Chapter 15




A SMALL FAILURE.


Vavasor at length found he must not continue to visit Hester so often, while not ready to go further; and that, much as he was in love--proportionately, that is, to his faculty for loving--he dare not do. But for the unconventionality of the Raymounts he would have reached the point long before. He began, therefore, to lessen the number, and shorten the length of his appearances in Addison Square.

But so doing he became the more aware of the influence she had been exercising upon him--found that he had come to feel differently about certain things--that her opinion was a power on his consciousness. He had nowise begun to change his way; he had but been inoculated, and was therefore a little infected, with her goodness. In his ignorance he took the alteration for one of great moral significance, and was wonderfully pleased with himself. His natural kindness, for instance, towards the poor and suffering--such at least as were not offensive--was quickened. He took no additional jot of trouble about them, only gave a more frequent penny to such as begged of him, and had more than a pennorth of relief in return. It was a good thing, and rooted in a better, that his heart should require such relief, but it did not indicate any advanced stage of goodness, or one inconsistent with profoundest unselfishness. He prided himself on one occasion that he had walked home to give his last shilling to a poor woman, whereas in truth he walked home because he found he had given her his last. Yet there was a little more movement of the sap of his nature, as even his behavior in the bank would have testified, had there been any one interested in observing him.

Hester was annoyed to find herself disappointed when he did not appear, and betook herself to a yet more diligent exercise of her growing vocation. The question suggested itself whether it might not further her plans to be associated with a sisterhood, but her family relations made it undesirable, and she felt that the angle of her calling could ill consent to be under foreign rule. She began, however, to widen her sphere a little by going about with a friend belonging to a sisterhood--not in her own quarter, for she did not wish her special work to be crossed by any prejudices. There she always went alone, and seldom entered a house without singing in several of its rooms before she came away--often having to sing some old song before her audience would listen to anything new, and finding the old song generally counted the best thing in her visit--except by the children, to whom she would frequently tell a fairy tale, singing the little rhymes she made come into it. She had of course to encounter rudeness, but she set herself to get used to it, and learn not to resent it but let it pass. One coming upon her surrounded by a child audience, might have concluded her insensible of what was owing to herself; but the feeling of what was owing to her fellows, who had to go such a long unknown way to get back to the image of God, made her strive to forget herself. It is well that so many who lightly try this kind of work meet with so little encouragement; if it had the result they desire, they would be ruined themselves by it, whatever became of their poor.

Hester's chief difficulty was in getting the kind of song fit for her purpose; and from it she gained the advantage of reading, or at least looking into, with more or less of reading as many of the religious poets recognized in our history as she could lay her hands upon; where she failed in finding the thing she wanted, she yet often found what was welcome. She would stop at nearly every book-stall she passed, and book-stalls were plentiful in her neighborhood, searching for old hymn-books and collections of poetry, every one of which is sure to have something the searcher never saw before.

About this time, in connection with a fresh and noble endeavor after bettering the homes of the poor originated, I had almost said of course, by a woman, the experiment was in several places made of gathering small assemblies of the poor in the neighborhood of their own dwellings, that the ladies in charge of the houses in which they lived might, with the help of friends, give them an unambitious but honestly attempted concert. At one of these concerts Hester was invited to assist, and went gladly, prepared to do her best. It had, however, been arranged that any of the audience who would like to sing, should be allowed to make their contributions also to the enjoyment of the evening; and it soon became evident that the company cared for no singing but that of their own acquaintance; and they, for their part, were so bent on singing, and so supported and called for each other, that it seemed at length the better way to abandon the platform to them. There was nothing very objectionable in the character of any of the songs sung--their substance in the main was flaunting sentiment--but the singing was for the most part atrociously bad, and the resulting influence hardly what the projectors of the entertainment had had in view. It might be well that they should enjoy themselves so; it might be well that they should have provided for them something better than they could produce; but, to judge from the experiment, it seemed useless to attempt the combination of the two. Hester, having listened through a half-hour of their singing, was not a little relieved to learn that she would not be called upon to fulfil her engagement, and the company of benefactors went home foiled but not too much disappointed for a good laugh over their fiasco before they parted. The affair set Hester thinking; and before morning she was ready with a scheme to which she begged her mother to gain her father's consent.




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