Chapter XIV.
 
    "Be sure your sin will find you out."
                     --Num. 32:33.

Gracie and Walter were in the play-room. They had been building block-houses for an hour or more, when Gracie, saying, "I'm tired, Walter, I'm going in yonder to see the things Max and Lulu are making," rose and sauntered into the work-room.

She watched the busy carvers for some minutes, then went down to Violet's apartments in search of her.

She found no one there but Agnes busied in putting away some clean clothes, fresh from the iron.

"Where's mamma?" asked the little girl.

"In de drawin'-room, Miss Gracie. Comp'ny dar."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Gracie, "I just wanted her to talk to me."

"'Spect you hab to wait till de comp'ny am gone," returned Agnes, picking up her empty clothes-basket and leaving the room.

Gracie wandered disconsolately about the rooms, wishing that the callers would go and mamma come up. Presently she paused before the bureau in Violet's dressing-room, and began fingering the pretty things on it.

She was not usually a meddlesome child, but just now was tempted to mischief from the lack of something else to interest and employ her.

She handled the articles carefully, however, and did them no damage till she came to a beautiful cut-glass bottle filled with a costly perfume of which she was extravagantly fond.

Violet had frequently given her a few drops on her handkerchief without being asked, and never refused a request for it.

Gracie, seized with a desire for it, took a clean handkerchief from a drawer and helped herself, saying half aloud, by way of quieting her conscience, "Mamma would give it to me if she was here, she always does, and I'll be careful not to break the bottle."

She was pouring from it as she spoke. Just at that instant she heard a step in the hall without, and a sound as if a hand was laid on the door-knob.

It so startled her that the bottle slipped from her fingers, and striking the bureau as it fell, lay in fragments at her feet; its contents were spilled upon the carpet, and the air of the room was redolent of the delicious perfume.

Gracie, naturally a timid child, shrinking from everything like reproof or punishment, stood aghast at the mischief she had wrought.

"What will mamma say?" was her first thought. "Oh, I'm afraid she will be so vexed with me that she'll never love me any more!" And the tears came thick and fast, for mamma's love was very sweet to the little feeble child, who had been so long without a mother's care and tenderness.

Then arose the wish to hide her fault. Oh, if she could only replace the bottle! but that was quite impossible. Perhaps, though, there might be a way found to conceal the fact that she was the author of the mishap; she did not want to have any one else blamed for her fault, but she would like not to be suspected of it herself.

A bright thought struck her. She had seen the cat jump on that bureau a few days before and walk back and forth over it. If she (pussy) had been left in the room alone there that afternoon she might have done the same thing again, and knocked the bottle off upon the floor.

It would be no great harm, the little girl reasoned, trying to stifle the warnings and reproaches of conscience, if she should let pussy take the blame.

Mamma was kind, and wouldn't have pussy beaten, and pussy's feelings wouldn't be hurt, either, by the suspicion.

She hurried out in search of the cat, found her in the hall, pounced on her, carried her into the dressing-room, and left her there with all the doors shut, so that she could not escape, till some one going in would find the bottle broken, and think the cat had done it.

This accomplished, Gracie went back to the play-room and tried to forget her wrong-doing in the interesting employment of dressing her dolls.

Lulu presently left her carving and joined her. Max had gone for a ride.

While chasing the cat Gracie had not perceived a little woolly head thrust out of a door at the farther end of the hall, its keen black eyes closely watching her movements.

"He, he, he!" giggled the owner of the head, as Gracie secured pussy and hurried into the dressing-room with her, "wondah what she done dat fer!"

"What you talkin' 'bout, you sassy niggah?" asked Agnes, coming up behind her on her way to Mrs. Raymond's apartments with another basket of clean clothes, just as Gracie reappeared and hurried up the stairs to the story above."

"Why, Miss Gracie done come pounce on ole Tab while she paradin' down de hall, and ketch her up an' tote her off into Miss Wilet's dressin'-room, an's lef her dar wid de do' shut on her. What for you s'pose she done do dat?"

