It was about the middle of November. There had been a long rain storm, ending in sleet and snow, and now the sun was shining brightly on a landscape sheeted with ice: walks and roads were slippery with it, every tree and shrub was encased in it, and glittering and sparkling as if loaded with diamonds, as its branches swayed and tossed in the wind. At Ion Mrs. Elsie Travilla stood at the window of her dressing-room gazing with delighted eyes upon the lovely scene.
“How beautiful!” she said softly to herself; “and my Father made it all. ’He gives snow like wool: he scattereth the hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels.’
“Ah, good morning, my dears,” as the door opened and Rosie and Walter came in together.
“Good morning, dearest mamma,” they returned, hastening to her to give and receive the affectionate kiss with which they were accustomed to meet at the beginning of a new day.
“I’m so glad the long storm is over at last,” said Rosie; “it is really delightful to see the sunshine once more.”
“And the beautiful work of the Frost king reflecting his rays,” added her mother, calling their attention to the new beauties of the ever attractive landscape spread out before them.
Both exclaimed in delight “How beautiful, mamma!” Rosie adding, “It must be that the roads are in fine condition for sleighing. I hope we can go.”
“O mamma, can’t we?” cried Walter. “Won’t you give us a holiday?”
“I shall take the question into consideration,” she answered with an indulgent smile; “we will perhaps discuss it at the breakfast table: but now we will have our reading together.”
At that very time Capt. Raymond and Violet in her boudoir at Woodburn, were also discussing the state of the roads and the advisability of dispensing with school duties for the day that all the family might enjoy the rather rare treat of a sleigh-ride.
“You would enjoy it, my love?” he said inquiringly.
“Very much— in company with my husband and the children,” she returned; “yet I would not wish to influence you to decide against your convictions in regard to what is right and wise.”
“We will go,” he said, smiling fondly upon her, “I can not bear to have you miss the pleasure; nor the children either for that matter, though I am a little afraid I might justly be deemed weakly indulgent in according them a holiday again so soon: it is against my principles to allow lessons to be set aside for other than very weighty reasons; it is a matter of so great importance that they be trained to put duties first, giving pleasure a secondary place.”
“But they are so good and industrious,” said Violet, “and the sleighing is not likely to last long. It seldom does with us.”
“And they have been so closely confined to the house of late, by the inclemency of the weather,” he added. “Yes: they shall go; for it will do them a great deal of good physically, I think, and health is, after all, of more consequence for them than rapid advancement in their studies.”
“I should think so indeed,” said Violet. “Now the next question is where shall we go?”
“That is a question for my wife to settle,” returned the captain gallantly. “I shall be most happy to accompany her wherever she decides that she wishes to be taken.”
“Thank you, sir. I want to see mamma, of course.”
“Then we will call at Ion, and perhaps may be able to persuade mother to join us in a longer ride.”
“Oh couldn’t we hire an omnibus sleigh and ask them all to join us? It would just about hold the two families.”
“It is a trifle odd that the same idea had just occurred to me,” he remarked pleasantly. “I will telephone at once to the town, and if I can engage a suitable sleigh, will call to Ion and give our invitation.”
The reply from the village was satisfactory; also that from Ion, given by Grandpa Dinsmore, who said he would venture to accept the invitation for all the family without waiting to consult them.
The captain reported to Violet, then passed on into the apartments of his little daughters. He found them up and dressed, standing at the window of their sitting-room gazing out into the grounds.
“Good morning, my darlings,” he said.
“Oh good morning, papa,” they cried, turning and running into his outstretched arms to give and receive tenderest caresses.
“What were you looking at?” he asked presently.
“Oh! oh! the loveliest sight!” cried Lulu. “Do, papa, come and look,” taking his hand and drawing him toward the window. “There, isn’t it?”
“Yes; I have seldom seen a finer,” he assented.
“And the sun is shining so brightly; can’t I take a walk with you to-day?” she asked, looking coaxingly up into his face.
“Why, my child, the walks and roads are sheeted with ice; you could not stand, much less walk on them.”
“I think I could, papa, if— if you’d only let me try. But oh don’t look troubled, for indeed, indeed, I’m not going to be naughty about it, though I have been shut up in the house for so long, except just riding in the close carriage to church yesterday.”
“Yes; and I know it has been hard for you,” he said, smoothing her hair with caressing hand.
Then sitting down he drew her to one knee, Gracie to the other.
“How would my little girls like to be excused from lessons to-day and given, instead, a sleigh-ride with papa, mamma, Max and little Elsie?”
“Oh ever so much, papa!” they cried, clapping their hands in delight. “How good in you to think of it!”
“’Specially for me, considering how very, very naughty I was only last week,” added Lulu, in a remorseful tone. “Papa, I really think I oughtn’t to be let go.”
“And I really think I should not be deprived of the pleasure of having my dear eldest daughter with me on this first sleigh-ride of the season,” returned her father, drawing her into a closer embrace.
