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verdict, with a determined - "I have known _one_" - what might not have
been gained for your side that night?




CHAPTER XII.

THREE PEOPLE.


As it was she hesitated, and thought - not of Ester, _her_ life had not
been such as to be counted for a moment - of her mother.

Well, Mrs. Ried's religion had been of a negative rather than of
a positive sort, at least outwardly. She never spoke much of these
matters, and Sadie positively did not know whether she ever prayed or
not. How was she to decide whether the gentle, patient life was
the outgrowth of religion in her heart, or whether it was a natural
sweetness of disposition and tenderness of feeling?

Then there was Dr. Van Anden, an hour ago she would surely have said
him, but now it was impossible; so as the silence, and the peculiar
smile on Dr. Douglass' face, grew uncomfortable, she answered
hurriedly: "I don't know many Christian people, Doctor." And then,
more truthfully: "But I don't consider those with whom I am acquainted
in any degree remarkable; yet at the same time I don't choose to set
down the entire Christian world as a company of miserable hypocrites."

"Not at all," the Doctor answered quickly. "I assure you I have many
friends among that class of people whom I respect and esteem; but
since you have pressed me to continue this conversation I must frankly
confess to you that my esteem is not based on the fact that they are
called Christians. I - but, Miss Ried, this is entirely unlike, and
beneath me, to interfere with and shake your innocent, trusting faith.
I would not do it for the world."

Sadie interrupted him with an impatient shake of her head.

"Don't talk nonsense, Dr. Douglass, if you can help it. I don't feel
innocent at all, just now at least, and I have no particular faith
to shake; if I had I hope you would not consider it such a flimsy
material as to be shaken by any thing which you have said as yet.
I certainly have heard no arguments. Occasionally I think of these
matters, and I have been surprised, and not a little puzzled, to note
the strange inconsistency existing between the profession and practice
of these people. If you have any explanation I should like to hear it;
that is all."

Clearly this man must use at least the semblance of sense if he were
going to continue the conversation. His answer was grave and guarded.

"I have offered no arguments, nor do I mean to. I was apologizing for
having touched upon this matter at all. I am unfortunate in my belief,
or rather disbelief; but it is no part of my intention to press it
upon others. I incline to the opinion that there are some very good,
nice, pleasant people in the world, whom the accidents of birth and
education have taught to believe that they are aided in this goodness
and pleasantness by a more than human power, and this belief rather
helps than otherwise to mature their naturally sweet, pure lives. My
explanation of their seeming inconsistencies is, that they have never
realized the full moral force of the rules which they profess to
follow. I divide the world into two distinct classes - the so-called
Christian world, I mean. Those whom I have just named constitute one
class, and the other is composed of unmitigated hypocrites. Now my
friend, I have talked longer on this subject than I like, or than I
ought. I beg you will forget all I have said, and give me some music
to close the scene."

Sadie laughed, and ran her fingers lightly over the keys; but she
asked:

"In which class do you place your brother in the profession, Doctor?"

Dr. Douglass drew his shoulder into a very slight though expressive
shrug, as he answered.

"It is exceedingly proper, and also rather rare, for a physician to be
eminent not only for skill but piety, and my brother practitioner is a
wise and wary man, who - " and here he paused abruptly - "Miss Ried," he
added after a moment, in an entirely changed tone: "Which of us is at
fault to-night, you or myself, that I seem bent on making uncharitable
remarks? I really did not imagine myself so totally depraved. And to
be serious, I am very sorry that this style of conversation was ever
commenced. I did not intend it. I do not believe in interfering with
the beliefs, or controverting the opinions of others."

Apparently Sadie had recovered her good humor, for her laugh was as
light and careless as usual when she made answer:

"Don't distress yourself unnecessarily, Dr. Douglass; you haven't done
me the least harm. I assure you I don't believe a word you say, and
I do you the honor of believing that you don't credit more than
two-thirds of it yourself. Now I'm going to play you the stormiest
piece of music you ever heard in your life." And the keys rattled and
rang under her touch, and drew half a dozen loungers from the halls to
the parlor, and effectually ended the conversation.

