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I will tell you what he said, the last words that were intended for
just me only, that I shall hear for a little while; they are _my_
words, you know, but I shall tell them to you so you may see how
tender Christ is, even in his most solemn chastenings. 'See here,' he
said, 'I will give you a word to keep until we meet in the morning:
The Lord watch between thee and me while we are absent one from
another.' I have been thinking, while I sat here this morning,
watching the coming of this new day, which you know is his first day
in heaven, that perhaps it will be on some such morning of beauty as
this that my long, long day will dawn, and that I will say to him, as
soon as ever I see his face again: 'The word was a good one; the Lord
has watched between us, and the night is gone.' Think of it, Ester. I
shall _surely_ say that some day - 'some summer morning.'"

The essence of sweetness and the sublimity of faith which this young
Christian threw into these jubilant words can not be repeated on
paper; but, thank God, they can in the heart - they are but the echo of
those sure and everlasting words: "My grace is sufficient for thee."
As for Ester, who had spent her years groveling in the dust of earth,
it was the recital of such an experience as she had not deemed it
possible for humanity to reach. And still she knelt immovable and
silent, and Abbie broke the silence yet again.

"Dear Ester, do you know I have not seen him yet, and I want to.
Mother does not understand, and she would not give her consent, but
she thinks me safe while you are with me. Would you mind going down
with me just to look at his face again?"

Oh, Ester would mind it _dreadfully_. She was actually afraid of
death. She was afraid of the effect of such a scene upon this strange
Abbie. She raised her head, shivering with pain and apprehension,
and looked a volume of petition and remonstrance; but ere she spoke
Abbie's hand rested lovingly on her arm, and her low sweet voice
continued the pleading:

"You do not quite understand my mood, Ester. I am not unlike others;
I have wept bitter tears this past night; I have groaned in agony of
spirit; I have moaned in the very dust. I shall doubtless have such
struggles again. This is earth, and the flesh is weak; but now is
my hour of exaltation - and while it is given me now to feel a faint
overshadowing of the very glory which surrounds him, I want to go and
look my last upon the dear clay which is to stay here on earth with
me."

And Ester rose up, and wound her arm about the tiny frame which held
this brave true heart, and without another spoken word the two went
swiftly down the stairs, and entered the silent, solemn parlor. Yet,
even while she went, a fierce throb of pain shook Ester's heart, as
she remembered how they had arranged to descend the staircase on
this very day - in what a different manner, and for what a different
purpose. Apparently no such thought as this touched Abbie. She went
softly and yet swiftly forward to the still form, while Ester waited
in almost breathless agony to see what would result from this trial of
faith and nerve; but what a face it was upon which death had left its
seal! No sculptured marble was ever so grand in its solemn beauty as
was this clay-molded face, upon which the glorious smile born not of
earth rested in full sweetness. Abbie, with clasped hands and slightly
parted lips, stood and almost literally drank in the smile; then,
sweet and low and musical, there broke the sound of her voice in that
great solemn room.

"So he giveth his beloved sleep."

Not another word or sound disturbed the silence. And still Abbie stood
and gazed on the dear, dead face. And still Ester stood near the
door, and watched with alternations of anxiety and awe the changeful
expressions on the scarcely less white face of the living, until at
last, without sound or word, she dropped upon her knees, a cloud of
white drapery floating around her, and clasped her hands over the
lifeless breast. Then on Ester's face the anxiety gave place to awe,
and with softly moving fingers she opened the door, and with noiseless
tread went out into the hall and left the living and the dead alone
together.

