Chapter Twenty-second.
 
"The mother, in her office holds the key
Of the soul; and she it is who stamps the coin
Of character, and makes the being who would be a savage,
But for her gentle cares, a Christian man.
Then crown her queen of the world."
--OLD PLAY

The families from the Oaks and Ashlands had been spending the day at Ion.

It was late in the afternoon and while awaiting the call to tea, they had all gathered in the drawing-room, whose windows overlooked the avenue and lawn on one side, on the other a very beautiful part of the grounds, and a range of richly wooded hills beyond.

A pause in the conversation was broken by Mr. Travilla. "Wife," he said, turning to Elsie, "Cousin Ronald should see Viamede: our old friend here, Mrs. Carrington, needs change of scene and climate; two good things that would not hurt any one present: shall we not invite them all to go and spend the winter with us there?"

"O, yes, yes indeed! what a delightful plan!" she cried with youthful enthusiasm. "Ah, I hope you will all accept; the place is almost a paradise upon earth, and we would do all in our power to make the time pass agreeably. Cousin Ronald, don't refuse. Papa dear, don't try to hunt up objections."

"Ah ha! um h'm! I've not the least idea of it, cousin," said the one.

"I am not," said the other, smiling fondly upon her, "but must be allowed a little time to consider."

"O papa, don't say no!" cried Rosie. "Mamma, coax him quick before he has time to say it."

"I think there's no need," laughed Rose. "Can't you see that he is nearly as eager as the rest of us? and how could he do a whole winter without your sister? How could any of us, for that matter?"

"You have advanced an unanswerable argument, my dear," said Mr. Dinsmore, "and I may as well give consent at once."

"Thank you, mamma," said Elsie, "thank you both. Now if the rest of you will only be as good!" and she glanced persuasively from one to another.

"As good!" said Sophie smiling, "if to be ready to accept the kindest and most delightful of invitations be goodness, then I am not at all inclined to be bad. Mother, shall we not go?"

"O grandma, you will not say no?" cried the young Carringtons who had listened to the proposition with eager delight.

"No, please don't," added little Elsie, putting her arms coaxingly about the old lady's neck. "Mamma, papa, grandpa and mammy all say it is so lovely there, and we want you along."

"Thanks, dear, thanks to your papa and mamma too," said the old lady, clasping the little girl close, while tears filled her aged eyes, "yes, yes, I'll go; we will all go; how could I reject such kindness!"

The children, from Rosie Dinsmore--who would hardly have consented to be put into that list--down to Harold Travilla, were wild with delight, and for the rest of the evening could scarce speak or think of anything else than Viamede and the pleasures they hoped to enjoy there.

"Now all have spoken but you, brother mine," Elsie said, turning to Horace Jr. "You surely do not intend to reject our invitation?"

"Not entirely, sister, but papa seems to have left the considering for me, and I've been at it. There should be some one to look after the plantations here, and upon whom but myself should that duty devolve?"

"We all have good overseers."

"Yes, but there should be some one to take a general supervision over them. I think I will go with you, make a short visit and return; if you all like to trust me with the care of your property."

"You're welcome to take care of Ashlands, Cousin Horace, and I'll be obliged to you too," spoke up young Herbert Carrington "and so will mother and grandma, I know."

"Indeed we will," said the old lady.

"And it will leave us quite free from care, you good boy," added the younger.

Mr. Travilla expressed similar sentiments in regard to Horace's offer as it concerned Ion, and Mr. Dinsmore was quite as willing to leave the Oaks in his son's care.

As it was now late in the fall and no very extensive preparations were needed, it was agreed that they would start in a few days.

"We shall make a large party," remarked Sophie, "Are you sure, Elsie, that you will have room for so many?"

"Abundance; the house is very large; and the more the merrier. I wish I could persuade Aunt Wealthy, May and Harry to come, with their babies too, of course. I shall write to Lansdale to-night."

"That would be a delightful addition to the party," remarked Mr. Dinsmore; "but aunt is now in her eightieth year, and I fear will think herself much too old for so long a journey."

"Ah, yes, papa, but she is more active than most women of seventy and can go nearly all the way by water;--down the Ohio and the Mississippi and along the Gulf. At all events I shall do my best to persuade her."

"And you are so great a favorite that your eloquence will not be wasted, I think," said Mr. Travilla.

He was right; the old lady could not resist the urgent entreaties of her dearly loved grand-niece, joined to the pleasant prospect of spending some months with her and the other relatives and friends, each of whom held a place in her warm, loving heart.

An answering letter was sent from Lansdale by return of mail, promising that their party would follow the other to Viamede at an early day.

May too was enchanted with the thought of a winter in that lovely spot, and the society of her two sisters, and Elsie, who was almost as near.

But to return. As soon as the children learned that the winter was really to be spent at Viamede, and that they would set off in a few days, the whole flock--leaving their elders to settle the dry details--hastened in quest of "mammy."

They found her in the nursery, seated before a crackling wood fire, with little Herbert in her arms.

Quickly their news was told, and gathering round her, they plied her with questions about her old Louisiana home.

"Well, chillins," she said, her old eyes growing bright with joy at the thought of soon seeing it again--for of course she would be included in the party--"it's jes lubly as lubly kin be! de grand ole house, an' de lawn, an' de shrubbery, an' de gardens, an' fields, an' orchards, an' eberyting:--yes, it am de lubliest place dis chile eber see."

