Chapter First.
 
"Meantime a smiling offspring rises round,
And mingles both their graces. By degrees
The human blossom blows, and every day,
Soft as it rolls along, shows some new charm,
The father's lustre, and the mother's bloom."
--Thomson's Seasons

"Mamma! Papa too!" It was a glad shout of a chorus of young voices as four pairs of little feet came pattering up the avenue and into the veranda; then as many ruby lips were held up for the morning kiss from the children's dearly loved father.

They had already had their half hour with mamma, which made so sweet a beginning of each day, yet she too must have a liberal share of the eagerly bestowed caresses; while Bruno, a great Newfoundland, the pet, playfellow, and guardian of the little flock, testified his delight in the scene by leaping about among them, fawning upon one and another, wagging his tail, and uttering again and again a short, joyous bark.

Then followed a merry romp, cut short by the ringing of the breakfast bell, when all trooped into the house, Harold riding on papa's shoulder, mamma following with Elsie, Eddie and Vi; while Dinah, with Baby Herbert in her arms; brought up the rear.

The children had been very gay, full of laughter and sweet innocent prattle, but a sudden hush fell upon them when seated about the table in the bright, cheerful breakfast parlor; little hands were meekly folded and each young head bent reverently over the plate, while in a few simple words which all could understand, their father gave God thanks for their food and asked his blessing upon it.

The Ion children were never rude even in their play, and their table manners were almost perfect; made the constant companions of cultivated, refined parents--whose politeness springing from genuine unselfishness, was never laid aside, but shown on all occasions and to rich and poor, old and young alike--and governed with a wise mixture of indulgence and restraint, mildness and firmness, they imitated the copies set before them and were seldom other than gentle and amiable in their deportment, not only toward their superiors, but to equals and inferiors also.

They were never told that "children should be seen and not heard," but when no guests were present, were allowed to talk in moderation; a gentle word or look of reproof from papa or mamma being quite sufficient to check any tendency to boisterousness or undue loquacity.

"I think we should celebrate this anniversary, Elsie," remarked Mr. Travilla, stirring his coffee and gazing with fond admiration into the sweet face at the opposite end of the table.

"Yes, sir, though we are rather late in thinking of it," she answered smilingly, the rose deepening slightly on her cheek as delicately rounded and tinted as it had been ten years ago.

Little Elsie looked up inquiringly. "What is it, papa? I do not remember."

"Do you not? Ten years ago to-day there was a grand wedding at the Oaks, and your mamma and I were there."

"I too?" asked Eddie.

"Yes, course, Eddie," spoke up five year old Violet, "grandpa would 'vite you and all of us; and I b'lieve I 'member a little about it."

"Me too," piped the baby voice of Harold, "me sat on papa's knee."

There was a general laugh, the two little prattlers joining in right merrily.

"I really don't remember that part of it, Harold," said papa, while wee Elsie--as she was often called by way of distinguishing her from mamma, for whom she was named--shook her curly head at him with a merry "Oh, you dear little rogue, you don't know what you are talking about;" and mamma remarked, "Vi has perhaps a slight recollection of May Allison's wedding."

"But this one at the Oaks must have been before I was born," said Elsie, "because you said it was ten years ago, and I'm only nine. O, mamma, was it your wedding?"

"Yes, daughter. Shall we invite our friends for this evening, Edward?"

"Yes, wife; suppose we make it a family party, inviting only relatives, connections and very intimate friends."

After a little more discussion it was decided they would do so; also that the children should have a full holiday, and while their mother was giving orders and overseeing the necessary preparations for the entertainment, papa should take them all in the roomy family carriage and drive over to the Oaks, Roselands, Ashlands and Pinegrove to give the invitations. Beside these near friends only the minister and his wife were to be asked; but as Adelaide and her family were at this time paying a visit to Roselands, and Lucy Ross was doing the same at her old home, and all the younger generation except the mere babies, were to be included in the invitation, should all accept it would be by no means a small assemblage.

Early hours were named for the sake of the little ones; guests to come at six, refreshments to be served at eight, and the Ion children, if each would take a nap in the afternoon, to be allowed to stay up till nine.