"Oh, go 'long! I don' b'lieve Miss Gracie didn't do no sich ting!" returned Agnes.

"She did den, I seed her," asserted the little maid positively. "Mebbe she heerd de mices runnin' 'round an want ole Tab for to ketch 'em."

"You go 'long and 'tend to yo' wuk. Bet, you lazy niggah," responded Agnes, pushing past her. "Miss Wilet an Miss Gracie dey'll min' dere own consarns widout none o' yo' help."

The child made no reply, but stole on tiptoe after Agnes.

Violet was coming up the front stairway, and reached the door of her dressing-room, just in advance of the girl. Opening it she exclaimed at the powerful perfume which greeted her nostrils, then catching sight of the bottle lying in fragments on the floor.

"Who can have done this?" she asked in a tone of surprise not wholly free from displeasure.

"De cat, mos' likely, Miss Wilet," said Agnes, setting down her basket and glancing at puss who was stretched comfortably on the rug before the fire. "I s'pect she's been running ober de bureau, like I see her do, mor'n once 'fo' dis."

"She looks very quiet now," remarked Violet, "and if she did the mischief it was certainly not intentional. But don't leave her shut up here again, Agnes."

"She didn't do it, Agnes didn't," volunteered Betty, who had stolen in after them; "it was Miss Gracie, Miss Wilet, I seed her ketch ole Tab out in de hall dere, and put her in hyar, an' shut de do onto her, an' go off up-stairs."

A suspicion of the truth flashed into Violet's mind; but she put it resolutely from her; she would not believe Gracie capable of slyness and deceit.

But she wanted the little girl, and sent Betty up with a message to that effect, bidding her make haste, and as soon as she had attended to that errand, brush up the broken glass and put it in the fire.

Betty ran nimbly up to the play-room, and putting her head in at the door, said with a grin, "Miss Gracie, yo' ma wants you down in de dressin'-room."

"What for?" asked Gracie, with a frightened look.

"Dunno, s'pect you fin' out when you gits dar."

"Betty, you're a saucy thing," said Lulu.

"S'pect mebbe I is, Miss Lu," returned the little maid with a broader grin than before, apparently considering the remark quite complimentary, while she held the door open for Gracie to pass out.

"Miss Gracie," she asked, as she followed Grace down the stairs, "what fo' you shut ole Tab up in de dressin'-room? She's done gone an' broke Miss Wilet's bottle what hab de stuff dat smell so nice, an' cose Miss Wilet she don' like dat ar."

"What makes you say I put her in there, Betty?" said Gracie.

"Kase I seed you, he, he, he!"

"Did you?" asked Gracie, looking still more alarmed than at the summons to the dressing-room. "Don't tell mamma, Betty. I'll give you a penny and help you make a frock for your doll if you won't."

Betty's only answer was a broad grin and a chuckle as she sprang past Gracie and opened the door for her.

Violet, seated on the farther side of the room, looked up with her usual sweet smile. "See, Gracie dear, I am making a lace collar for you, and I want to try it on to see if it fits."

"Now, Betty, get a dust-pan and brush and sweep up that glass. Don't leave the least bit of it on the carpet, lest some one should tramp on it and cut her foot."

"Some one has broken that cut-glass perfume bottle you have always admired so much, Gracie. Aren't you sorry?"

"Yes, I am, mamma. I never touch your things when you're not here."

The words were out almost before Grace knew she meant to speak them, and she was terribly frightened and ashamed. She had never thought she would be guilty of telling a lie. She hung her head, her cheeks aflame.

Violet noted the child's confusion with a sorely troubled heart.

"No, dear," she said very gently, "I did not suspect you, but if ever you should meet with an accident, or yield to temptation to do some mischief, I hope you will come and tell me about it at once. You need not fear that I will be severe with you, for I love you very dearly, little Gracie."

"Perhaps it was the cat knocked it off the bureau, mamma," said the child, speaking low and hesitatingly. "I've seen her jump up there several times."

"Yes; so have I, and she must not be left alone in here any more."

