Chapter III.
 
    "A kingdom is a nest of families, and a family is a small
    kingdom."--Tupper.

It was a bright and cheerful scene that greeted the eyes of Captain Raymond and his son as they entered the parlor of the adjacent cottage.

It was strictly a family gathering, yet the room was quite full. Mr. Dinsmore was there with his wife, his daughter Elsie and her children, Edward and Zoe, Elsie Leland with her husband and babe, Violet Raymond with her husband's two little girls, Lulu and Grace, and lastly Rosie and Walter.

Everybody had a kindly greeting for the captain, and Violet's bright face grew still brighter as she made room for him on the sofa by her side.

"We were beginning to wonder what was keeping you," she said.

"Yes, I'm afraid I am rather behind time," he returned. "I hope you have not delayed your tea for me, Mrs. Dinsmore."

"No; it is but just ready," she said. "Ah, there's the bell. Please, all of you walk out."

When the meal was over all returned to the parlor, where they spent the next hour in desultory chat.

Gracie claimed a seat on her father's knee. Lulu took possession of an ottoman and pushed it up as close to his side as she could; then seating herself on it leaned up against him.

He smiled and stroked her hair, then glanced about the room in search of Max.

The boy was sitting silently in a corner, but reading an invitation in his father's eyes, he rose and came to his other side.

The ladies were talking of the purchases they wished to make in Boston, New York or Philadelphia, on their homeward route.

"I must get winter hats for Lulu and Gracie," said Violet.

"I want a bird on mine, Mamma Vi," said Lulu; "a pretty one with gay feathers."

"Do you know, Lulu, that they skin the poor little birds alive in order to preserve the brilliancy of their plumage?" Violet said with a troubled look. "I will not wear them on that account, and as you are a kind-hearted little girl, I think you will not wish to do so either."

"But I do," persisted Lulu. "Of course I wouldn't have a bird killed on purpose, but after they are killed I might just as well have one."

"But do you not see," said Grandma Elsie, "that if every one would refuse to buy them, the cruel business of killing them would soon cease? and that it will go on as long as people continue to buy and wear them?"

"I don't care, I want one," pouted Lulu. "Papa, can't I have it?"

"No, you cannot," he said with grave displeasure. "I am sorry to see that you can be so heartless. You can have just whatever Grandma Elsie and Mamma Vi think best for you, and with that you must be content."

Lulu was silenced, but for the rest of the evening her face wore an ugly scowl.

"My little girl is growing sleepy," the captain said presently to Gracie. "Papa will carry you over home and put you to bed. Lulu, you may come too."

"I don't want to, papa, I----" she began; but he silenced her with a look.

"Bid good-night to our friends and come," he said. "You also, Max."

Max, though surprised at the order, obeyed with cheerful alacrity in strong contrast to Lulu's sullen and reluctant compliance, which said as plainly as words that she would rebel if she dared.

"I don't see why papa makes us come away so soon," she grumbled to her brother in an undertone, as they passed from one cottage to the other, their father a little in advance.

"He must have some good reason," said Max, "and I for one am willing enough to obey him, seeing it's such a little while I'll have the chance."

They had now reached the veranda of their own cottage.

"Come in quickly out of this cold wind, children," their father said; then as he closed the outer door after them, "Run into the parlor and get thoroughly warm before going up to your rooms."

He sat down by the stove with Grace on his knee, and bade the other two draw up close to it and him, one on each side. And when they had done so, "My three dear children," he said in tender tones, glancing from one to another, "no words can tell how much I love you. Will you all think very often of papa and follow him with your prayers when he is far away on the sea?"

"Oh, yes, yes, papa!" they all said with tears in their eyes, while Gracie put her small arms round his neck. Lulu rested her head on his shoulder, and Max took a hand and pressed it in both of his.

"Papa, you will think of us, too?" he said inquiringly.

"Yes, indeed, my darlings; you will never be long out of my mind, and nothing will make me happier than to hear that you are well and doing your duty faithfully."

"I shall try very hard, papa," Max said, with affectionate look and tone, "if it is only to please you and make your heart glad."

"Thank you, my son," his father replied, "but I hope a still stronger motive will be that you may please God and honor Him. Never forget, my children, that though your earthly father may be far away and know nothing of your conduct, God's all-seeing eye is ever upon you."

A half hour had passed very quickly and delightfully to the children, when at length, seeing Gracie's eyelids begin to droop, their father said it was time for him to carry her up to bed.

"Shall we stay here till you come down again, papa?" asked Max.

"No; you and Lulu may go to bed now."

"Then good-night, papa."

"No, you need not bid me good-night yet," the captain said. "I shall see you both in your rooms before you are asleep."

"Well, Lu, are you sorry now that papa made you come home so soon?" asked Max, as they went up-stairs together.

"No, indeed! Haven't we had a nice time, Max? Oh, if only we could keep papa all the time!"

"I wish we could," said Max. "But we won't have so hard a time as we've had for the last two years whenever he was away."

They had reached the door of Lulu's room. "Max," she said, turning to him as with a sudden thought, "what do you suppose papa is coming to our rooms for?"

"What do you suppose? have you done anything you ought to be punished for?" asked Max, a little mischievously. "I thought you looked very cross and rebellious about the hat and about having to come home so soon. I'm very sure, from what I've heard of Grandpa Dinsmore's strictness, that if you were his child you'd get a whipping for it."

Lulu looked frightened.

