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- Esther - 20/43 -

was as though a drowning mariner left off struggling and buffeting with the waves that were carrying him to the shore, but just lay still and let himself be floated in."

"And you were happier," I faltered, as she suddenly broke off, as though exhausted.

"Yes, indeed," she returned softly. "Pain was not any more my enemy, but the stern life companion He had sent to accompany me--the cross that I must carry out of love to Him; oh, how different, how far more endurable! I took myself in hand by-and-by when I grew older and had a better judgment of things. I knew mine was a life apart, a separated life; by that I mean that I should never know the joy of wifehood or motherhood, that I must create my own little world, my own joys and interests."

"And you have done so."

"Yes, I have done so; I am a believer in happiness; I am quite sure in my mind that our beneficent Creator meant all His creatures to be happy, that whatever He gives them to bear, that He intends them to abide in the sunshine of His peace, and I determined to be happy. I surrounded my-self with pretty things, with pictures that were pleasant to the eye and recalled bright thoughts. I made my books my friends, and held sweet satisfying communion with minds of all ages. I cultivated music, and found intense enjoyment in the study of Handel and Beethoven.

"When I got a little stronger I determined to be a worker too, and glean a little sheaf or two after the reapers, if it were only a dropped ear now and then.

"I took up the Senana Mission. You have no idea how important I have grown, or what a vast correspondence I have kept up--the society begin to find me quite useful to them--and I have dear unknown correspondents whom I love as old friends, and whose faces I shall only see, perhaps, when we meet in heaven.

"When dear Florence died--that was my sister-in-law, you know--I came to live with Giles, and to look after Flurry. I am quite a responsible woman, having charge of the household, and trying to be a companion to Giles; confess now, Esther, it is not such a useless life after all?"

I do not know what I answered her. I have a dim recollection that I burst into some extravagant eulogium or other, for she colored to her temples and called me a foolish child, and begged me seriously never to say such things to her again.

"I do not deserve all that, Esther, but you are too young to judge dispassionately; you must recollect that I have fewer temptations than other people. If I were strong and well I might be worldly too."

"No, never," I answered indignantly; "you would always be better than other people, Miss Ruth--you and Carrie--oh, why are you both so good?" with a despairing inflection in my voice. "How you must both look down on me."

"I know some one who is good, too," returned Miss Ruth, stroking my hair. "I know a brave girl who works hard and wears herself out in loving service, who is often tired and never complains, who thinks little of herself, and yet who does much to brighten other lives, and I think you know her too, Esther?" But I would not let her go on; it was scant goodness to love her, and Allan, and Dot. How could any one do otherwise? And what merit could there be in that?

But though I disclaimed her praise, I was inwardly rejoiced that she should think such things of me, and should judge me worthy of her confidence. She was treating me as though I were her equal and friend, and, to do her justice the idea of my being a governess never seemed to enter into hers or Mr. Lucas' head.

They always treated me from this time as a young friend, who conferred a favor on them by coming. My salary seemed to pass into my hand with the freedom of a gift. Perhaps it was that Uncle Geoffrey was such an old and valued friend, and that Miss Ruth knew that in point of birth the Camerons were far above the Lucases, for we were an old family whom misfortune had robbed of our honors.

However this may be, my privileges were many, and the yoke of service lay lightly on my shoulders. Poor Carrie, indeed, had to eat the bitter bread of dependence, and to take many a severe rebuke from her employer. Mrs. Thorne was essentially a vulgar-minded woman. She was affected by the adventitious adjuncts of life; dress, mere station and wealth weighed largely in her view of things. Because we were poor, she denied our claim to equality; because Carrie taught her children, she snubbed and repressed her, to keep her in her place, as though Carrie were a sort of Jack-in-the-box to be jerked back with every movement.

When Miss Ruth called on mother, Mrs. Thorne shrugged her shoulders, and wondered at the liberality of some people's views. When we were asked to dinner at the Cedars (I suppose Mrs. Smedley told her, for Carrie never gossiped), Mrs. Thorne's eye brows were uplifted in a surprised way. Her scorn knew no bounds when she called one afternoon, and saw Carrie seated at Miss Ruth's little tea-table; she completely ignored her through the visit, except to ask once after her children's lessons. Carrie took her snubbing meekly, and seemed perfectly indifferent. Her quiet lady-like bearing seemed to impress Miss Ruth most favorably, for when Carrie took her leave she kissed her, a thing she had never done before. I looked across at Mrs. Thorne, and saw her tea-cup poised half-way to her lips. She was transfixed with astonishment.

