Chapter XIX. New Relationships and New Titles
 

"Are you hungry, Gracie darling?" her father asked with tender solicitude.

"No, papa," she said, "we had our breakfast just a little while before Aunt Beulah brought us here."

"Well, if ever you suffer from hunger again it shall not be your father's fault," he returned with emotion.

Taking out his watch, "We have a full half hour yet," he said. "Max, my son, do you know of any place near at hand where oranges, bananas, cakes, and candies are to be had?"

"Oh, yes, papa! just at the next corner."

"Then go and lay in a store for our journey," handing him some money.

"May I go too, papa?" asked Lulu, as Max set off with alacrity.

"No, stay here; I want you by my side," he said, smiling affectionately upon her.

"I'm glad you do! O papa, I have wanted you so badly!" she exclaimed, leaning her cheek against his arm and looking up lovingly into his face, "and so have Max and Gracie. Haven't we, Gracie?"

"Yes, indeed!" sighed the little one. "O papa, I wish you didn't ever have to go away and leave us!"

"I hope to stay with you longer than usual this time, and when I must go away again to leave you in a very happy home, where no one will wish to ill-use you," he said, with a glad look and smile directed toward his bride.

"No one at Ion or in any house of my dear mother's will ever show them anything but kindness and love if they are good and obedient," said Vi. "We all obey grandpa, but we love to do it, because he is so dear and never at all unreasonable."

"No, I am sure he is not," assented the captain, "and I shall esteem it a great favor if he will count my darlings among his grandchildren. How would my little Gracie like to have a dear kind grandpa and grandma?" he asked, smoothing back the curls from the little pale face.

"Oh, ever so much, papa!" she responded with a bright and joyous smile. "I never had any, papa, had I?"

"Not since you were old enough to remember."

Max did his errand promptly and well, returning just in time to go with the others on board the train.

They took a parlor car and travelled with great comfort, a happy family party, father and children rejoicing in being together again after a long separation, Violet sympathizing in their joy and finding herself neither forgotten nor neglected by any one of the little group of which she formed a part.

Ever and anon her husband's eyes were turned upon her with a look of such proud delight, such ardent affection as thrilled her heart with love, joy, and gratitude to the Giver of all good.

Max's eyes too were full of enthusiastic admiration whenever his glance met hers, and with boyish gallantry he watched for opportunities to wait upon her.

Gracie regarded her with loving looks and called her mamma, as if the word were very sweet to say.

Lulu alone was shy and reserved, never addressing Violet directly and answering in monosyllables when spoken to by her, yet showed nothing like aversion in look or manner.

All went well for some hours, Max and Lulu partaking freely of the fruit and confectionery their father had provided, Gracie much more sparingly, eating less than he would have allowed her, being a sensible little girl and fearful of such unwonted indulgence.

But so unaccustomed were her digestive powers to anything but the most restricted diet that they gave way under the unusual strain, and she became so ill that Violet and the captain were filled with alarm.

Fortunately they were rapidly nearing their destination, and were soon able to lay her upon the pretty, comfortable bed prepared for her and Lulu in the new home by the sea, and summon a physician.

The Dinsmores and Travillas had arrived some days before and made all arrangements for a delightful welcome to the bride and groom. Both cottages were in perfect order, and a bountiful feast, comprising all the delicacies of the season, was set out in the dining-room of that over which Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore presided.

But Gracie's illness interfered somewhat with the carrying out of their plans, dividing their emotions between pity and concern for the little sufferer, and joy over the return of the newly married pair.

The feast waited while the ladies, the captain, Mr. Dinsmore, and the physician were occupied with the sick child.

Max and Lulu, quite forgotten for the moment by their father and Violet, and much troubled about their little sister, would have felt very forlorn, had not Harold, Herbert, and Rosie set themselves, with the true politeness to which they had been trained, to making the little strangers comfortable and at home.

They seated them in the veranda, where they could enjoy the breeze and a view of the sea, and talked to them entertainingly of the various pleasures--bathing, boating, fishing, etc.--in store for them.

Presently Mr. Dinsmore came out with a prescription which he asked Harold to take to the nearest drug-store.

