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for her future welfare was such that my pleasure was very great
in discovering that the son was a faithful member of our mission
Sabbath-school, and a thoroughly good man."

"And who is Sallie?" Ester inquired, very much interested.

Mr. Foster's face grew graver. "Sallie is his one treasure, a dear
little girl, one of our mission scholars, and a beautiful example of
how faithful Christ can be to his little lambs."

"What is supposed to be the matter with Sallie?" This question came
from Ralph, who had been half amused, half interested, with the entire
scene.

The gravity on Mr. Foster's face deepened into sternness as he
answered: "Sallie is only one of the many victims of our beautiful
system of public poisoning. The son of her mother's employer, in a
fit of drunken rage, threw her from the very top of a long flight of
stairs, and now she lies warped and misshapen, mourning her life
away. By the way" - he continued, turning suddenly toward Mr. Ried - "I
believe you were asking for arguments to sustain my 'peculiar views.'
Here is one of them: This man of whom I speak, whose crazed brain has
this young sad life and death to answer for, I chance to know to a
certainty commenced his downward career in a certain pleasant parlor
in this city, among a select gathering of friends, taking a quiet
glass of wine!" And Mr. Foster made his adieus very brief, and
departed.

Ralph's laugh was just a little nervous as he said, when the family
were alone: "Foster is very fortunate in having an incident come to
our very door with which to point his theories."

Abbie had deserted her ottoman and taken one close by her father's
side. Now she laid her bright head lovingly against his breast, and
looked with eager, coaxing eyes into his stern gray ones. "Father,"
she said softly, "you'll let your little curly have her own way just
this time, won't you? I will promise not to coax you again until I
want something very bad indeed."

Mr. Ried had decided his plan of action some moments before. He was
prepared to remind his daughter in tones of haughty dignity that
he was "not in the habit of playing the part of a despot in his own
family, and that as she and her future husband were so very positive
in their very singular opinions, and so entirely regardless of his
wishes or feelings, he should, of course, not force his hospitalities
on her guests."

He made one mistake. For just a moment he allowed his eyes to meet
the sweet blue ones, looking lovingly and trustingly into his, and
whatever it was, whether the remembrance that his one daughter was
so soon to go out from her home, or the thought of all the tender and
patient love and care which she had bestowed on him in those early
morning hours, the stern gray eyes grew tender, the haughty lines
about the mouth relaxed, and with a sudden caressing movement of his
hand among the brown curls, he said in a half moved, half playful
tone:

"Did you ever ask any thing of anybody in your life that you didn't
get?" Then more gravely: "You shall have your way once more. Abbie, it
would be a pity to despoil you of your scepter at this late day."

"Fiddlesticks!" ejaculated Mrs. Ried.

Before she had added anything to that original sentiment Abbie was
behind her chair, both arms wound around her neck, and then came soft,
quick, loving kisses on her cheeks, on her lips, on her chin, and even
on her nose.

"Nonsense!" added her mother. Then she laughed. "Your father would
consent to have the ceremony performed in the attic if you should
take a fancy that the parlors are too nicely furnished to suit your
puritanic views and I don't know but I should be just as foolish."

"That man has gained complete control over her," Mrs. Ried said,
looking after Abbie with a little sigh, and addressing her remarks to
Ester as they stood together for a moment in the further parlor. "He
is a first-class fanatic, grows wilder and more incomprehensible in
his whims every day, and bends Abbie to his slightest wish. My only
consolation is that he is a man of wealth and culture, and indeed in
every other respect entirely unexceptionable."

A new light dawned upon Ester. This was the secret of Abbie's
"strangeness." Mr. Foster was one of those rare and wonderful men
about whom one occasionally reads but almost never meets, and of
course Abbie, being so constantly under his influence, was constantly
led by him. Very few could expect to attain to such a hight; certainly
she, with her social disadvantages and unhelpful surroundings, must
not hope for it.

She was rapidly returning to her former state of self-satisfaction.
There were certain things to be done. For instance, that first chapter
of John should receive more close attention at her next reading; and
there were various other duties which should be taken up and carefully
observed. But, on the whole, Ester felt that she had been rather
unnecessarily exercised, and that she must not expect to be perfect.
And so once more there was raised a flag of truce between her
conscience and her life.




CHAPTER XVII.

