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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEsther: A Novel - Chapter 9
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Esther: A Novel - Chapter 9 Post by :AndyW Category :Long Stories Author :Henry Adams Date :May 2012 Read :1927

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Esther: A Novel - Chapter 9

Chapter IX

At her usual hour for taking Esther to drive, Mrs. Murray appeared at the house, where she found Catherine looking as little pleased as though she were ordered to return to her native prairie.

"We have sent him off," said she, "and we are clean broke up."

The tears were in her eyes as she thus announced the tragedy which had been acted only an hour or two before, but her coolness more than ever won Mrs. Murray's heart.

"Tell me all that has happened," said she.

"I've told you all I know," replied Catherine. "They had it out here for an hour or more, and then Esther ran up to her room. I've been to the door half a dozen times, and could hear her crying and moaning inside."

Mrs. Murray sat down with a rueful face and a weary sigh, but there was no sign of hesitation or doubt in her manner. The time had come for her to take command, and she did it without fretfulness or unnecessary words.

"You are the only person I know with a head," said she to Catherine. "You have some common sense and can help me. I want to take Esther out of this place within six hours. Can you manage to get every thing ready?"

"I will run it all if you will take care of Esther," replied Catherine. "I'm not old enough to boss her."

"All you will have to do is to see that your trunks are packed for a week's absence and you are both ready to start by eight o'clock," answered Mrs. Murray. "Do you attend to that and I will look out for the rest. Now wait here a few minutes while I go up and see Esther!"

Catherine wished nothing better than to start any where at the shortest notice. She was tired of the long strain on her sympathies and feelings, and was glad to be made useful in a way that pleased her practical mind. Mrs. Murray went up to Esther's room. All was quiet inside. The storm had spent itself. Knowing that her aunt would come, Esther had made the effort to be herself again, and when Mrs. Murray knocked at the door, the voice that told her to come in was firm and sweet as ever. Esther was getting ready for her drive, and though her eyes, in spite of bathing, were red and swollen, they had no longer the anxious and troubled look of a hunted creature which had so much alarmed Mrs. Murray for the last few days. Her expression was more composed than it had been for weeks. Her love had already become a sorrow rather than a passion, and she would not, for a world of lovers, have gone back to the distress of yesterday.

Mrs. Murray took in the whole situation at a glance and breathed a breath of relief. At length the crisis was past and she had only to save the girl from brooding over her pain. Without waiting for an explanation, she plunged into the torrent of Esther's woes.

"Mr. Murray and I are going to Niagara by the night train. I want you and Catherine to go with us."

"You are an angel!" answered Esther. "Did Catherine tell you how I wanted to run away! You knew it would be so? I will go any where; the further the better; but how can I drag you and poor Uncle John away from town at this season? Can't I go off alone with Catherine?"

"Nonsense!" said her aunt briefly. "I shall be glad to get away from New York. I am tired of it. Get your trunks packed! Put in your sketching materials, and we will pick you up at eight o'clock. George shall come on to-morrow and pass Sunday with us."

Esther thanked her aunt with effusion. "I am going to show you how well I can behave. Uncle John shall not know that any thing is the matter with me unless you tell him. I won't be contemptible, even if I have got red eyes."

Not five minutes were needed to decide on the new departure. Esther and Catherine found relief and amusement in the bustle of preparation. If Esther was still a little feverish and excited, she was able to throw it off in work. She was no longer an object of pity; it was her uncle and aunt who deserved deepest compassion. What worse shock was possible for an elderly, middle-aged New York lawyer than to return to his house at six o'clock and find that he is to have barely time for his dinner and cigar before being thrust out into the cold and hideous darkness of a February night, in order to travel some four hundred miles through a snow-bound country? It is true that he had received some little warning to arrange his affairs for an absence over Saturday, but at best the blow was a severe one, and he bore it with a silent fortitude which wrung his wife's heart. She was a masterful mistress, but she was good to those who obeyed, and she even showed the weakness of begging him not to go, although in her soul she knew that he must.

