Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

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he looked as if overwhelmed with confusing thoughts; and the
consciousness of being foiled roused the demon within him. This,
however, was not the time or place to unbottle his wrath, and it must
swell silently within.

My father began to feel the shadows thickening round him, and he kindly
forbore to say a word regarding the matter, as did also mother. Aunt
Hildy moved a little uneasily in her chair, and I knew she could have
said something as cutting as a knife, but did not. As for me, I could
and did talk on other things, and congratulated myself on another
victory. I afterward told mother all Miss Harris said, and she remarked

"I am very thankful she is his wife."

"Well, but she isn't," I said.

"Yes, I know, Emily, the previous marriage would be held as the only
lawful tie, but it is much better than it might have been. She has a
good home and parents, and is young. Years will restore her. I cannot
see, however, why she should have taken the pains to find him here."

"For the reason that she desires to plead with him for the wife and boys
that are in need, and is a strong noble woman too, - why, she will have
the strength of a lion when she gets well, and there is a resolute
determination on her part to place before Mr. Benton a plain picture of
his duty."

"Hem!" said Aunt Hildy, "she can get her picture all ready and put on
the prettiest paint in the market, - that man will be gone in less than
twenty-four hours. Can't I see which way his sails are set?" Our back
door-sill never was swept cleaner than where this sentence fell.

"That may be," said mother; "I hope he will, for it seems to me we have
too great a duty to perform if he stays. I feel ill able to undertake
the task."

Aunt Hildy turned to hang up her broom, saying as she did so:

"I'd like to have your sister Phebe give him a lecture - she'd tear him
all to pieces jest as easy as shellin' an ear of corn. I like to hear
her talk; she ain't afraid of all the lies that can be invented. What a
good hit she give Deacon Grover that night when he come in with his
ideas of nothin' spillin' over. She talked good common sense, and hew as
the subject, for it was all about a hypocrite. He did'nt stay to see if
he could get a mug of cider to save his own, but set mighty uneasy and
was off for home before eight o'clock. That done me good."

That evening was spent by me in conversation with Louis. Next morning at
the breakfast table the subject of the poor lamb was not broached, and
directly after, when the stage came along, Mr. Benton took it to go to
the village on business.

"There," said Aunt Hildy, "he never'll step on to this door-sill
again - but I would'nt throw a horseshoe after him if I knew it would be
good luck. He don't deserve any."

"Why, he hasn't taken as much as a carpet-bag," said my father, "of
course, he will be back again."

"No, sir, Mr. Minot; that feller is up to snuff - he ain't going to stop
now for any duty pictures," and she turned to her work as if satisfied
with having made a true prophecy.

I spoke to Clara about going over to see Miss Harris, and she felt
inclined to go that morning.

"Louis, too, may go," she said. "Come, dear boy."

We were very welcome, and found Miss Harris seated in the old rush-chair
before the fire-place. Her dress was a most becoming wrapper of blue
(she found it in Clara's bundle) her hair falling as on the previous
day in natural curls, and the same India shawl thrown over her sloping
shoulders. She was exactly Clara's size, and when the two came together,
Clara said, "We are sisters surely." But afterward, as they sat side by
side, I could see such a difference. Alike in form and complexion, also
having regular features, yet the light in our Clara's eyes was
incomparably purer, savored less of earth. Miss Harris' face was sweet,
truthful, the lines of her mouth alone defining her powerful will and
courage. She was very beautiful, but earthly, while over my own Clara's
face there fell the unmistakable light of something beyond. Oh! my
saving angel, how my heart beat as I sat there drawing the comparison,
giving to Miss Harris a place in the sitting-room of my womanly feeling,
and yielding to my beloved Clara the entire room where lay the purest
thoughts which had been boon to my spirit, coming to life at the touch
of her tender hand! She was a beacon light in the wilderness of thought.

"Tell me, Miss Minot," said Miss Harris, "tell me all you know, for I
feel you do know much."

I explained Mr. Benton's coming to stay with us, and when I said he took
the stage this morning for town, and will be back, I suppose -

"Never," she interrupted, "he has heard I am here."

"Yes," I said, and repeated his conversation with Matthias.

