Ester Ried Part 8

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"What a way he has of bringing that subject into every conversation,"

commented Ester, who was now sure that he was a minister. Someway Ester had fallen into a way of thinking that every one who spoke freely concerning these matters must be either a fanatic or a minister.

"Oh, that's about all the comfort I've got left." This answer came forth from a full heart, and eyes br.i.m.m.i.n.g with tears. "And I don't s'pose I need any other, if I've got Jesus left I oughtn't to need any thing else; but sometimes I get impatient--it seems to me I've been here long enough, and it's time I got home."

"How is it with the boy who is expecting you; has he this same friend?"

The gray head was slowly and sorrowfully shaken. "Oh, I'm afraid he don't know nothing about _Him_."

"Ah! then you have work to do; you can't be spared to rest yet. I presume the Master is waiting for you to lead that son to himself."

"I mean to, I mean to, sir," she said earnestly, "but sometimes I think maybe my coffin could do it better than I; but G.o.d knows--and I'm trying to be patient."

Then the train whirred on again, and Ester missed the rest; but one sentence thrilled her--"Maybe my coffin could do it better than I."

How earnestly she spoke, as if she were willing to die at once, if by that she could save her son. How earnest they both were, anyway--the wrinkled, homely, ignorant old woman and the cultivated, courtly gentleman. Ester was ill at ease--conscience was arousing her to unwonted thought. These two were different from her She was a Christian--at least she supposed so, hoped so; but she was not like them. There was a very decided difference. Were they right, and was she all wrong? wasn't she a Christian after all? and at this thought she actually s.h.i.+vered. She was not willing to give up her t.i.tle, weak though it might be.

"Oh, well!" she decided, after a little, "she is an old woman, almost through with life. Of course she looks at everything through a different aspect from what a young girl like me naturally would; and as for him, ministers always are different from other people, of course."

Foolish Ester! Did she suppose that ministers have a private Bible of their own, with rules of life set down therein for them, quite different from those written for her! And as for the old woman, almost through with life, how near might Ester be to the edge of her own life at that very moment! When the train stopped again the two were still talking.

"I just hope my boy will look like you," the old lady said suddenly, fixing admiring eyes on the tall form that stood beside her, patiently waiting for the cup from which she was drinking the tea which he had procured for her.

Ester followed the glance of her eye, and laughed softly at the extreme improbability of her hope being realized, while he answered gravely:

"I hope he will be a n.o.ble boy, and love his mother as she deserves; then it will matter very little who he looks like."

While the cup was being returned there was a bit of toilet making going on; the gray hair was smoothed back under the plain cap, and the faded, twisted shawl rearranged and carefully pinned. Meantime her thoughts seemed troubled, and she looked up anxiously into the face of her comforter as he again took his seat beside her.

"I'm just thinking I'm such a homely old thing, and New York is such a grand place, I've heard them say. I _do_ hope he won't be ashamed of his mother."

"No danger," was the hearty answer; "he'll think you are the most beautiful woman he has seen in ten years."

There is no way to describe the happy look which shone in the faded blue eyes at this answer; and she laughed a softly, pleased laugh as she said:

"Maybe he'll be like the man I read about the other day. Some mean, old scamp told him how homely his mother was; and he said, says he, 'Yes, she's a homely woman, sure enough; but oh she's such a _beautiful_ mother!' What ever will I do when I get in New York," she added quickly, seized with a sudden anxiety. "Just as like as not, now, he never got a bit of my letter, and won't be there to get me!"

"Do you know where your son lives?"

"Oh, yes, I've got it on a piece of paper, the street and the number; but bless your heart, I shouldn't know whether to go up, or down, or across."

Just the shadow of a smile flitted over her friend's face as the thought of the poor old lady, trying to make her way through the city came to him. Then he hastened to rea.s.sure her.

"Then we are all right, whether he meets you or not; we can take a carriage and drive there. I will see you safe at home before I leave you."

