The next afternoon Jim and I kept our appointment with the Van Arsdel's. We found one of the parlors transformed to a perfect bower of floral decorations. Stars and wreaths and crosses and crowns were either just finished or in process of rapid construction under fairy fingers. When I came in, Eva and Alice were busy on a gigantic cross, to be made entirely of lilies of the valley, of which some bushels were lying around on the carpet. Ida had joined the service, and was kneeling on the floor tying up the flowers in bunches to offer them to Eva.

"You see, Mr. Henderson, the difference between modern religion and the primitive Christians," she said. "Their cross was rough wood and hard nails; ours is lilies and roses made up in fashionable drawing-rooms."

"I'm afraid," said Eva, "our crown may prove much of the same material!"

"I sometimes wonder," said Ida, "whether all the money spent for flowers at Easter could not better be spent in some mode of relieving the poor."

"Well," said Eva, "I am sorry to bring up such a parallel, but isn't that just the same kind of remark that Judas made about the alabaster vase of ointment?"

"Yes," said I; "what could be more apparently useless than a mere perfume, losing itself in the air, and vanishing entirely? And yet the Saviour justified that lavish expenditure when it was the expression of a heart-feeling."

"But," said Ida, "don't you think it very difficult to mark the line where these services and offerings to religious worship become excessive?"

"Of course it is," said I; "but no more difficult on this subject than any other."

"That's the great trouble in this life," said Eva. "The line between right and wrong seems always so indefinite, like the line between any two colors of the prism—it is hard to say just where one ends and another begins."

"It is the office of common sense," I said, "to get the exact right in all such matters—there is a sort of instinct in it."

"Well, all I have to say about it is," said Eva, "since we do spend lavishly and without stint in our houses and in our dress for adornment, we ought to do at least as much for our religion. I like to see the adornment of a church generous, overflowing, as if we gave our very best. As to these lilies, I ordered them of an honest gardener, and it goes to help support a family that would be poor if it were not for these flowers. It is better to support one or two families honestly, by buying their flowers for churches than it is to give the money away. So I look on it."

"Oh, well," said Alice, "there is no end to anything. Everything you do tends to something else; and everything leads to something; and there is never any knowing about anything; and so I think it is best just to have as good a time as you can, and do everything that is agreeable, and make everything just as pretty as it can be. And I think it is fun to trim up the church for Easter. There now! And it don't do any harm. And I just like to go to the sunrise service, if it does make one sleepy all day. What do you say, Mr. Fellows? Do you think you could go through with the whole of it?"

"Miss Alice, if you only go you will find me inspired with the spirit of a primitive Christian in this respect," said Jim. "I shall follow wherever you lead the way, if it's ever so late at night, or ever so early in the morning."

"And Mr. Henderson," said she, "may we depend on you, too?"

"By all means," said I, as I sat industriously gathering up the lilies into bunches and tying them.

"Mr. Henderson is in a hopeful way," said Eva. "I think we may have him in the true church some of these times."

"I am afraid," said Ida, "that Mr. Henderson, having seen you only in Lent, won't be able to keep track of you when the Easter rejoicings begin, and the parties recommence."

"Oh dear me!" said Eva, with a sort of shudder, "To think of that horrid wedding!"

"That's just like Eva," said Alice. "She's been, and been, and been to these things till she's tired out with them; whereas, I am just come out, and I like them, and want more of them. I don't think they are horrid at all. I am perfectly delighted about that Elmore wedding. One will see there all the new things, and all the stunning things, and all the latest devices from Paris. I was in at Tullegig's the other day, and you never saw such a sight as her rooms are! Somebody said it looked as if rainbows had been broken to pieces and thrown all round. She showed me all the different costumes that she was making up for the various parties. You know there are to be seven bride's-maids, and each of them is to wear a different color. Madame thinks 'C'est si gentil.' Then, you know, they are making such grand preparations up at that chateau of theirs. The whole garden is to be roofed in and made a ball room of. I think it will be gorgeous. I say, Mr. Fellows, if you and Mr. Henderson would like it, I know I could manage cards for you."

Jim assented, heartily, for both of us; and I added that I should like to see the affair; for I had never seen enough of that sort of thing to take away the novelty.

After tea we all sallied out to the church with our trophies. We went in two carriages, for the better accommodation of these, and had a busy time disembarking at the church and carrying them in. Here we met a large committee of co-workers, and the scene of real business commenced. Jim and I worked heroically under the direction of our fair superintendents. By midnight the church was a bower of fragrance and beauty. The chancel seemed a perfect bed of lilies, out of which rose the great white cross, shedding perfume upon the air. The baptismal font was covered with a closely woven mosaic of fragrant violets, and in each panel appeared an alternate red or white cross formed of flowers. The font was filled with a tall bouquet of white saint's-lilies, such as gardeners force for Easter.

