Chapter IX.
 
    "The sober comfort, all the peace which springs
     From the large aggregate of little things,
     On these small cares of--daughter--wife--or friend,
     The almost sacred joys of home depend."
                                 --Hannah More.

Mrs. Elsie Travilla and her family were greatly beloved in their own neighborhood, and as there had been no opportunity hitherto for showing attention to the three young married ladies, or any one of them, there was quite an influx of callers for a week or two after the return to Ion, and these calls were presently succeeded by a round of dinner and evening parties given in their honor.

The death of Mr. Love having occurred within the year, Zoe, of course, declined all such invitations; and it was only occasionally that Edward could be persuaded to go without her.

Violet accepted when it would have been deemed impolite or unkind to decline, but scarcely yet more than a bride, she felt a trifle forlorn going into society without her husband, and much preferred the quiet and seclusion of home.

This was to the advantage of the children, Max and Lulu thereby gaining much assistance with their evening studies, Gracie a great deal of motherly care and petting.

So the duty of representing the family at these social gatherings devolved largely upon Lester and Elsie Leland, who laughingly declared themselves martyrs to the social reputation of the family.

"A very nice way to be martyred, I think," said Rosie. "I only wish they'd have the politeness to include me in their invitations."

"It would do you little good," remarked Mr. Dinsmore, "since you would not be allowed to accept."

"Are you quite sure, grandpa, that mamma wouldn't allow it?" she asked, with an arch look up into his face.

"Quite; since she never allows anything which I do not approve."

"Well," Rosie said, seating herself upon his knee and putting an arm around his neck, "I believe it isn't worth while to fret about it, since, as I'm not invited, I couldn't go any how."

"A sensible conclusion," he returned laughingly. "Fretting is an unprofitable business at any time."

"Ordinarily I should be very much of Rosie's opinion," Zoe said aside to her husband, "for I was always fond of parties; but of course, just now I couldn't take the least pleasure in them," and she hastily brushed away a tear.

"No, love, I'm sure you could not," he said, tenderly clasping the little hand she had laid in his. "But the truest, purest happiness is found at home. And," he added with a smile, "it is quite to the advantage of your plans for study that society can claim so little of your time and strength at present. You are doing so nicely that I am very proud of my pupil."

She flushed with pleasure, but with a roguish smile, and shaking her finger warningly at him, "Take care," she said, "don't let the husband be lost in the tutor, or I shall----"

"What? go over to grandpa?"

"Oh, no, no!" she cried, snatching her hand from his grasp, and lifting both in mimic horror.

"What are you two chatting so cosily about in that far-off corner?" asked Mrs. Leland's cheery voice from the midst of the larger group at the farther side of the room.

"It's merely a little private confab between man and wife, in which the public can have no interest," returned Edward.

"Quite a mistake, so far as this part of the public is concerned," said his mother, her soft brown eyes gazing lovingly upon them, "but we won't pry into your secrets, only invite you to join our circle when you have finished your private chat."

For some weeks all went well with our friends at Ion; the family machinery worked smoothly, with no jarring or jostling; everybody in good humor and behaving kindly toward everybody else.

Max and Lulu made good progress in their studies, and were able to give a good report of each day in their diaries, which, of their own accord, they brought each evening to Violet for her inspection.

She reminded them that they were not required to do so; but they answered that they preferred it; they wanted to know if she thought they were representing themselves as better than they really were.

She was glad to be able to answer with truth that she did not think so, and that she could report them to their father as worthy of all praise in regard to both conduct and diligence in study.

"You have both been so pleasant tempered," she remarked in conclusion, "Lulu neither grumbling nor so much as looking sour over her tasks, or even the sewing lessons, which I know are particularly distasteful to her. Dear child, you have been very good, and I know it will rejoice your father's heart to hear it," she added, kissing the little girl's cheek.

Lulu's face flushed and her eyes shone, Mrs. Scrimp had been always ready to blame, never to praise, but with Mamma Vi it was just the other way. She was almost blind to faults, but particularly keen-sighted where virtues were concerned.

Violet turned toward Max to find him regarding her with wistful, longing looks.

"Well, what is it, Max, my dear boy?" she asked, half laughingly.

"Don't be partial, Mamma Vi," he answered. "I do believe a boy likes a kiss from a sweet, pretty lady that he has a right to care for, quite as well as a girl does."

"Then come and get it," she said, offering her lips. "Max, you may feel as free always to ask for it as if I were your own mother or sister."

