Chapter Twenty-fourth.
 
"The fields did laugh, the flowers did freshly spring,
The trees did bud and early blossoms bear,
And all the quire of birds did sweetly sing,
And told that garden's pleasures in their caroling."
--SPENSER'S FAERY QUEEN

Nothing could be lovelier than was Viamede as they found it on their arrival.

The children, one and all, were in an ecstasy of delight over the orange orchard with its wealth of golden fruit, glossy leaves, and delicate blossoms, the velvety lawn with its magnificent shade trees, the variety and profusion of beautiful flowers, and the spacious lordly mansion.

They ran hither and thither jumping, dancing, clapping their hands and calling to each other with shouts of glee.

The pleasure and admiration of the older people were scarcely less, though shown after a soberer fashion. But no check was put upon the demonstrations of joy of the younger ones: they were allowed to gambol, frolic, and play, and to feast themselves upon the luscious fruit to their hearts' content.

Nor was the gladness all on the side of the new arrivals: to the old house servants, many of whom still remained, the coming of their beloved young mistress and her children had been an event looked forward to with longing for years.

They wept for joy as they gathered about her, kissed her hand and clasped her little ones in their arms, fondling them and calling them by every endearing name known to the negro vocabulary.

And the children, having heard a great deal, from both mamma and mammy, about these old people and their love and loyalty to the family, were neither surprised, nor displeased, but quite ready to receive and return the affection lavished upon them.

The party from Lansdale arrived only a few days after the others, and were welcomed with great rejoicings, in which even Bruno must have a share: he jumped and gamboled about Harry and May, tried to kiss the babies, and finally put his nose into Aunt Wealthy's lap, saying, "Ye're a dear auld leddy, ma'am, and I'm glad ye've come!"

"Ah," she answered, patting his head and laughing her low, sweet silvery laugh, "you betray your Scotch accent, my fine follow; and I'm too old a chaff to be caught with a bird."

Mr. Mason was still chaplain at Viamede, and with his wife and children occupied a pretty and commodious cottage which had been built on the estate expressly for their use.

When he and Mr. Daly met they instantly and delightedly recognized each other as former classmates and intimate friends, and the Dalys, by urgent invitation, took up their abode for the winter in the cottage; but Mr. and Mrs. Travilla were careful that it should still be entirely at their expense.

A suite of apartments in the mansion was appropriated to each of the other families, and it was unanimously agreed that each should feel at perfect liberty to withdraw into the privacy of these, having their meals served to them there, if they so desired; or at their pleasure to mingle with the others in the breakfast parlor, dining-room, drawing-rooms, library, etc.

The first fortnight was made a complete holiday to all, the days being filled up with games, walks, rides, drives and excursions by land and water.

In consequence of the changes occasioned by the war, they found but little society in the neighborhood now, yet scarcely missed it; having so much within themselves.

But at length even the children began to grow somewhat weary of constant play. Harry Duncan and Horace Jr. announced their speedy departure to attend to business, and the other adults of the party felt that it was time to take up again the ordinary duties of life.

Mr. Daly, anxious to make some return for the kindness shown him, offered to act as tutor to all the children who were old enough for school duties; but Rosie put her arms about her father's neck and looking beseechingly into his eyes, said she preferred her old tutor;--at which he smiled, and stroking her hair, said she should keep him then, for he would be quite as loth to give up his pupil,--and Elsie's children, clinging about her, entreated that their lessons might still be said to mamma.

"So they shall, my darlings," she answered, "for mamma loves to teach you."

The young Carringtons too, and their mother preferred the old way.

So Mr. Daly's kind offer was declined with thanks: and perhaps he was not sorry; being weak and languid and in no danger of suffering from ennui with horses to ride and plenty of books at hand.

A school-room was prepared, but only the Travillas occupied it, Sophie preferring to use her dressing-room, and Rosie studying in her own room, and reciting to her papa in his or the library.

Elsie expected her children to find it a little hard to go back to the old routine; but it was not so. They came to her with bright, happy faces, were quiet and diligent and when the recitations were over, gathered about her for a little chat before returning to their play.

"Mamma," said Eddie, "we've had a nice long holiday, and it's really pleasant to get back to lessons again."

"So it is!" said Vi, "don't you think so, Elsie?"

"Yes, indeed! nice to get back to our books, but we've had lessons almost every day, grandpa and papa and mamma teaching us so much about the birds, insects, and all sorts of living things, and the flowers and plants, trees, stones and oh, I don't know how many things that are different here from what we have at home."

"At home! why this is home; isn't it, mamma?" exclaimed Eddie.

"Yes, my son, one of our homes."

"Yes, and so beautiful," said Vi; "but Ion 'pears the homest to me."

"Does it, darling?" asked mamma, giving her a smile and a kiss.

"Yes, mamma; and I love Ion dearly: Viamede 'most as well, though, because you were born here, and your dear mamma."

"And because that dear grandma is buried here;" remarked her sister, "and because of all those dear graves. Mamma, I do like those lessons I was speaking of, and so do Eddie and Vi; but Herbert and Meta and Harry don't; they say they think them very stupid and dull."