"After all, John, you needn't go with us. I can take the girls alone."

"As I understand it, you have engaged my professional services," he replied. "On the whole I prefer prevention to cure. I would rather help Esther to run away, than get her a divorce."

"When I am dead, you shall stay quietly at home and be perfectly happy," she answered, with the venerable device which wives, from earliest history, have used to palliate their own sins.

Nevertheless he felt almost as miserable as his wife, when, wrapped in cloaks and rugs, they left their bright dining room and shuffled down the steps into the outside darkness to their carriage. He expressed opinions about lovers which would have put a quick end to the human race had they been laws of nature. He wished the church would take them all and consign them to its own favorite place of punishment. He had a disagreeable trick of gibing at his wife's orthodoxy on this point, and when she remonstrated at his profanity, he smiled contentedly and said: "There is nothing profane about it. It is sound church doctrine, and I envy you for being able to believe it. You can hope to see them with your own eyes getting their reward, confound them!"

Consoling himself with this pleasing hope, they started off, and in five minutes were at Esther's door. After taking the two girls into the carriage, Mr. Murray became more affable and even gay. By the time the party was established in their sleeping car, he had begun to enjoy himself. He had too often made such journeys, and was too familiar with every thing on the road to be long out of humor, and for once it was amusing to have a pair of pretty girls to take with him. Commonly his best society was some member of the Albany Legislature, and his only conversation was about city charters and railroad legislation. The variety had its charm. Esther was as good as her word. She made a desperate battle to recover her gayety, and the little excitement of a night journey helped the triumph of her pride. Determined that she would not be an object of pity, she made the most of all her chances, pretended to take in earnest her uncle's humorous instructions as to the art of arranging a sleeping berth, and horrified her aunt by letting him induce Catherine and herself to eat hot doughnuts and mince pies on the train. It was outwardly a gay little party which rattled along the bank of the snowy river on their way northward.

The gayety, it is true, was forced. For the first ten minutes Esther felt excited by the sense of flight and the rapid motion which was carrying her she knew not where,--away into the infinite and unknown. What lay before her, beyond the darkness of the moment, she hardly cared. Never again could she go back to the old life, but like a young bird that has lost its mate, she must fly on through the gloom till it end. Unluckily all her thoughts brought her back to Hazard. Even this sense of resembling a bird that flies, it knows not where, recalled to her the sonnet of Petrarch which she had once translated for him, and which, since then, had been always on his lips, although she had never dreamed that it could have such meaning to her. Long after she had established herself in her berth, solitary and wakeful, the verses made rhythm with the beat of the car-wheels:

"Vago augelletto che cantando vai!"

They were already far on their way, flying up the frozen stream of the Hudson, before she was left alone with her thoughts in the noisy quiet of the rushing train. She could not even hope to sleep. Propping herself up against the pillows, she raised the curtain of her window and stared into the black void outside. Nothing in nature could be more mysterious and melancholy than this dark, polar world, beside which a winter storm on the Atlantic was at least exciting. On the ocean the forces of nature have it their own way; nothing comes between man and the elements; but as Esther gazed out into the night, it was not the darkness, or the sense of cold, or the vagrant snow-flakes driving against the window, or the heavy clouds drifting through the sky, or even the ghastly glimmer and reflection of the snow-fields, that, by contrast, made the grave seem cheerful; it was rather the twinkling lights from distant and invisible farm-houses, the vague outlines of barn-yards and fences along doubtful roads, the sudden flash of lamps as the train hurried through unknown stations, or the unfamiliar places where it stopped, while the tap-tap of the train-men's hammers on the wheels beneath sounded like spirit-rappings. These signs of life behind the veil were like the steady lights of shore to the drowning fisherman off the reef outside. Every common-place kerosene lamp whose rays struggled from distant, snow-clad farms, brought a picture of peace and hope to Esther. Not one of these invisible roofs but might shelter some realized romance, some contented love. In so dark and dreary a world, what a mad act it was to fly from the only happiness life offered! What a strange idea to seek safety by refusing the only protection worth having! Love was all in all! Esther had never before felt herself so helpless as in the face of this outer darkness, and if her lover had now been there to claim her, she would have dropped into his arms as unresistingly as a tired child.