Edward had, perhaps, the most trying pupil of all; she had done well at first, but as the novelty of the undertaking wore off, lost her interest, and now found so many excuses for not being prepared at the proper time for recitation; and if he so much as looked grave over the failure, was so hurt, and felt herself so ill-used, that an extra amount of coaxing and petting became necessary to restore her to cheerfulness and good humor.

He was growing very weary of it all, and at times felt tempted to cease trying to improve the mind of his little wife; but no, he could not do that if he would have her a fit companion for him intellectually as well as in other respects, for though she had naturally a fine mind, its cultivation had been sadly neglected.

He opened his heart to his mother on the subject, entreating her advice and assistance, but without finding fault with Zoe (Elsie would hardly have listened for a moment to that), and she comforted him with words of encouragement to persevere in his own efforts, and promises to aid him in every way in her power.

In pursuance of that object she put in Zoe's way, and recommended to her notice, books that would be likely to interest and at the same time instruct her. Also considered her needs, as well as those of her own pupils, in making her selections for the afternoon readings in the school-room.

There was much gained by the child wife in these ways, and also from the conversation of the highly educated and intelligent older members of the family, of which she had now become a part.

She was very desirous to become their equal in these respects, especially for Edward's sake, but she was so much used to self-indulgence, so unaccustomed to self-control, that her good resolutions were made only to be broken till she herself was nearly ready to give up in despair.

Elsie was alone in her own apartments one afternoon, an hour or more after dismissing her pupils to their play, when Zoe came to her with flushed cheeks, quivering lips, and eyes full of tears.

"What is wrong with you, my dear little daughter?" Elsie asked in tender, motherly tones, as she looked up into the troubled face.

"O mamma, I don't know what to do! I wish you could help me!" cried Zoe, dropping upon her knees at Elsie's feet, and hiding her face on her lap, the tears falling fast now, mingled with sobs.

"Only tell me what is wrong, dear, and you shall have all the help I can give," Elsie said, smoothing the weeper's fair hair with soft, caressing hand.

"Edward is vexed with me," sobbed Zoe. "I know he is, though he didn't say a word; but he looked so grave, and walked away without speaking."

"Perhaps he was not vexed with you, dear; it may have been merely that he was deep in thought about something that had no connection with the little wife, whom, as I very well know, he loves very dearly."

"No, mamma, it wasn't that; he had come in to hear me recite, and I was so interested in my fancy work that I'd forgotten to watch the time and hadn't looked at the lessons. So I told him, and said I was sorry I wasn't ready for him, and he didn't answer a word, but just looked at me as grave as a judge, and turned round and walked out of the room."

"Surely, my dear Zoe, Edward does not insist upon his little wife learning lessons whether she is willing or not?" Elsie said inquiringly, and with a gentle caress.

"Oh, no, no, mamma! it has been my own choice, and I've no wish to give it up; but somehow there is always something interfering with my studying. Somebody calls, or I'm inclined for a ride, a drive or a walk, or I get engaged in sewing or fancy work, or my music, or a story-book that's too interesting to lay down till I reach the end. Mamma, I often wonder how it is that you find time for all these things and many others beside."

"Shall I tell you the secret of managing it, dear?" Elsie asked, with an affectionate look and smile into the tear-stained face now uplifted to hers.

Zoe gave an eager assent, and Elsie went on:

"It lies in doing things systematically, always putting duties first, giving to each its set time, and letting the pleasures come in afterward. If I were you, my dear, I should have a regular study hour, putting it early in the day, before callers begin to come, and I should not allow it to be lightly interfered with; no stitch should be taken in fancy work, no novel opened, no story paper glanced at, until each lesson for the day was fully prepared."

Zoe's face had brightened very much as she listened.

"O mamma, I see that that is just the way to do it!" she cried, clapping her hands with glee, "and I'll begin at once. I'll think over all the daily duties and make out a regular programme, and----"

"Strive earnestly to carry it out, you would say, yet not in your own strength alone," Elsie added, as Zoe paused, leaving her sentence unfinished.

"Yes, mamma," she responded in a more serious tone. "And now, I'll run back to my room and try to be ready for Edward when he comes in again."

She set herself to her tasks with unwonted determination to give her whole mind to them. Edward came in at length, and was greeted with a bright look and the announcement in a tone of great satisfaction, "I'm quite ready for you now."

