Pansy.

Ester Ried online

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


meetings."

Ester sighed heavily. The old difficulty again - things would not be
undone. The weeds which she had been carelessly sowing during all
these past years had taken deep root, and would not give place. After
a moment's silence she spoke again.

"Sadie, answer me just one question. What do you think of Dr.
Douglass?"

Sadie's face darkened ominously. "Never mind what I think of _him_,"
she answered in short, sharp tones, and abruptly left the room.

What she _did_ think of him was this: That he had become that which
he had affected to consider the most despicable thing on earth - a
hypocrite. Remember, she had no personal knowledge of the power of
the Spirit of God over a human soul. She had no conception of how so
mighty a change could be wrought in the space of a few hours, so her
only solution of the mystery was that to serve some end which he had
in view Dr. Douglass had chosen to assume a new character.

Later, on that same day, Sadie encountered Dr. Douglass, rather, she
went to the side piazza equipped for a walk, and he came eagerly from
the west end to speak with her.

"Miss Sadie, I have been watching for you. I have a few words that are
burning to be said."

"Proceed," said Sadie, standing with demurely folded hands, and a mock
gravity in her roguish eyes.

"I want to do justice at this late day to Dr. Van Anden. I misjudged
him, wronged him, perhaps prejudiced you against him. I want to undo
my work."

"Some things can be done more easily than they can be undone," was
Sadie's grave and dignified reply. "You certainly have done your best
to prejudice me against Dr. Van Anden not only, but against all
other persons who hold his peculiar views, and you have succeeded
splendidly. I congratulate you."

That look of absolute pain which she had seen once or twice on this
man's face, swept over it now as he answered her.

"I know - I have been blind and stupid, _wicked_ any thing you will.
Most bitterly do I regret it now; most eager am I to make reparation."

Sadie's only answer was: "What a capital actor you would make, Dr.
Douglass. Are you sure you have not mistaken your vocation?"

"I know what you think of me." This with an almost quivering lip, and
a voice strangely humble and as unlike as possible to any which she
had ever heard from Dr. Douglass before. "You think I am playing a
part. Though what my motive could be I can not imagine, can you? But I
do solemnly assure you that if ever I was sincere in any thing in all
my life I am now concerning this matter."

"There is a most unfortunate 'if' in the way, Doctor. You see, the
trouble is, I have very serious doubts as to whether you ever were
sincere in any thing in your life. As to motives, a first-class
anybody likes to try his power. You will observe that 'I have a very
poor opinion of the world.'"

The Doctor did not notice the quotation of his favorite expression,
but answered with a touch of his accustomed dignity:

"I may have deserved this treatment at your hands, Miss Sadie.
Doubtless I have, although I am not conscious of ever having said to
you any thing which I did not _think_ I _meant_. I have been a _fool_.
I am willing - yes, and anxious to own it. But there are surely some
among your acquaintances whom you can trust if you can not me. I - "

Sadie interrupted him. "For instance, that 'first-class fanatic of the
most objectionable stamp,' the man who Dr. Douglass thought, not three
days ago, ought to be bound by law to keep the peace. I suppose you
would have me unhesitatingly receive every word he says?"

Dr. Douglass' face brightened instantly, and he spoke eagerly:

"I remember those words, Miss Sadie, and just how honestly I spoke
them, and just how bitterly I felt when I spoke them, and I have no
more sure proof that this thing is of God than I have in noting the
wonderful change which has come over my feelings in regard to that
blessed man. I pray God that he may be permitted to speak to your soul
with the tremendous power that he has to mine. Oh, Sadie, I have led
you astray, may I not help you back?"

"I am not a weather-vane, Dr. Douglass, to be whirled about by every
wind of expediency; besides I am familiar with one verse in the Bible,
of which you seem never to have heard: Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap. You have sowed well and faithfully; be content
with your harvest."

I do not know what the pale, grave lips would have answered to this
mocking spirit, for at that moment Dr. Van Anden and the black ponies
whizzed around the corner, and halted before the gate.

"Sadie," said the doctor, "are you in the mood for a ride? I have five
miles to drive."

"Dr. Van Anden," answered Sadie, promptly, "the last time you and I
took a ride together we quarreled."

"Precisely," said the Doctor, bowing low. "Let us take another now and
make up."

