Part 2 out of 5
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I don't know that I have any choice?" Ester's voice was fainter
"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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Your minister is the very man who spoke to me yesterday in the
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
"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."
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"Had you a pleasant ride?" he asked, as the tone of the music lulled a
"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
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
"He was warning me against the impropriety of associating with your
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
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
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?
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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?"
"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