Read CHAPTER I of Elsie in the South , free online book, by Martha Finley, on ReadCentral.com.

“What a storm! there will be no going out to-day even for the early stroll about the grounds with papa,” sighed Lucilla Raymond one December morning, as she lay for a moment listening to the dash of rain and sleet against her bedroom windows.  “Ah, well!  I must not fret, knowing who appoints the changes of the seasons, and that all He does is for the best,” her thoughts ran on.  “Besides, what pleasures we can all have within doors in this sweetest of homes and with the dearest and kindest of fathers!”

With that she left her bed and began the duties of the toilet, first softly closing the communicating door between her own and her sister’s sleeping apartments lest she should disturb Grace’s slumbers, then turning on the electric light in both bedroom and bathroom, for, though after six, it was still dark.

The clock on the mantel struck seven before she was quite through with these early morning duties, but the storm had in no wise abated in violence, and as she heard it she felt sure that outdoor exercise was entirely out of the question.

“And I’ll not see Chester to-day,” she sighed half-aloud.  “It was evident when he was here last night that he had taken a cold, and I hope he won’t think of venturing out in such weather as this.”

Just then the door into Grace’s room opened and her sweet voice said, “Good-morning, Lu.  As usual, you are up and dressed before your lazy younger sister has begun the duties of the toilet.”

“Take care what you say, young woman,” laughed Lucilla, facing round upon her.  “I am not going to have my delicate younger sister slandered in that fashion.  She is much too feeble to leave her bed at the early hour which suits her older and stronger sister.”

“Very kind in you to see it in that light,” laughed Grace.  “But I must make haste now with my dressing.  Papa may be coming in directly, for it is certainly much too stormy for him and you to take your usual stroll in the grounds.”

“It certainly is,” assented Lu.  “Just listen to the hail and rain dashing against the windows.  And there comes papa now,” she added, as a tap was heard at their sitting-room door.

She ran to open it and receive the fatherly caress that always accompanied his morning greeting to each one of his children.

“Grace is not up yet?” he said inquiringly, as he took possession of an easy-chair.

“Yes, papa, but not dressed yet; so that I shall have you to myself for a while,” returned Lu in a cheery tone and seating herself on an ottoman at his knee.

“A great privilege that,” he said with a smile, passing a hand caressingly over her hair as he spoke.  “It is storming hard, so that you and I must do without our usual early exercise about the grounds.”

“Yes, sir; and I am sorry to miss it, though a chat with my father here and now is not so bad an exchange.”

“I think we usually have that along with the walk,” he said, smiling down into the eyes that were gazing so lovingly up into his.

“Yes, sir, so we do; and you always manage to make the shut-in days very enjoyable.”

“It is what I wish to do.  Lessons can go on as usual with you and Grace as well as with the younger ones, and after that we can have reading, music, and quiet games.”

“And Grace and I have some pretty fancy work to do for Christmas time.”

“Ah, yes! and I presume you will both be glad to have a little or a good deal of extra money with which to purchase gifts or materials for making them.”

“If you feel quite able to spare it, father,” she returned with a pleased smile; “but not if it will make you feel in the least cramped for what you want to spend yourself.”

“I can easily spare you each a hundred dollars,” he said in a cheery tone.  “Will that be enough, do you think?”

“Oh, I shall feel rich!” she exclaimed.  “How very good, kind, and liberal you are to us and all your children, papa.”

“And fortunate in being able to be liberal to my dear ones.  There is no greater pleasure than that of gratifying them in all right and reasonable desires.  I think that as soon as the weather is suitable for a visit to the city we will take a trip there for a day’s shopping.  Have you and Grace decided upon any particular articles that you would like to give?”

“We have been doing some bits of fancy work, father, and making up some warm clothing for the old folks and children among our poor neighbors both white and colored; also a few things for our house servants.  And to let you into a secret,” she added with a smile and a blush, “I am embroidering some handkerchiefs for Chester.”

“Ah, that is right!” he said.  “Chester will value a bit of your handiwork more than anything else that you could bestow upon him.”

