Chapter XXII.
 
    "Our love, it ne'er was reckoned,
     Yet good it is and true;
     It's half the world to me, dear,
     It's all the world to you."
                      --Hood.

Edward was a trifle late in obeying the call to breakfast. He found the rest of the family already seated at the table, and great was the surprise created by his entrance.

"Why, how's this? hae we all been sleepin' a week or ten days?" exclaimed Mr. Lilburn. "The lad was to hae been absent that length o' time, and I thought it was but yesterday he went; yet here he is!"

"This is an unexpected pleasure, my dear boy," was his mother's greeting.

The others said "Good-morning," and all smilingly awaited an explanation.

"Good-morning to you all," returned Edward, taking his seat. "Of course I have not had time to attend to the business matter that took me away; but the fact is, I found I could not do without my wife, so came back after her."

"Where is she now?" asked his mother.

"I left her still in bed and asleep. I came home by the stage, found her awake--indeed, I think she said she had not slept at all--and kept her awake for some time talking----"

"So much to say after so lengthened a separation?" laughingly interrupted his grandfather.

"Yes, sir, a good deal," Edward answered, coloring slightly. "So she has to make it up now, and I would not wake her."

"Quite right," said his mother. "Her breakfast shall be sent up whenever she is ready for it."

"I'm very glad you've come, Ned," remarked Rosie, "for Zoe nearly cried her eyes out yesterday, grieving after you. 'Twouldn't be I that would fret so after any man living--unless it might be grandpa," with a coquettish, laughing look at him.

"Thank you, my dear," he said.

"Ah, lassie, that's a' because your time hasna come yet," remarked Mr. Lilburn. "When it does, you'll be as lovelorn and foolish as the rest."

"Granting that it is foolish for a woman to love her husband," put in Mrs. Dinsmore, sportively.

"A heresy never to be countenanced here," said her spouse; "the husbands and wives of this family expect to give and receive no small amount of that commodity. Do you set off again this morning, Ned?"

"No, sir; not before to-morrow; not then unless Zoe is ready to go with me."

"Quite right, my boy, your wife's health and happiness are, as your mother remarked to me yesterday, of more consequence than any mere business matter."

On leaving the table Edward followed his mother out to the veranda.

"Can I have a word in private with you, mamma?" he asked, and she thought his look was troubled.

"Certainly," she said. "I hope nothing is wrong with our little Zoe?"

"It is of her--and myself I want to speak. I feel impelled to make a confession to you, mother dear, that I would not willingly to any one else. Perhaps you have suspected," he added, coloring with mortification, "that all was not right between us when I left yesterday. She would not have fretted so over my mere absence of a few days, but I had scolded and threatened her the night before, and went away without any reconciliation or even a good-by. In fact, she was asleep when I left the rooms, and knew nothing of my going."

"O Edward!" exclaimed his listener in a low, pained tone.

"I am bitterly ashamed of my conduct, mother," he said with emotion, "but we have made it up and are both very happy again in each other's love. She was very humble over her part of the quarrel, poor little thing! and we mean to live in peace and love the rest of our lives, God helping us," he added reverently.

"I trust so, my dear boy," Elsie said, "for whether you live in peace or contention, will make all the difference of happiness or misery in your lives. It would have quite broken my heart had your father ever scolded or threatened me."

"But you, mamma, were a woman when you married, old enough and wise enough to guide and control yourself."

"I was older than Zoe is, it is true; but do not be dictatorial, Edward; if you must rule, do it by love and persuasion; you will find it the easiest and happiest way for you both."

"Yes, mother, I am convinced of it; but unfortunately for my poor little wife, I have not my father's gentleness and easy temper. Will you come up with me now and take a look at her? I fear she is not quite well--her cheeks are so flushed and her hands so hot. I shall never forgive myself if I have made her ill."

"I sincerely hope you are not to be visited with so severe a punishment as that," his mother said. "But come, let us go to her at once."

They found her still sleeping, but not profoundly; her face was unnaturally flushed, and wore a troubled expression, while her breathing seemed labored.

As they stood anxiously regarding her, she woke with a sharp cry of distress and anguish, then catching sight of her husband bending over her, her face grew radiant, and throwing her arms about his neck, "O Ned, dear Ned!" she cried, "are you here? and do you love me yet?"

