Chapter VIII.
 

It was late when at last all the Dolphin's passengers were gathered in. The party to which the Raymonds belonged were the first, the young men who had accompanied them in the electric launch bidding good-night at the Peristyle, and all had retired to their respective state-rooms before the coming of the others; all except the captain, who was pacing the deck while awaiting their arrival.

His thoughts seemed not altogether agreeable, for he walked with drooping head and downcast eyes and sighed rather heavily once or twice.

"Papa dear, what is the matter? Oh, have I done anything to vex or trouble you?" asked Lucilla's voice close at his side.

"Why, daughter, are you there?" he exclaimed, turning toward her with a fatherly smile, then taking her hand and drawing her into his arms, stroking her hair, patting her cheeks, and pressing a fond kiss upon her lips. "No, I have no fault to find with my eldest daughter, and yet----" He paused, gazing searchingly and somewhat sadly into the bright young face.

"Oh, papa, what is it?" she asked, putting her arms about his neck and gazing with ardent affection and questioning anxiety up into his eyes. "You looked at me so strangely two or three times to-night, and I so feared you were displeased with me that I could not go to my bed without first coming to ask you about it, and get a kiss of forgiveness if I have displeased you in any way."

"No, daughter, you have not displeased me, but--your father is so selfish," he sighed, "that he can scarce brook the thought that someone else may some day oust him from the first place in his dear child's heart."

"Oh, papa!" she exclaimed in half reproachful tones, "how can you be troubled with any such idea as that? don't you know that I love you ten thousand times better than anybody else in the whole wide world? I just love to belong to you, and I always shall," she added, laying her head on his breast and gazing with ardent affection up into his eyes. "Besides, I am only a little girl yet, as you've told me over and over again, and must not think about beaux and lovers for at least five or six years to come; and I'm sure I don't want to think of them at all so long as I have my own dear father to love and care for me."

"That is right," he said, holding her close; "I think I can say with truth that I love my dear daughter much too well ever to intentionally stand in the way of her happiness, but I feel sure that the best place for her, for the next six or eight years at least, will be in her father's house, trusting in his love and care."

"I haven't a doubt of it, father," she said, lifting loving, laughing eyes to his, "and really I don't believe Chester or anybody else cares half so much about me as you do, or wants to get me away from you. I like right well to laugh and talk with him and the others just as I do with the girls, but I'm, oh, so glad I belong to you, and will for years to come, if not always. Yes, I do hope it will be always, while we both live. And Gracie feels just the same. We had a little talk about it not very long ago, and agreed that we could not bear to think the time would ever come when we would have to leave our dear father, and the sweet home he has made for us, to live with anybody else in the loveliest that could be imagined."

"That pleases me well," he said, his eyes shining; "Gracie is no less dear to me than you are, and so frail that I should be far from willing to resign the care of her to another. But now, dear child, it is high time you were resting in your bed; so give me another good-night kiss and go at once."

"I will, papa, and are not you going too? for I am sure you must be needing rest as well as I."

"Presently," he replied, glancing toward the pier. "I have been waiting to see the last of our party on board, and here they come."

Lucilla went to her bed a very happy girl, her heart full of love to her father and singing for joy in the thought of his love for her. She had a long dreamless sleep, but woke at her usual early hour and, when morning duties had been attended to, went noiselessly up to the deck where, as she had expected, the captain had preceded her by a moment or more. She ran to him to claim the usual morning caress.

"You look bright and well, dear child," he said, holding her close for a moment, then a little further off to gaze searchingly into the smiling, happy face.

"As I feel, father," she said, laying her head against his breast. "I went to sleep last night thinking of all you had been saying to me and feeling so glad of your dear love and that you want to keep me all your own for ever so long." Then she added, with an arch look up into his face, "Don't you think, papa, it will be best for you to have me under eye all the time wherever we go?"

"I am not afraid to trust you, my darling," he answered with a smile, "but of course I want you near me that I may take the very best care of you always and all the time."

"Well, then, I'll get and keep just as close to you as I can," she answered with a merry look and smile. "But, papa----"

"Well, daughter, what is it?" he asked, as she paused and hesitated, as if fearful that he might be displeased with what she was about to say.

"I was just thinking,--please don't be vexed with me,--but wasn't Mamma Vi only nineteen when you married her?"

"Yes," he said, with a slight smile, "but circumstances alter cases, and I have changed my views somewhat since then."

"Yes," she said, reflectively; "she had no father, and it was you she married, you who know so well how to take care of both her and your daughters."

At that her father merely smiled again and patted her cheek, saying. "I am glad you are so well content with my guardianship."

He did not think it necessary to tell her of a talk with Violet the night before, in which he had expressed his determination to keep his daughters single for some years to come,--certainly not less than five or six,--and his fear that Chester and one or two others had already begun to perceive their charms, and might succeed all too soon in winning their affections; in reply to which Violet had, with a very mirthful look, reminded him how young she herself was at the time of their marriage, and that he did not seem to think it at all necessary to wait for her to grow older.

In answer to that he had laughingly insisted that she was far more mature than his daughters bid fair to be at the same age; adding that besides he certainly ought to have gained something in wisdom in the years which had passed since their marriage.

"Ah," said Violet giving him a look of ardent affection, "after all I am glad you had not attained to all that wisdom some years earlier, my dear husband, for my life with you has been such a happy, happy one. Your dear love is my greatest earthly treasure, our little son and daughter scarcely less a joy of heart to me."