How delighted they were: how the little eyes danced and sparkled, and how eagerly they engaged to fulfill the conditions, and not to fret or look cross when summoned at nine, to leave the drawing-room and be put to bed.

"O, mamma, won't you wear your wedding dress?" cried little Elsie; "do, dear mamma, so that we may all see just how you looked when you were married."

Elsie smiled, "You forget, daughter, that I am ten years older now, and the face cannot be quite the same."

"The years have robbed it of none of its beauty," said Mr. Travilla.

"Ah, love is blind," she returned with a blush and smile as charming as those of her girlhood's days. "And the dress is quite out of date."

"No matter for that. It would gratify me as well as the children to see you in it."

"Then it shall be worn, if it fits or can be altered in season."

"Veil and all, mamma," pleaded Elsie, "it is so beautiful--Mammy showed it to me only the other day and told me you looked so, so lovely; and she will put the orange blossoms in your hair and on your dress just as they were that night; for she remembers all about it."

The children, ready dressed for their drive, were gathered in a merry group on the veranda, Eddie astride of Bruno, waiting for papa and the carriage, when a horse came cantering up the avenue, and Mr. Horace Dinsmore alighted and stepped into their midst.

"Oh, grandpa, what you turn for?" cried Harold in a tone of disappointment, "we was dus doin to 'vite you!"

"Indeed!"

"Yes, grandpa, it's a 'versary to-day" explained Vi.

"And mamma's going to be married over again," said Eddie.

"No, no; only to have a party and wear her wedding dress," corrected Elsie.

"Papa, good morning," cried their mother, coming swiftly through, the hall, "I'm so glad, always so glad to see you."

"I know it," he said, pressing a fatherly kiss on the sweet lips, then holding her off for an instant to gaze fondly into the fair face. "And it is ten years to-day since I gave Travilla a share in my treasure. I was thinking of it as I rode over and that you should celebrate this anniversary at your father's house."

"No, no, Dinsmore, you must be our guest," said Travilla, coming out and shaking hands cordially with his old friend. "We have it all arranged,--a family gathering, and Elsie to gratify us by wearing her bridal robes. Do you not agree with me that she would make as lovely a bride to-day as she did ten years ago?"

"Quite. I relinquish my plan for yours; and don't let me detain you and these eager children."

"I thank you: I will go then, as the invitations will be late enough with all the haste we can make."

The carriage was at the door and in a trice grandpa and papa had helped the little ones in: not even Baby Herbert was left behind, but seated on his mammy's lap crowed and laughed as merrily as the rest.

"Ah, mamma, you come too!" pleaded the little voices, as their father took his place beside them. "Can't mammy and Aunt Dicey and the rest know what to do without you to tell them?"

"Not this time, dears; and you know I must make haste to try on the dress, to see if it fits."

"Oh, yes, mamma!" and throwing a shower of kisses, they drove off.

"A carriage load of precious jewels," Elsie said, looking after it as it rolled away: "how the ten years have added to my wealth, papa."

She stood by his side, her hand on his arm, and the soft sweet eyes lifted to his were full of a content and gladness beyond the power of words to express.

"I thank God every day for my darling's happiness," he said low and tenderly, and softly smoothing her shining hair.

"Ah, it is very great, and my father's dear love forms no small part of it. But come in, papa, I want to consult you about one or two little matters; Edward and I rely very much upon your taste and judgment."

"To Roselands first," was Mr. Travilla's order to the coachman.

The old home of the Dinsmores, though shorn of the glory of its grand old trees, was again a beautiful place: the new house was in every respect a finer one than its predecessor, of a higher style of architecture, more conveniently arranged, more tastefully and handsomely furnished; lawns, gardens and fields had become neat and trim as in the days before the war, and a double row of young, thrifty trees bordered the avenue.

Old Mr. Dinsmore now resided there and gave a home to his two widowed and impoverished daughters--Mrs. Louise Conly, and Mrs. Enna Johnson--and their families.

These two aunts loved Elsie no better than in earlier years: it was gall and wormwood to them to know that they owed all these comforts to her generosity; nor could they forgive her that she was more wealthy, beautiful, lovely and beloved than themselves. Enna was the more bitter and outspoken of the two, but even Louise seldom treated her niece to anything better than the most distant and frigid politeness.

