Pansy (aka. Isabella M. Alden)
Part 3 out of 5
somewhat out of my sphere, as you have doubtless observed. Yet such
people as you and I can't help having eyes and ears, and using them
now and then, can we?"
Still silence on Ester's part, so far as defining her position was
concerned. She was not ashamed of her Savior now, but of herself. If
this gay cousin's eyes were critical she knew she could not bear the
test. Yet she rallied sufficiently to condemn within her own mind the
poor little cards.
"They will do more harm than good," she told herself positively. To
such young men as Ralph, for instance, what could he possibly want
with one of them, save to make it a subject of ridicule when he got
with some of his wild companions. But it transpired that his designs
were not so very wicked after all; for as they left the store he took
the little card from his pocket, and handed it to Abbie with a quiet:
"Sis, here is something that you will like."
And Abbie read it and said: "How solemn that is. Did you get it for
me, Ralph? Thank you." And Ralph bowed and smiled on her, a kind,
almost tender smile, very unlike the roguish twinkle that had shone in
his eyes while he talked with Ester.
All through the busy day that silent, solemn card haunted Ester.
It pertinaciously refused to be lost. She dropped it twice in their
transit from store to store, but Ralph promptly returned it to her.
At home she laid it on her dressing-table, but piled scarfs and
handkerchiefs and gloves over it as high as she might, it was sure to
flutter to the floor at her feet, as she sought hurriedly in the mass
of confusion for some missing article. Once she seized and flung it
from the window in dire vexation, and was rewarded by having Maggie
present it to her about two minutes thereafter, as a "something that
landed square on my head, ma'am, as I was coming around the corner."
At last she actually grew nervous over it, felt almost afraid to touch
it, so thoroughly had it fastened itself on her conscience. These
great black letters in that first sentence seemed burned into her
brain: "I solemnly agree, as God shall help me."
At last she deposited the unwelcome little monitor at the very bottom
of her collar-box, under some unused collars, telling herself that it
was for safe keeping, that she might not lose it again; not letting
her conscience say for a moment that it was because she wanted to bury
the haunting words out of her sight.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
Ester stood before her mirror, arranging some disordered braids of
hair. She had come up from the dining-room for that purpose. It was
just after dinner. The family, with the addition of Mr. Foster, were
gathered in the back parlor, whither she was in haste to join them.
"How things do conspire to hinder me!" she exclaimed impatiently
as one loose hair-pin after another slid softly and silently out of
place. "This horrid ribbon doesn't shade with the trimming on my dress
either. I wonder what can have become of that blue one?" With a jerk
Sadie's "finery-box" was produced, and the contents tumbled over. The
methodical and orderly Ester was in nervous haste to get down to
that fascinating family group; but the blue ribbon, with the total
depravity of all ribbons, remained a silent and indifferent spectator
of her trials, snugged back in the corner of a half open drawer. Ester
had set her heart on finding it, and the green collar-box came next
under inspection, and being impatiently shoved back toward its corner
when the quest proved vain, took that opportunity for tumbling over
the floor and showering its contents right and left.
"What next, I wonder?" Ester muttered, as she stooped to scoop up the
disordered mass of collars, ruffles, cuffs, laces, and the like, and
with them came, face up, and bright, black letters, scorching into her
very soul, the little card with its: "I solemnly agree, as God shall
help me." Ester paused in her work, and stood upright with a strange
beating at her heart. What _did_ this mean? Was it merely chance that
this sentence had so persistently met her eye all this day, put the
card where she would? And what was the matter with her anyway? Why
should those words have such strange power over her? why had she tried
to rid herself of the sight of them? She read each sentence aloud
slowly and carefully. "Now," she said decisively, half irritated that
she was allowing herself to be hindered, "it is time to put an end to
this nonsense. I am sick and tired of feeling as I have of late--these
are all very reasonable and proper pledges, at least the most of them
are. I believe I'll adopt this card. Yes, I will--that is what has
been the trouble with me. I've neglected my duty--rather I have
so much care and work at home, that I haven't time to attend to it
properly--but here it is different. It is quite time I commenced right
in these things. To-night, when I come to my room, I will begin. No,
I can not do that either, for Abbie will be with me. Well, the first
opportunity then that I have--or no--I'll stop now, this minute,
and read a chapter in the Bible and pray; there is nothing like the
present moment for keeping a good resolution. I like decision in
everything--and, I dare say, Abbie will be very willing to have a
quiet talk with Mr. Foster before I come down."
And sincerely desirous to be at peace with her newly troubled
conscience--and sincerely sure that she was in the right way for
securing that peace--Ester closed and locked her door, and sat herself
down by the open window in a thoroughly self-satisfied state of mind,
to read the Bible and to pray.
Poor human heart, so utterly unconscious of its own deep sickness--so
willing to plaster over the unhealed wound! Where should she read? She
was at all times a random reader of the Bible; but now with this new
era it was important that there should be a more definite aim in her
reading. She turned the leaves rapidly, eager to find a book which
looked inviting for the occasion, and finally seized upon the
Gospel of John as entirely proper and appropriate, and industriously
commenced: "'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.' Now
that wretched hair-pin is falling out again, as sure as I live; I
don't see what is the matter with my hair to-day. I never had so much
trouble with it--'All things were made by him; and without him was
not anything made that was made. In him was life: and the life was the
light of men.'--There are Mr. and Miss Hastings. I wonder if they are
going to call here? I wish they would. I should like to get a nearer
view of that trimming around her sack; it is lovely whatever it
is.--'And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended
it not.'" Now it was doubtful if it had once occurred to Ester
who this glorious "Word" was, or that He had aught to do with her.
Certainly the wonderful and gracious truths embodied in these precious
verses, truths which had to do with every hour of her life, had not
this evening so much as made an entrance into her busy brain; and
yet she actually thought herself in the way of getting rid of the
troublesome thoughts that had haunted her the days just past. The
verses were being read aloud, the thoughts about the troublesome
hair and the trimmings on Miss Hastings' sack were suffered to remain
thoughts, not to put into words--had they been perhaps even Ester
would have noticed the glaring incongruity. As it was she continued
her two occupations, reading the verses, thinking the thoughts, until
at last she came to a sudden pause, and silence reigned in the room
for several minutes; then there flushed over Ester's face a sudden
glow, as she realized that she sat, Bible in hand, one corner of the
solemnly-worded card marking the verse at which she had paused, and
that verse was: "He came unto his own, and his own received him
not." And she realized that her thoughts during the silence had been:
"Suppose Miss Hastings should call and should inquire for her, and she
should go with Aunt Helen to return the call, should she wear mother's
black lace shawl with her blue silk dress, or simply the little
ruffled cape which matched the dress! She read that last verse over
again, with an uncomfortable consciousness that she was not getting on
very well; but try as she would, Ester's thoughts seemed resolved not
to stay with that first chapter of John--they roved all over New York,
visited all the places that she had seen, and a great many that she
wanted to see, and that seemed beyond her grasp, going on meantime
with the verses, and keeping up a disagreeable undercurrent of
disgust. Over those same restless thoughts there came a tap at the
door, and Maggie's voice outside.
"Miss Ried, Miss Abbie sent me to say that there was company waiting
to see you, and if you please would you come down as soon as you
Ester sprang up. "Very well," she responded to Maggie. "I'll be down
Then she waited to shut the card into her Bible to keep the place,
took a parting peep in the mirror to see that the brown hair and blue
ribbon were in order, wondered if it were really the Hastings who
called on her, unlocked her door, and made a rapid passage down the
stairs--most unpleasantly conscious, however, at that very moment that
her intentions of setting herself right had not been carried out, and
also that so far as she had gone it had been a failure. Truly, after
the lapse of so many years, the light was still shining in darkness.
In the parlor, after the other company had departed, Ester found
herself the sole companion of Mr. Foster at the further end of the
long room. Abbie, half sitting, half kneeling on an ottoman near her
father, seemed to be engaged in a very earnest conversation with him,
in which her mother occasionally joined, and at which Ralph appeared
occasionally to laugh; but what was the subject of debate they at
their distance were unable to determine, and at last Mr. Foster turned
to his nearest neighbor.
"And so, Miss Ester, you manufactured me into a minister at our first
In view of their nearness to cousinship the ceremony of surname had
been promptly discarded by Mr. Foster, but Ester was unable to recover
from a sort of awe with which he had at first inspired her, and this
opening sentence appeared to be a confusing one, for she flushed
deeply and only bowed her answer.
"I don't know but it is a most unworthy curiosity on my part,"
continued Mr. Foster, "but I have an overwhelming desire to know
why--or, rather, to know in what respect, I am ministerial. Won't you
enlighten me, Miss Ester?"
"Why," said Ester, growing still more confused, "I thought--I
said--I--No, I mean I heard your talk with that queer old woman,
some of it; and some things that you said made me think you must be a
"What things, Miss Ester?"
"Everything," said Ester desperately. "You talked, you know,
about--about religion nearly all the time."
A look of absolute pain rested for a moment on Mr. Foster's face, as
he said: "Is it possible that your experience with Christian men has
been so unfortunate that you believe none but ministers ever converse
on that subject?"
"I never hear any," Ester answered positively.
"But your example as a Christian lady, I trust, is such that it puts
to shame your experience among gentlemen?"
"Oh but," said Ester, still in great confusion, "I didn't mean to
confine my statement to gentlemen. I never hear anything of the sort
"Not from that dear old friend of ours on the cars?"
"Oh yes; she was different from other people too. I thought she had a
very queer way of speaking; but then she was old and ignorant. I don't
suppose she knew how to talk about any thing else, and she is my one
Mr. Foster glanced in the direction of the golden brown head that was
still in eager debate at the other end of the room, before he asked
his next question. "How is it with your cousin?"
"Oh she!" said Ester, brought suddenly and painfully back to all her
troublesome thoughts--and then, after a moment's hesitation, taking
a quick resolution to probe this matter to its foundation, if it had
one. "Mr. Foster, don't you think she is _very_ peculiar?"
At which question Mr. Foster laughed, then answered good humoredly:
"Do you think me a competent witness in that matter?"
"Yes," Ester answered gravely, too thoroughly in earnest to be amused
now; "she is entirely different from any person that I ever saw in
my life. She don't seem to think about any thing else--at least she
thinks more about this matter than any other."
"And that is being peculiar?"
"Why I think so--unnatural, I mean--unlike other people."
"Well, let us see. Do you call it being peculiarly good or peculiarly
"Why," said Ester in great perplexity, "it isn't _bad_ of course.
But she--no, she is very good, the best person I ever knew; but it is
being like nobody else, and nobody _can_ be like her. Don't you think
"I certainly do," he answered with the utmost gravity, and then he
laughed again; but presently noting her perplexed look, he grew sober,
and spoke with quiet gravity. "I think I understand you, Miss Ester.
