Chapter XII.
 
    "Except I be by Silvia in the night,
     There is no music in the nightingale;
     Unless I look on Silvia in the day,
     There is no day for me to look upon."
                      --Shakspeare.

It was already past the middle of November when Captain Raymond received his injuries, so that the six weeks or more of enforced inaction would carry him into the month of January.

He had hoped to spend Christmas with his children, but that was now clearly impossible, as he sadly owned to himself, for he was a loving father and felt the disappointment keenly on both his own account and theirs.

There would be no festivities at Ion this year, bereavement was still too recent with themselves, too imminent with those very near by the ties of kindred. But there was to be an exchange of gifts; there had been that even last year when but a few months had elapsed since the departure to the better land of the beloved husband and father.

Captain Raymond, sitting quietly in his invalid chair, generally to all appearance buried in a book, overheard many a consultation in regard to what would be most acceptable to this or that one who happened to be absent from the room at the moment, for it was intended that most of the gifts, at least, should be a surprise to the recipients.

One day when the talk was of those to be provided for Rosie and Walter, Mrs. Dinsmore noticed that their guest was listening with a very interested look.

"Captain Raymond," she said, turning to him with an engaging smile, "we purpose to go into the city to-morrow to shop for these things; can we do anything in that line for you?"

"Thank you," he said heartily, his face brightening very much; "if it would not be overtaxing you, I should be very glad indeed to do some shopping by proxy; glad to have the benefit of your and Mrs. Travilla's taste and judgment in the selection of some Christmas presents for my children. It will be all I can do for them this year. I had thought of sending money for the purpose, to the persons in charge of them, but it would be far more satisfactory to me to have some share in the choice of the articles."

Both ladies assured him that it would give them pleasure to do whatever they could to assist him in making the desired purchases, and Mr. Dinsmore suggested that a variety of goods might be sent out from the city stores for him to select from.

He said that was a good idea, but he would leave it to the ladies to have that done, or to choose for him a book for each of his children, a doll for each girl, and writing-desks, fully furnished, for Max and Lulu.

"I think," he added with a smile, "whatever I may give will seem to them more valuable if sent from this distance than if bought near at hand."

"Yes," Mrs. Dinsmore said, "that is human nature."

The shoppers set out the next morning soon after breakfast, expecting to return about the usual dinner-hour.

Watching the departure from the window near which he was seated, the captain observed with pleasure that Violet was not of the party, hoping that if left behind, she would give him the enjoyment of her society during the absence of the others.

Presently she came in, bringing some needlework; Rosie and Walter with her.

The captain closed the book he had been reading and turned toward them with a pleased smile.

"So I am not to be left to solitude, as I feared," he remarked.

"You must please send us away, sir, whenever you think that preferable to our company," returned Violet lightly.

"Do you deem me capable of such rudeness, Miss Travilla?" he asked with playful look and tone.

"We will not consider it such," she answered, seating herself and beginning her work, "since we can wander at will all over the house, while, for the present, you, sir, are a prisoner confined to this room and the next."

"That reminds me," he said, "that of late you have absented yourself a great deal from this room; to my no small discontent."

"It is flattering to my vanity and self-appreciation to learn that you have missed me," she returned sportively, but with a slightly heightened color.

"You can never be away from the rest of us without being missed, Vi," remarked Rosie; "especially now that Sister Elsie is away."

"And do you not mean to gratify my curiosity as to what has been the cause of your many and prolonged absences, Miss Violet?" queried the captain.

"I have been busy elsewhere, sir. But is it not an understood thing that curiosity is a peculiarly feminine trait?"

"I am able to plead guiltless to the charge of ever having made such an insinuation," said the captain; "and do now confess to having a full share of inquisitiveness."

"May I tell, Vi?" asked Rosie.

"We must first learn whether Captain Raymond can keep a secret," Vi answered, glancing at him with a saucy smile.

"Yes, indeed!" he said, "as you shall learn if you will but allow me the opportunity."

"Then I may tell I!" cried Rosie; and hardly waiting for her sister's nod of acquiescence, went on. "She is preparing such a nice surprise for dear mamma, Captain Raymond, a miniature of papa which she has been painting on ivory. I think it looks more like him than any photograph or painted portrait that we have. And I am sure mamma could not have a more acceptable present. Besides that, Vi has painted two flower-pieces; one for grandpa and one for grandma."

"You have certainly been very industrious, Miss Violet," he remarked. "I have heard your studio spoken of. May I hope for the pleasure of visiting it when I recover the free use of my limbs?"

"That will not be for some weeks, sir; and in the mean while I will take your request into consideration," she answered demurely.

