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´╗┐Title: Ester Ried
Author: Pansy, 1841-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ester Ried" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Transcriber's note: The spelling inconsistencies of the original have
been retained in this etext.]



[Illustration: SADIE HAD A GLIMMERING OF SOME STRANGE CHANGE AS SHE
EYED HER SISTER CURIOUSLY.--_Page 263_.]



ESTER RIED

BY

PANSY

AUTHOR OF "JULIA RIED," "THE KING'S DAUGHTER," "WISE AND OTHERWISE,"
"ESTER RIED YET SPEAKING," "ESTER RIED'S NAMESAKE," ETC.

_ILLUSTRATED BY ELIZABETH WITHINGTON_


BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

PANSY TRADE-MARK Registered in U.S. Patent Office.

Norwood Press: Berwick & Smith Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I. ESTER'S HOME

CHAPTER II. WHAT SADIE THOUGHT

CHAPTER III. FLORENCE VANE

CHAPTER IV. THE SUNDAY LESSON

CHAPTER V. THE POOR LITTLE FISH

CHAPTER VI. SOMETHING HAPPENS

CHAPTER VII. JOURNEYING

CHAPTER VIII. JOURNEY'S END

CHAPTER IX. COUSIN ABBIE

CHAPTER X. ESTER'S MINISTER

CHAPTER XI. THE NEW BOARDER

CHAPTER XII. THREE PEOPLE

CHAPTER XIII. THE STRANGE CHRISTIAN

CHAPTER XIV. THE LITTLE CARD

CHAPTER XV. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

CHAPTER XVI. A VICTORY

CHAPTER XVII. STEPPING BETWEEN

CHAPTER XVIII. LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS

CHAPTER XIX. SUNDRIES

CHAPTER XX. AT HOME

CHAPTER XXI. TESTED

CHAPTER XXII. "LITTLE PLUM PIES"

CHAPTER XXIII. CROSSES

CHAPTER XXIV. GOD'S WAY

CHAPTER XXV. SADIE SURROUNDED

CHAPTER XXVI. CONFUSION--CROSS-BEARING--CONSEQUENCE

CHAPTER XXVII. THE TIME TO SLEEP

CHAPTER XXVIII. AT LAST



Ester Ried

ASLEEP AND AWAKE



CHAPTER I.

ESTER'S HOME.


She did not look very much as if she were asleep, nor acted as though
she expected to get a chance to be very soon. There was no end to the
things which she had to do, for the kitchen was long and wide, and
took many steps to set it in order, and it was drawing toward tea-time
of a Tuesday evening, and there were fifteen boarders who were, most
of them, punctual to a minute.

Sadie, the next oldest sister, was still at the academy, as also
were Alfred and Julia, while little Minnie, the pet and darling, most
certainly was _not_. She was around in the way, putting little fingers
into every possible place where little fingers ought not to be. It
was well for her that, no matter how warm, and vexed, and out of order
Ester might be, she never reached the point in which her voice could
take other than a loving tone in speaking to Minnie; for Minnie,
besides being a precious little blessing in herself, was the child of
Ester's oldest sister, whose home was far away in a Western graveyard,
and the little girl had been with them since her early babyhood, three
years before.

So Ester hurried to and from the pantry, with quick, nervous
movements, as the sun went toward the west, saying to Maggie who was
ironing with all possible speed:

"Maggie, do _hurry_, and get ready to help me, or I shall never have
tea ready:" Saying it in a sharp fretful tone. Then: "No, no, Birdie,
don't touch!" in quite a different tone to Minnie, who laid loving
hands on a box of raisins.

"I _am_ hurrying as fast as I _can_!" Maggie made answer. "But such an
ironing as I have every week can't be finished in a minute."

"Well, well! Don't talk; that won't hurry matters any."

Sadie Ried opened the door that led from the dining-room to the
kitchen, and peeped in a thoughtless young head, covered with bright
brown curls:

"How are you, Ester?"

And she emerged fully into the great warm kitchen, looking like a
bright flower picked from the garden, and put out of place. Her pink
gingham dress, and white, ruffled apron--yes, and the very school
books which she swung by their strap, waking a smothered sigh in
Ester's heart.

"O, my patience!" was her greeting.

"Are _you_ home? Then school is out".

"I guess it _is_," said Sadie. "We've been down to the river since
school."

"Sadie, won't you come and cut the beef and cake, and make the tea? I
did not know it was so late, and I'm nearly tired to death."

Sadie looked sober. "I would in a minute, Ester, only I've brought
Florence Vane home with me, and I should not know what to do with her
in the meantime. Besides, Mr. Hammond said he would show me about my
algebra if I'd go out on the piazza this minute."

"Well, _go_ then, and tell Mr. Hammond to wait for his tea until he
gets it!" Ester answered, crossly.

"Here, Julia"--to the ten-year old newcomer--"Go away from that
raisin-box, this minute. Go up stairs out of my way, and Alfred too.
Sadie, take Minnie with you; I can't have her here another instant.
You can afford to do that much, perhaps."

"O, Ester, you're cross!" said Sadie, in a good-humored tone, coming
forward after the little girl.

"Come, Birdie, Auntie Essie's cross, isn't she? Come with Aunt Sadie.
We'll go to the piazza and make Mr. Hammond tell us a story."

And Minnie--Ester's darling, who never received other than loving
words from her--went gleefully off, leaving another heartburn to the
weary girl. They _stung_ her, those words: "Auntie Essie's cross,
isn't she?"

Back and forth, from dining-room to pantry, from pantry to
dining-room, went the quick feet At last she spoke:

"Maggie, leave the ironing and help me; it is time tea was ready."

"I'm just ironing Mr. Holland's shirt," objected Maggie.

"Well, I don't care if Mr. Holland _never_ has another shirt ironed.
I want you to go to the spring for water and fill the table-pitchers,
and do a dozen other things."

The tall clock in the dining-room struck five, and the dining-bell
pealed out its prompt summons through the house. The family gathered
promptly and noisily--school-girls, half a dozen or more, Mr. Hammond,
the principal of the academy, Miss Molten, the preceptress, Mrs.
Brookley, the music-teacher, Dr. Van Anden, the new physician, Mr.
and Mrs. Holland, and Mr. Arnett, Mr. Holland's clerk. There was a
moment's hush while Mr. Hammond asked a blessing on the food; then the
merry talk went on. For them all Maggie poured cups of tea, and
Ester passed bread and butter, and beef and cheese, and Sadie gave
overflowing dishes of blackberries, and chattered like a magpie, which
last she did everywhere and always.

"This has been one of the scorching days," Mr. Holland said. "It was
as much as I could do to keep cool in the store, and we generally ARE
well off for a breeze there."

"It has been more than _I_ could do to keep cool anywhere," Mrs.
Holland answered. "I gave it up long ago in despair."

Ester's lip curled a little. Mrs. Holland had nothing in the world to
do, from morning until night, but to keep herself cool. She wondered
what the lady would have said to the glowing kitchen, where _she_ had
passed most of the day.

"Miss Ester looks as though the heat had been too much for her
cheeks," Mrs. Brookley said, laughing. "What _have_ you been doing?"

"Something besides keeping cool," Ester answered soberly.

"Which is a difficult thing to do, however," Dr. Van Anden said,
speaking soberly too.

"I don't know, sir; if I had nothing to do but that, I think I could
manage it."

"I have found trouble sometimes in keeping myself at the right
temperature even in January."

Ester's cheeks glowed yet more. She understood Dr. Van Anden, and she
knew her face did not look very self-controlled. No one knows what
prompted Minnie to speak just then.

"Aunt Sadie said Auntie Essie was cross. Were you, Auntie Essie?"

The household laughed, and Sadie came to the rescue.

"Why, Minnie! you must not tell what Aunt Sadie says. It is just as
sure to be nonsense as it is that you are a chatter-box."

Ester thought that they would _never_ all finish their supper and
depart; but the latest comer strolled away at last, and she hurried to
toast a slice of bread, make a fresh cup of tea, and send Julia after
Mrs. Ried.

Sadie hovered around the pale, sad-faced woman while she ate.

"Are you _truly_ better, mother? I've been worried half to pieces
about you all day."

"O, yes; I'm better. Ester, you look dreadfully tired. Have you much
more to do?"

"Only to trim the lamps, and make three beds that I had not time for
this morning, and get things ready for breakfast, and finish Sadie's
dress."

"Can't Maggie do any of these things?"

"Maggie is ironing."

Mrs. Ried sighed. "It is a good thing that I don't have the sick
headache very often," she said sadly; "or you would soon wear yourself
out. Sadie, are you going to the lyceum tonight?"

"Yes, ma'am. Your worthy daughter has the honor of being editress, you
know, to-night. Ester, can't you go down? Never mind that dress; let
it go to Guinea."

"You wouldn't think so by to-morrow evening," Ester said, shortly.
"No, I can't go."

The work was all done at last, and Ester betook herself to her room.
How tired she was! Every nerve seemed to quiver with weariness.

It was a pleasant little room, this one which she entered, with its
low windows looking out toward the river, and its cosy furniture all
neatly arranged by Sadie's tasteful fingers.

Ester seated herself by the open window, and looked down on the group
who lingered on the piazza below--looked _down_ on them with her eyes
and with her heart; yet envied while she looked, envied their free
and easy life, without a care to harass them, so _she_ thought; envied
Sadie her daily attendance at the academy, a matter which she _so_
early in life had been obliged to have done with; envied Mrs. Holland
the very ribbons and laces which fluttered in the evening air. It had
grown cooler now, a strong breeze blew up from the river and freshened
the air; and, as they sat below there enjoying it, the sound of their
gay voices came up to her.

"What do they know about heat, or care, or trouble?" she said
scornfully, thinking over all the weight of _her_ eighteen years of
life; she hated it, this life of hers, _just_ hated it--the sweeping,
dusting, making beds, trimming lamps, _working_ from morning till
night; no time for reading, or study, or pleasure. Sadie had said she
was cross, and Sadie had told the truth; she _was_ cross most of the
time, fretted with her every-day petty cares and fatigues.

"O!" she said, over and over, "if something would _only_ happen; if I
could have one day, just _one_ day, different from the others; but
no, it's the same old thing--sweep and dust, and clear up, and eat and
sleep. I _hate_ it all."

Yet, had Ester nothing for which to be thankful that the group on the
piazza had not?

If she had but thought, she had a robe, and a crown, and a harp, and
a place waiting for her, up before the throne of God; and all they had
_not_.

Ester did not think of this; so much asleep was she, that she did not
even know that none of those gay hearts down there below her had been
given up to Christ. Not one of them; for the academy teachers and Dr.
Van Anden were not among them. O, Ester was asleep! She went to church
on the Sabbath, and to preparatory lecture on a week day; she read a
few verses in her Bible, _frequently_, not every day; she knelt at her
bedside every night, and said a few words of prayer--and this was all!

She lay at night side by side with a young sister, who had no claim
to a home in heaven, and never spoke to her of Jesus. She worked
daily side by side with a mother who, through many trials and
discouragements, was living a Christian life, and never talked with
her of their future rest. She met daily, sometimes almost hourly, a
large household, and never so much as thought of asking them if they,
too, were going, some day, home to God. She helped her young brother
and sister with their geography lessons, and never mentioned to them
the heavenly country whither they themselves might journey. She took
the darling of the family often in her arms, and told her stories of
"Bo Peep," and the "Babes in the Wood," and "Robin Redbreast," and
never one of Jesus and his call for the tender lambs!

This was Ester, and this was Ester's home.



CHAPTER II.

WHAT SADIE THOUGHT.


Sadie Ried was the merriest, most thoughtless young creature of
sixteen years that ever brightened and bothered a home. Merry from
morning until night, with scarcely ever a pause in her constant flow
of fun; thoughtless, nearly always selfish too, as the constantly
thoughtless always are. Not sullenly and crossly selfish by any means,
only so used to think of self, so taught to consider herself utterly
useless as regarded home, and home cares and duties, that she opened
her bright brown eyes in wonder whenever she was called upon for help.

It was a very bright and very busy Saturday morning.

"Sadie!" Mrs. Ried called, "can't you come and wash up these baking
dishes? Maggie is mopping, and Ester has her hands full with the
cake."

"Yes, ma'am," said Sadie, appearing promptly from the dining-room,
with Minnie perched triumphantly on her shoulder. "Here I am, at your
service. Where are they?"

Ester glanced up. "I'd go and put on my white dress first, if I were
you," she said significantly.

And Sadie looked down on her pink gingham, ruffled apron, shining
cuffs, and laughed.

"O, I'll take off my cuffs, and put on this distressingly big apron of
yours, which hangs behind the door; then I'll do."

"That's my clean apron; I don't wash dishes in it."

"O, bless your careful heart! I won't hurt it the least speck in the
world. Will I, Birdie?"

And she proceeded to wrap her tiny self in the long, wide apron.

"Not _that_ pan, child!" exclaimed her mother "That's a milk-pan."

"O," said Sadie, "I thought it was pretty shiny. My! what a great pan.
Don't you come near me, Birdie, or you'll tumble in and drown yourself
before I could fish you out with the dish-cloth. Where is that
article? Ester, it needs a patch on it; there's a great hole in the
middle, and it twists every way."

"Patch it, then," said Ester, dryly.

"Well, now I'm ready, here goes. Do you want _these_ washed?" And she
seized upon a stack of tins which stood on Ester's table.

"_Do_ let things alone!" said Ester. "Those are my baking-tins, ready
for use; now you've got them wet, and I shall have to go all over them
again."

"How will you go, Ester? On foot? They look pretty greasy; you'll
slip."

"I wish you would go up stairs. I'd rather wash dishes all the
forenoon than have you in the way."

"Birdie," said Sadie gravely, "you and I musn't go near Auntie Essie
again. She's a 'bowwow,' and I'm afraid she'll bite."

Mrs. Ried laughed. She had no idea how sharply Ester had been tried
with petty vexations all that morning, nor how bitter those words
sounded to her.

"Come, Sadie," she said; "what a silly child you are. Can't you do
_any thing_ soberly?"

"I should think I might, ma'am, when I have such a sober and solemn
employment on hand as dish-washing. Does it require a great deal
of gravity, mother? Here, Robin Redbreast, keep your beak out of my
dish-pan."

Minnie, in the mean time, had been seated on the table, directly in
front of the dish-pan.

Mrs. Ried looked around. "O Sadie! what _possessed_ you to put her up
there?"

"To keep her out of mischief, mother. She's Jack Horner's little
sister, and would have had every plum in your pie down her throat,
by this time, if she could have got to them. See here, pussy, if you
don't keep your feet still, I'll tie them fast to the pan with this
long towel, when you'll have to go around all the days of your life
with a dish-pan clattering after you."

But Minnie was bent on a frolic. This time the tiny feet kicked a
little too hard; and the pan being drawn too near the edge, in order
to be out of her reach, lost its balance--over it went.

"O, my patience!" screamed Sadie, as the water splashed over her, even
down to the white stockings and daintily slippered feet.

Minnie lifted up her voice, and added to the general uproar. Ester
left the eggs she was beating, and picked up broken dishes. Mrs.
Ried's voice arose above the din:

"Sadie, take Minnie and go up stairs. You're too full of play to be in
the kitchen."

"Mother, I'm _real_ sorry," said Sadie, shaking herself out of the
great wet apron, laughing even then at the plight she was in.

"Pet, don't cry. We didn't drown after all."

"_Well_! Miss Sadie," Mr. Hammond said, as he met them in the hall.
"What have you been up to now?"

"Why, Mr. Hammond, there's been another deluge; this time of
dish-water, and Birdie and I are escaping for our lives."

"If there is one class of people in this world more disagreeable than
all the rest, it is people who call themselves Christians."

This remark Mr. Harry Arnett made that same Saturday evening, as he
stood on the piazza waiting for Mrs. Holland's letters. And he made it
to Sadie Ried.

"Why, Harry!" she answered, in a shocked tone.

"It's a _fact_, Sadie. You just think a bit, and you'll see it is.
They're no better nor pleasanter than other people, and all the while
they think they're about right."

"What has put you into that state of mind, Harry?"

"O, some things which happened at the store to-day suggested this
matter to me. Never mind that part. Isn't it so?"

"There's my mother," Sadie said thoughtfully. "She is good."

"Not because she's a Christian though; it's because she's your mother.
You'd have to look till you were gray to find a better mother than
I've got, and she isn't a Christian either."

"Well, I'm sure Mr. Hammond is a good man."

"Not a whit better or pleasanter than Mr. Holland, as far as I can
see. _I_ don't like him half so well. And Holland don't pretend to be
any better than the rest of us."

"Well," said Sadie, gleefully, "_I_ dont know many good people.
Miss Molton is a Christian, but I guess she is no better than Mrs.
Brookley, and _she_ isn't. There's Ester; she's a member of the
church."

"And do you see as she gets on any better with her religion, than you
do without it? For _my_ part, I think you are considerably pleasanter
to deal with."

Sadie laughed. "We're no more alike than a bee and a butterfly, or any
other useless little thing," she said, brightly. "But you're very much
mistaken if you think I'm the best. Mother would lie down in despair
and die, and this house would come to naught at once, if it were not
for Ester."

Mr. Arnett shrugged his shoulders. "I _always_ liked butterflies
better than bees," he said. "Bees _sting_."

"Harry," said Sadie, speaking more gravely, "I'm afraid you're almost
an infidel."

"If I'm not, I can tell you one thing--it's not the fault of
Christians."

Mrs. Holland tossed her letters down to him from the piazza above, and
Mr. Arnett went away.

Florence Vane came over from the cottage across the way--came with
slow, feeble steps, and sat down in the door beside her friend.
Presently Ester came out to them:

"Sadie, can't you go to the office for me? I forgot to send this
letter with the rest."

"Yes," said Sadie. "That is if you think you can go that little bit,
Florence."

"I shall think for her," Dr. Van Anden said, coming down the stairs.
"Florence out here to-night, with the dew falling, and not even any
thing to protect your head. I am surprised!"

"Oh, Doctor, do let me enjoy this soft air for a few minutes."

"_Positively_, no. Either come in the house, or go home _directly_.
You are very imprudent. Miss Ester, _I'll_ mail your letters for you."

"What does Dr. Van Anden want to act like a simpleton about Florence
Vane for?" Ester asked this question late in the evening, when the
sisters were alone in their room.

Sadie paused in her merry chatter. "Why, Ester, what do you mean?
About her being out to-night? Why, you know, she ought to be very
careful; and I'm afraid she isn't. The doctor told her father this
morning he was afraid she would not live through the season, unless
she was more careful."

"Fudge!" said Ester. "He thinks he is a wise man; he wants to make her
out very sick, so that he may have the honor of helping her. I don't
see as she looks any worse than she did a year ago."

Sadie turned slowly around toward her sister. "Ester, I don't know
what is the matter with you to-night. You know that Florence Vane has
the consumption, and you know that she is my _dear_ friend."

Ester did not know what was the matter with herself, save that this
had been the hardest day, from first to last, that she had ever known,
and she was rasped until there was no good feeling left in her heart
to touch. Little Minnie had given her the last hardening touch of the
day, by exclaiming, as she was being hugged and kissed with eager,
passionate kisses:

"Oh, Auntie Essie! You've cried tears on my white apron, and put out
all the starch."

Ester set her down hastily, and went away.

Certainly Ester was cross and miserable. Dr. Van Anden was one of her
thorns. He crossed her path quite often, either with close, searching
words about self-control, or grave silence. She disliked him.

Sadie, as from her pillow she watched her sister in the moonlight
kneel down hastily, and knew that she was repeating a few words of
prayer, thought of Mr. Arnett's words spoken that evening, and, with
her heart throbbing still under the sharp tones concerning Florence,
sighed a little, and said within herself:

"I should not wonder if Harry were right." And Ester was so much
asleep, that she did not know, at least did not realize, that she had
dishonored her Master all that day.



CHAPTER III.

FLORENCE VANE.


Of the same opinion concerning Florence was Ester, a few weeks later,
when, one evening as she was hurrying past him, Dr. Van Anden detained
her:

"I want to see you a moment, Miss Ester."

During these weeks Ester had been roused. Sadie was sick; had been
sick enough to awaken many anxious fears; sick enough for Ester to
discover what a desolate house theirs would have been, supposing her
merry music had been hushed forever. She discovered, too, how very
much she loved her bright young sister.

She had been very kind and attentive; but the fever was gone now, and
Sadie was well enough to rove around the house again; and Ester
began to think that it couldn't be so very hard to have loving hands
ministering to one's simplest want, to be cared for, and watched over,
and petted every hour in the day. She was returning to her impatient,
irritable life. She forgot how high the fever had been at night, and
how the young head had ached; and only remembered how thoroughly tired
she was, watching and ministering day and night. So, when she followed
Dr. Van Anden to the sitting-room, in answer to his "I want to see
you, Miss Ester," it was a very sober, not altogether pleasant face
which listened to his words.

"Florence Vane is very sick to-night. Some one should be with her
besides the housekeeper. I thought of you. Will you watch with her?"

If any reasonable excuse could have been found, Ester would surely
have said "No," so foolish did this seem to her. Why, only yesterday
she had seen Florence sitting beside the open window, looking very
well; but then, she was Sadie's friend, and it had been more than two
weeks since Sadie had needed watching with at night. So Ester could
not plead fatigue.

"I suppose so," she answered, slowly, to the waiting doctor, hearing
which, he wheeled and left her, turning back, though, to say:

"Do not mention this to Sadie in her present state of body. I don't
care to have her excited."

"Very careful you are of everybody," muttered Ester, as he hastened
away. "Tell her what, I wonder? That you are making much ado about
nothing, for the sake of showing your astonishing skill?"

In precisely this state of mind she went, a few hours later, over to
the cottage, into the quiet room where Florence lay asleep--and, for
aught she could see, sleeping as quietly as young, fresh life ever
did.

"What do you think of her?" whispered the old lady who acted as
housekeeper, nurse and mother to the orphaned Florence.

"I think I haven't seen her look better this great while," Ester
answered, abruptly.

"Well, I can't say as she looks any worse to _me_ either; but Dr. Van
Anden is in a fidget, and I suppose he knows what he's about."

The doctor came in at eleven o'clock, stood for a moment by the
bedside, glanced at the old lady, who was dozing in her rocking-chair,
then came over to Ester and spoke low:

"I can't trust the nurse. She has been broken of her rest, and is
weary. I want _you_ to keep awake. If she" (nodding toward Florence)
"stirs, give her a spoonful from that tumbler on the stand. I shall be
back at twelve. If she wakens, you may call her father, and send
John for me; he's in the kitchen. I shall be around the corner at
Vinton's."

Then he went away, softly, as he had come.

The lamp burned low over by the window, the nurse slept on in her
arm-chair, and Ester sat with wide-open eyes fixed on Florence. And
all this time she thought that the doctor was engaged in getting up
a scene, the story of which should go forth next day in honor of his
skill and faithfulness; yet, having come to watch, she would not sleep
at her post, even though she believed in her heart that, were she
sleeping by Sadie's side, and the doctor quiet in his own room, all
would go on well until the morning.

But the doctor's evident anxiety had driven sleep from the eyes of the
gray-haired old man whose one darling lay quiet on the bed. He came in
very soon after the doctor had departed.

"I can't sleep," he said, in explanation, to Ester. "Some way I feel
worried. Does she seem worse to you?"

"Not a bit," Ester said, promptly. "I think she looks better than
usual."

"Yes," Mr. Vane answered, in an encouraged tone; "and she has been
quite bright all day; but the doctor is all down about her. He won't
say a single cheering word."

Ester's indignation grew upon her. "He might, at least, have let this
old man sleep in peace," she said, sharply, in her heart.

At twelve, precisely, the doctor returned. He went directly to the
bedside.

"How has she been?" he asked of Ester, in passing.

"Just as she is now." Ester's voice was not only dry, but sarcastic.

Mr. Vane scanned the doctor's face eagerly, but it was grave and sad.
Quiet reigned in the room. The two men at Florence's side neither
spoke nor stirred. Ester kept her seat across from them, and grew
every moment more sure that she was right, and more provoked. Suddenly
the silence was broken. Dr. Van Anden bent low over the sleeper, and
spoke in a gentle, anxious tone: "Florence." But she neither stirred
nor heeded. He spoke again: "Florence;" and the blue eyes unclosed
slowly and wearily. The doctor drew back quickly, and motioned her
father forward.

"Speak to her, Mr. Vane."

"Florence, my darling," the old man said, with inexpressible love and
tenderness sounding in his voice. His fair young daughter turned her
eyes on him; but the words she spoke were not of him, or of aught
around her. So clear and sweet they sounded, that Ester, sitting quite
across the room from her, heard them distinctly.

"I saw mother, and I saw my Savior."

Dr. Van Anden sank upon his knees, as the drooping lids closed again,
and his voice was low and tremulous:

"Father, into thy hands we commit this spirit. Thy will be done."

In a moment more all was bustle and confusion. The nurse was
thoroughly awakened; the doctor cared for the poor childless father
with the tenderness of a son; then came back to send John for help,
and to give directions concerning what was to be done.

Through it all Ester sat motionless, petrified with solemn
astonishment. Then the angel of death had _really_ been there in that
very room, and she had been "so wise in her own conceit," that she did
not know it until he had departed with the freed spirit!

Florence really _was_ sick, then--dangerously sick. The doctor had not
deceived them, had not magnified the trouble as she supposed; but it
could not be that she was dead! Dead! Why, only a few minutes ago she
was sleeping so quietly! Well, she was very quiet now. Could the heart
have ceased its beating?

Sadie's Florence dead! Poor Sadie! What would they say to her? How
_could_ they tell her?

Sitting there, Ester had some of the most solemn, self-reproachful
thoughts that she had ever known. God's angel had been present in that
room, and in what a spirit had he found this watcher?

Dr. Van Anden went quietly, promptly, from room to room, until every
thing in the suddenly stricken household was as it should be; then he
came to Ester:

"I will go over home with you now," he said, speaking low and kindly.
He seemed to under stand just how shocked she felt.

They went, in the night and darkness, across the street, saying
nothing. As the doctor applied his key to the door, Ester spoke in
low, distressed tones:

"Doctor Van Anden, I did not think--I did not dream--." Then she
stopped.

"I know," he said, kindly. "It was unexpected. _I_ thought she would
linger until morning, perhaps through the day. Indeed, I was so sure,
that I ventured to keep my worst fears from Mr. Vane. I wanted him to
rest to-night. I am sorry--it would have been better to have prepared
him; but 'At even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the
morning'--you see we know not which. I thank God that to Florence it
did not matter."

Those days which followed were days of great opportunity to Ester, if
she had but known how to use them. Sadie's sad, softened heart,
into which grief had entered, might have been turned by a few kind,
skillful words, from thoughts of Florence to Florence's Savior. Ester
_did_ try; she was kinder, more gentle with the young sister than
was her wont to be; and once, when Sadie was lingering fondly over
memories of her friend, she said, in an awkward, blundering way,
something about Florence having been prepared to die, and hoping that
Sadie would follow her example. Sadie looked surprised, but answered,
gravely:

"I never expect to be like Florence. She was perfect, or, at least,
I'm sure I could never see any thing about her that wasn't perfection.
You know, Ester, she never did any thing wrong."

And Ester, unused to it, and confused with her own attempt, kept
silence, and let poor Sadie rest upon the thought that it was
Florence's goodness which made her ready to die, instead of the blood
of Jesus.

So the time passed; the grass grew green over Florence's grave, and
Sadie missed her indeed. Yet the serious thoughts grew daily fainter,
and Ester's golden opportunity for leading her to Christ was lost.



CHAPTER IV.

THE SUNDAY LESSON.


Alfred and Julia Ried were in the sitting-room, studying their
Sabbath-school lessons. Those two were generally to be found together;
being twins, they had commenced _life_ together, and had thus far gone
side by side. It was a quiet October Sabbath afternoon. The twins
had a great deal of business on hand during the week, and the
Sabbath-school lesson used to stand a fair chance of being forgotten;
so Mrs. Ried had made a law that half an hour of every Sabbath
afternoon should be spent in studying the lesson for the coming
Sabbath. Ester sat in the same room, by the window; she had been
reading, but her book had fallen idly in her lap, and she seemed lost
in thought Sadie, too, was there, carrying on a whispered conversation
with Minnie, who was snugged close in her arms, and merry bursts of
laughter came every few minutes from the little girl. The idea of
Sadie keeping quiet herself, or of keeping any body else quiet, was
simply absurd.

"But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," read Julia,
slowly and thoughtfully. "Alfred, what do you suppose that can mean?"

"Don't know, I'm sure," Alfred said. "The next one is just as queer:
'And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let
him have thy cloak also.' I'd like to see _me_ doing that. I'd fight
for it, I reckon."

"Oh, Alfred! you wouldn't, if the Bible said you mustn't, would you?"

"I don't suppose this means us at all," said Alfred, using,
unconsciously, the well-known argument of all who have tried to slip
away from gospel teaching since Adam's time.

"I suppose it's talking to those wicked old fellows who lived before
the flood, or some such time."

"Well, _any_how," said Julia, "I should like to know what it all
means. I wish mother would come home. I wonder how Mrs. Vincent is. Do
you suppose she will die, Alfred?"

"Don't know--just hear this, Julia! 'But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and
pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.' Wouldn't
you like to see anybody who did all that?"

"Sadie," said Julia, rising suddenly, and moving over to where the
frolic was going on, "won't you tell us about our lesson? We don't
understand a bit about it; and I can't learn any thing that I don't
understand."

"Bless your heart, child! I suspect you know more about the Bible this
minute than I do. Mother was too busy taking care of you two, when I
was a little chicken, to teach me as she has you."

"Well, but what _can_ that mean--'If a man strikes you on one cheek,
let him strike the other too?'"

"Yes," said Alfred, chiming in, "and, 'If anybody takes your coat
away, give him your cloak too.'"

"I suppose it means just that," said Sadie. "If anybody steals your
mittens, as that Bush girl did yours last winter, Julia, you are to
take your hood right off, and give it to her."

"Oh, Sadie! you _don't_ ever mean that."

"And then," continued Sadie, gravely, "if that shouldn't satisfy her,
you had better take off your shoes and stockings, and give her them."

"Sadie," said Ester, "how _can_ you teach those children such
nonsense?"

"She isn't teaching _me_ any thing," interrupted Alfred. "I guess I
ain't such a dunce as to swallow all that stuff."

"Well," said Sadie, meekly, "I'm sure I'm doing the best I can;
and you are all finding fault. I've explained to the best of _my_
abilities Julia, I'll tell you the truth;" and for a moment her
laughing face grew sober. "I don't know the least thing about
it--don't pretend to. Why don't you ask Ester? She can tell you more
about the Bible in a minute, I presume, than I could in a year."

Ester laid her book on the window. "Julia, bring your Bible here," she
said, gravely. "Now what is the matter? I never heard you make such a
commotion over your lesson."

"Mother always explains it," said Alfred, "and she hasn't got back
from Mrs. Vincent's; and I don't believe anyone else in this house
_can_ do it."

