Chapter Twenty-eighth.
 
"Mature I'll court in her sequester'd haunts,
By mountain, meadow, streamlet grove or cell."
--SMOLLET.

Mr. Dinsmore was pacing the front veranda, enjoying the cool, fresh morning air, when little feet came pattering through the hall and a sweet child voice hailed him with, "Good morning, my dear grandpa."

"Ah, grandpa's little cricket, where were you last evening?" he asked, sitting down and taking her on his knee.

It was his pet name for Vi, because she was so merry.

The fair face flushed, but putting her arms about his neck, her lips to his ear, "I was in mamma's dressing-room, grandpa," she whispered. "I was 'bliged to stay there, 'cause I'd been naughty and disobeyed mamma."

"Ah, I am sorry to hear that I but I hope you don't intend to disobey any more."

"No, indeed, grandpa."

"Are you considered good enough to go with us to-day?"

"Yes, grandpa, mamma says I was punished yesterday, and I don't be punished twice for the same thing."

"Mamma is quite right," he said, "and grandpa is very glad she allows you to go."

"I don't think I deserve it, grandpa, but she's such a dear, kind mamma."

"So she is, pet, and I hope you will always be a dear good daughter to her," said grandpa, holding the little face close to his.

Meta was not allowed to come down to breakfast. Vi missed her from the table, and at prayers, and going up to Mrs. Carrington, asked, "Is Meta sick, Aunt Sophie?"

"No, dear, but she has been too naughty to be with us. I have said she must stay in her own room all day."

"And not go to the picnic? Oh please let her go, auntie!"

The other children joined their entreaties to Vi's, but without avail; and with streaming eyes Meta, at her window, saw the embarkation, and watched the boats glide away till lost to view in the distance.

"Too bad!" she sobbed, "it's too, too bad that I must stay here and learn long hard lessons while all the rest are having such a good time!"

Then she thought remorsefully of her mother's sad look, as she bade her good-bye and said how sorry she was to be obliged to leave her behind, and as some atonement set to work diligently at her tasks.

The weather was very fine, the sun shone, the birds filled the air with melody, and a delicious breeze danced in the tree-tops, rippled the water, and played with the brown and golden ringlets of little Elsie and Vi, and the flaxen curls of Daisy Carrington.

The combined influences of the clear, pure air, the pleasant motion, as the rowers bent to their oars, and the lovely scenery meeting the eye at every turn, were not to be resisted; and all, old and young, were soon in gayest spirits. They sang songs, cracked jokes, told anecdotes, and were altogether a very merry company.

After a delightful row of two hours or more the rounding of a point brought suddenly into view the place of their destination.

The boats were made fast and the party stepped ashore, followed by the men servants bearing rugs and wraps and several large well-filled hampers of provisions.

With joyous shouts the children ran hither and thither; the boys tumbled on the grass, the girls gathered great bouquets of the beautiful flowers, twisted them in their curls, and wore garlands for their hats.

"Walk up to de house, ladies an' gentlemen; Massa an' Missus not at home now, but be berry glad to see you when dey gets back," said a pleasant voice close at hand.

All but Mr. Lilburn looked about for the speaker, wondered at seeing no one, then laughed at themselves for being so often and so easily deceived.

"Suppose we accept the invitation," said Mr. Travilla, leading the way.

The two old ladies preferred a seat under a wide-spreading tree on the lawn; but the others accompanied him in a tour of the deserted mansion already falling rapidly to decay.

They climbed the creaking stairs, passed along the silent corridors, looked into the empty rooms, and out of the broken windows upon the flower gardens, once trim and gay, now choked with rubbish, and overgrown with weeds, and sighed over the desolations of war.

Some of the lower rooms were still in a pretty good state of preservation, and in one of these the servants were directed to build a fire and prepare tea and coffee.

Plenty of dry branches strewed the ground in a bit of woods but a few rods distant. Some of these were quickly gathered and a brightly blazing fire presently crackled upon the hearth and roared up the wide chimney.

Leaving the house, which in its loneliness and dilapidation inspired only feelings of sadness and gloom, our party wandered over the grounds, still beautiful even in their forlornly neglected state.

The domain was extensive, and the older boys having taken an opposite direction from their parents, were presently out of their sight and hearing, the house being directly between. Uncle Joe, however, was with the lads, so no anxiety was felt for their safety.