If you mean, Do I not think Abbie has attained to a rare growth in
spirituality for one of her age, I most certainly do; but if you mean,
Do I not think it almost impossible for people in general to reach as
high a foothold on the rock as she has gained, I certainly do not.
I believe it is within the power, and not only that, but it is the
blessed privilege, and not only that, but it is the sacred duty of
every follower of the cross to cling as close and climb as high as she
"_I_ don't think so," Ester said, with a decided shake of the head.
"It is much easier for some people to be good Christians than it is
"Granted--that is, there is a difference of temperament certainly. But
do you rank Abbie among those for whom it was naturally easy?"
"I think so."
This time Mr. Foster's head was very gravely shaken. "If you had known
her when I did you would not think so. It was very hard for her
to yield. Her natural temperament, her former life, her circle of
friends, her home influences were all against her, and yet Christ
"Yes, but having once decided the matter, it is smooth sailing with
"Do you think so? Has Abbie no trials to meet, no battles with Satan
to fight, so far as you can discover?"
"Only trifles," said Ester, thinking of Aunt Helen and Ralph,
but deciding that Abbie had luxuries enough to offset both these
"I believe you will find that it needs precisely the same help to
meet trifles that it does to conquer mountains of difficulty. The
difference is in degree not in kind. But I happen to know that some of
Abbie's 'trifles' have been very heavy and hard to bear. However, the
matter rests just here, Miss Ester. I believe we are all too willing
to be conquered, too willing to be martyrs, not willing to reach after
and obtain the settled and ever-growing joys of the Christian."
Ester was thoroughly ill at ease; all this condemned her--and at last,
resolved to escape from this net work of her awakening conscience, she
pushed boldly on. "People have different views on this subject as well
as on all others. Now Abbie and I do not agree in our opinions. There
are things which she thinks right that seem to me quite out of place
"Yes," he said inquiringly, and with the most quiet and courteous air;
"would you object to mentioning some of those things?"
"Well, as an instance, it seemed to me very queer indeed to hear her
and other young ladies speaking in your teachers' prayer-meeting. I
never heard of such a thing, at least not among cultivated people."
"And you thought it improper?"
"Almost--yes, quite--perhaps. At least _I_ should never do it."
"Were you at Mrs. Burton's on the evening in which our society met?"
This, to Ester's surprise, was her companion's next
very-wide-of-the-mark question. She opened her eyes inquiringly; then
concluding that he was absent-minded, or else had no reply to make,
and was weary of the subject, answered simply and briefly in the
"I was detained that night. Were there many out?"
"Quite a full society Abbie said. The rooms were almost crowded."
"Oh very. I hardly wished to go as they were strangers to me; but I
was very happily disappointed, and enjoyed the evening exceedingly."
"Were there reports?"
"Very full ones, and Mrs. Burton was particularly interesting. She
had forgotten her notes, but gave her reports from memory very
"Ah, I am sorry for that. It must have destroyed the pleasure of the
evening for you."
"I don't understand, Mr. Foster."
"Why you remarked that you considered it improper for ladies to take
part in such matters: and of course what is an impropriety you can not
"Oh that is a very different matter. It was not a prayer-meeting."
"I beg pardon. I did not understand. It is only at prayer-meetings
that it is improper for ladies to speak. May I ask why?"
Ester was growing vexed. "Mr. Foster," she said sharply, "you know
that it is quite another thing. There are gentlemen enough present, or
ought to be, to do the talking in a prayer-meeting."
"There is generally a large proportion of gentlemen at the society.
I presume there were those present capable of giving Mrs. Burton's
"Well _I_ consider a society a very different thing from a gathering
in a church."
"Ah, then it's the church that is at fault. If that is the case, I
should propose holding prayer meetings in private parlors. Would that
obviate your difficulty?"
"No," said Ester sharply, "not if there were gentlemen present. It is
their business to conduct a religious meeting."
"Then, after all, it is religion that is at the foundation of this
trouble. Pray, Miss Ester, was Mrs. Burton's report irreligious?"
"Mr. Foster," said Ester, with flushing cheeks, and in a whirl of
vexation, "_don't_ you understand me?"
"I think I do, Miss Ester. The question is, do you understand
yourself? Let me state the case. You are decidedly not a woman's
rights lady. I am decidedly not a woman's rights gentleman--that
is, in the general acceptation of that term. You would think, for
instance, that Abbie was out of her sphere in the pulpit or pleading a
case at the bar. So should I. In fact, there are many public places
in which you and I, for what we consider good and sufficient reasons,
would not like to see her. But, on the other hand, we both enjoy Mrs.
Burton's reports, either verbal or written, as she may choose. We, in
company with many other ladies and gentlemen, listen respectfully;
we both greatly enjoy hearing Miss Ames sing; we both consider
it perfectly proper that she should so entertain us at our social
gatherings. At our literary society we have both enjoyed to the utmost
Miss Hanley's exquisite recitation from 'Kathrina.' I am sure not a
thought of impropriety occurred to either of us. We both enjoyed the
familiar talk on the subject for the evening, after the society proper
had adjourned. So the question resolves itself into this: It seems
that it is pleasant and proper for fifty or more of us to hear Mrs.
Burton's report in Mrs. Burton's parlor--to hear ladies sing--to hear
ladies recite in their own parlors, or in those of their friends--to
converse familiarly on any sensible topic; but the moment the very
same company are gathered in our chapel, and Mrs. Burton says, 'Pray
for my class,' and Miss Ames says, 'I love Jesus,' and Miss Hanley
says, 'The Lord is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever,'
it becomes improper. Will you pardon my obtuseness and explain to me
But Ester was not in a mood to explain, if indeed she had aught to
say, and she only answered with great decision and emphasis: "_I_ have
never been accustomed to it."
"No! I think you told me that you were unaccustomed to hearing
poetical recitations from young ladies. Does that condemn them?"
To which question Ester made no sort of answer, but sat looking
confused, ashamed and annoyed all in one. Her companion roused himself
from his half reclining attitude on the sofa, and gave her the benefit
of a very searching look; then he came to an erect posture and spoke
with entire change of tone.
"Miss Ester, forgive me if I have seemed severe in my questionings and
sarcastic in my replies. I am afraid I have. The subject is one which
awakens sarcasm in me. It is so persistently twisted and befogged and
misunderstood, some of the very best people seem inclined to make our
prayer-meetings into formidable church-meetings, for the purpose of
hearing a succession of not _very_ short sermons, rather than a social
gathering of Christians, to sympathize with, and pray for and help
each other, as I believe the Master intended them to be. But may I say
a word to you personally? Are you quite happy as a Christian? Do you
find your love growing stronger and your hopes brighter from day to
Ester struggled with herself, tore bits of down from the edge of her
fan, tried to regain her composure and her voice, but the tender,
gentle, yet searching tone, seemed to have probed her very soul--and
the eyes that at last were raised to meet his were melting into
tears, and the voice which answered him quivered perceptibly. "No, Mr.
Foster, I am not happy."
"Why? May I ask you? Is the Savior untrue to his promises, or is his
professed servant untrue to him?"
Ester's heart was giving heavy throbs of pain, and her conscience was
whispering loudly, "untrue," "untrue;" but she had made no answer,
when Ralph came with brisk step toward where they sat.
"Two against one isn't fair play," he said, with a mixture of mischief
and vexation in his tone. "Foster, don't shirk; you have taught Abbie,
now go and help her fight it out like a man. Come, take yourself over
there and get her out of this scrape. I'll take care of Ester; she
looks as though she had been to camp-meeting."
And Mr. Foster, with a wondering look for Ralph and a troubled one
for Ester, moved slowly toward that end of the long parlor where the
voices were growing louder, and one of them excited.
"This is really the most absurd of all your late absurdities," Mrs.
Ried was saying, in rather a loud tone, and with a look of dignified
disgust bestowed upon Abbie, as Mr. Foster joined the group.
"Will you receive me into this circle, and enlighten me as regards
this particular absurdity," he said, seating himself near Mrs. Ried.
"Oh it was nothing remarkable," that lady replied in her most
sarcastic tone. "At least it is quite time we were growing accustomed
to this new order of things. Abbie is trying to enlighten her father
on the new and interesting question of temperance, especially as it
is connected with wedding parties, in which she is particularly
interested just at present."
Abbie bestowed an appealing glance on Mr. Foster, and remained
"I believe I can claim equal interest then in the matter," he answered
brightly. "And will petition you, Mrs. Ried, to explain the point at
"Indeed, Mr. Foster, I'm not a temperance lecturer, and do not
consider myself competent to perform the awful task. I refer you
to Abbie, who seems to be thoroughly posted, and very desirous of
displaying her argumentative powers."
Still silence on Abbie's part, and only a little tremble of the
lip told a close observer how deeply she felt the sharp tones and
unmotherly words. Mrs. Ried spoke at last, in calm, measured accents.
"My daughter and I, Mr. Foster, differ somewhat in regard to the
duties and privileges of a host. I claim the right to set before my
guests whatever _I_ consider proper. She objects to the use of wine,
as, perhaps, you are aware. Indeed, I believe she has imbibed her very
peculiar views from you; but I say to her that as I have always been
in the habit of entertaining my guests with that beverage, I presume I
shall continue to do so."
Mr. Foster did not seem in the mood to argue the question, but
responded with genial good humor. "Ah but, Mrs. Ried, you ought to
gratify your daughter in her parting request. That is only natural and
courteous, is it not?"
Mrs. Ried felt called upon to reply. "We have gratified so many of
her requests already that the whole thing bids fair to be the most
ridiculous proceeding that New York has ever witnessed. Fancy a dozen
rough boys banging and shouting through my house, eating cake enough
to make them sick for a month, to say nothing of the quantity which
they will stamp into my carpets, and all because they chance to belong
to Abbie's mission class!"
Ralph and Ester had joined the group in the meantime, and the former
"That last argument isn't valid, mother. Haven't I promised to hoe
out the rooms myself, immediately after the conclusion of the solemn
And Mr. Foster bestowed a sudden troubled look on Abbie, which she
answered by saying in a low voice, "I should recall my invitations to
them under such circumstances."
"You will do no such thing," her father replied sharply. "The
invitations are issued in your parents' names, and we shall have no
such senseless proceedings connected with them When you are in your
own house you will doubtless be at liberty to do as you please; but
in the meantime it would be well to remember that you belong to your
father's family at present."
