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It had been a very enjoyable, but an exciting day; the little ones were weary with their sports, and all the guests, except those who were making Woodburn their temporary home, departed shortly after an early tea, and directly after the evening service of prayer and praise the ladies of the family retired to their rooms. At length Captains Raymond and Keith found themselves alone together upon the veranda.
"Raymond," said the younger man, breaking a pause in their talk, "I have a great favour to ask of you."
"Ah! what is it, Keith? Surely you do not need to be told that it would give me pleasure to do you any favour in my power."
"Ah, I fear you hardly realise how much you are promising. Do you remember the talk we had some years ago at West Point?"
"Yes; but do you remember that the subject was not to be referred to--at least the question you asked not to be repeated--for six years, and that it is now only five?"
"Yes; but one year cannot make much difference, and it is highly probable that I may not be able to get here next year. Am I asking too much in begging you to let me speak now--before I go? Understand I am not asking leave to take her--your beautiful, charming daughter--away from you now, but only to tell the story of my love; for it has come to that, that I am deeply in love with her; only to tell the story and try to win a return of my affection and a promise that, at some future day, I may claim her for my own."
"I would rather not, Keith; she is only a child," Captain Raymond replied in moved tones. "But since you are so urgent, and are so old and valued a friend, I don't like to refuse you. You may speak to her; but with the clear understanding, remember, that I will on no account allow her to marry for some time to come; I do not want to allow it before she is twenty-four or five."
"Thank you," said Keith heartily; "that will be a long time to wait, but she is well worth waiting for. But do you think I have any reason to hope to win her--that she likes me in the very least?"
"I am certain she has no dislike to you; that she feels kindly toward you as a relative and friend of the family; but I tell you candidly that I am well-nigh convinced that she has never thought of looking upon you as a lover; and it is a great happiness to me to be able to believe that she still loves her father better than any other man living."
"Still it is possible you may be mistaken," Keith rejoined after a moment's discouraged silence, "and since I have your permission, I shall try what clever courting will do for me."
A momentary silence followed, broken by Captain Raymond. "I fear I am a foolish, fond father, Keith. I have a very strong friendship for you, and there is no man to whom I would sooner trust my daughter's happiness, but yet I cannot wish you success in winning her; because, being in the army, you would necessarily take her to a distance from her home and me. But, as I have said, you may try, though with the full understanding that not for some years to come will I resign my custody of her. She is my own dear child, and, in my esteem, still much too young to leave my fostering care and assume the duties and responsibilities of wifehood and motherhood."
"I don't blame you, Raymond, and shall not try to persuade her to go against her father's wishes in regard to the time of assuming the cares and duties you speak of," said Keith, heaving an involuntary sigh at thought of the years of bachelorhood still evidently in store for him. "I only wish I were sure of her even after serving seven years, as Jacob did for Rachel."
"Well, I shall not cheat you as Laban did poor Jacob," returned Captain Raymond pleasantly. "By the way, Cousins Dick and Maud made quick work of their courting, and the marriage is to follow very speedily. In most cases such speedy work would be risky enough, but they know all about each other--at least so far as a couple may before the knot is tied which makes them one flesh. I think very highly of both, and hope it is going to be a most happy marriage."
"I hope it may, indeed," said Keith. "Maud will be hurried with her preparations; more so than most ladies would like, I presume."
"Yes; but really it will be just as well, I think, under all the circumstances. To-morrow we are all to spend one half the day at Roselands, the other at Pine Grove; the next day we go to Beechwood; then Thursday we are to have the wedding at The Oaks, and that night, or the next morning, most of the friends from a distance contemplate starting for their homes."
"Yes, I among the rest," said Keith.
"I need hardly say, for surely you cannot doubt it, that I should be glad to have you remain longer with us if Uncle Sam would permit it," said Captain Raymond with cordial hospitality.
"Thank you," returned Keith, "but that is more than I could expect even were there time to ask it, which there is not." Then, rising, "It strikes me that it is high time to be making ready for bed. Good-night, Raymond, my good friend; sweet sleep and pleasant dreams to you," and, with the last word, he held out his hand.
