Chapter XII.
 
                            "Oh! only those
    Whose souls have felt this one idolatry,
    Can tell how precious is the slightest thing
    Affection gives and hallows! A dead flower
    Will long be kept, remembrancer of looks
    That made each leaf a treasure."
                        --Miss Landon.

The whole family connection living in the neighborhood had dined at Ion that Christmas day, and several had stayed to tea. But all had now gone, the good-nights had been said among the members of the home circle, and Elsie Travilla was alone in her own apartments.

A little weary with the cares and excitement of the day, she was half reclining on a sofa, in dressing-gown and slippers, her beautiful hair unbound and rippling over her shoulders, beside her a jewel-box of ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

It stood open, and the lamplight falling upon its contents was flashed back from many a costly gem set in rings, brooches, lockets and chains of gold.

She took them up, one by one, gazing upon each for a minute or more with a smile, a sigh, or a falling tear, ere she laid it almost tenderly back in its place.

So absorbed was she in the contemplation of these mementoes of the past and the memories called up by them, that she did not hear an approaching footstep, and deemed herself quite alone, till a hand was laid gently on her head, and a voice said tenderly, "My darling!"

"Dear papa!" she responded, glancing up into his face with tear-dimmed eyes, as he stood at the back of her sofa, bending over her. "Let me give you a chair," and she would have risen to do so, but he forced her gently back.

"No; lie still. I will help myself." And coming round in front of her, he seated himself close at her side.

"Why look at these, if it makes you sad, my child?" he asked, noticing her occupation.

"There is sometimes a sweetness in the tears called forth by pleasant memories of loved ones gone before, papa," she said. "These anniversaries will recall the dear husband who always remembered his little wife so kindly upon each, and there is a melancholy pleasure in looking over his Christmas gifts, I have them all here, beginning with this--the very first. Do you remember it, papa? And this Christmas day when he gave it to me? the first Christmas that you were with me."

She was holding up a tiny gold thimble.

"Yes, I think I do," he said. "I certainly remember the day, the first Christmas after my return from Europe, the first on which I heard myself addressed as papa--the sweetest of child voices calling me that, and wishing me a merry Christmas, as the dearest, loveliest of little girls ran into my arms. Dear daughter, what a priceless treasure you have been to me ever since!" he added, bending over her and softly smoothing her hair. "It has always been a joy to call you mine."

She caught his hand in hers and pressed it to her lips. "Yes, dear, dear father! and to me to be so called. We loved one another very dearly then, each was all the other had, and I think our mutual love has never been less because of the other many tender ties God has given us since."

"I am sure you are right, daughter, but at that time," he added with a smile, "you were not willing to share your father's love with another; at least with one other whom you suspected of trying to win it. Do you remember how you slipped away to your bed without bidding your papa good-night, and cried yourself to sleep?"

"Yes, foolish child that I was!" she said, with a low musical laugh; "and how you surprised me the next morning by your knowledge of my fears, and then set them all at rest, like the dear, kind father that you were and always have been."

"No, not always," he sighed.

"Yes, papa, always," she said with playful tenderness. "I will insist upon that; because even when most severe with me, you did what at the time you deemed your duty, and believed to be for my good."

"Yes, that is true, my dear, forgiving child! and yet I can never think of the suffering you endured during the summer that succeeded the Christmas we have been talking of, without keen remorse."

"Yet, long before the next Christmas came I was happier than ever," she said, looking up into his face with a smile full of filial love. "It was the first in our own dear home at the Oaks, you remember, papa. You gave me a lovely set of pearls--necklace and bracelets--and this," taking up a pearl ring, "was Edward's gift. Mr. Travilla he was to me then, and no thought of one day becoming his wife even so much as entered my head. But years afterward he told me he had it in his mind even then; had already resolved to wait till I grew up and win me for his wife if he could."

"Yes, he told me after you were grown and he had offered himself, that it had been love at first sight with him, little child that you were when he first made your acquaintance. That surprised me, though less than the discovery that you fancied one so many years your senior."