"Very well," was the gleeful answer which he received, and in another
minute they were off.

For the first mile or two he kept a tight rein, and let the ponies
skim over the ground in the liveliest fashion, during which time
very little talking was done. After that he slackened his speed, and
leaning back in the carriage addressed himself to Sadie:

"Now we are ready to make up."

"How shall we commence?" asked Sadie, gravely.

"Who quarreled?" answered the Doctor, sententiously.

"Well," said Sadie, "I understand what you are waiting for. You think
I was very rude and unladylike in my replies to you during that
last interesting ride we took. You think I jumped at unwarrantable
conclusions, and used some unnecessarily sharp words. I think so
myself, and if it will be of any service to you to know it, I don't
mind telling you in the least."

"That is a very excellent beginning," answered the Doctor, heartily.
"I think we shall have no difficulty in getting the matter all settled
Now, for my part, it won't sound as well as yours, because however
blunderingly I may have said what I did, I said it honestly, in good
faith, and with a good and pure motive. But I am glad to be able to
say in equal honesty that I believe I was over-cautious, that Dr.
Douglass was never so little worthy of regard as I supposed him to
be, and that nothing could have more rejoiced my heart than the noble
stand which he has so recently taken. Indeed his conduct has been so
noble that I feel honored by his acquaintance."

He was interrupted by a mischievous laugh.

"A mutual admiration society," said Sadie, in her most mocking tone.
"Did you and Dr. Douglass have a private rehearsal? You interrupted
him in a similar rhapsody over your perfections."

Instead of seeming annoyed, Dr. Van Anden's face glowed with pleasure.

"Did he explain to you our misunderstanding?" he asked, eagerly. "That
was very noble in him."

"Of _course_. He is the soul of nobility - a villain yesterday and
a saint to-day. I don't understand such marvelously rapid changes,
Doctor."

"I know you don't," the Doctor answered quietly. "Although you have
exaggerated both terms, yet there is a great and marvelous change,
which must be experienced to be understood. Will you never seek it for
yourself, Sadie?"

"I presume I never shall, as I very much doubt the existence of any
such phenomenon."

The Doctor appeared neither shocked nor surprised, but favored her
with a cool and quiet reply:

"Oh, no, you don't doubt it in the least. Don't try to make yourself
out that foolish and unreasonable creature - an unbeliever in what is
as clear to a thinking mind as is the sun at noonday. You and I have
no need to enter into an argument concerning this matter. You have
seen some unwise and inconsistent acts in many who are called by the
name of Christian. You imagine that they have staggered your belief
in the verity of the thing itself. Yet it is not so. You had a dear
father who lived and died in the faith, and you no more doubt the fact
that he is in heaven to-day, brought there by the power of the Savior
in whom he trusted, than you doubt your own existence at this moment."

Sadie sat silenced and grave; she was very rarely either, perhaps. Dr.
Van Anden was the one person who could have thus subdued her, but
in her inmost heart she felt his words to be true; that dear, _dear_
father, whose weary suffering life had been one long evidence to the
truth of the religion which he professed - yes, it was so, she no more
doubted that he was at this moment in that blessed heaven toward which
his hopes had so constantly tended, than she doubted the shining of
that day's sun - so he, being dead, yet spoke to her. Besides, her keen
judgment had, of late, settled back upon the belief that Dr. Van Anden
lived a life that would bear watching - a true, earnest, manly life;
also, that he was a man not likely to be deceived. So, sitting back
there in the carriage, and appearing to look at nothing, and be
interested in nothing, she allowed herself to take in again the
firm conviction that whatever most lives were, there was always that
father - safe, _safe_ in the Christian's heaven - and there were besides
some few, a very few, she thought; but there were _some_ still living,
whom she knew, yes, actually _knew_, were fitting for that same
far-away, safe place. No, Sadie had stood upon the brink, was standing
there still, indeed; but reason and the long-buried father still kept
her from toppling over into the chasm of settled unbelief. "Blessed
are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the
Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do
follow them."

But something must be said. Sadie was not going to sit there and allow
Dr. Van Anden to imagine that she was utterly quieted and conquered;
she would rather quarrel with him than have that. He had espoused Dr.
Douglass' cause so emphatically, let him argue for him now; there was
nothing like a good sharp argument to destroy the effect of unpleasant
personal questions - so she blazed into sudden indignation:

"I think Dr. Douglass is a hypocrite!"