Three people belonging to that household held each a conversation with
their own thoughts that night, which to finite eyes would have aided
the right wonderfully had it been said before the assembled three,
instead of in the quiet and privacy of their own rooms.

Sadie had calmed down, and, as a natural consequence, was somewhat
ashamed of herself; and as she rolled up and pinned, and otherwise
snugged her curls into order for the night, scolded herself after this
fashion:

"Sadie Ried, you made a simpleton of yourself in that speech which
you made to Dr. Van Anden to-night; because you think a man interferes
with what doesn't concern him, is no reason why you should grow
flushed and angry, and forget that you're a lady. You said some very
rude and insulting words, and you know your poor dear mother would
tell you so if she knew any thing about it, which she won't; that's
one comfort; and besides you have probably offended those delightful
black ponies, and it will be forever before they will take you another
ride, and that's worse than all the rest. But who would think of Dr.
Van Anden being such a man? I wish Dr. Douglass had gone to Europe
before he told me - it was rather pleasant to believe in the extreme
goodness of somebody. I wonder how much of that nonsense which Dr.
Douglass talks he believes, any way? Perhaps he is half right; only
I'm not going to think any such thing, because it would be wicked, and
I'm good. And because" - in a graver tone, and with a little reverent
touch of an old worn book which lay on her bureau - "this is my
father's Bible, and he lived and died by its precepts."

Up another flight of stairs, in his own room, Dr. Douglass lighted his
cigar, fixed himself comfortably in his arm-chair, with his feet on
the dressing-table, and, between the puffs, talked after this fashion:

"Sorry we ran into this miserable train of talk to-night; but that
young witch leads a man on so. I'm glad she has a decided mind of her
own; one feels less conscience-stricken. I'm what they call a skeptic
myself, but after all, I don't quite like to see a lady become one.
_I_ shan't lead her astray. I wouldn't have said any thing to-night if
it hadn't been for that miserable hypocrite of a Van Anden; the fellow
must learn not to pitch into me if he wants to be let alone; but I
doubt if he accomplished much this time. What a witch she is!" And Dr.
Douglass removed his cigar long enough to give vent to a hearty laugh
in remembrance of some of Sadie's remarks.

Just across the hall Dr. Van Anden sat before his table, one hand
partly shading his eyes from the gaslight while he read. And the words
which he read were these: "O let not the oppressed returned ashamed:
let the poor and needy praise thy name. Arise, O God, plead thine own
cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. Forget not
the voice of thine enemies; the tumult of those that rise up against
thee increaseth continually."

Something troubled the Doctor to-night; his usually grave face was
tinged with sadness. Presently he arose and paced with slow measured
tread up and down the room.

"I ought to have done it," he said at last. "I ought to have told
her mother that he was in many ways an unsafe companion for Sadie,
especially in this matter; he is a very cautious, guarded, fascinating
skeptic - all the more fascinating because he will be careful not to
shock her taste with any boldly-spoken errors. I should have warned
them - how came I to shrink so miserably from my duty? What mattered it
that they would be likely to ascribe a wrong motive to my caution? It
was none the less my duty on that account." And the sad look deepened
on his face as he marched slowly back and forth; but he was nearer a
solution of his difficulties than was either of those others for at
last he came over to his chair again, and sank before it on his knees.

Now, let us understand these three people each of them, in their
separate ways, were making mistakes. Sadie had said that she was not
going to believe any of the nonsense which Dr. Douglass talked; she
honestly supposed that she was not influenced in the least. And yet
she was mistaken; the poison had entered her soul. As the days passed
on, she found herself more frequently caviling over the shortcomings
of professing Christians; more quick to detect their mistakes and
failures; more willing to admit the half-uttered thought that this
entire matter might be a smooth-sounding fable. Sadie was the child
of many prayers, and her father's much-used Bible lay on her
dressing-table, speaking for him, now that his tongue was silent in
the grave; so she did not _quite_ yield to the enemy - but she was
walking in the way of temptation - and the Christian tongues around
her, which the grave had _not_ silenced, yet remained as mute as
though their lips were already sealed; and so the path in which Sadie
walked grew daily broader and more dangerous.

