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to stay up there alone all day, and that it bothered mother?"

"Of course," said Julia, "I'm real sorry about mother. Alfred, did I,
honestly, make her cry?"

"Yes, you did," Alfred answered, earnestly. "I saw that tear as plain
as day. Now you see you can tell Ester you're sorry, just as well as
not; because, if you hadn't said any thing to her, mother could have
made it all right; so of course you're sorry."

"Well," said Julia, slowly, rather bewildered still, "that sounds as
if it was right; and yet, somehow - - . Well, Alfred, you wait for me,
and I'll be down right away."

So it happened that a very penitent little face stood at her mother's
elbow a few moments after this; and Julia's voice was very earnest:
"Mother, I'm so sorry I made you such a great deal of trouble to-day."

And the patient mother turned and kissed the flushed cheek, and
answered kindly: "Mother will forgive you. Have you seen Ester, my

"No, ma'am," spoken more faintly; "but I'm going to find her right

And Ester answered the troubled little voice with a cold "Actions
speak louder than words. I hope you will show how sorry you are by
behaving better in future. Stand out of my way."

"Is it all done up?" Alfred asked, a moment later, as she joined him
on the piazza to take a last look at the beauty of this day which had
opened so brightly for her.

"Yes," with a relieved sigh; "and, Alfred, I never mean to be such a
woman as Ester is when I grow up. I wouldn't for the world. I mean to
be nice, and good, and kind, like sister Sadie."



Now the letter which had caused so much trouble in the Ried family,
and especially in Ester's heart, was, in one sense, not an ordinary
letter. It had been written to Ester's cousin, Abbie, her one intimate
friend, Uncle Ralph's only daughter. These two, of the same age, had
been correspondents almost from their babyhood; and yet they had never
seen each other's faces.

To go to New York, to her uncle's house, to see and be with Cousin
Abbie, had been the one great dream of Ester's heart - as likely to be
realized, she could not help acknowledging, as a journey to the moon,
and no more so. New York was at least five hundred miles away; and
the money necessary to carry her there seemed like a small fortune to
Ester, to say nothing of the endless additions to her wardrobe which
would have to be made before she would account herself ready. So she
contented herself, or perhaps it would be more truthful to say she
made herself discontented, with ceaseless dreams over what New York,
and her uncle's family, and, above all, Cousin Abbie, were like; and
whether she would ever see them; and why it had always happened that
something was sure to prevent Abbie's visits to herself; and whether
she should like her as well, if she could be with her, as she did now;
and a hundred other confused and disconnected thoughts about them all.

Ester had no idea what this miserable, restless dreaming of hers was
doing for her. She did not see that her very desires after a better
life, which were sometimes strong upon her, were colored with
impatience and envy.

Cousin Abbie was a Christian, and wrote her some earnest letters;
but to Ester it seemed a very easy matter indeed for one who was
surrounded, as she imagined Abbie to be, by luxury and love, to be
a joyous, eager Christian. Into this very letter that poor Julia had
sent sailing down the stream, some of her inmost feelings had been

"Don't think me devoid of all aspirations after something higher,"
so the letter ran. "Dear Abbie, you, in your sunny home, can never
imagine how wildly I long sometimes to be free from my surroundings,
free from petty cares and trials, and vexations, which, I feel, are
eating out my very life. Oh, to be free for one hour, to feel
myself at liberty, for just one day, to follow my own tastes and
inclinations; to be the person I believe God designed me to be; to
fill the niche I believe He designed me to fill! Abbie, I _hate_ my
life. I have not a happy moment. It is all rasped, and warped, and
unlovely. I am nothing, and I know it; and I had rather, for my own
comfort, be like the most of those who surround me - nothing, and not
know it. Sometimes I can not help asking myself why I was made as I
am. Why can't I be a clod, a plodder, and drag my way with stupid good
nature through this miserable world, instead of chafing and bruising
myself at every step."