“Except perhaps the hand itself,” she returned with a low, gleeful laugh.

“But that he knows he cannot have for some time,” her father said, taking in his the one resting on the arm of his chair.  “This belongs to me at present and it is my fixed purpose to hold it in possession for at least some months to come.”

“Yes, sir; I know that and highly approve of your intention.  Please never give up your claim to your eldest daughter so long as we both live.”

“No, daughter, nothing is further from my thoughts,” he said with a smile that was full of affection.

“What do you want from Santa Claus, papa?” she asked.

“Really, I have not considered that question,” he laughed; “but anything my daughters choose to give me will be highly appreciated.”

“It is pleasant to know that, father dear; and now please tell me what you think would be advisable to get for Mamma Vi, Elsie, and Ned.”

That question was under discussion for some time, and the conclusion was arrived at that it could not be decided until their visit to the city stores to see what might be offered there.  Then Grace joined them, exchanged greetings and caresses with her father, and as the call to breakfast came at that moment, the three went down together, meeting Violet and the younger children on the way.

They were a cheerful party, all at the table seeming to enjoy their meal and chatting pleasantly as they ate.  Much of their talk was of the approaching Christmas and what gifts would be appropriate for different ones and likely to prove acceptable.

“Can’t we send presents to brother Max, papa?” asked Ned.

“Hardly, I think,” was the reply, “but we can give him some when he comes home next month.”

“And he’ll miss all the good times the rest of us have.  It’s just too bad!” replied Ned.

“We will try to have some more good times when he is with us,” said the captain cheerily.

“Oh, so we can!” was Neddie’s glad response.

The captain and the young people spent the morning in the schoolroom as usual.  In the afternoon Dr. Conly called.  “I came in principally on your account, Lu,” he said, when greetings had been exchanged.  “Chester has taken a rather severe cold so that I, as his physician, have ordered him to keep within doors for the present; which he deeply regrets because it cuts him off from his daily visits here.”

“Oh, is he very ill?” she asked, vainly trying to make her tones quite calm and indifferent.

“Oh, no! only in danger of becoming so unless he takes good care of himself.”

“And you will see to it that he does so, Cousin Arthur?” Violet said in a sprightly, half-inquiring tone.

“Yes; so far as I can,” returned the doctor, with a slight smile.  “My patients, unfortunately, are not always careful to obey orders.”

“When they don’t the doctor cannot be justly blamed for any failure to recover,” remarked the captain.  “But I trust Chester will show himself docile and obedient.”

“Which I dare say he will if Lu sides strongly with the doctor,” Grace remarked, giving Lucilla an arch look and smile.

“My influence, if I have any, shall all be on that side,” was Lucilla’s quiet rejoinder.  “He and I might have a bit of chat over the telephone, if he is able to go to it.”

“Able enough for that,” said the doctor, “but too hoarse, I think, to make himself intelligible.  However, you can talk to him, bidding him to be careful, and for your sake to follow the doctor’s directions.”

“Of course I shall do that,” she returned laughingly, “and surely he will not venture to disregard my orders.”

“Not while he is a lover and liable to be sent adrift by his lady-love,” said Violet, in sportive tone.

Just then the telephone bell rang and the captain and Lulu hastened to it.

It proved to be Mrs. Dinsmore of the Oaks, who called to them with a message from Chester to his affianced a kindly greeting, a hope that she and all the family were well, and an expression of keen regret that he was, and probably would be for some days, unable to pay his accustomed visit to Woodburn.

“There, daughter, take your place and reply as you deem fit,” said Captain Raymond, stepping aside from the instrument.

Lucilla at once availed herself of the permission.

“Aunt Sue,” she called, “please tell Chester we are all very sorry for his illness, but hope he may soon be well.  We think he will if he is careful to follow the doctor’s directions.  And when this storm is over probably some of us will call at the Oaks to inquire concerning his welfare.”

A moment’s silence; then came the reply.  “Chester says, thank you; he will be glad to see any or all of the Woodburn people; but you must not venture out till the storm is over.”

“We won’t,” returned Lucilla.  “Good-by.”  And she and her father returned to the parlor where they had left the others, with their report of the interview.