As the night wore on, the darkness and desolation became intolerable, and she shut them out, only to find herself suffocated by the imprisonment of her sleeping-berth. Hour after hour dragged on; the little excitement of leaving Albany was long past, and the train was wandering through the dullness of Central New York, when at last a faint suspicion of dim light appeared in the landscape, and Esther returned to her window. If any thing could be drearier than the blackness of night, it was the grayness of dawn, which had all the cold terror of death and all the grim repulsiveness of life joined in an hour of despair. Esther could now see the outlines of farm-houses as the train glided on; snow-laden roofs and sheds; long stretches of field with fences buried to their top rails in sweeping snow-drifts; in the houses, lights showed that toil had begun again; smoke rose from the chimneys; figures moved in the farm-yards; a sleigh could be seen on a decided road; the world became real, prosaic, practical, mechanical, not worth struggling about; a mere colorless, passionless, pleasureless grayness. As the mystery vanished, the pain passed and the brain grew heavy. Esther's eyelids drooped, and she sank at last into a sleep so sound that there was hardly need for Catherine to stand sentry before her berth and frown the car into silence. The sun was high above the horizon; the sky was bright and blue; the snowy landscape flashed with the sparkle of diamonds, when Esther woke, and it was with a cry of pleasure that she felt her spirits answer the sun.

Meanwhile her flight was no secret. As the train that carried her off drew out of the great station into the darkness for its long journey of three thousand miles, two notes were delivered to gentlemen only a few squares away. Strong at his club received one from Mrs. Murray: "We all start for Clifton at nine o'clock. Come to-morrow and bring a companion if you can. We need to be amused." The Reverend Stephen Hazard received the other note, which was still more brief, but long enough to strike him with panic; for it contained two words: "Good-by! Esther."

No sooner did Strong receive his missive than he set himself in active motion. Wharton, who commonly dined at the club, was so near that Strong had only to pass the note over to him. Whether Wharton was still suffering from the shock of his wife's appearance, or disappearance, or whether he was on the look-out for some chance to see again his friend Catherine, or whether he found it pleasanter to take a holiday than to attack his long arrears of work, the idea of running up to Niagara for Sunday happened to strike him as pleasant, and he promised to join Strong at the Erie Station in the morning. Strong knew him too well to count on his keeping the engagement, but could do no more, and they both left the club to make their preparations. Strong had another duty. Before stirring further, he must talk with Hazard. The affair was rapidly taking a shape that might embarrass them both.

Going directly to Hazard's house, he burst into the library, where he found his friend trying to work in spite of the heavy load on his mind. Throwing him Mrs. Murray's note, Strong waited without a word while Hazard read it more eagerly than though it had been a summons to a bishopric. The mysterious good-by, which had arrived but a few minutes before, had upset his nerves, and at first the note which Strong brought reassured him, for he thought that Mrs. Murray was earning out his own wishes and drawing Esther nearer to him.

"Then we have succeeded!" he cried.

"Not much!" said Strong dryly. "It is a genuine flight and escape in all the forms. You are out-generaled and your line of attack is left all in the air."

"I shall follow!" said Hazard, doggedly.

"No good! They are in earnest," replied Strong.

"So am I!" answered the clergyman sharply, while Strong threw himself into a chair, good-natured as ever, and said:

"Come along then! Will you go up with Wharton and me by the early train to-morrow?"

"Yes!" replied Hazard quickly. Then he paused; there were limits to his power and he began to feel them. "No!" he went on. "I can't get away to-morrow. I must wait till Sunday night."

"Better wait altogether," said Strong. "You take the chances against you."

