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impossible to realize that her Aunt Helen was actually three years
older than her own mother, or indeed that she was a middle-aged lady
at all, so very bright and gay and altogether unsuitable did her
attire appear; yet on the whole she enjoyed the first two hours of her
visit very much, and surprised and delighted herself at the ease with
which she slipped into the many new ways which she saw around her.
Only once did she find herself very much confused; to her great
astonishment and dismay she was served with a glass of wine. Now
Ester, among the stanch temperance friends with whom she had hitherto
passed her life, had met with no such trial of her temperance
principles, which she supposed were sound and strong; yet here she
was at her uncle's table, sitting near her aunt, who was contentedly
sipping from her glass. Would it be proper, under the circumstances,
to refuse? Yet would it be proper to do violence to her sense of
right?

Ester had no pledge to break, except the pledge with her own
conscience; and it is most sadly true that that sort of pledge does
not seem to be so very binding in the estimation of some people. So
Ester sat and toyed with hers, and came to the very unwarrantable
conclusion that what her uncle offered for her entertainment it
must be proper for her to take! Do Ester's good sense the justice of
understanding that she didn't believe any such thing; that she knew it
was her own conscience by which she was to be judged, not her uncle's;
that such smooth-sounding arguments honestly meant that whatever her
uncle offered for her entertainment she had not the moral courage to
refuse. So she raised the dainty wine-glass to her lips, and never
once bethought herself to look at Abbie and notice how the color
mounted and deepened on her face, nor how her glass remained untouched
beside her plate. On the whole Ester was glad when all the bewildering
ceremony of the dinner was concluded, and she, on the strength of her
being wearied with her journey, was permitted to retire with Abbie to
their room.




CHAPTER IX.

COUSIN ABBIE.


"Now I have you all to myself," that young lady said, with a happy
smile, as she turned the key on the retreating Maggie and wheeled an
ottoman to Ester's side. "Where shall we commence? I have so very much
to say and hear; I want to know all about Aunt Laura, and Sadie, and
the twins. Oh, Ester, you have a little brother; aren't you so glad he
is a _little_ boy?"

"Why, I don't know," Ester said, hesitatingly; then more decidedly,
"No; I am always thinking how glad I should be if he were a young man,
old enough to go out with me, and be company for me."

"I know that is pleasant; but there are very serious drawbacks. Now,
there's our Ralph, it is very pleasant to have him for company; and
yet - Well, Ester, he isn't a Christian, and it seems all the time to
me that he is walking on quicksands. I am in one continual tremble for
him, and I wish so often that he was just a little boy, no older than
your brother Alfred; then I could learn his tastes, and indeed mold
them in a measure by having him with me a great deal, and it does seem
to me that I could make religion appear such a pleasant thing to
him, that he couldn't help seeking Jesus for himself. Don't you enjoy
teaching Alfred?"

Poor, puzzled Ester! With what a matter-of-course air her cousin asked
this question. Could she possibly tell her that she sometimes never
gave Alfred a thought from one week's end to another, and that she
never in her life thought of teaching him a single thing.

"I am not his teacher," she said at length "I have no time for any
such thing; he goes to school, you know, and mother helps him."

"Well," said Abbie, with a thoughtful air, "I don't quite mean
teaching, either; at least not lessons and things of that sort, though
I think I should enjoy having him depend on me in all his needs; but I
was thinking more especially of winning him to Jesus; it seems so much
easier to do it while one is young. Perhaps he is a Christian now; is
he?"

Ester merely shook her head in answer. She could not look in those
earnest blue eyes and say that she had never, by word or act, asked
him to come to Jesus.

"Well, that is what I mean; you have so much more chance than I,
it seems to me. Oh, my heart is so heavy for Ralph! I am all
alone. Ester, do you know that neither my mother nor my father are
Christians, and our home influence is - ; well, is not what a young man
needs. He is very - gay they call it. There are his friends here in the
city, and his friends in college, - none of them the style of people
that _I_ like him to be with, - and only poor little me to stem the
tide of worldliness all around him. There is one thing in particular
that troubles me - he is, or rather he is not - ," and here poor Abbie
stopped, and a little silence followed. After a moment she spoke
again: "Oh, Ester, you will learn what I mean without my telling you;
it is something in which I greatly need your help. I depend upon you;
I have looked forward to your coming, on his account as well as on my
own. I know it will be better for him."

