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occupying seats in one of the dining-room windows, and talking low and
soberly to each other:

"Children, come here a moment, will you?"

The two had been very shy of Ester since the morning's trials,
and were at that moment sympathizing with each other in a manner
uncomplimentary to her. However, they slid down from their perch and
slowly answered her call.

Ester glanced up as they entered the storeroom, and then went on
cutting her cheese, but speaking in low, gentle tones:

"I want to tell you two how sorry I am that I spoke so crossly and
unkindly to you this morning. It was very wrong in me. I thought I
never should displease Jesus so again, but I did, you see; and now I
am very sorry indeed, and I want you to forgive me."

Alfred looked aghast. This was an Ester that he had never seen before,
and he didn't know what to say. He wriggled the toes of his boots
together, and looked down at them in puzzled wonder. At last he
faltered out:

"I didn't know your cheek ached till mother told me, or else I'd have
shut the door right straight. I'd ought to, _any how_, cheek or no
cheek."

This last in a lower tone, and more looking down at his boots. It was
new work for Alfred, this voluntarily owning himself in the wrong.

Julia burst forth eagerly. "And I was very careless and naughty to
keep putting my elbows on the table after you had told me not to, and
I am ever so sorry that I made you such a lot of trouble."

"Well, then," said Ester, "we'll all forgive each other, shall we, and
begin over again? And, children, I want you to understand that I _am_
trying to please Jesus; and when I fail it is because of my own wicked
heart, not because there is any need of it if I tried harder; and I
want you to know how anxious I am that you should love this same Jesus
now while you are young, and get him to help you."

Their mother called the children at this moment, and Ester dismissed
them each with a kiss. There was a little rustle in the flour-room,
and Sadie, whom nobody knew was down stairs, emerged therefrom with
suspiciously red eyes but a laughing face, and approached her sister.

"Ester," said she, "I'm positively afraid that you are growing into a
saint, and I know that I'm a sinner. I consider myself mistaken about
the spasm - it is evidently a settled disease."

While the bell tolled for evening service Ester stood in the front
doorway, and looked doubtfully up and down the damp pavements and
muddy streets, and felt of her stiff cheek. How much she seemed to
need the rest and help of God's house to-night; and yet -

Julia's little hand stole softly into hers. "We've been talking about
what you said you wanted us to do, Alfred and I have. We've talked
about it a good deal lately. _We_ most wish so, too."

Ere Ester could reply other than by an eager grasp of the small hand,
Dr. Douglass came out. His horses and carriage were in waiting.

"Miss Ried," he said, pausing irresolutely with his foot on the
carriage step, and finally turning back, "I am going to drive down to
church this evening, as I have a call to make afterward. Will you not
ride down with me; it is unpleasant walking?"

Ester's grave face brightened. "I'm so glad," she answered eagerly.
"I _did_ want to go to church to-night, and I was afraid it would be
imprudent on account of my tooth."

Alfred and Julia sat right before them in church; and Ester watched
them with a prayerful, and yet a sad heart What right had she to
expect an answer to her petitions when her life had been working
against them all that day? And yet the blood of Christ was
all-powerful, and there was always _his_ righteousness to plead; and
she bent her head in renewed supplications for these two, "And it
shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer, and while
they are yet speaking I will hear."

Into one of the breathless stillnesses that came, while beating hearts
were waiting for the requests that they hoped would be made, broke
Julia's low, trembling, yet singularly clear voice:

"Please pray for me."

There was a little choking in Alfred's throat, and a good deal of
shuffling done with his boots. It was so much more of a struggle for
the sturdy boy than the gentle little girl; but he stood manfully on
his feet at last, and his words, though few, were fraught with as much
meaning as any which had been spoken there that evening, for they were
distinct and decided:

"Me, too."




CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TIME TO SLEEP


Life went swiftly and busily on. With the close of December the
blessed daily meetings closed, rather they closed with the first week
of the new year, which the church kept as a sort of jubilee week in
honor of the glorious things that had been done for them.