Betty had finished her work and was sent away. Agnes, too, had left the room, so that Violet and Gracie were quite alone.

"Come, dear, I am quite ready to try this on." Violet said, holding up the collar. "There, it fits very nicely," as she put it on the child and gently smoothed it down over her shoulders. "But what is the matter, my darling?" for tears were trembling on the long silken lashes that swept Gracie's flushed cheeks.

At the question they began to fall in streams, while the little bosom heaved with sobs. She pulled out a handkerchief from her pocket to wipe her eyes, and a strong whiff of perfume greeted Violet's nostrils, telling a tale that sent a pang to her heart.

Gracie was instantly conscious of it, as she, too, smelled the tell-tale perfume, and stole a glance at her young stepmother's face.

"O mamma!" she sobbed, covering her face with her hands, "I did pour a little on my handkerchief 'cause I knew you always let me have it, but I didn't mean to break the bottle; it just slipped out o' my hands and fell and broke."

Violet clasped her in her arms and wept bitterly over her.

"Mamma, don't cry," sobbed the child, "I'll save up all my money till I can buy you another bottle, just like that."

"O Gracie, Gracie, it is not that!" Violet said, when emotion would let her speak. "I valued the bottle as the gift of my dear dead father, but I would rather have lost it a hundred times over than have my darling tell a lie. It is so wicked, so wicked! God hates lying. He says, 'All liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.' 'He that speaketh lies shall not escape.' He says that Satan is the father of lies, and that those who are guilty of lying are the children of that wicked one.

"Have you forgotten how God punished Gehazi for lying by making him a leper, and struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for the same sin? O my darling, my darling, it breaks my heart to think you have both acted and spoken a falsehood!" she cried, clasping the child still closer to her bosom and weeping over her afresh.

Gracie, too, cried bitterly. "Mamma, mamma," she said, "will God never forgive me? will He send me to that dreadful place?"

"He will forgive you if you are truly sorry for your sin because it is dishonoring and displeasing to Him, and if you ask Him to pardon you for Jesus' sake; and He will take away the evil nature that leads you to commit sin, giving you a new and good heart, and take you to heaven when you die.

"But no one can go to heaven who is not first made holy. The Bible bids us follow 'holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.' And Jesus is a Saviour from sin. 'Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.' Shall we kneel down now and ask Him to save you from yours?"

"Yes, mamma," sobbed the child.

Violet's prayer was short and to the point. Then she held Gracie for some time in her arms, while they mingled their tears together.

At length, "Gracie dear," she said, "I believe God has heard our prayer and forgiven you. I am sure He has if you are truly sorry in your heart and asked with it, and not only with your lips, for forgiveness; but I want you to stay here alone for an hour and think it all over quietly, I mean about your wrongdoing and God's willingness to forgive for Jesus' sake, and that we could not have been forgiven and saved from sin and hell if the dear Saviour had not died for us the cruel death of the cross.

"Oh, think what a dreadful thing sin must be that it could not be blotted out except by Jesus suffering and dying in our stead! And think how great was His love for us, when He was willing to lay down His own life that we might live!"

Then with a kiss of tender motherly love, she went out and left the child alone.

Gracie was sincerely penitent. She had always been taught that lying was a dreadful sin, and had never before told a direct falsehood; but while in her former home, Mrs. Scrimp's faulty management, joined to her own natural timidity, had tempted her to occasional slyness and deceit, and from these the descent to positive untruth was easy.

Violet's faithful dealing, and even more her evident deep distress because of the sin against God of which her darling had been guilty, had so convinced the child of the heinousness of her conduct that she was sorely distressed because of it, and on being left alone, knelt down again and pleaded for pardon with many bitter tears and sobs.

She had risen from her knees and was lying on a couch, still weeping, when Lulu came into the room.

"Why, Gracie, what is the matter?" she asked, running to the couch and bending over her little sister in tender concern.

"Don't ask me, Lulu, I don't want to tell you," sobbed Gracie, turning away her blushing, tear-stained face.

"Mamma Vi has been scolding or punishing you for some little naughtiness, I suppose," said Lulu, frowning.

