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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
the moonlight.

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.

"Dr. Gilbert."

"Dr. Gilbert?"

"Yes, sir."

"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
good-evening, sir?"

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

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Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 14 of 17)