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commenced: "'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.' Now
that wretched hair-pin is falling out again, as sure as I live; I
don't see what is the matter with my hair to-day. I never had so much
trouble with it - 'All things were made by him; and without him was
not anything made that was made. In him was life: and the life was the
light of men.' - There are Mr. and Miss Hastings. I wonder if they are
going to call here? I wish they would. I should like to get a nearer
view of that trimming around her sack; it is lovely whatever it
is. - 'And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended
it not.'" Now it was doubtful if it had once occurred to Ester
who this glorious "Word" was, or that He had aught to do with her.
Certainly the wonderful and gracious truths embodied in these precious
verses, truths which had to do with every hour of her life, had not
this evening so much as made an entrance into her busy brain; and
yet she actually thought herself in the way of getting rid of the
troublesome thoughts that had haunted her the days just past. The
verses were being read aloud, the thoughts about the troublesome
hair and the trimmings on Miss Hastings' sack were suffered to remain
thoughts, not to put into words - had they been perhaps even Ester
would have noticed the glaring incongruity. As it was she continued
her two occupations, reading the verses, thinking the thoughts, until
at last she came to a sudden pause, and silence reigned in the room
for several minutes; then there flushed over Ester's face a sudden
glow, as she realized that she sat, Bible in hand, one corner of the
solemnly-worded card marking the verse at which she had paused, and
that verse was: "He came unto his own, and his own received him
not." And she realized that her thoughts during the silence had been:
"Suppose Miss Hastings should call and should inquire for her, and she
should go with Aunt Helen to return the call, should she wear mother's
black lace shawl with her blue silk dress, or simply the little
ruffled cape which matched the dress! She read that last verse over
again, with an uncomfortable consciousness that she was not getting on
very well; but try as she would, Ester's thoughts seemed resolved not
to stay with that first chapter of John - they roved all over New York,
visited all the places that she had seen, and a great many that she
wanted to see, and that seemed beyond her grasp, going on meantime
with the verses, and keeping up a disagreeable undercurrent of
disgust. Over those same restless thoughts there came a tap at the
door, and Maggie's voice outside.

"Miss Ried, Miss Abbie sent me to say that there was company waiting
to see you, and if you please would you come down as soon as you

Ester sprang up. "Very well," she responded to Maggie. "I'll be down

Then she waited to shut the card into her Bible to keep the place,
took a parting peep in the mirror to see that the brown hair and blue
ribbon were in order, wondered if it were really the Hastings who
called on her, unlocked her door, and made a rapid passage down the
stairs - most unpleasantly conscious, however, at that very moment that
her intentions of setting herself right had not been carried out, and
also that so far as she had gone it had been a failure. Truly, after
the lapse of so many years, the light was still shining in darkness.

In the parlor, after the other company had departed, Ester found
herself the sole companion of Mr. Foster at the further end of the
long room. Abbie, half sitting, half kneeling on an ottoman near her
father, seemed to be engaged in a very earnest conversation with him,
in which her mother occasionally joined, and at which Ralph appeared
occasionally to laugh; but what was the subject of debate they at
their distance were unable to determine, and at last Mr. Foster turned
to his nearest neighbor.

"And so, Miss Ester, you manufactured me into a minister at our first

In view of their nearness to cousinship the ceremony of surname had
been promptly discarded by Mr. Foster, but Ester was unable to recover
from a sort of awe with which he had at first inspired her, and this
opening sentence appeared to be a confusing one, for she flushed
deeply and only bowed her answer.

"I don't know but it is a most unworthy curiosity on my part,"
continued Mr. Foster, "but I have an overwhelming desire to know
why - or, rather, to know in what respect, I am ministerial. Won't you
enlighten me, Miss Ester?"

"Why," said Ester, growing still more confused, "I thought - I
said - I - No, I mean I heard your talk with that queer old woman,
some of it; and some things that you said made me think you must be a

"What things, Miss Ester?"

"Everything," said Ester desperately. "You talked, you know,
about - about religion nearly all the time."

A look of absolute pain rested for a moment on Mr. Foster's face, as
he said: "Is it possible that your experience with Christian men has
been so unfortunate that you believe none but ministers ever converse
on that subject?"

"I never hear any," Ester answered positively.