“And it would spoil all the fun for me to have you left at home, Lu,” said Grace.
“And that must not be; we will all go, and I trust will have a very pleasant time,” the captain said, rising and taking a hand of each to lead them down to the breakfast-room, for the bell was ringing.
At Ion the family were gathering about the table to partake of their morning meal. Walter waited rather impatiently till the blessing had been asked, then, with an entreating look at his mother, said, “Mamma, you know what you promised?”
“Yes, my son; but be patient a little longer. I see your grandpa has something to say.”
“Something that Walter will be glad to hear, I make no doubt,” remarked Mr. Dinsmore, giving the child a kindly look and smile. “Capt. Raymond and I have had a little chat through the telephone this morning. He invites us all to join the Woodburn family in a sleigh-ride, he is coming for us in an omnibus sleigh; and I accepted for each and every one of you.”
Zoe, Rosie and Walter uttered a simultaneous exclamation of delight, while the others looked well pleased with the arrangement.
“At what hour are we to expect the captain?” asked Mrs. Dinsmore.
“And where does he propose to take us?” inquired Zoe.
“I presume wherever the ladies of the party decide that they would like to go.”
“Surely, papa, the gentlemen also should have a voice in that,” his daughter said, sending him a bright, affectionate look from behind the coffee-urn, “you at least, in case the question is put to vote.”
“Not I more than the rest of you,” he returned pleasantly. “But I have no doubt we would all enjoy the ride in any direction where the sleighing is good.”
“I think it will prove fine on all the roads,” remarked Edward, “and I presume everybody, would enjoy driving over to Fairview, the Laurels and the Oaks to call on our nearest relatives; perhaps to the Pines and Roselands also, to see the cousins there.”
“That would be nice,” said Zoe, “but don’t you suppose they may be improving the sleighing opportunity as well as ourselves? may be driving over here to call on us?”
“Then, when we meet, the question will be who shall turn round and go back, and who keep on,” laughed Rosie.
“But to avoid such an unpleasant state of affairs we have only to ask and, answer a few questions through the telephone,” said Edward.
“Certainly,” said his grandfather, “and we’ll attend to it the first thing on leaving the table.”
Everybody was interested, and presently all were gathered about the telephone, while Edward, acting as spokesman of the party, called to first one and then another of the households nearly related to themselves.
The answers came promptly, and it was soon evident that all were intending to avail themselves of the somewhat rare opportunity offered by the snow and ice covered roads, none planning to stay at home to receive calls. They would all visit Ion if the ladies there were likely to be in.
“Tell them,” said Grandma Elsie, “to take their drives this morning, come to Ion in time for dinner, and spend the rest of the day and evening here. I shall be much pleased to have them all do so.”
The message went the rounds, everybody accepted the invitation, and Elsie’s orders for the day to cook and housekeeper, were given accordingly.
The Woodburn party arrived in high spirits, a sleigh, containing the Fairview family, driving up at the same time. They had room for one more and wanted “mamma” to occupy it; but the captain and Violet would not resign their claim, and Evelyn and Lulu showed a strong desire to be together; so the former was transferred to the Woodburn sleigh, and Zoe and Edward took the vacant seats in that from Fairview.
The two vehicles kept near together, their occupants, the children especially, were very gay and lively. They talked of last year’s holiday sports, and indulged in pleasing anticipations in regard to what might be in store for them in those now drawing near.
“We had a fine time at the Oaks, hadn’t we, girls?” said Max, addressing Evelyn and Rosie.
“Yes,” they replied, “but a still better one at Woodburn.”
“When are you and Lu going to invite us again?” asked Rosie.
“When papa gives permission,” answered Max, sending a smiling, persuasive glance in his father’s direction.
“It is quite possible you may not have very long to wait for that, Max,” was the kindly indulgent rejoinder from the captain.
“It is Rosie’s turn this year,” remarked Grandma Elsie; “Rosie’s and Walter’s and mine. I want all the young people of the connection— and as many of the older ones as we can make room for— to come to Ion for the Christmas holidays, or at least the greater part of them; we will settle particulars as to the time of coming and going, later on. Captain, I want you and Violet and all your children for the whole time.”
“Thank you, mother; you are most kind, and I do not now see anything in the way of our acceptance of your invitation,” he said; but added with a playful look at Violet, “unless my wife should object.”
“If I should, mamma, you will receive my regrets in due season,” laughed Violet.
The faces of the children were beaming with delight, and their young voices united in a chorus of expressions of pleasure and thanks to Grandma Elsie.
“I am glad you are all pleased with the idea,” she said. “We will try to provide as great a variety of amusements as possible, and shall be glad of any hints or suggestions from old or young in regard to anything new in that line.”
“We will all try to help you, mamma,” Violet said, “and not be jealous or envious if your party should far outshine ours of last year.”