STEPPING BETWEEN.


They lingered together for a few minutes in the sitting-room, Abbie,
Ester, Ralph and Mr. Foster. They had been having a half sad, half
merry talk. It was the evening before the wedding. Ere this time
to-morrow Abbie would have left them, and in just a little while the
ocean would roll between them. Ester drew a heavy sigh as she thought
of it all. This magic three weeks, which had glowed in beauty for her,
such, as she told herself, her life would never see again, were just
on the eve of departure; only two days now before she would carry that
same restless, unhappy heart back among the clattering dishes in
that pantry and dining-room at home. Ralph broke the little moment of
silence which had fallen between them. "Foster, listen to the sweet
tones of that distant clock. It is the last time that you, being a
free man, will hear it strike five."

"Unless I prove to be an early riser on the morrow, which necessity
will compel me to become if I tarry longer here at present. Abbie,
I must be busy this entire evening. That funeral obliged me to
defer some important business matters that I meant should have been
dispatched early in the day."

"It isn't possible that you have been to a funeral to-day! How you do
mix things." Ralph uttered this sentence in real or pretended horror.

"Why not?" Mr. Foster answered gently, and added: "It is true
though; life and death are very strangely mixed. It was our little
Sabbath-school girl, Sallie, whom we laid to rest to-day. It didn't
jar as some funerals would have done; one had simply to remember that
she had reached home. Miss Ester, if you will get that package for me
I will execute your commission with pleasure."

Ester went away to do his bidding, and Ralph, promising to meet him at
the store in an hour, sauntered away, and for a few moments Abbie and
Mr. Foster talked together alone.

"Good-by all of you," he said smiling, as he glanced back at the two
girls a few moments later. "Take care of her, Ester, until I relieve
you. It will not be long now."

"Take care," Ester answered gaily; "you have forgotten the 'slip' that
there may be 'between the cup and the lip.'"

But he answered her with an almost solemn gravity: "I never forget
that more worthy expression of the same idea, we know not what a day
may bring forth; but I always remember with exceeding joy that God
knows, and will lead us."

"He is graver than ten ministers," Ester said, as they turned from the
window. "Come, Abbie, let us go up stairs."

It was two hours later when Abbie entered the sitting-room where Ester
awaited her, and curled herself into a small heap of white muslin at
Ester's feet.

"There!" said she, with a musical little laugh, "mother has sent me
away. The measure of her disgust is complete now. Dr. Downing is
in the sitting-room, and I have been guilty of going in to see him.
Imagine such a fearful breach of etiquette taking place in the house
of Ried! Do you know, I don't quite know what to do with myself. There
is really nothing more to busy myself about, unless I eat the wedding
cake."

"You don't act in the least like a young lady who is to be married
to-morrow," was Ester's answer, as she regarded her cousin with a half
amused, half puzzled air.

"Don't I?" said Abbie, trying to look alarmed. "What _have_ I done
now? I'm forever treading on bits of propriety, and crushing them. It
will be a real relief to me when I am safely married, and can relapse
into a common mortal again. Why, Ester, what have I been guilty of
just now?"

"You are not a bit sentimental; are you, Abbie?" And at this gravely
put question Abbie's laugh rang out again.

"Now don't, please, add that item to the list," she said merrily.
"Ester, is it very important that one should be sentimental on such
an occasion? I wish you were married, I really do, so that I might
be told just how to conduct my self. How can you and mother be so
unreasonable as to expect perfection when it is all new, and I really
never practiced in my life?" Then a change, as sudden as it was sweet,
flushed over Abbie's face. The merry look died out, and in its place a
gentle, tender softness rested in the bright blue eyes, and her voice
was low and quiet. "You think my mood a strange one, I fancy, dear
Ester; almost unbecoming in its gayety. Perhaps it is, and yet I feel
it bright and glad and happy. The change is a solemn one, but it seems
to me that I have considered it long and well. I remember that my
new home is to be very near my old one; that my brother will have a
patient, faithful, life-long friend in Mr. Foster, and this makes me
feel more hopeful for him - and, indeed, it seems to me that I feel
like repeating, 'The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places.'
I do not, therefore, affect a gravity that I do not feel. I am
gloriously happy to-night, and the strongest feeling in my heart is
thankfulness. My Heavenly Father has brimmed my earthly cup, so that
it seems to me there is not room in my heart for another throb of joy;
and so you see - Ester, what on earth can be going on down stairs?
Have you noticed the banging of doors, and the general confusion that
reigns through the house? Positively if I wasn't afraid of shocking
mother into a fainting fit I would start on a voyage of discovery."