There was one more scene for Ester to endure that day. Late in the
afternoon, as she went to the closed room, there was bending over the
manly form a gray-haired old woman. By whose friendly hands she had
been permitted to enter, Ester did not stop to wonder. She had seen
her but once before, but she knew at a glance the worn, wrinkled face;
and, as if a picture of the scene hung before her, she saw that old,
queer form, leaning trustfully on the strong arm, lying nerveless now,
being carefully helped through the pushing throng - being reverently
cared for as if she had been his mother; and _she_, looking after the
two, had wondered if she should ever see them again. Now she stood
in the presence of them both, yet what an unmeasurable ocean rolled
between them! The faded, tearful eyes were raised to her face after
a moment, and a quivering voice spoke her thoughts aloud, rather than
addressed any body. "He gave his life for poor old useless me, and it
was such a beautiful life, and was needed, oh so much; but what am
I saying, God let it be him instead of me, who wanted so to go - and
after trusting him all along, am I, at my time of life, going to
murmur at him now? He came to see me only yesterday" - this in a more
natural tone of voice, addressed to Ester - "he told me good-by. He
said he was going a long journey with his wife; and now, may the dear
Savior help the poor darling, for he has gone his long journey without
her."

Ester waited to hear not another word. The heavy sense of pain because
of Abbie, which she had carried about with her through all that weary
day, had reached its height with that last sentence: "He has gone his
long journey without her."

She fled from the room, up the stairs, to the quiet little chamber,
which had been given to her for her hours of retirement, locked and
bolted the door, and commenced pacing up and down the room in agony of
soul.

It was not all because of Abbie that this pain knocked so steadily at
her heart, at least not all out of sympathy with her bitter sorrow.
There was a fearful tumult raging in her own soul; her last stronghold
had been shattered. Of late she had come to think that Abbie's
Christian life was but a sweet reflection of Mr. Foster's strong, true
soul; that she leaned not on Christ, but on the arm of flesh. She had
told herself very confidently that if _she_ had such a friend as he
had been to Abbie, she should be like her. In her hours of rebellion
she had almost angrily reminded herself that it was not strange that
Abbie's life could be so free from blame; _she_ had some one to turn
to in her needs. It was a very easy matter for Abbie to slip lightly
over the petty trials of her life, so long as she was surrounded and
shielded by that strong, true love. But now, ah now, the arm of flesh
had faltered, the strong staff had broken, and broken, too, only a
moment, as it were, before it was to have been hers in name as well as
in spirit. Naturally, Ester had expected that the young creature, so
suddenly shorn of her best and dearest, would falter and faint,
and utterly fail. And when, looking on, she saw the triumph of the
Christian's faith, rising even over death, sustained by no human arm,
and yet wonderfully, triumphantly sustained, even while she bent
for the last time over that which was to have been her earthly
all - looking and wondering, there suddenly fell away from her the
stupor of years, and Ester saw with wide, open eyes, and thoroughly
awakened soul, that there was a something in this Christian religion
that Abbie had and she had not.

And thus it was that she paced her room in that strange agony that was
worse than grief, and more sharp than despair. No use now to try to
lull her conscience back to quiet sleep again; that time was past,
it was thoroughly and sharply awake; the same All-wise hand which had
tenderly freed one soul from its bonds of clay and called it home, had
as tenderly and as wisely, with the same stroke, cut the cords that
bound this other soul to earth, loosed the scales from her long-closed
eyes, broke the sleep that had well-nigh lulled her to ruin; and now
heart and brain and conscience were thoroughly and forever awake.

When at last, from sheer exhaustion, she ceased her excited pacing
up and down the room and sank into a chair, her heart was not more
stilled. It seemed to her, long after, in thinking of this hour,
that it was given to her to see deeper into the recesses of her own
depravity than ever mortal had seen before. She began years back,
at that time when she thought she had given her heart to Christ, and
reviewed step by step all the weary way, up to this present time;
and she found nothing but backslidings, and inconsistencies, and
confusion - denials of her Savior, a closed Bible, a neglected closet,
a forgotten cross. Oh, the bitterness, the unutterable agony of that
hour! Surely Abbie, on her knees struggling with her bleeding heart,
and yet feeling all around and underneath her the everlasting arms,
knew nothing of desolation such as this.

