Chapter II.
 
                       "Within her heart was his image,
    Cloth'd in the beauty of love and youth, as last she beheld him,
    Only more beautiful made by his deathlike silence and absence."
                                            --Longfellow.

The sick ones ware sleeping quietly when the mother entered; the doctor had already breakfasted, and would assist Aunt Chloe and Dinah in watching beside them for the next hour, so the two Elsies--mother and daughter--went down together to the breakfast parlor.

They were a more silent party than usual at meal-time, for no one could forget the two absent members of the family, or that they were suffering upon beds of sickness; yet there was no gloom in any face or voice: their few words were spoken in cheerful tones, and each seemed unselfishly intent upon promoting the comfort and happiness of all the others; on the part of the children, especially of their grandfather and mother; each young heart was evidently full to overflowing of tenderest sympathy and love for her.

She had been closely confined to the sick-room for several days, so that it was a treat to have her with them at breakfast and at family worship, which followed directly upon the conclusion of the meal.

It surprised them a little that when the short service came to an end, she did not even then return at once to her sick little ones, but putting on a garden hat invited her eldest daughter to do likewise and come with her for a short stroll in the grounds.

"It will do us both good," she said as they stepped from the veranda upon the broad, gravelled walk, "the air is so sweet and pure at this early hour; and you have not been out in it at all, have you?"

"No, mamma; and what a treat it is to take it in your dear company," Elsie responded, gathering a lovely, sweet-scented flower and placing it in the bosom of her mother's dress.

"Thank you, love," Mrs. Travilla said; then went on to speak feelingly of the beauty and fragrance that surrounded them, and the unnumbered blessings of their lot in life.

"Mamma, you seem to have a heart always filled with love and gratitude to God, and never to be troubled with the least rebellious feeling, or any doubts or fears for the future," remarked Elsie, sighing slightly as she spoke.

"Have we any right or reason to indulge repining, doubts, or fears, when we know that all is ordered for us by One who loves us with an everlasting and infinite love, and who is all-wise and all-powerful? O my darling, no! Well may we say with the Psalmist, 'I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.' Oh what a blessed assurance! goodness and mercy while here in this world of trial--all things working together for our good, that so we may be brought at last safely to our desired haven--and then to be forever with the Lord!"

"Mamma, I have been so anxious and troubled about my little brother and sister, and about Lester, I needed the lesson you have just given me, and hope I shall profit by it."

"My dearest child, have faith in God; try to believe with all your heart that he will never send you or any of his children one unneeded pang. I am sure you could never think I--your tender mother--would give you the slightest pain except for your certain good; and what is my love for you compared to that of your Saviour? who died that you might live!"

"Mamma," cried the young girl, pausing in her walk, laying her hand on her mother's arm and looking searchingly into the sweet, compassionate face, while her own grew deathly pale, "what is it you are trying to prepare me for? O mamma!"

A rustic seat stood close at hand.

"Let us sit down here for a moment, dear daughter," Mrs. Travilla said, drawing Elsie to it with an arm about her waist. "You are right, my child--I have news for you. Oh, not the worst, dearest!" as Elsie seemed to gasp for breath. "Lester lives, but is very ill with typhoid fever."

"Mamma!" cried Elsie, starting to her feet, "I must go to him! go at once. O dearest mother, do not hinder me!" and she clasped her hands in piteous entreaty, the big tears rapidly chasing each other down her pale cheeks.

"If I could go with you," faltered the mother, "or your grandfather; but I can neither leave nor take my little ones, and he would never consent to leave me, or his poor old father, who seems just tottering on the verge of the grave."

"I know! I see! but, O mother, mother! how can I let him die all alone in a stranger land? Think if it had been you and my father!"

"What is your entreaty, daughter?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, coming up and laying his hand affectionately upon his grandchild's shoulder.

"To go to him--to Lester, grandpa. Oh, how can I stay away and leave him to die alone? to die for lack of the good nursing I could give him, perhaps to the saving of his life!"