Eva and I worked side by side this evening, and never had I seemed to know her more intimately. The fact is, among other dangerous situations to a young man's heart, none may be mentioned more seductive than to be in a church twining flowers and sorting crosses and emblems in the still holy hours of the night. One's head gets, somehow, bewildered; all worldly boundaries of cold prudence fade away; and one seems to be lifted up to some other kind of land where those that are congenial never part from each other. So I felt when, our work being all done, I retired with Eva to the shadow of a distant pew to survey the whole result. We had turned on the gas-light to show our work, and its beams, falling on thousands of these white lily-bells and on all the sacred emblems, shed a sort of chastened light. Again, somehow, as if it had been a rose-leaf floating down from heaven, I found that little hand in mine; and we spoke low to each other, in whispers, of how good and how pleasant it was to be there, and to unite in such service and work—words that meant far more than they seemed to say. Once, in the course of the evening, I saw her little glove where it had fallen into a nest of cast-off flowers, and, as no one was looking, I seized upon it as a relic, and appropriated it to my own sacred memories. Nor would I surrender it, though afterward I heard her making pathetic inquiries for it. Late at night I went home to think and dream, and woke with the first dim gray of morning, thinking of my appointment to meet her at the church.

It is a charming thing to go out in the fresh calm morning before any one is stirring. The bells for early service were dropping their notes here and there, down through the air, as if angels were calling men to awake and remember that great event which happened so silently and so unregarded, many, many years ago. I thought as I walked through the dim streets and saw here and there an early worshiper, prayer-book in hand, stealing along, of the lonely women who, years ago, in Jerusalem, sought the sepulchre to see where they had laid Him.

Little twittering sparrows filled the ivy on the outside of the church and made it vibrate with their chirpings. There was the promise in the brightening skies of a glorious sunrise. I stood waiting awhile, quite alone, till one by one the bands of youths and maidens came from different directions.

I had called Jim as I went out, but he, preferring to take the utmost latitude for sleep, looked at his watch and told me he would take another half hour before he joined us.

Eva was there, however, among the very first. The girls, she said, were coming. We went into the dim church together and sat ourselves down in the shady solitude of one of the slips waiting for the morning light to pour through the painted windows. We said nothing to each other; but the silence was sociable and not blank. There are times in life when silence between two friends is better than speech; for they know each other by intuition.

Gradually the church filled with worshipers; and as the rising sun streamed through the painted windows and touched all the lilies with brightness, a choir of children in the organ-loft broke forth into carols like so many invisible birds. And then, the old chant,

"Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more,"

seemed to thrill every heart.

After the service came a general shaking of hands and greetings from neighbors and friends, as everybody walked round examining the decorations.

"Now, Mr. Henderson," said Eva, as she stood with me surveying this scene, "is not a church which preserves all these historical memorials a most lovely one? Ought we not thus to cherish the memory of that greatest event that ever happened in this world? And how beautiful it is to bring up children year after year by festivals like these, to mark off their life in acts of remembrance."

"You speak truly," I said, sharing her enthusiasm. "I could wish the church of all good people had never ceased to keep Easter; indeed, they who do disregard it seem to me a cold minority out of the great fellowship. I think it is fortunate that the Romish and the Episcopal churches are bringing us, descendants of the Puritans, back to those primitive customs. I, for one, come back willingly and joyfully."

[Eva Van Arsdel to Isabel Convers.]

My Darling Belle:—I have been a naughty girl to let your letter lie so long. But my darling, it is not true, as you there suggest, that the bonds of sisterly affection, which bound us in school, are growing weaker, and that I no longer trust you as a confidential friend. Believe me, the day will never come, dearest Belle, when I shall cease to unfold to you every innermost feeling.

And now to come to the point about "that Mr. Henderson." Indeed, my love, your cautions are greatly mistaken. It is true that, much to my surprise, he has taken a fancy to visit quite intimately at our house, and has made himself a general favorite in the family. Mamma, and Aunt Maria, and all the girls like him so much. But, then, you must know he is generally set down as Ida's admirer. At all events Ida and he are extremely good friends; and when he calls here he generally spends the largest part of the evening in her sanctum; and they have most edifying conversations on all the approved modern topics—the Darwinian theory, woman's rights, and everything else you can think of. One thing I admit is a little peculiar—he notices everything that I say in conversation—I must own. I never saw such an observing creature. For example, the first evening he was at our house, I just accidentally dropped before him the remark that I was going to early morning services in Lent, and would you believe it?—the next morning he was there too, and walked home with me. I was the more astonished, because he does not belong to the Church—so one would not expect it, you know. He is a member of the Bethany Church himself, but he seems delighted with our services, and talks about them beautifully—as well as our rector could. I really wish you could have heard him! He seems to have such an earnest, thoughtful mind; and what I like in him is, that he never flatters, and talks that matter-of-course complimentary nonsense, that some men think is the thing to be talked to ladies; neither has he that way of talking down to one that superior men sometimes have, when they are talking with us girls. I read somewhere this sentiment—that we may know the opinion people have of us by the kind of conversation they address to us—and if this is so I ought to be flattered by the way Mr. Henderson talks to me; for I think he shows quite as much anxiety to find out my opinion on all subjects as he does Ida's. You will, perhaps, think it rather peculiar if I tell you that ever since that first morning he has been as constant at the morning services as I have, and always walks home with me. In this way we really are getting quite intimately acquainted. Now, Belle, don't put on that knowing look of yours, and intimate that there is anything particular in all this, for there is not. I do assure you there is not a bit of nonsense in it. You would be perfectly astonished to hear how gravely and philosophically we talk. We moralize and philosophize, and as Jim Fellows would say, "come the high moral dodge" in a way that would astonish you.

