Chapter Twenty-Fifth.
 
    "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
                                          --GAL. vi. 7.

Elsie and her children returned home healthful and happy, with scarce any but pleasing recollections of the months that had just passed.

Not so with Mrs. Conly and Virginia. They seemed soured and disappointed; nothing had gone right with them; their finery was all spoiled, and they were worn out--with the journey they said, but in reality far more by late hours and dissipation of one sort and another.

The flirtation with Captain Brice had not ended in anything serious--except the establishing of a character for coquetry for Virginia--nor had several others which followed in quick succession.

The girl had much ado to conceal her chagrin; she had started out with bright hopes of securing a brilliant match, and now, though not yet twenty, began to be haunted with the terrible, boding fear of old maidenhood.

She confided her trouble to Isadore one day, when a fit of extreme depression had made her unusually communicative.

Isa could scarce forbear smiling, but checked the inclination.

"It is much too soon to despair, Virgy," she said; "but indeed, I do not think the prospect of living single need make one wretched."

"Perhaps not you, who are an heiress; but it's another thing for poor, penniless me."

Isadore acknowledged that that probably did make a difference.

"But," she added, "I hope neither of us will ever be so silly as to marry for money. I think it must be dreadful to live in such close connection with a man you do not love, even if he is rolling in wealth; but suppose he loses his money directly? There you are, tied to him for life without even riches to compensate you for your loss of liberty."

"Dear me, Isa, how tiresome! Where's the use of supposing he's going to lose his money?"

"Because it's something not at all unlikely to happen; riches do take wings and fly away. I do not feel certain that Aunt Delaford's money will ever come to me, or that, if it does, I may not lose it. So I intend to prepare to support myself if it should ever become necessary."

"How?"

"I intend to take up the English branches again, also the higher mathematics, and make myself thorough in them (which I am far from being now; they do not teach them thoroughly at the convent), so that I may be able to command a good position as a teacher.

"And let me advise you to do the same."

"Indeed, I've no fancy for such hard work," sneered Virginia. "I'd rather trust to luck. I'll be pretty sure to be taken care of somehow."

"I should think if any one might feel justified in doing that it would be Cousin Elsie," said Isadore; "but Uncle Horace educated her in a way to make her quite capable of earning her own living, and she is doing the same by every one of her children."

"Such nonsense!" muttered Virginia.

"Such prudence and forethought, I should say," laughed her sister.

A few days after this Isadore was calling at Ion and in the course of conversation Mrs. Travilla remarked, with concern, "Virginia looks really unhappy of late. Is her trouble anything it would be in my power to relieve?"

"No; unless she would listen to good counsel from you. It is really nothing serious; and yet I suppose it seems so to her. I'm almost ashamed to tell you, cousin, but as far as I can learn it is nothing in the world but the fear of old-maidenhood," Isa answered, half laughing.

Elsie smiled.

"Tell her from me that there is plenty of time yet. She is two or three years younger than I was when I married, and," she added with a bright, happy look, "I have never thought I lost anything by waiting."

"I'm sure you didn't, mamma," said Violet, who was present. "But how very odd of Virgy to trouble about that! I'm glad people don't have to marry, because I shall never, never be willing to leave my dear home, and my father and mother. Especially not to live with some stranger."

"I hope it may be some years before you change your mind in regard to that," her mother responded with a loving look.

Elsie was not bringing up her daughters to consider marriage the chief end of woman; she had, indeed, said scarcely anything on the subject till her eldest was of an age to begin to mix a little in general society; then she talked quietly and seriously to them of the duties and responsibilities of the married state and the vast importance of making a wise choice in selecting a partner for life.

In their childhood she had never allowed them to be teased about beaux. She could not prevent their hearing, occasionally, something of the kind, but she did her best to counteract the evil influence, and had succeeded so well in that, and in making home a delight, that her children one and all, shunned the thought of leaving it, and her girls were as easy and free from self-consciousness in the society of gentlemen as in that of ladies; never bold or forward; there was nothing in their manner that could give the slightest encouragement to undue familiarity.

And then both she and their father had so entwined themselves about the hearts of their offspring, that all shared the feeling expressed by Violet, and truly believed that nothing less than death could ever separate them from these beloved parents.

There was a good deal to bring the subject of marriage prominently before their minds just at present, for the event of the winter was the bringing home of a wife by their Uncle Horace, and "Aunt Rosie" was to be married in the ensuing spring.

The approaching Centennial was another topic of absorbing interest.