Then there was Dr. Douglass - not by any means the worst man that the
world can produce. He was, or fancied himself to be, a skeptic. Like
many a young man, wise in his own conceit, he had no very distinct
idea of what he was skeptical about, nor to what hights of illogical
nonsense his own supposed views, carried out, would lead him;
like many another, too, he had studied rhetoric, and logic, and
mathematics, and medicine, thoroughly and well; he would have
hesitated long, and studied hard, and pondered deeply, before he had
ventured to dispute an established point in surgery. And yet, with
the inconsistent folly of the age, he had absurdly set his seal to the
falsity of the Bible, after giving it, at most, but a careless reading
here and there, and without having ever once honestly made use of
the means by which God has promised to enlighten the seekers after
knowledge. And yet, his eyes being blinded, he did not realize how
absurd and unreasonable, how utterly foolish, was his conduct. He
thought himself sincere; he had no desire to lead Sadie astray from
her early education, and, like most skeptical natures, he quite
prided himself upon the care with which he guarded his peculiar views,
although I could never see why that was being any other than miserably
selfish or inconsistent; for it is saying, in effect, one of two
things, either: "My belief is sacred to myself alone, and nobody else
shall have the benefit of it, if I can help it;" or else: "I am very
much ashamed of my position as a skeptic, and I shall keep it to
myself as much as possible." Be that as it may, Dr. Douglass so
thought, and was sincere in his intentions to do Sadie no harm; yet,
as the days came and went, he was continually doing her injury. They
were much in each other's society, and the subject which he meant
should be avoided was constantly intruding. Both were so constantly
on the alert, to see and hear the unwise, and inconsistent, and
unchristian acts and words, and also, alas! there were so many to be
seen and heard, that these two made rapid strides in the broad road.

Finally, there was Dr. Van Anden, carrying about with him a sad and
heavy heart. He could but feel that he had shrunken from his duty,
hidden behind that most miserable of all excuses: "What will people
think?" If Dr. Douglass had had any title but that particular one
prefixed to his name, he would not have hesitated to have advised Mrs.
Ried concerning him; but how could he endure the suspicion that he
was jealous of Dr. Douglass? Then, in trying to right the wrong, by
warning Sadie, he was made to realize, as many a poor Christian has
realized before him, that he was making the sacrifice too late, and in
vain. There was yet another thing - Dr. Douglass' statements to Sadie
had been colored with truth. Among his other honest mistakes was the
belief that Dr. Van Anden was a hypocrite. They had clashed in former
years. Dr. Douglass had been most in the wrong, though what man,
unhelped by Christ, was ever known to believe this of himself? But
there had been wrong also on the other side, hasty words spoken - words
which rankled, and were rankling still, after the lapse of years. Dr.
Van Anden had never said: "I should not have spoken thus; I am sorry."
He had taught himself to believe that it would be an unnecessary
humiliation for him to say this to a man who had so deeply wronged
him!

But, to do our doctor justice, time had healed the wound with him; it
was not personal enmity which prompted his warning, neither had he any
idea of the injury which those sharp words of his were doing in the
unsanctified heart. And when he dropped upon his knees that night he
prayed earnestly for the conversion of Sadie and Dr. Douglass.

So these three lived their lives under that same roof, and guessed not
what the end might be.




CHAPTER XIII.

THE STRANGE CHRISTIAN.


"Abbie," said Ester, wriggling herself around from before an open
trunk, and letting a mass of collars and cuffs slide to the floor in
her earnestness, "do you know I think you're the very strangest girl I
ever knew in my life?"

"I'm sure I did not," Abbie answered gaily. "If it's a nice 'strange'
do tell me about it. I like to be nice - ever so much."

"Well, but I am in earnest, Abbie; you certainly are. These very
collars made me think of it. Oh dear me! they are all on the floor."
And she reached after the shining, sliding things.

Abbie came and sat down beside her, presently, with a mass of puffy
lace in her hands, which she was putting into shape.

"Suppose we have a little talk, all about myself," she said gently and
seriously. "And please tell me, Ester, plainly and simply, what you
mean by the term 'strange.' Do you know I have heard it so often that
sometimes I fear I really am painfully unlike other people. You are
just the one to enlighten me."

Ester laughed a little as she answered: "You are taking the matter
very seriously. I did not mean any thing dreadful."