"I told her I should follow her, and I shall," repeated Hazard stiffly. He felt hurt, as though Esther had rebelled against his authority, and he was not well pleased that Strong should volunteer advice.

"Give me my orders then!" said Strong. "Can I do any thing for you?"

"I shall be there on Monday afternoon. Telegraph me if they should decide to leave the place earlier. Try and keep them quiet till I get there!"

"Shall I tell them you are coming?"

"Not for your life!" answered Hazard impatiently. "Do all you can to soothe and quiet her. Hint that in my place you would come. Try to make her hope it, but not fear it."

"I will do all that to the letter," said Strong. "I feel partly responsible for getting you and Esther into this scrape, and am ready to go a long way to pull you through; but this done I stop. If Esther is in earnest, I must stand by her. Is that square?"

Hazard frowned severely and hesitated. "The real struggle is just coming," said he. "If you keep out of the way, I shall win. So far I have never failed with her. My influence over her to-day is greater than ever, or she would not try to run away from it. If you interfere I shall think it unkind and unfriendly."

To this Strong answered pleasantly enough, but as though his mind were quite made up: "I don't mean to interfere if I can help it, but I can't persecute Esther, if it is going to make her unhappy. As it is, I am likely to catch a scoring from my aunt for bringing you down on them, and undoing her work. I wish I were clear of the whole matter and Esther were a pillar of the church."

With this declaration of contingent neutrality, Strong went his way, and as he walked musingly back to his rooms, he muttered to himself that he had done quite as much for Hazard as the case would warrant: "What a trump the girl is, and what a good fight she is making! I believe I am getting to be in love with her myself, and if he gives it up--hum--yes, if he gives it up,--then of course Esther will go abroad and forget it."

Hazard's solitary thoughts were not quite so pointless. The danger of disappointment and defeat roused in him the instinct of martyrdom. He was sure that all mankind would suffer if he failed to get the particular wife he wanted. "It is not a selfish struggle," he thought. "It is a human soul I am trying to save, and I will do it in the teeth of all the powers of darkness. If I can but set right this systematically misguided conscience, the task is done. It is the affair of a moment when once the light comes;--A flash! A miracle! If I cannot wield this fire from Heaven, I am unfit to touch it. Let it burn me up!"

Early the next morning, not a little to their own surprise, Strong and Wharton found themselves dashing over the Erie Road towards Buffalo. They had a long day before them and luckily Wharton was in his best spirits. As for Strong he was always in good spirits. Within the memory of man, well or ill, on sea or shore, in peril or safety, Strong had never been seen unhappy or depressed. He had the faculty of interesting himself without an effort in the doings of his neighbors, and Wharton always had on hand some scheme which was to make an epoch in the history of art. Just now it was a question of a new academy of music which was to be the completest product of architecture, and to combine all the senses in delight. The Grand Opera at Paris was to be tame beside it. Here he was to be tied down by no such restraints as the church imposed on him; he was to have beauty for its own sake and to create the thought of a coming world. His decorations should make a revolution in the universe. Strong entered enthusiastically into his plans, but both agreed that preliminary studies were necessary both for architects and artists. The old world must be ransacked to the depths of Japan and Persia. Before their dinner-hour was reached, they had laid out a scheme of travel and study which would fill a life-time, while the Home of Music in New York was still untouched. After dinner and a cigar, they fought a prodigious battle over the influence of the Aryan races on the philosophy of art, and then, dusk coming on, they went to sleep, and finished an agreeable journey at about midnight.

When at last they drove up to the hotel door in the frosty night, and stamped their feet, chilled by the sleigh-ride from the station, the cataract's near roar and dim outline under the stars did not prevent them from warmly greeting Mr. Murray who sallied out to welcome them and to announce that their supper was waiting. The three women had long since gone to bed, but Mr. Murray staid up to have a chat with the boys. He was in high spirits. He owned that he had enjoyed his trip and was in no hurry to go home. While his nephew and Wharton attacked their supper, he sipped his Scotch whisky, and with the aid of a cigar, enlivened the feast.

