Chapter XV.
    "Happy in this, she is not yet so old
     But she may learn."

Violet, meeting her grandfather on the way to the supper-room, gave him an anxious, troubled inquiring look, which he answered by a brief statement, given in an undertone, of what had just passed between himself and Max and Lulu.

"All of them!" sighed the young stepmother to herself, "all three of them at once! Ah me!"

Though Mr. Dinsmore had spoken low, both his daughter and Zoe had heard nearly all he said, and as they sat down to the table the one looked grieved and distressed, the other angry.

During the meal Zoe never once addressed Mr. Dinsmore, and when he spoke to her she answered as briefly as possible, and not in a very pleasant or respectful tone.

Edward noticed it, and looked at her in displeased surprise; then, becoming aware of the absence of the Raymonds, asked, "Where are Max, Lulu, and Gracie?"

He had not heard the story of their disgrace, having come to the supper-room a little later than the others, and directly from his own.

For a moment the question, addressed to no one in particular, remained unanswered; then Mr. Dinsmore said, "Max and Lulu are in disgrace. I know nothing about Gracie, but presume she is not feeling well enough to come down."

Zoe darted an angry glance at him.

Violet looked slightly relieved. She had not spoken at all of Gracie's wrongdoing, and did not want any one to know of it.

"I may send the children their supper, grandpa?" she said inquiringly, with a pleading look.

"Do just as you please about it," he answered. "Of course I would not have growing children go fasting for any length of time; certainly not all night, for that would be to the injury of their health; and I leave it to you to decide how luxurious their meal shall be."

"Thank you, grandpa," she said, and at once gave the requisite order.

Meanwhile Max had obeyed the order to go to his room in almost as angry and rebellious a mood as Lulu's own. He shut the door, threw down his package, tore off his overcoat and stamped about the floor for a minute or two, fuming and raging.

"I say it's just shameful! abominable treatment! I'm tired being treated like a baby, and I won't stand it! The idea of being shut up here for twenty-four hours for such a trifle! Oh, dear!" he added, dropping into a chair, "I'm as hungry as a bear. I wonder if he doesn't mean to let me have any supper? I don't believe Mamma Vi would approve of his starving me altogether; no, nor Grandma Elsie, either; I hope they'll manage to give me something to eat before bedtime. If they don't, I believe I'll try to bribe Tom when he comes to see to the fire."

It was not long before he heard Tom's step on the stairs, then his knock on the door.

"Come in," he answered, in cheerful tones; then, as he caught sight of a waiter full of good things, such as his sisters were supping upon, "Hurrah! Tom, you're a brick! But who sent it?"

"Miss Wilet; and she says if dars not nuff ob it to satisfy yo' appetite, you's to ring for mo'."

"All right; tell Mamma Vi I'm much obliged," said Max.

"Very good prison fare," he added to himself, as he fell to work, Tom having withdrawn, "I've good reason to be fond of Mamma Vi, and as she's fond of her grandfather, I s'pose I'll have to forgive him for her sake," he concluded, quite restored to good humor, and laughing gleefully at his own jest.

"O Lulu," exclaimed Gracie, struck with a sudden recollection, and laying down the spoon with which she was eating her oysters, "you know I was to stay alone. You oughtn't to have come in here."

"Pooh! your time was up a good while ago," returned Lulu, "and Mamma Vi must have expected me to come in here to eat supper along with you. I hope she has sent as good a one to poor Maxie."

Violet went directly from the supper-room to her own apartments, where she found the two little girls quietly talking together, while Agnes gathered up the remainder of their repast and carried it and the dishes away.

"I hope you enjoyed your supper, dears," she said.

They both said they had, and thanked her for it.

"And I didn't deserve it, mamma," added Gracie, her tears beginning to fall again; "but oh, I'm sorry, very sorry! Please, mamma, forgive me."

"I have entirely forgiven the sin against me, darling," whispered Violet, folding her close to her heart, "and I trust God has forgiven your far greater sin against Him. Now do not cry any more, or you will make yourself sick, and that would make me very sad."

Lulu was sitting near fighting a battle with pride and passion, in which ere-long she came off conqueror.

"Mamma Vi," she said with determination, "I didn't deserve it either, and I'm sorry, too, for being angry at your grandfather and saucy to him."

"Dear child," said Violet, drawing her to her side and kissing her with affectionate warmth, "how glad I am to hear you say that. May I repeat your words to grandpa as a message from you?"

Again Lulu had a struggle with herself, and perhaps it was only the thought that this was the easiest way to make an apology, which would probably be required of her sooner or later, that helped her to conquer.

Her entry in her diary in regard to the occurrence was, "I was a little saucy to Grandpa Dinsmore because he was hard on Max for just a little bit of a trifle, but I've said I'm sorry, and it's all right now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Edward and his grandfather having a business matter to talk over together, repaired to the library on leaving the table, and Zoe, instead of going, as usual, to the parlor with the others, went to her own rooms.