"No, she hasn't!" cried Gracie indignantly; then hastily correcting herself, "except that she said she wanted me to stay here alone for a while. So you must go and leave me."

"I won't till you tell me what it was all about. What did you do? or was it something you didn't do?"

"I don't want to tell you, 'cause you wouldn't ever do such a wicked thing, and you--you'd despise me if you knew I'd done it," sobbed Gracie.

"No, I wouldn't. You are better than I am. Papa said I was worse than you and Max both put together. So you needn't mind my knowing."

"I meddled and broke mamma's pretty bottle that her dead father gave her; but she didn't scold me for that; not a bit; but--but 'cause I tried to put the blame on puss, and--and said I--I never touched her things when she wasn't here."

"O Gracie, that was wicked! to say what wasn't true! I think papa would have whipped you, for I've heard him say if there was anything he would punish severely in one of his children, it was falsehood. But don't cry so. I'm sure you're sorry and won't ever do it again."

"No, no! never, never! Mamma hugged me up in her arms and cried hard 'cause I'd been so wicked. And she asked Jesus to forgive me and make me good, so I shouldn't have to go to that dreadful place. Now go away, Lu, 'cause she said I must stay alone."

"Yes, I will; but stop crying or you'll be sick," Lulu said, kissing Gracie, then left the room and went to her own to make herself neat before going down to join the family at tea.

Her thoughts were busy with Gracie and her trouble while she brushed her hair, washed her hands, and changed her dress. "Poor, little weak thing, she was frightened into it, of course, for it's the very first time she ever told an untruth. I suppose Mamma Vi must have looked very cross about the broken bottle; and she needn't, I'm sure, for she has plenty of money to buy more. Such a shame! but I just knew she wouldn't always be kind to us."

Thus Lulu worked herself up into a passion, quite forgetting, in her unreasonable anger, how very mild was the punishment Violet had decreed to Gracie (if indeed it was meant as such at all); so much less severe than the one she herself had said their father would have been likely to administer.

Max was riding without companion or attendant. He had taken the direction of the village, but not with any thought of going there until, as he reached its outskirts, it occurred to him that he was nearly out of wood for carving, and that this would be a good opportunity for laying in a supply.

The only difficulty was that he had not asked leave before starting, and it was well understood that he was not at liberty to go anywhere--visiting or shopping--without permission.

"How provoking!" he exclaimed half aloud. "I haven't time to go back and ask leave, and a long storm may set in before to-morrow, and so my work be stopped for two or three days. I'll just go on, for what's the difference, anyhow? I'm almost there, and I know I'd have got leave if I'd only thought of asking."

So on he went, made his purchase, and set off home with it.

He was rather late: a storm seemed brewing, and as he rode up the avenue Violet was at the window looking out a little anxiously for him.

Mr. Dinsmore, hearing her relieved exclamation, "Ah, there he is!" came to her side as Max was in the act of dismounting.

"The boy has evidently been into the town making a purchase," he said. "Had he permission from you or any one, Violet?"

"Not from me, grandpa," she answered with reluctance.

"Did you give him leave, Elsie?" he asked, turning to his daughter. "Or you, wife?"

Both answered in the negative, and with a very stern countenance Mr. Dinsmore went out to the hall to meet the delinquent.

"Where have you been, Max?" he asked, in no honeyed accents.

"For a ride, sir," returned the lad respectfully.

"Not merely for a ride," Mr. Dinsmore said, pointing to the package in the boy's hand; "you did not pick that up by the roadside. Where have you been?"

"I stopped at Turner's just long enough to buy this wood that I shall need for carving to-morrow. I should have asked leave, but forgot to do so."

"Then you should have come home and left the errand for another day. You were well aware that in going without permission you were breaking rules. You will go immediately to your room and stay there until this time to-morrow."

"I think you're very hard on a fellow," muttered Max, flushing with mortification and anger as he turned to obey.

