Ester Ried online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in a corner, and went out to the piazza to ask Dr. Douglass if he knew
of an article in the entire round of Materia Medica which could be
given to human beings when they were sour and disagreeable, and which,
after the manner of soda in dough, would immediately work a reform.
On his acknowledging his utter ignorance of any such principle, I
advanced the idea that cooking was a much more developed science than
medicine; thence followed an animated discussion.

"But in the meantime what do you suppose that bread was doing? Just
spreading itself in the most remarkable manner over the nice blanket
under which I had cuddled it! Then I had an amazing time. Mother
said the patting process must all be done over again; and there was
abundant opportunity for more moralizing. That bread developed the
most remarkable stick-to-a-tive-ness that I ever beheld. I assure you,
if total depravity is a mark of humanity, then I believe my dough is

"Well, we are all still alive, though poor Mr. Holland is, I fear,
very little more than that. He was thrown from his carriage one
evening last week, and brought home insensible. He is now in a raging
fever, and very ill indeed. For once in their lives both doctors
agree. He is delirious most of the time; and his delirium takes the
very trying form which leads him to imagine that only mother can do
any thing for him. The doctors think he fancies she is his own mother,
and that he is a boy again. All this makes matters rather hard on
mother. She is frequently with him half the night; and often Maggie
and I are left to reign supreme in the kitchen for the entire day.
Those are the days that 'try men's souls,' especially women's.

"I am sometimes tempted to think that all the book knowledge the world
contains is not to be compared to knowing just what, and how, and
when, to do in the kitchen. I quite think so for a few hours when
mother, after a night of watching in a sick room, comes down to undo
some of my blundering. She is the patientest, dearest, lovingest,
kindest mother that ever a mortal had, and just because she is so
patient shall I rejoice over the day when she can give a little sigh
of relief and leave the kitchen, calm in the assurance that it will
be right-side up when she returns. Ester, how _did_ you make things
go right? I'm sure I try harder than I ever knew you to, and yet salt
will get into cakes and puddings, and sugar into potatoes. Just here
I'm conscience smitten. I beg you will not construe one of the above
sentences as having the remotest allusion to your being sadly missed
at home. Mother said I was not even to _hint_ such a thing, and I'm
sure I haven't. I'm a _remarkable_ housekeeper. The fall term at the
academy opened week before last. I have hidden my school-books behind
that old barrel in the north-east corner of the attic. I thought they
would be safer there than below stairs. At least I was sure the bread
would do better in the oven because of their ascent.

"To return to the scene of our present trials: Mr. Holland is, I
suppose, very dangerously sick; and poor Mrs. Holland is the very
embodiment of despair. When I look at her in prospective misery, I
am reminded of poor, dear cousin Abbie (to whom I would write if it
didn't seem a sacrilege), and I conclude there is really more misery
in this world of ours than I had any idea of. I've discovered why
the world was made round. It must be to typify our lives - sort of a
tread-mill existence, you know; coming constantly around to the things
which you thought you had done yesterday and put away; living over
again to-day the sorrows which you thought were vanquished last week.
I'm sleepy, and it is nearly time to bake cakes for breakfast. 'The
tip of the morning to you,' as Patrick O'Brien greets Maggie.

"Yours nonsensically; SADIE."



Over this letter Ester had laughed and cried, and finally settled, as
we found her, into quiet thought. When Abbie came in after a little,
and nestled on an ottoman in front of her, with an inquiring look,
Ester placed the letter in her hands, without note or comment, and
Abbie read and laughed considerably, then grew more sober, and at last
folded the letter with a very thoughtful face.

"Well," said Ester, at last, smiling a little.

And Abbie answered: "Oh, Ester."

"Yes," said Ester, "you see they need me."

