Chapter XIV.
 
    "Nor less was she in heart affected,
     But that she masked it with modesty,
     For fear she should of lightness be detected."
                    --Spenser's "Fairy Queen."

Violet had lingered at the Laurels, with her Aunt Rose, for some hours after her mother returned to Ion with the children, and in the meanwhile there had been a long talk between Mrs. Travilla and Capt. Raymond, in which he had pleaded his cause with all the eloquence an ardent passion could inspire.

Elsie's answer was, "If you have won my daughter's heart, her hand shall not be refused you. But she is yet too young for the grave responsibilities of married life. Nor can I reconcile myself to the thought of parting with her so soon; therefore I should greatly prefer to have the matter dropped, at least for the present."

The captain repeated what he had said to Mr. Dinsmore in regard to his willingness to leave Violet with her mother if only he might have her for his wife.

"That would be very pleasant," Elsie said her eyes shining; "and so far you have the decided advantage of a suitor who would carry her away from us; but, Captain, you are a father, and the woman whom you marry should be not only a wife to you, but also a mother to your children; but for that care and responsibility my little Vi is, I fear, far too young. Indeed, my mother heart can ill brook the thought of her being so burdened in the very morning of her life."

"Nor should I be willing to burden her, my dear Mrs. Travilla," he said with feeling; "she should never bear the lightest burden that I could save her from. But, my dear madam, would my children be any better off if I should remain single? I think not, and I also think that should I marry another while my heart is your daughter's, I should be doing very wrong. But I cannot; if I fail to win her I shall remain as I am to the end of my days."

"I trust not," she said; "you may get over this and meet with some one else with whom you can be very happy."

He shook his head very decidedly. "I feel that that is impossible. But how was it in your own case, Mrs. Travilla? Mrs. Dinsmore is, I understand, but a few years older than yourself."

"That is quite true, sir; and I know papa never let her take any responsibility in regard to me, but taught, trained, and cared for me in all respects himself; he was father and mother both to me," she said with a lovely smile; "but you, my dear sir, are so situated that you could not follow his example; you can neither stay at home with your children nor take them to sea with you."

"True, but they can stay where they are quite as well if I am married as if I remain without a wife. I love them very dearly, Mrs. Travilla, and earnestly desire to do my whole duty to them, but I do not think it a part of that either to do without the dear little wife I covet, or to burden her with cares unsuited to her tender years. Are you not willing to let me settle this question of duty for myself?"

"I certainly have not the shadow of a right or inclination to attempt to settle any question of duty for you, sir," she answered with sweet gentleness, "but I must, I think, try to help my dear child to consider such questions for herself. And with her, after all, must the decision of this matter remain."

Both mother and lover waited with anxiety for that decision, and while waiting the captain wrote his letter, the mother busied herself with her accustomed cares and duties as daughter, mother, mistress, and hostess, each heart lifting up silent petitions that the result might be for God's glory and the best interests of all concerned.

Elsie was not surprised that Violet did not join the family that evening on her return from the Laurels.

"She doubtless wants a talk with her mother first," was her silent comment on learning that Vi had gone directly to that part of the house in which the private apartments of the family were situated, and presently, as all separated for the night, she sought her own dressing-room, expecting to find Violet waiting for her there.

But the room was unoccupied; one swift glance revealed that fact, and also showed her the box Violet had left on her toilet-table, and beside it some little token of love and remembrance from each of the other members of the family.

A label on each told who was the giver, and breathed of tender affection to her for whom it was prepared.

She looked them over with glistening eyes, a heart full of gratitude for the loves still left her, though sore with the thought, recalled by every anniversary, of him who was gone, and a sweet and beautiful smile playing about her lips.

Violet's gift was the last to be taken up and examined. So life-like was the pictured face suddenly exposed to Elsie's view that it startled her almost as if he had come in and stood by her side. The label told her it was from Violet, but even without that she would have recognized it as her work; and that it was so made it all the more precious to the widowed mother.

