Pansy.

Ester Ried online

. (page 2 of 17)
Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 2 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


John for me; he's in the kitchen. I shall be around the corner at
Vinton's."

Then he went away, softly, as he had come.

The lamp burned low over by the window, the nurse slept on in her
arm-chair, and Ester sat with wide-open eyes fixed on Florence. And
all this time she thought that the doctor was engaged in getting up
a scene, the story of which should go forth next day in honor of his
skill and faithfulness; yet, having come to watch, she would not sleep
at her post, even though she believed in her heart that, were she
sleeping by Sadie's side, and the doctor quiet in his own room, all
would go on well until the morning.

But the doctor's evident anxiety had driven sleep from the eyes of the
gray-haired old man whose one darling lay quiet on the bed. He came in
very soon after the doctor had departed.

"I can't sleep," he said, in explanation, to Ester. "Some way I feel
worried. Does she seem worse to you?"

"Not a bit," Ester said, promptly. "I think she looks better than
usual."

"Yes," Mr. Vane answered, in an encouraged tone; "and she has been
quite bright all day; but the doctor is all down about her. He won't
say a single cheering word."

Ester's indignation grew upon her. "He might, at least, have let this
old man sleep in peace," she said, sharply, in her heart.

At twelve, precisely, the doctor returned. He went directly to the
bedside.

"How has she been?" he asked of Ester, in passing.

"Just as she is now." Ester's voice was not only dry, but sarcastic.

Mr. Vane scanned the doctor's face eagerly, but it was grave and sad.
Quiet reigned in the room. The two men at Florence's side neither
spoke nor stirred. Ester kept her seat across from them, and grew
every moment more sure that she was right, and more provoked. Suddenly
the silence was broken. Dr. Van Anden bent low over the sleeper, and
spoke in a gentle, anxious tone: "Florence." But she neither stirred
nor heeded. He spoke again: "Florence;" and the blue eyes unclosed
slowly and wearily. The doctor drew back quickly, and motioned her
father forward.

"Speak to her, Mr. Vane."

"Florence, my darling," the old man said, with inexpressible love and
tenderness sounding in his voice. His fair young daughter turned her
eyes on him; but the words she spoke were not of him, or of aught
around her. So clear and sweet they sounded, that Ester, sitting quite
across the room from her, heard them distinctly.

"I saw mother, and I saw my Savior."

Dr. Van Anden sank upon his knees, as the drooping lids closed again,
and his voice was low and tremulous:

"Father, into thy hands we commit this spirit. Thy will be done."

In a moment more all was bustle and confusion. The nurse was
thoroughly awakened; the doctor cared for the poor childless father
with the tenderness of a son; then came back to send John for help,
and to give directions concerning what was to be done.

Through it all Ester sat motionless, petrified with solemn
astonishment. Then the angel of death had _really_ been there in that
very room, and she had been "so wise in her own conceit," that she did
not know it until he had departed with the freed spirit!

Florence really _was_ sick, then - dangerously sick. The doctor had not
deceived them, had not magnified the trouble as she supposed; but it
could not be that she was dead! Dead! Why, only a few minutes ago she
was sleeping so quietly! Well, she was very quiet now. Could the heart
have ceased its beating?

Sadie's Florence dead! Poor Sadie! What would they say to her? How
_could_ they tell her?

Sitting there, Ester had some of the most solemn, self-reproachful
thoughts that she had ever known. God's angel had been present in that
room, and in what a spirit had he found this watcher?

Dr. Van Anden went quietly, promptly, from room to room, until every
thing in the suddenly stricken household was as it should be; then he
came to Ester:

"I will go over home with you now," he said, speaking low and kindly.
He seemed to under stand just how shocked she felt.

They went, in the night and darkness, across the street, saying
nothing. As the doctor applied his key to the door, Ester spoke in
low, distressed tones:

"Doctor Van Anden, I did not think - I did not dream - ." Then she
stopped.

"I know," he said, kindly. "It was unexpected. _I_ thought she would
linger until morning, perhaps through the day. Indeed, I was so sure,
that I ventured to keep my worst fears from Mr. Vane. I wanted him to
rest to-night. I am sorry - it would have been better to have prepared
him; but 'At even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the
morning' - you see we know not which. I thank God that to Florence it
did not matter."