"I've been thinking we might perhaps as well give it up, Zoe," he answered gravely, "at least for the present, until you are done working upon those very fascinating Christmas things."

"Oh no, don't!" she said, flushing and looking ready to cry, "try me a little longer, Ned; I've been talking with mamma, and I'm really going to turn over a new leaf and do just as she advises."

"Ah, if you have taken mamma into your counsels there is some hope," he said in a tone of hearty approval. "But we will have to put off the recitations until after tea. I must drive over to the Oaks to see Uncle Horace about a business matter, and I just came up to ask you to go along."

"Oh, I'll be happy to!" she cried joyously, pushing the books aside and starting to her feet, "and it won't take me a minute to don hat and cloak."

He caught her in his arms as she was rushing past him, and kissing her on cheek and lips, asked in tender tones, "Have I made you unhappy this afternoon, my love, my darling?"

"Yes, for a little while; but I deserved it, Ned, and I don't mind it now if--if only you love your foolish, careless little wife as well as ever in spite of all her faults."

"I love you dearly, dearly, my one own peculiar treasure," he responded, with another caress of ardent affection, as he let her go.

She was gay and happy as a bird during their drive, and full of enthusiasm in regard to her new plan, explaining it to Edward, and asking his advice about the best division of her time, how much should be allotted to this duty and how much to that.

"I mean to rise earlier," she said, "and if I can't get time in that way for all I want to do, I'll shorten my rides and walks."

"No," he said, "I'm not going to have your health sacrificed even to mental improvement; and certainly not to fancy work; I shall insist on plenty of rest and sleep and abundance of exercise in the open air for the dear little woman I have taken charge of."

"Then, sir, you're not to be cross if the studies are not attended to."

"They will be if put before novels, fancy work, and other equally unnecessary employments."

"Well, I've said they shall be in future. O Ned," and she nestled closer to his side, looking up lovingly into his face, "it's ever so nice to have somebody to take care of me and love me as you do! How could I ever do without papa, who always petted me so, if I hadn't you?"

"I hope you may never find out. I hope I may be spared to take care of you, as long as you need me, little wife," he said, pressing her closer to his side.

Rosie met them in the hall on their return to Ion.

"It's most tea time, Zoe," she said; "I think you'll not have any too much time for changing your dress."

"Then I must needs make haste," returned Zoe, tripping up the stairs.

Edward, who was taking off his overcoat, turned a rather surprised, inquiring glance upon his little sister.

"Oh, yes," she said laughingly, "I had a reason for hurrying her away, because I want to tell you something. Cousin Ronald Lilburn is coming. Maybe he will be here by to-morrow. Mamma heard he wasn't well, and she wrote and invited him to come and spend the winter with us, and she's just had a letter saying he will come. Aren't you glad, Ned?"

"I'm very well pleased, Rosie, but why shouldn't Zoe have heard your announcement?"

"Because I wanted to warn you first not to tell her or the Raymonds something (you know what) that must be kept secret at first, if we want to have some fun."

"Oh, yes!" he said, with a good-humored laugh. "Well, I think you may trust me not to tell. But how about all the others? Walter, especially?"

"Oh, he doesn't remember anything about it; and grandpa and mamma and all the rest have promised not to tell."

"And you are quite sure Rosie may be trusted not to let the secret slip out unintentionally?" he asked, pinching her round rosy cheek.

"I hope so," she said, laughing and running away.

Opening the library door and seeing Lulu there curled up in the corner of a sofa with a book, she stepped in, shutting the door behind her.

Lulu looked up.

"Shall I disturb you if I talk?" asked Rose.

"I'm ready to listen," answered Lulu, half closing her book. "What have you to say?"

"Oh, that Cousin Ronald Lilburn is coming, and I'm ever so glad, as you would be, too, if you knew him."

"I never heard of him," said Lulu. "Is he a boy? is he older than Max?"

"I should think so!" cried Rosie, with a merry laugh. "He has grown-up sons, and he looks a good deal older than grandpa."

"Pooh! then why should I care about his coming!" exclaimed Lulu, in a tone of mingled impatience and contempt.

"Why, because he's very nice and kind to us children, and tells us the loveliest stories about the brownies in Scotland and about Bruce and Wallace and the black Douglass and Robin Hood and his merry men, and--oh, I can't tell you what all!"

"Oh, that must be ever so nice!" cried Lulu, now as much pleased and interested in the news of the expected arrival as Rosie could desire.