Then followed a somewhat eager, somewhat sorrowful talk, and then a
moment of silence fell between them, which Abbie broke by a sudden

"Ester, isn't this Dr. Douglass gaining some influence over Sadie?
Have I imagined it, or does she speak of him frequently in her
letters, in a way that gives me an idea that his influence is not for

"I'm afraid it is very true; his influence over her seems to be great,
and it certainly is not for good. The man is an infidel, I think. At
least he is very far indeed from being a Christian. Do you know I
read a verse in my Bible this morning which, when I think of my past
influence over Sadie, reminds me bitterly of myself. It was like this:
'While men slept his enemy came and sowed tares - .' If I had not been
asleep I might have won Sadie for the Savior before this enemy came."

"Well," Abbie answered gently, not in the least contradicting this sad
statement, but yet speaking hopefully, "you will try to undo all this

"Oh, Abbie, I don't know. I am so weak - like a child just beginning to
take little steps alone, instead of being the strong disciple that I
might have been. I distrust myself. I am afraid."

"I'm not afraid for you," Abbie said, speaking very earnestly.
"Because, in the first place you are unlike the little child, in that
you must never even try to take one step _alone_. And besides, there
are more verses in the Bible than that one. See here, let me show you

And Abbie produced her little pocket Bible, and pointed with her
finger while Ester read; "When I am weak, then am I strong." Then
turning the leaves rapidly, as one familiar with the strongholds of
that tower of safety, she pointed again, and Ester read: "What time I
am afraid, I will trust in thee."

Almost five o'clock of a sultry October day, one of those days which
come to us sometimes during that golden month, like a regretful
turning back of the departing summer. A day which, coming to people
who have much hard, pressing work, and who are wearied and almost
stifled with the summer's heat, makes them thoroughly uncomfortable,
not to say cross. Almost five o'clock, and in the great dining-room of
the Rieds Sadie was rushing nervously back and forth, very much in
the same manner that Ester was doing on that first evening of our
acquaintance, only there was not so much method in her rushing. The
curtains were raised as high as the tapes would take them, and the
slant rays of the yellow sun were streaming boldly in, doing their
bravest to melt into oil the balls of butter on the table, for poor,
tired, bewildered Sadie had forgotten to let down the shades, and
forgotten the ice for the butter, and had laid the table cloth
crookedly, and had no time to straighten it. This had been one of
her trying days. The last fierce look of summer had parched anew
the fevered limbs of the sufferer up stairs, and roused to sharper
conflict the bewildered brain. Mrs. Ried's care had been earnest and
unremitting, and Sadie, in her unaccustomed position of mistress below
stairs, had reached the very verge of bewildered weariness. She gave
nervous glances at the inexorable clock as she flew back and forth.
There were those among Mrs. Ried's boarders whose business made
it almost a necessity that they should be promptly served at five
o'clock. Maggie had been hurriedly summoned to do an imperative errand
connected with the sick room; and this inexperienced butterfly, with
her wings sadly drooping, was trying to gather her scattered wits
together sufficiently to get that dreadful tea-table ready for the
thirteen boarders who were already waiting the summons.

"What _did_ I come after?" she asked herself impatiently, as she
pressed her hand to her frowning forehead, and stared about the pantry
in a vain attempt to decide what had brought her there in such hot
haste. "Oh, a spoon - no, a fork, I guess it was. Why, I don't remember
the forks at all. As sure as I'm here, I believe they are, too,
instead of being on the table; and - Oh, my patience, I believe those
biscuits are burning. I wonder if they are done. Oh, dear me!" And
the young lady, who was Mr. Hammond's star scholar, bent with puzzled,
burning face, and received hot whiffs of breath from the indignant
oven while she tried to discover whether the biscuits were ready to be
devoured. It was an engrossing employment. She did not hear the sound
of carriage wheels near the door, nor the banging of trunks on the
side piazza. She was half way across the dining-room, with her tin of
puffy biscuits in her hands, with the puzzled, doubtful look still on
her face, before she felt the touch of two soft, loving arms around
her neck, and turning quickly, she screamed, rather than said: "Oh,
Ester!" And suddenly seating her tin of biscuit on one chair and
herself on another, Sadie covered her face with both hands and
actually cried.

"Why, Sadie, you poor dear child, what _can_ be the matter?"

And Ester's voice was full of anxiety, for it was almost the first
time that she had ever seen tears on that bright young face.