Ralph was watching the flushing cheek and quivering lip of his young
sister, and at this point flung down the book with which he had been
idly playing, with an impatient exclamation: "It strikes me, father,
that you are making a tremendous din about a little matter. I don't
object to a glass of wine myself, almost under any circumstances, and
I think this excruciating sensitiveness on the subject is absurd and
ridiculous, and all that sort of thing; but at the same time I should
be willing to undertake the job of smashing every wine bottle there is
in the cellar at this moment, if I thought that Sis' last hours in
the body, or at least in the paternal mansion, would be made any more
During this harangue the elder Mr. Ried had time to grow ashamed of
his sharpness, and answered in his natural tone. "I am precisely
of your opinion, my son. We are making 'much ado about nothing.' We
certainly have often entertained company before, and Abbie has sipped
her wine with the rest of us without sustaining very material injury
thereby, so far as I can see. And here is Ester, as stanch a church
member as any of you, I believe, but that doesn't seem to forbid her
behaving in a rational manner, and partaking of whatever her friends
provide for her entertainment. Why can not the rest of you be equally
During the swift second of time which intervened between that sentence
and her reply Ester had three hard things to endure--a sting from
her restless conscience, a look of mingled pain and anxiety from Mr.
Foster, and one of open-eyed and mischievous surprise from Ralph. Then
she spoke rapidly and earnestly. "Indeed, Uncle Ralph, I beg you will
not judge of any other person by my conduct in this matter. I am very
sorry, and very much ashamed that I have been so weak and wicked.
I think just as Abbie does, only I am not like her, and have been
tempted to do wrong, for fear you would think me foolish."
No one but Ester knew how much these sentences cost her; but the
swift, bright look telegraphed her from Abbie's eyes seemed to repay
Ralph laughed outright. "Four against one," he said gaily. "I've gone
over to the enemy's side myself, you see, on account of the pressure.
Father, I advise you to yield while you can do it gracefully, and also
to save me the trouble of smashing the aforesaid bottles."
"But," persisted Mr. Ried, "I haven't heard an argument this evening.
What is there so shocking in a quiet glass of wine enjoyed with a
select gathering of one's friends?"
John now presented himself at the door with a respectful, "If you
please, sir, there is a person in the hall who persists in seeing Mr.
"Show him in, then," was Mr. Ried's prompt reply.
John hesitated, and then added: "He is a very common looking person,
"I said show him in, I believe," interrupted the gentleman of the
house, in a tone which plainly indicated that he was expending on John
the irritation which he did not like to bestow further, on either his
children or his guests.
John vanished, and Mr. Ried added: "You can take your _friend_ into
the library, Mr. Foster, if it proves to be a private matter."
There was a marked emphasis on the word _friend_ in this sentence; but
Mr. Foster only bowed his reply, and presently John returned, ushering
in a short, stout man, dressed in a rough working suit, twirling his
hat in his hand, and looking extremely embarrassed and out of place in
the elegant parlor. Mr. Foster turned toward him immediately, and gave
him a greeting both prompt and cordial. "Ah, Mr. Jones, good evening.
I have been in search of you today, but some way managed to miss you."
At this point Abbie advanced and placed a small white hand in Mr.
Jones' great hard brown one, as she repeated the friendly greeting,
and inquired at once: "How is Sallie, to-night, Mr. Jones?"
"Well, ma'am, it is about her that I'm come, and I beg your pardon,
sir (turning to Mr. Foster), for making so bold as to come up here
after you; but she is just that bad to-night that I could not find it
in me to deny her any thing, and she is in a real taking to see you.
She has sighed and cried about it most of this day, and to-night we
felt, her mother and me, that we couldn't stand it any longer, and
I said I'd not come home till I found you and told you how much she
wanted to see you. It's asking a good deal, sir, but she is going
fast, she is; and--" Here Mr. Jones' voice choked, and he rubbed his
hard hand across his eyes.
"I will be down immediately," was Mr. Foster's prompt reply.
"Certainly you should have come for me. I should have been very sorry
indeed to disappoint Sallie. Tell her I will be there in half an hour,
And with a few added words of kindness from Abbie, Mr. Jones departed,
looking relieved and thankful.
"That man," said Mr. Foster, turning to Ester, as the door closed
after him, "is the son of our old lady, don't you think! You remember
I engaged to see her conveyed to his home in safety, and my anxiety
for her future welfare was such that my pleasure was very great
in discovering that the son was a faithful member of our mission
Sabbath-school, and a thoroughly good man."
"And who is Sallie?" Ester inquired, very much interested.
Mr. Foster's face grew graver. "Sallie is his one treasure, a dear
little girl, one of our mission scholars, and a beautiful example of
how faithful Christ can be to his little lambs."
"What is supposed to be the matter with Sallie?" This question came
from Ralph, who had been half amused, half interested, with the entire
The gravity on Mr. Foster's face deepened into sternness as he
answered: "Sallie is only one of the many victims of our beautiful
system of public poisoning. The son of her mother's employer, in a
fit of drunken rage, threw her from the very top of a long flight of
stairs, and now she lies warped and misshapen, mourning her life
away. By the way"--he continued, turning suddenly toward Mr. Ried--"I
believe you were asking for arguments to sustain my 'peculiar views.'
Here is one of them: This man of whom I speak, whose crazed brain has
this young sad life and death to answer for, I chance to know to a
certainty commenced his downward career in a certain pleasant parlor
in this city, among a select gathering of friends, taking a quiet
glass of wine!" And Mr. Foster made his adieus very brief, and
Ralph's laugh was just a little nervous as he said, when the family
were alone: "Foster is very fortunate in having an incident come to
our very door with which to point his theories."
Abbie had deserted her ottoman and taken one close by her father's
side. Now she laid her bright head lovingly against his breast, and
looked with eager, coaxing eyes into his stern gray ones. "Father,"
she said softly, "you'll let your little curly have her own way just
this time, won't you? I will promise not to coax you again until I
want something very bad indeed."
Mr. Ried had decided his plan of action some moments before. He was
prepared to remind his daughter in tones of haughty dignity that
he was "not in the habit of playing the part of a despot in his own
family, and that as she and her future husband were so very positive
in their very singular opinions, and so entirely regardless of his
wishes or feelings, he should, of course, not force his hospitalities
on her guests."
He made one mistake. For just a moment he allowed his eyes to meet
the sweet blue ones, looking lovingly and trustingly into his, and
whatever it was, whether the remembrance that his one daughter was
so soon to go out from her home, or the thought of all the tender and
patient love and care which she had bestowed on him in those early
morning hours, the stern gray eyes grew tender, the haughty lines
about the mouth relaxed, and with a sudden caressing movement of his
hand among the brown curls, he said in a half moved, half playful
"Did you ever ask any thing of anybody in your life that you didn't
get?" Then more gravely: "You shall have your way once more. Abbie, it
would be a pity to despoil you of your scepter at this late day."
"Fiddlesticks!" ejaculated Mrs. Ried.
Before she had added anything to that original sentiment Abbie was
behind her chair, both arms wound around her neck, and then came soft,
quick, loving kisses on her cheeks, on her lips, on her chin, and even
on her nose.
"Nonsense!" added her mother. Then she laughed. "Your father would
consent to have the ceremony performed in the attic if you should
take a fancy that the parlors are too nicely furnished to suit your
puritanic views and I don't know but I should be just as foolish."
"That man has gained complete control over her," Mrs. Ried said,
looking after Abbie with a little sigh, and addressing her remarks to
Ester as they stood together for a moment in the further parlor. "He
is a first-class fanatic, grows wilder and more incomprehensible in
his whims every day, and bends Abbie to his slightest wish. My only
consolation is that he is a man of wealth and culture, and indeed in
every other respect entirely unexceptionable."
A new light dawned upon Ester. This was the secret of Abbie's
"strangeness." Mr. Foster was one of those rare and wonderful men
about whom one occasionally reads but almost never meets, and of
course Abbie, being so constantly under his influence, was constantly
led by him. Very few could expect to attain to such a hight; certainly
she, with her social disadvantages and unhelpful surroundings, must
not hope for it.
She was rapidly returning to her former state of self-satisfaction.
There were certain things to be done. For instance, that first chapter
of John should receive more close attention at her next reading; and
there were various other duties which should be taken up and carefully
observed. But, on the whole, Ester felt that she had been rather
unnecessarily exercised, and that she must not expect to be perfect.
And so once more there was raised a flag of truce between her
conscience and her life.
They lingered together for a few minutes in the sitting-room, Abbie,
Ester, Ralph and Mr. Foster. They had been having a half sad, half
merry talk. It was the evening before the wedding. Ere this time
to-morrow Abbie would have left them, and in just a little while the
ocean would roll between them. Ester drew a heavy sigh as she thought
of it all. This magic three weeks, which had glowed in beauty for her,
such, as she told herself, her life would never see again, were just
on the eve of departure; only two days now before she would carry that
same restless, unhappy heart back among the clattering dishes in
that pantry and dining-room at home. Ralph broke the little moment of
silence which had fallen between them. "Foster, listen to the sweet
tones of that distant clock. It is the last time that you, being a
free man, will hear it strike five."
"Unless I prove to be an early riser on the morrow, which necessity
will compel me to become if I tarry longer here at present. Abbie,
I must be busy this entire evening. That funeral obliged me to
defer some important business matters that I meant should have been
dispatched early in the day."
"It isn't possible that you have been to a funeral to-day! How you do
mix things." Ralph uttered this sentence in real or pretended horror.
"Why not?" Mr. Foster answered gently, and added: "It is true
though; life and death are very strangely mixed. It was our little
Sabbath-school girl, Sallie, whom we laid to rest to-day. It didn't
jar as some funerals would have done; one had simply to remember that
she had reached home. Miss Ester, if you will get that package for me
I will execute your commission with pleasure."
Ester went away to do his bidding, and Ralph, promising to meet him at
the store in an hour, sauntered away, and for a few moments Abbie and
Mr. Foster talked together alone.
"Good-by all of you," he said smiling, as he glanced back at the two
girls a few moments later. "Take care of her, Ester, until I relieve
you. It will not be long now."
"Take care," Ester answered gaily; "you have forgotten the 'slip' that
there may be 'between the cup and the lip.'"
But he answered her with an almost solemn gravity: "I never forget
that more worthy expression of the same idea, we know not what a day
may bring forth; but I always remember with exceeding joy that God
knows, and will lead us."
"He is graver than ten ministers," Ester said, as they turned from the
window. "Come, Abbie, let us go up stairs."
It was two hours later when Abbie entered the sitting-room where Ester
awaited her, and curled herself into a small heap of white muslin at
"There!" said she, with a musical little laugh, "mother has sent me
away. The measure of her disgust is complete now. Dr. Downing is
in the sitting-room, and I have been guilty of going in to see him.
Imagine such a fearful breach of etiquette taking place in the house
of Ried! Do you know, I don't quite know what to do with myself. There
is really nothing more to busy myself about, unless I eat the wedding
"You don't act in the least like a young lady who is to be married
to-morrow," was Ester's answer, as she regarded her cousin with a half
amused, half puzzled air.