"We got over here before three o'clock," said he, "and of course I took them out to drive at once. Esther sat in front with me and we let the horses go. Your aunt thinks I am unsafe with horses and I took some pains to prove that she was right. The girls liked it. They wouldn't have minded being tipped into a snow-bank, but I thought it would be rough on your aunt, so I brought them home safe, gave them a first-rate dinner and sent them off to bed hours ago, sleepy as gods. To-morrow you must take them in hand. I have made to-day what the newspapers call my most brilliant forensic effort, and I'll not risk my reputation again."

"Keep out of our way then!" said Strong. "Wharton and I mean to spill those two girls over the cliff unless Canadian horses know geology."

Esther slept soundly that night while the roar of the waters lulled her slumbers. The sun woke her the next morning to a sense of new life. Her room looked down on the cataract, and she had already taken a fancy to this tremendous, rushing, roaring companion, which thundered and smoked under her window, as though she had tamed a tornado to play in her court-yard. To brush her hair while such a confidant looked on and asked questions, was more than Pallas Athene herself could do, though she looked out forever from the windows of her Acropolis over the Blue AEgean. The sea is capricious, fickle, angry, fawning, violent, savage and wanton; it caresses and raves in a breath, and has its moods of silence, but Esther's huge playmate rambled on with its story, in the same steady voice, never shrill or angry, never silent or degraded by a sign of human failings, and yet so frank and sympathetic that she had no choice but to like it. "Even if it had nothing to tell me, its manners are divine," said Esther to herself as she leaned against the window sash and looked out. "And its dress!" she ran on. "What a complexion, to stand dazzling white and diamonds in the full sunlight!" Yet it was not the manners or the dress of her new friend that most won Esther's heart. Her excitement and the strain of the last month had left her subject to her nerves and imagination. She was startled by a snow-flake, was reckless and timid by turns, and her fancy ran riot in dreams of love and pain. She fell in love with the cataract and turned to it as a confidant, not because of its beauty or power, but because it seemed to tell her a story which she longed to understand. "I think I do understand it," she said to herself as she looked out. "If he could only hear it as I do," and of course "he" was Mr. Hazard; "how he would feel it!" She felt tears roll down her face as she listened to the voice of the waters and knew that they were telling her a different secret from any that Hazard could ever hear. "He will think it is the church talking!" Sad as she was, she smiled as she thought that it was Sunday morning, and a ludicrous contrast flashed on her mind between the decorations of St. John's, with its parterre of nineteenth century bonnets, and the huge church which was thundering its gospel under her eyes.

To have Niagara for a rival is no joke. Hazard spoke with no such authority; and Esther's next idea was one of wonder how, after listening here, any preacher could have the confidence to preach again. "What do they know about it?" she asked herself. "Which of them can tell a story like this, or a millionth part of it?" To dilute it in words and translate bits of it for school-girls, or to patronize it by defense or praise, was somewhat as though Esther herself should paint a row of her saints on the cliff under Table Rock. Even to fret about her own love affairs in such company was an impertinence. When eternity, infinity and omnipotence seem to be laughing and dancing in one's face, it is well to treat such visitors civilly, for they come rarely in such a humor.

So much did these thoughts interest and amuse her that she took infinite pains with her toilet in order to honor her colossal host whose own toilet was sparkling with all the jewels of nature, like an Indian prince whose robes are crusted with diamonds and pearls. When she came down to the breakfast-room, Strong, who was alone there, looked up with a start.

"Why, Esther!" he broke out, "take care, or one of these days you will be handsome!"