"Dearly, dearly, my darling," he said, holding her close. "What has troubled you?"

"Oh, such a dreadful dream! I thought I was all alone in a desert and couldn't find you anywhere."

"But 'drames always go by conthraries, my dear,'" he quoted sportively. Then more seriously, "Are you quite well, love?" he asked.

"A little dull and a trifle headachy," she answered, smiling up at him, "but I think a cup of coffee and a drive with my husband in the sweet morning air will cure me."

"You shall have both with the least possible delay."

"What time is it? Have you been to breakfast?"

"It's about nine, and I have taken breakfast. I think you must have some before exerting yourself to dress."

"Just as you say; it's nice to have you tell me what to do," she said, nestling closer in his arms. "I can't think why I should ever have disliked it."

"I presume it was all the fault of my tone and manner, sometimes of my words, too," he said, passing his hand caressingly over her hair and cheek. "I'm afraid I've been decidedly bearish on several occasions; but I trust I shall have the grace to treat my wife with politeness and consideration after this."

Elsie, who had left the room on Zoe's awaking, now came in and bidding her an affectionate good-morning, said she had ordered her breakfast to be brought up at once, adding, "I hope you will do it justice, my dear."

"I'll see that she does, mamma," Edward answered for her, in sportive tone; "she has made such fair promises of submission, obedience, and all that, that she'll hardly dare refuse to do anything I bid her."

"I haven't been very good about it lately, mamma," Zoe said, looking half tearfully, half smilingly from one to the other, "but Ned's forgiven me, and now I feel as you say you did--that it's a real pleasure to give up my wishes to one I love so very dearly, and who is, I know, very much wiser than I."

"That is right, dear," Elsie said tenderly, "and I trust he will show himself worthy of all your love and confidence."

The two now comported themselves like a pair of lovers, as indeed they had done through all their brief married life, except the last few days.

Edward exerted himself for the entertainment of his little wife during their drive, and was very tender and careful of her.

On their return, he bade her lie down on the sofa in her boudoir and rest, averring that she looked languid and unlike herself.

"To please you," she said, obeying the mandate with a smiling glance up into his face.

"That's a good child!" he responded, sitting down beside her and smoothing her hair with fond, caressing hand. "Now, what shall I do to please you?"

"Stay here, close beside me, and hold my hand, and talk to me."

"Very well," he answered, closing his fingers over the hand she put into his, then lifting it to his lips. "How your face has changed, love, since that frightened look you gave me when I came in with the lamp last night."

"How frightened and ashamed I was, Ned!" she exclaimed, tears springing to her eyes; "I felt that you had a right to beat me if you wanted to, and I shouldn't have said a word if you'd done it."

"But you couldn't have feared that?" he said, with a pained look, and coloring deeply.

"No, oh, no, indeed! I know you would never do that, but I dreaded what you might say, and did not at all expect you would be so kind and forgiving and loving to me.

"But how was I brought up here? I knew nothing from the instant you were at my side on the door-step till I saw you coming in with the lamp."

"In your husband's arms."

"What a heavy load for you to carry!" she said, looking at him with concern.

"No, not at all; I did it with perfect ease, except for the darkness and the fear that you might recover consciousness on the way and scream out with affright before you discovered who your captor was."

"My husband, my dear, kind husband!" she murmured, softly stroking his face as he bent over her to press a kiss upon her forehead.

"My darling little wife," he returned.

Then after a moment's silent exchange of caresses,

"Would you mind telling me where you were going and what you intended to do?" he asked with a half smile.

"I have no right to refuse, if you require a full confession," she said, half playfully, half tearfully, and blushing deeply.

"I don't require it, but should like to have it, nevertheless; for I confess my curiosity is piqued," he said with an amused, yet tender look and tone.

"There isn't really very much to tell," she sighed, "only that because I was dreadfully unhappy and had worked myself up to believing that I was a hated wife, a burden and annoyance to my husband, I thought it would be an act of noble self-sacrifice to run away, and--O Ned, please don't laugh at me!"

"I am not laughing, love," he said in soothing, half-tremulous tones, taking her in his arms and holding her close, as he had done the night before. "How could I laugh at you for being willing to sacrifice everything for me? But that's not all?"

"Not quite. It came to me like a flash about the stage passing so near at two o'clock in the morning, and that I could get away then without being seen, and after I was in it make up my mind where I would get out."