Now it would be very natural to suppose that a young lady with a
grain of sense left in her brains, would, in cooler moments, have
been rather glad than otherwise, to have such a restless, unhappy,
unchristianlike letter hopelessly lost. But Ester felt, as has been
seen, thoroughly angry that so much lofty sentiment, which she mistook
for religion, was entirely lost Yet let it not be supposed that one
word of this rebellious outbreak was written simply for effect. Ester,
when she wrote that she "hated her life," was thoroughly and miserably
in earnest. When, in the solitude of her own room, she paced her floor
that evening, and murmured, despairingly: "Oh, if something would
_only_ happen to rest me for just a little while!" she was more
thoroughly in earnest than any human being who feels that Christ has
died to save her, and that she has an eternal resting-place prepared
for her, and waiting to receive her, has any right to feel on such a
subject. Yet, though the letter had never reached its destination,
the pitying Savior, looking down upon his poor, foolish lamb in tender
love, made haste to prepare an answer to her wild, rebellious cry for
help, even though she cried blindly, without a thought of the Helper
who is sufficient for all human needs.

"Long looked for, come at last!" and Sadie's clear voice rang through
the dining-room, and a moment after that young lady herself reached
the pump-room, holding up for Ester's view a dainty envelope, directed
in a yet more dainty hand to Miss Ester Ried. "Here's that wonderful
letter from Cousin Abbie which you have sent me to the post-office
after three times a day for as many weeks. It reached here by the way
of Cape Horn, I should say, by its appearance. It has been remailed

Ester set her pail down hastily, seized the letter, and retired to the
privacy of the pantry to devour it; and for once was oblivious to the
fact that Sadie lunched on bits of cake broken from the smooth, square
loaf while she waited to hear the news.

"Anything special?" Mrs. Ried asked, pausing in the doorway, which
question Ester answered by turning a flushed and eager face toward
them, as she passed the letter to Sadie, with permission to read it
aloud. Surprised into silence by the unusual confidence, Sadie read
the dainty epistle without comment:


"I'm in a grand flurry, and shall therefore not stop for long stories
to-day, but come at the pith of the matter immediately. We want you.
That is nothing new, you are aware, as we have been wanting you
for many a day. But there is new decision in my plans, and new
inducements, this time. We not only want, but _must_ have you. Please
don't say 'No' to me this once. We are going to have a wedding in our
house, and we need your presence, and wisdom, and taste. Father says
you can't be your mother's daughter if you haven't exquisite taste.
I am very busy helping to get the bride in order, which is a work of
time and patience; and I do so much need your aid; besides, the bride
is your Uncle Ralph's only daughter, so of course you ought to be
interested in her.

"Ester, _do_ come. Father says the inclosed fifty dollars is a present
from him, which you must honor by letting it pay your fare to New York
just as soon as possible. The wedding is fixed for the twenty-second;
and we want you here at least three weeks before that. Brother Ralph
is to be first groomsman; and he especially needs your assistance, as
the bride has named you for her first bridesmaid. I'm to dress - I mean
the bride is to dress - in white, and mother has a dress prepared for
the bridesmaid to match hers; so that matter need not delay or cause
you anxiety.

"This letter is getting too long. I meant it to be very brief and
pointed. I designed every other word to be 'come;' but after all I do
not believe you will need so much urging to be with us at this time.
I flatter myself that you love me enough to come to me if you can. So,
leaving Ralph to write directions concerning route and trains, I will
run and try on the bride's bonnet, which has just come home.

"P.S. There is to be a groom as well as a bride, though I see I have
said nothing concerning him. Never mind, you shall see him when you
come. Dear Ester, there isn't a word of tense in this letter, I know;
but I haven't time to put any in."

"Really," laughed Sadie, as she concluded the reading, "this is almost
foolish enough to have been written by me. Isn't it splendid, though?
Ester, I'm glad you are _you_. I wish I had corresponded with Cousin
Abbie myself. A wedding of any kind is a delicious novelty; but a real
New York wedding, and a bridesmaid besides - my! I've a mind to clap my
hands for you, seeing you are too dignified to do it yourself."

"Oh," said Ester, from whose face the flush had faded, leaving it
actually pale with excitement and expected disappointment, "you don't
suppose I am foolish enough to think I can go, do you?"

"Of course you will go, when Uncle Ralph has paid your fare, and more,
too. Fifty dollars will buy a good deal besides a ticket to New York.
Mother, don't you ever think of saying that she can't go; there is
nothing to hinder her. She is to go, isn't she?"

