Chapter XIII.
 
    "On you most loved, with anxious fear I wait,
     And from your judgment must expect my fate."
                             --Addison.

Naturally Elsie's first waking thoughts on the following morning were of Violet and her future. She was not a "match-making mamma," not at all desirous to be rid of her daughters, and had never once thought of Capt. Raymond as a possible suitor for Violet.

He was not a very young man, and it was difficult to realize that Vi was grown up enough for her hand to be sought in marriage by even one near her own age, much less by the father of a family whose eldest child could not be very many years younger than she.

"She surely cannot fancy him!" the mother said to herself with a sigh of relief; but instantly came the remembrance that the disparity of years had been still greater between herself and the husband she had loved with all the strength of her nature--so loved that never for a moment could she admit the idea of the possibility that any other could fill his place in her heart. What more could she ask for her beloved child, for this life, than such wedded bliss as she herself had known?

But how could she spare her! especially so soon after resigning her sweet namesake daughter to another. It was only the unselfishness of her mother love which could at all reconcile her to the thought.

She longed to know whether she were likely to be called upon to make the sacrifice, but generously resolved to use no means to discover the state of her child's feelings until the captain had spoken. In the mean while she would neither make an opportunity for him nor throw any obstacle in his way.

Her toilet was scarcely complete, and she had just dismissed her maid, when a tap on her dressing-room door was followed by her father's entrance.

"Ah, papa! good-morning!" she said, her face growing bright with pleasure. "Are you well, my dear father?" going to him and putting her arms about his neck.

"Perfectly, my darling," he said, caressing her. "How are you? how did you sleep?"

"I am able to answer, Very well indeed, to both questions, papa," she returned brightly.

"You didn't let worrying thoughts keep you awake?"

"Oh, no, sir!"

"And is your answer to Capt. Raymond still the same?"

"Yes, papa," she said, with an involuntary sigh.

"I don't believe you wish him success," he remarked, with a slight smile and a keen, searching look into her face.

"No," she said, the tears starting to her eyes; "I had thought to keep my sweet child for years to come."

"But you have no objection to him, more than you would have to any one else?"

"No, papa, I have learned to think very highly of him, and believe my darling's happiness will be safe in his hands--if she loves him. Yet I trust far more to your judgment than to my own. You approve of him, do you not?"

"Entirely; yet, like yourself, am so loath to part with Violet that I shall heartily rejoice if she declares herself indifferent to him."

"I long to end my suspense in regard to that," Elsie said, "but have decided to endure it until the captain has spoken; because it seems better and kinder not to embarrass her by any hint of the state of his feelings."

Her father expressed approval of her resolve, then as her children came trooping in for their loved morning half hour with "mamma," with their bright faces and cheery greetings to her and grandpa, he left her and went down to the parlor, where he found Capt. Raymond, and rejoiced his heart with the favorable response to his request.

There was something so peculiar in the mother's gaze into Violet's face as they exchanged their morning greetings, it was so unwontedly keen and searching, half sad and anxious too, that the young girl asked in surprise, "What is it, mamma?"

"My darling, you are very sweet, very precious to your mother's heart!" Elsie said with an earnest, tender kiss; then turned quickly away to hide the tell-tale moisture in her eyes.

Capt. Raymond was not long in finding or making his opportunity.

It was the day before Christmas, and Rosie and Walter made frequent allusion to the exchange of gifts in which they expected to share that evening. They were chatting with the captain about it, in the parlor, soon after breakfast; talking of his children also; asking if he thought they had received his presents by this time, and that they would have a tree.

Violet was sitting near, helping Rosie to dress some dolls for the little cousins at the Laurels. Presently, one being quite ready, Rosie must run and show it to mamma, and Walter went with her.

The door had scarcely closed on them, leaving Violet and the captain sole occupants of the room, when he rose from his chair and, moving with some care and difficulty, took another close at her side.

"Are you not disobeying orders, sir, and in some danger of suffering for it?" she asked, looking at him with a mischievous smile.

