Chapter VI.
 
    "Then come the wild weather--come sleet or come snow,
     We will stand by each other, however it blow;
     Oppression and sickness, and sorrow and pain,
     Shall be to our true love as links to the chain."
                   --Longfellow. (From the German.)

"Courage, sister dear!" whispered Edward Travilla, putting an arm tenderly about Elsie's waist as they found themselves at the very door of Lester Leland's studio.

Her face had grown very pale and she was trembling with agitation.

Still supporting her with his arm, Edward rapped gently upon the door, and at the same instant it was opened from within by the attending physician, who had just concluded his morning call upon his patient.

He was an Italian of gentlemanly appearance and intelligent countenance.

"Some friends of Signor Leland: from America?" he said in good English and with a polite bow.

"Yes. How is he?" Edward asked, stepping in and drawing his sister on with him.

"Sick, signor, very sick, but he will grow better now. I shall expect to see him up in a few weeks," the doctor answered with a significant glance and smile as he turned, with a second and still lower bow, to the sweet, fair maiden.

She did not see it, for her eyes were roving round the room--a disorderly and comfortless place enough, but garnished with some gems of art; an unfinished picture was on the easel; there were others with their faces to the wall; models, statues in various stages of completion, and the implements of painter and sculptor were scattered here and there; a screen, an old lounge, a few chairs, and a table littered with books, papers, and drawing materials, completed the furniture of the large, dreary apartment.

An open door gave a glimpse into an inner room, from which came a slight sound as of a restless movement, a sigh or groan.

Pointing to the chairs, the physician invited the strangers to be seated.

Edward put his sister in one and took possession of another close at her side.

"How soon can we see Mr. Leland?" he asked, putting his card into the doctor's hand.

"I will go and prepare Signor Leland for the interview," the doctor answered, and disappeared through the open doorway.

"Good news for you, signor!" they heard him say in a quiet tone.

"Ah! let me hear it," sighed a well-known voice. "'As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.'"

"You are right, signor, it comes from far-off America. A friend--a young signor has arrived, and asks to see you."

"Ah! his name?" exclaimed the sick man, with a tremor of gladness in his feeble tones.

"Here is his card."

"'Edward Travilla!'--ah what joy! Let me see him at once. 'Twill be like a breath of home air!"

Every word had reached the ears of the two in the studio.

"Go! go!" cried Elsie, scarcely above her breath, and Edward rose and went softly in.

"Not much talk now, signores," Elsie heard the doctor say.

"No; we'll be prudent," Edward said, grasping Lester's hand.

"So good! so kind! more than I dared hope! But how is she? my darling?" Elsie heard in feeble, faltering, yet eager accents.

"Well, very well, and longing to come here and nurse you back to health."

"Ah, a glimpse of her sweet face I think would bring me back from the borders of the grave! But I could not expect or ask such a sacrifice."

Elsie could wait no longer; she rose and glided with swift, almost noiseless steps to the bedside.

Edward made way for her. Lester looked up, caught sight of her, and a flash of exceeding joy lighted up his pale, emaciated features.

"Elsie!"

"Lester!"

She dropped on her knees, laid her face on the pillow beside his, and their lips met in a long kiss.

"O love, love! how sweet, how kind, how dear in you!" he murmured.

"I have come to be your nurse," she said, with a lovely blush and smile, "come to stay with you always while God spares our lives."

Soon Edward went out and left them together. He had much to attend to, with Dinah and Ben for his helpers. Other and better apartments were speedily rented, cleaned, and comfortably, even elegantly furnished. Their mother had sent them off with full purses and carte blanche to draw upon her bankers for further supplies as they might be needed; and Edward knew it would be her desire to see Elsie and Lester surrounded by the luxuries to which she had been accustomed from her birth.

When night came the doctor pronounced his patient already wonderfully improved.

"But the signora must leave him to me and the nurse to night," he said; "she is fatigued with her long journey and must take her rest and sleep, or she too will be ill."

So Elsie took possession of the pleasant room which had been prepared for her, and casting on the Lord all care for herself and dear ones, and full of glad anticipations for the future, slept long and sweetly.

It was early morning when she woke. That day and several succeeding ones were spent at Lester's side in the gentle ministrations love teaches. There was little talk between them, for he was very weak, and love needs few words; but he slept much of the time with her hand in his, and waking gazed tenderly, joyously into the sweet face.

Happiness proved the best of medicines, and every hour brought a slight increase of strength, a change for the better in all the symptoms.

Meanwhile Edward and the two servants were busy with the laying in of needed supplies and the preparation of the suite of apartments which were to form the new home--Elsie giving a little oversight and direction.

At length their labors were completed, and she was called in to take a critical survey and point out any deficiency, if such there were.

She could find none. "My dear brother, how can I thank you enough?" she said, with a look of grateful affection.

"You are satisfied?"

"Oh, entirely! I only wish mamma and the rest could see how comfortable, tasteful, really beautiful you have made these rooms!"

"I am very glad our work pleases you. And the doctor tells me that under the combined influence of good nursing and unexpected happiness, Lester is gaining faster than he could have deemed possible. What is the time fixed upon for the ceremony which is to rob you of your patronymic, sister mine?"