Lulu, coming down the stairs, had heard and seen it all. She stood still for a moment at the foot of the stairway, giving Mr. Dinsmore a look that, had it been a dagger, would have stabbed him to the heart, but which he did not see; then, just as the tea-bell rang, turned and began the ascent again.

"Why are you going back, Lulu? did you not hear the supper bell?" asked Mr. Dinsmore.

"Yes, sir," she answered, facing him again with flashing eyes, "but if my brother is not to go to the table neither will I."

"Oh, very well," he said; "you certainly do not deserve a seat there after such a speech as that. Go to your own room and stay there until you find yourself in a more amiable and respectful mood."

It was exactly what she had intended to do, but because he ordered it, it instantly became the thing she did not want to do.

However, she went into her room, and closing the door after her, not too gently, said aloud with a stamp of her foot, "Hateful old tyrant!" then walked on into Violet's dressing-room, where her sister still was.

Gracie had lain down upon a sofa and wept herself to sleep, but the supper bell had waked her, and she was crying again. Catching sight of Lulu's flushed, angry face, she asked what was the matter.

"I wish we could go away from these people and never, never come back again!" cried Lulu in her vehement way.

"I don't," said Gracie. "I love mamma and Grandma Elsie, and Grandma Rose, and Grandpa Dinsmore, too, and----"

"I hate him! I'd like to beat him! the old tyrant!" interrupted Lulu, in a burst of passion.

"O Lu! I'm sure he's been kind to us; they're all kind to us when we're good," expostulated Grace. "But what has happened to make you so angry, and why aren't you eating your supper with the rest?"

"Do you think I'd go and sit at the table with them when they won't have you and Max there, too?"

"What about Max? did he do something wrong, too?"

"No; it wasn't anything wicked; he just bought some wood for his carving with some of his own money."

"But maybe he went without leave?" Gracie said, half inquiringly.

"Yes, that was it; he forgot to ask. A very little thing to punish him for, I'm sure; but Mr. Dinsmore (I sha'n't call him grandpa) says he must stay in his own room till this time to-morrow."

"Why," said Gracie, "that's worse than mamma's punishment to me for--for doing such a wicked, wicked thing!"

"Yes, she's not such a cruel tyrant. He'd have beaten you black and blue. I hope she won't tell him about it."

A terrified look came into Gracie's eyes, and she burst out crying again.

"O Gracie, don't!" Lulu entreated, kneeling down beside the sofa and clasping her arms about her. "I didn't mean to frighten you so. Of course, Mamma Vi won't; if she meant to she'd have done it before now, and you'd have heard from him, too."

A step came along the hall, the door opened, and Agnes appeared bearing a large silver waiter.

"Ise brung yo' suppah, chillens," she said, setting it down on a table.

Then lifting a stand and placing it near Gracie's couch, she presently had it covered with a snowy cloth and a dainty little meal arranged upon it: broiled chicken, stewed oysters, delicate rolls, hot buttered muffins and waffles, canned peaches with sugar and rich cream, sponge cake, nice and fresh, and abundance of rich sweet milk.

The little girls viewed these dainties with great satisfaction, and suddenly discovered that they were very hungry.

Agnes set up a chair for each, saw them begin their meal, then left the room, saying she would be back again directly with more hot cakes.

"There, Gracie, you needn't be the least bit afraid you're to be punished any more," remarked Lulu. "They'd never have sent us such a supper as this if they wanted to punish us."

"Do you want to run away from them now?" asked Gracie. "Do you think Grandpa Dinsmore is so very, very cross to us?"

"He's too hard on Max," returned Lulu, "though not so hard as he used to be on Grandma Elsie when she was his own little girl; and perhaps papa would be just as hard as he is with Max."

"But 'tisn't 'cause they like to make us sorry, except for being naughty, so that we'll grow up good, you know," said Grace. "I'm sure our dear papa loves us, every one, and wouldn't ever make us sorry except just to make us good. And you know we can't be happy here, or go to heaven when we die, if we're not good."

"Yes, I know," said Lulu; "I'm not a bit happy when I'm angry and stubborn, but for all that I can't help it."