"Alfred," said Ester, "don't be impertinent. Julia, what is that you
want to know?"

"About the man being struck on one cheek, how he must let them strike
the other too. What does it mean?"

"It means just _that_, when girls are cross and ugly to you, you must
be good and kind to them; and, when a boy knocks down another, he must
forgive him, instead of getting angry and knocking back."

"Ho!" said Alfred, contemptuously, "_I_ never saw the boy yet who
would do it."

"That only proves that boys are naughty, quarrelsome fellows, who
don't obey what the Bible teaches."

"But, Ester," interrupted Julia, anxiously, "was that true what Sadie
said about me giving my shoes and stockings and my hood to folks who
stole something from me?"

"Of course not. Sadie shouldn't talk such nonsense to you. That is
about men going to law. Mother will explain it when she goes over the
lesson with you."

Julia was only half satisfied. "What does that verse mean about doing
good to them that--"

"Here, I'll read it," said Alfred--"'But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and
pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.'"

"Why, that is plain enough. It means just what it says. When people
are ugly to you, and act as though they hated you, you must be very
good and kind to them, and pray for them, and love them."

"Ester, does God really mean for us to love people who are ugly to us,
and to be good to them?"

"Of course."

"Well, then, why don't we, if God says so? Ester, why don't you?"

"That's the point!" exclaimed Sadie, in her most roguish tone. "I'm
glad you've made the application, Julia."

Now Ester's heart had been softening under the influence of these
peaceful Bible words. She believed them; and in her heart was a real,
earnest desire to teach her brother and sister Bible truths. Left
alone, she would have explained that those who loved Jesus _were_
struggling, in a weak feeble way, to obey these directions; that she
herself was trying, trying _hard_ sometimes; that _they_ ought to. But
there was this against Ester--her whole life was so at variance with
those plain, searching Bible rules, that the youngest child could not
but see it; and Sadie's mischievous tones and evident relish of
her embarrassment at Julia's question, destroyed the self-searching
thoughts. She answered, with severe dignity:

"Sadie, if I were you, I wouldn't try to make the children as
irreverent as I was myself." Then she went dignifiedly from the room.

Dr. Van Anden paused for a moment before Sadie, as she sat alone in
the sitting-room that same Sabbath-evening.

"Sadie," said he, "is there one verse in the Bible which you have
never read?"

"Plenty of them, Doctor. I commenced reading the Bible through once;
but I stopped at some chapter in Numbers--the thirtieth, I think it
is, isn't it? or somewhere along there where all those hard names are,
you know. But why do you ask?"

The doctor opened a large Bible which lay on the stand before them,
and read aloud: "Ye have perverted the words of the living God."

Sadie looked puzzled. "Now, Doctor, what ever possessed you to think
that I had never read that verse?"

"God counts that a solemn thing, Sadie."

"Very likely; what then?"

"I was reading on the piazza when the children came to you for an
explanation of their lesson."

Sadie laughed. "Did you hear that conversation, Doctor? I hope you
were benefited." Then, more gravely: "Dr. Van Anden, do you really
mean me to think that I was perverting Scripture?"

"_I_ certainly think so, Sadie. Were you not giving the children wrong
ideas concerning the teachings of our Savior?"

Sadie was quite sober now. "I told the truth at last, Doctor. I
don't know any thing about these matters. People who profess to be
Christians do not live according to our Savior's teaching. At least
_I_ don't see any who do; and it sometimes seems to me that those
verses which the children were studying, _can not_ mean what they say,
or Christian people would surely _try_ to follow them."

For an answer, Dr. Van Anden turned the Bible leaves again, and
pointed with his finger to this verse, which Sadie read:

"But as he which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner
of conversation."

After that he went out of the room.

And Sadie, reading the verse over again, could not but understand that
she _might_ have a perfect pattern, if she would.



CHAPTER V.

THE POOR LITTLE FISH.


"Mother," said Sadie, appearing in the dining-room one morning,
holding Julia by the hand, "did you ever hear of the fish who fell out
of the frying-pan into the fire?" Which question her mother answered
by asking, without turning her eyes from the great batch of bread
which she was molding: "What mischief are you up to now, Sadie?"
"Why, nothing," said Sadie; "only here is the very fish so renowned in
ancient history, and I've brought her for your inspection."

This answer brought Mrs. Ried's eyes around from the dough, and fixed
them upon Julia; and she said, as soon as she caught a glimpse of the
forlorn little maiden: "O, my _patience_!"

A specimen requiring great patience from any one coming in contact
with her, was this same Julia. The pretty blue dress and white apron
were covered with great patches of mud; morocco boots and neat white
stockings were in the same direful plight; and down her face the salt
and muddy tears were running, for her handkerchief was also streaked
with mud.

"I should _think_ so!" laughed Sadie, in answer to her mother's
exclamation. "The history of the poor little fish, in brief, is this:
She started, immaculate in white apron, white stockings, and the like,
for the post-office, with Ester's letter. She met with temptation in
the shape of a little girl with paper dolls; and, while admiring them,
the letter had the meanness to slip out of her hand into the mud!
That, you understand, was the frying-pan. Much horrified with this
state of things, the two wise young heads were put together, and the
brilliant idea conceived of giving the muddy letter a thorough washing
in the creek! So to the creek they went; and, while they stood ankle
deep in the mud, vigorously carrying their idea into effect, the
vicious little thing hopped out of Julia's hand, and sailed merrily
away, down stream! So there she was, 'Out of the frying-pan into the
fire,' sure enough! And the letter has sailed for Uncle Ralph's by a
different route than that which is usually taken."

Sadie's nonsense was interrupted at this point by Ester, who had
listened with darkening face to the rapidly told story:

"She ought to be thoroughly _whipped_, the careless little goose!
Mother, if you don't punish her now, I never would again."

Then Julia's tearful sorrow blazed into sudden anger: "I _oughtn't_ to
be whipped; you're an ugly, mean sister to say so. I tumbled down and
hurt my arm _dreadfully_, trying to catch your old _hateful_ letter;
and you're just as mean as you can be!"

Between tears, and loud tones, and Sadie's laughter, Julia had managed
to burst forth these angry sentences before her mother's voice reached
her; when it did, she was silenced.

"Julia, I am _astonished_! Is that the way to speak to your sister?
Go up to my room directly; and, when you have put on dry clothes, sit
down there, and stay until you are ready to tell Ester that you are
sorry, and ask her to forgive you."

"_Really_, mother," Sadie said, as the little girl went stamping up
the stairs, her face buried in her muddy handkerchief, "I'm not sure
but you have made a mistake, and Ester is the one to be sent to her
room until she can behave better. I don't pretend to be _good_ myself;
but I must say it seems ridiculous to speak in the way she did to a
sorry, frightened child. I never saw a more woeful figure in my life;"
and Sadie laughed again at the recollection.

"Yes," said Ester, "you uphold her in all sorts of mischief and
insolence; that is the reason she is so troublesome to manage."

Mrs. Ried looked distressed. "Don't, Ester," she said; "don't speak
in that loud, sharp tone. Sadie, you should not encourage Julia in
speaking improperly to her sister. I think myself that Ester was hard
with her. The poor child did not mean any harm; but she must not be
rude to anybody."

"Oh, yes," Ester said, speaking bitterly, "of course _I_ am the one to
blame; I always _am_. No one in this house ever does any thing wrong
except _me_."

Mrs. Ried sighed heavily, and Sadie turned away and ran up stairs,
humming:

  "Oh, would I were a buttercup,
  A blossom in the meadow."

And Julia, in her mother's room, exchanged her wet and muddy garments
for clean ones, and _cried_; washed her face in the clear, pure water
until it was fresh and clean, and cried again, louder and harder; her
heart was all bruised and bleeding. She had not meant to be careless.
She had been carefully dressed that morning to spend the long, bright
Saturday with Vesta Griswold. She had intended to go swiftly and
safely to the post-office with the small white treasure intrusted to
her care; but those paper dolls were _so_ pretty, and of course there
was no harm in walking along with Addie, and looking at them. How
could she know that the hateful letter was going to tumble out of her
apron pocket? Right there, too, the only place along the road where
there was the least bit of mud to be seen! Then she had honestly
supposed that a little clean water from the creek, applied with her
smooth white handkerchief, would take the stains right out of the
envelope, and the sun would dry it, and it would go safely to Uncle
Ralph's after all; but, instead of that, the hateful, _hateful_ thing
slipped right out of her hand, and went floating down the stream; and
at this point Julia's sobs burst forth afresh. Presently she took up
her broken thread of thought, and went on: How very, _very_ ugly Ester
was; if _she_ hadn't been there, her mother would have listened kindly
to her story of how very sorry she was, and how she meant to do just
right. Then she would have forgiven her, and she would have been
freshly dressed in her clean blue dress instead of her pink one, and
would have had her happy day after all; and now she would have to
spend this bright day all alone; and, at this point, her tears rolled
down in torrents.

"Jule," called a familiar voice, under her window, "where are you?
Come down and mend my sail for me, won't you?"

Julia went to the window and poured into Alfred's sympathetic ears the
story of her grief and her wrongs.

"Just exactly like her," was his comment on Ester's share in the
tragedy. "She grows crosser every day. I guess, if I were you, I'd let
her wait a spell before I asked her forgiveness."

"I guess I shall," sputtered Julia. "She was meaner than any thing,
and I'd tell her so this minute, if I saw her; that's all the sorry I
am."

So the talk went on; and when Alfred was called to get Ester a pail
of water, and left Julia in solitude, she found her heart very much
strengthened in its purpose to tire everybody out in waiting for her
apology.

The long, warm, busy day moved on; and the overworked and wearied
mother found time to toil up two flights of stairs in search of her
young daughter, in the hope of soothing and helping her; but Julia was
in no mood to be helped. She hated to stay up there alone; she wanted
to go down in the garden with Alfred; she wanted to go to the arbor
and read her new book; she wanted to take a walk down by the river;
she wanted her dinner exceedingly; but to ask Ester's forgiveness
was the one thing that she did _not_ want to do. No, not if she staid
there alone for a week; not if she _starved_, she said aloud, stamping
her foot and growing indignant over the thought. Alfred came as often
as his Saturday occupations would admit, and held emphatic talks with
the little prisoner above, admiring her "pluck," and assuring her that
he "wouldn't give in, not he."

"You see I _can't_ do it," said Julia, with a gleam of satisfaction
in her eyes, "because it wouldn't be true. I'm _not_ sorry; and mother
wouldn't have me tell a lie for anybody."

So the sun went toward the west, and Julia at the window watched the
academy girls moving homeward from their afternoon ramble, listened to
the preparations for tea which were being made among the dishes in the
dining-room, and, having no more tears to shed, sighed wearily, and
wished the miserable day were quite done and she was sound asleep.
Only a few moments before she had received a third visit from her
mother; and, turning to her, fresh from a talk with Alfred, she had
answered her mother's question as to whether she were not now ready
to ask Ester's forgiveness, with quite as sober and determined a "No,
ma'am," as she had given that day; and her mother had gravely and
sadly answered, "I am very sorry, Julia I can't come up here again; I
am too tired for that. You may come to me, if you wish to see me any
time before seven o'clock. After that you must go to your room."

And with this Julia had let her depart, only saying, as the door
closed: "Then I can be asleep before Ester comes up. I'm glad of that.
I wouldn't look at her again to-day for anything." And then Julia was
once more summoned to the window.

"Jule," Alfred said, with less decision in his voice than there had
been before, "mother looked awful tired when she came down stairs just
now, and there was a tear rolling down her cheek."

"There was?" said Julia, in a shocked and troubled tone.

"And I guess," Alfred continued, "she's had a time of it to-day. Ester
is too cross even to look at; and they've been working pell-mell all
day; and Minnie tumbled over the ice-box and got hurt, and mother held
her most an hour; and I guess she feels real bad about this. She told
Sadie she felt sorry for you."

Silence for a little while at the window above, and from the boy
below: then he broke forth suddenly: "I say, Jule, hadn't you better
do it after all--not for Ester, but there's mother, you know."

"But, Alfred," interrupted the truthful and puzzled Julia, "what can I
do about it? You know I'm to tell Ester that I'm sorry; and that will
not be true."

This question also troubled Alfred. It did not seem to occur to these
two foolish young heads that she _ought_ to be sorry for her own angry
words, no matter how much in the wrong another had been. So they stood
with grave faces, and thought about it. Alfred found a way out of the
mist at last.

"See here, aren't you sorry that you couldn't go to Vesta's, and had
to stay up there alone all day, and that it bothered mother?"

"Of course," said Julia, "I'm real sorry about mother. Alfred, did I,
honestly, make her cry?"

"Yes, you did," Alfred answered, earnestly. "I saw that tear as plain
as day. Now you see you can tell Ester you're sorry, just as well as
not; because, if you hadn't said any thing to her, mother could have
made it all right; so of course you're sorry."

"Well," said Julia, slowly, rather bewildered still, "that sounds as
if it was right; and yet, somehow----. Well, Alfred, you wait for me,
and I'll be down right away."

So it happened that a very penitent little face stood at her mother's
elbow a few moments after this; and Julia's voice was very earnest:
"Mother, I'm so sorry I made you such a great deal of trouble to-day."

And the patient mother turned and kissed the flushed cheek, and
answered kindly: "Mother will forgive you. Have you seen Ester, my
daughter?"

"No, ma'am," spoken more faintly; "but I'm going to find her right
away."

And Ester answered the troubled little voice with a cold "Actions
speak louder than words. I hope you will show how sorry you are by
behaving better in future. Stand out of my way."

"Is it all done up?" Alfred asked, a moment later, as she joined him
on the piazza to take a last look at the beauty of this day which had
opened so brightly for her.

"Yes," with a relieved sigh; "and, Alfred, I never mean to be such a
woman as Ester is when I grow up. I wouldn't for the world. I mean to
be nice, and good, and kind, like sister Sadie."



CHAPTER VI.

SOMETHING HAPPENS.


Now the letter which had caused so much trouble in the Ried family,
and especially in Ester's heart, was, in one sense, not an ordinary
letter. It had been written to Ester's cousin, Abbie, her one intimate
friend, Uncle Ralph's only daughter. These two, of the same age, had
been correspondents almost from their babyhood; and yet they had never
seen each other's faces.

To go to New York, to her uncle's house, to see and be with Cousin
Abbie, had been the one great dream of Ester's heart--as likely to be
realized, she could not help acknowledging, as a journey to the moon,
and no more so. New York was at least five hundred miles away; and
the money necessary to carry her there seemed like a small fortune to
Ester, to say nothing of the endless additions to her wardrobe which
would have to be made before she would account herself ready. So she
contented herself, or perhaps it would be more truthful to say she
made herself discontented, with ceaseless dreams over what New York,
and her uncle's family, and, above all, Cousin Abbie, were like; and
whether she would ever see them; and why it had always happened that
something was sure to prevent Abbie's visits to herself; and whether
she should like her as well, if she could be with her, as she did now;
and a hundred other confused and disconnected thoughts about them all.

Ester had no idea what this miserable, restless dreaming of hers was
doing for her. She did not see that her very desires after a better
life, which were sometimes strong upon her, were colored with
impatience and envy.

Cousin Abbie was a Christian, and wrote her some earnest letters;
but to Ester it seemed a very easy matter indeed for one who was
surrounded, as she imagined Abbie to be, by luxury and love, to be
a joyous, eager Christian. Into this very letter that poor Julia had
sent sailing down the stream, some of her inmost feelings had been
poured.

"Don't think me devoid of all aspirations after something higher,"
so the letter ran. "Dear Abbie, you, in your sunny home, can never
imagine how wildly I long sometimes to be free from my surroundings,
free from petty cares and trials, and vexations, which, I feel, are
eating out my very life. Oh, to be free for one hour, to feel
myself at liberty, for just one day, to follow my own tastes and
inclinations; to be the person I believe God designed me to be; to
fill the niche I believe He designed me to fill! Abbie, I _hate_ my
life. I have not a happy moment. It is all rasped, and warped, and
unlovely. I am nothing, and I know it; and I had rather, for my own
comfort, be like the most of those who surround me--nothing, and not
know it. Sometimes I can not help asking myself why I was made as I
am. Why can't I be a clod, a plodder, and drag my way with stupid good
nature through this miserable world, instead of chafing and bruising
myself at every step."

Now it would be very natural to suppose that a young lady with a
grain of sense left in her brains, would, in cooler moments, have
been rather glad than otherwise, to have such a restless, unhappy,
unchristianlike letter hopelessly lost. But Ester felt, as has been
seen, thoroughly angry that so much lofty sentiment, which she mistook
for religion, was entirely lost Yet let it not be supposed that one
word of this rebellious outbreak was written simply for effect. Ester,
when she wrote that she "hated her life," was thoroughly and miserably
in earnest. When, in the solitude of her own room, she paced her floor
that evening, and murmured, despairingly: "Oh, if something would
_only_ happen to rest me for just a little while!" she was more
thoroughly in earnest than any human being who feels that Christ has
died to save her, and that she has an eternal resting-place prepared
for her, and waiting to receive her, has any right to feel on such a
subject. Yet, though the letter had never reached its destination,
the pitying Savior, looking down upon his poor, foolish lamb in tender
love, made haste to prepare an answer to her wild, rebellious cry for
help, even though she cried blindly, without a thought of the Helper
who is sufficient for all human needs.

"Long looked for, come at last!" and Sadie's clear voice rang through
the dining-room, and a moment after that young lady herself reached
the pump-room, holding up for Ester's view a dainty envelope, directed
in a yet more dainty hand to Miss Ester Ried. "Here's that wonderful
letter from Cousin Abbie which you have sent me to the post-office
after three times a day for as many weeks. It reached here by the way
of Cape Horn, I should say, by its appearance. It has been remailed
twice."

Ester set her pail down hastily, seized the letter, and retired to the
privacy of the pantry to devour it; and for once was oblivious to the
fact that Sadie lunched on bits of cake broken from the smooth, square
loaf while she waited to hear the news.

"Anything special?" Mrs. Ried asked, pausing in the doorway, which
question Ester answered by turning a flushed and eager face toward
them, as she passed the letter to Sadie, with permission to read it
aloud. Surprised into silence by the unusual confidence, Sadie read
the dainty epistle without comment:

"MY DEAR ESTER:

"I'm in a grand flurry, and shall therefore not stop for long stories
to-day, but come at the pith of the matter immediately. We want you.
That is nothing new, you are aware, as we have been wanting you
for many a day. But there is new decision in my plans, and new
inducements, this time. We not only want, but _must_ have you. Please
don't say 'No' to me this once. We are going to have a wedding in our
house, and we need your presence, and wisdom, and taste. Father says
you can't be your mother's daughter if you haven't exquisite taste.
I am very busy helping to get the bride in order, which is a work of
time and patience; and I do so much need your aid; besides, the bride
is your Uncle Ralph's only daughter, so of course you ought to be
interested in her.

"Ester, _do_ come. Father says the inclosed fifty dollars is a present
from him, which you must honor by letting it pay your fare to New York
just as soon as possible. The wedding is fixed for the twenty-second;
and we want you here at least three weeks before that. Brother Ralph
is to be first groomsman; and he especially needs your assistance, as
the bride has named you for her first bridesmaid. I'm to dress--I mean
the bride is to dress--in white, and mother has a dress prepared for
the bridesmaid to match hers; so that matter need not delay or cause
you anxiety.

"This letter is getting too long. I meant it to be very brief and
pointed. I designed every other word to be 'come;' but after all I do
not believe you will need so much urging to be with us at this time.
I flatter myself that you love me enough to come to me if you can. So,
leaving Ralph to write directions concerning route and trains, I will
run and try on the bride's bonnet, which has just come home.

"P.S. There is to be a groom as well as a bride, though I see I have
said nothing concerning him. Never mind, you shall see him when you
come. Dear Ester, there isn't a word of tense in this letter, I know;
but I haven't time to put any in."

"Really," laughed Sadie, as she concluded the reading, "this is almost
foolish enough to have been written by me. Isn't it splendid, though?
Ester, I'm glad you are _you_. I wish I had corresponded with Cousin
Abbie myself. A wedding of any kind is a delicious novelty; but a real
New York wedding, and a bridesmaid besides--my! I've a mind to clap my
hands for you, seeing you are too dignified to do it yourself."

"Oh," said Ester, from whose face the flush had faded, leaving it
actually pale with excitement and expected disappointment, "you don't
suppose I am foolish enough to think I can go, do you?"

"Of course you will go, when Uncle Ralph has paid your fare, and more,
too. Fifty dollars will buy a good deal besides a ticket to New York.
Mother, don't you ever think of saying that she can't go; there is
nothing to hinder her. She is to go, isn't she?"

"Why, I don't know," answered this perplexed mother. "I want her to, I
am sure; yet I don't see how she can be spared. She will need a great
many things besides a ticket, and fifty dollars do not go as far as
you imagine; besides, Ester, you know I depend on you so much."

Ester's lips parted to speak; and had the words come forth which were
in her heart, they would have been sharp and bitter ones--about never
expecting to go anywhere, never being able to do any thing but work;
but Sadie's eager voice was quicker than hers:

"Oh now, mother, it is no use to talk in that way. I've quite set my
heart on Ester's going. I never expect to have an invitation there
myself, so I must take my honors secondhand.

"Mother, it is time you learned to depend on me a little. I'm two
inches taller than Ester, and I've no doubt I shall develop into a
remarkable person when she is where we can't all lean upon her. School
closes this very week, you know, and we have vacation until October.
Abbie couldn't have chosen a better time. Whom do you suppose she
is to marry? What a queer creature, not to tell us. Say she can go,
mother--quick!"

Sadie's last point was a good one in Mrs. Ried's opinion. Perhaps the
giddy Sadie, at once her pride and her anxiety, might learn a little
self-reliance by feeling a shadow of the weight of care which rested
continually on Ester.

"You certainly need the change," she said, her eyes resting pityingly
on the young, careworn face of her eldest daughter. "But how could we
manage about your wardrobe? Your black silk is nice, to be sure; but
you would need one bright evening dress at least, and you know we
haven't the money to spare."

Then Sadie, thoughtless, selfish Sadie, who was never supposed to have
one care for others, and very little for herself--Sadie, who vexed
Ester nearly every hour in the day, by what, at the time, always
seemed some especially selfish, heedless act--suddenly shone out
gloriously. She stood still, and actually seemed to think for a full
minute, while Ester jerked a pan of potatoes toward her, and commenced
peeling vigorously; then she clapped her hands, and gave vent to
little gleeful shouts before she exclaimed "Oh, mother, mother! I have
it exactly. I wonder we didn't think of it before. There's my blue
silk--just the thing! I am tall, and she is short, so it will make her
a beautiful train dress. Won't that do splendidly!"

The magnitude of this proposal awed even Ester into silence. To be
appreciated, it must be understood that Sadie Ried had never in her
life possessed a silk dress. Mrs. Ried's best black silk had long ago
been cut over for Ester; so had her brown and white plaid; so there
had been nothing of the sort to remodel for Sadie; and this elegant
sky-blue silk had been lying in its satin-paper covering for more than
two years. It was the gift of a dear friend of Mrs. Ried's girlhood to
the young beauty who bore her name, and had been waiting all this time
for Sadie to attain proper growth to admit of its being cut into for
her. Meantime she had feasted her eyes upon it, and gloried in the
prospect of that wonderful day when she should sweep across the
platform of Music Hall with this same silk falling in beautiful blue
waves around her; for it had long been settled that it was to be worn
first on that day when she should graduate.

No wonder, then, that Ester stood in mute astonishment, while Mrs.
Ried commented:

"Why, Sadie, my dear child, is it possible you are willing to give up
your blue silk?"

"Not a bit of it, mother; I don't intend to give it up the least bit
in the world. I'm merely going to lend it. It's too pretty to stay
poked up in that drawer by itself any longer. I've set my heart on its
coming out this very season Just as likely as not it will learn to
put on airs for me when I graduate. I'm not at all satisfied with my
attainments in that line; so Ester shall take it to New York; and if
she sits down or stands up, or turns around, or has one minute's peace
while she has it on, for fear lest she should spot it, or tear it, or
get it stepped on, I'll never forgive her."

And at this harangue Ester laughed a free, glad laugh, such as was
seldom heard from her. Some way it began to seem as if she were really
to go, Sadie had such a brisk, business-like way of saying "Ester
shall take it to New York." Oh, if she only, _only_ could go, she
would be willing to do _any thing_ after that; but one peep, one
little peep into the beautiful magic world that lay outside of that
dining-room and kitchen she felt as if she must have. Perhaps that
laugh did as much for her as any thing. It almost startled Mrs. Ried
with its sweetness and rarity. What if the change would freshen and
brighten her, and bring her back to them with some of the sparkles
that continually danced in Sadie's eyes; but what, on the other hand,
if she should grow utterly disgusted with the monotony of their very
quiet, very busy life, and refuse to work in that most necessary
treadmill any longer. So the mother argued and hesitated, and the
decision which was to mean so much more than any of those knew,
trembled in the balance; for let Mrs. Ried once find voice to say,
"Oh, Ester, I don't see but what you will _have_ to give it up," and
Ester would have turned quickly and with curling lip, to that pan of
potatoes, and have sharply forbidden any one to mention the subject
to her again. Once more Sadie, dear, merry, silly Sadie, came to the
rescue.

"Mother, oh, mother! what an endless time you are in coming to a
decision! I could plan an expedition to the North Pole in less time
than this. I'm just wild to have her go. I want to hear how a genuine
New York bride looks; besides, you know, dear mother, I want to stay
in the kitchen with you. Ester does every thing, and I don't have
any chance. I perfectly long to bake, and boil, and broil, and brew
things. Say yes, there's a darling."

And Mrs. Ried looked at the bright, flushed face, and thought how
little the dear child knew about all these matters, and how little
patience poor Ester, who was so competent herself, would have with
Sadie's ignorance, and said, slowly and hesitatingly, but yet actually
said:

"Well, Ester, my daughter, I really think we must try to get along
without you for a little while!"

And these three people really seemed to think that they had decided
the matter. Though two of them were at least theoretical believers
in a "special providence," it never once occurred to them that this
little thing, in all its details, had been settled for ages.



CHAPTER VII.

JOURNEYING.


"Twenty minutes here for refreshments!" "Passengers for New York take
south track!" "New York daily papers here!" "Sweet oranges here!"
And amid all these yells of discordant tongues, and the screeching
of engines, and the ringing of bells, and the intolerable din of a
merciless gong, Ester pushed and elbowed her way through the crowd,
almost panting with her efforts to keep pace with her traveling
companion, a nervous country merchant on his way to New York to
buy goods. He hurried her through the crowd and the noise into the
dining-saloon; stood by her side while, obedient to his orders, she
poured down her throat a cup of almost boiling coffee; then, seating
her in the ladies' room charged her on no account to stir from
that point while he was gone--he had just time to run around to the
post-office, and mail a forgotten letter; then he vanished, and in
the confusion and the crowd Ester was alone. She did not feel, in the
least, flurried or nervous; on the contrary, she liked it, this first
experience of hers in a city depot; she would not have had it
made known to one of the groups of fashionably-attired and
very-much-at-ease travelers who thronged past her for the world--but
the truth was, Ester had been having her very first ride in the cars!
Sadie had made various little trips in company with school friends to
adjoining towns, after school books, or music, or to attend a concert,
or for pure fun; but, though Ester had spent her eighteen years of
life in a town which had long been an "Express Station," yet want
of time, or of money, or of inclination to take the bits of journeys
which alone were within her reach, had kept her at home. Now she
glanced at herself, at her faultlessly neat and ladylike traveling
suit. She could get a full view of it in an opposite mirror, and it
was becoming, from the dainty vail which fluttered over her hat, to
the shining tip of her walking boots; and she gave a complacent little
sigh, as she said to herself: "I don't see but I look as much like a
traveler as any of them. I'm sure I don't feel in the least confused.
I'm glad I'm not as ridiculously dressed as that pert-looking girl in
brown. I should call it in very bad taste to wear such a rich silk as
that for traveling. She doesn't look as though she had a single idea
beyond dress; probably that is what is occupying her thoughts at
this very moment;" and Ester's speaking face betrayed contempt and
conscious superiority, as she watched the fluttering bit of silk and
ribbons opposite. Ester had a very mistaken opinion of herself in this
respect; probably she would have been startled and indignant had
any one told her that her supposed contempt for the rich and elegant
attire displayed all around her, was really the outgrowth of envy;
that, when she told herself _she_ wouldn't lavish so much time and
thought, and, above all, _money_, on mere outside show, it was mere
nonsense--that she already spent all the time at her disposal, and all
the money she could possibly spare, on the very things which she was
condemning.

The truth was, Ester had a perfectly royal taste in all these matters.
Give her but the wherewithal, and she would speedily have glistened
in silk, and sparkled with jewels; yet she honestly thought that her
bitter denunciation of fashion and folly in this form was outward
evidence of a mind elevated far above such trivial subjects, and
looked down, accordingly, with cool contempt on those whom she was
pleased to denominate "butterflies of fashion."

And, in her flights into a "higher sphere of thought," this absurdly
inconsistent Ester never once remembered how, just exactly a week ago
that day, she had gone around like a storm king, in her own otherwise
peaceful home, almost wearing out the long-suffering patience of her
weary mother, rendered the house intolerable to Sadie, and actually
boxed Julia's ears; and all because she saw with her own common-sense
eyes that she really _could_ not have her blue silk, or rather Sadie's
blue silk, trimmed with netted fringe at twelve shillings a yard, but
must do with simple folds and a seventy-five-cent heading!

Such a two weeks as the last had been in the Ried family! The entire
household had joined in the commotion produced by Ester's projected
visit. It was marvelous how much there was to do. Mrs. Ried toiled
early and late, and made many quiet little sacrifices, in order that
her daughter might not feel too keenly the difference between her
own and her cousin's wardrobe. Sadie emptied what she denominated her
finery box, and donated every article in it, delivering comic little
lectures to each bit of lace and ribbon, as she smoothed them and
patted them, and told them they were going to New York. Julia hemmed
pocket handkerchiefs, and pricked her poor little fingers unmercifully
and uncomplainingly. Alfred ran of errands with remarkable promptness,
but confessed to Julia privately that it was because he was in such
a hurry to have Ester gone, so he could see how it would seem for
everybody to be good natured. Little Minie got in everybody's way as
much as such a tiny creature could, and finally brought the tears
to Ester's eyes, and set every one else into bursts of laughter, by
bringing a very smooth little handkerchief about six inches square,
and offering it as her contribution toward the traveler's outfit. As
for Ester, she was hurried and nervous, and almost unendurably
cross, through the whole of it, wanting a hundred things which it was
impossible for her to have, and scorning not a few little trifles that
had been prepared for her by patient, toil-worn fingers.

"Ester, I _do_ hope New York, or Cousin Abbie, or somebody, will have
a soothing and improving effect upon you," Sadie had said, with a sort
of good-humored impatience, only the night before her departure.
"Now that you have reached the summit of your hopes, you seem more
uncomfortable about it than you were even to stay at home. Do let
us see you look pleasant for just five minutes, that we may have
something good to remember you by."