Sadie's first remark caused a sudden revulsion of feeling. Springing
suddenly to her feet, she bent anxious eyes on the chair full of

"Oh, Ester," she said, "_are_ these biscuits done, or will they be
sticky and hateful in the middle?"

_How_ Ester laughed! Then she came to the rescue. "_Done_ - of course
they are, and beautifully, too. Did you make them? Here, I'll take
them out. Sadie, where is mother?"

"In Mr. Holland's room. She has been there nearly all day. Mr. Holland
is no better, and Maggie has gone on an errand for them. Why have you
come? Did the fairies send you?"

"And where are the children?"

"They have gone to walk. Minie wanted mother every other minute,
so Alfred and Julia have carried her off with them. Say, you _dear_
Ester, how _did_ you happen to come? How shall I be glad enough to see

Ester laughed. "Then I can't see any of them," she said by way of
answer. "Never mind, then we'll have some tea. You poor child, how
very tired you look. Just seat yourself in that chair, and see if I
have forgotten how to work."

And Sadie, who was thoroughly tired, and more nervous than she had any
idea she could be, leaned luxuriously back in her mother's chair, with
a delicious sense of unresponsibility about her, and watched a magic
spell come over the room. Down came the shades in a twinkling, and the
low red sun looked in on them no more; the table-cloth straightened
itself; pickles and cheese and cake got out of their confused
proximity, and marched each to their appropriate niche on the
well-ordered table; a flying visit into well-remembered regions
returned hard, sparkling, ice-crowned butter. And when at last the
fragrant tea stood ready to be served, and Ester, bright and smiling,
stationed herself behind her mother's chair, Sadie gave a little
relieved sigh, and then she laughed.

"You're straight from fairy land, Ester; I know it now. That
table-cloth has been crooked in spite of me for a week. Maggie lays
it, and I _can not_ straighten it. I don't get to it. I travel five
hundred miles every night to get this supper ready, and it's never
ready. I have to bob up for a fork or a spoon, or I put on four plates
of butter and none of bread. Oh there is witch work about it, and
none but thoroughbred witches can get every thing, every little
insignificant, indispensable thing on a table. I can't keep house."

"You poor kitten," said Ester, filled with very tender sympathy for
this pretty young sister and feeling very glad indeed that she had
come home, "Who would think of expecting a butterfly to spin? You
shall bring those dear books down from the attic to-morrow. In the
meantime, where is the tea-bell?"

"Oh, we don't ring," said Sadie, rising as she spoke. "The noise
disturbs Mr. Holland. Here comes my first lieutenant, who takes charge
of that matter. My sister, Miss Ried, Dr. Douglass."

And Ester, as she returned the low, deferential bow bestowed upon her,
felt anew the thrill of anxiety which had come to her of late when she
thought of this dangerous stranger in connection with her beautiful,
giddy, unchristian sister.

On the whole, Ester's home coming was pleasant. To be sure it was a
wonderful change from her late life; and there was perhaps just the
faintest bit of a sigh as she drew off her dainty cuffs and prepared
to wipe the dishes which Sadie washed, while Maggie finished her
interrupted ironing. What would John, the stylish waiter at Uncle
Ralph's, think if he could see her now, and how funny Abbie would look
engaged in such employment; but Sadie looked so bright and relieved
and rested, and chatted so gayly, that presently Ester gave another
little sigh and said:

"Poor Abbie! how very, _very_ lonely she must be to-night. I wish she
were here for you to cheer her, Sadie."

