Chapter VIII.
 
    "Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see,
     My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee."
                            --Goldsmith.

"How very pretty, Zoe!" said Violet, examining her young sister-in-law's work, a piece of black satin upon which she was embroidering leaves and flowers in bright-colored silks.

"Oh, isn't it!" cried Lulu, in delighted admiration. "Mamma Vi, I'd like to learn that kind of sewing."

"So you shall, dear, some day; but mamma's theory is that plain sewing should be thoroughly mastered first. That has been her plan with all her children, and Rosie has done scarcely any fancy work yet."

"But mamma has promised to let me learn all I can about it this winter," remarked Rosie, with much satisfaction.

"Mamma," Zoe said, with a blush, "I'm afraid I ought to join your plain-sewing class. I should be really ashamed to exhibit any of my work in that line."

"Well, dear child, I shall be glad to receive you as a pupil if you desire it," Elsie returned, giving her a motherly glance and smile.

"Hark!" exclaimed Zoe, hastily gathering up her work, her cheeks rosy and eyes sparkling with pleasure. "I hear Edward's step and voice," and she tripped out of the room.

"How fond she is of him!" Violet remarked, looking after her with a pleased smile.

"Yes," said her mother, "it does my heart good to see how they love each other. And I think we are all growing fond of Zoe."

"Yes, indeed, mamma!" came in chorus from her three daughters.

"I'm sure we are; my husband and I as well as the rest," added Mrs. Dinsmore.

"And, Vi," said Elsie Leland laughingly, "I really think mamma's new sons are as highly appreciated in the family as her new daughter, and that all three doat upon their new mother. Mamma, Lester says you are a pattern mother-in-law, and I answer, 'Of course; mamma is a pattern in every relation in life.'"

"My child, don't allow yourself to become a flatterer," returned her mother gravely.

"Zoe, Zoe, where are you?" Edward was calling from below.

"Here," she answered, running down to meet him. "I've been in the school-room with mamma and the others," she added, as she gained his side, and looking up brightly into his face as she spoke.

"Ah," he said, bending down to kiss the ruby lips. "I thought you were to be my pupil."

"Oh, so I am! except in purely feminine accomplishments. See!" holding up her work. "I've been busy with this. It was the sewing hour, and sister Elsie read aloud to us while we worked."

"Ah, yes! I have been reader many a time while mamma and sisters plied the needle."

"How nice! you are such a beautiful reader! But she is almost as good."

"Not only almost, but altogether," he returned gayly as he held open the door of her boudoir for her to enter, then followed her in. "I've come now to hear your recitations. I suppose you are quite prepared," he added, drawing up a chair for her, and glancing at a pile of books lying on the table.

"No," she said, coloring and dropping her eyes with a slightly mortified air. "I meant to be, but so many things happened to interfere. I had a letter to write, then some ladies called, and then----"

"Well?" he said interrogatively, as she paused, coloring still more deeply.

"I wanted to finish the book I was reading last night. I really couldn't fix my thoughts on stupid lessons until I knew what became of the heroine."

Edward, standing by her side and looking down at her, shook his head gravely. "Duties should be attended to first, Zoe, pleasures indulged in afterward."

"You are talking to me as if I were nothing but a child!" she cried indignantly, her cheeks growing hot.

"The dearest, most lovable child in the world," he said, bending down to stroke her hair and look into her face with laughing eyes.

"No, sir, I'm your wife. What did you marry me for if you considered me such a child?" she cried with a half pout on her lip, but love-light in the eyes lifted to his.

"Because I loved you and wanted the right to take care of you, my bonny belle," he said, repeating his caress.

"And you do, the best care in the world, you dear boy!" she exclaimed impulsively, throwing her arms about his neck. "And if it will please you, I'll set to work at the lessons now."

"Then do, love; I have letters to write, and we will sit here and work side by side."

Both worked diligently for an hour or more; they had a merry time over the recitations, then drove together to the nearest village to post Edward's letters and get the afternoon mail for Ion.

Violet was made happy by a long letter from her husband.

She had barely time to glance over it, learning when and where it was written, and that he was well at the time of writing, when the tea-bell rang.

