Part 4 out of 5
"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring
it to pass."
"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him--the Lord is
gracious, and full of compassion."
"Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I, even
I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and
will not remember thy sins."
"Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God,
and there is none else."
"Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live."
Silence for a moment, and then Ester repeated, in tones that were full
of sweetness, that one little verse, which had become the embodiment
to her of all that was tender, and soothing and wonderful: "What time
I am afraid I will trust in thee." Was this man, moving toward the
very verge of the river, afraid? Ester did not know, was not to know
whether those gracious invitations from the Redeemer of the world had
fallen once more on unheeding ears, or not; for with a little sigh,
born partly of relief, and partly of sorrow, that the opportunity was
gone, she turned to meet Dr. Van Anden, and was sent for a few moments
out into the light and glory of the departing day, to catch a bit of
It was as the last midnight stroke of that long, long day was being
given, that they were gathered about the dying bed. Sadie was there,
solemn and awe-stricken. Mrs. Ried had arisen from her couch of
suffering, and nerved herself to be a support to the poor young wife.
Dr. Douglass, at the side of the sick man, kept anxious watch over
the fluttering pulse. Ester, on the other side, looked on in helpless
pity, and other friends of the Hollands were grouped about the room.
So they watched and waited for the swift down-coming of the angel of
death The death damp had gathered on his brow, the pulse seemed but
a faint tremble now and then, and those whose eyes were used to death
thought that his lips would never frame mortal sound again, when
suddenly the eyelids raised, and Mr. Holland, fixing a steady gaze
upon the eyes bent on him from the foot of the bed, whither Ester had
slipped to make more room for her mother and Mrs. Holland, said, in a
clear, distinct tone, one unmistakable word--"Pray!"
Will Ester ever forget the start of terror which thrilled her frame as
she felt that look and heard that word? She cast a quick, frightened
glance around her of inquiry and appeal; but her mother and herself
were the only ones present whom she had reason to think ever prayed.
Could she, _would_ she, that gentle, timid, shrinking mother? But Mrs.
Ried was supporting the now almost fainting form of Mrs. Holland, and
giving anxious attention to her. "He says pray!" Sadie murmured, in
low, frightened tones. "Oh, where is Dr. Van Anden?"
Ester knew he had been called in great haste to the house across the
way, and ere he could return, this waiting spirit might be gone--gone
without a word of prayer. Would Ester want to die so, with no voice to
cry for her to that listening Savior? But then no human being had
ever heard her pray. Could she?--must she? Oh, for Dr. Van Anden--a
Christian doctor! Oh, if that infidel stood anywhere but there, with
his steady hand clasping the fluttering pulse, with his cool, calm
eyes bent curiously on her--but Mr. Holland was dying; perhaps the
everlasting arms were not underneath him--and at this fearful thought,
Ester dropped upon her knees, giving utterance to her deepest need in
the first uttered words, "Oh, Holy Spirit, teach me just what to say!"
Her mother, listening with startled senses as the familiar voice fell
on her ear, could but think that _that_ petition was answered; and
Ester felt it in her very soul, Dr. Douglass, her mother, Sadie, all
of them were as nothing--there was only this dying man and Christ, and
she pleading that the passing soul might be met even now by the Angel
of the covenant. There were those in the room who never forgot that
prayer of Ester's. Dr. Van Anden, entering hastily, paused midway in
the room, taking in the scene in an instant of time, and then was
on his knees, uniting his silent petitions with hers. So fervent and
persistent was the cry for help, that even the sobs of the stricken
wife were hushed in awe, and only the watching doctor, with his finger
on the pulse, knew when the last fluttering beat died out, and the
death-angel pressed his triumphant seal on pallid lip and brow.
"Dr. Van Anden," Ester said, as they stood together for a moment
the next morning, waiting in the chamber of death for Mrs. Ried's
directions--. "Was--Did he," with an inclination of her head toward
the silent occupant of the couch, "Did he ever think he was a
The doctor bent on her a grave, sad look, and slowly shook his head.
"Oh, Doctor! you can not think that he--" and Ester stopped, her face
blanching with the fearfulness of her thought.
"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" This was the
doctor's solemn answer. After a moment, he added: "Perhaps that one
eagerly-spoken word, 'Pray,' said as much to the ears of Him
whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, as did that old-time
petition--'Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.'"
Ester never forgot that and the following day, while the corpse of one
whom she had known so well lay in the house; and when she followed
him to the quiet grave, and watched the red and yellow autumn leaves
flutter down around his coffin--dead leaves, dead flowers, dead hopes,
death every-where--not just a going up higher, as Mr. Foster's death
had been--this was solemn and inexorable death. More than ever she
felt how impossible it was to call back the days that had slipped away
while she slept, and do their neglected duties. She had come for this,
full of hope; and now one of those whom she had met many times each
day for years, and never said Jesus to, was at this moment being
lowered into his narrow house, and, though God had graciously given
her an inch of time, and strength to use it, it was as nothing
compared with those wasted years, and she could never know, at least
never until the call came for her, whether or not at the eleventh hour
this "poor man cried, and the Lord heard him," and received him into
Dr. Van Anden moved around to where she was standing, with tightly
clasped hands and colorless lips. He had been watching her, and this
was what he said: "Ester, shall you and I ever stand again beside a
new-made grave, receiving one whom we have known ever so slightly, and
have to settle with our consciences and our Savior, because we have
not invited that one to come to Jesus?"
And Ester answered, with firmly-drawn lips "As that Savior hears me,
and will help me _never_!"
"LITTLE PLUM PIES."
Ester was in the kitchen trimming off the puffy crusts of endless
pies--the old brown calico morning dress, the same huge bib apron
which had been through endless similar scrapes with her--every thing
about her looking exactly as it had three months ago, and yet so far
as Ester and her future--yes, and the future of every one about
her was concerned, things were very different. Perhaps Sadie had a
glimmering of some strange change as she eyed her sister curiously,
and took note that there was a different light in her eye, and a sort
of smoothness on the quiet face that she had never noticed before. In
fact, Sadie missed some wrinkles which she had supposed were part and
parcel of Ester's self.
"How I _did_ hate that part of it," she remarked, watching the fingers
that moved deftly around each completed sphere. "Mother said my edges
always looked as if a mouse had marched around them nibbling all the
way. My! how thoroughly I hate housekeeping. I pity the one who takes
me for better or worse--always provided there exists such a poor
victim on the face of the earth."
"I don't think you hate it half so much as you imagine," Ester
answered kindly. "Any way you did nicely. Mother says you were a great
comfort to her."
There was a sudden mist before Sadie's eyes.
"Did mother say that?" she queried. "The blessed woman, what a very
little it takes to make a comfort for her. Ester, I declare to you,
if ever angels get into kitchens and pantries, and the like, mother
is one of them. The way she bore with my endless blunderings was
perfectly angelic. I'm glad, though, that her day of martyrdom is
over, and mine, too, for that matter."
And Sadie, who had returned to the kingdom of spotless dresses and
snowy cuffs, and, above all, to the dear books and the academy, caught
at that moment the sound of the academy bell, and flitted away. Ester
filled the oven with pies, then went to the side doorway to get a
peep at the glowing world. It was the very perfection of a day--autumn
meant to die in wondrous beauty that year. Ester folded her bare arms
and gazed. She felt little thrills of a new kind of restlessness all
about her this morning. She wanted to do something grand, something
splendidly good. It was all very well to make good pies; she had done
that, given them the benefit of her highest skill in that line--now
they were being perfected in the oven, and she waited for something.
If ever a girl longed for an opportunity to show her colors, to honor
her leader, it was our Ester. Oh yes, she meant to do the duty that
lay next her, but she perfectly ached to have that next duty something
grand, something that would show all about her what a new life she had
Dr. Van Anden was tramping about in his room, over the side piazza, a
very unusual proceeding with him at that hour of the day; his windows
were open, and he was singing, and the fresh lake wind brought tune
and words right down to Ester's ear:
"I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or wondrous thing to know;
I would be guided as a child,
And led where'er I go.
"I ask thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life,
While keeping at thy side;
Content to fill a little space
If thou be glorified."
Of course Dr. Van Anden did not know that Ester Ried stood in the
doorway below, and was at that precise moment in need of just such
help as this; but then what mattered that, so long as the Master did?
Just then another sense belonging to Ester did its duty, and gave
notice that the pies in the oven were burning; and she ran to their
rescue, humming meantime:
"Content to fill a little space
If thou be glorified."
Eleven o'clock found her busily paring potatoes--hurrying a little,
for in spite of swift, busy fingers their work was getting a little
the best of Maggie and her, and one pair of very helpful hands was
Alfred and Julia appeared from somewhere in the outer regions, and
Ester was too busy to see that they both carried rather woe-begone
"Hasn't mother got back yet?" queried Alfred.
"Why, no," said Ester. "She will not be back until to-night--perhaps
not then. Didn't you know Mrs. Carleton was worse?"
Alfred kicked his heels against the kitchen door in a most
"Somebody's always sick," he grumbled out at last. "A fellow might as
well not have a mother. I never saw the beat--nobody for miles around
here can have the toothache without borrowing mother. I'm just sick
and tired of it."
Ester had nearly laughed, but catching a glimpse of the forlorn face,
she thought better of it, and said:
"Something is awry now, I know. You never want mother in such a
hopeless way as that unless you're in trouble; so you see you are just
like the rest of them, every body wants mother when they are in any
"But she is my mother, and I have a right to her, and the rest of 'em
"Well," said Ester, soothingly, "suppose I be mother this time. Tell
me what's the matter and I'll act as much like her as possible."
"_You_!" And thereupon Alfred gave a most uncomplimentary sniff.
"Queer work you'd make of it."
"Try me," was the good-natured reply.
"I ain't going to. I know well enough you'd say 'fiddlesticks' or
'nonsense,' or some such word, and finish up with 'Just get out of my
Now, although Ester's cheeks were pretty red over this exact imitation
of her former ungracious self, she still answered briskly:
"Very well, suppose I should make such a very rude and unmotherlike
reply, fiddlesticks and nonsense would not shoot you, would they?"