That they might reap the full benefit of the great Exhibition, they went North earlier than usual, the middle of May finding them in quiet occupancy of a large, handsome, elegantly furnished mansion in the vicinity of the Park.

Here they kept open house, entertaining a large circle of relatives and friends drawn thither, by a desire to see this great world's fair.

The Dalys were with them, husband and wife each in the same capacity as at Ion, which left Mr. and Mrs. Travilla free to come and go as they wished, either with or without their children.

They kept their own carriages and horses and when at home drove almost daily to the Exhibition.

Going there with parents and tutor, and being able to devote so much time to it, the young people gathered a great store of general information.

Poor Molly's inability to walk, shut her out from several of the buildings, but she gave the more time and careful study to those whose contents were brought within her reach by the rolling chairs.

Her cousins gave her glowing descriptions of the treasures of the Art building, Horticultural Hall, Women's Department, etc., and sincerely sympathized with her in her deprivation of the pleasure of examining them for herself.

But Molly was learning submission and contentment with her lot, and would smilingly reply that she considered herself highly favored in being able to see so much, since there were millions of people even in our own land, who could not visit the Exhibition at all.

One morning, early in the season, when as yet the crowd was not very great, the whole family had gone in a body to Machinery Hall to see the Corliss engine.

They were standing near it, silently gazing, when a voice was heard in the rear.

"Ah, ha! ah, ha! um h'm; ah, ha! what think ye o' that now, my lads? is it worth looking at?"

"That it is, sir!" responded a younger voice in manly tones, full of admiration, while at the same instant, Elsie turned quickly round with the exclamation, "Cousin Ronald!"

"Cousin Elsie," he responded, as hand grasped hand in cordial greeting.

"I'm so glad to see you!" she said. "But why did you not let us know you were coming? Did you not receive my invitation?"

"No, I did not, cousin, and thought to give you a surprise. Ah, Travilla, the sight of your pleasant face does one good like a medicine.

"And these bonny lads and lasses; can they be the little bairns of eight years ago? How they have grown and increased in number too?" he said, glancing around the little circle.

He shook hands with each, then introduced his sons, two tall, well built, comely young men, aged respectively twenty and twenty-two, whom he had brought with him over the sea.

Malcom was the name of the eldest, the other he called Hugh.

They had arrived in Philadelphia only the day before, and were putting up at the Continental.

"That will not do at all, Cousin Ronald," Elsie said when told this. "You must all come immediately to us, and make our house your home as long as you stay."

Mr. Travilla seconded her invitation, and after some urging, it was accepted.

It proved an agreeable arrangement for all concerned. "Cousin Ronald" was the same genial companion that he had been eight years before, and the two lads were worthy of their sire, intelligent and well-informed, frank, simple hearted and true.

The young people made acquaintance very rapidly. The Exposition was a theme of great and common interest, discussed at every meal, and on the days when they stayed at home to rest; for all found it necessary to do so occasionally, while some of the ladies and little ones could scarcely endure the fatigue of attending two days in succession.

Then through the months of July and August, they made excursions to various points of interest, spending usually several days at each; sometimes a week or two.

In this way they visited Niagara Falls, Lakes Ontario, George and Champlain, the White Mountains, and different seaside resorts.

At one of these last, they met Lester Leland again. The Travillas had not seen him for nearly a year, but had heard of his welfare through the Lelands of Fairview.

All seemed pleased to renew the old familiar intercourse; an easy matter, as they were staying at the same hotel.

Lester was introduced to the Scotch cousins, as an old friend of the family.

Mr. Lilburn and he exchanged a hearty greeting and chatted together very amicably, but Malcom and Hugh were only distantly polite to the newcomer and eyed him askance, jealous of the favor shown him by their young lady cousins, whose sweet society they would have been glad to monopolize.

But this they soon found was impossible even could they have banished Leland; for Herbert Carrington, Philip Ross, Dick Percival and his friends, and several others soon appeared upon the scene.

Elsie was now an acknowledged young lady; Violet in her own estimation and that of her parents', still a mere child; but her height, her graceful carriage and unaffected ease of manner--which last was the combined result of native refinement and constant association with the highly polished and educated, united to childlike simplicity of character and utter absence of self-consciousness--often led strangers into the mistake of supposing her several years older than she really was.

Her beauty, too, and her genius for music and painting added to her attractiveness, so that altogether, the gentlemen were quite as ready to pay court to her as to her sister, and had she been disposed to receive their attentions, or to push herself forward in the least, her parents would have found it difficult to prevent her entering society earlier than was for her good.