"My dear," Mrs. Ried had interposed, rebukingly, "Ester is hurried and
tired, remember, and has had a great many things to try her to-day. I
don't think it is a good plan, just as a family are about to separate,
to say any careless or foolish words that we don't mean. Mother has a
great many hard days of toil, which Ester has given, to remember her
by." Oh, the patient, tender, forgiving mother! Ester, being asleep
to her own faults, never once thought of the sharp, fretful, half
disgusted way in which much of her work had been performed, but only
remembered, with a little sigh of satisfaction, the many loaves of
cake, and the rows of pies, which she had baked that very morning in
order to save her mother's steps. This was all she thought of now, but
there came days when she was wide-awake.

Meantime the New York train, after panting and snorting several times
to give notice that the twenty minutes were about up, suddenly puffed
and rumbled its way out from the depot, and left Ester obeying orders,
that is, sitting in the corner where she had been placed by Mr.
Newton--being still outwardly, but there was in her heart a perfect
storm of vexation. "This comes of mother's absurd fussiness in
insisting upon putting me in Mr. Newton's care, instead of letting me
travel alone, as I wanted to," she fumed to herself. "Now we shall not
get into New York until after six o'clock! How provoking!"

"How provoking this is!" Mr. Newton exclaimed, re-echoing her thoughts
as he bustled in, red with haste and heat, and stood penitently before
her. "I hadn't the least idea it would take so long to go to the
post-office. I am very sorry!"

"Well," he continued, recovering his good humor, notwithstanding
Ester's provoking silence, "what can't be cured must be endured, Miss
Ester; and it isn't as bad as it might be, either. We've only to wait
an hour and a quarter. I've some errands to do, and I'll show you
the city with pleasure; or would you prefer sitting here and looking
around you?"

"I should decidedly prefer not running the chance of missing the next
train," Ester answered very shortly. "So I think it will be wiser to
stay where I am."

In truth Mr. Newton endured the results of his own carelessness with
too much complacency to suit Ester's state of mind; but he took no
notice of her broadly-given hint further than to assure her that she
need give herself no uneasiness on that score; he should certainly be
on time. Then he went off, looking immensely relieved; for Mr. Newton
frankly confessed to himself that he did not know how to take care of
a lady. "If she were a parcel of goods now that one could get stored
or checked, and knew that she would come on all right, why--but a
lady. I'm not used to it. How easily I could have caught that train,
if I hadn't been obliged to run back after her; but, bless me, I
wouldn't have her know that for the world." This he said meditatively
as he walked down South Street.

The New York train had carried away the greater portion of the
throng at the depot, so that Ester and the dozen or twenty people who
occupied the great sitting-room with her, had comparative quiet. The
wearer of the condemned brown silk and blue ribbons was still there,
and awoke Ester's vexation still further by seeming utterly unable to
keep herself quiet; she fluttered from seat to seat, and from window
to window, like an uneasy bird in a cage. Presently she addressed
Ester in a bright little tone: "Doesn't it bore you dreadfully to wait
in a depot?"

"Yes," said Ester, briefly and truthfully, notwithstanding the fact
that she was having her first experience in that boredom.

"Are you going to New York?"

"I hope so," she answered, with energy. "I expected to have been
almost there by this time; but the gentleman who is supposed to be
taking care of me, had to rush off and stay just long enough to miss
the train."

"How annoying!" answered the blue ribbons with a soft laugh. "I missed
it, too, in such a silly way. I just ran around the corner to get some
chocolate drops, and a little matter detained me a few moments; and
when I came back, the train had gone. I was so sorry, for I'm in such
a hurry to get home. Do you live in New York?"

Ester shook her head, and thought within herself: "That is just as
much sense as I should suppose you to have--risk the chance of missing
a train for the sake of a paper of candy."

Of course Ester could not be expected to know that the chocolate drops
were for the wee sister at home, whose heart would be nearly broken if
sister Fanny came home, after an absence of twenty-four hours, without
bringing her any thing; and the "little matter" which detained her
a few moments, was joining the search after a twenty-five-cent bill
which the ruthless wind had snatched from the hand of a barefooted,
bareheaded, and almost forlorn little girl, who cried as violently
as though her last hope in life had been blown away with it; nor
how, failing in finding the treasure, the gold-clasped purse had been
opened, and a crisp, new bill had been taken out to fill its place;
neither am I at all certain as to whether it would have made any
difference at all in Ester's verdict, if she had known all the
circumstances.

The side door opened quietly just at this point and a middle-aged man
came in, carrying in one hand a tool-box, and in the other a two-story
tin pail. Both girls watched him curiously as he set these down on the
floor, and, taking tacks from his pocket and a hammer from his box, he
proceeded to tack a piece of paper to the wall. Ester, from where
she sat, could see that the paper was small, and that something was
printed on it in close, fine type. It didn't look in the least like a
handbill, or indeed like a notice of any sort. Her desire to know what
it could be grew strong; two tiny tacks held it firmly in its place.
Then the man turned and eyed the inmates of the room, who were by this
time giving undivided attention to him and his bit of paper Presently
he spoke, in a quiet, respectful tone:

"I've tacked up a nice little tract. I thought maybe while you was
waiting you might like something to read. If one of you would read
it aloud, all the rest could hear it." So saying, the man stooped
and took up his tool-box and his tin pail, and went away, leaving the
influences connected with those two or three strokes of his hammer to
work for him through all time, and meet him at the judgment. But if
a bomb-shell had suddenly come down and laid itself in ruins it their
feet, it could not have made a much more startled company than the
tract-tacker left behind him. A tract!--actually tacked up on the
wall, and waiting for some human voice to give it utterance! A tract
in a railroad depot! How queer! how singular! how almost improper!
Why? Oh, Ester didn't know; it was so unusual. Yes; but then that
didn't make it improper. No; but--then, she--it--Well, it was
fanatical. Oh yes, that was it. She knew it was improper in some way.
It was strange that that very convenient word should have escaped her
for a little. This talk Ester held hurriedly with her conscience. It
was asleep, you know; but just then it nestled as in a dream, and gave
her a little prick; but that industrious, important word, "fanatical,"
lulled it back to its rest. Meantime there hung the tract, and
fluttered a little in the summer air, as the door opened and closed.
Was no one to give it voice? "I'd like dreadful well to hear it," an
old lady said, nodding her gray head toward the little leaf on the
wall; "but I've packed up my specs, and might just as well have no
eyes at all, as far as readin' goes, when I haven't got my specs
on. There's some young eyes round here though, one would think." she
added, looking inquiringly around. "You won't need glasses, I should
say now, for a spell of years!"

This remark, or hint, or inquiry, was directed squarely at Ester, and
received no other answer than a shrug of the shoulder and an impatient
tapping of her heels on the bare floor. Under her breath Ester
muttered, "Disagreeable old woman!"

The brown silk rustled, and the blue ribbons fluttered restlessly for
a minute; then their owner's clear voice suddenly broke the silence:
"I'll read it for you, ma'am, if you really would like to hear it."

The wrinkled, homely, happy old face broke into a beaming smile, as
she turned toward the pink-cheeked, blue-eyed maiden. "That I would,"
she answered, heartily, "dreadful well. I ain't heard nothing good,
'pears to me, since I started; and I've come two hundred miles. It
seems as if it might kind of lift me up, and rest me like, to hear
something real good again."

With the flush on her face a little hightened, the young girl promptly
crossed to where the tract hung; and a strange stillness settled over
the listeners as her clear voice sounded distinctly down the long
room. This was what she read.

SOLEMN QUESTIONS.

"Dear Friend: Are you a Christian? What have you done to-day for
Christ? Are the friends with whom you have been talking traveling
toward the New Jerusalem? Did you compare notes with them as to how
you were all prospering on the way? Is that stranger by your side
a fellow-pilgrim? Did you ask him if he _would_ be? Have you been
careful to recommend the religion of Jesus Christ by your words, by
your acts, by your looks, this day? If danger comes to you, have you
this day asked Christ to be your helper? If death comes to you this
night, are you prepared to give up your account? What would your
record of this last day be? A blank? What! Have you done _nothing_ for
the Master? Then what have you done against Him? Nothing? Nay, verily!
Is not the Bible doctrine, 'He that is not for me is against me?'

"Remember that every neglected opportunity, every idle word, every
wrong thought of yours has been written down this day. You can not
take back the thoughts or words; you can not recall the opportunity.
This day, with all its mistakes, and blots, and mars, you can never
live over again. It must go up to the judgment just as it is. Have you
begged the blood of Jesus to be spread over it all? Have you resolved
that no other day shall witness a repeatal of the same mistakes? Have
you resolved in your own strength or in His?"


During the reading of the tract, a young man had entered, paused a
moment in surprise at the unwonted scene, then moved with very quiet
tread across the room and took the vacant seat near Ester. As the
reader came back to her former seat, with the pink on her cheek
deepened into warm crimson, the new comer greeted her with--

"Good-evening, Miss Fannie. Have you been finding work to do for the
Master?"

"Only a very little thing," she answered, with a voice in which there
was a slight tremble.

"I don't know about that, my dear." This was the old woman's voice.
"I'm sure I thank you a great deal. They're kind of startling
questions like; enough to most scare a body, unless you was trying
pretty hard, now ain't they?"

"Very solemn questions, indeed," answered the gentleman to whom this
question seemed to be addressed. "I wonder, if we were each obliged
to write truthful answers to each one of them, how many we should be
ashamed to have each other see?"

"How many would be ashamed to have _Him_ see?" The old woman spoke
with an emphatic shake of her gray head, and a reverent touch of he
pronoun.

"That is the vital point," he said. "Yet how much more ashamed we
often seem to be of man's judgment than of God's."

Then he turned suddenly to Ester, and spoke in a quiet, respectful
tone:

"Is the stranger by my side a fellow-pilgrim?"

Ester was startled and confused. The whole scene had been a very
strange one to her. She tried to think the blue-ribboned girl was
dreadfully out of her sphere; but the questions following each other
in such quick succession, were so very solemn, and personal, and
searching--and now this one. She hesitated, and stammered, and flushed
like a school-girl, as at last she faltered: "I--I think--I believe--I
am."

"Then I trust you are wide-awake, and a faithful worker in the
vineyard," he said, earnestly. "These are times when the Master needs
true and faithful workmen."

"He's a minister," said Ester, positively, to herself, when she had
recovered from her confusion sufficiently to observe him closely, as
he carefully folded the old woman's shawl for her, took her box and
basket in his care, and courteously offered his hand to assist her
into the cars for the New York train thundered in at last, and Mr.
Newton presented himself; and they rushed and jostled each other out
of the depot and into the train. And the little tract hung quietly
in its corner; and the carpenter who had left it there, hammered, and
sawed, and planed--yes, and prayed that God would use it, and knew not
then, nor afterward, that it had already awakened thoughts that would
tell for eternity.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE JOURNEY'S END.


"Yes, he's a minister," Ester repeated, even more decidedly, as, being
seated in the swift-moving train, directly behind the old lady and the
young gentleman who had become the subject of her thoughts, she found
leisure to observe him more closely. Mr. Newton was absorbed in the
_Tribune_; so she gave her undivided attention to the two, and could
hear snatches of the conversation which passed between them, as well
as note the courteous care with which he brought her a cup of water
and attended to all her simple wants. During the stopping of the train
at a station, their talk became distinct.

"And I haven't seen my boy, don't you think, in ten years," the old
lady was saying. "Won't he be glad though, to see his mother once
more? And he's got children--two of them; one is named after me,
Sabrina. It's an awful homely name, I think, don't you? But then, you
see, it was grandma's."

"And that makes all the difference in the world," her companion
answered. "So the old home is broken up, and you are going to make a
new one."

"Yes; and I'll show you every _thing_ I've got to remember my old
garden by."

With eager, trembling fingers, she untied the string which held down
the cover of her basket, and, rummaging within, brought to light
a withered bouquet of the very commonest and, perhaps, the very
homeliest flowers that grew, if there _are_ any homely flowers.

"There," she said, holding it tenderly, and speaking with quivering
lip and trembling voice. "I picked 'em the very last thing I did, out
in my own little garden patch by the backdoor. Oh, times and times
I've sat and weeded and dug around them, with him sitting on the stoop
and reading out loud to me. I thought all about just how it was while
I was picking these. I didn't stay no longer, and I didn't go back to
the house after that. I couldn't; I just pulled my sun-bonnet over my
eyes, and went across lots to where I was going to get my breakfast"

Ester felt very sorry for the poor homeless, friendless old
woman--felt as though she would have been willing to do a good deal
just then to make her comfortable; yet it must be confessed that that
awkward bunch of faded flowers, arranged without the slightest regard
to colors, looked rather ridiculous; and she felt surprised, and not
a little puzzled, to see actual tears standing in the eyes of her
companion as he handled the bouquet with gentle care.

"Well," he said, after a moment of quiet, "you are not leaving
your best friend after all. Does it comfort your heart very much to
remember that, in all your partings and trials, you are never called
upon to bid Jesus good-by?"

"What a way he has of bringing that subject into every conversation,"
commented Ester, who was now sure that he was a minister. Someway
Ester had fallen into a way of thinking that every one who spoke
freely concerning these matters must be either a fanatic or a
minister.

"Oh, that's about all the comfort I've got left." This answer came
forth from a full heart, and eyes brimming with tears. "And I don't
s'pose I need any other, if I've got Jesus left I oughtn't to need any
thing else; but sometimes I get impatient--it seems to me I've been
here long enough, and it's time I got home."

"How is it with the boy who is expecting you; has he this same
friend?"

The gray head was slowly and sorrowfully shaken. "Oh, I'm afraid he
don't know nothing about _Him_."

"Ah! then you have work to do; you can't be spared to rest yet. I
presume the Master is waiting for you to lead that son to himself."

"I mean to, I mean to, sir," she said earnestly, "but sometimes I
think maybe my coffin could do it better than I; but God knows--and
I'm trying to be patient."

Then the train whirred on again, and Ester missed the rest; but one
sentence thrilled her--"Maybe my coffin could do it better than I."
How earnestly she spoke, as if she were willing to die at once, if by
that she could save her son. How earnest they both were, anyway--the
wrinkled, homely, ignorant old woman and the cultivated, courtly
gentleman. Ester was ill at ease--conscience was arousing her
to unwonted thought. These two were different from her She was a
Christian--at least she supposed so, hoped so; but she was not like
them. There was a very decided difference. Were they right, and was
she all wrong? wasn't she a Christian after all? and at this thought
she actually shivered. She was not willing to give up her title, weak
though it might be.

"Oh, well!" she decided, after a little, "she is an old woman,
almost through with life. Of course she looks at everything through a
different aspect from what a young girl like me naturally would;
and as for him, ministers always are different from other people, of
course."

Foolish Ester! Did she suppose that ministers have a private Bible
of their own, with rules of life set down therein for them, quite
different from those written for her! And as for the old woman, almost
through with life, how near might Ester be to the edge of her own life
at that very moment! When the train stopped again the two were still
talking.

"I just hope my boy will look like you," the old lady said suddenly,
fixing admiring eyes on the tall form that stood beside her, patiently
waiting for the cup from which she was drinking the tea which he had
procured for her.

Ester followed the glance of her eye, and laughed softly at the
extreme improbability of her hope being realized, while he answered
gravely:

"I hope he will be a noble boy, and love his mother as she deserves;
then it will matter very little who he looks like."

While the cup was being returned there was a bit of toilet making
going on; the gray hair was smoothed back under the plain cap, and
the faded, twisted shawl rearranged and carefully pinned. Meantime her
thoughts seemed troubled, and she looked up anxiously into the face of
her comforter as he again took his seat beside her.

"I'm just thinking I'm such a homely old thing, and New York is such
a grand place, I've heard them say. I _do_ hope he won't be ashamed of
his mother."

"No danger," was the hearty answer; "he'll think you are the most
beautiful woman he has seen in ten years."

There is no way to describe the happy look which shone in the faded
blue eyes at this answer; and she laughed a softly, pleased laugh as
she said:

"Maybe he'll be like the man I read about the other day. Some mean,
old scamp told him how homely his mother was; and he said, says
he, 'Yes, she's a homely woman, sure enough; but oh she's such a
_beautiful_ mother!' What ever will I do when I get in New York," she
added quickly, seized with a sudden anxiety. "Just as like as not,
now, he never got a bit of my letter, and won't be there to get me!"

"Do you know where your son lives?"

"Oh, yes, I've got it on a piece of paper, the street and the number;
but bless your heart, I shouldn't know whether to go up, or down, or
across."

Just the shadow of a smile flitted over her friend's face as the
thought of the poor old lady, trying to make her way through the city
came to him. Then he hastened to reassure her.

"Then we are all right, whether he meets you or not; we can take a
carriage and drive there. I will see you safe at home before I leave
you."

This crowning act of kindness brought the tears.

"I don't know why you are so good to me," she said simply, "unless you
are the friend I prayed for to help me through this journey. If you
are, it's all right; God will see that you are paid for it."

And before Ester had done wondering over the singular quaintness of
this last remark there was a sudden triumphant shriek from the engine,
and a tremendous din, made up of a confusion of more sounds than
she had ever heard in her life before; then all was hurry and bustle
around her, and she suddenly awakened to the fact that as soon as they
had crossed the ferry she would actually be in New York. Even then she
bethought herself to take a curious parting look at the oddly matched
couple who were carefully making their way through the crowd, and
wonder if she would ever see them again.

The next hour was made up of bewilderment to Ester. She had a confused
remembrance afterward of floating across a silver river in a palace;
of reaching a place where everybody screamed instead of talked, and
where all the bells were ringing for fire, or something else. She
looked eagerly about for her uncle, and saw at least fifty men who
resembled him, as she saw him last, about ten years ago. She fumbled
nervously for his address in her pocket-book, and gave Mr. Newton
a recipe for making mince pies instead; finally she found herself
tumbled in among cushions and driving right into carriages and carts
and people, who all got themselves mysteriously out of the way; down
streets that she thought must surely be the ones that the bells
were ringing for, as they were all ablaze. It had been arranged that
Ester's escort should see her safely set down at her uncle's door,
as she had been unable to state the precise time of her arrival; and
besides, as she was an entire stranger to her uncle's family, they
could not determine any convenient plan for meeting each other at the
depot. So Ester was whirled through the streets at a dizzying rate,
and, with eyes and ears filled with bewildering sights and sounds, was
finally deposited before a great building, aglow with gas and gleaming
with marble. Mr. Newton rang the bell, and Ester, making confused
adieus to him, was meantime ushered into a hall looking not unlike
Judge Warren's best parlor. A sense of awe, not unmixed with
loneliness and almost terror, stole over her as the man who opened the
door stood waiting, after a civil--"Whom do you wish to see, and what
name shall I send up?"

"Whom _did_ she wish to see, and what _was_ her name, anyway. Could
this be her uncle's house? Did she want to see any of them?" She felt
half afraid of them all. Suddenly the dignity and grandeur seemed
to melt into gentleness before her, as the tiniest of little women
appeared and a bright, young voice broke into hearty welcome:

"Is this really my cousin Ester? And so you have come! How perfectly
splendid. Where is Mr. Newton? Gone? Why, John, you ought to have
smuggled him in to dinner. We are _so_ much obliged to him for taking
care of _you_. John, send those trunks up to my room. You'll room with
me, Ester, won't you? Mother thought I ought to put you in solitary
state in a spare chamber, but I couldn't. You see I have been so many
years waiting for you, that now I want you every bit of the time."

All this while she was giving her loving little pats and kisses, on
their way up stairs, whither she at once carried the traveler. Such a
perfect gem of a room as that was into which she was ushered. Ester's
love of beauty seemed likely to be fully gratified; she cast one eager
glance around her, took in all the charming little details in a second
of time, and then gave her undivided attention to this wonderful
person before her who certainly was, in veritable flesh and blood, the
much-dreamed over, much-longed for Cousin Abbie. A hundred times had
Ester painted her portrait--tall and dark and grand, with a perfectly
regal form and queenly air, hair black as midnight, coiled in heavy
masses around her head, eyes blacker if possible than her hair. As to
dress, it was very difficult to determine; sometimes it was velvet and
diamonds, or, if the season would not possibly admit of that, then a
rich, dark silk, never, by any chance, a material lighter than silk.
This had been her picture. Now she could not suppress a laugh as
she noted the contrast between it and the original. She was even two
inches shorter than Ester herself, with a manner much more like a
fairy's than a queen's; instead of heavy coils of black hair, there
were little rings of brown curls clustering around a fair, pale
forehead, and continually peeping over into the bluest of eyes; then
her dress was the softest and quietest of muslins, with a pale-blue
tint. Ester's softly laugh chimed merrily; she turned quickly.

"Now have you found something to laugh at in me already?" she said
gleefully.

"Why," said Ester, forgetting to be startled over the idea that she
should laugh at Cousin Abbie, "I'm only laughing to think how totally
different you are from your picture."

"From my picture!"

"Yes, the one which I had drawn of you in my own mind. I thought you
were tall, and had black hair, and dressed in silks, like a grand
lady."

Abbie laughed again.

"Don't condemn me to silks in such weather as this, at least," she
said gaily. "Mother thinks I am barbarous to summon friends to the
city in August; but the circumstances are such that it could not well
be avoided. So put on your coolest dress, and be as comfortable as
possible."

This question of how she should appear on this first evening had been
one of Ester's puzzles; it would hardly do to don her blue silk at
once, and she had almost decided to choose the black one; but Abbie's
laugh and shrug of the shoulder had settled the question of silks. So
now she stood in confused indecision before her open trunk.

Abbie came to the rescue.

"Shall I help you?" she said, coming forward "I'll not ring for Maggie
to-night, but be waiting maid myself. Suppose I hang up some of these
dresses? And which shall I leave for you? This looks the coolest," and
she held up to Ester's view the pink and white muslin which did duty
as an afternoon dress at home.

"Well," said Ester, with a relieved smile, "I'll take that."

And she thought within her heart: "They are not so grand after all."

Presently they went down to dinner, and in view of the splendor of the
dining-room, and sparkle of gas and the glitter of silver, she changed
her mind again and thought them very grand indeed.

Her uncle's greeting was very cordial; and though Ester found it
impossible to realize that her Aunt Helen was actually three years
older than her own mother, or indeed that she was a middle-aged lady
at all, so very bright and gay and altogether unsuitable did her
attire appear; yet on the whole she enjoyed the first two hours of her
visit very much, and surprised and delighted herself at the ease with
which she slipped into the many new ways which she saw around her.
Only once did she find herself very much confused; to her great
astonishment and dismay she was served with a glass of wine. Now
Ester, among the stanch temperance friends with whom she had hitherto
passed her life, had met with no such trial of her temperance
principles, which she supposed were sound and strong; yet here she
was at her uncle's table, sitting near her aunt, who was contentedly
sipping from her glass. Would it be proper, under the circumstances,
to refuse? Yet would it be proper to do violence to her sense of
right?

Ester had no pledge to break, except the pledge with her own
conscience; and it is most sadly true that that sort of pledge does
not seem to be so very binding in the estimation of some people. So
Ester sat and toyed with hers, and came to the very unwarrantable
conclusion that what her uncle offered for her entertainment it
must be proper for her to take! Do Ester's good sense the justice of
understanding that she didn't believe any such thing; that she knew it
was her own conscience by which she was to be judged, not her uncle's;
that such smooth-sounding arguments honestly meant that whatever her
uncle offered for her entertainment she had not the moral courage to
refuse. So she raised the dainty wine-glass to her lips, and never
once bethought herself to look at Abbie and notice how the color
mounted and deepened on her face, nor how her glass remained untouched
beside her plate. On the whole Ester was glad when all the bewildering
ceremony of the dinner was concluded, and she, on the strength of her
being wearied with her journey, was permitted to retire with Abbie to
their room.



CHAPTER IX.

COUSIN ABBIE.


"Now I have you all to myself," that young lady said, with a happy
smile, as she turned the key on the retreating Maggie and wheeled an
ottoman to Ester's side. "Where shall we commence? I have so very much
to say and hear; I want to know all about Aunt Laura, and Sadie, and
the twins. Oh, Ester, you have a little brother; aren't you so glad he
is a _little_ boy?"

"Why, I don't know," Ester said, hesitatingly; then more decidedly,
"No; I am always thinking how glad I should be if he were a young man,
old enough to go out with me, and be company for me."

"I know that is pleasant; but there are very serious drawbacks. Now,
there's our Ralph, it is very pleasant to have him for company; and
yet--Well, Ester, he isn't a Christian, and it seems all the time to
me that he is walking on quicksands. I am in one continual tremble for
him, and I wish so often that he was just a little boy, no older than
your brother Alfred; then I could learn his tastes, and indeed mold
them in a measure by having him with me a great deal, and it does seem
to me that I could make religion appear such a pleasant thing to
him, that he couldn't help seeking Jesus for himself. Don't you enjoy
teaching Alfred?"

Poor, puzzled Ester! With what a matter-of-course air her cousin asked
this question. Could she possibly tell her that she sometimes never
gave Alfred a thought from one week's end to another, and that she
never in her life thought of teaching him a single thing.

"I am not his teacher," she said at length "I have no time for any
such thing; he goes to school, you know, and mother helps him."

"Well," said Abbie, with a thoughtful air, "I don't quite mean
teaching, either; at least not lessons and things of that sort, though
I think I should enjoy having him depend on me in all his needs; but I
was thinking more especially of winning him to Jesus; it seems so much
easier to do it while one is young. Perhaps he is a Christian now; is
he?"

Ester merely shook her head in answer. She could not look in those
earnest blue eyes and say that she had never, by word or act, asked
him to come to Jesus.

"Well, that is what I mean; you have so much more chance than I,
it seems to me. Oh, my heart is so heavy for Ralph! I am all
alone. Ester, do you know that neither my mother nor my father are
Christians, and our home influence is--; well, is not what a young man
needs. He is very--gay they call it. There are his friends here in the
city, and his friends in college,--none of them the style of people
that _I_ like him to be with,--and only poor little me to stem the
tide of worldliness all around him. There is one thing in particular
that troubles me--he is, or rather he is not--," and here poor Abbie
stopped, and a little silence followed. After a moment she spoke
again: "Oh, Ester, you will learn what I mean without my telling you;
it is something in which I greatly need your help. I depend upon you;
I have looked forward to your coming, on his account as well as on my
own. I know it will be better for him."

Ester longed to ask what the "something" was, and what was expected
of her; but the pained look on Abbie's face deterred her, and she
contented herself by saying:

"Where is he now?"

"In college; coming next week. I long, on his account, to have a home
of my own. I believe I can show him a style of life which will appear
better to him than the one he is leading now."

This led to a long talk on the coming wedding.

"Mother is very much disturbed that it should occur in August," Abbie
said; "and of course it is not pleasant as it would be later; but the
trouble is, Mr. Foster is obliged to go abroad in September."

"Who is Mr. Foster? Can't you be married if he isn't here?"

"Not very well," Abbie said, with a bright little laugh. "You see he
is the one who has asked me to marry him."

"Why! is he?" and Ester laughed at her former question; then, as a
sudden thought occurred to her, she asked: "Is he a minister?"

"Oh dear no, he is only a merchant."

"Is he a--a Christian?" was her next query, and so utterly unused was
she to conversation on this subject, that she actually stammered over
the simple sentence.

Such a bright, earnest face as was turned toward her at this question!

"Ester," said Abbie quickly, "I couldn't marry a man who was not a
Christian."

"Why," Ester asked, startled a little at the energy of her tone, "do
you think it is wrong?"

"Perhaps not for every one. I think one's own carefully enlightened
conscience should prayerfully decide the question; but it would be
wrong for me. I am too weak; it would hinder my own growth in grace. I
feel that I need all the human helps I can get. Yes, Mr. Foster is an
earnest Christian."

"Do you suppose," said Ester, growing metaphysical, "that if Mr.
Foster were not a Christian you would marry him?"

A little shiver quivered through Abbie's frame as she answered:

"I hope I should have strength to do what I thought right; and I
believe I should."

"Yes, you think so now," persisted Ester, "because there is no danger
of any such trial; but I tell you I don't believe, if you were brought
to the test, that you would do any such thing."

Abbie's tone in reply was very humble.

"Perhaps not--I might miserably fail; and yet, Ester, _He_ has said,
'My grace is sufficient for thee.'"

Then, after a little silence, the bright look returned to her face as
she added:

"I am very glad that I am not to be tried in that furnace; and do you
know, Ester, I never believed in making myself a martyr to what might
have been, or even what _may_ be in the future; 'sufficient unto the
day' is my motto. If it should ever be my duty to burn at the stake, I
believe I should go to my Savior and plead for the 'sufficient grace;'
but as long as I have no such known trial before me, I don't know
why I should be asking for what I do not need, or grow unhappy over
improbabilities, though I _do_ pray every day to be prepared for
whatever the future has for me."

Then the talk drifted back again to the various details connected with
the wedding, until suddenly Abbie came to her feet with a spring.

"Why, Ester!" she exclaimed penitently, "What a thoughtless wretch I
am! Here have I been chattering you fairly into midnight, without
a thought of your tired body and brain. This session must adjourn
immediately. Shall you and I have prayers together to-night? Will
it seem homelike to you? Can you play I am Sadie for just a little
while?"

"I should like it," Ester answered faintly.

"Shall I read, as you are so weary?" and, without waiting for a reply,
she unclasped the lids of her little Bible. "Are you reading the Bible
by course? Where do you like best to read, for devotional reading I
mean?"

"I don't know that I have any choice?" Ester's voice was fainter
still.

"Haven't you? I have my special verses that I turn to in my various
needs. Where are you and Sadie reading?"

"No where," said Ester desperately.

Abbie's face expressed only innocent surprise

"Don't you read together? You are roommates, aren't you? Now I always
thought it would be so delightful to have a nice little time, like
family worship, in one's own room."

"Sadie doesn't care anything about these things, she isn't a
Christian," Ester said at length.

"Oh, dear! isn't she?" What a very sad and troubled tone it was in
which Abbie spoke. "Then you know something of my anxiety; and yet it
is different. She is younger than you, and you can have her so much
under your influence. At least it seems different to me. How prone we
are to consider our own anxieties peculiarly trying."

Ester never remembered giving a half hour's anxious thought to this
which was supposed to be an anxiety with her in all her life; but she
did not say so, and Abbie continued: "Who is your particular Christian
friend, then?"

What an exceedingly trying and troublesome talk this was to Ester!
What _was_ she to say?

Clearly nothing but the truth.

"Abbie, I haven't a friend in the world."

"You poor, dear child; then we are situated very much alike after
all--though I have dear friends outside of my own family; but what a
heavy responsibility you must feel in your large household, and you
the only Christian. Do you shrink from responsibility of that kind,
Ester? Does it seem, sometimes, as if it would almost rush you?"

