Chapter VI.
    "--to the guiltless heart, where'er we roam,
     No scenes delight us like our much-loved home."
                          --Robert Hillhouse.

Elsie and her children had greatly enjoyed their summer at the North, but now were filled with content and happiness at the thought of soon seeing again their loved home at Ion, while Max and Lulu looked forward with pleasing anticipations and eager curiosity to their first sight of it, having heard various glowing descriptions of it from "Mamma Vi" and Rosie.

Their father, too, had spoken of it as a home so delightful that they ought to feel the liveliest gratitude for having been invited to share its blessings.

It was looking very beautiful, very inviting, on the arrival of our travellers late in the afternoon of a warm, bright October day.

The woods and the trees that bordered the avenue were in the height of their autumn glory, the gardens gay with many flowers of the most varied and brilliant hues, and the lengthening shadows slept on a still green and velvety lawn.

As their carriage turned into the avenue, Elsie bent an affectionate, smiling look upon Max and Lulu, and taking a hand of each, said in sweetest tones, "Welcome to your new home, my dears, and may it prove to you a very, very happy one."

"Thank you, ma'am," they both responded, Max adding, "I am very glad, Grandma Elsie, that I am to live with you and Mamma Vi."

"I, too," said Lulu; "and in such a pretty place. Oh, how lovely everything does look!"

The air was delightful, and doors and windows stood wide open. On the veranda a welcoming group was gathered. Elsie's brother and sister--Horace Dinsmore, Jr., of the Oaks, and Mrs. Rose Lacey from the Laurels--and her cousins Calhoun and Arthur Conly; while a little in the rear of them were the servants, all--from old Uncle Joe, now in his ninety-fifth year, down to Betty, his ten-year-old great-granddaughter--showing faces full of eager delight.

They stood back respectfully till greetings had been exchanged between relatives and friends, then pressed forward with their words of welcome, sure of a shake of the hand and kind word from each member of the family.

Mr. Dinsmore held little Gracie in his arms. She was much fatigued and exhausted by the long journey.

"Here is a patient for you, Arthur," he said, "and I am very glad you are here to attend to her."

"Yes," said Violet, "her father charged me to put her in your care."

"Then let her be put immediately to bed," said Arthur, after a moment's scrutiny of the child. "Give her to me, uncle, and I will carry her up-stairs."

"To my room," added Violet.

But the child shrunk from the stranger, and clung to Mr. Dinsmore.

"No, thank you, I will take her up myself," he said. "I am fully equal to it," and he moved on through the hall and up the broad stairway, Violet and the doctor following.

The others presently scattered to their rooms to rid themselves of the dust of travel and dress for the evening.

"Well, little wife, is it nice to be at home again?" Edward asked, with a smiling look at Zoe, as they entered their apartments.

"Yes, indeed!" she cried, sending a swift glance around the neat and tastefully furnished room, "especially such a home, and to be shared with such nice people; one in particular who shall be nameless," she added, with an arch look and smile.

"One who hopes you will never tire of his company, as he never expects to of yours," returned Edward, catching her in his arms and snatching a kiss from her full red lips.

"Now don't," she said, pushing him away, "just wait till I've washed the dust from my face. Here come our trunks," as two of the men servants brought them in, "and you must tell me what dress to put on."

"You look so lovely in any and every one of the dozen or more that I have small choice in the matter," laughed the young husband.

"What gross flattery!" she exclaimed. "Well, then, I suppose I'll have to choose for myself. But you mustn't complain if I do that some time when you don't want me to."

The two Elsies had lingered a little behind the others--the old servants had so many words of welcome to say to them--the younger one in especial, because she had been so far and so long away.

And the babe must be handed about from one to another, kissed and blessed and remarked upon as to his real or fancied resemblance to this or that older member of the family.

"It do 'pear pow'ful strange, Miss Elsie, dat you went away young lady and come back wid husband and baby," remarked Aunt Dicey. "And it don't seem but yistiday dat you was a little bit ob a gal."

"Yes, I have come back a great deal richer than I went," Elsie returned, with a glance of mingled love and joy, first at her husband, then at her infant son. "I have great reason to be thankful."

At that moment Mrs. Travilla became aware that Max and Lulu were lingering near, as if not knowing exactly what to do with themselves.

"Ah, my dears," she said, turning to them with a kind and pleasant look, "has no one attended to you? Come with me, and I will show you your rooms."

They followed her up the stairs, and each was shown into a very pleasant room furnished tastefully and with every comfort and convenience.

Lulu's had two doors, one opening into the hall, the other into her mamma's bedroom.

Elsie explained this, adding, "So, if you are in want of anything or should feel frightened or lonely in the night, you can run right in to the room where you will find your mamma and Gracie."

"Yes, ma'am, that is very nice; and oh, what a pretty room! How kind and good you are to me! and to my brother and sister, too!" cried Lulu, her eyes shining with gratitude and pleasure.