"Add to it, you should say," she corrected, with a charming blush. "Noon of day after to-morrow is the hour. Edward, do you know that our good doctor is a Waldensian?"

"No, I did not, and am pleased to learn it; though I was satisfied that he was no Papist."

"Yes, he is one of that long-persecuted noble race, and will take you to see his pastor on our behalf. I have so greatly admired and loved the Waldenses that I really feel that to be married by one of their pastors will be some small compensation for--for being so far from home and--mamma. O Edward, if she were but here!"

Her tears were falling fast. He put his arm about her waist, her head dropped upon his shoulder and he smoothed her hair with caressing hand.

"It is hard for you," he said tenderly; "so different from what you and all of us have looked forward to. But you have been very brave, dear; and what a blessing that your coming is working such a cure for Lester!"

"Yes, oh yes! God is very good to me, His blessings are unnumbered!"

"It seems a sad sort of bridal for you," he said, "but I shall telegraph the hour to mamma immediately, and they will all be thinking of and praying for you."

"Oh, that is a comfort I had not thought of!" she exclaimed, with glad tears shining in her eyes. "What a blessing you are to me, brother dear!"

Lester was not able to leave his bed or likely to be for weeks, but that she might devote herself the more entirely to him Elsie had consented to be married at once.

She laid aside her mourning for the occasion, and Dinah helped her to array herself for her bridal in a very beautiful evening dress of some white material which had been worn but once before.

"Pity dars no time to get a new dress, Miss Elsie," remarked the handmaiden half regretfully. "Doe sho' nuff you couldn't look no sweeter and beautifuller dan you does in dis."

"I prefer this, Dinah, because they all--even dear, dear papa--have seen me in it," Elsie said, hastily wiping away a tear; "and I remember he said it became me well. Oh, I can see his proud, fond smile as he said it, and almost feel the touch of his lips; for he bent down and kissed me so tenderly."

"Miss Elsie, I jes b'lieves he's a lookin' at you now dis bressed minute, and ef de res' of dose dat lubs you is far away he'll be sho to stan' close side o' you when de ministah's a saying de words dat'll make you Massa Leland's wife."

"Ah, Dinah, what a sweet thought! and who shall say it may not be so!"

"Dar's Massa Edward!" exclaimed Dinah, as a quick, manly step was heard, followed by a light rap upon the door.

She hastened to open it "We's ready, Marse Ed'ard."

He did not seem to hear or heed her; his eyes were fastened upon his beautiful sister, more beautiful at this moment, he thought, than ever before.

"Elsie!" he cried. "Oh that mamma could see you! she herself could hardly have been a lovelier bride! yet these are wanted to complete your attire," opening a box he had brought, and taking therefrom a veil of exquisite texture and design and a wreath of orange blossoms.

"How kind and thoughtful, Edward!" she said, thanking him with a sweet though tearful smile; "but are they suitable for such a bridal as this?"

"Surely," he said. "Come, Dinah, and help me to arrange them."

Their labors finished, he stepped back a little to note the effect.

"O darling sister," he exclaimed, "never, I am sure, was there a lovelier bride! I wish the whole world could see you!"

"Our own little world at Ion is all I should ask for," she responded in tremulous tones.

"Yes, it must be very hard for you," he said; "especially not to have mamma here, you who have always clung to her so closely. Such a different wedding as it is from hers! But it's very romantic you know," he added jocosely, trying to raise her drooping spirits.

"Ah, I am forgetting a piece of news I have to tell I met an American gentleman and his daughter, the other day, fell into conversation with him, and learned that we have several common acquaintances I think we were mutually pleased, and I have asked him and his daughter in to the wedding; thinking it would not be unpleasant to you, and we should thus have two more witnesses."

"Perhaps it is best we should," she returned, in her sweet, gentle way, yet looking somewhat disturbed.

"I'm afraid I ought to have consulted you first," he said. "I'm sorry, but it is too late now His name is Love; his daughter--an extremely pretty girl by the way--he calls Zoe."

Ben now came to the door to say that all was in readiness--the minister, the doctor, and the other gentleman and a lady had arrived.

Edward gave his arm to his sister and led her into the room, to which Lester had been carried a few moments before, and where he lay on a luxurious couch, propped up with pillows into a half-sitting posture.

A touch of color came into his pale cheeks, and his eyes shone with love and joy as they rested upon his lovely bride, as Edward led her to the side of his couch.

Dinah and Ben followed, taking their places near the door and watching the proceedings with interest and sympathy.

The minister stood up, the doctor, the stranger guests, the nurse also, and the ceremony began.

Elsie's eyes were full of tears, but her sweet low tones were distinct and clear as she took the marriage vows.

So were Lester's; his voice seemed stronger than it had been for weeks, and when he took the small white-gloved hand in his, the grasp was firm as well as tender.

"One kiss, my love, my wife!" he pleaded when the ceremony was ended.

A soft blush suffused the fair face and neck, but the request was granted; she bent over him and for an instant their lips met.

Then Edward embraced her with brotherly affection and good wishes. He grasped Lester's hand in cordial greeting, then turned and introduced his new-made friends to the bride and groom.

A table loaded with delicacies stood in an adjoining room, and thither the brother and sister and their guests now repaired, while for a short season the invalid was left to quietness and repose that he might recover from the unwonted excitement and fatigue.