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The weather the next morning proved all that could be desired, and the shopping expedition a grand success--everybody being not only satisfied but charmed with the results.
Mrs. Travilla and Rosie returned to Ion that evening, but scarcely a day passed while the preparations for the wedding were going on, without more or less interchange of visits among the young people of that place, Woodburn, Fairview, and the Oaks and Pinegrove.
Naturally the deepest interest was felt and shown by the ladies and young girls, but brothers and cousins were by no means indifferent. Harold and Herbert, though well pleased with the idea of taking their friend Croly into the family, were loath to part with Rosie, their youngest and only single sister, the only one now left in the Ion family. She had always been somewhat of a pet with them, and during these last weeks of her life with them they treated her as one for whom they could not do enough; while her manner toward them showed full appreciation of their kindness and affection. Much of her time and thoughts was necessarily taken up with the preparations for her approaching marriage; but in leisure moments she had many sad thoughts in regard to the coming separation from home and all there whom she so loved; especially the tender mother who had been, until within a few months, her dearest earthly friend.
"Mamma dear, dearest mamma, I can hardly endure the thought of leaving you," she sighed one day with starting tears, as they sat together over their needlework in Mrs. Travilla's dressing room.
They were quite alone at the moment, Zoe, who had been with them, having just gone out with her little ones.
"No one can ever take your place in my heart or home," continued Rosie with almost a sob, "and oh, how I shall miss you--your love, your sweet motherly counsels, your tender sympathy in all my joys and sorrows--oh, mamma, mamma! at times the very thought of it all is almost unendurable, and I am tempted to say to Will that he may come to me if he likes, but that I can never tear myself away from my dear home and the precious mother who has been everything to me since I first drew the breath of life!" and dropping her work she knelt at her mother's feet, lifting to hers eyes full of tears.
"Dear child," her mother responded in tones tremulous with emotion, and bending down to press a kiss on the quivering lips, "it gives me a sad and sore heart to think of it. And yet, daughter dear, we may hope to see each other very often--to spend weeks and months of every year in each other's society, and when we are apart to exchange letters daily; and best of all, to be in a few brief years together in the better land, never to part again."
"Ah, mamma dear, that last seems a long look ahead. At least--oh, mamma, I cannot bear the thought of--of death coming between us; and yet we can hardly hope to go together."
"No, daughter dear, but time is short, as you will realize when you have seen as many years in this world as I have; and after it will come the never-ending ages of eternity--eternity, which we are hoping to spend with our dear ones in the immediate presence of our Redeemer--united, never to part again."
"Yes, mamma; oh, that is indeed a sweet thought. But," she added with a heavy sigh, "sometimes I fear I may miss heaven; I seem so far, so very far from fit for its employments and its joys--so often indulging in wrong thoughts and feelings--so taken up with earthly cares and interests."
"Dear daughter, look to God for help to fight against your sinful nature," replied her mother in moved tones. "He says 'In me is thine help'; 'He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.' 'They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.' 'Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.' These are some of his gracious promises."
"Ah, mamma, but the question with me is, is he really my God? am I his?--truly one of his redeemed ones, his adopted children? How shall I make sure of that?"
"By accepting his conditions and believing his word, 'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.' 'Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.' Come now and accept his offered salvation, whether you have done so before or not; come, believing his word; 'I will in no wise cast out,' 'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.' 'Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength; even to him shall all men come.' 'In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.' 'The just shall live by faith,' and faith is the gift of God, as we are told again and again in his Holy Word; a gift that he will grant to all who ask it of him."
There was a sound of approaching footsteps and Rosie resumed her seat, taking up the work she had dropped. They recognised the step as Harold's, and the next moment he stood in the open doorway.
"Mamma," he said, "I am going over to Roselands and should like to take you along. You have not seen that youngest Conly yet, and Arthur considers Marian now quite well enough for a call from you. I know, too, that she is wanting to see you."
"And I to see her, the dear girl," responded his mother, laying aside her work. "Come in and sit down while I don my bonnet and mantle."
"Let me get them out for you, mamma," said Rosie, dropping her embroidery and hastening to do so.
"I should include you in the invitation, Rosie," said Harold, "but we think it safer not to let Marian have the excitement of many callers until she gains more strength."
"I thought she was doing finely," returned Rosie, bringing her mother's mantle and putting it about her with loving care.
"So she is," replied Harold with a light laugh; "but we cannot be too careful of her to satisfy her doting husband, and though eager to exhibit her new treasure to all her friends and relatives, she is entirely submissive to his will in the matter."
"Oh, well, I can wait," laughed Rosie. "Give her my love, mamma, and tell her I am not staying away from any indifference to her or the little newcomer."