Catherine too was pretty as a fawn, and was so honestly pleased to meet Wharton again that he expanded into geniality. As for broken hearts, no self-respecting young woman shows such an ornament at any well regulated breakfast-table; they are kept in dark drawers and closets like other broken furniture. Esther had made the deadliest resolution to let no trace of her unhappiness appear before her uncle, and Mr. Murray, who saw no deeper than other men into the heart-problem, was delighted with the gayety of the table, and proud of his own success as a physician for heart complaints. Mrs. Murray, who knew more about her own sex, kept her eye on the two girls with more anxiety than she cared to confess. If any new disaster should happen, the prospect would be desperate, and it was useless to deny that she had taken risks heavy enough to stagger a professional gambler. The breakfast table looked gay and happy enough, and so did the rapids which sparkled and laughed in the distance.

After breakfast the two young women, with much preparation of boots, veils and wraps, went off with Strong and Wharton for a stroll down to the banks of the river. The two older members of the party remained quietly in their parlor, thinking that the young people would get on better by themselves. As the four wandered down the road, Mr. Murray watched them, and noticed the natural way in which Esther joined Strong, while Catherine fell to Wharton. Standing with his hands in his trousers' pockets and his nose close to the window-pane, Mr. Murray looked after them as they disappeared down the bank, and then, without turning round, he made a remark as husbands do, addressed to the universe and intended for his wife.

"I suppose that is what you are driving at."

"What?" asked Mrs. Murray.

"I don't mind George and Esther, but I grudge Catherine to that man Wharton. He may be a good artist, but I think his merits as a husband beneath criticism. I believe every woman would connive at a love affair though the man had half a dozen living wives, and had been hung two or three times for murder."

"I wish Esther were as safe as I think Catherine," said Mrs. Murray. "It would surprise me very much if Catherine took Mr. Wharton now, but if Mr. Hazard were to walk round the corner, I should expect to see Esther run straight into his arms."

"Hazard!" exclaimed Mr. Murray. "I thought he was out of the running and you meant Esther for George."

"I am not a match-maker, and I've no idea that Esther will ever marry George," replied Mrs. Murray with the patience which wives sometimes show to husbands whom they think obtuse.

"Then what is it you want?" asked Mr. Murray, with some signs of rebellion, but still talking to the window-pane, with his hands in his pockets. "You encourage a set of clever men to hang round two pretty girls, and you profess at the same time not to want anything to come of it. That kind of conduct strikes an ordinary mind as inconsistent."

"I want to prevent one unhappy marriage, not to make two," replied his wife. "Girls must have an education, and the only way they can get a good one is from clever men. As for falling in love, they will always do that whether the men are clever or not. They must take the risk."

"And what do you mean to do with them when they _are educated?" inquired he.

"I mean them to marry dull, steady men in Wall Street, without any manners, and with their hands in their pockets," answered Mrs. Murray, her severity for once mingled with a touch of sweetness.

"Thank you," replied her husband, at last turning round. "Then that is to be the fruit of all this to-do?"

"I am sure it is quite fruit enough," rejoined she. "The business of educating their husbands will take all the rest of their lives."

Mr. Murray reflected a few minutes, standing with his back to the fire and gazing at his wife. Then he said: "Sarah, you are a clever woman. If you would come into my office and work steadily, you could double my income at the bar; but you need practice; your points are too fine; you run too many risks, and no male judge would ever support your management of a case. As practice I grant you it is bold and has much to recommend it, but in the law we cannot look so far ahead. Now, why won't you let Esther marry George?"

"I shall practice only before women judges," replied Mrs. Murray, "and I will undertake to say that I never should find one so stupid as not to see that George is not at all the sort of man whom a girl with Esther's notions would marry. If I tried to make her do it, I should be as wrong-headed as some men I know."

"I suppose you don't mean to put yourself in George's way, if he asks her," inquired Mr. Murray rather anxiously.

"My dear husband, there is no use in thinking about George one way or the other. Do put him out of your head! You fancy because Esther seems bright this morning, that she might marry George to-morrow. Now I can see a great deal more of Esther's mind than you, and I tell you that it is all we can do to prevent her from recalling Mr. Hazard, and that if we do prevent it, we shall have to take her abroad for at least two years before she gets over the strain."