"To me also," he said, drawing her into his arms and giving her tenderest caresses, "yet not quite so dear as their mother; for you, my love, have the very first place in my heart."

"And you in mine," she returned, her eyes dewy with happy tears; "and I love your daughters dearly, dearly; I could hardly bear to part with them, and I am glad to perceive that they, as yet, care nothing for beaux, but are devoted to their father and happy in his love."

"Yes, I think they are, and fondly hope they will continue to be, for a number of years to come," was his pleased response. "I have no doubt they will," said Violet, and there the conversation ended.

       *       *       *       *       *

"More than content, papa; for as I have often said, I just delight in belonging to you," was Lucilla's glad response to his last remark in that morning talk.

"Yes, I know you do, and so we are a very happy father and daughter," he said. "I often think no man was ever more blest in his children than I am in mine."

The talk about the breakfast table that morning was of the places it might be most desirable to visit that day, and the final conclusion that they would go first to the battleship Illinois, then to the lighthouse and life-saving station, both near at hand.

"I am glad we are going aboard a battleship--or rather the model of one, I presume I should say, and especially in company with a naval officer who can explain everything to us," remarked Rosie in a lively tone.

"Yes, we are very fortunate in that," said Mrs. Dinsmore, giving Captain Raymond an appreciative look and smile.

"Papa, didn't you say she wasn't a real ship?" asked little Elsie, looking up enquiringly into her father's face.

"Yes, my child, but in all you could perceive in going aboard of her she is exactly like one--a fac-simile of the coast-line battleship Illinois, which is a very powerful vessel."

"And are her guns real, papa? Mightn't they go off and shoot us?"

"No, daughter, there is no danger of that. The largest ones are wooden models, and though quite a number are real and capable of doing terrible execution, there is not the slightest danger of their being used on us."

"I'm not one bit afraid of them!" cried little Ned, straightening himself up with a very brave, defiant air. "Not with papa along, anyhow."

"No, you needn't be, Ned," laughed Walter, "for most assuredly nobody would dare to shoot Captain Raymond or anybody under his care."

"No, indeed, I should think not," chuckled the little fellow, with a proudly affectionate look up into his father's face.

"No, nor any other visitor to the ship," said the captain. "We may go there without feeling the least apprehension of such a reception."

"So we will start for the Illinois as soon as we are ready for the day's pleasures," said Violet, smiling into the bright little face of her boy.

Harold and Herbert joined them at the usual early hour, bringing Chester and Frank Dinsmore with them, and in a few minutes they were all upon the deck of the model battleship.

They were treated very politely and shown every department from sleeping quarters to gun-deck. They were told that she was steel armor-plated below the berth-deck, and were shown that above the decks were steel turrets, through portholes of which deep-mouthed wooden guns projected. Also that she was fully manned and officered with a crew of two hundred men, who gave daily drills and performed all the duties required of them when in actual service on the high seas.

From the battleship they went to the lighthouse and life-saving station.

On the plaza in front of the Government Building was the camp of the life-saving corps. It was neat and pretty, and close beside it was the model of a government lighthouse. Some of our party went to the top of that, and all of them viewed the paraphernalia used in the saving of life when a vessel is wrecked within sight of the shore. Some of them had already seen it on the Eastern shore, but were sufficiently interested to care to look at it again, while to the others it was altogether new, as was the drill through which the company of life guards were presently put, for both the benefit to themselves of the practice, and the edification of visitors.

That over Grandma Elsie asked, "Shall we not, now we are here, go into the Government Building and look at the military exhibit?"

"I should like to do so," said Mr. Dinsmore. "In what part of the building is it, Harold?"

"The southeastern, sir. I have been in once, and found many things well worth looking at more than once."

Harold led the way as he spoke, the others following.

The first department they entered contained exhibits of metal work, gun and cartridge-making machines, campaign materials, and battleflags.

All were interesting to the gentlemen, and to some of the ladies also, but to the others and the children the battleflags were far more so than anything else. It was the greatest collection ever seen outside of a government museum; for they were mementoes of all the wars our country has passed through since the settlement of Jamestown, Va.

There were also mountain howitzers mounted on mules, forage wagons, propeller torpedoes, and every kind of camp appliance, garrison equipage, pack saddles, etc. Famous relics, too, such as a beautifully carved bronze cannon captured from the British at Yorktown in 1781, and a great gun called "Long Tom," with which the privateer General Armstrong repelled a British squadron off the shores of the Azores in 1814, and many other souvenirs of American history.

"'Long Tom,'" repeated little Elsie, gazing curiously at the great gun, about which some remark had been made a moment before, "I s'pose there's a story to it. I wish somebody would tell it to Neddie and me."

"You shall hear it one of these times," said her father, "but not here and now;" and with that she was content, for papa's promises were sure to be kept.

"Don't refrain on my account from telling it here and now, captain," said Cousin Ronald with a humorous look and smile. "I'm not so patriotic as to endorse wrong-doing even on the part of Britons."

"We are all sure of that, sir," returned the captain, "but this time and place are not the most favorable for the telling of a story of that length."

"And grandma will sit down somewhere with the children presently for a rest, in some quiet place, and tell them the story of the gun should they wish to hear it," said Mrs. Travilla; and with that promise the children seemed well content.