"I am very glad to be able to do it," Elsie said, taking the little girl's hand in one of hers and smoothing her hair caressingly with the other--for Lulu had taken off her hat. "I want to be a mother to you, dear child, and to your brother and sister, since my dear daughter is too young for so great care and responsibility. I love you all, and I want you to come freely to me with all your troubles and perplexities, your joys and sorrows, just as my own children have always done. I want you to feel that you have a right to do so, because I have invited you."

She bent down and kissed Lulu's lips, and the little girl threw her arms about her neck with impulsive warmth, saying, "Dear Grandma Elsie, I love you and thank you ever so much! And I mean to try ever so hard to be good," she added, with a blush and hanging her head shamefacedly. "I know I'm often very naughty; papa said I gave him more anxiety than Max and Gracie both put together; and I'm afraid I can't be good all the time, but I do mean to try hard."

"Well, dear, if you try with all your might, asking help from on high, you will succeed at last," Elsie said. "And now I will leave you to wash and dress. I see your trunk has been brought up and opened, so that you will have no difficulty."

With that she passed on into Violet's rooms to see how Gracie was. She found her sleeping sweetly in Violet's bed, the latter bending over her with a very tender, motherly look on her fair young face.

"Is she not a darling, mamma?" she whispered, turning her head at the sound of her mother's light footstep.

"She is a very engaging child," replied Elsie. "I think we are all fond of her, but you especially."

"Yes, mamma, I love her for herself--her gentle, affectionate disposition--but still more because she is my husband's child, his dear baby girl, as he so often called her."

"Ah, I can understand that," Elsie said, with a loving though rather sad look and smile into Violet's azure eyes, "for I have often felt just so in regard to my own children. What does Arthur say about her?"

"That she is more in need of rest and sleep than anything else at present. He will see her again to-morrow, and will probably be able then to give me full directions in regard to her diet and so forth."

"You will come down to supper? you will not think it necessary to stay with her yourself?" Elsie said inquiringly.

"Oh, no, mamma! I shall dress at once. I should not like to miss being with you all," Violet answered, moving away from the bedside. "Ah!" with sudden recollection, "I have been quite forgetting Max and Lulu."

"I have seen them to their rooms," her mother said, "and now I must go and attend to Rosie and Walter, and to my own toilet."

"Dear mamma, thank you!" Violet said heartily.

"My dear, I consider them quite as much my children, and therefore my especial charge, as yours, perhaps a trifle more," Elsie returned with sprightly look and tone as she left the room.

Agnes was in attendance on her young mistress, and was presently sent to ask if Lulu was in need of help, and to say that her mamma would like to see her before she went down-stairs.

"I don't need anything till I'm ready to have my sash tied," answered Lulu, "and then I'll come in to Mamma Vi and you to have it done. She was very good to send you, Agnes, and you to come."

"La! chile, it's jus' my business to mind Miss Wilet," returned Agnes. "An' she's good to eberybody, ob cose--always was."

"What did you want to see me for, Mamma Vi?" asked Lulu, as she presently entered her young stepmother's dressing-room.

"Just to make sure that your hair and dress are all right, dear. You know we have company to-night, and I am particularly anxious that my little Lulu shall look her very best."

The child's face flushed with pleasure. She liked to be well and becomingly dressed, and it was gratifying to have Mamma Vi care that she should be. Mrs. Scrimp was so different; she had never cared whether Lulu's attire was tasteful and becoming or quite the reverse, but always roused the child's indignation by telling her it was all sufficient if she were only neat and clean.

"Am I all right?" she asked.

"Pretty nearly; we will have you quite so in a minute," Violet answered. "Tie her sash Agnes, and smooth down the folds of her dress."

"Mamma Vi, is that strange lady any relation to you?" asked Lulu.

"Yes, she is my aunt, mamma's sister."

"She is pretty, but not nearly so pretty as Grandma Elsie."

"No; I have always thought no one else could be half so beautiful as mamma."

"Why, Mamma Vi, you are yourself!" exclaimed Lulu in a tone of honest sincerity that made Violet laugh.

"That is just your notion, little girl," she said, giving the child a kiss.

"Oh, I have eyes and can see! besides, papa thinks so, too, and Max and Gracie."

"Yes, my dear husband! he loves me, and love is very blind," murmured Vi, half to herself, with a sigh and a far-off look in the lovely azure eyes. Her thoughts were following him over the deep, wide, treacherous sea.

She stole on tiptoe into the next room for another peep at his sleeping baby girl, Lulu going with her; then hearing the tea-bell, they went down to the dining-room together.

They gathered about the table, a large cheerful party, the travellers full of satisfaction in being at home again, the others so glad to have them there once more.

Zoe was very merry and Rosie in almost wild spirits, but Max and Lulu, to whom all was new and strange, were quite quiet and subdued, scarcely speaking except when spoken to, "Mamma," Rosie said, when they had adjourned to the parlor, "it's lovely out of doors, bright moonlight and not a bit cold; mayn't I take Max and Lulu down to the lakelet?"