"Why, I don't know," answered this perplexed mother. "I want her to, I
am sure; yet I don't see how she can be spared. She will need a great
many things besides a ticket, and fifty dollars do not go as far as
you imagine; besides, Ester, you know I depend on you so much."

Ester's lips parted to speak; and had the words come forth which were
in her heart, they would have been sharp and bitter ones - about never
expecting to go anywhere, never being able to do any thing but work;
but Sadie's eager voice was quicker than hers:

"Oh now, mother, it is no use to talk in that way. I've quite set my
heart on Ester's going. I never expect to have an invitation there
myself, so I must take my honors secondhand.

"Mother, it is time you learned to depend on me a little. I'm two
inches taller than Ester, and I've no doubt I shall develop into a
remarkable person when she is where we can't all lean upon her. School
closes this very week, you know, and we have vacation until October.
Abbie couldn't have chosen a better time. Whom do you suppose she
is to marry? What a queer creature, not to tell us. Say she can go,
mother - quick!"

Sadie's last point was a good one in Mrs. Ried's opinion. Perhaps the
giddy Sadie, at once her pride and her anxiety, might learn a little
self-reliance by feeling a shadow of the weight of care which rested
continually on Ester.

"You certainly need the change," she said, her eyes resting pityingly
on the young, careworn face of her eldest daughter. "But how could we
manage about your wardrobe? Your black silk is nice, to be sure; but
you would need one bright evening dress at least, and you know we
haven't the money to spare."

Then Sadie, thoughtless, selfish Sadie, who was never supposed to have
one care for others, and very little for herself - Sadie, who vexed
Ester nearly every hour in the day, by what, at the time, always
seemed some especially selfish, heedless act - suddenly shone out
gloriously. She stood still, and actually seemed to think for a full
minute, while Ester jerked a pan of potatoes toward her, and commenced
peeling vigorously; then she clapped her hands, and gave vent to
little gleeful shouts before she exclaimed "Oh, mother, mother! I have
it exactly. I wonder we didn't think of it before. There's my blue
silk - just the thing! I am tall, and she is short, so it will make her
a beautiful train dress. Won't that do splendidly!"

The magnitude of this proposal awed even Ester into silence. To be
appreciated, it must be understood that Sadie Ried had never in her
life possessed a silk dress. Mrs. Ried's best black silk had long ago
been cut over for Ester; so had her brown and white plaid; so there
had been nothing of the sort to remodel for Sadie; and this elegant
sky-blue silk had been lying in its satin-paper covering for more than
two years. It was the gift of a dear friend of Mrs. Ried's girlhood to
the young beauty who bore her name, and had been waiting all this time
for Sadie to attain proper growth to admit of its being cut into for
her. Meantime she had feasted her eyes upon it, and gloried in the
prospect of that wonderful day when she should sweep across the
platform of Music Hall with this same silk falling in beautiful blue
waves around her; for it had long been settled that it was to be worn
first on that day when she should graduate.

No wonder, then, that Ester stood in mute astonishment, while Mrs.
Ried commented:

"Why, Sadie, my dear child, is it possible you are willing to give up
your blue silk?"

"Not a bit of it, mother; I don't intend to give it up the least bit
in the world. I'm merely going to lend it. It's too pretty to stay
poked up in that drawer by itself any longer. I've set my heart on its
coming out this very season Just as likely as not it will learn to
put on airs for me when I graduate. I'm not at all satisfied with my
attainments in that line; so Ester shall take it to New York; and if
she sits down or stands up, or turns around, or has one minute's peace
while she has it on, for fear lest she should spot it, or tear it, or
get it stepped on, I'll never forgive her."

And at this harangue Ester laughed a free, glad laugh, such as was
seldom heard from her. Some way it began to seem as if she were really
to go, Sadie had such a brisk, business-like way of saying "Ester
shall take it to New York." Oh, if she only, _only_ could go, she
would be willing to do _any thing_ after that; but one peep, one
little peep into the beautiful magic world that lay outside of that
dining-room and kitchen she felt as if she must have. Perhaps that
laugh did as much for her as any thing. It almost startled Mrs. Ried
with its sweetness and rarity. What if the change would freshen and
brighten her, and bring her back to them with some of the sparkles
that continually danced in Sadie's eyes; but what, on the other hand,
if she should grow utterly disgusted with the monotony of their very
quiet, very busy life, and refuse to work in that most necessary
treadmill any longer. So the mother argued and hesitated, and the
decision which was to mean so much more than any of those knew,
trembled in the balance; for let Mrs. Ried once find voice to say,
"Oh, Ester, I don't see but what you will _have_ to give it up," and
Ester would have turned quickly and with curling lip, to that pan of
potatoes, and have sharply forbidden any one to mention the subject
to her again. Once more Sadie, dear, merry, silly Sadie, came to the

