Chapter VIII.
 
    "A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his
    steps."--Prov. 16:9.

The boys were greatly disappointed on learning from the talk at the dinner-table that Cousin Donald's furlough was so short that he could give but two days to his Ion friends.

There were many expressions of regret. Then Mr. Dinsmore said, "If you must leave us so soon we must make good use of our time, by taking you at once to see relatives, friends, and places of interest in the neighborhood. If you and the captain are not too weary to enjoy a ride or drive, we will go to Roselands for a call this afternoon, then on to the Oaks to take tea with my son Horace and his family."

"You can assure us of a welcome at both places?" Donald said inquiringly and with a slight smile.

"You need not have the slightest fear on that score," was the quick, earnest rejoinder.

"I for one," remarked the captain, "am not in the least fatigued, and if the ladies are to be of the party, accept with pleasure and thanks."

"I also," said Donald, with a look at Violet which seemed to express a hope that she was not intending to remain behind.

Mrs. Dinsmore and Mrs. Travilla excused themselves from going on the plea of fatigue from recent nursing of the sick and the long drive of the morning, Elsie adding that her little convalescents ought hardly to be deprived of mamma all day.

"Then we will take Vi," said Mr. Dinsmore, looking affectionately at her; "she has shut herself up with those same convalescents all the morning and needs air and exercise."

"Yes, papa," her mother said, "and I know she would enjoy a gallop on her favorite pony. Cousin," turning to Donald, "we have both riding and carriage horses at your and the captain's service; please do not hesitate to express your preference."

They thanked her, and after a little more discussion it was arranged that the whole party, including Harold and Herbert, should ride.

The horses were ordered at once and they set out very shortly after leaving the table. Mr. Dinsmore and the captain headed the cavalcade, Donald and Violet came next, riding side by side, and the two lads brought up the rear.

Donald was well satisfied with the arrangement, and he and Vi found a good deal of enjoyment in recalling the scenes, doings, and happenings of the past summer; particularly of the weeks spent together on the New Jersey coast.

Also Vi rehearsed to him Edward's account of Elsie's wedding and his description of the suite of apartments he had had fitted up for their use. Edward expected to spend the winter there, she said.

It was all very interesting to Donald. He thought Lester Leland a man to be envied, yet perhaps less so than he who should secure for his own the fair, sweet maiden riding by his side.

They passed a pleasant hour at Roselands, seeing all the family except the invalid, then rode on to the Oaks, where they found a warm welcome and most delightful and hospitable entertainment.

Then the return to Ion by moonlight was very enjoyable.

It was still early when they arrived; the two older ladies awaited them in the parlor, and some time was spent in pleasant converse before retiring for the night.

"I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing my little favorites, Rosie and Walter, Cousin Elsie," remarked Donald.

"No," she said, "and they are very eager for an interview with you. They are in bed now, but I hope they will be well enough to join us at breakfast to-morrow."

"They have been quite sick?"

"Yes, were dangerously ill for a time, and though about again, still need constant care lest they should take cold."

The guests given adjoining rooms, opened the door of communication between and had a little private chat together before seeking their pillows.

"These relatives of yours, Keith, are extremely nice people," remarked the captain.

"Of course they are," returned Donald, "relatives to be proud of."

"I never saw a more beautiful woman than Mrs. Travilla," pursued the captain. "I think I may say never one so beautiful; and the most charming part of it is beauty that will last; beauty of heart and intellect. Can she be Miss Violet's own mother? There is a resemblance, though their styles of beauty are quite different, but there does not seem to be sufficient difference in age."

"She is own mother, though, and not only to Violet, but to two older ones--a son and daughter."

The captain expressed great surprise. "But youthful looks must be a family characteristic," he added meditatively. "Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore look extremely young to be the grandparents of the family."

Donald explained that Mr. Dinsmore was really only eighteen years older than his daughter, and Rose, a second wife, but half as many.

"And what think you of Violet's beauty?" he asked.

"Absolutely faultless! She has an angelic face! If I were a young fellow like you, Keith, I'd certainly not look elsewhere while I could see a ray of hope in that direction. But there's the relationship in the way."