"Suppose I go," Ester answered, laughing. "Inasmuch as I am not going
to be married, there can be no harm in seeing what new developments
there are below stairs. I mean to go. I'll send you word if it is any
thing very amazing."

And with a laughing adieu Ester closed the door on the young
bride-elect, and ran swiftly down stairs. There did seem to be a good
deal of confusion in the orderly household, and the very air of the
hall seemed to be pervaded with a singular subdued excitement; voices
of suppressed loudness issued from the front parlor and as Ester
knocked she heard a half scream from Mrs. Ried, mingled with cries
of "Don't let her in." Growing thoroughly alarmed, Ester now abruptly
pushed open the door and entered.

"Oh, for mercy's sake, don't let her come," almost screamed Mrs. Ried,
starting wildly forward.

"Mother, _hush_!" said Ralph's voice in solemn sternness. "It is only
Ester. Where is Abbie?"

"In her room. What is the matter? Why do you all act so strangely? I
came to see what caused so much noise."

And then her eyes and voice were arrested by a group around the sofa;
Mr. Ried and Dr. Downing, and stooping over some object which was
hidden from her was the man who had been pointed out to her as the
great Dr. Archer. As she looked in terrified amazement, he raised his
head and spoke.

"It is as I feared, Mr. Ried. The pulse has ceased."

"It is not possible!" And the hollow, awestruck tone in which Mr. Ried
spoke can not be described.

And then Ester saw stretched on that sofa a perfectly motionless form,
a perfectly pale and quiet face, rapidly settling into the strange
solemn calm of death, and that face and form were Mr. Foster's! And
she stood as if riveted to the spot; stood in speechless, moveless
horror and amaze - and then the swift-coming thoughts shaped themselves
into two woe-charged words: "Oh Abbie!"

What a household was this into which death had so swiftly and silently
entered! The very rooms in which the quiet form lay sleeping, all
decked in festive beauty in honor of the bridal morning; but oh! there
was to come no bridal.

Ester shrank back in awful terror from the petition that she would go
to Abbie.

"I can not - I _can not_!" she repeated again and again. "It will kill
her; and oh! it would kill me to tell her."

Mrs. Ried was even more hopeless a dependence than Ester; and Mr. Ried
cried out in the very agony of despair: "What _shall_ we do? Is there
_nobody_ to help us?"

Then Ralph came forward, grave almost to sternness, but very calm.
"Dr. Downing," he said, addressing the gentleman who had withdrawn a
little from the family group. "It seems to me that you are our only
hope in this time of trial. My sister and you are sustained, I
verily believe, by the same power. The rest of us seem to _have_ no
sustaining power. Would you go to my sister, sir?"

Dr. Downing turned his eyes slowly away from the calm, moveless face
which seemed to have fascinated him, and said simply: "I will do what
I can for Abbie. It is blessed to think what a Helper she has. One who
never faileth. God pity those who have no such friend."

So they showed him up to the brightly-lighted library, and sent a
message to the unconscious Abbie.

"Dr. Downing," she said, turning briskly from the window in answer to
Maggie's summons. "Whatever does he want of me do you suppose, Maggie?
I'm half afraid of him tonight. However, I'll endeavor to brave the
ordeal. Tell Miss Ester to come up to me as soon as she can, and be
ready to defend me if I am to receive a lecture."

This, as she flitted by toward the door; and a pitying cloud just then
hid the face of the August moon, and vailed from the glance of the
poor young creature the white, frightened face of Maggie.

With what unutterable agony of fear did the family below wait and long
for and dread the return of Dr. Downing, or some message from that
dreadful room. The moments that seemed hours to them dragged on, and
no sound came to them.

"She has not fainted then," muttered Ralph at last, "or he would have
rung. Ester, you know what Maggie said. Could you not go to her?"

Ester cowered and shrunk. "Oh, Ralph, don't ask me. I _can not_."