"May I go too, sir?" asked Max. "Wouldn't it be well for me to learn the way there, so that I can do the errand next time?"

"That is well thought of, my boy," Mr. Dinsmore said, with a pleased look. "But are you not too tired to-night for such a walk? it is fully a quarter of a mile."

"No, sir, thank you; a run will do me good after being so long cramped up in the cars."

"Ah," Mr. Dinsmore said, taking Max's hand and shaking it cordially, "I think I shall find you a boy after my own heart--active, independent, and ready to make yourself useful. Shall I number you among my grandchildren?"

"I shall be very happy to have you do so, sir," returned Max, coloring with pleasure.

"Then henceforth you may address me as grandpa, as these other young folks do," glancing at Rosie and her brothers. "You also, my dear, if you like," he added, catching Lulu's dark eyes fixed upon him with a half eager, half wistful look, and bending down to stroke her hair caressingly.

"Thank you, sir," she said, "I think I shall like to. But oh, tell me, please, is Gracie very sick?"

"I hope not, my dear; the doctor thinks she will be in her usual health in a day or two."

The boys were already speeding away.

The doctor had sent every one out of the sick-room except Mrs. Dinsmore and Captain Raymond. The child clung to her long-absent father, and he would not leave her until she slept.

Elsie led the way to Violet's room, and there they held each other in a long, tender, silent embrace.

"My darling!" the mother said at length, "how I have missed you! how glad I am to have you in my arms again!"

"Ah, mamma! my own dearest mamma, it seems to me you can hardly be so glad as I am!" cried Vi, lifting her face to gaze with almost rapturous affection into that of her mother. "I do not know how I could ever bear a long separation from you!"

"You are happy?"

"Yes, mamma, very, very happy. I could never live without my husband now. Ah, I did not dream of half the goodness and lovableness I have already found in him. But ah, I am forgetting his children, Max and Lulu!" she added, hastily releasing herself from her mother's arms. "I must see where they are and that they are made comfortable."

"Leave that to me, Vi dear," her mother said; "you should be attending to your toilet. I think the little sick one will fall asleep presently, when she can be left in Mammy's care, while we all gather about the supper-table; and we must have you and Zoe there in bridal attire."

"Zoe! I hardly saw her in my anxiety about Gracie!" exclaimed Violet. "Does she seem happy, mamma, and like one of us?"

"Yes, she is quite one of us; we all love her, and I think she is happy among us, though of course grieving sadly at times for the loss of her father. The trunks have been brought up, I see. That small one must belong to the two little girls."

"Yes, mamma, and suppose we let it stand here for the present so that I can readily help Lulu find what she wishes to wear this evening."

"Yes, dear. I will go down and invite her up. Ah, here is mamma!" as Mrs. Dinsmore tapped at the half-open door, then stepped in. She embraced Violet with motherly affection. "A lost treasure recovered!" she said joyously. "Vi, dear, you have no idea how we have missed you."

After a moment's chat, Rose and Elsie went down together to the veranda, where they found Lulu, making acquaintance with the other members of the family.

"This is a new granddaughter for us, my dear," Mr. Dinsmore said to his wife.

"Yes, shall I be your grandma, my child?" asked Rose, giving Lulu an affectionate kiss.

"And I too?" Elsie asked, caressing her in her turn.

"Two grandmas!" Lulu said, with a slightly bewildered look, "and neither of you looking old enough. How will anybody know which I mean, if I call you both so?"

"I think," said Mrs. Dinsmore, smiling, "it will have to be Grandma Rose and Grandma Elsie."

"Yes," said Mrs. Travilla, "that will do nicely. Now, my dear little girl, shall I take you upstairs that you may change your dress before tea?"

Lulu accepted the invitation with alacrity. They found Violet beginning her toilet while her maid unpacked her trunk.

"Lulu, dear," she said, as the child came in, "you want to change your dress I suppose? Have you the key of your trunk?"

"Yes, ma'am," taking it from her pocket.

"Agnes," said Vi, "leave mine for the present (you have taken out all I want for the evening) and unpack that other."

The child drew near her young step-mother with a slightly embarrassed air. "I--I don't know what to call you," she said in a half whisper.