Fiercer and fiercer waged the warfare, until at last every root of
pride, or self-complacence, or self-excuse, was utterly cast out. Yet
did not Satan despair. Oh, he meant to have this poor sick, weak lamb,
if he could get her; no effort should be left unmade. And when he
found that she could be no more coaxed and lulled and petted into
peace, he tried that darker, heavier temptation - tried to stupefy her
into absolute despair. "No," she said within her heart, "I am not a
Christian; I never have been one; I never _can_ be one. I've been a
miserable, self-deceived hypocrite all my life. I have had a name
to live, and am dead. I would not let myself be awakened; I have
struggled against it; I have been only too glad to stop myself from
thinking about it. I have been just a miserable stumbling-block, with
no excuse to offer; and now I feel myself deserted, justly so. There
can be no rest for such as I. I have no Savior; I have insulted and
denied him; I have crucified him again, and now he has left me to
myself."

Thus did that father of lies continue to pour into this weary soul the
same old story which he has repeated for so many hundred years, with
the same old foundation: "_I - I - I_." And strange to say, this poor
girl repeated the experience which has so many times been lived,
during these past hundreds of years, in the very face of that other
glorious pronoun, in very defiance, it would seem, to that old,
old explanation: "Surely _he_ hath borne our griefs and carried our
sorrows." "_He_ was wounded for our transgressions; _he_ was bruised
for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon _him_: and
with _his stripes_ we are healed."

Yes, Ester knew those two verses. She knew yet another which said:
"All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned every one to his
own way: _and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all_."

And yet she dared to sit with hopeless, folded hand, with heavy
despairing eyes, and repeat that sentence: "I _have_ no Savior now."
And many a wandering sheep has dared, even in its repenting hour,
to insult the great Shepherd thus. Ester's Bible lay on the window
seat - the large, somewhat worn Bible which Abbie had lent her, to
"mark just as much as she pleased;" it lay open, as if it had opened
of itself to a familiar spot. There were heavy markings around several
of the verses, markings that had not been made by Ester's pencil.
Some power far removed from that which had been guiding her despairing
thoughts prompted her to reach forth her hand for the book, and fix
her attention on those marked verses, and the words were these: "For
thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name
is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of
a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend
forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail
before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his
covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and
he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways,
and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him
and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to
him that is afar off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and _I
will heal him_."

Had an angel spoken to Ester, or was it the dear voice of the Lord
himself? She did not know. She only knew that there rang through her
very soul two sentences as the climax of all these wonderful words:
"Peace, peace to him that is afar off" - and - "I will heal him."

A moment more, and with the very promise of the Crucified spread
out before her, Ester was on her knees; and at first, with bursts of
passionate, tearful pleading, and later with low, humble, contrite
tones, and finally with the sound in her voice of that peace which
comes only to those to whom Christ is repeating: "I have blotted out
as a cloud thy transgressions, and as a thick cloud thy sins," did
Ester pray.

"Do you know, dear Ester, there must have been two new joys in heaven
to-day? First they had a new-comer among those who walk with him in
white, for they are worthy; and then they had that shout of triumph
over another soul for whom Satan has struggled fiercely and whom he
has forever lost." This said Abbie, as they nestled close together
that evening in the "purple twilight."

And Ester answered simply and softly: Amen.




CHAPTER XIX.

SUNDRIES.


Meanwhile the days moved on; the time fixed for Ester's return home
had long passed, and yet she tarried in New York. Abbie clung to her,
wanted her for various reasons; and the unselfish, pitying mother, far
away, full of tender sympathy for the stricken bride, smothered a sigh
of weariness, buried in her heart the thought of her own need of her
eldest daughter's presence and help, and wrote a long, loving letter,
jointly to the daughter and niece, wherein she gave her full consent
to Ester's remaining away, so long as she could be a comfort to her
cousin.

Two items worthy of record occurred during these days. The first time
the family gathered at the dinner table, after the one who had been
so nearly a son of the house had been carried to his rest in that
wonderful and treasured city of Greenwood, Ralph, being helped by
John, as usual, to his glass of wine, refused it with a short, sharp,
almost angry "_No_. Take it away and never offer me the accursed stuff
again. We should have had him with us to-day but for that. I'll never
touch another drop of it as long as I live."

Which startling words Mr. and Mrs. Ried listened to without comment,
other than a half-frightened look bestowed on Abbie, to see how she
would bear this mention of her dead; and she bore it this way. Turning
her eyes, glistening with tears, full on her brother's face, she said,
with a little quiver of tender gladness in her voice:

"Oh, Ralph, I knew it had a silver lining, but I did not think God
would let me see it so soon."