She slipped the precious missive into her pocket with a little sigh of satisfaction, and joined the others at the table with a very bright and happy face.

She had not been the only fortunate one; her mother had cheering news from Herbert and Harold, Mrs. Dinsmore some sprightly, gossipy letters from her sisters Adelaide and May, whose contents furnished topics of lively discourse, in which Violet took part.

She had not mentioned her own letter, but at length Edward, noting the brightness of her countenance, asked, "Good news from the captain, Vi?"

"Yes, thank you," she said; "he was well and seemingly in excellent spirits at the time of writing, though he says he misses wife and children sorely."

All three of his children turned toward her with eager, questioning looks, Max and Lulu asking, "Didn't papa write to us, too?"

"He sends you a message, dears," Violet said. "I have not really read the letter yet, but shall do so after supper, and you shall all surely have your share of it."

On leaving the table they followed her to the door of her boudoir.

"May we come in, Mamma Vi?" Max asked, with a wistful look.

"Certainly," she answered in a pleasant tone, though longing to be quite alone while giving her precious letter its first perusal; "I would have you feel as free to come into my apartments as I always have felt to go into mamma's. Sit down and make yourselves comfortable, dears, and you shall hear presently what your papa says.

"The letter was written on shipboard, brought into New York by another vessel and there mailed to me."

Max politely drew up a chair near the light for Violet, another for Lulu, placed Gracie's own little rocker close to her mamma's side, then stood behind it prepared to give close attention to the reading of his father's letter.

Violet omitted a little here and there--expressions of tender affection for herself, or something else evidently intended for her eye alone. The captain wrote delightful letters; at least they were such in the esteem of his wife and children. This one provoked to both laughter and tears, he had so amusing a way of relating trivial incidents, and some passages were so tenderly affectionate.

But something near the close brought an anxious, troubled look to Max's face, a frown to Lulu's brow.

It was this: "Tell Max and Lulu I wish each of them to keep a diary for my inspection, writing down every evening what have been the doings and happenings of the day as regards themselves--their studies, their pleasures, their conduct also. Max telling of himself, Lulu of herself, just as they would if sitting on my knee and answering the questions, 'What have you been busy about to-day? Have you been attentive to your studies, respectful and obedient to those in charge of you? Have you tried to do your duty toward God and man?'

"They need not show any one at Ion what they write. I shall trust to their truthfulness and honesty not to represent themselves as better than they are, not to hide their faults from the father who cares to know of them, only that he may help his dear children to live right and be happy. Ah, if they but knew how I love them! and how it grieves and troubles me when they go astray!"

Max's face brightened at those closing sentences, Lulu's softened for a moment, but then, as Violet folded the letter, "I don't want to!" she burst out. "Why does papa say we must do such things?"

"He tells you, dear; did you not notice?" said Violet. "He says he wishes to know your faults in order to help you to correct them. And don't you think it will help you to avoid wrongdoing? to resist temptation? the remembrance that it must be confessed to your dear father and will grieve him very much? Is it not kind in him to be willing to bear that pain for the sake of doing you good?"

Lulu did not answer, but Max said, "Yes, indeed, Mamma Vi! and oh, I hope I'll never have to make his heart ache over my wrongdoings! But I don't know how to keep a diary."

"Nor I either," added Lulu.

"But you can learn, dears," Violet said. "I will help you at the start. You can each give a very good report of to-day's conduct, I am sure.

"The keeping of a diary will be very improving to you in a literary way, teaching you to express your thoughts readily in writing, and that, I presume, is one thing your father has in view."

"But it will be just like writing compositions; and that I always did hate!" cried Lulu vehemently.

"No, not exactly," said Max; "because you don't have to make up anything, only to tell real happenings and doings that you haven't had time to forget."

"And I think you will soon find it making the writing of compositions easier," remarked Violet, with an encouraging smile.

"It'll be just the same as having to write a composition every day," grumbled Lulu. "I wish papa wouldn't be so hard on us. I have to study lessons a whole hour every evening, and then it'll take ever so long to write that, and I shall not have a bit of time to play."