Nothing could have been more composed than the tone in which she was
answered:

"Very well. What then?"

This question was difficult to answer, and Sadie remaining silent, her
companion continued:

"Mr. Smith is a drunkard; therefore I will be a thief. Is that Miss
Sadie Ried's logic?"

"I don't see the point."

"Don't you? Wasn't that exclamation concerning Dr. Douglass a bit of
hiding behind the supposed sin of another - a sort of a reason why you
were not a Christian, because somebody else pretended to be? Is that
sound logic, Sadie? When your next neighbor in class peeps in her
book, and thereby disgraces herself, and becomes a hypocrite, do
you straightway declare that you will study no more? You see it is
fashionable, in talking of this matter of religion, to drag out the
shortcomings and inconsistencies of others, and try to make of them
a garment to covet our own sins; but it is very senseless, after all,
and you will observe is never done in the discussion of any other
question."

Clearly, Sadie must talk in a common-sense way with this
straightforward man, if she talked at all. Her resolution was suddenly
taken, to say for once just what she meant; and a very grave and
thoughtful pair of eyes were raised to meet the doctor's when next she
spoke.

"I think of these things sometimes, doctor, and though a great deal
of it seems to be humbug, it is as you say - I know _some_ are sincere,
and I know there is a right way. I have been more than half tempted
many times during the last few weeks to discover for myself the secret
of power, but I am deterred by certain considerations, which you
would, doubtless, think very absurd, but which, joined with the
inspiration which I receive from the ridiculous inconsistencies of
others, have been sufficient to deter me hitherto."

"Would you mind telling me some of the considerations?"

And the moment Sadie began to talk honestly, the doctor's tones lost
their half-indifferent coolness, and expressed a kind and thoughtful
interest.

"No," she said, hesitatingly. "I don't know that I need, but you will
not understand them; for instance, if I were a Christian I should have
to give up one of my favorite amusements - almost a passion, you know,
dancing is with me, and I am not ready to yield it."

"Why should you feel obliged to do so if you were a Christian?"

Sadie gave him the benefit of a very searching look. "Don't _you_
think I would be?" she queried, after a moment's silence.

"I haven't said what I thought on that subject, but I feel sure that
it is not the question for you to decide at present; first settle the
all-important one of your personal acceptation of Christ, and then
it will be time to decide the other matter, for or against, as your
conscience may dictate."

"Oh, but," said Sadie, positively, "I know very well what my
conscience would dictate, and I am not ready for it."

"Isn't dancing an innocent amusement?"

"For _me_ yes, but not for a Christian."

"Does the Bible lay down one code of laws for you and another for
Christians?"

"I think so - it says, 'Be not conformed to the world.'"

"Granted; but does it anywhere say to those who are of the world,
'_You_ have a right to do just what you like; that direction does not
apply to you at all, it is all intended for those poor Christians?'"

"Dr. Van Anden," said Sadie with dignity, "don't you think there
should be a difference between Christians and those who are not?"

"Undoubtedly I do. Do _you_ think that every person ought or ought
_not_ to be a Christian?"

Sadie was silent, and a little indignant. After a moment she spoke
again, this time with a touch of hauteur:

"I think you understand what I mean, Doctor, though you would not
admit it for the world. I don't suppose I feel very deeply on the
subject, else I would not advance so trivial an excuse; but this is
honestly my state of mind. Whenever I think about the matter at
all, this thing comes up for consideration. I think it would be very
foolish for me to argue against dancing, for I don't know much about
the arguments, and care less. I know only this much, that there is a
very distinctly defined inconsistency between a profession of religion
and dancing, visible very generally to the eyes of those who make no
profession; the other class don't seem so able to see it; but there
exists very generally among us worldlings a disposition to laugh
a little over dancing Christians. Whether this is a well-founded
inconsistency, or only a foolish prejudice on our part, I have never
taken the trouble to try to determine, and it would make little
material difference which it was - it is enough for me that such is
the case; and it makes it very plain to me that if I were an honest
professor of that religion which leads one of its teachers to say,
'He will eat no meat while the world stands if it makes his brother to
offend,' I should be obliged to give up my dancing. But since I am
not one of that class, and thus have no such influence, I can see no
possible harm in my favorite amusement, and am not ready to give it
up; and that is what I mean by its being innocent for me, and not
innocent for professing Christians."