At which sentence Alfred stopped kicking his heels against the door,
"Tell us all about it," continued Ester, following up her advantage.
"Nothing to tell, much, only all the folks are going a sail on the
lake this afternoon, and going to have a picnic in the grove, the very
last one before snow, and I meant to ask mother to let us go, only how
was I going to know that Mrs. Carleton would get sick and come away
down here after her before daylight; and I know she would have let
me go, too; and they're going to take things, a basketful each one of
'em--and they wanted me to bring little bits of pies, such as mother
bakes in little round tins, you know, plum pies, and she would have
made me some, I know; she always does; but now she's gone, and it's
all up, and I shall have to stay at home like I always do, just for
sick folks. It's mean, any how."
Ester smothered a laugh over this curious jumble, and asked a humble
"Is there really nothing that would do for your basket but little bits
of plum pies?"
"No," Alfred explained, earnestly. "Because, you see, they've got
plenty of cake and such stuff; the girls bring that, and they do like
my pies, awfully. I most always take 'em. Mr. Hammond likes them,
too; he's going along to take care of us, and I shouldn't like to go
without the little pies, because they depend upon them."
"Oh," said Ester, "girls go, too, do they?" And she looked for the
first time at the long, sad face of Julia in the corner.
"Yes, and Jule is in just as much trouble as I am, cause they are all
going to wear white dresses, and she's tore hers, and she says she
can't wear it till it's ironed, cause it looks like a rope, and Maggie
says she can't and won't iron it to-day, _so_; and mother was going
to mend it this very morning, and--. Oh, fudge! it's no use talking,
we've got to stay at home, Jule, so now." And the kicking heels
Ester pared her last potato with a half troubled, half amused face.
She was thoroughly tired of baking for that day, and felt like saying
fiddlesticks to the little plum pies; and that white dress was torn
cris-cross and every way, and ironing was always hateful; besides it
_did_ seem strange that when she wanted to do some great, nice thing,
so much plum pies and torn dresses should step right into her path.
Then unconsciously she repeated:
"Content to fill a _little_ space
If _Thou_ art glorified."
_Could_ He be glorified, though, by such very little things? Yet
hadn't she wanted to gain an influence over Alfred and Julia, and
wasn't this her first opportunity; besides there was that verse:
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do--." At that point her thoughts took
shape in words.
"Well, sir, we'll see whether mother is the only woman in this world
after all. You tramp down cellar and bring me up that stone jar on the
second shelf, and we'll have those pies in the oven in a twinkling;
and that little woman in the corner, with two tears rolling down her
cheeks, may bring her white dress and my work-box and thimble, and put
two irons on the stove, and my word for it you shall both be ready by
three o'clock, spry and span, pies and all."
By three o'clock on the afternoon in question Ester was thoroughly
tired, but little plum pies by the dozen were cuddling among snowy
napkins in the willow basket, and Alfred's face was radiant as he
expressed his satisfaction, after this fashion:
"You're just jolly, Ester! I didn't know you could be so good. Won't
the boys chuckle over these pies, though? Ester, there's just seven
more than mother ever made me."
"Very well," answered Ester, gayly; "then there will be just seven
more chuckles this time than usual."
Julia expressed her thoughts in a way more like her. She surveyed
her skillfully-mended and beautifully smooth white dress with smiling
eyes; and as Ester tied the blue sash in a dainty knot, and stepped
back to see that all was as it should be, she was suddenly confronted
with this question:
"Ester, what does make you so nice to-day; you didn't ever used to be
How the blood rushed into Ester's cheeks as she struggled with her
desire to either laugh or cry, she hardly knew which. These were very
little things which she had done, and it was shameful that, in all the
years of her elder sisterhood, she had never sacrificed even so little
of her own pleasure before; yet it was true, and it made her feel like
crying--and yet there was rather a ludicrous side to the question, to
think that all her beautiful plans for the day had culminated in plum
pies and ironing. She stooped and kissed Julia on the rosy cheek, and
answered gently, moved by some inward impulse:
"I am trying to do all my work for Jesus nowadays."
"You didn't mend my dress and iron it, and curl my hair, and fix my
sash, for him, did you?"
"Yes; every little thing."
"Why, I don't see how. I thought you did them for me."
"I did, Julia, to please you and make you happy; but Jesus says that
that is just the same as doing it for him."
Julia's next question was very searching:
"But, Ester, I thought you had been a member of the church a good
many years. Sadie said so. Didn't you ever try to do things for Jesus
A burning blush of genuine shame mantled Ester's face, but she
"No; I don't think I ever really did."
Julia eyed her for a moment with a look of grave wonderment, then
suddenly stood on tiptoe to return the kiss, as she said:
"Well, I think it is nice, anyway. If Jesus likes to have you be so
kind and take so much trouble for me, why then he must love me, and I
mean to thank him this very night when I say my prayers."
And as Ester rested for a moment in the arm-chair on the piazza, and
watched her little brother and sister move briskly off, she hummed
again those two lines that had been making unconscious music in her
heart all day:
"Content to fill a _little_ space
If Thou be glorified."
The large church was _very_ full; there seemed not to be another space
for a human being. People who were not much given to frequenting the
house of God on a week-day evening, had certainly been drawn thither
at this time. Sadie Ried sat beside Ester in their mother's pew, and
Harry Arnett, with a sober look on his boyish face, sat bolt upright
in the end of the pew, while even Dr. Douglass leaned forward with
graceful nonchalance from the seat behind them, and now and then
addressed a word to Sadie.
These people had been listening to such a sermon as is very seldom
heard--that blessed man of God whose name is dear to hundreds and
thousands of people, whose hair is whitened with the frosts of many
a year spent in the Master's service, whose voice and brain and heart
are yet strong, and powerful, and "mighty through God," the Rev. Mr.
Parker, had been speaking to them, and his theme had been the soul,
and his text had been: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the
whole world and lose his own soul?"
I hope I am writing for many who have had the honor of hearing that
appeal fresh from the great brain and greater heart of Mr. Parker.
Such will understand the spell under which his congregation sat even
after the prayer and hymn had died into silence. Now the gray-haired
veteran stood bending over the pulpit, waiting for the Christian
witnesses to the truth of his solemn messages; and for that he seemed
likely to wait. A few earnest men, veterans too in the cause, gave
in their testimony--and then occurred one of those miserable,
disheartening, disgraceful pauses which are met with nowhere on earth
among a company of intelligent men and women, with liberty given them
to talk, save in a prayer-meeting! Still silence, and still the aged
servant stood with one arm resting on the Bible, and looked down
almost beseechingly upon that crowd of dumb Christians.
"Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord," he repeated, in earnest,
Miserable witnesses they! Was not the Lord ashamed of them all, I
wonder? Something like this flitted through Ester's brain as she
looked around upon that faithless company, and noted here and there
one who certainly ought to "take up his cross." Then some slight idea
of the folly of that expression struck her. What a fearful cross
it was, to be sure! What a strange idea to use the same word in
describing it that was used for that blood-stained, nail-pierced cross
on Calvary. Then a thought, very startling in its significance, came
to her. Was that cross borne only for men? were they the only ones
who had a thank-offering because of Calvary? Surely _her_ Savior hung
there, and bled, and groaned, and died for HER. Why should not she
say, "By his stripes _I_ am healed?" What if she should? What would
people think? No, not that either. What would Jesus think? that, after
all, was the important question. Did she really believe that if she
should say in the hearing of that assembled company, "I love Jesus,"
that Jesus, looking down upon her, and hearing how her timid voice
broke the dishonoring silence, would be displeased, would set it down
among the long list of "ought not to have" dones? She tried to imagine
herself speaking to him in her closet after this manner: "Dear Savior,
I confess with shame that I have brought reproach upon thy name this
day, for I said, in the presence of a great company of witnesses, that
I loved thee!" In defiance of her education and former belief upon
this subject, Ester was obliged to confess, then and there, that
all this was extremely ridiculous. "Oh, well," said Satan, "it's not
exactly _wrong_, of course; but then it isn't very modest or ladylike;
and, besides, it is unnecessary. There are plenty of men to do the
talking." "But," said common sense, "I don't see why it's a bit more
unladylike than the ladies' colloquy at the lyceum was last evening.
There were more people present than are here tonight; and as for the
men, they are perfectly mum. There seems to be plenty of opportunity
for somebody." "Well," said Satan, "it isn't customary at least, and
people will think strangely of you. Doubtless it would do more harm
This most potent argument, "People will think strangely of you,"
smothered common sense at once, as it is apt to do, and Ester raised
her head from the bowed position which it had occupied during this
whirl of thought, and considered the question settled. Some one began
to sing, and of all the words that _could_ have been chosen, came the
most unfortunate ones for this decision:
"On my head he poured his blessing,
Long time ago;
Now he calls me to confess him
Before I go.
My past life, all vile and hateful,
He saved from sin;
I should be the most ungrateful
Not to own him.
Death and hell he bade defiance,
Bore cross and pain;
Shame my tongue this guilty silence,
And speak his name."
This at once renewed the struggle, but in a different form. She no
longer said, "Ought I?" but, "Can I?" Still the spell of silence
seemed unbroken save by here and there a voice, and still Ester
parleyed with her conscience, getting as far now as to say: "When
Mr. Jones sits down, if there is another silence, I will try to say
something"--not quite meaning, though, to do any such thing, and
proving her word false by sitting very still after Mr. Jones sat down,
though there was plenty of silence. Then when Mr. Smith said a few
words, Ester whispered the same assurance to herself, with exactly the
same result. The something _decided_ for which she had been longing,
the opportunity to show the world just where she stood, had come at
last, and this was the way in which she was meeting it. At last
she knew by the heavy thuds which her heart began to give, that the
question was decided, that the very moment Deacon Graves sat down she
would rise; whether she would say any thing or not would depend upon
whether God gave her any thing to say--but at least she could stand
up for Jesus. But Mr. Parker's voice followed Deacon Graves'; and this
was what he said:
"Am I to understand by your silence that there is not a Christian man
or woman in all this company who has an unconverted friend whom he or
she would like to have us pray for?"