Ester longed to ask what the "something" was, and what was expected
of her; but the pained look on Abbie's face deterred her, and she
contented herself by saying:

"Where is he now?"

"In college; coming next week. I long, on his account, to have a home
of my own. I believe I can show him a style of life which will appear
better to him than the one he is leading now."

This led to a long talk on the coming wedding.

"Mother is very much disturbed that it should occur in August," Abbie
said; "and of course it is not pleasant as it would be later; but the
trouble is, Mr. Foster is obliged to go abroad in September."

"Who is Mr. Foster? Can't you be married if he isn't here?"

"Not very well," Abbie said, with a bright little laugh. "You see he
is the one who has asked me to marry him."

"Why! is he?" and Ester laughed at her former question; then, as a
sudden thought occurred to her, she asked: "Is he a minister?"

"Oh dear no, he is only a merchant."

"Is he a - a Christian?" was her next query, and so utterly unused was
she to conversation on this subject, that she actually stammered over
the simple sentence.

Such a bright, earnest face as was turned toward her at this question!

"Ester," said Abbie quickly, "I couldn't marry a man who was not a
Christian."

"Why," Ester asked, startled a little at the energy of her tone, "do
you think it is wrong?"

"Perhaps not for every one. I think one's own carefully enlightened
conscience should prayerfully decide the question; but it would be
wrong for me. I am too weak; it would hinder my own growth in grace. I
feel that I need all the human helps I can get. Yes, Mr. Foster is an
earnest Christian."

"Do you suppose," said Ester, growing metaphysical, "that if Mr.
Foster were not a Christian you would marry him?"

A little shiver quivered through Abbie's frame as she answered:

"I hope I should have strength to do what I thought right; and I
believe I should."

"Yes, you think so now," persisted Ester, "because there is no danger
of any such trial; but I tell you I don't believe, if you were brought
to the test, that you would do any such thing."

Abbie's tone in reply was very humble.

"Perhaps not - I might miserably fail; and yet, Ester, _He_ has said,
'My grace is sufficient for thee.'"

Then, after a little silence, the bright look returned to her face as
she added:

"I am very glad that I am not to be tried in that furnace; and do you
know, Ester, I never believed in making myself a martyr to what might
have been, or even what _may_ be in the future; 'sufficient unto the
day' is my motto. If it should ever be my duty to burn at the stake, I
believe I should go to my Savior and plead for the 'sufficient grace;'
but as long as I have no such known trial before me, I don't know
why I should be asking for what I do not need, or grow unhappy over
improbabilities, though I _do_ pray every day to be prepared for
whatever the future has for me."

Then the talk drifted back again to the various details connected with
the wedding, until suddenly Abbie came to her feet with a spring.

"Why, Ester!" she exclaimed penitently, "What a thoughtless wretch I
am! Here have I been chattering you fairly into midnight, without
a thought of your tired body and brain. This session must adjourn
immediately. Shall you and I have prayers together to-night? Will
it seem homelike to you? Can you play I am Sadie for just a little
while?"

"I should like it," Ester answered faintly.

"Shall I read, as you are so weary?" and, without waiting for a reply,
she unclasped the lids of her little Bible. "Are you reading the Bible
by course? Where do you like best to read, for devotional reading I
mean?"

"I don't know that I have any choice?" Ester's voice was fainter
still.

"Haven't you? I have my special verses that I turn to in my various
needs. Where are you and Sadie reading?"

"No where," said Ester desperately.

Abbie's face expressed only innocent surprise

"Don't you read together? You are roommates, aren't you? Now I always
thought it would be so delightful to have a nice little time, like
family worship, in one's own room."

"Sadie doesn't care anything about these things, she isn't a
Christian," Ester said at length.

"Oh, dear! isn't she?" What a very sad and troubled tone it was in
which Abbie spoke. "Then you know something of my anxiety; and yet it
is different. She is younger than you, and you can have her so much
under your influence. At least it seems different to me. How prone we
are to consider our own anxieties peculiarly trying."