Captain Raymond grasped it heartily, saying, "Good-night, Keith; I wish you the same. May He who never slumbers nor sleeps have us all in his kind care and keeping."
In the principal event of the past day--the engagement of Dick Percival and Maud Dinsmore--and the talk of other days and events which ensued, Mrs. Elsie Travilla's thoughts had been carried back to the happy time of her own betrothal and marriage to the one whom she had so loved as friend, lover, and husband. She seemed to see him again as he was then, to hear his low breathed words of tenderest affection, and her tears fell fast at the thought that never again in this life should their sweet music fall upon her ear.
But well she knew that the separation was only temporary; that they should meet again in the better land, where sickness, sorrow, and death can never enter, meet never more to part.
She was alone in her boudoir, and, wiping away her tears, she knelt down in prayer, asking for strength to bear patiently and submissively the loss that was at times so grievous, and craving God's blessing upon the young relatives so soon to take upon them the marriage vows. Nor did she forget her own daughter so recently united to the man of her choice, or any other of her dear ones. Her heart swelled with joy and gratitude as she thought of them all, healthy, happy, and in comfortable circumstances; her dear old father and his lovely wife still spared to her, and the dear grandchildren who seemed to renew to her the youthful days of her own children, the fathers and mothers of these.
Her thoughts were still full of motherly and grandmotherly cares and joys as she laid her head upon her pillow and passed into the land of dreams.
When she awoke again it was to find the sun shining and the air full of the breath of flowers and the morning songs of the little birds in the tree tops just beyond her windows. She rose and knelt beside her bed, while her heart sent up its song of gratitude and praise, its petitions for grace and strength according to her day, asking the same for her dear ones also, and that she and they might be kept from accident, folly, and sin.
As she made her toilet her thoughts again referred to Maud and her present needs, which could not well be supplied for lack of time.
"Can I not help the dear girl in some way?" she asked herself.
Then a sudden thought came to her and she hastened to a large closet, unlocked a trunk standing there, and took from it a package carefully wrapped in a large towel. Carrying it to a sofa in her boudoir she unpinned it and brought to light a dress of richest white satin, having an overskirt of point lace, and, beside it, a veil of the same costly material.
"As beautiful as ever," she sighed softly to herself. "And the dress would, I think, fit Maud, with little or no alteration. It would be something of a trial to part with them permanently, but surely I can spare them to Maud for a few hours. It would give her pleasure, for she would look lovely in them, and every woman wants to look her very best at her bridal."
But the breakfast bell was ringing, and, putting them carefully back in the trunk and relocking it, she hastened down to the dining room.
There were a number of guests in the house, among them the Emburys of Magnolia Hall, and, naturally, the talk at the table ran principally upon the approaching marriage of Molly's brother, Dr. Percival.
"I am much pleased," she said; "Maud will make a dear little sister for me, and I hope will find me a good and kind one to her. And if Sydney goes along she will be about as good as another. Perhaps Bob and she will get up another match, and then she will be my sister. I wish Bob could have come along with the rest of us."
"Yes, I wish he could," said Mrs. Travilla. "He must take his turn at another time, leaving Dick to look after the patients."
"I think Maud feels a trifle disappointed that she has no time to get up a grand wedding dress," Molly ran on, "but the one she wore as Rosie's bridesmaid is very pretty and becoming. Still it is not white; and I heard her say that she had always been determined to be married in white, if she married at all."
"Oh, well," said Mr. Embury, "the getting married is the chief thing, and, after it is all over, it won't matter much whether it was done in white or some other colour. I presume most folks would think it better to be married even in black than not at all."
"I think that depends very much upon what sort of husband one gets," laughed Zoe. "I got married without any bridal finery; but it was a very fortunate thing for me after all," giving her husband a proudly affectionate glance.
"Yes," he said with a smile, "and I wouldn't exchange the wife I got in that way for the most exquisitely attired bride in Christendom."