Then the watching Angel of the Covenant came to the help of this
trembling, struggling Ester, and there entered into her heart such a
sudden and overwhelming sense of longing for Sadie's conversion, that
all thought of what she would say, and how she would say it, and
what people would think, passed utterly out of her mind; and rising
suddenly, she spoke, in clear and wonderfully earnest tones:
"Will you pray for a dear, dear friend?"
God sometimes uses very humble means with which to break the spell of
silence which Satan so often weaves around Christians; it was as if
they had all suddenly awakened to a sense of their privileges.
Dr. Van Anden said, in a voice which quivered with feeling: "I have
a brother in the profession for whom I ask your prayers that he may
become acquainted with the great Physician."
Request followed request for husbands and wives, mothers and fathers,
and children. Even timid, meek-faced, low-voiced Mrs. Ried murmured
a request for her children who were out of Christ. And when at last
Harry Arnett suddenly lifted his handsome boyish head from its bowed
position, and said in tones which conveyed the sense of a decision,
"Pray for _me_" the last film of worldliness vanished; and there are
those living to-day who have reason never to forget that meeting.
"Is it your private opinion that our good doctor got up a streak of
disinterested enthusiasm over my unworthy self this evening?" This
question Dr. Douglass asked of Sadie as they lingered on the piazza in
Sadie laughed gleefully. "I am sure I don't know. I'm prepared for any
thing strange that can possibly happen. Mother and Ester between them
have turned the world upside down for me to-night. In case you are the
happy man, I hope you are grateful?"
"Extremely! Should be more so perhaps if people would be just to me in
private, and not so alarmingly generous in public."
"How bitter you are against Dr. Van Anden," Sadie said, watching the
lowering brow and sarcastic curve of the lip, with curious eyes. "How
much I should like to know precisely what is the trouble between you!"
Dr. Douglass instantly recovered his suavity. "Do I appear bitter?
I beg your pardon for exhibiting so ungentlemanly a phase of human
nature; yet hypocrisy does move me to--" And then occurred one of
those sudden periods with which Dr. Douglass always seemed to stop
himself when any thing not quite courteous was being said. "Just
forget that last sentence," he added. "It was unwise and unkind; the
trouble between us is not worthy of a thought of yours. I wish I could
forget it. I believe I could if he would allow me."
At this particular moment the subject of the above conversation
appeared in the door. Sadie gave a slight start; the thought that
Dr. Van Anden had heard the talk was not pleasant. She need not have
feared, he had just come from his room, and from his knees.
He spoke abruptly and with a touch of nervousness: "Dr. Douglass, may
I have a few words with you in private?"
Dr. Douglass' "Certainly, if Miss Sadie will excuse us," was both
prompt and courteous apparently, though the tone said almost as
plainly as words could have done, "To what can I be indebted for this
Dr. Van Anden led the way into the brightly lighted vacant parlor;
and there Dr. Douglass stationed himself directly under the gas light,
where he could command a full view of the pale, somewhat anxious face
of his companion, and waited with that indescribable air made up of
nonchalance and insolence. Dr. Van Anden dashed into his subject:
"Dr. Douglass, ten years ago you did what you could to injure me. I
thought then purposely, I think now that perhaps you were sincere. Be
that as it may, I used language to you then, which I, as a Christian
man, ought never to have used. I have repented it long ago, but in my
blindness I have never seen that I ought to apologize to you for it
until this evening. God has shown me my duty. Dr. Douglass, I ask your
pardon for the angry words I spoke to you that day."
The gentleman addressed kept his full bright eyes fixed on Dr. Van
Anden, and answered him in the quietest and at the same time iciest of
"You are certainly very kind, now that your anger has had time to cool
during these ten years, to accord to me the merit of being _possibly_
sincere. Now I was more _Christian_ in my conclusions; I set you down
as an honest blunderer. That I have had occasion since to change my
opinion is nothing to the purpose but it would be pleasanter for both
of us if apologies could restore our friend, Mrs. Lyons to life."
During this response Dr. Van Anden's face was a study. It had passed
in quick succession through so many shades of feeling, anxiety, anger,
disgust, and finally surprise, and apparently a dawning sense of a new
development, for he made the apparently irrelevant reply:
"Do you think _I_ administered that chloroform?"
Dr. Douglass' coolness forsook him for a moment "Who did?" he queried,
with flashing eyes.
"How does it happen that I never knew it?"
"I am sure I do not know." Dr. Van Anden passed his hand across his
eyes, and spoke in sadness and weariness. "I had no conception that
you were not aware of it until this moment. It explains in part what
was strangely mysterious to me; but even in that case, it would have
been, as you said, a blunder, not a criminal act However, we can not
undo _that_ past. I desire, above all other things, to set myself
right in your eyes as a Christian man. I think I may have been a
stumbling-block to you. God only knows how bitter is the thought I
have done wrong; I should have acknowledged it years ago. I can
only do it now. Again I ask you. Dr. Douglass, will you pardon those
bitterly spoken words of mine?"
Dr. Douglass bowed stiffly, with an increase of hauteur visible in
every line of his face.
"Give yourself no uneasiness on that score, Dr. Van Anden, nor on any
other, I beg you, so far as I am concerned. My opinion of Christianity
is peculiar perhaps, but has not altered of late; nor is it likely to
do so. Of course, every gentleman is bound to accept the apology
of another, however tardily it may be offered. Shall I bid you
And with a very low, very dignified bow, Dr. Douglass went back to
the piazza and Sadie. And groaning in spirit over the tardiness of his
effort, Dr. Van Anden returned to his room, and prayed that he might
renew his zeal and his longing for the conversion of that man's soul.
"Have you been receiving a little fraternal advice?" queried Sadie,
her mischievous eyes dancing with fun over the supposed discomfiture
of one of the two gentlemen, she cared very little which.
"Not at all. On the contrary, I have been giving a little of that
mixture in a rather unpalatable form, I fear. I haven't a very high
opinion of the world, Miss Sadie."
"Including yourself, do you mean?" was Sadie's demure reply.
Dr. Douglass looked the least bit annoyed; then he laughed, and
answered with quiet grace:
"Yes, including even such an important individual as myself. However,
I have one merit which I consider very rare--sincerity."
Sadie's face assumed a half puzzled, half amused expression, as she
tried by the moonlight to give a searching look at the handsome form
leaning against the pillar opposite her.
"I wonder if you _are_ as sincere as you pretend to be?" was her next
complimentary sentence. "And also I wonder if the rest of the world
are as unlimited a set of humbugs as you suppose? How do you fancy you
happened to escape getting mixed up with the general humbugism of the
world? This Mr. Parker, now, talks as though he felt it and meant it."
"He is a first-class fanatic of the most outrageous sort. There
ought to be a law forbidding such ranters to hold forth, on pain of
imprisonment for life."
"Dr. Douglass," said Sadie, speaking with grave dignity, "I would
rather not hear you speak of that old gentleman in such a manner. He
may be a fanatic and a ranter, but I believe he means it, and I can't
help respecting him more than any cold-blooded moralist that I ever
met. Besides, I can not forget that my honored father was among the
despised class of whom you speak so scornfully."
"My dear friend," and Dr. Douglass' tone was as gentle as her
mother's could have been, "forgive me if I have pained you; it was not
intentional. I do not know what I have been saying--some unkind things
perhaps, and that is always ungentlemanly; but I have been greatly
disturbed this evening, and that must be my apology. Pardon me
for detaining you so long in the evening air. May I advise you,
professionally, to go in immediately?"
"May I advise you unselfishly to get into a better humor with
the world in general, and Dr. Van Anden in particular, before you
undertake to talk with a lady again?" Sadie answered in her usual
tones of raillery; all her dignity had departed. "Meantime, if you
would like to have unmolested possession of this piazza to assist you
in tramping off your evil spirit, you shall be indulged. I'm going to
the west side. The evening air and I are excellent friends." And with
a mocking laugh and bow Sadie departed.
"I wonder," she soliloquized, returning to gravity the moment she was
alone, "I wonder what that man has been saying to him now? How unhappy
these two gentlemen make themselves. It would be a consolation to know
right from wrong. I just wish I believed in everybody as I used
to. The idea of this gray-headed minister being a hypocrite! that's
absurd. But then the idea of Dr. Van Anden being what he is! Well,
it's a queer world. I believe I'll go to bed."
Be it understood that Dr. Douglass was very much astonished, and not a
little disgusted with himself. As he marched defiantly up and down
the long piazza he tried to analyze his state of mind. He had always
supposed himself to be a man possessed of keen powers of discernment,
and yet withal exercising considerable charity toward his erring
fellow-men, willing to overlook faults and mistakes, priding himself
not a little on the kind and gentlemanly way in which he could meet
ruffled human nature of any sort. In fact, he dwelt on a sort of
pedestal, from the hight of which he looked calmly and excusingly
down on weaker mortals. This, until to-night: now he realized, in a
confused, blundering sort of way, that his pedestal had crumbled, or
that he had tumbled from its hight, or at least that something new and
strange had happened. For instance, what had become of his powers of
discernment? Here was this miserable doctor, who had been one of
the thorns of his life, whom he had looked down upon as a canting
hypocrite. Was he, after all, mistaken? The explanation of to-night
looked like it; he had been deceived in that matter which had years
ago come between them; he could see it very plainly now. In spite
of himself, the doctor's earnest, manly apology would come back and
repeat itself to his brain, and demand admiration.
Now Dr. Douglass was honestly amazed at himself, because he was not
pleased with this state of things. Why was he not glad to discover
that Dr. Van Anden was more of a man than he had ever supposed? This
would certainly be in keeping with the character of the courteous,
unprejudiced gentleman that he had hitherto considered himself to be;
but there was no avoiding the fact that the very thought of Dr. Van
Anden was exasperating, more so this evening than ever before. And
the more his judgment became convinced that he had blundered, the more
vexed did he become.