Ester never remembered giving a half hour's anxious thought to this
which was supposed to be an anxiety with her in all her life; but she
did not say so, and Abbie continued: "Who is your particular Christian
friend, then?"

What an exceedingly trying and troublesome talk this was to Ester!
What _was_ she to say?

Clearly nothing but the truth.

"Abbie, I haven't a friend in the world."

"You poor, dear child; then we are situated very much alike after
all - though I have dear friends outside of my own family; but what a
heavy responsibility you must feel in your large household, and you
the only Christian. Do you shrink from responsibility of that kind,
Ester? Does it seem, sometimes, as if it would almost rush you?"

"Oh, there are some Christians in the family," Ester answered,
preferring to avoid the last part of the sentence; "but then - "

"They are half way Christians, perhaps. I understand how that is; it
really seems sadder to me than even thoughtless neglect."

Be it recorded that Ester's conscience pricked her. This supposition
on Abbie's part was not true. Dr. Van Anden, for instance, always had
seemed to her most horribly and fanatically in earnest. But in what
rank should she place this young, and beautiful, and wealthy city
lady? Surely, she could not be a fanatic?

Ester was troubled.

"Well," said Abbie, "suppose I read you some of my sweet verses. Do
you know I always feel a temptation to read in John? There is so much
in that book about Jesus, and John seemed to love him so."

Ester almost laughed. What an exceedingly queer idea - a _temptation_
to read in any part of the Bible. What a strange girl her cousin was.

Now the reading began.

"This is my verse when I am discouraged - 'Wait on the Lord; be of
good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the
Lord.' Isn't that reassuring. And then these two. Oh, Ester, these are
wonderful! 'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions,
and, as a cloud, thy sins; return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.'
'Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts
of the earth; break forth in singing, ye mountains, O forest, and
every tree therein; for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified
himself in Israel.' And in that glorious old prophet's book is my
jubilant verse - 'And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come
to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall
obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.'"

"Now, Ester, you are very tired, aren't you? and I keep dipping into
my treasure like a thoughtless, selfish girl as I am. You and I will
have some precious readings out of this book, shall we not? Now I'll
read you my sweet good-night Psalm. Don't you think the Psalms are
wonderful, Ester?"

And without waiting for reply the low-toned, musical voice read on
through that marvel of simplicity and grandeur, the 121st Psalm: "I
will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. He will not
suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The
Lord is thy keeper, the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The
sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall
preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord
shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth,
and even for evermore."

"Ester, will you pray?" questioned her cousin, as the reading ceased,
and she softly closed her tiny book.

Ester gave her head a nervous, hurried shake.

"Then shall I? or, dear Ester, would you prefer to be alone?"

"No," said Ester; "I should like to hear you?" And so they knelt, and
Abbie's simple, earnest, tender prayer Ester carried with her for many
a day.

After both heads were resting on their pillows, and quiet reigned in
the room, Ester's eyes were wide open. Her Cousin Abbie had astonished
her; she was totally unlike the Cousin Abbie of her dreams in
every particular; in nothing more so than the strangely childlike
matter-of-course way in which she talked about this matter of
religion. Ester had never in her life heard any one talk like that,
except, perhaps, that minister who had spoken to her in the depot.
His religion seemed not unlike Abbie's. Thinking of him, she suddenly
addressed Abbie again.

"There was a minister in the depot to-day, and he spoke to me;" then
the entire story of the man with his tract, and the girl with blue
ribbons, and the old lady, and the young minister, and bits of the
conversation, were gone over for Abbie's benefit.

And Abbie listened, and commented, and enjoyed every word of it, until
the little clock on the mantel spoke in silver tones, and said, one,
two. Then Abbie grew penitent again.

"Positively, Ester, I won't speak again: you will be sleepy all day
to-morrow, and you needn't think I shall give you a chance even to
wink. Good-night."

"Good-night," repeated Ester; but she still kept her eyes wide
open. Her journey, and her arrival, and Abbie, and the newness and
strangeness of everything around her, had banished all thought of
sleep. So she went over in detail everything which had occurred that
day but persistently her thoughts returned to the question which
had so startled her, coming from the lips of a stranger, and to the
singleness of heart which seemed to possess her Cousin Abbie.