The morning passed very rapidly to the captain; the children amused him with their prattle, and when after an hour or two, Rosie grew tired of the bit of fancy-work she was doing under her sister's supervision, and yielded to Walter's entreaties to "come to the nursery and build block-houses," thus leaving Violet his sole companion, the moments sped faster than before; for he found her a very interesting and entertaining conversationist.

On their return the shopping-party brought with them the articles he had mentioned. He pronounced them all entirely satisfactory, and they were packed and sent northward with the addition of some pretty things for the dolls, contributed by Violet and Rosie.

Some unusual impulse of fatherly solicitude and affection led the captain to put his own address upon several envelopes in each writing-desk, stamping them also and adding a note to each of the three children.

To Max and Lulu he said that he wanted letters from them which should not pass through the hands of a third person, "letters that should be like a bit of private chat with papa."

Seeing how tenderly and carefully the little Travillas were nurtured and what love was lavished upon them, had turned his thoughts frequently upon his own motherless ones, and set him to thinking and asking himself rather anxiously how they were faring in those respects. He had come to realize more thoroughly than ever before his responsibility as a parent.

The Christmas work which had kept Violet busy in her studio was now finished, and henceforth she spent much more of her time with the rest of the family; greatly to Captain Raymond's satisfaction, for much as he admired the other ladies and enjoyed conversing with them and with Mr. Dinsmore, he was quite conscious of a constant uneasiness and discontent when Violet absented herself from the room.

His admiration for her beauty and grace had been unbounded from the first, and gradually as he discovered more and more of her sterling worth, her sweetness and unselfishness of disposition, her talent, industry, and genuine piety, his heart had gone out to her in ardent affection; in fact with a deeper and stronger love than he had ever before known or dreamed of.

He began to ask himself how he could ever go away and leave her, and whether he dared seek to make her his own. He was fully as loath as Donald Keith to appear in the role of fortune-hunter. Would Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter, so noble themselves, be ready to impute so unworthy a motive to him? He hoped not, he believed they would judge him by themselves. And they who so fully knew and appreciated all that Violet was must see and believe that no man whose affections were not already engaged could be thrown into intimate association with her day after day, as he had been for so many weeks, and not learn to love her for herself alone.

Then he had learned incidentally from Dr. Conly, that the older daughter had married a poor artist with the full consent of her parents and grandfather, his lack of wealth being considered no objection to his suit.

Captain Raymond did not look upon wealth as the highest patent of nobility even in this republican country, but thought, in his manly independence, that his well-established reputation as an honorable, Christian gentleman, and officer of the United States Navy, made him in rank fully the peer of the Dinsmores and Travillas; and he believed that they would entirely agree with him in that.

But he was not a conceited man, and felt by no means sure that Violet herself would give a favorable hearing to his suit. Under the peculiar and trying circumstances of his sojourn at Ion he had not been able to offer her any attention, and her uniform kindness had probably been shown only to her mother's invalid guest. And as he thought of the disparity of years between them, and how many younger, and perhaps in every way more attractive men, must have crossed her path, his hopes sank very low.

Yet he was not too proud to allow her the opportunity to reject him. Saying to himself, "Were I certain that she is indifferent to me, I would not give her the pain of doing so--for I know her kind heart would feel it a pain--but as I am not sure of her feelings, it is only fair and just to her to let her know of mine and abide the issue," he decided that he would not go away without speaking, yet that he would first ask the consent of her natural guardians.

He therefore seized the first opportunity when alone with Mr. Dinsmore to tell of his love for Violet, and ask if he could obtain his and the mother's consent to the prosecution of his suit.

Mr. Dinsmore seemed both surprised and moved. He did not speak for a moment, then, with a heavy sigh, "Has it come to this already," he said "that we are likely to lose our little Vi? I don't know how either her mother or I can ever do without her! ever make up our minds to resign her to any one else!"

"I don't wonder at it, sir," the captain said with feeling. "But may I understand that you do not object to me personally?"

"No, sir, oh no! I see no objection to you more than to any other, except disparity of years, Violet being so young; and that is not so great as it was between her parents."

"Then you give me some hope?"

"If you have won her affections, yes. How is it in regard to that?"

"I have said no word to her on the subject, Mr. Dinsmore--feeling that the more honorable course was first to ask permission of her mother and yourself--and am by no means certain that she cares for me at all except as a friend of the family and of her cousin, Lieut. Keith. Have I your consent, sir?"

"I will talk with my daughter, captain, and let you know the result."

He rose as if to leave the room, but the captain detained him.

"Let me tell you," he said, coloring in spite of himself, "that I am not rich, having very little beside my pay."