"But your example as a Christian lady, I trust, is such that it puts
to shame your experience among gentlemen?"

"Oh but," said Ester, still in great confusion, "I didn't mean to
confine my statement to gentlemen. I never hear anything of the sort
from ladies."

"Not from that dear old friend of ours on the cars?"

"Oh yes; she was different from other people too. I thought she had a
very queer way of speaking; but then she was old and ignorant. I don't
suppose she knew how to talk about any thing else, and she is my one

Mr. Foster glanced in the direction of the golden brown head that was
still in eager debate at the other end of the room, before he asked
his next question. "How is it with your cousin?"

"Oh she!" said Ester, brought suddenly and painfully back to all her
troublesome thoughts - and then, after a moment's hesitation, taking
a quick resolution to probe this matter to its foundation, if it had
one. "Mr. Foster, don't you think she is _very_ peculiar?"

At which question Mr. Foster laughed, then answered good humoredly:
"Do you think me a competent witness in that matter?"

"Yes," Ester answered gravely, too thoroughly in earnest to be amused
now; "she is entirely different from any person that I ever saw in
my life. She don't seem to think about any thing else - at least she
thinks more about this matter than any other."

"And that is being peculiar?"

"Why I think so - unnatural, I mean - unlike other people."

"Well, let us see. Do you call it being peculiarly good or peculiarly

"Why," said Ester in great perplexity, "it isn't _bad_ of course.
But she - no, she is very good, the best person I ever knew; but it is
being like nobody else, and nobody _can_ be like her. Don't you think

"I certainly do," he answered with the utmost gravity, and then he
laughed again; but presently noting her perplexed look, he grew sober,
and spoke with quiet gravity. "I think I understand you, Miss Ester.
If you mean, Do I not think Abbie has attained to a rare growth in
spirituality for one of her age, I most certainly do; but if you mean,
Do I not think it almost impossible for people in general to reach as
high a foothold on the rock as she has gained, I certainly do not.
I believe it is within the power, and not only that, but it is the
blessed privilege, and not only that, but it is the sacred duty of
every follower of the cross to cling as close and climb as high as she

"_I_ don't think so," Ester said, with a decided shake of the head.
"It is much easier for some people to be good Christians than it is
for others."

"Granted - that is, there is a difference of temperament certainly. But
do you rank Abbie among those for whom it was naturally easy?"

"I think so."

This time Mr. Foster's head was very gravely shaken. "If you had known
her when I did you would not think so. It was very hard for her
to yield. Her natural temperament, her former life, her circle of
friends, her home influences were all against her, and yet Christ

"Yes, but having once decided the matter, it is smooth sailing with
her now."

"Do you think so? Has Abbie no trials to meet, no battles with Satan
to fight, so far as you can discover?"

"Only trifles," said Ester, thinking of Aunt Helen and Ralph,
but deciding that Abbie had luxuries enough to offset both these

"I believe you will find that it needs precisely the same help to
meet trifles that it does to conquer mountains of difficulty. The
difference is in degree not in kind. But I happen to know that some of
Abbie's 'trifles' have been very heavy and hard to bear. However, the
matter rests just here, Miss Ester. I believe we are all too willing
to be conquered, too willing to be martyrs, not willing to reach after
and obtain the settled and ever-growing joys of the Christian."

Ester was thoroughly ill at ease; all this condemned her - and at last,
resolved to escape from this net work of her awakening conscience, she
pushed boldly on. "People have different views on this subject as well
as on all others. Now Abbie and I do not agree in our opinions. There
are things which she thinks right that seem to me quite out of place
and improper."

"Yes," he said inquiringly, and with the most quiet and courteous air;
"would you object to mentioning some of those things?"

"Well, as an instance, it seemed to me very queer indeed to hear her
and other young ladies speaking in your teachers' prayer-meeting. I
never heard of such a thing, at least not among cultivated people."

"And you thought it improper?"

"Almost - yes, quite - perhaps. At least _I_ should never do it."

"Were you at Mrs. Burton's on the evening in which our society met?"

This, to Ester's surprise, was her companion's next
very-wide-of-the-mark question. She opened her eyes inquiringly; then
concluding that he was absent-minded, or else had no reply to make,
and was weary of the subject, answered simply and briefly in the

"I was detained that night. Were there many out?"