"It's too distant to stand in the way," returned Donald a trifle shortly, "I look upon her prospective wealth as a far greater obstacle, having no fancy for playing the role of fortune-hunter, or laying myself open to the suspicion of being such."

"Then you've no intention of trying for her?"

"I haven't said so, have I? Well, good-night, it's getting late."

"What do you think of Captain Raymond?" Rose was asking her husband. "You have had by far the best opportunity to cultivate his acquaintance."

"He impresses me very favorably as both a man and a Christian," was the emphatic reply.

"Ah! I am glad Donald has so nice a friend," was her pleased comment.

"Yes, there seems a warm friendship existing between them, though the captain must be the older by several years. Married too, for he mentioned his children incidentally."

On coming down to the parlor the next morning the guests found Mr. Dinsmore there fondling his little grandchildren--Rosie on one knee, Walter on the other.

Cousin Donald's entrance was hailed with delight, Walter presently transferred to his knee.

Then the captain coaxed Rosie to his, saying, "Your dark eyes and hair remind me of my little Lulu's."

"Have you a little girl of your own, sir?" Rosie asked with a look of interest.

"Yes, my dear, two of them. Lulu is a year or two younger than I take you to be, and Gracie is only seven."

"Have you any boys?" inquired Walter.

"Yes, my little man; I have one. We call him Max. He is two years older than Lulu."

"About as old as I am?" said Rosie half inquiringly.

"Yes; if you are eleven, as I suppose."

"Yes, sir, I'm eleven and Walter's five."

"If they're good children we'd like 'em to come here and play with us," remarked Walter.

"I am afraid they are not always good," the captain said with a smile and a half sigh. "I am not with them enough to give them the teaching and training that doubtless you enjoy."

"But why doesn't their mamma do it? Our mamma teaches us;" and the child's eyes turned lovingly upon her as at that moment she entered the room.

The usual morning greetings were exchanged, and Walter's question remained unanswered.

The gentlemen were out nearly all day, riding or driving; the ladies with them a part of the time. The evening was enlivened with music and conversation, and all retired to rest at a seasonable hour; the two guests expecting to take leave of their hospitable entertainers the next morning.

Darkness and silence reigned for some hours, then the shining of a bright light into Donald's eyes awoke him.

He sprang from his bed, rushed to the window, saw that a cottage not far away, which he had noticed in riding by, was in flames. The next moment he had snatched up a few articles of clothing and was at the captain's side shaking him vigorously.

"Up, Raymond! up, man! There's a fire and we'll be needed to help put it out."

"What is it? breakers ahead, do you say?'" muttered the captain, only half awake.

"Fire! fire!" repeated Keith.

"Fire? where?" and the captain sprang up, now wide awake, and began hurrying on his clothes.

"That cottage down the road."

"That's bad indeed; but not quite so bad as a vessel foundering or burning at sea. Anybody else in the house awake?"

"I don't know. Yes, there! I hear steps and voices."

They hurried into the hall and down the stairs. Mr. Dinsmore was in the lower hall giving directions to the men-servants, who were all collected there.

"Haste! Solon, Tom, Dick--all of you!" he was saying, "gather up all the large buckets about the house, ropes too and ladders, and follow me as fast as you can. Ah, captain! and Donald too! You have seen the fire, I suppose? Will you come with me? There'll be work enough for us all no doubt. We've no engine in this neighborhood."

"Certainly, sir!"

"That's the port we are bound for." And each catching up a bucket they all three set off at full speed in the direction of the burning house, several of the negroes following close at their heels.

They found a crowd already gathered there--men and women, black and white. Some were carrying out furniture from the lower rooms, some bringing water in buckets from a spring near by, others contenting themselves with looking on and giving orders which nobody obeyed.

"I see the house will have to go," Mr. Dinsmore said. "Are the family all out of it?"

"All but an old colored woman," some one replied, "old Aunt Betsy. Nobody thought of her in time, and now it's too late, for the stairs are burned away. Hark!" as a crash was heard, "there's the last of them."

"What! will you leave a helpless old woman to be burnt alive?" cried Captain Raymond. "Where is she?"