"Oh, there are some Christians in the family," Ester answered,
preferring to avoid the last part of the sentence; "but then--"

"They are half way Christians, perhaps. I understand how that is; it
really seems sadder to me than even thoughtless neglect."

Be it recorded that Ester's conscience pricked her. This supposition
on Abbie's part was not true. Dr. Van Anden, for instance, always had
seemed to her most horribly and fanatically in earnest. But in what
rank should she place this young, and beautiful, and wealthy city
lady? Surely, she could not be a fanatic?

Ester was troubled.

"Well," said Abbie, "suppose I read you some of my sweet verses. Do
you know I always feel a temptation to read in John? There is so much
in that book about Jesus, and John seemed to love him so."

Ester almost laughed. What an exceedingly queer idea--a _temptation_
to read in any part of the Bible. What a strange girl her cousin was.

Now the reading began.

"This is my verse when I am discouraged--'Wait on the Lord; be of
good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the
Lord.' Isn't that reassuring. And then these two. Oh, Ester, these are
wonderful! 'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions,
and, as a cloud, thy sins; return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.'
'Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts
of the earth; break forth in singing, ye mountains, O forest, and
every tree therein; for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified
himself in Israel.' And in that glorious old prophet's book is my
jubilant verse--'And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come
to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall
obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.'"

"Now, Ester, you are very tired, aren't you? and I keep dipping into
my treasure like a thoughtless, selfish girl as I am. You and I will
have some precious readings out of this book, shall we not? Now I'll
read you my sweet good-night Psalm. Don't you think the Psalms are
wonderful, Ester?"

And without waiting for reply the low-toned, musical voice read on
through that marvel of simplicity and grandeur, the 121st Psalm: "I
will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. He will not
suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The
Lord is thy keeper, the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The
sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall
preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord
shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth,
and even for evermore."

"Ester, will you pray?" questioned her cousin, as the reading ceased,
and she softly closed her tiny book.

Ester gave her head a nervous, hurried shake.

"Then shall I? or, dear Ester, would you prefer to be alone?"

"No," said Ester; "I should like to hear you?" And so they knelt, and
Abbie's simple, earnest, tender prayer Ester carried with her for many
a day.

After both heads were resting on their pillows, and quiet reigned in
the room, Ester's eyes were wide open. Her Cousin Abbie had astonished
her; she was totally unlike the Cousin Abbie of her dreams in
every particular; in nothing more so than the strangely childlike
matter-of-course way in which she talked about this matter of
religion. Ester had never in her life heard any one talk like that,
except, perhaps, that minister who had spoken to her in the depot.
His religion seemed not unlike Abbie's. Thinking of him, she suddenly
addressed Abbie again.

"There was a minister in the depot to-day, and he spoke to me;" then
the entire story of the man with his tract, and the girl with blue
ribbons, and the old lady, and the young minister, and bits of the
conversation, were gone over for Abbie's benefit.

And Abbie listened, and commented, and enjoyed every word of it, until
the little clock on the mantel spoke in silver tones, and said, one,
two. Then Abbie grew penitent again.

"Positively, Ester, I won't speak again: you will be sleepy all day
to-morrow, and you needn't think I shall give you a chance even to
wink. Good-night."

"Good-night," repeated Ester; but she still kept her eyes wide
open. Her journey, and her arrival, and Abbie, and the newness and
strangeness of everything around her, had banished all thought of
sleep. So she went over in detail everything which had occurred that
day but persistently her thoughts returned to the question which
had so startled her, coming from the lips of a stranger, and to the
singleness of heart which seemed to possess her Cousin Abbie.

"_Was_ she a fellow-pilgrim after all?" she queried. If so, what
caused the difference between Abbie and herself. It was but a few
hours since she first beheld her cousin; and yet she distinctly
_felt_ the difference between them in that matter. "We are as unlike,"
thought Ester, turning restlessly on her pillow. "Well, as unlike as
two people can be."

What _would_ Abbie say could she know that it was actually months
since Ester had read as much connectedly in her Bible as she had heard
read that evening? Yes, Ester had gone backward, even as far as that!
Farther! What would Abbie say to the fact that there were many, many
prayerless days in her life? Not very many, perhaps, in which she had
not used a form of prayer; but their names were legion in which she
had risen from her knees unhelped and unrefreshed; in which she knew
that she had not _prayed_ a single one of the sentences which she had
been repeating. And just at this point she was stunned with a sudden
thought--a thought which too often escapes us all. She would not for
the world, it seemed to her, have made known to Abbie just how matters
stood with her; and yet, and yet--Christ knew it all. She lay very
still, and breathed heavily. It came to her with all the thrill of an
entirely new idea.

Then that unwearied and ever-watchful Satan came to her aid.

"Oh, well," said he, "your Cousin Abbie's surroundings are very
different from yours. Give you all the time which she has at her
disposal, and I dare say you would be quite as familiar with your
Bible as she is with hers. What does she know about the petty
vexations and temptations, and bewildering, ever-pressing duties which
every hour of every day beset your path? The circumstances are very
different. Her life is in the sunshine, yours in the shadow. Besides,
you do not know her; it is easy enough to talk; _very_ easy to read
a chapter in the Bible; but after all there are other things quite as
important, and it is more than likely that your cousin is not quite
perfect yet."

Ester did not know that this was the soothing lullaby of the old
Serpent. Well for her if she had, and had answered it with that
solemn, all-powerful "Get thee behind me, Satan." But she gave her own
poor brain the benefit of every thought; and having thus lulled, and
patted, and coaxed her half-roused and startled conscience into quiet
rest again, she turned on her pillow and went to sleep.



CHAPTER X.

ESTER'S MINISTER.


Ester was dreaming that the old lady on the cars had become a fairy,
and that her voice sounded like a silver bell, when she suddenly
opened her eyes, and found that it was either the voice of the marble
clock on the mantel, or of her Cousin Abbie, who was bending over her.

"Do you feel able to get up to breakfast, Ester dear, or had you
rather lie and rest?"

"Breakfast!" echoed Ester, in a sleepy bewilderment, raising herself
on one elbow, and gazing at her cousin.

"Yes, breakfast!"--this with a merry laugh "Did you suppose that
people in New York lived without such inconveniences?"

Oh! to be sure, she was in New York, and Ester repeated the laugh--it
had sounded so queerly to hear any one talk to her about getting up to
breakfast; it had not seemed possible that that meal could be prepared
without her assistance.

"Yes, certainly, I'll get up at once. Have I kept you waiting, Abbie?"

"Oh no, not at all; generally we breakfast at nine, but mother gave
orders last night to delay until half-past nine this morning."

Ester turned to the little clock in great amazement; it was actually
ten minutes to nine! What an idea! She never remembered sleeping so
late in her life before. Why, at home the work in the dining-room and
kitchen must all be done by this time, and Sadie was probably making
beds. Poor Sadie! What a time she would have! "She will learn a little
about life while I am away," thought Ester complacently, as she stood
before the mirror, and pinned the dainty frill on her new pink cambric
wrapper, which Sadie's deft fingers had fashioned for her.

Ester had declined the assistance of Maggie--feeling that though she
knew perfectly well how to make her own toilet, she did _not_ know how
to receive assistance in the matter.

"Now I will leave you for a little," Abbie said, taking up her tiny
Bible.

"Ester, where is your Bible? I suppose you have it with you?"

Ester looked annoyed.

"I don't believe I have," she said hurriedly. "I packed in such haste,
you see, and I don't remember putting it in at all."

"Oh, I am sorry--you will miss it so much! Do you have a thousand
little private marks in your Bible that nobody else understands? I
have a great habit of reading in that way. Well, I'll bring you one
from the library that you may mark just as much as you please."

Ester sat herself down, with a very complacent air, beside the open
window, with the Bible which had just been brought her, in her lap.
Clearly she had been left alone that she might have opportunity for
private devotion, and she liked the idea very much; to be sure, she
had not been in the habit of reading in the Bible in the morning, but
that, she told herself, was simply because she never had time hardly
to breathe in the mornings at home; there she had beefsteak to
cook, and breakfast rolls to attend to, she said disdainfully, as if
beefsteak and breakfast rolls were the most contemptible articles in
the world, entirely beneath the notice of a rational being; but now
she was in a very different atmosphere; and at nine o'clock of a
summer morning was attired in a very becoming pink wrapper, finished
with the whitest of frills; and sat at her window, a young lady of
elegant leisure, waiting for the breakfast-bell. Of course she could
read a chapter in the Bible now, and should enjoy it quite as much as
Abbie did. She had never learned that happy little habit of having
a much-used, much-worn, much-loved Bible for her own personal and
private use; full of pencil marks and sacred meanings, grown dear from
association, and teeming with memories of precious communings. She had
one, of course--a nice, proper-looking Bible--and if it chanced to be
convenient when she was ready to read, she used it; if not, she took
Sadie's, or picked up Julia's from under the table, or the old one
on a shelf in the corner, with one cover and part of Revelation
missing--it mattered not one whit to her which--for there were no
pencil marks, and no leaves turned down, and no special verses to
find. She thought the idea of marking certain verses an excellent
one, and deciding to commence doing so at once, cast about her for
a pencil. There was one on the round table, by the other window; but
there were also many other things. Abbie's watch lay ticking softly in
its marble and velvet bed, and had to be examined and sighed over; and
Abbie's diamond pin in the jewel-case also demanded attention--then
there were some blue and gold volumes to be peeped at, and Longfellow
received more than a peep; then, most witching of all, "Say and Seal,"
in two volumes--the very books Sadie had borrowed once, and returned,
before Ester had a chance to discover how Faith managed about the
ring. Longfellow and the Bible slid on the table together, and "Say
and Seal" was eagerly seized upon, just to be glanced over, and the
glances continued until there pealed a bell through the house;
and, with a start, and a confused sense of having neglected her
opportunities, this Christian young lady followed her cousin down
stairs, to meet all the temptations and bewilderments of a new day,
unstrengthened by communion with either her Bible or her Savior.

That breakfast, in all its details, was a most bewitching affair.
Ester felt that she could never enjoy that meal again, at a table that
was not small and round, and covered with damask nor drink coffee that
had not first flowed gracefully down from a silver urn. As for Aunt
Helen, she could have dispensed with her; she even caught herself
drawing unfavorable comparisons between her and the patient,
hardworking mother far away.

"Where is Uncle Ralph?" she asked suddenly, becoming conscious that
there were only three, when last evening there were four.

"Gone down town some hours ago," Abbie answered. "He is a
business-man, you know, and can not keep such late hours."

"But does he go without breakfast?"

"No--takes it at seven, instead of nine, like our lazy selves."

"He used to breakfast at a restaurant down town, like other
business-men," further explained Aunt Helen, observing the bewildered
look of this novice in city-life. "But it is one of Abbie's recent
whims that she can make him more comfortable at home, so they rehearse
the interesting scene of breakfast by gas-light every morning."

Abbie's clear laugh rang out merrily at this.

"My dear mother, don't, I beg of you, insult the sun in that manner!
Ester, fancy gas-light at seven o'clock on an August morning!"

"Do you get down stairs at seven o'clock?" was Ester's only reply.

"Yes, at six, or, at most, half-past. You see, if I am to make father
as comfortable at home as he would be at a restaurant, I must flutter
around a little."

"Burns her cheeks and her fingers over the stove," continued Aunt
Helen in a disgusted tone, "in order that her father may have burnt
toast prepared by her hands."

"You've blundered in one item, mother," was Abbie's good-humored
reply. "My toast is _never_ burnt, and only this morning father
pronounced it perfect."

"Oh, she is developing!" answered Mrs. Ried, with a curious mixture
of annoyance and amusement in look and tone. "If Mr. Foster fails in
business soon, as I presume he will, judging from his present rate
of proceeding, we shall find her advertising for the position of
first-class cook in a small family."

If Abbie felt wounded or vexed over this thrust at Mr. Foster, it
showed itself only by a slight deepening of the pink on her cheek,
as she answered in the brightest of tones: "If I do, mother, and you
engage me, I'll promise you that the eggs shall not be boiled as hard
as these are."

All this impressed two thoughts on Ester's mind--one, that Abbie, for
some great reason unknown to, and unimagined by herself, actually of
her own free will, arose early every morning, and busied herself
over preparations for her father's breakfast; the other, that Abbie's
mother said some disagreeable things to her, in a disagreeable way--a
way that would exceedingly provoke _her_, and that she _wouldn't
endure_, she said to herself, with energy.

These two thoughts so impressed themselves, that when she and Abbie
were alone again, they led her to ask two questions:

"Why do you get breakfast at home for your father, Abbie? Is it
necessary?"

"No; only I like it, and he likes it. You see, he has very little
time to spend at home, and I like that little to be homelike; besides,
Ester, it is my one hour of opportunity with my father. I almost
_never_ see him alone at any other time, and I am constantly praying
that the Spirit will make use of some little word or act of mine to
lead him to the cross."

There was no reply to be made to this, so Ester turned to the other
question:

"What does your mother mean by her reference to Mr. Foster?"

"She thinks some of his schemes of benevolence are on too large a
scale to be prudent. But he is a very prudent man, and doesn't seem to
think so at all."

"Doesn't it annoy you to have her speak in that manner about him?"

The ever-ready color flushed into Abbie's cheeks again, and, after a
moment's hesitation, she answered gently: "I think it would, Ester, if
she were not my _own mother_, you know."

Another rebuke. Ester felt vexed anyway. This new strange cousin of
hers was going to prove painfully good.

But her first day in New York, despite the strangeness of everything,
was full of delight to her. They did not go out, as Ester was supposed
to be wearied from her journey, though, in reality, she never felt
better; and she reveled all day in a sense of freedom--of doing
exactly what she pleased, and indeed of doing nothing; this last was
an experience so new and strange to her, that it seemed delightful.
Ester's round of home duties had been so constant and pressing, the
rebound was extreme; it seemed to her that she could never bake any
more pies and cakes in that great oven, and she actually shuddered
over the thought that, if she were at home, she would probably be
engaged in ironing, while Maggie did the heavier work.

She went to fanning most vigorously as this occurred to her, and
sank back among the luxurious cushions of Abbie's easy chair, as if
exhausted; then she pitied herself most industriously, and envied
Abbie more than ever, and gave no thought at all to mother and Sadie,
who were working so much harder than usual, in order that she might
sit here at ease. At last she decided to dismiss every one of these
uncomfortable thoughts, to forget that she had ever spent an hour of
her life in a miserable, hot kitchen, but to give herself entirely and
unreservedly to the charmed life, which stretched out before her for
three beautiful weeks. "Three weeks is quite a little time, after
all," she told herself hopefully. "Three weeks ago I hadn't the least
idea of being here; and who knows what may happen in the next three
weeks? Ah! sure enough, Ester, who knows?"

"When am I to see Mr. Foster?" she inquired of Abbie as they came up
together from the dining-room after lunch.

"Why, you will see him to-night, if you are not too tired to go out
with me. I was going to ask about that."

"I'm ready for anything; don't feel as if I ever experienced the
meaning of that word," said Ester briskly, rejoiced at the prospect of
going anywhere.

"Well, then, I shall carry you off to our Thursday evening
prayer-meeting--it's just _our_ meeting, you see--we teachers in the
mission--there are fifty of us, and we do have the most delightful
times. It is like a family--rather a large family, perhaps you
think--but it doesn't seem so when we come on Sabbath, from the great
congregation, and gather in our dear little chapel--we seem like a
company of brothers and sisters, shutting ourselves in at home, to
talk and pray together for a little, before we go out into the world
again. Is Thursday your regular prayer-meeting evening, Ester?"

Now it would have been very difficult for Ester to tell when _her_
regular prayer-meeting evening was, as it was so long ago that she
grew out of the habit of regularly attending, that now she scarcely
ever gave it a thought. But she had sufficient conscience left to be
ashamed of this state of things, and to understand that Abbie referred
to the church prayer-meeting, so she answered simply--"No; Wednesday."

"That is our church prayer-meeting night. I missed it last evening
because I wanted to welcome you. And Tuesday is our Bible-class
night."

"Do you give three evenings a week to religious meetings, Abbie?"

"Yes," said Abbie with softly glee; "isn't it splendid? I appreciate
my privileges, I assure you; so many people _could not_ do it."

"And so many people _would not_" Ester thought.

So they were not in to dinner with the family, but took theirs an hour
earlier; and with David, whom Abbie called her body-guard, for escort,
made their way to Abbie's dear little chapel, which proved to be a
good-sized church, very prettily finished and furnished.

That meeting, from first to last, was a succession of surprises to
Ester, commencing with the leader, and being announced to Abbie in
undertone:

"Your minister is the very man who spoke to me yesterday in the
depot."

Abbie nodded and smiled her surprise at this information; and Ester
looked about her. Presently another whisper:

"Why, Abbie, there is the blue-ribboned girl I told you about, sitting
in the third seat from the front."

"That," said Abbie, looking and whispering back, "is Fanny Ames; one
of our teachers."

Presently Ester set to work to select Mr. Foster from the rows of
young men who were rapidly filling the front seats in the left aisle.

"I believe that one in glasses and brown kids is he," she said to
herself, regarding him curiously; and as if to reward her penetration
he rose suddenly and came over, book in hand, to the seat directly in
front of where they were sitting.

"Good evening, Abbie," was his greeting. "We want to sing this hymn,
and have not the tune. Can you lead it without the notes?"

"Why, yes," answered Abbie slowly, and with a little hesitation. "That
is, if you will help me."

"We'll all help," he said, smiling and returning to his seat.

"Yes, I'm sure that is he," commented Ester. Then the meeting
commenced; it was a novel one. One person at least had never attended
any just like it. Instead of the chapter of proper length, which Ester
thought all ministers selected for public reading, this reader read
just three verses, and he did not even rise from his seat to do it,
nor use the pulpit Bible, but read from a bit of a book which he took
from his pocket. Then the man in spectacles started a hymn, which
Ester judged was the one which had no notes attached from the prompt
manner in which Abbie took up the very first word.

"Now," said the leader briskly, "before we pray let us have requests."
And almost before he had concluded the sentence a young man responded.

"Remember, especially, a boy in my class, who seems disposed to turn
every serious word into ridicule."

"What a queer subject for prayer," Ester thought.

"Remember my little brother, who is thinking earnestly of those
things," another gentleman said, speaking quickly, as if he realized
that he must hasten or lose his chance.

"Pray for every one of my class. I want them all." And at this
Esther actually started, for the petition came from the lips of the
blue-ribboned Fanny in the corner. A lady actually taking part in a
prayer-meeting when gentlemen were present! How very improper. She
glanced around her nervously, but no one else seemed in the least
surprised or disturbed; and indeed another young lady immediately
followed her with a similar request.

"Now," said the leader, "let us pray." And that prayer was so strange
in its sounding to Ester. It did not commence by reminding God that he
was the maker and ruler of the universe, or that he was omnipotent and
omnipresent and eternal, or any of the solemn forms of prayer to
which her ears were used, but simply: "Oh, dear Savior, receive these
petitions which we bring. Turn to thyself the heart of the lad who
ridicules the efforts of his teacher; lead the little brother into
the strait and narrow way; gather that entire class into thy heart of
love"--and thus for each separate request a separate petition; and
as the meeting progressed it grew more strange every moment to Ester.
Each one seemed to have a word that he was eager to utter; and the
prayers, while very brief, were so pointed as to be almost startling.
They sang, too, a great deal, only a verse at a time, and whenever
they seemed to feel like it. Her amazement reached its hight when she
felt a little rustle beside her, and turned in time to see the eager
light in Abbie's eyes as she said:

"One of my class has decided for Christ."

"Good news," responded the leader. "Don't let us forget this item of
thanksgiving when we pray."

As for Ester she was almost inclined not to believe her ears. Had her
cousin Abbie actually "spoken in meeting?" She was about to sink into
a reverie over this, but hadn't time, for at this point the leader
arose.

"I am sorry," said he, "to cut the thread that binds us, but the hour
is gone. Another week will soon pass, though, and, God willing, we
shall take up the story--sing." And a soft, sweet chant stole through
the room: "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the
lifting of my hands as evening sacrifice." Then the little company
moved with a quiet cheerfulness toward the door.

"Have you enjoyed the evening?" Abbie asked in an eager tone, as they
passed down the aisle.

"Why, yes, I believe so; only it was rather queer."

"Queer, was it? How?"

"Oh, I'll tell you when we get home. Your minister is exactly behind
us, Abbie, and I guess he wants to speak with you."

There was a bright flush on Abbie's face, and a little sparkle in her
eye, as she turned and gave her hand to the minister, and then said
in a demure and softly tone: "Cousin Ester, let me make you acquainted
with my friend, Mr. Foster."



CHAPTER XI.

THE NEW BOARDER.


"I don't know what to decide, really," Mrs. Ried said thoughtfully,
standing, with an irresolute air, beside the pantry door. "Sadie,
hadn't I better make these pies?"

"Is that the momentous question which you can't decide, mother?"

Mrs. Ried laughed. "Not quite; it is about the new boarder. We have
room enough for another certainly, and seven dollars a week is quite
an item just now. If Ester were at home, I shouldn't hesitate."

"Mother, if I weren't the meekest and most enduring of mortals, I
should be hopelessly vexed by this time at the constancy with which
your thoughts turn to Ester; it is positively insulting, as if I were
not doing remarkably. Do you put anything else in apple-pies? I never
mean to have one, by the way, in my house. I think they're horrid;
crust--apples--nutmeg--little lumps of butter all over it. Is there
anything else, mother, before I put the top on?"

"Sometimes I sweeten mine a little," Mrs. Ried answered demurely.

"Oh, sure enough; it was that new boarder that took all thoughts of
sweetness out of me. How much sugar, mother? Do let him come. We
are such a stupid family now, it is time we had a new element in it;
besides, you know I broke the largest platter yesterday, and his seven
dollars will help buy another. I wish he was anything but a doctor,
though; one ingredient of that kind is enough in a family, especially
of the stamp which we have at present."

"Sadie," said Mrs. Ried gravely and reprovingly; "I never knew a young
man for whom I have a greater respect than I have for Dr. Van Anden."

"Yes, ma'am," answered Sadie, with equal gravity; "I have an immense
respect for him I assure you, and so I have for the President, and I
feel about as intimate with the one as the other. I hope Dr. Douglass
will be delightfully wild and wicked. How will Dr. Van Anden enjoy the
idea of a rival?"

"I spoke of it to him yesterday. I told him we would't give the matter
another thought if it would be in any way unpleasant to him. I thought
we owed him that consideration in return for all his kindness to us;
but he assured me that it could make not the slightest difference to
him."

"Do let him come, then. I believe I need another bed to make; I'm
growing thin for want of exercise, and, by the way, that suggests
an item in his favor; being a doctor, he will be out all night
occasionally, perhaps, and the bed won't need making so often. Mother,
I do believe I didn't put a speck of soda in that cake I made this
morning. What will that do to it? or, more properly speaking, what
will it _not_ do, inasmuch as it is not there to _do_? As for Ester, I
shall consider it a personal insult if you refer to her again, when I
am so magnificently filling her place."

And this much enduring mother laughed and groaned at nearly the same
time. Poor Ester never forgot the soda, nor indeed anything else,
in her life; but then Sadie was so overflowing with sparkle and good
humor.

Finally the question was decided, and the new boarder came, and
was duly installed in the family; and thence commenced a new era
in Sadie's life. Merry clerks and schoolboys she counted among her
acquaintances by the score. Grave, dignified, slightly taciturn men of
the Dr. Van Anden stamp she numbered also among her friends; but never
one quite like Dr. Douglass. This easy, graceful, courteous gentleman,
who seemed always to have just the right thing to say or do, at just
the right moment; who was neither wild nor sober; who seemed the
furthest possible remove from wicked, yet who was never by any chance
disagreeably good. His acquaintance with Sadie progressed rapidly. A
new element had come to mix in with her life. The golden days wherein
the two sisters had been much together, wherein the Christian sister
might have planted much seed for the Master in Sadie's bright young
heart, had all gone by. Perchance that sleeping Christian, nestled so
cosily among the cushions in Cousin Abbie's morning-room, might have
been startled and aroused, could she have realized that days like
those would never come back to her; that being misspent they had
passed away; that a new worker had come to drop seed into the
unoccupied heart; that never again would Sadie be as fresh, and as
guileless, and as easily won, as in those days which she had let slip
in idle, aye, worse than idle, slumber.

Sadie sealed and directed a letter to Ester and ran with it down
stairs. Dr. Douglass stood in the doorway, hat in hand.

"Shall I have the pleasure of being your carrier?" he said
courteously.

"Do you suppose you are to be trusted?" Sadie questioned, as she
quietly deposited the letter in his hat.

"That depends in a great measure on whether you repose trust in me.
The world is safer in general than we are inclined to think it. Who
lives in that little birdsnest of a cottage just across the way?"

"A dear old gentleman, Mr. Vane," Sadie answered, her voice taking
a tender tone, as it always did when any chance word reminded her of
Florence. "That is he standing in the gateway. Doesn't he look like a
grand old patriarch?"

As they looked Dr. Van Anden drove suddenly from around the corner,
and reined in his horses in front of the opposite gateway. They could
hear his words distinctly.

"Mr. Vane, let me advise you to avoid this evening breeze; it is
blowing up strongly from the river."

"Is Dr. Van Anden the old gentleman's nurse, or guardian, or what?"
questioned Sadie's companion.

"Physician," was her brief reply. Then, after a moment, she laughed
mischievously. "You don't like Dr. Van Anden, Dr. Douglass?"

"I! Oh, yes, I like him; the trouble is, he doesn't like me, for which
he is not to blame, to be sure. Probably he can not help it. I have in
some way succeeded in gaining his ill-will. Why do you think I am not
one of his admirers?"

"Oh," answered this rude and lawless girl, "I thought it would be very
natural for you to be slightly jealous of him, professionally, you
know."

If her object was to embarrass or annoy Dr. Douglass, apparently she
did not gain her point. He laughed good humoredly as he replied:

"Professionally, he is certainly worthy of envy; I regard him as a
very skillful physician, Miss Ried."

Ere Sadie could reply the horses were stopped before the door, and Dr.
Van Anden addressed her:

"Sadie, do you want to take a ride?"

Now, although Sadie had no special interest in, or friendship for, Dr.
Van Anden, she did exceedingly like his horses, and cultivated their
acquaintance whenever she had an opportunity. So within five minutes
after this invitation was received she was skimming over the road in a
high state of glee. Sadie marked that night afterward as the last one
in which she rode after those black ponies for many a day. The Doctor
seemed more at leisure than usual, and in a much more talkative mood;
so it was quite a merry ride, until he broke a moment's silence by an
abrupt question:

"Sadie, haven't your mother and you always considered me a sincere
friend to your family?"

Sadie's reply was prompt and to the point.

"Certainly, Dr. Van Anden; I assure you I have as much respect for,
and confidence in, you as I should have had for my grandfather, if I
had ever known him."

"That being the case," continued the Doctor, gravely, "you will give
me credit for sincerity and earnestness in what I am about to say. I
want to give you a word of warning concerning Dr. Douglass. He is not
a man whom _I_ can respect; not a man with whom I should like to see
my sister on terms of friendship. I have known him well and long,
Sadie; therefore I speak."

Sadie Ried was never fretful, never petulant, and very rarely angry;
but when she was, it was a genuine case of unrestrained rage, and woe
to the individual who fell a victim to her blazing eyes and sarcastic
tongue. To-night Dr. Van Anden was that victim. What right had he to
arraign her before him, and say with whom she should, or should not,
associate, as if he were indeed her very grandfather! What business
had he to think that she was too friendly with Dr. Douglass!

With the usual honesty belonging to very angry people, it had not once
occurred to her that Dr. Van Anden had said and done none of these
things. When she felt that her voice was sufficiently steady, she
spoke:

"I am happy to be able to reassure you, Dr. Van Anden, you are _very_
kind--extremely so; but as yet I really feel myself in no danger from
Dr. Douglass' fascinations, however remarkable they may be. My mother
and I enjoy excellent health at present, so you need have no anxiety
as regards our choice of physicians, although it is but natural that
you should feel nervous, perhaps; but you will pardon me for saying
that I consider your interference with my affairs unwarrantable and
uncalled for."

If Dr. Van Anden desired to reply to this insulting harangue, there
was no opportunity, for at this moment they whirled around the corner
and were at home.

Sadie flung aside her hat with an angry vehemence, and, seating
herself at the piano, literally stormed the keys, while the Doctor
re-entered his carriage and quietly proceeded to his evening round of
calls.

What a whirlwind of rage there was in Sadie's heart! What earthly
right had this man whom she _detested_ to give _her_ advice? Was she a
child, to be commanded by any one? What right had any one to speak in
that way of Dr. Douglass? He was a gentleman, _certainly_, much more
of a one than Dr. Van Anden had shown himself to be--and she liked
him; yes, and she would like him, in spite of a whole legion of
envious doctors.

A light step crossed the hall and entered the parlor. Sadie merely
raised her eyes long enough to be certain that Dr. Douglass stood
beside her, and continued her playing. He leaned over the piano and
listened.

"Had you a pleasant ride?" he asked, as the tone of the music lulled a
little.

"Charming." Sadie's voice was full of emphasis and sarcasm.

"I judged, by the style of music which you were playing, that there
must have been a hurricane."

"Nothing of the sort; only a little paternal advice."

"Indeed! Have you been taken into his kindly care? I congratulate
you."

Sadie was still very angry, or she would never have been guilty of the
shocking impropriety of her next remark. But it is a lamentable
fact that people will say and do very strange things when they are
angry--things of which they have occasion to repent in cooler moments.

Fixing her bright eyes full and searchingly on Dr. Douglass, she said
abruptly:

"He was warning me against the impropriety of associating with your
dangerous self."

A look as of sadness and deep pain crossed Dr. Douglass' face, and he
thought aloud, rather than said: "Is that man determined I shall have
no friends?"

Sadie was touched; she struck soft, sweet chords with a slow and
gentle movement as she asked:

"What is your offense in his eyes, Dr. Douglass?"

Then, indeed, Dr. Douglass seemed embarrassed; maintaining, though, a
sort of hesitating dignity as he attempted a reply.

"Why--I--he--I would rather not tell you, Miss Ried, it sounds badly."
Then, with a little, slightly mournful laugh--"And that half admission
sounds badly, too; worse than the simple truth, perhaps. Well, then,
I had the misfortune to cross his path professionally, once; a little
matter, a slight mistake, not worth repeating--neither would I repeat
it if it were, in honor to him. He is a man of skill and since then
has risen high; one would not suppose that he would give that little
incident of the past a thought now; but he seems never to have
forgiven me."

The music stopped entirely, and Sadie's great truthful eyes were fixed
in horror on his face. "Is it possible," she said at length, "that
_that_ is all, and he can bear such determined ill-will toward you?
and they call him an earnest Christian!"

At which remark Dr. Douglass laughed a low, quick laugh, as if he
found it quite impossible to restrain his mirth, and then became
instantly grave, and said:

"I beg your pardon."

"For what, Dr. Douglass; and why did you laugh?"

