Ester Ried Part 10

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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 rea.s.suring. 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 circ.u.mstances are very different. Her life is in the suns.h.i.+ne, 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 a.s.sistance.

"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 fas.h.i.+oned for her.

Ester had declined the a.s.sistance of Maggie--feeling that though she knew perfectly well how to make her own toilet, she did _not_ know how to receive a.s.sistance 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 n.o.body 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 a.s.sociation, 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 rehea.r.s.e the interesting scene of breakfast by gas-light every morning."

Abbie's clear laugh rang out merrily at this.

Ester Ried Part 10

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Ester Ried Part 10 summary

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