"Quite a full society Abbie said. The rooms were almost crowded."


"Oh very. I hardly wished to go as they were strangers to me; but I
was very happily disappointed, and enjoyed the evening exceedingly."

"Were there reports?"

"Very full ones, and Mrs. Burton was particularly interesting. She
had forgotten her notes, but gave her reports from memory very

"Ah, I am sorry for that. It must have destroyed the pleasure of the
evening for you."

"I don't understand, Mr. Foster."

"Why you remarked that you considered it improper for ladies to take
part in such matters: and of course what is an impropriety you can not
have enjoyed."

"Oh that is a very different matter. It was not a prayer-meeting."

"I beg pardon. I did not understand. It is only at prayer-meetings
that it is improper for ladies to speak. May I ask why?"

Ester was growing vexed. "Mr. Foster," she said sharply, "you know
that it is quite another thing. There are gentlemen enough present, or
ought to be, to do the talking in a prayer-meeting."

"There is generally a large proportion of gentlemen at the society.
I presume there were those present capable of giving Mrs. Burton's

"Well _I_ consider a society a very different thing from a gathering
in a church."

"Ah, then it's the church that is at fault. If that is the case, I
should propose holding prayer meetings in private parlors. Would that
obviate your difficulty?"

"No," said Ester sharply, "not if there were gentlemen present. It is
their business to conduct a religious meeting."

"Then, after all, it is religion that is at the foundation of this
trouble. Pray, Miss Ester, was Mrs. Burton's report irreligious?"

"Mr. Foster," said Ester, with flushing cheeks, and in a whirl of
vexation, "_don't_ you understand me?"

"I think I do, Miss Ester. The question is, do you understand
yourself? Let me state the case. You are decidedly not a woman's
rights lady. I am decidedly not a woman's rights gentleman - that
is, in the general acceptation of that term. You would think, for
instance, that Abbie was out of her sphere in the pulpit or pleading a
case at the bar. So should I. In fact, there are many public places
in which you and I, for what we consider good and sufficient reasons,
would not like to see her. But, on the other hand, we both enjoy Mrs.
Burton's reports, either verbal or written, as she may choose. We, in
company with many other ladies and gentlemen, listen respectfully;
we both greatly enjoy hearing Miss Ames sing; we both consider
it perfectly proper that she should so entertain us at our social
gatherings. At our literary society we have both enjoyed to the utmost
Miss Hanley's exquisite recitation from 'Kathrina.' I am sure not a
thought of impropriety occurred to either of us. We both enjoyed the
familiar talk on the subject for the evening, after the society proper
had adjourned. So the question resolves itself into this: It seems
that it is pleasant and proper for fifty or more of us to hear Mrs.
Burton's report in Mrs. Burton's parlor - to hear ladies sing - to hear
ladies recite in their own parlors, or in those of their friends - to
converse familiarly on any sensible topic; but the moment the very
same company are gathered in our chapel, and Mrs. Burton says, 'Pray
for my class,' and Miss Ames says, 'I love Jesus,' and Miss Hanley
says, 'The Lord is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever,'
it becomes improper. Will you pardon my obtuseness and explain to me
the wherefore?"

But Ester was not in a mood to explain, if indeed she had aught to
say, and she only answered with great decision and emphasis: "_I_ have
never been accustomed to it."

"No! I think you told me that you were unaccustomed to hearing
poetical recitations from young ladies. Does that condemn them?"

To which question Ester made no sort of answer, but sat looking
confused, ashamed and annoyed all in one. Her companion roused himself
from his half reclining attitude on the sofa, and gave her the benefit
of a very searching look; then he came to an erect posture and spoke
with entire change of tone.

"Miss Ester, forgive me if I have seemed severe in my questionings and
sarcastic in my replies. I am afraid I have. The subject is one which
awakens sarcasm in me. It is so persistently twisted and befogged and
misunderstood, some of the very best people seem inclined to make our
prayer-meetings into formidable church-meetings, for the purpose of
hearing a succession of not _very_ short sermons, rather than a social
gathering of Christians, to sympathize with, and pray for and help
each other, as I believe the Master intended them to be. But may I say
a word to you personally? Are you quite happy as a Christian? Do you
find your love growing stronger and your hopes brighter from day to

Ester struggled with herself, tore bits of down from the edge of her
fan, tried to regain her composure and her voice, but the tender,
gentle, yet searching tone, seemed to have probed her very soul - and
the eyes that at last were raised to meet his were melting into
tears, and the voice which answered him quivered perceptibly. "No, Mr.
Foster, I am not happy."