Those days which followed were days of great opportunity to Ester, if
she had but known how to use them. Sadie's sad, softened heart,
into which grief had entered, might have been turned by a few kind,
skillful words, from thoughts of Florence to Florence's Savior. Ester
_did_ try; she was kinder, more gentle with the young sister than
was her wont to be; and once, when Sadie was lingering fondly over
memories of her friend, she said, in an awkward, blundering way,
something about Florence having been prepared to die, and hoping that
Sadie would follow her example. Sadie looked surprised, but answered,
gravely:

"I never expect to be like Florence. She was perfect, or, at least,
I'm sure I could never see any thing about her that wasn't perfection.
You know, Ester, she never did any thing wrong."

And Ester, unused to it, and confused with her own attempt, kept
silence, and let poor Sadie rest upon the thought that it was
Florence's goodness which made her ready to die, instead of the blood
of Jesus.

So the time passed; the grass grew green over Florence's grave, and
Sadie missed her indeed. Yet the serious thoughts grew daily fainter,
and Ester's golden opportunity for leading her to Christ was lost.




CHAPTER IV.

THE SUNDAY LESSON.


Alfred and Julia Ried were in the sitting-room, studying their
Sabbath-school lessons. Those two were generally to be found together;
being twins, they had commenced _life_ together, and had thus far gone
side by side. It was a quiet October Sabbath afternoon. The twins
had a great deal of business on hand during the week, and the
Sabbath-school lesson used to stand a fair chance of being forgotten;
so Mrs. Ried had made a law that half an hour of every Sabbath
afternoon should be spent in studying the lesson for the coming
Sabbath. Ester sat in the same room, by the window; she had been
reading, but her book had fallen idly in her lap, and she seemed lost
in thought Sadie, too, was there, carrying on a whispered conversation
with Minnie, who was snugged close in her arms, and merry bursts of
laughter came every few minutes from the little girl. The idea of
Sadie keeping quiet herself, or of keeping any body else quiet, was
simply absurd.

"But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," read Julia,
slowly and thoughtfully. "Alfred, what do you suppose that can mean?"

"Don't know, I'm sure," Alfred said. "The next one is just as queer:
'And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let
him have thy cloak also.' I'd like to see _me_ doing that. I'd fight
for it, I reckon."

"Oh, Alfred! you wouldn't, if the Bible said you mustn't, would you?"

"I don't suppose this means us at all," said Alfred, using,
unconsciously, the well-known argument of all who have tried to slip
away from gospel teaching since Adam's time.

"I suppose it's talking to those wicked old fellows who lived before
the flood, or some such time."

"Well, _any_how," said Julia, "I should like to know what it all
means. I wish mother would come home. I wonder how Mrs. Vincent is. Do
you suppose she will die, Alfred?"

"Don't know - just hear this, Julia! 'But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and
pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.' Wouldn't
you like to see anybody who did all that?"

"Sadie," said Julia, rising suddenly, and moving over to where the
frolic was going on, "won't you tell us about our lesson? We don't
understand a bit about it; and I can't learn any thing that I don't
understand."

"Bless your heart, child! I suspect you know more about the Bible this
minute than I do. Mother was too busy taking care of you two, when I
was a little chicken, to teach me as she has you."

"Well, but what _can_ that mean - 'If a man strikes you on one cheek,
let him strike the other too?'"

"Yes," said Alfred, chiming in, "and, 'If anybody takes your coat
away, give him your cloak too.'"

"I suppose it means just that," said Sadie. "If anybody steals your
mittens, as that Bush girl did yours last winter, Julia, you are to
take your hood right off, and give it to her."

"Oh, Sadie! you _don't_ ever mean that."

"And then," continued Sadie, gravely, "if that shouldn't satisfy her,
you had better take off your shoes and stockings, and give her them."

"Sadie," said Ester, "how _can_ you teach those children such
nonsense?"

"She isn't teaching _me_ any thing," interrupted Alfred. "I guess I
ain't such a dunce as to swallow all that stuff."

"Well," said Sadie, meekly, "I'm sure I'm doing the best I can;
and you are all finding fault. I've explained to the best of _my_
abilities Julia, I'll tell you the truth;" and for a moment her
laughing face grew sober. "I don't know the least thing about
it - don't pretend to. Why don't you ask Ester? She can tell you more
about the Bible in a minute, I presume, than I could in a year."