"For laughing; and I laughed because I could not restrain a feeling of
amusement at your innocently connecting his unpleasant state of mind
with his professions of Christianity."

"Should they not be connected?"

"Well, that depends upon how much importance you attach to them."

"Dr. Douglass, what do you mean?"

"Treason, I suspect, viewed from your standpoint; and therefore it
would be much more proper for me not to talk about it."

"But I want you to talk about it. Do you mean to say that you have no
faith in any one's religion?"

"How much have you?"

"Dr. Douglass, that is a very Yankee way of answering a question."

"I know; but it is the easiest way of reaching my point; so I repeat:
How much faith have you in these Christian professions? or, in other
words, how many professing Christians do you know who are particularly
improved in your estimation by their professions?"

The old questioning of Sadie's own heart brought before her again! Oh,
Christian sister, with whom so many years of her life had been spent,
with whom she had been so closely connected, if she could but
have turned to you, and remembering your earnest life, your honest
endeavors toward the right, your earnest struggles with sin and self;
the evident marks of the Lord Jesus all about you; and, remembering
this, have quelled the tempter in human form, who stood waiting for a
verdict, with a determined--"I have known _one_"--what might not have
been gained for your side that night?



CHAPTER XII.

THREE PEOPLE.


As it was she hesitated, and thought--not of Ester, _her_ life had not
been such as to be counted for a moment--of her mother.

Well, Mrs. Ried's religion had been of a negative rather than of
a positive sort, at least outwardly. She never spoke much of these
matters, and Sadie positively did not know whether she ever prayed or
not. How was she to decide whether the gentle, patient life was
the outgrowth of religion in her heart, or whether it was a natural
sweetness of disposition and tenderness of feeling?

Then there was Dr. Van Anden, an hour ago she would surely have said
him, but now it was impossible; so as the silence, and the peculiar
smile on Dr. Douglass' face, grew uncomfortable, she answered
hurriedly: "I don't know many Christian people, Doctor." And then,
more truthfully: "But I don't consider those with whom I am acquainted
in any degree remarkable; yet at the same time I don't choose to set
down the entire Christian world as a company of miserable hypocrites."

"Not at all," the Doctor answered quickly. "I assure you I have many
friends among that class of people whom I respect and esteem; but
since you have pressed me to continue this conversation I must frankly
confess to you that my esteem is not based on the fact that they are
called Christians. I--but, Miss Ried, this is entirely unlike, and
beneath me, to interfere with and shake your innocent, trusting faith.
I would not do it for the world."

Sadie interrupted him with an impatient shake of her head.

"Don't talk nonsense, Dr. Douglass, if you can help it. I don't feel
innocent at all, just now at least, and I have no particular faith
to shake; if I had I hope you would not consider it such a flimsy
material as to be shaken by any thing which you have said as yet.
I certainly have heard no arguments. Occasionally I think of these
matters, and I have been surprised, and not a little puzzled, to note
the strange inconsistency existing between the profession and practice
of these people. If you have any explanation I should like to hear it;
that is all."

Clearly this man must use at least the semblance of sense if he were
going to continue the conversation. His answer was grave and guarded.

"I have offered no arguments, nor do I mean to. I was apologizing for
having touched upon this matter at all. I am unfortunate in my belief,
or rather disbelief; but it is no part of my intention to press it
upon others. I incline to the opinion that there are some very good,
nice, pleasant people in the world, whom the accidents of birth and
education have taught to believe that they are aided in this goodness
and pleasantness by a more than human power, and this belief rather
helps than otherwise to mature their naturally sweet, pure lives. My
explanation of their seeming inconsistencies is, that they have never
realized the full moral force of the rules which they profess to
follow. I divide the world into two distinct classes--the so-called
Christian world, I mean. Those whom I have just named constitute one
class, and the other is composed of unmitigated hypocrites. Now my
friend, I have talked longer on this subject than I like, or than I
ought. I beg you will forget all I have said, and give me some music
to close the scene."

Sadie laughed, and ran her fingers lightly over the keys; but she
asked:

"In which class do you place your brother in the profession, Doctor?"

Dr. Douglass drew his shoulder into a very slight though expressive
shrug, as he answered.

"It is exceedingly proper, and also rather rare, for a physician to be
eminent not only for skill but piety, and my brother practitioner is a
wise and wary man, who--" and here he paused abruptly--"Miss Ried," he
added after a moment, in an entirely changed tone: "Which of us is at
fault to-night, you or myself, that I seem bent on making uncharitable
remarks? I really did not imagine myself so totally depraved. And to
be serious, I am very sorry that this style of conversation was ever
commenced. I did not intend it. I do not believe in interfering with
the beliefs, or controverting the opinions of others."

Apparently Sadie had recovered her good humor, for her laugh was as
light and careless as usual when she made answer:

"Don't distress yourself unnecessarily, Dr. Douglass; you haven't done
me the least harm. I assure you I don't believe a word you say, and
I do you the honor of believing that you don't credit more than
two-thirds of it yourself. Now I'm going to play you the stormiest
piece of music you ever heard in your life." And the keys rattled and
rang under her touch, and drew half a dozen loungers from the halls to
the parlor, and effectually ended the conversation.

Three people belonging to that household held each a conversation with
their own thoughts that night, which to finite eyes would have aided
the right wonderfully had it been said before the assembled three,
instead of in the quiet and privacy of their own rooms.

Sadie had calmed down, and, as a natural consequence, was somewhat
ashamed of herself; and as she rolled up and pinned, and otherwise
snugged her curls into order for the night, scolded herself after this
fashion:

"Sadie Ried, you made a simpleton of yourself in that speech which
you made to Dr. Van Anden to-night; because you think a man interferes
with what doesn't concern him, is no reason why you should grow
flushed and angry, and forget that you're a lady. You said some very
rude and insulting words, and you know your poor dear mother would
tell you so if she knew any thing about it, which she won't; that's
one comfort; and besides you have probably offended those delightful
black ponies, and it will be forever before they will take you another
ride, and that's worse than all the rest. But who would think of Dr.
Van Anden being such a man? I wish Dr. Douglass had gone to Europe
before he told me--it was rather pleasant to believe in the extreme
goodness of somebody. I wonder how much of that nonsense which Dr.
Douglass talks he believes, any way? Perhaps he is half right; only
I'm not going to think any such thing, because it would be wicked, and
I'm good. And because"--in a graver tone, and with a little reverent
touch of an old worn book which lay on her bureau--"this is my
father's Bible, and he lived and died by its precepts."

Up another flight of stairs, in his own room, Dr. Douglass lighted his
cigar, fixed himself comfortably in his arm-chair, with his feet on
the dressing-table, and, between the puffs, talked after this fashion:

"Sorry we ran into this miserable train of talk to-night; but that
young witch leads a man on so. I'm glad she has a decided mind of her
own; one feels less conscience-stricken. I'm what they call a skeptic
myself, but after all, I don't quite like to see a lady become one.
_I_ shan't lead her astray. I wouldn't have said any thing to-night if
it hadn't been for that miserable hypocrite of a Van Anden; the fellow
must learn not to pitch into me if he wants to be let alone; but I
doubt if he accomplished much this time. What a witch she is!" And Dr.
Douglass removed his cigar long enough to give vent to a hearty laugh
in remembrance of some of Sadie's remarks.

Just across the hall Dr. Van Anden sat before his table, one hand
partly shading his eyes from the gaslight while he read. And the words
which he read were these: "O let not the oppressed returned ashamed:
let the poor and needy praise thy name. Arise, O God, plead thine own
cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. Forget not
the voice of thine enemies; the tumult of those that rise up against
thee increaseth continually."

Something troubled the Doctor to-night; his usually grave face was
tinged with sadness. Presently he arose and paced with slow measured
tread up and down the room.

"I ought to have done it," he said at last. "I ought to have told
her mother that he was in many ways an unsafe companion for Sadie,
especially in this matter; he is a very cautious, guarded, fascinating
skeptic--all the more fascinating because he will be careful not to
shock her taste with any boldly-spoken errors. I should have warned
them--how came I to shrink so miserably from my duty? What mattered it
that they would be likely to ascribe a wrong motive to my caution? It
was none the less my duty on that account." And the sad look deepened
on his face as he marched slowly back and forth; but he was nearer a
solution of his difficulties than was either of those others for at
last he came over to his chair again, and sank before it on his knees.

Now, let us understand these three people each of them, in their
separate ways, were making mistakes. Sadie had said that she was not
going to believe any of the nonsense which Dr. Douglass talked; she
honestly supposed that she was not influenced in the least. And yet
she was mistaken; the poison had entered her soul. As the days passed
on, she found herself more frequently caviling over the shortcomings
of professing Christians; more quick to detect their mistakes and
failures; more willing to admit the half-uttered thought that this
entire matter might be a smooth-sounding fable. Sadie was the child
of many prayers, and her father's much-used Bible lay on her
dressing-table, speaking for him, now that his tongue was silent in
the grave; so she did not _quite_ yield to the enemy--but she was
walking in the way of temptation--and the Christian tongues around
her, which the grave had _not_ silenced, yet remained as mute as
though their lips were already sealed; and so the path in which Sadie
walked grew daily broader and more dangerous.

Then there was Dr. Douglass--not by any means the worst man that the
world can produce. He was, or fancied himself to be, a skeptic. Like
many a young man, wise in his own conceit, he had no very distinct
idea of what he was skeptical about, nor to what hights of illogical
nonsense his own supposed views, carried out, would lead him;
like many another, too, he had studied rhetoric, and logic, and
mathematics, and medicine, thoroughly and well; he would have
hesitated long, and studied hard, and pondered deeply, before he had
ventured to dispute an established point in surgery. And yet, with
the inconsistent folly of the age, he had absurdly set his seal to the
falsity of the Bible, after giving it, at most, but a careless reading
here and there, and without having ever once honestly made use of
the means by which God has promised to enlighten the seekers after
knowledge. And yet, his eyes being blinded, he did not realize how
absurd and unreasonable, how utterly foolish, was his conduct. He
thought himself sincere; he had no desire to lead Sadie astray from
her early education, and, like most skeptical natures, he quite
prided himself upon the care with which he guarded his peculiar views,
although I could never see why that was being any other than miserably
selfish or inconsistent; for it is saying, in effect, one of two
things, either: "My belief is sacred to myself alone, and nobody else
shall have the benefit of it, if I can help it;" or else: "I am very
much ashamed of my position as a skeptic, and I shall keep it to
myself as much as possible." Be that as it may, Dr. Douglass so
thought, and was sincere in his intentions to do Sadie no harm; yet,
as the days came and went, he was continually doing her injury. They
were much in each other's society, and the subject which he meant
should be avoided was constantly intruding. Both were so constantly
on the alert, to see and hear the unwise, and inconsistent, and
unchristian acts and words, and also, alas! there were so many to be
seen and heard, that these two made rapid strides in the broad road.

Finally, there was Dr. Van Anden, carrying about with him a sad and
heavy heart. He could but feel that he had shrunken from his duty,
hidden behind that most miserable of all excuses: "What will people
think?" If Dr. Douglass had had any title but that particular one
prefixed to his name, he would not have hesitated to have advised Mrs.
Ried concerning him; but how could he endure the suspicion that he
was jealous of Dr. Douglass? Then, in trying to right the wrong, by
warning Sadie, he was made to realize, as many a poor Christian has
realized before him, that he was making the sacrifice too late, and in
vain. There was yet another thing--Dr. Douglass' statements to Sadie
had been colored with truth. Among his other honest mistakes was the
belief that Dr. Van Anden was a hypocrite. They had clashed in former
years. Dr. Douglass had been most in the wrong, though what man,
unhelped by Christ, was ever known to believe this of himself? But
there had been wrong also on the other side, hasty words spoken--words
which rankled, and were rankling still, after the lapse of years. Dr.
Van Anden had never said: "I should not have spoken thus; I am sorry."
He had taught himself to believe that it would be an unnecessary
humiliation for him to say this to a man who had so deeply wronged
him!

But, to do our doctor justice, time had healed the wound with him; it
was not personal enmity which prompted his warning, neither had he any
idea of the injury which those sharp words of his were doing in the
unsanctified heart. And when he dropped upon his knees that night he
prayed earnestly for the conversion of Sadie and Dr. Douglass.

So these three lived their lives under that same roof, and guessed not
what the end might be.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE STRANGE CHRISTIAN.


"Abbie," said Ester, wriggling herself around from before an open
trunk, and letting a mass of collars and cuffs slide to the floor in
her earnestness, "do you know I think you're the very strangest girl I
ever knew in my life?"

"I'm sure I did not," Abbie answered gaily. "If it's a nice 'strange'
do tell me about it. I like to be nice--ever so much."

"Well, but I am in earnest, Abbie; you certainly are. These very
collars made me think of it. Oh dear me! they are all on the floor."
And she reached after the shining, sliding things.

Abbie came and sat down beside her, presently, with a mass of puffy
lace in her hands, which she was putting into shape.

"Suppose we have a little talk, all about myself," she said gently and
seriously. "And please tell me, Ester, plainly and simply, what you
mean by the term 'strange.' Do you know I have heard it so often that
sometimes I fear I really am painfully unlike other people. You are
just the one to enlighten me."

Ester laughed a little as she answered: "You are taking the matter
very seriously. I did not mean any thing dreadful."

"Ah! but you are not to be excused in that way, my dear Ester. I look
to you for information. Mother has made the remark a great many times,
but it is generally connected in some way with religious topics, and
mother, you know, is not a Christian; therefore I have thought that
perhaps some things seemed strange to her which would not to--_you_,
for instance. But since you have been here you have spoken your
surprise concerning me several times, and looked it oftener; and
to-day I find that even my stiff and glossy, and every way proper,
collars and cuffs excite it. So do please tell me, ought I to be in a
lunatic asylum somewhere instead of preparing to go to Europe?"

Now although Ester laughed again, at the mixture of comic and pathetic
in Abbie's tone, yet something in the words had evidently embarrassed
her. There was a little struggle in her mind, and then she came boldly
forth with her honest thoughts.

"Well, the strangeness is connected with religious topics in my mind
also; even though I am a professing Christian I do not understand you.
I am an economist in dress, you know, Abbie. I don't care for these
things in the least; but if I had the money as you have, there are a
great many things which I should certainly have. You see there is
no earthly sense in your economy, and yet you hesitate over expenses
almost as much as I do."

There was a little gleam of mischief in Abbie's eyes as she answered:
"Will you tell me, Ester, why you would take the trouble to get 'these
things' if you do not care for them in the least?"

"Why because--because--they would be proper and befitting my station
in life."

"Do I dress in a manner unbecoming to my station in life."

"No," said Ester promptly, admiring even then the crimson finishings
of her cousin's morning-robe. "But then--Well, Abbie, do you think it
is wicked to like nice things?"

"No," Abbie answered very gently; "but I think it is wrong to school
ourselves into believing that we do not care for any thing of the
kind; when, in reality, it is a higher, better motive which deters us
from having many things. Forgive me, Ester, but I think you are unjust
sometimes to your better self in this very way."

Ester gave a little start, and realized for the first time in her
life that, truth-loving girl though she was, she had been practicing
a pretty little deception of this kind, and actually palming it off on
herself. In a moment, however, she returned to the charge.

"But, Abbie, did Aunt Helen really want you to have that pearl velvet
we saw at Stewart's?"

"She really did."

"And you refused it?"

"And I refused it."

"Well, is that to be set down as a matter of religion, too?" This
question was asked with very much of Ester's old sharpness of tone.

Abbie answered her with a look of amazement. "I think we don't
understand each other," she said at length, with the gentlest of
tones. "That dress, Ester, with all its belongings could not have cost
less than seven hundred dollars. Could I, a follower of the meek
and lowly Jesus, living in a world where so many of his poor are
suffering, have been guilty of wearing such a dress as that? My dear,
I don't think you sustain the charge against me thus far. I see
now how these pretty little collar (and, by the way, Ester, you are
crushing one of them against that green box) suggested the thought;
but you surely do not consider it strange, when I have such an array
of collars already, that I did not pay thirty dollars for that bit of
a cobweb which we saw yesterday?"

"But Aunt Helen wanted you to."

A sad and troubled look stole over Abbie's face as she answered: "My
mother, remember, dear Ester, does not realize that she is not her
own, but has been bought with a price. You and I know and feel that we
must give an account of our stewardship. Ester, do you see how people
who ask God to help them in every little thing which they have to
decide--in the least expenditure of money--can after that deliberately
fritter it away?"

"Do you ask God's help in these matters?"

"Why, certainly--" with the wondering look in her eyes, which Ester
had learned to know and dislike--"'Whatsoever therefore ye do'--you
know."

"But, Abbie, going out shopping to buy--handkerchiefs, for instance;
that seems to me a very small thing to pray about."

"Even the purchase of handkerchiefs may involve a question of
conscience, my dear Ester, as you would realize if you had seen the
wicked purchases that I have in that line; and some way I never can
feel that any thing that has to do with me is of less importance than
a tiny sparrow, and yet, you know, He looks after them."

"Abbie, do you mean to say that in every little thing that you buy you
weigh the subject, and discuss the right and wrong of it?"

"I certainly do try to find out just exactly what is right, and then
do it; and it seems to me there is no act in this world so small as to
be neither right nor wrong."

"Then," said Ester, with an impatient twitch of her dress from under
Abbie's rocker, "I don't see the use in being rich."

"Nobody is rich, Ester, only God; but I'm so glad sometimes that he
has trusted me with so much of his wealth, that I feel like praying
a prayer about that one thing--a thanksgiving. What else am I strange
about, Ester?"

"Everything," with growing impatience. "I think it was as queer in you
as possible not to go to the concert last evening with Uncle Ralph?"

"But, Ester, it was prayer-meeting evening."

"Well, suppose it was. There is prayer-meeting every week, and
there isn't this particular singer very often, and Uncle Ralph was
disappointed. I thought you believed in honoring your parents."

"You forget, dear Ester, that father said he was particularly anxious
that I should do as I thought right, and that he should not have
purchased the tickets if he had remembered the meeting. Father likes
consistency."

"Well, that is just the point. I want to know if you call it
inconsistent to leave your prayer meeting for just one evening, no
matter for what reason?"

Abbie laughed in answer. "Do you know, Ester, you wouldn't make a good
lawyer, you don't stick to the point. It isn't a great many reasons
that might be suggested that we are talking about, it is simply a
concert." Then more gravely--"I try to be very careful about this
matter. So many detentions are constantly occurring in the city,
that unless the line were very closely-drawn I should not get to
prayer-meeting at all. There are occasions, of course, when I must
be detained; but under ordinary circumstances it must be more than a
concert that detains me."

"I don't believe in making religion such a very solemn matter as that
all amounts to; it has a tendency to drive people away from it."

The look on Abbie's face, in answer to this testily spoken sentence,
was a mixture of bewilderment and pain.

"I don't understand"--she said at length--"How is that a solemn
matter? If we really expect to meet our Savior at a prayer-meeting,
isn't it a delightful thought? I am very happy when I can go to the
place of prayer."

Ester's voice savored decidedly of the one which she was wont to use
in her very worst moods in that long dining-room at home.

"Of course I should have remembered that Mr. Foster would be at the
prayer-meeting, and not at the concert; that was reason enough for
your enjoyment."

The rich blood surged in waves over Abbie's face during this rude
address; but she said not a single word in answer. After a little
silence, she spoke in a voice that trembled with feeling.

"Ester, there is one thought in connection with this subject that
troubles me very much. Do you really think, as you have intimated,
that I am selfish, that I consult my own tastes and desires too much,
and so do injury to the cause. For instance, do you think I prejudiced
my father?"

What a sweet, humble, even tearful, face it was! And what a question
to ask of Ester! What had developed this disagreeable state of mind
save the confused upbraidings of her hitherto quiet conscience over
the contrast between Cousin Abbie's life and hers.

Here, in the very face of her theories to the contrary, in very
defiance to her belief in the folly, and fashion, and worldliness that
prevailed in the city, in the very heart of this great city, set down
in the midst of wealth and temptation, had she found this young lady,
daughter of one of the merchant princes, the almost bride of one of
the brightest stars in the New York galaxy on the eve of a brilliant
departure for foreign shores, with a whirl of preparation and
excitement about her enough to dizzy the brain of a dozen ordinary
mortals, yet moving sweetly, brightly, quietly, through it all, and
manifestly finding her highest source of enjoyment in the presence of,
and daily communion with, her Savior.

All Ester's speculations concerning her had come to naught. She had
planned the wardrobe of the bride, over and over again, for days
before she saw her; and while she had prepared proper little lectures
for her, on the folly and sinfulness of fashionable attire, had yet
delighted in the prospect of the beauty and elegance around her.
How had her prospects been blighted! Beauty there certainly was in
everything, but it was the beauty of simplicity, not at all such
a display of silks and velvets and jewels as Ester had planned. It
certainly could not be wealth which made Abbie's life such a happy
one, for she regulated her expenses with a care and forethought such
as Ester had never even dreamed of. It could not be a life of ease,
a freedom from annoyance, which kept her bright and sparkling, for it
had only taken a week's sojourn in her Aunt Helen's home to discover
to Ester the fact that all wealthy people were not necessarily amiable
and delightful. Abbie was evidently rasped and thwarted in a hundred
little ways, having a hundred little trials which _she_ had never been
called upon to endure. In short, Ester had discovered that the mere
fact of living in a great city was not in itself calculated to make
the Christian race more easy or more pleasant. She had begun to
suspect that it might not even be quite so easy as it was in a quiet
country home; and so one by one all her explanations of Abbie's
peculiar character had become bubbles, and had vanished as bubbles do.
What, then, sustained and guided her cousin? Clearly Ester was shut
up to this one conclusion--it was an ever-abiding, all-pervading
Christian faith and trust. But then had not _she_ this same faith?
And yet could any contrast be greater than was Abbie's life contrasted
with hers?

There was no use in denying it, no use in lulling and coaxing her
conscience any longer, it had been for one whole week in a new
atmosphere; it had roused itself; it was not thoroughly awake as yet,
but restless and nervous and on the alert--and _would not_ be hushed
back into its lethargic state.

This it was which made Ester the uncomfortable companion which she
was this morning. She was not willing to be shaken and roused; she
had been saying very unkind, rude things to Abbie, and now, instead
of flouncing off in an uncontrollable fit of indignation, which course
Ester could but think would be the most comfortable thing which could
happen next, so far as she was concerned, Abbie sat still, with that
look of meek inquiry on her face, humbly awaiting her verdict. How
Ester wished she had never asked that last question! How ridiculous it
would make her appear, after all that had been said, to admit that
her cousin's life had been one continual reproach of her own; that
concerning this very matter of the concert, she had heard Uncle Ralph
remark that if all the world matched what they did with what they
said, as well as Abbie did, he was not sure but he might be a
Christian himself. Then suppose she should add that this very pointed
remark had been made to her when they were on their way to the concert
in question.

Altogether, Ester was disgusted and wished she could get back to where
the conversation commenced, feeling certain now that she would leave a
great many things unsaid.

I do not know how the conversation would have ended, whether Ester
could have brought herself to the plain truth, and been led on and on
to explain the unrest and dissatisfaction of her own heart, and thus
have saved herself much of the sharp future in store for her; but one
of those unfortunate interruptions which seem to finite eyes to be
constantly occurring, now came to them. There was an unusual bang to
the front door, the sound of strange footsteps in the hall, the
echo of a strange voice floated up to her, and Abbie, with a sudden
flinging of thimble and scissors, and an exclamation of "Ralph has
come," vanished.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE LITTLE CARD.


Left to herself, Ester found her train of thought so thoroughly
disagreeable that she hastened to rid herself of it, and seized upon
the new comer to afford her a substitute.

This cousin, whom she had expected to influence for good, had at last
arrived. Ester's interest in him had been very strong ever since
that evening of her arrival, when she had been appealed to to use her
influence on him--just in what way she hadn't an idea. Abbie had never
spoken of it since, and seemed to have lost much of her eager desire
that the cousins should meet. Ester mused about all this now; she
wished she knew just in what way she was expected to be of benefit.
Abbie was evidently troubled about him. Perhaps he was rough and
awkward; school-boys often were, even those born in a city. Very much
of Ralph's life had been spent away from home, she knew; and she had
often heard that boys away from home influences grew rude and coarse
oftentimes. Yes, that was undoubtedly it. Shy, too, he was of course;
he was of about the age to be that. She could imagine just how he
looked--he felt out of place in the grand mansion which he called
home, but where he had passed so small a portion of his time. Probably
he didn't know what to do with his hands, nor his feet; and just
as likely as not he sat on the edge of his chair and ate with his
knife--school was a horrid place for picking up all sorts of ill
manners. Of course all these things must annoy Abbie very much,
especially at this time when he must necessarily come so often in
contact with that perfection of gentlemanliness, Mr. Foster. "I wish,"
thought Ester at this point, growing a little anxious, "I wish there
was more than a week before the wedding; however I'll do my best.
Abbie shall see I'm good for something. Although I do differ with her
somewhat in her peculiar views, I believe I know how to conduct myself
with ease, in almost any position, if I have been brought up in the
country." And by the time the lunch-bell rang a girl more thoroughly
satisfied with herself and her benevolent intentions, than was this
same Ester, could hardly have been found. She stood before the glass
smoothing the shining bands of hair, preparatory to tying a blue satin
ribbon over them, when Abbie fluttered in.

"Forgive me, a great many times, for rushing off in the flutter I did,
and leaving you behind, and staying away so long. You see I haven't
seen Ralph in quite a little time, and I forgot everything else. Your
hair doesn't need another bit of brushing, Ester, it's as smooth as
velvet; they are all waiting for us in the dining-room, and I want to
show you to Ralph." And before the blue satin ribbon was tied quite to
her satisfaction, Ester was hurried to the dining-room, to take up her
new role of guide and general assistant to the awkward youth.

"I suppose he hasn't an idea what to say to me," was her last
compassionate thought, as Abbie's hand rested on the knob. "I hope he
won't be hopelessly quiet, but I'll manage in some way."

At first he was nowhere to be seen; but as Abbie said eagerly:
"Ralph, here is Cousin Ester!" the door swung back into its place,
and revealed a tall, well-proportioned young man, with a full-bearded
face, and the brightest of dancing eyes. He came forward immediately,
extending both hands, and speaking in a rapid voice.

"Long-hoped-for come at last! I don't refer to myself, you understand,
but to this much-waited-for, eagerly-looked-forward-to prospect of
greeting my Cousin Ester. Ought I to welcome you, or you me--which
is it? I'm somewhat bewildered as to proprieties. This fearfully near
approach to a wedding has confused my brain. Sis"--turning suddenly
to Abbie--"Have you prepared Ester for her fate? Does she fully
understand that she and I are to officiate? that is, if we don't
evaporate before the eventful day. Sis, how could you have the
conscience to perpetrate a wedding in August? Whatever takes Foster
abroad just now, any way?" And without waiting for answer to his
ceaseless questions he ran gaily on.

Clearly whatever might be his shortcomings, inability to talk was
_not_ one of them. And Ester, confused, bewildered, utterly thrown out
of her prepared part in the entertainment, was more silent and awkward
than she had ever known herself to be; provoked, too, with Abbie, with
Ralph, with herself. "How _could_ I have been such a simpleton?"
she asked herself as seated opposite her cousin at table she had
opportunity to watch the handsome face, with its changeful play of
expression, and note the air of pleased attention with which even her
Uncle Ralph listened to his ceaseless flow of words. "I knew he was
older than Abbie, and that this was his third year in college. What
could I have expected from Uncle Ralph's son? A pretty dunce he must
think me, blushing and stammering like an awkward country girl. What
on earth could Abbie mean about needing my help for him, and being
troubled about him. It is some of her ridiculous fanatical nonsense, I
suppose. I wish she could ever talk or act like anybody else."

"I don't know that such is the case, however," Ralph was saying, when
Ester returned from this rehearsal of her own thoughts. "I can simply
guess at it, which is as near an approach to an exertion as a fellow
ought to be obliged to make in this weather. John, you may fill my
glass if you please. Father, this is even better wine than your cellar
usually affords, and that is saying a great deal. Sis, has Foster made
a temperance man of you entirely; I see you are devoted to ice water?"

"Oh, certainly," Mrs. Ried answered for her, in the half contemptuous
tone she was wont to assume on such occasions. "I warn you, Ralph, to
get all the enjoyment you can out of the present, for Abbie intends to
keep you with her entirely after she has a home of her own--out of the
reach of temptation."

Ester glanced hurriedly and anxiously toward her cousin. How did this
pet scheme of hers become known to Mrs. Ried, and how could Abbie
possibly retain her habitual self-control under this sarcastic
ridicule, which was so apparent in her mother's voice?

The pink on her cheek did deepen perceptibly, but she answered with
the most perfect good humor: "Ralph, don't be frightened, please. I
shall let you out once in a long while if you are very good."

Ralph bent loving eyes on the young, sweet face, and made prompt
reply: "I don't know that I shall care for even that reprieve, since
you're to be jailer."

What could there be in this young man to cause anxiety, or to wish
changed? Yet even while Ester queried, he passed his glass for a third
filling, and taking note just then of Abbie's quick, pained look, then
downcast eyes, and deeply flushing face, the knowledge came suddenly
that in that wine-glass the mischief lay. Abbie thought him in danger,
and this was the meaning of her unfinished sentence on that first
evening, and her embarrassed silence since; for Ester, with her filled
glass always beside her plate, untouched indeed sometimes, but oftener
sipped from in response to her uncle's invitation, was not the one
from whom help could be expected in this matter. And Ester wondered if
the handsome face opposite her could really be in absolute danger, or
whether this was another of Abbie's whims--at least it wasn't pleasant
to be drinking wine before him, and she left her glass untouched that
day, and felt thoroughly troubled about that and everything.

The next morning there was a shopping excursion, and Ralph was
smuggled in as an attendant. Abbie turned over the endless sets of
handkerchiefs in bewildering indecision.

"Take this box; do, Abbie," Ester urged. "This monogram in the corner
is lovely, and that is the dearest little sprig in the world."

"Which is precisely what troubles me," laughed Abbie. "It is
entirely too dear. Think of paying such an enormous sum for just
handkerchiefs!"

Ralph, who was lounging near her, trying hard not to look bored,
elevated his eyebrows as his ear caught the sentence, and addressed
her in undertone: "Is Foster hard up? If he is, you are not on his
hands yet, Sis; and I'm inclined to think father is good for all the
finery you may happen to fancy."

"That only shows your ignorance of the subject or your high opinion
of me. I assure you were I so disposed I could bring father's affairs
into a fearful tangle this very day, just by indulging a fancy for
finery."

"Are his affairs precarious, Abbie, or is finery prodigious?"

Abbie laid her hand on a square of cobwebby lace. "That is
seventy-five dollars, Ralph."

"What of that? Do you want it?" And Ralph's hand was in his pocket.

Abbie turned with almost a shiver from the counter. "I hope not,
Ralph," she said with sudden energy. "I hope I may never be so
unworthy of my trust as to make such a wicked use of money." Then
more lightly, "You are worse than Queen Ester here, and her advice is
bewildering enough."