"Don't I?" said Abbie, trying to look alarmed. "What _have_ I done
now? I'm forever treading on bits of propriety, and crushing them. It
will be a real relief to me when I am safely married, and can relapse
into a common mortal again. Why, Ester, what have I been guilty of
"You are not a bit sentimental; are you, Abbie?" And at this gravely
put question Abbie's laugh rang out again.
"Now don't, please, add that item to the list," she said merrily.
"Ester, is it very important that one should be sentimental on such
an occasion? I wish you were married, I really do, so that I might
be told just how to conduct my self. How can you and mother be so
unreasonable as to expect perfection when it is all new, and I really
never practiced in my life?" Then a change, as sudden as it was sweet,
flushed over Abbie's face. The merry look died out, and in its place a
gentle, tender softness rested in the bright blue eyes, and her voice
was low and quiet. "You think my mood a strange one, I fancy, dear
Ester; almost unbecoming in its gayety. Perhaps it is, and yet I feel
it bright and glad and happy. The change is a solemn one, but it seems
to me that I have considered it long and well. I remember that my
new home is to be very near my old one; that my brother will have a
patient, faithful, life-long friend in Mr. Foster, and this makes me
feel more hopeful for him--and, indeed, it seems to me that I feel
like repeating, 'The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places.'
I do not, therefore, affect a gravity that I do not feel. I am
gloriously happy to-night, and the strongest feeling in my heart is
thankfulness. My Heavenly Father has brimmed my earthly cup, so that
it seems to me there is not room in my heart for another throb of joy;
and so you see--Ester, what on earth can be going on down stairs?
Have you noticed the banging of doors, and the general confusion that
reigns through the house? Positively if I wasn't afraid of shocking
mother into a fainting fit I would start on a voyage of discovery."
"Suppose I go," Ester answered, laughing. "Inasmuch as I am not going
to be married, there can be no harm in seeing what new developments
there are below stairs. I mean to go. I'll send you word if it is any
thing very amazing."
And with a laughing adieu Ester closed the door on the young
bride-elect, and ran swiftly down stairs. There did seem to be a good
deal of confusion in the orderly household, and the very air of the
hall seemed to be pervaded with a singular subdued excitement; voices
of suppressed loudness issued from the front parlor and as Ester
knocked she heard a half scream from Mrs. Ried, mingled with cries
of "Don't let her in." Growing thoroughly alarmed, Ester now abruptly
pushed open the door and entered.
"Oh, for mercy's sake, don't let her come," almost screamed Mrs. Ried,
starting wildly forward.
"Mother, _hush_!" said Ralph's voice in solemn sternness. "It is only
Ester. Where is Abbie?"
"In her room. What is the matter? Why do you all act so strangely? I
came to see what caused so much noise."
And then her eyes and voice were arrested by a group around the sofa;
Mr. Ried and Dr. Downing, and stooping over some object which was
hidden from her was the man who had been pointed out to her as the
great Dr. Archer. As she looked in terrified amazement, he raised his
head and spoke.
"It is as I feared, Mr. Ried. The pulse has ceased."
"It is not possible!" And the hollow, awestruck tone in which Mr. Ried
spoke can not be described.
And then Ester saw stretched on that sofa a perfectly motionless form,
a perfectly pale and quiet face, rapidly settling into the strange
solemn calm of death, and that face and form were Mr. Foster's! And
she stood as if riveted to the spot; stood in speechless, moveless
horror and amaze--and then the swift-coming thoughts shaped themselves
into two woe-charged words: "Oh Abbie!"
What a household was this into which death had so swiftly and silently
entered! The very rooms in which the quiet form lay sleeping, all
decked in festive beauty in honor of the bridal morning; but oh! there
was to come no bridal.
Ester shrank back in awful terror from the petition that she would go
"I can not--I _can not_!" she repeated again and again. "It will kill
her; and oh! it would kill me to tell her."
Mrs. Ried was even more hopeless a dependence than Ester; and Mr. Ried
cried out in the very agony of despair: "What _shall_ we do? Is there
_nobody_ to help us?"
Then Ralph came forward, grave almost to sternness, but very calm.
"Dr. Downing," he said, addressing the gentleman who had withdrawn a
little from the family group. "It seems to me that you are our only
hope in this time of trial. My sister and you are sustained, I
verily believe, by the same power. The rest of us seem to _have_ no
sustaining power. Would you go to my sister, sir?"
Dr. Downing turned his eyes slowly away from the calm, moveless face
which seemed to have fascinated him, and said simply: "I will do what
I can for Abbie. It is blessed to think what a Helper she has. One who
never faileth. God pity those who have no such friend."
So they showed him up to the brightly-lighted library, and sent a
message to the unconscious Abbie.
"Dr. Downing," she said, turning briskly from the window in answer to
Maggie's summons. "Whatever does he want of me do you suppose, Maggie?
I'm half afraid of him tonight. However, I'll endeavor to brave the
ordeal. Tell Miss Ester to come up to me as soon as she can, and be
ready to defend me if I am to receive a lecture."
This, as she flitted by toward the door; and a pitying cloud just then
hid the face of the August moon, and vailed from the glance of the
poor young creature the white, frightened face of Maggie.
With what unutterable agony of fear did the family below wait and long
for and dread the return of Dr. Downing, or some message from that
dreadful room. The moments that seemed hours to them dragged on, and
no sound came to them.
"She has not fainted then," muttered Ralph at last, "or he would have
rung. Ester, you know what Maggie said. Could you not go to her?"
Ester cowered and shrunk. "Oh, Ralph, don't ask me. I _can not_."
Then they waited again in silence; and at last shivered with fear as
Dr. Downing softly opened the door. There were traces of deep emotion
on his face, but just now it was wonderful for its calmness.
"She knows all," he said, addressing Mr. Ried. "And the widow's God is
hers. Mrs. Ried, she makes special request that she need see no living
soul to-night; and, indeed, I think it will be best. And now, my
friends, may I pray with you in this hour of trial."
So while quick, skillful fingers prepared the sleeper in that front
parlor for his long, long rest, a group such as had never bowed the
knee together before, knelt in the room just across the hall, and amid
tears and moans they were commended to the care of Him who waits to
help us all.
By and by a solemn quiet settled down upon that strangely stricken
household. In the front parlor the folding doors were closed, and
the angel of death kept guard over his quiet victim. From the chamber
overhead came forth no sound, and none knew save God how fared the
struggle between despair and submission in that young heart. In
the sitting-room Ester waited breathlessly while Ralph gave the
particulars, which she had not until now been able to hear.
"We were crossing just above the store; had nearly got across; he was
just saying that his preparations were entirely perfected for a long
absence. 'It is a long journey,' he added, 'and if I never come back
I have the satisfaction of thinking that I have left everything ready
even for that. It is well to be ready even for death, Ralph,' he said,
with one of his glorious smiles; 'it makes life pleasanter.' I don't
know how I can tell you the rest." And Ralph's lips grew white and
tremulous. "Indeed, I hardly know how it was. There was an old bent
woman crossing just behind us, and there was a carriage, and a wretch
of a drunken driver pushing his way through. I don't know how Foster
came to look around, but he did, and said, 'There is my dear old lady
behind us, Ralph; she ought not to be out with a mere child for a
companion.' And then he uttered an exclamation of terror, and sprang
forward--and I know nothing clearly that followed. I saw him drag
that old woman fairly from under the horses' feet. I heard the driver
curse, and saw him strike his frightened horses, and they reared and
plunged, and I saw him fall; but it all seemed to happen in one second
of time--and how I got him home, and got Dr. Archer, and kept it from
Abbie, I don't seem to know. Oh God help my poor little fair darling."
And Ralph choked and stopped, and wiped from his eyes great burning
"Oh Ralph!" said Ester, as soon as she could speak. "Then all this
misery comes because that driver was intoxicated."
"Yes," said Ralph, with compressed lips and flashing eyes.
* * * * *
"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of
sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."
Rom. 13: 11.
* * * * *
LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS.
Slowly, slowly, the night wore away, and the eastern sky grew rosy
with the blush of a new morning--the bridal morning! How strangely
unreal, how even impossible did it seem to Ester, as she raised the
curtains and looked drearily out upon the dawn, that this was actually
the day upon which her thoughts had centered during the last three
weeks What a sudden shutting down had there been to all their plans
and preparations! How strangely the house looked--here a room bedecked
in festive beauty for the wedding; there one with shrouded mirrors,
and floating folds of crape! Life and death, a wedding and a
funeral--they had never either of them touched so close to her before;
and now the one had suddenly glided backward, and left her heart heavy
with the coming of the other. Mechanically, she turned to look upon
the silvery garment gleaming among the white furnishings of the bed,
for she was that very morning to have assisted in arraying the bride
in those robes of beauty. Her own careful fingers had laid out all the
bewildering paraphernalia of the dressing-room--sash and gloves, and
handkerchief and laces. Just in that very spot had she stood only
yesterday, and talking the while with Abbie; had altered a knot of
ribbons, and given the ends a more graceful droop, and just at that
moment Abbie had been summoned below stairs to see Mr. Foster--and now
he was waiting down there, not for Abbie, but for the coffin and the
grave, and Abbie was----. And here Ester gave a low, shuddering moan,
and covered her eyes with her hands. Why had she come into that room
at all? And why was all this fearful time allowed to come to Abbie?
Poor, poor Abbie she had been so bright and so good, and Mr. Foster
had been so entirely her guide--how could she ever endure it? Ester
doubted much whether Abbie could ever bear to see _her_ again, she had
been so closely connected with all these bright days, over which so
fearful a pall had fallen. It would be very natural if she should
refuse even to _see_ her--and, indeed, Ester almost hoped she would.
It seemed to her that this was a woe too deep to be spoken of or
endured, only she said with a kind of desperation, "Things _must_ be
endured;" and there was a wild thought in her heart, that if she could
but have the ordering of events, all this bitter sorrow should never
be. There came a low, tremulous knock as an interruption to her
thoughts, and Maggie's swollen eyes and tear-stained face appeared at
the door with a message.
"If you please, Miss Ester, she wants you."
"Who?" asked Ester, with trembling lips and a sinking at her heart.
"Miss Abbie, ma'am; she asked for you, and said would you come to her
as soon as you could."
But it was hours after that before Ester brought herself to feel that
she _could_ go to her. Nothing had ever seemed so hard to her to do.