"Mother, oh, mother! what an endless time you are in coming to a
decision! I could plan an expedition to the North Pole in less time
than this. I'm just wild to have her go. I want to hear how a genuine
New York bride looks; besides, you know, dear mother, I want to stay
in the kitchen with you. Ester does every thing, and I don't have
any chance. I perfectly long to bake, and boil, and broil, and brew
things. Say yes, there's a darling."

And Mrs. Ried looked at the bright, flushed face, and thought how
little the dear child knew about all these matters, and how little
patience poor Ester, who was so competent herself, would have with
Sadie's ignorance, and said, slowly and hesitatingly, but yet actually

"Well, Ester, my daughter, I really think we must try to get along
without you for a little while!"

And these three people really seemed to think that they had decided
the matter. Though two of them were at least theoretical believers
in a "special providence," it never once occurred to them that this
little thing, in all its details, had been settled for ages.



"Twenty minutes here for refreshments!" "Passengers for New York take
south track!" "New York daily papers here!" "Sweet oranges here!"
And amid all these yells of discordant tongues, and the screeching
of engines, and the ringing of bells, and the intolerable din of a
merciless gong, Ester pushed and elbowed her way through the crowd,
almost panting with her efforts to keep pace with her traveling
companion, a nervous country merchant on his way to New York to
buy goods. He hurried her through the crowd and the noise into the
dining-saloon; stood by her side while, obedient to his orders, she
poured down her throat a cup of almost boiling coffee; then, seating
her in the ladies' room charged her on no account to stir from
that point while he was gone - he had just time to run around to the
post-office, and mail a forgotten letter; then he vanished, and in
the confusion and the crowd Ester was alone. She did not feel, in the
least, flurried or nervous; on the contrary, she liked it, this first
experience of hers in a city depot; she would not have had it
made known to one of the groups of fashionably-attired and
very-much-at-ease travelers who thronged past her for the world - but
the truth was, Ester had been having her very first ride in the cars!
Sadie had made various little trips in company with school friends to
adjoining towns, after school books, or music, or to attend a concert,
or for pure fun; but, though Ester had spent her eighteen years of
life in a town which had long been an "Express Station," yet want
of time, or of money, or of inclination to take the bits of journeys
which alone were within her reach, had kept her at home. Now she
glanced at herself, at her faultlessly neat and ladylike traveling
suit. She could get a full view of it in an opposite mirror, and it
was becoming, from the dainty vail which fluttered over her hat, to
the shining tip of her walking boots; and she gave a complacent little
sigh, as she said to herself: "I don't see but I look as much like a
traveler as any of them. I'm sure I don't feel in the least confused.
I'm glad I'm not as ridiculously dressed as that pert-looking girl in
brown. I should call it in very bad taste to wear such a rich silk as
that for traveling. She doesn't look as though she had a single idea
beyond dress; probably that is what is occupying her thoughts at
this very moment;" and Ester's speaking face betrayed contempt and
conscious superiority, as she watched the fluttering bit of silk and
ribbons opposite. Ester had a very mistaken opinion of herself in this
respect; probably she would have been startled and indignant had
any one told her that her supposed contempt for the rich and elegant
attire displayed all around her, was really the outgrowth of envy;
that, when she told herself _she_ wouldn't lavish so much time and
thought, and, above all, _money_, on mere outside show, it was mere
nonsense - that she already spent all the time at her disposal, and all
the money she could possibly spare, on the very things which she was

The truth was, Ester had a perfectly royal taste in all these matters.
Give her but the wherewithal, and she would speedily have glistened
in silk, and sparkled with jewels; yet she honestly thought that her
bitter denunciation of fashion and folly in this form was outward
evidence of a mind elevated far above such trivial subjects, and
looked down, accordingly, with cool contempt on those whom she was
pleased to denominate "butterflies of fashion."

