Ester Ried Part 3

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"I suppose so," she answered, slowly, to the waiting doctor, hearing which, he wheeled and left her, turning back, though, to say:

"Do not mention this to Sadie in her present state of body. I don't care to have her excited."

"Very careful you are of everybody," muttered Ester, as he hastened away. "Tell her what, I wonder? That you are making much ado about nothing, for the sake of showing your astonis.h.i.+ng skill?"

In precisely this state of mind she went, a few hours later, over to the cottage, into the quiet room where Florence lay asleep--and, for aught she could see, sleeping as quietly as young, fresh life ever did.

"What do you think of her?" whispered the old lady who acted as housekeeper, nurse and mother to the orphaned Florence.

"I think I haven't seen her look better this great while," Ester answered, abruptly.

"Well, I can't say as she looks any worse to _me_ either; but Dr. Van Anden is in a fidget, and I suppose he knows what he's about."

The doctor came in at eleven o'clock, stood for a moment by the bedside, glanced at the old lady, who was dozing in her rocking-chair, then came over to Ester and spoke low:

"I can't trust the nurse. She has been broken of her rest, and is weary. I want _you_ to keep awake. If she" (nodding toward Florence) "stirs, give her a spoonful from that tumbler on the stand. I shall be back at twelve. If she wakens, you may call her father, and send John for me; he's in the kitchen. I shall be around the corner at Vinton's."

Then he went away, softly, as he had come.

The lamp burned low over by the window, the nurse slept on in her arm-chair, and Ester sat with wide-open eyes fixed on Florence. And all this time she thought that the doctor was engaged in getting up a scene, the story of which should go forth next day in honor of his skill and faithfulness; yet, having come to watch, she would not sleep at her post, even though she believed in her heart that, were she sleeping by Sadie's side, and the doctor quiet in his own room, all would go on well until the morning.

But the doctor's evident anxiety had driven sleep from the eyes of the gray-haired old man whose one darling lay quiet on the bed. He came in very soon after the doctor had departed.

"I can't sleep," he said, in explanation, to Ester. "Some way I feel worried. Does she seem worse to you?"

"Not a bit," Ester said, promptly. "I think she looks better than usual."

"Yes," Mr. Vane answered, in an encouraged tone; "and she has been quite bright all day; but the doctor is all down about her. He won't say a single cheering word."

Ester's indignation grew upon her. "He might, at least, have let this old man sleep in peace," she said, sharply, in her heart.

At twelve, precisely, the doctor returned. He went directly to the bedside.

"How has she been?" he asked of Ester, in pa.s.sing.

"Just as she is now." Ester's voice was not only dry, but sarcastic.

Mr. Vane scanned the doctor's face eagerly, but it was grave and sad.

Quiet reigned in the room. The two men at Florence's side neither spoke nor stirred. Ester kept her seat across from them, and grew every moment more sure that she was right, and more provoked. Suddenly the silence was broken. Dr. Van Anden bent low over the sleeper, and spoke in a gentle, anxious tone: "Florence." But she neither stirred nor heeded. He spoke again: "Florence;" and the blue eyes unclosed slowly and wearily. The doctor drew back quickly, and motioned her father forward.

"Speak to her, Mr. Vane."

"Florence, my darling," the old man said, with inexpressible love and tenderness sounding in his voice. His fair young daughter turned her eyes on him; but the words she spoke were not of him, or of aught around her. So clear and sweet they sounded, that Ester, sitting quite across the room from her, heard them distinctly.

"I saw mother, and I saw my Savior."

Dr. Van Anden sank upon his knees, as the drooping lids closed again, and his voice was low and tremulous:

"Father, into thy hands we commit this spirit. Thy will be done."

In a moment more all was bustle and confusion. The nurse was thoroughly awakened; the doctor cared for the poor childless father with the tenderness of a son; then came back to send John for help, and to give directions concerning what was to be done.