"But so good, so noble, so lovable!" she said. "Surely, it was not half so strange, papa, as that he should fancy a foolish young thing such as I was then; not meaning that I am yet very greatly improved," she added, with a half tearful smile.

"I am fully satisfied with you just as you are," he said, bending down over her and touching his lips two or three times to her forehead, "My darling, my first-born and best-beloved child! no words can express the love and tenderness I feel for you, or my pity for the grief which is beyond my power to relieve."

"Dear papa, your sympathy is very sweet," she said in tremulous tones, "very, very sweet in itself, and it helps me to a fuller realization of the depth of meaning in those sweet words, 'Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.'"

"You cannot be wholly miserable while that precious love and pity are yours, my dear child, even if all earthly loves should be taken from you, which may God forbid should ever happen."

"No, papa; dearly as I loved my husband, I am happy in that divine love still mine, though parted from him; and dearly as I love you and my children, I know that were you all taken from me, I could still rejoice in the love of Him who died for me, and who has said, 'I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love.'"

Silence fell between them for some moments, both seemingly wrapped in thought; then Mr. Dinsmore said inquiringly, "You will go to Roselands to-morrow?"

"Yes, papa, if you go, as I heard you say you intended, and nothing happens to prevent. Rosie was particularly delighted with Cal's invitation," she added, smiling up at him, "because I had been telling the story of those Christmas holidays that we have been discussing, to her and the other children, and naturally she wants to look upon the scene of all those important events."

"It will not be by any means her first visit to Roselands," he remarked in a tone of surprise.

"Oh, no, sir! only the first after hearing of those interesting episodes in her mother's life."

"But the house is not the same."

"No, sir; yet the hall and parlors, your rooms and mine are about where and what they were in the old house."

"Ah! well I hope Rosie will enjoy it. And that you may do so, I shall leave you now, begging you to go at once to bed. Good-night, daughter."

"Good-night, my dearest, best of fathers," she responded, putting her arms round his neck as he stooped to give her a parting caress.

Calhoun and Arthur Conly were now joint proprietors at Roselands. "Aunt Maria," an old negress born and bred on the estate, was their housekeeper, and managed so well that they found themselves as comfortable as in the days of their mother's administration.

They, with one younger sister and brother, were all of the once large family now left to occupy the old home, and these younger two were there now only for the Christmas holidays, and at their close would return to distant boarding-schools. Ella, the sister, was eighteen; Ralph two years younger.

The house whence the mother and grandfather had been carried out to their last long home but a few months before, could not be made the scene of mirth and jollity, but to a day of quiet social intercourse with near and dear relatives and friends none could object; so the family at Ion had been invited to dine there the next day, and had accepted the invitation.

Lulu had been greatly interested in Grandma Elsie's party of children as it told of had been invited to Ion for these holidays; but she did not covet such a father as Mr. Dinsmore; he was much too strict and severe, she thought, with all his petting and caressing, and she would far rather have her own papa. Still Grandma Elsie's lot, when a little girl, seemed to her an enviable one, so beautiful and so rich, and with a nice old mammy always ready to wait on and do everything for her; and she (Lulu) was sure she wouldn't have minded much when such a father as Mr. Dinsmore was vexed with her; he wouldn't have found it so easy to manage her; no indeed! She almost thought she should enjoy trying her strength in a tilt with him even now.

Lulu was a rebel by nature, and ever found it difficult to combat the inclination to defy authority and assert her entire independence of control.

But fortunately this inclination was in great measure counterbalanced by the warmth of her affections. She was ready to love all who treated her with justice and kindness, and her love for her father was intense. To please him she would do or endure almost anything; that more than any other influence had kept her on her good behavior all these weeks.

She had sometimes rebelled inwardly, but there had been no greater outward show of it than a frown or a pout, which soon vanished under the kind and gentle treatment she received at the hands of Grandma Elsie and Mamma Vi.

Captain Raymond would have been much gratified could he have seen how, not only she, but all his children, were improving morally, mentally and physically in the wholesome atmosphere of their new home.

Gracie had gained largely in strength and vivacity, her cheeks were rounder and rosier than when she came to Ion, her eyes brighter; and though not yet equal to violent exercise, she could enjoy quiet plays, and would often laugh right merrily.

