[Transcriber's note: The spelling inconsistencies of the original have been retained in this etext.]
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.
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
ASLEEP AND AWAKE
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.
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.
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.
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, anyhow," 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?"
"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.
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."
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.
"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.
"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.