, joining faintly in the mirth. "Strange I did not think of that, though how could I suppose there was a ventriloquist here?"

"An excellent one, is he not? You must hear what good service he did last night," said Mr. Travilla, and went on to tell the story of the attack and defense.

Elsie and Eddie listened to the account with keen interest. Vi, who had been devoting herself in motherly fashion to a favorite doll, laid it aside to hear what was said; but Harold was playing with Bruno, who seemed hardly yet to have recovered from his wonder at not finding the strange canine intruder who had so roused his ire.

Harold had climbed upon his back, and with his arms around his neck, was talking to him in an undertone. "Now you's my horse, Bruno; let's go ridin' like papa and Beppo."

The dog started toward the door. "With all my heart, little master; which way shall we go?"

"Why, Bruno, you s'prise me! can you talk?" cried the little fellow in great delight. "Why didn't you begin sooner? Mamma, oh mamma, did you hear Bruno talk?"

Mamma smiled, and said gently, "Be quiet, son, while papa and the rest are talking: or else take Bruno out to the veranda."

Cousin Ronald was amusing himself with the children. Vi's doll presently began to cry and call upon her to be taken up, and she ran to it in surprised delight, till she remembered that it was "only Cousin Ronald and not dolly at all."

But Cousin Ronald had a higher object than his own or the children's amusement: he was trying to divert their thoughts from the doings of the Ku Klux, lest they should grow timid and fearful.