"No; I have the doctor's permission to try the ankle a little to-day," he answered. Then, with a slightly embarrassed air, "Miss Travilla," he said, "I should like to--would you accept a Christmas gift from me?"

"You are very kind, sir," she said, blushing vividly, "but I think I must decline. Mamma highly disapproves of young girls accepting presents from their gentlemen friends."

"But I have consulted her and your grandfather in regard to this, and obtained their permission to offer it and ask for a return in kind. Will you accept my hand (the heart you have already won) and give me yours in exchange? Ah, I fear that you must think my presumption very great! I know I am asking what a king might covet. I know that you, in your peerless beauty--so fair, so sweet, so good, so talented, so admired and sought after--are worthy of a throne, and I have not even wealth to offer you--nothing, in fact, but the love of a man whose honor is unstained, and who would cherish you as the apple of his eye. Ah, dearest girl, I have no words to express the strength and power of the passionate affection with which you have inspired me!"

All this and much more in the same strain was poured out so rapidly and ardently that Violet seemed overwhelmed by the torrent of words that had come rushing upon her so unexpectedly and without any warning.

A deep blush overspread the fair face and neck, while her work fell from her hand and her eyes sought the floor.

When at length he paused for a reply, she started up, saying confusedly, in low, tremulous tones, "I--I am far from meriting the praises you have heaped upon me, and I am very young and foolish--not fit for--for so noble and good a man--so worthy to be highly honored. And I--oh, how could I leave my dear, widowed mother!" Then, as approaching footsteps were heard in the hall without, she turned and fled from the room.

"Ah, grandpa's little cricket, what is it? what has disturbed you so?" asked a well-known voice, in tones that spoke more pleasure than alarm, and Vi, as she hurried through the hall, half blinded by the tears in her eyes, felt herself closely clasped by two strong arms that held her fast.

"Oh, grandpa! I--I wish he hadn't!" she stammered, dropping her face upon his breast and bursting into tears.

"Who, my pet? who has dared to ill use you?" he asked, caressing her.

Vi lifted her head and looked up at him in surprise, for certainly his tone was rather amused than angry or stern. Then at a sudden remembrance of the captain's assertion that he had sought and obtained her grandfather's permission to offer her his hand, "Oh, grandpa, why did you let him?" she said, again hiding her blushing face on his breast; "you know I could never, never leave mamma! dear, dear mamma!"

"I am glad to hear it!" he returned with satisfaction, repeating his caresses, "for I don't know what either she or I could do without you. And that was your answer to Capt. Raymond?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well, go and tell mamma about it--she will be as glad as I am to hear that we are not to lose our darling little Vi--while I see what I can say to comfort the captain."

He released her as he spoke, and she flew to do his bidding.

Rosie and Walter were still with their mother in her boudoir, but as Violet came in with her flushed, agitated face, they were gently bidden to run away for a little while.

As the door closed on them, Violet dropped on her knees by her mother's chair and laid her head in her lap, hiding her face.

"My dear child! my dear, precious little daughter!" Elsie said, softly smoothing the golden tresses.

"Mamma, you know?"

"Yes, dearest."

"O mamma, I can't leave you! how could I?"

"Dear child! it would be a sore trial to have to part with you; and I cannot be sorry that you are not ready or willing to go. You are one of the very great blessings and comforts of your mother's life!"

"Dearest mother, thank you! They are very sweet words to hear from your lips," Violet said, lifting her face to look up into her mother's with a beautiful smile.

"And so you have said your suitor nay?" Elsie asked, with playful look and tone.

"I hardly know what I said, mamma, except that I was too young and foolish and couldn't leave you!"

"You do not care for him at all?"

"I--I don't know, mamma!" and the sweet, innocent face was suffused with blushes; "I had never thought of his fancying me--hardly more than a child--while he--mamma, is he not very noble and good and wise? and so brave and unselfish!--you know how he risked his life to save a poor old negress; and how much he has suffered in consequence, and how patiently he has borne it all!"