She was gazing intently upon it, her lips quivering, the big tears dropping fast down her cheeks, as Violet, with Capt. Raymond's letter in her hand, opened the door, came softly in, and glided noiselessly to her side.

"Dearest mamma," she murmured, stealing an arm about her mother's waist, "does it please you?"

"Nothing could be more like him! My darling, thank you a thousand times!"

"I painted almost entirely from memory, mamma, and it was emphatically a labor of love--love to you and to him. Oh, how sadly sweet it was to see the dear face growing day by day under my hand!"

"Has your grandpa seen it?"

"Yes, mamma, he used to come in sometimes and watch me at my work. He thinks as you do of the likeness. Ah, I hear his step!" and she hastened to open the door for him.

"I thought I should find you here," he said, kissing her on both cheeks, then drawing her near the light and gazing with keen, loving scrutiny into the blushing face.

"Elsie daughter," turning to her--"Ah!" as he perceived her emotion and took note of the miniature in her hand, "is it not a speaking likeness?"

"Yes, papa," she said in a trembling voice, going to him to lay her head on his breast while he clasped her in his arms, "but it has roused such an intense longing in my heart!

    "'Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand,
      And the sound of a voice that is still!"

"Dearest child!" he said tenderly, "the separation is only for time, and a long eternity of reunion will follow. 'Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.'"

"'But for a moment!'" she repeated. "Yes, it will seem like that when it is past, though now the road looks so long and lonely."

"Ah, dearest!" he said, softly smoothing her hair, "remember that nearer, dearer Friend whose promise is, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'"

Presently she lifted her head, wiped away her tears, and as her father released her from his arms, turned to her daughter with a tenderly interested and inquiring look.

"What is it, my darling?" she asked, glancing at the letter in the young girl's hand.

Violet gave it to her, saying, with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks, "I found it on my dressing-table, mamma. It is from him--Capt. Raymond--and I have written a note in reply."

"Shall I go away, Vi, and leave you and your mamma to your confidences?" Mr. Dinsmore asked playfully, putting an arm about each and looking with smiling eyes from one to the other.

"No, grandpa, please stay; you know I have no secrets from you," Violet answered, half hiding her face on his shoulder.

"And are grandpa and I to read both epistles--yours and his?" asked her mother.

"If you please, mamma. But mine is not to be given unless you both approve."

The captain's was a straightforward, manly letter, renewing his offer with a hearty avowal of strong and deathless love, and replying to her objections as he had already in talking with her mother and grandfather.

Violet's answer did not contain any denial of a return of his affection; she simply thanked him for the honor done her, but said she did not feel old enough or wise enough for the great responsibilities of married life.

"Rather non-committal, isn't it, little cricket?" was her grandfather's playful comment. "It strikes me that you neither accept nor reject him."

"Why, grandpa," she said confusedly, "I thought it was a rejection."

Mr. Dinsmore and his daughter had seated themselves near the table, on which a lamp was burning, and Violet knelt on a hassock at her mother's feet, half hiding her blushing face on her lap.

"Ah, my little girl!" Elsie said, with playful tenderness, putting one hand under Vi's chin, and lifting the fair face to look into it with keen, loving scrutiny, "were I the captain, I should not despair; the citadel of my Vi's heart is half won."

The cheeks were dyed with hotter blushes at that, but no denial came from the ruby lips. "Mamma, I do not want to marry yet for years," she said, "and I think it will not be easy for any one to win me away from you."

"But he says he will not take you away," remarked her grandpa.

"Are you on his side, grandpa?" asked Violet.

"Only if your heart is, my dear child." "And in that case I am on his side too," said her mother, "because I desire my little girl's happiness even more than her dear companionship as exclusively my own."

"Except what belongs to her grandpa and guardian," said Mr. Dinsmore, taking Vi's arm and gently drawing her to a seat upon his knee.