"Confound everybody!" he exclaimed at length, in utter disgust. "What
on earth do I care for the contemptible puppy, that I should waste
thought on him. What possessed the fellow to come whining around me
to-night, and set me in a whirl of disagreeable thought? I ought to
have knocked him down for his insufferable impudence in dragging me
out publicly in that meeting." This he said aloud; but something made
answer down in his heart: "Oh, it's very silly of you to talk in this
way. You know perfectly well that Dr. Van Anden is not a contemptible
puppy at all. He is a thoroughly educated, talented physician, a
formidable rival, and you know it; and he didn't whine in the least
this evening; he made a very manly apology for what was not so very
bad after all, and you more than half suspect yourself of admiring
"Fiddlesticks!" said Dr. Douglass aloud to all this information, and
went off to his room in high dudgeon.
The next two days seemed to be very busy ones to one member of
the Ried family. Dr. Douglass sometimes appeared at meal time and
sometimes not, but the parlor and the piazza were quite deserted,
and even his own room saw little of him. Sadie, when she chanced by
accident to meet him on the stairs, stopped to inquire if the village
was given over to small-pox, or any other dire disease which required
his constant attention; and he answered her in tones short and sharp
enough to have been Dr. Van Anden himself:
"It is given over to madness," and moved rapidly on.
This encounter served to send him on a long tramp into the woods
that very afternoon. In truth, Dr. Douglass was overwhelmed with
astonishment at himself. Two such days and nights as the last had been
he hoped never to see again. It was as if all his pet theories had
deserted him at a moment's warning, and the very spirit of darkness
taken up his abode in their place. Go whither he would, do what he
would, he was haunted by these new, strange thoughts. Sometimes he
actually feared that he, at least, was losing his mind, whether the
rest of the world were or not. Being an utter unbeliever in the power
of prayer, knowing indeed nothing at all about it, he would have
scoffed at the idea that Dr. Van Anden's impassioned, oft-repeated
petitions had aught to do with him at this time. Had he known that
at the very time in which he was marching through the dreary woods,
kicking the red and yellow leaves from his path in sullen gloom, Ester
in her little clothes-press, on her knees, was pleading with God for
his soul, and that through him Sadie might be reached, I presume he
would have laughed. The result of this long communion with himself was
as follows: That he had overworked and underslept, that his nervous
system was disordered, that in the meantime he had been fool enough
to attend that abominable sensation meeting, and the man actually had
wonderful power over the common mind, and used his eloquence in a way
that was quite calculated to confuse a not perfectly balanced brain.
It was no wonder, then, in his state of bodily disorder, that the
sympathetic mind should take the alarm. So much for the disease, now
for the remedy. He would study less, at least he would stop reading
half the night away; he would begin to practice some of his own
preaching, and learn to be more systematic, more careful of this
wonderful body, which could cause so much suffering; he would ride
fast and long; above all, he would keep away from that church and that
man, with his fanciful pictures and skillfully woven words.
Having determined his plan of action he felt better. There was no
sense, he told himself, in yielding to the sickly sentimentalism which
had bewitched him for the past few days; he was ashamed of it, and
would have no more of it. He was master of his own mind, he guessed,
always had been, and always _would_ be. And he started on his homeward
walk with a good deal of alacrity, and much of his usual composure
settling on his face.
Oh, would the gracious Spirit which had been struggling with him leave
him indeed to himself? "O God," pleaded Ester, "give me this one
soul in answer to my prayer. For the sake of Sadie, bring this strong
pillar obstructing her way to thyself. For the sake of Jesus, who died
for them both, bring them both to yield to him."
Dr. Douglass paused at the place where two roads forked and mused, and
the subject of his musing was no more important than this: Should he
go home by the river path or through the village? The river path was
the longer, and it was growing late, nearly tea time; but if he took
the main road he would pass his office, where he was supposed to be,
as well as several houses where he ought to have been, besides meeting
probably several people whom he would rather not see just at present.
On the whole, he decided to take the river road, and walked briskly
along, quite in harmony with himself once more, and enjoying the
autumn beauty spread around him. A little white speck attracted his
attention; he almost stopped to examine into it, then smiled at his
curiosity, and moved on. "A bit of waste paper probably," he said to
himself. "Yet what a curious shape it was as if it had been carefully
folded and hidden under that stone. Suppose I see what it is? Who
knows but I shall find a fortune hidden in it?" He turned back a step
or two, and stooped for the little white speck. One corner of it was
nestled under a stone. It was a ragged, rumpled, muddy fragment of a
letter, or an essay, which rain and wind and water had done their
best to annihilate, and finally, seeming to become weary of their
plaything, had tossed it contemptuously on the shore, and a pitying
stone had rolled down and covered and preserved a tiny corner. Dr.
Douglass eyed it curiously, trying to decipher the mud-stained lines,
and being in a dreamy mood wondered meanwhile what young, fair hand
had penned the words, and what of joy or sadness filled them.
Scarcely a word was readable, at least nothing that would gratify his
curiosity, until he turned the bit of leaf, and the first line, which
the stone had hidden, shone out distinctly: "Sometimes I can not help
asking myself why I was made--." Here the corner was torn off, and
whether that was the end of the original sentence or not, it was
the end to him. God sometimes uses very simple means with which to
confound the wisdom of this world. Such a sudden and extraordinary
revulsion of feeling as swept over Dr. Douglass he had never dreamed
of before. He did not stop to question the strangeness of his state of
mind, nor why that bit of soiled, torn paper should possess so fearful
a power over him. He did not even realize at the moment that it was
connected with this bewilderment, he only knew that the foundation
upon which he had been building for years seemed suddenly to have
been torn from under him by invisible hands, and left his feet sinking
slowly down on nothing; and his inmost soul took suddenly up that
solemn question with which he had never before troubled his logical
brain: "I can not help asking myself why I was made?" There was only
one other readable word on that paper, turn it whichever way he would,
and that word was "God;" and he started and shivered when his eye met
this, as if some awful voice had spoken it to his ear.
"What unaccountable witchcraft has taken possession of me?" he
muttered, at length. And turning suddenly he sat himself down on
an old decaying log by the river side, and gave himself up to real,
honest, solemn thought.
"Where is Dr. Douglass?" queried Julia, appearing at the dining-room
door just at tea time. "There is a boy at the door says they want him
at Judge Beldon's this very instant."
"He's _nowhere_" answered Sadie solemnly, pausing in the work of
arranging cups and saucers. "It's my private opinion that he has been
and gone and hung himself. He passed the window about one o'clock,
looking precisely as I should suppose a man would who was about to
commit that interesting act, since which time I've answered the bell
seventeen times to give the same melancholy story of his whereabouts."
"My!" exclaimed the literal Julia, hurrying back to the boy at the
door. She comprehended her sister sufficiently to have no faith in the
hanging statement, but honestly believed in the seventeen sick people
who were waiting for the doctor.
The church was very full again that evening. Sadie had at first
declared herself utterly unequal to another meeting that week, but
had finally allowed herself to be persuaded into going; and had nearly
been the cause of poor Julia's disgrace because of the astonished look
which she assumed as Dr. Douglass came down the aisle, with his usual
quiet composure of manner, and took the seat directly in front of
them. The sermon was concluded. The text: "See I have set before thee
this day life and good, death and evil," had been dwelt upon in such a
manner that it seemed to some as if the aged servant of God had verily
been shown a glimpse of the two unseen worlds waiting for every soul,
and was painting from actual memory the picture for them to look upon.
That most solemn of all solemn hymns had just been sung:
"There is a time, we know not when
A point, we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
'Twixt glory and despair.
"There is a line, by us unseen,
That crosses every path,
The hidden boundary between
God's mercy and his wrath."
Silence had but fairly settled on the waiting congregation when a
strong, firm voice broke in upon it, and the speaker said:
"I believe in my soul that I have met that point and crossed that line
this day. I surely met God's mercy and his wrath, face to face, and
struggled in their power. Your hymn says, 'To cross that boundary is
to die;' but I thank God that there are two sides to it. I feel that
I have been standing on the very line, that my feet had well-nigh
slipped. To-night I step over on to mercy's side. Reckon me henceforth
among those who have chosen life."
"Amen," said the veteran minister, with radiant face.
"Thank God," said the earnest pastor, with quivering lip.
Two heads were suddenly bowed in the silent ecstasy of prayer--they
were Ester's and Dr. Van Anden's. As for Sadie, she sat straight and
still as if petrified with amazement, as she well-nigh felt herself to
be, for the strong, firm voice belonged to Dr. Douglass!
An hour later Dr. Van Anden was pacing up and down the long parlor,
with quick, excited steps, waiting for he hardly knew what, when a
shadow fell between him and the gaslight. He glanced up suddenly, and
his eyes met Dr. Douglass, who had placed himself in precisely the
same position in which he had stood when they had met there before.
Dr. Van Anden started forward, and the two gentlemen clasped hands
as they had never in their lives done before. Dr. Douglass broke the
beautiful silence first with earnestly spoken words:
"Doctor, will you forgive all the past?"
And Dr. Van Anden answered: "Oh, my brother in Christ!"
As for Ester, she prayed, in her clothes-press, thankfully for Dr.
Douglass, more hopefully for Sadie, and knew not that a corner of the
poor little letter which had slipped from Julia's hand and floated
down the stream one summer morning, thereby causing her such a
miserable, _miserable_ day, was lying at that moment in Dr. Douglass'
note-book, counted as the most precious of all his precious bits of
paper. Verily "His ways are not as our ways."
"Oh," said Sadie, with a merry toss of her brown curls, "_don't_ waste
any more precious breath over me, I beg. I'm an unfortunate case, not
worth struggling for. Just let me have a few hours of peace once more.
If you'll promise not to say 'meeting' again to me, I'll promise not
to laugh at you once after this long drawn-out spasm of goodness has
quieted, and you have each descended to your usual level once more."
"Sadie," said Ester, in a low, shocked tone, "_do_ you think we are
all hypocrites, and mean not a bit of this?"
"By _no_ means, my dear sister of charity, at least not all of you.