"And how handsome he is?"

"Yes, mamma, one reads the nobility of his nature in his face, and his bearing is soldierly."

"Ah, my little girl! my heart misgives me that I hold you by a very frail tenure!" Elsie sighed between a smile and a tear, as she bent her head to look searchingly into the depths of the azure eyes.

Violet's face crimsoned, and her head went down again into her mother's lap.

"Mamma, you need not fear," she said, very low and tremulously, "I have rejected his offer, and I cannot leave you."

"I am much mistaken if he is so easily repulsed," Elsie said. "He is a brave soldier, and will renew the assault nor raise the siege of my daughter's heart until he has brought it to a full if not unconditional surrender."

"Mamma, I wish I could run away."

"Come, then, to the Laurels with me, and you need not return until bedtime to-night, unless you choose."

Vi's face brightened, then clouded again. "Thank you, mamma, I will go, yet it will be putting off the evil day for but a very little while."

"It will give you time to think and analyze your own feelings, so that you will be the better prepared for the next assault," was the playful rejoinder. "Go now, dear child, and make yourself ready. The carriage will be at the door almost immediately--Arthur has consented to my taking the children in a close carriage. They must return before sundown, but you need not be in such haste."

Mr. Dinsmore did not find Capt. Raymond looking so completely cast down as he had expected. His face was slightly flushed, his expression somewhat perplexed and disappointed, but by no means despairing.

"I fear I have been too precipitate," he said, in answer to his host's inquiring look. "'The more haste the less speed,' as the old proverb has it. I fear I frightened the dear girl by too sudden and vehement an avowal of my passion. Yet I trust it may not be too late to retrieve my error."

"She rejected your suit?" Mr. Dinsmore said interrogatively.

"Yes, she seemed to do so!" sighed the lover, "yet the objections she urged are not insurmountable. She calls herself too young and foolish, but I hope to convince her that that is a mistake. Young she is indeed, but very far from foolish. She cannot leave her mother is another objection, but that I should not ask her to do--as a landlubber might," he added sportively, "would in all probability. As much of my life must be spent at sea, it would not be worth while to set up a home of my own on land, if I had a wife who preferred to live with her mother."

"Well, sir, that is certainly much in your favor," said Mr. Dinsmore; "our greatest, almost our only objection to your suit being the thought of parting with the child of our love."

When Violet came home that evening she did not rejoin the family in the parlor, but went directly to her own apartments.

"Where is mamma?" she inquired of her maid as she threw off her hat and cloak.

"In de parlor, Miss Wi'let."

"Are the children in bed and asleep?"

"Yes, miss."

Violet opened a bureau drawer and took therefrom several small packages. Undoing one, she brought to light the miniature of her father which she had painted. She carried it to the lamp and stood for some minutes gazing down upon the beloved face with fast-falling tears.

"Oh, papa, papa!" she murmured, "how hard it is to live without you!"

At length closing the case and restoring it to the box whence she had taken it, she gathered up the other parcels and went first to her mother's dressing-room, where she laid the little box on the toilet-table, then on to the rooms occupied by her younger sister and brothers, leaving a gift for each.

Going back to her own rooms, she espied a letter directed to herself, which she had not noticed before. She had seen Capt. Raymond's handwriting frequently during the weeks he had been at Ion, and recognized it at a glance. The rich color rushed over face and neck, and her heart beat fast.

"Agnes," she said to her maid, "you may go now; I shall not need you any more to-night," and the girl went out, leaving her alone.

Even then she did not at once open her letter, but moved slowly back and forth for some minutes, with it in her hand. Then kneeling down she asked earnestly for heavenly guidance in this important crisis of her life.

Looking into her own heart that day, she had learned that she was far from indifferent to him who had asked her to exchange with him vows of mutual love and trust, and to be the partner of his joys and sorrows. She was not indifferent, but did she love him well enough to leave, for his sake, the dear home of her childhood and the sweet mother to whom her heart had ever clung with the most ardent affection?