Ester Ried Part 11
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"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 reply. "My toast is _never_ burnt, and only this morning father p.r.o.nounced it perfect."
"Oh, she is developing!" answered Mrs. Ried, with a curious mixture of annoyance and amus.e.m.e.nt in look and tone. "If Mr. Foster fails in business soon, as I presume he will, judging from his present rate of proceeding, we shall find her advertising for the position of first-cla.s.s cook in a small family."
If Abbie felt wounded or vexed over this thrust at Mr. Foster, it showed itself only by a slight deepening of the pink on her cheek, as she answered in the brightest of tones: "If I do, mother, and you engage me, I'll promise you that the eggs shall not be boiled as hard as these are."
All this impressed two thoughts on Ester's mind--one, that Abbie, for some great reason unknown to, and unimagined by herself, actually of her own free will, arose early every morning, and busied herself over preparations for her father's breakfast; the other, that Abbie's mother said some disagreeable things to her, in a disagreeable way--a way that would exceedingly provoke _her_, and that she _wouldn't endure_, she said to herself, with energy.
These two thoughts so impressed themselves, that when she and Abbie were alone again, they led her to ask two questions:
"Why do you get breakfast at home for your father, Abbie? Is it necessary?"
"No; only I like it, and he likes it. You see, he has very little time to spend at home, and I like that little to be homelike; besides, Ester, it is my one hour of opportunity with my father. I almost _never_ see him alone at any other time, and I am constantly praying that the Spirit will make use of some little word or act of mine to lead him to the cross."
There was no reply to be made to this, so Ester turned to the other question:
"What does your mother mean by her reference to Mr. Foster?"
"She thinks some of his schemes of benevolence are on too large a scale to be prudent. But he is a very prudent man, and doesn't seem to think so at all."
"Doesn't it annoy you to have her speak in that manner about him?"
The ever-ready color flushed into Abbie's cheeks again, and, after a moment's hesitation, she answered gently: "I think it would, Ester, if she were not my _own mother_, you know."
Another rebuke. Ester felt vexed anyway. This new strange cousin of hers was going to prove painfully good.
But her first day in New York, despite the strangeness of everything, was full of delight to her. They did not go out, as Ester was supposed to be wearied from her journey, though, in reality, she never felt better; and she reveled all day in a sense of freedom--of doing exactly what she pleased, and indeed of doing nothing; this last was an experience so new and strange to her, that it seemed delightful.
Ester's round of home duties had been so constant and pressing, the rebound was extreme; it seemed to her that she could never bake any more pies and cakes in that great oven, and she actually shuddered over the thought that, if she were at home, she would probably be engaged in ironing, while Maggie did the heavier work.
She went to fanning most vigorously as this occurred to her, and sank back among the luxurious cus.h.i.+ons of Abbie's easy chair, as if exhausted; then she pitied herself most industriously, and envied Abbie more than ever, and gave no thought at all to mother and Sadie, who were working so much harder than usual, in order that she might sit here at ease. At last she decided to dismiss every one of these uncomfortable thoughts, to forget that she had ever spent an hour of her life in a miserable, hot kitchen, but to give herself entirely and unreservedly to the charmed life, which stretched out before her for three beautiful weeks. "Three weeks is quite a little time, after all," she told herself hopefully. "Three weeks ago I hadn't the least idea of being here; and who knows what may happen in the next three weeks? Ah! sure enough, Ester, who knows?"
"When am I to see Mr. Foster?" she inquired of Abbie as they came up together from the dining-room after lunch.
"Why, you will see him to-night, if you are not too tired to go out with me. I was going to ask about that."
"I'm ready for anything; don't feel as if I ever experienced the meaning of that word," said Ester briskly, rejoiced at the prospect of going anywhere.
"Well, then, I shall carry you off to our Thursday evening prayer-meeting--it's just _our_ meeting, you see--we teachers in the mission--there are fifty of us, and we do have the most delightful times. It is like a family--rather a large family, perhaps you think--but it doesn't seem so when we come on Sabbath, from the great congregation, and gather in our dear little chapel--we seem like a company of brothers and sisters, shutting ourselves in at home, to talk and pray together for a little, before we go out into the world again. Is Thursday your regular prayer-meeting evening, Ester?"