I'm a firm believer in diseases of all sorts. This is one of the
violent kind of highly contagious diseases; they must run their
course, you know. I have not lived in the house with two learned
physicians all this time without learning that fact, but I consider
this very nearly at its height, and live in hourly expectation of the
'turn.' But, my dear, I don't think you need worry about me in the
least. I don't believe I'm a fit subject for such trouble. You know
I never took whooping-cough nor measles, though I have been exposed a
great many times."
To this Ester only replied by a low, tremulous, "Don't, Sadie,
Sadie turned a pair of mirthful eyes upon her for a moment, and noting
with wonder the pale, anxious face and quivering lip of her sister,
seemed suddenly sobered.
"Ester," she said quietly, "I don't think you are 'playing good;' I
_don't_ positively. I believe you are thoroughly in earnest, but I
think you have been through some very severe scenes of late, sickness
and watching, and death, and your nerves are completely unstrung. I
don't wonder at your state of feeling, but you will get over it in a
little while, and be yourself again."
"Oh," said Ester, tremulously, "I pray God I may _never_ be myself
again; not the old self that you mean."
"You will," Sadie answered, with roguish positiveness. "Things will
go cross-wise, the fire won't burn, and the kettle won't boil, and the
milk-pitcher will tip over, and all sorts of mischievous things will
go on happening after a little bit, just as usual, and you will feel
like having a general smash up of every thing in spite of all these
Ester sighed heavily. The old difficulty again--things would not be
undone. The weeds which she had been carelessly sowing during all
these past years had taken deep root, and would not give place. After
a moment's silence she spoke again.
"Sadie, answer me just one question. What do you think of Dr.
Sadie's face darkened ominously. "Never mind what I think of _him_,"
she answered in short, sharp tones, and abruptly left the room.
What she _did_ think of him was this: That he had become that which
he had affected to consider the most despicable thing on earth--a
hypocrite. Remember, she had no personal knowledge of the power of
the Spirit of God over a human soul. She had no conception of how so
mighty a change could be wrought in the space of a few hours, so her
only solution of the mystery was that to serve some end which he had
in view Dr. Douglass had chosen to assume a new character.
Later, on that same day, Sadie encountered Dr. Douglass, rather, she
went to the side piazza equipped for a walk, and he came eagerly from
the west end to speak with her.
"Miss Sadie, I have been watching for you. I have a few words that are
burning to be said."
"Proceed," said Sadie, standing with demurely folded hands, and a mock
gravity in her roguish eyes.
"I want to do justice at this late day to Dr. Van Anden. I misjudged
him, wronged him, perhaps prejudiced you against him. I want to undo
"Some things can be done more easily than they can be undone," was
Sadie's grave and dignified reply. "You certainly have done your best
to prejudice me against Dr. Van Anden not only, but against all
other persons who hold his peculiar views, and you have succeeded
splendidly. I congratulate you."
That look of absolute pain which she had seen once or twice on this
man's face, swept over it now as he answered her.
"I know--I have been blind and stupid, _wicked_ any thing you will.
Most bitterly do I regret it now; most eager am I to make reparation."
Sadie's only answer was: "What a capital actor you would make, Dr.
Douglass. Are you sure you have not mistaken your vocation?"
"I know what you think of me." This with an almost quivering lip, and
a voice strangely humble and as unlike as possible to any which she
had ever heard from Dr. Douglass before. "You think I am playing a
part. Though what my motive could be I can not imagine, can you? But I
do solemnly assure you that if ever I was sincere in any thing in all
my life I am now concerning this matter."
"There is a most unfortunate 'if' in the way, Doctor. You see, the
trouble is, I have very serious doubts as to whether you ever were
sincere in any thing in your life. As to motives, a first-class
anybody likes to try his power. You will observe that 'I have a very
poor opinion of the world.'"
The Doctor did not notice the quotation of his favorite expression,
but answered with a touch of his accustomed dignity:
"I may have deserved this treatment at your hands, Miss Sadie.
Doubtless I have, although I am not conscious of ever having said to
you any thing which I did not _think_ I _meant_. I have been a _fool_.
I am willing--yes, and anxious to own it. But there are surely some
among your acquaintances whom you can trust if you can not me. I--"
Sadie interrupted him. "For instance, that 'first-class fanatic of the
most objectionable stamp,' the man who Dr. Douglass thought, not three
days ago, ought to be bound by law to keep the peace. I suppose you
would have me unhesitatingly receive every word he says?"
Dr. Douglass' face brightened instantly, and he spoke eagerly:
"I remember those words, Miss Sadie, and just how honestly I spoke
them, and just how bitterly I felt when I spoke them, and I have no
more sure proof that this thing is of God than I have in noting the
wonderful change which has come over my feelings in regard to that
blessed man. I pray God that he may be permitted to speak to your soul
with the tremendous power that he has to mine. Oh, Sadie, I have led
you astray, may I not help you back?"
"I am not a weather-vane, Dr. Douglass, to be whirled about by every
wind of expediency; besides I am familiar with one verse in the Bible,
of which you seem never to have heard: Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap. You have sowed well and faithfully; be content
with your harvest."
I do not know what the pale, grave lips would have answered to this
mocking spirit, for at that moment Dr. Van Anden and the black ponies
whizzed around the corner, and halted before the gate.
"Sadie," said the doctor, "are you in the mood for a ride? I have five
miles to drive."
"Dr. Van Anden," answered Sadie, promptly, "the last time you and I
took a ride together we quarreled."
"Precisely," said the Doctor, bowing low. "Let us take another now and
"Very well," was the gleeful answer which he received, and in another
minute they were off.
For the first mile or two he kept a tight rein, and let the ponies
skim over the ground in the liveliest fashion, during which time
very little talking was done. After that he slackened his speed, and
leaning back in the carriage addressed himself to Sadie:
"Now we are ready to make up."
"How shall we commence?" asked Sadie, gravely.
"Who quarreled?" answered the Doctor, sententiously.
"Well," said Sadie, "I understand what you are waiting for. You think
I was very rude and unladylike in my replies to you during that
last interesting ride we took. You think I jumped at unwarrantable
conclusions, and used some unnecessarily sharp words. I think so
myself, and if it will be of any service to you to know it, I don't
mind telling you in the least."
"That is a very excellent beginning," answered the Doctor, heartily.
"I think we shall have no difficulty in getting the matter all settled
Now, for my part, it won't sound as well as yours, because however
blunderingly I may have said what I did, I said it honestly, in good
faith, and with a good and pure motive. But I am glad to be able to
say in equal honesty that I believe I was over-cautious, that Dr.
Douglass was never so little worthy of regard as I supposed him to
be, and that nothing could have more rejoiced my heart than the noble
stand which he has so recently taken. Indeed his conduct has been so
noble that I feel honored by his acquaintance."
He was interrupted by a mischievous laugh.
"A mutual admiration society," said Sadie, in her most mocking tone.
"Did you and Dr. Douglass have a private rehearsal? You interrupted
him in a similar rhapsody over your perfections."
Instead of seeming annoyed, Dr. Van Anden's face glowed with pleasure.
"Did he explain to you our misunderstanding?" he asked, eagerly. "That
was very noble in him."
"Of _course_. He is the soul of nobility--a villain yesterday and
a saint to-day. I don't understand such marvelously rapid changes,
"I know you don't," the Doctor answered quietly. "Although you have
exaggerated both terms, yet there is a great and marvelous change,
which must be experienced to be understood. Will you never seek it for
"I presume I never shall, as I very much doubt the existence of any
The Doctor appeared neither shocked nor surprised, but favored her
with a cool and quiet reply:
"Oh, no, you don't doubt it in the least. Don't try to make yourself
out that foolish and unreasonable creature--an unbeliever in what is
as clear to a thinking mind as is the sun at noonday. You and I have
no need to enter into an argument concerning this matter. You have
seen some unwise and inconsistent acts in many who are called by the
name of Christian. You imagine that they have staggered your belief
in the verity of the thing itself. Yet it is not so. You had a dear
father who lived and died in the faith, and you no more doubt the fact
that he is in heaven to-day, brought there by the power of the Savior
in whom he trusted, than you doubt your own existence at this moment."
Sadie sat silenced and grave; she was very rarely either, perhaps. Dr.
Van Anden was the one person who could have thus subdued her, but
in her inmost heart she felt his words to be true; that dear, _dear_
father, whose weary suffering life had been one long evidence to the
truth of the religion which he professed--yes, it was so, she no more
doubted that he was at this moment in that blessed heaven toward which
his hopes had so constantly tended, than she doubted the shining of
that day's sun--so he, being dead, yet spoke to her. Besides, her keen
judgment had, of late, settled back upon the belief that Dr. Van Anden
lived a life that would bear watching--a true, earnest, manly life;
also, that he was a man not likely to be deceived. So, sitting back
there in the carriage, and appearing to look at nothing, and be
interested in nothing, she allowed herself to take in again the
firm conviction that whatever most lives were, there was always that
father--safe, _safe_ in the Christian's heaven--and there were besides
some few, a very few, she thought; but there were _some_ still living,
whom she knew, yes, actually _knew_, were fitting for that same
far-away, safe place. No, Sadie had stood upon the brink, was standing
there still, indeed; but reason and the long-buried father still kept
her from toppling over into the chasm of settled unbelief. "Blessed
are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the
Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do
But something must be said. Sadie was not going to sit there and allow
Dr. Van Anden to imagine that she was utterly quieted and conquered;
she would rather quarrel with him than have that. He had espoused Dr.
Douglass' cause so emphatically, let him argue for him now; there was
nothing like a good sharp argument to destroy the effect of unpleasant
personal questions--so she blazed into sudden indignation:
"I think Dr. Douglass is a hypocrite!"
Nothing could have been more composed than the tone in which she was
"Very well. What then?"
This question was difficult to answer, and Sadie remaining silent, her
"Mr. Smith is a drunkard; therefore I will be a thief. Is that Miss
Sadie Ried's logic?"
"I don't see the point."