This crowning act of kindness brought the tears.

"I don't know why you are so good to me," she said simply, "unless you are the friend I prayed for to help me through this journey. If you are, it's all right; G.o.d will see that you are paid for it."

And before Ester had done wondering over the singular quaintness of this last remark there was a sudden triumphant shriek from the engine, and a tremendous din, made up of a confusion of more sounds than she had ever heard in her life before; then all was hurry and bustle around her, and she suddenly awakened to the fact that as soon as they had crossed the ferry she would actually be in New York. Even then she bethought herself to take a curious parting look at the oddly matched couple who were carefully making their way through the crowd, and wonder if she would ever see them again.

The next hour was made up of bewilderment to Ester. She had a confused remembrance afterward of floating across a silver river in a palace; of reaching a place where everybody screamed instead of talked, and where all the bells were ringing for fire, or something else. She looked eagerly about for her uncle, and saw at least fifty men who resembled him, as she saw him last, about ten years ago. She fumbled nervously for his address in her pocket-book, and gave Mr. Newton a recipe for making mince pies instead; finally she found herself tumbled in among cus.h.i.+ons and driving right into carriages and carts and people, who all got themselves mysteriously out of the way; down streets that she thought must surely be the ones that the bells were ringing for, as they were all ablaze. It had been arranged that Ester's escort should see her safely set down at her uncle's door, as she had been unable to state the precise time of her arrival; and besides, as she was an entire stranger to her uncle's family, they could not determine any convenient plan for meeting each other at the depot. So Ester was whirled through the streets at a dizzying rate, and, with eyes and ears filled with bewildering sights and sounds, was finally deposited before a great building, aglow with gas and gleaming with marble. Mr. Newton rang the bell, and Ester, making confused adieus to him, was meantime ushered into a hall looking not unlike Judge Warren's best parlor. A sense of awe, not unmixed with loneliness and almost terror, stole over her as the man who opened the door stood waiting, after a civil--"Whom do you wish to see, and what name shall I send up?"

"Whom _did_ she wish to see, and what _was_ her name, anyway. Could this be her uncle's house? Did she want to see any of them?" She felt half afraid of them all. Suddenly the dignity and grandeur seemed to melt into gentleness before her, as the tiniest of little women appeared and a bright, young voice broke into hearty welcome:

"Is this really my cousin Ester? And so you have come! How perfectly splendid. Where is Mr. Newton? Gone? Why, John, you ought to have smuggled him in to dinner. We are _so_ much obliged to him for taking care of _you_. John, send those trunks up to my room. You'll room with me, Ester, won't you? Mother thought I ought to put you in solitary state in a spare chamber, but I couldn't. You see I have been so many years waiting for you, that now I want you every bit of the time."

All this while she was giving her loving little pats and kisses, on their way up stairs, whither she at once carried the traveler. Such a perfect gem of a room as that was into which she was ushered. Ester's love of beauty seemed likely to be fully gratified; she cast one eager glance around her, took in all the charming little details in a second of time, and then gave her undivided attention to this wonderful person before her who certainly was, in veritable flesh and blood, the much-dreamed over, much-longed for Cousin Abbie. A hundred times had Ester painted her portrait--tall and dark and grand, with a perfectly regal form and queenly air, hair black as midnight, coiled in heavy ma.s.ses around her head, eyes blacker if possible than her hair. As to dress, it was very difficult to determine; sometimes it was velvet and diamonds, or, if the season would not possibly admit of that, then a rich, dark silk, never, by any chance, a material lighter than silk.

This had been her picture. Now she could not suppress a laugh as she noted the contrast between it and the original. She was even two inches shorter than Ester herself, with a manner much more like a fairy's than a queen's; instead of heavy coils of black hair, there were little rings of brown curls cl.u.s.tering around a fair, pale forehead, and continually peeping over into the bluest of eyes; then her dress was the softest and quietest of muslins, with a pale-blue tint. Ester's softly laugh chimed merrily; she turned quickly.

