Ester struggled with herself, tore bits of down from the edge of her fan, tried to regain her composure and her voice, but the tender, gentle, yet searching tone, seemed to have probed her very soul—and the eyes that at last were raised to meet his were melting into tears, and the voice which answered him quivered perceptibly. “No, Mr. Foster, I am not happy.”
“Why? May I ask you? Is the Savior untrue to his promises, or is his professed servant untrue to him?”
Ester’s heart was giving heavy throbs of pain, and her conscience was whispering loudly, “untrue,” “untrue;” but she had made no answer, when Ralph came with brisk step toward where they sat.
“Two against one isn’t fair play,” he said, with a mixture of mischief and vexation in his tone. “Foster, don’t shirk; you have taught Abbie, now go and help her fight it out like a man. Come, take yourself over there and get her out of this scrape. I’ll take care of Ester; she looks as though she had been to camp-meeting.”
And Mr. Foster, with a wondering look for Ralph and a troubled one for Ester, moved slowly toward that end of the long parlor where the voices were growing louder, and one of them excited.
“This is really the most absurd of all your late absurdities,” Mrs. Ried was saying, in rather a loud tone, and with a look of dignified disgust bestowed upon Abbie, as Mr. Foster joined the group.
“Will you receive me into this circle, and enlighten me as regards this particular absurdity,” he said, seating himself near Mrs. Ried.
“Oh it was nothing remarkable,” that lady replied in her most sarcastic tone. “At least it is quite time we were growing accustomed to this new order of things. Abbie is trying to enlighten her father on the new and interesting question of temperance, especially as it is connected with wedding parties, in which she is particularly interested just at present.”
Abbie bestowed an appealing glance on Mr. Foster, and remained entirely silent.
“I believe I can claim equal interest then in the matter,” he answered brightly. “And will petition you, Mrs. Ried, to explain the point at issue.”
“Indeed, Mr. Foster, I’m not a temperance lecturer, and do not consider myself competent to perform the awful task. I refer you to Abbie, who seems to be thoroughly posted, and very desirous of displaying her argumentative powers.”
Still silence on Abbie’s part, and only a little tremble of the lip told a close observer how deeply she felt the sharp tones and unmotherly words. Mrs. Ried spoke at last, in calm, measured accents.
“My daughter and I, Mr. Foster, differ somewhat in regard to the duties and privileges of a host. I claim the right to set before my guests whatever I consider proper. She objects to the use of wine, as, perhaps, you are aware. Indeed, I believe she has imbibed her very peculiar views from you; but I say to her that as I have always been in the habit of entertaining my guests with that beverage, I presume I shall continue to do so.”