"But, Abbie, how can you be so absurd," said that young lady,
returning to the charge. "Those are not very expensive, I am sure,
at least not for you; and you certainly want some very nice ones. I'm
sure if I had one-third of your spending money I shouldn't need to
hesitate."

Abbie's voice was very low and sweet, and reached only her cousin's
ear. "Ester, 'the silver and the gold are _His_,' and I have asked Him
this very morning to help me in every little item to be careful of
His trust. Now do you think--" But Ester had turned away in a vexed
uncomfortable state of mind, and walked quite to the other end of the
store, leaving Abbie to complete her purchases as she might see fit.
She leaned against the door, tapping her fingers in a very softly, but
very nervous manner against the glass. How queer it was that in the
smallest matters she and Abbie could not agree? How was it possible
that the same set of rules could govern them both? And the old
ever-recurring question came up to be thought over afresh. Clearly
they were unlike--utterly unlike. Now was Abbie right and she wrong?
or was Abbie--no, not wrong, the word would certainly not apply; there
absolutely _could_ be no wrong connected with Abbie's way. Well, then,
queer!--unlike other people, unnecessarily precise--studying the right
and wrong of matters, which she had been wont to suppose had no moral
bearing of any sort, rather which she had never given any attention
to? While she waited and queried, her eye caught a neat little
card-receiver hanging near her, apparently filled with cards, and
bearing in gilt lettering, just above them, the winning words: "FREE
TO ALL. TAKE ONE." This was certainly a kindly invitation; and Ester's
curiosity being aroused as to what all this might be for, she availed
herself of the invitation, and drew with dainty fingers a small, neat
card from the case, and read:

I SOLEMNLY AGREE,

_As God Shall Help Me_:

1. To observe regular seasons of secret prayer, it least in the
morning and evening of each day.

2. To read daily at least a small portion of the Bible.

3. To attend at one or more prayer-meetings every week, if I have
strength to get there.

4. To stand up for Jesus always and everywhere.

5. To try to save at least one soul each year.

6. To engage in no amusement where my Savior could not be a guest.

Had the small bit of card-board been a coal of fire it could not have
been more suddenly dropped upon the marble before her than was this,
as Ester's startled eyes took in its meaning. Who could have written
those sentences? and to be placed there in a conspicuous corner of a
fashionable store? Was she never to be at peace again? Had the world
gone wild? Was this an emanation from Cousin Abbie's brain, or were
there many more Cousin Abbies in what she had supposed was a wicked
city, or--oh painful question, which came back hourly nowadays, and
seemed fairly to chill her blood--was this religion, and had she none
of it? Was her profession a mockery, her life a miserably acted lie?

"Is that thing hot?" It was Ralph's amused voice which asked this
question close beside her.

"What? Where?" And Ester turned in dire confusion.

"Why that bit of paper--or is it a ghostly communication from the
world of spirits? You look startled enough for me to suppose anything,
and it spun away from your grasp very suddenly. Oh," he added, as he
glanced it through, "rather ghostly, I must confess, or would be if
one were inclined that way; but I imagined your nerves were stronger.
Did the pronoun startle you?"

"How?"

"Why I thought perhaps you considered yourself committed to all this
solemnity before your time, or willy-nilly, as the children say. What
a comical idea to hang one's self up in a store in this fashion. I
must have one of these. Are you going to keep yours?" And as he spoke
he reached forward and possessed himself of one of the cards. "Rather
odd things to be found in our possession, wouldn't they be? Abbie now
would be just one of this sort."

That cold shiver trembled again through Ester's frame as she listened.
Clearly he did not reckon her one of "that sort." He had known her but
one day, and yet he seemed positive that she stood on an equal footing
with himself. Oh why was it? How did he know? Was her manner then
utterly unlike that of a Christian, so much so that this young man
saw it already, or was it that glass of wine from which she had sipped
last evening?--and at this moment she would have given much to be back
where she thought herself two weeks ago, on the wine question; but she
stood silent and let him talk on, not once attempting to define her
position--partly because there had crept into her mind this fearful
doubt, unaccompanied by the prayer:

  "If I've never loved before,
  Help me to begin to-day"--

and partly, oh poor Ester, because she was utterly unused to
confessing her Savior; and though not exactly ashamed of him, at least
she would have indignantly denied the charge, yet it was much less
confusing to keep silence, and let others think as they would--this
had been her rule, she followed it now, and Ralph continued:

"Queer world this? Isn't it? How do you imagine our army would have
prospered if one-fourth of the soldiers had been detailed for the
purpose of coaxing the rest to follow their leader and obey orders?
That's what it seems to me the so-called Christian world is up to.
Does the comical side of it ever strike you, Ester? Positively I can
hardly keep from laughing now and then to hear the way in which Dr.
Downing pitches into his church members, and they sit and take it as
meekly as lambs brought to the slaughter. It does them about as much
good, apparently, as it does me--no not so much, for it amuses me, and
serves to make me good-natured, on good terms with myself for half an
hour or so. I'm so thoroughly rejoiced, you see, to think that I don't
belong to that set of miserable sinners."

"Dr. Downing does preach very sharp, harsh sermons," Ester said
at last, feeling the necessity of saying something. "I have often
wondered at it. I think them calculated to do more harm than good."

"Oh _I_ don't wonder at it in the least. I'd make it sharper yet if I
were he; the necessity exists evidently. The wonder lies in _that_ to
my mind. If a fellow really means to do a thing, what does he wait to
be punched up about it everlastingly for? Hang me, if I don't like
to see people act as though they meant it, even if the question is a
religious one. Ester, how many times ought I to beg your pardon for
using an unknown tongue--in other words, slang phrases? I fancied
myself talking to my chum, delivering a lecture on theology, which is
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.



CHAPTER XV.

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
could?"

Ester sprang up. "Very well," she responded to Maggie. "I'll be down
immediately."

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
meeting?"

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
minister."

"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
from ladies."

"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
exception."

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
bad?"

"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
so?"

"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
has."

"_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
for others."

"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
triumphed."

"Yes, but having once decided the matter, it is smooth sailing with
her now."

"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
anxieties.

"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
and improper."

"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
affirmative.

"I was detained that night. Were there many out?"

"Quite a full society Abbie said. The rooms were almost crowded."

"Pleasant?"

"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
beautifully."

"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
have enjoyed."

"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
report."

"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
the wherefore?"

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
day?"

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.



CHAPTER XVI.

A VICTORY.


"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
entirely silent.

"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
issue."

"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
here interposed.

"That last argument isn't valid, mother. Haven't I promised to hoe
out the rooms myself, immediately after the conclusion of the solemn
services?"

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
peaceful thereby."

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
sensible?"

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
her.

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.
Foster."

"Show him in, then," was Mr. Ried's prompt reply.

John hesitated, and then added: "He is a very common looking person,
sir, and--"

"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,
Mr. Jones."

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
scene.

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
departed.

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
tone:

"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.



CHAPTER XVII.

STEPPING BETWEEN.


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
Ester's feet.

"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
cake."

"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
just now?"

"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
to Abbie.

"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
tears.

"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.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER XVIII.

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
afflicted one!

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
me."

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
together.

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
her."

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
soul.

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
myself."

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
Ester pray.

"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.



CHAPTER XIX.

SUNDRIES.


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
cousin.

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
question:

"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 think?"

"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
added sharpness.

"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
going on.

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
thus:

"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
human.

"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."



CHAPTER XX.

AT HOME.


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
question:

"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
good?"

"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
now."

"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
mine."

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
actually cried.

"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
biscuit.

"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
you?"

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."



CHAPTER XXI.

TESTED.


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
into service:

"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
doctor vanished.

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
more startling:

"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.

"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring
it to pass."

"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him--the Lord is
gracious, and full of compassion."

"Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I, even
I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and
will not remember thy sins."

"Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God,
and there is none else."

"Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live."

Silence for a moment, and then Ester repeated, in tones that were full
of sweetness, that one little verse, which had become the embodiment
to her of all that was tender, and soothing and wonderful: "What time
I am afraid I will trust in thee." Was this man, moving toward the
very verge of the river, afraid? Ester did not know, was not to know
whether those gracious invitations from the Redeemer of the world had
fallen once more on unheeding ears, or not; for with a little sigh,
born partly of relief, and partly of sorrow, that the opportunity was
gone, she turned to meet Dr. Van Anden, and was sent for a few moments
out into the light and glory of the departing day, to catch a bit of
its freshness.

It was as the last midnight stroke of that long, long day was being
given, that they were gathered about the dying bed. Sadie was there,
solemn and awe-stricken. Mrs. Ried had arisen from her couch of
suffering, and nerved herself to be a support to the poor young wife.
Dr. Douglass, at the side of the sick man, kept anxious watch over
the fluttering pulse. Ester, on the other side, looked on in helpless
pity, and other friends of the Hollands were grouped about the room.
So they watched and waited for the swift down-coming of the angel of
death The death damp had gathered on his brow, the pulse seemed but
a faint tremble now and then, and those whose eyes were used to death
thought that his lips would never frame mortal sound again, when
suddenly the eyelids raised, and Mr. Holland, fixing a steady gaze
upon the eyes bent on him from the foot of the bed, whither Ester had
slipped to make more room for her mother and Mrs. Holland, said, in a
clear, distinct tone, one unmistakable word--"Pray!"

Will Ester ever forget the start of terror which thrilled her frame as
she felt that look and heard that word? She cast a quick, frightened
glance around her of inquiry and appeal; but her mother and herself
were the only ones present whom she had reason to think ever prayed.
Could she, _would_ she, that gentle, timid, shrinking mother? But Mrs.
Ried was supporting the now almost fainting form of Mrs. Holland, and
giving anxious attention to her. "He says pray!" Sadie murmured, in
low, frightened tones. "Oh, where is Dr. Van Anden?"

Ester knew he had been called in great haste to the house across the
way, and ere he could return, this waiting spirit might be gone--gone
without a word of prayer. Would Ester want to die so, with no voice to
cry for her to that listening Savior? But then no human being had
ever heard her pray. Could she?--must she? Oh, for Dr. Van Anden--a
Christian doctor! Oh, if that infidel stood anywhere but there, with
his steady hand clasping the fluttering pulse, with his cool, calm
eyes bent curiously on her--but Mr. Holland was dying; perhaps the
everlasting arms were not underneath him--and at this fearful thought,
Ester dropped upon her knees, giving utterance to her deepest need in
the first uttered words, "Oh, Holy Spirit, teach me just what to say!"
Her mother, listening with startled senses as the familiar voice fell
on her ear, could but think that _that_ petition was answered; and
Ester felt it in her very soul, Dr. Douglass, her mother, Sadie, all
of them were as nothing--there was only this dying man and Christ, and
she pleading that the passing soul might be met even now by the Angel
of the covenant. There were those in the room who never forgot that
prayer of Ester's. Dr. Van Anden, entering hastily, paused midway in
the room, taking in the scene in an instant of time, and then was
on his knees, uniting his silent petitions with hers. So fervent and
persistent was the cry for help, that even the sobs of the stricken
wife were hushed in awe, and only the watching doctor, with his finger
on the pulse, knew when the last fluttering beat died out, and the
death-angel pressed his triumphant seal on pallid lip and brow.

"Dr. Van Anden," Ester said, as they stood together for a moment
the next morning, waiting in the chamber of death for Mrs. Ried's
directions--. "Was--Did he," with an inclination of her head toward
the silent occupant of the couch, "Did he ever think he was a
Christian?"

The doctor bent on her a grave, sad look, and slowly shook his head.

"Oh, Doctor! you can not think that he--" and Ester stopped, her face
blanching with the fearfulness of her thought.

"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" This was the
doctor's solemn answer. After a moment, he added: "Perhaps that one
eagerly-spoken word, 'Pray,' said as much to the ears of Him
whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, as did that old-time
petition--'Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.'"

Ester never forgot that and the following day, while the corpse of one
whom she had known so well lay in the house; and when she followed
him to the quiet grave, and watched the red and yellow autumn leaves
flutter down around his coffin--dead leaves, dead flowers, dead hopes,
death every-where--not just a going up higher, as Mr. Foster's death
had been--this was solemn and inexorable death. More than ever she
felt how impossible it was to call back the days that had slipped away
while she slept, and do their neglected duties. She had come for this,
full of hope; and now one of those whom she had met many times each
day for years, and never said Jesus to, was at this moment being
lowered into his narrow house, and, though God had graciously given
her an inch of time, and strength to use it, it was as nothing
compared with those wasted years, and she could never know, at least
never until the call came for her, whether or not at the eleventh hour
this "poor man cried, and the Lord heard him," and received him into
Paradise.

Dr. Van Anden moved around to where she was standing, with tightly
clasped hands and colorless lips. He had been watching her, and this
was what he said: "Ester, shall you and I ever stand again beside a
new-made grave, receiving one whom we have known ever so slightly, and
have to settle with our consciences and our Savior, because we have
not invited that one to come to Jesus?"

And Ester answered, with firmly-drawn lips "As that Savior hears me,
and will help me _never_!"



CHAPTER XXII.

"LITTLE PLUM PIES."


Ester was in the kitchen trimming off the puffy crusts of endless
pies--the old brown calico morning dress, the same huge bib apron
which had been through endless similar scrapes with her--every thing
about her looking exactly as it had three months ago, and yet so far
as Ester and her future--yes, and the future of every one about
her was concerned, things were very different. Perhaps Sadie had a
glimmering of some strange change as she eyed her sister curiously,
and took note that there was a different light in her eye, and a sort
of smoothness on the quiet face that she had never noticed before. In
fact, Sadie missed some wrinkles which she had supposed were part and
parcel of Ester's self.

"How I _did_ hate that part of it," she remarked, watching the fingers
that moved deftly around each completed sphere. "Mother said my edges
always looked as if a mouse had marched around them nibbling all the
way. My! how thoroughly I hate housekeeping. I pity the one who takes
me for better or worse--always provided there exists such a poor
victim on the face of the earth."

"I don't think you hate it half so much as you imagine," Ester
answered kindly. "Any way you did nicely. Mother says you were a great
comfort to her."

There was a sudden mist before Sadie's eyes.

"Did mother say that?" she queried. "The blessed woman, what a very
little it takes to make a comfort for her. Ester, I declare to you,
if ever angels get into kitchens and pantries, and the like, mother
is one of them. The way she bore with my endless blunderings was
perfectly angelic. I'm glad, though, that her day of martyrdom is
over, and mine, too, for that matter."

And Sadie, who had returned to the kingdom of spotless dresses and
snowy cuffs, and, above all, to the dear books and the academy, caught
at that moment the sound of the academy bell, and flitted away. Ester
filled the oven with pies, then went to the side doorway to get a
peep at the glowing world. It was the very perfection of a day--autumn
meant to die in wondrous beauty that year. Ester folded her bare arms
and gazed. She felt little thrills of a new kind of restlessness all
about her this morning. She wanted to do something grand, something
splendidly good. It was all very well to make good pies; she had done
that, given them the benefit of her highest skill in that line--now
they were being perfected in the oven, and she waited for something.
If ever a girl longed for an opportunity to show her colors, to honor
her leader, it was our Ester. Oh yes, she meant to do the duty that
lay next her, but she perfectly ached to have that next duty something
grand, something that would show all about her what a new life she had
taken on.

Dr. Van Anden was tramping about in his room, over the side piazza, a
very unusual proceeding with him at that hour of the day; his windows
were open, and he was singing, and the fresh lake wind brought tune
and words right down to Ester's ear:

  "I would not have the restless will
    That hurries to and fro,
  Seeking for some great thing to do,
    Or wondrous thing to know;
  I would be guided as a child,
    And led where'er I go.

  "I ask thee for the daily strength,
    To none that ask denied,
  A mind to blend with outward life,
    While keeping at thy side;
  Content to fill a little space
    If thou be glorified."

Of course Dr. Van Anden did not know that Ester Ried stood in the
doorway below, and was at that precise moment in need of just such
help as this; but then what mattered that, so long as the Master did?

Just then another sense belonging to Ester did its duty, and gave
notice that the pies in the oven were burning; and she ran to their
rescue, humming meantime:

  "Content to fill a little space
    If thou be glorified."

Eleven o'clock found her busily paring potatoes--hurrying a little,
for in spite of swift, busy fingers their work was getting a little
the best of Maggie and her, and one pair of very helpful hands was
missing.

Alfred and Julia appeared from somewhere in the outer regions, and
Ester was too busy to see that they both carried rather woe-begone
faces.

"Hasn't mother got back yet?" queried Alfred.

"Why, no," said Ester. "She will not be back until to-night--perhaps
not then. Didn't you know Mrs. Carleton was worse?"

Alfred kicked his heels against the kitchen door in a most
disconsolate manner.

"Somebody's always sick," he grumbled out at last. "A fellow might as
well not have a mother. I never saw the beat--nobody for miles around
here can have the toothache without borrowing mother. I'm just sick
and tired of it."

Ester had nearly laughed, but catching a glimpse of the forlorn face,
she thought better of it, and said:

"Something is awry now, I know. You never want mother in such a
hopeless way as that unless you're in trouble; so you see you are just
like the rest of them, every body wants mother when they are in any
difficulty."

"But she is my mother, and I have a right to her, and the rest of 'em
haven't."

"Well," said Ester, soothingly, "suppose I be mother this time. Tell
me what's the matter and I'll act as much like her as possible."

"_You_!" And thereupon Alfred gave a most uncomplimentary sniff.
"Queer work you'd make of it."

"Try me," was the good-natured reply.

"I ain't going to. I know well enough you'd say 'fiddlesticks' or
'nonsense,' or some such word, and finish up with 'Just get out of my
way.'"

Now, although Ester's cheeks were pretty red over this exact imitation
of her former ungracious self, she still answered briskly:

"Very well, suppose I should make such a very rude and unmotherlike
reply, fiddlesticks and nonsense would not shoot you, would they?"

At which sentence Alfred stopped kicking his heels against the door,
and laughed.

"Tell us all about it," continued Ester, following up her advantage.

"Nothing to tell, much, only all the folks are going a sail on the
lake this afternoon, and going to have a picnic in the grove, the very
last one before snow, and I meant to ask mother to let us go, only how
was I going to know that Mrs. Carleton would get sick and come away
down here after her before daylight; and I know she would have let
me go, too; and they're going to take things, a basketful each one of
'em--and they wanted me to bring little bits of pies, such as mother
bakes in little round tins, you know, plum pies, and she would have
made me some, I know; she always does; but now she's gone, and it's
all up, and I shall have to stay at home like I always do, just for
sick folks. It's mean, any how."

Ester smothered a laugh over this curious jumble, and asked a humble
question:

"Is there really nothing that would do for your basket but little bits
of plum pies?"

"No," Alfred explained, earnestly. "Because, you see, they've got
plenty of cake and such stuff; the girls bring that, and they do like
my pies, awfully. I most always take 'em. Mr. Hammond likes them,
too; he's going along to take care of us, and I shouldn't like to go
without the little pies, because they depend upon them."

"Oh," said Ester, "girls go, too, do they?" And she looked for the
first time at the long, sad face of Julia in the corner.

"Yes, and Jule is in just as much trouble as I am, cause they are all
going to wear white dresses, and she's tore hers, and she says she
can't wear it till it's ironed, cause it looks like a rope, and Maggie
says she can't and won't iron it to-day, _so_; and mother was going
to mend it this very morning, and--. Oh, fudge! it's no use talking,
we've got to stay at home, Jule, so now." And the kicking heels
commenced again.

Ester pared her last potato with a half troubled, half amused face.
She was thoroughly tired of baking for that day, and felt like saying
fiddlesticks to the little plum pies; and that white dress was torn
cris-cross and every way, and ironing was always hateful; besides it
_did_ seem strange that when she wanted to do some great, nice thing,
so much plum pies and torn dresses should step right into her path.
Then unconsciously she repeated:

  "Content to fill a _little_ space
    If _Thou_ art glorified."

_Could_ He be glorified, though, by such very little things? Yet
hadn't she wanted to gain an influence over Alfred and Julia, and
wasn't this her first opportunity; besides there was that verse:
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do--." At that point her thoughts took
shape in words.

"Well, sir, we'll see whether mother is the only woman in this world
after all. You tramp down cellar and bring me up that stone jar on the
second shelf, and we'll have those pies in the oven in a twinkling;
and that little woman in the corner, with two tears rolling down her
cheeks, may bring her white dress and my work-box and thimble, and put
two irons on the stove, and my word for it you shall both be ready by
three o'clock, spry and span, pies and all."

By three o'clock on the afternoon in question Ester was thoroughly
tired, but little plum pies by the dozen were cuddling among snowy
napkins in the willow basket, and Alfred's face was radiant as he
expressed his satisfaction, after this fashion:

"You're just jolly, Ester! I didn't know you could be so good. Won't
the boys chuckle over these pies, though? Ester, there's just seven
more than mother ever made me."

"Very well," answered Ester, gayly; "then there will be just seven
more chuckles this time than usual."

Julia expressed her thoughts in a way more like her. She surveyed
her skillfully-mended and beautifully smooth white dress with smiling
eyes; and as Ester tied the blue sash in a dainty knot, and stepped
back to see that all was as it should be, she was suddenly confronted
with this question:

"Ester, what does make you so nice to-day; you didn't ever used to be
so?"

How the blood rushed into Ester's cheeks as she struggled with her
desire to either laugh or cry, she hardly knew which. These were very
little things which she had done, and it was shameful that, in all the
years of her elder sisterhood, she had never sacrificed even so little
of her own pleasure before; yet it was true, and it made her feel like
crying--and yet there was rather a ludicrous side to the question, to
think that all her beautiful plans for the day had culminated in plum
pies and ironing. She stooped and kissed Julia on the rosy cheek, and
answered gently, moved by some inward impulse:

"I am trying to do all my work for Jesus nowadays."

"You didn't mend my dress and iron it, and curl my hair, and fix my
sash, for him, did you?"

"Yes; every little thing."

"Why, I don't see how. I thought you did them for me."

"I did, Julia, to please you and make you happy; but Jesus says that
that is just the same as doing it for him."

Julia's next question was very searching:

"But, Ester, I thought you had been a member of the church a good
many years. Sadie said so. Didn't you ever try to do things for Jesus
before?"

A burning blush of genuine shame mantled Ester's face, but she
answered quickly:

"No; I don't think I ever really did."

Julia eyed her for a moment with a look of grave wonderment, then
suddenly stood on tiptoe to return the kiss, as she said:

"Well, I think it is nice, anyway. If Jesus likes to have you be so
kind and take so much trouble for me, why then he must love me, and I
mean to thank him this very night when I say my prayers."

And as Ester rested for a moment in the arm-chair on the piazza, and
watched her little brother and sister move briskly off, she hummed
again those two lines that had been making unconscious music in her
heart all day:

  "Content to fill a _little_ space
    If Thou be glorified."



CHAPTER XXIII.

CROSSES.


The large church was _very_ full; there seemed not to be another space
for a human being. People who were not much given to frequenting the
house of God on a week-day evening, had certainly been drawn thither
at this time. Sadie Ried sat beside Ester in their mother's pew, and
Harry Arnett, with a sober look on his boyish face, sat bolt upright
in the end of the pew, while even Dr. Douglass leaned forward with
graceful nonchalance from the seat behind them, and now and then
addressed a word to Sadie.

These people had been listening to such a sermon as is very seldom
heard--that blessed man of God whose name is dear to hundreds and
thousands of people, whose hair is whitened with the frosts of many
a year spent in the Master's service, whose voice and brain and heart
are yet strong, and powerful, and "mighty through God," the Rev. Mr.
Parker, had been speaking to them, and his theme had been the soul,
and his text had been: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the
whole world and lose his own soul?"

I hope I am writing for many who have had the honor of hearing that
appeal fresh from the great brain and greater heart of Mr. Parker.
Such will understand the spell under which his congregation sat even
after the prayer and hymn had died into silence. Now the gray-haired
veteran stood bending over the pulpit, waiting for the Christian
witnesses to the truth of his solemn messages; and for that he seemed
likely to wait. A few earnest men, veterans too in the cause, gave
in their testimony--and then occurred one of those miserable,
disheartening, disgraceful pauses which are met with nowhere on earth
among a company of intelligent men and women, with liberty given them
to talk, save in a prayer-meeting! Still silence, and still the aged
servant stood with one arm resting on the Bible, and looked down
almost beseechingly upon that crowd of dumb Christians.

"Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord," he repeated, in earnest,
pleading tones.

Miserable witnesses they! Was not the Lord ashamed of them all, I
wonder? Something like this flitted through Ester's brain as she
looked around upon that faithless company, and noted here and there
one who certainly ought to "take up his cross." Then some slight idea
of the folly of that expression struck her. What a fearful cross
it was, to be sure! What a strange idea to use the same word in
describing it that was used for that blood-stained, nail-pierced cross
on Calvary. Then a thought, very startling in its significance, came
to her. Was that cross borne only for men? were they the only ones
who had a thank-offering because of Calvary? Surely _her_ Savior hung
there, and bled, and groaned, and died for HER. Why should not she
say, "By his stripes _I_ am healed?" What if she should? What would
people think? No, not that either. What would Jesus think? that, after
all, was the important question. Did she really believe that if she
should say in the hearing of that assembled company, "I love Jesus,"
that Jesus, looking down upon her, and hearing how her timid voice
broke the dishonoring silence, would be displeased, would set it down
among the long list of "ought not to have" dones? She tried to imagine
herself speaking to him in her closet after this manner: "Dear Savior,
I confess with shame that I have brought reproach upon thy name this
day, for I said, in the presence of a great company of witnesses, that
I loved thee!" In defiance of her education and former belief upon
this subject, Ester was obliged to confess, then and there, that
all this was extremely ridiculous. "Oh, well," said Satan, "it's not
exactly _wrong_, of course; but then it isn't very modest or ladylike;
and, besides, it is unnecessary. There are plenty of men to do the
talking." "But," said common sense, "I don't see why it's a bit more
unladylike than the ladies' colloquy at the lyceum was last evening.
There were more people present than are here tonight; and as for the
men, they are perfectly mum. There seems to be plenty of opportunity
for somebody." "Well," said Satan, "it isn't customary at least, and
people will think strangely of you. Doubtless it would do more harm
than good."

This most potent argument, "People will think strangely of you,"
smothered common sense at once, as it is apt to do, and Ester raised
her head from the bowed position which it had occupied during this
whirl of thought, and considered the question settled. Some one began
to sing, and of all the words that _could_ have been chosen, came the
most unfortunate ones for this decision:

  "On my head he poured his blessing,
    Long time ago;
  Now he calls me to confess him
    Before I go.
  My past life, all vile and hateful,
    He saved from sin;
  I should be the most ungrateful
    Not to own him.
  Death and hell he bade defiance,
    Bore cross and pain;
  Shame my tongue this guilty silence,
    And speak his name."

This at once renewed the struggle, but in a different form. She no
longer said, "Ought I?" but, "Can I?" Still the spell of silence
seemed unbroken save by here and there a voice, and still Ester
parleyed with her conscience, getting as far now as to say: "When
Mr. Jones sits down, if there is another silence, I will try to say
something"--not quite meaning, though, to do any such thing, and
proving her word false by sitting very still after Mr. Jones sat down,
though there was plenty of silence. Then when Mr. Smith said a few
words, Ester whispered the same assurance to herself, with exactly the
same result. The something _decided_ for which she had been longing,
the opportunity to show the world just where she stood, had come at
last, and this was the way in which she was meeting it. At last
she knew by the heavy thuds which her heart began to give, that the
question was decided, that the very moment Deacon Graves sat down she
would rise; whether she would say any thing or not would depend upon
whether God gave her any thing to say--but at least she could stand
up for Jesus. But Mr. Parker's voice followed Deacon Graves'; and this
was what he said:

"Am I to understand by your silence that there is not a Christian man
or woman in all this company who has an unconverted friend whom he or
she would like to have us pray for?"

Then the watching Angel of the Covenant came to the help of this
trembling, struggling Ester, and there entered into her heart such a
sudden and overwhelming sense of longing for Sadie's conversion, that
all thought of what she would say, and how she would say it, and
what people would think, passed utterly out of her mind; and rising
suddenly, she spoke, in clear and wonderfully earnest tones:

"Will you pray for a dear, dear friend?"

God sometimes uses very humble means with which to break the spell of
silence which Satan so often weaves around Christians; it was as if
they had all suddenly awakened to a sense of their privileges.

Dr. Van Anden said, in a voice which quivered with feeling: "I have
a brother in the profession for whom I ask your prayers that he may
become acquainted with the great Physician."

Request followed request for husbands and wives, mothers and fathers,
and children. Even timid, meek-faced, low-voiced Mrs. Ried murmured
a request for her children who were out of Christ. And when at last
Harry Arnett suddenly lifted his handsome boyish head from its bowed
position, and said in tones which conveyed the sense of a decision,
"Pray for _me_" the last film of worldliness vanished; and there are
those living to-day who have reason never to forget that meeting.

"Is it your private opinion that our good doctor got up a streak of
disinterested enthusiasm over my unworthy self this evening?" This
question Dr. Douglass asked of Sadie as they lingered on the piazza in
the moonlight.

Sadie laughed gleefully. "I am sure I don't know. I'm prepared for any
thing strange that can possibly happen. Mother and Ester between them
have turned the world upside down for me to-night. In case you are the
happy man, I hope you are grateful?"

"Extremely! Should be more so perhaps if people would be just to me in
private, and not so alarmingly generous in public."

"How bitter you are against Dr. Van Anden," Sadie said, watching the
lowering brow and sarcastic curve of the lip, with curious eyes. "How
much I should like to know precisely what is the trouble between you!"

Dr. Douglass instantly recovered his suavity. "Do I appear bitter?
I beg your pardon for exhibiting so ungentlemanly a phase of human
nature; yet hypocrisy does move me to--" And then occurred one of
those sudden periods with which Dr. Douglass always seemed to stop
himself when any thing not quite courteous was being said. "Just
forget that last sentence," he added. "It was unwise and unkind; the
trouble between us is not worthy of a thought of yours. I wish I could
forget it. I believe I could if he would allow me."

At this particular moment the subject of the above conversation
appeared in the door. Sadie gave a slight start; the thought that
Dr. Van Anden had heard the talk was not pleasant. She need not have
feared, he had just come from his room, and from his knees.

He spoke abruptly and with a touch of nervousness: "Dr. Douglass, may
I have a few words with you in private?"

Dr. Douglass' "Certainly, if Miss Sadie will excuse us," was both
prompt and courteous apparently, though the tone said almost as
plainly as words could have done, "To what can I be indebted for this
honor?"