The new year opened in joy for Ester; many things were different. The
honest, straightforward little Julia carried all her earnestness
of purpose into this new life which had possessed her soul; and the
sturdy brother had naturally too decided a nature to do any thing
half-way, so Ester was sure of this young sister and brother. Besides,
there was a new order of things between her mother and herself; each
had discovered that the other was bound on the same journey, and that
there were delightful resting-places by the way.

For herself, she was slowly but surely gaining. Little crosses that
she stooped and resolutely took up grew to be less and less, until
they, some of them, merged into positive pleasures. There were many
things that cast rays of joy all about her path; but there was still
one heavy abiding sorrow. Sadie went giddily and gleefully on her
downward way. If she perchance seemed to have a serious thought at
night it vanished with the next morning's sunshine, and day by day
Ester realized more fully how many tares the enemy had sown while she
was sleeping. Sometimes the burden grew almost too heavy to be borne,
and again she would take heart of grace and bravely renew her efforts
and her prayers. It was about this time that she began to recognize
a new feeling. She was not sick exactly, and yet not quite well. She
discovered, considerably to her surprise, that she was falling into
the habit of sitting down on a stair to rest ere she had reached the
top of the first flight; also, that she was sometimes obliged to stay
her sweeping and clasp her hands suddenly over a strange beating
in her heart. But she laughed at her mother's anxious face, and
pronounced herself quite well, quite well, only perhaps a little
tired.

Meantime all sorts of plans for usefulness ran riot in her brain. She
could not go away on a mission because her mission had come to her.
For a wonder she realized that her mother needed her. She took up
bravely and eagerly, so far as she could see it, the work that lay
around her; but her restless heart craved more, more. She _must_ do
something outside of this narrow circle for the Master. One evening
her enthusiasm, which had been fed for several days on a new scheme
that was afloat in the town, reached its hight. Ester remembered
afterward every little incident connected with that evening - just
how cozy the little family sitting-room looked, with her for its only
occupant; just how brightly the coals glowed in the open grate; just
what a brilliant color they flashed over the crimson cushioned rocker,
which she had vacated when she heard Dr. Van Anden's step in the
hall, and went to speak to him. She was engaged in writing a letter to
Abbie, full of eager schemes and busy, bright work. "I am astonished
that I ever thought there was nothing worth living for;" so she wrote.
"Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want to do.
This new idea just fills me with delight. I am so eager to get to
work - " Thus far when she heard that step, and springing up went with
eagerness to the door.

"Doctor, are you in haste? Haven't you just five minutes for me?"

"Ten," answered the Doctor promptly, stepping into the bright little
room.

In her haste, not even waiting to offer him a seat, Ester plunged at
once into her subject.

"Aren't you the chairman of that committee to secure teachers for the
evening school?"

"I am."

"Have you all the help you want?"

"Not by any means. Volunteers for such a self-denying employment as
teaching factory girls are not easy to find."

"Well, Doctor, do you think - would you be willing to propose my name
as one of the teachers? I should so like to be counted among them."

Instead of the prompt thanks which she expected, to her dismay Dr. Van
Anden's face looked grave and troubled. Finally he slowly shook his
head with a troubled -

"I don't think I can, Ester."

Such an amazed, grieved, hurt look as swept over Ester's face.

"It is no matter," she said at last, speaking with an effort. "Of
course I know little of teaching, and perhaps could do no good; but I
thought if help was scarce you might - well, never mind."

And here the Doctor interposed. "It is not that, Ester," with the
troubled look deepening on his face. "I assure you we would be glad
of your help, but," and he broke off abruptly, and commenced a sudden
pacing up and down the room. Then stopped before her with these
mysterious words: "I don't know how to tell you, Ester."

Ester's look now was one of annoyance, and she spoke quickly.

"Why, Doctor, you need tell me nothing. I am not a child to have the
truth sugar-coated. If my help is not needed, that is sufficient."

"Your help is exactly what we need, Ester, but your health is not
sufficient for the work."

And now Ester laughed. "Why, Doctor, what an absurd idea In a week I
shall be as well as ever. If that is all you may surely count me as
one of your teachers."