Two stormy days followed; then came one that was bright and clear and they gladly availed themselves of the opportunity to go to the city, do their Christmas shopping, and call at the Oaks on their return.  They reached home tired, but in excellent spirits, having been very successful in making their purchases, and found Chester recovering from his cold.

From that day until Christmas time the ladies and little girls of the connection were very busy in preparing gifts for their dear ones; Grandma Elsie as well as the rest.  She did not come so often to Woodburn as was her custom, and the visits she did make were short and hurried.

Chester was a more frequent caller after partially recovering from his cold, but even while he was there Lucilla worked busily with her needle, though never upon the gift intended for him.  She now wore and highly prized a beautiful diamond ring which he had given her in token of their betrothal, though she had told him at the time of its bestowal that she feared it had cost more than he could well afford.  At which he laughed, telling her that nothing could be too good or expensive for one so lovely and charming as herself.

“In your partial eyes,” she returned with a smile.  “Ah, it is very true that love is blind.  Oh, Chester!  I often wonder what you ever found to fancy in me!”

In reply to that he went over quite a list of the attractive qualities he had discovered in her.

“Ah,” she laughed, “you are not blind to my perhaps imaginary good qualities, but see them through multiplying glasses; which is certainly very kind in you.  But, oh, dear!  I’m afraid you’ll find out your mistake one of these days!”

“Don’t be disturbed.  I’ll risk it,” he laughed.  Then added more seriously, “Oh, Lu, darling, I think I’m a wonderfully fortunate fellow in regard to the matter of my suit for your heart and hand.”

“I wish you may never see cause to change your mind, you dear boy!” she said, glad tears springing to her eyes, “but ah, me!  I fear you will when you know me better.”

“Ah,” he said teasingly, “considering our long and rather intimate acquaintance, I think you are not giving me credit for any great amount of discernment.”

“Well,” she laughed, “as regards my faults and failings probably the less you have of that the better for me.”

They were alone in the library and the house was very quiet, most of the family having already retired to their sleeping rooms.

Presently Captain Raymond came in, saying with his pleasant smile, “I should be sorry to seem inhospitable, Chester, but it is growing late and I am loath to have my daughter lose her beauty sleep.  Don’t for a moment think I want to hurry you away from Woodburn, though; the room you occupied during your illness is at your service and you are a most welcome guest.”

“Many thanks, captain; but I think I should go back to the Oaks at once lest someone should be waiting up for me.  I should have brought my night key, but neglected to do so,” Chester replied, and in a few minutes took leave.

The captain secured the door after him, then turned to Lucilla, saying: 

“Now, daughter, you may bid me good-night, then make prompt preparations for bed.”

“Oh, papa, let me stay five minutes with you,” she entreated.  “See, I have something to show you,” holding out her hand in a way to display Chester’s gift to advantage.

Her father took the hand in his.  “Ah, an engagement ring!” he said with a smile; “and a very handsome one it is.  Well, dear child, I hope it may always have most pleasant associations to you.”

“I should enjoy it more if I were quite sure Chester could well afford it,” she said with a half sigh.

“Don’t let that trouble you,” said her father.  “Chester is doing very well, and probably your father will be able to give some assistance to you and him at the beginning of your career as a married couple.  Should Providence spare me my present income, my dear eldest daughter shall not be a portionless bride.”

“Papa, you are very, very good to me!” she exclaimed with emotion, “the very dearest and best of fathers!  I can hardly bear to think of living away from you, even though it may not be miles distant.”

“Dear child,” he said, drawing her into his arms, “I do not intend it shall be even one mile.  My plan is to build a house for you and Chester right here on the estate, over yonder in the grove.  Some day in the near future we three will go together and select the exact spot.”

“Oh, papa, what a delightful idea!” she exclaimed, looking up into his face with eyes dancing with pleasure; “for I may hope to see almost as much of you as I do now, living in the same house.”

“Yes, daughter mine; that is why I want to have your home so near.  Now bid me good-night and get to bed with all speed,” he concluded with a tender caress.