Dr. Van Anden made no sort of reply, if Sadie could judge from his
face; he seemed to have grown weary of the whole subject; he leaned
back in his carriage, and let the reins fall loosely and carelessly.
His next proceeding was most astounding; coolly possessing himself of
one of the small gloved hands that lay idly in Sadie's lap, he said,
in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone: "Sadie, would you allow me to put my
arm around you?"

In an instant the indignant blood surged in waves over Sadie's face;
the hand was angrily withdrawn, and the graceful form drawn to an
erect hight, and it is impossible to describe the freezing tone of
astonished indignation in which she ejaculated, "Dr. Van Anden!"

"Just what I expected," returned that gentleman in a composed manner,
bestowing a look of entire satisfaction upon his irate companion. "And
yet, Sadie, I hope you will pardon my obtuseness, but I positively
can not see why, if it is proper and courteous, and all that sort of
thing, I, who am a friend of ten years' standing, should not enjoy
the same privilege which you accord to Fred Kenmore, to whom you were
introduced last week, and with whom I heard you say you danced five
times."

Sadie looked confused and annoyed, but finally she laughed; for she
had the good sense to see the folly of doing any thing else under
existing circumstances.

"That is the point which puzzles me at present," continued the Doctor,
in a kind, grave tone. "I do not understand how young ladies of
refinement can permit, under certain circumstances, and often from
comparative strangers, attentions which, under other circumstances,
they repel with becoming indignation. Won't you consider the apparent
inconsistency a little? It is the only suggestion which I wish to
offer on the question at present. When you have settled that other
important matter, this thing will present itself to your clear-seeing
eyes in other and more startling aspects. Meantime, this is the house
at which I must call. Will you hold my horses, Miss Sadie, while I
dispatch matters within?"




CHAPTER XXVI.

CONFUSION - CROSS-BEARING - CONSEQUENCE.


But the autumn days were not _all_ bright, and glowing, and glorious.
One morning it rained - not a soft, silent, and warm rain, but a gusty,
windy, turbulent one; a rain that drove into windows ever so slightly
raised, and hurled itself angrily into your face whenever you ventured
to open a door. It was a day in which fires didn't like to burn, but
smoldered, and sizzled, and smoked; and people went around shivering,
their shoulders shrugged up under little dingy, unbecoming shawls, and
the clouds were low, and gray, and heavy - and every thing and every
body seemed generally out of sorts.

Ester was no exception; the toothache had kept her awake during the
night, and one cheek was puffy and stiff in the morning, and one
tooth still snarled threateningly whenever the slightest whisper of
a draught came to it. The high-toned, exalted views of life and duty
which had held possession of her during the past few weeks seemed
suddenly to have deserted her. In short, her body had gained
that mortifying ascendency over the soul which it will sometimes
accomplish, and all her hopes, and aims, and enthusiasms seemed
blotted out. Things in the kitchen were uncomfortable. Maggie had
seized on this occasion for having the mumps, and acting upon the
advice of her sympathizing mistress, had pinned a hot flannel around
her face and gone to bed. The same unselfish counsel had been given
to Ester, but she had just grace enough left to refuse to desert the
camp, when dinner must be in readiness for twenty-four people in spite
of nerves and teeth. Just here, however, the supply failed her, and
she worked in ominous gloom.

Julia had been pressed into service, and was stoning raisins, or
eating them, a close observer would have found it difficult to
discover which. She was certainly rasping the nerves of her sister
in a variety of those endless ways by which a thoughtless, restless,
questioning child can almost distract a troubled brain. Ester endured
with what patience she could the ceaseless drafts upon her, and worked
at the interminable cookies with commendable zeal. Alfred came with
a bang and a whistle, and held open the side door while he talked.
In rushed the spiteful wind, and all the teeth in sympathy with the
aching one set up an immediate growl.

"Mother, I don't see any. Why, where is mother?" questioned Alfred;
and was answered with an emphatic

"Shut that door!"

"Well, but," said Alfred, "I want mother. I say, Ester, will you give
me a cookie?"