And yet, Belle, they wrong us who are called fashionable girls, when they take for granted that we are not capable of thinking seriously, and that we prefer those whose conversation consists only of flattery and nonsense. It is mainly because I feel that Mr. Henderson has deep, serious purposes in life, and because he appreciates and addresses himself to the deepest part of my nature that his friendship is so valuable to me. I say friendship advisedly, dear Belle, because I insist upon it that there can be friendship, pure and simple, between a gentleman and a lady; in our case there is "only this and nothing more."

How very teasing and provoking it is that there cannot be this friendship without observation and comment! Now I am very careful to avoid any outward appearance of special intimacy that might make talk, and he appears to be very careful also. After the first day at morning service he did not join me immediately on going out of church, but went out at another door and joined me at the next corner. I was so thankful for it, for old Mrs. Eyelett was there with her sharp eyes, and I know by experience that though she is a pillar of the church she finds abundance of leisure from her devotions to watch all the lambs of the flock; and I am one that everybody seems to keep specially in mind as proper to be looked after. If I only speak to, or look at, or walk with the same person more than once, the airy tongues of rumor are busy engaging and marrying me. Isn't it horrid? I would not have old Mrs. Eyelett get anything of this sort into her head for the world; it's so disagreeable to have such a thing get to a gentleman's hearing when he knows there is no truth in it; and the world has condescended to interest itself so much in my fortunes that it seems dangerous for anybody to be more than civil without being set down as an aspirant.

The only comfort there is in being persistently reported engaged to Mr. Sydney is that it serves to keep off other reports, and I sometimes think of the old fable of the fox who would not have the present swarm of flies driven off lest there should come a new one in its place. How I wish people would let one's private affairs alone! Here I must break off, for there is company down stairs.

Wednesday Eve.

I have let this thing lie some days, dear Belle, because there has been so much going and coming, time has flitted away. Mr. H. has been at our house a good deal. I have made a discovery about him. He has a beautiful cousin that he thinks everything of—"Cousin Caroline"—and she is a very superior woman. So you see how silly all your suggestions are, Belle. For aught I know he may be engaged to this cousin Caroline. I believe she is coming to New York, and I am just wild to see her. You know I want to see if I shall like her. She must be just the thing for him; and I hope I shall like her. Ida thinks she shall. Aunt Maria, who wants to portion off the fate of mortals, has made up her mind that Mr. H. must be an admirer of Ida's; and in short, that they are to be for each other.

Ida looks down on all this sort of thing with her placid superiority. She has a perfect contempt for it, so very perfect that it is quiet. She does not even trouble herself to express it. Ida likes Mr. H. very much, and has a straightforward, open, honest friendship with him, and doesn't trouble her head a bit what people may say.

Saturday Morning.

We are all busy now about Easter decorations. We have ordered no end of flowers, and are going into adornments on a great scale. We press all hands in that we can get. Mr. Henderson and Jim Fellows are coming to-night to tea to help us carry our things to church and get them up.

Monday Morning.

I am so tired. We were up nearly all night Saturday, and then at the sunrise service Easter morning, and services all day. Beautiful! Lovely as they could be! But if one has a good time in this world, one must pay for it—and I am all tired out.

Mr. Henderson was with us through the whole affair. One thing seemed to me quite strange. I dropped my glove among some flowers, while I was busy putting up a wreath of lilies, and I saw him through a bower of hemlock trees walk up to the spot, and slyly confiscate the article. In a moment I came back, and said, "I dropped my glove here. Where can it be?" The wretched creature helped me search for it, with every appearance of interest, but never offered to restore the stolen goods. It was all so quiet—so private! You know, gentlemen often pretend, as a matter of gallantry, that they want your glove, or a ribbon, or some such memento; but this was all so secret. He evidently thinks I don't know it; and, Belle—what should you think about it?


Share on Twitter Share on Facebook