"I am glad, my children, that you love knowledge," their mother said, "because it is useful; the more knowledge we have the more good we can do if we will."

"And then it is a lasting pleasure. God's works are so wonderful that we can never learn all about them while we live in this world, and I suppose throughout the endless ages of eternity, we shall be ever learning, yet always finding still more to learn."

"Mamma, how pleasant that will be," said Elsie thoughtfully.

"And oh, mamma!" cried Vi, "that reminds me that we've been out of doors 'most all the day-times, and haven't seen grandma's play-room and things yet. Won't you show them to us?"

"Yes, we will go now."

"Me too, mamma?" asked Harold.

"Yes, all of you come. I want you all to see everything that I have that once belonged to my dear mother."

"Aunt Rosie wants to see them too," said Vi.

"And Herbert and Meta and the others," added Elsie.

"They shall see them afterwards. I want no one but my own little children now," replied mamma, taking Harold's hand, and leading the way.

She led them to the room, a large and very pleasant one, light and airy, where flowers were blooming and birds singing, vines trailing over and about the windows, lovely pictures on the walls, cosy chairs and couches, work-tables, well supplied with all the implements for sewing, others suited for drawing, writing or cutting out upon, standing here and there, quantities of books, games and toys; nothing seemed to have been forgotten that could give pleasant employment for their leisure hours, or minister to their amusement.

There was a burst of united exclamations of wondering delight from the children, as the door was thrown open and they entered. Now they understood why mamma had put them off when several times they had asked to be brought to this room: she was having it fitted up in a way to give them a joyful surprise.

"Do you like it, my darlings?" she asked with a pleased smile.

"Oh, yes, yes! yes indeed!" they cried, jumping, dancing and clapping their hands, "dear, dear mamma, how good, how good you are to us!" and they nearly smothered her with caresses.

Releasing herself, she opened another door leading into an adjoining room which, to Eddie's increased delight, was fitted up as a work-room for boys, with every sort of tool used by carpenters and cabinet makers. He had such at Ion and was somewhat acquainted with their use.

"Oh what nice times Herbert and Harry and I shall have!" he exclaimed. "What pretty things we'll make! Mamma, I don't know how to thank you and my dear father!" he added, catching her hand and pressing it to his lips with passionate affection.

"Be good and obedient to us, kind and affectionate to your brothers, sisters and playmates," she said, stroking his hair: "that is the kind of thanks we want, my boy; we have no greater joy than to see our children good and happy."

"If we don't be, it's just our own fault, and we're ever so wicked and bad!" cried Vi, vehemently.

Mamma smiled at her little girl's impetuosity, then in grave, tender tones, said, "And is there not some One else more deserving of love and thanks than even papa and mamma?"

"God, our kind heavenly Father," murmured little Elsie, happy, grateful tears shining in her soft eyes.

"Yes, it is from his kind hand all our blessings come."

"I love God," said Harold, "and so does Fank: Mamma, can Fank come up here to play wis me?"

"Yes, indeed: Frank is a dear, good little boy, and I like to have you together."

Mamma unlocked the door of a large light closet, as she spoke, and the children, looking eagerly in, saw that its shelves were filled with beautiful toys.

"Grandma's things!" they said softly.

"Yes, these are what my dear mother played with when she was a little girl like Elsie and Vi" said mamma. "You may look at them."

There was a large babyhouse, beautifully furnished; there were many dolls of various sizes, and little chests and trunks full of nicely made clothes for them to wear--night-clothes, morning wrappers, gay silks and lovely white dresses, bonnets and hats, shoes and stockings too, and ribbons and laces, for the lady dolls; and for the gentlemen, coats, hats, vests, cravats and everything that real grown-up men wear; and for the baby dolls there were many suits of beautiful baby clothes; and all made so that they could be easily taken off and put on again.

There were cradles to rock the babies in, and coaches for them to ride in; there were dinner and tea-sets of the finest china and of solid silver; indeed almost everything in the shape of toys that the childish heart could desire.

The lonely little girl had not lacked for any pleasure that money could procure: but she had hungered for that best earthly gift--the love of father, mother, brothers and sisters--which can be neither bought nor sold.

The children examined all these things with intense interest and a sort of wondering awe, then begged their mother to tell them again about "dear grandma."

They had heard the story--all that mamma and mammy could tell--many times, but it never lost its charm.

"Yes, dears, I will: I love to think and speak of her," Elsie said, sitting down in a low chair while they gathered closely round her, the older two, one on each side, the others leaning upon her lap.

"Mamma, it is a sad story; but I love it," little Elsie said, drawing a deep sigh, as the tale came to an end.

"Yes, poor little girl, playing up here all alone," said Eddie.

"'Cept mammy," corrected Vi.

"Yes, mammy to love her and take care of her, but no brother or sister to play with, and no dear mamma or papa like ours."

"Yes, poor dear grandma!" sighed little Elsie. "And it was almost as hard for you, mamma, when you were a little girl: didn't you feel very sad?"

