Chapter XVII.
 
    "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water:
    therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with."

                                          --Proverbs 17:14.

Zoe went to bed that night and rose again the next morning a happy little woman.

The song was sung, the performance eliciting warm praise from the solitary listener.

Then they had a delightful ride together, all before breakfast, and she brought to the table such dancing eyes and rosy cheeks that Mr. Lilburn could not refrain from complimenting her upon them, while the rest of the older people smiled in approval.

"She looks younger than ever," remarked Miss Deane, sweetly. "It is quite impossible to realize that she is married."

"It is altogether possible for me to realize that she is my own dear little wife," said Edward, regarding Zoe with loving, admiring eyes. "A piece of personal property I would not part with for untold gold," he added with a happy laugh.

"And we all think our Zoe is quite old for so young a husband," said Elsie, bestowing upon the two a glance of smiling, motherly affection.

It was a busy season with Edward, and he was compelled to leave the entertainment of the guests through the day to his mother and other members of the family.

Zoe excused herself from any share in that work on the plea that she was too young to be companionable to the ladies, spent some hours in diligent study, then walked out with the children.

"I have two sets of lessons ready for you," was her greeting to Edward, when he came in late in the afternoon.

"Have you, dear?" he returned, taking the easy-chair she drew forward for him. "Then let me hear them. You must have been an industrious little woman to-day."

"Tolerably; but you know one set was ready for you yesterday."

"Ah, yes; you were industrious then, also. And I dare say it is rather stupid work studying alone."

"Not when one has such a nice teacher," she answered sportively. "Praise from your lips is sweeter than it ever was from any other but papa's," she added, tears trembling in her eyes.

He was glad to be able, on the conclusion of the recitation, to give it without stint.

She flushed with pleasure, and helping herself to a seat upon his knee, thanked him with a hug and kiss.

"Easter holidays begin next week," he remarked, putting an arm about her and returning her caress; "do you wish to give up your studies during that time?"

"No," she said; "I've wasted too much time during the past few weeks, and I'd rather take my holidays in the very warm weather."

"That is what mamma's and grandpa's pupils are to do," he said. "They are invited to both the Oaks and the Laurels in May and June, to spend some weeks at each place. And you are included in both invitations."

"I shall not go unless you do," she said with decision. "Parted from my husband for weeks? No, indeed! I can hardly stand it for a single day," she added, laying her cheek to his.

"Nor I, little wife," he said, passing his hand softly over her hair. "Do you feel equal to a ride this afternoon?"

"Why, yes; of course! shall I get ready at once?"

"Yes, do, dearie. There is to be a party of us--grandpa, mamma, and Miss Fleming, Miss Deane, you and I."

Zoe's brow clouded. "Riding three abreast, I suppose. But why did you ask Miss Deane? She'll spoil all my enjoyment."

"Don't let her; I must show some attention to her as a guest in the house, and really felt obliged to invite her. We are to call at Fairview, and see how Lester and Elsie get on with their housekeeping. Now, do promise me that you will be a good, sensible little woman, and not indulge in jealousy."

"To please you I'll do the very best I can. I told you I would do anything for love and coaxing," she answered in a sprightly tone, with her arm still about his neck, her eyes gazing fondly into his.

He drew her closer. "I'll try always to remember and practice upon that," he said, "Now, darling, don that very becoming hat and habit you wore this morning."

Miss Deane was an accomplished coquette, whose greatest delight was to prove her power over every man who came in her way, whether married or single, and perceiving Zoe's dislike to her, and jealousy of any attention paid her by Edward, she took a malicious pleasure in drawing him to her side whenever opportunity offered, and keeping him there as long as possible.

Edward, with a heart entirely true to his young wife, endeavored to resist the fascinations of the siren and avoid her when politeness would permit; and Zoe struggled against her inclination to jealousy, yet Miss Deane succeeded in the course of a few days in bringing about a slight coldness between them.

They did not actually quarrel, but there was a cessation of loving looks and endearing words and names. It was simply Zoe and Edward now instead of dearest and love and darling, while they rather avoided than sought each other's society.

Edward was too busy to walk or ride with his wife, and Max and Ralph Conly, at home now for the Easter holidays and self-invited to Ion, became the almost constant sharers of her outdoor exercise.

Edward saw it with displeasure, for Ralph was no favorite with him. When things had gone on in that way for several days, he ventured upon a mild remonstrance, telling Zoe he would rather she would not make a familiar associate of Ralph.

"If I am debarred from my husband's society, I'm not to be blamed for taking what I can get," she answered coldly.

"I don't blame you for what is past, Zoe," he said, "but request that in future you will not have more to do with Ralph than is quite necessary."

Zoe was in a defiant mood. She walked away without making any reply, and an hour later Edward met her riding out with Ralph by her side. Max was not with them, as it was during his study hours, and they had not even an attendant.

They had been laughing and chatting gayly, but at sight of Edward a sudden silence fell on them.

Zoe's head drooped and her cheeks flushed hotly as she perceived the dark frown on her husband's brow. She expected some cutting word of rebuke, but he simply wheeled his horse about, placing himself on her other side, so that she was between him and Ralph, and rode on with them.

Not a word was spoken until they drew rein at their own door, when Edward, dismounting, lifted his wife from her pony, and as he set her down, said, "I will be obliged to you, Zoe, if you will now prepare your lessons for to-day."

Zoe had already begun to repent of her open disregard of his wishes, for during the silent ride memory had been busy with the many expressions of love and tenderness he had lavished upon her in their short married life, and if there had been the least bit of either in his tones now, she would have whispered in his ear that she was sorry and would not so offend again; but the cold, stern accents made the request sound like a command, and roused again the spirit of opposition that had almost died out.

