Ester Ried Part 19
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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 for her future welfare was such that my pleasure was very great in discovering that the son was a faithful member of our mission Sabbath-school, and a thoroughly good man."
"And who is Sallie?" Ester inquired, very much interested.
Mr. Foster's face grew graver. "Sallie is his one treasure, a dear little girl, one of our mission scholars, and a beautiful example of how faithful Christ can be to his little lambs."
"What is supposed to be the matter with Sallie?" This question came from Ralph, who had been half amused, half interested, with the entire scene.
The gravity on Mr. Foster's face deepened into sternness as he answered: "Sallie is only one of the many victims of our beautiful system of public poisoning. The son of her mother's employer, in a fit of drunken rage, threw her from the very top of a long flight of stairs, and now she lies warped and misshapen, mourning her life away. By the way"--he continued, turning suddenly toward Mr. Ried--"I believe you were asking for arguments to sustain my 'peculiar views.'
Here is one of them: This man of whom I speak, whose crazed brain has this young sad life and death to answer for, I chance to know to a certainty commenced his downward career in a certain pleasant parlor in this city, among a select gathering of friends, taking a quiet gla.s.s of wine!" And Mr. Foster made his adieus very brief, and departed.
Ralph's laugh was just a little nervous as he said, when the family were alone: "Foster is very fortunate in having an incident come to our very door with which to point his theories."
Abbie had deserted her ottoman and taken one close by her father's side. Now she laid her bright head lovingly against his breast, and looked with eager, coaxing eyes into his stern gray ones. "Father,"
she said softly, "you'll let your little curly have her own way just this time, won't you? I will promise not to coax you again until I want something very bad indeed."
Mr. Ried had decided his plan of action some moments before. He was prepared to remind his daughter in tones of haughty dignity that he was "not in the habit of playing the part of a despot in his own family, and that as she and her future husband were so very positive in their very singular opinions, and so entirely regardless of his wishes or feelings, he should, of course, not force his hospitalities on her guests."
He made one mistake. For just a moment he allowed his eyes to meet the sweet blue ones, looking lovingly and trustingly into his, and whatever it was, whether the remembrance that his one daughter was so soon to go out from her home, or the thought of all the tender and patient love and care which she had bestowed on him in those early morning hours, the stern gray eyes grew tender, the haughty lines about the mouth relaxed, and with a sudden caressing movement of his hand among the brown curls, he said in a half moved, half playful tone:
"Did you ever ask any thing of anybody in your life that you didn't get?" Then more gravely: "You shall have your way once more. Abbie, it would be a pity to despoil you of your scepter at this late day."
"Fiddlesticks!" e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed Mrs. Ried.
Before she had added anything to that original sentiment Abbie was behind her chair, both arms wound around her neck, and then came soft, quick, loving kisses on her cheeks, on her lips, on her chin, and even on her nose.
"Nonsense!" added her mother. Then she laughed. "Your father would consent to have the ceremony performed in the attic if you should take a fancy that the parlors are too nicely furnished to suit your puritanic views and I don't know but I should be just as foolish."
"That man has gained complete control over her," Mrs. Ried said, looking after Abbie with a little sigh, and addressing her remarks to Ester as they stood together for a moment in the further parlor. "He is a first-cla.s.s fanatic, grows wilder and more incomprehensible in his whims every day, and bends Abbie to his slightest wish. My only consolation is that he is a man of wealth and culture, and indeed in every other respect entirely unexceptionable."
A new light dawned upon Ester. This was the secret of Abbie's "strangeness." Mr. Foster was one of those rare and wonderful men about whom one occasionally reads but almost never meets, and of course Abbie, being so constantly under his influence, was constantly led by him. Very few could expect to attain to such a hight; certainly she, with her social disadvantages and unhelpful surroundings, must not hope for it.
She was rapidly returning to her former state of self-satisfaction.
There were certain things to be done. For instance, that first chapter of John should receive more close attention at her next reading; and there were various other duties which should be taken up and carefully observed. But, on the whole, Ester felt that she had been rather unnecessarily exercised, and that she must not expect to be perfect.
And so once more there was raised a flag of truce between her conscience and her life.
They lingered together for a few minutes in the sitting-room, Abbie, Ester, Ralph and Mr. Foster. They had been having a half sad, half merry talk. It was the evening before the wedding. Ere this time to-morrow Abbie would have left them, and in just a little while the ocean would roll between them. Ester drew a heavy sigh as she thought of it all. This magic three weeks, which had glowed in beauty for her, such, as she told herself, her life would never see again, were just on the eve of departure; only two days now before she would carry that same restless, unhappy heart back among the clattering dishes in that pantry and dining-room at home. Ralph broke the little moment of silence which had fallen between them. "Foster, listen to the sweet tones of that distant clock. It is the last time that you, being a free man, will hear it strike five."