"I wish I could write," little Gracie said, with a half sigh. "If I could, I'd like to talk that way to papa."

"You shall learn, darling," Violet said, caressing her with gentle fondness. "Would you like to begin now?"

"Oh, yes, mamma!" cried the child eagerly.

"Then bring me your slate, and I will set you a copy. Max and Lulu, would you like to bring your writing-desks in here, and let me give you any help you may need?"

Both assented to the proposal with thanks, and were presently seated near her, each with open desk, a fresh sheet of paper spread out upon it, and pen in hand.

"I think that until you are a little used to the business, it would be well to compose first with a pencil, then copy in ink," remarked Violet. "And here," taking it from a drawer in her writing-desk, as she spoke, "is some printing paper which takes pencil mark much better than the more highly glazed paper which we use ordinarily in writing letters."

She gave each of them a pile of neatly cut sheets and a nicely sharpened pencil.

They thanked her, and Max set to work at once.

Lulu sat playing with her pencil, her eyes on the carpet. "I don't know how to begin!" she exclaimed presently in an impatient tone. "What shall I say first, Mamma Vi?"

"Write down the date and then--Suppose you dictate to me, if that will be any easier."

"Thank you, ma'am, I think it would till I get into the way of it," Lulu said, handing over her paper and pencil with a sigh of relief.

"Now," said Violet, encouragingly, "just imagine that you are sitting on your papa's knee and answering the question, 'What have you been doing all day?'"

"As soon as I was dressed and ready for breakfast, I went to Grandma Elsie's dressing-room, along with Rosie and the others, to say Bible verses, and hear Grandma Elsie talk about them and pray. Will that do, Mamma Vi?"

"Very nicely, dear; it is just what your papa wants, I think."

Lulu's brow cleared, and she went on stating briefly the doings of the now closing day in the due order of their succession, Violet's pen nearly keeping pace with her tongue.

"And here we are--Max and Gracie and I--sitting with Mamma Vi in her boudoir, and she is writing for me the words I tell her, and I'm to copy them off to-morrow," was the concluding sentence of this first entry in the little girl's diary.

"Will you hear mine, Mamma Vi, and tell me if it will do?" asked Max; and receiving permission read it aloud.

"It is very good indeed, Max," Violet said; "a good and true report, and well expressed. Now, if you and Lulu choose you may bring your books here and study your lessons for to-morrow, and if you need help from me I shall give it with pleasure."

"But, Mamma Vi, it will be very dull for you to stay up here with us while the rest of the grown-up people are having a nice time together in the parlor," said Max.

"You are very kindly thoughtful, Max," returned Violet, with a pleased look, "but I don't care to go down-stairs for some time yet; Gracie begins to look weary, so I shall help her to bed and then answer your father's letter. Can't you imagine that I may prefer to talk to Mm for a little rather than to any one else, even if only with pen, ink and paper?" she added, with a charming blush and smile.

"Oh, yes, indeed! for I know you're very fond of him. And I don't wonder, for I think he's the very best and handsomest man in the world," cried Max enthusiastically, and both Lulu and Gracie said, "So do I."

"Then we are all agreed so far," laughed Vi. "Come, Gracie, darling, I will be your maid to-night."

"No, no! not my maid, but my dear, sweet, pretty mamma!" returned the little one, throwing her arms around Violet's neck and kissing her with ardent affection.

Lulu had risen to go for her books, but paused to say with a slight effort and heightened color, "Yes, Mamma Vi, you are sweet and pretty, and very, very kind to us."

The child was by no means devoid of gratitude, though her pride and prejudice were hard to conquer. Expressions of gratitude and affection toward their young stepmother were far less frequent from her than from her brother and sister, but were perhaps all the more valued because of their rarity.

"Thank you, dear," returned Violet, happy tears glistening in her eyes; "if I am, it is because I love you for both your own and your father's sake."

She knew his heart always rejoiced in every demonstration of affection from his children toward her, and in the letter she presently began writing she recounted all that had been shown her that evening, and also others carefully treasured up in her memory for that purpose.