"Why? May I ask you? Is the Savior untrue to his promises, or is his
professed servant untrue to him?"

Ester's heart was giving heavy throbs of pain, and her conscience was
whispering loudly, "untrue," "untrue;" but she had made no answer,
when Ralph came with brisk step toward where they sat.

"Two against one isn't fair play," he said, with a mixture of mischief
and vexation in his tone. "Foster, don't shirk; you have taught Abbie,
now go and help her fight it out like a man. Come, take yourself over
there and get her out of this scrape. I'll take care of Ester; she
looks as though she had been to camp-meeting."

And Mr. Foster, with a wondering look for Ralph and a troubled one
for Ester, moved slowly toward that end of the long parlor where the
voices were growing louder, and one of them excited.



"This is really the most absurd of all your late absurdities," Mrs.
Ried was saying, in rather a loud tone, and with a look of dignified
disgust bestowed upon Abbie, as Mr. Foster joined the group.

"Will you receive me into this circle, and enlighten me as regards
this particular absurdity," he said, seating himself near Mrs. Ried.

"Oh it was nothing remarkable," that lady replied in her most
sarcastic tone. "At least it is quite time we were growing accustomed
to this new order of things. Abbie is trying to enlighten her father
on the new and interesting question of temperance, especially as it
is connected with wedding parties, in which she is particularly
interested just at present."

Abbie bestowed an appealing glance on Mr. Foster, and remained
entirely silent.

"I believe I can claim equal interest then in the matter," he answered
brightly. "And will petition you, Mrs. Ried, to explain the point at

"Indeed, Mr. Foster, I'm not a temperance lecturer, and do not
consider myself competent to perform the awful task. I refer you
to Abbie, who seems to be thoroughly posted, and very desirous of
displaying her argumentative powers."

Still silence on Abbie's part, and only a little tremble of the
lip told a close observer how deeply she felt the sharp tones and
unmotherly words. Mrs. Ried spoke at last, in calm, measured accents.

"My daughter and I, Mr. Foster, differ somewhat in regard to the
duties and privileges of a host. I claim the right to set before my
guests whatever _I_ consider proper. She objects to the use of wine,
as, perhaps, you are aware. Indeed, I believe she has imbibed her very
peculiar views from you; but I say to her that as I have always been
in the habit of entertaining my guests with that beverage, I presume I
shall continue to do so."

Mr. Foster did not seem in the mood to argue the question, but
responded with genial good humor. "Ah but, Mrs. Ried, you ought to
gratify your daughter in her parting request. That is only natural and
courteous, is it not?"

Mrs. Ried felt called upon to reply. "We have gratified so many of
her requests already that the whole thing bids fair to be the most
ridiculous proceeding that New York has ever witnessed. Fancy a dozen
rough boys banging and shouting through my house, eating cake enough
to make them sick for a month, to say nothing of the quantity which
they will stamp into my carpets, and all because they chance to belong
to Abbie's mission class!"

Ralph and Ester had joined the group in the meantime, and the former
here interposed.

"That last argument isn't valid, mother. Haven't I promised to hoe
out the rooms myself, immediately after the conclusion of the solemn

And Mr. Foster bestowed a sudden troubled look on Abbie, which she
answered by saying in a low voice, "I should recall my invitations to
them under such circumstances."

"You will do no such thing," her father replied sharply. "The
invitations are issued in your parents' names, and we shall have no
such senseless proceedings connected with them When you are in your
own house you will doubtless be at liberty to do as you please; but
in the meantime it would be well to remember that you belong to your
father's family at present."