How to look, how to act, what to say, and above all, what _not_ to
say to this poor, widowed bride. These questions were by no means
answered, when she suddenly, in desperate haste, decided that if it
must be done, the sooner it was over the better, and she made all
speed to prepare herself for the visit; and yet there was enough of
Ester's personal self left, even on that morning, to send a
little quiver of complacency through her veins, as she bathed her
tear-stained face, and smoothed her disordered hair. Abbie had sent
for _her_. Abbie wanted her; she had sent twice. Evidently she had
turned to her for help. Miserably unable as she felt herself to give
it, still it was a comfort to feel that she was the one selected from
the household for companionship. Ester knew that Mrs. Ried had been
with her daughter for a few moments, and that Ralph had rushed in and
out again, too overcome to stay, but Ester had asked no questions, and
received no information concerning her. She pictured her lying on
the bed, with disordered hair and swollen eyes, given over to the
abandonment of grief, or else the image of stony despair; and it was
with a very trembling hand that at last she softly turned the knob
and let herself into the morning room, which she and Abbie had enjoyed
together; and just as she pushed open the door, a neighboring clock
counted out twelve strokes, and it was at twelve o'clock that Abbie
was to become a wife! Midway in the room Ester paused, and, as her
eyes rested on Abbie, a look of bewildering astonishment gathered
on her face. In the little easy chair by the open window, one hand
keeping the place in the partly closed book, sat the young creature,
whose life had so suddenly darkened around her. The morning robe of
soft pure white was perfect in its neatness and simplicity, the brown
curls clustered around her brow with their wonted grace and beauty,
and while under her eyes indeed there were heavy rings of black, yet
the eyes themselves were large and full and tender. As she held out
the disengaged hand, there came the soft and gentle likeness of a
smile over her face; and Ester, bewildered, amazed, frightened, stood
almost as transfixed as if she had been one of those who saw the angel
sitting at the door of the empty tomb. Stood a moment, then a sudden
revulsion of feeling overcoming her, hurried forward, and dropping on
her knees, bowed her head over the white hand and the half-open Bible,
and burst into a passion of tears.
"_Dear_ Ester!" This said Abbie in the softest, most soothing of
tones. The mourner turned comforter!
"Oh Abbie, Abbie, how can you bear it--how _can_ you live?" burst
forth from the heart of this friend who had come to comfort this
There was a little bit of silence now, and a touching tremble to the
voice when it was heard again.
"'The Lord knoweth them that are his.' I try to remember that. Christ
knows it all, and he loves me, and he is all-powerful; and yet he
leads me through this dark road; therefore it _must_ be right."
"But," said Ester, raising her eyes and staying her tears for very
amazement, "I do not understand--I do not see. How _can_ you be so
calm, so submissive, at least just now--so soon--and you were to have
been married to-day?"
The blood rolled in great purple waves over neck and cheek and brow,
and then receded, leaving a strange, almost death-like, pallor behind
it. The small hands were tightly clasped, with a strange mixture of
pain and devotion in the movement, and the white lips moved for a
moment, forming words that met no mortal ear--then the sweet, low,
tender voice sounded again.
"Dear Ester, I pray. There is no other way. I pray all the time. I
keep right by my Savior. There is just a little, oh, a very little,
vale of flesh between him and between my--my husband and myself. Jesus
loves me, Ester. I know it now just as well as I did yesterday. I do
not and can not doubt him."
A mixture of awe and pain and astonishment kept Ester moveless and
silent, and Abbie spoke no more for some moments. Then it was a
changed, almost bright voice.
"Ester do you remember we stood together alone for a moment yesterday?
I will tell you what he said, the last words that were intended for
just me only, that I shall hear for a little while; they are _my_
words, you know, but I shall tell them to you so you may see how
tender Christ is, even in his most solemn chastenings. 'See here,' he
said, 'I will give you a word to keep until we meet in the morning:
The Lord watch between thee and me while we are absent one from
another.' I have been thinking, while I sat here this morning,
watching the coming of this new day, which you know is his first day
in heaven, that perhaps it will be on some such morning of beauty as
this that my long, long day will dawn, and that I will say to him, as
soon as ever I see his face again: 'The word was a good one; the Lord
has watched between us, and the night is gone.' Think of it, Ester. I
shall _surely_ say that some day--'some summer morning.'"
The essence of sweetness and the sublimity of faith which this young
Christian threw into these jubilant words can not be repeated on
paper; but, thank God, they can in the heart--they are but the echo of
those sure and everlasting words: "My grace is sufficient for thee."
As for Ester, who had spent her years groveling in the dust of earth,
it was the recital of such an experience as she had not deemed it
possible for humanity to reach. And still she knelt immovable and
silent, and Abbie broke the silence yet again.
"Dear Ester, do you know I have not seen him yet, and I want to.
Mother does not understand, and she would not give her consent, but
she thinks me safe while you are with me. Would you mind going down
with me just to look at his face again?"
Oh, Ester would mind it _dreadfully_. She was actually afraid of
death. She was afraid of the effect of such a scene upon this strange
Abbie. She raised her head, shivering with pain and apprehension,
and looked a volume of petition and remonstrance; but ere she spoke
Abbie's hand rested lovingly on her arm, and her low sweet voice
continued the pleading:
"You do not quite understand my mood, Ester. I am not unlike others;
I have wept bitter tears this past night; I have groaned in agony of
spirit; I have moaned in the very dust. I shall doubtless have such
struggles again. This is earth, and the flesh is weak; but now is
my hour of exaltation--and while it is given me now to feel a faint
overshadowing of the very glory which surrounds him, I want to go and
look my last upon the dear clay which is to stay here on earth with
And Ester rose up, and wound her arm about the tiny frame which held
this brave true heart, and without another spoken word the two went
swiftly down the stairs, and entered the silent, solemn parlor. Yet,
even while she went, a fierce throb of pain shook Ester's heart, as
she remembered how they had arranged to descend the staircase on
this very day--in what a different manner, and for what a different
purpose. Apparently no such thought as this touched Abbie. She went
softly and yet swiftly forward to the still form, while Ester waited
in almost breathless agony to see what would result from this trial of
faith and nerve; but what a face it was upon which death had left its
seal! No sculptured marble was ever so grand in its solemn beauty as
was this clay-molded face, upon which the glorious smile born not of
earth rested in full sweetness. Abbie, with clasped hands and slightly
parted lips, stood and almost literally drank in the smile; then,
sweet and low and musical, there broke the sound of her voice in that
great solemn room.
"So he giveth his beloved sleep."
Not another word or sound disturbed the silence. And still Abbie stood
and gazed on the dear, dead face. And still Ester stood near the
door, and watched with alternations of anxiety and awe the changeful
expressions on the scarcely less white face of the living, until at
last, without sound or word, she dropped upon her knees, a cloud of
white drapery floating around her, and clasped her hands over the
lifeless breast. Then on Ester's face the anxiety gave place to awe,
and with softly moving fingers she opened the door, and with noiseless
tread went out into the hall and left the living and the dead alone
There was one more scene for Ester to endure that day. Late in the
afternoon, as she went to the closed room, there was bending over the
manly form a gray-haired old woman. By whose friendly hands she had
been permitted to enter, Ester did not stop to wonder. She had seen
her but once before, but she knew at a glance the worn, wrinkled face;
and, as if a picture of the scene hung before her, she saw that old,
queer form, leaning trustfully on the strong arm, lying nerveless now,
being carefully helped through the pushing throng--being reverently
cared for as if she had been his mother; and _she_, looking after the
two, had wondered if she should ever see them again. Now she stood
in the presence of them both, yet what an unmeasurable ocean rolled
between them! The faded, tearful eyes were raised to her face after
a moment, and a quivering voice spoke her thoughts aloud, rather than
addressed any body. "He gave his life for poor old useless me, and it
was such a beautiful life, and was needed, oh so much; but what am
I saying, God let it be him instead of me, who wanted so to go--and
after trusting him all along, am I, at my time of life, going to
murmur at him now? He came to see me only yesterday"--this in a more
natural tone of voice, addressed to Ester--"he told me good-by. He
said he was going a long journey with his wife; and now, may the dear
Savior help the poor darling, for he has gone his long journey without
Ester waited to hear not another word. The heavy sense of pain because
of Abbie, which she had carried about with her through all that weary
day, had reached its height with that last sentence: "He has gone his
long journey without her."
She fled from the room, up the stairs, to the quiet little chamber,
which had been given to her for her hours of retirement, locked and
bolted the door, and commenced pacing up and down the room in agony of
It was not all because of Abbie that this pain knocked so steadily at
her heart, at least not all out of sympathy with her bitter sorrow.
There was a fearful tumult raging in her own soul; her last stronghold
had been shattered. Of late she had come to think that Abbie's
Christian life was but a sweet reflection of Mr. Foster's strong, true
soul; that she leaned not on Christ, but on the arm of flesh. She had
told herself very confidently that if _she_ had such a friend as he
had been to Abbie, she should be like her. In her hours of rebellion
she had almost angrily reminded herself that it was not strange that
Abbie's life could be so free from blame; _she_ had some one to turn
to in her needs. It was a very easy matter for Abbie to slip lightly
over the petty trials of her life, so long as she was surrounded and
shielded by that strong, true love. But now, ah now, the arm of flesh
had faltered, the strong staff had broken, and broken, too, only a
moment, as it were, before it was to have been hers in name as well as
in spirit. Naturally, Ester had expected that the young creature, so
suddenly shorn of her best and dearest, would falter and faint,
and utterly fail. And when, looking on, she saw the triumph of the
Christian's faith, rising even over death, sustained by no human arm,
and yet wonderfully, triumphantly sustained, even while she bent
for the last time over that which was to have been her earthly
all--looking and wondering, there suddenly fell away from her the
stupor of years, and Ester saw with wide, open eyes, and thoroughly
awakened soul, that there was a something in this Christian religion
that Abbie had and she had not.
And thus it was that she paced her room in that strange agony that was
worse than grief, and more sharp than despair. No use now to try to
lull her conscience back to quiet sleep again; that time was past,
it was thoroughly and sharply awake; the same All-wise hand which had
tenderly freed one soul from its bonds of clay and called it home, had
as tenderly and as wisely, with the same stroke, cut the cords that
bound this other soul to earth, loosed the scales from her long-closed
eyes, broke the sleep that had well-nigh lulled her to ruin; and now
heart and brain and conscience were thoroughly and forever awake.
When at last, from sheer exhaustion, she ceased her excited pacing
up and down the room and sank into a chair, her heart was not more
stilled. It seemed to her, long after, in thinking of this hour,
that it was given to her to see deeper into the recesses of her own
depravity than ever mortal had seen before. She began years back,
at that time when she thought she had given her heart to Christ, and
reviewed step by step all the weary way, up to this present time;
and she found nothing but backslidings, and inconsistencies, and
confusion--denials of her Savior, a closed Bible, a neglected closet,
a forgotten cross. Oh, the bitterness, the unutterable agony of that
hour! Surely Abbie, on her knees struggling with her bleeding heart,
and yet feeling all around and underneath her the everlasting arms,
knew nothing of desolation such as this.