"My poor child! my poor dear child!" he said, caressing her; "we will see what can be done in the way of finding a suitable escort, and if that can be obtained your mother will not, I think, withhold her consent."

He had been telling the news to the others, and Edward had followed him, anxious to express the sympathy for his sister with which his heart was full.

"An escort, grandpa?" he said. "Would mine be sufficient? Mamma, if you will permit me, I shall gladly go to Lester, either with or without Elsie."

"My dear boy!" was all his mother said, her tones tremulous with emotion, while his grandfather turned and regarded him with doubtful scrutiny.

"Oh, thank you, brother!" cried Elsie. "Mamma, surely you can trust me to him! Who loves me better? except yourself--and who would take such tender care of me?"

"Mamma, I would guard her with my life!" exclaimed Edward earnestly.

"My dear son, I do not doubt it," Mrs. Travilla answered, turning upon her father a half-inquiring, half-entreating look.

"If no older or more experienced person can be found."

He paused, and Elsie burst out: "O grandpa, dear grandpa, don't say that! There is no time to lose! no time to look for other escort!"

"That is true, my child; and we will not waste any time. Make your preparations as rapidly as you can, and if nothing better offers in the mean while, and your mother consents to Edward's proposition, you shall go with him--and Ben who travelled all over Europe with your father and myself--as your protectors."

She thanked him fervently through her tears, while her mother said, "Ah yes, that is a good thought, papa! Ben shall go with them."

"Better go now and at once select whatever you wish to take with you, and set some one to packing your trunks," he said. "Edward, do you do likewise, and I will examine the morning papers for information in regard to trains and the sailing of the next steamer. Daughter dear," to Mrs. Travilla, "you need give yourself no concern about any of these matters."

"No, I shall trust everything to you, my best of fathers, and go back at once to my sick darlings," she said, giving him a look of grateful love.

Then passing her arm affectionately about her daughter's waist, she drew her on toward the house, her father and son accompanying them.

She parted with Elsie at the door of the sick-room, embracing her tenderly and bidding her "'Be strong and of a good courage,' my darling, for 'the eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.'"

"Dearest mamma, what sweet words!" said the weeping girl. "Oh, how glad I am that God reigns! and that I know he will send to each of his children just what is best."

She turned away as the door closed upon her mother, and found Violet close at her side.

There was a silent affectionate embrace, and with their arms about each other they sought Elsie's dressing-room.

"Grandpa and Edward have told me," Violet said, "and you will let me help you, my poor dear sister? help in thinking and selecting what you will want to carry with you."

"Gladly, thankfully, for oh, I seem scarcely able to collect my thoughts! How can I leave mamma and all of you? and the darling little brother and sister so ill! and yet how can I stay away from Lester when he is sick and alone in a strange land, with not a friend to speak a cheering word, smooth his pillow, give his medicine, or see that he has proper food? O Vi, can I help going to him, even at the sacrifice of leaving all other near and dear ones?"

"I think our mother would have done it for papa," Violet answered, kissing Elsie's cheek.

Mr. Dinsmore having first seen Ben, and found him more than willing to go with the children of the master he had loved as his own soul, went to the library, looked over the papers, and had just found the information he sought, when the sound of horses' hoofs on the avenue drew his attention, and glancing from the window he saw the Roselands carriage drive up with his sister, Mrs. Conly, inside.

He hastened out to assist her to alight.

"Good-morning, Horace," she said. "Is my son Arthur here?"

"Yes, Louise, he has spent the last hour or more in attendance upon our sick little ones. Ah, here he is to speak for himself!" as the young doctor stepped from the open doorway. "But won't you come in?"

She demurred. "Is there any danger, Arthur?"

"Danger of what, mother?"

"You certainly understood me," she said half angrily; "danger of contagion, of course."

"None for you, surely, mother, and none you could carry home unless you came in personal contact with the sick children."

"I shall sit here for a moment, then," she said, stepping from the carriage and taking a chair upon the veranda. "How are they to-day?"

"The sick little ones? The disease has not yet reached its crisis."