And, in her flights into a "higher sphere of thought," this absurdly
inconsistent Ester never once remembered how, just exactly a week ago
that day, she had gone around like a storm king, in her own otherwise
peaceful home, almost wearing out the long-suffering patience of her
weary mother, rendered the house intolerable to Sadie, and actually
boxed Julia's ears; and all because she saw with her own common-sense
eyes that she really _could_ not have her blue silk, or rather Sadie's
blue silk, trimmed with netted fringe at twelve shillings a yard, but
must do with simple folds and a seventy-five-cent heading!

Such a two weeks as the last had been in the Ried family! The entire
household had joined in the commotion produced by Ester's projected
visit. It was marvelous how much there was to do. Mrs. Ried toiled
early and late, and made many quiet little sacrifices, in order that
her daughter might not feel too keenly the difference between her
own and her cousin's wardrobe. Sadie emptied what she denominated her
finery box, and donated every article in it, delivering comic little
lectures to each bit of lace and ribbon, as she smoothed them and
patted them, and told them they were going to New York. Julia hemmed
pocket handkerchiefs, and pricked her poor little fingers unmercifully
and uncomplainingly. Alfred ran of errands with remarkable promptness,
but confessed to Julia privately that it was because he was in such
a hurry to have Ester gone, so he could see how it would seem for
everybody to be good natured. Little Minie got in everybody's way as
much as such a tiny creature could, and finally brought the tears
to Ester's eyes, and set every one else into bursts of laughter, by
bringing a very smooth little handkerchief about six inches square,
and offering it as her contribution toward the traveler's outfit. As
for Ester, she was hurried and nervous, and almost unendurably
cross, through the whole of it, wanting a hundred things which it was
impossible for her to have, and scorning not a few little trifles that
had been prepared for her by patient, toil-worn fingers.

"Ester, I _do_ hope New York, or Cousin Abbie, or somebody, will have
a soothing and improving effect upon you," Sadie had said, with a sort
of good-humored impatience, only the night before her departure.
"Now that you have reached the summit of your hopes, you seem more
uncomfortable about it than you were even to stay at home. Do let
us see you look pleasant for just five minutes, that we may have
something good to remember you by."

"My dear," Mrs. Ried had interposed, rebukingly, "Ester is hurried and
tired, remember, and has had a great many things to try her to-day. I
don't think it is a good plan, just as a family are about to separate,
to say any careless or foolish words that we don't mean. Mother has a
great many hard days of toil, which Ester has given, to remember her
by." Oh, the patient, tender, forgiving mother! Ester, being asleep
to her own faults, never once thought of the sharp, fretful, half
disgusted way in which much of her work had been performed, but only
remembered, with a little sigh of satisfaction, the many loaves of
cake, and the rows of pies, which she had baked that very morning in
order to save her mother's steps. This was all she thought of now, but
there came days when she was wide-awake.

Meantime the New York train, after panting and snorting several times
to give notice that the twenty minutes were about up, suddenly puffed
and rumbled its way out from the depot, and left Ester obeying orders,
that is, sitting in the corner where she had been placed by Mr.
Newton - being still outwardly, but there was in her heart a perfect
storm of vexation. "This comes of mother's absurd fussiness in
insisting upon putting me in Mr. Newton's care, instead of letting me
travel alone, as I wanted to," she fumed to herself. "Now we shall not
get into New York until after six o'clock! How provoking!"

"How provoking this is!" Mr. Newton exclaimed, re-echoing her thoughts
as he bustled in, red with haste and heat, and stood penitently before
her. "I hadn't the least idea it would take so long to go to the
post-office. I am very sorry!"

"Well," he continued, recovering his good humor, notwithstanding
Ester's provoking silence, "what can't be cured must be endured, Miss
Ester; and it isn't as bad as it might be, either. We've only to wait
an hour and a quarter. I've some errands to do, and I'll show you
the city with pleasure; or would you prefer sitting here and looking
around you?"

"I should decidedly prefer not running the chance of missing the next
train," Ester answered very shortly. "So I think it will be wiser to
stay where I am."

In truth Mr. Newton endured the results of his own carelessness with

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Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 3 of 17)