Chapter Third.
    "So fair that had you beauty's picture took,
     It must like her, or not like beauty look."
                          --ALLEYN'S HENRY VII.

Elsie paused at the half-open door of her father's private room.

Mr. Dinsmore, like most men, was fond of light and air; through the wide open windows the morning breeze stole softly in, laden with sweets from garden and lawn, and the rich carpet of oak and green was flecked with gold where the sunbeams came shimmering down between the fluttering leaves of a beautiful vine that had festooned itself about the one looking to the east.

Mr. Dinsmore was seated at his desk with a pile of papers before him--legal documents in appearance; he would open one, glance over its contents, lay it aside, and take up another only to treat it in like manner.

Elsie stood but a moment watching him with loving, admiring eyes, then gliding noiselessly across the floor, dropped gracefully at his feet and laying her folded hands upon his knee looked up into his face with an arch, sweet smile.

"Mon pere, I have come for my lecture, or whatever you have laid up in store for me," she announced with mock gravity and a slight tremble of pretended fear in her voice.

Dropping the paper he held, and passing one hand caressingly over her shining hair, "My darling, how very, very lovely you are!" he said, the words bursting spontaneously from his lips; "there is no flaw in your beauty, and your face beams with happiness."

"Papa turned flatterer!" she cried, springing up and allowing him to draw her to his knee.

"I'm waiting for the lecture," she said presently, "you know I always like to have disagreeable things over as soon as possible."

"Who told you there was to be a lecture?"

"Nobody, sir."

"What have you been doing that you feel entitles you to one?"

"I don't remember."

"Nor I either. So let us to business. Here, take this chair beside me. Do you know how much you are worth?"

"Not precisely, sir," she answered demurely, taking the chair and folding her hands pensively in her lap; "but very little, I presume, since you have given me away for nothing."

"By no means," he said, with a slight smile of amusement at her unwonted mood. "It was for your own happiness, which is no trifle in my esteem. But you belong to me still."

She looked at him with glistening eyes. "Thank you, dearest papa; yes, I do belong to you and always shall. Please excuse my wilful misunderstanding of your query. I do not know how much money and other property I own, but have an idea it is a million more or less."

"My dear child!--it is fully three times that."

"Papa! is it indeed?"

"Yes, it was about a million at the time of your Grandfather Grayson's death, and has increased very much during your mamma's minority and yours; which you know has been a very long one. You own several stores and a dwelling house in New Orleans, a fine plantation with between two and three hundred negroes, and I have invested largely for you in stocks of various kinds both in your own country and in England. I wish you to examine all the papers, certificates of stock, bonds, deeds, mortgages, and so forth."

"Oh, papa!" she cried, lifting her hands in dismay, "what a task. Please excuse me. You know all about it, and is not that sufficient?"

"No, the property is yours; I have been only your steward, and must now render up an account to you for the way in which I have handled your property."

"You render an account to me, my own dear father," she said low and tremulously, while her face flushed crimson; "I cannot bear to hear you speak so. I am fully satisfied, and very, very thankful for all your kind care of it and of me."

He regarded her with a smile of mingled tenderness and amusement, while softly patting and stroking the small white hand laid lovingly upon his.

"Could I--could any father--do less for his own beloved child?" he asked.

"Not you, I know, papa. But may I ask you a question?"

"As many as you like."

"How much are you worth? Ah! you needn't look so quizzical. I mean how much do you own in money, land, etc.?"

"Something less than a million; I cannot tell you the exact number of dollars and cents."

"Hardly a third as much as I! It doesn't seem right. Papa, take half of mine."

"That wouldn't balance the scales either," he said laughingly; "and besides, Mr. Travilla has now some right to be consulted."

"Papa, I could never love him again, if he should object to my giving you all but a few hundred thousands."

"He would not. He says he will never touch a cent of your property; it must be settled entirely upon yourself, and subject to your control. And that is quite right; for he, too, is wealthy."

"Papa, I don't think I deserve so much; I don't want the care of so much. I do wish you would be so good as to take half for your own, and continue to manage the other half for me as you think best."

"What you deserve is not the question just now. This is one of the talents which God has given you, and I think you ought, at least for the present, to keep the principal and decide for yourself what shall be done with the interest. You are old enough now to do so, and I hope do not wish to shirk the responsibility, since God, in His good providence, has laid it upon you."

He spoke very gravely and Elsie's face reflected the expression of his.

"No, I do not wish it now, papa," she said, in a low, sweet voice. "I will undertake it, asking Him for wisdom and grace to do it aright."

They were busy for the next hour or two over the papers.

"There!" cried Elsie, at length, "we have examined the last one, and I think I understand it all pretty thoroughly."

"I think you do. And now another thing; ought you not to go and see for yourself your property in Louisiana?"

Elsie assented, on condition that he would take her.

"Certainly, my dear child, can you suppose I would ever think of permitting you to go alone?"

"Thank you, papa. And if poor mammy objects this time, she may take her choice of going or staying; but go I must, and see how my poor people are faring at Viamede. I have dim, dreamy recollections of it as a kind of earthly paradise. Papa, do you know why mammy has always been so distressed whenever I talked of going there?"