She had seen Violet, who was a little in advance of her, going into hers, and only waiting to take a little package from a closet, she ran lightly up to Max's door, tapped gently on it, then in her eagerness, opened it slightly, with a whispered, "It's only I, Max. May I come in?"

"Yes, indeed," he answered, springing forward to admit her and hand her a chair. "How good in you to come, Aunt Zoe!"

"No, I did it to please myself. You know you've always been a favorite with me, Max, and I want to know what this is all about."

Max told her.

"It's a perfect shame!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I can't see the least bit of harm in your going to the store and buying what you did. You weren't even wasting the pocket money that you had a right to spend as you pleased. Grandpa Dinsmore is a--a--rather tyrannical, I think."

"It does seem hard to have so little liberty," Max said, discontentedly, "but I don't know that he's any more strict, after all, than papa."

"Well, I must run away now," said Zoe, jumping up. "Here's something to sweeten your imprisonment," putting a box of confectionery into his hand. "Good-by," and she tripped away.

She met her husband in the hall upon which their rooms opened. "Where have you been?" he asked coldly, and with a suspicious look.

"That's my affair," she returned, flushing, and with a saucy little toss of her pretty head.

He gave her a glance of mingled surprise and displeasure. "What has come over you, Zoe?" he asked. "Can't you give a civil answer to a simple question?"

"Of course I can, Mr. Travilla, but I think it's a pretty story if I'm to be called to account as to where I go even about the house."

"Nothing but a guilty conscience could have made you look at my question in that light," he said, leaning against the mantel and looking down severely at her as she stood before him, for they were now in her boudoir. "I presume you have been in Max's room, condoling with and encouraging him in his defiance of grandpa's authority; and let me tell you, I won't allow it."

"It makes no difference whether you allow it or not," she said, turning away with a contemptuous sniff. "I'm my own mistress."

"Do you mean to defy my authority, Zoe?" he asked, with suppressed anger.

"Yes, I do. I'll do anything in the world for love and coaxing, but I won't be driven. I'm your wife, sir, not your slave."

"I have no desire to enslave you, Zoe," he said, his tone softening, "but you are so young, so very young for a married woman, that you surely ought to be willing to submit to a little loving guidance and control."

"I didn't perceive much love in the attempt you made just now," she said, seating herself and opening a book.

He watched her for a moment. She seemed absorbed in reading, and he could not see that the downcast eyes were too full of tears to distinguish one letter from another.

He left the room without another word, and hardly had the door closed on him when she flung the book from her, ran into the dressing-room, and throwing herself on a couch, cried as if her heart would break.

"He's all I have, all I have!" she moaned, "and he's beginning to be cruel to me! Oh, what shall I do! what shall I do! Papa, papa, why did you die and leave your darling all alone in this cold world?"

She hoped Edward would come back presently, say he was sorry for his brutal behavior, and try to make his peace with her by coaxing and petting; but he did not, and after a while she gave up expecting him, undressed, went to bed and cried herself to sleep, feeling that she was a sadly ill-used wife.

Meanwhile Edward had returned to the library for a time, then gone into the family parlor, hoping and half expecting to find Zoe there with the rest; but the first glance showed him that she was not in the room.

He made no remark about it, but sitting down beside his mother, tried to interest himself in the evening paper handed him by his grandfather.

"What have you done with your wife, young man?" asked his sister Elsie sportively. "We have seen nothing of her since supper."

"I left her in her room," he answered in a tone in which there seemed a shade of annoyance.

"Have you locked her up there for bad behavior?" asked Rosie, laughing.

"Why, what do you mean, Rosie?" he returned, giving the child a half-angry glance, and coloring deeply.

"Oh, I was only funning, of course, Ned. So you needn't look so vexed about it; that's the very way to excite suspicion that you have done something to her," and Rosie laughed gleefully.

But to the surprise of mother and sisters, Edward's brow darkened, and he made no reply.

"Rosie," said Violet, lightly, "you are an incorrigible tease. Let the poor boy alone, can't you?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Raymond," he said, with a forced laugh, "but I wouldn't have Rosie deprived of her sport."

"I hope," remarked Mrs. Travilla, with a kindly though grave look at her youngest daughter, "that my Rosie does not find it sport to inflict annoyance upon others."

"No, mamma, not by any means, but how could I suppose my wise oldest brother would care for such a trifle?" returned the little girl in a sprightly tone.

"My dear," said her mother, "it is the little things--little pleasures, little vexations--that far more than the great make up the sum total of our happiness or misery in this life."

Edward was very silent during the rest of the evening, and his mother, watching him furtively and putting that and that together, felt sure that something had gone wrong between him and his young wife.

When the good-nights had been said and the family had scattered to their rooms, he lingered behind, and his mother, who had left the room, perceiving it, returned to find him standing on the hearth, gazing moodily into the fire.

She went to him, and laying her hand gently on his shoulder. "My dear boy," she said, in her sweet low tones, "I cannot help seeing that something has gone wrong with you; I don't ask what it is, but you have your mother's sympathy in every trouble."