"I hope they'll get safely over it: it's a good thing to have over. How soon can you be spared from here, Arthur?"

"Now, mother, if I am needed elsewhere, I shall not be needed here--at least am not likely to be--for some hours."

"Then I wish you'd come home directly to see what you can do for your grandfather. He doesn't seem at all well to-day."

"My father ill?" Mr. Dinsmore exclaimed in a tone of alarm and concern.

"It hardly amounts to that, I presume," Mrs. Conly answered coldly; "but he is not well; didn't eat a mouthful of breakfast."

"Grandpa, did you find what you wanted in the morning paper?" queried Edward, joining them at this moment. "Ah, Aunt Louise, how d'ye do?"

She nodded indifferently, listening with some curiosity for her brother's reply.

"Yes," he said; "and I think you should leave to-night; for by so doing you will reach New York in time to take the next steamer, if you meet with no great detention on the way. Do you think you can both be ready?"

"I certainly can, sir, and have no doubt Elsie will also."

"What is it? off to Europe?" asked Mrs. Conly in surprise. "What should call you two children there at this time?"

Mr. Dinsmore briefly stated the facts, giving the news of the morning, Elsie's wish, and Edward's offer to be her escort to Italy.

"If she were a daughter of mine, I should consider a female companion an absolute necessity," was Mrs. Conly's comment.

"She will take her maid of course," said Mr. Dinsmore and Edward, both speaking at once.

"Pooh! a maid! I mean a lady relative or friend. I said a companion, and that a maid could not be."

"I should be extremely glad if such could be found in the few hours that we have for our preparations," said her brother, "but I know of none; the Fairview family are absent, Violet is too young----"

"Of course," interrupted Mrs. Conly; "but there are other relatives. I would go myself if my means would warrant the expense."

"If you are in earnest, Louise, you need not hesitate for a moment on that score; it shall not cost you a penny," her brother said, looking at her in pleased but half-incredulous surprise.

"I was never more in earnest," she answered. "I don't think you give me much credit for affection for your grandchildren, yet I certainly care too much for the one in question to willingly see her undertake such a journey without the support of female companionship. And I can be spared from home if you and Arthur will look after father; I have no young child now, and Aunt Maria is fully capable of taking charge of all household matters. If you wish me to go you have only to say so and guarantee my expenses, and I shall go home, oversee the packing of my trunks, and be ready as soon as the young people are."

"Your offer is a most kind one, Louise, and I accept it even without waiting to consult with my daughter," Mr. Dinsmore said.

"Then I must go home at once, and set about my preparations immediately," she said, rising to take leave.

Arthur Conly as well as Edward Travilla had been a surprised but silent listener to the short dialogue.

"Can you spare your mother, Arthur?" his uncle asked.

"We must, sir, if it pleases her to go, and for the sake of my two sweet cousins--Elsie senior and Elsie junior--I willingly consent. You take the night train I understand?" turning to Edward.

"Yes; to-night."

"I shall see that my mother is at the depot in season;" and with that they took their departure, Mr. Dinsmore saying, as he bade them adieu, that he should ride over presently to see his father.

Turning toward Edward, he saw that the lad's eyes were following the Roselands' carriage down the avenue, his face wearing a rueful look.

"Grandpa," he said with a sigh, "I see no necessity for Aunt Louise's company, and, indeed, should very much prefer to be without it."

"You forget that you are speaking to your grandfather of his sister," Mr. Dinsmore answered, with a touch of sternness in his tone.

"I beg your pardon, sir," returned Edward. "She is so unlike you that I am apt to forget the relationship."

"I know you do not always find your aunt's company agreeable," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, "and I do not blame you on that account, yet I think it will be an advantage to you, and especially to your sister, to have with you a woman of her age and knowledge of the world. I wish I could go with you myself, but I cannot think of leaving either my old father or your mother in this time of trial."

"No, sir, oh no! Delightful as it would be to both of us for you to make one of our little party, we would not for the world deprive dear mamma of the support and comfort of your presence here; nor our dear old grandfather either."