Now it would have been very difficult for Ester to tell when _her_ regular prayer-meeting evening was, as it was so long ago that she grew out of the habit of regularly attending, that now she scarcely ever gave it a thought. But she had sufficient conscience left to be ashamed of this state of things, and to understand that Abbie referred to the church prayer-meeting, so she answered simply--"No; Wednesday."
"That is our church prayer-meeting night. I missed it last evening because I wanted to welcome you. And Tuesday is our Bible-cla.s.s night."
"Do you give three evenings a week to religious meetings, Abbie?"
"Yes," said Abbie with softly glee; "isn't it splendid? I appreciate my privileges, I a.s.sure you; so many people _could not_ do it."
"And so many people _would not_" Ester thought.
So they were not in to dinner with the family, but took theirs an hour earlier; and with David, whom Abbie called her body-guard, for escort, made their way to Abbie's dear little chapel, which proved to be a good-sized church, very prettily finished and furnished.
That meeting, from first to last, was a succession of surprises to Ester, commencing with the leader, and being announced to Abbie in undertone:
"Your minister is the very man who spoke to me yesterday in the depot."
Abbie nodded and smiled her surprise at this information; and Ester looked about her. Presently another whisper:
"Why, Abbie, there is the blue-ribboned girl I told you about, sitting in the third seat from the front."
"That," said Abbie, looking and whispering back, "is f.a.n.n.y Ames; one of our teachers."
Presently Ester set to work to select Mr. Foster from the rows of young men who were rapidly filling the front seats in the left aisle.
"I believe that one in gla.s.ses and brown kids is he," she said to herself, regarding him curiously; and as if to reward her penetration he rose suddenly and came over, book in hand, to the seat directly in front of where they were sitting.
"Good evening, Abbie," was his greeting. "We want to sing this hymn, and have not the tune. Can you lead it without the notes?"
"Why, yes," answered Abbie slowly, and with a little hesitation. "That is, if you will help me."
"We'll all help," he said, smiling and returning to his seat.
"Yes, I'm sure that is he," commented Ester. Then the meeting commenced; it was a novel one. One person at least had never attended any just like it. Instead of the chapter of proper length, which Ester thought all ministers selected for public reading, this reader read just three verses, and he did not even rise from his seat to do it, nor use the pulpit Bible, but read from a bit of a book which he took from his pocket. Then the man in spectacles started a hymn, which Ester judged was the one which had no notes attached from the prompt manner in which Abbie took up the very first word.
"Now," said the leader briskly, "before we pray let us have requests."
And almost before he had concluded the sentence a young man responded.
"Remember, especially, a boy in my cla.s.s, who seems disposed to turn every serious word into ridicule."
"What a queer subject for prayer," Ester thought.
"Remember my little brother, who is thinking earnestly of those things," another gentleman said, speaking quickly, as if he realized that he must hasten or lose his chance.
"Pray for every one of my cla.s.s. I want them all." And at this Esther actually started, for the pet.i.tion came from the lips of the blue-ribboned f.a.n.n.y in the corner. A lady actually taking part in a prayer-meeting when gentlemen were present! How very improper. She glanced around her nervously, but no one else seemed in the least surprised or disturbed; and indeed another young lady immediately followed her with a similar request.
"Now," said the leader, "let us pray." And that prayer was so strange in its sounding to Ester. It did not commence by reminding G.o.d that he was the maker and ruler of the universe, or that he was omnipotent and omnipresent and eternal, or any of the solemn forms of prayer to which her ears were used, but simply: "Oh, dear Savior, receive these pet.i.tions which we bring. Turn to thyself the heart of the lad who ridicules the efforts of his teacher; lead the little brother into the strait and narrow way; gather that entire cla.s.s into thy heart of love"--and thus for each separate request a separate pet.i.tion; and as the meeting progressed it grew more strange every moment to Ester.
Each one seemed to have a word that he was eager to utter; and the prayers, while very brief, were so pointed as to be almost startling.
They sang, too, a great deal, only a verse at a time, and whenever they seemed to feel like it. Her amazement reached its hight when she felt a little rustle beside her, and turned in time to see the eager light in Abbie's eyes as she said:
"One of my cla.s.s has decided for Christ."
"Good news," responded the leader. "Don't let us forget this item of thanksgiving when we pray."
Ester Ried Part 11
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Ester Ried Part 11 summary
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