"Don't you? Wasn't that exclamation concerning Dr. Douglass a bit of
hiding behind the supposed sin of another--a sort of a reason why you
were not a Christian, because somebody else pretended to be? Is that
sound logic, Sadie? When your next neighbor in class peeps in her
book, and thereby disgraces herself, and becomes a hypocrite, do
you straightway declare that you will study no more? You see it is
fashionable, in talking of this matter of religion, to drag out the
shortcomings and inconsistencies of others, and try to make of them
a garment to covet our own sins; but it is very senseless, after all,
and you will observe is never done in the discussion of any other
Clearly, Sadie must talk in a common-sense way with this
straightforward man, if she talked at all. Her resolution was suddenly
taken, to say for once just what she meant; and a very grave and
thoughtful pair of eyes were raised to meet the doctor's when next she
"I think of these things sometimes, doctor, and though a great deal
of it seems to be humbug, it is as you say--I know _some_ are sincere,
and I know there is a right way. I have been more than half tempted
many times during the last few weeks to discover for myself the secret
of power, but I am deterred by certain considerations, which you
would, doubtless, think very absurd, but which, joined with the
inspiration which I receive from the ridiculous inconsistencies of
others, have been sufficient to deter me hitherto."
"Would you mind telling me some of the considerations?"
And the moment Sadie began to talk honestly, the doctor's tones lost
their half-indifferent coolness, and expressed a kind and thoughtful
"No," she said, hesitatingly. "I don't know that I need, but you will
not understand them; for instance, if I were a Christian I should have
to give up one of my favorite amusements--almost a passion, you know,
dancing is with me, and I am not ready to yield it."
"Why should you feel obliged to do so if you were a Christian?"
Sadie gave him the benefit of a very searching look. "Don't _you_
think I would be?" she queried, after a moment's silence.
"I haven't said what I thought on that subject, but I feel sure that
it is not the question for you to decide at present; first settle the
all-important one of your personal acceptation of Christ, and then
it will be time to decide the other matter, for or against, as your
conscience may dictate."
"Oh, but," said Sadie, positively, "I know very well what my
conscience would dictate, and I am not ready for it."
"Isn't dancing an innocent amusement?"
"For _me_ yes, but not for a Christian."
"Does the Bible lay down one code of laws for you and another for
"I think so--it says, 'Be not conformed to the world.'"
"Granted; but does it anywhere say to those who are of the world,
'_You_ have a right to do just what you like; that direction does not
apply to you at all, it is all intended for those poor Christians?'"
"Dr. Van Anden," said Sadie with dignity, "don't you think there
should be a difference between Christians and those who are not?"
"Undoubtedly I do. Do _you_ think that every person ought or ought
_not_ to be a Christian?"
Sadie was silent, and a little indignant. After a moment she spoke
again, this time with a touch of hauteur:
"I think you understand what I mean, Doctor, though you would not
admit it for the world. I don't suppose I feel very deeply on the
subject, else I would not advance so trivial an excuse; but this is
honestly my state of mind. Whenever I think about the matter at
all, this thing comes up for consideration. I think it would be very
foolish for me to argue against dancing, for I don't know much about
the arguments, and care less. I know only this much, that there is a
very distinctly defined inconsistency between a profession of religion
and dancing, visible very generally to the eyes of those who make no
profession; the other class don't seem so able to see it; but there
exists very generally among us worldlings a disposition to laugh
a little over dancing Christians. Whether this is a well-founded
inconsistency, or only a foolish prejudice on our part, I have never
taken the trouble to try to determine, and it would make little
material difference which it was--it is enough for me that such is
the case; and it makes it very plain to me that if I were an honest
professor of that religion which leads one of its teachers to say,
'He will eat no meat while the world stands if it makes his brother to
offend,' I should be obliged to give up my dancing. But since I am
not one of that class, and thus have no such influence, I can see no
possible harm in my favorite amusement, and am not ready to give it
up; and that is what I mean by its being innocent for me, and not
innocent for professing Christians."
Dr. Van Anden made no sort of reply, if Sadie could judge from his
face; he seemed to have grown weary of the whole subject; he leaned
back in his carriage, and let the reins fall loosely and carelessly.
His next proceeding was most astounding; coolly possessing himself of
one of the small gloved hands that lay idly in Sadie's lap, he said,
in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone: "Sadie, would you allow me to put my
arm around you?"
In an instant the indignant blood surged in waves over Sadie's face;
the hand was angrily withdrawn, and the graceful form drawn to an
erect hight, and it is impossible to describe the freezing tone of
astonished indignation in which she ejaculated, "Dr. Van Anden!"
"Just what I expected," returned that gentleman in a composed manner,
bestowing a look of entire satisfaction upon his irate companion. "And
yet, Sadie, I hope you will pardon my obtuseness, but I positively
can not see why, if it is proper and courteous, and all that sort of
thing, I, who am a friend of ten years' standing, should not enjoy
the same privilege which you accord to Fred Kenmore, to whom you were
introduced last week, and with whom I heard you say you danced five
Sadie looked confused and annoyed, but finally she laughed; for she
had the good sense to see the folly of doing any thing else under
"That is the point which puzzles me at present," continued the Doctor,
in a kind, grave tone. "I do not understand how young ladies of
refinement can permit, under certain circumstances, and often from
comparative strangers, attentions which, under other circumstances,
they repel with becoming indignation. Won't you consider the apparent
inconsistency a little? It is the only suggestion which I wish to
offer on the question at present. When you have settled that other
important matter, this thing will present itself to your clear-seeing
eyes in other and more startling aspects. Meantime, this is the house
at which I must call. Will you hold my horses, Miss Sadie, while I
dispatch matters within?"
But the autumn days were not _all_ bright, and glowing, and glorious.
One morning it rained--not a soft, silent, and warm rain, but a gusty,
windy, turbulent one; a rain that drove into windows ever so slightly
raised, and hurled itself angrily into your face whenever you ventured
to open a door. It was a day in which fires didn't like to burn, but
smoldered, and sizzled, and smoked; and people went around shivering,
their shoulders shrugged up under little dingy, unbecoming shawls, and
the clouds were low, and gray, and heavy--and every thing and every
body seemed generally out of sorts.
Ester was no exception; the toothache had kept her awake during the
night, and one cheek was puffy and stiff in the morning, and one
tooth still snarled threateningly whenever the slightest whisper of
a draught came to it. The high-toned, exalted views of life and duty
which had held possession of her during the past few weeks seemed
suddenly to have deserted her. In short, her body had gained
that mortifying ascendency over the soul which it will sometimes
accomplish, and all her hopes, and aims, and enthusiasms seemed
blotted out. Things in the kitchen were uncomfortable. Maggie had
seized on this occasion for having the mumps, and acting upon the
advice of her sympathizing mistress, had pinned a hot flannel around
her face and gone to bed. The same unselfish counsel had been given
to Ester, but she had just grace enough left to refuse to desert the
camp, when dinner must be in readiness for twenty-four people in spite
of nerves and teeth. Just here, however, the supply failed her, and
she worked in ominous gloom.
Julia had been pressed into service, and was stoning raisins, or
eating them, a close observer would have found it difficult to
discover which. She was certainly rasping the nerves of her sister
in a variety of those endless ways by which a thoughtless, restless,
questioning child can almost distract a troubled brain. Ester endured
with what patience she could the ceaseless drafts upon her, and worked
at the interminable cookies with commendable zeal. Alfred came with
a bang and a whistle, and held open the side door while he talked.
In rushed the spiteful wind, and all the teeth in sympathy with the
aching one set up an immediate growl.
"Mother, I don't see any. Why, where is mother?" questioned Alfred;
and was answered with an emphatic
"Shut that door!"
"Well, but," said Alfred, "I want mother. I say, Ester, will you give
me a cookie?"
"No!" answered Ester, with energy. "Did you hear me tell you to shut
that door this instant?"
"Well now, don't bite a fellow." And Alfred looked curiously at his
sister. Meantime the door closed with a heavy bang. "Mother, say,
mother," he continued, as his mother emerged from the pantry, "I don't
see any thing of that hammer. I've looked every-where. Mother, can't I
have one of Ester's cookies? I'm awful hungry."
"Why, I guess so, if you are really suffering. Try again for the
hammer, my boy; don't let a poor little hammer get the better of you."
"Well," said Alfred, "I won't," meaning that it should answer the
latter part of the sentence; and seizing a cookie he bestowed a
triumphant look upon Ester and a loving one upon his mother, and
vanished amid a renewal of the whistle and bang.
This little scene did not serve to help Ester; she rolled away
vigorously at the dough, but felt some way disturbed and outraged, and
finally gave vent to her feeling in a peremptory order.
"Julia, don't eat another raisin; you've made away with about half of
Julia looked aggrieved. "Mother lets me eat raisins when I pick them
over for her," was her defense; to which she received no other reply
"Keep your elbows off the table."
Then there was silence and industry for some minutes. Presently Julia
recovered her composure, and commenced with--
"Say, Ester, what makes you prick little holes all over your
"To make them rise better."
"Does every thing rise better after it is pricked?"
Sadie was paring apples at the end table, and interposed at this
"If you find that to be the case, Julia, you must be very careful
after this, or we shall have Ester pricking you when you don't 'rise'
in time for breakfast in the morning."
Julia suspected that she was being made a dupe of, and appealed to her
"_Honestly_, Ester, _do_ you prick them so they will rise better?"
"Of course. I told you so, didn't I?"
"Well, but why does that help them any? Can't they get up unless you
make holes in them, and what is all the reason for it?"
Now, these were not easy questions to answer, especially to a girl
with the toothache, and Ester's answer was not much to the point.
"Julia, I declare you are enough to distract one. If you ask any more
questions I shall certainly send you up stairs out of the way."
Her scientific investigations thus nipped in the bud, Julia returned
again to silence and raisins, until the vigorous beating of some eggs
roused anew the spirit of inquiry. She leaned eagerly forward with a--
"Say, Ester, please tell me why the whites all foam and get thick when
you stir them, just like beautiful white soapsuds." And she rested her
elbow, covered with its blue sleeve, plump into the platter containing
the beaten yolks. You must remember Ester's face-ache, but even then
I regret to say that this disaster culminated in a decided box on the
ear for poor Julia, and in her being sent weeping up stairs. Sadie
looked up with a wicked laugh in her bright eyes, and said, demurely:
"You didn't keep your promise, Ester, and let me live in peace, so
I needn't keep mine and I consider you pretty well out of the spasm
which has lasted for so many days."
