Chapter I.
 

Hugh Lilburn was very urgent with his betrothed for a speedy marriage, pleading that as her brother had robbed him and his father of their expected housekeeper--his cousin Marian--he could not long do without the wife who was to supply her place. Her sisters, Isadore and Virginia, who had come up from the far South to be present at the ceremony, joined with him in his plea for haste. They wanted to see her in her own home, they said, and that without remaining too long away from theirs. Ella finally yielded to their wishes so far as to complete her preparations within a month after the home-coming from the North.

The wedding was a really brilliant affair, and followed up by parties given by the different members of the family connection; but no bridal trip was taken, neither bride nor groom caring for it, and Hugh's business requiring his presence at home.

A few weeks later Calhoun Conly went North for his bride. Some festivities followed his return; then all settled down for the winter, Harold and Herbert Travilla taking up their medical studies with Dr. Conly, and Captain Raymond's pupils resuming such of their lessons as had been dropped for the time, though the wedding festivities had been allowed to interfere but little with them, as--with the exception of Marian, now Mrs. Conly--they were considered too young to attend the parties. A matter of regret to none of them except Rosie Travilla and Lucilla Raymond, and even they, though they would have been glad to be permitted to go, made no remonstrance or complaint, but submitted cheerfully to the decision of their elders.

A busy, happy winter and spring followed, bringing no unusual event to any branch of the family.

Max was frequently heard from, his father continuing to send him daily letters, several of which would be replied to together by one from the lad--always frank, candid, and affectionate, sometimes expressing a great longing for a sight of home and the dear ones there.

After receiving such a letter the captain was very apt to pay a flying visit to the Academy, in case there were no special reasons for remaining closely at home, sometimes going alone, at others taking one or more members of the family with him; his wife, if she could make it convenient to go, or one or more of his daughters, by whom the little trip and the sight of their brother were esteemed a great reward for good conduct and perfect recitations.

Both they and the lad himself looked forward with ardent desire and joyous anticipation to the June commencement, after which would begin the one long holiday Max would have during the six years of his course at the Academy.

The holidays for the home pupils began a day or two earlier, and a merry party, including, besides the captain and his immediate family, the rest of his pupils, with Grandma Elsie, her father and his wife, boarded the Dolphin and set sail for Annapolis to attend the commencement at the Naval Academy.

The weather was delightful, and all greatly enjoyed the little trip. On their arrival they found Max well and in fine spirits. The reports of both his studies and conduct were all that could be desired, and the home friends--his father in especial--regarded him with both pride and affection, and expressed much pleasure in the fact that he was to accompany them on the return trip.

Max dearly loved his home, and during the nearly two years of his absence from it had had occasional fits of excessive homesickness; more, however, for the dear ones dwelling there than for the place. So that he was full of joy on learning that every one of the family was on board the Dolphin.

No one cared to tarry long at Annapolis, and they set out on the return trip as soon as Max was free to go with them.

The lovely weather continued, there was nothing to mar the pleasure of the short voyage, the drive and ride that succeeded it--for the carriages and Max's pony, Rex, which he hailed with almost a shout of delight and hastened to mount, were found awaiting them at the wharf--or the arrival at their homes, Ion and Woodburn, which seemed to the young cadet to be looking even more beautiful than ever before.

"Oh, was there ever a lovelier place!" was his delighted exclamation as the carriage, closely followed by Rex, turned in at the great gates giving admission to the Woodburn driveway. "I thought that of it before I left, but it is vastly improved; almost an earthly paradise."

"So I think," said Violet. "It does credit to your father's taste."

"And yours," added her husband, with a pleased smile; "for have I not always consulted with my wife before making any alteration or adding what I thought would be an improvement? And has not the first suggestion come from her more than once?"

"Quite true," she returned, giving him a look of loving appreciation; "in fact, my dear, you are so ready to humor and indulge me in every possible way that I am half afraid to make a suggestion."

"Lest I should have too much pleasure in carrying it out?" he queried, with playful look and tone.

"Oh, certainly!" she replied with a musical laugh; "it would be a sad pity to spoil so good a husband."

"Father, may I ride over the grounds before alighting?" asked Max's voice in eager tones, just at that moment.

"If you wish, my son," the captain answered pleasantly. "But suppose you delay a little and let some of us accompany you?"

"Yes, sir; that will be better," was the prompt, cheerful rejoinder, and in another minute Max had dismounted at the door of the mansion, and stood ready to assist the occupants of the carriage to alight.

"Ah, I see you have been making some changes and improvements here, father," he said, glancing about as he entered the hall door.

"Yes, and in other parts of the house," said Violet. "Perhaps you might as well go over it before visiting the grounds."

"I am at liberty to go everywhere, as of old?" he returned, half in assertion, half enquiringly and turning from her to his father.