Later, while she dipped into the flour preparatory to relieving Sadie
of her fearful task of sponge setting, the kitchen clock struck seven.
This time she laughed at the contrast. They were just going down to
dinner now at Uncle Ralph's. Only night before last she was there
herself. She had been out that day with Aunt Helen, and so was attired
in the lovely blue silk and the real laces, which were Aunt Helen's
gift, fastened at the throat by a tiny pearl, Abbie's last offering.
Now they were sitting down to dinner without her, and she was in the
great pantry five hundred miles away, a long, wide calico apron quite
covering up her traveling dress, sleeves rolled above her elbows,
and engaged in scooping flour out of the barrel into her great wooden
bowl! But then how her mother's weary, careworn face had brightened,
and glowed into pleased surprise as she caught the first glimpse of
her; how lovingly she had folded her in those dear _motherly_ arms,
and said, actually with lips all a tremble: "My _dear_ daughter! what
an unexpected blessing, and what a kind providence, that you have come
just now." Then Alfred and Julia had been as eager and jubilant
in their greeting as though Ester had been always to them the very
perfection of a sister; and hadn't little Minie crumpled her dainty
collar into an unsightly rag, and given her "Scotch kisses," and
"Dutch kisses," and "Yankee kisses," and genuine, sweet baby kisses,
in her uncontrollable glee over dear "Auntie Essie."

And besides, oh besides! this Ester Ried who had come home was not
the Ester Ried who had gone out from them only two months ago. A
whole lifetime of experience and discipline seemed to her to have been
crowded into those two months. Nothing of her past awakened more keen
regret in this young girl's heart than the thought of her undutiful,
unsisterly life. It was all to be different now. She thanked God that
he had let her come back to that very kitchen and dining-room to undo
her former work. The old sluggish, selfish spirit had gone from her.
Before this every thing had been done for Ester Ried, now it was to be
done for Christ - _every thing_, even the mixing up of that flour and
water; for was not the word given: "_Whatsoever_ ye do, do all to the
glory of God?" How broad that word was, "whatsoever." Why that covered
every movement - yes, and every word. How _could_ life have seemed to
her dull and uninteresting and profitless?

Sadie hushed her busy tongue that evening as she saw in the moonlight
Ester kneeling to pray; and a kind of awe stole over her for a
moment as she saw that the kneeler seemed unconscious of any earthly
presence. Somehow it struck Sadie as a different matter from any
kneeling which she had ever watched in the moonlight before.

And Ester, as she rested her tired, happy head upon her own pillow,
felt this word ringing sweetly in her heart: "And ye are Christ's, and
Christ is God's."



Ester was winding the last smooth coil of hair around her head when
Sadie opened her eyes the next morning.

"My!" she said. "Do you know, Ester, it is perfectly delightful to
me to lie here and look at you, and remember that I shall not be
responsible for those cakes this morning? They shall want a pint of
soda added to them for all that I shall need to know or care."

Ester laughed. "You will surely have _your_ pantry well stocked
with soda," she said, gayly. "It seems to have made a very strong
impression on your mind."

But the greeting had chimed with her previous thoughts and sounded
pleasant to her. She had come home to be the helper; her mother and
Sadie should feel and realize after this how very much of a helper
she could be. That very day should be the commencement of her old, new
life. It was baking day - her detestation heretofore, her pleasure now.
No more useful day could be chosen. How she would dispatch the pies
and cakes and biscuits, to say nothing of the wonderful loaves of
bread. She smiled brightly on her young sister, as she realized in
a measure the weight of care which she was about to lift from her
shoulders; and by the time she was ready for the duties of the day she
had lived over in imagination the entire routine of duties connected
with that busy, useful, happy day. She went out from her little
clothes-press wrapped in armor - the pantry and kitchen were to be
her battle-field, and a whole host of old temptations and trials
were there to be met and vanquished. So Ester planned, and yet it so
happened that she did not once enter the kitchen during all that long
busy day, and Sadie's young shoulders bore more of the hundred
little burdens of life that Saturday than they had ever felt before.
Descending the stairs, Ester met Dr. Van Anden for the first time
since her return. He greeted her with a hurried "good-morning," quite
as if he had seen her only the day before, and at once pressed her
into service:

"Miss Ester, will you go to Mr. Holland immediately? I can not find
your mother. Send Mrs. Holland from the room, she excites him. Tell
her _I_ say she must come immediately to the sitting-room; I wish to
see her. Give Mr. Holland a half teaspoonful of the mixture in the
wine-glass every ten minutes, and on no account leave him until I
return, which will be as soon as possible."

And seeming to be certain that his directions would be followed, the
doctor vanished.