"And how did you expect to support yourself?"

"There was some money in my purse--you never let it get empty, Ned--and--I thought I wouldn't need any very long."

"Wouldn't? why not?"

"Oh, I was sure, sure I couldn't live long without you," she cried, hugging him close and ending with a burst of tears and sobs.

"You dear, dear little thing!" he said with emotion, and tightening his clasp of her slight form; "after I had been so cruel to you, too!"

"No, you weren't, except in going away without making up and saying good-by."

"It's very generous in you to say it, darling. But how large was this sum of money that you expected to last as long as you needed any?"

"I don't know. I didn't stop to count it. You can do that, if you want to. I suppose the purse is in my satchel."

He brought the satchel--still unpacked--took out the purse and examined its contents.

"Barely ten dollars," he said. "It would have lasted but a few days, and, my darling, what would have become of you then?"

He bent over her in grave tenderness.

"I don't know, Ned," she replied; "I suppose I'd have had to look for employment."

"To think of you, my little, delicate, petted darling, looking for employment by which to earn your daily bread!" he exclaimed with emotion. "It is plain you know nothing of the hardships and difficulties you would have had to encounter. I shudder to think of it all. But I should never have let it come to that."

"Would you have looked for me, Ned?"

"I should have begun the search the instant I heard of your flight, nor ever have known a moment's rest till I found you!" he exclaimed with energy. "But as I came in the stage you purposed to take, I should have met and brought you back, if that fortunate mishap had not taken place."

Then she told him of her thoughts, feelings, and painful anticipations while held fast in the relentless grasp of the door, finishing with, "Oh, I never could have dreamed that it would all end so well, so happily for me!"

"And yet, dear one, I do not think you at all realize how painful--not to say dreadful--would have been the consequences to you, to me, and, indeed, to all the family, if you had succeeded in carrying out what I must call your crazy scheme."

She looked up at him in alarmed inquiry, and he went on, "'Madame Rumor, with her thousand tongues,' would have had many a tale to tell of the cruel abuse to which you had been subjected by your husband and his family--so cruel that you were compelled to run away in the night, taking advantage of the temporary absence of your tyrannical husband; while----"

"O Ned, dear Ned, I never thought of that!" she exclaimed, interrupting him with a burst of tears and sobs. "I wouldn't for the world have wrought harm to you or any of them."

"No, love, I know you wouldn't. I believe your motives were altogether kind and self-sacrificing," he said soothingly; "and you yourself would have been the greatest sufferer; the world judges hardly--how hardly my little girl-wife has no idea; wicked people would have found wicked motives to which to impute your act and caused a stain upon your fair fame that might never have been removed.

"But there, there, love, do not cry any more over it; happily, the whole thing is a secret between us two, and we may now dismiss the disagreeable subject forever.

"But shall we not promise each other that we will never part in anger, even when the separation may not be for an hour? or ever lie down to sleep at night unreconciled, if there has been the slightest misunderstanding or coldness between us?"

"Oh, yes, yes, I promise!" she cried eagerly; "but, oh, dear Ned, I hope we will never, never have any more coldness or quarrelling between us, never say a cross word to each other."

"And I join you, dearest, in both wish and promise."

"I am growing very babyish," she said presently with a wistful look up into his face; "I can hardly bear to think of being parted from you for a day; and I suppose you'll have to be going off again to attend to that business affair?"

"Yes, as soon as I see that my wife is quite well enough to undertake the journey; for I'm not going again without her."

"Oh, will you take me with you, Ned?" she cried joyfully. "How very good in you."

"Good to myself, little woman," he said, smiling down at her; "it will turn a tiresome business trip into a pleasure excursion. I have always found my enjoyment doubled by the companionship of my better half."

"I call that rank heresy," she said laughing, "you're the better half as well as the bigger. I wish I were worthy of such a good husband," she added earnestly and with a look of loving admiration. "I'm very proud of you, my dear--so good and wise and handsome as you are!"

"Oh, hush, hush! such fulsome flattery," he returned, coloring and laughing. "Let me see; this is Friday, so near the end of the week that I do not care to leave home till next week. We will say Tuesday morning next, if that will suit you, love?"

"Nicely," she answered. "Oh, I'm so glad you have promised to take me with you!"