Dr. Van Anden led the way into the brightly lighted vacant parlor;
and there Dr. Douglass stationed himself directly under the gas light,
where he could command a full view of the pale, somewhat anxious face
of his companion, and waited with that indescribable air made up of
nonchalance and insolence. Dr. Van Anden dashed into his subject:

"Dr. Douglass, ten years ago you did what you could to injure me. I
thought then purposely, I think now that perhaps you were sincere. Be
that as it may, I used language to you then, which I, as a Christian
man, ought never to have used. I have repented it long ago, but in my
blindness I have never seen that I ought to apologize to you for it
until this evening. God has shown me my duty. Dr. Douglass, I ask your
pardon for the angry words I spoke to you that day."

The gentleman addressed kept his full bright eyes fixed on Dr. Van
Anden, and answered him in the quietest and at the same time iciest of
tones:

"You are certainly very kind, now that your anger has had time to cool
during these ten years, to accord to me the merit of being _possibly_
sincere. Now I was more _Christian_ in my conclusions; I set you down
as an honest blunderer. That I have had occasion since to change my
opinion is nothing to the purpose but it would be pleasanter for both
of us if apologies could restore our friend, Mrs. Lyons to life."

During this response Dr. Van Anden's face was a study. It had passed
in quick succession through so many shades of feeling, anxiety, anger,
disgust, and finally surprise, and apparently a dawning sense of a new
development, for he made the apparently irrelevant reply:

"Do you think _I_ administered that chloroform?"

Dr. Douglass' coolness forsook him for a moment "Who did?" he queried,
with flashing eyes.

"Dr. Gilbert."

"Dr. Gilbert?"

"Yes, sir."

"How does it happen that I never knew it?"

"I am sure I do not know." Dr. Van Anden passed his hand across his
eyes, and spoke in sadness and weariness. "I had no conception that
you were not aware of it until this moment. It explains in part what
was strangely mysterious to me; but even in that case, it would have
been, as you said, a blunder, not a criminal act However, we can not
undo _that_ past. I desire, above all other things, to set myself
right in your eyes as a Christian man. I think I may have been a
stumbling-block to you. God only knows how bitter is the thought I
have done wrong; I should have acknowledged it years ago. I can
only do it now. Again I ask you. Dr. Douglass, will you pardon those
bitterly spoken words of mine?"

Dr. Douglass bowed stiffly, with an increase of hauteur visible in
every line of his face.

"Give yourself no uneasiness on that score, Dr. Van Anden, nor on any
other, I beg you, so far as I am concerned. My opinion of Christianity
is peculiar perhaps, but has not altered of late; nor is it likely to
do so. Of course, every gentleman is bound to accept the apology
of another, however tardily it may be offered. Shall I bid you
good-evening, sir?"

And with a very low, very dignified bow, Dr. Douglass went back to
the piazza and Sadie. And groaning in spirit over the tardiness of his
effort, Dr. Van Anden returned to his room, and prayed that he might
renew his zeal and his longing for the conversion of that man's soul.

"Have you been receiving a little fraternal advice?" queried Sadie,
her mischievous eyes dancing with fun over the supposed discomfiture
of one of the two gentlemen, she cared very little which.

"Not at all. On the contrary, I have been giving a little of that
mixture in a rather unpalatable form, I fear. I haven't a very high
opinion of the world, Miss Sadie."

"Including yourself, do you mean?" was Sadie's demure reply.

Dr. Douglass looked the least bit annoyed; then he laughed, and
answered with quiet grace:

"Yes, including even such an important individual as myself. However,
I have one merit which I consider very rare--sincerity."

Sadie's face assumed a half puzzled, half amused expression, as she
tried by the moonlight to give a searching look at the handsome form
leaning against the pillar opposite her.

"I wonder if you _are_ as sincere as you pretend to be?" was her next
complimentary sentence. "And also I wonder if the rest of the world
are as unlimited a set of humbugs as you suppose? How do you fancy you
happened to escape getting mixed up with the general humbugism of the
world? This Mr. Parker, now, talks as though he felt it and meant it."

"He is a first-class fanatic of the most outrageous sort. There
ought to be a law forbidding such ranters to hold forth, on pain of
imprisonment for life."

"Dr. Douglass," said Sadie, speaking with grave dignity, "I would
rather not hear you speak of that old gentleman in such a manner. He
may be a fanatic and a ranter, but I believe he means it, and I can't
help respecting him more than any cold-blooded moralist that I ever
met. Besides, I can not forget that my honored father was among the
despised class of whom you speak so scornfully."

"My dear friend," and Dr. Douglass' tone was as gentle as her
mother's could have been, "forgive me if I have pained you; it was not
intentional. I do not know what I have been saying--some unkind things
perhaps, and that is always ungentlemanly; but I have been greatly
disturbed this evening, and that must be my apology. Pardon me
for detaining you so long in the evening air. May I advise you,
professionally, to go in immediately?"

"May I advise you unselfishly to get into a better humor with
the world in general, and Dr. Van Anden in particular, before you
undertake to talk with a lady again?" Sadie answered in her usual
tones of raillery; all her dignity had departed. "Meantime, if you
would like to have unmolested possession of this piazza to assist you
in tramping off your evil spirit, you shall be indulged. I'm going to
the west side. The evening air and I are excellent friends." And with
a mocking laugh and bow Sadie departed.

"I wonder," she soliloquized, returning to gravity the moment she was
alone, "I wonder what that man has been saying to him now? How unhappy
these two gentlemen make themselves. It would be a consolation to know
right from wrong. I just wish I believed in everybody as I used
to. The idea of this gray-headed minister being a hypocrite! that's
absurd. But then the idea of Dr. Van Anden being what he is! Well,
it's a queer world. I believe I'll go to bed."



CHAPTER XXIV.

GOD'S WAY.


Be it understood that Dr. Douglass was very much astonished, and not a
little disgusted with himself. As he marched defiantly up and down
the long piazza he tried to analyze his state of mind. He had always
supposed himself to be a man possessed of keen powers of discernment,
and yet withal exercising considerable charity toward his erring
fellow-men, willing to overlook faults and mistakes, priding himself
not a little on the kind and gentlemanly way in which he could meet
ruffled human nature of any sort. In fact, he dwelt on a sort of
pedestal, from the hight of which he looked calmly and excusingly
down on weaker mortals. This, until to-night: now he realized, in a
confused, blundering sort of way, that his pedestal had crumbled, or
that he had tumbled from its hight, or at least that something new and
strange had happened. For instance, what had become of his powers of
discernment? Here was this miserable doctor, who had been one of
the thorns of his life, whom he had looked down upon as a canting
hypocrite. Was he, after all, mistaken? The explanation of to-night
looked like it; he had been deceived in that matter which had years
ago come between them; he could see it very plainly now. In spite
of himself, the doctor's earnest, manly apology would come back and
repeat itself to his brain, and demand admiration.

Now Dr. Douglass was honestly amazed at himself, because he was not
pleased with this state of things. Why was he not glad to discover
that Dr. Van Anden was more of a man than he had ever supposed? This
would certainly be in keeping with the character of the courteous,
unprejudiced gentleman that he had hitherto considered himself to be;
but there was no avoiding the fact that the very thought of Dr. Van
Anden was exasperating, more so this evening than ever before. And
the more his judgment became convinced that he had blundered, the more
vexed did he become.

"Confound everybody!" he exclaimed at length, in utter disgust. "What
on earth do I care for the contemptible puppy, that I should waste
thought on him. What possessed the fellow to come whining around me
to-night, and set me in a whirl of disagreeable thought? I ought to
have knocked him down for his insufferable impudence in dragging me
out publicly in that meeting." This he said aloud; but something made
answer down in his heart: "Oh, it's very silly of you to talk in this
way. You know perfectly well that Dr. Van Anden is not a contemptible
puppy at all. He is a thoroughly educated, talented physician, a
formidable rival, and you know it; and he didn't whine in the least
this evening; he made a very manly apology for what was not so very
bad after all, and you more than half suspect yourself of admiring
him."

"Fiddlesticks!" said Dr. Douglass aloud to all this information, and
went off to his room in high dudgeon.

The next two days seemed to be very busy ones to one member of
the Ried family. Dr. Douglass sometimes appeared at meal time and
sometimes not, but the parlor and the piazza were quite deserted,
and even his own room saw little of him. Sadie, when she chanced by
accident to meet him on the stairs, stopped to inquire if the village
was given over to small-pox, or any other dire disease which required
his constant attention; and he answered her in tones short and sharp
enough to have been Dr. Van Anden himself:

"It is given over to madness," and moved rapidly on.

This encounter served to send him on a long tramp into the woods
that very afternoon. In truth, Dr. Douglass was overwhelmed with
astonishment at himself. Two such days and nights as the last had been
he hoped never to see again. It was as if all his pet theories had
deserted him at a moment's warning, and the very spirit of darkness
taken up his abode in their place. Go whither he would, do what he
would, he was haunted by these new, strange thoughts. Sometimes he
actually feared that he, at least, was losing his mind, whether the
rest of the world were or not. Being an utter unbeliever in the power
of prayer, knowing indeed nothing at all about it, he would have
scoffed at the idea that Dr. Van Anden's impassioned, oft-repeated
petitions had aught to do with him at this time. Had he known that
at the very time in which he was marching through the dreary woods,
kicking the red and yellow leaves from his path in sullen gloom, Ester
in her little clothes-press, on her knees, was pleading with God for
his soul, and that through him Sadie might be reached, I presume he
would have laughed. The result of this long communion with himself was
as follows: That he had overworked and underslept, that his nervous
system was disordered, that in the meantime he had been fool enough
to attend that abominable sensation meeting, and the man actually had
wonderful power over the common mind, and used his eloquence in a way
that was quite calculated to confuse a not perfectly balanced brain.
It was no wonder, then, in his state of bodily disorder, that the
sympathetic mind should take the alarm. So much for the disease, now
for the remedy. He would study less, at least he would stop reading
half the night away; he would begin to practice some of his own
preaching, and learn to be more systematic, more careful of this
wonderful body, which could cause so much suffering; he would ride
fast and long; above all, he would keep away from that church and that
man, with his fanciful pictures and skillfully woven words.

Having determined his plan of action he felt better. There was no
sense, he told himself, in yielding to the sickly sentimentalism which
had bewitched him for the past few days; he was ashamed of it, and
would have no more of it. He was master of his own mind, he guessed,
always had been, and always _would_ be. And he started on his homeward
walk with a good deal of alacrity, and much of his usual composure
settling on his face.

Oh, would the gracious Spirit which had been struggling with him leave
him indeed to himself? "O God," pleaded Ester, "give me this one
soul in answer to my prayer. For the sake of Sadie, bring this strong
pillar obstructing her way to thyself. For the sake of Jesus, who died
for them both, bring them both to yield to him."

Dr. Douglass paused at the place where two roads forked and mused, and
the subject of his musing was no more important than this: Should he
go home by the river path or through the village? The river path was
the longer, and it was growing late, nearly tea time; but if he took
the main road he would pass his office, where he was supposed to be,
as well as several houses where he ought to have been, besides meeting
probably several people whom he would rather not see just at present.
On the whole, he decided to take the river road, and walked briskly
along, quite in harmony with himself once more, and enjoying the
autumn beauty spread around him. A little white speck attracted his
attention; he almost stopped to examine into it, then smiled at his
curiosity, and moved on. "A bit of waste paper probably," he said to
himself. "Yet what a curious shape it was as if it had been carefully
folded and hidden under that stone. Suppose I see what it is? Who
knows but I shall find a fortune hidden in it?" He turned back a step
or two, and stooped for the little white speck. One corner of it was
nestled under a stone. It was a ragged, rumpled, muddy fragment of a
letter, or an essay, which rain and wind and water had done their
best to annihilate, and finally, seeming to become weary of their
plaything, had tossed it contemptuously on the shore, and a pitying
stone had rolled down and covered and preserved a tiny corner. Dr.
Douglass eyed it curiously, trying to decipher the mud-stained lines,
and being in a dreamy mood wondered meanwhile what young, fair hand
had penned the words, and what of joy or sadness filled them.
Scarcely a word was readable, at least nothing that would gratify his
curiosity, until he turned the bit of leaf, and the first line, which
the stone had hidden, shone out distinctly: "Sometimes I can not help
asking myself why I was made--." Here the corner was torn off, and
whether that was the end of the original sentence or not, it was
the end to him. God sometimes uses very simple means with which to
confound the wisdom of this world. Such a sudden and extraordinary
revulsion of feeling as swept over Dr. Douglass he had never dreamed
of before. He did not stop to question the strangeness of his state of
mind, nor why that bit of soiled, torn paper should possess so fearful
a power over him. He did not even realize at the moment that it was
connected with this bewilderment, he only knew that the foundation
upon which he had been building for years seemed suddenly to have
been torn from under him by invisible hands, and left his feet sinking
slowly down on nothing; and his inmost soul took suddenly up that
solemn question with which he had never before troubled his logical
brain: "I can not help asking myself why I was made?" There was only
one other readable word on that paper, turn it whichever way he would,
and that word was "God;" and he started and shivered when his eye met
this, as if some awful voice had spoken it to his ear.

"What unaccountable witchcraft has taken possession of me?" he
muttered, at length. And turning suddenly he sat himself down on
an old decaying log by the river side, and gave himself up to real,
honest, solemn thought.

"Where is Dr. Douglass?" queried Julia, appearing at the dining-room
door just at tea time. "There is a boy at the door says they want him
at Judge Beldon's this very instant."

"He's _nowhere_" answered Sadie solemnly, pausing in the work of
arranging cups and saucers. "It's my private opinion that he has been
and gone and hung himself. He passed the window about one o'clock,
looking precisely as I should suppose a man would who was about to
commit that interesting act, since which time I've answered the bell
seventeen times to give the same melancholy story of his whereabouts."

"My!" exclaimed the literal Julia, hurrying back to the boy at the
door. She comprehended her sister sufficiently to have no faith in the
hanging statement, but honestly believed in the seventeen sick people
who were waiting for the doctor.

The church was very full again that evening. Sadie had at first
declared herself utterly unequal to another meeting that week, but
had finally allowed herself to be persuaded into going; and had nearly
been the cause of poor Julia's disgrace because of the astonished look
which she assumed as Dr. Douglass came down the aisle, with his usual
quiet composure of manner, and took the seat directly in front of
them. The sermon was concluded. The text: "See I have set before thee
this day life and good, death and evil," had been dwelt upon in such a
manner that it seemed to some as if the aged servant of God had verily
been shown a glimpse of the two unseen worlds waiting for every soul,
and was painting from actual memory the picture for them to look upon.
That most solemn of all solemn hymns had just been sung:

  "There is a time, we know not when
    A point, we know not where,
  That marks the destiny of men
    'Twixt glory and despair.

  "There is a line, by us unseen,
    That crosses every path,
  The hidden boundary between
    God's mercy and his wrath."

Silence had but fairly settled on the waiting congregation when a
strong, firm voice broke in upon it, and the speaker said:

"I believe in my soul that I have met that point and crossed that line
this day. I surely met God's mercy and his wrath, face to face, and
struggled in their power. Your hymn says, 'To cross that boundary is
to die;' but I thank God that there are two sides to it. I feel that
I have been standing on the very line, that my feet had well-nigh
slipped. To-night I step over on to mercy's side. Reckon me henceforth
among those who have chosen life."

"Amen," said the veteran minister, with radiant face.

"Thank God," said the earnest pastor, with quivering lip.

Two heads were suddenly bowed in the silent ecstasy of prayer--they
were Ester's and Dr. Van Anden's. As for Sadie, she sat straight and
still as if petrified with amazement, as she well-nigh felt herself to
be, for the strong, firm voice belonged to Dr. Douglass!

An hour later Dr. Van Anden was pacing up and down the long parlor,
with quick, excited steps, waiting for he hardly knew what, when a
shadow fell between him and the gaslight. He glanced up suddenly, and
his eyes met Dr. Douglass, who had placed himself in precisely the
same position in which he had stood when they had met there before.
Dr. Van Anden started forward, and the two gentlemen clasped hands
as they had never in their lives done before. Dr. Douglass broke the
beautiful silence first with earnestly spoken words:

"Doctor, will you forgive all the past?"

And Dr. Van Anden answered: "Oh, my brother in Christ!"

As for Ester, she prayed, in her clothes-press, thankfully for Dr.
Douglass, more hopefully for Sadie, and knew not that a corner of the
poor little letter which had slipped from Julia's hand and floated
down the stream one summer morning, thereby causing her such a
miserable, _miserable_ day, was lying at that moment in Dr. Douglass'
note-book, counted as the most precious of all his precious bits of
paper. Verily "His ways are not as our ways."



CHAPTER XXV.

SADIE SURROUNDED.


"Oh," said Sadie, with a merry toss of her brown curls, "_don't_ waste
any more precious breath over me, I beg. I'm an unfortunate case, not
worth struggling for. Just let me have a few hours of peace once more.
If you'll promise not to say 'meeting' again to me, I'll promise not
to laugh at you once after this long drawn-out spasm of goodness has
quieted, and you have each descended to your usual level once more."

"Sadie," said Ester, in a low, shocked tone, "_do_ you think we are
all hypocrites, and mean not a bit of this?"

"By _no_ means, my dear sister of charity, at least not all of you.
I'm a firm believer in diseases of all sorts. This is one of the
violent kind of highly contagious diseases; they must run their
course, you know. I have not lived in the house with two learned
physicians all this time without learning that fact, but I consider
this very nearly at its height, and live in hourly expectation of the
'turn.' But, my dear, I don't think you need worry about me in the
least. I don't believe I'm a fit subject for such trouble. You know
I never took whooping-cough nor measles, though I have been exposed a
great many times."

To this Ester only replied by a low, tremulous, "Don't, Sadie,
please."

Sadie turned a pair of mirthful eyes upon her for a moment, and noting
with wonder the pale, anxious face and quivering lip of her sister,
seemed suddenly sobered.

"Ester," she said quietly, "I don't think you are 'playing good;' I
_don't_ positively. I believe you are thoroughly in earnest, but I
think you have been through some very severe scenes of late, sickness
and watching, and death, and your nerves are completely unstrung. I
don't wonder at your state of feeling, but you will get over it in a
little while, and be yourself again."

"Oh," said Ester, tremulously, "I pray God I may _never_ be myself
again; not the old self that you mean."

"You will," Sadie answered, with roguish positiveness. "Things will
go cross-wise, the fire won't burn, and the kettle won't boil, and the
milk-pitcher will tip over, and all sorts of mischievous things will
go on happening after a little bit, just as usual, and you will feel
like having a general smash up of every thing in spite of all these
meetings."

Ester sighed heavily. The old difficulty again--things would not be
undone. The weeds which she had been carelessly sowing during all
these past years had taken deep root, and would not give place. After
a moment's silence she spoke again.

"Sadie, answer me just one question. What do you think of Dr.
Douglass?"

Sadie's face darkened ominously. "Never mind what I think of _him_,"
she answered in short, sharp tones, and abruptly left the room.

What she _did_ think of him was this: That he had become that which
he had affected to consider the most despicable thing on earth--a
hypocrite. Remember, she had no personal knowledge of the power of
the Spirit of God over a human soul. She had no conception of how so
mighty a change could be wrought in the space of a few hours, so her
only solution of the mystery was that to serve some end which he had
in view Dr. Douglass had chosen to assume a new character.

Later, on that same day, Sadie encountered Dr. Douglass, rather, she
went to the side piazza equipped for a walk, and he came eagerly from
the west end to speak with her.

"Miss Sadie, I have been watching for you. I have a few words that are
burning to be said."

"Proceed," said Sadie, standing with demurely folded hands, and a mock
gravity in her roguish eyes.

"I want to do justice at this late day to Dr. Van Anden. I misjudged
him, wronged him, perhaps prejudiced you against him. I want to undo
my work."

"Some things can be done more easily than they can be undone," was
Sadie's grave and dignified reply. "You certainly have done your best
to prejudice me against Dr. Van Anden not only, but against all
other persons who hold his peculiar views, and you have succeeded
splendidly. I congratulate you."

That look of absolute pain which she had seen once or twice on this
man's face, swept over it now as he answered her.

"I know--I have been blind and stupid, _wicked_ any thing you will.
Most bitterly do I regret it now; most eager am I to make reparation."

Sadie's only answer was: "What a capital actor you would make, Dr.
Douglass. Are you sure you have not mistaken your vocation?"

"I know what you think of me." This with an almost quivering lip, and
a voice strangely humble and as unlike as possible to any which she
had ever heard from Dr. Douglass before. "You think I am playing a
part. Though what my motive could be I can not imagine, can you? But I
do solemnly assure you that if ever I was sincere in any thing in all
my life I am now concerning this matter."

"There is a most unfortunate 'if' in the way, Doctor. You see, the
trouble is, I have very serious doubts as to whether you ever were
sincere in any thing in your life. As to motives, a first-class
anybody likes to try his power. You will observe that 'I have a very
poor opinion of the world.'"

The Doctor did not notice the quotation of his favorite expression,
but answered with a touch of his accustomed dignity:

"I may have deserved this treatment at your hands, Miss Sadie.
Doubtless I have, although I am not conscious of ever having said to
you any thing which I did not _think_ I _meant_. I have been a _fool_.
I am willing--yes, and anxious to own it. But there are surely some
among your acquaintances whom you can trust if you can not me. I--"

Sadie interrupted him. "For instance, that 'first-class fanatic of the
most objectionable stamp,' the man who Dr. Douglass thought, not three
days ago, ought to be bound by law to keep the peace. I suppose you
would have me unhesitatingly receive every word he says?"

Dr. Douglass' face brightened instantly, and he spoke eagerly:

"I remember those words, Miss Sadie, and just how honestly I spoke
them, and just how bitterly I felt when I spoke them, and I have no
more sure proof that this thing is of God than I have in noting the
wonderful change which has come over my feelings in regard to that
blessed man. I pray God that he may be permitted to speak to your soul
with the tremendous power that he has to mine. Oh, Sadie, I have led
you astray, may I not help you back?"

"I am not a weather-vane, Dr. Douglass, to be whirled about by every
wind of expediency; besides I am familiar with one verse in the Bible,
of which you seem never to have heard: Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap. You have sowed well and faithfully; be content
with your harvest."

I do not know what the pale, grave lips would have answered to this
mocking spirit, for at that moment Dr. Van Anden and the black ponies
whizzed around the corner, and halted before the gate.

"Sadie," said the doctor, "are you in the mood for a ride? I have five
miles to drive."

"Dr. Van Anden," answered Sadie, promptly, "the last time you and I
took a ride together we quarreled."

"Precisely," said the Doctor, bowing low. "Let us take another now and
make up."

"Very well," was the gleeful answer which he received, and in another
minute they were off.

For the first mile or two he kept a tight rein, and let the ponies
skim over the ground in the liveliest fashion, during which time
very little talking was done. After that he slackened his speed, and
leaning back in the carriage addressed himself to Sadie:

"Now we are ready to make up."

"How shall we commence?" asked Sadie, gravely.

"Who quarreled?" answered the Doctor, sententiously.

"Well," said Sadie, "I understand what you are waiting for. You think
I was very rude and unladylike in my replies to you during that
last interesting ride we took. You think I jumped at unwarrantable
conclusions, and used some unnecessarily sharp words. I think so
myself, and if it will be of any service to you to know it, I don't
mind telling you in the least."

"That is a very excellent beginning," answered the Doctor, heartily.
"I think we shall have no difficulty in getting the matter all settled
Now, for my part, it won't sound as well as yours, because however
blunderingly I may have said what I did, I said it honestly, in good
faith, and with a good and pure motive. But I am glad to be able to
say in equal honesty that I believe I was over-cautious, that Dr.
Douglass was never so little worthy of regard as I supposed him to
be, and that nothing could have more rejoiced my heart than the noble
stand which he has so recently taken. Indeed his conduct has been so
noble that I feel honored by his acquaintance."

He was interrupted by a mischievous laugh.

"A mutual admiration society," said Sadie, in her most mocking tone.
"Did you and Dr. Douglass have a private rehearsal? You interrupted
him in a similar rhapsody over your perfections."

Instead of seeming annoyed, Dr. Van Anden's face glowed with pleasure.

"Did he explain to you our misunderstanding?" he asked, eagerly. "That
was very noble in him."

"Of _course_. He is the soul of nobility--a villain yesterday and
a saint to-day. I don't understand such marvelously rapid changes,
Doctor."

"I know you don't," the Doctor answered quietly. "Although you have
exaggerated both terms, yet there is a great and marvelous change,
which must be experienced to be understood. Will you never seek it for
yourself, Sadie?"

"I presume I never shall, as I very much doubt the existence of any
such phenomenon."

The Doctor appeared neither shocked nor surprised, but favored her
with a cool and quiet reply:

"Oh, no, you don't doubt it in the least. Don't try to make yourself
out that foolish and unreasonable creature--an unbeliever in what is
as clear to a thinking mind as is the sun at noonday. You and I have
no need to enter into an argument concerning this matter. You have
seen some unwise and inconsistent acts in many who are called by the
name of Christian. You imagine that they have staggered your belief
in the verity of the thing itself. Yet it is not so. You had a dear
father who lived and died in the faith, and you no more doubt the fact
that he is in heaven to-day, brought there by the power of the Savior
in whom he trusted, than you doubt your own existence at this moment."

Sadie sat silenced and grave; she was very rarely either, perhaps. Dr.
Van Anden was the one person who could have thus subdued her, but
in her inmost heart she felt his words to be true; that dear, _dear_
father, whose weary suffering life had been one long evidence to the
truth of the religion which he professed--yes, it was so, she no more
doubted that he was at this moment in that blessed heaven toward which
his hopes had so constantly tended, than she doubted the shining of
that day's sun--so he, being dead, yet spoke to her. Besides, her keen
judgment had, of late, settled back upon the belief that Dr. Van Anden
lived a life that would bear watching--a true, earnest, manly life;
also, that he was a man not likely to be deceived. So, sitting back
there in the carriage, and appearing to look at nothing, and be
interested in nothing, she allowed herself to take in again the
firm conviction that whatever most lives were, there was always that
father--safe, _safe_ in the Christian's heaven--and there were besides
some few, a very few, she thought; but there were _some_ still living,
whom she knew, yes, actually _knew_, were fitting for that same
far-away, safe place. No, Sadie had stood upon the brink, was standing
there still, indeed; but reason and the long-buried father still kept
her from toppling over into the chasm of settled unbelief. "Blessed
are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the
Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do
follow them."

But something must be said. Sadie was not going to sit there and allow
Dr. Van Anden to imagine that she was utterly quieted and conquered;
she would rather quarrel with him than have that. He had espoused Dr.
Douglass' cause so emphatically, let him argue for him now; there was
nothing like a good sharp argument to destroy the effect of unpleasant
personal questions--so she blazed into sudden indignation:

"I think Dr. Douglass is a hypocrite!"

Nothing could have been more composed than the tone in which she was
answered:

"Very well. What then?"

This question was difficult to answer, and Sadie remaining silent, her
companion continued:

"Mr. Smith is a drunkard; therefore I will be a thief. Is that Miss
Sadie Ried's logic?"

"I don't see the point."

"Don't you? Wasn't that exclamation concerning Dr. Douglass a bit of
hiding behind the supposed sin of another--a sort of a reason why you
were not a Christian, because somebody else pretended to be? Is that
sound logic, Sadie? When your next neighbor in class peeps in her
book, and thereby disgraces herself, and becomes a hypocrite, do
you straightway declare that you will study no more? You see it is
fashionable, in talking of this matter of religion, to drag out the
shortcomings and inconsistencies of others, and try to make of them
a garment to covet our own sins; but it is very senseless, after all,
and you will observe is never done in the discussion of any other
question."

Clearly, Sadie must talk in a common-sense way with this
straightforward man, if she talked at all. Her resolution was suddenly
taken, to say for once just what she meant; and a very grave and
thoughtful pair of eyes were raised to meet the doctor's when next she
spoke.

"I think of these things sometimes, doctor, and though a great deal
of it seems to be humbug, it is as you say--I know _some_ are sincere,
and I know there is a right way. I have been more than half tempted
many times during the last few weeks to discover for myself the secret
of power, but I am deterred by certain considerations, which you
would, doubtless, think very absurd, but which, joined with the
inspiration which I receive from the ridiculous inconsistencies of
others, have been sufficient to deter me hitherto."

"Would you mind telling me some of the considerations?"

And the moment Sadie began to talk honestly, the doctor's tones lost
their half-indifferent coolness, and expressed a kind and thoughtful
interest.

"No," she said, hesitatingly. "I don't know that I need, but you will
not understand them; for instance, if I were a Christian I should have
to give up one of my favorite amusements--almost a passion, you know,
dancing is with me, and I am not ready to yield it."

"Why should you feel obliged to do so if you were a Christian?"

Sadie gave him the benefit of a very searching look. "Don't _you_
think I would be?" she queried, after a moment's silence.

"I haven't said what I thought on that subject, but I feel sure that
it is not the question for you to decide at present; first settle the
all-important one of your personal acceptation of Christ, and then
it will be time to decide the other matter, for or against, as your
conscience may dictate."

"Oh, but," said Sadie, positively, "I know very well what my
conscience would dictate, and I am not ready for it."

"Isn't dancing an innocent amusement?"

"For _me_ yes, but not for a Christian."

"Does the Bible lay down one code of laws for you and another for
Christians?"

"I think so--it says, 'Be not conformed to the world.'"

"Granted; but does it anywhere say to those who are of the world,
'_You_ have a right to do just what you like; that direction does not
apply to you at all, it is all intended for those poor Christians?'"

"Dr. Van Anden," said Sadie with dignity, "don't you think there
should be a difference between Christians and those who are not?"

"Undoubtedly I do. Do _you_ think that every person ought or ought
_not_ to be a Christian?"

Sadie was silent, and a little indignant. After a moment she spoke
again, this time with a touch of hauteur:

"I think you understand what I mean, Doctor, though you would not
admit it for the world. I don't suppose I feel very deeply on the
subject, else I would not advance so trivial an excuse; but this is
honestly my state of mind. Whenever I think about the matter at
all, this thing comes up for consideration. I think it would be very
foolish for me to argue against dancing, for I don't know much about
the arguments, and care less. I know only this much, that there is a
very distinctly defined inconsistency between a profession of religion
and dancing, visible very generally to the eyes of those who make no
profession; the other class don't seem so able to see it; but there
exists very generally among us worldlings a disposition to laugh
a little over dancing Christians. Whether this is a well-founded
inconsistency, or only a foolish prejudice on our part, I have never
taken the trouble to try to determine, and it would make little
material difference which it was--it is enough for me that such is
the case; and it makes it very plain to me that if I were an honest
professor of that religion which leads one of its teachers to say,
'He will eat no meat while the world stands if it makes his brother to
offend,' I should be obliged to give up my dancing. But since I am
not one of that class, and thus have no such influence, I can see no
possible harm in my favorite amusement, and am not ready to give it
up; and that is what I mean by its being innocent for me, and not
innocent for professing Christians."

Dr. Van Anden made no sort of reply, if Sadie could judge from his
face; he seemed to have grown weary of the whole subject; he leaned
back in his carriage, and let the reins fall loosely and carelessly.
His next proceeding was most astounding; coolly possessing himself of
one of the small gloved hands that lay idly in Sadie's lap, he said,
in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone: "Sadie, would you allow me to put my
arm around you?"