For only about a quarter of a minute did Ester stand irresolute. Dr.
Van Anden's tone and manner were full of his usual authority - a habit
with him which had always annoyed her. She shrank with a feeling
amounting almost to terror from a dark, quiet room, and the position
of nurse. Her base of operations, according to her own arrangements,
had been the light, airy kitchen, where she felt herself needed at
this very moment. But one can think of several things in a quarter
of a minute. Ester had very lately taken up the habit of securing one
Bible verse as part of her armor to go with her through the day. On
this particular morning the verse was: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to
do, do it with thy might." Now if her hands had found work waiting for
her down this first flight of stairs instead of down two, as she had
planned, what was that to her? Ester turned and went swiftly to
the sick room, dispatched the almost frantic wife according to the
doctor's peremptory orders, gave the mixture as directed, waited
patiently for the doctor's return, only to hear herself installed as
head nurse for the day; given just time enough to take a very hurried
second table meal with Sadie, listen to her half pitiful, half comic
complainings, and learn that her mother was down with sick headache.

So it was that this first day at home drew toward its closing; and not
one single thing that Ester had planned to do, and do so well, had she
been able to accomplish. It had been very hard to sit patiently there
and watch the low breathings of that almost motionless man on the bed
before her, to rouse him at set intervals sufficiently to pour some
mixture down his unwilling lips, to fan him occasionally, and that
was all. It had been hard, but Ester had not chafed under it; she had
recognized the necessity - no nurse to be found, her mother sick, and
the young, frightened, as well as worn-out wife, not to be trusted.
Clearly she was at the post of duty. So as the red sun peeped in a
good-night from a little corner of the closed curtain, it found Ester
not angry, but _very_ sad. _Such_ a weary day! And this man on the
bed was dying; both doctors had _looked_ that at each other at least
a dozen times that day. How her life of late was being mixed up with
death. She had just passed through one sharp lesson, and here at the
threshold awaited another. Different from that last though - oh, _very_
different - and herein lay some of the sadness. Mr. Foster had said
"every thing was ready for the long journey, even should there be no
return." Then she went back for a minute to the look of glory on that
marble face, and heard again that wonderful sentence: "_So_ he giveth
his beloved sleep." But this man here! every thing had not been made
ready by him. So at least she feared. Yet she was conscious, professed
Christian though she had been, living in the same house with him for
so many years, that she knew very little about him. She had seen much
of him, had talked much with him, but she had never mentioned to him
the name of Christ, the name after which she called herself. The sun
sank lower, it was almost gone; this weary day was nearly done; and
very sad and heavy-hearted felt this young watcher - the day begun in
brightness was closing in gloom. It was not all so clear a path as
she had thought; there were some things that she could not undo. Those
days of opportunity, in which she might at least have invited this man
to Jesus, were gone; it seemed altogether probable that there would
never come another. There was a little rustle of the drapery about the
bed, and she turned suddenly, to meet the great searching eyes of the
sick man, bent full upon her. Then he spoke in low, but wonderfully
distinct and solemn tones. And the words he slowly uttered were yet
more startling:

"Am I going to die?"

Oh, what _was_ Ester to say? How those great bright eyes searched her
soul! Looking into them, feeling the awful solemnity of the question,
she could not answer "No;" and it seemed almost equally impossible
to tell him "Yes." So the silence was unbroken, while she trembled
in every nerve, and felt her face blanch before the continued gaze of
those mournful eyes. At length the silence seemed to answer him;
for he turned his head suddenly from her, and half buried it in the
pillow, and neither spoke nor moved.

That awful silence! That moment of opportunity, perhaps the last of
earth for him, perhaps it was given to her to speak to him the last
words that he would ever hear from mortal lips. What _could_ she say?
If she only knew how - only had words. Yet _something_ must be said.

Then there came to Ester one of those marked Bible verses which had of
late grown so precious, and her voice, low and clear, filled the blank
in the room.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."

No sound from the quiet figure on the bed. She could not even tell if
he had heard, yet perhaps he might, and so she gathered them, a little
string of wondrous pearls, and let them fall with soft and gentle
cadence from her lips.

"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

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 12 of 17)