Then Mr. and Mrs. Ried concluded that both their children were queer,
and that they did not understand them. The other item was productive
of a dissertation on propriety from Mrs. Ried.

Ralph and his father were in the back parlor, the former standing with
one arm resting on the mantel while he talked with his father, who was
half buried in a great easy chair - that easy chair in his own elegant
parlor, and his handsome son standing before him in that graceful
attitude, were Mr. Ried's synonyms for perfect satisfaction; and his
face took on a little frown of disappointment, as the door opened
somewhat noisily, and Mrs. Ried came in wearing a look expressive
of thoroughly-defined vexation. Ralph paused in the midst of his
sentence, and wheeled forward a second easy chair for his mother, then
returned to his former position and waited patiently for the gathered
frown to break into words, which event instantly occurred.

"I really do not think, Mr. Ried, that this nonsense ought to be
allowed; besides being a very strange, unfeeling thing to do, it is in
my opinion positively indecent - and I _do_ think, Mr. Ried, that you
ought to exercise your authority for once."

"If you would kindly inform me what you are supposed to be talking
about, and where my authority is specially needed at this time, I
might be induced to consider the matter."

This, from the depths of the easy chair, in its owner's most
provokingly indifferent tone, which fortunately Mrs. Ried was too much
preoccupied to take special note of, and continued her storm of words.

"Here, it is not actually quite a week since he was buried, and Abbie
must needs make herself and her family appear perfectly ridiculous by
making her advent in public."

Mr. Ried came to an upright posture, and even Ralph asked a startled
question:

"Where is she going?"

"Why, where do you suppose, but to that absurd little prayer-meeting,
where she always would insist upon going every Thursday evening. I
used to think it was for the pleasure of a walk home with Mr. Foster;
but why she should go to-night is incomprehensible to me."

"Nonsense!" said Mr. Ried, settling back into the cushions. "A large
public that will be. I thought at the very least she was going to the
opera. If the child finds any comfort in such an atmosphere, where's
the harm? Let her go."

"Where's the harm! Now, Mr. Ried, that is just as much as you care
for appearances _sometimes_, and at other times you can be quite as
particular as _I_ am; though I certainly believe there is nothing that
Abbie might take a fancy to do that you would not uphold her in."

Mr. Ried's reply was uttered in a tone that impressed one with the
belief that he was uttering a deliberate conviction.

"You are quite right as regards that, I suspect. At least I find
myself quite unable to conceive of any thing connected with her that
could by any twisting be made other than just the thing."

Mrs. Ried's exasperated answer was cut short by the entrance of Abbie,
attired as for a walk or ride, the extreme pallor of her face and the
largeness of her soft eyes enhanced by the deep mourning robes which
fell around her like the night.

"Now, Abbie," said Mrs. Ried, turning promptly to her, "I did hope
you had given up this strangest of all your strange whims. What _will_
people think?"

"People are quite accustomed to see me there, dear mother, at least
all the people who will see me to-night; and if _ever_ I needed help I
do just now."

"I should think it would be much more appropriate to stay at home and
find help in the society of your own family. That is the way other
people do who are in affliction."

Mrs. Ried had the benefit of a full, steady look from Abbie's great
solemn eyes now, as she said:

"Mother, I want God's help. No other will do me any good."

"Well," answered Mrs. Ried, after just a moment of rather awe-struck
silence, "can't you find that help any where but in that plain,
common little meeting-house? I thought people with your peculiar views
believed that God was every-where."

An expression not unlike that of a hunted deer shone for a moment in
Abbie's eyes. Then she spoke, in tones almost despairing:

"O mother, _mother_, you _can not_ understand."

Tone, or words, or both, vexed Mrs. Ried afresh, and she spoke with
added sharpness.

"At least I can understand this much, that my daughter is very anxious
to do a thing utterly unheard of in its propriety, and I am thoroughly
ashamed of you. If I were Ester I should not like to uphold you in
such a singularly conspicuous parade. Remember, you have no one _now_
but John to depend upon as an escort."