"I am then foiled, but he will not elude the truth that goes with him.
He may have gone to his waiting wife. Mrs. Chadwick will write me, for
she will not lose sight of her."

No tears came to her eyes, but the determined look deepened as it were
into strength, and she said:

"It is too bad. I did hope to be able to make him do his duty. Now I
must hasten to become strong, and go back to Boston. I will find him
yet - I'm sure I will."

She talked freely of her Southern home, and expressed comfort at the
hope of one day seeing us there.

"I need a little help to get there myself," she said; "I have no
cloak - can you get one for me, Miss Minot? I am fortunate enough to be
able to pay for it, my purse being with me."

Louis looked admiringly at the girl-woman (for such she seemed to be),
and when our call ended said to her:

"When you are strong enough to leave, may you receive great help to do
what seems to be your whole duty; and if little mother or myself can aid
you, please command us."

"Thank you," she said, "you remind me much of my dark-eyed Southern
friends." We took our departure. It was only one week after that the old
stage carried her from our sight; but we did not forget her, nor the sad
experience which had developed in her so great a strength.

Mr. Benton did not return, as Aunt Hildy predicted, and the stage
brought a note for Hal, in which he said he was unavoidably detained,
having found important letters at the village. He would write him a long
letter, and the letter came after ten days' waiting, bearing the
postmark of - - (he was with his wife). He wrote that he was with a
friend, and some unexpected business relations would keep him there for
a time. He desired his belongings sent to him, if it would not trouble
Hal too much. He feared that it would be a long time ere he would be
again situated amongst such pleasant surroundings, "and they are, as you
well know, so much needed by an artist," he said. I do wonder what the
man thought. Hal and Mary had not known Miss Harris' story, but Louis
had read the letter to Hal, and his perfidy was apparent to all. No word
had been said, however, and I presume he (not learning about the
letters) thought Hal still a good friend, which was in fact the case.
Hal said:

"I would not lose sight of him for the world. Emily, his hand was one of
those which led me across the bridge of sighs when my art was coming to
life, and I shall help him. He may yet need more than we know."

"We can afford to pity him, but what about his wife, Hal?"

"His wife I intend to see. Let us hope he will yet prove of some
assistance to her."

"Good brother! blessed brother! I have felt so angry with him, Hal, but
I will try to be good. Of course Mary will be with you."

"She thinks he needs a little punishment, but I tell her to be patient,
and to let the days tell us their story."

"Amen," said the voice of our Clara, who was always in the right place,
"and may we not hope for all the suffering ones. There are bruised
hearts all around us. Let the precious nutriment of our love and care
fall on them as the dew, calling forth tender blossoms, whose perfume
may mingle with their lives. Wisdom and strength, my Emily, will help us
to these things, and the prayer of England's church be not so sadly

It was a relief to us all, and we could take long breaths now that Mr.
Benton had gone, and mysteries solved had opened before us a vista of
quiet days, into which our feet would gladly turn. We had to talk him
over thoroughly, and I was glad to be able to say at last:

"Peace to his memory; let him rest."

The letter we expected from the sweet girl-woman came, and we heard each
week of her and her unrewarded search going on. At last, when out from
the snows blue violets sprang, there came a letter, saying,

"It is done. I found him looking at a lovely picture, one of his own. It
was a fancy sketch, but the face, eyes and hair, those of Mrs. Desmonde,
I know. He had clothed her in exquisitely lovely apparel, and she was
looking out over a waste of waters, but I cannot describe it justly. If
her son were here, he would secure it at any price. I touched his
shoulder; he turned, and with the strangest look in his eyes. He sought
even then to avoid me, thinking probably I might prove a tempest in a
teapot, and make a terrible scene. I said quietly, 'I am only desirious
of two hours' conversation with you;' introduced Mrs. Chadwick to him as
to a friend, and invited him to call; gave him my card and turned away,
naming an hour the ensuing day; for I knew he would come. My manner
disarming him, I really believe he felt relieved to know I was not on
his track with weapons of law. He came, and I received him almost
cordially. The parlor had been left for us, and my friend, at my
request, sat outside the door where she could hear all that passed. Of
course, I cannot tell you what I said, but my revelations were
startlingly true, and he could not gainsay them, neither did he try to.
He seemed rather astonished that I no longer desired his companionship
and the great love which every true woman needs. I answered with spirit,
and just as I felt, that while his love might be boundless, it could no
longer be anything for me. I knew his soul was capable of maintaining
the appearance of purity of thought long enough to delineate its outline
on canvas, and while I admired his talent in verse, I had tasted the
bitter dregs of his falseness, and was now thoroughly undeceived as to
his character. Never again could I be misled by the semblance of a love
which had no reality beneath its honeyed words. I told him also that our
angel Mabel had been orphaned by his cruelty. And oh! how strong I felt
when I said, 'Go to your own wife, whose burden I would not increase by
revealing my own terrible secret. Live for her and those two boys.
Redeem yourself in the eyes of your God as well as before those whom you
have so foully wronged. If you will do this, I will say the peace of
well-doing be with you.' He really felt the power of my words, and
honored me for them, I know, and when he left my presence, he said:

"'If life should hold for me henceforth some different purposes, would
you be my friend? and if in the great hereafter we shall meet, will
Mabel be with me there? I wish I could have seen her. Forgive me, Mary;
you are heaping coals of fire on my head. I thought you sought my utter

"'My father would have appealed to you only through the law,' I said,
'but that would have been wrong, and would leave you no chance to grow
better. Go, and do right, and there is yet time for redemption.'

"'But you - what of you?' he asked.

"'I rise from beneath the weight of sorrow that covered me so early in
life, to find there is yet much worth living for. I shall live and be
happy.' They were not false tears, the drops that fell on my hand at
parting; and I said, after he had gone:

"'Thank God who giveth me the victory.' My friend expected me to faint
or moan, or make some sign of distress. No, I felt a great joy within,
and I believe he will do better. I inclose to you some verses he sent me
at the time he wrote me the terrible letter of want and despair. They
had their effect, as I told you. Monday I leave for the South; I shall
write you immediately after my return. God bless you all.


We read the letter together, Clara, Louis and I - and here is the poetry,
which speaks for itself of the talent this man possessed, and tells us,
as Clara said, how fruitful the soil would have proved if it had been
properly tilled.

I was a poet nerved and strung
Up to the singing pitch you know,
And this since melody first was young
Has evermore been the pitch of woe:
She was a wistful, winsome thing,
Guileless as Eve before her fall,
And as I drew her 'neath my wing -
Wilmur and Mary, that was all.

Oh! how I loved her as she crept
Near and nearer my heart of fire!
Oh! how she loved me as I swept
The master strings of her spirit's lyre!
Oh! with what brooding tenderness
Our low words died in her father's hall,
In the meeting clasp, and parting press -
Wilmur and Mary, that was all!

I was a blinded fool, and worse,
She was whiter than driven snow,
And so one morning the universe
Lost forever its sapphire glow;
Across the land, and across the sea,
I felt a horrible shadow crawl,
A spasm of hell shot over me,
Wilmur and darkness, that was all!

Leagues on leagues of solitude lie,
Dun and dreary between us now,
And in my heart is a terrible cry,
With clamps of iron across my brow.
Never again the olden light -
Ever the sickly, dreadful pall;
I am alone here in the night,
Wilmur and misery, that is all!

For the solemn haze that soon will shine,
For the beckoning hand I soon shall see,
For the fitful glare of the mortal sign
That bringeth surcease of agony,
For the dreary glaze of the dying brain,
For the mystic voice that soon will call,
For the end of all this passion and pain,
Wilmur is waiting - that is all.

The letter and poem finished, we talked long of our new friend, and the
strange experiences brought into our quiet lives, and Clara said:

"Oh! how long must all the good in the world of thought wait for the
hand of love to open the avenues of work for willing doers! Cannot
strong men weep; and must not angels sorrow to realize the darkness and
the errors where light should dawn, and in a morning of new life men and
women stand as brothers and sisters in the grand work of helping each
other to do all that lies on either hand! Fields whiten for the harvest,
but the reapers are not many. These experiences come to us as teachers,
and oh, Louis and Emily, let your hearts search to find these sorrowing
ones! May your hands never be withheld from the needed alms, and may you
work in quiet love and patience through the years! The mists will shroud
the valley, and ere long, my dear ones, I shall leave you, for I cannot
stay too long away from all that awaits me there. If I had more strength
I could stay longer - but strength is what we need to hold the wings of
our soul closely down, and when the physical chain grows weak, all that
is waiting comes nearer. Spiritual strength grows greater, and the
waiting soul plumes its wings for flight. It does not seem so far, and
Louis, Emily, when my visible presence goes from you, your prayers will
come to me. I shall hear, perhaps I shall answer you also, for I shall
be your guardian angel. Then - is it not beautiful to think of the long,
long years, and no death for evermore?"