"Painful associations, no doubt. Poor creature! it was there her husband--an unruly negro belonging to a neighboring planter--was sold away from her, and there she lost her children, one by accidental drowning, the others by some epidemic disease. Your own mother, too, died there, and Chloe I think never loved one of her own children better."

"No, I'm sure not. But she never told me of her husband and children, and I thought she had never had any. And now, papa, that we are done with business for the present, I have a request to make."

"Well, daughter, what is it?"

"That you will permit me to renew my old intimacy with Lucy Carrington; or at least to call on her. You remember she was not well enough to be at the wedding; she is here at Ashlands with her baby. Mr. and Mrs. Carrington called here yesterday while you were out, and both urged me not to be ceremonious with Lucy, as she is hardly well enough to make calls and is longing to see me."

"And what answer did you give them?" he asked with some curiosity.

"That I should do so if possible; that meant if I could obtain your permission, papa."

"You have it. Lucy is in some sort taken into the family now, and you are safely engaged; to say nothing of your mature years," he added laughingly, as she seated herself on his knee again and thanked him with a hug and kiss.

"You dear good papa!"

"Some girls of your age, heiresses in their own right, would merely have said, 'I'm going,' never asking permission."

"Ah, but I like to be ruled by you. So please don't give it up. Now about Enna?"

"If I had any authority in the matter, I should say, you shall not give her a cent. She doesn't deserve it from you or any one."

"Then I shall wait till you change your mind."

Mr. Dinsmore shook his head. "Ah! my little girl, you don't realize how much some one else's opinions will soon weigh with you," he answered, putting an arm about her and looking with fatherly delight into the sweet face.

"Ah, papa!" she cried, laying her cheek to his, "please don't talk so; it hurts me."

"Then, dearest, I shall not say it again, though indeed I was not reproaching you; it is right, very right, that husband and wife should be more than all the world beside to each other."

Elsie's cheek crimsoned. "It has not come to that yet, father dear," she murmured, half averting her blushing face; "and--I don't know which of you I love best--or how I could ever do without either: the love differs in kind rather than in degree."

He drew her closer. "Thank you, my darling; what more could I ask or desire?" A slight tap on the door and Mrs. Dinsmore looked in. "Any admittance?" she asked playfully.

"Always to my wife," answered her husband, releasing Elsie and rising to hand Rose a chair.

"Thanks, my dear, but I haven't time to sit down," she said. "Here is a note of invitation for us all to spend the day at Roselands. Shall we go?"

"Certainly, if it suits you, Rose," replied Mr. Dinsmore; "and Elsie;" he added, "will you go, daughter?"

"If you wish it, papa," she answered cheerfully; yet there was a slight reluctance in her tone.

He gave her a kind, fond look. "You are your own mistress, and can accept or decline as your judgment and wishes dictate."

"But you would rather have me go, papa?"

"I would, because it would seem more kind and courteous. But what is the objection in your mind? Perhaps it could be removed."

"I wanted so much to see Lucy this morning," Elsie answered with a blush; "but to-morrow will do."

"But both might be accomplished if mamma and Adelaide like to have Caesar drive them and the little ones over to Roselands. Then you and I will mount our horses and away to Ashlands for a call, leaving there in good time to join the dinner party at Roselands. How will that do?"

"Oh, bravely, you dear darling papa! always contriving for my enjoyment."

Mr. Dinsmore followed his wife from the room. "'Twill be an early return of Carrington's call," he said, "but I have a little business with him."

"Yes, I'm very glad: it is a good plan; but don't hurry Elsie away. She and Lucy will want a long talk."

"I promise to be careful to obey orders," he answered, sportively. "Is that all?"

"Yes; only see that you don't stay too long, and keep the dinner waiting at Roselands."

"Mamma," asked Elsie, bringing up the rear as they entered the sitting-room, "can't you go, too--you and Aunt Adelaide? Four make as nice a party as two, and the babies can be driven over quite safely, with their mammies, to take care of them."

"No," said Rose, "I never accept such late invitations; I shall----"

"My dear," said her husband, "we would be very glad."

"No, no; the first arrangement is decidedly the best;" putting on an air of pretended pique.

"Babies! do you call me a baby?" cried young Horace, who had sprung to his feet with a flash of indignation in his great black eyes, "I'm nine years old, Elsie. Rosie there's the only baby belonging to this house. Do you think papa would let a baby have a pony like Gip? and a pistol of his own, too?"

Elsie put her arms round his neck, and gave him a kiss, "I beg ten thousand pardons."

"Elsie, my daughter, don't allow yourself to speak so extravagantly," interrupted her father.

"I will try not, papa," she answered. "I beg your pardon, Horace dear, and assure you I think you are quite a manly young man. Now I must prepare for my ride, papa. I shall be ready by the time the horses can be brought to the door."

"Papa," said Horace, as the door closed upon his sister, "may I ride Gip to-day?"

"If you promise me to keep close beside the carriage."

"Oh, papa, can't I ride on ahead a little, now and then, or fall a few paces behind if I wish?"

"No; you may do just what I have given permission for, and nothing else."