Ester laid her book on the window. "Julia, bring your Bible here," she
said, gravely. "Now what is the matter? I never heard you make such a
commotion over your lesson."

"Mother always explains it," said Alfred, "and she hasn't got back
from Mrs. Vincent's; and I don't believe anyone else in this house
_can_ do it."

"Alfred," said Ester, "don't be impertinent. Julia, what is that you
want to know?"

"About the man being struck on one cheek, how he must let them strike
the other too. What does it mean?"

"It means just _that_, when girls are cross and ugly to you, you must
be good and kind to them; and, when a boy knocks down another, he must
forgive him, instead of getting angry and knocking back."

"Ho!" said Alfred, contemptuously, "_I_ never saw the boy yet who
would do it."

"That only proves that boys are naughty, quarrelsome fellows, who
don't obey what the Bible teaches."

"But, Ester," interrupted Julia, anxiously, "was that true what Sadie
said about me giving my shoes and stockings and my hood to folks who
stole something from me?"

"Of course not. Sadie shouldn't talk such nonsense to you. That is
about men going to law. Mother will explain it when she goes over the
lesson with you."

Julia was only half satisfied. "What does that verse mean about doing
good to them that - "

"Here, I'll read it," said Alfred - "'But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and
pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.'"

"Why, that is plain enough. It means just what it says. When people
are ugly to you, and act as though they hated you, you must be very
good and kind to them, and pray for them, and love them."

"Ester, does God really mean for us to love people who are ugly to us,
and to be good to them?"

"Of course."

"Well, then, why don't we, if God says so? Ester, why don't you?"

"That's the point!" exclaimed Sadie, in her most roguish tone. "I'm
glad you've made the application, Julia."

Now Ester's heart had been softening under the influence of these
peaceful Bible words. She believed them; and in her heart was a real,
earnest desire to teach her brother and sister Bible truths. Left
alone, she would have explained that those who loved Jesus _were_
struggling, in a weak feeble way, to obey these directions; that she
herself was trying, trying _hard_ sometimes; that _they_ ought to. But
there was this against Ester - her whole life was so at variance with
those plain, searching Bible rules, that the youngest child could not
but see it; and Sadie's mischievous tones and evident relish of
her embarrassment at Julia's question, destroyed the self-searching
thoughts. She answered, with severe dignity:

"Sadie, if I were you, I wouldn't try to make the children as
irreverent as I was myself." Then she went dignifiedly from the room.

Dr. Van Anden paused for a moment before Sadie, as she sat alone in
the sitting-room that same Sabbath-evening.

"Sadie," said he, "is there one verse in the Bible which you have
never read?"

"Plenty of them, Doctor. I commenced reading the Bible through once;
but I stopped at some chapter in Numbers - the thirtieth, I think it
is, isn't it? or somewhere along there where all those hard names are,
you know. But why do you ask?"

The doctor opened a large Bible which lay on the stand before them,
and read aloud: "Ye have perverted the words of the living God."

Sadie looked puzzled. "Now, Doctor, what ever possessed you to think
that I had never read that verse?"

"God counts that a solemn thing, Sadie."

"Very likely; what then?"

"I was reading on the piazza when the children came to you for an
explanation of their lesson."

Sadie laughed. "Did you hear that conversation, Doctor? I hope you
were benefited." Then, more gravely: "Dr. Van Anden, do you really
mean me to think that I was perverting Scripture?"

"_I_ certainly think so, Sadie. Were you not giving the children wrong
ideas concerning the teachings of our Savior?"

Sadie was quite sober now. "I told the truth at last, Doctor. I
don't know any thing about these matters. People who profess to be
Christians do not live according to our Savior's teaching. At least
_I_ don't see any who do; and it sometimes seems to me that those
verses which the children were studying, _can not_ mean what they say,
or Christian people would surely _try_ to follow them."

For an answer, Dr. Van Anden turned the Bible leaves again, and
pointed with his finger to this verse, which Sadie read:

"But as he which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner
of conversation."

After that he went out of the room.

And Sadie, reading the verse over again, could not but understand that
she _might_ have a perfect pattern, if she would.




CHAPTER V.

THE POOR LITTLE FISH.


"Mother," said Sadie, appearing in the dining-room one morning,
holding Julia by the hand, "did you ever hear of the fish who fell out
of the frying-pan into the fire?" Which question her mother answered
by asking, without turning her eyes from the great batch of bread
which she was molding: "What mischief are you up to now, Sadie?"
"Why, nothing," said Sadie; "only here is the very fish so renowned in
ancient history, and I've brought her for your inspection."