Fiercer and fiercer waged the warfare, until at last every root of
pride, or self-complacence, or self-excuse, was utterly cast out. Yet
did not Satan despair. Oh, he meant to have this poor sick, weak lamb,
if he could get her; no effort should be left unmade. And when he
found that she could be no more coaxed and lulled and petted into
peace, he tried that darker, heavier temptation--tried to stupefy her
into absolute despair. "No," she said within her heart, "I am not a
Christian; I never have been one; I never _can_ be one. I've been a
miserable, self-deceived hypocrite all my life. I have had a name
to live, and am dead. I would not let myself be awakened; I have
struggled against it; I have been only too glad to stop myself from
thinking about it. I have been just a miserable stumbling-block, with
no excuse to offer; and now I feel myself deserted, justly so. There
can be no rest for such as I. I have no Savior; I have insulted and
denied him; I have crucified him again, and now he has left me to
Thus did that father of lies continue to pour into this weary soul the
same old story which he has repeated for so many hundred years, with
the same old foundation: "_I--I--I_." And strange to say, this poor
girl repeated the experience which has so many times been lived,
during these past hundreds of years, in the very face of that other
glorious pronoun, in very defiance, it would seem, to that old,
old explanation: "Surely _he_ hath borne our griefs and carried our
sorrows." "_He_ was wounded for our transgressions; _he_ was bruised
for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon _him_: and
with _his stripes_ we are healed."
Yes, Ester knew those two verses. She knew yet another which said:
"All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned every one to his
own way: _and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all_."
And yet she dared to sit with hopeless, folded hand, with heavy
despairing eyes, and repeat that sentence: "I _have_ no Savior now."
And many a wandering sheep has dared, even in its repenting hour,
to insult the great Shepherd thus. Ester's Bible lay on the window
seat--the large, somewhat worn Bible which Abbie had lent her, to
"mark just as much as she pleased;" it lay open, as if it had opened
of itself to a familiar spot. There were heavy markings around several
of the verses, markings that had not been made by Ester's pencil.
Some power far removed from that which had been guiding her despairing
thoughts prompted her to reach forth her hand for the book, and fix
her attention on those marked verses, and the words were these: "For
thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name
is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of
a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend
forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail
before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his
covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and
he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways,
and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him
and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to
him that is afar off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and _I
will heal him_."
Had an angel spoken to Ester, or was it the dear voice of the Lord
himself? She did not know. She only knew that there rang through her
very soul two sentences as the climax of all these wonderful words:
"Peace, peace to him that is afar off"--and--"I will heal him."
A moment more, and with the very promise of the Crucified spread
out before her, Ester was on her knees; and at first, with bursts of
passionate, tearful pleading, and later with low, humble, contrite
tones, and finally with the sound in her voice of that peace which
comes only to those to whom Christ is repeating: "I have blotted out
as a cloud thy transgressions, and as a thick cloud thy sins," did
"Do you know, dear Ester, there must have been two new joys in heaven
to-day? First they had a new-comer among those who walk with him in
white, for they are worthy; and then they had that shout of triumph
over another soul for whom Satan has struggled fiercely and whom he
has forever lost." This said Abbie, as they nestled close together
that evening in the "purple twilight."
And Ester answered simply and softly: Amen.
Meanwhile the days moved on; the time fixed for Ester's return home
had long passed, and yet she tarried in New York. Abbie clung to her,
wanted her for various reasons; and the unselfish, pitying mother, far
away, full of tender sympathy for the stricken bride, smothered a sigh
of weariness, buried in her heart the thought of her own need of her
eldest daughter's presence and help, and wrote a long, loving letter,
jointly to the daughter and niece, wherein she gave her full consent
to Ester's remaining away, so long as she could be a comfort to her
Two items worthy of record occurred during these days. The first time
the family gathered at the dinner table, after the one who had been
so nearly a son of the house had been carried to his rest in that
wonderful and treasured city of Greenwood, Ralph, being helped by
John, as usual, to his glass of wine, refused it with a short, sharp,
almost angry "_No_. Take it away and never offer me the accursed stuff
again. We should have had him with us to-day but for that. I'll never
touch another drop of it as long as I live."
Which startling words Mr. and Mrs. Ried listened to without comment,
other than a half-frightened look bestowed on Abbie, to see how she
would bear this mention of her dead; and she bore it this way. Turning
her eyes, glistening with tears, full on her brother's face, she said,
with a little quiver of tender gladness in her voice:
"Oh, Ralph, I knew it had a silver lining, but I did not think God
would let me see it so soon."
Then Mr. and Mrs. Ried concluded that both their children were queer,
and that they did not understand them. The other item was productive
of a dissertation on propriety from Mrs. Ried.
Ralph and his father were in the back parlor, the former standing with
one arm resting on the mantel while he talked with his father, who was
half buried in a great easy chair--that easy chair in his own elegant
parlor, and his handsome son standing before him in that graceful
attitude, were Mr. Ried's synonyms for perfect satisfaction; and his
face took on a little frown of disappointment, as the door opened
somewhat noisily, and Mrs. Ried came in wearing a look expressive
of thoroughly-defined vexation. Ralph paused in the midst of his
sentence, and wheeled forward a second easy chair for his mother, then
returned to his former position and waited patiently for the gathered
frown to break into words, which event instantly occurred.
"I really do not think, Mr. Ried, that this nonsense ought to be
allowed; besides being a very strange, unfeeling thing to do, it is in
my opinion positively indecent--and I _do_ think, Mr. Ried, that you
ought to exercise your authority for once."
"If you would kindly inform me what you are supposed to be talking
about, and where my authority is specially needed at this time, I
might be induced to consider the matter."
This, from the depths of the easy chair, in its owner's most
provokingly indifferent tone, which fortunately Mrs. Ried was too much
preoccupied to take special note of, and continued her storm of words.
"Here, it is not actually quite a week since he was buried, and Abbie
must needs make herself and her family appear perfectly ridiculous by
making her advent in public."
Mr. Ried came to an upright posture, and even Ralph asked a startled
"Where is she going?"
"Why, where do you suppose, but to that absurd little prayer-meeting,
where she always would insist upon going every Thursday evening. I
used to think it was for the pleasure of a walk home with Mr. Foster;
but why she should go to-night is incomprehensible to me."
"Nonsense!" said Mr. Ried, settling back into the cushions. "A large
public that will be. I thought at the very least she was going to the
opera. If the child finds any comfort in such an atmosphere, where's
the harm? Let her go."
"Where's the harm! Now, Mr. Ried, that is just as much as you care
for appearances _sometimes_, and at other times you can be quite as
particular as _I_ am; though I certainly believe there is nothing that
Abbie might take a fancy to do that you would not uphold her in."
Mr. Ried's reply was uttered in a tone that impressed one with the
belief that he was uttering a deliberate conviction.
"You are quite right as regards that, I suspect. At least I find
myself quite unable to conceive of any thing connected with her that
could by any twisting be made other than just the thing."
Mrs. Ried's exasperated answer was cut short by the entrance of Abbie,
attired as for a walk or ride, the extreme pallor of her face and the
largeness of her soft eyes enhanced by the deep mourning robes which
fell around her like the night.
"Now, Abbie," said Mrs. Ried, turning promptly to her, "I did hope
you had given up this strangest of all your strange whims. What _will_
"People are quite accustomed to see me there, dear mother, at least
all the people who will see me to-night; and if _ever_ I needed help I
do just now."
"I should think it would be much more appropriate to stay at home and
find help in the society of your own family. That is the way other
people do who are in affliction."
Mrs. Ried had the benefit of a full, steady look from Abbie's great
solemn eyes now, as she said:
"Mother, I want God's help. No other will do me any good."
"Well," answered Mrs. Ried, after just a moment of rather awe-struck
silence, "can't you find that help any where but in that plain,
common little meeting-house? I thought people with your peculiar views
believed that God was every-where."
An expression not unlike that of a hunted deer shone for a moment in
Abbie's eyes. Then she spoke, in tones almost despairing:
"O mother, _mother_, you _can not_ understand."
Tone, or words, or both, vexed Mrs. Ried afresh, and she spoke with
"At least I can understand this much, that my daughter is very anxious
to do a thing utterly unheard of in its propriety, and I am thoroughly
ashamed of you. If I were Ester I should not like to uphold you in
such a singularly conspicuous parade. Remember, you have no one _now_
but John to depend upon as an escort."
Ralph had remained a silent, immovable listener to this strange, sad
conversation up to this moment. Now he came suddenly forward with a
quick, firm tread, and encircled Abbie's trembling form with his arm,
while with eyes and voice he addressed his mother.
"In that last proposition you are quite mistaken, my dear mother.
Abbie chances to have a brother, who considers himself honored by
being permitted to accompany her any where she may choose to go."
Mrs. Ried looked up at her tall, haughty son in unfeigned
astonishment, and for an instant was silent.
"Oh," she said at last, "if you have chosen to rank yourself on this
ridiculous fanatical side, I have nothing more to say."
As for Mr. Ried, he had long before this shadded his eyes with his
hand, and was looking through half-closed fingers with mournful eyes
at the sable robes and pallid face of his golden-haired darling,
apparently utterly unconscious of or indifferent to the talk that was
But will Ralph ever forget the little sweet smile which illumined for
a moment the pure young face, as she turned confiding eyes on him?
Thenceforth there dawned a new era in Abbie's life. Ralph, for
reasons best known to himself, chose to be released from his vacation
engagements in a neighboring city, and remained closely at home. And
Abbie went as usual to her mission-class, to her Bible-class, to
the teacher's prayer-meeting, to the regular church prayer-meeting,
every-where she had been wont to go, and she was always and
every-where accompanied and sustained by her brother.
As for Ester, these were days of great opportunity and spiritual
growth to her.