"Sadie, I am really ashamed of you." This was Mrs. Ried's grave,
reproving voice; and she added, kindly: "Ester, poor child, I wish you
would wrap your face up in something warm and lie down awhile. I am
afraid you are suffering a great deal."
Poor Ester! It had been a hard day. Late in the afternoon, as she
stood at the table, and cut the bread, and cake, and cheese, and cold
meat for tea; when the sun had made a rift in the clouds, and was
peeping in for good-night; when the throbbing nerves had grown quiet
once more, she looked back upon this weary day in shame and pain. How
very little her noble resolves, and efforts, and advances had been
worth after all. How far back she seemed to have gone in that one
day--not strength enough to bear even the little crosses that befell
in an ordinarily quiet life! How she had lost the so-lately-gained
influence over Alfred and Julia by a few cross words! How much reason
she had given Sadie to think that her attempts at following the Master
were, after all, only spasmodic and visionary! But Ester had been to
that little clothes-press up stairs in search of help and forgiveness,
and now she clearly saw there was something to do besides mourn over
her failures. It was hard to do it, too. Ester's spirit was proud, and
it was very humbling to confess herself in the wrong. She hesitated
and shrank from the work, until she finally grew ashamed of herself
for that; and at last, without turning her head from her work, or
giving her resolve time to falter, she called to the twins, who were
occupying seats in one of the dining-room windows, and talking low and
soberly to each other:
"Children, come here a moment, will you?"
The two had been very shy of Ester since the morning's trials,
and were at that moment sympathizing with each other in a manner
uncomplimentary to her. However, they slid down from their perch and
slowly answered her call.
Ester glanced up as they entered the storeroom, and then went on
cutting her cheese, but speaking in low, gentle tones:
"I want to tell you two how sorry I am that I spoke so crossly and
unkindly to you this morning. It was very wrong in me. I thought I
never should displease Jesus so again, but I did, you see; and now I
am very sorry indeed, and I want you to forgive me."
Alfred looked aghast. This was an Ester that he had never seen before,
and he didn't know what to say. He wriggled the toes of his boots
together, and looked down at them in puzzled wonder. At last he
"I didn't know your cheek ached till mother told me, or else I'd have
shut the door right straight. I'd ought to, _any how_, cheek or no
This last in a lower tone, and more looking down at his boots. It was
new work for Alfred, this voluntarily owning himself in the wrong.
Julia burst forth eagerly. "And I was very careless and naughty to
keep putting my elbows on the table after you had told me not to, and
I am ever so sorry that I made you such a lot of trouble."
"Well, then," said Ester, "we'll all forgive each other, shall we, and
begin over again? And, children, I want you to understand that I _am_
trying to please Jesus; and when I fail it is because of my own wicked
heart, not because there is any need of it if I tried harder; and I
want you to know how anxious I am that you should love this same Jesus
now while you are young, and get him to help you."
Their mother called the children at this moment, and Ester dismissed
them each with a kiss. There was a little rustle in the flour-room,
and Sadie, whom nobody knew was down stairs, emerged therefrom with
suspiciously red eyes but a laughing face, and approached her sister.
"Ester," said she, "I'm positively afraid that you are growing into a
saint, and I know that I'm a sinner. I consider myself mistaken about
the spasm--it is evidently a settled disease."
While the bell tolled for evening service Ester stood in the front
doorway, and looked doubtfully up and down the damp pavements and
muddy streets, and felt of her stiff cheek. How much she seemed to
need the rest and help of God's house to-night; and yet--
Julia's little hand stole softly into hers. "We've been talking about
what you said you wanted us to do, Alfred and I have. We've talked
about it a good deal lately. _We_ most wish so, too."
Ere Ester could reply other than by an eager grasp of the small hand,
Dr. Douglass came out. His horses and carriage were in waiting.
"Miss Ried," he said, pausing irresolutely with his foot on the
carriage step, and finally turning back, "I am going to drive down to
church this evening, as I have a call to make afterward. Will you not
ride down with me; it is unpleasant walking?"
Ester's grave face brightened. "I'm so glad," she answered eagerly.
"I _did_ want to go to church to-night, and I was afraid it would be
imprudent on account of my tooth."
Alfred and Julia sat right before them in church; and Ester watched
them with a prayerful, and yet a sad heart What right had she to
expect an answer to her petitions when her life had been working
against them all that day? And yet the blood of Christ was
all-powerful, and there was always _his_ righteousness to plead; and
she bent her head in renewed supplications for these two, "And it
shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer, and while
they are yet speaking I will hear."
Into one of the breathless stillnesses that came, while beating hearts
were waiting for the requests that they hoped would be made, broke
Julia's low, trembling, yet singularly clear voice:
"Please pray for me."
There was a little choking in Alfred's throat, and a good deal of
shuffling done with his boots. It was so much more of a struggle for
the sturdy boy than the gentle little girl; but he stood manfully on
his feet at last, and his words, though few, were fraught with as much
meaning as any which had been spoken there that evening, for they were
distinct and decided:
THE TIME TO SLEEP
Life went swiftly and busily on. With the close of December the
blessed daily meetings closed, rather they closed with the first week
of the new year, which the church kept as a sort of jubilee week in
honor of the glorious things that had been done for them.
The new year opened in joy for Ester; many things were different. The
honest, straightforward little Julia carried all her earnestness
of purpose into this new life which had possessed her soul; and the
sturdy brother had naturally too decided a nature to do any thing
half-way, so Ester was sure of this young sister and brother. Besides,
there was a new order of things between her mother and herself; each
had discovered that the other was bound on the same journey, and that
there were delightful resting-places by the way.
For herself, she was slowly but surely gaining. Little crosses that
she stooped and resolutely took up grew to be less and less, until
they, some of them, merged into positive pleasures. There were many
things that cast rays of joy all about her path; but there was still
one heavy abiding sorrow. Sadie went giddily and gleefully on her
downward way. If she perchance seemed to have a serious thought at
night it vanished with the next morning's sunshine, and day by day
Ester realized more fully how many tares the enemy had sown while she
was sleeping. Sometimes the burden grew almost too heavy to be borne,
and again she would take heart of grace and bravely renew her efforts
and her prayers. It was about this time that she began to recognize
a new feeling. She was not sick exactly, and yet not quite well. She
discovered, considerably to her surprise, that she was falling into
the habit of sitting down on a stair to rest ere she had reached the
top of the first flight; also, that she was sometimes obliged to stay
her sweeping and clasp her hands suddenly over a strange beating
in her heart. But she laughed at her mother's anxious face, and
pronounced herself quite well, quite well, only perhaps a little
Meantime all sorts of plans for usefulness ran riot in her brain. She
could not go away on a mission because her mission had come to her.
For a wonder she realized that her mother needed her. She took up
bravely and eagerly, so far as she could see it, the work that lay
around her; but her restless heart craved more, more. She _must_ do
something outside of this narrow circle for the Master. One evening
her enthusiasm, which had been fed for several days on a new scheme
that was afloat in the town, reached its hight. Ester remembered
afterward every little incident connected with that evening--just
how cozy the little family sitting-room looked, with her for its only
occupant; just how brightly the coals glowed in the open grate; just
what a brilliant color they flashed over the crimson cushioned rocker,
which she had vacated when she heard Dr. Van Anden's step in the
hall, and went to speak to him. She was engaged in writing a letter to
Abbie, full of eager schemes and busy, bright work. "I am astonished
that I ever thought there was nothing worth living for;" so she wrote.
"Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want to do.
This new idea just fills me with delight. I am so eager to get to
work--" Thus far when she heard that step, and springing up went with
eagerness to the door.
"Doctor, are you in haste? Haven't you just five minutes for me?"
"Ten," answered the Doctor promptly, stepping into the bright little
In her haste, not even waiting to offer him a seat, Ester plunged at
once into her subject.
"Aren't you the chairman of that committee to secure teachers for the
"Have you all the help you want?"
"Not by any means. Volunteers for such a self-denying employment as
teaching factory girls are not easy to find."
"Well, Doctor, do you think--would you be willing to propose my name
as one of the teachers? I should so like to be counted among them."
Instead of the prompt thanks which she expected, to her dismay Dr. Van
Anden's face looked grave and troubled. Finally he slowly shook his
head with a troubled--
"I don't think I can, Ester."
Such an amazed, grieved, hurt look as swept over Ester's face.
"It is no matter," she said at last, speaking with an effort. "Of
course I know little of teaching, and perhaps could do no good; but I
thought if help was scarce you might--well, never mind."
And here the Doctor interposed. "It is not that, Ester," with the
troubled look deepening on his face. "I assure you we would be glad
of your help, but," and he broke off abruptly, and commenced a sudden
pacing up and down the room. Then stopped before her with these
mysterious words: "I don't know how to tell you, Ester."
Ester's look now was one of annoyance, and she spoke quickly.
"Why, Doctor, you need tell me nothing. I am not a child to have the
truth sugar-coated. If my help is not needed, that is sufficient."
"Your help is exactly what we need, Ester, but your health is not
sufficient for the work."
And now Ester laughed. "Why, Doctor, what an absurd idea In a week I
shall be as well as ever. If that is all you may surely count me as
one of your teachers."
The Doctor smiled faintly, and then asked: "Do you never feel any
desire to know what may be the cause of this strange lassitude which
is creeping over you, and the sudden flutterings of heart, accompanied
by pain and faintness, which take you unawares?"
Ester's face paled a little, but she asked, quietly enough: "How do
you know all this?"
"I am a physician, Ester. Do you think it is kindness to keep a friend
in ignorance of what very nearly concerns him, simply to spare his
feelings for a little?"
"Why, Dr. Van Anden, you do not think--you do not mean that--tell me
_exactly what_ you mean."