"Unless I prove to be an early riser on the morrow, which necessity will compel me to become if I tarry longer here at present. Abbie, I must be busy this entire evening. That funeral obliged me to defer some important business matters that I meant should have been dispatched early in the day."
"It isn't possible that you have been to a funeral to-day! How you do mix things." Ralph uttered this sentence in real or pretended horror.
"Why not?" Mr. Foster answered gently, and added: "It is true though; life and death are very strangely mixed. It was our little Sabbath-school girl, Sallie, whom we laid to rest to-day. It didn't jar as some funerals would have done; one had simply to remember that she had reached home. Miss Ester, if you will get that package for me I will execute your commission with pleasure."
Ester went away to do his bidding, and Ralph, promising to meet him at the store in an hour, sauntered away, and for a few moments Abbie and Mr. Foster talked together alone.
"Good-by all of you," he said smiling, as he glanced back at the two girls a few moments later. "Take care of her, Ester, until I relieve you. It will not be long now."
"Take care," Ester answered gaily; "you have forgotten the 'slip' that there may be 'between the cup and the lip.'"
But he answered her with an almost solemn gravity: "I never forget that more worthy expression of the same idea, we know not what a day may bring forth; but I always remember with exceeding joy that G.o.d knows, and will lead us."
"He is graver than ten ministers," Ester said, as they turned from the window. "Come, Abbie, let us go up stairs."
It was two hours later when Abbie entered the sitting-room where Ester awaited her, and curled herself into a small heap of white muslin at Ester's feet.
"There!" said she, with a musical little laugh, "mother has sent me away. The measure of her disgust is complete now. Dr. Downing is in the sitting-room, and I have been guilty of going in to see him.
Imagine such a fearful breach of etiquette taking place in the house of Ried! Do you know, I don't quite know what to do with myself. There is really nothing more to busy myself about, unless I eat the wedding cake."
"You don't act in the least like a young lady who is to be married to-morrow," was Ester's answer, as she regarded her cousin with a half amused, half puzzled air.
"Don't I?" said Abbie, trying to look alarmed. "What _have_ I done now? I'm forever treading on bits of propriety, and crus.h.i.+ng them. It will be a real relief to me when I am safely married, and can relapse into a common mortal again. Why, Ester, what have I been guilty of just now?"
"You are not a bit sentimental; are you, Abbie?" And at this gravely put question Abbie's laugh rang out again.
"Now don't, please, add that item to the list," she said merrily.
"Ester, is it very important that one should be sentimental on such an occasion? I wish you were married, I really do, so that I might be told just how to conduct my self. How can you and mother be so unreasonable as to expect perfection when it is all new, and I really never practiced in my life?" Then a change, as sudden as it was sweet, flushed over Abbie's face. The merry look died out, and in its place a gentle, tender softness rested in the bright blue eyes, and her voice was low and quiet. "You think my mood a strange one, I fancy, dear Ester; almost unbecoming in its gayety. Perhaps it is, and yet I feel it bright and glad and happy. The change is a solemn one, but it seems to me that I have considered it long and well. I remember that my new home is to be very near my old one; that my brother will have a patient, faithful, life-long friend in Mr. Foster, and this makes me feel more hopeful for him--and, indeed, it seems to me that I feel like repeating, 'The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places.'
I do not, therefore, affect a gravity that I do not feel. I am gloriously happy to-night, and the strongest feeling in my heart is thankfulness. My Heavenly Father has brimmed my earthly cup, so that it seems to me there is not room in my heart for another throb of joy; and so you see--Ester, what on earth can be going on down stairs?
Have you noticed the banging of doors, and the general confusion that reigns through the house? Positively if I wasn't afraid of shocking mother into a fainting fit I would start on a voyage of discovery."
"Suppose I go," Ester answered, laughing. "Inasmuch as I am not going to be married, there can be no harm in seeing what new developments there are below stairs. I mean to go. I'll send you word if it is any thing very amazing."
And with a laughing adieu Ester closed the door on the young bride-elect, and ran swiftly down stairs. There did seem to be a good deal of confusion in the orderly household, and the very air of the hall seemed to be pervaded with a singular subdued excitement; voices of suppressed loudness issued from the front parlor and as Ester knocked she heard a half scream from Mrs. Ried, mingled with cries of "Don't let her in." Growing thoroughly alarmed, Ester now abruptly pushed open the door and entered.
"Oh, for mercy's sake, don't let her come," almost screamed Mrs. Ried, starting wildly forward.
"Mother, _hush_!" said Ralph's voice in solemn sternness. "It is only Ester. Where is Abbie?"
"In her room. What is the matter? Why do you all act so strangely? I came to see what caused so much noise."
And then her eyes and voice were arrested by a group around the sofa; Mr. Ried and Dr. Downing, and stooping over some object which was hidden from her was the man who had been pointed out to her as the great Dr. Archer. As she looked in terrified amazement, he raised his head and spoke.
Ester Ried Part 19
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Ester Ried Part 19 summary
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