"Do you think the evening air would be injurious to them, Arthur?" Mrs. Travilla asked, turning to her cousin.

"I think there is malaria in it, and would advise them to stay within doors until after breakfast to-morrow morning," he answered, drawing Rose to a seat upon his knee.

"Then you'd better let us go," she said archly, "so you can have some more patients. Don't you like to have plenty of patients?"

"That's a leading question, little coz," he said laughingly, toying with her curls. "When people are sick I like to have an opportunity to exercise my skill in trying to relieve and cure them, but I hope I don't want them made sick in order to furnish me with employment."

"I want to show Lulu and Max the beauties of Ion, and don't know how to wait till to-morrow," she said.

"Then take them about from one room to another, and let them look out through the windows upon its moonlit lawn, alleys, gardens and lakelet."

"Oh, yes, yes! that will do!" she cried, leaving his knee in haste to carry out his suggestion.

Max and Lulu, nothing loath, accepted her invitation, and they ran in and out, up stairs and down, the young strangers delighted with the views thus obtained of their new home and its surroundings.

Rosie said she hoped they would not be required to begin lessons immediately, but would be allowed a few days in which to enjoy walks, rides, drives, and boating.

"I'll ask grandpa and mamma if we may," she added, as they re-entered the parlor. She hastened to present her petition, and it was granted; the children were told they should have a week in which to enjoy themselves and recover from the fatigue of their journey, and would be expected to show their appreciation of the indulgence by great industry afterward.

Lulu was standing a little apart from the rest, gazing out of the window upon the moonlit lawn, when a step drew near; then some one took her by the arm, and in a twinkling she found herself seated upon a gentleman's knee.

Looking up into his face, she saw that it was Mr. Horace Dinsmore who had thus taken possession of her.

"Well, my little dark-eyed lassie," he said, "no one has thought it worth while to introduce us, but we won't let that hinder our making acquaintance. Do you know who I am?"

"I heard Rosie call you Uncle Horace."

"Then suppose you follow Rosie's example. If you are as good as you are bonny, I shall be proud to claim you as my niece."

"But I'm not," she said frankly. Then hastily correcting herself, "I don't mean to say I'm bonny, but I'm not good. Aunt Beulah used to say I was the worst child she ever saw."

"Indeed! you are honest, at all events," he said, with a look of amusement. "And who is Aunt Beulah?"

"The person Gracie and I lived with before papa got married to Mamma Vi."

"Ah! well I shall not regard her opinion, but wait and form one for myself, and I shall certainly be much surprised if you don't turn out a pattern good girl, now that you are to live with my sweet sister Elsie. In the mean while, will it please you to call me Uncle Horace?"

"Yes, sir, since you ask me to," Lulu replied, looking much gratified.

At this moment the door opened, and Mr. Lacey walked in. He had come for his wife, and when he and the others had exchanged greetings, she rose to make ready for departure.

Calhoun Conly rose also, saying to his brother, "Well, Art, perhaps it would be as well for us to go, too; our friends must be tired after their long journey, and will want to get to bed early."

"Suppose you all delay a little and unite with us in evening family worship," said Mr. Dinsmore. "It is a good while since I have had all three of my children present with me at such a service."

All complied with his request, and immediately afterward took leave. Then with an exchange of affectionate good-nights the family separated and scattered to their rooms.

Lulu was not quite ready for bed when Violet came in, and putting her arm around her, asked, with a gentle kiss, "Do you feel strange and lonely in this new place, little girl?"

"Oh, no, Mamma Vi! it seems such a nice home that I am very glad to be in it."

"That is right," Violet said, repeating her caress. "I hope you will sleep well and wake refreshed. I shall leave the door open between your room and mine, so that you need not feel timid, and can run right in to me whenever you wish. Good-night, dear."

"Good-night, Mamma Vi. Thank you for being so good to me, and to Gracie and Max," Lulu said, clinging to her in an affectionate way.

"My child," returned Violet, "how could I be anything else to the children of my dear husband? Ah, I must go! Mamma calls me," she added, hurrying away as a soft, sweet voice was heard coming from the adjoining room.

Lulu finished undressing, said her prayers, and had just laid her head on her pillow, when some one glided noiselessly to the bedside and a soft hand passed caressingly over her hair.

The child opened her eyes, which had already closed in sleep, and saw by the moonlight a sweet and beautiful face bending lovingly over her.

"Grandma Elsie," she murmured sleepily.

"Yes, dear. Rosie and Walter never like to go to sleep without a good-night kiss from mamma, and you must have the same now, as you are to be one of my dear children."

Lulu, now wide awake, started up to put both arms round the neck of her visitor. "Oh, I do love you!" she said, "and I'll try hard to be a good child to you."

"I believe it, dear," Elsie said, pressing the child to her heart. "Will you join my children in their half-hour with mamma in her dressing-room before breakfast? I shall be glad to have you, but you must do just as you please about it."

"Thank you, ma'am; I'll come," said Lulu.

"That is right. Now lie down and go to sleep. You need a long night's rest."