The Doctor smiled faintly, and then asked: "Do you never feel any
desire to know what may be the cause of this strange lassitude which
is creeping over you, and the sudden flutterings of heart, accompanied
by pain and faintness, which take you unawares?"

Ester's face paled a little, but she asked, quietly enough: "How do
you know all this?"

"I am a physician, Ester. Do you think it is kindness to keep a friend
in ignorance of what very nearly concerns him, simply to spare his
feelings for a little?"

"Why, Dr. Van Anden, you do not think - you do not mean that - tell me
_exactly what_ you mean."

But the Doctor's answer was grave, anxious, absolute _silence_.

Perhaps the silence answered her - perhaps her own heart told the
secret to her, for a sudden gray palor overspread her face. For an
instant the room darkened and whirled around her, then she staggered
as if she would have fallen, then she reached forward and caught hold
of the little red rocker, and sank into it, and leaning both elbows on
the writing-table before her, buried her face in her hands. Afterward
Ester called to mind the strange whirl of thoughts which thrilled
her brain at that time. Life in all the various phases that she had
thought it would wear for her, all the endless plans that she had
made, all the things that she had meant to _do_ and _be_, came and
stared her in the face. Nowhere in all her plannings crossed by that
strange creature Death; someway she had never planned for that. Could
it be possible that he was to come for her so soon, before any of
these things were done? Was it possible that she must leave Sadie,
bright, brilliant, unsafe Sadie, and go away where she could work for
her no more? Then, like a picture spread before her, there came back
that day in the cars, on her way to New York, the Christian stranger,
who was not a stranger now, but her friend, and was it heaven - the
earnest little old woman with her thoughtful face, and that strange
sentence on her lips: "Maybe my coffin will do it better than I
can." Well, maybe _her_ coffin could do it for Sadie. Oh the blessed
thought! Plans? YES, but perhaps God had plans too. What mattered hers
compared to _HIS_? If he would that she should do her earthly work
by lying down very soon in the unbroken calm of the "rest that
remaineth," "what was that to her?" Presently she spoke without
raising her head.

"Are you very certain of this thing, Doctor, and is it to come to me
soon?"

"That last we can not tell, dear friend. You _may_ be with us years
yet, and it _may_ be swift and sudden. I think it is worse than
mistaken kindness, it is foolish wickedness, to treat a Christian
woman like a little child. I wanted to tell you before the shock would
be dangerous to you."

"I understand." When she spoke again it was in a more hesitating tone.
"Does Dr. Douglass agree with you?" And the quick, pained way in which
the Doctor answered showed her that he understood.

"Dr. Douglass will not _let_ himself believe it."

Then a long silence fell between them. The Doctor kept his position,
leaning against the mantel, but never for a moment allowed his eyes
to turn away from that motionless figure before him. Only the loving,
pitying Savior knew what was passing in that young heart.

At last she arose and came toward the Doctor, with a strange sweetness
playing about her mouth, and a strange calm in her voice.

"Dr. Van Anden, I am _so_ much obliged to you. Don't be afraid to
leave me now. I think I need to be quite alone."

And the Doctor, feeling that all words were vain and useless, silently
bowed, and softly let himself out of the room.

The first thing upon which Ester's eye alighted when she turned again
to the table was the letter in which she had been writing those last
words: "Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want
to do." Very quietly she picked up the letter and committed it to the
glowing coals upon the grate. Her mood had changed. By degrees, very
quietly and very gradually, as such bitter things _do_ creep in upon a
family, it grew to be an acknowledged fact that Ester was an invalid.
Little by little her circle of duties narrowed, one by one her various
plans were silently given up, the dear mother first, and then
Sadie, and finally the children, grew into the habit of watching her
footsteps, and saving her from the stairs, from the lifting, from
every possible burden. Once in a long while, and then, as the weeks
passed, more frequently, there would come a day in which she did not
get down further than the little sitting-room, but was established
amid pillows on the couch, "enjoying poor health," as she playfully
phrased it.