So we bridge the weeks between and reach the afternoon of a September
day, bright and beautiful, as the month draws toward its closing; and
Ester is sitting alone in her room in the low, easy chair by the
open window, and in her lap lies an open letter, while she, with
thoughtful, earnest eyes seems reading, not it, but the future, or
else her own heart. The letter is from Sadie, and she has written
"MY DEAR CITY SISTER,--Mother said to-night, as we were promenading
the dining-room for the sake of exercise, and also to clear off the
table (Maggie had the toothache and was off duty): 'Sadie, my dear
child, haven't you written to Ester yet? Do you think it is quite
right to neglect her so, when she must be very anxious to hear from
home?' Now, you know, when mother says, 'Sadie, my dear child,' and
looks at me from out those reproachful eyes of hers, there is nothing
short of mixing a mess of bread that I would not do for her. So here I
am--place, third story front; time, 11:30 P.M.; position, foot of the
bed (Julia being soundly sleeping at the head), one gaiter off and one
gaiter on, somewhat after the manner of 'my son John' so renowned in
history. Speaking of bread, how abominably that article can act. I had
a solemn conflict with a batch of it this morning. Firstly, you must
know, I forgot it. Mother assured me it was ready to be mixed before
I awakened, so it must have been before that event took place that
the forgetfulness occurred; however, be that as it may, after I was
thoroughly awake, and up, and _down_, I still forgot it. The fried
potatoes were frying themselves fast to that abominable black dish
in which they are put to sizzle, and which, by the way, is the most
nefarious article in the entire kitchen list to get clean (save
and excepting the dish-cloth). Well, as I was saying, they burned
themselves, and I ran to the rescue. Then Minie wanted me to go to
the yard with her, to see a 'dear cunning little brown and gray
thing, with some greenish spots, that walked and spoke to her.' The
interesting stranger proved to be a fair-sized frog! While examining
into, and explaining minutely the nature and character and occupations
of the entire frog family, the mixture in the tin pail, behind the
kitchen stove, took that opportunity to _sour_. My! what a bubble
it was in, and what an interesting odor it emitted, when at last I
returned from frogdom to the ordinary walks of life, and gave it my
attention. Maggie was above her elbows in the wash-tub, so I seized
the pail, and in dire haste and dismay ran up two flights of stairs
in search of mother. I suppose you know what followed. I assure you,
I think mothers and soda are splendid! What a remarkable institution
that ingredient is. While I made sour into sweet with the aid of its
soothing proclivities, I moralized; the result of which was that after
I had squeezed and mushed and rolled over, and thumped and patted my
dough the requisite number of times, I tucked it away under blankets
in a corner, and went out to the piazza to ask Dr. Douglass if he knew
of an article in the entire round of Materia Medica which could be
given to human beings when they were sour and disagreeable, and which,
after the manner of soda in dough, would immediately work a reform.
On his acknowledging his utter ignorance of any such principle, I
advanced the idea that cooking was a much more developed science than
medicine; thence followed an animated discussion.
"But in the meantime what do you suppose that bread was doing? Just
spreading itself in the most remarkable manner over the nice blanket
under which I had cuddled it! Then I had an amazing time. Mother
said the patting process must all be done over again; and there was
abundant opportunity for more moralizing. That bread developed the
most remarkable stick-to-a-tive-ness that I ever beheld. I assure you,
if total depravity is a mark of humanity, then I believe my dough is
"Well, we are all still alive, though poor Mr. Holland is, I fear,
very little more than that. He was thrown from his carriage one
evening last week, and brought home insensible. He is now in a raging
fever, and very ill indeed. For once in their lives both doctors
agree. He is delirious most of the time; and his delirium takes the
very trying form which leads him to imagine that only mother can do
any thing for him. The doctors think he fancies she is his own mother,
and that he is a boy again. All this makes matters rather hard on
mother. She is frequently with him half the night; and often Maggie
and I are left to reign supreme in the kitchen for the entire day.
Those are the days that 'try men's souls,' especially women's.
"I am sometimes tempted to think that all the book knowledge the world
contains is not to be compared to knowing just what, and how, and
when, to do in the kitchen. I quite think so for a few hours when
mother, after a night of watching in a sick room, comes down to undo
some of my blundering. She is the patientest, dearest, lovingest,
kindest mother that ever a mortal had, and just because she is so
patient shall I rejoice over the day when she can give a little sigh
of relief and leave the kitchen, calm in the assurance that it will
be right-side up when she returns. Ester, how _did_ you make things
go right? I'm sure I try harder than I ever knew you to, and yet salt
will get into cakes and puddings, and sugar into potatoes. Just here
I'm conscience smitten. I beg you will not construe one of the above
sentences as having the remotest allusion to your being sadly missed
at home. Mother said I was not even to _hint_ such a thing, and I'm
sure I haven't. I'm a _remarkable_ housekeeper. The fall term at the
academy opened week before last. I have hidden my school-books behind
that old barrel in the north-east corner of the attic. I thought they
would be safer there than below stairs. At least I was sure the bread
would do better in the oven because of their ascent.
"To return to the scene of our present trials: Mr. Holland is, I
suppose, very dangerously sick; and poor Mrs. Holland is the very
embodiment of despair. When I look at her in prospective misery, I
am reminded of poor, dear cousin Abbie (to whom I would write if it
didn't seem a sacrilege), and I conclude there is really more misery
in this world of ours than I had any idea of. I've discovered why
the world was made round. It must be to typify our lives--sort of a
tread-mill existence, you know; coming constantly around to the things
which you thought you had done yesterday and put away; living over
again to-day the sorrows which you thought were vanquished last week.
I'm sleepy, and it is nearly time to bake cakes for breakfast. 'The
tip of the morning to you,' as Patrick O'Brien greets Maggie.
"Yours nonsensically; SADIE."
Over this letter Ester had laughed and cried, and finally settled, as
we found her, into quiet thought. When Abbie came in after a little,
and nestled on an ottoman in front of her, with an inquiring look,
Ester placed the letter in her hands, without note or comment, and
Abbie read and laughed considerably, then grew more sober, and at last
folded the letter with a very thoughtful face.
"Well," said Ester, at last, smiling a little.
And Abbie answered: "Oh, Ester."
"Yes," said Ester, "you see they need me."
Then followed a somewhat eager, somewhat sorrowful talk, and then a
moment of silence fell between them, which Abbie broke by a sudden
"Ester, isn't this Dr. Douglass gaining some influence over Sadie?
Have I imagined it, or does she speak of him frequently in her
letters, in a way that gives me an idea that his influence is not for
"I'm afraid it is very true; his influence over her seems to be great,
and it certainly is not for good. The man is an infidel, I think. At
least he is very far indeed from being a Christian. Do you know I
read a verse in my Bible this morning which, when I think of my past
influence over Sadie, reminds me bitterly of myself. It was like this:
'While men slept his enemy came and sowed tares--.' If I had not been
asleep I might have won Sadie for the Savior before this enemy came."
"Well," Abbie answered gently, not in the least contradicting this sad
statement, but yet speaking hopefully, "you will try to undo all this
"Oh, Abbie, I don't know. I am so weak--like a child just beginning to
take little steps alone, instead of being the strong disciple that I
might have been. I distrust myself. I am afraid."
"I'm not afraid for you," Abbie said, speaking very earnestly.
"Because, in the first place you are unlike the little child, in that
you must never even try to take one step _alone_. And besides, there
are more verses in the Bible than that one. See here, let me show you
And Abbie produced her little pocket Bible, and pointed with her
finger while Ester read; "When I am weak, then am I strong." Then
turning the leaves rapidly, as one familiar with the strongholds of
that tower of safety, she pointed again, and Ester read: "What time I
am afraid, I will trust in thee."
Almost five o'clock of a sultry October day, one of those days which
come to us sometimes during that golden month, like a regretful
turning back of the departing summer. A day which, coming to people
who have much hard, pressing work, and who are wearied and almost
stifled with the summer's heat, makes them thoroughly uncomfortable,
not to say cross. Almost five o'clock, and in the great dining-room of
the Rieds Sadie was rushing nervously back and forth, very much in
the same manner that Ester was doing on that first evening of our
acquaintance, only there was not so much method in her rushing. The
curtains were raised as high as the tapes would take them, and the
slant rays of the yellow sun were streaming boldly in, doing their
bravest to melt into oil the balls of butter on the table, for poor,
tired, bewildered Sadie had forgotten to let down the shades, and
forgotten the ice for the butter, and had laid the table cloth
crookedly, and had no time to straighten it. This had been one of
her trying days. The last fierce look of summer had parched anew
the fevered limbs of the sufferer up stairs, and roused to sharper
conflict the bewildered brain. Mrs. Ried's care had been earnest and
unremitting, and Sadie, in her unaccustomed position of mistress below
stairs, had reached the very verge of bewildered weariness. She gave
nervous glances at the inexorable clock as she flew back and forth.
There were those among Mrs. Ried's boarders whose business made
it almost a necessity that they should be promptly served at five
o'clock. Maggie had been hurriedly summoned to do an imperative errand
connected with the sick room; and this inexperienced butterfly, with
her wings sadly drooping, was trying to gather her scattered wits
together sufficiently to get that dreadful tea-table ready for the
thirteen boarders who were already waiting the summons.
"What _did_ I come after?" she asked herself impatiently, as she
pressed her hand to her frowning forehead, and stared about the pantry
in a vain attempt to decide what had brought her there in such hot
haste. "Oh, a spoon--no, a fork, I guess it was. Why, I don't remember
the forks at all. As sure as I'm here, I believe they are, too,
instead of being on the table; and--Oh, my patience, I believe those
biscuits are burning. I wonder if they are done. Oh, dear me!" And
the young lady, who was Mr. Hammond's star scholar, bent with puzzled,
burning face, and received hot whiffs of breath from the indignant
oven while she tried to discover whether the biscuits were ready to be
devoured. It was an engrossing employment. She did not hear the sound
of carriage wheels near the door, nor the banging of trunks on the
side piazza. She was half way across the dining-room, with her tin of
puffy biscuits in her hands, with the puzzled, doubtful look still on
her face, before she felt the touch of two soft, loving arms around
her neck, and turning quickly, she screamed, rather than said: "Oh,
Ester!" And suddenly seating her tin of biscuit on one chair and
herself on another, Sadie covered her face with both hands and
"Why, Sadie, you poor dear child, what _can_ be the matter?"
And Ester's voice was full of anxiety, for it was almost the first
time that she had ever seen tears on that bright young face.
Sadie's first remark caused a sudden revulsion of feeling. Springing
suddenly to her feet, she bent anxious eyes on the chair full of
"Oh, Ester," she said, "_are_ these biscuits done, or will they be
sticky and hateful in the middle?"
_How_ Ester laughed! Then she came to the rescue. "_Done_--of course
they are, and beautifully, too. Did you make them? Here, I'll take
them out. Sadie, where is mother?"
"In Mr. Holland's room. She has been there nearly all day. Mr. Holland
is no better, and Maggie has gone on an errand for them. Why have you
come? Did the fairies send you?"
"And where are the children?"
"They have gone to walk. Minie wanted mother every other minute,
so Alfred and Julia have carried her off with them. Say, you _dear_
Ester, how _did_ you happen to come? How shall I be glad enough to see
Ester laughed. "Then I can't see any of them," she said by way of
answer. "Never mind, then we'll have some tea. You poor child, how
very tired you look. Just seat yourself in that chair, and see if I
have forgotten how to work."