"Ah! but you are not to be excused in that way, my dear Ester. I look
to you for information. Mother has made the remark a great many times,
but it is generally connected in some way with religious topics, and
mother, you know, is not a Christian; therefore I have thought that
perhaps some things seemed strange to her which would not to - _you_,
for instance. But since you have been here you have spoken your
surprise concerning me several times, and looked it oftener; and
to-day I find that even my stiff and glossy, and every way proper,
collars and cuffs excite it. So do please tell me, ought I to be in a
lunatic asylum somewhere instead of preparing to go to Europe?"

Now although Ester laughed again, at the mixture of comic and pathetic
in Abbie's tone, yet something in the words had evidently embarrassed
her. There was a little struggle in her mind, and then she came boldly
forth with her honest thoughts.

"Well, the strangeness is connected with religious topics in my mind
also; even though I am a professing Christian I do not understand you.
I am an economist in dress, you know, Abbie. I don't care for these
things in the least; but if I had the money as you have, there are a
great many things which I should certainly have. You see there is
no earthly sense in your economy, and yet you hesitate over expenses
almost as much as I do."

There was a little gleam of mischief in Abbie's eyes as she answered:
"Will you tell me, Ester, why you would take the trouble to get 'these
things' if you do not care for them in the least?"

"Why because - because - they would be proper and befitting my station
in life."

"Do I dress in a manner unbecoming to my station in life."

"No," said Ester promptly, admiring even then the crimson finishings
of her cousin's morning-robe. "But then - Well, Abbie, do you think it
is wicked to like nice things?"

"No," Abbie answered very gently; "but I think it is wrong to school
ourselves into believing that we do not care for any thing of the
kind; when, in reality, it is a higher, better motive which deters us
from having many things. Forgive me, Ester, but I think you are unjust
sometimes to your better self in this very way."

Ester gave a little start, and realized for the first time in her
life that, truth-loving girl though she was, she had been practicing
a pretty little deception of this kind, and actually palming it off on
herself. In a moment, however, she returned to the charge.

"But, Abbie, did Aunt Helen really want you to have that pearl velvet
we saw at Stewart's?"

"She really did."

"And you refused it?"

"And I refused it."

"Well, is that to be set down as a matter of religion, too?" This
question was asked with very much of Ester's old sharpness of tone.

Abbie answered her with a look of amazement. "I think we don't
understand each other," she said at length, with the gentlest of
tones. "That dress, Ester, with all its belongings could not have cost
less than seven hundred dollars. Could I, a follower of the meek
and lowly Jesus, living in a world where so many of his poor are
suffering, have been guilty of wearing such a dress as that? My dear,
I don't think you sustain the charge against me thus far. I see
now how these pretty little collar (and, by the way, Ester, you are
crushing one of them against that green box) suggested the thought;
but you surely do not consider it strange, when I have such an array
of collars already, that I did not pay thirty dollars for that bit of
a cobweb which we saw yesterday?"

"But Aunt Helen wanted you to."

A sad and troubled look stole over Abbie's face as she answered: "My
mother, remember, dear Ester, does not realize that she is not her
own, but has been bought with a price. You and I know and feel that we
must give an account of our stewardship. Ester, do you see how people
who ask God to help them in every little thing which they have to
decide - in the least expenditure of money - can after that deliberately
fritter it away?"

"Do you ask God's help in these matters?"

"Why, certainly - " with the wondering look in her eyes, which Ester
had learned to know and dislike - "'Whatsoever therefore ye do' - you
know."

"But, Abbie, going out shopping to buy - handkerchiefs, for instance;
that seems to me a very small thing to pray about."

"Even the purchase of handkerchiefs may involve a question of
conscience, my dear Ester, as you would realize if you had seen the
wicked purchases that I have in that line; and some way I never can
feel that any thing that has to do with me is of less importance than
a tiny sparrow, and yet, you know, He looks after them."

"Abbie, do you mean to say that in every little thing that you buy you
weigh the subject, and discuss the right and wrong of it?"

"I certainly do try to find out just exactly what is right, and then
do it; and it seems to me there is no act in this world so small as to
be neither right nor wrong."