"_Was_ she a fellow-pilgrim after all?" she queried. If so, what
caused the difference between Abbie and herself. It was but a few
hours since she first beheld her cousin; and yet she distinctly
_felt_ the difference between them in that matter. "We are as unlike,"
thought Ester, turning restlessly on her pillow. "Well, as unlike as
two people can be."

What _would_ Abbie say could she know that it was actually months
since Ester had read as much connectedly in her Bible as she had heard
read that evening? Yes, Ester had gone backward, even as far as that!
Farther! What would Abbie say to the fact that there were many, many
prayerless days in her life? Not very many, perhaps, in which she had
not used a form of prayer; but their names were legion in which she
had risen from her knees unhelped and unrefreshed; in which she knew
that she had not _prayed_ a single one of the sentences which she had
been repeating. And just at this point she was stunned with a sudden
thought - a thought which too often escapes us all. She would not for
the world, it seemed to her, have made known to Abbie just how matters
stood with her; and yet, and yet - Christ knew it all. She lay very
still, and breathed heavily. It came to her with all the thrill of an
entirely new idea.

Then that unwearied and ever-watchful Satan came to her aid.

"Oh, well," said he, "your Cousin Abbie's surroundings are very
different from yours. Give you all the time which she has at her
disposal, and I dare say you would be quite as familiar with your
Bible as she is with hers. What does she know about the petty
vexations and temptations, and bewildering, ever-pressing duties which
every hour of every day beset your path? The circumstances are very
different. Her life is in the sunshine, yours in the shadow. Besides,
you do not know her; it is easy enough to talk; _very_ easy to read
a chapter in the Bible; but after all there are other things quite as
important, and it is more than likely that your cousin is not quite
perfect yet."

Ester did not know that this was the soothing lullaby of the old
Serpent. Well for her if she had, and had answered it with that
solemn, all-powerful "Get thee behind me, Satan." But she gave her own
poor brain the benefit of every thought; and having thus lulled, and
patted, and coaxed her half-roused and startled conscience into quiet
rest again, she turned on her pillow and went to sleep.




CHAPTER X.

ESTER'S MINISTER.


Ester was dreaming that the old lady on the cars had become a fairy,
and that her voice sounded like a silver bell, when she suddenly
opened her eyes, and found that it was either the voice of the marble
clock on the mantel, or of her Cousin Abbie, who was bending over her.

"Do you feel able to get up to breakfast, Ester dear, or had you
rather lie and rest?"

"Breakfast!" echoed Ester, in a sleepy bewilderment, raising herself
on one elbow, and gazing at her cousin.

"Yes, breakfast!" - this with a merry laugh "Did you suppose that
people in New York lived without such inconveniences?"

Oh! to be sure, she was in New York, and Ester repeated the laugh - it
had sounded so queerly to hear any one talk to her about getting up to
breakfast; it had not seemed possible that that meal could be prepared
without her assistance.

"Yes, certainly, I'll get up at once. Have I kept you waiting, Abbie?"

"Oh no, not at all; generally we breakfast at nine, but mother gave
orders last night to delay until half-past nine this morning."

Ester turned to the little clock in great amazement; it was actually
ten minutes to nine! What an idea! She never remembered sleeping so
late in her life before. Why, at home the work in the dining-room and
kitchen must all be done by this time, and Sadie was probably making
beds. Poor Sadie! What a time she would have! "She will learn a little
about life while I am away," thought Ester complacently, as she stood
before the mirror, and pinned the dainty frill on her new pink cambric
wrapper, which Sadie's deft fingers had fashioned for her.

Ester had declined the assistance of Maggie - feeling that though she
knew perfectly well how to make her own toilet, she did _not_ know how
to receive assistance in the matter.

"Now I will leave you for a little," Abbie said, taking up her tiny
Bible.

"Ester, where is your Bible? I suppose you have it with you?"

Ester looked annoyed.

"I don't believe I have," she said hurriedly. "I packed in such haste,
you see, and I don't remember putting it in at all."