Wandering on, they came to a stream of limpid water flowing between high grassy banks, and spanned by a little rustic bridge.

"Let's cross over," said Herbert, "that's such a pretty bridge, and it looks lovely on the other side."

"No, no, 'tain't safe, boys, don't you go for to try it," exclaimed Uncle Joe.

"Pooh! what do you know about it?" returned Herbert, who always had great confidence in his own opinion. "If it won't bear us all at once, it certainly will one at a time. What do you say, Ed?"

"I think Uncle Joe can judge better whether it's safe than little boys like us."

"Don't you believe it: his eyes are getting old and he can't see half so well as you or I."

"I kin see dat some ob de planks is gone, Marse Herbert; an' de ole timbahs looks shaky."

"Shaky! nonsense! they'll not shake under my weight, and I'm going to cross."

"Now, Herbie, don't you do it," said his brother. "You know mamma wouldn't allow it if she was here."

"'Twon't be disobedience though; as she isn't here, and never has forbidden me to go on that bridge," persisted Herbert.

"Mamma and papa say that truly obedient children don't do what they know their parents would forbid if they were present," said Eddie.

"I say nobody but a coward would be afraid to venture on that bridge," said Herbert, ignoring Eddie's last remark. "Suppose it should break and let you fall! the worst would be a ducking."

"De watah's deep, Marse Herbert, and you might git drownded!" said Uncle Joe. "Or maybe some ob de timbahs fall on you an' break yo' leg or yo' back."

They were now close to the bridge.

"It's very high up above the water," said Harry, "and a good many boards are off: I'd be afraid to go on it."

"Coward!" sneered his brother. "Are you afraid too, Ed?"

"Yes, I'm afraid to disobey my father; because that's disobeying God."

"Did your father ever say a word about not going on this bridge?"

"No; but he's told me never to run into danger needlessly; that is when there's nothing to be gained by it for myself or anybody else."

"Before I'd be such a coward!" muttered Herbert, deliberately walking on to the bridge.

The other two boys watched his movements in trembling, breathless silence, while Uncle Joe began looking about for some means of rescue in case of accident.

Herbert picked his way carefully over the half-rotten timbers till he had gained the middle of the bridge, then stopped, looked back at his companions and pulling off his cap, waved it around his head, "Hurrah! here I am: who's afraid? who was right this time?"

Then leaning over the low railing, "Oh!" he cried, "you ought just to see the fish! splendid big fellows. Come on, boys, and look at 'em!"

But at that instant the treacherous railing gave way with a loud crack, and with a wild scream for help, over he went, headforemost, falling with a sudden plunge into the water and disappearing at once beneath the surface.

"Oh he'll drown! he'll drown!" shrieked Harry, wringing his hands, while Eddie echoed the cry for help.

"Run to de house, Marse Ed, an' fotch some ob de boys to git him out," said Uncle Joe, hurrying to the edge of the stream with an old fishing-rod he had found lying among the weeds on its bank.

But a dark object sprang past him, plunged into the stream, and as Herbert rose to the surface, seized him by the coat-collar, and so holding his head above water, swam with him to the shore.

"Good Bruno! brave fellow! good dog!" said a voice near at hand, and turning to look for the speaker, Uncle Joe found Mr. Daly standing by his side.

Leaving his gayer companions, the minister had wandered away, book in hand, to this sequestered spot. Together he and Uncle Joe assisted the dog to drag Herbert up the bank, and laid him on the grass.

The fall had stunned the boy, but now consciousness returned. "I'm not hurt," he said, opening his eyes. "But don't tell mother: she'd be frightened half to death."

"We'll save her as much as we can; and I hope you've learned a lesson, young sir, and will not be so foolhardy another time," said Mr. Daly.

"P'raps he'll tink ole folks not such fools, nex' time," remarked Uncle Joe. "Bless de Lord dat he didn't get drownded!"

The men and boys came running from the house, bringing cloaks and shawls to wrap about the dripping boy. They would have carried him back with them, but he stoutly resisted, declaring himself quite as able to walk as anybody.

"Let him do so, the exercise will help to prevent his taking cold provided he is well wrapped up;" said Mr. Daly, throwing a cloak over the lad's shoulders and folding it carefully about him.