She closed her eyes, and looked serenely happy, but I was weeping
bitterly, and Louis' eyes swam in tears, as he said:

"Little mother, wait still longer, we cannot let you go."

"Oh! Louis, my dear boy, it is not now, it may be just a few years yet,
but it is sure to come - and I love to talk with you of this change. It
is natural for us to pass into the next room. If I go I must say all the
things I need to first."

Aunt Hildy and mother entered, and we talked again of our new friend
Mary. When God touched me that night with his magic wand, I dreamed of
fairies, and saw wondrous changes at their hands, earth and heaven
strangely mingling.



I like to drift with the days, and scan them one by one, but as I recall
all that I have written, I say to myself: "Emily must take some long
step now, else the tale of her life will never be told, even though the
changes came day by day, falling drop by drop into the lap of the
waiting years."

Mother was feeling better, and when the rose-covered days of June came
over us our hearts were singing. Clara seemed well (for her) and I
forebore to grieve over her prophecy of leaving us, though for a few
days after she had said those words, an icy feeling crept over me as I
thought on what they foreboded. I could not see how we could bear to
lose her presence; life without her would be an empty vial, not only for
us, but for all. We loved her devotedly. In this beautiful June I felt
younger than ever before, and believed that the constant saying to
myself, "I will do right," was brightening all the world for me.

I was twenty-one years old the previous March, and it seemed to me I
looked much younger than when two years ago we saw for the first time
the face of our Clara Desmonde. March was a sort of wild month to find
one's birthday in, and I never think of it without recalling the saying
of one who had seen hard work and sorrow as well. It was a lady I met
once at Aunt Phebe's, who came to bring a book for her to read, and in
the course of conversation she said:

"Mrs. Hungerford, I was born in March, and have come to the delightful
conclusion that all who dare to be born in this month must fight the
beasts at Ephesus."

This year I had certainly fought Mr. Benton, and perhaps I should find
another experience in the next March month that came.

Ben was seventeen years old in January, and this was a great year for
him; he had sought and obtained father's consent to manage a farm for
himself. Hal could not, of course, till the land he owned, and Ben had
made arrangements to do it. He wanted the entire care, and Hal told him
to go right ahead the same as if he owned it all and see what he could
do. This was quite a step, and, as it proved, a successful one. He was
at home in his old room at night, but ate at Hal's table, and Mary said
he was so good they could never keep house without him. I rejoiced that
he could fill a position for which he was fitted, albeit father and Hal
were both disappointed that he could not have book knowledge enough to
place him in some position in public life.

"That was mere ambition," mother said, and Aunt Phebe remarked
concerning him, that he should be let alone, and to help him to be an
honest man was the wisest course possible.

"So I think," said Aunt Hildy; "common sense has got power to last a
good while, and high ideas sometimes kill everything."

Louis was enjoying the summer "hugely," as he expressed it, and Clara
was very willing to aid him in everything he undertook, and he was not
an idle dreamer, for though he did dream beautifully, and talked often
of the fairy land, as he called the home of his pure, good thoughts, he
was a worker in all ways. If a sudden shower threatened the meadow, he
was there with the men, doing all he could to aid them, and not slow to
learn the use of rake and pitchfork. If Aunt Peg needed attention he was
soon over to see her, and when he went to the village, he was the errand
boy for any and all. He became well known among us, and the dear old
home among the hills gave him a hearty welcome. Even Deacon Grover came
to the conclusion that the city chap didn't put on airs, and told me he
should think I'd almost want to catch him, laughing heartily at his own
words. I always disliked this; it is a mark of a small brain to tell a
story or say something witty, and crown your own talk by laughing at
yourself - that would spoil the best joke in the world for me.