"I envy you your sister, Esther," said Miss Ruth, busying herself with the silver kettle. "She is a dear girl--a very dear girl."

"Humph!" ejaculated Mrs. Thorne. She was past words, and soon after she took her departure in a high state of indignation and dudgeon.

I did not go home the next day. Allan came to say good-by to me, Uncle Geoffrey followed him, and he and Mr. Lucas both decided that I could not be spared. Nurse was somewhat ailing, and Uncle Geoffrey had to prescribe for her too; and as Miss Ruth recovered slowly from these attacks, she would be very lonely, shut up in her room.

Miss Ruth was overjoyed when I promised to stay with her as long as they wanted me. Allan had satisfied my scruples about Jack and Dot.

"They all think you ought to stay," he said. "Mother was the first to decide that. Martha has promised to attend to Dot in your absence. She grumbled a little, and so did he; but that will not matter. Jack must look after herself," finished this very decided young man, who was apt to settle feminine details in rather a summary fashion.

If mother said it was my duty to remain, I need not trouble my head about minor worries; the duty in hand, they all thought, was with Miss Ruth, and with Miss Ruth I would stay.

"It will be such a luxury to have you, Esther," she said, in her old bright way. "My head is generally bad after these attacks, and I cannot read much to myself, and with all my boasted resolution the hours do seem very long. Flurry must spare you to me after the morning, and we will have nice quiet times together."

So I took possession of the little room next hers, and put away the few necessaries that mother had sent me, with a little picture of Dot, that he had drawn for me; but I little thought that afternoon that it would be a whole month before I left it.

I am afraid that long visit spoiled me a little; it was so pleasant resuming some of the old luxuries. Instead of the cold bare room where Jack and I slept, for, in spite of all our efforts, it did look bare in the winter, I found a bright fire burning in my cozy little chamber, and casting warm ruddy gleams over the white china tiles; the wax candles stood ready for lighting on the toilet table; my dressing gown was aging in company with my slippers; everything so snug and essential to comfort, to the very eider-down quilt that looked so tempting.

Then in the morning, just to dress myself and go down to the pleasant dining-room, with the great logs spluttering out a bright welcome, and the breakfast table loaded with many a dainty. No shivering Dot to coerce into good humor; no feckless Jack to frown into order; no grim Deborah to coax and help. Was it very wicked that I felt all this a relief? Then how deliciously the days passed; the few lessons with Flurry, more play than work; the inspiriting ramble ending generally with a peep at mother and Dot!

The cozy luncheons, at which Flurry and I made our dinners, where Flurry sat in state at the bottom of the table and carved the pudding, and gave herself small airs of consequence, and then the long quiet afternoons with Miss Ruth.

I used to write letters at her dictation, and read to her, not altogether dry reading, for she dearly loved an amusing book. It was the "Chronicles of Carlingford" we read, I remember; and how she praised the whole series, calling them pleasant wholesome pictures of life. We used to be quite sorry when Rhoda, the rosy-cheeked housemaid, brought up the little brass kettle, and I had to leave off to make Miss Ruth's tea. Mr. Lucas always came up when that was over, to sit with his sister a little and tell her all the news of the day, while I went down to Flurry, whom I always found seated on the library sofa, with her white frock spreading out like wings, waiting to sit with father while he ate his dinner.

I always had supper in Miss Ruth's room, and never left her again till nurse came in to put her comfortable for the night. Flurry used to run in on her way to bed to hug us both and tell us what father had said.

"You are father's treasure, his one ewe lamb, are you not?" said Miss Ruth once, as she drew the child fondly toward her; and when she had gone, running off with her merry laugh, she spoke almost with a sigh of her brother's love for the child.

"Giles's love for her almost resembles idolatry. The child is like him, but she has poor Florence's eyes and her bright happy nature. I tremble sometimes to think what would become of him if he lost her. I have lived long enough to know that God sometimes takes away 'the desire of a man's eyes, all that he holds most dear.'"

"But not often," I whispered, kissing her troubled brow, for a look of great sadness came over her face at the idea; but her words recurred to me by-and-by when I heard a short conversation between Flurry and her father.

After the first fortnight Miss Ruth regained strength a little, and though still an invalid was enabled to spend some hours downstairs. Before I left the Cedars she had resumed all her old habits, and was

Esther - 20/43

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