"Yonder!" cried several voices; "see, she's at the window! and she's screaming for help!" as a wild shriek rent the air, a black face full of terror and despair showing itself at an upper window, where the fire's lurid light fell full upon it.

"Oh, ain't dar nobody to help ole Aunt Betsy?" she screamed, stretching out her wrinkled arms and toil-worn hands in passionate entreaty; "will you ebery one ob you leave de po' ole woman to burn up in dis awful fiah? Isn't ye got no pity in yo' souls! Oh, somebody come an' help de po' ole woman to git down 'fore she burn all up!"

"A rope!" shouted the captain, "quick! quick! a rope!"

"Heah, massa cap'n!" answered Solon close it hand. "Ise brung it jus' in time."

"What can you do with a rope, Raymond?" asked Donald.

"Make an effort to save her with the help of that lightning-rod."

"You risk your own life, and it is worth far more than hers," Donald said entreatingly.

"Stay a moment, captain," said Mr. Dinsmore, "they are bringing a ladder."

"But there's no time to lose; see! the flames are already bursting out from the next window."

"Yes, but here it is," as the negroes halted with it close beside them. "It is to be used to reach that window, boys," he said, turning to them and pointing upward. "Set it up there."

"Can't do it, sah! 'Mos' as much as a man's life is wuth to go so near de fire."

"Then give it to me!" cried the captain, taking hold of it, Mr. Dinsmore and Donald giving their assistance.

It was the work of a moment to set it up against the wall; in another the captain was ascending it, while the other two held it firmly in place.

He gained the window and sprang in.

"Bress you, massa! bress you!" exclaimed the old negress, "you's gwine to save me I knows."

"Get out here on to the ladder and climb down as fast as you can," he said hurriedly, taking hold of her arm to help her.

But she drew back shuddering. "I can't, massa! I'se ole and stiff. I can't no how 'tall."

There was not a moment to lose. The captain stepped back on to the top round of the ladder, took her in his arms, and began as rapid a descent as was possible so burdened.

The ladder shook beneath their weight, for both were heavy, and Aunt Betsy struggled in his grasp, screaming with fright; then a tongue of flame shooting out from below caught her cotton gown, and in her frantic terror she gave a sudden spring that threw her preserver and herself to the ground.

Mr. Dinsmore and Donald seized the captain and dragged him out of harm's Way, other hands doing a like service for the woman.

She was shrieking and groaning, but her rescuer neither spoke nor moved.

They took him up, carried him out of the crowd, and laid him gently down upon a sofa; one of the articles of furniture saved from the fire.

"Poor fellow!" sighed Donald with emotion. "I'm afraid he has paid dear for his kindness of heart!"

"Solon," said Mr. Dinsmore, "mount the fastest horse here and ride to Roselands for Dr. Arthur. Tell him we don't know how seriously this gentleman is hurt. Hurry! make all possible haste!"

Solon was turning to obey, but stopped, exclaiming, "Why, sho' anuff, dar's de doctah hisself just lightin' off his hoss ober yondah!"

"Then run and bring him here."

Arthur obeyed the summons with all speed. The alarm of the fire had reached Roselands, and he had hastened to the spot to give aid in extinguishing it, or to any who might be injured.

He found the captain showing signs of life; he moved his head, then opened his eyes.

"Where are you hurt, sir?" asked the doctor.

"Not very seriously anywhere, I trust," replied the captain, trying to rise. "Ah!" as he fell back again, "both back and ankle seem to have had a wrench. But, friends, are you not needed over there at the fire? My injuries can wait."

"Little or nothing more can be done there, and there are people enough on the ground now to leave us free to attend to you," said Mr. Dinsmore.

The doctor was speaking aside to Donald and Solon.

Coming back, "We will have a litter ready in a few moments," he said, "and carry you over to Ion."

"By all means," said Mr. Dinsmore. "You accompany us, of course, Arthur?"

"Certainly, sir."

"How is she--the old negress? Was she much injured by the fall?" Captain Raymond asked.

No one could tell him, and he begged the doctor to attend to her while the litter was preparing.

Arthur went in search of her, and presently returned, saying she had escaped without any broken bones, though apparently a good deal shaken up and bruised.