"Then," said Ester, with an impatient twitch of her dress from under
Abbie's rocker, "I don't see the use in being rich."

"Nobody is rich, Ester, only God; but I'm so glad sometimes that he
has trusted me with so much of his wealth, that I feel like praying
a prayer about that one thing - a thanksgiving. What else am I strange
about, Ester?"

"Everything," with growing impatience. "I think it was as queer in you
as possible not to go to the concert last evening with Uncle Ralph?"

"But, Ester, it was prayer-meeting evening."

"Well, suppose it was. There is prayer-meeting every week, and
there isn't this particular singer very often, and Uncle Ralph was
disappointed. I thought you believed in honoring your parents."

"You forget, dear Ester, that father said he was particularly anxious
that I should do as I thought right, and that he should not have
purchased the tickets if he had remembered the meeting. Father likes
consistency."

"Well, that is just the point. I want to know if you call it
inconsistent to leave your prayer meeting for just one evening, no
matter for what reason?"

Abbie laughed in answer. "Do you know, Ester, you wouldn't make a good
lawyer, you don't stick to the point. It isn't a great many reasons
that might be suggested that we are talking about, it is simply a
concert." Then more gravely - "I try to be very careful about this
matter. So many detentions are constantly occurring in the city,
that unless the line were very closely-drawn I should not get to
prayer-meeting at all. There are occasions, of course, when I must
be detained; but under ordinary circumstances it must be more than a
concert that detains me."

"I don't believe in making religion such a very solemn matter as that
all amounts to; it has a tendency to drive people away from it."

The look on Abbie's face, in answer to this testily spoken sentence,
was a mixture of bewilderment and pain.

"I don't understand" - she said at length - "How is that a solemn
matter? If we really expect to meet our Savior at a prayer-meeting,
isn't it a delightful thought? I am very happy when I can go to the
place of prayer."

Ester's voice savored decidedly of the one which she was wont to use
in her very worst moods in that long dining-room at home.

"Of course I should have remembered that Mr. Foster would be at the
prayer-meeting, and not at the concert; that was reason enough for
your enjoyment."

The rich blood surged in waves over Abbie's face during this rude
address; but she said not a single word in answer. After a little
silence, she spoke in a voice that trembled with feeling.

"Ester, there is one thought in connection with this subject that
troubles me very much. Do you really think, as you have intimated,
that I am selfish, that I consult my own tastes and desires too much,
and so do injury to the cause. For instance, do you think I prejudiced
my father?"

What a sweet, humble, even tearful, face it was! And what a question
to ask of Ester! What had developed this disagreeable state of mind
save the confused upbraidings of her hitherto quiet conscience over
the contrast between Cousin Abbie's life and hers.

Here, in the very face of her theories to the contrary, in very
defiance to her belief in the folly, and fashion, and worldliness that
prevailed in the city, in the very heart of this great city, set down
in the midst of wealth and temptation, had she found this young lady,
daughter of one of the merchant princes, the almost bride of one of
the brightest stars in the New York galaxy on the eve of a brilliant
departure for foreign shores, with a whirl of preparation and
excitement about her enough to dizzy the brain of a dozen ordinary
mortals, yet moving sweetly, brightly, quietly, through it all, and
manifestly finding her highest source of enjoyment in the presence of,
and daily communion with, her Savior.

All Ester's speculations concerning her had come to naught. She had
planned the wardrobe of the bride, over and over again, for days
before she saw her; and while she had prepared proper little lectures
for her, on the folly and sinfulness of fashionable attire, had yet
delighted in the prospect of the beauty and elegance around her.
How had her prospects been blighted! Beauty there certainly was in
everything, but it was the beauty of simplicity, not at all such
a display of silks and velvets and jewels as Ester had planned. It
certainly could not be wealth which made Abbie's life such a happy
one, for she regulated her expenses with a care and forethought such
as Ester had never even dreamed of. It could not be a life of ease,
a freedom from annoyance, which kept her bright and sparkling, for it
had only taken a week's sojourn in her Aunt Helen's home to discover
to Ester the fact that all wealthy people were not necessarily amiable
and delightful. Abbie was evidently rasped and thwarted in a hundred


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