Chapter XX.
 

Circumstances seemed to favor the scheme of the captain, Violet, and Lucilla, for the family and their guests had scarcely left the breakfast table when there was a new arrival, a boat hailing the yacht and discharging several passengers, who proved to be Annis' sisters, Mildred and Zillah, and her brother, the Rev. Cyril Keith.

It was an unexpected arrival, but they were most cordially welcomed and urgently invited to spend as much of their time on the yacht as could be spared from sight-seeing on shore. They were of course soon introduced to Mr. Lilburn--already known to them by reputation--and presently informed of the state of affairs between him and their sister. They were decidedly pleased with the old gentleman, yet grieved at the thought of so wide a separation between their dear youngest sister and themselves.

Violet afterward, seizing a momentary opportunity when neither Mr. Lilburn nor Annis was near, told of her plans in regard to the wedding, adding that the subject had not yet been mentioned to Annis, but that she herself hoped no objection would be raised; and it seemed to her that Cyril's arrival, thus providing a minister to perform the ceremony, the very one Annis would have chosen of course, seemed providential.

At first both brother and sisters were decidedly opposed to it--they wanted Annis to be married at home where all the family could be gathered to witness the ceremony; it was bad enough to lose her without being deprived of that privilege; besides time and thought must be given to the preparation of a suitable trousseau. But in the course of a day or two they were won over to the plan.

Then the consent of those most particularly interested had to be gained. There was no difficulty so far as concerned Mr. Lilburn; he was really delighted with the idea, but Annis at first positively refused. She wished to be married at home and she must have a trousseau: not that she cared so much about it for herself, but Mr. Lilburn must not be disgraced by a bride not suitably adorned.

"Well, Annis dear," said Mildred, who was the one selected for the task of obtaining her consent to the proposed plan, "you shall have all that you desire in the way of dress. I would not have you do without a single thing you want or think would be suitable and becoming. You shall have abundance of money to make such purchases without applying to your husband for any one of them. You have some money of your own, you know, and it will be a great pleasure to your brothers and sisters to give to the dear girl who was such a help and comfort to our loved father and mother, anything and everything she wants, and will accept at our hands."

"Yes, I know I have the best and kindest of brothers and sisters, and oh, I can hardly keep the tears back when I think of the separation that awaits us," said Annis with a sob, putting her arms round Mildred's neck and clinging to her.

"Yes, dear, I know. I feel just the same, though I believe you will be very happy with the kind, genial old gentleman who is stealing you away from us; but I can see that he is in great haste to get full possession of his dear little lady-love--at which I do not wonder at all--and I really think it would be better to take the plunge into matrimony suddenly and have it over," she added, with a smile.

"Have what over?" asked Annis, smiling faintly.

"Not the matrimony," laughed her sister, "but the plunge into it."

"Oh, Milly dear, you wouldn't have liked to be hurried so!"

"Ah, but wasn't I?" laughed Mildred; "and that by this very brother of ours who expects to perform the ceremony for you."

"Ah, I don't remember about that," returned Annis, in a tone of enquiry.

"No, you were such a little girl then that I don't wonder it has slipped your memory. But Cyril was about starting for college and so determined to see me married, so fearful that he would miss the sight if he went off before-hand, that he coaxed, planned, and insisted till he actually gained his point--hurrying me into wedlock before I had even one wedding dress made up."

"Oh, yes! and you were married in mother's wedding dress, I remember now. But, Milly, I haven't a single handsome dress with me! I did not think they would be at all suitable to wear in tramping about the White City and its buildings, or needed in the hotel, where I spent but little time except at night. And so far, what I brought with me have answered every purpose."

"Never mind," said Mildred; "handsome ready-made dresses can be bought in Chicago, and it will not take long to procure one. You will of course want to select one that is well fitting and becoming in color; gray would, I think, be very becoming and altogether suitable for a--not very young bride."

"No, I do not want to be too youthfully dressed, or to look too bridelike on my wedding tour; so I think I will have a dark navy blue."

"So she has about consented to the desired arrangement," said Mildred, a little triumphantly to herself; then aloud: "Yes, that will be quite as becoming and a trifle more suitable; but let us go and talk it over with our cousins, Rose, Elsie, and Vi."

"There is no hurry," said Annis, blushing. "If I should give up to you enough to consent to have the ceremony performed here on the yacht, I shall put it off till the very last day of your stay, for I don't intend to miss seeing all that I possibly can of you, Cyril, and Zillah, and of the Fair."

