Ester Ried Part 30

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"Please pray for me."

There was a little choking in Alfred's throat, and a good deal of shuffling done with his boots. It was so much more of a struggle for the st.u.r.dy boy than the gentle little girl; but he stood manfully on his feet at last, and his words, though few, were fraught with as much meaning as any which had been spoken there that evening, for they were distinct and decided:

"Me, too."

CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TIME TO SLEEP

Life went swiftly and busily on. With the close of December the blessed daily meetings closed, rather they closed with the first week of the new year, which the church kept as a sort of jubilee week in honor of the glorious things that had been done for them.

The new year opened in joy for Ester; many things were different. The honest, straightforward little Julia carried all her earnestness of purpose into this new life which had possessed her soul; and the st.u.r.dy brother had naturally too decided a nature to do any thing half-way, so Ester was sure of this young sister and brother. Besides, there was a new order of things between her mother and herself; each had discovered that the other was bound on the same journey, and that there were delightful resting-places by the way.

For herself, she was slowly but surely gaining. Little crosses that she stooped and resolutely took up grew to be less and less, until they, some of them, merged into positive pleasures. There were many things that cast rays of joy all about her path; but there was still one heavy abiding sorrow. Sadie went giddily and gleefully on her downward way. If she perchance seemed to have a serious thought at night it vanished with the next morning's suns.h.i.+ne, and day by day Ester realized more fully how many tares the enemy had sown while she was sleeping. Sometimes the burden grew almost too heavy to be borne, and again she would take heart of grace and bravely renew her efforts and her prayers. It was about this time that she began to recognize a new feeling. She was not sick exactly, and yet not quite well. She discovered, considerably to her surprise, that she was falling into the habit of sitting down on a stair to rest ere she had reached the top of the first flight; also, that she was sometimes obliged to stay her sweeping and clasp her hands suddenly over a strange beating in her heart. But she laughed at her mother's anxious face, and p.r.o.nounced herself quite well, quite well, only perhaps a little tired.

Meantime all sorts of plans for usefulness ran riot in her brain. She could not go away on a mission because her mission had come to her.

For a wonder she realized that her mother needed her. She took up bravely and eagerly, so far as she could see it, the work that lay around her; but her restless heart craved more, more. She _must_ do something outside of this narrow circle for the Master. One evening her enthusiasm, which had been fed for several days on a new scheme that was afloat in the town, reached its hight. Ester remembered afterward every little incident connected with that evening--just how cozy the little family sitting-room looked, with her for its only occupant; just how brightly the coals glowed in the open grate; just what a brilliant color they flashed over the crimson cus.h.i.+oned rocker, which she had vacated when she heard Dr. Van Anden's step in the hall, and went to speak to him. She was engaged in writing a letter to Abbie, full of eager schemes and busy, bright work. "I am astonished that I ever thought there was nothing worth living for;" so she wrote.

"Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want to do.

This new idea just fills me with delight. I am so eager to get to work--" Thus far when she heard that step, and springing up went with eagerness to the door.

"Doctor, are you in haste? Haven't you just five minutes for me?"

"Ten," answered the Doctor promptly, stepping into the bright little room.

In her haste, not even waiting to offer him a seat, Ester plunged at once into her subject.

"Aren't you the chairman of that committee to secure teachers for the evening school?"

"I am."

"Have you all the help you want?"

"Not by any means. Volunteers for such a self-denying employment as teaching factory girls are not easy to find."

"Well, Doctor, do you think--would you be willing to propose my name as one of the teachers? I should so like to be counted among them."

Instead of the prompt thanks which she expected, to her dismay Dr. Van Anden's face looked grave and troubled. Finally he slowly shook his head with a troubled--

"I don't think I can, Ester."

Such an amazed, grieved, hurt look as swept over Ester's face.

"It is no matter," she said at last, speaking with an effort. "Of course I know little of teaching, and perhaps could do no good; but I thought if help was scarce you might--well, never mind."

And here the Doctor interposed. "It is not that, Ester," with the troubled look deepening on his face. "I a.s.sure you we would be glad of your help, but," and he broke off abruptly, and commenced a sudden pacing up and down the room. Then stopped before her with these mysterious words: "I don't know how to tell you, Ester."

Ester's look now was one of annoyance, and she spoke quickly.

"Why, Doctor, you need tell me nothing. I am not a child to have the truth sugar-coated. If my help is not needed, that is sufficient."

"Your help is exactly what we need, Ester, but your health is not sufficient for the work."

And now Ester laughed. "Why, Doctor, what an absurd idea In a week I shall be as well as ever. If that is all you may surely count me as one of your teachers."

The Doctor smiled faintly, and then asked: "Do you never feel any desire to know what may be the cause of this strange la.s.situde which is creeping over you, and the sudden flutterings of heart, accompanied by pain and faintness, which take you unawares?"

Ester's face paled a little, but she asked, quietly enough: "How do you know all this?"