Ralph was watching the flushing cheek and quivering lip of his young
sister, and at this point flung down the book with which he had been
idly playing, with an impatient exclamation: "It strikes me, father,
that you are making a tremendous din about a little matter. I don't
object to a glass of wine myself, almost under any circumstances, and
I think this excruciating sensitiveness on the subject is absurd and
ridiculous, and all that sort of thing; but at the same time I should
be willing to undertake the job of smashing every wine bottle there is
in the cellar at this moment, if I thought that Sis' last hours in
the body, or at least in the paternal mansion, would be made any more
peaceful thereby."

During this harangue the elder Mr. Ried had time to grow ashamed of
his sharpness, and answered in his natural tone. "I am precisely
of your opinion, my son. We are making 'much ado about nothing.' We
certainly have often entertained company before, and Abbie has sipped
her wine with the rest of us without sustaining very material injury
thereby, so far as I can see. And here is Ester, as stanch a church
member as any of you, I believe, but that doesn't seem to forbid her
behaving in a rational manner, and partaking of whatever her friends
provide for her entertainment. Why can not the rest of you be equally

During the swift second of time which intervened between that sentence
and her reply Ester had three hard things to endure - a sting from
her restless conscience, a look of mingled pain and anxiety from Mr.
Foster, and one of open-eyed and mischievous surprise from Ralph. Then
she spoke rapidly and earnestly. "Indeed, Uncle Ralph, I beg you will
not judge of any other person by my conduct in this matter. I am very
sorry, and very much ashamed that I have been so weak and wicked.
I think just as Abbie does, only I am not like her, and have been
tempted to do wrong, for fear you would think me foolish."

No one but Ester knew how much these sentences cost her; but the
swift, bright look telegraphed her from Abbie's eyes seemed to repay

Ralph laughed outright. "Four against one," he said gaily. "I've gone
over to the enemy's side myself, you see, on account of the pressure.
Father, I advise you to yield while you can do it gracefully, and also
to save me the trouble of smashing the aforesaid bottles."

"But," persisted Mr. Ried, "I haven't heard an argument this evening.
What is there so shocking in a quiet glass of wine enjoyed with a
select gathering of one's friends?"

John now presented himself at the door with a respectful, "If you
please, sir, there is a person in the hall who persists in seeing Mr.

"Show him in, then," was Mr. Ried's prompt reply.

John hesitated, and then added: "He is a very common looking person,
sir, and - "

"I said show him in, I believe," interrupted the gentleman of the
house, in a tone which plainly indicated that he was expending on John
the irritation which he did not like to bestow further, on either his
children or his guests.

John vanished, and Mr. Ried added: "You can take your _friend_ into
the library, Mr. Foster, if it proves to be a private matter."

There was a marked emphasis on the word _friend_ in this sentence; but
Mr. Foster only bowed his reply, and presently John returned, ushering
in a short, stout man, dressed in a rough working suit, twirling his
hat in his hand, and looking extremely embarrassed and out of place in
the elegant parlor. Mr. Foster turned toward him immediately, and gave
him a greeting both prompt and cordial. "Ah, Mr. Jones, good evening.
I have been in search of you today, but some way managed to miss you."

At this point Abbie advanced and placed a small white hand in Mr.
Jones' great hard brown one, as she repeated the friendly greeting,
and inquired at once: "How is Sallie, to-night, Mr. Jones?"

"Well, ma'am, it is about her that I'm come, and I beg your pardon,
sir (turning to Mr. Foster), for making so bold as to come up here
after you; but she is just that bad to-night that I could not find it
in me to deny her any thing, and she is in a real taking to see you.
She has sighed and cried about it most of this day, and to-night we
felt, her mother and me, that we couldn't stand it any longer, and
I said I'd not come home till I found you and told you how much she
wanted to see you. It's asking a good deal, sir, but she is going
fast, she is; and - " Here Mr. Jones' voice choked, and he rubbed his
hard hand across his eyes.

"I will be down immediately," was Mr. Foster's prompt reply.
"Certainly you should have come for me. I should have been very sorry
indeed to disappoint Sallie. Tell her I will be there in half an hour,
Mr. Jones."

And with a few added words of kindness from Abbie, Mr. Jones departed,
looking relieved and thankful.

"That man," said Mr. Foster, turning to Ester, as the door closed
after him, "is the son of our old lady, don't you think! You remember
I engaged to see her conveyed to his home in safety, and my anxiety

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Online LibraryPansyEster Ried → online text (page 9 of 17)