"No!" answered Ester, with energy. "Did you hear me tell you to shut
that door this instant?"

"Well now, don't bite a fellow." And Alfred looked curiously at his
sister. Meantime the door closed with a heavy bang. "Mother, say,
mother," he continued, as his mother emerged from the pantry, "I don't
see any thing of that hammer. I've looked every-where. Mother, can't I
have one of Ester's cookies? I'm awful hungry."

"Why, I guess so, if you are really suffering. Try again for the
hammer, my boy; don't let a poor little hammer get the better of you."

"Well," said Alfred, "I won't," meaning that it should answer the
latter part of the sentence; and seizing a cookie he bestowed a
triumphant look upon Ester and a loving one upon his mother, and
vanished amid a renewal of the whistle and bang.

This little scene did not serve to help Ester; she rolled away
vigorously at the dough, but felt some way disturbed and outraged, and
finally gave vent to her feeling in a peremptory order.

"Julia, don't eat another raisin; you've made away with about half of
them now."

Julia looked aggrieved. "Mother lets me eat raisins when I pick them
over for her," was her defense; to which she received no other reply
than -

"Keep your elbows off the table."

Then there was silence and industry for some minutes. Presently Julia
recovered her composure, and commenced with -

"Say, Ester, what makes you prick little holes all over your
biscuits?"

"To make them rise better."

"Does every thing rise better after it is pricked?"

Sadie was paring apples at the end table, and interposed at this
point -

"If you find that to be the case, Julia, you must be very careful
after this, or we shall have Ester pricking you when you don't 'rise'
in time for breakfast in the morning."

Julia suspected that she was being made a dupe of, and appealed to her
older sister:

"_Honestly_, Ester, _do_ you prick them so they will rise better?"

"Of course. I told you so, didn't I?"

"Well, but why does that help them any? Can't they get up unless you
make holes in them, and what is all the reason for it?"

Now, these were not easy questions to answer, especially to a girl
with the toothache, and Ester's answer was not much to the point.

"Julia, I declare you are enough to distract one. If you ask any more
questions I shall certainly send you up stairs out of the way."

Her scientific investigations thus nipped in the bud, Julia returned
again to silence and raisins, until the vigorous beating of some eggs
roused anew the spirit of inquiry. She leaned eagerly forward with a -

"Say, Ester, please tell me why the whites all foam and get thick when
you stir them, just like beautiful white soapsuds." And she rested her
elbow, covered with its blue sleeve, plump into the platter containing
the beaten yolks. You must remember Ester's face-ache, but even then
I regret to say that this disaster culminated in a decided box on the
ear for poor Julia, and in her being sent weeping up stairs. Sadie
looked up with a wicked laugh in her bright eyes, and said, demurely:

"You didn't keep your promise, Ester, and let me live in peace, so
I needn't keep mine and I consider you pretty well out of the spasm
which has lasted for so many days."

"Sadie, I am really ashamed of you." This was Mrs. Ried's grave,
reproving voice; and she added, kindly: "Ester, poor child, I wish you
would wrap your face up in something warm and lie down awhile. I am
afraid you are suffering a great deal."

Poor Ester! It had been a hard day. Late in the afternoon, as she
stood at the table, and cut the bread, and cake, and cheese, and cold
meat for tea; when the sun had made a rift in the clouds, and was
peeping in for good-night; when the throbbing nerves had grown quiet
once more, she looked back upon this weary day in shame and pain. How
very little her noble resolves, and efforts, and advances had been
worth after all. How far back she seemed to have gone in that one
day - not strength enough to bear even the little crosses that befell
in an ordinarily quiet life! How she had lost the so-lately-gained
influence over Alfred and Julia by a few cross words! How much reason
she had given Sadie to think that her attempts at following the Master
were, after all, only spasmodic and visionary! But Ester had been to
that little clothes-press up stairs in search of help and forgiveness,
and now she clearly saw there was something to do besides mourn over
her failures. It was hard to do it, too. Ester's spirit was proud, and
it was very humbling to confess herself in the wrong. She hesitated
and shrank from the work, until she finally grew ashamed of herself
for that; and at last, without turning her head from her work, or
giving her resolve time to falter, she called to the twins, who were


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 15 of 17)