Then they waited again in silence; and at last shivered with fear as
Dr. Downing softly opened the door. There were traces of deep emotion
on his face, but just now it was wonderful for its calmness.

"She knows all," he said, addressing Mr. Ried. "And the widow's God is
hers. Mrs. Ried, she makes special request that she need see no living
soul to-night; and, indeed, I think it will be best. And now, my
friends, may I pray with you in this hour of trial."

So while quick, skillful fingers prepared the sleeper in that front
parlor for his long, long rest, a group such as had never bowed the
knee together before, knelt in the room just across the hall, and amid
tears and moans they were commended to the care of Him who waits to
help us all.

By and by a solemn quiet settled down upon that strangely stricken
household. In the front parlor the folding doors were closed, and
the angel of death kept guard over his quiet victim. From the chamber
overhead came forth no sound, and none knew save God how fared the
struggle between despair and submission in that young heart. In
the sitting-room Ester waited breathlessly while Ralph gave the
particulars, which she had not until now been able to hear.

"We were crossing just above the store; had nearly got across; he was
just saying that his preparations were entirely perfected for a long
absence. 'It is a long journey,' he added, 'and if I never come back
I have the satisfaction of thinking that I have left everything ready
even for that. It is well to be ready even for death, Ralph,' he said,
with one of his glorious smiles; 'it makes life pleasanter.' I don't
know how I can tell you the rest." And Ralph's lips grew white and
tremulous. "Indeed, I hardly know how it was. There was an old bent
woman crossing just behind us, and there was a carriage, and a wretch
of a drunken driver pushing his way through. I don't know how Foster
came to look around, but he did, and said, 'There is my dear old lady
behind us, Ralph; she ought not to be out with a mere child for a
companion.' And then he uttered an exclamation of terror, and sprang
forward - and I know nothing clearly that followed. I saw him drag
that old woman fairly from under the horses' feet. I heard the driver
curse, and saw him strike his frightened horses, and they reared and
plunged, and I saw him fall; but it all seemed to happen in one second
of time - and how I got him home, and got Dr. Archer, and kept it from
Abbie, I don't seem to know. Oh God help my poor little fair darling."
And Ralph choked and stopped, and wiped from his eyes great burning
tears.

"Oh Ralph!" said Ester, as soon as she could speak. "Then all this
misery comes because that driver was intoxicated."

"Yes," said Ralph, with compressed lips and flashing eyes.

* * * * *

"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of
sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."

Rom. 13: 11.

* * * * *




CHAPTER XVIII.

LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS.


Slowly, slowly, the night wore away, and the eastern sky grew rosy
with the blush of a new morning - the bridal morning! How strangely
unreal, how even impossible did it seem to Ester, as she raised the
curtains and looked drearily out upon the dawn, that this was actually
the day upon which her thoughts had centered during the last three
weeks What a sudden shutting down had there been to all their plans
and preparations! How strangely the house looked - here a room bedecked
in festive beauty for the wedding; there one with shrouded mirrors,
and floating folds of crape! Life and death, a wedding and a
funeral - they had never either of them touched so close to her before;
and now the one had suddenly glided backward, and left her heart heavy
with the coming of the other. Mechanically, she turned to look upon
the silvery garment gleaming among the white furnishings of the bed,
for she was that very morning to have assisted in arraying the bride
in those robes of beauty. Her own careful fingers had laid out all the
bewildering paraphernalia of the dressing-room - sash and gloves, and
handkerchief and laces. Just in that very spot had she stood only
yesterday, and talking the while with Abbie; had altered a knot of
ribbons, and given the ends a more graceful droop, and just at that
moment Abbie had been summoned below stairs to see Mr. Foster - and now
he was waiting down there, not for Abbie, but for the coffin and the
grave, and Abbie was - - . And here Ester gave a low, shuddering moan,
and covered her eyes with her hands. Why had she come into that room
at all? And why was all this fearful time allowed to come to Abbie?
Poor, poor Abbie she had been so bright and so good, and Mr. Foster
had been so entirely her guide - how could she ever endure it? Ester
doubted much whether Abbie could ever bear to see _her_ again, she had
been so closely connected with all these bright days, over which so
fearful a pall had fallen. It would be very natural if she should
refuse even to _see_ her - and, indeed, Ester almost hoped she would.
It seemed to her that this was a woe too deep to be spoken of or
endured, only she said with a kind of desperation, "Things _must_ be
endured;" and there was a wild thought in her heart, that if she could
but have the ordering of events, all this bitter sorrow should never
be. There came a low, tremulous knock as an interruption to her
thoughts, and Maggie's swollen eyes and tear-stained face appeared at
the door with a message.