But the Doctor's answer was grave, anxious, absolute _silence_.
Perhaps the silence answered her--perhaps her own heart told the
secret to her, for a sudden gray palor overspread her face. For an
instant the room darkened and whirled around her, then she staggered
as if she would have fallen, then she reached forward and caught hold
of the little red rocker, and sank into it, and leaning both elbows on
the writing-table before her, buried her face in her hands. Afterward
Ester called to mind the strange whirl of thoughts which thrilled
her brain at that time. Life in all the various phases that she had
thought it would wear for her, all the endless plans that she had
made, all the things that she had meant to _do_ and _be_, came and
stared her in the face. Nowhere in all her plannings crossed by that
strange creature Death; someway she had never planned for that. Could
it be possible that he was to come for her so soon, before any of
these things were done? Was it possible that she must leave Sadie,
bright, brilliant, unsafe Sadie, and go away where she could work for
her no more? Then, like a picture spread before her, there came back
that day in the cars, on her way to New York, the Christian stranger,
who was not a stranger now, but her friend, and was it heaven--the
earnest little old woman with her thoughtful face, and that strange
sentence on her lips: "Maybe my coffin will do it better than I
can." Well, maybe _her_ coffin could do it for Sadie. Oh the blessed
thought! Plans? YES, but perhaps God had plans too. What mattered hers
compared to _HIS_? If he would that she should do her earthly work
by lying down very soon in the unbroken calm of the "rest that
remaineth," "what was that to her?" Presently she spoke without
raising her head.
"Are you very certain of this thing, Doctor, and is it to come to me
"That last we can not tell, dear friend. You _may_ be with us years
yet, and it _may_ be swift and sudden. I think it is worse than
mistaken kindness, it is foolish wickedness, to treat a Christian
woman like a little child. I wanted to tell you before the shock would
be dangerous to you."
"I understand." When she spoke again it was in a more hesitating tone.
"Does Dr. Douglass agree with you?" And the quick, pained way in which
the Doctor answered showed her that he understood.
"Dr. Douglass will not _let_ himself believe it."
Then a long silence fell between them. The Doctor kept his position,
leaning against the mantel, but never for a moment allowed his eyes
to turn away from that motionless figure before him. Only the loving,
pitying Savior knew what was passing in that young heart.
At last she arose and came toward the Doctor, with a strange sweetness
playing about her mouth, and a strange calm in her voice.
"Dr. Van Anden, I am _so_ much obliged to you. Don't be afraid to
leave me now. I think I need to be quite alone."
And the Doctor, feeling that all words were vain and useless, silently
bowed, and softly let himself out of the room.
The first thing upon which Ester's eye alighted when she turned again
to the table was the letter in which she had been writing those last
words: "Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want
to do." Very quietly she picked up the letter and committed it to the
glowing coals upon the grate. Her mood had changed. By degrees, very
quietly and very gradually, as such bitter things _do_ creep in upon a
family, it grew to be an acknowledged fact that Ester was an invalid.
Little by little her circle of duties narrowed, one by one her various
plans were silently given up, the dear mother first, and then
Sadie, and finally the children, grew into the habit of watching her
footsteps, and saving her from the stairs, from the lifting, from
every possible burden. Once in a long while, and then, as the weeks
passed, more frequently, there would come a day in which she did not
get down further than the little sitting-room, but was established
amid pillows on the couch, "enjoying poor health," as she playfully
So softly and silently and surely the shadow crept and crept, until
when June brought roses and Abbie. Ester received her in her own
room, propped up among the pillows in her bed. Gradually they grew
accustomed to that also, as God in his infinite mercy has planned that
human hearts shall grow used to the inevitable. They even told each
other hopefully that the warm weather was what depressed her so much,
and as the summer heat cooled into autumn she would grow stronger.
And she had bright days in which she really seemed to grow strong, and
which deceived every body save Dr. Van Anden and herself.
During one of those bright days Sadie came from school full of a new
idea, and curled herself in front of Ester's couch to entertain her
"Mr. Hammond's last," she said. "Such a curious idea, as like him as
possible, and like nobody else. You know that our class will graduate
in just two years from this time, and there are fourteen of us, an
even number, which is lucky for Mr. Hammond. Well, we are each, don't
you think, to write a letter, as sensible, honest, and piquant as
we can make it, historic, sentimental, poetic, or otherwise, as we
please, so that it be the honest exponent of our views. Then we are to
make a grand exchange of letters among the class, and the young lady
who receives my letter, for instance, is to keep it sealed, and under
lock and key, until graduation day, when it is to be read before
scholars, faculty, and trustees, and my full name announced as the
signature; and all the rest of us are to perform in like manner."
"What is supposed to be the object?" queried Abbie.
"Precisely the point which oppressed us, until Mr. Hammond
complimented us by announcing that it was for the purpose of
discovering how many of us, after making use of our highest skill
in that line, could write a letter that after two years we should be
willing to acknowledge as ours."
Ester sat up flushed and eager. "That is a very nice idea," she said,
brightly. "I'm so glad you told me of it. Sadie, I'll write you a
letter for that day. I'll write it to-morrow, and you are to keep it
sealed until the evening of that day on which you graduate. Then when
you have come up to your room and are quite alone, you are to read it.
Will you promise, Sadie?"
But Sadie only laughed merrily, and said "You are growing sentimental,
Ester, as sure is the world. How can I make any such promise as that?
I shall probably chatter to you like a magpie instead of reading any
This young girl utterly ignored so far as was possible the fact of
Ester's illness, never allowing it to be admitted in her presence
that there were any fears as to the result. Ester had ceased trying
to convince her, so now she only smiled quietly and repeated her
"Will you promise, Sadie?"
"Oh yes, I'll promise to go to the mountains of the moon on foot and
alone, across lots--_any thing_ to amuse you. You're to be pitied, you
see, until you get over this absurd habit of cuddling down among the
So a few days thereafter she received with much apparent glee the
dainty sealed letter addressed to herself, and dropped it in her
writing-desk, but ere she turned the key there dropped a tear or two
on the shining lid.
Well, as the long, hot summer days grew longer and fiercer, the
invalid drooped and drooped, and the home faces grew sadder. Yet
there still came from time to time those rallying days, wherein Sadie
confidently pronounced her to be improving rapidly. And so it came
to pass that so sweet was the final message that the words of the
wonderful old poem proved a Siting description of it all.
"They thought her dying when she slept,
And sleeping when she died."
Into the brightness of the September days there intruded one, wherein
all the house was still, with that strange, solemn stillness that
comes only to those homes where death has left a seal. From the
doors floated the long crape signals, and in the great parlors were
gathering those who had come to take their parting look at the white,
quiet face. "ESTER RIED, aged 19," so the coffin-plate told them. Thus
early had the story of her life been finished.
Only one arrangement had Ester made for this last scene in her life
"I am going to preach my own funeral sermon," she had said pleasantly
to Abbie one day. "I want every one to know what seemed to me the most
important thing in life. And I want them to understand that when I
came just to the end of my life it stood out the most important thing
still--for Christians, I mean. My sermon is to be preached for them.
No it isn't either; it applies equally to all. The last time I went
to the city I found in a bookstore just the kind of sermon I want
preached. I bought it. You will find the package in my upper bureau
drawer, Abbie. I leave it to you to see that they are so arranged that
every one who comes to look at _me_ will be sure to see them."
So on this day, amid the wilderness of flowers and vines and mosses
that had possession of the rooms, ranged along the mantel, hanging in
clusters on the walls, were beautifully illuminated texts--and these
were some of the words that they spoke to those who silently gathered
in the parlors:
"And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of
"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"
"What shall we do that we might work the works of God?"
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there
is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither
"I must work the work of him that sent me while it is day: the night
cometh when no man can work."
"Awake to righteousness and sin not."
"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall
give thee light."
"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
"Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch, and be sober."
Chiming in with the thoughts of those who knew by whose direction the
illuminated texts were hung, came the voice of the minister, reading:
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are
the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit,
that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."
So it was that Ester Ried, lying quiet in her coffin, was reckoned
among that number who "being dead, yet speaketh."
The busy, exciting, triumphant day was done. Sadie Ried was no longer
a school-girl; she had graduated. And although a dress of the softest,
purest white had been substituted for the blue silk, in which she had
so long ago planned to appear, its simple folds had swept the platform
of Music Hall in as triumphant a way as ever she had planned for the
other. More so, for Sadie's wildest flights of fancy had never made
her valedictorian of her class, yet that she certainly was. In some
respects it had been a merry day--the long sealed letters had been
opened and read by their respective holders that morning, and the
young ladies had discovered, amid much laughter and many blushes, that
they were ready to pronounce many of the expressions which they had
carefully made only two years before, "ridiculously out of place" or
"Progress," said Mr. Hammond, turning for a moment to Sadie, after he
had watched with an amused smile the varying play of expression on her
speaking face, while she listened to the reading of her letter.
"You were not aware that you had improved so much in two years, now,
"I was not aware that I ever was such a simpleton!" was her
half-provoked, half-amused reply.
To-night she loitered strangely in the parlors, in the halls, on the
stairs, talking aimlessly with any one who would stop; it was growing
late. Mrs. Ried and the children had long ago departed. Dr. Van Anden
had not yet returned from his evening round of calls. Every body in
and about the house was quiet, ere Sadie, with slow, reluctant steps,
finally ascended the stairs and sought her room. Arrived there, she
seemed in no haste to light the gas; moonlight was streaming into the
room, and she put herself down in front of one of the low windows to
enjoy it. But it gave her a view of the not far distant cemetery, and
gleamed on a marble slab, the lettering of which she knew perfectly
well was--"Ester, daughter of Alfred and Laura Ried, died Sept. 4,
18--, aged 19. Asleep in Jesus--Awake to everlasting life." And that
reminded her, as she had no need to be reminded, of a letter with
the seal unbroken, lying in her writing-desk--a letter which she had
promised to read this evening--promised the one who wrote it for her,
and over whose grave the moonlight was now wrapping its silver robe.