"Now have you found something to laugh at in me already?" she said gleefully.

"Why," said Ester, forgetting to be startled over the idea that she should laugh at Cousin Abbie, "I'm only laughing to think how totally different you are from your picture."

"From my picture!"

"Yes, the one which I had drawn of you in my own mind. I thought you were tall, and had black hair, and dressed in silks, like a grand lady."

Abbie laughed again.

"Don't condemn me to silks in such weather as this, at least," she said gaily. "Mother thinks I am barbarous to summon friends to the city in August; but the circ.u.mstances are such that it could not well be avoided. So put on your coolest dress, and be as comfortable as possible."

This question of how she should appear on this first evening had been one of Ester's puzzles; it would hardly do to don her blue silk at once, and she had almost decided to choose the black one; but Abbie's laugh and shrug of the shoulder had settled the question of silks. So now she stood in confused indecision before her open trunk.

Abbie came to the rescue.

"Shall I help you?" she said, coming forward "I'll not ring for Maggie to-night, but be waiting maid myself. Suppose I hang up some of these dresses? And which shall I leave for you? This looks the coolest," and she held up to Ester's view the pink and white muslin which did duty as an afternoon dress at home.

"Well," said Ester, with a relieved smile, "I'll take that."

And she thought within her heart: "They are not so grand after all."

Presently they went down to dinner, and in view of the splendor of the dining-room, and sparkle of gas and the glitter of silver, she changed her mind again and thought them very grand indeed.

Her uncle's greeting was very cordial; and though Ester found it impossible to realize that her Aunt Helen was actually three years older than her own mother, or indeed that she was a middle-aged lady at all, so very bright and gay and altogether unsuitable did her attire appear; yet on the whole she enjoyed the first two hours of her visit very much, and surprised and delighted herself at the ease with which she slipped into the many new ways which she saw around her.

Only once did she find herself very much confused; to her great astonishment and dismay she was served with a gla.s.s of wine. Now Ester, among the stanch temperance friends with whom she had hitherto pa.s.sed her life, had met with no such trial of her temperance principles, which she supposed were sound and strong; yet here she was at her uncle's table, sitting near her aunt, who was contentedly sipping from her gla.s.s. Would it be proper, under the circ.u.mstances, to refuse? Yet would it be proper to do violence to her sense of right?

Ester had no pledge to break, except the pledge with her own conscience; and it is most sadly true that that sort of pledge does not seem to be so very binding in the estimation of some people. So Ester sat and toyed with hers, and came to the very unwarrantable conclusion that what her uncle offered for her entertainment it must be proper for her to take! Do Ester's good sense the justice of understanding that she didn't believe any such thing; that she knew it was her own conscience by which she was to be judged, not her uncle's; that such smooth-sounding arguments honestly meant that whatever her uncle offered for her entertainment she had not the moral courage to refuse. So she raised the dainty wine-gla.s.s to her lips, and never once bethought herself to look at Abbie and notice how the color mounted and deepened on her face, nor how her gla.s.s remained untouched beside her plate. On the whole Ester was glad when all the bewildering ceremony of the dinner was concluded, and she, on the strength of her being wearied with her journey, was permitted to retire with Abbie to their room.

CHAPTER IX.

COUSIN ABBIE.

"Now I have you all to myself," that young lady said, with a happy smile, as she turned the key on the retreating Maggie and wheeled an ottoman to Ester's side. "Where shall we commence? I have so very much to say and hear; I want to know all about Aunt Laura, and Sadie, and the twins. Oh, Ester, you have a little brother; aren't you so glad he is a _little_ boy?"

"Why, I don't know," Ester said, hesitatingly; then more decidedly, "No; I am always thinking how glad I should be if he were a young man, old enough to go out with me, and be company for me."

Ester Ried Part 8

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Ester Ried Part 8 summary

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