In a truly Christian spirit Elsie returned them pity and compassion, because of their widowhood and straitened circumstances, invited them to her house, and when they came received them with kindness and cordiality.

Her grandfather had grown very fond of her and her children, was often at Ion, and for his sake she occasionally visited Roselands. Adelaide's presence had drawn her there more frequently of late. The invitation Mr. Travilla carried was to the grandfather, three aunts and all their children.

Adelaide and Enna were in the drawing-room when the Ion carriage drew up at the door.

"There's Travilla, the old scalawag: how I hate him! Elsie too, I presume," exclaimed the latter, glancing from the window; "I'll leave you to entertain them," and she hastily left the room.

Adelaide flashed an indignant look after her, and hurried out to meet and welcome the callers. Mr. Travilla had alighted and was coming up the steps of the veranda.

"How d'ye do. I'm very glad to see you," cried Adelaide, extending her hand, "but where is Elsie?"

"Left at home for once," he answered gayly, "but I come this morning merely as her ladyship's messenger."

"But won't you come in; you and the children?"

"Thanks, no, if you will permit me just to deliver my message and go; for I am in haste."

Mrs. Allison accepted the invitation for herself and children with evident pleasure, engaged that her sisters would do the same; then went to the carriage window for a moment's chat with the little ones, each of whom held a large place in her warm heart. "Aunt Addie," said Elsie in an undertone, "mamma's going to wear her wedding dress to-night, veil and all."

"Is she? why that's an excellent idea. But don't tell it anywhere else that you go; it will be such a nice surprise to the rest if we can keep it a secret."

"That was a good suggestion of Aunt Addie's," Mr. Travilla remarked as they drove down the avenue. "Suppose we carry it out. How many of you can refrain from telling what mamma is to wear to-night? how many can I trust to keep a secret?"

"All of us, papa!" "Me, papa, me, I won't tell," cried the little voices in chorus.

"Yes, I believe I can trust you all," he answered in his bright cheery way. "Now on to the Oaks, Solon, then to Pinegrove, Springbrook, and Ashlands. That will be the last place, children, and as our hurry will then be over, you shall get out of the carriage and have a little time to rest before we start for home."

Re-entering the house Mrs. Allison went to the family sitting-room where she found both her sisters and several of the younger members of the household. "So they have asked for us?" exclaimed Louise in a tone of vexation, "at such an unreasonable hour too. Well," with a sigh of resignation, "I suppose we must show ourselves or papa will be displeased: so wonderfully fond of Elsie as he has grown of late."

"As well he may," returned Adelaide pointedly; "but Elsie is not here nor has any one inquired for you."

"No, I presume not," interrupted Enna with a sneer, "we are not worth inquiring for."

Indignation kept Adelaide silent for a moment, she was sorely tempted to administer a severe and cutting rebuke. But Enna was no longer a child, and controlling herself she calmly delivered Mr. Travilla's message.

"Oh, delightful! Cousin Elsie always does give such splendid parties, such elegant refreshments!" cried Virginia and Isadore Conly, girls of ten and twelve, "mamma, you'll never think of declining?"

"No, your grandfather wouldn't like it," said Louise, as anxious as her daughters to enjoy the entertainment, yet glad to save her pride, by putting her acceptance on the score of pleasing her father.

"And you'll go too, and take us, mamma, won't you?" anxiously queried Molly Percival, who was between her cousins in age.

"Of course I'll go; we all want our share of the good things, and the pleasure of seeing and being seen," answered Enna, scorning Louise's subterfuge; "and if you and Dick will promise to make me no trouble, I'll take you along. But Bob and Betty may stay at home, I'm not going to be bothered with them,--babies of five and three. But what shall we wear, Lu? I do say it's real mean in them to give us so short a notice. But of course Elsie enjoys making me feel my changed circumstances. I've no such stock of jewels, silks and laces as she, nor the full purse that makes it an easy matter for her to order a fresh supply at a moment's warning."

"You have all, and more than the occasion calls for," remarked Adelaide quietly; "it is to be only a family gathering."