Vi put her arms about his neck. "The dearest, kindest grandpa and guardian that ever anybody had!" she said, giving him a kiss of ardent affection. "Well, if you, sir, and mamma are both on the captain's side, I suppose it won't do for me to reject him. But you say my note isn't a rejection, so will you please give it to him? And if he isn't satisfied to take it for no and let me alone on the subject, he may wait a year or two and see if--if he still feels toward me as he does now, and perhaps--only perhaps--if he hasn't changed his mind and asks again----"

"You may say yes?" Mr. Dinsmore asked as she broke off in confusion.

"Oh, grandpa, say what you think best! only don't make it too easy for him," she said, with an arch smile, but blushing deeply.

"I think," said Mr. Dinsmore, "I shall only give him your note without any additions of my own, and leave him to carry on further negotiations, or not, as he sees fit."

Capt. Raymond did not take Vi's answer as a decided rejection, and within twenty-four hours had won from her an acknowledgment that she was not indifferent to him, and persuaded her to promise him her hand at some far-off future day. All seemed well contented with the arrangement, and the week that followed was a very delightful one to the lovers.

In the mean time his Christmas gifts to his children had been received by them with great joy. Especially did Max and Lulu rejoice over the opportunity now afforded them to open their hearts to their father and tell him all their grievances.

He had written to both Mr. Fox and Mrs. Scrimp directing his gifts to be delivered into the children's own hands without any examination, and never to be taken from them. Also that they be allowed to spend their Christmas together.

So Max was permitted to go to Mrs. Scrimp's to spend the day with his sisters, and was well pleased to do so when he learned that that lady would not be at home, having accepted an invitation to take her Christmas dinner elsewhere.

Ann, who was left at home to look after the children, gave them an excellent dinner, and Max, having found some money in his desk, came provided with candies.

They compared presents, and spent some time over the books their father had sent, then Max and Lulu decided that it would be best to write now to their father, thanking him for his gifts and telling him all they had so long wanted him to know.

Lulu compressed what she had to say into a few lines--her love, thanks, longing to see papa, Gracie's feebleness, and her own belief that it was all because she did not get enough to eat; an acknowledgment that she was saucy to "Aunt Beulah," and sometimes helped herself to food, but excusing it on the plea that otherwise she too would be half starved; and that poor Max was often beaten and abused by Mr. Fox for just nothing at all.

Max's letter was much longer, as he went more into detail, and was not finished for several days. When it was he inclosed it and Lulu's, which she had given into his charge, in one of the envelopes that he had found in his desk ready stamped and directed, and mailed it to his father.

These letters reached Ion on New Year's morning. The captain read them with deep concern, first to himself, then to Mrs. Travilla and Violet, as they happened to be alone together in the parlor.

The hearts of both ladies were deeply touched, and their eyes filled with tears as they listened to the story of the wrongs of the poor motherless children.

"Oh, captain, you will not leave them there where they are so ill used?" Vi said almost imploringly; "it breaks my heart to think of their sufferings!"

"Don't let it distress you, my dear girl," he replied soothingly; "we should perhaps make some allowance for unintentional exaggeration. There are always two sides to a story, and we have but one here."

"But told in a very straightforward way," Elsie said with warmth. "Both letters seem to me to bear the stamp of truth. Depend upon, it, captain, there is good ground for their complaints."

"I fear so," he said, "and am quite as anxious, my dear Mrs. Travilla, as you could wish to set my dear children free from such tyranny; but what can I do? In obedience to orders, I must return to my vessel to-morrow and sail at once for a distant foreign port. I cannot go to see about my darlings, and I know of no better place to put them. I shall, however, write to Mrs. Scrimp, directing her to have immediately the best medical advice for Gracie, and to follow it, feeding her as the doctor directs. Also always to give Lulu as much as she wants of good, plain, wholesome food. I shall also write to Fox, giving very particular directions in regard to the management of my son."