Mrs. Travilla kept her own counsel in regard to her plans for Maud's relief, until breakfast and family worship were over; but then invited Molly to her boudoir, brought out the dress and veil she had been looking at, and disclosed her plan for Maud.
Molly was delighted.
"Oh, cousin, how good in you!" she cried. "I think Maud will be wild with joy to be so nicely brought out of her difficulty. For the dress is splendid, and, as you say, hardly out of the present fashion in its make-up. And the veil is just too lovely for anything! Fully as handsome as Rosie's was, and I thought it the very handsomest I had ever seen."
"Then I shall telephone at once to The Oaks," Mrs. Travilla said, and, passing out and down to the hall below, she did so. Calling for Maud, she asked her to come over to Ion at once as she wished to consult her on an important matter requiring prompt decision; but she would not detain her long.
Much wondering, Maud replied that she would be there in a few minutes; the carriage being at the door, and Mr. Dinsmore offering to drive her over immediately.
Mrs. Travilla gave orders to a servant that on Miss Dinsmore's arrival she should be brought directly to her boudoir; Mr. Dinsmore might come also, if he wished; and presently both appeared.
They were warmly greeted by Mrs. Travilla and Mrs. Embury, who was still with her.
"I have something to show you, Maud, and an offer to make," Elsie said with a smile, leading the young girl forward and pointing to the dress and veil disposed about an easy-chair in a way to exhibit them in all their beauty.
"Oh!" cried Maud, "how lovely! how lovely! I never saw them before. Whose were they? Where did they come from, Cousin Elsie?"
"I wore them when--when I was married," Elsie answered in low, sad tones; "they have not been used since, but I will lend them to you, dear Maud, if you would like to use them for your bridal."
"Oh, Cousin Elsie! wouldn't I? How good, how good in you! I am too hurried to buy anything, and that lace is far beyond my purse if I had any amount of time."
"Then I am glad I thought of offering you the use of these. But now I think it would be well for you to try on the dress and see what--if any--alteration it needs. We will go into my dressing room, and I will be your tire-woman," she added, gathering up the dress as she spoke, while Mrs. Embury took the veil.
The three passed into the dressing room, leaving Mr. Dinsmore sole occupant of the boudoir, he taking up a book to amuse himself with while they were gone.
Only a few minutes had passed when they returned, Maud looking very bridelike in the dainty satin and the veil.
"Bravo, cousin! You look every inch a bride, and a lovely one at that!" he exclaimed. "I advise you by all means to accept my sister's offer. You could not do better."
"I could hardly want to do better," said Maud. "Yes, Cousin Elsie, I accept it with a world of thanks. Oh, I never dreamed of having anything so lovely to wear for my bridal dress! And I need not care that the finery does not really belong to me, for you know the old saying:
"'Something borrowed, Something blue, Something old and Something new.'
I'll borrow these, put a bow of blue ribbon on my under waist, and--ah! the dress and this lovely lace, veil and all, will be enough of something old!" she concluded with a light, gleeful laugh.
"Dear child, don't be superstitious!" Mrs. Travilla said with a rather sad sort of smile, putting an arm round her and giving her a tender kiss. "I hope and trust you will be very happy with dear Dick, for he is a noble fellow; but it will depend more upon yourself--upon your being a true, good, and loving wife--than on what you wear when you give yourself to him, or at any other time."
"Yes, I know, dear cousin," said Maud, returning the caress; "that was only my jest. I wouldn't be afraid to marry Dick in any kind of dress, or willing to marry anybody else in any kind of one. I didn't know that I was in love with him till he proposed, but now I feel that it would be impossible to love anybody else; almost impossible to live without him and his love."
"I am glad, very glad to hear it," Elsie said, "and I hope and expect that you will make a very happy couple--sharing each other's cares, toils, and troubles, as well as the joys and blessings of life."
"Yes, cousin dear; if we don't it shall not be my fault," Maud returned with emotion. "I do really want to be everything to Dick and make his life as bright and as happy as I can; and I know that is just how he feels toward me, dear fellow!"