At this emphatic announcement that his life was to be for two years a sacrifice to Esther's love-affairs, Mr. Murray retired again to his window and meditated in a more subdued spirit. He knew that protest would avail nothing.

Meanwhile the two girls were already down on the edge of the icy river, talking at first of the scene which lay before their eyes.

"Think what the Greeks would have done with it!" said Wharton. "They would have set Zeus in a throne on Table Rock, firing away his lightnings at Prometheus under the fall."

"Just for a change I rather like our way of sticking advertisements there," said Catherine. "It makes one feel at home."

"A woman feels most the kind of human life in it," said Esther.

"A big, rollicking, Newfoundland dog sort of humanity," said Strong.

"You are all wrong," said Catherine. "The fall is a woman, and she is as self-conscious this morning as if she were at church. Look at the coquetry of the pretty curve where the water falls over, and the lace on the skirt where it breaks into foam! Only a woman could do that and look so pretty when she might just as easily be hideous."

"It is not a woman! It is a man!" broke in Esther vehemently. "No woman ever had a voice like that!" She felt hurt that her cataract should be treated as a self-conscious woman.

"Now, Mr. Wharton!" cried Catherine, appealing to the artist: "Now, you see I'm right, and self-consciousness is sometimes a beauty."

Wharton answered this original observation of nature by a lecture which may be read to more advantage in his printed works. It ended by Catherine requiring him to draw for her the design of a dress which should have the soul of Niagara in its folds, and while he was engaged in this labor, which absorbed Catherine's thoughts and gave her extreme amusement, Esther strolled on with Strong, and for nearly an hour walked up and down the road, or leaned against the rock in sheltered places where the sun was warm. At first they went on talking of the scenery, then Esther wanted to know about the geology, and quickly broke in on Strong's remarks upon this subject by questions which led further and further away from it. The river boiled at their feet; the sun melted the enormous icicles which hung from the precipice behind them; a mass of frozen spray was banked up against the American fall opposite them, making it look like an iceberg, and snow covered every thing except the perpendicular river banks and the dark water. The rainbow hung over the cataract, and the mist rose from the furious waters into the peace of the quiet air.

"You know what has happened?" she asked.

Strong nodded assent. He was afraid to tell her how much he knew.

"Do you think I have done wrong?"

"How can I tell without knowing all your reasons?" he asked. "It looks to me as though you were uncertain of yourself and cared less for him than he for you. If I were in his place I should follow you close up, and refuse to leave you."

Esther gave a little gasp: "You don't think he will do that? if he does, I shall run away again."

"Why run away? if you really want to get rid of him, why not make him run away?"

"Because I don't want to make him run away from me, and because I don't know how. If I could only get him away from his church! All I know about it is that I can't be a clergyman's wife, but the moment that I try to explain why, he proves to me that my reasons are good for nothing."

"Are you sure he's not right?" asked Strong.

"Perfectly sure!" replied Esther earnestly. "I can't reason it out, but I feel it. I believe you could explain it if you would, but when I asked you, in the worst of my trouble, you refused to help me."

"I gave you all the help I could, and I am ready to give you whatever you want more," replied Strong.

"Tell me what you think about religion!"

Strong drew himself together with a perceptible effort: "I think about it as little as possible," said he.

"Do you believe in a God?"

"Not in a personal one."

"Or in future rewards and punishments?"

"Old women's nursery tales!"

"Do you believe in nothing?"

"There is evidence amounting to strong probability, of the existence of two things," said Strong, slowly, and as though in his lecture-room.

"What are they, if you please?"

"Should you know better if I said they were mind and matter?"

"You believe in nothing else?"

"N-N-No!" hesitated Strong.

"Isn't it horrible, your doctrine?"

"What of that, if it's true? I never said it was pleasant."

"Do you expect to convert any one to such a religion?"

"Great Buddha, no! I don't want to convert any one. I prefer almost any kind of religion. No one ever took up this doctrine who could help himself."