"Oh, I am sorry - you will miss it so much! Do you have a thousand
little private marks in your Bible that nobody else understands? I
have a great habit of reading in that way. Well, I'll bring you one
from the library that you may mark just as much as you please."

Ester sat herself down, with a very complacent air, beside the open
window, with the Bible which had just been brought her, in her lap.
Clearly she had been left alone that she might have opportunity for
private devotion, and she liked the idea very much; to be sure, she
had not been in the habit of reading in the Bible in the morning, but
that, she told herself, was simply because she never had time hardly
to breathe in the mornings at home; there she had beefsteak to
cook, and breakfast rolls to attend to, she said disdainfully, as if
beefsteak and breakfast rolls were the most contemptible articles in
the world, entirely beneath the notice of a rational being; but now
she was in a very different atmosphere; and at nine o'clock of a
summer morning was attired in a very becoming pink wrapper, finished
with the whitest of frills; and sat at her window, a young lady of
elegant leisure, waiting for the breakfast-bell. Of course she could
read a chapter in the Bible now, and should enjoy it quite as much as
Abbie did. She had never learned that happy little habit of having
a much-used, much-worn, much-loved Bible for her own personal and
private use; full of pencil marks and sacred meanings, grown dear from
association, and teeming with memories of precious communings. She had
one, of course - a nice, proper-looking Bible - and if it chanced to be
convenient when she was ready to read, she used it; if not, she took
Sadie's, or picked up Julia's from under the table, or the old one
on a shelf in the corner, with one cover and part of Revelation
missing - it mattered not one whit to her which - for there were no
pencil marks, and no leaves turned down, and no special verses to
find. She thought the idea of marking certain verses an excellent
one, and deciding to commence doing so at once, cast about her for
a pencil. There was one on the round table, by the other window; but
there were also many other things. Abbie's watch lay ticking softly in
its marble and velvet bed, and had to be examined and sighed over; and
Abbie's diamond pin in the jewel-case also demanded attention - then
there were some blue and gold volumes to be peeped at, and Longfellow
received more than a peep; then, most witching of all, "Say and Seal,"
in two volumes - the very books Sadie had borrowed once, and returned,
before Ester had a chance to discover how Faith managed about the
ring. Longfellow and the Bible slid on the table together, and "Say
and Seal" was eagerly seized upon, just to be glanced over, and the
glances continued until there pealed a bell through the house;
and, with a start, and a confused sense of having neglected her
opportunities, this Christian young lady followed her cousin down
stairs, to meet all the temptations and bewilderments of a new day,
unstrengthened by communion with either her Bible or her Savior.

That breakfast, in all its details, was a most bewitching affair.
Ester felt that she could never enjoy that meal again, at a table that
was not small and round, and covered with damask nor drink coffee that
had not first flowed gracefully down from a silver urn. As for Aunt
Helen, she could have dispensed with her; she even caught herself
drawing unfavorable comparisons between her and the patient,
hardworking mother far away.

"Where is Uncle Ralph?" she asked suddenly, becoming conscious that
there were only three, when last evening there were four.

"Gone down town some hours ago," Abbie answered. "He is a
business-man, you know, and can not keep such late hours."

"But does he go without breakfast?"

"No - takes it at seven, instead of nine, like our lazy selves."

"He used to breakfast at a restaurant down town, like other
business-men," further explained Aunt Helen, observing the bewildered
look of this novice in city-life. "But it is one of Abbie's recent
whims that she can make him more comfortable at home, so they rehearse
the interesting scene of breakfast by gas-light every morning."

Abbie's clear laugh rang out merrily at this.

"My dear mother, don't, I beg of you, insult the sun in that manner!
Ester, fancy gas-light at seven o'clock on an August morning!"

"Do you get down stairs at seven o'clock?" was Ester's only reply.

"Yes, at six, or, at most, half-past. You see, if I am to make father
as comfortable at home as he would be at a restaurant, I must flutter
around a little."

"Burns her cheeks and her fingers over the stove," continued Aunt
Helen in a disgusted tone, "in order that her father may have burnt
toast prepared by her hands."

"You've blundered in one item, mother," was Abbie's good-humored


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