Esther HTML version

Chapter III
Once a week, if she could, Esther passed an hour or two with the children at the
hospital. This building had accommodations for some twenty-five or thirty small patients,
and as it was a private affair, the ladies managed it to please themselves. The children
were given all the sunlight that could be got into their rooms and all the toys and
playthings they could profitably destroy. As the doctors said that, with most of them,
amusement was all they would ever get out of life, an attempt was made to amuse
them. One large room was fitted up for the purpose, and the result was so satisfactory
that Esther got more pleasure out of it than the children did. Here a crowd of little
invalids, playing on the yellow floor or lying on couches, were always waiting to be
amused and longing to be noticed, and thought themselves ill-treated if at least one of
the regular visitors did not appear every day to hear of their pains and pleasures.
Esther's regular task was to tell them a story, and, learning from experience that she
could double its effect by illustrating it, she was in the custom of drawing, as she went
on, pictures of her kings and queens, fairies, monkeys and lions, with amiable manners
and the best moral characters. Thus drawing as she talked, the story came on but
slowly, and spread itself over weeks and months of time.
On this Saturday afternoon Esther was at her work in the play-room, surrounded by a
dozen or more children, with a cripple, tortured by hip-disease, lying at her side and
clinging to her skirt, while a proud princess, with red and white cheeks and voluminous
robes, was making life bright with colored crayons and more highly colored adventures,
when the door opened and Esther saw the Rev. Stephen Hazard, with her aunt, Mrs.
Murray, on the threshold.
Mr. Hazard was not to blame if the scene before him made a sudden and sharp picture
on his memory. The autumn sun was coming in at the windows; the room was warm
and pleasant to look at; on a wide brick hearth, logs of hickory and oak were burning;
two tall iron fire-dogs sat up there on their hind legs and roasted their backs, animals in
which the children were expected to take living interest because they had large yellow
glass eyes through which the fire sparkled; with this, a group of small invalids whose
faces and figures were stamped with the marks of organic disease; and in the center--
Mr. Hazard had come here this afternoon partly because he thought it his duty, and
partly because he wanted to create closer relations with a parishioner so likely to be
useful as Mrs. Murray. He was miserable with a cold, and was weak with fatigue. His
next sermon was turning out dull and disjointed. His building committee were interfering
and quarreling with Wharton. A harsh north-west wind had set his teeth on edge and
filled his eyes with dust. Rarely had he found himself in a less spiritual frame of mind
than when he entered this room. The contrast was overwhelming. When Esther at first
said quite decidedly that nothing would induce her to go on with her story, he felt at
once that this was the only thing necessary to his comfort, and made so earnest an
appeal that she was forced to relent, though rather ungraciously, with a laughing notice