"If you please, Miss Ester, she wants you."

"Who?" asked Ester, with trembling lips and a sinking at her heart.

"Miss Abbie, ma'am; she asked for you, and said would you come to her
as soon as you could."

But it was hours after that before Ester brought herself to feel that
she _could_ go to her. Nothing had ever seemed so hard to her to do.
How to look, how to act, what to say, and above all, what _not_ to
say to this poor, widowed bride. These questions were by no means
answered, when she suddenly, in desperate haste, decided that if it
must be done, the sooner it was over the better, and she made all
speed to prepare herself for the visit; and yet there was enough of
Ester's personal self left, even on that morning, to send a
little quiver of complacency through her veins, as she bathed her
tear-stained face, and smoothed her disordered hair. Abbie had sent
for _her_. Abbie wanted her; she had sent twice. Evidently she had
turned to her for help. Miserably unable as she felt herself to give
it, still it was a comfort to feel that she was the one selected from
the household for companionship. Ester knew that Mrs. Ried had been
with her daughter for a few moments, and that Ralph had rushed in and
out again, too overcome to stay, but Ester had asked no questions, and
received no information concerning her. She pictured her lying on
the bed, with disordered hair and swollen eyes, given over to the
abandonment of grief, or else the image of stony despair; and it was
with a very trembling hand that at last she softly turned the knob
and let herself into the morning room, which she and Abbie had enjoyed
together; and just as she pushed open the door, a neighboring clock
counted out twelve strokes, and it was at twelve o'clock that Abbie
was to become a wife! Midway in the room Ester paused, and, as her
eyes rested on Abbie, a look of bewildering astonishment gathered
on her face. In the little easy chair by the open window, one hand
keeping the place in the partly closed book, sat the young creature,
whose life had so suddenly darkened around her. The morning robe of
soft pure white was perfect in its neatness and simplicity, the brown
curls clustered around her brow with their wonted grace and beauty,
and while under her eyes indeed there were heavy rings of black, yet
the eyes themselves were large and full and tender. As she held out
the disengaged hand, there came the soft and gentle likeness of a
smile over her face; and Ester, bewildered, amazed, frightened, stood
almost as transfixed as if she had been one of those who saw the angel
sitting at the door of the empty tomb. Stood a moment, then a sudden
revulsion of feeling overcoming her, hurried forward, and dropping on
her knees, bowed her head over the white hand and the half-open Bible,
and burst into a passion of tears.

"_Dear_ Ester!" This said Abbie in the softest, most soothing of
tones. The mourner turned comforter!

"Oh Abbie, Abbie, how can you bear it - how _can_ you live?" burst
forth from the heart of this friend who had come to comfort this
afflicted one!

There was a little bit of silence now, and a touching tremble to the
voice when it was heard again.

"'The Lord knoweth them that are his.' I try to remember that. Christ
knows it all, and he loves me, and he is all-powerful; and yet he
leads me through this dark road; therefore it _must_ be right."

"But," said Ester, raising her eyes and staying her tears for very
amazement, "I do not understand - I do not see. How _can_ you be so
calm, so submissive, at least just now - so soon - and you were to have
been married to-day?"

The blood rolled in great purple waves over neck and cheek and brow,
and then receded, leaving a strange, almost death-like, pallor behind
it. The small hands were tightly clasped, with a strange mixture of
pain and devotion in the movement, and the white lips moved for a
moment, forming words that met no mortal ear - then the sweet, low,
tender voice sounded again.

"Dear Ester, I pray. There is no other way. I pray all the time. I
keep right by my Savior. There is just a little, oh, a very little,
vale of flesh between him and between my - my husband and myself. Jesus
loves me, Ester. I know it now just as well as I did yesterday. I do
not and can not doubt him."

A mixture of awe and pain and astonishment kept Ester moveless and
silent, and Abbie spoke no more for some moments. Then it was a
changed, almost bright voice.

"Ester do you remember we stood together alone for a moment yesterday?


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