She had grown very fond of Dr. Conly, or Cousin Arthur as he told her to call him, and he of his little patient. She was frequently hovering about him during Christmas day; and received a special invitation to Roselands.

"You and your mamma are to be my particular guests," he said, "and if you fail to enjoy yourselves it shall be from no fault of mine."

"We shall not fail," Violet said with confidence. "How could we with Cal and yourself for our hosts?"

The day proved propitious, all went and all enjoyed their visit, though to the older ones there was at first a feeling of subdued sadness in thinking of the old grandfather, whose chair was now vacant, and who had been wont to greet their coming with words of cordial welcome.

It was after dinner that Rose claimed her mother's promise.

"Well," said Elsie, glancing dreamily about, "this parlor where we are all sitting occupies the same part of the house, and is almost exactly like the one where the scenes I told you of took place."

"What scenes?" asked Dr. Conly, drawing near, with a look of interest.

Mr. Dinsmore, too, turned to listen.

"I have been telling the children about the Christmas holidays at Roselands the first winter after my father's return from Europe," she answered. "It was before you were born, Cousin Arthur, while your mother was still a very young girl."

"Mamma," asked Rosie, "where was grandpa sitting when you went to him and confessed that you had let Carry Howard cut off one of your curls?"

"Near yonder window. Do you remember it, papa?" she asked, looking smilingly at him.

"Yes, I think I have forgotten very little that ever passed between us. You were a remarkably honest, conscientious child--would come and confess wrong-doing that I should never have known or suspected, even when you thought it likely I should punish you severely for it."

"Now, mamma," said Rosie, "won't you go into the hall with us and show us just where papa caught you, and kissed you, and gave you the gold thimble? And then your room and grandpa's?"

"Arthur, have we your permission to roam over the house?" Elsie asked, turning to him.

"Yes; provided you will let me go along, for I am as much interested as the children."

"Come, then," she said, rising and taking Walter's hand, Rosie, Lulu, and Gracie keeping close to her, and Mr. Dinsmore and Arthur following.

Pausing in the hall, she pointed out the precise spot where the little scene had been enacted between herself and him who was afterward her husband, telling the story between a smile and a tear, then moved on up the stairs with her little procession.

Opening a door, "This was my room," she said, "or rather my room was here before the old house was burned down. It looks just the same, except that the furniture is different."

Then passing on to another, "This was papa's dressing-room. I have passed many happy hours here, sitting by his side or on his knee. It was here I opened the trunk full of finery and toys that he brought me a few days before that Christmas.

"Papa," turning smilingly to him, and pointing to a closed door on the farther side of the room, "do you remember my imprisonment in that closet?"

"Yes," he answered, with a remorseful look, "but don't speak of it. How very ready I was to punish you for the most trifling fault."

"Indeed, papa," she answered earnestly, "it was no such trifle, for I had disobeyed a plain order not to ask a second time for permission to do what you had once forbidden."

"True; but I now see that a child so sensitive, conscientious and affectionate as you were, would have been sufficiently punished by a mild rebuke."

"A year or two later you discovered and acted upon that," she said, with an affectionate look up into his face. "But at this time you were a very young father; and when I remember how you took me on your knee, by the fire there, and warmed my hands and feet, petting and fondling me, and what a nice evening I had with you afterward, I could almost wish to go through it all again."

"Hark! what was that?" exclaimed Rosie.

Every one paused to listen.

There was a sound of sobbing as of a child in sore distress, and it seemed to come from the closet.

"There's somebody shut up there now," Walter said in a loud, excited whisper. "Grandpa, can't she be let out?"

Arthur strode hastily across the room and threw the closet door wide open.

There was no one there. They glanced at each other in surprise and perplexity.

"Ah, ha, ah, ha! um, h'm! ah, ah! the lassie's no there, eh?" said a voice behind them, and turning quickly at the sound, whom should they see but Mr. Lilburn standing in the open doorway leading to the hall.

"But we know all about her now, sir," said Arthur with a laugh, in which he was joined by every one present.