She shook off his detaining hand, and walked away in silence, with head erect and cheeks burning with indignation.

Ralph had not heard Edward's low-spoken words, but looking after Zoe, as she disappeared within the doorway, "Seems to me you're a bit of a tyrant, Ned," he remarked with a coarse, disagreeable laugh.

"I am not aware of having shown any evidence of being such," Edward returned rather haughtily, as he remounted. Then, turning his horse's head, he rode rapidly away.

Zoe went to her boudoir, gave vent to her anger in a hearty fit of crying, then set to work at the lessons with a sincere desire to please the husband she really loved with all her heart.

"I've been forgetting the two bears," she said to herself, "but I'll try again, and when that hateful Miss Deane goes away, everything will be right again. I know Ned has to be polite to her; and it's very silly in me to get vexed when he talks to her; but I can't help it, because he's my all."

She finished her tasks, dressed herself for dinner with care and taste, and when she heard his step on the stairs ran to the door to meet him.

Her face was bright and eager, but changed at sight of his cold, forbidding looks.

"I am ready for you," she said timidly, shrinking away from him.

"Very well, bring your books," he said with, she thought, the air of a schoolmaster toward a pupil in disgrace, and seating himself as he spoke.

She brought them, keeping her eyes cast down to hide the tell-tale tears. She controlled her emotion in another moment, and went through the recitations very creditably to herself.

He made no comment upon that, though usually he would have bestowed warm praise, but simply appointed the tasks for the next day, rose and left the room.

Zoe looked after him with a swelling heart, wiped away a tear or two, and assuming an air of indifference, went down to the parlor to join the rest of the family.

"Where's Ned?" asked Rosie. "You two used never to be seen apart; but of late----"

The sentence was suddenly broken off because of a warning look from her mamma.

"Don't you know, little girl," said Miss Deane in a soft, purring tone, "that nobody expects married people to remain lovers always?"

"It is what they should do," Elsie said with gentle decision. "It was so with my husband and myself, and I trust will be with all my children."

"Allow me to advise you to deliver Ned a lecture on the subject, cousin," laughed Ralph.

"He doesn't need it," Zoe exclaimed with spirit, turning on Ralph with flashing eyes.

"Oh," he said, with a loud guffaw, "I should have remembered that any one taking the part of an abused wife is sure to have her wrath turned upon himself."

"What do you mean by that, sir? I am not an abused wife," said Zoe, tears springing to her eyes; "there never was a kinder, tenderer husband than mine, and I know he loves me dearly."

"He does, indeed, dear; we none of us doubt that in the least; and so you can well afford to let Ralph enjoy his forlorn joke," remarked Mrs. Dinsmore, with an indignant, reproving look at the latter, who colored under it, and relapsed into silence.

The weather was delightful, and the children having been given a half holiday, spent the afternoon in the grounds. Zoe forsook the company of the older people for theirs, and joined in their sports, for she was still child-like in her tastes.

She was as active as a boy, and before her marriage had taken keen delight in climbing rocks and trees. The apple-trees in the orchard were in full bloom, and taking a fancy to adorn herself with their blossoms, she climbed up among the branches of one of the tallest, in order, as she said, to "take her pick and choice," Rosie, Lulu, Gracie and Walter standing near and watching her with eager interest.

"Oh, Zoe, take care!" Rosie called to her, "that branch doesn't look strong, and you might fall and hurt yourself badly."

"Don't you be afraid. I can take care of myself," she returned with a light laugh.

But another voice spoke close at hand, fairly startling her, it was so unexpected. "Zoe, what mad prank is this? Let me help you down at once."

"There's no need for you to trouble yourself, I am quite able to get down without assistance, when I'm ready," she replied, putting a strong emphasis upon the last words.

"No; it is too dangerous," and he held up his arms with an imperative, "Come!"

"How you do order me about," she muttered, half under her breath, and more than half inclined to rebel.

But no; the children were looking and listening, and must not be allowed to suspect any unpleasantness between herself and her husband.

She dropped into his arms, he set her upon her feet, drew her hand within his arm, and walked away with her.

"I do not approve of tree-climbing for a married woman, Zoe," he said, when they were out of ear-shot of the children; "at least, not for my wife; and I must request you not to try it again."

"It's a pity I didn't know how much my liberty would be curtailed by getting married," she returned bitterly.

"And I am exceedingly sorry it is out of my power to restore your liberty to you, since it seems that would add to your happiness."

At that she hastily withdrew her hand from his arm and walked quickly away from him, taking the direction of the house.

Leaning against a tree, his arms folded, his face pale and stern, he looked after her with a heart full of keenest anguish. She had never been dearer to him than at this moment, but alas, she seemed to have lost her love for him, and what a life of miserable dissension they were likely to lead, repenting at leisure their foolishly hasty marriage!

And she was half frantic with pain and passion. He was tired of her already--before they had been married a year--he did not love her any longer and would be glad to be rid of her. Oh, what should she do! would that she could fly to the ends of the earth that he might be relieved of her hated presence.

And yet--oh, how could she ever endure constant absence from him? She loved him so dearly, so dearly!

She hurried on past the house, down the whole length of the avenue and back again, the hot tears all the time streaming over her cheeks. Then she hastily wiped them away, went to her rooms, bathed her eyes, and dressed carefully for tea.

Womanly pride had come to her aid; she must hide her wounds from all, especially from Edward himself and "that detestable Miss Deane." She would pretend to be happy, very happy, and no one should guess how terribly her heart was aching.