"No fear that she would ever suspect you of that, Rosie dear," her mother said, with a slight smile; "but I will assure her of your interest in both herself and baby boy. Now good-bye till my return, which I presume will be in the course of an hour or two."
"Don't hurry home on my account, mamma dear," returned Rosie. "I shall not be lonely. I have letters to write, and that will make the time pass quickly."
"It is a lovely day and the short drive with my son will be very enjoyable," Mrs. Travilla remarked, as Harold handed her into the vehicle.
"To us both, I hope, mother," he returned, giving her an affectionate look and smile. "Yours is to me the best company in the world. The roads are in fine condition," he added as he took up the reins and they started down the avenue, "the fields and gardens along the way also, and the air full of the fragrance of flower and shrub. Oh, on such a morning as this it seems a joy just to be alive and well!"
"Yes," she responded, "oh, what cause for gratitude to the Giver of all good that you and I, and all our nearest and dearest in this world, are alive and well."
"Yes, mother; attendance upon the sick and suffering has given me a higher appreciation of the greatness of the blessing of sound health than I had in earlier days. It is saddening to witness suffering from accident and disease, but a great privilege to be able in many cases to relieve it. That last makes me thankful that I was led to choose the medical profession."
"And you have often an opportunity to minister to souls as well as bodies; one which I hope you do not neglect."
"I am afraid I have sometimes neglected it, mother," he acknowledged with a sigh, "and at others performed it in a very halting and imperfect way. But as you know--for I could not keep from you such gladness as the knowledge of that fact brought me--I have been privileged to win some souls to Christ--smooth some dying pillows--and to lead some recovering ones to devote their spared lives and restored health to the service of the Master--the Physician of souls--in whose footsteps I ardently desire to tread."
"I know it, my dear son, and it has filled me with joy and gratitude for you, for them, and for myself--that I am the mother of one whom God has so honoured and blessed."
Then she inquired about the condition and needs of some of his poorer patients; for she made it her business to provide for their necessities and to furnish many a little luxury that helped on convalescence or smoothed the passage to the grave.
As they drove up the avenue at Roselands Dr. Conly came out upon the veranda, his face beaming with smiles.
"Ah, Cousin Elsie," he said as he assisted her to alight, "this is kind. Marian has been looking forward to your visit with longing, both to see you and to exhibit to your appreciative eyes the little one who seems to her the greatest and loveliest darling the world ever saw."
"Ah, I can understand that," she returned with a low, pleased laugh. "I have not forgotten how lovely and what an inestimable treasure my first baby seemed to me; though I am by no means sure that each one who followed was not an equal joy and delight."
"Your second son among the rest, I hope, mother," laughed Harold.
She gave him a loving smile in response.
"Will you go up with us, Harold?" asked Arthur.
"No, thank you," he said. "I will busy myself here with the morning paper while mother makes her little call."
It was a most inviting looking apartment into which the doctor conducted his cousin, tastefully furnished and redolent of the breath of flowers; in pretty vases set here and there on bureau, mantel, and table, and blooming in the garden beneath the open windows whence the soft, warm air came stealing in through the lace curtains. But the chief ornaments of the room were its living occupants--the young mother lying amid her snowy pillows and the little one sleeping in its dainty crib close at her side.
"Dear Cousin Elsie, you have come at last, and I am, oh, so glad to see you!" Marian exclaimed with a look of eager delight, and holding out her hand in joyous welcome. "I have hardly known how to wait to show you our treasure and receive your congratulations."
"Dear girl, I can quite understand that," Mrs. Travilla said with a smile and a tender caress, "and I wanted to come sooner; should have done so had your good husband deemed it entirely safe for you."
"Ah, he is very careful of me," returned Marian, giving him a glance of ardent affection. "But, oh, look at our darling! His father and mother think him the sweetest creature that ever was made," she added with a happy laugh, laying a hand on the edge of the crib and gazing with eyes full of mother love at the tiny pink face nestling among the pillows there.
Elsie bent over it too in tender motherly fashion.
"He is a dear little fellow," she said softly. "I congratulate you both on this good gift from our Heavenly Father, and wish for you that he may grow up into a God-fearing man, a blessing to his parents, to the Church and the world."
"I hope he may indeed, cousin, and I want you to join your prayers to ours that we may have grace and wisdom to train him up aright, should it please the Lord to spare him to us," said the doctor with emotion.
"I think his mother needs those prayers the most," said Marian low and softly. "I am but a foolish young thing; scarcely fit for so great a responsibility; but I am more glad and thankful than words can tell that the darling has a good, wise, Christian father to both train him and set him a good example."