This answer brought Mrs. Ried's eyes around from the dough, and fixed
them upon Julia; and she said, as soon as she caught a glimpse of the
forlorn little maiden: "O, my _patience_!"

A specimen requiring great patience from any one coming in contact
with her, was this same Julia. The pretty blue dress and white apron
were covered with great patches of mud; morocco boots and neat white
stockings were in the same direful plight; and down her face the salt
and muddy tears were running, for her handkerchief was also streaked
with mud.

"I should _think_ so!" laughed Sadie, in answer to her mother's
exclamation. "The history of the poor little fish, in brief, is this:
She started, immaculate in white apron, white stockings, and the like,
for the post-office, with Ester's letter. She met with temptation in
the shape of a little girl with paper dolls; and, while admiring them,
the letter had the meanness to slip out of her hand into the mud!
That, you understand, was the frying-pan. Much horrified with this
state of things, the two wise young heads were put together, and the
brilliant idea conceived of giving the muddy letter a thorough washing
in the creek! So to the creek they went; and, while they stood ankle
deep in the mud, vigorously carrying their idea into effect, the
vicious little thing hopped out of Julia's hand, and sailed merrily
away, down stream! So there she was, 'Out of the frying-pan into the
fire,' sure enough! And the letter has sailed for Uncle Ralph's by a
different route than that which is usually taken."

Sadie's nonsense was interrupted at this point by Ester, who had
listened with darkening face to the rapidly told story:

"She ought to be thoroughly _whipped_, the careless little goose!
Mother, if you don't punish her now, I never would again."

Then Julia's tearful sorrow blazed into sudden anger: "I _oughtn't_ to
be whipped; you're an ugly, mean sister to say so. I tumbled down and
hurt my arm _dreadfully_, trying to catch your old _hateful_ letter;
and you're just as mean as you can be!"

Between tears, and loud tones, and Sadie's laughter, Julia had managed
to burst forth these angry sentences before her mother's voice reached
her; when it did, she was silenced.

"Julia, I am _astonished_! Is that the way to speak to your sister?
Go up to my room directly; and, when you have put on dry clothes, sit
down there, and stay until you are ready to tell Ester that you are
sorry, and ask her to forgive you."

"_Really_, mother," Sadie said, as the little girl went stamping up
the stairs, her face buried in her muddy handkerchief, "I'm not sure
but you have made a mistake, and Ester is the one to be sent to her
room until she can behave better. I don't pretend to be _good_ myself;
but I must say it seems ridiculous to speak in the way she did to a
sorry, frightened child. I never saw a more woeful figure in my life;"
and Sadie laughed again at the recollection.

"Yes," said Ester, "you uphold her in all sorts of mischief and
insolence; that is the reason she is so troublesome to manage."

Mrs. Ried looked distressed. "Don't, Ester," she said; "don't speak
in that loud, sharp tone. Sadie, you should not encourage Julia in
speaking improperly to her sister. I think myself that Ester was hard
with her. The poor child did not mean any harm; but she must not be
rude to anybody."

"Oh, yes," Ester said, speaking bitterly, "of course _I_ am the one to
blame; I always _am_. No one in this house ever does any thing wrong
except _me_."

Mrs. Ried sighed heavily, and Sadie turned away and ran up stairs,
humming:

"Oh, would I were a buttercup,
A blossom in the meadow."

And Julia, in her mother's room, exchanged her wet and muddy garments
for clean ones, and _cried_; washed her face in the clear, pure water
until it was fresh and clean, and cried again, louder and harder; her
heart was all bruised and bleeding. She had not meant to be careless.
She had been carefully dressed that morning to spend the long, bright
Saturday with Vesta Griswold. She had intended to go swiftly and
safely to the post-office with the small white treasure intrusted to
her care; but those paper dolls were _so_ pretty, and of course there
was no harm in walking along with Addie, and looking at them. How
could she know that the hateful letter was going to tumble out of her
apron pocket? Right there, too, the only place along the road where
there was the least bit of mud to be seen! Then she had honestly
supposed that a little clean water from the creek, applied with her
smooth white handkerchief, would take the stains right out of the
envelope, and the sun would dry it, and it would go safely to Uncle
Ralph's after all; but, instead of that, the hateful, _hateful_ thing
slipped right out of her hand, and went floating down the stream; and
at this point Julia's sobs burst forth afresh. Presently she took up
her broken thread of thought, and went on: How very, _very_ ugly Ester
was; if _she_ hadn't been there, her mother would have listened kindly
to her story of how very sorry she was, and how she meant to do just
right. Then she would have forgiven her, and she would have been
freshly dressed in her clean blue dress instead of her pink one, and
would have had her happy day after all; and now she would have to
spend this bright day all alone; and, at this point, her tears rolled
down in torrents.