Violet paused in what she was doing, and looking lovingly into the blushing face, said, "You may call me cousin or auntie, whichever you please, dear, till you can give me a little place in your heart; then, as I am not old enough to be your mother, you may call me Mamma Vi. What is it you wish to say to me?"

"Mayn't I go into some other room to wash and dress?"

"Certainly, dear," Violet answered. Turning inquiringly to her mother, "What room can she have, mamma?"

"There is a very pleasant little one across the hall," Elsie said. "If Lulu would like to have it for her own, it might be as well to have her trunk sent in before unpacking."

"Oh, I should like to have a room all to myself!" exclaimed Lulu. "I had at Aunt Beulah's. Gracie slept with her, in the room next to mine."

"I supposed you and Gracie would prefer to be together in a room close to your papa's," Elsie said; "but there are rooms enough for you to have one entirely to yourself."

"Then she shall," Violet said, smiling indulgently upon the little girl. "Would you like my mother or me to help you choose what to wear to-night? I want you to put on your best and look as pretty as ever you can."

Lulu's face flushed with pleasure. "Yes, ma'am," she said, going to her trunk, which Agnes had now opened; "but I haven't anything half so beautiful as the dress your sister has on."

"Haven't you? Well, never mind, you shall soon have dresses and other things quite as pretty as Rosie's," Violet said, stooping over the trunk to see what was there.

The child's eyes danced with delight. "Oh, shall I? Aunt Beulah never would get me the pretty things I wanted, to look like other girls, you know, or let my dresses be trimmed with ruffles and lace like theirs. I used to think it would be dreadful to have a step-mother, but now I'm sure it isn't always."

Violet smiled. "I hope we shall love each other very much, and be very happy together, Lulu," she said. "Now tell me which dress you want to wear this evening."

"This white muslin," said the little girl, lifting it and shaking out the folds. "I believe it's the best I have, but you see it has only two ruffles and not a bit of lace. And this sash she bought for me to wear with it is narrow and not at all thick and handsome."

"No, it is not fit for Capt. Raymond's daughter to wear!" Vi exclaimed a little indignantly, taking the ribbon between her thumb and finger. "But I can provide you with a better, and you may cut this up for your doll."

"Oh, thank you!" cried Lulu, her eyes sparkling. "Step-mothers are nice after all."

"But Lulu, dear," Elsie said, standing beside the little girl, and caressing her hair with her soft white hand, "that is not a pretty or pleasant name to my ear; especially when applied to so young and dear a lady as this daughter of mine," looking tenderly into Vi's fair face. "Try to think of her as one who dearly loves and is dearly loved by your father, and ready to love his children for his sake."

"Yes, and for their own too," Violet added, "just as I love my darling little sister Rosie. Now, Lulu, I think you have no more than time to make your toilet. She will find everything needful in that room, will she, mamma?"

"Yes; water, soap and towels. Can you do everything for yourself, my child?"

"Yes, ma'am, except fastening my dress and sash."

"Then run in here or call to me when you are ready to have that done," said Violet.

Lulu was greatly pleased with her room. It had a set of cottage furniture, many pretty ornaments, an inviting-looking bed draped in white, and lace curtains to the windows; one of which gave her a fine view of the sea.

She made haste to wash and dress, thinking the while that their father's marriage had brought a most delightful change to herself, brother and sister.

"What soft, sweet voices they all have in talking," she mused. "Grandma Rose, Grandma Elsie, and Mamma Vi. I'll call her that, if she'll let me, it's a pretty name. I like it, and I believe I have given her a little place in my heart already."

Just then Agnes knocked at the door to ask if she wanted anything.

"Yes," Lulu said, admitting her, "I'm ready to put on my dress and would like you to button it for me."

"An' put dese on fo' you too, Miss?" and Agnes held up to the child's astonished and delighted eyes a set of pink coral, necklace, bracelets and pin, and a sash of broad, rich ribbon just matching in color.

"Oh," cried Lulu half breathlessly, "where did they come from?"

"Miss Wilet sent 'em," returned Agnes, beginning her work; "an' she tole me to ax you to come in dar when I'se done fixin' ob you, an' let her see if eberyting's right. Humph! 'twon't be, kase you oughter hab ribbon for yo' hair to match wid de sash."