"It is a cause for great thankfulness," Elsie said, "but never forget, dear girl, how very great and important is a mother's influence; especially in the early years when the strongest and most lasting impressions are apt to be made. No doubt you feel--as I often have, often do--like crying out in the midst of it all, 'Alas, who is sufficient for these things!' but what a blessing, what a comfort is the promise, 'If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.'"
"Oh, those are comforting texts!" Marian said with a look of relief. "I wish I were as well acquainted with the Bible as you are, cousin."
"I know more of it now than I did at your age," Elsie returned in a reassuring tone, "and you, as well as I, have it at hand to turn to in every perplexity; and if you do so you will find the truth of the words of the Psalmist, 'Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path.'"
"Ah, yes! an open Bible is an inestimable blessing," said Arthur, "and my Marian and I will endeavour to make it the rule of our life, the man of our counsel."
At that moment the babe stirred and opened its eyes.
"Ah, he is awake, the darling!" said Marian. "Don't you want to take him up, papa, and let Cousin Elsie have a better look at him?"
"Yes, mamma; as you know, I am very proud to exhibit my son and heir," laughed the doctor, bending over the crib, gently lifting the babe and placing it in Elsie's arms, smilingly outstretched to receive it.
"He is indeed a lovely little darling," she said, gazing on it with admiring eyes, then softly pressing her lips to the velvet cheek. "There is nothing sweeter to me than a little helpless babe. I hope he may live to grow up if the will of God be so, and I think he is going to resemble his father," she added with a most affectionate look up into the doctor's face.
"If he equals his father in all respects, his mother will be fully satisfied," Marian said with a happy little laugh.
"Ah, love is blind, dearest," was Arthur's smiling response.
"And well for me that it is in your case, as I have often thought," she said in sportive tone, "for it seems to hide all my imperfections and show you virtues that are wholly imaginary."
"Then it is a very good and desirable kind of blindness, I think," remarked Grandma Elsie with her pleasant smile.
"Now, Cousin Elsie, please tell me about Rosie," Marian requested with a look of keen interest. "I suppose she is both very busy and very happy."
"Quite busy and happy too, I think, except when her thoughts turn upon the approaching separation--partial at least--from home and its loved ones."
"And doubtless that thought makes you sad too, cousin," sighed Marian. "Ah, what a world of partings it is! and how sudden and unexpected many of them are."
"Yes; but there are none in that happy land to which we are journeying. Ah, what a blessed land it must be! no sin, no sorrow, pain or care, no death, but eternal life at the foot of the dear Master whose love for his redeemed ones is greater, tenderer than that of a mother for her own little helpless child."
"How intense it must be!" said Marian musingly. "I can realise that now as I never could before my little darling came. But now, about Rosie and her betrothed. Do they not expect to settle somewhere in this region, cousin?"
"I think that question remains yet to be fully discussed; it is certainly still undecided. Probably they will not for some time settle permanently in any one spot. Mrs. Croly is an invalid, almost constantly being taken from place to place in search of health, and never satisfied to be long separated from either husband or son--her only child."
"Ah, I'm afraid that will make it hard for Rosie," said Marian. "By the way, I think they would better bring her here and put her in our doctor's care," she added with a smiling and arch look up into her husband's face.
"Ah, my dear!" he said with a slight smile and a warning shake of the head, "don't allow yourself to take to the business of hunting up cases for me; especially chronic and incurable ones."
"But is she so bad as that?" asked Marian, turning to her cousin Elsie again.
"I suppose so," Elsie replied. "I have never been told that her case was considered incurable, but I know that she has been an invalid for many years."
"And with no daughter to nurse and care for her! She may well deem herself fortunate in getting one so sweet and bright as Rosie."
"Rosie has had no experience as a nurse," said her mother, "but she is kind-hearted and I hope will prove a pleasant and helpful daughter to her husband's mother; as she has been to her own."
"I haven't a doubt of it. And is the wedding to come off soon, cousin?"
"The day has not yet been set," replied Mrs. Travilla, with a slight sigh at thought of the parting that must follow, "but we expect to fix upon one in the latter part of June; which I hope will give you time to grow strong enough to make one of our party. But I fear I am keeping you talking too long," she added, rising and laying the babe, who had fallen asleep again, gently back among its pillows.
"I am sure your call has done me good, and I hope you will come again soon, dear cousin," Marian said, receiving and returning a farewell caress.
"Sometime when your doctor gives permission," was Elsie's smiling reply. "Never mind coming down with me, Arthur," she added, "I know the way and have a son waiting there on the veranda to hand me into the carriage. So good-bye, and don't consider it necessary to wait for sickness among us to call you to Ion."
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