Esther pondered deeply for a time. Strong's trick of driving her to do what he wanted was so old a habit that she had learned to distrust it. At last she began again from another side.

"You really mean that this life is every thing, and the future nothing?"

"I never said so. I rather think the church is right in thinking this life nothing and the future every thing."

"But you deny a future life!"

Strong began to feel uncomfortable. He wanted to defend his opinions, and it became irksome to go on making out the strongest case he could against himself.

"Come!" said he: "don't go beyond what I said. I only denied the rewards and punishments. Mind! I'll not say there is a future life, but I don't deny it's possibility."

"You are willing to give us a chance?" said Esther rather sarcastically.

"I don't know that you would call it one," replied Strong satisfied by Esther's irony that he had now gone far enough. "If our minds could get hold of one abstract truth, they would be immortal so far as that truth is concerned. My trouble is to find out how we can get hold of the truth at all."

"My trouble is that I don't think I understand in the least what you mean," replied Esther.

"I thought you knew enough theology for that," said George. "The thing is simple enough. Hazard and I and every one else agree that thought is eternal. If you can get hold of one true thought, you are immortal as far as that thought goes. The only difficulty is that every fellow thinks his thought the true one. Hazard wants you to believe in his, and I don't want you to believe in mine, because I've not got one which I believe in myself."

"Still I don't understand," said Esther. "How can I make myself immortal by taking Mr. Hazard's opinions?"

"Because then the truth is a part of you! if I understand St. Paul, this is sound church doctrine, leaving out the personal part of the Trinity which Hazard insists on tacking to it. Except for the rubbish, I don't think I am so very far away from him," continued Strong, now assuming that he had done what he could to set Esther straight, and going on with the conversation as though it had no longer a personal interest. As he talked, he poked holes in the snow with his stick, as though what he said was for his own satisfaction, and he were turning this old problem over again in his mind to see whether he could find any thing new at the bottom of it. "I can't see that my ideas are so brutally shocking. We may some day catch an abstract truth by the tail, and then we shall have our religion and immortality. We have got far more than half way. Infinity is infinitely more intelligible to you than you are to a sponge. If the soul of a sponge can grow to be the soul of a Darwin, why may we not all grow up to abstract truth? What more do you want?"

As he looked up again, saying these words without thinking of Esther's interest, he was startled to see that this time she was listening with a very different expression in her face. She broke in with a question which staggered him.

"Does your idea mean that the next world is a sort of great reservoir of truth, and that what is true in us just pours into it like raindrops?"

"Well!" said he, alarmed and puzzled: "the figure is not perfectly correct, but the idea is a little of that kind."

"After all I wonder whether that may not be what Niagara has been telling me!" said Esther, and she spoke with an outburst of energy that made Strong's blood run cold.

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Esther: A Novel - Chapter 10 Esther: A Novel - Chapter 10

Esther: A Novel - Chapter 10
Chapter XStrong kept his word about amusing the two girls. They were not allowed the time to make themselves unhappy, restless or discontented. This Sunday afternoon he set out with a pair of the fastest horses to be got in the neighborhood, and if these did not go several times over the cliff, it was, as Strong had said, rather their own good sense than their driver's which held them back. Catherine, who sat by Strong's side, made the matter worse by taking the reins, and a more reckless little Amazon never defied men. Even Strong himself at one moment, when

Esther: A Novel - Chapter 8 Esther: A Novel - Chapter 8

Esther: A Novel - Chapter 8
Chapter VIIIMr. Hazard was not happy. Like Esther he felt himself getting into a state of mind that threatened to break his spirit. He had been used to ordering matters much as he pleased. His parish at Cincinnati, being his creation, had been managed by him as though he owned it, but at St. John's he found himself less free, and was conscious of incessant criticism. He had been now some months in his new pulpit; his popular success had been marked; St. John's was overflowing with a transient audience, like a theater, to the disgust of regular pew-owners; his personal