In an instant the indignant blood surged in waves over Sadie's face;
the hand was angrily withdrawn, and the graceful form drawn to an
erect hight, and it is impossible to describe the freezing tone of
astonished indignation in which she ejaculated, "Dr. Van Anden!"

"Just what I expected," returned that gentleman in a composed manner,
bestowing a look of entire satisfaction upon his irate companion. "And
yet, Sadie, I hope you will pardon my obtuseness, but I positively
can not see why, if it is proper and courteous, and all that sort of
thing, I, who am a friend of ten years' standing, should not enjoy
the same privilege which you accord to Fred Kenmore, to whom you were
introduced last week, and with whom I heard you say you danced five
times."

Sadie looked confused and annoyed, but finally she laughed; for she
had the good sense to see the folly of doing any thing else under
existing circumstances.

"That is the point which puzzles me at present," continued the Doctor,
in a kind, grave tone. "I do not understand how young ladies of
refinement can permit, under certain circumstances, and often from
comparative strangers, attentions which, under other circumstances,
they repel with becoming indignation. Won't you consider the apparent
inconsistency a little? It is the only suggestion which I wish to
offer on the question at present. When you have settled that other
important matter, this thing will present itself to your clear-seeing
eyes in other and more startling aspects. Meantime, this is the house
at which I must call. Will you hold my horses, Miss Sadie, while I
dispatch matters within?"



CHAPTER XXVI.

CONFUSION--CROSS-BEARING--CONSEQUENCE.


But the autumn days were not _all_ bright, and glowing, and glorious.
One morning it rained--not a soft, silent, and warm rain, but a gusty,
windy, turbulent one; a rain that drove into windows ever so slightly
raised, and hurled itself angrily into your face whenever you ventured
to open a door. It was a day in which fires didn't like to burn, but
smoldered, and sizzled, and smoked; and people went around shivering,
their shoulders shrugged up under little dingy, unbecoming shawls, and
the clouds were low, and gray, and heavy--and every thing and every
body seemed generally out of sorts.

Ester was no exception; the toothache had kept her awake during the
night, and one cheek was puffy and stiff in the morning, and one
tooth still snarled threateningly whenever the slightest whisper of
a draught came to it. The high-toned, exalted views of life and duty
which had held possession of her during the past few weeks seemed
suddenly to have deserted her. In short, her body had gained
that mortifying ascendency over the soul which it will sometimes
accomplish, and all her hopes, and aims, and enthusiasms seemed
blotted out. Things in the kitchen were uncomfortable. Maggie had
seized on this occasion for having the mumps, and acting upon the
advice of her sympathizing mistress, had pinned a hot flannel around
her face and gone to bed. The same unselfish counsel had been given
to Ester, but she had just grace enough left to refuse to desert the
camp, when dinner must be in readiness for twenty-four people in spite
of nerves and teeth. Just here, however, the supply failed her, and
she worked in ominous gloom.

Julia had been pressed into service, and was stoning raisins, or
eating them, a close observer would have found it difficult to
discover which. She was certainly rasping the nerves of her sister
in a variety of those endless ways by which a thoughtless, restless,
questioning child can almost distract a troubled brain. Ester endured
with what patience she could the ceaseless drafts upon her, and worked
at the interminable cookies with commendable zeal. Alfred came with
a bang and a whistle, and held open the side door while he talked.
In rushed the spiteful wind, and all the teeth in sympathy with the
aching one set up an immediate growl.

"Mother, I don't see any. Why, where is mother?" questioned Alfred;
and was answered with an emphatic

"Shut that door!"

"Well, but," said Alfred, "I want mother. I say, Ester, will you give
me a cookie?"

"No!" answered Ester, with energy. "Did you hear me tell you to shut
that door this instant?"

"Well now, don't bite a fellow." And Alfred looked curiously at his
sister. Meantime the door closed with a heavy bang. "Mother, say,
mother," he continued, as his mother emerged from the pantry, "I don't
see any thing of that hammer. I've looked every-where. Mother, can't I
have one of Ester's cookies? I'm awful hungry."

"Why, I guess so, if you are really suffering. Try again for the
hammer, my boy; don't let a poor little hammer get the better of you."

"Well," said Alfred, "I won't," meaning that it should answer the
latter part of the sentence; and seizing a cookie he bestowed a
triumphant look upon Ester and a loving one upon his mother, and
vanished amid a renewal of the whistle and bang.

This little scene did not serve to help Ester; she rolled away
vigorously at the dough, but felt some way disturbed and outraged, and
finally gave vent to her feeling in a peremptory order.

"Julia, don't eat another raisin; you've made away with about half of
them now."

Julia looked aggrieved. "Mother lets me eat raisins when I pick them
over for her," was her defense; to which she received no other reply
than--

"Keep your elbows off the table."

Then there was silence and industry for some minutes. Presently Julia
recovered her composure, and commenced with--

"Say, Ester, what makes you prick little holes all over your
biscuits?"

"To make them rise better."

"Does every thing rise better after it is pricked?"

Sadie was paring apples at the end table, and interposed at this
point--

"If you find that to be the case, Julia, you must be very careful
after this, or we shall have Ester pricking you when you don't 'rise'
in time for breakfast in the morning."

Julia suspected that she was being made a dupe of, and appealed to her
older sister:

"_Honestly_, Ester, _do_ you prick them so they will rise better?"

"Of course. I told you so, didn't I?"

"Well, but why does that help them any? Can't they get up unless you
make holes in them, and what is all the reason for it?"

Now, these were not easy questions to answer, especially to a girl
with the toothache, and Ester's answer was not much to the point.

"Julia, I declare you are enough to distract one. If you ask any more
questions I shall certainly send you up stairs out of the way."

Her scientific investigations thus nipped in the bud, Julia returned
again to silence and raisins, until the vigorous beating of some eggs
roused anew the spirit of inquiry. She leaned eagerly forward with a--

"Say, Ester, please tell me why the whites all foam and get thick when
you stir them, just like beautiful white soapsuds." And she rested her
elbow, covered with its blue sleeve, plump into the platter containing
the beaten yolks. You must remember Ester's face-ache, but even then
I regret to say that this disaster culminated in a decided box on the
ear for poor Julia, and in her being sent weeping up stairs. Sadie
looked up with a wicked laugh in her bright eyes, and said, demurely:

"You didn't keep your promise, Ester, and let me live in peace, so
I needn't keep mine and I consider you pretty well out of the spasm
which has lasted for so many days."

"Sadie, I am really ashamed of you." This was Mrs. Ried's grave,
reproving voice; and she added, kindly: "Ester, poor child, I wish you
would wrap your face up in something warm and lie down awhile. I am
afraid you are suffering a great deal."

Poor Ester! It had been a hard day. Late in the afternoon, as she
stood at the table, and cut the bread, and cake, and cheese, and cold
meat for tea; when the sun had made a rift in the clouds, and was
peeping in for good-night; when the throbbing nerves had grown quiet
once more, she looked back upon this weary day in shame and pain. How
very little her noble resolves, and efforts, and advances had been
worth after all. How far back she seemed to have gone in that one
day--not strength enough to bear even the little crosses that befell
in an ordinarily quiet life! How she had lost the so-lately-gained
influence over Alfred and Julia by a few cross words! How much reason
she had given Sadie to think that her attempts at following the Master
were, after all, only spasmodic and visionary! But Ester had been to
that little clothes-press up stairs in search of help and forgiveness,
and now she clearly saw there was something to do besides mourn over
her failures. It was hard to do it, too. Ester's spirit was proud, and
it was very humbling to confess herself in the wrong. She hesitated
and shrank from the work, until she finally grew ashamed of herself
for that; and at last, without turning her head from her work, or
giving her resolve time to falter, she called to the twins, who were
occupying seats in one of the dining-room windows, and talking low and
soberly to each other:

"Children, come here a moment, will you?"

The two had been very shy of Ester since the morning's trials,
and were at that moment sympathizing with each other in a manner
uncomplimentary to her. However, they slid down from their perch and
slowly answered her call.

Ester glanced up as they entered the storeroom, and then went on
cutting her cheese, but speaking in low, gentle tones:

"I want to tell you two how sorry I am that I spoke so crossly and
unkindly to you this morning. It was very wrong in me. I thought I
never should displease Jesus so again, but I did, you see; and now I
am very sorry indeed, and I want you to forgive me."

Alfred looked aghast. This was an Ester that he had never seen before,
and he didn't know what to say. He wriggled the toes of his boots
together, and looked down at them in puzzled wonder. At last he
faltered out:

"I didn't know your cheek ached till mother told me, or else I'd have
shut the door right straight. I'd ought to, _any how_, cheek or no
cheek."

This last in a lower tone, and more looking down at his boots. It was
new work for Alfred, this voluntarily owning himself in the wrong.

Julia burst forth eagerly. "And I was very careless and naughty to
keep putting my elbows on the table after you had told me not to, and
I am ever so sorry that I made you such a lot of trouble."

"Well, then," said Ester, "we'll all forgive each other, shall we, and
begin over again? And, children, I want you to understand that I _am_
trying to please Jesus; and when I fail it is because of my own wicked
heart, not because there is any need of it if I tried harder; and I
want you to know how anxious I am that you should love this same Jesus
now while you are young, and get him to help you."

Their mother called the children at this moment, and Ester dismissed
them each with a kiss. There was a little rustle in the flour-room,
and Sadie, whom nobody knew was down stairs, emerged therefrom with
suspiciously red eyes but a laughing face, and approached her sister.

"Ester," said she, "I'm positively afraid that you are growing into a
saint, and I know that I'm a sinner. I consider myself mistaken about
the spasm--it is evidently a settled disease."

While the bell tolled for evening service Ester stood in the front
doorway, and looked doubtfully up and down the damp pavements and
muddy streets, and felt of her stiff cheek. How much she seemed to
need the rest and help of God's house to-night; and yet--

Julia's little hand stole softly into hers. "We've been talking about
what you said you wanted us to do, Alfred and I have. We've talked
about it a good deal lately. _We_ most wish so, too."

Ere Ester could reply other than by an eager grasp of the small hand,
Dr. Douglass came out. His horses and carriage were in waiting.

"Miss Ried," he said, pausing irresolutely with his foot on the
carriage step, and finally turning back, "I am going to drive down to
church this evening, as I have a call to make afterward. Will you not
ride down with me; it is unpleasant walking?"

Ester's grave face brightened. "I'm so glad," she answered eagerly.
"I _did_ want to go to church to-night, and I was afraid it would be
imprudent on account of my tooth."

Alfred and Julia sat right before them in church; and Ester watched
them with a prayerful, and yet a sad heart What right had she to
expect an answer to her petitions when her life had been working
against them all that day? And yet the blood of Christ was
all-powerful, and there was always _his_ righteousness to plead; and
she bent her head in renewed supplications for these two, "And it
shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer, and while
they are yet speaking I will hear."

Into one of the breathless stillnesses that came, while beating hearts
were waiting for the requests that they hoped would be made, broke
Julia's low, trembling, yet singularly clear voice:

"Please pray for me."

There was a little choking in Alfred's throat, and a good deal of
shuffling done with his boots. It was so much more of a struggle for
the sturdy boy than the gentle little girl; but he stood manfully on
his feet at last, and his words, though few, were fraught with as much
meaning as any which had been spoken there that evening, for they were
distinct and decided:

"Me, too."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TIME TO SLEEP


Life went swiftly and busily on. With the close of December the
blessed daily meetings closed, rather they closed with the first week
of the new year, which the church kept as a sort of jubilee week in
honor of the glorious things that had been done for them.

The new year opened in joy for Ester; many things were different. The
honest, straightforward little Julia carried all her earnestness
of purpose into this new life which had possessed her soul; and the
sturdy brother had naturally too decided a nature to do any thing
half-way, so Ester was sure of this young sister and brother. Besides,
there was a new order of things between her mother and herself; each
had discovered that the other was bound on the same journey, and that
there were delightful resting-places by the way.

For herself, she was slowly but surely gaining. Little crosses that
she stooped and resolutely took up grew to be less and less, until
they, some of them, merged into positive pleasures. There were many
things that cast rays of joy all about her path; but there was still
one heavy abiding sorrow. Sadie went giddily and gleefully on her
downward way. If she perchance seemed to have a serious thought at
night it vanished with the next morning's sunshine, and day by day
Ester realized more fully how many tares the enemy had sown while she
was sleeping. Sometimes the burden grew almost too heavy to be borne,
and again she would take heart of grace and bravely renew her efforts
and her prayers. It was about this time that she began to recognize
a new feeling. She was not sick exactly, and yet not quite well. She
discovered, considerably to her surprise, that she was falling into
the habit of sitting down on a stair to rest ere she had reached the
top of the first flight; also, that she was sometimes obliged to stay
her sweeping and clasp her hands suddenly over a strange beating
in her heart. But she laughed at her mother's anxious face, and
pronounced herself quite well, quite well, only perhaps a little
tired.

Meantime all sorts of plans for usefulness ran riot in her brain. She
could not go away on a mission because her mission had come to her.
For a wonder she realized that her mother needed her. She took up
bravely and eagerly, so far as she could see it, the work that lay
around her; but her restless heart craved more, more. She _must_ do
something outside of this narrow circle for the Master. One evening
her enthusiasm, which had been fed for several days on a new scheme
that was afloat in the town, reached its hight. Ester remembered
afterward every little incident connected with that evening--just
how cozy the little family sitting-room looked, with her for its only
occupant; just how brightly the coals glowed in the open grate; just
what a brilliant color they flashed over the crimson cushioned rocker,
which she had vacated when she heard Dr. Van Anden's step in the
hall, and went to speak to him. She was engaged in writing a letter to
Abbie, full of eager schemes and busy, bright work. "I am astonished
that I ever thought there was nothing worth living for;" so she wrote.
"Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want to do.
This new idea just fills me with delight. I am so eager to get to
work--" Thus far when she heard that step, and springing up went with
eagerness to the door.

"Doctor, are you in haste? Haven't you just five minutes for me?"

"Ten," answered the Doctor promptly, stepping into the bright little
room.

In her haste, not even waiting to offer him a seat, Ester plunged at
once into her subject.

"Aren't you the chairman of that committee to secure teachers for the
evening school?"

"I am."

"Have you all the help you want?"

"Not by any means. Volunteers for such a self-denying employment as
teaching factory girls are not easy to find."

"Well, Doctor, do you think--would you be willing to propose my name
as one of the teachers? I should so like to be counted among them."

Instead of the prompt thanks which she expected, to her dismay Dr. Van
Anden's face looked grave and troubled. Finally he slowly shook his
head with a troubled--

"I don't think I can, Ester."

Such an amazed, grieved, hurt look as swept over Ester's face.

"It is no matter," she said at last, speaking with an effort. "Of
course I know little of teaching, and perhaps could do no good; but I
thought if help was scarce you might--well, never mind."

And here the Doctor interposed. "It is not that, Ester," with the
troubled look deepening on his face. "I assure you we would be glad
of your help, but," and he broke off abruptly, and commenced a sudden
pacing up and down the room. Then stopped before her with these
mysterious words: "I don't know how to tell you, Ester."

Ester's look now was one of annoyance, and she spoke quickly.

"Why, Doctor, you need tell me nothing. I am not a child to have the
truth sugar-coated. If my help is not needed, that is sufficient."

"Your help is exactly what we need, Ester, but your health is not
sufficient for the work."

And now Ester laughed. "Why, Doctor, what an absurd idea In a week I
shall be as well as ever. If that is all you may surely count me as
one of your teachers."

The Doctor smiled faintly, and then asked: "Do you never feel any
desire to know what may be the cause of this strange lassitude which
is creeping over you, and the sudden flutterings of heart, accompanied
by pain and faintness, which take you unawares?"

Ester's face paled a little, but she asked, quietly enough: "How do
you know all this?"

"I am a physician, Ester. Do you think it is kindness to keep a friend
in ignorance of what very nearly concerns him, simply to spare his
feelings for a little?"

"Why, Dr. Van Anden, you do not think--you do not mean that--tell me
_exactly what_ you mean."

But the Doctor's answer was grave, anxious, absolute _silence_.

Perhaps the silence answered her--perhaps her own heart told the
secret to her, for a sudden gray palor overspread her face. For an
instant the room darkened and whirled around her, then she staggered
as if she would have fallen, then she reached forward and caught hold
of the little red rocker, and sank into it, and leaning both elbows on
the writing-table before her, buried her face in her hands. Afterward
Ester called to mind the strange whirl of thoughts which thrilled
her brain at that time. Life in all the various phases that she had
thought it would wear for her, all the endless plans that she had
made, all the things that she had meant to _do_ and _be_, came and
stared her in the face. Nowhere in all her plannings crossed by that
strange creature Death; someway she had never planned for that. Could
it be possible that he was to come for her so soon, before any of
these things were done? Was it possible that she must leave Sadie,
bright, brilliant, unsafe Sadie, and go away where she could work for
her no more? Then, like a picture spread before her, there came back
that day in the cars, on her way to New York, the Christian stranger,
who was not a stranger now, but her friend, and was it heaven--the
earnest little old woman with her thoughtful face, and that strange
sentence on her lips: "Maybe my coffin will do it better than I
can." Well, maybe _her_ coffin could do it for Sadie. Oh the blessed
thought! Plans? YES, but perhaps God had plans too. What mattered hers
compared to _HIS_? If he would that she should do her earthly work
by lying down very soon in the unbroken calm of the "rest that
remaineth," "what was that to her?" Presently she spoke without
raising her head.

"Are you very certain of this thing, Doctor, and is it to come to me
soon?"

"That last we can not tell, dear friend. You _may_ be with us years
yet, and it _may_ be swift and sudden. I think it is worse than
mistaken kindness, it is foolish wickedness, to treat a Christian
woman like a little child. I wanted to tell you before the shock would
be dangerous to you."

"I understand." When she spoke again it was in a more hesitating tone.
"Does Dr. Douglass agree with you?" And the quick, pained way in which
the Doctor answered showed her that he understood.

"Dr. Douglass will not _let_ himself believe it."

Then a long silence fell between them. The Doctor kept his position,
leaning against the mantel, but never for a moment allowed his eyes
to turn away from that motionless figure before him. Only the loving,
pitying Savior knew what was passing in that young heart.

At last she arose and came toward the Doctor, with a strange sweetness
playing about her mouth, and a strange calm in her voice.

"Dr. Van Anden, I am _so_ much obliged to you. Don't be afraid to
leave me now. I think I need to be quite alone."

And the Doctor, feeling that all words were vain and useless, silently
bowed, and softly let himself out of the room.

The first thing upon which Ester's eye alighted when she turned again
to the table was the letter in which she had been writing those last
words: "Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want
to do." Very quietly she picked up the letter and committed it to the
glowing coals upon the grate. Her mood had changed. By degrees, very
quietly and very gradually, as such bitter things _do_ creep in upon a
family, it grew to be an acknowledged fact that Ester was an invalid.
Little by little her circle of duties narrowed, one by one her various
plans were silently given up, the dear mother first, and then
Sadie, and finally the children, grew into the habit of watching her
footsteps, and saving her from the stairs, from the lifting, from
every possible burden. Once in a long while, and then, as the weeks
passed, more frequently, there would come a day in which she did not
get down further than the little sitting-room, but was established
amid pillows on the couch, "enjoying poor health," as she playfully
phrased it.

So softly and silently and surely the shadow crept and crept, until
when June brought roses and Abbie. Ester received her in her own
room, propped up among the pillows in her bed. Gradually they grew
accustomed to that also, as God in his infinite mercy has planned that
human hearts shall grow used to the inevitable. They even told each
other hopefully that the warm weather was what depressed her so much,
and as the summer heat cooled into autumn she would grow stronger.
And she had bright days in which she really seemed to grow strong, and
which deceived every body save Dr. Van Anden and herself.

During one of those bright days Sadie came from school full of a new
idea, and curled herself in front of Ester's couch to entertain her
with it.

"Mr. Hammond's last," she said. "Such a curious idea, as like him as
possible, and like nobody else. You know that our class will graduate
in just two years from this time, and there are fourteen of us, an
even number, which is lucky for Mr. Hammond. Well, we are each, don't
you think, to write a letter, as sensible, honest, and piquant as
we can make it, historic, sentimental, poetic, or otherwise, as we
please, so that it be the honest exponent of our views. Then we are to
make a grand exchange of letters among the class, and the young lady
who receives my letter, for instance, is to keep it sealed, and under
lock and key, until graduation day, when it is to be read before
scholars, faculty, and trustees, and my full name announced as the
signature; and all the rest of us are to perform in like manner."

"What is supposed to be the object?" queried Abbie.

"Precisely the point which oppressed us, until Mr. Hammond
complimented us by announcing that it was for the purpose of
discovering how many of us, after making use of our highest skill
in that line, could write a letter that after two years we should be
willing to acknowledge as ours."

Ester sat up flushed and eager. "That is a very nice idea," she said,
brightly. "I'm so glad you told me of it. Sadie, I'll write you a
letter for that day. I'll write it to-morrow, and you are to keep it
sealed until the evening of that day on which you graduate. Then when
you have come up to your room and are quite alone, you are to read it.
Will you promise, Sadie?"

But Sadie only laughed merrily, and said "You are growing sentimental,
Ester, as sure is the world. How can I make any such promise as that?
I shall probably chatter to you like a magpie instead of reading any
thing."

This young girl utterly ignored so far as was possible the fact of
Ester's illness, never allowing it to be admitted in her presence
that there were any fears as to the result. Ester had ceased trying
to convince her, so now she only smiled quietly and repeated her
petition.

"Will you promise, Sadie?"

"Oh yes, I'll promise to go to the mountains of the moon on foot and
alone, across lots--_any thing_ to amuse you. You're to be pitied, you
see, until you get over this absurd habit of cuddling down among the
pillows."

So a few days thereafter she received with much apparent glee the
dainty sealed letter addressed to herself, and dropped it in her
writing-desk, but ere she turned the key there dropped a tear or two
on the shining lid.

Well, as the long, hot summer days grew longer and fiercer, the
invalid drooped and drooped, and the home faces grew sadder. Yet
there still came from time to time those rallying days, wherein Sadie
confidently pronounced her to be improving rapidly. And so it came
to pass that so sweet was the final message that the words of the
wonderful old poem proved a Siting description of it all.

  "They thought her dying when she slept,
    And sleeping when she died."

Into the brightness of the September days there intruded one, wherein
all the house was still, with that strange, solemn stillness that
comes only to those homes where death has left a seal. From the
doors floated the long crape signals, and in the great parlors were
gathering those who had come to take their parting look at the white,
quiet face. "ESTER RIED, aged 19," so the coffin-plate told them. Thus
early had the story of her life been finished.

Only one arrangement had Ester made for this last scene in her life
drama.

"I am going to preach my own funeral sermon," she had said pleasantly
to Abbie one day. "I want every one to know what seemed to me the most
important thing in life. And I want them to understand that when I
came just to the end of my life it stood out the most important thing
still--for Christians, I mean. My sermon is to be preached for them.
No it isn't either; it applies equally to all. The last time I went
to the city I found in a bookstore just the kind of sermon I want
preached. I bought it. You will find the package in my upper bureau
drawer, Abbie. I leave it to you to see that they are so arranged that
every one who comes to look at _me_ will be sure to see them."

So on this day, amid the wilderness of flowers and vines and mosses
that had possession of the rooms, ranged along the mantel, hanging in
clusters on the walls, were beautifully illuminated texts--and these
were some of the words that they spoke to those who silently gathered
in the parlors:

"And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of
sleep."

"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

"What shall we do that we might work the works of God?"

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there
is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither
thou goest."

"I must work the work of him that sent me while it is day: the night
cometh when no man can work."

"Awake to righteousness and sin not."

"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall
give thee light."

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

"Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch, and be sober."

Chiming in with the thoughts of those who knew by whose direction the
illuminated texts were hung, came the voice of the minister, reading:

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are
the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit,
that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."

So it was that Ester Ried, lying quiet in her coffin, was reckoned
among that number who "being dead, yet speaketh."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

AT LAST.


The busy, exciting, triumphant day was done. Sadie Ried was no longer
a school-girl; she had graduated. And although a dress of the softest,
purest white had been substituted for the blue silk, in which she had
so long ago planned to appear, its simple folds had swept the platform
of Music Hall in as triumphant a way as ever she had planned for the
other. More so, for Sadie's wildest flights of fancy had never made
her valedictorian of her class, yet that she certainly was. In some
respects it had been a merry day--the long sealed letters had been
opened and read by their respective holders that morning, and the
young ladies had discovered, amid much laughter and many blushes, that
they were ready to pronounce many of the expressions which they had
carefully made only two years before, "ridiculously out of place" or
"absurdly sentimental."

"Progress," said Mr. Hammond, turning for a moment to Sadie, after he
had watched with an amused smile the varying play of expression on her
speaking face, while she listened to the reading of her letter.

"You were not aware that you had improved so much in two years, now,
were you?"

"I was not aware that I ever was such a simpleton!" was her
half-provoked, half-amused reply.

To-night she loitered strangely in the parlors, in the halls, on the
stairs, talking aimlessly with any one who would stop; it was growing
late. Mrs. Ried and the children had long ago departed. Dr. Van Anden
had not yet returned from his evening round of calls. Every body in
and about the house was quiet, ere Sadie, with slow, reluctant steps,
finally ascended the stairs and sought her room. Arrived there, she
seemed in no haste to light the gas; moonlight was streaming into the
room, and she put herself down in front of one of the low windows to
enjoy it. But it gave her a view of the not far distant cemetery, and
gleamed on a marble slab, the lettering of which she knew perfectly
well was--"Ester, daughter of Alfred and Laura Ried, died Sept. 4,
18--, aged 19. Asleep in Jesus--Awake to everlasting life." And that
reminded her, as she had no need to be reminded, of a letter with
the seal unbroken, lying in her writing-desk--a letter which she had
promised to read this evening--promised the one who wrote it for her,
and over whose grave the moonlight was now wrapping its silver robe.
Sadie felt strangely averse to reading that letter; in part, she
could imagine its contents, and for the very reason that she was still
"halting between two opinions," "almost persuaded," and still on that
often fatal "almost" side, instead of the "altogether," did she wait
and linger, and fritter away the evening as best she could, rather
than face that solemn letter. Even when she turned resolutely from the
window, and lighted the gas, and drew down the shade, she waited to
put every thing tidy on her writing-table, and then, when she had
finally turned the key in her writing-desk, to read over half a dozen
old letters and bits of essays, and scraps of poetry, ere she reached
down for that little white envelope, with her name traced by the
dear familiar hand that wrote her name no more. At last the seal was
broken, and Sadie read:

"My Darling Sister:

"I am sitting to-day in our little room--yours and mine. I have been
taking in the picture of it; every thing about it is dear to me, from
our father's face smiling down on me from the wall, to the little red
rocker in which he sat and wrote, in which I sit now, and in which you
will doubtless sit, when I have gone to him. I want to speak to you
about that time. When you read this, I shall have been gone a long,
long time, and the bitterness of the parting will all be past; you
will be able to read calmly what I am writing. I will tell you a
little of the struggle. For the first few moments after I knew that
I was soon to die, my brain fairly reeled; It seemed to me that I
_could_ not. I had so much to live for, there was so much that I
wanted to do; and most of all other things, I wanted to see you a
Christian. I wanted to live for that, to work for it, to undo if I
could some of the evil that I knew my miserable life had wrought in
your heart. Then suddenly there came to me the thought that perhaps
what my life could not do, my coffin would accomplish--perhaps that
was to be God's way of calling you to himself perhaps he meant to
answer my pleading in that way, to let my grave speak for me, as my
crooked, marred, sinful living might never be able to do. My darling,
then I was content; it came to me so suddenly as that almost the
certainty that God meant to use me thus, and I love you so, and I long
so to see you come to him, that I am more than willing to give up
all that this life seemed to have for me, and go away, if by that you
would be called to Christ.

"And Sadie, dear, you will know before you read this, how much I had
to give up. You will know very soon all that Dr. Douglass and I looked
forward to being to each other--but I give it up, give him up,
more than willingly--joyfully--glad that my Father will accept the
sacrifice, and make you his child. Oh, my darling, what a life I have
lived before you! I do not wonder that, looking at me, you have grown
into the habit of thinking that there is nothing in religion--you have
looked at me, not at Jesus, and there has been no reflection of
his beauty in me, as there should have been, and the result is not
strange. Knowing this, I am the more thankful that God will forgive
me, and use me as a means to bring you home at last. I speak
confidently. I am sure, you see, that it will be; the burden, the
fearful burden that I have carried about with me so long, has gone
away. My Redeemer and yours has taken it from me. I shall see you in
heaven. Father is there, and I am going, oh _so_ fast, and mother will
not be long behind, and Alfred and Julia have started on the journey,
and you _will_ start. Oh, I know it--we shall all be there! I told my
Savior I was willing to do any thing, _any thing_, so my awful mockery
of a Christian life, that I wore so long, might not be the means of
your eternal death. And he has heard my prayer. I do not know when it
will be; perhaps you will still be undecided when you sit in our room
and read these words. Oh, I hope, I _hope_ you will not waste two
years more of your life, but if you do, if as you read these last
lines that I shall ever write, the question is unsettled, I charge
you by the memory of your sister, by the love you bear her not to wait
another _moment_--not one. Oh, my darling, let me beg this at your
hands; take it as my dying petition--renewed after two years of
waiting. Come to Jesus now.

"That question settled, then let me give you one word of warning. Do
not live as I have done--my life has been a failure--five years of
stupid sleep, while the enemy waked and worked. Oh, God, forgive me!
Sadie, never let that be your record. Let me give you a motto--'Press
toward the mark.' The mark is high; don't look away from or forget
it, as I did; don't be content with simply sauntering along, looking
toward it now and then, but take in the full meaning of that earnest
sentence, and live it--'Press toward the mark!'

"And now good-by. When you have finished reading this letter, do this
last thing for me: If you are already a Christian, get down on your
knees and renew your covenant; resolve anew to live and work, and
suffer and die, for Christ. If you are not a Christian--Oh, I put my
whole soul into this last request--I beg you kneel and give yourself
up to Jesus. My darling, good-by until we meet in heaven.

"ESTER RIED."

The letter dropped from Sadie's nerveless fingers. She arose softly,
and turned down the gas, and raised the shade--the moonlight still
gleamed on the marble slab. Dr. Van Anden came with quick, firm tread
up the street. She gave a little start as she recognized the step, and
her thoughts went out after that other lonely Doctor, who was to have
been her brother, and then back to the long, earnest letter and the
words, "I give him up"--and she realized as only those can who know by
experience, what a giving up that would be, how much her sister longed
for her soul. And then, moved by a strong, firm resolve, Sadie knelt
in the solemn moonlight, and the long, long struggle was ended. Father
and sister were in heaven, but on earth, this night, their prayers
were being answered.

"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea,
saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their
works do follow them."

THE END.





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