"Very well," Mildred answered. "I incline to think myself that that would be the best plan; for really I want to see all I can of the dear sister who is going to leave us. O Annis, dear, whatever shall I do without you!" she exclaimed, putting an arm about her and kissing her with tears in her eyes. "Ah, it seems that in this world we cannot have any unalloyed good!"

"No, Milly, dear sister; but when we get home to the Father's house on high, there will be no more partings, no sorrow, no sin--nothing but everlasting joy and peace and love.

      "'Tis there we'll meet
        At Jesus' feet,
    When we meet to part no more.

"Oh, doesn't it sometimes seem as if you could hardly wait for the time when you will be there with all the dear ones gone before? There at the Master's feet, seeing him and bearing his image--like him; for we shall see him as he is?"

"Yes, there are times when I do; and yet I am glad to stay a little longer in this world for the sake of husband and children; and to work for the Master too, doing what I can to bring others to him. I want some jewels in the crown I cast at his dear feet."

"Yes; and so do I." A moment of silence followed;--then Mildred said:

"Let us go now and have our talk with the cousins, for it will not be very long before we will be summoned to the supper table."

Annis made no objection, and they went up to the deck, where they found the three ladies they sought--Zillah with them too--sitting in a little group apart from the young girls and gentlemen.

They joined the group and Mildred quickly and briefly reported Annis' decision. All approved, saying they would be very glad to keep her to the last minute, and there was a good deal more well worth looking at in the Fair than she had already seen; also the delay would give plenty of time for the selection of a wedding dress and other needed articles of apparel.

"Now I am going to relieve the anxiety of the gentlemen, particularly the one belonging especially to me," said Violet, in a lively tone, rising with the last word and hurrying away in their direction. The others sat silently watching her and her auditors.

"Ah," laughed Mildred presently, "they are all well satisfied with the arrangement except Mr. Lilburn. He wears a dubious, disappointed look. Ah, Annis, how can you have the heart to disappoint him so?"

"Never mind, Annis, he will prize you all the more for not being able to get possession of you too quickly and easily," said Mrs. Dinsmore.

"So I think," returned Annis demurely; "also that it will be quite as well for him to have a little more time to learn about all my faults and failings."

"I do not believe he will be able to find them," said Mrs. Dinsmore, with an admiring look into the sweet face of the speaker, "since I have not succeeded in so doing."

Lucilla and Grace, seated a little apart from the others, had been watching with keen interest all that passed among both ladies and gentlemen.

"There, just look at Cousin Ronald!" exclaimed Lucilla. "He isn't smiling--looks rather disappointed I think; so I suppose we are not to be allowed to carry out our plan. And I think it would be just splendid to have a wedding here on board our yacht."

"Yes; so did I," returned Grace; "but I suppose she doesn't like the idea of being married in a hurry. I'm sure I shouldn't. I don't believe Rosie would mind that though; and Mr. Croly seems to say by his looks that he would like to take possession of her as soon as possible."

"Yes, no doubt he would. He ought to wait till he can have his father and mother present, however; and besides Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie won't consent to let her marry for at least a year. I shouldn't think she would feel willing to leave her mother even then; unless as Mamma Vi did, for such a man as our father."

"But there isn't any other," asserted Grace more positively than she often spoke. "Papa is just one by himself for lovableness, goodness, kindness--oh, everything that is admirable!"

"Indeed he is all that!" responded Lucilla heartily. "Oh, I could never bear to leave him and cannot help wondering at Rosie--how she can think of leaving her mother! Her father being dead, she wouldn't be leaving him, but Grandma Elsie is so sweet and lovable. To be sure, just as I said, Mamma Vi did leave her, but then it seems all right since it was for love of papa. But what are you looking so searchingly at me for, Gracie?"

"Oh, something that Rosie said last night quite astonished me, and I was wondering if it were possible she could be right."

"Right about what?"

"Why, that Chester Dinsmore is deeply in love with you, and that you care something for him too."

"Oh, what nonsense!" exclaimed Lucilla with a half vexed, yet mirthful look. "I am only half grown up, as papa always says, and really I don't care a continental for that young man. I like him quite well as a friend--he has always been very polite and kind to me since that time when he came so near cutting my fingers off with his skates--but it is absurd to think he wants to be anything more than a friend; besides papa doesn't want me to think about beaux for years to come, and I don't want to either."

"I believe you, Lu," said Grace, "for you are as perfectly truthful a person as anybody could be. Besides I know I love our father too dearly ever to want to leave him for the best man that ever lived; there couldn't be a better one than he is, or one who could have a more unselfish love for you and me."

"Exactly what I think," returned Lucilla. "But there's the call to supper."