Ralph had remained a silent, immovable listener to this strange, sad
conversation up to this moment. Now he came suddenly forward with a
quick, firm tread, and encircled Abbie's trembling form with his arm,
while with eyes and voice he addressed his mother.

"In that last proposition you are quite mistaken, my dear mother.
Abbie chances to have a brother, who considers himself honored by
being permitted to accompany her any where she may choose to go."

Mrs. Ried looked up at her tall, haughty son in unfeigned
astonishment, and for an instant was silent.

"Oh," she said at last, "if you have chosen to rank yourself on this
ridiculous fanatical side, I have nothing more to say."

As for Mr. Ried, he had long before this shadded his eyes with his
hand, and was looking through half-closed fingers with mournful eyes
at the sable robes and pallid face of his golden-haired darling,
apparently utterly unconscious of or indifferent to the talk that was
going on.

But will Ralph ever forget the little sweet smile which illumined for
a moment the pure young face, as she turned confiding eyes on him?

Thenceforth there dawned a new era in Abbie's life. Ralph, for
reasons best known to himself, chose to be released from his vacation
engagements in a neighboring city, and remained closely at home. And
Abbie went as usual to her mission-class, to her Bible-class, to
the teacher's prayer-meeting, to the regular church prayer-meeting,
every-where she had been wont to go, and she was always and
every-where accompanied and sustained by her brother.

As for Ester, these were days of great opportunity and spiritual
growth to her.

So we bridge the weeks between and reach the afternoon of a September
day, bright and beautiful, as the month draws toward its closing; and
Ester is sitting alone in her room in the low, easy chair by the
open window, and in her lap lies an open letter, while she, with
thoughtful, earnest eyes seems reading, not it, but the future, or
else her own heart. The letter is from Sadie, and she has written
thus:

"MY DEAR CITY SISTER, - Mother said to-night, as we were promenading
the dining-room for the sake of exercise, and also to clear off the
table (Maggie had the toothache and was off duty): 'Sadie, my dear
child, haven't you written to Ester yet? Do you think it is quite
right to neglect her so, when she must be very anxious to hear from
home?' Now, you know, when mother says, 'Sadie, my dear child,' and
looks at me from out those reproachful eyes of hers, there is nothing
short of mixing a mess of bread that I would not do for her. So here I
am - place, third story front; time, 11:30 P.M.; position, foot of the
bed (Julia being soundly sleeping at the head), one gaiter off and one
gaiter on, somewhat after the manner of 'my son John' so renowned in
history. Speaking of bread, how abominably that article can act. I had
a solemn conflict with a batch of it this morning. Firstly, you must
know, I forgot it. Mother assured me it was ready to be mixed before
I awakened, so it must have been before that event took place that
the forgetfulness occurred; however, be that as it may, after I was
thoroughly awake, and up, and _down_, I still forgot it. The fried
potatoes were frying themselves fast to that abominable black dish
in which they are put to sizzle, and which, by the way, is the most
nefarious article in the entire kitchen list to get clean (save
and excepting the dish-cloth). Well, as I was saying, they burned
themselves, and I ran to the rescue. Then Minie wanted me to go to
the yard with her, to see a 'dear cunning little brown and gray
thing, with some greenish spots, that walked and spoke to her.' The
interesting stranger proved to be a fair-sized frog! While examining
into, and explaining minutely the nature and character and occupations
of the entire frog family, the mixture in the tin pail, behind the
kitchen stove, took that opportunity to _sour_. My! what a bubble
it was in, and what an interesting odor it emitted, when at last I
returned from frogdom to the ordinary walks of life, and gave it my
attention. Maggie was above her elbows in the wash-tub, so I seized
the pail, and in dire haste and dismay ran up two flights of stairs
in search of mother. I suppose you know what followed. I assure you,
I think mothers and soda are splendid! What a remarkable institution
that ingredient is. While I made sour into sweet with the aid of its
soothing proclivities, I moralized; the result of which was that after
I had squeezed and mushed and rolled over, and thumped and patted my
dough the requisite number of times, I tucked it away under blankets


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