So softly and silently and surely the shadow crept and crept, until
when June brought roses and Abbie. Ester received her in her own
room, propped up among the pillows in her bed. Gradually they grew
accustomed to that also, as God in his infinite mercy has planned that
human hearts shall grow used to the inevitable. They even told each
other hopefully that the warm weather was what depressed her so much,
and as the summer heat cooled into autumn she would grow stronger.
And she had bright days in which she really seemed to grow strong, and
which deceived every body save Dr. Van Anden and herself.

During one of those bright days Sadie came from school full of a new
idea, and curled herself in front of Ester's couch to entertain her
with it.

"Mr. Hammond's last," she said. "Such a curious idea, as like him as
possible, and like nobody else. You know that our class will graduate
in just two years from this time, and there are fourteen of us, an
even number, which is lucky for Mr. Hammond. Well, we are each, don't
you think, to write a letter, as sensible, honest, and piquant as
we can make it, historic, sentimental, poetic, or otherwise, as we
please, so that it be the honest exponent of our views. Then we are to
make a grand exchange of letters among the class, and the young lady
who receives my letter, for instance, is to keep it sealed, and under
lock and key, until graduation day, when it is to be read before
scholars, faculty, and trustees, and my full name announced as the
signature; and all the rest of us are to perform in like manner."

"What is supposed to be the object?" queried Abbie.

"Precisely the point which oppressed us, until Mr. Hammond
complimented us by announcing that it was for the purpose of
discovering how many of us, after making use of our highest skill
in that line, could write a letter that after two years we should be
willing to acknowledge as ours."

Ester sat up flushed and eager. "That is a very nice idea," she said,
brightly. "I'm so glad you told me of it. Sadie, I'll write you a
letter for that day. I'll write it to-morrow, and you are to keep it
sealed until the evening of that day on which you graduate. Then when
you have come up to your room and are quite alone, you are to read it.
Will you promise, Sadie?"

But Sadie only laughed merrily, and said "You are growing sentimental,
Ester, as sure is the world. How can I make any such promise as that?
I shall probably chatter to you like a magpie instead of reading any
thing."

This young girl utterly ignored so far as was possible the fact of
Ester's illness, never allowing it to be admitted in her presence
that there were any fears as to the result. Ester had ceased trying
to convince her, so now she only smiled quietly and repeated her
petition.

"Will you promise, Sadie?"

"Oh yes, I'll promise to go to the mountains of the moon on foot and
alone, across lots - _any thing_ to amuse you. You're to be pitied, you
see, until you get over this absurd habit of cuddling down among the
pillows."

So a few days thereafter she received with much apparent glee the
dainty sealed letter addressed to herself, and dropped it in her
writing-desk, but ere she turned the key there dropped a tear or two
on the shining lid.

Well, as the long, hot summer days grew longer and fiercer, the
invalid drooped and drooped, and the home faces grew sadder. Yet
there still came from time to time those rallying days, wherein Sadie
confidently pronounced her to be improving rapidly. And so it came
to pass that so sweet was the final message that the words of the
wonderful old poem proved a Siting description of it all.

"They thought her dying when she slept,
And sleeping when she died."

Into the brightness of the September days there intruded one, wherein
all the house was still, with that strange, solemn stillness that
comes only to those homes where death has left a seal. From the
doors floated the long crape signals, and in the great parlors were
gathering those who had come to take their parting look at the white,
quiet face. "ESTER RIED, aged 19," so the coffin-plate told them. Thus
early had the story of her life been finished.

Only one arrangement had Ester made for this last scene in her life
drama.

"I am going to preach my own funeral sermon," she had said pleasantly
to Abbie one day. "I want every one to know what seemed to me the most
important thing in life. And I want them to understand that when I
came just to the end of my life it stood out the most important thing
still - for Christians, I mean. My sermon is to be preached for them.
No it isn't either; it applies equally to all. The last time I went
to the city I found in a bookstore just the kind of sermon I want
preached. I bought it. You will find the package in my upper bureau
drawer, Abbie. I leave it to you to see that they are so arranged that
every one who comes to look at _me_ will be sure to see them."

