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"Mutual love, the crown of all our bliss." --MILTON'S PARADISE LOST.
After a half hour of waiting for her son's return, Mrs. Travilla sat down to her lonely cup of tea. There was no lack of delicacies on the table, and in all Edward's taste had been consulted. To make him comfortable and happy was, next to serving her God, the great aim and object of his mother's life; and, in a less degree, of that of every servant in the house. They had all been born and brought up at Ion, and had all these years known him as the kindest, most reasonable and considerate of masters.
"Wish Massa Edard come. Dese waffles jes' prime to-night, an' he so fond ob dem," remarked a pretty mulatto girl, handing a plate of them to her mistress.
"Yes, Prilla, he expected to be at home, but is probably taking tea at the Oaks or Roselands." And the old lady supped her tea and ate her waffles with a serene, happy face, now and then lighted up by a pleased smile which her attendant handmaiden was at a loss to interpret.
Having finished her meal, Mrs. Travilla threw a shawl about her shoulders and stepped out upon the veranda; then, tempted by the beauty of the night, walked down the avenue to meet her son or see if there were any signs of his approach.
She had not gone half the distance ere the sound of horses' hoofs reached her ear--distant at first but coming rapidly nearer, till a lady and gentleman drew rein at the gate, while the servant who had been riding in the rear dismounted and threw it open.
They came dashing up, but paused and drew rein again at sight of the old lady standing there under the trees.
"Mother," cried her son, springing from the saddle, "you were not alarmed? anxious? surely."
"No, no, Edward, but glad to see you and Elsie! my dear child, this is very kind."
"Not at all, dear Mrs. Travilla; it is so lovely an evening for a ride; or walk either," she added, giving her hand to her escort and springing lightly to the ground.
Mr. Travilla put the hand into that of his mother. "Take her to your heart, mother; she is mine--ours!" he said, in low tones tremulous with joy.
The old lady folded the slight girlish form to her breast for a moment, with a silence more eloquent than words.
"Thank God! thank God!" she murmured at length. "He has given me my heart's desire;" and mingled caresses and tears fell upon Elsie's face. "For many years I have loved you as my own child, and now I am to have you. How bright our home will be, Edward. But we are darkening another. Her father; can he--has he----"
"He has given her to me," answered the son quickly, "and she has--we have given ourselves to each other. Let me give an arm to each of you and we will go into the house."
* * * * *
The veranda at the Oaks was deserted, and the house very quiet, though lights still shone here and there, as Mr. Travilla and Elsie rode up and dismounted on their return from Ion.
A servant rose from the grass, where he had been lying at his ease; came forward and led away his young mistress's pony, while the lover bade her a tender good-night, sprang into the saddle again, and presently disappeared, lost to view amid the trees and the windings of the road, though the sound of horse's hoofs still came faintly to Elsie's ear as she stood intently listening, a sweet smile irradiating every feature.
Absorbed in her own thoughts, and in the effort to catch those fast-retreating sounds, she did not hear a step approaching from behind; but an arm encircled her waist, and a low-breathed "My darling" woke her from her reverie.
She looked up, her eyes beaming with affection; "Papa; I am rather late, am I not?"
"Not very. Hark! the clock is but just striking ten. Come, let us sit down here for a little. We have hardly had a chat together to-day." He sighed slightly as he drew her closer to him.
"No, papa dear, there has been so much company," she answered, laying her head on his shoulder. "And----"
"And what?" as she paused. "Your father used to know all that concerned you one way or the other. Is he to be shut out from your confidence now? Ah, I think he must have been for some time past."
"I could not tell you that, papa," she murmured, blushing visibly in the moonlight. "Indeed, I hardly knew it myself till----"
"The night of Sophie's wedding."
"Ah!" he said, musingly; "but I cannot get over my surprise; he is your senior by so many years, and you have known him from childhood and looked upon him as a sort of uncle. I wonder at your choice."
"But you don't object, papa?"
"No, if I must give you away--and I've always known that would come some time--I would rather it should be to him than any one else, for I can never doubt that he will be tender and true to my precious one, when she leaves her father's home for his."
"Papa, papa, don't speak of it," she cried, winding her arms about his neck, "I can't bear to think of it; that our home will no longer be the same, that I can't come to you every night and be folded to your heart as I have been ever since I was a little girl."
"Well, dearest," he said, after a moment, in which he held her very close and caressed her with exceeding tenderness, "we shall not be far apart or miss passing some time together many days of the year. And you are not in haste to leave me?"
"Oh, no, no! why should I be? Please keep me a little while yet."
"I intend to: it will take at least a year to get used to the thought of doing without you, and so long Travilla must be content to wait. Nor can we give you up wholly even then; your suite of rooms shall still be yours, and you must come now and then and occupy them for days or weeks at a time.
"Now, daughter, good-night. Come to me to-morrow morning in my study, soon after breakfast, I have something more of importance to say to you."
"I shall obey, and without fear," she answered gayly, "though I remember once being quite frightened at a similar order; but that was when I was a silly little girl and didn't know how dearly my own papa loved me."
"And when he was strangely stern to his own little child," he answered, with another tender caress.
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