"Horses to ride," said Eddie.

"Yes, Mars Eddie, hosses to ride, an' kerridges to drive out in; 'sides a beautiful boat on de bayou, an' fish dere dat you kin ketch wid a hook an' line. Ole Uncle Joe he kotch dem mos' ebery day for de table, an Massa Ed'ard an' Miss Elsie say dey's bery fine."

"And what else?" asked the eager voice of little Daisy Carrington.

"Oranges! ripe oranges growing out of doors on the trees!" cried her brother Harry, clapping his hands and capering about the room, smacking his lips in anticipation of the coming feast.

"Yes, chillins, orange trees on de lawn, an' a 'mense orchard wid hundreds an' millions ob dem on de branches an' on de ground. An' den de gardens full ob roses an' all lubly flowers, an' vines climbin' ober de verandas an' roun' de pillahs an' de windows, an' clar up to de roof."

"Oh how sweet!" cried the children, their eyes dancing with delight. "But Aunt Chloe, will there be room for us all?" asked Meta Carrington, who was next to Herbert in age.

"Yes, chile: dere's rooms, an' rooms an' rooms in dat house."

"A play-room, mammy?" asked Eddie.

"Yes, chillins, a big room whar yo' grandma used to play when she was a little chile."

Mammy's voice grew low and husky for a moment, and great tears stood in her eyes. But she struggled with her emotion and went on, "Her dolls are dere yet, an' de baby house ole marster hab made for her; an' de beautiful sets ob little dishes, an' a great many tings mo'; for she hab lots ob toys an' neber destroyed nuffin. An' nobody eber goes dar but Aunt Phillis when she hab a clarin' up time in dat part ob de house."

"Yes," said little Elsie, who had been as silent and intent a listener as though the tale were quite new to her, "mamma has told us about those things, and that they are always to be kept very carefully because they belonged to her dear mamma."

"And we can't ever play with them!" exclaimed Vi, "but mamma will show them all to us; she said she would when she takes us to Viamede."

"Oh I'd like to play with them!" exclaimed Meta, "Doesn't anybody ever?"

"No, chile," said mammy, shaking her head gravely, "dere ain't nobody eber 'lowed to go in dat room but Aunt Phillis, when Miss Elsie not dar. But run away now, chillins, dere's de tea-bell a ringin'."

Mamma, too, on coming up at the usual hour to see her darlings safe in bed, had many questions put to her on the same subject.

They were all patiently answered, some further details given, and sweet sympathy shown in their gladness over the pleasant prospect before them; then with the accustomed tender good-night kiss, and with a parting injunction not to lie awake talking, she left them.

"Did anybody ever have such a dear mamma as ours!" exclaimed Vi, nestling close to her sister.

"No, I think not," replied Elsie in a tone of grave consideration. "But now we mus'n't talk anymore; because she bade us not: and I've come to bed early to-night to please you--"

"Yes, you dear, good sister, you very dearest girl in all the world!" interrupted Vi, rising on her elbow for a moment to rain a perfect shower of kisses upon the sweet face by her side.

Elsie laughed low and musically and hugging her tight returned the caresses, then went on, "But I mus'n't keep you awake. So now let's lie down and not say one word more."

"No; not a single one," returned Vi, cuddling down again.

"Mamma," said Eddie, coming into the school-room next morning with a slight frown on his usually pleasant face, "why do you call us to lessons? can't we have holidays now that we are going away so soon?"

"No, my son; I think it best to attend now to our regular duties. You will have a rest from study while taking the journey, and for a few days after we reach Viamede. Will not that be better?" she asked, with a motherly smile, as she softly smoothed back the dark clustering curls from his broad open brow.

"But I don't want to say lessons to-day," he answered with a pout, and resolutely refusing to meet her glance.

"My little son," she said, with tender gravity, "were we sent into this world to please ourselves?"

"No, mamma."

"No; 'even Christ pleased not himself,' and we are to try to be like him. Whose will did he do?"

"His Father's, mamma."

"Yes, and whose will are you to do?"

"God's will, you've taught me, mamma, but--"

"Well, son?"

"Mamma, will you be angry if I say my thought?"

"I think not: let me hear it."

"Mamma, isn't--isn't it your will this time? About the lessons I mean. Please mamma, don't think I want to be naughty, asking it?"

She drew him closer, and bending down pressed her lips to his forehead. "No, my son, you want it explained, and I am glad you told me your thought. Yes, it is my will this time, but as God bids children honor and obey their parents, is it not his will also?"

"I s'pose so, mamma. But I wish it didn't be your will to have me learn lessons to-day."

Elsie was forced to smile in spite of herself. With another slight caress she asked, "Do you think I love you, Eddie?"

"Oh yes, yes mamma, I know you do, and I love you too: indeed I do dearly, dearly!" he burst out, throwing his arms about her neck. "And I know you just want to make me good and happy and that your way's always best. So I won't be naughty any more."

At that there was a general exclamation of delight from the other three, who had been silent, but deeply interested listeners, and all crowded round mamma vying with each other in bestowing upon her tender caresses and words of love.

Each had felt more or less disinclination for the regular routine of work, but that vanished now, and they went through their allotted tasks with more than usual spirit and determination.

Ah what a sweetener of toil is love! love to a dear earthly parent, and still more love to Christ: there is no drudgery in the most menial employment where that is the motive power.