"Ill news flies fast," says the proverb. Mrs. Carrington met them upon the threshold, pale and trembling with affright. She clasped her boy in her arms with a heart too full for utterance.

"Never mind, mother," he said, "I've only had a ducking, that's all."

"But it may not be all: you may get your death of cold," she said, "I've no dry clothes for you here."

By this time the whole party had hurried to the spot.

"Here's a good fire; suppose we hang him up to dry before it," said old Mr. Dinsmore with a grim smile.

"His clothes rather; rolling him up in cloaks and shawls in the meantime," suggested Herbert's grandmother. "Let us ladies go back to the lawn, and leave his uncle to oversee the business."

Herbert had spoiled his holiday so far as the remainder of the visit to this old estate was concerned: he could not join the others at the feast presently spread under the trees on the lawn, or in the sports that followed; but had to pass the time lying idly on a pallet beside the fire, with nothing to entertain him but his own thoughts and watching the servants, until, their work done, they too wandered away in search of amusement.

Most of the afternoon was spent by the gentlemen in fishing in that same stream into which Herbert's folly and self-conceit had plunged him.

Eddie had his own little fishing-rod, and with it in his hand sat on a log beside his father, a little apart from the rest, patiently waiting for the fish to bite. Mr. Travilla had thrown several out upon the grass, but Eddie's bait did not seem to attract a single one.

He began to grow weary of sitting still and silent, and creeping closer to his father whispered, "Papa, I'm tired, and I want to ask you something. Do you think the fish will hear if I speak low?"

"Perhaps not; you may try it if you like," returned Mr. Travilla, looking somewhat amused.

"Thank you, papa. Well, Herbert said nobody but a coward would be afraid to go on that bridge. Do you think he was right, papa?"

"No, my boy; but if you had gone upon it to avoid being laughed at or called a coward, I should say you showed a great lack of true courage. He is a brave man or boy who dares to do right without regard to consequences."

"But, papa, if you'd been there and said I might if I wanted to?"

"Hardly a supposable case, my son."

"Well, if I'd been a man and could do as I chose?"

"Men have no more right to do as they please than boys; they must obey God. If his will is theirs, they may do as they please, just as you may if it is your pleasure to be good and obedient."

"Papa, I don't understand. Does God say we must not go into dangerous places?"

"He says, 'Thou shalt not kill;' we have no right to kill ourselves, or to run the risk of doing so merely for amusement or to be considered brave or dexterous."

"But if somebody needs us to do it to save them from being hurt or killed, papa?"

"Then it becomes quite a different matter: it is brave, generous, and right to risk our own life or limbs to save those of others."

"Then I may do it, papa?"

"Yes, my son; Jesus laid down his life to save others, and in all things he is to be our example."

A hand was laid lightly on the shoulder of each, and a sweet voice said, "May my boy heed his father's instructions in this and in every thing else."

"Wife!" Mr. Travilla said, turning to look up into the fair face bent over them.

"Mamma, dear mamma, I do mean to," said Eddie.

"Is it not time to go home?" she asked. "The little ones are growing weary."

"Yes, the sun is getting low."

In a few moments the whole party had reembarked; in less exuberant spirits than in the morning, yet perhaps not less happy: little disposed to talk, but with hearts filled with a quiet, peaceful content.

Viamede was reached without accident, a bountiful supper awaiting them there partaken of with keen appetites, and the little ones went gladly to bed.

Returning from the nursery to the drawing-room, Elsie found her namesake daughter sitting apart in a bay window, silently gazing out over the beautiful landscape sleeping in the moonlight.

She looked up with a smile as her mother took a seat by her side and passed an arm about her waist.

"Isn't it lovely, mamma? see how the waters of our lakelet shine in the moonbeams like molten silver! and the fields, the groves, the hills! how charming they look in the soft light."

"Yes, darling: and that was what you were thinking of, sitting here alone?"

"Yes, mamma; and of how good God is to us to give us this lovely home and dear, kind father and mother to take care of us. It is always so sweet to come back to my home when I've been away. I was enjoying it all the way coming in the boat to-night; that and thinking of the glad time when we shall all be gathered into the lovelier home Jesus is preparing for us."

"God grant we may!" said the mother, with emotion, "it is my heart's desire and prayer to God for all my dear ones, especially my children. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'"