One August afternoon I called Clara to the window to watch Louis and
Matthias coming along slowly together in a close and evidently
interesting conversation. They came in together, and the face of our
dusky friend was covered with the light of a new thought.

"Why, how happy you look!" I said.

"He feels happy," answered Louis; "they are going to have a wedding over
at Aunt Peg's, and I am first man."

"Yes," said Matthias, "'pears like I kin get married now. Miss Smith,
she feels lonesome, and I bother her 'bout my vittles, an' we kin set by
one fire jes' as well."

"I shall write Aunt Phebe to-morrow, and ask her," I said, laughing.

"Um - um," said he, "reckon she's 'gaged to make me two white shirts

"Why, when did she know it?"

"Oh! she dunno nothing definite, but she said long ago she'd make 'em
for me when I git married, an' I done come over to see ef you'd sen' a
word about it to her."

"I will most certainly, but how long before you will be married?"

"'Bout tree weeks, I guess; haint set on no day. Let Miss Smith do

"And you'll have a wedding?"

"No, Miss Em'ly. For de lan' sake, you don't 'spect we's gwine into dat
yere meetin' 'ouse for de folks to call it a nigger show, duz ye? We's
too ole to be gwine roun' to be laf at."

"I didn't mean to plague you, Matthias; please excuse me," for he looked
the least bit provoked. "I'll make some cake, though, and you'll want
witnesses, so Louis and I can come, anyway."

"'Spect you two need to get used to dat yere ceremony more'n de rest of
de folks yere; yas, you kin come."

Oh! how Louis laughed at this, saying:

"There, Emily, Matthias knows too much; look out for breakers when you
talk to him."

The old man laughed heartily also, and left us to talk over the coming

"Two shipwrecked lives trying to keep close to the shore of content for
the rest of the journey, that's what they are," said Louis, "and we will
help them, and do God's service by ministering to their small needs, for
'Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.'"

He had so many Scriptural quotations at his tongue's end nowadays, I
often told him he would be a minister, I knew. Many of his days were
spent in the society of Mr. Davis, and they read the Bible through
together. Louis said the New Testament had great charms for him, and Mr.
Davis said to Clara and myself when we called upon him, that the
Scriptures had never been so blessed to his heart as now.

"Your son," turning to Clara, "is not my student; he has the most lucid
perception, and transfers his thoughts to my heart with wonderful
strength, and yet he stirs the soil of years with tender hand, and never
forgets I am growing old. Some day he will have a pulpit of his own."

"Do you think so?" I said.

"Oh, it must be! He is like his mother; chosen for the good work. I
delight in his society, and hope never to miss it while I stay. I am not
strong, and some day I fear I shall not be able to preach when the
Sabbath dawns. If I do fail at any time, I shall secure his help." Clara
only said:

"My dear boy shall do that which he can do well, for there will be no
stumbling blocks laid in his path; if he starts right, and I believe he
has, the way will be made plain, and as day unto day shall utter speech,
so night unto night shall show its knowledge."

"He seems benevolent," said Mr. Davis, "and he will devote much of his
time, and substance as well, to the uplifting of the degraded, and the
exalting of mankind through daily practice."

"So be it," said Clara; "I shall be glad if he can uplift the lantern
light of truth, that it may shine over all the dark and devious ways of
ignorance, and when my feet shall walk beside his father's on the hills,
may our souls call to him, and his heart receive from us the strength
which our love can give - angels to minister to his wants. Oh! this is
beautiful to think upon."

The eyes of our good minister filled with tears, and I thought how
wisely and well Clara sows the seed. I felt ashamed to think how
unmindful of this tolerance of ideas I had been when his fiery sermon
aroused my spirit, and I have often since felt that we all possess too
much intolerance each toward the other. Mr. Davis was original in
thought, and had always regilded as it were the old texts in his sermon,
until they could not fail to interest us; and when, yielding to pressure
of conviction regarding eternal punishment, he warned his flock, Clara
judged him rightly, and I was wrong; for while the idea was horrible to
me, I had not wisdom or judgment to express myself, whereas Clara had

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Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 13 of 20)