“And we have more than a month to get ready in,” remarked Rosie with satisfaction. “Oh I’m so glad mamma has decided on it in such good season!”
“Hello!” cried Max, glancing back toward an intersecting road which they had just crossed, “Here they come!”
“Who?” asked several voices, while all turned their heads to see for themselves.
“The Oaks, and the Roselands folks,” answered Max, and as he spoke two large sleighs came swiftly up in the rear of their own, their occupants calling out merry greetings, and receiving a return in kind.
The wind had fallen, the cold was not intense, and they were so well protected against it by coats and robes of fur, that they scarcely felt it, and found the ride so thoroughly enjoyable that they kept it up through the whole morning, managing their return so that Ion was reached only a few minutes before the dinner hour.
Ion was a sort of headquarters for the entire connection, and everybody seemed to feel perfectly at home. Grandma Elsie was a most hospitable hostess, and it was a very cheerful, jovial party that surrounded her well-spread table that day.
After dinner, while the older people conversed together in the parlors, the younger ones wandered at will through the house.
The girls were together in a small reception-room, chatting about such matters as particularly interested them— their studies, sports, plans for the purchase or making of Christmas gifts, and what they hoped or desired to receive. “I want jewelry,” said Sidney Dinsmore. “I’d rather have that than anything else. But it must be handsome: a diamond pin or ring, or ear-rings.”
“Mamma says diamonds are quite unsuitable for young girls,” said Rosie. “So I prefer pearls: and I’m rather in hopes she may give me some for Christmas.”
“I’d rather have diamonds anyhow,” persisted Sydney. “See Maud’s new ring, just sent her by a rich old aunt of ours. I’m sure it looks lovely on her finger and shows off the beauty of her hand.”
“Yes, I’ve been admiring it,” said Lulu, “and I thought I’d never seen it before.”
Maud held out her hand with, evident pride and satisfaction, while the others gathered round her eager for a close inspection of the ring.
They all admired it greatly and Maud seemed gratified.
“Yes,” she said, “it certainly is a beauty, and Chess says it must be worth a good deal; that centre stone is quite large, you see, and there are six others in a circle around it.”
“I should think you’d feel very rich,” remarked Lulu; “I’d go fairly wild with delight if I had such an one given me.”
“Well then, why not give your father a hint that you’d like such a Christmas gift from him?” asked Sydney.
“I’m afraid it would cost too much,” said Lulu, “and I wouldn’t want papa to spend more on me than he could well afford.”
“Why, he could afford it well enough!” exclaimed Maud. “Your father is very rich— worth his millions, I heard Cousin Horace say not long ago; and he knows of course.”
Lulu looked much surprised. “Papa never talks of how much money he has,” she said, “and I never supposed it was more than about enough to keep us comfortable; but millions means a great deal doesn’t it?”
“I should say so indeed! more than your mind or mine can grasp the idea of.”
Lulu’s eyes sparkled. “I’m ever so glad for papa!” she said; “he’s just the right person to have a great deal of money, for he will be sure to make the very best use of it.”
“And for a part of it, that will be diamonds for you, won’t it?” laughed Maud.
“I hope the captain will think so by the time she’s grown up,” remarked Rosie, with a pleasant look at Lulu; “or sooner if they come to be thought suitable for girls of her age.”
“That’s nice in you Rosie,” Lulu said, flushing with pleasure, “and I hope you will get your pearls this Christmas.”
“I join in both wishes,” said Evelyn Leland, “and hope everyone of you will receive a Christmas gift quite to her mind: but, oh girls, don’t you think it would be nice to give a good time to the poor people about us?”
“What poor people?” asked Sydney.
“I mean both the whites and the blacks,” explained Evelyn. “There are those Jones children that live not far from Woodburn, for instance: their mother’s dead and the father gets drunk and beats and abuses them, and altogether I’m sure they are very, very forlorn.”
“Oh yes,” cried Lulu, “it would be just splendid to give them a good time!— nice things to eat and to wear, and toys too. I’ll talk to papa about it, and he’ll tell us what to give them and how to give it.”
“And there are a number of other families in the neighborhood probably quite as poor and forlorn,” said Lora Howard. “Oh I think it would be delightful to get them all together somewhere and surprise them with a Christmas tree loaded with nice things! Lets do it, girls. We all have some pocket money, and we can get our fathers and mothers to tell us how to use it to the best advantage, and how to manage the giving.”
“I haven’t a bit more pocket money than I need to buy the presents I wish to give my own particular friends,” objected Sydney.
“It’s nice, and right too, I think, to give tokens of love to our dear ones,” Evelyn said, “but we need not make them very expensive in order to give pleasure;— often they would prefer some simple little thing that is the work of our own hands— and so we would have something left for the poor and needy, whom the Bible teaches us we should care for and relieve to the best of our ability.”
“Yes, I daresay you are right,” returned Sydney, “but I sha’n’t make any rash promises in regard to the matter.”