"That is a matter of small importance," Mr. Dinsmore answered in a kindly tone, "seeing that riches are so apt to take wings and fly away, and that the Master said, 'A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.' If her mother's wealth remains, Violet will be well provided for, as I presume you are aware, yet I cannot for a moment suppose you capable of seeking her on that account. In fact," he concluded with a smile, "the child has nothing at all of her own, and her mother can, should she choose, leave her penniless."

"And I should be more than willing to take her so, if I could get her," the captain answered, returning the smile; "it would be a dear delight to me to provide her with all things desirable by my own exertions."

"Excuse the question, Capt. Raymond, but have you taken into consideration the fact that Violet's extreme youth must render her unfit for the cares and responsibilities of motherhood to your children?"

"Mr. Dinsmore, there is not a woman in a thousand of those twice her age whom I would as willingly trust. But she shall have no care or labor that I can save her from, always supposing I can be so happy as to win her for my own."

The family had retired for the night to their own apartments. Mrs. Travilla, almost ready to seek her couch, sat alone in her dressing-room in front of the brightly blazing wood fire; her open Bible was in her hand, a lamp burning on a little table by the side of her easy-chair.

Her dressing-gown of soft white cashmere became her well, and her unbound hair lying in rich masses on her shoulders lent a very youthful look to face and figure.

Her father thought, as he came softly in and stood at her side, gazing down upon her, that he had seldom seen her more rarely beautiful.

She lifted her eyes to his with the old sweet smile of filial love and reverence, shut her book and laid it on the table.

He laid his hand gently on her head, bent down and kissed her on brow and cheek and lip.

"Dear papa, won't you sit down?" she said, rising to draw up a chair for him.

"Yes," he answered; "I want a little talk with you. How wonderfully young you look to-night!--so like my little girl of other days that I feel a strong inclination to invite you to your old seat upon my knee. Will you take it?" sitting down and drawing her gently toward him.

She yielded to his wish, saying, as she put her arm about his neck and gazed lovingly into his eyes, "I am still child enough to enjoy it greatly, if I am not so heavy as to weary you, my dear father."

"I do not feel your weight unpleasantly," he returned. "You must remember I am a very strong man, and you but a slight and delicate woman. Not so plump as I could wish to see you," he added, pushing up the sleeve of her gown and clasping his fingers round the white arm.

"Isn't there plenty of flesh there to hide the bones?" she asked laughingly.

"The bones are well hidden, but the flesh is not so solid as I would have it."

"Ah, papa, you must not be so hard to please!" she said, with playful look and tone. "I think I'm in very good condition; am glad I'm not too heavy to sit here and play at being your own little girl again. What happy days those were! when I had not a care or anxiety except to please my earthly and my heavenly father."

"Would you like to go back to them?"

"No, dear father, your love and tender care made me a very happy child, but I have no desire to retrace my steps. I should far rather press forward to the heavenly home whither you are travelling with me--'the rest that remaineth to the people of God,' rest from sin as well as from sorrow, pain, and care."

"'Casting all you care upon Him, for He careth for you.' He who ever liveth; He who hath all power in heaven and in earth; He who has said, 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love,' 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' Dear daughter, if cares and anxieties oppress you, ask yourself what right a Christian has to be troubled with them."

"None, papa," she answered humbly; "I am thankful that I can say a belief in His love and power prevents them from pressing very heavily, yet it is my grief and shame that my faith is often too weak to lift the burden entirely."

"What is the particular burden to-night?" he asked tenderly.

"My absent darlings, papa: my Elsie, now beginning with the cares of married life, my eldest son exposed to I know not what dangers and temptations."

"But with the very same Almighty Friend their mother has to watch over and protect, to comfort and sustain them."

"Yes, papa! Oh, I ought not to have one anxious thought about them!"

"When such thoughts will arise, dear child, turn them into petitions on their behalf, and believing in God's willingness to hear and answer prayer, your heart may grow light.

"But this is not exactly what I came to talk about." Then he repeated the substance of his conversation with Capt. Raymond, and asked what answer she would give.

Her surprise was as great as her father's had been, and a look of sore pain came into her face as she exclaimed, "Violet! my little Vi! must I lose her too?"

"Perhaps not, dearest; it may be that she cares nothing for him. But you need decide nothing to-night, and must try not to let the question keep you awake."

For a moment she seemed lost in thought, then lifting to his, eyes brimful of tears, "Papa," she said tremulously, "I cannot stand in the way of my child's happiness, therefore I must let him speak, and learn from her own lips whether she cares for him or not."

"Yes, I think you are right. And now, daughter dear, I must bid you good-night. But first I want you to promise me that you will determinately cast this care on the Lord, and not let it rob you of needed sleep."

They had both risen, and as he spoke he took her in his arms and held her close to his heart.

"I will, papa, in obedience to Him and to you," she said, while for a moment her arm was about his neck, her head laid upon his breast.