Through it all Ester sat motionless, petrified with solemn astonishment. Then the angel of death had _really_ been there in that very room, and she had been "so wise in her own conceit," that she did not know it until he had departed with the freed spirit!

Florence really _was_ sick, then--dangerously sick. The doctor had not deceived them, had not magnified the trouble as she supposed; but it could not be that she was dead! Dead! Why, only a few minutes ago she was sleeping so quietly! Well, she was very quiet now. Could the heart have ceased its beating?

Sadie's Florence dead! Poor Sadie! What would they say to her? How _could_ they tell her?

Sitting there, Ester had some of the most solemn, self-reproachful thoughts that she had ever known. G.o.d's angel had been present in that room, and in what a spirit had he found this watcher?

Dr. Van Anden went quietly, promptly, from room to room, until every thing in the suddenly stricken household was as it should be; then he came to Ester:

"I will go over home with you now," he said, speaking low and kindly.

He seemed to under stand just how shocked she felt.

They went, in the night and darkness, across the street, saying nothing. As the doctor applied his key to the door, Ester spoke in low, distressed tones:

"Doctor Van Anden, I did not think--I did not dream--." Then she stopped.

"I know," he said, kindly. "It was unexpected. _I_ thought she would linger until morning, perhaps through the day. Indeed, I was so sure, that I ventured to keep my worst fears from Mr. Vane. I wanted him to rest to-night. I am sorry--it would have been better to have prepared him; but 'At even, or at midnight, or at the c.o.c.k-crowing, or in the morning'--you see we know not which. I thank G.o.d that to Florence it did not matter."

Those days which followed were days of great opportunity to Ester, if she had but known how to use them. Sadie's sad, softened heart, into which grief had entered, might have been turned by a few kind, skillful words, from thoughts of Florence to Florence's Savior. Ester _did_ try; she was kinder, more gentle with the young sister than was her wont to be; and once, when Sadie was lingering fondly over memories of her friend, she said, in an awkward, blundering way, something about Florence having been prepared to die, and hoping that Sadie would follow her example. Sadie looked surprised, but answered, gravely:

"I never expect to be like Florence. She was perfect, or, at least, I'm sure I could never see any thing about her that wasn't perfection.

You know, Ester, she never did any thing wrong."

And Ester, unused to it, and confused with her own attempt, kept silence, and let poor Sadie rest upon the thought that it was Florence's goodness which made her ready to die, instead of the blood of Jesus.

So the time pa.s.sed; the gra.s.s grew green over Florence's grave, and Sadie missed her indeed. Yet the serious thoughts grew daily fainter, and Ester's golden opportunity for leading her to Christ was lost.

CHAPTER IV.

THE SUNDAY LESSON.

Alfred and Julia Ried were in the sitting-room, studying their Sabbath-school lessons. Those two were generally to be found together; being twins, they had commenced _life_ together, and had thus far gone side by side. It was a quiet October Sabbath afternoon. The twins had a great deal of business on hand during the week, and the Sabbath-school lesson used to stand a fair chance of being forgotten; so Mrs. Ried had made a law that half an hour of every Sabbath afternoon should be spent in studying the lesson for the coming Sabbath. Ester sat in the same room, by the window; she had been reading, but her book had fallen idly in her lap, and she seemed lost in thought Sadie, too, was there, carrying on a whispered conversation with Minnie, who was snugged close in her arms, and merry bursts of laughter came every few minutes from the little girl. The idea of Sadie keeping quiet herself, or of keeping any body else quiet, was simply absurd.

"But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," read Julia, slowly and thoughtfully. "Alfred, what do you suppose that can mean?"

"Don't know, I'm sure," Alfred said. "The next one is just as queer: 'And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.' I'd like to see _me_ doing that. I'd fight for it, I reckon."

"Oh, Alfred! you wouldn't, if the Bible said you mustn't, would you?"

"I don't suppose this means us at all," said Alfred, using, unconsciously, the well-known argument of all who have tried to slip away from gospel teaching since Adam's time.

Ester Ried Part 3

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Ester Ried Part 3 summary

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