Ester Ried Part 14

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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 fas.h.i.+on:

"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. Dougla.s.s 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.

Dougla.s.s 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. Dougla.s.s lighted his cigar, fixed himself comfortably in his arm-chair, with his feet on the dressing-table, and, between the puffs, talked after this fas.h.i.+on:

"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.

Dougla.s.s 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 G.o.d, 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. Dougla.s.s 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 pa.s.sed 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. Dougla.s.s--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 G.o.d 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 n.o.body 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. Dougla.s.s 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. Dougla.s.s had had any t.i.tle 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. Dougla.s.s? 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. Dougla.s.s' 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. Dougla.s.s 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. Dougla.s.s.

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 ma.s.s 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 s.h.i.+ning, sliding things.

Abbie came and sat down beside her, presently, with a ma.s.s 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 embarra.s.sed 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 finis.h.i.+ngs 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 crus.h.i.+ng 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 stewards.h.i.+p. Ester, do you see how people who ask G.o.d 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 G.o.d'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."

Ester Ried Part 14

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Ester Ried Part 14 summary

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