"It is unfortunately something you would not want me to repeat even to you, my best and dearest of mothers, but your assurance of sympathy is sweet and comforting, nevertheless," he said, taking her in his arms with a look and manner so like his father's, that tears sprang unbidden to her eyes.

"Ah," he said presently, with a sigh that betrayed more than he was aware of, "my father was a happy man in having such a woman for his wife!"

"A good husband makes a good wife, my boy," she returned, gazing searchingly yet tenderly into his eyes; "and I think no woman with any heart at all could have failed to be such to him."

"I am not worthy to be his son," he murmured, the hot blood mounting to his very hair.

There was a moment or more of silence, then she said, softly caressing his hair and cheek as she spoke, "Edward, my son, be very patient, very gentle, forbearing and loving toward the orphan child, the care of whom you assumed of your own free will, the little wife you have promised to love and cherish to life's end."

"Yes, mother, I have tried very earnestly to be all that to her--but she is such a child that she needs guidance and control, and I cannot let her show disrespect to you or my grandfather."

"She has always been both dutiful and affectionate to me, Ned, and I have never known her to say a disrespectful word to or about your grandfather."

"Did you not notice the looks she gave him at the table, to-night? the tone in which she replied when he spoke to her?"

"I tried not to do so," she said with a smile. "I learned when my first children were young that it was the part of wisdom to be sometimes blind to venial faults. Not," she added more gravely, "that I would ever put disrespect to my father in that category, but we must not make too much of a little girlish petulance, especially when excited by a generous sympathy with the troubles of another."

The cloud lifted from his brow. "How kind in you to say it, mother dear! kind to her and to me. Yes, she is very fond of Max, quite as if he were a younger brother, and it is very natural that she should sympathize with him when in disgrace."

"And having been so petted and indulged by her father, allowed to have her own way in almost everything, and seldom, if ever, called to account for her doings, comings and goings, she can hardly fail to think my father's rule strict and severe."

"True," Edward responded with a sigh, "and grandpa is a strict disciplinarian, yet so kind and affectionate with it all that one cannot help loving him."

"So I think. And now, good-night, my dear son. I must go; and perhaps your little wife is looking and longing for your coming. She is very fond and proud of her young husband," and with a motherly kiss and smile she left him.

Edward paced the floor for several minutes with thoughtful air, then went up-stairs to Zoe's boudoir.

She was not there or in the dressing-room. He took up a lamp and went on into the adjoining bedroom. Shading the light with his hand, he drew near the bed with noiseless step.

She lay there sleeping, tears on her eyelashes and her pillow wet with them. His heart smote him at the sight. She looked such a mere child and so sweet and innocent that he could hardly refrain from imprinting a kiss upon the round rosy cheek and the full red lips.

And he longed for a reconciliation, but it seemed cruel to wake her, so it should be the first thing in the morning, he said to himself.

He set the lamp down in a distant part of the room, and prepared for rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Max had spent the evening over his books and diary. His entry in that was a brief statement of his delinquency, its punishment, and his resolve to be more obedient in future.

He had just wiped his pen and put it away, when Grandma Elsie came for a little motherly talk with him, as she often did at bedtime.

He received her with a mortified, embarrassed air, but her kind, gentle manner quickly restored his self-possession.

"I was sorry, indeed," she said, "to hear that our boy Max had become a breaker of rules, and so caused us the loss of his society at the table and in the parlor."

"I thought the loss was all on my side. Grandma Elsie," he returned with a bright, pleased look. "I didn't suppose anybody would miss me unpleasantly."

"Ah, you were quite mistaken in that; we are all fond of you, Max."

"Not Grandpa Dinsmore, I'm sure," he said, dropping his eyes and frowning.

"Why, Max, what else could induce him to give you a home here and be at the trouble of teaching you every day?"

"I thought it was you who gave me a home, Grandma Elsie," Max said in a softened tone, and with an affectionate look at her.

"This is my house," she said, "but my father is the head of the family, and without his approval I should never have asked you and your sisters here, much as I desire your happiness, and fond of you as I certainly am."

"You are very, very good to us!" he exclaimed with warmth; "you do so much for us! I wish I could do something for you!"

"Do you, my dear boy?" she said, smiling and softly patting his hand, which she had taken in hers; "then be respectful and obedient to my father. And to your mamma--my dear daughter. Nothing else could give me so much pleasure."

"I love Mamma Vi!" exclaimed Max. 'I'm sure there couldn't be a sweeter lady. And I like Grandpa Dinsmore, too, but--don't you think now he's very strict and ready to punish a fellow for a mere trifle, Grandma Elsie?"

"I dare say it seems but a trifle to you for a boy of your age to go into town and do an errand for himself without asking leave," she replied, "but that might lead to much worse things; the boy might take to loitering about the town and fall into bad company and so be led into I know not what wickedness. For that reason parents and guardians should know all about a boy's comings and goings."

"That's so, Grandma Elsie," Max said reflectively. "I don't mean to get into bad company ever, but papa says I'm a heedless fellow, so perhaps I might do it before I thought. I'll try to keep to rules after this."

"I hope so, for both your own sake and ours," she said; then with a motherly kiss bade him good-night.