But like her mother before her, Vi was in no haste to assume the duties and responsibilities of womanhood. Only fifteen she was

    "Standing with reluctant feet
     Where the brook and river meet,
     Womanhood and childhood fleet."

Hugh Lilburn and Herbert Carrington both regarded her with covetous eyes, and both asked permission of her father to pay their addresses, but received the same answer;--that she was too young yet to be approached on that subject.

"Well, Mr. Travilla, if you say that to every one, as no doubt you do, I'm willing to wait," said Herbert going off tolerably contented.

But Hugh, reddening with the sudden recollection that Violet was an heiress, and his portion a very moderate one, stammered out something about hoping he was not mistaken for a fortune hunter, and that he would make no effort to win her until he was in circumstances to do so with propriety.

"My dear fellow," said Mr. Travilla, "do not for a moment imagine that has anything to do with my refusal. I do not care to find rich husbands for my daughters, and were Violet of proper age, should have but one objection to you as a suitor; that you would be likely to carry her far away from us."

"No, no, sir, I wouldn't!" exclaimed the lad warmly. "I like America, and think I shall settle here. And sir, I thank you most heartily for your kind words. But, as I've said, I won't ask again till I can do so with propriety."

Leland, too, admired Violet extremely, and loved her with brotherly affection; but it was Elsie who had won his heart.

But he had never whispered a word of this to her, or to any human creature, for he was both poor and proud, and had firmly resolved not to seek her hand until his art should bring him fame and fortune to lay at her feet.

Similar considerations alone held Malcom Lilburn back, and each was tortured with the fear that the other would prove a successful rival.

Philip Ross, too, was waiting to grow rich, but feared no rival in the meantime; so satisfied was he that no one could be so attractive to Elsie as himself.

"She's waiting for me," he said to his mother, "and she will wait. She's just friendly and kind to those other fellows, but it's plain she doesn't care a pin for any of them."

"I'm not so sure of that, Phil," returned Mrs. Ross; "some one may cut you out. Have you spoken to her yet? Is there a regular engagement between you?"

"Oh, no! but we understand each other; always have since we were mere babies."

Mrs. Ross and her daughters had accompanied Philip to the shore, and it pleased Lucy greatly that they had been able to obtain rooms in the same house with their old friends, the Travillas.

Mr. Hogg was of the party also, and Elsie and Violet had now an opportunity to judge of the happiness of Gertrude's married life.

They were not greatly impressed with it; husband and wife seemed to have few interests in common, and to be rather bored with each other's society.

Mr. Hogg had a fine equipage, and drove out a great deal, sometimes with his wife, sometimes without; both dressed handsomely and spent money lavishly; but he did not look happy, and Gertrude, when off her guard, wore a discontented, care-worn expression.

Mrs. Ross was full of cares and anxieties, and one day she unburdened her heart to her childhood's friend.

They were sitting alone together on the veranda upon which Mrs. Travilla's room opened, waiting for the summons to the tea-table.

"I have no peace of my life, Elsie," Lucy said fretfully; "one can't help sympathizing with one's children, and my girls don't seem happy like yours.

"Kate's lively and pleasant enough in company, but at home she's dull and spiritless; and though Gertrude has made what is considered an excellent match, she doesn't seem to enjoy life; she's easily fretted, and wants change and excitement all the time."

"Perhaps matters may improve with her," Elsie said, longing to comfort Lucy. "Some couples have to learn to accommodate themselves to each other."

"Well, I hope it may be so," Lucy responded, sighing as though the hope were faint indeed.

"And Kate may grow happier, too; dear Lucy, if you could only lead her to Christ, I am sure she would," Elsie went on low and tenderly.

Mrs. Ross shook her head, tears trembling in her eyes.

"How can I? I have not found him myself yet. Ah, Elsie, I wish I'd begun as you did. You have some comfort in your children; I've none in mine.

"That is," she added, hastily correcting herself, "not as much as I ought to have, except in Phil; he's doing well; yet even he's not half so thoughtful and affectionate toward his father and mother as your boys are. But then of course he's of a different disposition."

"Your younger boys seem fine lads," Elsie said; "and Sophie has a winning way."

Lucy looked pleased, then sighed, "They are nice children, but so wilful; and the boys so venturesome. I've no peace when they are out of my sight, lest they should be in some danger."