And Sadie, who was thoroughly tired, and more nervous than she had any
idea she could be, leaned luxuriously back in her mother's chair, with
a delicious sense of unresponsibility about her, and watched a magic
spell come over the room. Down came the shades in a twinkling, and the
low red sun looked in on them no more; the table-cloth straightened
itself; pickles and cheese and cake got out of their confused
proximity, and marched each to their appropriate niche on the
well-ordered table; a flying visit into well-remembered regions
returned hard, sparkling, ice-crowned butter. And when at last the
fragrant tea stood ready to be served, and Ester, bright and smiling,
stationed herself behind her mother's chair, Sadie gave a little
relieved sigh, and then she laughed.
"You're straight from fairy land, Ester; I know it now. That
table-cloth has been crooked in spite of me for a week. Maggie lays
it, and I _can not_ straighten it. I don't get to it. I travel five
hundred miles every night to get this supper ready, and it's never
ready. I have to bob up for a fork or a spoon, or I put on four plates
of butter and none of bread. Oh there is witch work about it, and
none but thoroughbred witches can get every thing, every little
insignificant, indispensable thing on a table. I can't keep house."
"You poor kitten," said Ester, filled with very tender sympathy for
this pretty young sister and feeling very glad indeed that she had
come home, "Who would think of expecting a butterfly to spin? You
shall bring those dear books down from the attic to-morrow. In the
meantime, where is the tea-bell?"
"Oh, we don't ring," said Sadie, rising as she spoke. "The noise
disturbs Mr. Holland. Here comes my first lieutenant, who takes charge
of that matter. My sister, Miss Ried, Dr. Douglass."
And Ester, as she returned the low, deferential bow bestowed upon her,
felt anew the thrill of anxiety which had come to her of late when she
thought of this dangerous stranger in connection with her beautiful,
giddy, unchristian sister.
On the whole, Ester's home coming was pleasant. To be sure it was a
wonderful change from her late life; and there was perhaps just the
faintest bit of a sigh as she drew off her dainty cuffs and prepared
to wipe the dishes which Sadie washed, while Maggie finished her
interrupted ironing. What would John, the stylish waiter at Uncle
Ralph's, think if he could see her now, and how funny Abbie would look
engaged in such employment; but Sadie looked so bright and relieved
and rested, and chatted so gayly, that presently Ester gave another
little sigh and said:
"Poor Abbie! how very, _very_ lonely she must be to-night. I wish she
were here for you to cheer her, Sadie."
Later, while she dipped into the flour preparatory to relieving Sadie
of her fearful task of sponge setting, the kitchen clock struck seven.
This time she laughed at the contrast. They were just going down to
dinner now at Uncle Ralph's. Only night before last she was there
herself. She had been out that day with Aunt Helen, and so was attired
in the lovely blue silk and the real laces, which were Aunt Helen's
gift, fastened at the throat by a tiny pearl, Abbie's last offering.
Now they were sitting down to dinner without her, and she was in the
great pantry five hundred miles away, a long, wide calico apron quite
covering up her traveling dress, sleeves rolled above her elbows,
and engaged in scooping flour out of the barrel into her great wooden
bowl! But then how her mother's weary, careworn face had brightened,
and glowed into pleased surprise as she caught the first glimpse of
her; how lovingly she had folded her in those dear _motherly_ arms,
and said, actually with lips all a tremble: "My _dear_ daughter! what
an unexpected blessing, and what a kind providence, that you have come
just now." Then Alfred and Julia had been as eager and jubilant
in their greeting as though Ester had been always to them the very
perfection of a sister; and hadn't little Minie crumpled her dainty
collar into an unsightly rag, and given her "Scotch kisses," and
"Dutch kisses," and "Yankee kisses," and genuine, sweet baby kisses,
in her uncontrollable glee over dear "Auntie Essie."
And besides, oh besides! this Ester Ried who had come home was not
the Ester Ried who had gone out from them only two months ago. A
whole lifetime of experience and discipline seemed to her to have been
crowded into those two months. Nothing of her past awakened more keen
regret in this young girl's heart than the thought of her undutiful,
unsisterly life. It was all to be different now. She thanked God that
he had let her come back to that very kitchen and dining-room to undo
her former work. The old sluggish, selfish spirit had gone from her.
Before this every thing had been done for Ester Ried, now it was to be
done for Christ--_every thing_, even the mixing up of that flour and
water; for was not the word given: "_Whatsoever_ ye do, do all to the
glory of God?" How broad that word was, "whatsoever." Why that covered
every movement--yes, and every word. How _could_ life have seemed to
her dull and uninteresting and profitless?
Sadie hushed her busy tongue that evening as she saw in the moonlight
Ester kneeling to pray; and a kind of awe stole over her for a
moment as she saw that the kneeler seemed unconscious of any earthly
presence. Somehow it struck Sadie as a different matter from any
kneeling which she had ever watched in the moonlight before.
And Ester, as she rested her tired, happy head upon her own pillow,
felt this word ringing sweetly in her heart: "And ye are Christ's, and
Christ is God's."
Ester was winding the last smooth coil of hair around her head when
Sadie opened her eyes the next morning.
"My!" she said. "Do you know, Ester, it is perfectly delightful to
me to lie here and look at you, and remember that I shall not be
responsible for those cakes this morning? They shall want a pint of
soda added to them for all that I shall need to know or care."
Ester laughed. "You will surely have _your_ pantry well stocked
with soda," she said, gayly. "It seems to have made a very strong
impression on your mind."
But the greeting had chimed with her previous thoughts and sounded
pleasant to her. She had come home to be the helper; her mother and
Sadie should feel and realize after this how very much of a helper
she could be. That very day should be the commencement of her old, new
life. It was baking day--her detestation heretofore, her pleasure now.
No more useful day could be chosen. How she would dispatch the pies
and cakes and biscuits, to say nothing of the wonderful loaves of
bread. She smiled brightly on her young sister, as she realized in
a measure the weight of care which she was about to lift from her
shoulders; and by the time she was ready for the duties of the day she
had lived over in imagination the entire routine of duties connected
with that busy, useful, happy day. She went out from her little
clothes-press wrapped in armor--the pantry and kitchen were to be
her battle-field, and a whole host of old temptations and trials
were there to be met and vanquished. So Ester planned, and yet it so
happened that she did not once enter the kitchen during all that long
busy day, and Sadie's young shoulders bore more of the hundred
little burdens of life that Saturday than they had ever felt before.
Descending the stairs, Ester met Dr. Van Anden for the first time
since her return. He greeted her with a hurried "good-morning," quite
as if he had seen her only the day before, and at once pressed her
"Miss Ester, will you go to Mr. Holland immediately? I can not find
your mother. Send Mrs. Holland from the room, she excites him. Tell
her _I_ say she must come immediately to the sitting-room; I wish to
see her. Give Mr. Holland a half teaspoonful of the mixture in the
wine-glass every ten minutes, and on no account leave him until I
return, which will be as soon as possible."
And seeming to be certain that his directions would be followed, the
For only about a quarter of a minute did Ester stand irresolute. Dr.
Van Anden's tone and manner were full of his usual authority--a habit
with him which had always annoyed her. She shrank with a feeling
amounting almost to terror from a dark, quiet room, and the position
of nurse. Her base of operations, according to her own arrangements,
had been the light, airy kitchen, where she felt herself needed at
this very moment. But one can think of several things in a quarter
of a minute. Ester had very lately taken up the habit of securing one
Bible verse as part of her armor to go with her through the day. On
this particular morning the verse was: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to
do, do it with thy might." Now if her hands had found work waiting for
her down this first flight of stairs instead of down two, as she had
planned, what was that to her? Ester turned and went swiftly to
the sick room, dispatched the almost frantic wife according to the
doctor's peremptory orders, gave the mixture as directed, waited
patiently for the doctor's return, only to hear herself installed as
head nurse for the day; given just time enough to take a very hurried
second table meal with Sadie, listen to her half pitiful, half comic
complainings, and learn that her mother was down with sick headache.
So it was that this first day at home drew toward its closing; and not
one single thing that Ester had planned to do, and do so well, had she
been able to accomplish. It had been very hard to sit patiently there
and watch the low breathings of that almost motionless man on the bed
before her, to rouse him at set intervals sufficiently to pour some
mixture down his unwilling lips, to fan him occasionally, and that
was all. It had been hard, but Ester had not chafed under it; she had
recognized the necessity--no nurse to be found, her mother sick, and
the young, frightened, as well as worn-out wife, not to be trusted.
Clearly she was at the post of duty. So as the red sun peeped in a
good-night from a little corner of the closed curtain, it found Ester
not angry, but _very_ sad. _Such_ a weary day! And this man on the
bed was dying; both doctors had _looked_ that at each other at least
a dozen times that day. How her life of late was being mixed up with
death. She had just passed through one sharp lesson, and here at the
threshold awaited another. Different from that last though--oh, _very_
different--and herein lay some of the sadness. Mr. Foster had said
"every thing was ready for the long journey, even should there be no
return." Then she went back for a minute to the look of glory on that
marble face, and heard again that wonderful sentence: "_So_ he giveth
his beloved sleep." But this man here! every thing had not been made
ready by him. So at least she feared. Yet she was conscious, professed
Christian though she had been, living in the same house with him for
so many years, that she knew very little about him. She had seen much
of him, had talked much with him, but she had never mentioned to him
the name of Christ, the name after which she called herself. The sun
sank lower, it was almost gone; this weary day was nearly done; and
very sad and heavy-hearted felt this young watcher--the day begun in
brightness was closing in gloom. It was not all so clear a path as
she had thought; there were some things that she could not undo. Those
days of opportunity, in which she might at least have invited this man
to Jesus, were gone; it seemed altogether probable that there would
never come another. There was a little rustle of the drapery about the
bed, and she turned suddenly, to meet the great searching eyes of the
sick man, bent full upon her. Then he spoke in low, but wonderfully
distinct and solemn tones. And the words he slowly uttered were yet
"Am I going to die?"
Oh, what _was_ Ester to say? How those great bright eyes searched her
soul! Looking into them, feeling the awful solemnity of the question,
she could not answer "No;" and it seemed almost equally impossible
to tell him "Yes." So the silence was unbroken, while she trembled
in every nerve, and felt her face blanch before the continued gaze of
those mournful eyes. At length the silence seemed to answer him;
for he turned his head suddenly from her, and half buried it in the
pillow, and neither spoke nor moved.
That awful silence! That moment of opportunity, perhaps the last of
earth for him, perhaps it was given to her to speak to him the last
words that he would ever hear from mortal lips. What _could_ she say?
If she only knew how--only had words. Yet _something_ must be said.
Then there came to Ester one of those marked Bible verses which had of
late grown so precious, and her voice, low and clear, filled the blank
in the room.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
No sound from the quiet figure on the bed. She could not even tell if
he had heard, yet perhaps he might, and so she gathered them, a little
string of wondrous pearls, and let them fall with soft and gentle
cadence from her lips.
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