"But, Max, you don't think papa means to punish me for that, do you? He has been so kind and pleasant since," she said, with a slight tremble in her voice.

"You'll find out when he comes," laughed Max. "Good-night," and he hastened away to his own room.

A guilty conscience made Lulu very uneasy as she hurried through her preparations for bed, and as she heard her father's step approach the door she grew quite frightened.

He came in and closed it after him. Lulu was standing in her night-dress, just ready for bed. He caught up a heavy shawl, wrapped it about her, and seating himself lifted her to his knee.

"Why, how you are trembling!" he exclaimed. "What is the matter?"

"O papa! are you--are you going to punish me for being so naughty this evening?" she asked, hanging her head while her cheeks grew red.

"That was not my intention in coming in here," he said. "But, Lulu, your wilfulness is a cause of great anxiety to me. I hardly know what to do with you. I am very loath to burden our kind friends--Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie--with so rebellious and unmanageable a child, for it will be painful to them to be severe with you, and yet I see that you will compel them to it."

"I won't be punished by anybody but you! Nobody else has a right!" burst out Lulu.

"Yes, my child, I have given them the right, and the only way for you to escape punishment is not to deserve it. And if you prove too troublesome for them, you are to be sent to a boarding-school, and that, you will understand, involves separation from Max and Gracie, and life among total strangers."

"Papa, you wouldn't, you couldn't be so cruel!" she said, bursting into tears and hiding her face on his breast.

"I hope you will not be so cruel to yourself as to make it necessary," he said. "I have fondly hoped you were improving, but your conduct to-night shows me that you are still a self-willed, rebellious child."

"Well, papa, I've wanted a bird on my hat for ever so long, and I believe you would have let me have it, too, if Mamma Vi and Grandma Elsie hadn't said that."

"I shouldn't let you have it, if they were both in favor of it," he said severely.

"Why, papa?"

"Because of the cruelty it would encourage. And now, Lucilla, I want you to reflect how very kind it is in Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie to be willing to take my children in and share with them their own delightful home. You have not the slightest claim upon their kindness, and very few people in their case would have made such an offer. I really feel almost ashamed to accept so much without being able to make some return, even if I knew my children would all behave as dutifully and gratefully as possible. And knowing how likely your conduct is to be the exact reverse of that, I can hardly reconcile it to my conscience to let you go with them to Ion. I am afraid I ought to place you in a boarding-school at once, before I am ordered away."

"O papa, don't!" she begged. "I'll try to behave better."

"You must promise more than that," he said; "promise me that you will yield to the authority of your mamma and her mother and grandfather as if it were mine; obeying their orders and submitting to any punishment they may see fit to inflict, just as if it were my act."

"Papa, have you said they might punish me?" she asked, with a look of wounded pride.

"Yes; I have full confidence in their wisdom and kindness. I know they will not abuse the authority I give them, and I have told them they may use any measures with my children that they would with their own in the same circumstances. Are you ready to give the promise I require?"

"Papa, it is too hard!"

"The choice is between that and being sent to boarding-school."

"Oh, it's so hard!" she sobbed.

"Not hard at all if you choose to be good," her father said. "In that case you will have a delightful life at Ion. Do you make the promise?"

"Yes, sir," she said, as if the words were wrung from her, then hid her face on his breast again and cried bitterly.

"My little daughter, these are tears of pride and stubbornness," sighed her father, passing his hand caressingly over her hair, "and you will never be happy until those evil passions are cast out of your heart. They are foes which you must fight and conquer by the help of Him who is mighty to save, or they will cost you the loss of your soul. Any sin unrepented of and unforsaken will drag you down to eternal death; for the Bible says, 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.'"

"Papa," she said, "you are the only person God commands me to obey, and I'm willing to do that."

"No, it seems not, when my command is that you obey some one else. My little girl, you need something that I cannot give you; and that is a change of heart. Go to Jesus for it, daughter; ask Him to wash away all your sins in His precious blood and to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you. He is able and willing to do it, for He says, 'Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.' We will kneel down and ask Him now."

"Papa, I do love you so, I love you dearly, and I will try to be a better girl," Lulu said, clasping her arms tightly about his neck, as, having laid her in her bed, he bent down to kiss her good-night.

"I hope so, my darling," he said; "nothing could make me happier than to know you to be a truly good child, trying to live right that you may please the dear Saviour who died that you might live."

Max, lying in his bed, was just saying to himself, "I wonder what keeps papa so long," when he heard his step on the stairs.

"Are you awake, Max?" the captain asked, as he opened the door and came in.

"Yes, sir," was the cheerful response; "it's early, you know, papa, and I'm not at all sleepy."

"That is well, for I want a little talk with you," said his father, sitting down on the side of the bed and taking Max's hand in his.

The talk was on the sin of profanity. Max was told to repeat the third commandment, then his father called his attention to the words, "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."

"It is a dreadful and dangerous sin, my son," he said; "a most foolish sin, too, for there is absolutely nothing to be gained by it; and the meanest of sins, for what can be meaner than to abuse Him to whom we owe our being and every blessing we enjoy?"

"Yes, papa, and I--I've done it a good many times. Do you think God will ever forgive me?" Max asked in trembling tones.

"'He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.' 'I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,'" quoted the captain.

"Yes, my son, if you are truly sorry for your sins because committed against God, and confess them with the determination to forsake them, asking forgiveness and help to overcome the evil of your nature, for Jesus' sake, it will be granted you. 'The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.'"