"That's right, Maud," said Mr. Dinsmore heartily, "and I think you and Dick have every prospect of making a happy couple. Well," rising as he spoke, "I am going down to have a little chat with father and mother, then must hasten home to attend to some matters about work to be done on the plantation. I suppose you and your package will be ready to be taken along, Maud?"
"Yes; if Cousin Elsie is willing to trust the handsome thing in my care now," Maud replied, looking inquiringly at Mrs. Travilla.
"Quite willing; for I know you will be careful of them," Mrs. Travilla replied with her own sweet smile. "I will fold them up and get the package ready while you resume the dress in which you came," she added as her brother left the room.
"Maud," said Mrs. Embury, "if I were you I should keep this thing a secret from everybody but your sister and Cousin Sue, until your appearance in all the glory of this satin and lace at the time of the marriage ceremony. Think of the surprise and pleasure your unexpected grandeur in it will cause."
"But what if the stunning surprise should have a bad effect upon somebody," laughed Maud. "I think I'll risk it, however. Oh, Cousin Elsie! I do not know how to thank you for this great kindness!" she added with tears of joy and gratitude in her eyes.
"Then don't try, Maud, dear," Mrs. Travilla returned with a bright, sweet look into the young girl's face. "The happiness I can see that it gives you is even a greater reward than the trifling kindness deserves. And how fortunate it is that the dress fits so perfectly--as if it had just been made for you."
A few moments later Maud and Mr. Dinsmore were on their way back to The Oaks. They found Mrs. Sue Dinsmore and Sydney on the veranda, waiting in eager curiosity to learn on what business Maud had been wanted at Ion.
"To receive and bring home this package," returned Maud gaily to their excited questioning. "Come with me up to my room, and I will display to you its contents. You come, too, Cousin Horace, that you may witness their surprise and dismay. There, don't say you haven't time, for it needn't take you five minutes."
"Well, perhaps I can spare that many," he returned laughingly, following the three as they tripped up the stairway.
Maud made quick work of opening the package and displaying its contents to their view.
"Oh, oh, how beautiful! how lovely! perfectly exquisite!" were the excited exclamations of Mrs. Dinsmore and Sydney. "Whose are they? where did they come from?"
"They are Cousin Elsie's wedding dress and veil," replied Maud. "And she lends them to me to be married in. But it is to be a secret. Nobody is to know anything about it till I appear with them on--when I am to add the name of Percival to those I already bear," she concluded in a tone that seemed to indicate that she was jesting to hide an inclination to indulge in tears.
"I highly approve," said Mrs. Dinsmore. "The things--dress and veil--are beautiful, and will make our bride look bewitchingly lovely; I strongly approve, too, of the plan of keeping the matter a close secret until the bride enters the room on the bridegroom's arm. But does the dress fit you, Maud?"
"Perfectly; as if it had just been made for me!" exclaimed Maud in tones of delight. "Oh, I do feel so glad, and so thankful to dear Cousin Elsie! I fear it must be somewhat trying to her feelings to see me wear it; but she is not one to hesitate for that when she has an opportunity to do a kindness. She is a good Christian if ever there was one."
"Indeed she is!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinsmore and Sydney in a breath.
Mr. Dinsmore had already left the room.
"But now, girls, we must bestir ourselves and make ready for the day," added Mrs. Dinsmore. "You know the morning is to be spent by the whole connection at Pinegrove, and the afternoon at Roselands. It won't take you long to get ready, will it?"
"No, only a few minutes," both answered, and she hurried away to complete her own preparations.
"Oh, Maud, dear!" said Sydney, taking up the bridal veil and gazing admiringly upon it, "I am so glad Cousin Elsie has lent you this bit of loveliness, and that beautiful dress to be married in. You will look just bewitching; and how proud Dick will be of his bride. I wish he was here now to see these charming things. Do you mean to tell him about them and show them to him beforehand?"
"I don't know; I really haven't thought about it yet," Maud answered. "But we must make haste, now, and not keep Cousin Horace and Sue waiting."
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