"Ah, daughter, I had Jesus to love me, and help me in all my childish griefs and troubles," the mother answered, with a glad smile; "and mammy to hug and kiss and love me just as she does you."

"But oh, didn't you want your mamma and papa?"

"Yes, sorely, sorely at times; but I think no little child could be happier than I was when at last; my dear father came home, and I found that he loved me dearly. Ah, I am so glad, so thankful that my darlings have never suffered for lack of love."

"I too, mamma."

"And I."

"And I," they exclaimed, clinging about her and loading her with caresses.

"Hark!" she said, "I hear your dear grandpa's step, and there, he is knocking at the door."

Eddie ran to open it.

"Ah, I thought I should find you here, daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said, coming in. "I, too, want to see these things; it is long since I looked at them."

She gave him a pleased look and smile, and stepping to the closet he stood for some moments silently gazing upon its treasures.

"You do well to preserve them with care as mementoes of your mother," he remarked, coming back and seating himself by her side.

"O grandpa, you could tell us more about her, and dear mamma too, when she was a little girl!" said little Elsie, seating herself upon his knee, twining her arms about his neck, and looking coaxingly into his face.

"Ah, what a dear little girl your mamma was at your age!" he said, stroking her hair and gazing fondly first at her and then at her mother, "the very joy of my heart and delight of my eyes! though not dearer than she is now."

Elsie returned the loving glance and smile, while her namesake daughter remarked, "Mamma couldn't be nicer or sweeter than she is now; nobody could."

"No, no! no indeed!" chimed in the rest of the little flock. "But grandpa please tell the story. You never did tell it to us."

"No," he said, half sighing, "but you shall have it now." Then went on to relate how he had first met their mother's mother, then a very beautiful girl of fifteen.

An acquaintance took him to call upon a young lady friend of his, to whom Elsie Grayson was paying a visit, and the two were in the drawing-room together when the young men entered.

"What did you think the first minute you saw her, grandpa?" asked Eddie.

"That she had the sweetest, most beautiful face and perfect form I had ever laid eyes on, and that I would give all I was worth to have her for my own."

"Love at first sight," his daughter remarked, with a smile, "and it was mutual."

"Yes she told me afterward that she had loved me from the first; though the longer I live the more I wonder it should have been so, for I was a wild, wayward youth. But she, poor thing, had none to love or cherish her but her mammy."

"Grandpa, I think you're very nice," put in little Vi, leaning on his knee, and gazing affectionately into his face.

"I'm glad you do," he said, patting her soft round cheek.

"But to go on with my story. I could not keep away from my charmer, and for the next few weeks we saw each other daily.

"I asked her to be my own little wife and she consented. Then early one morning we went to a church and were married; no one being present except the minister, the sexton, and her friend and mine, who were engaged to each other, and her faithful mammy.

"Her guardian was away in a distant city and knew nothing about the matter. He was taken sick there and did not return for three months, and during that time Elsie and I lived together in a house she owned in New Orleans.

"We thought that now that we were safely married, no one could ever separate us, and we were very, very happy.

"But one evening her guardian came suddenly upon us, as we sat together in her boudoir, and in a great passion ordered me out of the house.

"Elsie was terribly frightened and I said, 'I will go to-night for peace sake; but Elsie is my wife, and to-morrow I shall come and claim her as such, and I think you'll find I have the law on my side.' Elsie clung to me and wept bitterly; but I comforted her with the assurance that the parting was only for a few hours."

Mr. Dinsmore's voice faltered. He paused a moment, then went on in tones husky with emotion.

"We never saw each other again. When I went back in the morning the house was closed and quite deserted; not even a servant in it, and I knew not where to look for my lost wife.

"I went back to my hotel and there found my father waiting for me in my room. He was very angry about my marriage, the news of which had brought him from home. He made me go back with him at once and sent me North to college. I heard nothing of my wife for months, and then only that she was dead and had left me a little daughter."

"And that was our mamma!" cried the children, once more crowding about her to lavish caresses upon her.

They thanked their grandfather for his story, and Vi looking in at the closet door again, said in her most coaxing tones, "Mamma, I should so, so like to play a little with some of those lovely things; and I would be very careful not to spoil them."

"Not now, daughter, though perhaps I may allow it some day when you are older. But see here! will not these do quite as well?"

And rising, Mrs. Travilla opened the door of another closet displaying to the children's delighted eyes other toys as fine and in as great profusion and variety as those she considered sacred to her mother's memory.

"Oh, yes, yes, mamma! how lovely! how kind you are! are they for us?" they exclaimed in joyous tones.

"Yes," she said, "I bought them for you while we were in New Orleans, and you shall play with them whenever you like. And now we will lock the doors and go down to dress for dinner. The first bell is ringing."

After dinner the play-room and the contents of the two closets were shown to Mrs. Dinsmore, Rosie, and the Carringtons: then Mrs. Travilla locked the door of the one that held the treasured relics of her departed mother, and carried away the key.