So on this day, amid the wilderness of flowers and vines and mosses
that had possession of the rooms, ranged along the mantel, hanging in
clusters on the walls, were beautifully illuminated texts - and these
were some of the words that they spoke to those who silently gathered
in the parlors:

"And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of
sleep."

"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

"What shall we do that we might work the works of God?"

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there
is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither
thou goest."

"I must work the work of him that sent me while it is day: the night
cometh when no man can work."

"Awake to righteousness and sin not."

"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall
give thee light."

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

"Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch, and be sober."

Chiming in with the thoughts of those who knew by whose direction the
illuminated texts were hung, came the voice of the minister, reading:

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, 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."

So it was that Ester Ried, lying quiet in her coffin, was reckoned
among that number who "being dead, yet speaketh."




CHAPTER XXVIII.

AT LAST.


The busy, exciting, triumphant day was done. Sadie Ried was no longer
a school-girl; she had graduated. And although a dress of the softest,
purest white had been substituted for the blue silk, in which she had
so long ago planned to appear, its simple folds had swept the platform
of Music Hall in as triumphant a way as ever she had planned for the
other. More so, for Sadie's wildest flights of fancy had never made
her valedictorian of her class, yet that she certainly was. In some
respects it had been a merry day - the long sealed letters had been
opened and read by their respective holders that morning, and the
young ladies had discovered, amid much laughter and many blushes, that
they were ready to pronounce many of the expressions which they had
carefully made only two years before, "ridiculously out of place" or
"absurdly sentimental."

"Progress," said Mr. Hammond, turning for a moment to Sadie, after he
had watched with an amused smile the varying play of expression on her
speaking face, while she listened to the reading of her letter.

"You were not aware that you had improved so much in two years, now,
were you?"

"I was not aware that I ever was such a simpleton!" was her
half-provoked, half-amused reply.

To-night she loitered strangely in the parlors, in the halls, on the
stairs, talking aimlessly with any one who would stop; it was growing
late. Mrs. Ried and the children had long ago departed. Dr. Van Anden
had not yet returned from his evening round of calls. Every body in
and about the house was quiet, ere Sadie, with slow, reluctant steps,
finally ascended the stairs and sought her room. Arrived there, she
seemed in no haste to light the gas; moonlight was streaming into the
room, and she put herself down in front of one of the low windows to
enjoy it. But it gave her a view of the not far distant cemetery, and
gleamed on a marble slab, the lettering of which she knew perfectly
well was - "Ester, daughter of Alfred and Laura Ried, died Sept. 4,
18 - , aged 19. Asleep in Jesus - Awake to everlasting life." And that
reminded her, as she had no need to be reminded, of a letter with
the seal unbroken, lying in her writing-desk - a letter which she had
promised to read this evening - promised the one who wrote it for her,
and over whose grave the moonlight was now wrapping its silver robe.
Sadie felt strangely averse to reading that letter; in part, she
could imagine its contents, and for the very reason that she was still
"halting between two opinions," "almost persuaded," and still on that
often fatal "almost" side, instead of the "altogether," did she wait
and linger, and fritter away the evening as best she could, rather
than face that solemn letter. Even when she turned resolutely from the
window, and lighted the gas, and drew down the shade, she waited to
put every thing tidy on her writing-table, and then, when she had
finally turned the key in her writing-desk, to read over half a dozen
old letters and bits of essays, and scraps of poetry, ere she reached
down for that little white envelope, with her name traced by the
dear familiar hand that wrote her name no more. At last the seal was
broken, and Sadie read:

"My Darling Sister:

"I am sitting to-day in our little room - yours and mine. I have been
taking in the picture of it; every thing about it is dear to me, from
our father's face smiling down on me from the wall, to the little red
rocker in which he sat and wrote, in which I sit now, and in which you
will doubtless sit, when I have gone to him. I want to speak to you
about that time. When you read this, I shall have been gone a long,
long time, and the bitterness of the parting will all be past; you
will be able to read calmly what I am writing. I will tell you a
little of the struggle. For the first few moments after I knew that


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