"I am a physician, Ester. Do you think it is kindness to keep a friend in ignorance of what very nearly concerns him, simply to spare his feelings for a little?"

"Why, Dr. Van Anden, you do not think--you do not mean that--tell me _exactly what_ you mean."

But the Doctor's answer was grave, anxious, absolute _silence_.

Perhaps the silence answered her--perhaps her own heart told the secret to her, for a sudden gray palor overspread her face. For an instant the room darkened and whirled around her, then she staggered as if she would have fallen, then she reached forward and caught hold of the little red rocker, and sank into it, and leaning both elbows on the writing-table before her, buried her face in her hands. Afterward Ester called to mind the strange whirl of thoughts which thrilled her brain at that time. Life in all the various phases that she had thought it would wear for her, all the endless plans that she had made, all the things that she had meant to _do_ and _be_, came and stared her in the face. Nowhere in all her plannings crossed by that strange creature Death; someway she had never planned for that. Could it be possible that he was to come for her so soon, before any of these things were done? Was it possible that she must leave Sadie, bright, brilliant, unsafe Sadie, and go away where she could work for her no more? Then, like a picture spread before her, there came back that day in the cars, on her way to New York, the Christian stranger, who was not a stranger now, but her friend, and was it heaven--the earnest little old woman with her thoughtful face, and that strange sentence on her lips: "Maybe my coffin will do it better than I can." Well, maybe _her_ coffin could do it for Sadie. Oh the blessed thought! Plans? YES, but perhaps G.o.d had plans too. What mattered hers compared to _HIS_? If he would that she should do her earthly work by lying down very soon in the unbroken calm of the "rest that remaineth," "what was that to her?" Presently she spoke without raising her head.

"Are you very certain of this thing, Doctor, and is it to come to me soon?"

"That last we can not tell, dear friend. You _may_ be with us years yet, and it _may_ be swift and sudden. I think it is worse than mistaken kindness, it is foolish wickedness, to treat a Christian woman like a little child. I wanted to tell you before the shock would be dangerous to you."

"I understand." When she spoke again it was in a more hesitating tone.

"Does Dr. Dougla.s.s agree with you?" And the quick, pained way in which the Doctor answered showed her that he understood.

"Dr. Dougla.s.s will not _let_ himself believe it."

Then a long silence fell between them. The Doctor kept his position, leaning against the mantel, but never for a moment allowed his eyes to turn away from that motionless figure before him. Only the loving, pitying Savior knew what was pa.s.sing in that young heart.

At last she arose and came toward the Doctor, with a strange sweetness playing about her mouth, and a strange calm in her voice.

"Dr. Van Anden, I am _so_ much obliged to you. Don't be afraid to leave me now. I think I need to be quite alone."

And the Doctor, feeling that all words were vain and useless, silently bowed, and softly let himself out of the room.

The first thing upon which Ester's eye alighted when she turned again to the table was the letter in which she had been writing those last words: "Why life isn't half long enough for the things that I want to do." Very quietly she picked up the letter and committed it to the glowing coals upon the grate. Her mood had changed. By degrees, very quietly and very gradually, as such bitter things _do_ creep in upon a family, it grew to be an acknowledged fact that Ester was an invalid.

Little by little her circle of duties narrowed, one by one her various plans were silently given up, the dear mother first, and then Sadie, and finally the children, grew into the habit of watching her footsteps, and saving her from the stairs, from the lifting, from every possible burden. Once in a long while, and then, as the weeks pa.s.sed, more frequently, there would come a day in which she did not get down further than the little sitting-room, but was established amid pillows on the couch, "enjoying poor health," as she playfully phrased it.

So softly and silently and surely the shadow crept and crept, until when June brought roses and Abbie. Ester received her in her own room, propped up among the pillows in her bed. Gradually they grew accustomed to that also, as G.o.d in his infinite mercy has planned that human hearts shall grow used to the inevitable. They even told each other hopefully that the warm weather was what depressed her so much, and as the summer heat cooled into autumn she would grow stronger.

And she had bright days in which she really seemed to grow strong, and which deceived every body save Dr. Van Anden and herself.

During one of those bright days Sadie came from school full of a new idea, and curled herself in front of Ester's couch to entertain her with it.

"Mr. Hammond's last," she said. "Such a curious idea, as like him as possible, and like n.o.body else. You know that our cla.s.s will graduate in just two years from this time, and there are fourteen of us, an even number, which is lucky for Mr. Hammond. Well, we are each, don't you think, to write a letter, as sensible, honest, and piquant as we can make it, historic, sentimental, poetic, or otherwise, as we please, so that it be the honest exponent of our views. Then we are to make a grand exchange of letters among the cla.s.s, and the young lady who receives my letter, for instance, is to keep it sealed, and under lock and key, until graduation day, when it is to be read before scholars, faculty, and trustees, and my full name announced as the signature; and all the rest of us are to perform in like manner."

"What is supposed to be the object?" queried Abbie.

Ester Ried Part 30

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Ester Ried Part 30 summary

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