"Certainly, my son; it is as truly your father's house, therefore open in every part to you, as it was before you left its shelter for Uncle Sam's Naval Academy," replied the captain, regarding the lad with mingled fatherly affection, pride, and amusement.

"Thank you, sir," returned Max heartily. "Ah, Christine!" as the housekeeper, whom something had detained in another part of the house at the moment of their arrival, now appeared among them, "I'm pleased to see you again; looking so well, too. I really don't think you have changed in the least in all the time I have been away," shaking her hand warmly as he spoke.

"Ah, Master Max, sir, I can't say the same of you," she returned with a pleasant smile into the bright young face. "You are growing up fast and looking more than ever like your father."

"Thank you," laughed Max, his eyes shining, "you couldn't possibly give me a higher compliment than that, Christine."

"Ah, who shall say that I am not the complimented one, Max?" laughed the captain.

"I, papa," cried Lulu. "O Maxie, come upstairs and see the improvements there. You can look at the downstairs rooms and grounds afterward."

"Yes, run along, children," said their father, "and make yourselves ready for the tea table before you come down again."

"Yes, sir," they answered in cheerful tones, Max catching up little Ned as he spoke, and setting him on his shoulder. "Hold on tight, laddie, and your big brother will carry you up," he said, and one chubby arm instantly went round his neck, a gleeful laugh accompanying it as Max began the ascent, his sisters following, Violet and the captain presently bringing up the rear.

"Into our rooms first, Max," said Violet. "You, too, Lulu and Gracie, that you may hear what he has to say about things there."

"Thank you, Mamma Vi," returned Max. "I want to visit every room in the house and have all the family go with me if they like."

"You will find a few additions here and there to the furnishings, but no great changes anywhere, Max," said his father.

"I should hope not, sir, as things seemed to me pretty nearly perfect before I went away," returned Max in a lively tone, "I only wish every one of my mates had as sweet a home to spend his long vacation in, and as kind a father and friends to help him enjoy it."

"Ah, we may well pity the lad who lacks the blessings of a good home and affectionate parents," said the captain. "I can never forget how much they were to me in my boyhood."

"I think you must have forgotten how long I have been away, papa," laughed Max as they finished the circuit of the rooms on that floor, "for I have come upon a good many new things."

"Ah! well, they have been added so gradually that I did not realize how numerous they were," returned his father, adding, "Now you may as well go on to the upper rooms and tarry long enough in your own to make yourself neat for the tea table."

"Yes, sir;" and the lad hurried up the stairs, the captain, Lulu, and Grace following.

"Hurrah!" he cried joyously as he reached the open door of his own room, "why, this is lovely! prettier than ever, and it was like a room in a palace before compared to the one I share with Hunt at the Academy."

"Suppose you walk in and take a nearer view," said his father, and Max obeyed with alacrity, the others following.

"Mamma and papa said there was nothing too good for you, and so we all thought, Maxie," said Grace, Lulu adding, "Indeed we do all think so."

"Indeed, I'm afraid it is," returned Max, gazing admiringly at the beautiful carpet, the lace curtains looped back with wreaths of flowers, the fine engravings on the walls, the easy chairs, tasteful mantel ornaments, and the many other articles of adornment and convenience.

"Your mamma and I have made some changes, improvements, as we thought," the captain said in gratified and affectionate tones, "hoping you would be pleased with then; and I rather think you are."

"Pleased, papa? I'm delighted!" cried Max. "The only drawback to my pleasure is the thought of the very short time I can stay to enjoy all this beauty and luxury."

"Yet I am sure my boy does not want to settle down here to a life of inglorious ease," remarked the captain in a tone of mingled assertion and enquiry. "I rejoice in the firm conviction that his great desire is to serve God and his country to the best of his ability."

"Yes, father, it is," said Max earnestly. "But," he added with a smile, "if you don't want me to love to be with you in this sweet home you should not make it so attractive and be so very kind and affectionate to me."

"My boy," the captain said with emotion and laying a hand affectionately on his son's shoulder, "there is never a day when I do not thank my heavenly Father for his gift to me of so good and dutiful a son."

"I don't know how any fellow could help being dutiful and affectionate to such a father as mine, sir," returned Max, his eyes shining.

By his own desire Max's vacation was spent at home and in its vicinity, with the occasional variety of a short voyage in his father's yacht, the Dolphin, which gave the lad opportunities for the display of the seafaring knowledge gained in the past two years, and adding to it from his father's store of the same, under that father's instruction.

They were generally accompanied by the whole Woodburn family, always by Lulu and Grace, Grandma Elsie, Rose, Walter, and Evelyn Leland.

Thus the weeks flew by very enjoyably and on swift wings, and the time came for Max's return to Annapolis. So the Dolphin was headed for that port and presently steamed away again, leaving the lad behind with a rather sad heart at the thought that years must pass before he could again spend even a brief season under his father's roof.