"Jule," called a familiar voice, under her window, "where are you?
Come down and mend my sail for me, won't you?"

Julia went to the window and poured into Alfred's sympathetic ears the
story of her grief and her wrongs.

"Just exactly like her," was his comment on Ester's share in the
tragedy. "She grows crosser every day. I guess, if I were you, I'd let
her wait a spell before I asked her forgiveness."

"I guess I shall," sputtered Julia. "She was meaner than any thing,
and I'd tell her so this minute, if I saw her; that's all the sorry I
am."

So the talk went on; and when Alfred was called to get Ester a pail
of water, and left Julia in solitude, she found her heart very much
strengthened in its purpose to tire everybody out in waiting for her
apology.

The long, warm, busy day moved on; and the overworked and wearied
mother found time to toil up two flights of stairs in search of her
young daughter, in the hope of soothing and helping her; but Julia was
in no mood to be helped. She hated to stay up there alone; she wanted
to go down in the garden with Alfred; she wanted to go to the arbor
and read her new book; she wanted to take a walk down by the river;
she wanted her dinner exceedingly; but to ask Ester's forgiveness
was the one thing that she did _not_ want to do. No, not if she staid
there alone for a week; not if she _starved_, she said aloud, stamping
her foot and growing indignant over the thought. Alfred came as often
as his Saturday occupations would admit, and held emphatic talks with
the little prisoner above, admiring her "pluck," and assuring her that
he "wouldn't give in, not he."

"You see I _can't_ do it," said Julia, with a gleam of satisfaction
in her eyes, "because it wouldn't be true. I'm _not_ sorry; and mother
wouldn't have me tell a lie for anybody."

So the sun went toward the west, and Julia at the window watched the
academy girls moving homeward from their afternoon ramble, listened to
the preparations for tea which were being made among the dishes in the
dining-room, and, having no more tears to shed, sighed wearily, and
wished the miserable day were quite done and she was sound asleep.
Only a few moments before she had received a third visit from her
mother; and, turning to her, fresh from a talk with Alfred, she had
answered her mother's question as to whether she were not now ready
to ask Ester's forgiveness, with quite as sober and determined a "No,
ma'am," as she had given that day; and her mother had gravely and
sadly answered, "I am very sorry, Julia I can't come up here again; I
am too tired for that. You may come to me, if you wish to see me any
time before seven o'clock. After that you must go to your room."

And with this Julia had let her depart, only saying, as the door
closed: "Then I can be asleep before Ester comes up. I'm glad of that.
I wouldn't look at her again to-day for anything." And then Julia was
once more summoned to the window.

"Jule," Alfred said, with less decision in his voice than there had
been before, "mother looked awful tired when she came down stairs just
now, and there was a tear rolling down her cheek."

"There was?" said Julia, in a shocked and troubled tone.

"And I guess," Alfred continued, "she's had a time of it to-day. Ester
is too cross even to look at; and they've been working pell-mell all
day; and Minnie tumbled over the ice-box and got hurt, and mother held
her most an hour; and I guess she feels real bad about this. She told
Sadie she felt sorry for you."

Silence for a little while at the window above, and from the boy
below: then he broke forth suddenly: "I say, Jule, hadn't you better
do it after all - not for Ester, but there's mother, you know."

"But, Alfred," interrupted the truthful and puzzled Julia, "what can I
do about it? You know I'm to tell Ester that I'm sorry; and that will
not be true."

This question also troubled Alfred. It did not seem to occur to these
two foolish young heads that she _ought_ to be sorry for her own angry
words, no matter how much in the wrong another had been. So they stood
with grave faces, and thought about it. Alfred found a way out of the
mist at last.

"See here, aren't you sorry that you couldn't go to Vesta's, and had


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 2 of 17)